Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community


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Support for Timnit Gebru and Google’s Ethical AI Team, Jenna Burrell​,, Algorithmic Fairness and Opacity Group, Dec 22, 2020

The Algorithmic Fairness and Opacity Group (AFOG) at Berkeley has written an open letter to Google executives supporting fired ethics researcher Timnit Gebru and the response (see also) of AI researchers inside Google. The telling point is this: "Ultimately change requires that dominant groups cede power. Institutional commitment must be embodied in practices and processes to enact meaningful change." In this letter dominant groups are defined in terms of position and race, but the ... [Direct Link]

A plan to redesign the internet could make apps that no one controls, Will Douglas Heaven, MIT Technology Review, Jul 03, 2020

I think the headline is a bit overstated, but there is something interesting in this plan. "Dfinity is building what it calls the internet computer, a decentralized technology spread across a network of independent data centers that allows software to run anywhere on the internet rather than in server farms that are increasingly controlled by large firms, such as Amazon Web Services or Google Cloud." It's a bit like taking the cloud, and putting it into the cloud. And it's ... [Direct Link]

Communitarianism, Daniel Bell, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, May 22, 2020

This article, a substantial revision of the version first published two decades ago, describes 'communitarianism' as a philosophical and ethical response to some of the principle tenets of liberalism as expressed, say, in Rawls's A Theory of Justice, disputing the idea that "the principal task of government is to secure and distribute fairly the liberties and economic resources individuals need to lead freely chosen lives." The article as a whole sets out three major ... [Direct Link]

What the pandemic tells us about personal identity, Kieran Setiya, New Statesman, May 15, 2020

This post is more about philosophy than about pandemic. While the teaser suggests tantalizingly "we are embodied beings and digital communication can feel lacking" the article doesn't really discuss "what will happen to our sense of identity as we interface with others, increasingly, as avatars and not beings in physical space? Will we embrace our disembodiment, or recoil from it?" Instead, we get a (not useless) excursion into Derek Parfit's Reasons and Persons. ... [Direct Link]

How data privacy leader Apple found itself in a data ethics catastrophe, Daniel Wu, Mike Loukides, O'Reilly, Apr 24, 2020

This article looks at Apple's recent foray into credit cards, one that resulted in embarrassment after a man was given 20 times more credit than his wife, despite sharing all property and income. According to the author, "Ultimately, Apple learned a critical lesson from this experience. User buy-in cannot end with compliance with rules. It requires ethics, constantly asking how to protect, fight for, and empower users, regardless of what the law says. These strategies contribute to ... [Direct Link]

Assessing Smart Glasses-based Foodservice Training: An Embodied Learning Theory Approach, Jeffrey Clark, Philip G. Crandall, Robert Pellegrino, Jessica Shabatura, Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology, Oct 14, 2019

I'm not sure I've ever seen a paper covering learning technology in food services training, so kudos to this paper (19 page PDF) for that (and it allows me to reminisce about my own background in the industry). Also kudos to the authors for reporting what is essentially a negative result - compared to people who used video training only, the smart glasses group were less likely to wash their hands, and less likely to do it properly. Of course, the small number of participants means we ... [Direct Link]

Data Feminism, Catherine D’Ignazio, Lauren Klein, PubPub, Jun 06, 2019

This book was mentioned by Kathleen Fitzpatrick during her discussion today. I haven't read it but a quick look through the chapter descriptions suggests that I should. The book captures a trend in thinking that looks at data as not abstract and based in reason alone but embodied and based in questions of context, power, community and relationships. " The products of data science are the work of many hands. Unfortunately, though, we tend not to credit the many hands who perform this ... [Direct Link]

Women’s minds matter, Sally Davies, Aeon, May 31, 2019

This is an interesting post on a number of levels. The central premise is essentially that cognitivism, by separating rationality from the influences of the human body, is "a profoundly gendered blueprint." It (cognitivism) is also wrong. I would like to argue, however, that it's wrong because it's wrong, not because it is gendered. It's being gendered is an undesirable consequence of the philosophy, and possibly a reason why so many people still cling to it, but at core ... [Direct Link]

From video game to day job: How ‘SimCity’ inspired a generation of city planners, Jessica Roy, LA Times, Mar 08, 2019

I've spent many happy hourse playing Sim City and Cities Skylines and so I understand both the appeal of the games and how they could inspire people to want to make city planning their career (indeed, it's one of my many 'alternate careers' I could easily have fallen into). This article is the story of such people. Of course Sim City embodied a very naive understanding of civic planning. Nonetheless, " the SimCity games are a good introduction to the field. Those people ... [Direct Link]

The replication crisis is killing psychologists’ theory of how the body influences the mind, Olivia Goldhill, Quartz, Jan 17, 2019

The 'replication crisis' is the phenomenon afflicting the social sciences whereby research demonstrating significant results can't seem to be replicated by others. We've covered this issue before. The psychological theory called 'embodied cognition', meanwhile, is the idea that our bodies, as well as our brains, are implicated in thought (and learning, and memory). We've covered this as well. This article suggests that the replication crisis is casting doubt on the ... [Direct Link]

Physical models and embodied cognition, Ulrich E. Stegmann, Synthese, Sept 21, 2018

A lot of work in education theory depends on the idea of forming conceptual understanding through the creation of mental models; these models give meaning to the words, ideas and skills being learning. This idea is central to constructivism, and even connectivism relies on it to a certain extent. Recent work in philosophy has considered the question of whether the physical construction of models is important. This is what might be called 'embodied cognition'. There's no doubt that ... [Direct Link]

The Make to Learn Electric Motor Design Sequence , Glen Bull, Joe Garofalo, Michael Littman, Matthew Hoffman, International Journal of Designs for Learning, Jun 18, 2018

I like this idea."The goal of the project is for students to gain fluency in the process of invention and to understand related science concepts embodied in the inventions." They do this by having students make not just one but a sequence of progressively more advanced electric motors. "Kits have been developed for three types of motors in the electric motor sequence: (a) the Davenport Rotary motor, (b) the Charles Page Solenoid motor, and (c) a contemporary linear motor based ... [Direct Link]

Why I Left Silicon Valley, EdTech, and “Personalized” Learning, Paul Emerich, Inspired, Jan 18, 2018

This is a post describing a teacher's experiences "opening a brand new micro-school and to work on technology tools that were intended to personalize my students’ learning." It was AltSchool, the Silicon Valley startup where Emerich worked for three years, leaving last June. The company changed course last year from running schools to selling software. Emerich suggests a possible reason for the change in course: "It was isolating with every child working on ... [Direct Link]

Brain as Prediction Machine, Julie Dirksen, Usable Learning, Sept 14, 2017

I ran across this concept last summer and let it slip by, but I don't want to overlook it. The idea is that the brain functions not as an intelligence or thinking instrument, but as a prediction machine. This article collects a number of resources that revolve around that idea.  This is important because the function of predicing can be very different, and the requirements much lower, than for intelligence or cognition. That said, I think Julie Dirksen minsinterprets the idea in ... [Direct Link]

Artificial intelligence, cognitive systems and biosocial spaces of education, Ben Williamson, Code Acts in Education, May 20, 2016

This article looks at two approaches to AI in education. First, "in the Pearson view, a marketplace of AI applications will both be able to provide detailed real-time data analytics on education and learning, and also lead to far greater levels of achievement." They're working on this now. A lot of what I've talked about in the past - "real-time intelligent analytics conducted up-close within the pedagogic routines" - forms part of this vision. Second, in the IBM view... [Direct Link]

Tacit Knowledge Acquisition and Dissemination in Distance Learning, Annel Ketcha, Jokull Johannesson, Paul Bocij, International Journal of Engineering Research and Applications, Dec 26, 2015

This is quite a good discussion of the concept of tacit knowledge, how it evolved since its original description in Polanyi, and focusing on the the "organisational view supporting the articulation of tacit knowledge" by people like Nonaka and Takeuchi. Tacit knowledge is "is that part of knowledge that is widely embodied in individuals but not able to be readily expressed." In more recent years, one objective of e-learning in organizations has been to disseminate tacit knowledge across the ... [Direct Link]

Abstracts of Three Studies Related to Pedagogical Agents, Karl Kapp, Kapp Notes, Dec 17, 2014

Quoted from the article: "Pedagogical agents produced a small but significant effect on learning." "Gender bias affects learner’s perception on virtual agent. Implications are discussed in terms of how stereotypes of expert-like and peer-like agent can be effectively utilized" "Students who viewed a highly embodied agent also rated the social attributes of the agent more positively than did students who viewed a nongesturing agent." So - students get more out of agents that ... [Direct Link]

Fear and anxiety on the like/retweet web, Brian Lamb, Edge, Jul 31, 2013

Brian Lamb writes, "in a grim economic climate, prodding people’s anxieties and fears so you can monetize their relationships really creeps me out." He's responding in part to Alan Levine's satirical take on LinkedIn Endorsements. "The layers of mindlessness embodied by this 'feature' are ably mocked by the CogDog, a particularly pernicious manifestation of the Like/Retweet web...  easily 'gamed'." It's really hard to get this right - Klout failed, and ... [Direct Link]

Alternatives to Standardized Tests for Homeschooling Families, Linda Dobson, The Innovative Educator, Oct 04, 2012

I have commented in the past that one of my major concerns about home schooling is ensuring that the child is receiving a good education. Yes, many home-schoolers do a fine job, but my concern is with the ones who might not. But now, how do we determine whether a child is learning properly when outside the traditional school system. Standardized tests? Surely not! But what, then? This post looks at some alternatives, and considers some of the implicit lessons embodied by standardized tests. ... [Direct Link]

NDPR Mark Rowlands, The New Science of the Mind: From Extended Mind to Embodied Phenomenology , Robert D. Rupert, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews, Apr 02, 2011

According to proponents of situated cognition, the human mind is not simply the computing brain. But then, what is it? Proponents argue, "we must pay close attention to the actual material environment in which human cognition takes place and to the way in which we use our bodies -- our whole bodies -- to interact with the world during problem-solving." We have to consider, for example, the way people engage in cognition through tool use, creativity or interaction. Mark Rowlands's The New ... [Direct Link]

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Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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Last Updated: Jan 20, 2021 1:17 p.m.