Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Stephen Downes works with the Digital Technologies Research Centre at the National Research Council of Canada specializing in new instructional media and personal learning technology. His degrees are in Philosophy, specializing in epistemology, philosophy of mind, and philosophy of science. He has taught for the University of Alberta, Athabasca University, Grand Prairie Regional College and Assiniboine Community College. His background includes expertise in journalism and media, both as a prominent blogger and as founder of the Moncton Free Press online news cooperative.  He is one of the originators of the first Massive Open Online Course, has published frequently about online and networked learning, has authored learning management and content syndication software, and is the author of the widely read e-learning newsletter OLDaily. Through a thirty-five year career Downes has contributed pioneering work in the fields of online learning games, learning objects and metadata, podcasting, and open educational resources. Recent projects include:gRSShopper, a personal learning environment; E-Learning 3.0, a course on new e-learning technologies; research and development in the use of distributed ledger technology in learning applications; and research on ethics, analytics and the duty of care. Downes is a member of NRC's Research Ethics Board. He is a popular keynote speaker and has spoken in three dozen countries on six continents.


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Coronavirus / Covid19 quick reference kit, to take your class or conference online cheaply and in a hurry:

Creating an Online Class or Conference - Quick Tech Guide

Teach in the Metaverse


Jennifer Gonzalez talks about "an emerging group of tools is trying to bridge that gap, using VR technology to create online spaces that feel more three-dimensional, allowing participants to move through virtual spaces as if they are physically in a room together." One such is Frame, featured here, which looks a lot like the VR rooms of old, but accessible through your browser or through a VR headset. Though that said I don't really see the point of creating a virtual environment that looks like an office or auditorium. There's a free tier, so you can go in and play and maybe make something more creative.

Today: 52 Total: 52 Frame, 2022/01/19 [Direct Link]

Should bad science be censored on social media?


The article references (but doesn't link to) a new report from the British Royal Society (100 page PDF) that asserts "governments and social media platforms should not rely on content removal as a solution to online scientific misinformation" (p.10). Instead, "The UK Government should invest in lifelong, nationwide, information literacy initiatives" (p. 21). Now if you read the BBC article, you would read "the report authors believe, social media sites should adjust their algorithms to prevent it going viral - and stop people making money off false claims." That's not what it says.

The closest we get to that is a remark in the foreward by Frank Kelly saying "we will need to see legislation which can address the incentives of business models that shape the algorithms determining the spread of content." But this sentiment is found nowhere in the recommendations. And that's the problem. If regulation and even censorship for accuracy in media are being considered, then state and commercial media are, arguably, equally in need of regulation. A better approach, generally, is open access, support for media plurality, and better media literacy. Which is what the Royal Society report actually says (see especially their extended discussion on this pp. 62-28).

Today: 68 Total: 68 Rachel Schraer, BBC News, 2022/01/19 [Direct Link]

It’s Fun, But Is Netflix Right For Workplace Learning?


This post makes three points, two obvious, but one less so. The obvious points are that, first, Netflix is usually blocked in workplaces, so the question is moot, and second, people don't really learn a lot by simply watching video. They need to engage in quality practice for learning to take hold. I totally agree. But also, there's this less obvious point: Eran Adi Cioban "did not want to place his learners in front of a huge collection of learning possibilities so that they were dependent on an algorithm to make a selection. Instead, he wanted them 'to be active and inquiring when they choose what they should learn.'" This falls under the heading, I think, of 'learning how to learn'. It's a necessary part of all learning, and students are shortchanged if they don't get it (the earlier the better). Via Upside Learning. P.S., if you are wondering whether there's actually any learning content on Netflix: surprise, there's a lot!

Today: 55 Total: 237 Amit Garg, eLearning Industry, 2022/01/18 [Direct Link]

Disrupting the Disruption: A Digital Learning HeXie Ecology Model


The Chinese term 'Héxié' (和谐) means something like 'harmonious' or 'balanced'. In this article the model presented draws on  Xi's 'Noteworthy Conduct and Independent Character: The Way of Hexie Education', which unfortunately doesn't appear on the English internet. Héxié also reminds readers of the concept of the 'harmonious society' (和谐社会), the centerpiece of President (2003-2013) Hu Jintao's political philosophy, and is also the name of China's high-speed train network. The HeXie Ecology Model itself considers Bronfenbrenner’s 'five levels': the microsystem, the mesosystem, the exosystem, the macrosystem, and the chronosystem. In this ecology the authors combine Héxié with a problem-based learning (PBL) framework outlined by Kek and Huijser. The challenge (interestingly posed as a challenge for institutions) is to find that balance between the changes brought about by self-directed learning and institutional resilience, or put differently (following Xi), between action and planning. This paper rewards effort, but it also demands it.

Today: 65 Total: 192 Na Li, Henk Huijser, Youmin Xi, Maria Limniou, Xiaojun Zhang, Megan Y.C.A. Kek, Education Sciences, 2022/01/18 [Direct Link]

Seven Habits of Highly Effective Podcasts


As readers know, I love my audio content. There's always music in my ears when I work, an audiobook on when I walk, and podcasts of all sorts when I cycle. And I can say that while this article offers tips for would-be podcasters, it may also surprise the reader a bit. For example: the most successful podcasts have almost always been around for a long time. "Very few podcasts can become instant hits." It takes time to build an audience (which grows mostly through word of mouth) and it takes time to settle into a well-produced and engaging format. One eight factor is missing, though: I have yet to see a successful podcast that features only one speaker. You need the variety and sometimes tension that multiple voices bring.

Today: 59 Total: 198 Matt Deegan, Matt on Audio, 2022/01/18 [Direct Link]

A Science Journalist’s Journey to Understand AI


If your understanding of artificial intelligence (AI) is limited, this is a good place to start. Don't let the table of contents at the top throw you; it's a good brisk read that won't take you into too much depth. If you do understand AI, then consider this a guide to the common misconceptions you need to work to correct. It's structured along the lines of things the author "used to think" as corrected by her reading of books, listening to podcasts, or talking with writers. Overall it's accurate; I might complain about some of the emphases and nuances (for example: far less knowledge and skills are innate than she suggests). But the author writes educational books for kids. It's always about the main point, and the main points here are useful and accurate.

Today: 83 Total: 229 Kathryn Hulick, The Gradient, 2022/01/18 [Direct Link]

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