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by Stephen Downes
Apr 17, 2017

Open Word—The Podcasting Story
Doc Searls, Doc Searls Weblog, 2017/04/17


Doc Searls offers a slightly revisionist history of podcasting, giving us the background but omitting any mention of Adam Curry. A podcast, properly so-called, is an MP3 file the URL of which is distributed through an RSS feed. Curry's first podcast (I think it's this in 2004 but it might be earlier) software used the enclosure tag, first documented by Dave Winer in 2001. My own Ed Radio instead scraped the RSS feed for any reference to an MP3, which it then rendered in a playable SMIL file. I don't remember Christopher Lydon being involved in the invention of podcasting at all, and his Radio Open Source doesn't launch until 2005, though I guess Searls, Winer and David Weinberger knew him. Today, it is true, there is no single 'podcast' application, which is great. On the other hand, people have taken to calling any audio file a 'podcast', which is less great. It's a podcast only if it is syndicated; otherwise, it's just an audio file. See also iPodder, from 2005. The modern version of Ed Radio still runs to this day.

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The Rise of Educational Technology as a Sociocultural and Ideological Phenomenon
D'Arcy Norman, D'Arch Norman Dot Net, 2017/04/17

D'Arcy Norman summarizes and reviews The Rise of Educational Technology as a Sociocultural and Ideological Phenomeno by George Veletsianos and Rolin Moe in EDUCAUSE, an article worth reading in its own right. The EDUCAUSE article makes three major assertions:

Now as I read this article I became increasingly agitated. This is because I have been involved in educational technology my entire life and yet none of these statements is true regarding my own method and motivation. As Norman says, "it’s important to make a distinction between 'online courses and commercial MOOCs' and 'educational technology'." People who identify educational technology with privatized commodified market-driven education, as Veletsianos and Moe do, are part of the problem, as they lead people to believe there can be no benign educational technology, which is a pernicious message to spread.

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Follett and Lumen Learning to Expand Adoption of OER Courseware
Lumen Learning, 2017/04/17


I received email from David Wiley today announcing this partnership with Follett, a company that manages college bookstores. The crux of the announcement is here: "Follett will make Lumen Learning’s OER courseware available to institutions... students pay low-cost Lumen course support fees ranging from $10 to $25, far less than the average cost of a commercial textbook." I ask: what if students don't want to pay money for these 'open' educational resources? Are they denied access? Isn't this exactly one of those closed marketplaces people said would never happen? This is why I defend the use of the non-commercial clause in open educational resources. Image: Tahleasin Skye

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Can There Be a Microscope of the Mind?
Michael Feldstein, e-Literate, 2017/04/17


This is a valuable post because it brings together and explains a number of elements of what we might call a cognitivist theory of mind. From where I sit, though, it brings together a lot of nonsense, and the overall theory of mind proposed here is seriously flawed. 

Here's the theory, in a nutshell: cognitive processes (like encoding, planning, solving) are mirrored by brain processes (or, reductively, cognitive processes are brain processes). These processes can be observed using Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI). fMRI is limited, but various types of machine learning (ML) are used to analyze the images "to create a fingerprint of brain activity that is distinctively correlated with a particular mental state." Knowing that these are cognitive processes, we can now fill in the gaps in a sequence of images using prior probability.

So, why do I say this is nonsense? There is no good reason to suppose cognitive processes are mirrored by brain processes. What Feldstein describes here is equivalent to using heat maps of hard drives to understand the narrative structure of Moby-Dick. Nothing in the former bears any resemblance to the latter. This is because 'narrative structure' is an interpretation of the data, and not inherent in the data. It seems to us that Ahab is obsessed with the great whale, but no study of the hard drive will ever uncover that obsession.

And the key to why this is nonsense is actually found in the statement of the theory. When we process fMRI images, why don't we use a sequence of 'encoding, planning, solving...'? There's no way to actually do that; the data underdetermines our choice of cognitive structure. That's why we use machine learning. But suppose humans use machine learning? After all, machine learning is based on neural networks! But if humans use machine learning, then the cognitive processes the fMRI analysis supposedly reveals don't actually exist. It's like we're studying clouds, and asking our software to find images of bunnies in the cloud, and then concluding "we have discovered that clouds contain bunnies."

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The Cuomo College Fiasco
David Brooks, New York Times, 2017/04/17

David Brooks hauls out all the old chestnuts in this criticism of New York's free tuition plans. Let's review:

Now of course it is a matter of logic that these three can't all be true at once. If it's a problem that it doesn't help poor students, for example, then it is not demotivating them. They can all be false at the same time, but in fact, they are not all false. Free tuition will hurt private fee-charging colleges. But if it comes to a choice between helping the poor and supporting private colleges, I choose the former.

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There Are No New Social Networks
Molly McHugh, The Ringer, 2017/04/17


The answer to the question in the title is succinctly given by Niv Dror: “Once an app becomes significant enough to pose a threat to the big players, they either get acquired or significantly handicapped by a competitive feature or restricted access.” This we might call 'normal ecosystem' (styled after Kuhn's 'normal science'). Eventually there will be sufficient dissonance in the normal to generate what we might call an 'ecosystem revolution'. But what's key is that the new ecosystem will be incommensurate with the existing ecosystem. Instead of depending on Facebook and Twitter and the rest it will replace them.

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Copyright 2017 Stephen Downes Contact: stephen@downes.ca

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