by Stephen Downes
Mar 17, 2015
Zuckerberg and Gates-Backed Startup Seeks To Shake Up African Education
The WSJ article is inaccessible due to a paywall, but the opinions expressed in this Slashdot are more worth reading in any case (scroll down to read it). Here's the summary: "The WSJ reports an army of teachers wielding Nook tablets and backed by investors including Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg is on a mission to bring cheap [$6.50/month], internet-based, private education to millions of the world's poorest children in Africa and Asia. In Kenya, 126,000 students are enrolled at 400+ Bridge International Academies that have sprung up across the country since the company was founded in 2009. Bridge's founders are challenging the long-held assumption that governments rather than companies should lead mass education programs. The Nook tablets are used to deliver lesson plans used by teachers (aka "scripted instruction"), as well as to collect test results from students to monitor their progress."
Note that Slashdot discussions might offend some people. But some comments are quite good. For example: "Looking at our own educational systems, both in the US and Europe, I'm not too sure that we're the right one's to show the Africans how to do it properly." And, "Gates and Zuck want to farm the entire human race for wage slaves. The oligarchs want to pluck the best and brightest from wherever they may be and utilize them."
Online Learning in Postsecondary Education: A Review of the Empirical Literature (2013 – 2014)
D. Derek Wu,
According to this article, the long-established 'no significant difference' between online and in-class learning outcomes is upheld. Yet "there remains a need for greater methodological rigor in the research on learning outcomes associated with online and hybrid instruction." On the one hand, I agree that academic research in the field is often poor (one of the studies cited is your typical "class of psychology students at a midwestern university"). On the other hand, I don't think the author is fair in his assessment of some of the better studies - the critiques, for example, of Xu and Jaggars (2014, "500,000 online and face-to-face courses taken by more than 40,000 degree-seeking students") are picky and pedantic.
Finally, I would add my usual caution that with online learning, we don't expect merely the same outcome, we expect different outcomes. A study like this is like comparing air and rail by distance travelled and on-time ratings, and finding no significant difference in the outcome. But when travelling by air, we travel much faster, and to locations not accessible by train, and a controlled point-for-point comparison would miss this result.
We Do Have Memories of the Future; We Just Cannot Make Sense of Them
This paper is a conceptual exercise but it's important in its implications. Basically the idea is that it is theoretically possible to have memories of the future, because our recall of a memory is decoupled with the mechanism that created the memory. In this paper, the author argues that we would not be able to make sense of these memories of future events. Maybe not. But we have false memories, inaccurate memories, and yes, could have memories of future events. And it points to the fact that our memories - even vivid recollections of events and experiences - are reconstructions of sensory experiences. When we remember, it's like we relive an experience - but this experience has been recreated from scratch in the mind, and then is experienced anew, so that in our mind we see and feel and hear the experience (this is what we call consciousness (cf phantom limbs)).
Innovative MOOCs Take Learning in New Directions
This article looks at a couple of specialized MOOC initiatives, one from the University of Michigan based on Coursera's expansion into China, and the other a non-MOOC MOOC initiative from Harvard on 'Small Private Online Courses' (SPOCs) directed toward alumni. The Michigan project is interesting, as the Chinese MOOC will yield a lot of new analytics data and will also enable instructors to hone their practice in a diverse environment. The SPOC work tells us some things we already knew: first, that email still works well as an engagement tool, and second, that online courses work well when they target already-established clubs or interest groups.
Translation for massive open online courses to be developed by the traMOOC project
Open Education Europa,
According to this short report, "The traMOOC project launched in February 2015 aims at tackling this impediment by developing high-quality automatic translation of various types of texts included in MOOCs from English into eleven European and BRIC languages." Automated translation is on the cusp of becoming everyday. In addition to the well-known Google project there are numerous focused research projects, including NRC's world-leading machine translation system called Portage (which we will be integrating into LPSS). Where things really become interesting is when this is combined with speech recognition to create real-time video captioning. "The (traMOOC) project results will be showcased and tested on the Iversity MOOCplatform and on the VideoLectures.NET digital video lecture library." (Image)
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