Tuesday, August 16, 2016

In Defense of Ascent

I've actually spent quite a bit of time with Facebook, not just a user but also as a developer, working with the Facebook Graph. There's a lot that's really innovative about Facebook (React, for example). So I don't think I'm "old fashioned, out of touch and ill informed." But hey, I don't have grey hair for nothing.

That said, I can't say I agree with the content and even the tenor of the criticisms. Let's deal with the points raised, one by one (comments by Pen Lister('Webteach') in italics).
  1. First rule of FB: Make your bed, to lie in the one you want.
Ah, if only. I doubt that anyone gets the FB they want out of Facebook. It's like squishing the come-on posts from clickbait sites - squash one, another one pops up. I could spend the rest of my life blocking feeds from Facebook. But humans cannot block at the speed algorithms can generate.
  1. If you are a completely passive social media user then the majority of what you’re describing is what happens. This is the bottom-line of non active algorithm, defaulting to basic content provision and ad placement (gee, just like free cable channels I guess). My feed is cool. My feed is intellectual. My feed is all round a winner.
Am I a completely passive social media user? Oh, hardly. I've spend a lot of time tweaking the settings and trying to configure Facebook to what I want. I've also tried various experiments (like trying different ways of using 'like' and 'share'). I've gone through campaigns of deleting users who share offensive content only to find it popping up again from the sponsored posts. So, no, I'm not passive. Indeed, I've put a lot more work into it that I should have to.
  1. Why do you think Facebook is anything more than a huge (the biggest ever) TV cable company, syndicating content from any and every source, in this case, individuals, to you, another individual
If Facebook were just a neutral broker of syndicated content from "any and every source" I wouldn't have a problem with it. But Facebook selects from that content using its famous algorithm. Yes, the algorithm can be tweaked, but it can't be overridden, and it is designed to favour content partners and to cater to its very peculiar set of 'social standards'. So it's not just a cable company. It doesn't just present the content, it presents the filtered and commerce-friendly content, which is the core of my objection.
  1. Yep, fat cats from the algae of web life do have the most money to waste on blanket target sponsored ads. Get over it.
Why should I "get over it"? My better option is to work toward a medium of communication which is not owned and dominated by commercial interests attempting to manipulate my perceptions and mental states. I can use the telephone without being interrupted every few seconds by a commercial message, so why can't I use the internet that way?
  1. You want to change this? Not only money is the answer – TIME is the answer. If you care, or had the time, you would facilitate your community and my guess is, more people would see your content organically, because it would be ‘seen’ as useful and engaging by the algorithm. Just like Google, in fact.
Nobody has spent more time working with other people on the internet than I have. I've been at it for more than two decades (hence the grey hair) and even today spend hours a day doing it. Now it might be the case that what I have to offer is inherently boring - it is pretty niche, after all - and I'm prepared to live with that. But seeing the scam artists with their fake weight loss pills and seamy meetup sites purchase their way to the head of the line reminds me that no amount of facilitation and curation is going to counter the effect of sleazy people with big bank accounts.
  1. Why do you think that FB will syndicate your content *forcably* into other people’s feeds unless they really want it – i.e. have engaged actively with it fairly recently? (I note the last post by other people was in February this year and that none of your page posts get any activity at all… yes it’s a vicious circle but you have the control to change that)
I don't think Facebook will syndicate my stuff forcibly into other people's feeds. It only does that for people who pay them money - as Facebook itself reminds me repeatedly whenever I post content into the site. In fact, in order to get me to pay for placement, Facebook's algorithm makes my stuff harder to find.

Now you might say (as is suggested by your comment) that I should make my pages and sites multi-user in order to generate more traffic. Sure, if I had what might be called 'guest posts' then more people might come. But my objective is not to bring in other people's content for Facebook, it's to share my own content. I know I don't have a lot of comments, but when the 'reach' of a post is 11 people, it's not going to generate a lot of comments (thank you for your one comment on that post, by the way).
  1. Semantic web controls web behaviour. I suspect you know this. The more clicks (activity) the higher the visibility in the ‘rank’. Logic, really.
That's a nice fairy tale. It describes what may be version 0.1 of the Page rank. But the actual behaviour of the site is far different. In a nutshell (again) people can buy greater rank, which increases clicks, and Facebook depresses all sorts of content, which decreases clicks.
  1. The challenge we have as the body of users is to teach the algorithm what we want, as individuals, as groups, as global communities. Smart data is not necessarily evil, unless we sit back and do nothing. Much like democracy then.
The snideness gets to me a bit.

If you examined democracy, you would find an algorithm that has been so badly gamed that people now find it impossible to elect governments that represent their interests. I won't go into this in depth because it's really obvious, and I'm surprised you used democracy as an example to make your point.

And similarly, it is not possible to 'train' the Facebook algorithm to respect my interests. Like so many politicians, it can be bought for a surprisingly small amount of money (adding up to surprisingly large amounts of money).

I agree that data are not necessarily evil, but it is hopelessly naive to think that we're looking only at data and evenly applied algorithms.
  1. I liked your FB page. Because I’m interested in your great mind, I selected ’see first’ from the follow options (directly beneath the like button). This way, I won’t miss the action
I'm glad to hear that. Because if you want to continue following the action, you'll have to venture outside Facebook and into the wider internet. I'm planning my departure as we speak.
  1. I am now off to write copious academic-nonspeak about your fab work in my thesis. Have a great social media day, guru of the e-learning glocality.
I'm sorry you have to write academic-nonspeak but I'm glad you like my work. I think it applies directly to the current Facebook discussion.

You know that I prefer open and distributed networks to closed and centralized ones. It disappoints me that social media has evolved into the latter. I want our social networks to become better and smarter but the best evidence right now is that they're becoming worse and stupider.

I blame this not in the individuals involved (though it's true that they are responsible for some reprehensible behaviour) but rather the structure of dysfunctional networks like Faceook and Twitter. I'm pointing to symptoms in the other paper, but let me point to some causes.

The very metrics cited above (clicks, rank, views) are mass metrics. Your interactivity with others is based on these. They are metrics that benefit from the first-mover effect (which is why some Facebook users and pages have large audiences despite not advertising) and are easily manipulated (which is why advertising works).

Facebook also limits scale on individuals (there's a 5,000 follower limit) but is scale free for larger accounts (especially those that pay). This results in the oft-cited long tail effect (which we also see on Twitter) and the corresponding 'big spike' populated mostly by commercial (and frequently slimy) interests.

The way to fix this is to change the metrics for connection with the intention of building communities rather than markets. But this means moving away from mass indicators and instead looking at relevance indicators, and most importantly, preventing commercial interests from gaming the system by buying access.

Facebook also privileges the content over individuals and relationships. There is no real organic community-building or clustering available in Facebook, only the pages and groups people form deliberately (which are either immediately overrun by spammers or must be private and hence invisible to genuinely interested people). Contrast that with Snapchat, which doesn't even keep the content, or WeChat, which is simply a communications system.

Facebook also makes it very hard to work with community outside Facebook. Anyone working with the graph will understand this. Facebook likes users to bring other users and content in, but is very reluctant to let any of that out. Indeed, Facebook is so closed that some users actually think Facebook is the internet. I can build, and have built, a chat application that includes Twitter comments, but I can't build one that includes Facebook comments.

As I said in my previous post, Facebook's strategy is to insert itself between you and whomever you're talking to, and to ensure there's no alternative route. That's why it's so hard to leave Facebook - you're literally cut off. There's nothing in the response that refutes that, or offers a solution to that.

I've described an architecture (and maybe we're seeing it built?). Here's how Facebook stacks up:

- autonomy - no, Facebook will not let you use what platform or software you can use, and is aggressively (eg., Facebook Messenger) working to limit that choice.

- diversity - Facebook is based on principles of mass, which means that it encourages everyone to view the same resources, to the point of privileging some content providers over all others

- openness - the Facebook graph is not open; there are numerous types of content that cannot be exported from the graph. Facebook is the classic walled garden.

- interactivity - Facebook privileges content over relationships, and focuses on what is shared rather than on the network of interactions between people, and has no mechanism of comprehending the wisdom of the community rather than the popularity of the meme.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Ascent from Social Media

The sad part is, most of you won't read this message.

Not because you don't want to. You probably do. You actually followed me just for that purpose. But because your social network is lying to you.

As of today my Facebook page OLDaily has 638 'likes'. This mean s 638 people think they are following the page. Yet when I post an article on that page, it reaches a small percentage of that audience. This item, for example, which as of today has reached 33 people.

There are ways to increase the size of my audience on Facebook. I can advertise - specifically, I can 'sponsor' the post. If I spend $4 I can increase its reach by an estimated 10-11 people. Surprisingly, people are paying to boost their posts on Facebook.

What they're trying to do is to insert themselves into my news feed. My news feed is where I read the messages my friends and family have posted. It has long been the target of unwanted attention, as spammers through out clickbait and exhort readers to 'like' and 'share' these empty posts.

These are annoying, but at least my friends actually recommended them (and there are ways of blocking these shares based on where they originate, so when Shirley sends me another meme from the radio station, I no longer see it, because I've blocked everything from the radio station - it takes a while to do this, but at least it can be done).

The sponsored posts weren't recommended by anyone - there's no hint of 'social' about them. They're just inserted into my feed. And while (in theory) I can block messages from a specific source, I can't keep them out of my feed altogether.

I used to be able to do this. For years I've browsed the web with ad-blocking software in my browser. It selects what I want to see, and eliminates the advertisements. It's able to spot the advertisements because reader views of advertising are tracked and reported, and the software can spot this.

Regular advertising - "Eat at Joe's" - slips right through, because it's just content. That's what all advertising used to be. But today's advertising spies on you, installs software on your computer, adds extra seconds to page loads, and generally makes your life miserable. So I blocked it. But now, Facebook has disabled my ad blocker.

All this - the clickbait and spam and sponsored posts and advertising - is inserted into my feed instead of the observations and comments from my friends. And that's why my useful post that 638 people want to see is actually seen by only 33 people. Facebook wants me to join this cavalcade of sponsored posts. Not so much because of the money but because it legitimizes the whole thing.

And - frankly - what it legitimizes are the the greasy bottom-dwellers of the internet. As I go through my feed today this is what I see: Search-Engine Optimization (SEO) services. Gambling houses. Skeezy political organizations. Sexist domain name registrars. 'Bank owned homes'.  Health heart institute (with a fake Princeton URL). There are reasons why I avoid all these sites!

So not only is my personal information being bought and sold by Facebook applications, it is being sold to these guys. Ewww.... where can I wash?

What Facebook has done very deliberately is to insert itself between you and your friends. Nowhere is this more clear than with Facebook messenger, where Facebook no longer allows you to use a mobile browser to send messages to your Facebook friends - you are required to use their proprietary app. It won't let you read what they send you without the app either.

And it has inserted itself there not to serve any higher purpose (such as, you know, actually letting me communicate with my friends). It has inserted it there because it thinks it has me, because it thinks it has managed to eliminate all of your choice in the matter, because it thinks that Facebook is better than nothing.

After all, some other sites have been responding to my ad blockers as well. Sites like Wired and Forbes are preventing me from viewing their content, throwing up a big advertising window instead in which they require that I turn off my ad blocker if I wish to view their contents. But I can easily view other sites, and so I read (and link to) their competitors.

But without Facebook, what to I route around to? How, for example, do I find out about this story about Ulrike Reinhard (as of today, 52 reads on Facebook, 972 reads on my web site)? The value I get from Facebook is that, when my friends' messages finally get through, they're worth listening to.

Facebook has me going both ways. They make me pay money in order to allow people to read my content, and then they throw advertising at the people who are trying to read that content. And now they're tightening the screws.

And even as it clamps down on content, Facebook favours the wrong people, siding once again with the bottom-dwellers of the internet. It has no qualms about encouraging catfishers and other scammers to operate with impunity. Alec Couros has been struggling with this for years as Facebook allows scammer after scammer to use his image to defraud innocent victims. Breastfeeding, however, bothers Facebook a lot. It has no problems with hate speech, but generally dislikes plus sized women, cannabis advocates, sexual health organizations, indigenous people, reporters, and mentions of Facebook censorship.

Why do we tolerate this?

To a large degree, we don't. People have tried to build alternatives, like Elgg and Diaspora and App.net and pump.io and GNU.social. Though they've all had some success and reached some level of usership, none has really caught on, and all are in various stages of abandonment. There are enterprise social networks like Yammer which are poorly used.

It's like we don't want to replace Facebook. We've seen social networks and we don't need another one. Younger people are using things like Tumblr and WeChat and  YikYak and Tinder. And of course Pokemon Go. And Instagram and Snapchat. None of these is perfect, but also none of these seems to be so closely associated with the seamy side of the net the way Facebook is.

So, maybe just maybe, we can live without Facebook. And after all, if my stuff on Facebook is actually not being read, why continue to bother with it.

So I think it's time to move on from Facebook. Not to try to replace it, but to rather ascend from it, to get away from the bottom-feeders and think about new ways to connect with family and friends, new ways to cooperate with colleagues around the world.

Over the next few days I'm going to turn off the feeds and shutter the Facebook pages (I won't delete them, because then some SEO creep will pretend they're me). But first I'll make sure there are other ways to contact me.

And over the next few weeks I'm going to revisit what I do with my core offerings, my newsletter and my other work, and think about making my incoming content feeds work better for me, and my outgoing feeds work better for my readers. Thoughts and comments are welcome, as always.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

How the Internet May Evolve

The Pew Research Center is inviting a select group of people to participate in a survey that asks people to answer five questions about how internet may evolve – about the tone of social discourse online, education innovation for future skills, the opportunities and challenges of the Internet of Things and algorithm-based everything, and trust in online interaction. If you would like to share your knowledge, please access the survey here:

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/PD6772K

Here are my responses:

In the next decade, will public discourse online become more or less shaped by bad actors, harassment, trolls, and an overall tone of griping, distrust, and disgust?


       Online communication becomes LESS shaped by negative activities
       Online communication becomes MORE shaped by negative activities
X     I expect no major change in the tone of online interaction



I think it's important to understand that our perception of public discourse is shaped by two major sources: first, our own experience of online public discourse, and second, media reports (sometimes also online) concerning the nature of public discourse.

From both sources we have evidence that there is a lot of influence from bad actors, harassment, trolls, and an overall tone of griping, distrust, and disgust, as suggested in the question.

But a great deal of public online discourse consists of what we and others don't see. For example, you don't see the discussions I have on my Facebook feed or on Twitter with interesting and informed participants. Indeed, I am even sometimes inclined to think of it as private discourse, because of course it doesn't take place on some troll-magnet like YouTube, but it is nonetheless public discourse.

So a couple of things are happening. First, I'm biasing my own perception by taking a particular stance on the meaning of 'public' (as equivalent to 'mass'), and second, I'm receiving a confirmation bias because the main thing mass media says is that it is dominated by bad actors, harassment, trolls, and an overall tone of griping, distrust, and disgust.

I expect people, because of these biases, to project that there is more and more of this sort of behaviour, even though the rate remains steady. It's a lot like people's perception of crime rates when they are informed by mass media. And because media says (incorrectly) that this sort of behaviour is then norm, I expect a certain level of it to continue.

Hence I project no real change.



In the next ten years, do you think we will see the emergence of new educational and training programs that can successfully train large numbers of workers in the skills they will need to perform the jobs of the future?

X    Yes
       No


I think we will see educational and training programs that can successfully train large numbers of workers because for the most part mechanisms will be in place that enable them to train themselves. Within ten years, we should be beginning to see that the idea of 'providing' training education or training is misguided, because it's overly expensive and less effective than self-managed learning.

I find it interesting, even, that the question itself presumes that stills must be 'taught'. "Which of these skills can be taught effectively via online systems?" It's not that the skills are taught, per se, but rather than the skills are learned. A wide range of activities may enable skills to be learned - especially multidisciplinary skills, such as critical thinking or social interaction - without specifically teaching those skills.

There are very few skills that require specific and personal instruction from an expert to learn - frankly, I can't think of any - which means that within ten years we should at least be able to countenance the possibility that all, or nearly all, educational programs may be automated. Or course, they will continue to require the time and participation of the individual learner, and in many cases, social interaction with other learners, but the labour-intensive learning industry we have developed to this point will not be required.

I see two major objectives to this argument:

- first, it may be argumed that personal interaction is required in order to get to know a student, and therefore anticipate what they need.

However, in ten years it will be arguable (and probably demonstrable) that your own computer networks will know you better than any individual instructor could, even an instructor who worked with you your entire life. Sure, there are disasters like the Facebook news stream, but people are already amazed at how much Google knows about them. And we know that with enough data analytics can outperform humans even in complex tasks..

- second, it may be argued that personal interactyion is required in order to evaluate a student's level of achievement.

Most actual assessment (not to be confused with multiple-choice tests) in school or professional programs is based on expert recognition. The submitted behaviour (an essay, performance in surgery, piloting an aircrafdt in a simulation) is not assessed according to whether a set of indicators is achieved (this would possibly be a necessary, but never a sufficient, condition). The expert looks at the overall behaviour and assesses whether that competency has been met.

The expert is serving as a proxy for the community at large. With modern communications technology, this proxy is no longer required. Through the course of any given day, as a person goes through various activities, they interact with dozens of other people, either in person, or through online interaction. Each person responds to them in some way, not by testing them, but by (for example) engaging them in conversation, asking questions, following advice, etc.These responses, over time, form a comprehensive (and constantly changing) assessment of the person.



Will the net overall effect of algorithms be positive for individuals and society or negative for individuals and society?

X    Positives outweigh negatives
       Negatives outweigh positives
       The overall impact will be about 50-50


The sort of discrimination, social engineering and  other societal impacts we have today often have a negative impact because they are based on crude stereotypes and result in inappropriate measures. Their impacts are magnified when deployed by social systems causing harm to individuals based on these crude measures.

But new algorithms will have profoundly beneficial effects because they will:
- provide a person an accurate picture of themselves, and not a negative self-image reinforced by media messaging and stereotypes
- prevent other individuals from basing their assessments of us on unreliable intuition, incomplete or inaccurate data, or bias and prejudice

The negative expectations that exist - for example, fears of loss of employment, termination of health insurance, discrimination in housing opportunities, unfair denial of credit, media 'bubbles' and tunnel-vision, government surveillance and control, etc., are all reflective of *today's* reality. They are not properties inherent in the new technologies, they are things that are done to people every day today, and which new technologies will make less and less likely.

Some examples:

Banks - today backs provide loans based on very incomplete data; It is truie that many people who today qualify for loads would not get them in the future. However many  people - and arguably many more people - will be able to obtain loans in the future, as banks turn away from using such factors as race, socio-economic background, postal code, and the like to assess fit. Moreover, with more data (and with a more interactive relationship between bank and client) banks can reduce their risk, thus providing more loads, while at the same time providing a range of services individually directed to actually help a person's financial state.

Health care providers - health care is a significant and growing expense not because people are becoming less healthy (in fact, society-wide, the opposite is true) but because of the significant overhead required to support increasingly complex systems, including prescriptions, insurance, facilities, and more. New technologies will enable health providers to sift a significant percentage of that load to the individual, who will (with the aid of personal support systems) manage their health better, coordinate and manage their own care, and create less of a burden on the system. As the overall cost of health care declines, it becomes increasingly feasible to provide single-payer health insurance for the entire population, which has known beneficial health outcomes and efficiencies.

Retailers - Alvin Toffler predicted an era of mass custom production, where a good is not manufactured until it is ordered. We are on the cusp of providing this today, from sourcing of raw materials on a real-time basis through production and deliver via automated vehicles or drones. Additionally, software provide efficiencies in many industrial systems, from energy production to storage, distribution and use, resulting in a more environmentally friendly economy.

Governments - a significant proportion of government is based on regulation and monitoring, which will no longer be required with the deployment of automated production and transportation systems, along with sensor networks. This includes many of the daily (and often unpleasant) interactions have with government today, from traffic offenses, manifestation of civil discontent,unfair treatment in commercial and legal processes, and the like. A simple example: one of the most persistent political problems in the United States is the gerrymandering of political boundaries to benefit incumbents. Electoral divisions created by an algorithm to a large degree eliminate gerrymandering (and when open and debatable, can be modified to improve on that result).




Will people’s trust in their online interactions, their work, shopping, social connections, pursuit of knowledge and other activities, be strengthened or diminished over the next 10 years?

       Trust will be DIMINISHED
X    Trust will be STRENGTHENED
       Trust will stay about the same


This is a very similar question to the first question. We experience many reasons to distrust our interactions, and traditional media are reporting numerous cases where they should be distrusted, so we think rising distrust is the norm, and yet on a personal basis, as time goes by, we are more and more trusting.

People who did not even know people in other countries, much less trust them, now travel half way around the world to participate in conferences, rent and live in their homes, meet on a date, participate in events, and more. Sure, things like catfishing are problems. But the exception is a problem only in the light of the trust that is the rule (Wittgenstein: a rule is shown by its exceptions) 

People who did not trust online retail a decade ago now purchases games, music and media on a regular basis (they're still a bit wary of deliveries from China, but they're coming around to it).

People who did not trust online banking a decade ago now find it a much more convenient and inexpensive way to pay their bills. They also like the idea that their credit cards are now protected.

People who were sceptical of online learning a decade ago now like in an era when, in some programs, some online learning is required, and where there is no real distinction (and no way to distinguish) between an online or offline degree (and meanwhile, millions of people flood in to take MOOCs).

We can see where this trend is heading by looking at a few edge cases. For example: what would we say of a pilot that never trained in a simulator? What would we say of a lawyer who did not rely on data search, indexing and retrieval services? We trust them more in the future because they are taking advantage of advanced technology to support their work.

It seems like less trust, but it's more trust.

When we hear only one voice, we trust that voice. When we hear many voices, we trust that one voice less. As we should. And it feels like less trust, But we trust all of those voices, and the overall dolidity of our information, more. Feels like less, but is actually more.



As automobiles, medical devices, smart TVs, manufacturing equipment and other tools and infrastructure are networked, is it likely that attacks, hacks, or ransomware concerns in the next decade will cause significant numbers of people to decide to disconnect, or will the trend towards greater connectivity of objects and people continue unabated?

X    Most people will move more deeply into connected life
       Significant numbers will disconnect


It is truie that attacks, hacks, or ransomware concerns impact our enjoym,ent of modern technology. But it's important to note that what they impact is almost exclusively our enjoyment of modern technology.

A person choosing to disconnect from modern technology suffers the same fate as the person who has been hacked. They lose the enjoyment of modern technology. So disconnecting from technology isn't a viable response to attacks, hacks and the rest.

People won't be looking to withdraw from modern techn ology, they will be looking for better and more secure modern technology (to a point; as people's choices of passwords such as '123456' show, they are willing to sacrifice a certain amount of security for a certain amount of convenience - ondeed, if anything forces people off new technology, it will be the security measures, not the crimes).


Monday, July 11, 2016

Blair, Corbyn and Leftism

While I recognize Blair's achievements while in power, I would never vote for him. Blair betrayed the people who voted for him, a betrayal that is most manifest in the Iraq war.

This was a war fought purely for business interests, and if accommodating such interests is the price of power, then the price is too steep. And today, I do not believe this is the price we need to pay.

The contemporary political battle is being waged over austerity. I agree we cannot live beyond our means, but as someone who was once much poorer than today, I can say for certain that it is far preferable to increase income than to reduce expenses. 


Failed businesses (and there are many) can shed employees, but a government cannot shed population. 

Today the government borrows money from the same people it used to raise money from through taxation. It should return to the understanding that these lenders owe an obligation to society, and not the other way around. 

Indeed, the push for austerity does not come as a result of increased social spending, it comes as a result of a continually declining share of revenue being paid by corporate and rich taxpayers. There is more money salted away in tax havens that the are goods to spend it on.

Moreover, compensation for average income earners has not kept pace with productivity. Even Even if it were a good idea to shift the tax burden onto the consumer, the ability to pay has not kept pace.


A proper left wing alternative takes these challenges head on, rather than focusing on austerity.

It finds the money it needs to support and benefit the people, because that is the core of its mandate.

It does not side with power and authority against the people - there are plenty of voices who do that, they do not need out help, even when they are in the right.


It does not sacrifice lives through needless wars and conflicts. The same money spent to peaceful purposes will produce more cooperation and support.

It does not sustain prosperity through colonialism and subjugation; the rights of people near and far are the same, and progress attained on the back of another is unsustainable.

It does not view environmental responsibility and business interests as a trade-off, because such trade-offs illegitimately transfer future prosperity to present-day proprietary interests.

It understands even when it is negotiating with and working with wealthy and corporate interests that their objectives are not our own, that they seek only to enrich themselves, and cannot be trusted to sacrifice this in the interests of the people.


It seeks with every turn to empower the people, through unionization and representation, through self-governance and self-management, through education and empowerment, and through recognition of equity of rights and opportunities.

And it takes the bold road of speaking out against the breaks and benefits the wealth and business are constantly demanding from the people. The left alone says "enough!" and requires that the rich return to society some significant part of the wealth they have extracted from it.

The left will be opposed by the media, which are owned by the wealthy, opposed by donors, lobbyists and think tanks, opposed even by a certain percentage of those it represents. But its steadfastness is its credentials. Knowing that we can depend on a leftist government to follow through is what gets it elected.

That is the trust Tony Blair betrayed, which has rendered his idea of the left effectively unelectable in Britain and elsewhere for the foreseeable future.

Friday, July 08, 2016

On Immigration

The following is a set of questions and my responses to a Canadian government request for feedback the future of immigration in Canada (it would be nice if these surveys had a 'blog this' button; in the mean time they advise that the results will eventually be posted on Open.Canada.ca, which of course I support.



  • How many newcomers should we welcome to Canada in 2017 and beyond?
I don't want to fix on a specific number that might be interpreted as a maximum, but I strongly encourage increased immigration into Canada
 
  • How can we best support newcomers to ensure they become successful members of our communities?
This second question would require a book. I think we should be drawing on community support and community organizations more, because in the case of the Syrian refugees resources that were available were untapped. I think that we should encourage settlement in the Maritimes, if possible, as this region is insular and depopulated and would benefit from the infusion of new people; make it clear federal resources are flowing into these provinces (and hence helping the locals). The obvious support services are language training in the official language of their choice, housing and basic income, employment support and placement, other education, access to health care, etc.
 
  • Do we have the balance right among the immigration programs or streams? If not, what priorities should form the foundation of Canada's immigration planning?

No we do not. We are currently favouring people who can buy their way into Canada. The points system is recognized internationally as a fair approach, however, we should understand that people who have not benefited from economic activity are equally viable immigrants. We should greatly increase our support for refugees. We should support students on student visas, focusing on people in developing nations who would not otherwise have access to further education.


  • How can immigration play a role in supporting economic growth and innovation in Canada?
If you look at the enormous wealth in supposedly 'poor' nations generated simply by virtue of their human resources, this question would not be necessary. Adding more people supports additional development in Canada, and we can show that this development is possible without generating poverty and inequality as seen elsewhere. Immigration is basically an economic stimulus program; our resources are focused into the lowest income strata, where it is more likely to be spent (we should expend similar resources on the lowest income strata already resident in Canada, and especially First Nations). As we work to improve the strengths and abilities of newcomers, they will devise strategies for economic growth and innovation (we don't need to manage it for them, just create opportunities). Services developed for newcomers - such as innovation zones or business development hubs - can be made available to all Canadians. Our economy will grow best not by giving more money to companies that are already successful, but by helping new companies take root and flourish.
 
  • Should there be more programs for businesses to permanently hire foreign workers if they can't find Canadians to fill the job?
I don't agree with programs designed to help business hire foreign workers. When they say they "can't find Canadians" what they often mean is they can't find people willing to work at the wage they are offering in the location (often remote) offered. These programss for business are effectively business subsidies, and I would rather see subsidies reach people directly, rather than support otherwise unviable business models.
 
  • What is the right balance between attracting global talent for high-growth sectors, on the one hand, and ensuring affordable labour for businesses that have historically seen lower growth, on the other?
Again, the purpose of immigration is not "ensuring affordable labour". This is an approach to immigration that will fail, and will spark resentment among people whose wages will be depressed as a result. I'm not sure what business you mean that "have historically seen lower growth" but usually, it seems to me, they are agricultural or resource-based. I would rather see Canada focus on creating value-add to these resources to stimulate growth, which would be a result of immigration where people create their own companies or products, and would not be a result of creating a lower-income workforce, which would simply encourage existing businesses to harvest and export, leaving a minimum of value in Canada. With respect to high-growth sectors, first, the fact that they are high-growth suggests that they do not need additional support, and second, a more generous immigration policy, as recommended above, would address this need.

  • How can immigration fill in the gaps in our demographics and economy?
I don't know what you mean by "fill in the gaps" but it vaguely suggests we use immigrants for janitors and McDonalds clerks. I would rather see companies pay these employees more money, and therefore do not see employment shortages in these sectors as "gaps". I don't think that there's some sort of demographic 'balance' we should be seeking. It's hard not to be offended by this question.
 
  • What Canadian values and traditions are important to share with newcomers to help them integrate into Canadian society?

Canada is not a 'melting pot' and so it is important to understand that we do not expect newcomers to 'fit in' to the dominant religion and culture. Having said that, we are a nation based on "peace, order and good government," and so it is paramount that newcomers accept that they will be subject to the law of the land. We expect peaceful and orderly conduct. This in Canada is established by various legal codes and in particular the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which should be respected by all Canadians. We allow and embrace the fact that people have different religions, different cultures, and different ways of life, and we negotiate difference and conflicts between these peacefully, by rule of law. Nobody has the right to impose their way of life or cultural beliefs on another. Ideally, we would like to have people embrace these differences. Our freedom to be ourselves, and our sharing and compassionate society, are defining features of Canada, and we would hope people embrace this in the same spirit in which it is offered to them.


  • Currently, immigration levels are planned yearly. Do you agree with the thinking that planning should be multi-year?
I think immigration should be planned as a capacity rather than according to targets. Think of the immigration system as a flow, an incoming stream of people that is supported on an ongoing basis. We should be looking (and adjusting) how many immigrants we can support per day, rather than per year. Targets create ebbs and tides of immigration, which alternately underuse or strain capacity. 

  • What modernization techniques should Canada invest in for processing of applications?
I'm not really sure what modernization techniques would be appropriate because, first, I don't know what level we're at, and second, a lot of this depends on the capacity of other countries to support our system, and this varies a lot. probably there is no single standard. We shouldn't do silly things like require police records from countries where there is no functional police, or paper records from a country that is fully computerized. Importantly, Canada should recognize that it is not a part of the United States and that American policies and procedures are neither relevant nor necessary. I did not appreciate having by full background information shared with the United States when it happened about five years ago; as a native-born Canadian there was no demonstrated need, and no right to this information had been established (I do benifit occasionally by being TSA pre-approved on flights).

  • What should Canada do to ensure its immigration system is modern and efficient?
To stay modern and efficient we should make the investment. We should research and test new technologies and processes, running pilot programs, and implementing incrementally rather than all at once. We should offer full training and support to officials required to implement the new technology, and fully document the new processes and procedures to enable people offering support systems outside government to adapt and upgrade.

  • Is there any rationale for providing options to those willing to pay higher fees for an expedited process?

Offering an expedited process for a higher fee runs contrary to the manner in which we run Canada in general (or, at least, it should). People who are right do not have special rights or preferred access to government services. In the same way, the payment of fees should not secure premium access to health care, preferred outcomes in court cases, or modifications in public policy. There are sometimes good grounds for an expedited process, and these grounds should be made clear, and an efficient application process should be able to make this adjudication. 


  • Is it important for Canada to continue to show leadership in global migration? If so, how can we best do that?
It's not that we're showing leadership in migration; there is no preferred level of migration. Rather, we should be showing our commitment to the rest of the world, our willingness to share our wealth and our good fortune, and our desire to see a better world for all. We should be clear that we would like to do as much to support people living in their home country as to those wanting to or needing to relocate to Canada. We need to offer an example to show how good governance and a generosity of spirit can overcome the tensions inherent between different nationalities and cultures.

  • How can Canada attract the best global talent and international students?
I don't think we should be interested in attracting "the best global talent and international students" - immigration is not about raiding other countries for their most valuable citizens. In any case, I'm not even sure how to define "the best". Usually the most reliable predictor is wealth, but I would be very unhappy with a system that selected immigrants according to their wealth. I think that as an alternative we should look for those who would benefit most by immigrating to Canada. In a sense, we should be looking for potential, not existing achievement. 

  • In what ways can Canada be a model to the world on refugees, migration and immigration?
The way we can be a model, therefore, is to offer a different approach to immigration. We do not approach immigration in a selfish manner, though we do recognize the benefits that will accrue to the nation as a whole when we support immigration. We do not think of immigrants as cheap labour, or a permanent subclass, but we welcome them into the fabric of society, embracing (rather than tolerating) their culture, backgroun, and individual perspective. We are interested in immigration from a human development perspective, and our priority is to support and improve the lives of immigrants, in the sure knowledge that they will pass on the same benefit to other Canadians, and to the world at large. 

Monday, July 04, 2016

The importance of faculty in the higher education experience



Speaking notes for for Instituto Tecnol├│gico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey National Faculty Meeting, Mexico City, July 4, 2016. Presentation page.





1. New Forms of Learning

By now in educational institutions around the world we(*) have firmly entered into the technological era. There is no question any more of whether we should embrace new learning technologies; we have done it.

Today we employ tools such as learning management systems, digital learning resources and eBooks. We engage in online discussions, conferencing, and collaborative authoring. More, we have embraced online video, virtual reality, 3D printing, and much more.

We have also embraced 21st Century pedagogy. While there are pockets of resistance from traditionalists, we have generally recognized that teaching is not just about transmitting content. We employ active learning methodologies, project and problem-based learning. 

We create challenges for our learners and where possible let them take control. Learning today involves building drone for competitions, launching companies, doing environmental research, creating art, and participating in the community.

2. The Changing Shape of Learning

All of that said, however, even as we cling to our old ways, the shape of learning is changing yet again.

For example. If we look at the organization of learning in our own community, we can see the continued focus courses, programs, and disciplines, like biology, engineering, literature, and the like. But this is changing. On the one hand, we’re looking at microcredentials, tiny fragments of learning to small even for a course. And on the other hand, looking at overarching competencies like digital literacies such as critical thinking or collaborative decision-making.

Additionally, we have been looking at same standardized package for every student. We still see this in the push for curricular reform and standardized testing. But this, too, is changing. We’re looking for ways to adapt learning to each individual need using technologies such as adaptive learning and personalization. And if we look at the progressive school districts of today we see programs focused on art, sport, religion, science, and more.

It’s true that the old institutional silos still remain. In Canada, for example, the process of ‘articulation’ remains a challenge; moving course credits from one institution to another is complex, and there are limits to what you can transfer. As most migrants can assert, credentials created in one country are not accepted in another country. But this too is changing. There are multinational initiatives like the Bologna process, though are complex and difficult. 

And we have not advanced significantly in assessment. Tests and essays are not adequate, and while part of the community looks to PISA results, LSAT and SAT scores, others are looking for genuine learning, rejecting these traditional measures as inadequate or even irrelevant. And while issues around recognition of learning, initiatives to modernize prior learning assessment continue to make progress.

3. New Technologies Changing the Landscape

New technologies are being addressed directly at the problems described in the previous section and will drive the change into the next generation of learning.

One of the most discussed is machine learning and artificial intelligence. A lot of research is focused toward using artificial intelligence to support adaptive learning by being able to recognize individual learning needs and recommend resources and learning paths. 

But artificial intelligence is not simply for adaptive learning. We talk about predictive analytics as though finishing a course is the problem. This way of thinking is to cling to the old model of courses and programs. The next generation of learning will be structured as an environment with continuous monitoring and adaptation. The real future is in the quantified self; using technology to solve immediate needs, in context.

Another major area of innovation is handheld and mobile computing. More than three billion people have mobile devices today, according to market-watchers like Mary Meeker. But the future of learning isn’t the mobile phone; this is to depict learning as simply the consumption of content. The future is in the integrated performance support system, for example, in devices that help us learn.

A third set of technologies involve the creation of digital credentials. For example, there are the Mozilla Badges and Backpack initiatives. These allow people to display credentials in their own digital portfolio, and more importantly, allow anyone to create credentials. What happens when colleges and universities lose their monopoly on degrees?

Blockchain technologies could be used to support a microcredential system. This is a type of encryption that is used to secure digital currencies. The idea is to encrypt transactions into a series of public ‘blocks’ that cannot be changed once created. While financial transactions can be secured, so can non-financial transactions, such as the awarding of badges and degrees.

A fourth type if technology is called the ‘Internet of Things’. The most immediate use is the deployment of sensor networks to monitor for fire, floods, storms, or anything else. Beyond this, the internet of things will allow devices to communicate with each other, as for example when self-driving cars negotiate with each other on the road. 

But what happens when companies know the state of all your devices? For example, will your car insurance be increased if you drive on non-approved roads? The internet of things raises the question of personal privacy and the ownership of data. The mantra used to be that “information wants to be free” but what happens when the information in question is your bank account? 

Fifth, we are seeing a widespread interest in games, simulations and virtual reality. This could occupy an entire discussion on its own. It’s worth drawing a distinction between using this in learning, and turning learning into an instance of this. 

For example, with respect to games, there is on the one hand ‘Gamification’, in which game elements are added to learning. So for example students might compete for points, unlock levels or achievements, and compete against each other. On the other hand, there is the idea of ‘learning games’ or ‘Serious Games’, where a game is employed to facilitate learning. In the same way, simulations, virtual reality, or other visual and kinesthetic technologies can either be added to learning, or used to create instances of learning.

Finally, we should look at translation and cooperative technology. These are the tools that allow us to interact with each other and work together. Communication is already everywhere and we will continue to use text audio and video conferencing.  Automated translation and improvements to usability will make electronic communications as easy as – indeed, easier than! – talking to someone in the same room.

But this does not mean we will suddenly start working in teams, sharing common goals, or even thinking in the same way. The future lies in cooperation, not collaboration. Each of us remains individual, unique, and rooted experience. Our perspectives are our own, and communications will help us work independently, rather than in groups. If in the past we trended toward single large taxi companies, in the future we trend toward Uber. 

It should be noted that cooperation includes machines as well as people. The internet is the first large-scale example of cooperative computing. It is nothing more than a system that connects us – our commonalities lie in protocols and syntax, not (despite ‘the Digital Citizen’) shared goals or ideals. 

Imagine, if we can, a world in which we can interoperate with and use tools, services and resources as we need them (Uber meets self-driving cars) rather than owning them.

4. Learning in the Future

If we take all of this together and ask where it leads, where does it leave us? It is arguable that many of the traditional roles of the educational faculty will no longer be relevant.

Take learning contents, for example. We are entering a world of open elearning resources. Entire school divisions, entire college and university systems are embracing not merely digital resources, but free and open resources. This means far more than eBooks and course packages; it means any resource you can imagine. The MOOC, which was created as a response to open learning resources, is only the first example of what will follow.

We might think that there is still a role for faculty to write learning materials and create other resources, but we shouldn’t be too certain. A recent experiment at Stanford fooled students with an electronic tutor. Associated Press is using an artificial engine to write sports stories. The Atlantic reported on an initiative to use robots to teach classes. Computers are becoming skilled at creating content, including learning content.

Even if computers don’t create learning materials, students will. The internet has already seen a proliferation of content generated by average users – social networks, photos, artwork, self-help videos, and more. As I have argued in the part, the most sustainable resources are those produced by the community for their own needs. Resources created by professional faculty may be considered unnecessary and expensive.

Today we think of these resources as fixed and immutable (hence there is a ‘discovery’ problem, or a ‘reuse’ problem). In the future these resources will be created as they are needed (the way you give advice to somebody over the telephone). They will be addressed to specific needs or competences. There won’t be the need for a faculty member to know students personally. Computers will know far more than a professor ever could.

Our future learning environments will change as well. Here I am thinking not only of MOOCs, but of a single, complex, interactive learning environment that surrounds each person like a personal bubble. I’ve called this the ‘personal learning environment’ in the past. We will be linked to our friends and relevant resource people, linked to tools, and linked to a distributed network of services we access as we need them.

People when they think of personal learning in the future tend to think of it as operating a lot like Google search. But this again is to think of the problem of learning as a problem of content. Our learning environments of the future will be based on 21st century learning and scientific methodologies. They will consist as much of services and scaffolds as they do content and videos. They will help us work through simulations or scenarios, and will transfer seamlessly into real-world applications and problems.

The practice of teaching – even the practice of coaching and support – will be irrelevant. Already people get more support from their digital technologies than they do from their professors. That’s why they carry them to class.

Assessment and recognition will also shift dramatically. While it may involve microcredentials and a variety of recognition services, it will be based less and less on tests and exams and more and more based on actual evidence. Indeed, at a certain point it will be questioned why we need credentials at all (much less tests and marking and the like). Information about what we’ve actually done will feed directly into employment or project support tools, and instead of ‘grades’ you’ll get job offers.

This is already happening; we’re working on a ‘micromissions’ project at NRC to help Canadian public service people fill jobs on a temporary basis based on their online evidence base. Artificial intelligence can very easily match specific experience to  existing problems, and does not risk losing information through the artificial mechanisms of credentials or even competencies.

5. The New Role for Faculty

We have traditionally thought of the role of faculty as having three parts: the teaching part, where they share their knowledge and expertise though classes, books and resources; the supportive part, where they coach and mentor individuals through the non-cognitive challenges they face; as the assessment part, where they observe student progress and make recommendations for recognition or remediation.

What happens when we no longer require faculty to fulfill these roles? Do they become irrelevant?
The challenges are significant. Students don’t need contents any more. Students don’t need experts any more. Indeed, we want them to figure things out, translate, try activities, work with others. They don’t need encouragement or motivation any more. Their learning will be engaging, immersive and wanted. They will want to be there, they will believe that they’re there, and they’ll believe that they are making a difference.

Think about your own learning. Think about what you do today, as a professional. For the most part, you no longer take courses. You receive learning and support from your environment. You select learning resources that are that is relevant, usable and interactive, be they friends, books, or even classes.

It’s all about context. It’s all about what you need when you need it. The airplane cockpit is no place for a two-week course. You need learning support you can use right away, and even more importantly, that directly helps you solve your current problem. Learning will be like water or electricity – or text. There when you need it. As infrastructure.

Think about your own learning, the type of learning that sticks over time, like learning a language or learning to fly. “To learn is to practise and reflect.” You need support, sometimes, but mostly you need examples and models. Then you try it. Think about learning a computer system. Learners today don’t wait for a course or even read the instruction manual – they try things and see what happens. They keep at it until they become skilled.

Think about your own learning, the way you share it with others outside the class. “To teach is to model and demonstrate.” You probably know by now that you can’t just tell people how to do things, you can’t convince them that this or that is important. You show them – you demonstrate the function, and you describe how you see it in your own mind, explaining using models and demonstrations.
As Alfie Kohn says, if we have to ask “how do we motivate people” then we’re taking the wrong approach. 

The new role for faculty is to show how to be a practitioner in the field – be a carpenter, a physicist, etc. More, it is to show how you try, fail, learn, etc. To show the way you think about problems. To be open with your mistakes and your failings as well as your successes. To be a part of the learning community, the one who forges ahead, the one who discovers a new path.

From the institutional perspective, the shift must be form management to meaning. Pre-network work and learning was about giving directions and telling people what they need to do. In the network era, we don’t do things to people, do things with people, and even more importantly, we help people do things. The success in the future economy will not be the one who takes the most, it will be the one who gives the most.

The new model of work and learning – and ultimately, the true importance of faculty in the future, will be based around three principles:

- Sharing – by working openly, modeling and demonstrating one’s own practice, including the application of specific skills, but also how we think and how we see the works, by creating linked documents, data, and objects within a distributed network

- Contributing – by helping, supporting and being there when needed, supporting their learning or work objective, responding to their priorities and interests

- Co-Creation – by working with other people in social networks, facilitating and acting as a role model for group communication, group communication, by being a co-creator (rather than an aloof expert or a disengaged coach)

The traditional role of the faculty – even faculty currently working with learning technologies using 21st century pedagogies – is changing. Work that today seems essential will in the future be done by students themselves or by computers.

But the role of faculty becomes something even more important. It is no longer enough to tell students what they need to know and how to learn about it, faculty must be part of this active learning process. In a rapidly changing environment, both teacher and student work and learn at the same time, and the role of the teacher is to be the role model for our students.

This is not a role we have always excelled at. Certainly our politicians, business leaders, and other officials have not excelled as role models. We, the teachers, must hold ourselves to much higher standards in the hope that they, eventually, will learn.


(*) “we” = “the educational community as a whole, in general with exceptions noted, as interpreted by me”

Friday, June 24, 2016

Brexit

One day a new political party will form in Canada - let's call it the Union party - pledging to put the country to a referendum on whether to join the United States.

It's something we've been pulled toward for years, with the free trade agreement, NAFTA, harmonized border security, and more. The corporate sector has been slowly pushing us toward this. The vote is inevitable.

If I am still around, I would vote against such an integration. From my perspective, the United States has to change a lot in order to be worth joining. Among other things:

- The U.S. is very pro-private-enterprise, to the point where basic services are subject to the whims of the marketplace. I would not dream of joining a country without universal single payer health care. I would not want other major parts of our infrastructure to be run by private corporations.

- The U.S. has a history of militarism and imperialism. This stance would have to change. The country would have to have a very different stance on guns and other weapons.

- The U.S. is an unequal society. It has problems with racism and xenophobia. It has one of the widest income divides in the world. It is a land of elites and masses.

- The political structure is not reliable. Lobbyists hold far too much sway. The media is in the hands of people who prey on hate and fear for personal profit, publishing without shame falsehoods and innuendo.

I know many Americans, and individually, I love them all. They can be dear friends, loyal to a fault, resourceful and helpful. I just don't want to be part of their society. I think differently, and I live differently.

There are costs, personal costs, that I bear as a result of this. For example, even with NAFTA - the North American Free Trade Agreement - there are hard limits on what goods and services I could offer in the U.S. which put me at a competitive disadvantage. I don't qualify for U.S. federal contracts. major funding agencies, such as the Gates Foundation, will not fund non-Americans.

My currency typically trades lower, meaning that imports cost me more. So I pay a premium on electronics and other gear. High tech employment in Canada is limited, as companies prefer the synergy and access-to-market that places like Boston and Silicon Valley provide.

But I bear these costs, willingly, because I view my own country as far more free and open. When I return home I feel like I'm breathing fresh air again - figuratively and literally. I could be Muslim if I wanted, gay if I swung that way, a pot smoking (well, next year at least) long-haired socialist, and still get a government job.

So I understand the feelings of the people who voted in favour off the Brexit.

They are Europe's Americans. The situation of the UK and Europe is in many ways the inverse of Canada and the U.S. - it is the UK that is pro-private-enterprise, the UK that colonized the world and still gets into wars, the UK that the UK that has the unequal society, the UK with the at-risk political structure.

Of course the British don't see themselves that way, which is fair enough. But they see Europe very differently than I do, or indeed many of their compatriots. The things that (I think) Europeans really value - public good, peace and order, fairness and equity, civil society - are not seen in the same light by Britons (or, at least, a majority of them).

But their vote to leave iss in this light completely understandable. Just as Americans would very much resist becoming like Canada - especially today's modern multicultural Canada - so also the British resist becoming like Europe.

I, personally, feel this was the wrong move for the UK. I think that the sway of the EU over time would have let to a better and fairer society. I think that they now face an uncertain future, one where they will probably seek to throw in their lot with the United States, becoming in essence part of a north Atlantic (mostly) English trading bloc.

I think they will also seek to reassert their leadership over the Commonwealth, but may be disappointed to find that the Commonwealth has moved on. In many ways, the Commonwealth is another Europe. Certainly there are lessons learned here about the British tolerance for people from other places.

I think that England alone will be poorer (I expect a Scottish referendum and independence now). It will never again lead a global empire, never again enjoy a privileged position in trade, never again have access to cheap and abundant resources. England will be forced to seek solace in trade - a nation of shopkeepers! - and will see itself in competition with Switzerland. But in reality, it will be western Europe's Belarus.

As for Europe, there is no turning back. Without the British distraction there will be greater opportunity - and greater imperative - for greater integration. Some badly needed reforms - such as economic equalization - can now be put into place. Turkish membership becomes a much more attractive prospect, if the Turkish government can reform.

The risk, though, is that there is a chain reaction. Support for the EU is especially low in places like Greece and even France. A referendum would be a risky proposition in any number of countries. A collapse of the European Union would create a lot of risk and uncertainty, instability in many member countries, and a real need for another framework that enables the countries of Europe to live together without fighting each other.

I wish the best for them all, I really do.