by Stephen Downes
Oct 13, 2015
Algorithm objects: people are the things they do
This post dusts off an old concept in philosophy and presents it in shiny new computer clothes. But if it convinces people to reconsider their understanding of what makes a thing a thing, or what makes an object that type of object, then it is performing a valuable service. "Algorithms," writes Alex Reid, "are objects persisting in and dependent upon an information-media ecology that is not simply digital but is also material and economic, legal, and living." What are we? We are the things we do - or perhaps more specifically, the formulae expressing the things we do. The philosophical theory evoked here is called functionalism, and it defines objects (like people) not according to their nature, essence or composition, but instead, by their purposes, objectives, functions or actions. When we are trying to define what is, as happens so often in edcucation, we are more often presupposing an essentialist definition of object, when we should really be invoking a functionalist definition.
MIT’s MOOC-based Micro-Master’s Degree: Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop
educational technology & change,
MIT continues its grand tradition of announcing a thing before it has done it - in this case, the 'micro-masters' that will be awarded partially based on MOOC credits (the first graduates from the '10-month program' will not see the light of day until 2020, according to this article). Jim Shimabukuro is "waiting for the other shoe to drop". Given that the original program raises $65K in fees from each student in less than a year, there will be another shoe. "We’re probably going to see leapfrogging in the coming weeks and months," he says, "with the rest of the field scrambling to one up MIT. The intriguing question is, what forms will credit MOOCs take?" This particular program looks to me like a loss leader, creating an endless supply of applicants for the second part of the program, which still costs an arm and a leg.
Behaviourism and adaptive learning
Philip J. Kerr,
Adaptive Learning in ELT,
This post looks at the connection between behaviourism and adaptive learning. The author notes that both oppoents and proponents of adaptive learning draw the association. But what, exactly, are the parallels between the two? This is what this article explores. Both are primaarily interested in the study of behaviour, both are based in the world of observation and fact (as opposed to, say, a basis in theory), both are presented as revolutionary or as 'game-changers', and both are interested in the mechanisms of prediction and control of outputs. Each faces similar challenges as well (and not simply from points of view based on 'theory'): the ethical issues raised by surveillance and manipulation. There is, it seems, something wromng with a theory of learning that is simply based on the idea of implanting some concept or idea into a person (whether or not it is measured by behaviour). The history of advertising has made it pretty clear that we can do this; the question is whether we should do this. Image: Dreamstime.
Australia moves backwards from online apprenticeship training
online learning and distance education resources,
Tony Bates points to a problem in Australia. He writes, "the Australian Federal government has recently shut down a two year e-learning apprenticeship program which had doubled the completion rate to 93%. Instead, the Australian government has introduced a new program that reverts to the previous model by removing the online component and now requiring apprentices to use a printed textbook." It's not this so much (though this certainly is a loss for Australia) but the pattern this represents. We used to hear about innovations in online learning from Ausralia all the time. Now, not so much. I wish I knew why.
Of MOOCs and Men
Inside Higher Ed,
Leaving aside the question of whether MOOCs work as educational delivery systems, the more interesting question is this: "Can MOOCs transform students as people?" Teachers can actually see this transformation in their physical classrooms, writes Akiba Covitz. What about online? The typical chat room is "a technology solution that comes from the basic human need to connect and from the basic human quality of empathy—all things that MOOC learners, and perhaps all students, want," writes Covitz. And "The students do not perceive these taped professors as fully human or at least as fully present." Maybe these are serious issues. In the end, though, the article comes sounding like a shill for "Shindig and its video chat sistren."
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