Stephen Downes

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Vision Statement

Stephen Downes works with the Digital Technologies Research Centre at the National Research Council of Canada specializing in new instructional media and personal learning technology. His degrees are in Philosophy, specializing in epistemology, philosophy of mind, and philosophy of science. He has taught for the University of Alberta, Athabasca University, Grand Prairie Regional College and Assiniboine Community College. His background includes expertise in journalism and media, both as a prominent blogger and as founder of the Moncton Free Press online news cooperative. He is one of the originators of the first Massive Open Online Course, has published frequently about online and networked learning, has authored learning management and content syndication software, and is the author of the widely read e-learning newsletter OLDaily. Downes is a member of NRC's Research Ethics Board. He is a popular keynote speaker and has spoken at conferences around the world.

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Stephen Downes,, Casselman Canada

From Phoenix to ArriveCAN: How to fix federal information technology procurement
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The problems discussed have in common the need to serve hundreds of thousands of clients. This introduces numerous sources of error, as the one-in-a-million event is an even bet to happen. The recommendations in this article are woefully inadequate to the task. Two of them are focused on deputy ministers, the people least likely to have the necessary skills to address the issues. Another recommends training procurement staff in IT - though it would be far easier to train IT staff in procurement. The last offers the most hope, focusing on a minim viable product (MVP) methodology. But how do you test incremental development with hundreds of thousands of people? I would personally lean on more open source development, using already hardened components, and offering incentives directly to developers to create improvements.

Today: 145 Total: 145 George Melika-Abusefien, Thomas Goyer, Sarah Homsi, Sally Twin, Kokul Sathiyapalan, Policy Options, 2024/06/24 [Direct Link]
Artificial Intelligence for Open Universities in Asia: Lessons from Robert Moses' Low Parkway Bridges
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At last November's ICDE conference, writes Junhong Xiao, "the president of an open university (OU) outlined the ambition of building a global digital university in his keynote speech." But is this the right ambition? Xiao makes the comparison with the parkway bridges built extra-low "to keep buses from the city away from Jones Beach – buses presumably filled with the poor blacks and Puerto Ricans Moses despised." In the same way, "if improperly or blindly adopted, AI can turn discriminatory and, in the case of OU education in Asia, may lead to more harm than good." AI is expensive. The cost of deploying AI may create a barrier against lower income institutions and students. He has a point. I have zero interest in AI - or any educational technology - if all it does is help the already-advantaged. Quality, to my mind, is meaningless without access.

Today: 118 Total: 379 Junhong Xiao, Open University Malaysia, 2024/06/21 [Direct Link]
GPT Builder is being retired
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GPT Builder was a nifty tool for people building custom GPTs. "Builders can use a conversational interface to create their GPT without having to manually fill out the required fields." It is being shut down in Microsoft's CoPilot. Microsoft reports, "we are shifting our focus on GPTs to Commercial and Enterprise scenarios and are stopping GPT efforts in consumer Copilot." Anything you built in GPT Builder will be deleted (I was feeling badly about not building anything but I feel better now). There's a ton of coverage online and people gloating about how there's no business model for AI, all of which seems overblown to me.

Today: 171 Total: 447 Microsoft Support, 2024/06/21 [Direct Link]
Harvard Business Publishing Education
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"We've found GPT-4 class models particularly effective in creating role-play scenarios" (76 page PDF), write the authors. In this article they describe some of their techniques: crafting prompts to the AI knows its role, creating a variety of scenario options, and having it provide a positinve and supportive experience for students (you don't want it to turn toward the dark side). There's a really nice 'negotiation role-play prompt' provided as an example. What I like about this is that it plays to the strength of the AI, where it doesn't matter if it hallucinates (that actually makes the scenario better) and where it doesn't depend on factual knowledge.

Today: 95 Total: 438 Ethan Mollick, Lilach Mollick, Harvard Business School Publishing, 2024/06/21 [Direct Link]
A Long Guide to Giving a Short Academic Talk
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I've given tons of talks, some of them short, and while I see the appeal in this approach ('giving a talk is like selling yourself') and while there is some truth in it, I think the overall approach is misguided. Forget about selling; it's more like entertaining than selling. For one thing, I think readers should ignore the 'anatomy of a short talk' offered in this paper. That's a recipe for a snooze-fest. No, the main rule is this: start with the demo. In other words, show something right off the top. Present the main idea right away. Go straight to the most interesting thing. Take any questions the audience may have. Only then do you explain what you were up to: what problem you were trying to solve, maybe, or what theory you think this shows.

Today: 77 Total: 446 Benjamin Noble, 2024/06/21 [Direct Link]
Measuring data rot: An analysis of the continued availability of shared data from a Single University
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People like to say that "what's on the internet is forever" but older hands know that stuff disappears all the time. This is known as 'link rot' and this paper (14 page PDF) studies the rate of link rot in a university website and open data service. "A surprising 13.4% of shared URL links pointed to a website homepage rather than a specific record on a website. After testing, 5.4% the 2166 supplemental data links were found to be no longer available... Links from older publications were more likely to be unavailable, with a data disappearance rate estimated at 2.6% per year."

Today: 76 Total: 310 Kristin A. Briney, PLOS ONE, 2024/06/21 [Direct Link]

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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Last Updated: Jun 22, 2024 6:37 p.m.

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