OLDaily, by Stephen Downes

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December 8, 2010

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PISA 2009 Results
Various Authors, OECD, December 8, 2010.

Everybody, it seems, is writing about the most recent release of results from the Program on International Student Achievement (PISA). The stories are clustering around two major themes: angst at results showing the Americans continuing the run in the middle of the pack, prompting calls for a new 'Sputnik moment', and surprise at the appearance of China in the standings (well, China-Shanghai - Hong Kong has always been there, and China-Macau, while new, runs a very average 28th. There's a bit of a subtheme here in Canada about a slippage in the rankings (we're third in OECD, sixth overall, out of 65 countries or 'economic units' sampled).

Most of the coverage does not actually link to the results, so I'll deal with that first. Here's the OECD Pisa 2009 Results page, and here is a direct link to the PDF of the Executive Summary.

Because it's offered as rankings, that's where almost all of the analysis falls. But I was much more interested in some of the analysis offered by the survey authors. Readers definitely should look beyond the league tables. To me, the findings most relevant are that "The best performing school systems manage to provide high-quality education to all students," and moreover, "although poor performance in school does not automatically follow from a disadvantaged socio-economic background, the socioeconomic background of students and schools does appear to have a powerful influence on performance." Countries that address social inequalities demonstrate better learning outcomes. Countries that ignore them remain stationary or begin to drop in the rankings.

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Neuro Myths: Separating Fact and Fiction in Brain-Based Learning
Sara Bernard, Edutopia, December 8, 2010.

Good short article talking about what we do know (learning experiences do help the brain grow, emotional safety does influence learning, and making lessons relevant can help information stick), standards of proof, and dispelling a series of myth, including:
- The brain is static, unchanging, and set before you start school
- Some people are left-brained and some are right-brained
- We use only 10 percent of our brains.
- Male and female brains are radically different
- The ages 0-3 are more important than any other age for learn
These are all nonsense and simply not supported by the research. But there's no end of pundits and gurus passing these off as 'common wisdom'.

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A taxonomy for the suppression of dissent
Daniel Lemire, Weblog, December 8, 2010.

I agree with Noam Chomsky, who has said that the Wikileaks documents reveal a profound hatred for democracy. But regardless of how they stand on the particular issue, I hope people watching the Wikileaks saga are taking in the lessons of realpolitik being practiced before our eyes. As a full-scale cyberwar (see also) is being waged between governments trying to shut down Wikileaks and hackers operating in support, a campaign has been waged in more traditional channels. Brian Martin describes the campaign; Daniel Lemire summarizes them in this post:
- The first tactic of outrage minimisation is cover-up. The Wikileaks web site has been taken down due to repeated denial of service attacks.
- The second tactic is denigration of critics. It has been (falsely) reported that Assange is being accused of crimes.
- The third tactic is reinterpretation (…). If you search for wikileaks cables "nothing new", you find hundreds of thousands of documents.
- The fourth tactic to minimise outrage is to use official channels to give the appearance of legitimacy.
- The fifth tactic to minimise reactions to corruption is intimidation (…) The founder has been repeated threatened with assassination.

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The Elgg Foundation
Ben Werdmuller, benwerd, December 8, 2010.

According to a press release at Thematic Networks,the company has acquired Curverider, the company behind Elgg. Meanwhile, as Ben Werdmuller reports, "Elgg itself will be developed by a non-profit foundation run by Brett Profitt, who has been acting as lead developer for the past 18 months or so. From the post over on the Elgg site, it sounds like Dave will leave the project, leaving it in the hands of Brett along with Cash Costello, who has long been a prolific contributor."

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Philosophy with John Searle: Three Free Courses
Dan Colman, Open Culture, December 8, 2010.

files/images/searle-e1291832182266.jpg, size: 25550 bytes, type:  image/jpeg John Searle is one of the most important philosophers of mind today and it is an absolute treat to be able to access recordings of three of his courses:
- Philosophy of Language – iTunesFeedWeb Site
- Philosophy of Mind – iTunesFeedWeb Site
- Philosophy of Society – iTunesFeedWeb Site
"Searle did important work on 'speech act' theory during the 1960s, then later turned to consciousness and artificial intelligence, out of which came his famous 'Chinese room' thought experiment."

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Jeff Mao and Bob McIntire from the Maine Department of Education: Open Education and Policy
Timothy Vollmer, Creative Commons, December 8, 2010.

Since it started its one-to-one laptop program a number of years ago, the state of Maine has had an advantage in dealing with electronic texts over a period of time. This post documents some of the recommendations coming out of that process. Two items in particular: first, curate metadata rather than stockpiling resources; and second, help wean teachers off print-based texts by providing the tools, software, and other infrastructure to help teachers keep track of which resources have been reviewed, replaced, or modified."

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Free access to polar research
Press Release, Norweigan Polar Institute, December 8, 2010.

Polar Research, the journal of the Norwegian Polar Institute, will become an open-access journal starting in January. You might think, that's nice, but this doesn't really have anything to do with online learning. Really? One application I can think of right away is to have students (or more accurately, student volunteers, because you shouldn't assign students these sort of things) create summaries of the published papers. Writing these summaries and posting them online not only creates a valuable service, it also gives them practice reading technical articles, stretches their knowledge and vocabulary, integrates them into a field they are interested in, and allows their contributions to be commented on and as necessary corrected by the community or journal article authors. The URL will be http://www.polarresearch.net/ starting in January.

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The Articulated Arm of an Archive Raider
Prof. Hacker, Chronicle of Higher Education, December 8, 2010.

It's funny that the Chronicle depicts people who photograph archives as 'archive raiders'. They actually do no damage at all! When I used paper-based libraries in the 80s, I'd frequently find pages cut up or completely cut out, a permanent and scarring form of raiding. People taking photos of archives are benign.

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Copyright 2010 Stephen Downes Contact: stephen@downes.ca

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