At TechLearn, Mark Oehlert presented his findings on The Future of eLearning Models and the Language We Use to Describe Them. Mark calls it like he (and I) sees it. This is a perceptive, on-target summary of where eLearning is headed. Mark's key findings:
Mark interviewed Stephen Downes at length. You must read his unexpurgated version to get the full flavor of the exchange. Stephen:
At this point in history we not only have much greater powers of communication and expression than ever before, we also have access to greater riches than ever before. But there is a sense that we are at a peak, and with shortages in raw materials looming, there is a retrenchment happening, a vigorous conflict over the control of ideas, over the control of resources, and in the end, over control of people.
Clearly Canadian, Stephen gives his view of cultural imperialism:
Most of the world is far more communually oriented than the United States, far more than most Americans realize, and the political and social agenda that is offered under the banners of 'freedom' and 'democracy' are perceived, even in modern industrial democracies as Canada, as undermining hard-won social and cultural values. This is not merely a cultural facade; it will not be addressed by merely 'localizing' materials; it runs deeply into the selection and presentation of learning. Renaming the 'French and Indian War' to the term everyone else in the world uses, 'The Seven Years War', isn't just relabeling, it is a change of context, of protagonists, of history. Rewriting the history of the War of 1812 to reflect what actually happened, an opportunistic (because of the Napoleonic wars) American invasion of Canada that was rebuffed by a rag-tag army of First Nations (ie., 'Indians') and militia volunteers, isn't just a case of rebranding.
The exchange between Mark and Stephen is a wonderful example of a new form of online learning: the email interview. Aside from baiting the U.S. right (Stephen would fit right in here in the People's Republic of Berkeley), Stephen makes some great observations -- and you must read them in his own words to grok the message.
Another gem is Daniel Schneider's Conception and implementation of rich pedagogical scenarios through collaborative portal sites, although as the title alone tips you off, this one's quite academic in tone. I have yet to make it through all 40 pages but the topic is intriguing:
It is very important to respect a principle of “harmony”, to find an equilibrium of different
pedagogical strategies and tactics and not (and we insist on this) to be tempted by
over-scripting. In our philosophy, a teacher should think of himself primarily as a “landscaper” who uses ICT to build places where learners can “sculpt” according to some rule and with as much help as appropriate. Because of their modular architecture, a well trained teacher can configure portals and its “tools” according to his own needs. He can also hunt down new modules. He can re-purpose tools, e.g. he could use quizzes which are normally used for assessment as discussion openers. He can also suggest to the increasing number of technical support people that can be found in the school system to develop new tools. Since this technology is focused on “orchestration” and not content delivery, we believe that it will spread in the nearer future with almost the same ease as web pages did, but it will bring new functionalities. Teachers should have control over their environment and they can share their experience within teacher portals using the same technology and both fit the C3MS philosophy.
[C3MS = Community, Content and Collaboration Management Systems]
Finally, C3MS may be a chance to promote the open and sharing “Internet
Spirit” to education, which is threatened by the philosophy of the closed so-called “educational platforms”, e-learning systems or whatever are called today’s main stream systems sold without as much success as they claim to the educational system. According to
our initial experience, and despite many difficulties - like administrative hurdles, the time
it takes to accommodate new pedagogical strategies, the disputable ergonomics of some
software that we will have to overcome - teachers who engaged themselves “love it” and
their students too.
(via EdTech Post)
The Semantic Web, Syllogism, and Worldview by Clay Shirky.
The simple answer is this: The Semantic Web is a machine for creating syllogisms. A syllogism is a form of logic, first described by Aristotle, where "...certain things being stated, something other than what is stated follows of necessity from their being so." [Organon]
The canonical syllogism is:
with the third statement derived from the previous two.
The Semantic Web specifies ways of exposing these kinds of assertions on the Web, so that third parties can combine them to discover things that are true but not specified directly. This is the promise of the Semantic Web -- it will improve all the areas of your life where you currently use syllogisms.
Which is to say, almost nowhere.
To which I say, damn, damn, damn. I drank the KoolAde when Tim Berners-Lee wrote about the Semantic Web in Scientific American. This was supposed to solve problems, not compound them.
The people working on the Semantic Web greatly overestimate the value of deductive reasoning (a persistent theme in Artificial Intelligence projects generally.) The great popularizer of this error was Arthur Conan Doyle, whose Sherlock Holmes stories have done more damage to people's understanding of human intelligence than anyone other than Rene Descartes. Doyle has convinced generations of readers that what seriously smart people do when they think is to arrive at inevitable conclusions by linking antecedent facts. As Holmes famously put it "when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth."
This sentiment is attractive precisely because it describes a world simpler than our own. In the real world, we are usually operating with partial, inconclusive or context-sensitive information. When we have to make a decision based on this information, we guess, extrapolate, intuit, we do what we did last time, we do what we think our friends would do or what Jesus or Joan Jett would have done, we do all of those things and more, but we almost never use actual deductive logic.
Shirky is great. Consider:
...After 50 years of work, the performance of machines designed to think about the world the way humans do has remained, to put it politely, sub-optimal. The Semantic Web sets out to address this by reversing the problem. Since it's hard to make machines think about the world, the new goal is to describe the world in ways that are easy for machines to think about.
There is a list of technologies that are actually political philosophy masquerading as code, a list that includes Xanadu, Freenet, and now the Semantic Web. The Semantic Web's philosophical argument -- the world should make more sense than it does -- is hard to argue with. The Semantic Web, with its neat ontologies and its syllogistic logic, is a nice vision. However, like many visions that project future benefits but ignore present costs, it requires too much coordination and too much energy to effect in the real world, where deductive logic is less effective and shared worldview is harder to create than we often want to admit.
Much of the proposed value of the Semantic Web is coming, but it is not coming because of the Semantic Web. The amount of meta-data we generate is increasing dramatically, and it is being exposed for consumption by machines as well as, or instead of, people. But it is being designed a bit at a time, out of self-interest and without regard for global ontology. It is also being adopted piecemeal, and it will bring with it with all the incompatibilities and complexities that implies. There are significant disadvantages to this process relative to the shining vision of the Semantic Web, but the big advantage of this bottom-up design and adoption is that it is actually working now.
Bravo! Check his home page for more.
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