Miscellaneous

Autograding System Goes Awry, Students Fume

Stephen Downes' OLDaily - Fri, 11/30/2018 - 04:00
Lindsay McKenzie, Inside Higher Ed, Nov 30, 2018

This article describes the failings of an autograding system in use in a computing science class in Berkeley. The use of autograders in computer sciences is a natural development, as programs can be tested by debuggers and efficiency algorithms to determine not only whether they run at all, but also how well they run. This article records what happens when they fail, but it's more useful reading when looked at from the context of what should happen when they run successfully (which is what they usually do).

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The tensions around learning analytics

Stephen Downes' OLDaily - Thu, 11/29/2018 - 04:00
Colin Beer, Col's Weblog, Nov 29, 2018

This post looks at the introduction of learning analytics from the perspective of "cycles of interaction between people, technology and an education problem." Specifically, "there exists a tension between administrative/mainstream systems, processes and mindsets, and adaptive systems, process and mindsets. Innovation and problem solving (adaptive) in organisations always develops a tension with established, mainstream ways of doing things."

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Developers, start your engines

Stephen Downes' OLDaily - Thu, 11/29/2018 - 04:00
Amazon.Com, Nov 29, 2018

This is one of the more interesting of Amazon's announcements thisd week. 'Deep Racer' is a scale model racing car. Inside, it has a reinforcement learning engine. You train your car to race, and then submit your trained engine to Amazon to compete in actual road races with your self-driving car. "RL is an advanced machine learning (ML) technique which takes a very different approach to training models than other machine learning methods. Its super power is that it learns very complex behaviors without requiring any labeled training data, and can make short term decisions while optimizing for a longer term goal."

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The humanities keep declining: the case of history

Stephen Downes' OLDaily - Thu, 11/29/2018 - 04:00
Bryan Alexander, Nov 29, 2018

Bryan Alexander summarizes a report from the American Historical Association showing that the number of history majors in U.S. universities has dropped significantly over the last decade. The xplanations offered don't seem very plausible - the lack of jobs for history majors is one factor, but this has always been true. Also, "women, once restricted to the humanities, increasingly have other options for study," would be more plausible if the study started in the 1950s, not 2008. The explanation that "history is losing out to interdisciplinary and area studies" is a bit more plausible, and also " the collapse of law school enrollment, as history has long been a reliable prelaw major." More coverage by Inside Higher Ed.

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Misleading on Fair Dealing, Part 7: My Appearance Before the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage

Stephen Downes' OLDaily - Thu, 11/29/2018 - 04:00
Michael Geist, Nov 29, 2018

 Michael Geist continues his series on how the government is being misled about fair dealing (previously covered here; see also Part 6, Part 8). This post summarizes his findings in a statement before the committee. "Last week," he says, "I was dismayed to hear witnesses claim that Canada’s teachers, students and educational institutions are engaged in illegal activity. This claim is wrong and should be called out as such."

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One in four Ontario postsecondary students lacks basic literacy, numeracy skills, studies say

Stephen Downes' OLDaily - Thu, 11/29/2018 - 04:00
Joe Friesen, Globe and Mail, Nov 29, 2018

Given that Ontario students rank among the very top in international testing, I greet this attention-grabbing headline with a great deal of scepticism. To me it has all the makings of a manufactured crisis. The article makes it clear that the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario is working with a revised definition of literacy. "The test was not measuring whether students can read or do arithmetic, but whether they can take written or numerical information and use it to solve problems." Here's the report: 74 page PDF. Here's what the students would need to be able to do to achieve what the headline calls "basic literacy" (p.26):

  • "Evaluate posts in a discussion forum on health remedies by comparing the information they provide against that in a website from a well-known medical centre"
  • "Determine which claims in a newspaper article about the benefits of sleep are supported by information and graphs in two long research articles"

Now let me be clear. I agree that students should be able to perform tasks at this level. Most people can't. Other jurisdictions score far worse than Ontario. And there is a big difference between this and what the headline describes as "basic literacy".

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Not a campus but a storefront: A new concept for higher education delivery

Stephen Downes' OLDaily - Wed, 11/28/2018 - 04:00
ICEF Monitor, Nov 28, 2018

Back in what now feels like pre-history I remember writing about and advocating the triad model of learning support. The idea is that in addition to the education provider and the student there would be a third, local, institution where students could access resources and support. This is a bit like the idea outlined in this article. "These scalable centres will support students in online and blended learning programmes, and provide additional ways for remote students to engage with university services, faculty, staff, and peers." But there's a big difference created by the 'storefront' metaphor - the student is a customer, the university is both provider and local support centre, and so (as a result) there isn't that notion of advocacy on behalf of the learner we would see in a genuine triad with independent local hosts.

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Breaking down resistance to digital change

Stephen Downes' OLDaily - Wed, 11/28/2018 - 04:00
Gilly Salmon, Wonkhe, Nov 28, 2018

This post is the first of a series on change (or lack of it) in higher education. "If HE wishes to achieve long-lasting and constructive change," writes Gilly Salmon, "disruption needs to occur first and be accompanied by an increased tolerance of thinking differently about how new educational futures are created." Reading the article, it feels to me like the main message is that the universities should own the change, rather than to see their primary role as resisting it.

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Front-End Developers Have to Manage the Loading Experience

Stephen Downes' OLDaily - Wed, 11/28/2018 - 04:00
Chris Coyier, CSS_Tricks, Nov 28, 2018

One of the reasons it makes so much sense to work on an application like gRSShopper even though I know it will never be a commercial product (or even widely used) is that it exposes me to the deep technical issues that are so important (and so often overlooked) in educational technology. This article describes one of them: the loading experience. How do you write applications so that all the components load in the right order, so that the user experience is slick and seamless? "There are metrics like total requests, page weight, time to glass, time to interactive, first input delay, etc. There are things to think about like asynchronous requests, render blocking, and priority downloading." Putting something useful on the screen as fast as possible is an art, and it is often overlooked.

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The three best arguments against a knowledge rich curriculum, (and why I think they’re wrong).

Stephen Downes' OLDaily - Wed, 11/28/2018 - 04:00
Jon Hutchinson, PedFed, Nov 28, 2018

The third of the three arguments is a straw man and I'll set it aside. The remaining two are as follows:

  • Children need skills, not knowledge.
  • Enquiry based learning is a more effective, motivating and natural way for children to learn.

Jon Hutchinson's response to these is as follows:

  • Skills are hugely domain specific; and rely on large amounts of foundational knowledge.
  • We don’t know what it is we don’t know, and so new information is best taught explicitly.

Neither is a good response, in my view. The first rests on the presumption that different knowledge domains are like silos, and we know this isn't true; there's a lot of cross-over between them, both explicit (like mathematics) and metaphorical (like user interfaces), so skills in fact transfer easily across domains. In the case of the second, the conclusion doesn't follow - even if it is true that we don't know what we don't know, it doesn't follow that we must be taught explicitly - we can also learn from examples, demonstrations, hints, brainstorming and interaction, and trial and error, to name a few.

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Can we have shared professional meaning in teaching?

Stephen Downes' OLDaily - Wed, 11/28/2018 - 04:00
Michael Fordham, Clio et cetera, Nov 28, 2018

The answer to the question in the headline is "no, maybe not" (a conclusion I reached a long time ago) but it comes only after much discussion of how the creation of shared meaning is so central to so much discussion in educational research. "We might just have to accept that there are fundamental limitations to how much shared meaning we can create. This will be difficult for those who have built careers on talking in a general sense about education to stomach." Quite so. But if we can get past that, we can get past the muddle that is educational theory today, and begin working with specifics.

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Kid-Tracking Sensors May Not Be the Wildest Thing About This Montessori Model

Stephen Downes' OLDaily - Wed, 11/28/2018 - 04:00
Stephen Noonoo, EdSurge, Nov 28, 2018

This is an article describing an MIT professor's redesigned school. Basically (as I read it) it's a lab experiment. "There is no such thing as too much observation for teachers, who keep track of engagement, concentration and interactions using paper charts. They also keep track of whether students are moving through curricular sequences, like counting, addition and multiplication, and how quickly." There are also no computers for students to use, the environment is lit with low-level incandescent light, and there are tree branches nailed to the brick wall. The article is gee-whiz but I find it sanctimonious and creepy.

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Designing the new OER Policy Registry

Stephen Downes' OLDaily - Tue, 11/27/2018 - 04:00
Karin Driesen, OER World Map Blog, Nov 27, 2018

As noted in the article: "As previously announced Creative Commons and the OER World Map project are currently working on the relaunch of the OER Policy Registry. An initial version, which already includes the data of the former registry, is already available."

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Taylor Swift makes a payout to all Universal artists a clause in her new record deal

Stephen Downes' OLDaily - Tue, 11/27/2018 - 04:00
Cory Doctorow, Boing Boing, Nov 27, 2018

I've had people sending me messages about how copyright protects artists. On the radio the other day there was astory about how hard it is to make a living as a musician. I received an email from a news publisher suggesting that open content policies hurt journalism. None of this is true. And that's the great thing about this story - not so much that it showcases a good thing that Taylor Swift did to make sure that publishers actually pay streaming money to artists (when some don't) but because it makes clear how the small number of publishers (not only in music - there's a lack of competition in pretty much every creative industry) collude either formally or informally to pay artists and creatives as little money as possible. Stronger copyright won't fix these problems; if anything, it only makes them worse.

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Play Video Brain interface lets people with paralysis control tablet computer

Stephen Downes' OLDaily - Tue, 11/27/2018 - 04:00
Kevin Stacey-Brown, Futurity, Nov 27, 2018

I've covered this sort of thing in the past and I reiterate it again here today with this latest story because it looks to me like these interfaces are getting more sophisticated as time goes by. It describes "three clinical trial participants with tetraplegia, each of whom was using the investigational BrainGate BCI that records neural activity directly from a small sensor placed in the motor cortex, were able to navigate through commonly used tablet programs, including email, chat, music-streaming, and video-sharing apps." It gives me hope for the day when I'm a brain in a vat fed nothing but artificial blood.

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AWS Ground Station – Ingest and Process Data from Orbiting Satellites

Stephen Downes' OLDaily - Tue, 11/27/2018 - 04:00
Jeff Barr, AWS News Blog, Nov 27, 2018

I'm pretty sure that not every school in every country can do this. But this is what the cool kids are doing. " Today, high school and college students design, fabricate, and launch nano-, pico-, and even femto-satellites such as CubeSats, PocketQubes, and SunCubes." This information comes up in the context of a new Amazon web service called 'Ground Station' that will allow you to contact those satellites. Now I imagine most schools that can launch their own satellite have their own ground station as well. But this may be a way to allow them to share their satellite. Assuming, of course, they were so inclined.

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Contrasting LMS Adoption Patterns in Four English-Speaking Countries

Stephen Downes' OLDaily - Mon, 11/26/2018 - 04:00
Phil Hill, e-Literate, Nov 26, 2018

It's nice to see e-Literate looking at more than just North America, even if their gaze reaches only Australia and the UK. A quick look at the four charts makes it clear just how overstated their 'tipping point' announcement a few months ago was. Canvas numbers may be huge in the United States but they're dwarfed everywhere else.

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Secrets of the Edu-Twitter Influencers

Stephen Downes' OLDaily - Mon, 11/26/2018 - 04:00
Tara Laskowski, ASCD, Educational Leadership, Nov 26, 2018

This article makes me think we need to rethink the concept of 'influencer'. If it's just a person with a lot of Twitter followers, than the leaders of our society are Katy Perry and Justin Bieber. Well, and Barack Obama too, which is cool, but he's outvoted by Rihanna, Taylor Swift, and Lady Gaga. Aaron Davis has the most insightful comment: "What stood out was the intent of self-promotion that many started with." It's the same old story - if you spend a lot of time trying to become famous, then you become famous, but you won't have spent any time doing anything worth being famous for.

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Blockchain diplomas land in Virginia at ECPI

Stephen Downes' OLDaily - Mon, 11/26/2018 - 04:00
Jacob Demmitt, The Roanoke Times, Nov 26, 2018

 It was only a matter of time. "Virginia Beach-based ECPI University has joined a group of early adopters that distribute student degrees through the same kind of decentralized computer networks that power Bitcoin... The concept behind the technology is virtually unchanged, except ECPI is using the blockchain to issue digital degrees instead of digital currencies." The plan does have a definite upside: "It’s on there for life. They never have to call the registrar’s office and order another diploma."

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Do we really need all of this 'mentoring' malarkey’?

Stephen Downes' OLDaily - Mon, 11/26/2018 - 04:00
Donald Clark, Donald Clark Plan B, Nov 26, 2018

I'm not so quick to call mentoring "malarkey" as Donald Clark, but I share some of his scepticism. Like Clark, I never had a mentor (and would probably have pushed back against one if I had). And I would definitely echo this: "It is your life and career, so don’t for one minute imagine that the HR department has the solutions you need." Having said that, I think I'm much less inclined to criticize mentoring than Clark. If people are more comfortable with, and prefer the guidance of, a single person, then that seems perfectly fine with me. I think I'd want to see envidence that it's harmful before I criticized them.

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