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July 15, 2013

Interview with Nicole Christian
Stephen Downes, July 15, 2013, Nicole Christian, Skype

Wide-ranging interview on disruptive change, the major new technologies in education today, and where internet technologies are placed historically. Audio only.


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A MOOC Delusion: Why Visions to Educate the World Are Absurd
Ghanashyam Sharma, The Chronicle of Higher Education, July 15, 2013

Let's grant, provisionally, Ghanashyam Sharma's assertion that "Academic disciplines and teaching/learning environments (or, put simply, courses) are almost always highly specialized and situated in local academic systems and cultures." It would follow that if a course consisted entirely of the production of one such system or culture, it might not translate well to other systems or cultures. Or it might; it may well depend a lot on the course. But what if the course consisted of contributions from a multitude of such cultures? There may well be an incommernsurability of meaning across systems and cultures, but I don't think it's so radical as the author supposes, and probably does not require (as suggested) years of studies at the 101 level of each individual culture. People from different cultures can talk to each other. So I think that the vision of the people of the world educating themselves by means of MOOCs is not so delusional - indeed, it only becomes so when it's only one person who decides he or she is going to save the world.

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The Power of the Powerless
Vaclav Havel, July 15, 2013


"The traditional parliamentary democracies can offer no fundamental opposition to the automatism of technological civilization and the industrial-consumer society, for they, too, are being dragged helplessly along by it. People are manipulated in ways that are infinitely more subtle and refined than the brutal methods used in the post-totalitarian societies.... Solzhenitsyn describes the illusory nature of freedoms not based on personal responsibility and the chronic inability of the traditional democracies, as a result, to oppose violence and totalitarianism. In a democracy, human beings may enjoy many personal freedoms and securities that are unknown to us, but in the end they do them no good..." Via Rob Watson.

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The Role of Language in Knowledge Society Educational Systems
Susana Finquelievich, Roxana Bassi, Educational Technology Debate, July 15, 2013


I agree with the objective of this article, which is to promote cultural and linguistic diversity on the internet. But I wish it were better argued. Much better. For example, the authors write, "most of their citizens will have to be connected to the Internet, and moreover, will have to be qualified users of technologies." Connected, sure. "Competent," even, though we could quibble. But "qualified"? It's not rocket surgery, you know. Also: "providing free or low cost Internet access in schools, libraries and community centers." Not that I would oppose this, but it shouldn't be the emphasis (especially in regions without well-developed schools, libraries and community centres). Cybercafés have historically been much more central to public internet access. The rest of the article - with references to "the necessary measures and provide the necessary resources" and "appropriate national policies" - is similarly imprecise. Photo: Wikipedia.

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The Gates Effect
Marc Parry, Kelly Field, Beckie Supiano, The Chronicle of Higher Education, July 15, 2013


Interesting long article on the impact of the Gates Foundation on the U.S. higher education system. As the author notes, "The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has spent $472-million (so far) on higher education," but this money has been directed as much toward lobbying to reshape the foundation of the system (in favour of market-based and compentency-based self-study programs and their ilk) as it is toward developing better systems and technologies. It doesn't help that the Gates think-tank is headed by the reprehensible Kevin Carey, an economist who made a name attacking the professoriate and advocating market-driven reforms.

I'm in the middle here - I agree with the Foundation that the system is broken; education should be more accessible and less expensive. But I don't agree with the orientation toward "a system of education designed for maximum measurability, delivered increasingly through technology, and... narrowly focused on equipping students for short-term employability." I think this is a mistake, and the objective should be to develop capacity rather than credentials. Not that there's any chance I'll ever get any Gates money to develop this alternative. And that's probably the most telling criticism of the Gates effort - the Foundation's steadfast beleif that it has the right answer, and will lobby into submission any other point of view. That approach has never worked.

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A Heartfelt Note from a Humanities MOOC Professor
Charlie Chung, Charlie's Blog – To Notice, and , to Learn, July 14, 2013

This is similar to my own experience in MOOCs: "I see a form of teaching-and-learning—of listening and responding—that differs sharply from the classroom life I’m accustomed to, in that it draws on the experiences of older and more ‘tested’ readers, and it then ‘threads’ those perceptions into an ongoing ‘tapestry’ of sorts, as you respond to one another. This is, at its best, intellectual exchange of a high order, but I’d close on another note entirely: it is moving, in every sense of that term: emotional, kinetic, temporal, digital." It's Arnold Weinstein of Brown University, who is teaching 'The Fiction of Relationship' (Coursera link).

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Announcing Wikispaces Campus
Wikispaces, July 14, 2013

Just reinforcement of the idea that hosted services are a dominant business model today... "Wikispaces Campus is Wikispaces Classroom– with its News Feeds, Formative Assessment infrastructure, Project features, and of course traditional wiki pages– delivered as an enterprise service where your school, district, or university can create and administer accounts." I've been using Wikispaces off and on for a number of years - here for example is the CCK09 notes Wiki George and I shared.

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Copyright 2010 Stephen Downes Contact: stephen@downes.ca

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