Probably this week or the next, edX will roll out a - I think - transformational tool for teachers: A/B testing functionality inside the course development environment. It allows teachers to do - as you might guess - A/B testing, which means testing different ‘versions’ of the course to randomized groups of students. Within one course, teachers can experiment with different types of videos, test out motivational strategies, implement psychological interventions, and see the results in (student) engagement nearly instantly and results in achievement over time. See screenshot below for an impression of the interface.
Why transformational? It enables teachers to better understand what works, how content should be created to have maximum effect, through a rather rigorous process of trying different versions to randomized groups of students. Not just the click-data can be used to determine “the best solution”, but combined with the available student data, analyses can be done to better understand different versions for different subgroups of students. For example, if you want to know the effects of different message strategies on motivating students to do their homework, a result could be that <Imadethisup>a direct call for action is more effective among younger US students, while nudging strategy proved to be effective among Asian student populations.</Imadethisup>
Traditional one-directional lectures are moving online, greater and much more diverse populations of students need to be served (including adults), and these kinds of tools will become invaluable in order to be able to provide a level of personalization and enhance teachers’ capabilities to better understand their product and student population.
Two weeks ago (8 January 2014), I went to MIT Media Lab for a 2-day workshop about motivation and mindset research and practice in the context of online learning. I say research and practice, because the people participating in the workshop were invited because they were either into research or had access to learning platforms. The meeting (and my trip) was sponsored by the Raikes foundation, and hosted by the Lifelong Kindergarten group at MIT Media Lab. This post describes the setup of the workshop, which worked out very well in getting people to know each other and creating a trusting atmosphere. Workshops and conferences could benefit from such an approach.
The workshop was organized as follows. After inviting about 30 researchers and practicioners involved in open and online education and specifically motivational research, an initial list of readings was shared among participants as a preparation for the workshop. The night before the workshop started, there was an informal dinner to have people get to know each other and already make some connections. The workshop was organized at MIT Media Lab, a place so inspiring that creative ideas and excitement are unavoidable. During the meeting, several activities were organized to stimulate interaction and create a foundation for future collaboration between participants:
Day 1: Short intro + objectives → Brainstorm in small groups: mapping challenges and opportunities → Speed-geeking → Creating themes from postits brainstorm → Creating theme-based groups → Short presentations and reflection
Day 2: Informal discussions + coffee → Short intro + reflection day 1 → Pitches (optional) to propose research themes to cover in day 2 (to create a group) → Merging / adding themes to the whiteboard → Group formation around themes (extension of day 1) and discussing future collaboration possibilities, experimental setups, shared objectives, etc. → Closing and exchanging contact information.
A more elaborate report of the workshop can be read below.
Experiment: Social networks, innovation, learning and collective intelligence
Researchers from the University of British Columbia did an experiment that measured performance of groups of learners over generations (in the experiment: subsequent groups of students) with either one or more experts available.
Here, we test the relationship between sociality and cumulative cultural evolution in two laboratory experiments, where sociality is operationalized in terms of a participant’s ability to access and learn from multiple experienced individuals (‘models’ or ‘cultural parents’).
It builds on archaeological and ethnohistorical research that suggests a link between a population’s size and structure, and the diversity or sophistication of its toolkits or technologies. The results are not that surprising, but confirm the importance of sociality and the diversity of a population, and the advancement of knowledge (or innovation).
I think the core issue here might not be sociality but diversity, do you agree? If the models would be exactly the same, the different groups would have more or less the same results (I guess). More teachers means more diversity means more diverse input for solving (complex) problems, resulting in a more diverse set of strategies that can be passed on to the next generation? Also, there were hardly time-constraints, it really was an experimental setting. Many factors have been omitted (obviously), which in ‘real life’ would also impact learning and innovation across generations. Maybe cognitive load theory would be an interesting theme to consider: more experts might also mean an increased cognitive load…
Michael Muthukrishna et al., Sociality influences cultural complexity, Proceedings of the Royal Academy: Biological Sciences, 2013, doi: 10.1098/rspb.2013.2511
Reflecting on this, and what it might mean in designing (online) learning environments… We have to learn how to learn from each other and from mentors, promote passing on knowledge within and between generations, and learn how to find and build knowledge in complex socio-technical networks. We also have to focus on the quality and diversity of learning networks. In other words: duplication of knowledge in the way xMOOCs promote, even in a pedagogically sound way, is not sufficient. The Internet does allow networked learning and making useful connections, so it would be a pity if only the ‘duplication’ MOOC versions rise to the surface, while the evenly valuable (because focused on sociality) connectivist courses remain marginalized.
The most effective ways for affluent societies to reduce the environmental impact of their diets are to reduce consumption of meat and dairy products (especially beef), to favor organic fruits and vegetables, and to avoid goods that have been transported by air on both individual and institutional levels (e.g., public procurement, public catering).
From: Reisch L., Eberle U., & Lorek S. 2013. Sustainable food consumption: an overview of contemporary issues and policies. Sustainability: Science, Practice, & Policy 9(2):7-25. Published online Jul 19, 2013. http:///archives/vol9iss2/1207-033.reisch.html
The entire special issue on food consumption of the open access journal Sustainability: Science, Practice, and Policy can be downloaded here.
The App Generation is not a pean to a new technology or a Cassandra’s warning, but rather a tale of how technology leads to shifts in culture and how emerging cultures shape and are shaped by human psychology. Gardner and Davis have good news and bad to share about the app generation. On the whole, students are more tolerant of difference. They are also more risk averse. They find compelling evidence of an increase in visual creativity and imagination from a detailed study of twenty years of student artwork. They find compelling evidence of a decrease of literary creativity in a corpus of student writing. Students are more connected to their parents, and less capable of developing independence. They struggle with ambiguity. They are highly skilled at shaping their public image, and trapped by the constant demands of shaping their public image. They are good at staying in touch, and struggle with expressing themselves sincerely. They are good at using short-cuts, and sometimes they cut right past the most important parts of life..
I am currently following, whenever I have some time, a course called Social Psychology. It feels somewhere between watching television and old-fashioned school. I mean watching television in a positive sense: because the course content is packaged quite neatly in 10-minute videos, with only a few simple assignments, the cognitive load is quite acceptable. Also, because everything is laid out in front of you: the course is entirely clear from week to week and from video to video (and from reading to reading and assignment to assignment).
I am facing several deadlines at the moment (why are you blogging then??? .. ehm good question) and that is why I am already weeks behind the official schedule. This is quite demotivating and Coursera and other MOOC providers should be aware of that: that the other side of the coin (or fact) that it is stimulating to follow the pace of the course, it is equally demotivating to get behind schedule. Fortunately, I am not interested in getting an ‘official’ course credit for this course, so I am doing it at my own pace anyway. This is not what I want to write about now. Rather, I was thinking: what is the value of a course? If I look at the entire course of Social Psychology, what is the rationale behind it? Introduction to Social Psychology is a comprehensive account of the field, yes, but do we need to have that overview? The course objectives state that we are going to be aware of how our behavior is influenced by others, and that that is a good thing.
I am just asking, but what makes a ‘compilation’ of content and ideas more or less valuable? I think it relates to what we intend to do with the ‘acquired’ knowledge. Since that will vary among the students participating in the course, a general overview is better? Or should the course be designed in such a way that from the start, students can customize and adapt their learning experience (for example based on some preliminary questions about topics, base knowledge, objectives, etc.). Thinking about what you want with the course is a very good start anyway, but may also allow for more efficient group formation and collaboration (something I will be researching the coming months).
An upcoming EdX course (Next Generation Infrastructures - May 2014) developed by my own faculty (from scratch) is going to do that: after an initial period, it will offer 6 or 7 different tracks, all facilitated by the appropriate professors (somewhere around the world), creating a wider range of optional course participation. Although it is quite complex from an organizational perspective, it is an interesting MOOC-approach.
If we take this idea a step further, I imagine cutting all MOOC content into pieces, and letting students or recommendation systems develop cross-media courses based on personal objectives, interests, and context (e.g. shared interests between you and others who are near you). Yes, the old-fashioned learning objects approach. We’ll see..
“The iPad is among the recent panaceas being peddled to schools, but like those that came before, its ostensibly subversive shell houses a fairly conventional approach to learning. Where Texas Instruments graphing calculators include a programming framework accessible even to amateurs, writing code for an iPad is restricted to those who purchase an Apple developer account, create programs that align with Apple standards, and submit their finished products for Apple’s approval prior to distribution. As such, for the average student, imaginative activities on an iPad are always mediated by pre-existing apps and therefore, are limited to virtual worlds created by others, not by students themselves.”—Go Ahead, Mess With Texas Instruments - Phil Nichols - The Atlantic (via justin-singer)
“Koller, Ng, Do, and Chen say “When viewed in the appropriate context, retention in MOOCs is often quite reasonable.” I disagree. I think it may be helpful in this case to think of MOOCs like video games, TV shows, or other forms of equivalent mass media. If a successful TV show retains 5% of the initial audience that joined an online community about that show, a studio does not assume the other 95% just didn’t intend to finish the show. Instead, the studio fires writing staff, brings on new actors, or does not renew the show.”—Straining the Quality of MOOCs: Student Retention and Intention | Open Education | HYBRID PEDAGOGY
“This study investigated the claims made in the popular press about the “digital native” generation as learners. Because students’ lives today are saturated with digital media at a time when their brains are still developing, many popular press authors claim that this generation of students thinks and learns differently than any generation that has come before, but the evidence to support these claims is scarce. This study used a survey to gather data on the technology use of university freshmen, the degree to which they identified with the claims being made about their approaches to learning, and the productiveness (in terms of focused attention, deep processing, and persistence) of their approaches to learning.”—The digital natives as learners: Technology use patterns and approaches to learning (via ryberg)
This is the first version of the miniGame template I have made to support the design of educational ‘alternate reality (mini-)games’. If you have any suggestions, please comment.
Nota bene: the focus is on alternate reality games, low-tech, and (a more distributed way of) storytelling and gamification, and not on creating a digital video game that is centrally delivered using only one platform or tool and where the player is only a player. It is one of the resources we intend to use to get closer to our vision of a kind of participatory and emergent community of players/designers that sustain the development of minigames for particular (educational or social) problems and contexts.
A follow-up email to Suleiman, which gives a little more direction. It is time to make some choices, short and longer term choices. The email contains some tasks to get prepared for online learning (and interaction and sharing!), and provides a list of online resources to explore and choose from.
Deliberative democracy produces less partisanship and more sympathy with opposing views; more respect for evidence based reasoning rather than opinion; a greater commitment to the decisions taken by those involved; and a greater chance for widely shared consensus to emerge, thus promoting social cohesion between people from different backgrounds. Fishkin cites extensive empirical support for the increase in public spiritedness that is often caused by participation in deliberation, and says theoretical support can be traced back to foundational democratic thinkers such as John Stuart Mill and Alexis de Tocqueville. Former diplomat Carne Ross writes that in 2011 that the debates arising from deliberative democracy are also much more civil, collaborative, and evidence-based than the debates in traditional town hall meetings or in internet forums. For Ross, the key reason for this is that in deliberative democracy citizens are empowered by knowledge that their debates will have a measurable impact on society.
Interview with Black Mountain SOLE about MOOC Campus, a co-working campus for self-directed learners using MOOCs for independent scholarship.
This is a very cool initiative and this interview explains it well. I talked to Chris Hanna yesterday, one of the founders of Black Mountain, about possibilities to start something similar in the Netherlands. It was a very inspiring conversation. There is one thing that was not mentioned in the interview above:
Health metrics rather than Learning metrics. Predicting the learning path of individual students, because it is interest driven, is very hard to do. Thus, metrics primarily focus on health and psychology related factors. Feeling happy and fit is an important element in the program, and all the facilities are there to support that.
It is quite amazing that they are able to offer such a comprehensive program that includes mentors, high quality facilities in a beautiful area, lodging and good food, swimming pool and tennis, etc. for only 15.000 dollars per year.
The real enemy is the man who tries to mold the human spirit so that it will not dare to spread its wings.
by Abraham Flexner - PDF in Harper’s magazine - 1937
..in a reaction to fascism and academic restrictions in Germany and Italy, but has a significance regarding education as well. The expectation of people to be curious should be more important than the assumption of being able to educate someone for a particular place in society (or the assumption of being able to predict what science will lead to innovation).
“I think the real issue about adoption of open source is that nobody can really ever “design” a complex system. That’s simply not how things work: people aren’t that smart - nobody is. And what open source allows is to not actually “design” things, but let them evolve, through lots of different pressures in the market, and having the end result just continually improve.”—Open Peer to Peer Design - P2P Foundation
#Suleiman13 - A self-directed online education in 2013
I was asked to give some tips about learning online to Suleiman, an 23-yr old Congolese refugee in Nairobi. My wife met him while she was an intern at the UNHCR. With his charm and wit, he was able to convince my wife and back in Holland she arranged funds, my previous laptop, and a friend (Esther Gaarlandt) who coordinates the funds in Kenya, for him to get an education. He is now finishing his first year in Computer Science, and he wants to continue learning and doing things during summer time, and wants to get a degree next year. My first email to him is below, which gives an overview of possibilities of online learning, particularly tech/programming related (because that was what he asked for), and what I think constitutes a good and comprehensive online learning program.
A recent upgrade of Flattr suddenly made the service extremely more useful and powerful than before. Flattr is a peer 2 peer microdonation service that allows content creators to receive micro-donations with each Love (or Like) they receive if they (or their content host) installed a Flattr button. As a giver, you specify an amount that can be flattered each month, and that will be equally distributed to all those “flattered” by you.
Now, however, they upgraded the service so you can easily connect popular services like 500px, Instagram and others, and people can just use the particular service’s Like/Love/Fav or other token of appreciation as an input for a microdonation.
Coursera is one of the biggest (open) online education suppliers - with high quality courses in the arts, humanities, technology, and fundamental science.
InnoCentive is one of the biggest ideagoras and offers a platform for organizations to crowdsource their scientific problems.
Letting hundreds of students think about real-world solutions (and have them peer-review those) is a win-win situation: students are more motivated to work on real problems, and companies get their hands on the top-rated solutions.
Of course, InnoCentive can be any other ideagora or platform for freelance projects like Guru.com or just by including real-world problems.
Likewise, Coursera can be another online educational supplier like Udacity or a smaller one.
A VERY interesting debate has been going on this last week primarily between Gabe Zichermann, author of the new book by O’Reilly called “Gamification by Design”, and Sebastian Deterding, PhD researcher on user experience, persuasive and gameful design.
Just submitted (a mod of) the 3rd #gamification13 assignment (I skipped the second). Using the teacher’s D6 framework for gamification design, I have described a project I am currently involved in and where we want to apply game elements to improve (or stretch the pedagogical horizon of) education in Latin America.
The most advanced simulated brain up until now. The model consists of 2.5 million neurons (agents?) and can interpret numbers and other inputs, assess the response, and make errors like people make. It is also adaptive, and learn new tasks and learn from mistakes and rewire its own neurons. It takes a couple of hours to process something humans do in less than a second, but as computing power improves, this will grow into something like a real brain.
A short video explanation here: http://youtu.be/pg7YNUnK-Io and the full paper here.
Btw, 2 giant research projects in both the EU and the US were awarded funding over 1 billion €$ to develop an artificial brain.
Very comprehensive list that critically analyzes many of the claims made about the Net Gen, Homo Zappiens, Digital Natives, Millenials, or whatever the kids born in the 90s are called. What should be noted is that only in some cases, opposite claims are made, but in most cases, it is just explained that there is no clear evidence supporting the original claim. The research is published in 2008 and the sources they have used to do their analysis even older, so more recent insights will probably add additional proof. However, the list gives a good overview of the different claims used and shows that one should be careful in interpreting what is said.
Paper: Rowlands, I., Nicholas, D., Williams, P., Huntington, P., Fieldhouse, M., Gunter, B., Withey, R., et al. (2008). The Google generation: the information behaviour of the researcher of the future.Aslib Proceedings, 60(4), 290–310. doi:10.1108/00012530810887953
Many of the claims made on behalf of the Google generation in the popular media fail to stack up fully against the evidence (Williams and Rowlands, 2007, pp. 11-18). Over the following pages, we try to assess these claims on the basis of the very scant available evidence.
Confidence level: low [a], medium [b] or high [c].
They are more competent with technology[b] (see confidence level above). Our verdict: generally true, we think, but older users are catching up fast. However, the majority of young people tend to use much simpler applications and fewer facilities than many imagine.
Sramana: How does the money flow in all of this? Who is paying whom, and what are they paying for?
Anant Agarwal: We are a nonprofit, but we must be self-sustaining. At this point certificates are free, but we are exploring an option for paid certificates. Students need to pay to take exams at Pearson’s centers, and we should be able to get some of that fee to offset our costs. That is our equivalent of a B2C model.
“Studios, directors, and actors provide you with entertainment; schools and teachers provide you with education… In all of these cases, you are viewed as a passive recipient. If we are trying to help children develop as creative thinkers, it is more productive to focus on “play” and “learning” (things you do) rather than “entertainment” and “education” (things that others provide for you).”—
“The modern university has forfeited its chance to provide a simple setting for encounters which are both autonomous and anarchic, focused yet unplanned and ebullient, and has chosen instead to manage the process by which so-called research and instruction are produced.”—Illich, I. (1971). Deschooling society. New York. Harper & Row New York.
Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, Members of Congress, fellow citizens:
Fifty-one years ago, John F. Kennedy declared to this Chamber that “the Constitution makes us not rivals for power but partners for progress…It is my task,” he said, “to report the State of the Union – to improve it…
For example, this study into sexism: In a search for a new police officer, the researchers used 4 distinct CVs to test how much sexism plays a role in job → 1. Female with strong academic background, 2. Female who was ‘streetwise’ (experience on the street), 3. Male with strong academic background, 4. Male who was streetwise.
Group A was given the applicant forms of Female streetwise/Male academic background; and the group B was given Male streetwise/Female academic background. In both control groups, the overwhelming majority chose for the male applicant, arguing that - depending on which quality the male was given - or you need ‘someone’ who is streetwise (group B) or you need ‘someone’ with a strong academic background (group A). However, it shows that the sex is what counts, not the qualifications.
In three studies, participants assigned male and female applicants to gender-stereotypical jobs. However, they did not view male and female applicants as having different strengths and weaknesses. Instead, they redeﬁned the criteria for success at the job as requiring the specific credentials that a candidate of the desired gender happened to have.
Racism and sexism is present in everyone, even if you don’t think so. You can test it on a Harvard research page dedicated on implicit racism. I did it with regard to my ‘preference’ towards gay/straight people. It does not measure sexual preference, which means that (taking the above example) I would probably be more likely to hire someone who is straight than someone who is gay (unless the criteria are clearly stated on beforehand).
Your data suggest a moderate automatic preference for Straight People compared to Gay People.
This is the average result. See how racist/sexist we still are.
Interesting to read this, knowing it is written long before the Internet became available:
But the idea remains the same: they should be able to meet around a problem chosen and defined by their own initiative. Creative, exploratory learning requires peers currently puzzled about the same terms or problems. Large universities make the futile attempt to match them by multiplying their courses, and they generally fail since they are bound to curriculum, course structure, and bureaucratic administration. In schools, including universities, most resources are spent to purchase the time and motivation of a limited number of people to take up predetermined problems in a ritually defined setting. The most radical alternative to school would be a network or service which gave each man the same opportunity to share his current concern with others motivated by the same concern.
Let me give, as an example of what I mean, a description of how an intellectual match might work in New York City. Each man, at any given moment and at a minimum price, could identify himself to a computer with his address and telephone number, indicating the book, article, film, or recording on which he seeks a partner for discussion. Within days he could receive by mail the list of others who recently had taken the same initiative. This list would enable him by telephone to arrange for a meeting with persons who initially would be known exclusively by the fact that they requested a dialogue about the same subject.
Anuta, Rapa Nui, natural resources and Dunbar's number
Anuta is a very (very!) remote island in the South Pacific. Its people have developed one of the most sustainable, collaborative, and caring cultures on the planet. Its philosophy is called Aropa and
..is a concept for giving and sharing, roughly translated as compassion, love and affection. Aropa informs the way Anutans treat one another and it is demonstrated through the giving and sharing of material goods such as food. For example, the land on Anuta is shared among the family units so that each family can cultivate enough food to feed themselves and those around them.’
In the BBC documentary South Pacific, you see fishermen going out and bringing back fish, which is shared with all. Sharing and collaboration is their culture, and is the basis for their survival. It gives the impression that because of its population density (even higher than Bangladesh), its remoteness, and scarce resources (little land), this has been the most sustainable way to live. The island’s population is about 300 people, and divided into two ‘noporanga’, or “dwelling places”, each with a traditional chief. This is exactly Dunbar’s number, the estimate number of people of people with whom one can maintain a stable relationship. An interesting model for sustainability?
A whole other story is the story about Rapa Nui, also known as Easter Island.
Crowdfunded research project - interesting developments in research → more open and networked, and not just after the product is made or papers have been written, but from the start involving relevant stakeholders and contributors to participate.
Contributors can be scientific contributors or (corporate and individual) funders, who can get various rewards, mostly involving visibility of your name or brand. An interesting reward is deciding about its features and behavior.
Situations of greater entropy are statistically favoured. Things that are statistically favoured tend to happen, especially over time. A disordered room has greater entropy than an organized one. Thus an organized room will tend to become disordered over time. The only way to reverse this is by continually putting in energy from an outside system (i.e. making the effort to clean your room regularly).
HOWEVER, at some point a disordered room will be maximally entropic. At this point, continually failing to clean one’s room will not generally result in a more disordered state. Thus no additional input of energy is needed to maintain the state of the room.
Therefore cleaning one’s room is futile - a task for the modern day Sisyphus. It is much more energetically efficient to allow the room to stay at its natural, maximally entropic state towards which it will always tend (and to expend that energy on more interesting things).
Keith Devlin (Math Guy) has an interesting and challenging post on his blog Devlin’s Angle: ”The darwinization of higher education”. First some quotes from the post, and then my reflection.
But an educational system does more than provide education. It also identifies talent - talent which it in part helps to develop. That makes a MOOC the equivalent of Google, where it is not the right information you want to find but the right people.
One crucial talent in particular that successful MOOC students possess is being highly self-motivated and persistent. Right now, innate talent, self-motivation, and persistence are not enough to guarantee an individual success, if she or he does not live in the right part of the word or have access to the right resources. But with MOOCs, anyone with access to a broadband connection gets an entry ticket. The playing field may still not be level, but it’s suddenly a whole lot more level than before. Level enough, in fact. And as with Google search, in education, “level enough” is level enough.
Yesterday Facebook announced its long awaited search offering which they are calling graph search. It is the logical way to make the graph data that Facebook has been accumulating on its own and through its open graph accessible to users. Graph search is launching in beta with the obvious…
Good questions regarding Facebook Graph Search and future of the Web.
Many students, especially those who are poor, intuitively know what the schools do for them. They school them to confuse process and substance. Once these become blurred, a new logic is assumed: the more treatment there is, the better are the results; or, escalation leads to success. The pupil is thereby “schooled” to confuse teaching with learning, grade advancement with education, a diploma with competence, and fluency with the ability to say something new. His imagination is “schooled” to accept service in place of value. Medical treatment is mistaken for health care, social work for the improvement of community life, police protection for safety, military poise for national security, the rat race for productive work. Health, learning, dignity, independence, and creative endeavour are defined as little more than the performance of the institutions which claim to serve these ends, and their improvement is made to depend on allocating more resources to the management of hospitals, schools, and other agencies in question.