Back to the early days of the web with Docker and Jupyter Notebook

Since I love all things virtual, I really looked forward to the video conversation between Stephen Downes, the facilitator of our course E-learning 3.0 (#el30), and Tony Hirst from the Open University in the UK about virtual boxes and containers.

The Open University is all about distance learning. People bring their own devices, only constrained by modest minimum specifications. Using technologies such as containers more things become possible and life for students and professors becomes easier.

Hirst and Downes talked about Docker, used to run software packages called “containers”. As Wikipedia explains, containers are isolated from each other and bundle their own tools, libraries and configuration files; they can communicate with each other through well-defined channels.

The other interesting product they discussed is Jupyter notebook,a web-based interactive computational environment for creating “Jupyter notebooks documents”. Jupyter combined with Docker allows for powerful
digital media assets which contain their own code, which can be modified by the user. One can change any aspect of a program and run it, without the need for installing software.

In the video you’ll see Hirst demonstrating it with music code. This evolution is like revisiting the beginning of the web, when you could easily see the source code of documents and understand it, so one could modify it without too much trouble.

But is this technology something a single user, not necessarily a coder, could set up? We’ll have to find out. Maybe we’ll experiment with Docker and Jupyter during the #el30 course. Personally, I’d love to stand in a virtual environment, VR-enabled, using a virtual screen to interact with digital assets powered by virtual software environments.

Starting a new blog: learning with Moocs

The ongoing course E-learning 3.0 (#el30) inspired me to start another blog, Learning with Moocs. I’ll focus there on a number of technical experiments regarding the decentralized web. Read my first post on the new blog for more information. On MixedRealities I’ll keep posting about the ideas behind connected learning, decentralized web, virtual environments and telepresence as ways to enhance collaboration.

An Experience API for learning everywhere (also in virtual worlds)

I never heard about Experience API (xAPI) but now I did thanks to a video conversation between education expert Stephen Downes and Shelly Blake-Plock, Co-Founder, President and CEO of Yet Analytics in the course #el30. xAPI is a new specification for learning technology that makes it possible to collect data about the wide range of experiences a person has, online and offline.

It captures data in a consistent format about a person or a group’s activities from many different technologies. xAPI uses a simple vocabulary and lots of things can be recognized and communicated with this API: mobile learning, simulations, virtual worlds, serious games, real-world activities, all kinds of learning. Learning activities are being captured in secure statements to learning record store (LRS). The LRS is a server that is responsible for receiving, storing, and providing access to learning records.It can help to develop learning analytics, dashboards, visualizations and recommendations useful for learners.

One of the important questions is whether this technology can be made useful and controlled by the learner or whether it remains in the realm of institutions and companies.

One of the inspiring things Shelly said: “Our experiences and activities become media. Not only when we upload stuff to YouTube but also behind the scenes to make sure internet applications work like we want them to.” It reminds me of the information philosopher Luciano Floridi who describes our lives as being “onlife”.

Media

I’m a journalist, not an educator, but in fact this discussion remains relevant to me. In media we increasingly use realtime audience analytics. A simple news website will track not only how many clicks a story gets, but also how long people read or watch it, how much of a text they read. A/B testing shows which title, picture or caption “works best”.

These metrics can be used to check the learning of journalists and editors: how efficient are they in bringing a story, but at least as interesting would be to get an idea about the learning by the reader or the viewer. Did they actually learn something they can use in their lives, or did they get at least new insights? The readers could integrate metrics of their media consumption into a tool which would point out whether it benefits them in terms of taking better decisions, or in having more interesting conversations with fellow citizens. Media users would own the data and use user-friendly apps to analyze their learning experiences.

Journalism and education seem to be very similar. Learners and audiences become active participants. Monopolies tumble as there are many ways to get learning or information. Business models are put into question. Education and learning explore the possibilities of data, data science, artificial intelligence and have to deal with all-important questions about privacy and autonomy.

Here is the interview with Shelly:

Learning, Connectivism, AI, Virtual Environments

I’m still thinking about the video-conversation of Stephen Downes and George Siemens. Maybe we could change the title of the course from the rather bland ‘E-Learning 3.0, Distributed Learning Technology’ to ‘Human Learning in the Age of Machine Learning’.

After all, Connectivism, the learning theory developed by Stephen en George, is about “the idea that knowledge is essentially the set of connections in a network, and that learning is the process of creating and shaping those networks.”
Wikipedia explains that “learning (defined as actionable knowledge) can reside outside of ourselves (within an organization or a database), is focused on connecting specialized information sets, and the connections that enable us to learn more are more important than our current state of knowing”.Connectivism sees knowledge as a network and learning as a process of pattern recognition.

Which means, as is explained in the video, that in times of rapidly developing Machine Learning Connectivism is a very suitable learning theory. It blends philosophy, educational practices and technological skills. It emphasizes the ability to make decisions and to choose what to learn, connecting with others and thus empathizing with those others. The theory is also related with the Extended Mind ideas of the philosopher Andy Clark.

Virtual Reality and Virtual Environments enhance human connections, they turn telepresence into much more than videoconferencing: they enable people who are dispersed all over the planet to share the same space. Downes mentions Virtual Reality in his slide show “Personal Learning versus Personalized Learning“, but I’d love to elaborate on the possibilities and the many aspects involved in VR and learning. Not only humans benefit from virtual environments, simple virtual worlds are also used to train artificial intelligences to acquire a basic knowledge about the world (like elementary physics) which make those intelligences grow in their world-knowledge. There are many other aspects: for those interested in distributed networks, the virtual world High Fidelity (optimized for VR) uses a distributed architecture, a cryptocurrency and it registers digital assets using a blockchain.

In 2008 we discussed Connectivism with a small group of learners in Second Life. It’s not too late to organize similar experiences for this course.

What and how to learn and teach in times of Artificial Intelligence?

The education theorists, practitioners and technologists George Siemens and Stephen Downes united again for the course E-Learning 3.0. Stephen was in a hotel room in Toronto and George somewhere in Australia, but the wonders of YouTube made them unite (after a search for the light switches).

In my earlier posts I referred to the very first MOOC they facilitated (the very first MOOC in general) in 2008, Connectivism & Connected Knowledge (CCK08). There were about 2,000 participants, these days it seems harder to get that many people. Reasons might be the marketing power of Coursera, edX and similar big platforms, the fact that big social media (Facebook) seemed to make blogging and RSS-feeds less relevant.

What else changed? In the video-discussion george Siemens mentions Artificial Intelligence (AI). If machine learning can learn about everything humans can learn, why would we still learn? One part of the answer is that as humans, we cannot not learn. But what is uniquely human? Is it, as he says, compassion and kindness? The ‘beingness’ of humans?

Stephen is not convinced. ML could develop ethics too. But maybe the way we experience the world as biological organisms is different from the way an AI can be aware. So humans could be the voice in the AI’s mind telling that there are more ways to look at the world.

If humans cannot not learn, maybe we should think about teaching. Learning at school can be a frustrating experience, and maybe what we require students to learn is not suited in the age of AI. Stephen point out that the capacity to take decisions and to choose by the learner will become even more important. That was obvious already in 2008 when the learners got an avalanche of learning materials to digest during CCK08 and they were told a that time already to pick and choose. Other important aspects, which are not being measured by universities, is the ability to contemplate about our place in the universe and in the community.

Also in the video: an interesting conversation about fake news and blockchain. Attention: the real conversation starts after about 8 minutes. 

How much marketing does a MOOC need?

Stephen Downes’ MOOC about distributed learning, E-Learning 3.0, had a pre-start last week – which I missed, but I watched the recording.

It seems Stephen was a bit disappointed – only a few people turned up for the first live-video, maybe this was just because many thought the course would start on October 15.

Or maybe there are more fundamental reasons. When Stephen en George Siemens facilitated a very first MOOC in 2008, blogs and RSS-readers still were important tools. There was no competition from Coursera, edX, Udemy and other huge and heavily financed platforms. Marketing is all-important in online education these days (and in everything else).

Or is it? Maybe people really look for alternatives. Maybe it does not matter whether you attract 35 participants and not 100,000 – as long as the interaction is deep and creative. But then again I’d personally prefer a rich interaction attracting 100,000, and that huge group would split up into many smaller networks working on their own thing but being inspired by the global MOOC.

We’ll find out much more in the coming weeks.

A MOOC about distributed e-learning

I’m learning about the decentralized web these days. I even made a very simple site using The Beaker Browser and files in the dat-format. On that site I keep track of my adventures in decentralized land.

I’m pretty excited to learn that the education expert Stephen Downes is launching a MOOC about distributed e-learning. He’ll talk about IPFS and other technologies as well. Here is an older post of his about these topics (and many other things).

The course starts on October 15 and I’ll be reporting about it on this blog.I’m not employed in education but in journalism, but serious journalism is a form of education for all those concerned. So I consider myself very much a learner and I always enjoyed what Stephen Downes builds, organizes and facilitates. His newsletter is extremely inspiring.

Argument maps, continued

As I mentioned in the previous post, I’m looking for 3D or VR argument maps. In the meantime I found out about Noda, which is a fledgling application for HTC Vive and Oculus Rift. It’s available on Steam.

On Twitter, Roy Grubb suggested his own software, Topicscape, which is a 3D visualization tool. For 2D online argument mapping, I found Rationale.

I’ll experiment with all these tools.

Looking for 3D or VR argument maps

Fascinating: IBM trained an algorithm in debating humans. There’s still some way to go, but the results were pretty impressive. I don’t know about IBM’s Project Debater, but there is an interesting history of philosophical research into argumentation. This inspired practices such as argument mapping. Like mind maps and concept maps, argument maps can become pretty complicated. I could imagine 3D argument maps could be interesting, but as yet I did not find software enabling 3D or VR argument maps. Maybe I should give it a try using some virtual environments such as Second Life or High Fidelity, but it would even be nicer to build browser-based tools or apps. Just imagine the possibilities of live group sessions using immersive argument mapping.

Philip Rosedale wants to improve upon the real world

The Financial Times runs an intriguing portrait of Philip Rosedale, the founding father of Linden Lab and Second Life and these days building a VR-compatible virtual world called High Fidelity.

The article not only focuses on the virtual world ambitions of Rosedale but also on his renovation and building projects in the real world of San Francisco, where he lives in the very exclusive Pacific Heights neighborhood.

One of the remarkable quotes of the article (written by Hugo Cox) is this:

If you could work, play, meet, go to school, if you could do all these things in a virtual world then why would you not think that these spaces could become more important than this [real] one?

The idea seems simple enough but many interesting questions arise:

  • What are the reasons people would prefer a virtual world above this one? Is it because a virtual world is more convenient – for instance, one can teleport around rather than commute endlessly, one can ignore the laws of physics in colorful creative surroundings.
  • Or is it (also) because the “real life” cities and living conditions are disappointing for the majority of people who cannot afford to live in such an expensive place? Is there an implicit rejection of the injustices of the “real world” by an exodus to the virtual world? (read also the works of synthetic worlds economist Edward Castronova).
  • How “real” is real and how “unreal” is “virtual”? In the above mentioned quoted “real” is added between square brackets – I guess by the interviewer. But if one routinely works, studies and lives in a virtual world, would it not become as real to me as the current real world? Especially when augmented reality (adding digital layers to the physical surroundings) and mixed reality (adding digital 3D-objects seamlessly to the physical world) go mainstream, blurring the distinction even more?
  • Is life in a virtual environment the way out for many in a possibly jobless society, where work will be done by robots and AI agents, except for either low skilled labor which remains somehow out of reach for robots or for very skilled labor (developing the AI agents and coordinating humans, cyborgs and AI-agents)? [I have my doubts about this vision of disappearing jobs, at least for the coming ten to twenty years]
  • One should contrast a purely “virtual” vision with an “augmented” one – rather than retreating into a synthetic environment in order to get an education or go to work, one could imagine people staying in a mixed reality world, being in the physical world yet also at the same time using the affordances of virtual reality.

Even though I’m an avid reader of the Financial Times, I read first about this article on the New World Notes.