Ever since Amazon brought out their first kindle e-book reader in 2007, the techno gurus hyped the rise of e-books to the extent of predicting that print items would soon disappear altogether and were doomed for oblivion. The large majority of learning technologists anticipated the end of books and prints (including newspapers) and invented more and more arguments in favour of the innumerable benefits e-books bring to learning. It now seems they have been guessing wrong.

New studies reveal that the e-book revolution has come to a somewhat unexpected grinding halt. Despite the pervasive availability of e-book readers and apps, the market seems saturated and sales are stalling. In the US, where sales stagnate since the first quarter of 2012, the market share of e-books lies at 30%. In Germany, it is even lower, and just reached 4.3% of the book market – hardly disruptive!

Analysts have found several reasons for this downturn, among other things the lack of value for money. At practically the same price as the printed version, e-books have a much more restricted use. You can’t lend it to friends, nor sell it on or even put it in a “Little Free Library” for sharing. Anything you do with it – other than reading – is considered piracy.

Another limitation is that many people don’t want to be dependent on battery life or carry yet another charging cable to their holiday destination and back. Being surrounded by technology at the work place may also lead to an urge to disconnect.

I would add to this the lack of haptic value and ownership. It’s nicer to wrap a book into gift paper than an e-book voucher. It’s nicer to hold your own book in hands than a rented vision of a book.

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This is alarming news: Perhaps due to pressures to “publish or perish” a shadow publishing economy has developed that supports faking scientific research. We’ve heard before about faking data and results, plagiarism, and pseudo-journals where anything can be put into print.

This is yet another assault on research ethics. This time it’s directed at the peer review process. It works by faking reviewer contacts and then producing the right kind of review in order to get published. All these fraudulent methods undermine the key thing that keeps academics together: the trust in the integrity of the system. The danger being that once this trust is sufficiently shaken by the actions mentioned here, the quality assurance process may come tumbling down. No longer would we be able to trust the peer review system supported by an expert community. Even worse, imagine the medical research publishings mentioned in the article would make it into the common knowledge base! Would we still be able to distinguish what is real hard effort that may bring real advance in know-how from mere selfish benefit seeking publications?

I’m concerned that established publishers like Elsevier apparently fall for this.

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This is an interesting book by Christian Fuchs: Digital Labour and Karl Marx.

A quote from the description:

The book ”Digital Labour and Karl Marx” shows that labour, class and exploitation are not concepts of the past, but are at the heart of computing and the Internet in capitalist society.

The work argues that our use of digital media is grounded in old and new forms of exploited labour. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Weibo and other social media platforms are the largest advertising agencies in the world. They do not sell communication, but advertising space. And for doing so, they exploit users, who work without payment for social media companies and produce data that is used for targeting advertisements.

That this is more than a worry of a single writer, is evident from a conference at the renowned Vienna University of Technology: “5th ICTs and Society-Conference: The Internet and Social Media at a Crossroads: Capitalism or Commonism? Perspectives for Critical Political Economy and Critical Theory.” It looks like more and more deep thinkers are wondering where technology-enhanced capitalism is going!

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Two disturbing trends are emerging:

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(1) Subscriptions

Microsoft let it slip lately that they want to release Windows 10, their next version of operating system, on a subscription basis. While this may be positive for companies since it creates a steady stream of income, it’s bad news for consumers. As more companies take this direction, it will be much harder to change product, or to opt out from upgrades. Once you stop paying your subscription the thing will stop working. And, the internet of things promises more ordinary household objects to go this way (cf. the vision presented in this post). It also means that your monthly statements will get filled up with fixed cost, leaving you less flexibility financially.

(2) Data extraction

The automotive industry is lobbying hard to have cars send usage data directly to the manufacturer. This supposedly gives the consumer a better service and garages don’t have to read out the data from the vehicle, but instead download it from the central servers. Not only does this pose serious questions about privacy and data protection, but it also damages the consumer relationship with their car. Similar to the above subscription strategy, data produced by the machine will then be owned by the company – so, strictly speaking it disenfranchises the user, who pays for the car. Already the current state of art where car data is stored in the vehicle’s memory restricts the owner’s choice to licenced manufacturer repair shops. The new move would spell the end of independent garages or bind them to licencing costs in order to be able to access data from the manufacturer’s servers. In my experience, this type of binding car owners to licenced garages drove up prices dramatically and it can be expected to go up further in this new environment for lack of independent competition.

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I am not easily impressed by academic papers these days, despite spending much time reviewing submissions to journals, conferences, or workshops. Neither do I propose best paper awards lightly. Here is the rare positive exception: A submission to the LAK15 conference authored by researchers from the Queensland University of Technology in Australia.

The authors propose what they call a Connected Learning Analytics (CLA) toolkit that takes learning analytics well into connected open online learning (including MOOCs). This area has previously been a bit of a stumble as cMOOCs allow students to use any kind of online platform or social network to connect and interact with peers, but analytics were largely unable to follow them in order to provide comprehensive statistical overviews. In institutional learning too analytics have hitherto been siloed in LMSs and, there, analytics have been confined to what the vendors provide – which typically is very little, and, equally typical, is oriented toward business intelligence rather than learning. Yet, almost all learning in formal and informal environments today is enhanced by social learning experiences and networks such as twitter or facebook.

In our framework on Learning Analytics my colleague and I strongly proposed pedagogic reflection as the key to learning with analytics. Still, most statistical approaches leave analytics in the hands of institutions with the aim of achieving effectiveness measures on academic staff or content rather than providing pedagogic support. It is something that most often is done to students rather than by students. In this setting, students are primarily the data subjects, not the beneficiaries or clients. This is remarkably different in the proposed paper, as it puts students in control of their LA.

The article proposes a student owned method to connect different (social) learning tools to an analytics engine. It uses a subscription method that the students control. What impressed me in the order of magnitude to suggest it as best paper was where the paper went beyond the general technical description of the tool and accompanying ontology to map social network functions to one-another (‘likes’ = ‘+1′ = ‘thumbs-up’ etc.). The authors spent enormous thought, care, and consideration on student centredness, pedagogic reflection, competences, security, data ownership, and even interoperability/portability for lifelong learning.

If you are attending LAK15, this is the presentation I’d advise you to follow.

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I recently found my travel dates on Google maps on my phone:

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Sure enough, I was booked into the Apartmenthotel Citykoti on these dates, but how did this information promulgate to Google maps? I did not put it there, that much is certain. It could have been taken from my e-mail booking, which, since recently, Google translates into travel information (such as flight bookings) and which looks like this:

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Or it could be that Google cut a special deal with booking.com or tripit.com. Finally, I also thought that Google might have taken it directly from my calendar, but I didn’t have it in my calendar in this detail. In the end, it remained a mystery how my travel booking arrived on Google maps.

I am not sure whether to see this as helpful or as a scary threat to privacy. Who else sees this information – no-one, of course, Google would not do such kind of thing! (;-)

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I just read a very interesting article from the University of Waikato, New Zealand, describing a tool they developed at the OER Research Hub to facilitate formal and informal language learning. FLAX, that’s the name of the tool, stands for Flexible Language Acquisition. It compiles text corpora using open content from the OER world, MOOCs, and Open Access articles. The demonstration packs currently available include a collection from law texts and even video transcripts from YouTube and Vimeo lectures about law. They assure us that anyone can create own collections with ease.

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These text collections are combined with simple language technologies like frequencies, collocations and Google ngram to detect key concepts and phrases in the texts. They can be enriched with linked data information from Wikipedia and Google, which allows learners to explore legal terminology, like ‘precautionary principle’, find their meaning and usage in sentences or phrases. In this way, it is hoped and hypothesised that independent learners will be able to improve their linguistic skills. A module for Moodle already exists and it is intended that FLAX will also find use in MOOCs to help with domain concepts and language issues.

FLAX is based on Open Source software from the New Zealand Digital Library Project and comes with instructions to set up your own collection.

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Yes Scotland

If there’s one thing we can learn from the run up to the Scottish referendum, it’s this: People are not tired of politics, as has often been claimed in and around general elections. They are tired of party politics!!

Especially young voters are keenly involved in finding their way round the socio-political landscape. But, what they want is direct democracy and voting on issues, not parties with whole-sale agendas and manifests, of which they only like some 30 odd % or less. A similar trend could be observed earlier in the emergence of Pirate parties. Maybe an independent Scotland is an opportunity to provide this.

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My response to this article in the HE Chronicle. The MIT’s reaction to the high number of drop-outs in MOOCs is to wonder whether there is nothing wrong with the mode, but rather with the format of providing courses (or semesters) instead of what learners seek, i.e. bits of learning:

“People now buy songs, not albums. They read articles, not newspapers. So why not mix and match learning “modules” rather than lock into 12-week university courses?”

MIT now consider offering modules instead of courses. This, at least in Europe, is no new thing. I have been involved in the modularisation of courses almost two decades ago, the intent then being to provide more flexibility and interdisciplinarity within courses, and efficiency in their delivery. And there is nothing wrong with that, as experience has shown. However, what I read in the article is that the motivation for modularisation is demand-driven only, i.e. “what students want”. Concluding that because students like it short, it therefore is automatically better and successful, is wrong!

I have long been arguing that there is a difference between learning and education. Yes, learning leads to education, but it’s the holistics that counts. Unless the modules are connected (by design within the framework of, say, a course!), learning individual chunks of domain knowledge may be personal, may be enough if you just refresh your memory and already have sufficient other knowledge, may be satisfying, but isn’t enough to qualify for expertise. This is where learning and education differ: an educational qualification includes things that you didn’t consider learning. Leaving learning to the fancies of a student alone isn’t going to empower them. It leads to the much criticised graduates that can’t read properly, that skipped literature or grammar or cultural studies in language learning, etc. or, in other words, people who don’t comprehend the greater picture and therefore are at a disadvantage.

Here’s another example: Just learning to drive a car isn’t quite enough to qualify for modern road traffic, though essentially that is what learners want to achieve. Who ever enjoyed studying the highway codes or technical details of car? Therefore, taking a module of a driving lesson alone isn’t going to cut it. Sure one can always argue about what parts of a curriculum are obligatory and which aren’t, but I think in the bigger picture we got mechanisms that regulate this rather successfully and with the variety needed to provide for personal choices across the educational landscape.

I for one would not like to fly with a pilot who just studied the take-off procedures but no landing…!

 

PS: I acknowledge that for MOOCs the approach of micro-learning and modularisation maybe acceptable when looking at a primarily CPD audience who are interested in updating or refreshing their existing knowledge base. This as I have always argued is the key sector for MOOCs (cf. also Diana Laurillard’s recent analyis in THES).

 

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I like approaches like Galaxy Zoo or the still ongoing SETI@home action. What I particularly like about it is the simplicity and the collaboration. This encapsulates the true spirit of humanity for me where people work together to solve questions, issues, or challenges.

 

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Similar to Amazon’s Mechanical Turk human brainpower is used to advance some quest or other.

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Now there is an interesting EU project under way that aims to harvest people power for science. It’s appropriately called Socientize. One of the initiatives is to ask people to report when they caught the flu, so data maps of outbreaks can be generated. Volunteers can help analyse datasets too or learn things about science. The project also engages in policy development.

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