OLDaily, by Stephen Downes

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October 27, 2010

Why did 17 million students go to college?
George Siemens, elearnspace, October 27, 2010.

George Siemens writes, "what is not economically valuable in education takes a back seat in funding and attention." I agree, and in particular with this observation: "Because these individuals are currently working in jobs with skills "below their degrees" doesn't mean that they have not become better members of a democratic society. Would society be better off if those 17 million (in the US) had not received a degree?" The purpose of an education is to improve a person's life, not to extract the greatest economic benefit from that person. And when a government says it will focus exclusively on, say, Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education, it is saying that people have value only so far as they contribute to industry. I reject that point of view. I reject it out of hand.

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Attention, and Other 21st-Century Social Media Literacies
Howard Rheingold, EDUCAUSE Review, October 27, 2010.

Howard Rheingold focuses on five things he calls 21-st century literacies:
- Attention - how you direct it, how you focus it
- Participation - "to inform, persuade, and influence"
- Collaboration - "doing things together"
- Network awareness - how they function, and the role of reputation and reciprocity
- Critical consumption - figuring out who is trustworthy
Honestly, I'm not enthused with this depiction of 21st century literacies. Readers will note they bear little resemblance to what I would describe under the same heading. These literacies are to me rooted firmly in the world of pre-network thinking. Rheingold may be working with the idea of content as a stream (that seems to me to be the common thread here; danah boyd, in the next article, appeals to it explicitly) but it's still content, and it's still a transmission mode of thinking. See more articles from the current EDUCAUSE Review.

This post, from Alexandre Enkerli, is to my mind a much more sophisticated discussion of these issues. Rheingold and boyd talk about how to become, in effect, what Enkerli would call 'social butterflies' (vis-a-vis the social butterfly effect). Enkerli sharply says, "People who participate in different (sub)networks, who make such (sub)networks sparser, are having unpredictable and unmeasurable effects on what is transmitted through the network(s).... Malcolm Gladwell (probably 'inspired' by somebody else) has used 'connectors' to label a fairly similar category of people and, given Gladwell's notoriety in some circles, the name has resonance in some contexts (mostly 'business-focused people,' I would say, with a clear idea in my mind of the groupthink worldview implied)."

A 'literacy' that is fundamentally based in entrenching existing power structures and generally accepted world views is not worth having.

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Discussing 3D Learning Archetypes
Karl Kapp, Kapp Notes, October 27, 2010.

Karl Kapp writes, "A few months ago, Tony O'Driscoll and I teamed up with Daniel Bliton and Charles Gluck for a discussion of some of the topics of Learning in 3D." The videos, '3D Virtral World Learning Archetypes' and The 7 Sensibilities of 3D Virtual Worlds for Learning are definitely worth a look.

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Open content and the costs of online learning
Tony Bates, Managing Technological Change, October 27, 2010.

Tony Bates, in what is effectively a reprise of the statistical picture in Managing Technological Change, describes the costs of offering a fully online master's degree program from a major research university using open content over a span of seven years. His points is that "Open content is not going to lead to major cost savings in online learning" and "What universities and colleges are really supplying with online learning is not content but service." Tellingly, "If we want to bring the costs of online teaching down, without sacrificing quality, we need to focus on administration and overheads. These indirect costs still exceed 40 per cent of all costs."

According to Bates, "The ‘true' cost per student for this program is $12,500 per student by year 7." This may be, as he says, cost-recoverable, but I wouldn't agree that it is sustainable. To me the most telling feature of this analysis is that it demonstrates that online education in traditional institutions remains far too costly. More than a third of the cost is 'delivery', for example. Indeed, by year four, delivery and administration account for 90 percent of all costs. It should not cost $4000 per student per year to deliver an online program. Reducing these overheads will bring the cost of an MBA - and other degree programs - within the reach of the majority of the population.

As I have been saying for some time, if change in education happens, it will happen outside the educational institutions. As George Siemens says, the university lacks the capacity to change education. This post seems to confirm that.

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Fragment of an Overview of the Current "Crisis"
Tom Hoffman, Tuttle SVC, October 27, 2010.

This continues to be my view of the 'crisis' in American education: "There is not so much a crisis as a chronic problem of educating poor and minority youth in America, particularly concentrated in segregated schools. There is no existing model in the world for doing this right: nobody has overcome our level of income inequality, inadequate access to health care, high level of incarceration, etc. No other country of comparable wealth considers these conditions tolerable."

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Amplifying a Talk on "Event Amplification Using Social Media"
Brian Kelly, UK Web Focus, October 27, 2010.

I really don't like the term 'amplifying a talk' to apply to the use of net technologies to provide webcasts and other interfaces to what would otherwise be in-person events. 'Amplificatoon' treats the talk as though it were a broadcast. But I've never had any experience of 'amplification' where the real value was in mere redistribution of live content; what has made these possible is that it always extended the discussion. There's a reason why UStream and Elluminate and the like have chat channels. I think we should be talking about "event extension", not "event amplification". After all, why build a misapplication of a concept right into the name of it? Still, all of that said, be sure to have a look at this column, which discusses the use of social media to extend an event using Authorstream's option to present live and Banbuser's video streaming service..

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iTunes U: an Institutional Perspective
Jeremy Speller, UK Web Focus, October 27, 2010.

Jeremy Speller believes that Apple's iTunes U has a positive contribution to make to higher education. Though iTunes is a closed system, he writes, universities can also engage other channels of distribution. The cost to produce multimedia content would be undertaken to support other projects in any case. It may be PR fluff, but it is a route to producing genuinely educational assets. But again, all of this depends on iTunes being only one of several distribution channels, and not the only channel.

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Why Blog About Science?
Paul Vallett, Electron Café, October 27, 2010.

Why should scientists blog about science, instead of merely publishing in scientific journals? For one thing, it forces them to pay attention to a wider range of readers. "If my Dad," writes Paul Vallett, "who is an electrical engineer and has some pretty strong background in science and engineering – can't understand my paper, how is anyone else going to know why it is important and why it is relevant? I know that it is interesting and useful, but if nobody else does than what is the point?" Making a discipline accessible is, in my mind, key to educating the next generation of professionals in the discipline - not no mention your parents.

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Copyright 2010 Stephen Downes Contact: stephen@downes.ca

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