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UK online pornography age block triggers privacy fears
Jim Waterson, The Guardian, 2019/03/18


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There are two parts to this story: first, that people would need to register as authorized users by proving their identity (and specifically, their age), and second, that certain types of content for non-authorized users would be blocked. I put it in general terms like this because once such a system is established it would be very hard to resist using it for purposes other than the stated purpose. So the question is also has two parts: if we have to register as internet users, what do we want that to look like, and if we are to block certain content, how are we to decide what to block? It's hard to imagine satisfactory answers to either sort or question.

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DIB Guide: Detecting Agile BS
U.S. Department of Defense, 2019/03/18


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This is an excellent 5-page document the purpose of which is to advise "how to detect software projects that are really using agile development versus those that are simply waterfall or spiral development in agile clothing ('agile-scrum-fall')." It's part of a much longer work on software development authored released this week by the U.S. Military. The short document was released back in October and recently became vial on Reddit.

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Big data, learning analytics and language learning / teaching
Philip J. Kerr, Adaptive Learning in ELT, 2019/03/15


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This is a very real possibility in learning analytics: "But, for the data and analytics to be of any value in guiding language learning, it must lead to actionable insights. Unfortunately, as Jørno & Gynther (2018: 198) point out, there is very little clarity about what is meant by ‘actionable insights’. There is a danger that data and analytics ‘simply gravitates towards insights that confirm longstanding good practice and insights, such as 'students tend to ignore optional learning activities … [and] focus on activities that are assessed.'" Image: IMS Caliper Analytics.

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Do Neural Networks Show Gestalt Phenomena? An Exploration of the Law of Closure
Been Kim, Emily Reif, Martin Wattenberg, Samy Bengio, arXiv, 2019/03/15


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This paper posted to arXiv by some Google researchers shows that neural networks can be studied from the perspective of Gestalt psychology. In particular, the authors show that neural networks demonstrate the law of closure, that is, how "the human visual perception system has a tendency to 'close the gap' in order to perceive whole objects when only fragments are visible." It's based on the old connectionist principle of pattern recognition (see p. 48 of this excellent outline of connectionism). Anyhow, it seems to me that things like this show that as time goes by we are seeing a gradual convergence of psychology, artificial intelligence, and learning theory.

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Facebook and Telegram Are Hoping to Succeed Where Bitcoin Failed
Nathaniel Popper, Mike Isaac, New York Times, 2019/03/15


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This meshes with the idea that Facebook wants to follow the path set out by WeChat in China, which is widely used for financial transactions (people just pull out their phone and pay  I saw it a lot when I was in Beijing). Combining payments with a digital currency (Facebook acquired Chainspace in February) would address the pervasive problem (and cost) of currency conversion in the west. But it would have to be a 'proof of authority' currency because alternative models are too slow. Such an approach would also require what Facebook provides - a unique and knowable identity. We'll know we've passed the threshold from technology company to nation state when we are required to provide our Facebook ID for driver's licenses, credit card applications, passports, school records, etc. It's not that farfetched, and probably aligns with Facebook's end-game.

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Arguing With AI
Lindsay McKenzie, Inside Higher Ed, 2019/03/15


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The only link in this article is to the Harvard Debate Council Diversity Project, and not even to the IBM Project Debater web page that is the subject of the story, which in the light of recent admissions scandals strikes me as somewhat suspicious. There's a nod to "worries that access to the technology might only be available to students at the wealthiest institutions" in the very last paragraph, but otherwise the article is more concerned about whether the AI "really Understands" and how it's not able (yet?) to capture the nuance of an academic debate. More interesting is Speech by Crowd, an AI platform for crowdsourcing decision support inviting users to "share your arguments on debatable topics, and our AI constructs persuasive narratives both pro and con, giving you a fresh perspective."

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What are critical thinking skills?
Steven Forth, TeamFit, 2019/03/14


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What caught my attention first was Steven Forth's skills profile. It's a very detailed listing of skills, 324 in all, with expertise in them ranging from newbie to guru. Presenting them as a graph makes more sense than using that many badges, and the categorization of the skills helps a lot. But it stuck me that the identification and naming of the skills is very important. Which takes us to the article. Here we have an account of what constitutes 'critical thinking' as a skill. And, frankly, it's a mess. Properly speaking, critical thinking is really a collection of skills. But not the skills identified here, but a completely different set of skills. That takes me back to Steven Forth's skills, which lists many business skills, and had me wondering how many ways there were to say 'management' or 'analysis'. And I also wondered whether I should trust SkillRank to assess those skills.

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Persistent identifiers: the building blocks of the research information infrastructure
Alice Meadows, Laurel L. Haak, Josh Brown, UKSG Insights, 2019/03/14


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Though this article addresses the research infrastructure it could be addressing the wider world of knowledge and learning. The authors argue " Persistent identifiers (PIDs) – for people (researchers), places (their organizations) and things (their research outputs and other contributions) – are foundational elements in the overall research information infrastructure." These, they suggest, should conform to FAIR principles - Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, Reusable. Additionally, the authors write, we need to be able to identify the source of the metadata - who entered it, and what authority they had to do so. Image: Foster, What is Open Science? Via DigitalKoans.

 

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Learning to solve for pattern
Jim McGee, McGee's Musings, 2019/03/14


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When I was first introduced to the concept of learning design, which is built around scripts and roles, my first reaction was, "what about impov?" This article takes on that question directly. "Navigating this environment requires a shift in perspective and a set of operating practices and techniques that can be most easily described as improv adapted to organizational settings. The shift in perspective moves from a world of connecting the dots to a world of “solving for pattern”. I borrowed the phrase from essayist Wendell Berry. It asks us to step back from the immediate details and view problems from a higher, systemic, vantage point."

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IBM didn’t inform people when it used their Flickr photos for facial recognition training
Shannon Liao, The Verge, 2019/03/14


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In a story that broke a couple of days ago it was revealed that IBM used about a million open-access photos on Flickr to train their facial recognition software. The first response was in the form of complaints that they didn't inform anybody. Of course, this sort of use occurs all the time, and it's not just faces, and it's not just IBM. Here's a report from IEEE Spectrum about a database of a million video clips of hundreds of common actions called Moments in Time. Facebook is using datasets that include billions of images. And as the Verge notes, the photos IBM usedwere part of "a larger collection of 99.2 million photos, known as the YFCC100M, which former Flickr owner Yahoo originally put together to conduct research." In a statement yesterday, Creative Commons points out that "copyright is not a good tool to protect individual privacy, to address research ethics in AI development, or to regulate the use of surveillance tools employed online." Right. Different principles are at play here, and this is as good a time as any to have a discussion about those principles.

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Meet Tengai, the job interview robot who won't judge you
Maddy Savage, BBC News, 2019/03/14


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I guess it's not a large leap from using artificial intelligence to grade college essays to having an AI in a robot conduct your job interview. And the motivation is equally benign: "The goal is to offer candidates job interviews that are free from any of the unconscious biases that managers and recruiters can often bring to the hiring process, while still making the experience 'seem human'." But we need to avoid getting carried away; as one Reddit author says, "The current state of media coverage of AI is fixated on constructing a compelling narrative to readers, and often personifies models well beyond their capabilities." I think that's happening here for something that is essentially a glorified speaker-microphone.

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Introducing the Coursera Global Skills Index
Coursera Blog, 2019/03/14


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Coursera has introduced something called the Coursera Global Skills Index (GSI), "an in-depth look at skill trends and performance around the world, made possible by the millions of learners who come to Coursera to learn and grow." Not surprisingly, it says people are falling behind in critical skills. Overall, people in developing countries are lagging most, while Europe is the skills leader. The most surprising result is that Argentina ranks first in technology (Europe takes the next fourteen positions). Canada ranks as 'cutting edge' in business and data science, but only 'competitive' in technology. The United States ranks as 'competitive' in all three categories. (Report downloads are not currently working so I can't say anything about the methodology).

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Kim TallBear speaks truth to power
Jackie Wong, University Affairs, 2019/03/13


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From the article: “Indigenous people, queer people and people of colour will probably do science better if they can have more agency within those fields,” Kim Tallbear says. “They’re going to be more open to different kinds of questions, to counter-intuitive questions. We want to help train Indigenous scientists to not just critique science that’s gone wrong, but produce people who will do science better.”

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Digital Transformation: A Caterpillar or a Butterfly?
John O'Brien, EDUCAUSE Review, 2019/03/13


This article examines a phenomenon that has been labeled Digital Transformation (Dx). "Rather than dismiss Dx," writes John O'Brien, "we can intentionally embrace digital transformation as a powerful, deliberate choice and can work to energize our institutions around the ideas it encompasses." But what does that mean? "The technologies that enable Dx (e.g., analytics, artificial intelligence, the cloud, mobile, consumerization, social networks, and storage capacities) constitute only one of the levers involved," writes O'Brien. "True Dx goes far beyond tools to include cultural and workforce changes in how we teach, learn, enroll, and engage in scholarship and research." You'll probably want to follow the links in the references following this short article to get a more in-depth account.

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Open Learning 2019
Geoff Cain, Brainstorm in Progress, 2019/03/13


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Geoff Cain notes, "From Open Learning Hub: Open Learning ’19, a cMOOC about open learning now in its third iteration will begin on March 17th and run for three weeks. Week 1 will be preceded by a “pre-cMOOC” week for anyone who is new to connected learning. Worth a look.

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FutureLearn’s Unlimited: One Price for the Entire Catalog
Dhawal Shah, Class Central, 2019/03/13


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As reported in Class Central: "FutureLearn, the UK-based MOOC provider, just launched a new plan that lets learners pay a single price to access most of FutureLearn’s catalog. Unlimited costs $269 and gives users access to the catalog for a single year and does not automatically roll over." That's a bit cheaper than Lynda, but not much, and within the range of other bundled-course plans. As Dhawal Shah says, "Effectively speaking, FutureLearn is drastically slashing their prices with this newest model."

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Inside the Shadowy, Totally Legal World of High-Priced College Consultants
Dana Goldstein, Jack Healy, New York Times, 2019/03/13


The tagline for this post says it all: "While lawbreaking in the sector is rare, the use of money to oil the gears of the American meritocracy is not." Fallout from the scandal has been considerable, and I won't even try to summarize it. But this article looks a little deeper into the real issue: that people buy their way into an educatioon system that confers status based on which school you went to (via the social network you have thereby managed to join). That's why, for example, Harvard’s well-off outnumber low-income students 23 to 1. None of this has anything to do with education, which is why online learning doesn't directly address the inequalities created by the college system.

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Japan’s Most Interesting Newspaper Is for Recluses, by Recluses
Rohini Chaki, Atlas Obscura, 2019/03/13


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This article is a little off-topic for this newsletter, but the existence of the hikikomori (a name for self-imposed recluses in Japan) speaks to an undercurrent of online culture (I have no doubt a similar phenomenon exists in other countries as well). The focus of the article is on a hikikomori newspaper. This is an effort (says the article) to recapture the narrative and counter the bad press they have received in the mainstream.

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Global guidelines: Ethics in Learning Analytics
Sharon Slade, Alan Tait, ICDE, 2019/03/12


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This document summarizes the considerations of an ICDE working group on learning analytics. For the most part it is a clearly-written and even-handed treatment of a number of difficult subjects, though it would appear to be relentlessly focused on the institutional perspective (not surprising given its intended audience of educational policy makers and regulators as well as middle and senior management in higher education institutions. The presumption throughout is that a global ethic in learning analytics is needed, can be known, and comprehends the issues in this document. I'm not so sure, but that's a discussion that cannot be attempted in this short post.

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Massive Scandal Alleged in College Admissions
Scott Jaschik, Inside Higher Ed, 2019/03/12


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To be clear, this isn't about the rich buying their way into university admissions. As the Chronicle makes clear, this is already well-established and legal: " Applicants could go in through the "front door," applying through the normal process, or the "back door," through large donations to the university." The scheme in question here is called a "side door" scheme, where somewhat less rich (and nouveau-riche) take the more affordable (but less legal) way of buying their way through the admissions process via such means as (for example) "helping non-athletes gain the benefits of being admitted as athletes." The NY Times reports that 50 people were charged. The funniest quote came from Andrew Lelling, a U.S. attorney for Massachusetts, who said (apparently without irony) that “There will not be a separate admissions system for the wealthy. And there will not be a separate criminal justice system either."

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The HyperSpace Blog Is Live on… HyperSpace
HyperSpace, 2019/03/12


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I've been keeping an eye on the HyperSpace project with some interest. In a nutshell, HyperSpace is a distributed publishing platform that uses it's own digital currency to promote and reward participation. The longer term roadmap, though, envisions a fully decentralized publishing economy. Today it took a major step in that direction. Here's the HyperSpace Blog on HyperSpace. You can join Hyperspace, create a post, and in addition to publishing on Hyperspace, the post will be published on the Inter-Planetary File System. In the interests of full recursion, I've published this post to IPFS on Hyperspace; here it is.

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Introducing Firefox Send, Providing Free File Transfers while Keeping your Personal Information Private
Nick Nguyen, The Mozilla Blog, 2019/03/12


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Firefox Send is a simple file-sharing application that mostly it just works. It uses the Web Cryptography JavaScript API with the AES-GCM algorithm for encryption; this is supported by most browsers (Firefox, Chrome, Edge) but not older and less secure browsers (Internet Explorer 11). Navigate to the Send web page, log in with a Firefox UserID, and upload a file. You'll be given a download link to share. The link expires after a preset number of downloads (up to 100)  or after after a certain time has elapsed (up to one week). You do not have to have a Firefox UserID to access the file with the download link, but the sender can protect it with a password.

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Should Universities and Colleges be in the Web Hosting Business?
Mark Bradley, Show Me the Data - A Blog About Higher Education Websites, 2019/03/12


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If you've been wondering why I'm studying cloud hosting, this is why. The answer this article suggests to the question in its title is "no" as it offers up statistics on which major cloud hosting services are supporting how many institutional websites across six nations. Amazon Web Services is the clear leader with Google and Rackspace coming second and third (I', wondering which Canadian institution has GoDaddy's only contract). Note that this entire article is 'below the fold' on this website; you have to scroll past the self-promotion in order to actually find the article (I'm sure data drove them to do that, but they need to remember, there's no data about the readers who don't read your website).

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OER Mainstreaming in Tonga
Ishan Sudeera Abeywardena, Philip Uys, Seilosehina Fifita, International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 2019/03/12


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There's a lot of good stuff in this article. Though it's focused on Tonga, it contains resources useful for any organization thinking of implementing open educational resources on an institution-wide basis. The "OER for skills development project model" in particular will appeal to administrators looking for a focuse on outcomes or impact (a similarly structured business plan should also look at benefits).

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Do open educational resources improve student learning? Implications of the access hypothesis
Philip J. Grimaldi, et.al., PLOS ONE, 2019/03/11


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A lot of research over the last decade has looked at whether the use of OERs improved learning outcomes and have concluded that there's no significant difference. This is what you would expect (and hope!) if they're just switching from commercial to non-commercial texts. But we finally have in this paper (14 page PDF) a study that makes the truly relevant comparison, that between OER access and no access. Not surprisingly, some academic improvements begin to show up.

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Naked Architect in the Desert Syndrome
Zsolt Olah, Rabbitoreg, 2019/03/11


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Back when I was first starting out we learned machine language and assembly language. Why, you might ask? Well, some of the computers I worked on a year later at Texas Instruments were actually programmed by setting toggle switches. That didn't last long, of course, we got new card readers, and the age of automation was upon us. Of course, the cards were punch in assembler, so... well, anyway, NADS is about learning your discipline from the very bottom, as though you had nothing more than your wits to work with. I can't think many of today's internet tech whizzes are working with toggle switches. Why would you need to learn that any more, unless you're very deep in the weeds? Anyhow, there will always be something that other people think is basic and must be learned. It probably isn't; it's probably where they started their learning, but won't be especially helpful to you.

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Running a Minimal OU Customised Personal Jupyter Notebook Server on Digital Ocean
Tony Hirst, OUseful Info, 2019/03/11


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This is a nice clear set of instructions that will get you up and running with Jupyter Notebooks on Digital Ocean (a cloud hosting service). Tony Hirst notes, " And as I demonstrated in the previous blogpost, we can also use a similar technique to provide a view of a desktop application via a browser or remote desktop connection." All of this stuff is becoming mainstream. If you're involved in educational technology, you should be following up on these posts.

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#OpenBlog19 Most Valuable Lesson I Ever Learned
Maha Bali, Reflecting Allowed, 2019/03/11


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I'm not sure whether this is something I can commit to (not sure how often new topics will be posted by self-appointed moderator David Hopkins) but this is the sort of thing people used to do before social media - not the hashtag bit, the blogging bit - and I think it might be fun. Here's Hopkins's original post. The idea, in a nutshell: people submit topic ideas to David, he posts one as an #OpenBlog19 blogging topic, and then people write blog posts on that topic. It's a lot like the Daily Create, but without all the bureaucracy. ;)

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Old-school choice: Lie about your address
Joanne Jacobs, Linking and Thinking on Education, 2019/03/11


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True story: I left home before finishing high school. I moved to Ottawa's centre town so I would be eligible to attend Lisgar Collegiate, which was one of the better schools in the city. They wouldn't let me attend, telling me to instead go to Laurentian High, a dumpy old third rate school way out on Baseline Road. Then I moved to Quebec, but I wanted to finish high school, and I wanted to go to a decent school. So I set my sights on Nepean High School in a nice west end neighbourhood. A friend gave me a relative's address to use. It worked, I graduated from Nepean, and didn't get caught until they tried to mail me my diploma. I learned a lot about justice and fairness on the streets of Ottawa, lessons never forgotten.

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Facebook says the future is private messaging, not public posts
Mathew Ingram, Columbia Journalism Review, 2019/03/11


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If you want to understand Facebook's pivot to a private messaging system, think of it as being like email, except that it's all on one centralized platform, and where the platform owners can mine the contents of the email more marketing purposes or whatever. Nothing would happen in public, of course, and targeted FaceMail(tm) advertising campaigns would take place completely under the radar. Journalists concerned about how they will reach their markets should be more concerned about the wider social implications.

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Copyright 2019 Stephen Downes Contact: stephen@downes.ca

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