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January 14, 2013

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Why Aaron Swartz's Ideas Matter
Will Knight, MIT technology Review, January 14, 2013.

I don't want to write a long post about Aaron Swartz, because that's been done already by a bunch of people who actually knew him, but his career and mine intersected one or twice and I always recognized him as a brilliant and generous contributor to our field. His suicide is a tragedy and a loss and touches close to home to many of us. Here's the coverage, for the record:

And... that's it. Nothing but silence to follow, in what should have been ongoing coverage of an extraordinary life.

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The Science of Why Comment Trolls Suck
Chris Mooney, Mother Jones, January 14, 2013.

We'll use the word 'science' a little loosely here, but meanwhile there's an interesting survey on the consequences of comment trolls: "it appeared that pushing people's emotional buttons, through derogatory comments, made them double down on their preexisting beliefs." The author offers an explanation, "the psychological theory of motivated reasoning," akin to Hume's dictum, but I think the interplay between thoughts and feelings (if they are even distinct things) is a lot more complex than that. That said, I can attest first-hand to the way comment trolls can drain the life out of a discussion, out of a website, out of living itself. Which, of course, if their intent.

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Poop2013: Imagine How Many Pastures We Could Fertilize
Alan Levine, CogDogBlog, January 14, 2013.

Alan Levine quite rightly criticizes Udemy's latest initiative, which is to release a tool promiting the idea that famous people should replace professors and teach online. Here's the blatant marketing article describing the program: "Once experts express interest in teaching online, Udemy will provide an array of tools and resources to help them build and deliver courses that meet Udemy’s standards for course quality." The purpose? "They’re hoping a crowd of people will encourage people like Bill Gates, Michelle Obama, Richard Branson, and Biz Stone to answer the call." Levine comments, "Experts don’t need a 'proprietary' system from Udemy to do this. They don’t need their Studio. They don’t need their platform. They don't need a course (in order) to be open and sharing with their knowledge. We have the greatest and most capable invention to do this. It’s free... It’s called the open internet." Well - they need a bit more than that - even Levine uses WordPress. But I get the point.

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A Bad Start to Lifelong Learning?
Jeff Cobb, Mission to Learn, January 14, 2013.

The diagram, above, of engagement in school through the years is a depiction of failure - not failure of students, but failure of the system. Jeff Cobb comments, "As the writer of the Gallup blog post on the poll argues, you would hope these numbers would be exactly the opposite – that students would become more engaged as they go through school." I wonder what a similar diagram would look like, one documenting social engagement with society at large through online means. I suspect that it would bust the myth that in-person is more engaging and online is less. My own experience, at least, has been the opposite.

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Copyright 2010 Stephen Downes Contact: stephen@downes.ca

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