Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Beyond Free ‑ Open Learning in a Networked World

by Stephen Downes

Thank you, I have way too much fun with these talks. It shouldn't be allowed. Thank you very much; it's a pleasure to be here. This is the first of three talks I'm giving this week. The three will form a set, so if you feel a little bit unfulfilled at the end of that it's because I'm only get third of the way through the talk. They are however designed to be standalone talks as well so hopefully you will not be as unfulfilled after the talk as you might be afraid of being. I'm also jet-lagged, so you have to forgive some odd, weird, bizarre, and other utterances.

I want to talk to you about the concept of free, the concept of open learning, the concept of networked learning in a networked world and the concept of the institution.

You may in certain sense think of this talk, together with the other talks, as a rebuttal to the way institutions are approaching Massive Open Online Courses and open learning generally today.

It's unfortunate that Diana Laurillard was not able to be here today because my first slide is for her. She challenges the concept of the Massive Open Online Course by asking, "What is the problem that MOOCs appear to have solved?" (Laurillard, 2014) And she answers it, "The problem MOOCs succeed in solving is to provide free university teaching for highly qualified professionals." One might answer that's what the traditional institution is doing as well. One might equally answer that that's what the Internet was doing 20 years ago.

What I want to examine in this talk, is not the problem MOOCs solve at the moment but the problem MOOCs were designed to solve. I'll take a little bit of credit. I'm one of the people that had a significant hand in designing the original concept of the Massive Open Online Course.

Diana Laurillard actually answers the question in the same talk, the same paper, in which she proposes. The dilemma, she writes, "By 2015 there will be 53 million out of school and UNESCO estimates that we need 1.6 million teachers to achieve universal primary education.”  (UNESCO, 2014) That's primary education. That's not secondary. That's not tertiary, primary.  I did a quick off the cuff calculation. At $50,000 or 25,000 pounds we would need an additional 80 billion dollars in salary a year not counting buildings, equipment, resources, et cetera, roughly 40 billion pounds.

That's a lot of money. It's not inconceivable that we could pay this amount, but the difficulty there is there seems to be no inclination on the part of governments and institutions in the world to actually pay this amount of money.

We have to find, says Laurillard innovative ways of teaching. I would say we have to find more innovative ways of learning. Because the problem isn't the way we design our courses. That might be a solution to the problem, one solution, but the problem is cost and access. Design is only one way, and, I would submit, a limited way of looking at the problem.

What is the problem? Very simply, who gets to graduate? Paul Tough, "New York Times", "Whether a student graduates or not seems to depend today almost entirely on one factor, how much money his or her parents make." (Tough, 2014) Look around this institution and ask whether that's the case here as well. Did it determine who got in? Does it determine who gets out?

"It's always going to be the case," he continues, "that the kids who have need are going to have been denied a lot of the academic preparation and opportunities for the information that the affluent kids are given. It's not simply the money, but it's the background, the expectations, the culture, and the values that money can buy." So simply throwing money at poor kids isn't going to solve the problem, but neither is denying the money to make solutions to the problem possible. Money is a necessary, although admittedly not sufficient, condition.

Let's turn the question around. What is the problem for which colleges and universities are the answer?

It's not addressing issues of cost or addressing issues of access, is it? If we look at the results that they have produced, it's exactly the opposite of that.

Let's look at why colleges and universities and other educational institutions are running MOOCs. What are their reasons? They've been studied. One such study  (Hollands & Tirthali, 2014) lists the following five reasons why institutions are building MOOCs. Check these off if they sound familiar. Check these off if you just heard them:

  • extended reach and access (to markets),
  • build and maintain brand,
  • reduce cost, that is the cost to the institution, and raise revenue for the institution,
  • improve educational outcomes, I could talk a lot about that, and, of course, 
  • research and innovation in teaching and learning.

Did you see cost in there to students? See access to learning there for students?

Meanwhile, academics deny that cost is even a problem. A ridiculous set of studies recently, the references are all there, argue that the benefits of college still outweigh the cost. The reasons for that, if you read the article are:

  • That the opportunity cost of going to college has gone down. What that means is, when you go to college or a university you're giving up less income. Why? Because there's been a worldwide recession and you wouldn't make as much money. That's the argument.  (Abel & Deitz, 2014)
  • Financial aid programs drive college prices higher, as though they were incapable of doing anything else. It's like when the tuition caps were raised here in the UK to 9,000 pounds and the expectation, naive though it was, was that universities would settle out on a gradient instead of all raising their fees to 9,000 pounds. We know what really drives institutions.  (American Enterprise Institute, 2014)
  • And there's the argument that student debt is overstated, which is true if you, when you read the study, look at only people who are heads of households between the ages of 25 and 40 and don't look at the people who have not been able to establish their own household. In that case student debt is overstated, but if you actually looked at all students, you'd get a different story.  (Leonhardt, 2014)

We've been told outright that money is not the problem, the implication being that we should not spend any money trying to fix this problem.  (Lynch, 2014) That's why we're getting a lot of – a lot of - educational reform or, as it's characterized in North American, education deform. And they're saying what we really need is a culture change in the institution, that what we really need is accountability – perhaps to the BMO financial group that offered this study.
Image: Bristow, 2014 



But for many people, let's be realistic here, and you can walk down the street and you can see it, for many people cost is the problem. In Canada, in North America, in general, university participation rates are lower among aboriginals, students with disabilities, the poor.  (Bristow, 2014) Big surprise. Student debt acquired not only by paying tuition but by paying that opportunity cost that isn't as much now, has become an even bigger problem.  (Eaton, Dioun, Godoy, Goldstein, Habinek, & Osley-Thomas, 2014)

It's interesting. You look at in constant dollars higher ed cost and instructional cost, they're more or less steady. But students are getting nailed on student loan interest. That's the light blue line. And the private colleges are making out like bandits.

Not only are students hurt, so are their families. (Canadian Alliance of Student Associations , 2014) This is a study from the Canadian Association of Student Associations. Parents are borrowing more. They're going back to work. They're dipping into their retirement savings. Those very same studies that say debt is not a problem are studies that ignore the impact on families that are supporting students trying to go to school.

And meanwhile the benefits - remember that, those of you are maybe my age - the benefits of digital resources, (like) open knowledge for all, never materialized. Recently we had a report in "The Chronicle of Higher Education," 11 publishers are raising their prices all at the same time.  (Wolfman-Arent, 2014) But there's no collusion.  The previous cost model for e-books was not sustainable.

Even universities agree that that's a problem, pretty surprisingly. Journals published by non-profit organizations, says this report, "2 to 10 times better value than those published by commercial companies." (Sample, 2014) Of course the journals don't want you to know this. Academia doesn't want you to know this. And they will publish these reports only after threats of mass resignation. (Jump, 2014) That's what happened a couple of months ago. And then when they publish the report, they'll publish it with a big disclaimer saying it might not be true.  (Harvie, Lightfoot, Lilley, & Weir, 2014) Those are the guardians of academic knowledge.

And what we're seeing in the community today are calls to recognize alternative forms of literature. (Hunwick, 2008, GreyNet, 2014)  I'm a living alternative form of literature. They're calling on people to recognize research and technical reports, which I produce a lot, evaluations, of which I produce a lot, working papers, which is pretty much all I produce in the way of papers, conference papers like this, which isn't even a paper until well after it's created, multimedia content, and the like. There's a reason for this. This stuff is a lot more accessible, a lot more immediate than traditional published literature.

You know, the Internet 20 years ago was providing services only to highly educated professionals. And 20 years ago in 1994 a guy called Steven Harnad came out with what he called "The Subversive Proposal".  (Okerson & O'Donnell, 1995; Poynder, 2014) The Subversive Proposal was to free the research literature through self-archiving. It has morphed a little bit over the years, but it's basically still the same concept today.

Originally the idea was to put these things up FTP servers (FTP servers are like websites but without pictures or links or hypertext or cat… well ok, they did have cat videos). "Self-archiving's time," wrote Harnad in a later presentation (Harnad, 2001) "has yet to come 20 years later." That doesn't mean there hasn't been a movement. There has been a movement. There's been a growth of a movement, the idea based on the firm belief that open access holds, at the very least, the promise of a faster and more effective system of sharing new knowledge.

And it's a promise that resonates not simply in the halls of universities like this, but in places where people are impacted by constant access, in the developing world, in the First Nation's communities, among the poor.  (Poynder, Open Access in India: Q&A with Subbiah Arunachalam, 2014)

Now it's no coincidence that the worldwide web was created 20 year ago as well. The first accredited school, according to Phil Hill, to offer a course of the WWW, which is what it was called then, was the Open University in a pilot virtual summer school.  (Eisenstadt, 1994; Hill, 2014) My own first online learning resource was called "Stephen's Guide to the Logical Fallacies," and I'm a relative newbie because it was published online as a website early in 1995. I'm a neophyte. And our first institutionally based online course, "Introduction to Instruction" at Assiniboine Community College was offered in 1996.

But you know we're still waiting for the benefits of web-based courses as well - this whole openness thing, this whole access thing. I once did a survey specifically for digital rights management technologies for learning resources. I did a survey of how long it would take me to read all of the patents. Since I was developing my own system, I thought it would be a good idea. It would take me more than a lifetime to read them all.

The history of online learning is the history of a plethora of patents. (Watters, 2014) This is a patent for setting up a regional network in the south western United States. That's Nevada. That's Arizona. That's New Mexico. That's Utah. That's Colorado or Wyoming, one of the square ones. Calling it a patent thicket is more than a slight understatement. And it's not just patents, of course, it's copyright, trademarks, even trade secrets.

Here's one that came out a few weeks ago - I've actually got the screen capture - trademark for pi. (Poulsen, 2014) Yes, pi, the pi that you're all familiar with, 3.141 whatever. A colleague memorized it to 100 digits. I've memorized it to, what, one.

This is not simply an isolated instance. It's the norm. It's a phenomenon that took place in the industrial revolution. It's a phenomenon taking place in the information revolution. It's a phenomenon of enclosure. You would think we learned from the last time, but we didn't. And it threatens the commons, the common heritage, common knowledge, common culture that we all thought that we own.

People say that I'm scare-mongering, that these fears won't really come true. Even the defenders of open content say, "Oh, you're way over. Show us one example." Well, here's one example: A study of 50 titles, this was from New Zealand literature prior to 1890 or something like that that have been digitized. Only three were hosted by repositories that do not restrict any type of subsequent use. (Clark & Chawner, 2014) These are contents that are public domain. The copyright has long since expired, but you cannot access them except through a system that imposes limitations to your use. And it's getting worse.

Content companies now are building web browsers. (Baker, 2014) This is a promo for the new Amazon web browser. One click and you can be watching the best in paid TV. I love the way it's represented. "Watch for zero dollars with Prime." (Searchy, 2013) You're supposed to think it's free, but the only reason there's a price there is because episode one, with one click, costs you $2.99 or you can buy the season for $29.99 or maybe you can buy an open access, public domain work for who knows how much.

Content providers, and this is manifestly clear and well known, do not want people to have free and open access. (Newman & Levy, 2104) Newspapers are a good example. People got used to having their news for free on the Internet, but they've been trying desperately to stop that. There's almost a sense in which they have no sense of community as they do this.

You might think that's an extreme case. It wasn't so long ago, a month or so ago, I can get the exact date, happily, that we had some guy heavily armed in Moncton with assault rifles strapped on the back and he went out and started shooting policemen. The whole city was locked down. I was locked down. We were all locked down. The city became a ghost town. It was a huge story. You may have heard about it. No? We thought it made the international news. I guess not.

It was a big story in Moncton. Our local newspaper did not remove the pay wall barrier even though the safety of people on the street depended on free and open access to news. My little alternative, community based web newspaper, "The Moncton Free Press" was the major source of online news during the event, that plus Facebook plus Reedit plus the other social networks.

Their priorities are not our priorities, and, sad to say, this includes especially universities.

Look at what their priorities are. Universities searching for a new president, 400K salary. Staff there, some of the staff there, were volunteering in groups of four to take that salary. (As It Happens, 2014)  No word on whether their offer has been accepted, but 56 of them have already volunteered in groups of four.

The resistance, generally, of academic staff to open content is manifest. Here's a report from here (Greenwich) where we see active change blocking and passive forms of intransigence. The sharing of resources only happens on Moodle (did I see that in a slide recently) which is a closed system. It may be open source, but the content is blocked with a subscription wall. The staff have not had time to effectively learn about open content in their work. (Bryant, Coombs, Pazio, & Walker, 2014) This is a report that was cited by Terry Anderson. (Anderson, 2014) You can see the report an open course-ware conference in February of this year. Even at that conference skepticism prevails.

This is Tony Bates reporting that adoption by faculty and instructors remains a major challenge.  (Bates, 2014)  And this is repeated over and over and over and over. Peter Suber and the aforementioned Steven Harnad have come to argue that institutions need to adopt mandatory open archiving policies. Why would they advocate such a measure? Because faculty left to their own devices won't bother. And that's well documented.

There's no end to the reasons they offer (Jhangiani, 2014):

  • For many disciplines, they say, there is no open textbook available. That's not true, but that's what they say.
  • They're concerned about the quality, the comprehensive, clarity, currency, et cetera, as if existing textbooks are such models of comprehensive, clarity, and currency.
  • They complain that in the world's most visual medium there are no illustrations, charts, or graphics.
  • In a world of chat rooms and YouTube comments, there are no questions or clinical thinking exercises
  • No online learning management systems available despite the existence of the aforementioned Moodle.
  • And, crucially for faculty, there is no testing.

> Professors who call out the institutional policies, the institutional indifference to cost and access, are accused of insubordination. This is a professor at the University of Saskatchewan, Robert Buckingham, who was summarily fired and stripped of tenure for criticizing administration plans to "rationalize".  (CBC News, 2014)

Universities, meanwhile, disguise what is an increasingly unsustainable model by doing what they were doing to me, hiring poorly paid, temporary, academic staff. They're called sessionals in Canada. They're called adjuncts in the United States, I don't know what they're called here. I don't know if they exist here. They do. I'm getting nods.  This is what the adjunct or sessionals say, "Our marginalization, meager pay, and lack of job security," all of which I can attest, "...all contribute to a culture of paranoia and enmity." (Shah, 2014) Sound familiar?

And our institutions who do not have access or openness as a priority have priced online learning using the same models, same mechanism even, that they've used to price in classroom. Here we have a report on an online learning consortium. "I don't see why university administrators could think that unapologetically pricing courses at $1,400 per credit hour..." - that's per credit hour; most courses are three credit hours, six credit hours - "...for online learning could possibly work." (Straumsheim, 2014) But, of course, it worked in traditional institutions, so it should work online.

And "Mostly they see the new technology as a means to make more money."  (Martin, 2014) McGill University looking at the new wonderful phenomenon of crowd sourcing has decided to use crowd sourcing to encourage donations (and yet again, the silo model, the model where the university is all prevails, they didn't use Kick starter, they built their own crowd funding platform. It boggles the mind).

While university fundraisers pursue parochial interests open content advocates create resource networks. (Sheare, 2014) And that's a big difference between the world of closed and the world of open.

Why? Open access makes a massive economic difference, maybe not to the institution, although I would argue that it does, but especially to the users of that institution. The estimated rate from open data for the G20 nations is 2.6 trillion dollars, 1.3 trillion pounds, annually, from education, transport, consumer products, and the rest. (Dawson, 2014)

The mechanisms we have today such as the Creative Commons license are being recognized finally as a patch, not a fix. (Brest, 2014) We shouldn't be adopting this world of closed content and copyrights and trademarks and patents as the default. They are now arguing, finally, that we should be working to a world where the default is open. And you know, that is the world outside academia. That's the world that has been unfolding in my experience, in my world:

  • Things like Ergo, a free and open journal of philosophy. (Huber & Weisberg, 2014)
  • Things like "Mini Lectures Using Learning Objects" (Nash, 2014)
  • Things like, "A New Talk Sketched Daily" (May, 2014)
  • Even TED, although TED is, as I once commented, really the Upworthy of academia.
  • Things like "The Open Textbook Toolkit" from BC Campus, basically a way to help people who want to create an open textbook create an open textbook. (BC Campus, 2014)  

We are seeing what Martin Weller has called the "open virus". (Weller, 2014) He writes, "It's no coincidence that many of the MOOC pioneers had also been early adopters of open access, active bloggers, and advocates of open licenses, and creating open courses in that model seemed the next logical step."

Can we imagine a world of open resource, open access, open learning beyond the traditional world of open coursework, beyond the traditional university model? Maybe. Even the Open Coursework Consortium is changing its name, so we must be getting somewhere. (Open Education Consortium, 2014) We're seeing a worldwide – literally – embrace an alternative model of learning based on open content and even national and pan-national investments in open content networks and open content platforms. (Creelman, 2014)

But, of course, there's nothing that can't be corrupted by money. We should know, looking across the river (at Canary Wharf). We have, for example, a company that produces five minute educational videos. They're not TED videos. TED videos are longer. They have the intent of making them go viral. (Wolfman-Arent, Online Upstart’s Goal: MOOC Lectures That Go Viral, 2014)  Or we have this free online lesson from Disney called, "Play Games with Doc McStuffins." No media placement there! (Dickson, 2014)

Traditional universities are not immune, sadly, from this temptation. Events have proven that they're not. Some critics take them to task. They take them to task for MOOCs. People like Roger Schank saying, "I'm sure that Stanford itself won't give the stuff they produce to its own students. No one calls this racism or classicism, but it's education for poor people.” (Schank, 2014)

On the other hand, Schank's solution. Give a Stanford education to everyone is ridiculous. I did the math. $32.5 trillion a year - $54.5K per year to attend Stanford x World population ages 20-24 of 596.3M. (Sullivan, 2012) That's more money than there is in the world. (CIA, 2014) Perhaps for that reason it's hard to resist the idea that MOOCs are moneymaking scams. (Nagel, 2014) You take the people charging that tuition, and you put MOOCs into their hands, that's kind of the image you get. Isn't it?

You almost wonder whether this $0.00 MOOC offering is what they call a loss leader.

They’ll get your hooked on the MOOCs, this free open content, and as soon as you're hooked on the MOOCs, well, now it's going to toss you a dollar, $5, $19.99, $39.99. It's still cheaper than a course, but you know. Online education is a billion-dollar business motivated more by profits than quality education for students.

The research is telling us how bad these MOOCs really are. If you are isolated, poor and enamored of the prestigious MOOC university offering, the MOOC you're taking, you are less likely to complete it et cetera, et cetera.  (Kolowich, 2014) But of course the sort of MOOCs that these critics are criticizing are the MOOCs created by the same people. In some cases exactly the same people like Richard Levin, for example, who wanted to raise money selling courses online, and who also gave the impression during interviews that they don't really know what the software they're pushing does.  (Hill, Partial Transcript: Richard Levin (new Coursera CEO) on Charlie Rose, 2014)

We need to understand that MOOCs as they were designed are different, that they're not traditional courses, that they're not these moneymaking scams. They're not intended to be anyway. And we can begin by dropping the labels and the value points that we attach to traditional learning, for example, the label 'dropout,'  (Wolfman-Arent, Study of MOOCs Suggests Dropping the Label ‘Dropout’, 2014) and characterize people by the actual impact they have on the system: uploaders, commenter, subscribers, viewers, lurkers. All the names you would normally associate with day-to-day Internet practice.

Because that's what the MOOCs are based on. It's true that one thing that characterizes the MOOCs is the sheer scale of participation. “1,162 students taking the final exam at this course,” writes one person, “is more students than I've taught at Wellesley College over the last 10 years.”  (Rogers, 2014 May) Quite so. These numbers are not telling the story about MOOCs.

Michael Feldstein asks of MOOC analytics, did they look at any information giving us a clue of whether students desired to complete the course? The answer, no. Or get a good grade? The answer, no. Get a certificate? Well, some. Sample some material. No, that's not one of the questions they asked in these surveys.  (Hill, What Harvard and MIT could learn, 2014)

And what we’re finding - this is research from the MOOC Research Institute, George Siemens is saying at the University of Texas at Arlington (Siemens, 2014) - the bulk of MOOCs are created in the image of traditional courses. And eventually, I would say, they will be given the prices of traditional courses. And indeed the retrenchment has to be done. The institution is saying MOOCs will not replace the traditional course. They will only supplement them (the phenomenon they call the ‘wrapped MOOC’).  (Christensen, Alcorn, & Emanuel, 2014; Kelly, 2014)

We are told that everything is negotiable. Remember that. That is the retrenchment. From my perspective none of it is negotiable. Especially the most important part: open. But traditional education, we are told, will simple absorb the MOOCs (Hollands & Tirthali, 2014), as it has absorbed, or as we say co-opted so many things in the past – rap, punk, the list goes on. That institutions feel that they would simply absorb the MOOCs doesn't surprise me. These institutions have had very different goals and ambitions all along.

The mission has shifted completely away from MOOC, completely away from open learning, and to the support of the university's prosperity. (Hill, Coursera shifts focus, 2014) Does that sound familiar? They want to build a new marketplace. And they even think it's a new idea.  (Goodwin, 2014) This is the next land rush of online learning, the move to marketplace.  (European Multiple MOOC Aggregator, 2014) If you hear the word 'federation' in a talk this is what they're referring to: “a coalition of interdependent universities providing an LMS, content repository, and learning analytics system” which might connect maybe, if they supported single sign-on, to some external systems. (Feldstein, 2014)

What's important here is that MOOCs are not second rate, they're not disappearing, they're not being absorbed, or anything else. They are, to borrow that horribly hackneyed phrase, disruptive.  (Christensen & Weise, 2014)They're going to be disruptive on price, technology, even pedagogy. That's because they're disruptive in terms of approach. And that approach is that MOOCs are designed, and built, and intended to be free and open. The one thing universities have always struggled with.

The idea of a national network for free learning is something that can endure, and eventually become entrenched. (Kamenetz, 2014) And it is becoming entrenched, but mostly outside the university system. We're beginning to see the importance of this: Matt Crosslin's been trying to design a hybrid MOOC presentation. All the connective bits of a connectivist MOOC, the way we designed it, and mix it up with traditional X-MOOC of traditional academic courses. The idea of free and open here as he recognizes is linked to the importance of dialog and interaction.  (Crosslin, 2014)

But why would you build a hybrid? What part of dialog and interaction actually requires that a university system and lectures and the works? We looked at and analyzed the nature of conversation, and it turns out we can do it all by ourselves.

So people like Alan Levine, and many others, said, "Let's build mesh networks of people instead." (Levine, 2014) Let's imagine what we could do on a limited budget with free resources that are already out there that we can share, that we can use to communicate, that we can have other people take and run with to solve their own issues, their own problems, their own needs. (McGregor, 2014) Open content plus conversation equals learning networks, and the original MOOCs were not intended to be high-priced or even free university courses, they were intended to be learning networks.

The idea that professors tell students what to believe: that's the old model. And it's wrong.  (Jaschik, 2014) And we're learning more as time goes by with the work of these MOOCs about what does work in these learning networks. Things like the principles for dynamic networks. Some draw from Deleuze and Guattari. (Mackness, 2014) I've identified four principles: autonomy, openness, diversity and interactivity. 

We've seen the existence and influence of networks in social life. I've seen, for example, by Harrison C. White. The multiple change overlapping nets with no clear boundaries.  (Azarian, 2000) Exactly, again, the opposite of universities, especially one with a big fence around it. The structure of MOOC is the structure of a network. The principles of the MOOC are the principles of the network.  (Grabher, 2006)

There's no such thing as a generic resource. There's no such thing as a generic person. There's no such thing as a generic neuron. (Hall, 2014) Networks require and thrive on diversity. Different content created by different individuals, not single content created by an institution or professor. Far from curriculum, we're learning that we should be emphasizing diversity, be emphasizing experience, be emphasizing autonomy and learning. (Lunau, 2014) The idea of the MOOC is not the idea of open resources, or even the idea of open teaching.

It goes beyond that. It's about living openly. (Funes, 2014) It's not about teaching. It's about sharing the process of thought.

If you look at my works ignore these talks. Look at the works as a whole and see the example of the MOOC instantiated literally on a day-to-day basis. Sharing with things like Board Thing.  (BoardThing, 2014) Sharing with things like MOOCopoly, the game (Levine, MOOCopoly, 2014). Sharing with things that are decentralized, not centralized. (Cox, 2014) Of course decentralized is exactly what the institutions are clamping down on. Decentralized is why Internet access is being sold to the highest bidder. (Singel, 2014) Decentralized is why the open content movement is beginning to address open policy. (Open Policy Network, 2014) Although of course they released it under a content embargo.

We need to be open not in the big things, but also the little thing , like embargos.  (Confederation of Open Access Repositories, 2014) The little things like this talk. The little things like this slide. The little things like this picture of boats shooting at each other. Open content, open access, open learning. These are not only a part of democracy, a part of the free exchange of ideas, a part of the culture of learning, but they define all of these, and they define our system of free and open government.  (Jarche, 2014) These things depend on them. When I say the institution has different values from us, it's important to understand exactly what it is that the institution has different values from. Thank you.









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Saturday, July 26, 2014

How to Survive Air Travel - For Real


Photo: Wikipedia

I've travelled quite a bit by air, I enjoy the travel, but agree it can get uncomfortable and frustrating at times. That said, Craig Mod's advice on Medium just isn't realistic, so I have a few tips.

  • First, accept that it takes a certain amount of time to travel half way across the country or around the world. Many frustrations are created by unrealistic expectations. Eight hours to get to Denver? Yeah! Compared to the two-day drive it would otherwise take. Seventeen hours to Istanbul? Sure! Much better than the week or two it would take by boat. Don't lose your sense of wonder. You're travelling by air! It's like being in the future.
  • Second, be realistic about the time it takes. Airlines have the concept of  'gate to gate' to take into account for taxi time. You should have the concept of door to door' to take into account your taxi time. How many times have I observed people arriving at the airport, already late, because they did not take into account traffic and local conditions? When I can, I take trains to the airport rather than cars or taxi, because trains are much more reliable. I take into account things like rush hour or service interruptions. Don't leave ground transportation to the last minute. Plan ahead, book ahead. Make sure you're going to the right terminal.
  • Third, unless you know your airport really well, plan to check in no later than an hour ahead of time for domestic flights, two hours for international flights. Some airports require even earlier arrival check.If you arrive earlier, that's fine, but keep in mind that check-in for a flight won't happen any earlier than three hours before departure, so don't panic if you arrive four hours earlier and can't find your flight.
  • Mod's advice about being relaxed and being calm is very well taken. Airports have signs, which you can find pretty easily if you're moving at a relaxed pace, but are impossible to detect if you are in a rush. Instead of search the whole airport looking for the thing you want (like a check-in counter) look for a sign. They're usually strategically located, at entrances (and therefore, probably behind you if you're in a rush). If you can't find a sign, find an information desk or security and ask. Don't ask a detailed question: just the basics (especially if language is an issue). I ask "Air Canada?" rather than "Can you tell me there to check into flight AC465 to Istanbul?"
  • If you can check-in in advance, do so, and print your own boarding pass. Pick your search ahead of time, if you can. When you arrive, if there are self-check-in kiosks, use them if you haven't checked in ahead of time. No matter what, when you approach the ticket counter, be ready. Have your itinerary and/or boarding passes and travel documents such as passports and visas in your hand (it's amazing how many people spend an hour in line and then spend time in front of the counter searching for their information, as though they hadn't expected that they might need it). I have a special blue pouch just for these: passport, itinerary, boarding passes, nothing else. It has a string so if my hands are full I can hang it around my neck.
  • At the check-in: be nice and pleasant. Introduce yourself and where you're going ("Hello, my name is Downes, D-O-W-N-E-S, and I'm on AC 8799 to Toronto, final destination Istanbul. I'm checking one bag." - often, that's all they need and you've just done half their job for them). Know what you want; if you don't have your seats assigned yet, ask for what you want (I always say, "If possible, could I have a window seat please?") and do this right away. Smile. You're happy to be here, at the front of the line, just a few minutes away from where you want to be, you're happy this person is there to help you.
  • If you need something special, just ask, and then wait really patiently. If they say they can't do it, it's because they can't do it; asking a second time won't change that. If they appear non-responsive, it's because they're trying to do what you ask - the computer system is slow and awkward and it takes time to change a flight, move a seat, etc. Waiting patiently while any airport service staff does their job is the key. Here's the trick: generally, there's nothing you can say that will speed up what they're doing, and most anything you say will slow it down. Just be clear, state what you need once, and accept the response for what it is.
  • In security. You should have regular 'travel clothes' that you know won't set off the alarm. Before you get to security, take all your pocket contents and put them in your shoulder bag. Or your coat pockets, if they zip (always travel with zip-up coat pockets). This is especially important for wallets, etc. They will ask for your boarding pass, so have that ready. When you get to the tray, pull out your computer, and put it with your boarding pass holder on the first tray, by itself. Shoulder bag and jacket on the next tray, carry-on luggage last (pull out the liquids and put them in the shoulder-bag tray, on top). If you plan ahead like this it will take about ten seconds to set up everything, you'll breeze through screening, and be one of the good ones that security people love.
  • Note: only Americans remove their shoes. If you're not American, or not in the United States, leave your shoes on. Unless you have steel toes.
  • Luggage. Need I say, pack light? But even better, pack well. Weigh your luggage before you depart (hand-held luggage scales are cheap and can be found in any airport). Put all your liquids and gels (except for the absolutely necessary) into your checked luggage. Otherwise, use the clear plastic bag and put them in an outside pouch so you don't have to search for them at security. Don't overstuff your carry-on, and don't try to cheat on the size, because if you do, it won't fit into the overhead or under the seat. I carry a shoulder bag with my computer and essentials, and a rolling small piece of luggage. Note that on small aircraft you'll be separated from your small luggage, even if it's carry-on, so put priority items in your shoulder bag.
  • Seat selection is very very personal, but as a rule, if you can, take a window. I know that this runs contrary to a lot of travel advice, but if you want to be left alone during your flight (especially if you want to be left alone) the window is where you want to be. On the aisle you will be constantly bumped by people are service carts, and you will be asked to get up to let your seatmates out. At the window you can lean up against the side and close your eyes.  Exception: if you plan to get up a lot, take an aisle. Second exception: if you are travelling on a small plane, take an aisle, because the curvature of the fuselage really cuts into seat space.
  • Power up your devices before-hand. Yes, I said devices. In addition to your regular mobile phone, invest in a backup nano, just in case it dies or gets stolen. Bring extra earbuds. Some airlines have special two-pronged sound systems, so get an adapter (available in airports) (I'm looking at you Lufthansa). For long flights I also like to bring a tablet so I can preload and watch my own movies. Also, you can now buy portable power supplies, to recharge your devices en route. I also bring a pen and crosswords, just in base, and buy newspapers in the airport. 
  • Keep in mind (again) the total time of travel - you will be listening to audio or reading your phone in the check-in line, in the security line, in the passport line, in the boarding lounge, in the boarding line, and in your seat. Remember, it's not a three-hour flight. It's a six hour trip, door to door.
  • In the airport, pre-flight, walk. Maybe not the whole time, but some of the time. I always find my gate first, then settle down to relax later (caution: any time you enter through a guarded door, ask (a) are there services past this door, and (b) can I return through the door if I need to - if the answer to both is 'no' don't go through the door until it's close to boarding time). If you're eating, take the time to find healthy food. Remember food safety, even in your own country: food should be cooked and still hot, avoid deep-fried food, choose solid cuts of meat, not burgers or 'fingers', avoid breads and buns and muffins.
  • Dress light but not too light. Every summer I see people surprised that airplanes are air conditioned and can get cold in the sky (where it's -50 outside the window). Dress in cotton rather than synthetics (unless the synthetics handle sweat really well). Make sure whatever you wear has a pocket above the waistline (to hold your electronics - your pants pockets will be under the seatbelts and hard to get to). Wear shoes, not flip-flops (to protect your toes from dropped luggage, boots, etc).
  • Do not store your stuff in the seat pouch. I repeat:  Do not store your stuff in the seat pouch. If you store stuff in your seat pouch, consider it lost. You will forget it. Also, people steal stuff on airplanes (yes, it has happened to me). 
  • And please, for the sake of everyone else, be clean. Bathe or shower before the flight and brush your teeth. Avoid the garlic, just for the day. And like your mother said, go to the bathroom before you go out. Believe me, nobody wants to smell that for the duration of a hot sticky six-hour flight.
  • Don't put your luggage under the seat. I know the airlines are always telling you to do this, but it's far better to take less and put it in the overhead. Why? There's often electronics under the seats these days, and hence, no room for luggage. So you will end up spending the whole flight clutching your knees.
  • The most important advice of all: the in-flight posture when you get into your seat (preferably a window, otherwise wait until your seatmates have taken their places): your feet are in front of you, not tucked under the seat (to avoid foot wars with the person behind you). Your arms are crossed, holding your device, or in your lap (to avoid armrest wars with your neighbour). You have your audio playing. Close your eyes. Now you hear only the sound, see only darkness. The rest of the aircraft and the passengers are gone. You are alone. Breathe. Relax. You have nothing you have to do, nothing you need to worry about, for the next few hours. Enjoy this period of absolute calm.

    This posture takes practice. It's like a form of meditation, but you don't have to think of it that way. You might get a few minutes' sleep; that's OK. Over time you will become attuned to the minor changes in environment; the smells and sounds telling you to open your eyes for meal service, for example. You don't have to stay this way for the entire flight - I don't, usually - but stay this way as long as you want. You don't have to listen to audio; if I have to keep my earbuds out I just adopt the same posture and listen to my own thoughts. Some people use earplugs; I don't. Some people use sleeping masks; I don't.

    This one tip has transformed flying from a stress-filled nightmare to the time of day I look forward to the most.
  • Stay hydrated. I always buy one bottle, sometimes two bottles, of water (you can also bring your own bottle and fill them up in the washroom, but I like the convenience). You should also bring cough drops or lozenges. I haven't tried the mask solution Mod recommends, but I can't see it being especially effective. Usually I'll have some water left at the end of the flight, which I drink on the descent, which helps with ear-popping.
  • Go ahead and eat the airline food, if you want (and if they even serve it) on the longer flights, unless you have serious issues with the taste or content of it. If you bring snacks, bring things like nuts and dried berries, which will fill you up and give you energy without loading you up with junk food (they're also small and easy to carry). Better, if you can, eat before the flight.
  • After the flight, remember that you are still en route. Your trip is not over. When you planned ahead, you should planned for this step as well, so you should know whether you're looking for a taxi or a train or your own car. Again, watch for the signs, especially in an unfamiliar airport. If you have baggage, follow the baggage sign relentlessly (be careful: U.S. airports can have different baggage areas for different airlines, so watch for which baggage area you're seeking). 
  • And be careful, especially if you're on the road. People with luggage are prime targets for pickpockets. While you're fussing with your luggage, they're lifting your wallet. Don't carry anything in outside pockets, don't carry stuff on your back or in your back pocket. I assemble everything into a single rolling piece - my bug luggage on rollers, my small luggage tied to my big luggage with a bungee cord, my shoulder bag on top of my big luggage, one hand always free. I use two-wheels rather than four because while four is convenient in airports, it's extra weight, and not useful on rough sidewalks or cobblestones.
  • If I'm travelling to a new place, then I use Google Maps ahead of time to find my hotel. Make sure you do this even if they say they'll meet you at the airport (because, sometimes they don't). Go straight to your hotel if you're on the road, check in, settle in, and call home to report that you've arrived safely. Because people worry.
The one key to what Craig Mod said was to assert the maxim: be calm. I agree with that. But being calm isn't simply a matter of willing yourself to be calm, as he suggests. It's the result of planning and preparation, knowing what you need to do and doing it, as much as possible, ahead of time. And be nice. If you go in there with attitude, you're going to get attitude. If you go in there with a big smile and a generous spirit, the seas will part in front of you.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

My Top Tools 2014

I haven't updated my list for Jane Hart's overall review for some time now, but it's worth a revisit. This post is prompted by Harold Jarche's.

10. Word. This could actually be any of three word processing tools - I use NoteTab for quick notes, and Padre for programming. But this year has been a year of documents, and that means Word.

9. Winamp. This is my main audio tool. I use it to listen to music and podcasts and I use it to send content to ed Radio. I'm been experimenting with a task scheduler that automatically programs my rdio station. Still a work in progress and one of these things I still don't have time for.

8. Flickr. I criticize the photo hosting site and judging by the reversion to the old-style interface I think I was not along. I pay them money and they store my photos online and display them. It's still a good deal.

7. Facebook. Though I am loathe to admit it, I have used Facebook a lot more recently to keep in touch with family and community. Why? That's where they are. Notably, they're mostly not on Twitter or LinkedIn (some professional communities are on these sites but the wider impact is minimal).

6. Blogger. I don't know why I write a blog separately from my website. But I do, and Blogger is where I prefer to do it.

5. Audacity. I record and post every one of my talks. Audaciity (with LAME) is the tool I use to do this.

4. gRSShopper. This is my own blogging software - other people would insert WordPress here, probably. It hasn't played as big a role this year because my job has changed.

3. PowerPoint. Nothing really does the same work for me as a multimedia presentation tool. I do a lot of my original thinking while creating PowerPoint slides and of course it's an important part of my presentation routine.

2. Feedly. This is my RSS reader. I spend a lot of time here - for each item that appears in OLDaily I read something like a hundred posts. I'm in the middle of a large scale reorganization of my feed sources. There's so much out there, I think people don't realize this.

1. Outlook. Can you believe it? I have in the past referred to it as the worst software ever written. It is much improved. More significantly, Thunderbird has not kept pace. I use Outlook for email and calendaring. Both of these are critical for me today. The Thunderbird-Google Calendar alternative simply doesn't work.

Monday, June 30, 2014

The Facebook Research


The Facebook experiments are actually very clever.

The content stream is the presentation of everyone else's material to an individual user. So, in my content stream, I get stuff from Rod, stuff from my family, stuff from Moncton Free Press, stuff from the City, etc., including some sponsored or promoted content from magazines and advertisers.

Facebook has been tinkering with this content stream since day one. You can't show everything, because there's generally too much. So you show the most 'relevant' links (on some content streams you have the option to 'see most recent' and 'see most relevant'). They are experimenting with what counts as 'relevant'.

Facebook is an advertising company, and therefore the product it sells is the induction of beliefs in the users. Coke, for example, want people to think that Coke is good and good for you, and that they want a Coke now. The NRA wants you to believe that guns are harmless and that "they're trying to take away our freedoms."

So the experiments basically measure whether the presentation of posts created by friends and family, etc., rather than the creation and presenting of actual advertising, can produce the desired result. Intuiitively, it should. Present nothing but crime stories in the news feed and you'll end up thinking crime is everywhere. The experiments measure whether this intuition is correct.

From the perspective of ethics, they are blending two things which are, on the face of it, innocuous:
- they are altering stream results in an attempt to produce a 'better' stream - something every content vendor everywhere does, and has done since the days of FTP and UseNet
- they are accessing publicly available data to analyze it for affective and cognitive properties, something we do as well, and something that does not require permission from individual users

Does the combination of them create an ethical dilemma?

It's not clear to me that it does. Sure, it reinforces Facebook's image as a somewhat greasy operation that will manipulate results in order to satisfy the needs of its advertisers (hence making it no different from Dr. Oz and your local news broadcast). But that's not unethical, at least, not in the sense that you'd take them before the courts.

The question of ethics comes into the equation when there exists some possibility of harm, and where that harm is a predictable outcome of the experiment, and where that sort of harm would not normally be expected. The classic case, of course, is the testing of drugs that have harmful side-effects, where you have not disclosed the side-effects.

In the case of the manipulation of free digital content to stimulate emotional responses, and then measuring for those responses, the presence of actual harm is a lot more difficult to show. The mere production of emotional responses is not harm, otherwise most of what we do every day is ethically wrong. The mere measurement of emotional responses is not harm either.

If we don't actually harm someone, then how could it be ethically unsound? Doing all this in secret could be ethically wrong. But Facebook is not doing it in secret; it's all over ther news.

There is a hard line in research ethics to the effect that any interaction with a user needs to be declared beforehand, and conducted with the explicit consent of the user. I don't subscribe to that line. In one sense it is impractical. There are too many interactions and too many users to require consent in advance. In a second sense it's unnecessary. Research is not inherently evil, and studying people to find out how they work is not wrong. And third, it can be harmful. Creating conditions of consent alters research results; tell people their emotions are being monitored and they change their emotions.

This is the point of disagreement:

"They formulated a research hypothesis and tested it on human subjects. For this, explicit consent is required."

Here is a counterexample:

Engineers have theories regarding the length of left-tern lanes on the highway. To test this hypothesis, they construct a left-turn land, and then measure ho much it underfills or overfills. Based on this work they publish a paper. No research consent is obtained.

Should consent have been obtained? It fails the three tests. First, it is impractical. You can't have drivers fill out a consent form befor they enter the intersection. Second, it is unnecessary. No harm will be caused by the research. And third, requiring consent changes the outcome.

So it seems clear to me that this statement is false. The requirement for explicit consent must depend on different conditions. I argue actual harm must be cause, that it must be practical to obtain consent, and that obtaining consent can't change the results.

Facebook's experiments on users and Emotional Contagion (via Peter Turney)




Listen to your customers, not to the HiPPO - http://videolectures.net/kdd07_kohavi_pctce/  

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Achievement Gap

Response to Annie Murphy Paul, whose newsletter appeared in my email today, on her article, Technology Is Making Achievement Gaps Bigger.

In your email you state "I'd love to get your feedback!" so I'll take that to heart.

My first impression was of the level of writing. Phrases like "making reference" (instead of 'referring') and "more vocabulary words" (instead of 'larger vocabulary') suggest a lack of writing experience.

There is also a naive air of 'research reveals' this or that (the phrase "Research is finding..." is actually used) when it does no such thing. People perform research, and of results are ever 'revealed' (which they are usually not) they are revealed by people.

Finally, why would you suppose that a few research studies of students in the United States can be generalized to anything? And what is the basis for suggesting that the *computers* increase the digital divide? The cause of (what you call) the Matthew effect is clearly the lack of social support (you refer to 'parents' but there's no reason to suppose that genetic relation is necessary here). So why transfer this problem to a discussion about computers?

So I think you're reading your sources uncritically. The sceptic in me wonders whether that is what you are being paid to do, if you are being paid at all - there is a substantial lobby seeking to limit and reduce the provision of social supports (including computers) to poor people. Or perhaps you simply haven't read sufficiently widely, as is suggested by the level of writing.

I detect a strong strain of the line of thought advanced by people like Daniel Willingham in your writing - we see this in the references to "background knowledge", for example. I don't think the Willingham position is well-supported in the field, and I think a lot of the supporting argumentative infrastructure, such as cognitive load theory, is methodologically unsound. You might disagree with me on this - and that's fine - but it makes presenting the research as you do here, as establishing some sort of fact of the matter - as misrepresentation and even a bit pernicious.

It bothers me because I see this same argument being advanced without any real consideration of its weaknesses from a variety of sources - this one http://www.americasquarterly.org/warschauer for example, from "America's Quarterly", even uses the same "social envelop" phrasing.

(As an aside, numerous researchers - not "one researcher", as you say - use the phrase "social envelop". But real researchers are careful to say "there is no one appropriate social envelop for educational computing." (Giacquinta, Bauer, Levin, 'Beyond Technology's Promise', 1993, p. 163)

Finally, it concerns me that the solution seems to be to divert resources away from people who need them. A lot of research has suggested that socio-economic background is the primary predictor of educational outcome. It's easy to say that we should simply focus on "training teachers, librarians, parents and children themselves to use computers effectively." But if the 'Matthew effect' is as you describe, then these too would increase the divide, because the well-off people can make better use of these services than poor people.

My own thinking is that the actual cause of the socio-economic divide in education is socio-economic disparity. We live in a world in which most social and institutional structures are designed in such a way as to disproportionately help those who already have an advantage. Proposals for structural reforms we need to address these inequalities are opaqued by distracting nonsense telling us things like "computers don't solve the educational divide all by themselves." Which is probably the point of such articles.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Personal Learning: A Set of Three Talks

Here are abstracts for three talks I have planned for July in London, UK.




For APT 2014 (8th July, Greenwich)

Beyond Free: Open Learning in a Networked World

As the concept of ‘open learning’ has grown it has posed an increasing challenge to educational institutions. First admissions were open, then educational resources were open and now whole courses are open. Proponents moreover are demanding not only that open learning be free of charge, but also that the resources and materials be open source – free for reuse by students and educators for their own purposes. This formed the basis for the original design of the Massive Open Online Course as a connected environment in which participants created and reused resources. In such a learning environment, the provision of education moves beyond the programmed delivery of instructional resources and tasks. Education is no longer ‘delivered’ (for free or otherwise) and instruction is no longer ‘designed’ in the traditional sense. Institutions are no longer at the centre of the ecosystem; their value propositions are challenged and new roles for professors and researchers must be found if they are to survive. In this talk Stephen Downes outlines the steps educational institutions must take to remain relevant: embracing the free and open sharing of knowledge and learning, underlining their key role as public institutions, and engagement in the lives and workplaces of people in the community.


For London School of Economics ( 9th July-Central London)
http://clt.lse.ac.uk/events/NetworkEDGE/networkEDGE-seminar-series-01.php
 
Beyond Institutions: Personal Learning in a Networked World

In a networked world people become less and less dependent on institutional learning begin to and begin to create their own learning. This creates challenges for institutions, but it also creates challenges for students. In the past, personal learning has been represented as a form of autodidacticism where students either read books at random in the library or at best studied programmed education texts and videos. Today personalized learning is supported using adaptive learning and interactive digital resources. Neither offers what we would call a complete learning experience, as we know there is a social and supportive dimension that must be included. The challenge is to design learning systems that are supportive without asserting control, providing access to a wide range of resources from multiple institutions, but in addition, scaffolding frameworks, access to social and professional networks and support though personal and mobile computing devices, devices and tools, and in workplace systems generally. In this talk Stephen Downes discusses developments in a personal learning infrastructure and outlines how professionals, as both teachers and learners, can take advantage of them.


For ePIC 2014 (11th July, Greenwich)  

Beyond Assessment: Recognizing Achievement in a Networked World

If formal learning can be thought of as supporting the acquisition of a body of knowledge, informal learning can be characterized as supporting the completion of a task or objective. Formal learning may be seen as ‘just in case’ while informal learning can be seen as ‘just in time’. From the perspective of the learner, the success of informal learning can be seen as immediate and manifest: it supports the completion of the task or objective. But how can informal learning be seen as supporting the first objective: the achievement, over time, of mastery over a field or domain of knowledge. Traditional formal learning employs exams and assignments to test achievement, and often includes process-based metrics, such as attendance time, to ensure a relevant base of experience has been obtained. And contemporary recognition of informal learning employs similar means, deploying testing and interviews to provide what is called ‘prior learning assessment’. Today, though, alternative metrics are being deployed. ePortfolios and Open Badges are only the first wave in what will emerge as a wider network-based form of assessment that makes tests and reviews unnecessary. In this talk Stephen Downes will talk about work being done in network-based automated competency development and recognition, the challenges it presents to traditional institutions, and the opportunities created for genuinely autonomous open learning.