Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

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. Through a thirty-five year career Downes has contributed pioneering work in the fields of online learning games, learning objects and metadata, podcasting, and open educational resources. Recent projects include:gRSShopper, a personal learning environment; E-Learning 3.0, a course on new e-learning technologies; research and development in the use of distributed ledger technology in learning applications; and research on ethics, analytics and the duty of care. Downes is a member of NRC's Research Ethics Board. He is a popular keynote speaker and has spoken in three dozen countries on six continents.


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Coronavirus / Covid19 quick reference kit, to take your class or conference online cheaply and in a hurry:

Creating an Online Class or Conference - Quick Tech Guide

Connecting the Dots: Dr. Barbara Oakley on the Science of How We Learn


There's a lot to like in this interview and I certainly think Barbara Oakley has a handle on the subject. At times, though, I find it hard to tease out what she means when she blends cognitive psychology and neuroscience. The conversation flows in and out of metaphors quite smoothly (not a bad thing!) When she says, for example, "Your working memory can reach in and gather sets of neural links, holding them as you’re manipulating information to solve a problem," this can't be a literal description, but it's not clear what she means. Still, the distinction she draws between declarative and procedural knowledge is quite useful, as is the concept of "drill and chill", and as is the declaration that "a little effort to improve students’ abilities to learn has a significant impact."

Today: 75 Total: 355 2021/04/09 [Direct Link]

Proctorio Is Using Racist Algorithms to Detect Faces


Given what we know of contemporary AI, this should come as a surprise to no one, but it's important to actually do the research and generate the data. Here's the gist: "A student researcher has reverse-engineered the controversial exam software - and discovered a tool infamous for failing to recognize non-white faces." Akash Satheesan published his findings in a series of blog posts. Again, none of this is news. "Black students have described how frustrating and anxiety-inducing Proctorio’s poor facial detection system is."

Today: 70 Total: 311 Todd Feathers, Motherboard, Vice, 2021/04/09 [Direct Link]

Elon Musk’s Neuralink says this monkey is playing Pong with its mind


As Elizabeth Lopatto correctly points out, what's new about this announcement is the way it was announced. "This style of scientific release is unusual; ordinarily, videos like this are supplementary material to peer-reviewed papers published in scientific journals. Those papers contain data that can be checked by other scientists." She provides examples where similar work has been done in the past. In fact, I would refer readers to this comprehensive Wikipedia article on Brain–computer interface (BCI). It points us to the OpenBCI project, which lets people do their own BCI experimentation; software is here on GitHub, though the hardware has a cost. If you have a smartphone, though, you can use audio input as a receiver and lower the cost dramatically. So the future of BCI is easy to predict: open source systems leading the way, followed by commercial ventures that leverage their marketing and connections to create a product line.

Today: 67 Total: 290 Elizabeth Lopatto, The Verge, 2021/04/09 [Direct Link]

We’re Beating Systems Change to Death


This article begins with a good criticism of systems change, then recommends an alternative approach that essentially amounts to the same thing. Oh, but the difference is explained by saying "the critical difference is that it is emergent." I agree that the best (and only) way to change society is through emergent change, that is, where the change is driven by the people, not the leaders. But in this article, 'emergent' means "driven by scale-obsessed doer organizations." No. Take education, for example. So many reformers feel we can effect change by redesigning educational systems (and if followed the advice in this article, administrators, rather than funders, would be driving change). But education changes only if people as individuals decide to learn differently. Right now (as suggested by Chomsky here) people still consent to the existing model of education. It's when that consent changes - and not until - that education changes.

Today: 47 Total: 352 Kevin Starr, Stanford Social Innovation Review, 2021/04/09 [Direct Link]

China to tighten grip on edtech industry and online learning


I find that the title of this article is a dramatic overstatement of what's actually contained in the content. There, we read that the government is recommending that departments "limit the times at which primary and secondary school students take part in online learning to ensure they are getting enough sleep." We also read of proposals "for greater regulation and management of private online tutoring in terms of both content and consumer rights." None of this would raise too many eyebrows here, and given that "cram schools, exam preparation classes – and nowadays online classes – are considered an essential purchase for many Chinese families" this sort of regulation seems all the more important.

Today: 44 Total: 340 Callan Quinn, The PIE News, 2021/04/09 [Direct Link]

HyFlex Resources


'HyFlex' is one of those concepts that was developed in a hurry in response to the need to adapt teaching and learning during the pandemic. It's a bit like what we used to call 'blended learning' in that it incorporates both online and in-person activities (sometimes, unfortunately, at the same time). Anyhow, there isn't really a huge body of literature on the concept yet, but Julie Johnson has collected a good 70 resources on the topic in this pearltrees document.

Today: 5 Total: 234 Julie Johnson, pearltrees, 2021/04/08 [Direct Link]

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