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by Stephen Downes
February 2, 2010

Steven Strogatz Writes About the Elements of Mathematics
Here's a poser for you: if you had to define mathematics from scratch, how would you do it? This is not an idle question. Mathematics is undeniably successful, but why is it successful? Could we ever build something else that would work just as well, but would be different? What would it look like? What elements would it share with mathematics?

I'll tell you why I think this is important. Consider this: "numbers have lives of their own. We can't control them.... once we decide what we mean by them we have no say in how they behave. They obey certain laws and have certain properties, personalities, and ways of combining with one another, and there's nothing we can do about it." Mathematics begins with a few basic, autonomous entities (numbers) and a few basic, simple principles (additivity, commutativity, substitutivity), and then allows these to (conceptually) interact. We discover the relation between mathematics and the world; we don't define it. Compare what we would have if we began with, say, "a system for determining the placement of the planets relative to ourselves".

Evolution doesn't begin with an elephant. Mathematics doesn't begin with calculus. Chemistry doesn't begin with plastics. Innovation doesn't begin with applications. Networks don't begin with bandwidth optimization plans. True science begins with something interesting, creates ways for it to interact and combine, and then steps back discovers where it take us. I would suggest that this is the best way to develop people, too. Milton Ramirez, education & tech, February 2, 2010 [Link] [Tags: , ] [Comment] [Tweet]

Now that we have selected the curtain colour, let's build a new house
Oh, hey, George Siemens seems to have come over to my way of thinking. Can David Wiley be next? "I'm suggesting something much more subtle: that we no longer allow systems-based arguments and criticism to dampen our creative exploration for what is possible in education. A period of 'no boundaries' in our thinking. Forget even arguing against those who appeal to integration with existing structures. Just ignore those discussions completely. I'd like to focus instead on creating a compelling vision of what education could be given new technologies and almost global connectivity." George Siemens, Connectivism, February 2, 2010 [Link] [Tags: ] [Comment] [Tweet]

The Dangers of Assumptive Teaching
I read the piece in Britannica blog this morning and decided it was mostly fiction. But it is being blogged, so now I have to write about it, to minimize the damage. The author does not name the schools he described (they probably don't exist), does not show any causal connection between the problem (which appears to be an influx of black people) and the solution (failing them), does not show a successful implementation of the solution, has no statistical, analogical or qualitative evidence to back up his version of events, and links to a book (his own, naturally) that cannot be viewed online (and therefore, in my view, can't be that important). People should stop writing stuff like this; they do much more harm than good, and people who don't know better will blog it as though it's scientific research. Britannica should know much better than to publish it, but they seem intent on establishing their corner of the blogosphere as shrill mindless drivel. Seriously, now, they should smarten up. John Connell, Weblog, February 2, 2010 [Link] [Tags: , , , , ] [Comment] [Tweet]

EduFeedr – to handle your open online courses
Interesting set of slides describing an open course content aggregator called EduFeedr. Hans Poldoja provides paper-based mock-ups and a development plan for an application that would perform many of the functions provided by software such as what we used in the Connectivism course (but better, of course). I don't think this is exactly a PLE engine, though there is a pretty clear overlap. Teemu Leinonen, FLOSSE Posse, February 2, 2010 [Link] [Tags: , ] [Comment] [Tweet]

HipHop for PHP: Move Fast
This is really interesting. PHP is widely used for social networking applications - it has long served Facebook, and is what is used for things like WordPress and Drupal (among many others). But PHP has a built-in weakness in that it's compiled at run-time; what this means is that there is an extra step before the computer gets data and displays it. This can be mitigated to some degree (quite a bit, actually) with fast-CGI and data caching. But converting PHP to compiled C code removes this weakness altogether. Best of all, Facebook has open-sourced it, meaning that other PHP applications could use it as well. Via Simon Willison. Haiping Zhao, Facebook, February 2, 2010 [Link] [Tags: , , , ] [Comment] [Tweet]

CBC's New Licensing System Causes Anger
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) is under fire for restrictive copyright licenses. It is requiring that sites wanting to use their content pay steep fees for doing so. Meanwhile, it has systems installed on its website that track user downloads of the content and even cut-and-paste, using systems called iCopyright and Tynt Insight. CBC has responded, saying "Licensing fees aren't new to the CBC [and] We need to generate revenues to offset our expenses." TVO's Jesse Brown answers back saying the terms are confusing and unreasonable. "Since these demands and requirements are wildly out of step with the culture and language of the Internet itself, does the CBC actually intend to enforce these rules through lawsuits targeting teachers, students, non-profit organizations, and individual Canadians?" I think that if the CBC were more willing to share content freely with Canadians, it would have fewer problems when it makes its funding request to the federal government. Tod Maffin, Inside the CBC, February 2, 2010 [Link] [Tags: , , , ] [Comment] [Tweet]

Why E-Learning is So Effective
There's nothing like a good old "rah! rah!" column on e-learning. If you need to sell e-learning to the president or the board or some other administrators who need things explained simply, this article is a good guide. Turn each point into a slide and you're set. Tom Kuhlmann, The Rapid E-Learning Blog, February 2, 2010 [Link] [Tags: ] [Comment] [Tweet]

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Copyright 2008 Stephen Downes

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