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reading

I enjoyed reading (September)

I’m going to be presenting at The Network: Towards Unity for Health conference in Fortaleza, Brazil later this year and so my reading has largely been focused around what I’m thinking of talking about. I haven’t formalised the structure of the presentation yet but will probably publish it here as I figure out what I want to do.

What is public? (Anil Dash)

Public is not simply defined. Public is not just what can be viewed by others, but a fragile set of social conventions about what behaviors are acceptable and appropriate. There are people determined to profit from expanding and redefining what’s public, working to treat nearly everything we say or do as a public work they can exploit. They may succeed before we even put up a fight.

….

What if the public speech on Facebook and Twitter is more akin to a conversation happening between two people at a restaurant? Or two people speaking quietly at home, albeit near a window that happens to be open to the street? And if more than a billion people are active on various social networking applications each week, are we saying that there are now a billion public figures? When did we agree to let media redefine everyone who uses social networks as fair game, with no recourse and no framework for consent?

….

The business models of some of the most powerful forces in society are increasingly dependent on our complicity in making our conversations, our creations, and our communities public whenever they can exploit them. Given that reality, understanding exactly what “public” means is the only way to protect the public’s interest.

 

What is privacy? (danah boyd): Think of this piece as an extension of the piece above, where boyd unpacks the notion of privacy in the context of “public” that Anil Dash wrote about.

The very practice of privacy is all about control in a world in which we fully know that we never have control. Our friends might betray us, our spaces might be surveilled, our expectations might be shattered. But this is why achieving privacy is desirable. People want to be *in* public, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they want to *be* public. There’s a huge difference between the two. As a result of the destabilization of social spaces, what’s shocking is how frequently teens have shifted from trying to restrict access to content to trying to restrict access to meaning. They get, at a gut level, that they can’t have control over who sees what’s said, but they hope to instead have control over how that information is interpreted. And thus, we see our collective imagination of what’s private colliding smack into the notion of public. They are less of a continuum and more of an entwined hairball, reshaping and influencing each other in significant ways.

….

When powerful actors, be they companies or governmental agencies, use the excuse of something being “public” to defend their right to look, they systematically assert control over people in a way that fundamentally disenfranchises them. This is the very essence of power and the core of why concepts like “surveillance” matter. Surveillance isn’t simply the all-being all-looking eye. It’s a mechanism by which systems of power assert their power. And it is why people grow angry and distrustful. Why they throw fits over beingexperimented on. Why they cry privacy foul even when the content being discussed is, for all intents and purposes, public.

 

Are Google making money from your exercise data?: Exercise activity as digital labour? (Chris Till)

In this article I made a suggestion of what I believe to be a previously untheorised consequence of the large scale tracking of exercise activity by self-tracking devices such as Fitbit and Nike+ and related apps on smart phones.

My suggestion was that this kind of tracking is potentially transforming exercise activity into labour. By synthesising existing analyses of self-tracking and quantified self activities with theories of digital labour I proposed that by converting the physical movement of bodies during exercise into standardised measures which can be analysed, compared and accumulated on a large scale they are made amenable to the extraction of value.

….

Another study conducted by web analytics and privacy group Evidon commissioned by the Financial Times found that data was shared with nearly seventy companies by the twenty most popular health and fitness apps and some of these companies were advertising firms (see graphic below). Although the headline rhetoric often presents a concern for the privacy of users an analysis of the privacy policies of many of the most popular health and fitness tracking apps and devices most allowing “non-personally identifiable information” to be shared and many were ambiguous on whether they permitted sharing of user data.

 

Wearer be warned: Your fitness data may be sold or used against you (Deborah Lupton)

When self-tracking was an activity limited to jotting notes down in a paper journal or diary, this information could easily be kept private. No-one else could know the finer details of one’s sleeping or bowel habits, sex life, diet, heart rate, body weight or efforts to give up smoking.

However when people use digital devices that connect to computing cloud storage facilities or developers’ data archives, the user no longer owns or control their own data. This personal and often very private information becomes part of vast digital data collections that are increasingly used by actors and agents in many different social domains.

Personal health and medical data is now used for much more than just gathering information on oneself for one’s own private reasons. This information is a commodity that can be used for commercial, managerial and governmental purposes and on-sold to third parties.

 

Every little byte counts (Evgeny Morozov)

When Big Data allows us to automate decision-­making, or at least contextualize every decision with a trove of data about its likely consequences, we need to grapple with the question of just how much we want to leave to chance and to those simple, low-tech, unautomated options of democratic contestation and deliberation.

As we gain the capacity to predict and even pre-empt crises, we risk eliminating the very kinds of experimental behaviors that have been conducive to social innovation. Occasionally, someone needs to break the law, engage in an act of civil disobedience or simply refuse to do something the rest of us find useful. The temptation of Big Data lies precisely in allowing us to identify and make such loopholes unavailable to deviants, who might actually be dissidents in disguise.

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reading

I enjoyed reading (August)

You can tell from the excerpts below and from previous posts that I’ve been putting some time into thinking about, and writing about, writing. I had to put my writing on hold for a while while I paid attention to other projects, but I’m starting to get back into it again and I’m exciting about it like I haven’t been in a while. It’s hard to begin again and even the movement of my fingers on the keys feel clumsy and awkward.

David Foster Wallace on Writing, Self-Improvement, and How We Become Who We Are (Maria Popova, sharing excerpts from David Foster Wallace):

Like any art, probably, the more experience you have with it, the more the horizon of what being really good is . . . the more it recedes. . . . Which you could say is an important part of my education as a writer. If I’m not aware of some deficits, I’m not going to be working hard to try to overcome them. . . .

Like any kind of infinitely rich art, or any infinitely rich medium, like language, the possibilities for improvement are infinite and so are the possibilities for screwing up and ceasing to be good in the ways you want to be good.

Grit and the secret of success (Maria Popova): I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit lately, since we started a project in my faculty where we look at student success and possible strategies to improve it. One of the proxy measures of student success is student engagement i.e. the amount of physical and cognitive effort that students put into completing an academic task. One of the areas in which student engagement can be enhanced is in academic challenge, which is the idea that by creating tasks that push students to work harder than they are used to, they will be more engaged and therefore potentially more successful.

“Inspiration is for amateurs — the rest of us just show up and get to work,” Chuck Close scoffed. “A self-respecting artist must not fold his hands on the pretext that he is not in the mood,” Tchaikovsky admonished. “Show up, show up, show up, and after a while the muse shows up, too,” Isabel Allende urged. “You have to finish things,” Neil Gaiman advised aspiring writers.

Mary Gordon on the Joy of Notebooks and How Writing by Hand Catalyzes Creativity (Maria Popova):

I listen to music, often string quartets or piano sonatas. … I enjoy the music and the rhythm of the mindless copying. Or not entirely mindless; I’m luxuriating in the movement of the words which are, blessedly, not mine. I’m taking pleasure in the slow and rapid movements of my pen, leaving its black marks on the whiteness of paper. … I can’t listen to music when reading poetry or fiction. Into the notebook I am using for the fiction I’m writing, I copy paragraphs whose heft and cadence I can learn from. And some days, if I’m lucky, the very movement of my hand, like a kind of dance, starts up another movement that allows me to forget the vanity, the folly, of what I am really about.

An academic writing playlist (Pat Thomson)

1. A song for staring at the blank screen
2. A song for explaining to your lover why you didn’t hear what they just said
3. A song for reading reviewers’ comments
4. A song for that feeling of being really, really stupid
5. A song for pressing the submit button
6. A song to drown out the noises in the hall
7. A song to remind yourself to get off twitter now
8. A song for an impossible deadline

…. Click here for the rest of the playlist.

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I enjoyed reading (July)

Artificial Intelligence Is Now Telling Doctors How to Treat You (Daniela Hernandez)

Artificial intelligence is still in the very early stages of development–in so many ways, it can’t match our own intelligence–and computers certainly can’t replace doctors at the bedside. But today’s machines are capable of crunching vast amounts of data and identifying patterns that humans can’t. Artificial intelligence–essentially the complex algorithms that analyze this data–can be a tool to take full advantage of electronic medical records, transforming them from mere e-filing cabinets into full-fledged doctors’ aides that can deliver clinically relevant, high-quality data in real time.

Carl Sagan on Science and Spirituality (Maria Popova)

Plainly there is no way back. Like it or not, we are stuck with science. We had better make the best of it. When we finally come to terms with it and fully recognize its beauty and its power, we will find, in spiritual as well as in practical matters, that we have made a bargain strongly in our favor.

But superstition and pseudoscience keep getting in the way, distracting us, providing easy answers, dodging skeptical scrutiny, casually pressing our awe buttons and cheapening the experience, making us routine and comfortable practitioners as well as victims of credulity.

Is it OK to be a luddite?

Perhaps, there is some middle-ground, not skepticism or luddism, but what Sean calls digital agnosticism. So often in our discussions of online education and teaching with technology, we jump to a discussion of how or when to use technology without pausing to think about whether or why. While we wouldn’t advocate for a new era of luddism in higher education, we do think it’s important for us to at least ask ourselves these questions.

We use technology. It seduces us and students with its graphic interfaces, haptic touch-screens, and attention-diverting multimodality. But what are the drawbacks and political ramifications of educational technologies? Are there situations where tech shouldn’t be used or where its use should be made as invisible as possible?

Reclaiming the Web for the Next Generation (Doug Belshaw):

Those of us who have grown up with the web sort-of, kind-of know the mechanics behind it (although we could use a refresher). For the next generation, will they know the difference between the Internet and Google or Facebook? Will they, to put it bluntly, know the difference between a public good and a private company?

7 things good communicators must not do (Garr Reynolds): Reynolds creates a short list of items taken from this TED Talk by Julian Treasure. If you can’t watch the video, here are the things to avoid:

1. Gossip
2. Judgement
3. Negativity
4. Complaining
5. Excuses
6. Exaggeration (lying)
7. Dogmatism
Reynolds added another item to the list; 8. Self-absorption

Personal Learning Networks, CoPs Connectivism: Creatively Explained (Jackie Gerstein): Really interesting post demonstrating student examples of non-linguistical knowledge representation.

The intent of this module is to assist you in developing a personalized and deep understanding of the concepts of this unit – the concepts that are core to using social networking as a learning venue. Communities of Practice, Connectivism, Personal Learning Networks, create one or a combination of the following to demonstrate your understanding of these concepts: a slide show or Glog of images, an audio cast of sounds, a video of sights, a series of hand drawn and scanned pictures, a mindmap of images, a mathematical formula, a periodic chart of concepts, or another form of nonlinguistic symbols. Your product should contain the major elements discussed in this module: CoPs, Connectivism, and Personal Learning Networks. These are connected yet different concepts. As such they should be portrayed as separate, yet connected elements.

The open education infrastructure, and why we must build it (Davis Wiley)

Open Credentials
Open Assessments
Open Educational Resources
Open Competencies

This interconnected set of components provides a foundation which will greatly decrease the time, cost, and complexity of the search for innovative and effective new models of education.

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I enjoyed reading (February)

Disrupting the diploma (Reid Hoffman): I love the idea of a certification as a “communication device”.

…we need to apply new technologies to the primary tool of traditional certification, the diploma. We need to take what now exists as a dumb, static document and turn it into a richer, updateable, more connected record of a person’s skills, expertise, and experience. And then we need to take that record and make it part of a fully networked certification platform.

a different approach to research questions: a useful holiday read (Pat Thomson): This made me think about the kind of research that I want to end up doing. Yes, there’s always a space to “fill in the gaps”, but will I really be able to innovate if I simply fill in what’s missing?

Alvesson and Sandberg take issue with the dominant mode of generating research questions – they call this gap spotting. They argue that the usual process consists of reading literatures, finding what’s been said about a particular topic and locating something that isn’t done – the gap. This gap spotting leads to an incremental approach to research, they say. While gap spotting is perfectly defensible, and will certainly garner the do-ers of gap-spotting research PhDs and even research grants, it won’t, they suggest, produce game-changing research, particularly in the arts, humanities and social sciences. Instead, gap-spotting produces work which is predictable. Gap filling adds to what is known, but doesn’t change the field.

Is It Plagiarism or Collaboration? (Jennifer Carey): If we’re trying to create learning spaces that prepare students for the “real world”, and we acknowledge that working in the real world requires collaboration with others, why don’t we develop more assessments that require students to work together?

We want students to do “group work,” to collaborate, and to discuss. However, we have very specific realms in which we want this to happen: the group assignment, the in-class discussion, studying for exams, etc. At the same time, many of us want to put up barriers and halt any collaboration at other times (during assessments, for example). When collaboration takes place during assessment, we deem it plagiarism or cheating, and technology is often identified as the instrument that tempts students into such behavior.

The attack on our higher education system — and why we should welcome it

For one thing, the MOOC hypesters were wrong. They discovered, on the backs, or within the wallets, of their VC partners, that knowledge building is a complex integrated system with multiple facets. The linear nature of MOOC solutions to the perceived problems of higher education (better instructional software and greater numbers of learners) failed to account for knowledge building as an integrated social, economic and cultural activity of society. Suggestions of MOOCs replacing universities began to seem quaint and childlike.

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reading

I enjoyed reading (January)

This post is also a bit delayed, but I’m OK with that. During January I found myself reading a bit more than usual about robots, androids, augmented reality and related topics. I’m not sure why it worked out that way, but this collection is more or less representative of what I found interesting during that time. Interestingly, I realised that a common thread throughout this theme are that they’re pretty much related to three books by Daniel Suarez; Daemon, Freedom, and Kill Decision. If you enjoy this kind of thing, you have to read them.

I, Glasshole: My Year With Google Glass (Mat Honan): I’m fascinated with the concept of wearable, context-aware devices and services, of which Glass is simply the most well-known. I think that the ability to overlay digital information on top of the reality we perceive represents an astounding change in how we experience the world.

For much of 2013, I wore the future across my brow, a true Glasshole peering uncertainly into the post-screen world. I’m not out here all alone, at least not for long. The future is coming to your face too. And your wrist. Hell, it might even be in your clothes. You’re going to be wearing the future all over yourself, and soon. When it comes to wearable computing, it’s no longer a question of if it happens, only when and why and can you get in front of it to stop it with a ball-pein hammer? (Answers: Soon. Because it is incredibly convenient. Probably not.) In a few years, we might all be Glassholes. But in 2013, maybe for the last time, I was in dubiously exclusive face-computing company.

Robots of death, robots of love: The reality of android soldiers and why laws for robots are doomed to failure (Steve Ranger): The idea of fully autonomous robots that are able to make decisions in critical situations is both disturbing and appealing to me. Disturbing because embedding a moral framework that can deal with the complexity of warfare is ethically problematic. Appealing because in many situations, robots may actually be able to make better decisions than human beings (think of self-driving cars).

While fully autonomous robot weapons might not be deployed for two or three decades, the International Committee for Robot Arms Control (ICRAC), an international group of academics and experts concerned about the implications of a robot arms race, argues a prohibition on the development and deployment of autonomous weapons systems is the correct approach. “Machines should not be allowed to make the decision to kill people,” it states.

Better Than Human: Why Robots Will — And Must — Take Our Jobs (Kevin Kelly): Kevin Kelly’s article, We are the web, was one of the first things I read that profoundly changed the way I think about the internet. Needless to say, I almost always find his thoughts on technology to be insightful and thought-provoking.

All the while, robots will continue their migration into white-collar work. We already have artificial intelligence in many of our machines; we just don’t call it that. Witness one piece of software by Narrative Science (profiled in issue 20.05) that can write newspaper stories about sports games directly from the games’ stats or generate a synopsis of a company’s stock performance each day from bits of text around the web. Any job dealing with reams of paperwork will be taken over by bots, including much of medicine. Even those areas of medicine not defined by paperwork, such as surgery, are becoming increasingly robotic. The rote tasks of any information-intensive job can be automated. It doesn’t matter if you are a doctor, lawyer, architect, reporter, or even programmer: The robot takeover will be epic.

And it has already begun.

A review of Her (Ray Kurzweil): Kurweil’s thinking on the merging of human beings with technology is fascinating. If you’re interested in this topic, the collection of essays on his blog is awesome.

With emerging eye-mounted displays that project images onto the wearer’s retinas and also look out at the world, we will indeed soon be able to do exactly that. When we send nanobots into the brain — a circa-2030s scenario by my timeline — we will be able to do this with all of the senses, and even intercept other people’s emotional responses.

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I enjoyed reading (December)

This post is really delayed, mainly because I took a break from blogging over December and January. I was starting to feel an “obligation to blog”, which is when I know that I need to step back a bit and take some time off. There’s nothing worse than writing because you feel you have to, rather than actually wanting to. Now that I’ve had a break, I find myself feeling excited at the prospect of blogging again, which is a much better place to be.

9 reasons why I am NOT a social constructivist (Donald Clark): Interesting critique of the concept of social constructivism as a theory that explains learning. To be honest, I’ll admit to having accepted the authenticity of the theory because it fits in with how I believe the world is. However, I haven’t been at all critical of it. In the spirit of adopting a more critical view of my beliefs, this was a very good post to read.

Educators nod sagely at the mention of ‘social constructivism’ confirming the current orthodoxy in learning theory. To be honest, I’m not even sure that social constructivism is an actual theory, in the sense that it’s verified, studied, understood and used as a deep, theoretical platform for action. For most, I sense, it’s a simple belief that learning is, well, ‘social’ and ‘constructed’. As collaborative learning is a la mode, the social bit is accepted without much reflection, despite its obvious flaws. Constructivism is trickier but appeals to those with a learner-centric disposition, who have a mental picture of ideas being built in the mind.

Going Beyond ‘Learning to Code’: Why 2014 is the Year of Web Literacy (Doug Belshaw): I like the idea of people having a sense of how technology works. As more and more of our lives become integrated with technology, isn’t it important to understand how it affects us? How are the decisions we make increasingly influenced by those who write the code of the applications and devices we use? Think about pacemakers that determine the frequency and regularity of your heartbeat. Wouldn’t you want to make sure that there are as few software bugs as possible? My interest in this topic is more related to the idea of open source software and the importance of ensuring that as much code as possible is open for review by an objective and independent community. Mozilla’s Web Literacy standard is one small aspect of developing competence in a range of skills that are increasingly relevant to our ability to interact with others in the world.

In this post I want to argue that learning to code is part of a larger landscape that we at Mozilla call ‘web literacy’. I see that landscape as being increasingly relevant in 2014 as we come to realise that “learn to code!” is too simplistic and de-contextualised to be a useful exhortation. Web Literacy, on the other hand, is reasonably well-defined as the skills and competencies required to read, write and participate effectively online. We’ve included ‘coding/scripting’ as just one part of a wider strand identified as ‘Building’ (i.e. writing) the web. Other competencies in this strand include ‘remixing’ and ‘composing for the web’.

Do What You Love: A Selfish and Misguided Message (Dean Shareski):

By keeping us focused on ourselves and our individual happiness, DWYL [Do What You Love] distracts us from the working conditions of others while validating our own choices and relieving us from obligations to all who labor, whether or not they love it. It is the secret handshake of the privileged and a worldview that disguises its elitism as noble self-betterment. According to this way of thinking, labor is not something one does for compensation, but an act of self-love. If profit doesn’t happen to follow, it is because the worker’s passion and determination were insufficient.

Academic publishers must sort out their outdated electronic submission and review processes (Dorothy Bishop):

My relationships with journals are rather like a bad marriage: a mixture of dependency and hatred. Part of the problem is that journal editors and academics often have a rather different view of the process. Scientific journals could not survive without academics. We do the research, often spending several years of our lives to produce a piece of work that is then distilled into one short paper, which the fond author invariably regards as a fascinating contribution to the field. But when we try to place our work in a journal, we find that it’s a buyer’s market: most journals are overwhelmed with more submitted papers than they can cope with, and rejection rates are high. So there is a total mismatch: we set out naively dreaming of journals leaping at the opportunity to secure our best work, only to be met with coldness and rejection.

Side note: The above post included a screenshot of this tweet, which I enjoyed.

Selection_001

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I enjoyed reading (November)

Do you have the personality to be an Inquiry-based teacher? (Thom Markham): I’m finding this more and more in my own teaching…when I spend a lot of time engaging with students as people, rather than as recipients of information, they work harder and put in more effort. Of course, that often means that I need to work harder and put in more effort, which works for me but possibly won’t for others.

When a teacher comes out from behind the lectern, leaves the front of the room, kneels beside a student to coach them through a problem, offers feedback designed to promote confidence and perseverance, and becomes a true partner in the learning process, the relationship between teacher and student automatically shifts. It’s no longer about telling; it’s about listening, observing, and creating the channel of trust that opens up a personal connection between two individuals.

Although overlooked as an inconvenient truth by industrial education, compelling evidence from the fields of adolescent development and resiliency studies show that caring relationships are the key factor in helping young people flourish—a term that encompasses the core attitudes necessary for successful inquiry and deeper learning. Now science has provided the missing link and observable evidence: Emotional interactions between teacher and student drive physiological changes, and thus performance.

Facebook, professors, and students (Alex Reid): Interesting post that focuses less on the perceived moral and legal ambiguity of talking with and about students in public, and more on how the ways in which our teaching and learning practices might change in response.

What happens if student writing becomes public? What if the discussion between teachers and students happened in public? Well, it might look something like this. Scary, huh? I’ve been teaching in public, online spaces for close to a decade. I won’t claim that it is revolutionary. However, if we started to think of classrooms as public conversations, or at least with a public dimension, then perhaps it would alter our rhetorical orientation toward the class when we were inclined to vent. Instead of moving from one private conversation (with students) to another (with Fb friends), we would see public spaces that overlap. That’s not to say that there wouldn’t continue to be social gaffs, but it might shift this moralistic response.

The 12 cognitive biases that prevent you from being rational (George Dvorsky): Thinking of using this post, together with this one on logical fallacies, as a foundation for an ethics lecture on critical thinking.

Before we start, it’s important to distinguish between cognitive biases and logical fallacies. A logical fallacy is an error in logical argumentation (e.g. ad hominem attacks, slippery slopes, circular arguments, appeal to force, etc.). A cognitive bias, on the other hand, is a genuine deficiency or limitation in our thinking — a flaw in judgment that arises from errors of memory, social attribution, and miscalculations (such as statistical errors or a false sense of probability).

Some social psychologists believe our cognitive biases help us process information more efficiently, especially in dangerous situations. Still, they lead us to make grave mistakes. We may be prone to such errors in judgment, but at least we can be aware of them. Here are some important ones to keep in mind.

Whitewashed: Unmasking the world of whiteness (Mark George):

Featured image taken from Alex Dunn’s Flickr photostream (Creative Commons).

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I enjoyed reading (October)

Five myths about MOOCs (James G. Mazoue)

While their supporters see them as a democratizing influence, MOOC detractors view them as instruments of social injustice and economic exploitation. Because, critics claim, MOOCs are inferior to classroom instruction, those who promote them as substitutes for a conventional on-campus education seek to deprive students who are unable or unwilling to pay for the amenities of a full-service education equitable access to academic opportunity.

Although many myths about MOOCs are circulating, I will focus on five of the most often repeated criticisms of MOOCs, and online education generally, and show why they are without foundation and should be rejected.

Patience for the unconnected (Tom Whitby)

Routine is the enemy of innovation. Some people are comfortable with routine. They depend on routine to make life easier. It is far less work to continue doing the same old, same old, than to do something new. If it ain’t broke, don’t try and fix it! Too often these routines are part of education. Too often these routines become a problem in education.

I think that if we, as educators, are to benefit through collaboration, especially the unprecedented collaboration afforded us through technology, then we have an obligation to mentor our fellow collaborators through their various stages of experience with the process. We need to encourage and instruct continuously, as we also learn and reap sources. The better our colleagues can understand and navigate the process, the more sources we will have to draw upon. As they become stronger, we become stronger.

Fast scholarship is not always good scholarship (Catherine Durose & Katherine Tonkiss): This post links to another that presents the concept of triple writing, which is something that I’ve been trying to do for a while now, particularly with regards sharing the outcomes of my PhD research project.

  • Phase 1: Research results, findings and implications are written-up into traditional academic outputs like books and articles.
  • Phase 2: The same research then forms the basis of a short research-note that is intended to be both accessible and of value to a range of user-groups.
  • Phase 3: In the final stage the research forms the focus of a number of succinct, pithy and even controversial articles for newspapers, magazines or popular websites.

This post isn’t intended as a call for pulling up the drawbridge to the ivory tower, but rather to recognise that ‘fast scholarship’ is not always good scholarship. Time is not only important to producing highly esteemed academic work. It is also crucial to building trust and relationships which are at the core of a more engaged form of scholarship and more participatory approaches to research.

Slow scholarship (University of Victoria)

“Slow Scholarship” is a similar response to hasty scholarship. Slow scholarship, is thoughtful, reflective, and the product of rumination – a kind of field testing against other ideas. It is carefully prepared, with fresh ideas, local when possible, and is best enjoyed leisurely, on one’s own or as part of a dialogue around a table with friends, family and colleagues. Like food, it often goes better with wine.

Semi-automatic method for grading a million homework assignments (Ben Lorica): This post is about a machine learning course, where students submit sections of programming code. This has the advantage of being more easily “understood” by the machines doing the grading. I think that, in principle, a similar approach might be modified for use in other disciplines.

The researchers were interested in figuring out ways to ease the burden of grading the large volume of homework submissions. The premise was that by sufficiently organizing the “space of possible solutions”, instructors would provide feedback to a few submissions, and their feedback could then be propagated to the rest.

Clustering submissions along key metrics is a natural way to reduce the amount of work required. The hope is that homework submissions within the same cluster are similar enough, that feedback for one member can be propagated to the rest of the cluster.

While this approach has yet to be used for grading, some instructors have used it to highlight common mistakes: clusters can also be used to identify common errors found in homework submissions.

When students say they want to change the world, listen (Howard Rheingold)

Over a period of 11 months, students in more than 1,500 schools and 6,000 classrooms went through a process of asking “What breaks your heart about the world and what are we going to do about it?” Maiers advocates: “When students say they want to change the world, listen.” According to Maiers, “These young activist world-change agents and fearless leaders have tackled problems and topics that range from building a library for a rural village in Ghana; raising money to build wells for communities without water; starting and scaling non-profit organizations to support issues in education, the environment and other social causes and developing innovative approaches to supporting others in crisis.”

How to build an ethical online course (Jesse Stommel)

Letting the default configuration of a classroom dictate how we’ll teach is to allow the bureaucratic (and in this case architectural) trappings of schooling subsume our pedagogies. I’ve taught in many classrooms where the desks were arranged by default into rows, each student forced to stare into the back of another student’s head. This is not a prime configuration to encourage active engagement, critical thinking, collaboration, interaction, making, doing, or discussing, all of which are (in varying degrees) essential for learning. I would say, though, that any arrangement is problematic if it’s fixed permanently in advance. The learning space should be constructed intentionally from one activity to the next and preferably by or in consultation with students.

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I enjoyed reading (September)

How online learning is going to affect classroom design (Tony Bates)

The important point here is that investment in new or adapted physical classroom space should be driven by decisions to change pedagogy/teaching methods. This will mean bringing together academics, IT support staff, instructional designers and staff from facilities, as well as architects and furniture suppliers.

Second, I strongly believe in the statement that we shape our environments, and our environments shape us. Providing instructors with a flexible, well-designed learning environment is likely to encourage major changes in their teaching; stuffing them into rectangular boxes with rows of desks will do the opposite.

What is clear is that institutions now need to do some some hard thinking about online learning, its likely impact on campus teaching, and above all what kind of campus experience we want students to have when they can do much of their studying online. It is this thinking that should shape their investment in desks and chairs.

Education is broken, somebody should do something” (David Kernohan)

Of course, the process (rather than the practice) of education is what drives the MOOC world. Writers without a critical perspective on both education and technology can be lulled into a simple skeumorphic model of replicated offline models re-established online. You can see large classes witnessing lectures by “rock star professors”, simple quizzes to reflect understanding, discussion groups, assignments and required reading. The process ensures that all of this is measured, monitored and recorded – both (somehow) to accurately gauge student achievement and to refine the process.

 

Beyond teacher egocentrism: design thinking (Grant Wiggins)

As teachers we understandably believe that it is the ‘teaching’ that causes learning. But this is too egocentric a formulation. As I said in my previous post, the learner’s attempts to learn causes all learning. The teaching is a stimulus; the attempted learning (or lack of it) is the response. No matter what the teacher says or does, the learner has to engage with and process the ‘teaching’ if learning is to happen.

Design Thinking, postscript: the importance of the teacher (Grant Wiggins)

In my last post – widely viewed and commented on in various places – I proposed that it was a bit egocentric to think of education in terms of the teacher and the teaching since the teacher is only one element in the design. Many commenters protested that while this may be true overall, they were personally inspired and launched into a career in education by virtue of a ‘passionate’ and ‘wonderful’ teacher. Surely that’s the most important part of the equation, they argued.

I responded that to me this was a form of confirmation bias. Sure, many of us who went into teaching were moved to do so by having had inspiring teachers. But that’s a pretty small and unrepresentative sample, prone to such a bias. What about non-teachers? What about  the average student’s school experience, the people who don’t go into teaching?

Fortunately, I altered our student survey two years ago to get at this very issue. Our data are clear: in a survey of over 1300 middle and high school students, the teacher is the least important factor in their liking and disliking of a subject:

A simple move to avoid ‘coverage’ and make time for more learning (Grant Wiggins)

We have all said it and we have all heard it: there’s just no time to slow down and [fill in the blank], I have so much to cover…

This, despite the fact that we all know, at some level, that it is not the ‘teaching’ that causes learning but the attempts by the learner to learn that causes learning; and that the 1st attempt may not be successful. The importance of feedback and its use, the idea that a key concept or skill is rarely learned at the first go, the need to ferret out and address misconceptions – all of what we know about optimal learning is far too easily trumped by a syllabus, course framework, or unit plan that says: we have to move on to the next topic!

Learners as producers (Steve Wheeler)

For the longest time teachers and lecturers have held the monopoly on the production of academic content. They create lesson plans, produce resources, devise marking schemes and search around for activities and games they can repurpose to use in teaching sessions. Although the production of content has been the preserve of the teacher and the academic since the formalisation of education, increasingly, we also see learners creating their own content. They have the tools, they own the technology, and they have the confidence to use them, not only informally, but increasingly in formal learning contexts. Many are prolific and proficient in producing blogs, podcasts, videos and photos for sharing on the web. They can do it all using the simple smartphone in their pocket. This user generated content trend is apparent not only in universities and colleges but also in the compulsory education sectors.

Reinventing School From the Ground Up For Inquiry Learning (Thom Markham)

For all of us, as citizens and educators, in this country and others, it’s way past time for school “improvement,” and high time to invent fresh organizations designed for inquiry— the ecosystem for inquiry, in which all elements of the environment act holistically to grow, nurture, and sustain the qualities of heart and mind necessary for students and teachers to learn to ask good questions instead of finding right answers. That’s a very high bar, but that’s the ultimate goal of 21st century learning.

How to develop this ecosystem? Only two qualities are required: Imagination and bravery.

Categories
reading

I enjoyed reading (July)

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Image from MIT-Library’s Flickr stream.

In Connectivism, No One Can Hear You Scream: a Guide to Understanding the MOOC Novice (Keith Brennan): An interesting critique of Connectivist thinking…

What we think about who we are, and where we are, tells us how much we are likely to learn. This is key to the gap in Connectivist thought. Central to that gap, at the core of what I think Connectivism might be missing is this idea: Motivation is the engine of effort, and the sense of self is the ticking heart of motivation. Our sense of self is formed by the experiences we have, the environments we have them in, and the people who design those environments. And that negotiated sense of self can engineer the success or failure of the educational experience.

…and the response from Stephen Downes (Connectivism and the Primal Scream).

The key is to stop thinking of these as content to be mastered, and to start thinking them as skills to be practiced. There isn’t some point of success or failure in any of these, you just do them – like talking to your friends, like walking from class to class – until it becomes second nature.

Indeed, so long as you think of knowledge and learning as something to be acquired and measured and tested – instead of practiced and lived and experienced – you will be dissatisfied with connectivist learning. And – for that matter – there’s probably a limit to how far you can advance in traditional education as well, because (to my experience) everybody who achieves a high degree of expertise in a field has advanced well beyond the idea that it’s just information and skills and things to learn.

edcan-v50-n3-dunleavy_g_2Flow: A measure of student engagement (Jackie Gerstein):

Students differ in their aspirations, interests, and aptitudes. But it is worth considering how distinct pathways, trajectories, or streams that too often limit opportunities for students could become permeable spaces for learning. What if the curriculum anchors their learning, but ceases to anchor the students themselves because its aim is the development of important competencies through diverse learning experiences that value and extend young peoples’ knowledge, interests, and capacities across all curriculum domains?

No excuse for giving boring presentations (Garr Reynolds):

They are not sophisticated, erudite scientists speaking above our intellectual capability; they are arrogant, thoughtless individuals who insult our very presence by the lack of concern for our desire to benefit from a meeting which we choose to attend.Failure to spend the

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time wisely and well, failure to educate, entertain, elucidate, enlighten, and most important of all, failure to maintain attention and interest should be punishable by stoning. There is no excuse for tedium.

The challenges and realities of Inquiry-based learning (Thom Markum):

As education continues the march toward a student-driven, project-oriented approach that values intelligent solutions to open-ended problems, it won’t be sufficient to focus on the wonderful discoveries and authentic work that result from an inquiry-based system. Instead, a far more difficult issue will come to the fore: How will we know if inquiry-based learning is successful, and what non-standardized measures of achievement, like better attitude, apply?

transhumanNanoethics and human enhancement (Patrick Lin & Fritz Allhof):

Human enhancement—our ability to use technology to enhance our bodies and minds, as opposed to its application for therapeutic purposes—is a critical issue facing nanotechnology. It will be involved in some of the near-term applications of nanotechnology, with such research labs as MIT’s Institute for Soldier Technologies working on exoskeletons and other innovations that increase human strength and capabilities. It is also a core issue related to far-term predictions in nanotechnology, such as longevity, nanomedicine, artificial intelligence and other issues.

The implications of nanotechnology as related to human enhancement are perhaps some of the most personal and therefore passionate issues in the emerging field of nanoethics, forcing us to rethink what it means to be human or, essentially, our own identity. For some, nanotechnology holds the promise of making us superhuman; for others, it offers a darker path toward becoming Frankenstein’s monster.