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.

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.

What I learned after all those online courses

Listening to Stephen Downes discussing Massive Open Online Courses (see previous post) I felt the need to make an overview of the online courses I participated in during these last few years. Downes inspires me a lot and I fundamentally agree with the discintions he makes between connectivist MOOCs which are more community-driven and so-called xMOOCs which are more institutional.

However, this won’t stop me from participating in all kinds of online learning, whether the teaching is in a top-down institutional style or rather in a more freewheeling learner-centered style.

Here is am incomplete list of what I tried out since 2008:
– CCK08 as mentioned in the previous post. This first experience in 2008 was the most impressive one and determined my attitude toward online learning.  The course was very learner-centered but also overwhelming and completely different from traditional education.
These days I’m attending on an irregular basis ConnectedCourses which is another connectivist course.
– Awakening the Digital Imagination (2011): A Networked Faculty-Staff Development Seminar coordinated by Professor Gardner Campbell, Virginia Tech. This was a great experience, I participated as a member of a small cohort in Second Life. We used the MIT textbook The New Media Reader and read texts such as the famous “As We May Think“ by Vannevar Bush. This course was not massive but very open with a small group of highly motivated and kind people. Just learning to know these folks in itself was very enriching.

– Coursera-courses: Professor Cathy N. Davidson of Duke University recently taught History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education, while being very critical about xMOOC-like features such as multiple choice questions. She also incited the students to reflect in a free way and to share their insights also outside the boundaries of the Coursera universe. I paid for a certificate. It was a way to motivate myself to complete the course – and yes I finished the course. You can read my final assignment here on MixedRealities.

Other more ‘typical’, institutional courses at Coursera I completed were Gamification by Professor Kevin Werbach of Wharton, University of Pennsylvania and a Computer Science 101 course by Professor Nick Parlante of Stanford. Stuff I looked into seriously were Buddhism and Modern Psychology by Professor Robert Wright of Princeton University and Understanding Media by Understanding Google by Professor Owen R. Youngman of Northwestern University.

On the Canvas Network I tried another approach. Various experts taught in a more classical xMOOC style about Doing Journalism with Data, but I gathered a small group of fellow journalists to have weekly discussions about the course (at my newspaper, during lunch hour). I blended online learning with meetings in the physical space (I don’t see much difference).  I guess I invested more time and effort in the course than I would have done without the meetings, but I can’t say I really completed it.

–  Introduction to computer science and programming: this is an MIT open courseware which I started in 2011 but I never got very far. Why did I fail? Maybe because I was trying to do it alone, or because I was trying out too many courses at once. The abundance of free courses of high quality makes me feel like a child in a candy store, and I underestimate systematically the real cost of these courses, which is time.

– Howard Rheingold courses: Howard is the guy who invented the notion “virtual community”, a writer about digital culture and digital literacies, an artist, a community builder and a teacher. I learned about him in Second Life – I guess it must have been in 2008 – and I participated in various courses of his Rheingold U community. The courses included Toward a Literacy of Cooperation: Introduction to Cooperation Theory, Think-Know Tools and Introduction to Mind Amplifiers. In these courses we used asynchronous forums, blogs, wikis, mindmaps, social bookmarks, synchronous audio, video, chat, and Twitter.

The courses were neither free nor massive: about thirty people worked together and had intense interactions, culminating in a last session which was self-organized by the co-learners. I finished almost all those courses (I even took several courses more than once). The Rheingold-courses are very interesting: they are community-driven and try to emancipate the learners while at the same time Howard is being much more than ‘just a facilitator’.

– Project based learning: contributing to an actual digital artefact is a great way to learn. In yet another group facilitated and inspired by Howard Rheingold, I contributed to an online Peeragogy Handbook (Peeragogy as in how to learn peer-to-peer).

– Miscellaneous online courses: I’ve quite a history of learning how to code online. I tried Codecademy dabbling in HTML, CSS, JavaScript, jQuery and PHP. I like Codecademy, but it’s very different from the other courses I mentioned here – what seems to lack is a real sense of connection to other participants (even though there are learner forums which are very active). Treehouse is another great, video-based and interactive place to learn coding, but again not much of a community.

The more expensive and intense option was the O’Reilly School of Technology where you get feedback by a tutor (again not really community driven). Even though I’ve a good insight now in the very basics of web design, I cannot consider myself as being a web designer or developer. In order to achieve that, I would have to actively build something of my own – and I lack time and motivation to do so.

So, what did I learn?

I’m 55 now and I’ve a more than fulltime job. I also was deeply influenced by the connectivist MOOC in 2008. So what I learned was to put myself in the center as a learner and to have my own objectives, while reaching out to others who I assume have different objectives and perspectives.

Mostly my objective was to learn new concepts and ways of thinking in order to look at the world in a different way. For instance, I learned that computers and networks can amplify our brains. I discovered that people can learn a lot outside of the traditional institutions: fan communities learning Japanese in order to immerse themselves in the world of manga culture, people who learn scripting and 3D-building as ‘residents’ of virtual worlds, or youngsters learning everything about video as part of some YouTube subculture.

Often these informal ‘educations’ are far more efficient than the programs prepared and implemented by professional educators. It reminds me of Ivan Illich and his book Deschooling Society, but then again I must admit I went to college myself were I graduated in applied economics and philosophy. I still feel very grateful for that ‘institutional’ education.

 

MOOCs explained (by Stephen Downes)

Stephen Downes, the Canadian MOOC-pioneer (Massive Open Online Courses), delivered a talk in Armenia and as usual he generously shares the recording and the slides.

My own MOOC-experiences started in 2008 with CCK08, facilitated by Stephen Downes and George Siemens. Back then we lived in full euphoria about the power of virtual communities and I participated with a group of Second Life residents. It was a bewildering experience and when it was all over, I had far more questions than answers. These days I must admit it was one of the most enriching experiences of my life as a learner.

In the slides you’ll see how Downes makes the distinction between community-based – “connectivist” or “cMOOCs”  such as CCK08ds106 and ConnectedCourses on the one hand and more institutionally based MOOCs (xMOOCs) on the other such as the Stanford branch, with companies offering open learning such as Udacity, Coursera en edX. This for the scene in Canada and the US, nowadays there are a number of emerging platforms in other countries as well.

Downes says that communities are about sharing while institutions are about consuming. “Open” does not just mean “put it for free on the internet”. cMOOCs are about harmony through diversity, about unstated and multiple learning objectives versus concrete and stated objectives.

Audio on the Stephen Downes’ site. I also recommend his OLDaily-newsletter.

For my own experiences and opinion about online learning: I’ll come to that in a next post.

Bringing together distributed learning

One of the important topics at the connectedcourses is… how to connect all the posts on the many platforms learners use.

Facilitator Alan Levine mentions on his blog cogdogblog a few ways to aggregate content, two seem particularly interesting:

  • gRSShopper by Stephen Downes, the guy who introduced me and so many others to connectivist MOOCs in 2008. It’s a personal web environment that combines resource aggregation, a personal dataspace, and personal publishing.
  • The WordPress/FeedWordPress Syndication hub approach used for connectedcourses and the digital storytelling course ds106.

At connectedcourses the aggregation looks like this:

aggregation

Levine says in the above mentioned post:

It’s not the platform that matters, it’s the connected design.

I do hope to learn more about the technicalities of this design and the related tools during this course!

Half an Hour: International MOOCs Past and Present

Stephen Downes on Half an Hour now has a list with international Massive Open Online Courses. 
Let’s not forget: there is more out there than the xMOOCs such as offered by Coursera, edX and Udacity – the connectivist courses offer a very different learning experience, based on distributed platforms, the learner as center and peer2peer philosophy. 

So I’m very glad to find this list with international courses! 
via Diigo http://halfanhour.blogspot.ca/2012/11/international-moocs-past-and-present.html