New Learning, New Society

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Connecting industry professionals to every classroom!
Nepris, Aug 31, 2015

Interesting concept for a website. According to the promo blurb, "We make it easy for teachers to virtually invite industry professionals into the classroom to bring real world relevance to curriculum topics, to help evaluate student projects and to engage and inspire students in STEAM!" By 'STEAM" they mean Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (poor old Humanities just can't catch a break). The site is called Nepris.

IT unions: The wrong approach to achieving a noble goal
Patrick Gray, TechRepublic, Aug 31, 2015

There have been numerous reports in recent weeks about sweatshop conditions in technology companies, for example,, and while some people just don't care, others have advocated remedies such as unionization to address these conditions, as for example is happening at Gawker. This post is a poorly informed argument against unionization. Here are its major arguments and my responses:

  • "It's impossible to take individual performance into account when attempting to set collective compensation practice" - nonsense. I work in a unionized environment where people have very specialized skills and pay and promotions are based on performance, not time served
  • People opposed to the working conditions "would quickly be displaced by another person willing to make those sacrifices" - not true. In a unionized environment individuals are protected by the possibility of collective action by everybody. You aren't on your own in a union.

I am in favour of unionization. Historically, non-union workplaces feature lower pay, harsher working conditions, fewer benefits, and weaker job security. People arguing against unionization are either uninformed, like this person, or they are advocating on behalf of company owners and management. They stabilize the economy, create wider social benefits, and increase productivity.


OpenShot: Open Source Video Editor
Christopher Whittum, Energize Education Through Open Source, Aug 31, 2015

This is a review of an open source alternative to Premiere or Microsoft Movie Maker. It's called OpenShot and the only real drawback is that it is only available for Fedora and Ubuntu Linux - though if you're using an open source video editor you probably already use Linux.

Educational Innovation as a Verb, Not a Noun
Thomas Carey, Inside Higher Ed, Aug 31, 2015

To me this is old news because the model has been repeated frequently inside NRC to describe the organizational changes we've undertaken over the last few years. But it's worth posting this link because it's a lucid account from someone close to the source and because it describes a trend coming to an institution near you. It's based on a "‘triple play’ framework of exploration-experimentation-exploitation seems to me to give us a working criterion for innovation as an overall process:

  • Discovering new knowledge or ideas (including both invention and discovering what others may have begun to do) 
  • Translating and testing the new idea or knowledge as a working artifact (product, service or practice) 
  • Adapting and extending the artifact for wider use to generate organizational/social value."

The big change at our institution was move down the criteria, to shift from "discovering new knowledge" to "translating and testing" and even "adapting and extending". The view has been that there is no shortage of discovery (especially in Canada) but that there is a greater need to adapt knowledge to create social and commercial value. But I fear this will become a wider trend absorbing all our institutions.

The traffic LinkedIn drives to publishers has dropped 44 percent this year
Lucia Moses, Digiday, Aug 31, 2015

LinkedIn is the latest social network platform to shift its emphasis on keeping people in its sandbox. "LinkedIn used to be a steady referral source for many publishers. But that’s changed as the social network for professionals has prioritized its own media and its contributor network. For the first eight months of the year, referral traffic to SimpleReach’s 1,000 publisher base declined 44 percent." This despite the fact that users are still referring as many links as in the past. LinkedIn recently began building a publishing platform for professionals and now offers more than 130,000 posts a week, many written by managers and professionals.

Jeffrey Pfeffer’s Required Reading
Theodore Kinni, Strategy+Business, Aug 31, 2015

I don't see how reading a few pop philosophy business books gives you "a clear-eyed understanding of the world and how it works." So what would I recommend instead of these parochial choices? How about these:

Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu - take the time to understand this and distinguish between the trappings we add to our understandding of the world as compared to the very simple reality underlying it

The Art of War, Sun Tzu - this classic is the textbook for competitive environments and makes it clear that being successful is as much a result of discipline and strategy as it is pure power

Discourse on Method, Rene Descartes - there are more modern books on scientific reasoning, but this work is a grounding on the mental approach needed to create aa systematic understanding of the world

On Liberty, John Stuart Mill - Mill writes from the perspective of having thoroughly understood Aristotlean and Kantian ethics, and drafts a model for society based on the happiness of the people actually living in it

The Denial of Death, Ernest Becker - this book faces life's ultimate problem head on and talks about how we find a reason to live in a world that is ultimately meaningless

I could add a dozen of so other essential books that will round out your life (including, yes, Machiavelli). But from the perspective of actually leading life and being successful at it, these are probably key.

How an App Helps Low-Income Students by Turning College Life Into a Game
Sarah Brown, Chronicle of Higher Education, Aug 31, 2015

My long-term outlook for this app is not positive, but I think it's interesting in that it shows the importance of activities outside the classroom for success in college. These activities were certainly importance for me - everything from editing the student newspaper to being a referee in Campus Rec football games. The ideaa of using the game to ultimately pay poor people to participate in these activities by gamifying them probably won't work in the long run, first because the game creates extra overhead, distracting from the activities themselves, secondly, because of the cost of managing the funding, and third, because of disagreements over which activities qualify (I cannot imagine that my participation in campus socialist party politics would have been supported financially). But even though this particulaar app may fail, it will lead designers to think of how to include these extracurricular activities into the online college experience, and that is definitely good.

Research: Technology Is Only Making Social Skills More Important
Nicole Torres, Harvard Business Review, Aug 31, 2015

This might not be intuitively true, but when you think about it for a bit it becomes more evidence. Technology, far from isolating us, is making us more social. "The days of being able to plug away in isolation on a quantitative problem and be paid well for it are increasingly over." The article suggests at the end that the push from business for social skills is not new. True. But it was not that long ago when the advice coming from the business sector was that schools should drop the 'soft' skills and focus on science, technology, engineering and math - the STEM focus that still holds sway in many quarters. The corporate sector thinks short term, and forgets very easily. That is why they should not design education policy.

Links and Resources

(presentations include slides and audio recordings)
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Key Articles

Scholarly Articles

Cites:294 Educational Blogging (Local copy)
264 Learning objects: Resources for distance education worldwide (Local copy)
134 E-learning 2.0 (Local copy)
126 Models for sustainable open educational resources (Local copy)
88 The future of online learning (Local copy
75 Learning networks and connective knowledge (Local copy)
70 Design and reusability of learning objects in an academic context: A new economy of education (Local copy)
59 Resource profiles (Local copy)
40 Learning networks in practice (Local copy)
33 Semantic networks and social networks (Local copy)
35 An introduction to connective knowledge (Local copy)
27 Design, standards and reusability (Local copy)
23 EduSource: Canada's learning object repository network (Local copy)
22 An introduction to RSS for educational designers (Local copy)

(Cites from Google Scholar for an H-Index = 14)

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The Cloud and Collaboration, June 15, 2009.
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About Stephen Downes

Stephen Downes is a senior researcher for Canada's National Research Council and a leading proponent of the use of online media and services in education. As the author of the widely-read OLDaily online newsletter, Downes has earned international recognition for his leading-edge work in the field of online learning. He developed some of Canada's first online courses at Assiniboine Community College in Brandon, Manitoba. He also built a learning management system from scratch and authored the now-classic "The Future of Online Learning".

At the University of Alberta he built a learning and research portal for the municipal sector in that province, Munimall, and another for the Engineering and Geology sector, PEGGAsus. He also pioneered the development of learning objects and was one of the first adopters and developers of RSS content syndication in education. Downes introduced the concept of e-learning 2.0 and with George Siemens developed and defined the concept of Connectivism, using the social network approach to deliver open online courses to three thousand participants over two years.

Downes has been offering courses in learning, logic, philosophy both online and off since 1987, has 135 articles published in books, magazines and academic journals, and has presented his unique perspective on learning and technology more than 250 times to audiences in 17 countries on five continents. He is a habitual photographer, plays darts for money, and can be found at home with his wife Andrea and four cats in Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada.


Stephen Downes travaille pour le Conseil national de recherches du Canada, où il a servi en tant que chercheur principal, basé à Moncton, au Nouveau-Brunswick, depuis 2001. Affilié au Groupe des technologies de l'apprentissage et de la collaboration, Institut de technologie de l’information, Downes est spécialisé dans les domaines de l'apprentissage en ligne, les nouveaux médias, la pédagogie et la philosophie.

Downes est peut-être mieux connu pour son bulletin quotidien, OLDaily, qui est distribué par Internet, courriel et RSS à des milliers d'abonnés à travers le monde. Il a publié de nombreux articles à la fois en ligne et sur papier incluant The Future of Online Learning (1998), Learning Objects (2000), Resource Profiles (2003), et E-Learning 2.0 (2005). Il est un conférencier populaire, apparaissant à des centaines de manifestations à travers le monde au cours des quinze dernières années.

Vision Statement

I want and visualize and aspire toward a system of society and learning where each person is able to rise to his or her fullest potential without social or financial encumberance, where they may express themselves fully and without reservation through art, writing, athletics, invention, or even through their avocations or lifestyle.

Where they are able to form networks of meaningful and rewarding relationships with their peers, with people who share the same interests or hobbies, the same political or religious affiliations - or different interests or affiliations, as the case may be.

This to me is a society where knowledge and learning are public goods, freely created and shared, not hoarded or withheld in order to extract wealth or influence. This is what I aspire toward, this is what I work toward.

Canadians who gave their lives in service in Afghanistan

Hundreds of my IAAF Track & Field Photos from Moncton 2010

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