OLDaily, by Stephen Downes

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May 24, 2011

Why Are So Many Students Still Failing Online?
Rob Jenkins, Chronicle of Higher Education, May 24, 2011.

files/images/photo_5496_landscape_large.jpg, size: 14791 bytes, type:  image/jpeg OK, if we're going to have a conversation about dirty little secrets, let's have it. Rob Jenkins writes in the ever-reliable Chronicle of Higher Education that the dirty little secret of online learning is that so many people fail. "Isn't it time that we had an honest national conversation about online learning?" he asks. "With countless studies showing success rates in online courses of only 50 per cent-as opposed to 70-to-75 percent for comparable face-to-face classes- isn't it time we asked ourselves some serious questions?" Well, fair enough. But here's the flip side, as Will Richardson observes: "Of the 2 million graduates in the class of 2011, 85 percent will return home because they can't secure jobs that might give them more choices and more control over their lives." Sure, it's harder to study online. It's harder to succeed. And you usually have other stuff happening too, like your family or your job. But while the rarefied university atmosphere may make it easier to succeed academically, it may be hurting you elsewhere.

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Restrictive copyright plays into music industry myths
Dwayne Winseck, Globe and Mail, May 24, 2011.

I do not want musicians to suffer, and neither does anyone I know. But the industry needs to understand that we share the music they create, that we have always shared the music they create, and that this is how we discover new music that they create. The other thing the music industry needs to understand is that we are not willing to buy the same song over and over again just because we get a new iPod, or because a new storage format comes out.

But (largely because of sharing) we are much more willing to go to concerts and we're much more willing to buy into (reasonably priced) online services. And the music industry, in Canada, earns more now than it ever did. Government, I think, needs to understand this. As Dwayne Winseck writes, "Picking up where the last Parliament left off will deliver important advances with respect to user created content and limited liability for ISPs. However, the crackdown on users, attempts to turn ISPs into ‘gatekeepers' on behalf of the music industry and permitting digital locks to trump people's rights, will lead us down a bad path.

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It's Not the Technology, Stupid! Response to NYT "Twitter Trap"
Cathy Davidson, HASTAC, May 24, 2011.

files/images/mag-22lede-t_CA0-articleInline.jpg, size: 13094 bytes, type:  image/jpeg Cathy Davidson offers a reasonably cogent response to a ridiculous NY Times editorial called The Twitter Trap by making the point that the impact of a technology is not caused solely by the technology, but also, and more importantly, what we do with it. There isn't the sort of inevitability that seems to be presumed by statements like "Twitter makes us stupid" and when the Times writer, Bill Keller, opines "My own anxiety is less about the cerebrum than about the soul," Davidson rejoins, "I can only imagine an executive of his stature snickering with derision remembering how so-called 'primitive people' said exactly the same thing about photography." And though I wish she had avoided the Clinton-era platitude, the more general point is made forcefully and well:

files/images/mag-22lede-t_CA0-articleInline.jpg, size: 13094 bytes, type:  image/jpeg "The brain doesn't power itself and it doesn't power us. The brain R us. That is, what we experience our brain experiences. If we give it a steady diet of junk food or alcohol or Ritalin, it changes. If we give it a steady stream of 'Jersey Shore,' that's what it learns. If we give it a steady diet of item-response multiple choice testing (the ridiculous form of testing which, we know, does nothing except prepare students to do well on that particular form of testing), it learns how to think like those tests. If we inspire ourselves to curiosity, expose ourselves to challenges and then succeed and reinforce our ability to take challenges, our brain learns how to extrapolate from challenges. And if we spend all day on line doing idiotic things, then, well, that is what we learn how to do well---spending all day on line doing idiotic things. We are what we do. Our brain is what it does."

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The Cloud
Chris Betcher, Betchablog, May 24, 2011.

Best argument for the cloud I've heard to date:
He rolled his eyes and tried not to look distrustful. "I'd never trust my important stuff there."
His friend responded with a wry grin. "Do you have a bank account?", he asked.
The cloud sceptic replied, "Yes, of course I do."
"Well... what do you think that is? Your money is nothing more than a record in a computer database."

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Controversy Over Scholastic Sponsorships Goes Beyond Coal
Gabrielle Canon, Huffington Post, May 24, 2011.

files/images/r-SCHOLASTIC-large570.jpg, size: 55517 bytes, type:  image/jpeg One of the major reasons why it is important to have public-sector involvement in the production of learning materials is that you can't trust the private sector to stay focused on the learning. If there's money to be made, say, by selling a particular message, they'll sneak it in. Thus we see material distributed by Scholastic Corporation recently influenced by the pro-Coal lobby. And while they've backed off on the Coal Lobby, "Scholastic's InSchool Marketing clients have included the Cartoon Network, Claritin, SunnyD, Disney, and McDonald's." And for how long will Scholastic remain this contrite: "We acknowledge that the mere fact of sponsorship may call into question the authenticity of the information, and therefore conclude that we were not vigilant enough as to the effect of sponsorship in this instance?"

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Internet in Brazilian Public Schools: Policies beyond Politics
Bernardo Sorj and Mauricio Lissovsky, The Edelstein Center for Social Research, May 24, 2011.

This is a good paper that gives us some insight into trends of internet usage in schools in Brazil, though caution is warranted as the methodology - which included online surveys, focus groups, and in-class observations - tends toward people who already use the internet frequently. Most interesting are the generational differences between young teachers, who had a much greater degree of expertise, especially in more advanced applications, and those who were older. The younger teachers were less likely to recommend classes and professional development in internet technologies, neither for themselves nor their students, reflecting (suggest the authors) a "naturalization" of internet knowledge. And most striking was the difference of opinion regarding the assertion "A school's adoption of new media depends, above all, on the motivation level of its teachers," which was supported by only a small minority of younger teachers, yet agreed to by 90 percent of the older teachers.

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The London Philosophy Study Guide
Various Authors, University College London, May 24, 2011.

If you ever wondered what "the literature" is in philosophy, check out this comprehensive bibliography, divided into many major subject areas in philosophy. "It's quite useful for both undergraduate students and beginning graduate students. It's not au courant (at least not the on-line version), but it is a useful guide to major literature other than the most recent stuff." It's a very good list, corresponds pretty much to what I was taught, and is continuing to be maintained and expanded (including for example a very welcome section on Indian philosophy). Via Leiter Reports. Related: Fifteen political philosophy courses online, via Dan Coleman.

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Copyright 2010 Stephen Downes Contact: stephen@downes.ca

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