July 19, 2006


Joan Vinall-Cox[Edit][Delete]: Inquiry-Based Learning: What Does That Mean?, Joan Vinall-Cox : Weblog [Edit][Delete] July 19, 2006
[link: Hits] On the day before my hiatus last spring I responded testily to John Clare, who asked, in essence, how we know all this online learning mumbo jumbo actually works.

Over the last couple of days I've linked to some similar questioning from Tony Karrar about informal learning (or as it is sometimes styled, free-range learning (which always leads me to think of that cannibalistic Simpsons Halloween episode - but I digress). And pedagogical scepticism seems all the rage. Witness, for example, the growing popularity of Kirschner, Sweller and Clark's paper in Educational Psychologist, Why minimally guided instruction does not work. The recent study being held to conclude that laptops don't help learning. And meanwhile we have Joan Vinall-Cox wrestling with commentary from Rochelle Mazar questioning the efficacy of inquiry-based learning.

Now I know these criticisms are not all of the same thing, but they all take pretty much the same tack. And it seems to me the correct way to respond is found in Vinall-Cox's response. She writes, "When a theory becomes a phrase, and that phrase is defined differently by various 'experts', watch out!" Quite so - and it seems to me that what is being countered by these arguments is not a theory, but a slogan. As Harold Jarche responds, "there is no single methodology for informal learning." And as he notes, there's no simple outcome either.

"There are a lot of learning needs that cannot be addressed through instructional performance interventions. These include: Feeling and acting as a member of a team; Group learning from operational experiences (see post on Storytelling in the Army); Building morale. Informal learning systems may increase overall performance but these cannot be exactly measured nor quantified."

What I am seeing most often is the taking of a technology or a technique that should be most effectively used in a workplace or around a campfire (say), in a circumstance where the learner in fact is empowered, and testing it in a sterile, instructor-led and coercive classroom environment, tested by initiating a procedure where "the instructor does not lecture and does not impose topics, but instead stops, turns the lights around, and asks students what they want to learn."

But this isn't what is intended at all. When these technologies and techniques (and yes, they are related) are evaluated this way, they are evaluated out of context. As Miles Berry comments, the evaluators fail "to acknowledge much by way of a social dimension to learning - their comparison seems largely to be between content delivery led by a teacher and alternative approaches in which learners work things out for themselves. This seems to ignore the whole range of approaches in which learners are empowered to learn from other learners." They also fail to take into account what learners want to learn, why they are learning, and where they are doing the learning.

I mean, let's look at this another way. Millions of people, working with no instruction at all, have managed to learn and master complex simulations and game-based online environments, and to transfer this knowledge to the real world. Thousands - maybe millions - of people working with nothing but an online community and a compiler have taught themselves how to program computers. It is therefore not rational to conclude that people cannot learn without an instructor. Therefore, the statement of the problem is wrong. The empirical tests looking for "outcomes" are looking for chimera - it would be like the King and Queen of Spain demanding that Columbus show them pictures of the edge of the world - no edge, no demonstrated achievement. [Tags: , , , , , , , , ] [Comment] [Edit] [Delete] [Spam]

Elliotte Rusty Harold[Edit][Delete]: Must Ignore vs. Microformats, The Cafes [Edit][Delete] July 19, 2006
[link: Hits] Article comparing microformats to plain ordinary XML markup and concluding that microformats come out on the short end. "Microformats bring exactly nothing to the table. All they do is complexify the markup and make it far harder to address with XPath and other XML tools." Well, maybe. Browsers mostly read XML (there are some issues) but content creators don't mostly write XML. At least, so the proponents of microformats - who happen to be the people behind Technorati, which reads HTML, and not XML - would argue (Update: and in fact did argue). The concept of structured data is good. And I will confess, it is a mystery to me why we do not have easy-to-use authoring tools available. [Tags: , ] [Comment] [Edit] [Delete] [Spam]

Terry Anderson[Edit][Delete]: An Educator Discovers his SecondLife, Virtual Canuck [Edit][Delete] July 19, 2006
[link: 7 Hits] Nice breezy description of Second Life from an educator's point of view. Terry Anderson notes that it requires a lot of computer power (he had to shut down other applications) and may require more bandwidth than some users have. he also comments, "Creating an educational environment in close proximity to enterprise focused on sex, rock and roll and gambling, presents a host of moral and ethical concerns." Of course, my thinking is a bit different: why would the emphasis be on 'creating an educational environment'? Why do people always want to build a 'campus' or 'school' in these artificial environments? I would rather want to know how we can make learning accessible to the people who use such an environment - on-demand sailing lessons, for example, available on the boat to people who want to learn to to SL sail. [Tags: , , , ] [Comment] [Edit] [Delete] [Spam]

Scott Crumpler[Edit][Delete]: IBM's DeveloperWorks Site is Publishing a Series on Open Source Website Development, Kairosnews [Edit][Delete]KairosNews [Edit][Delete] July 19, 2006
[link: 11 Hits] Scott Crumpler reports: "The series adopts a fake organization as a client for whom to develop a collaborative website using only open source software. The goal of the series is to give developers some guidance in developing similar solutions." In the first installment they look at content mmanagement systems and select Drupal. Good start. [Tags: ] [Comment] [Edit] [Delete] [Spam]

John Thackara[Edit][Delete]: Power Laws Of Innovation, Doors of Perception [Edit][Delete] July 19, 2006
[link: Hits] Teemu Leinonen links to this list of 'Power Laws' (the reasoning for the name escapes me, as the principles have nothing to do with power laws) for innovation in education. If I had to summarize: fill actual social needs, empower people to speak to each other, remix and reuse, encourage openness. Leinonen's analysis is more interesting, and raises (in me) the qujestion of whether we should be "selling" social value or recognizing it. [Tags: ] [Comment] [Edit] [Delete] [Spam]

Stephen Downes[Edit][Delete]: Hellodeo, July 19, 2006
[link: Hits] I'm not sure whether this will work - but I'll certainly give it a try. This is a test recording from a n ew service from the people at Odeo: Hellodeo.

So, try clicking on the video, and let me know how it came out (and let me know if you read this post on email, RSS, the web, or whatever). And if you couldn't see it, you can always view the video here. [Tags: ] [Comment] [Edit] [Delete] [Spam]

Various authors[Edit][Delete]: Home, School and College Podcasts, RECAP Limited [Edit][Delete] July 19, 2006
[link: Hits] UK-based directory of education related podcasts. The listings can be found in the left column; news and events in the main centre column. [Tags: ] [Comment] [Edit] [Delete] [Spam]

Unattributed[Edit][Delete]: Open University's Links to HE Open Education Sites, Open University [Edit][Delete] July 19, 2006
[link: 7 Hits] Useful list of sites providing open access to higher-ed open educational resources. Via EdResources. [Tags: , ] [Comment] [Edit] [Delete] [Spam]

Charles W. Bailey, Jr.[Edit][Delete]: What Is Open Access?, Eprints.org [Edit][Delete] July 19, 2006
[link: Hits] This is a very good overview of open access, moving through subsequent definitions of open access beginning with the Budapest and Berlin declarations, describing different open access practices, including Suber's definitions of 'Green' and 'Gold' journal OA policies, licensing, and more. For readers unfamiliar with the landscape this paper is an essential read. For those looking for more depth, the paper introduces a book on the subject, Open Access: Key Strategic, Technical and Economic Aspects, most of which is (of course) freeely available online. [Tags: , ] [Comment] [Edit] [Delete] [Spam]

Browse through the thousands of links in my knowledge base sorted according to topic category, author and publication.

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Stephen Downes

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I want and visualize and aspire toward a system of society and learning where each person is able to rise to his or her fullest potential without social or financial encumberance, where they may express themselves fully and without reservation through art, writing, athletics, invention, or even through their avocations or lifestyle.

Where they are able to form networks of meaningful and rewarding relationships with their peers, with people who share the same interests or hobbies, the same political or religious affiliations - or different interests or affiliations, as the case may be.

This to me is a society where knowledge and learning are public goods, freely created and shared, not hoarded or withheld in order to extract wealth or influence.

This is what I aspire toward, this is what I work toward. - Stephen Downes


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