by Stephen Downes
[Sept] 22, 2015
The Lure of the One True System
Every few years, it seems, someone comes up with the same great idea: if only everything were put into one over-arching system - learning objects, ontologies, competencies, you name it. All knowledge could be organized and it would be easy to keep track of exactly who knows what (just yesterday, in fact, we had a bunch of people talking about having a central registry for verbs, as though there could be such a thing). It's not going to happen. The idea dates back to the Encyclopedists of mid-18th century France, led by Denis Diderot, and as this article reports, surfaced again in the 1960s with Xanadu. "Creating an internal system of perfect knowledge, period, is impossible. Everything that people know is constantly being edited, augmented, improved, iterated on, and folded into systems anew." In the design of any educational system, you have to make room for people to know different (and contradictory) things, use words differently, and to create their own knowledge their own way. Not because it's better. But because that's how knowledge works.
How an 18th-Century Philosopher Helped Solve My Midlife Crisis
David Hume was one of my early important influences and remains today among my favourite philosophers. Hume is known mostly as a sceptic but the many hours I have spent in his work rewarded me with a philosophy of mind and associationist logic that accords well with what we actually see of humans (and infants, and animals) thinking and reasoning. This article focuses mostly on Hume's thoughts about the self and explores the Buddhist roots in this thinking. It is not unreasonable to suspect such an influence - by the late 1700s the British were well established; the East India Company - for which Hume would later work - had been in place since 1612. And I like the description of the link between Hume's motivations and the author's motivations; they echo my own experience, and for that matter, the experience of most philosophers who really matter.
Questions about online ‘openness’
Some good questions for an open education practitioner, like "Why invest even longer hours in supporting educational practice? My dentist doesn’t give me free root canal treatment outside of work?" and "What is in it for those willing to ‘go open’?" Jenny Mackness isn't sure of the answers. "When I joined CCK08, I was really excited by the altruistic sharing of knowledge and learning behind the idea of ‘openness’, but recently it has seemed to me to be more about narcissism than altruism – about getting noticed and building up ‘numbers’ of followers, tweets etc." Good points. I try not to focus on the number of folowers, etc., but it's hard. You don't want to be narcissistic but you don't want to be irrelevant either.
The University As Ed Tech Startup: UMUC, Global Campus, Texas, and SNHU roll their own
There's nothing really new in the concept of universities spinning off technology companies - a lot of the internet and supporting technologies, like WebCT, had their origins in the university. The latest round includes an analytics company from University of Maryland University College (UMUC) (See also), a learning management system from Southern New Hampshire University, a competency-based platform from the University of Texas, and another analytics company from Colorado State University System’s online arm, the Global Campus. As they say, the beat goes on.
10 uncomfortable truths about the con that is University rankings
Donald Clark Plan B,
I rarely report university rankings (or pretty much any rankings) in this newsletter, and any time I do, I add a hearty note of scepticism. Donald Clark outlines the reasons why they should be dismissed as pretty much irrelevant, especially for students. "Aimed firmly at parents and students, they bait and switch. The hook is baited with data on research and facilities, then the message switched to make it look like the teaching experience you’ll pay for." Worse, the rankings are actually lobbying devices - organizations rank universities based on their priorities, and universities line up (for some unknown reason) to do their bidding. But, of course, it's a rigged game you can never win: "Reputation scores feature in lots of the rankings. You go out and ask people what they think; academics, publishers, employers etc. Of course, given that most of the people asked are from the highly ranked Universities, there’s an obvious skew in the data."
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