I’ve been pondering how best to represent — and more importantly, how to best connect — the various reflections that some of us have been doing related the latest task in E-Learning 3.0, which is to create a distributed web community and be part of it. We’ve done a lot of thinking, pushing back, defining and un-defining.
Consensus? Eh, maybe not completely. In the end, one of the tasks many of us seemed to have agreed upon is to write a reflection of our learning in the course with Stephen Downes and to make connections with others through that process. These shared experiences might then lead towards a sort of distributed community.
Here is my attempt, using screenshots and a collage a connected quilt, with links to blog posts, all via ThingLink. I hope I didn’t miss any bloggers. I probably did. But these are the ones that were in my digital periphery.
This sort-of final reflection is for E-Learning 3.0 with Stephen Downes, and the musings of my experience — here in the form of a comic — is part of what may be a final project around “community.” I say “may” because a few of us are trying to discern a path forward with the open-ended element of Stephen’s call.
This thinking all relates to the possibility of how learning and teaching might unfold in the distributed web environment, where trust and a sense of belonging to something larger (even if you are removed from the center) is a key component to the way the future of learning, mostly online learning, might yet unfold. This is why we explored Block Chain, and elements of the Distributed Web, and Identity, as well as Credentials and Badging. Plus other topics I may have already forgotten.
One path towards Stephen’s assignment, suggested by Roland, is to create reflective posts together and those words, bound as they are by a shared purpose, create a sense of community formed around the EL30 experience. Another path, suggested by Laura, is to come to a collaborative consensus to define “community.” I’m happy to explore both ideas, as Jenny notes in her reflection, although I am not sure — as neither is Matthias, I think — either creates “community.”
We are beginning to explore the concept of “community” in the E-Learning 3.0 course. That word has long been one of those rather nebulous ones, which we as open learners in various platforms and spaces use as a default to suggest a gathering of people. I’m not all that sure it is the right term to be using.
A community is a small or large social unit that has something in common, such as norms, religion, values, or identity. Communities often share a sense of place that is situated in a given geographical area or in virtual space through communication platforms.
So what is a network, then? (It’s a little trickier to find because there are many connotations for the word.)
A computer network, or data network, isa digital telecommunications network which allows nodes to share resources. In computer networks, computing devices exchange data with each other using connections ( data links ) between nodes.
An affinity space is a place – virtual or physical – where informal learning takes place. According to James Paul Gee, affinity spaces are locations where groups of people are drawn together because of a shared, strong interest or engagement in a common activity.
I find myself using these terms rather interchangeably, even when I know I probably shouldn’t be doing so. Over the years, through my reading and learning, I feel like Gee’s concept of Affinity Space has best captured my ideas around connected learning practices across online platforms.
I bring this up because Stephen is challenging the folks in EL30 to create a “community” and then to become a member of that community. He has purposely made the whole assignment open-ended, with few details, and with little guidance from the “teacher.”
As a community, create an assignment the completion of which denotes being a member of the community. For the purposes of this task, there can only be one community. For each participant, your being a member of the community completes the task.
I think, for the final summative assessments deciding about the future life of a human, such algorithms are not acceptable. By contrast, for the formative assessments throughout the study, they might be perfect. With human teachers, both types of assessments are equally costly, therefore we have too few of the latter and too many of the former.
We are in the process of building society-wide automated competency recognition systems. These are already being developed for training, for compliance, for civic justice, and for credit and insurance assessment.
So far – as Matthias Melcher suggests – the only people not benefiting are the learners themselves, with their own data. And that’s what can and must change.
I am reminded of the debates still raging in my own teaching field about machine-based scoring of writing, where a software program analyzes a text and scores it. My Western Massachusetts Writing Project colleagues (and mentors and former professors) Anne Herrington and the late Charlie Moran explored this notion of computerized grading of writing, and found it incredible lacking on many fronts. I think their research still holds true today.
And there is the part of the statement by the National Council of Teachers of English, which concludes:
“Writing-to-a-machine violates the essential nature of writing.”
This all came to mind as I read and then re-read Matthias reflection, in which his position is to separate out the formative work from the summative work, and to consider whether machine learning and algorithmic software might help in the formative stages, but would come into conflict with our understanding of teaching and learning in the summative. And, he suggests, if machine learning helps fill the gaps in the formative stages, an educator might have more time and energy for the summative work.
Note: I am focusing my reflections on the teaching of writing here, which may twist Matthias’ own focus a bit. I think he had a different lens in mind.
Perhaps this idea of machines for formative assessment would be helpful in some academic fields or in the larger concept of life’s learning experiences. In particular, when learning is happening and unfolding across multiple platforms and different spaces, the machine program might do a better job of tracking progress than us people do. (I think this is one of Stephen’s points — that the Decentralized Web makes it more difficult to curate your learning experiences and that algorithms might help solve this problem. Is this where block chain comes in?)
But I am a writer and a teacher of young writers, so this conversation took me in another, not unrelated, direction of thought. In writing, the formative path to a finished piece is actually where the learning and the teaching takes place. It is in the brainstorming, the drafting, the revision for mechanics and audience, the reworking … this is where the “writing happens.” And it is mostly formative, made deeper and richer when the teacher confers with the writer. It’s not a task best left for isolation.
I’d resisting having a software program tracking the path of writing like this, with word counts, and syntax reviews, and whatever else the criteria might be to evaluate a text. I’ll admit that the AI component of technology has made intriguing advancements in this field, but not enough for me to jump on board. So would one argue that it might be better for summative assessment? Um. Nope. Thinking of the machine as your audience in a final piece of writing goes against the grain of the power and intent of writing, if writing is to be authentic.
Which is not say this is not already happening. Look to many standardized testing platforms now in use across the board, in student assessments and in teacher training programs, and the shift is decidedly towards machine scoring. This is more cost-saving than quality assessment (you don’t have to pay human scorers), meaning the shift towards computers as scorer is being done for all the wrong reasons: to cut costs, not to increase learning.
At least, this seems true in the field of writing.
But I climbed aboard the EL30 badge bus and ventured back into Badge List, which is site we used for CLMOOC in the past. I created a new “group” for EL30 and then created a new badge for those who are making comics as critique or questioning or just sharing out learning.
This is a Badge of One, I suspect, since I think I am the only person doing comics in the mix (see my collection over at Flickr). That’s OK. I am still enjoying it. I went through the process of creating the Comic Critic badge and the criteria, and set it all up. It only took a few minutes.
Then, I went through the process of uploading evidence (a comic) and submitting it for feedback and review.
Then, I (as administrator) reviewed what I submitted (as participant), and awarded myself the badge. I was very generous with myself.
Now what? Well, I did move the new badge into my Badge Backpack. It’s another place I put things to remember, only to forget.
Despite the inference in the title of this post, I don’t imagine the movement towards Open Educational Resources battling it out on the stage with profit-driven spaces like Teachers Pay Teachers. I am not sure it even has to be one (profit-based) versus the other (free-based). I just want to put both models side by side, to see what I can see.
Both have some validity, although I lean more strongly toward OER, for sure. Personally, I try my best to share out project ideas and lesson plans and other resources as freely as I can (see: Video Game Design for the classroom), in the optimistic hope that somewhere, a student might be engaged in something that will light that light (you know the one) or spark a discovery that unveils something new. Ever hopeful, ever the optimist — that’s me.
It’s why I engage in connected communities and why I learn from others while hoping others might learn a bit from what I am doing. I can’t think of a time when I paused and thought, Maybe this should be behind a paywall so I can get a little honey money from the idea.
The success of a site like Teachers Pay Teachers, however, shows another model. That, of turning teaching ideas into cash. What is TPT? The site’s About Us explains and makes perfectly clear: this is a business:
Teachers Pay Teachers is an online marketplace where teachers buy and sell original educational materials.
Now, look, I have paid to download resources from TpT and I found it mostly to be a seamless experience. I found and bought some good resources that helped me in the classroom. Sure, I wish I didn’t have to pay for what I needed, but I also understand the notion that teachers work hard and deserve to make a living (maybe if teachers were paid more fairly, and respected more in society, this would not even be a discussion). When I hit the virtual check-out line at TpT, I figure I am helping support a colleague somewhere and getting a quality resource.
And there are sometimes free resources at TpT. Sort of like nibbling on samples in Costco. They hope you will open your wallet for more.
I dug a little deeper as I was writing this post and boy, I quickly realized just what a huge business model this TPT really is and how it is growing profit maker — prob not so much for the teachers, but for the company overseeing it. The folks at TPT apparently host a periodic conference that appears to teach teachers how to sell themselves and their work (read this teacher’s post-conference reflections) There are a ton of videos on how to launch into the sales site. They have job openings for teachers as marketers, and more.
I was thinking of TpT in reference to an interview I once had with Howard Rheingold, for the Connected Learning Alliance, and he asked me about TpT because he had featured another teacher using TpT. It struck me as odd, then. Howard was exploring ways teachers use social media and resources to connect with other teachers. I could not equate what she was doing — selling to other teachers — with connected learning principles of openness.
Elsewhere, recently, I found another teacher wrote of TpT:
Selling my teaching materials on this popular website has made me a better teacher and has changed my life! — via blog
Um. Yuck. Sorry, but my hackles got up just perusing it all, the way the business model is seeping into the education model, built on the noble concept of teachers helping other teachers. A conference to help teachers sell themselves and their lesson plans? Yeah, that goes against my philosophical and moral outlook of education as a special kind of societal job, with the greater good baked in there.
Maybe that’s just me.
I am not naive — I know there is an argument to be made for teachers leveraging experience to make a living for their families. And the teacher quoted above might be suggesting that getting plans and resources ready for sale might have forced her to think more deeply about her teaching practice.
Legal Aside: if you develop lessons in the school you teach, who owns the intellectual property? The school or you? Can you sell it? Do you need permission? I don’t even know. Some lawyer somewhere has already figured it out, I am sure.
Meanwhile, the Open Educational Resource movement (OER Commons is one of many sites) that we are exploring in EL30 is like another planet altogether. Which is not to say that the Open Educational Resource movement is not about quality, too. It is. It’s also about learning together, of sharing together, of collaboration, of considering the greater good.
The question of how to access (if you are looking) and how to distribute (if you are sharing) is a topic of great interest in many circles, particularly at the University level where the costs of textbooks are opening doors to alternatives for professors and students alike. Difficulties around how to license materials, and how to ensure adequate citation of used work, or the act of remixing the content of others … these are all questions to be considered and barriers yet to be overcome.
But in the battle between open and closed, free or profit … I am all about the open sharing of experiences to make the world a better place. We all will need to be helping each other over that “river” (another reference to Laura’s post)– from here to there.
I took my youngest son to see the movie Ralph Breaks the Internet yesterday and it was enjoyable entertainment with an Internet theme. Not as good as Wreck-It Ralph, the original that surprised with its knowing insider’s look at video game culture, but still, the new movie is plenty of fun with lots of inside cultural jokes.
I was struck by one particular poignant scene, where Ralph is trying to save his friend, Venelope, by making stupid/dumb/viral videos for a YouTube clone in order to generate “likes” that become “money” he can use to replace something broken on Venelope’s racing game (the movie conveniently skirts the issue of how this connection is made — through targeted advertising of viewers). Ralph wanders into a corporate back room, where a global video comment feed is scrolling.
As he reads the feeds, Ralph slowly realizes just how terrible and how awful and how mean these people are being to each other through veiled usernames. The vitriol and the anger and the meanness of the comments deflates our hero, who thought the Internet was for the good of its users. The algorithm character in charge of the video system comes in, sees what Ralph is seeing, and sort of shakes her head, and then suggests to Ralph that he just “never read the comments.” She turns her head to the problem, just like YouTube and others have consistently done.
In the movie, Ralph “breaks” the Internet by letting loose a virus that seeks out vulnerabilities as a way to protect a friendship, and the results are haywire craziness. I won’t give the story away.
But listen, our real Internet is broken, too, and maybe we need to get a little Ralph on it. Not with malware and viruses, which are part of the problem, but with a new vision for what the Internet might be.
This topic of where we are and where we might need to go has been on my mind a lot lately, with inquiry through E-learning 3.0 and Equity Unbound courses, both of which have examined the weaknesses of our current Internet and Web systems through the lens of identity, data, algorithms, and more.
Here’s a sort of ‘wish list’ of how we might fix this broken system:
Stronger filters for hate speech and trolls and bots and more
More accountability for corporations setting up shop on the Web and its various connected places
A reporting system that actually works, and not just via algorithms and keywords, either
More tools in the hands of users to create on the Internet, like building smaller networks within the larger ones (the notion behind the Distributed Web)
Stronger privacy controls and fewer Facebooks
Less advertising through creepy data collection
Better access for all (including rural users often left out)
It may be that the way we “break” the Internet is by leaving it completely and starting over somewhere else. Or maybe we realize it’s a big ship, this Internet, but perhaps, working together, we can still turn it around. There’s a lot of good out there. We can build off that.
Peace (on the screen),
PS — So, I noticed a ton of named Internet companies mentioned in this movie and what I could not help wonder as I was watching the movie was this: Did all of these companies pay for product placement? I did some cursory searching this morning but found nothing much about this topic (this article mentions the movie but doesn’t answer my question). Given the push into paid placements of products in movies and television, it’s a valid question, right? To wonder if eBay, Google, Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat, and others paid to gain access to our eyeballs in the theater? I am particularly alarmed for the young viewers that this movie is aiming at. And if these companies did not pay for access, why didn’t the movie makers change the names to spoof and poke fun at the giants?
So add another bullet to my list:
No paid Internet products in movies aimed at kids/future users
I like that along with learning about the potential of the peer-to-peer Distributed Web concept in our EL30 course, with Stephen Downes, he is also providing us with ways to engage with the DWeb concept. One of his suggestions is to use the Beaker Browser, which is a peer-to-peer browser using a technical underpinning called ‘dat‘ and which allows you to quickly and quite easily make and publish a website within minutes.
Dat works on a distributed network unlike cloud services, such as Dropbox or Google Drive. This means Dat transfers files peer to peer, skipping centralized servers. Dat’s network makes file transfers faster, encrypted, and auditable. You can even use Dat on local networks for offline file sharing or local backups. Dat reduces bandwidth costs on popular files, as downloads are distributed across all available computers, rather than centralized on a single host. — from Dat Documentation
The developers of Beaker Browser provide a powerful overview of the mission their own project:
The Web enabled communication, collaboration, and creativity at a scale once unimaginable, but it’s devolved into a landscape of isolated platforms that discourage customization and interoperability. The Web’s value flows from the people who use it, yet our online experiences are dictated by corporations whose incentives rarely align with our own.
We believe the Web can (and must) be a people-first platform, where everybody is invited to create, personalize, and share.
I dove in, downloading and installing Beaker, to see for myself how this “one-click publishing” worked …
You can view the simple site I made on Beaker, which is mostly html-based with a few tweaks. However, because Beaker runs off the peer-to-peer computing power, my browser will have to be up and running, and accessible from the Beaker dat network for you to view the site I made (that’s the peer-to-peer computing element).
This is one drawback of peer-to-peer, as far as I can tell.
Another issue is that the ‘dat’ protocol doesn’t run in any other browser, other than Beaker. Which makes sense, since the peers are sharing the networking power. So the link down below to my site is one you would have to first copy and paste into a Beaker Browser, which is free and easy to download and use. The Beaker Browser also functions like a regular browser, but is a Distributed Web platform. What this means, if I understand it, is that there is no central server — the networking power and protocols are shared across users of Beaker itself.
This need for Beaker to view sites is a second drawback.
Also, my blog platform here clearly does not like the ‘dat’ file at all and likely sees it as insecure. Every time I try to force it be a link off this page, Edublogs tries to wipe it clean or remove any linking whatsoever. It’s just not ready for Beaker.
View my site: dat://82729c0bd3dd16984f7499e69b12e02f2bb45922c41fbff8609a84899d063fdb/
Playing nice across platforms and hosting services is a third drawback.
Here’s what my Beaker published site looks like right now:
Even with the three drawbacks of Beaker that I noticed — Beaker has to be up and running for anyone else to use and access its shared computing power, Beaker is the only browser to recognize and launch dat files, and platforms don’t recognize dat links as secure — I like where Beaker is going within the Distributed Web, and I am glad to have learned about it by using it in EL30. The people working on Beaker call it experimental, and it is quite likely that what I see as drawbacks now might actually be key advances in browser functionality down the road.
(Image credit: Openclipart.org and Mozilla Foundation)
I watched with great interest the latest video from Stephen Downes, who is facilitating the online E-Learning 3.0, or EL30, as he walked us through the concept of the shift from a Centralized Web (central server, many users) to the Decentralized Web (many servers, many users) to the prospects of the Distributed Web (no servers, many users).
A piece by Dietrick Ayala, of Mozilla, entitled Introducing the Dweb, makes this distinction, focusing on the potential shift in power over information and networks:
In centralized systems, one entity has control over the participation of all other entities. In decentralized systems, power over participation is divided between more than one entity. In distributed systems, no one entity has control over the participation of any other entity.
I’m still getting my head around it.
But as I ponder this move to a more peer-to-peer-powered networking design — where our own computing power become the backbone of networking, through shared resources like CPU and memory and more — I started to think about what this might mean for the issues of access and equity.
In other words, right now, there are still many places in the world — some more deeply in need than others — where basic access to the Internet and to mobile and computing devices is difficult, meaning the people — the students, is how I think of it, as a teacher — are in danger of being left behind with learning possibilities, job opportunities and networking options. I say this, though, knowing that people need to have a choice to engage in networking, and I don’t mean to assume everyone should always be doing this. But having no options when you need options … that’s an access and equity issue that has been with us for some time.
Not far from where I live, here in a relatively affluent part of the east coast of the United States, there are communities who have long been fighting the state government and the conglomerate cable/Internet providers for digital access, made tricky for sure by the rural and isolated places they live but not insurmountable. The battle, years long now, has centered on the loss of potential for residents in these small towns, and their children’s futures. Meanwhile, where I live, just 3o minutes away from those rural towns, I have high-speed access (as long as I pay for it).
Does a shift to a Distributed Web help these situations?
In the first diagram, of the current centralized system, if you don’t have the means to connect to the central server, then the network is worthless. Same thing with the second — the decentralized system — although it is possible your ability to connect is increased because more people are running more servers (in a federated sort of way) so it is possible your options for access are greater.
I think the Distributed Web, as Stephen and others call it, may offer greater possibilities for more people in need of access. Is the Dweb more equitable in this regard, on a global scale? Maybe, I think, and here is why, based on how I am beginning to understand how the Dweb works (with the caveat that this is relatively new to me).
If the future iteration of the Internet, as we know it, is built primarily on secure peer-to-peer computing power in a fully distributed mesh — where our resources are shared and our collective networking grows stronger and more secure with more users in the system (and this is where the technical aspects are beyond me right now, so I am writing this in faith that either blockchain systems or something else will be the underpinning of security) — then more people will have access to more networking, and more opportunities.
This doesn’t solve the problem of machines and devices or interface systems into hands of those users, but the Dweb seems to be concerned less with the high-powered, huge-memory computers, since we will all be sharing resources together. I might have an inexpensive device and it won’t matter, because others elsewhere will have the computing resources that I can tap into.
Of course, this is all speculative. I can envision ways this goes off the rails — around issues of privacy, of data breaches, of insecure connections, of monetizing the computing power. But I am optimistic, as I listen to Stephen and read about others, that there is a path towards something better.
How we get there — and how we make sure everyone comes along, regardless of culture or race or socioeconomics — is still a question, and I am appreciative that EL3o is pushing my thinking forward, while still remembering the mistakes of the past.
In exploring different resources, I came across this document from the p2pforever site — which seeks to collaboratively document examples and resources around Dweb architecture. It is a sort of manifesto of sorts, or some guiding principles, and this thinking seems to resonate with my thinking on equity and access issues.
They suggest that these elements in the design of future iterations of the Web:
We should improve and preserve the Web.
The Web is a genuine social accomplishment and we should look after it. Don’t let lesser platforms win out.
Devops is oppressive!
Many people can’t publish websites or apps because they can’t run servers. Publishing should be accessible to all.
“View source” is critical to an open Web.
The more code that users can read, the more code they can review and learn from.
“Modify source” is the p2p Web’s great power.
A Web that can be made and remade by its people can better serve their needs and produce a more diverse & exciting world. The Web should be a truly “live” society.
Minimize change, maximize impact.
The p2p Web should still be the Web. Make it better, don’t remake it.
Don’t forget resilience.
A web based on protocols, not platforms, is a safe web. Don’t put data in silos but have various platforms use the same protocols to interact.
In EL30 (E-Learning 3.0), Stephen Downes has us now thinking beyond notions of identity, and into the future of digital authentication.
Stephen, our navigator, explores the notion of private and public ‘keys’ as a way to keep our identities and our data private, and firmly in user control. As I understand it, the encrypted private key is what we would use to access and share our information and the public key is the doorway that others can enter if they have a matching or designated encrypted private key themselves. Anyone else, without that key, would not be able to move into the encrypted data.
The keys — private and public — create a barrier, or a wall, of protection, and only those who we trust and know would have access, even if it were leaked or hacked or whatever. In this case, he is talking about how to protect our identities, and perhaps, how our Identity Graphs might reflect this kind of protective barrier.
I’m wondering, how does the use of encryption keys form our online identity? I also wonder, given the nature of open connectedness that informs so many of the educational and learning circles I am part of, how does this shift to extreme privacy both enhance and hinder those interactions? Will people who might otherwise be important to my own learning be left out of the loop, if the door is locked too tight? I have this analogy in my mind — which is not quite apt — of how comments on blogs are sometimes set with spam filters so high that one gives up on even bothering to take time to leave a comment, ending a conversation before it even begins. Would encrypted keys do the same, but even more so? I don’t know enough about this topic to say with any authority but I wonder about it.
In one case, Stephen describes a key that is literally a small drive that you plug into computers you want to use, and your login and data trail is on the device. This device you take with you (on your keychain, perhaps), so that you no longer rely on browsers as your login point (and therefore, risk leaving data trails for others to find and use).
As I mentioned, I don’t know much about this encryption process, although I have read a little bit about it before and wondered how technology solves a problem technology has made (privacy issues), but does one technology fix of another technology problem then somehow open the door to yet another unforeseen technology problem? What problem might encryption keys pose? Maybe I am just being cynical. I sure don’t have an answer to this problem of identity hijacking by hackers and marketers and technology giants and more.
Take a listen to Stephen and see what you think. The comic above was my attempt at humor — of noting that whatever the technology, someone is sure to lose it.