Landing : Athabascau University


  • Jon Dron bookmarked Talky October 28, 2016 - 12:27pm
    Very interesting - a real-time, largely browser-based video, audio, chat, screen-sharing, etc system requiring no sign-up, no fees, no persistent data. Just pick a URL for a web meeting (webinar), and share it with 15 or more other people. It's not...
  • Udacity is now valued at over $1b. This seems a long way from the dream of open (libre and free) learning of the early MOOC pioneers (pre-Thrun): "Earlier this year, Udacity’s revenue from Nanodegrees was growing nearly 30% month over month...
    • Hi Dr Dron,

      You are making a good point here. I am working through an Android tutorial at Udacity and it is quite good. I signed up for the self-driving car nanodegree starting in Feb (not sure I will do it though). It does have a feel like a different species of education/training. Seems like a hybrid of toolset specific training with a wider conceptual context thrown in.

      Hope that you have been well!


      Simon Chandler October 28, 2016 - 12:55pm

    • Really interesting, thanks for sharing Simon! I'm fascinated by your comment that it feels like a different species. Different species make it possible for them to occupy different niches. I've only skimmed Udacity nanodegrees (and have not looked recently) but your experience does help to confirm the impression I got last time I checked. This kind of thing is something that is quite hard to replicate in institutional higher ed, and I'm not at all sure we should even try to do so. If we were to become equally agile it would change the character and nature of higher ed beyond recognition, potentially losing much in the process (accelerating the employability/student as customer trend that has been eating away at it for many decades). It does raise the thorny question, though, of why anyone should bother with our more cultural-sustainance-focused model. My half-formed thoughts on the subject are that we in universities might actually make use of things like nanodegrees or Coursera's signature tracks rather than attempt to compete with them, supplying a scholarly community, process support, and broader contextualization to complement rather than supplant them. This would provide both the generative freshness of topical/relevant qualifications, and the wisdom and reflection that universities at least ought to be good at.  Better to enrich an ecosystem than to treat each new incursion as an invasive species.

      Jon Dron October 28, 2016 - 1:19pm

    • I am curious myself to know how the nanodegrees progress. They are relatively low cost so I may just jump in and see. Certainly the nano-mode of delivery will be (IMHO) incapable of providing the depth and breadth around the subject matter that universities offer. And this is not a trivial limitation. (It can't be overlooked that the folks creating cirricula and moderating the courses are typically high achievers from academia in their own right). Seems like there is a university/nano mashup in play at that may be closer to what you envision.

      Simon Chandler October 28, 2016 - 6:53pm

  • An interesting observation...  "Helen Abadzi, an expert in cognitive psychology and neuroscience, who was an education specialist at the World Bank, said that pupils who “overlearn” and repeatedly practise tasks, such as mental...
    • Jon,

      Thanks for sharing this.

      I really appreciate your highlighting the work that goes with "play." it helps to offset the erroneous notion that somehow "play" is synomous with "playing around." This, as you know, is a common criticism of Constructivism and Constructionism.



      Gerald Ardito October 28, 2016 - 8:08am

  • Another from the annals of unnecessary and possibly harmful research on motivation. Unsurprisingly, fitness trackers do nothing for motivation and, even less surprisingly, if you offer a reward then people do exercise more, but are...
  • Jon Dron commented on a bookmark What is education for? October 27, 2016 - 1:12pm
    @Mark - amen to that.  I am quite taken by the concept of 'lifewide learning', propounded by Normal Jackson, as a useful adjunct to 'lifelong learning'. The site at that propounds it is a bit dreadful, and...
  • Great post from Dave Cormier on the differences between learning and education. A central point of the article is that learning always happens, regardless of what we (think we) teach, and that there are almost always very many things we teach that...
  • Jon Dron bookmarked What is education for? October 25, 2016 - 12:23pm
    Dave Cormier, in typically excellent form, reflects on the differences between education and learning in his latest post. I very much agree with pretty much everything he writes here. This extract condenses the central point that, I think,...
    • Excellent post!  thoughtful and thought-provoking. Thanks

      Paraphrasing James, you can't step in the same river twice.  I think that becomes truer as the complexity of the "river" increases.  Stepping towards this discussion then, I believe that meaningful and practical distinctions can be made between education and learning but I also think the process of information exposure and results of that need to be included.  For examples, product placement in what we watch, modeling of both behaviors and attitudes almost from the time of birth, news that is filtered by what sells ads or views, courses that are labeled "under performing", biases that are not conscious but still powerful. 

      I don't mean to suggest that we should not distinguish the terms education and learning but rather that we need to view learning as something that is inherent to the human conditon and formal education will be an important aspect but is only one aspect of that.  As an important piece of the picture that surrounds and embraces each of us we should be as deliberate, thoughtful and compassionate as possible in stating our preferences and goals for the formal educational part.  But we need to be mindful that whatever the nature of that piece that we want to call the person's education, it is only a small segment of what they are learning. 

      If we assume there is some correlation between what is learned and how (and why) one lives/behaves then I think that might be important to look at the totality of the environment(s) there for the learning.  We, as educators, should keep this in mind and point out to both ourselves and those we "teach" that they should try to be as conscious as possible in recognizing that they have no choice but to learn but do have a choice as to whether to evaluate what they learn and how, if they choose to do so, to set up criteria for making decisions about what they have learned.

      Mark D.

      Dr. Mark Dimirsky October 26, 2016 - 3:21pm

    • John: this position is far from new—the primary role of education is reproducing the existing social, not challenging it. To go against this agenda is to confront significant political and economic forces; this is not simply a cultural issue, something we are free to change our minds about. As Althusser remarked some 4 decades ago, in his essay, “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses”: “As Marx said, every child knows that a social formation which did not reproduce the conditions ofproduction at the same time as it produced would not last a year.”

      In this piece, Althusser goes into significant detail on the different roles the state and education play in  reproducing the existing social order through the propagation of ideology—false thinking.

      In sum, the state relies on Repressive State Apparatuses (RSAs) and education (which has assumed the social reproductive role once held by religion) is the primary Ideological State Apparatus (ISA).

      Althusser identifies a number of ISAs, religion, family, legal, trade unions, media and arts, and education, but the major role falls to education:

      one Ideological State Apparatus certainly has the dominant role, although hardly anyone lends an ear to its music: it is so silent! This is the School.

      It takes children from every class at infant-school age, and then for years, the years in which the child is most ‘vulnerable’, squeezed between the Family State Apparatus and the Educational State Apparatus, it drums into them, whether it uses new or old methods, a certain amount of ‘know-how’ wrapped in the ruling ideology (French, arithmetic, natural history, the sciences, literature) or simply the ruling ideology in its pure state (ethics, civic instruction, philosophy). Somewhere around the age of sixteen, a huge mass of children are ejected ‘into production’: these are the workers or small peasants. Another portion of scholastically adapted youth carries on: and, for better or worse, it goes somewhat further, until it falls by the wayside and fills the posts of small and middle technicians, white-collar workers, small and middle executives, petty bourgeois of all kinds. A last portion reaches the summit, either to fall into intellectual semi-employment, or to provide, as well as the ‘intellectuals of the collective labourer’, the agents of exploitation (capitalists, managers), the agents of repression (soldiers, policemen, politicians, administrators, etc.) and the professional ideologists (priests of all sorts, most of whom are convinced ‘laymen’).

      Each mass ejected en route is practically provided with the ideology which suits the role it has to fulfil in class society: the role of the exploited (with a ‘highly-developed’ ‘professional’, ‘ethical’, ‘civic’, ‘national’ and a-political consciousness); the role of the agent of exploitation (ability to give the workers orders and speak to them: ‘human relations’), of the agent of repression (ability to give orders and enforce obedience ‘without discussion’, or ability to manipulate the demagogy of a political leader’s rhetoric), or of the professional ideologist (ability to treat consciousnesses with the respect, i.e. with the contempt, blackmail, and demagogy they deserve, adapted to the accents of Morality, of Virtue, of ‘Transcendence’, of the Nation, of France’s World Role, etc.).

      Of course, many of these contrasting Virtues (modesty, resignation, submissiveness on the one hand, cynicism, contempt, arrogance, confidence, self-importance, even smooth talk and cunning on the other) are also taught in the Family, in the Church, in the Army, in Good Books, in films and even in the football stadium. But no other Ideological State Apparatus has the obligatory (and not least, free) audience of the totality of the children in the capitalist social formation, eight hours a day for five or six days out of seven.

      But it is by an apprenticeship in a variety of know-how wrapped up in the massive inculcation of the ideology of the ruling class that the relations of production in a capitalist social formation, i.e. the relations of exploited to exploiters and exploiters to exploited, are largely reproduced. The mechanisms which produce this vital result for the capitalist regime are naturally covered up and concealed by a universally reigning ideology of the School, universally reigning because it is one of the essential forms of the ruling bourgeois ideology: an ideology which represents the School as a neutral environment purged of ideology (because it is ...lay), where teachers respectful of the ‘conscience’ and ‘freedom’ of the children who are entrusted to them (in complete confidence) by their ‘parents’ (who are free, too, i.e. the owners of their children) open up for them the path to the freedom, morality and responsibility of adults by their own example, by knowledge, literature and their ‘liberating’ virtues.

      Althusser concludes:

      I ask the pardon of those teachers who, in dreadful conditions, attempt to turn the few weapons they can find in the history and learning they ‘teach’ against the ideology, the system and the practices in which they are trapped. They are a kind of hero. But they are rare and how many (the majority) do not even begin to suspect the ‘work’ the system (which is bigger than they are and crushes them) forces them to do, or worse, put all their heart and ingenuity into performing it with the most advanced awareness (the famous new methods!). So little do they suspect it that their own devotion contributes to the maintenance and nourishment of this ideological representation of the School, which makes the School today as ‘natural’, indispensable-useful and even beneficial for our contemporaries as the Church was ‘natural’, indispensable and generous for our ancestors a few centuries ago.

      Unfortunately, there are too few of us who “attempt to turn the few weapons they can find in the history and learning they ‘teach’ against the ideology, the system and the practices in which they are trapped.” We might be tempted to frame the issue as pedagogical and/or ethical, but it’s far more deep-seated than many are willing to consider. It's been about jobs, jobs, jobs a lot longer than many realize.


      Derek Briton October 26, 2016 - 3:30pm

    • @Mark - amen to that.  I am quite taken by the concept of 'lifewide learning', propounded by Normal Jackson, as a useful adjunct to 'lifelong learning'. The site at that propounds it is a bit dreadful, and Jackson's book (linked from the site) is not exactly a model of rigorous thinking (it's a trade book, not an academic work), but the concept is helpful and the general principles are very reasonable. If we are to be helpful in supporting that, we need to recognize the diversity and richness of the learning ecosystem that we are all not just a part of but to which we are very active contributors ('we' being learners, all of us being learners). I think that needs a bit of a rethink as to how we do education or, at least, greater acceptance of greater diversity. It's happening anyway - from homeschooling to bootcamps to maker spaces to MOOCs to Wikipedia to the Khan Academy, along with more and more big companies deliberately rejecting qualifications as filters on employment - and the monopoly institutions have held on education is disintegrating. We can stick our heads in the sand or we can roll with it and play to our strengths. AU could take a much bigger lead here because we are already largely set up for it: I very much like our PLAR processes, I quite like our challenge processes, and our self-paced courses are a step in the right direction. However, we find it hard to let go of a controlling attitude, the cart of accreditation still pulls the horse, we are still only very patchily good at nurturing a sense of belongingness, and we still collectively behave too much like a course-teaching machine, not a compassionate community of scholars and fellow learners. 

      @Derek - very interesting - I'd not made the Althusser connection. Reminds me quite strongly of points made in Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed and Illich's Deschooling Society, from which I draw much inspiration and, of course, such ideas can be traced back through Dewey (implicitly) and Vygotsky (explicitly) and perhaps as far as Marx or maybe even Plato.

      And yes, the issue is far more deeply embedded than in pedagogy or ethics, with tendrils creeping into every corner of society, from social status to jobs and wealth. In our own small ways, and in our own overlapping cultures, we can make a difference, though, and from small differences large phase transitions can occur. I think one big key lies in celebration of diversity - the enemy is a one size fits all philosophy or a belief that we are engaged in an ideological struggle against some thing like a particular model of Institutional Education. If history has told us nothing else, it is that ideologies are dangerous, dumb, and prone to breaking at least as much as they fix. It's a big, complex, adaptive system, not a struggle between a few easily defined entities that can be fixed by changing one of them.  Of course, my vaguely and fuzzily libertarian-socialist-pragmatic-complex-adaptive-systems perspective on such things is as much an ideology as any other, better (perhaps) only in its valorization of multiple other ideologies and its acceptance of contradiction and unpredicability. We might do worse than to look at other complex adaptive systems - natural ecologies for instance - for guidance, rather than trying to engineer solutions. You can engineer a field of wheat, but you can't engineer a prairie. However, there has been some interesting work from the emerging restoration ecology discipline that suggests ways of approaching such a problem - a lot of tinkering, playing, observing, and reacting involved, with few big patterns but lots of small ones.

      Jon Dron October 27, 2016 - 1:12pm

  • Delightful compendium from Bryan Alexander. I particularly like: Analytics, n. pl. “The use of numbers to confirm existing prejudices, and the design of complex systems to generate these numbers.” Big data. n. pl. 1.When ordinary...
  • Jon Dron uploaded the file Not just about networks October 18, 2016 - 8:52am
    My presentation from the 3rd International Seminar on Online Higher Education in Management, Santiago, Chile (October 2016). The big question - what is the value of universities in an age of plenty, what roles should we play in the networked present...
  • This looks really excellent - it scrapes Google Scholar, starting with a search that reveals work you already know about and that you think is significant. From those search results it generates an exportable Gephi map of authors,...
  • Jon Dron commented on a bookmark The Bonus Effect - Alfie Kohn October 8, 2016 - 8:36pm
    Excellent! The word 'mandatory' has a tendency to raise my hackles whenever it is mentioned in the context of learning, though I have nothing against paper-based portfolios per se. For some kinds of learning, for some learners, in some contexts,...
  • Jon Dron commented on a bookmark The Bonus Effect - Alfie Kohn October 8, 2016 - 11:51am
    Thanks Rita - really interesting! Yes, feedback is not just great but central to all learning: given by others in a generous spirit, it can be motivating, empowering, affirming, and demonstrative of caring. Grades, however, are judgements, and...
  • Jon Dron bookmarked Multiclick October 6, 2016 - 1:01am
    This is great fun and quite fascinating - do try it out. You get to click on a rectangle, then see where other people have clicked - many thousands of them. This system is incredibly similar to part of an experiment on collective social navigation...
  • Jon Dron bookmarked The Bonus Effect - Alfie Kohn October 5, 2016 - 6:14pm
    Alfie Kohn in brilliant form once again, reaffirming his place as the most eloquent writer on motivation this century, this time taking on the 'bonus effect' - the idea that giving rewards makes those rewards themselves more desirable while...
    • Thanks Rita - really interesting!

      Yes, feedback is not just great but central to all learning: given by others in a generous spirit, it can be motivating, empowering, affirming, and demonstrative of caring. Grades, however, are judgements, and (though we can soften the bad effects through finer granularity, constructive alignment, and learner involvement in establishing the criteria) are fundamentally extrinsic, controlling, and disempowering. Grades are an assertion of teacher power that actually have much less than no value to learners, because they diminish or destroy the love of learning something for its own sake. Teaching should be about lighting fires, not quenching them.

      I largely share the opinions expressed here - -both in getting rid of grades and in losing the rubrics. There's no harm in rubric-like advice for helping learners figure out what kind of things are normal and expected in a new subject: that can be useful scaffolding. It's even OK to use rubrics as a frame to help guide feedback, as long as it is recognized that learners can and do go far beyond whatever is written in them, and they do not serve to constrain feedback. When I mention this, many teachers follow through with the question 'but how can we be fair?' or 'how can learners know what to do to be successful?'. Such questions reveal the fundamental problem in sharp relief: that's just another way of reiterating that the point of learning is to get points and comply with teacher expectations. If teachers believe that, what hope is there for students?


      Jon Dron October 8, 2016 - 11:51am

    • Thank you!

      I will have to ask administration at my work not to rely so much on rubrics (after I am able to convince them that the mandatory paper-based portfolios are obsolete and not conducive to learning...).

      Thank you!

      Rita Zuba Prokopetz October 8, 2016 - 11:55am

    • Excellent! The word 'mandatory' has a tendency to raise my hackles whenever it is mentioned in the context of learning, though I have nothing against paper-based portfolios per se. For some kinds of learning, for some learners, in some contexts, they make good sense. Like most things in learning, it ain't what you do, it's the way that you do it.

      I'll be interested in Jennifer Hurley's follow-up to her 'no rubrics' article because the one thing she leaves unsaid is how she deals with the (still mandated) final grading. That's my problem too, and it's quite tricky to solve fairly.

      Jon Dron October 8, 2016 - 8:36pm

  • Jon Dron replied on the discussion topic A tutor's perspective in the group Teaching and Learning at Athabasca October 4, 2016 - 12:29pm
    Great points, Mark. I would love to involve tutors/academic experts much more in all that we do, not just in course design but in overall planning of programs and in the learning community as a whole. I have been wanting (not yet done) to make...
  • Jon Dron uploaded the file Letting go: slides from my Brighton workshop, September 2016 September 28, 2016 - 11:28am
    My slides from a workshop run on behalf of the Centre for Learning & Teaching at the University of Brighton. The slides are a mashup of some of my recent presentations, with a few new additions and tweaks, providing a loose structure around...
    • Jon,

      Thanks for sharing this presentation. I wish I had been there to hear in live.

      I especially liked the slide "How do you demotivate your students?" What a great question!

      I plan on sharing this with my new crop of Sceince teacher candidates.

      Also, I am incorporating your extension of Paulsen's Cooperative Freedoms in the papers I am currently writing.



      Gerald Ardito September 29, 2016 - 7:34am

  • Jon Dron posted to the wire September 28, 2016 - 10:55am
    Interesting. Closed, cloud-based, rental model, teacher-centric tools. Integrated, so may appeal, but unwise to use it.
  • Jon Dron bookmarked ACM TSC September 15, 2016 - 11:02am
    A new ACM journal, Transactions on Social Computing. The scope seems good, with strong interests expressed not just in the computational side but the human and social side of the field. It will be interesting to see how this develops. Too much of...
  • Jon Dron commented on a bookmark Journal paper: p-Learning’s unwelcome legacy September 8, 2016 - 11:05am
    Thanks for the stimulating response, Mary! I largely agree re gamification, as long as (as rightly you imply) it's not pointsification. I particularly like that you can fail frequently in most games and only progress when you are ready, able, and...
  • Jon Dron bookmarked Journal paper: p-Learning’s unwelcome legacy September 6, 2016 - 7:20pm
    My latest paper is now available in the open journal, TD Tecnologie Didattiche. The paper summarizes and expands on much of what I have been talking and writing about over the past year or two, looking into the ways that the boundaries that...
    • Jon, your paper brings to mind a few things that I have been thinking about lately. One is the idea of gamification in courses. I wonder if some of the appeal of games isn't that they are bounded in specific ways with knowable rules. As both a student and and a teacher, I was always aware of the need to "find out what the professor wants" in order to get that A. That is, I wanted to know the rules of the game. In some ways, gamification reinforces the established teaching-learning patterns. It may even speak to a need many feel for extrinsic pressures to perform. Competition as well as collaboration might be one of the benefits of social learning.

      Only one of my five kids loves to get up and ride a racing bike every day--the others are like me in that they know exercise is good for them and it is fun once they get started, but they need some outside motivation. It usually comes in the form of encouragment/pressure from friends, loved ones, doctors, or scary Internet videos. As a teacher, I tried to remember that many, if not most, of my students felt about learning English composition the way I feel about exercise. It will never be a natural pursuit, but that does not let me as a teacher off the hook with respect to doing my best to create an environment that supports those who need the extra push as well as delight those who don't.

      It's true that assessment is mostly used as an enforcement tool, but it seems to me that ideally it's a learning tool. In active learning situations where people learn by applying content to solve a problem or create something new, what they produce is evidence of what they have learned. Reading and writing are the main tools we use in academic learning, but there are many ways we can engage learners in these activities beyond the essay and test that invite cheating and plagiarism.  So I would like to see assessment and teaching more closely aligned rather than decoupling them.

      Speaking of plagiarism and cheating, I really like what you said about the appropriate role of teachers--they don't need to make students do anything, including refrain from cheating. I do think, though, that while teachers should not be required to provide pedagogies to enforce compliance, they should work with learning designers to provide learning activities/assessments that make cheating and plagiarism irrelevant. Policing for plagiarism was not a role I could ever accept as a writing instructor--we may well come upon plagiarized material in student writing in the course of giving feedback, but that is a teachable moment, not an occaision to penalize beyond a failing grade. And the social and professional consequences of being caught cheating or plagiarizing should be part of the disucussion in any writing course.

      As  you said, education is not only about job skills. Learning ways of thinking--the kinds of theorectical lenses that anthropology and sociology provide, for example--has always been the greatest value of a university education. While outsiders sometimes make amazing leaps that forward a discipline, for most, the socialization into a professional discourse is a necessary step for moving ahead in life. The autodidact often comes up with a skewed version of a discipline that is not helpful, and I think this can happen in networks of learners without sufficient guidance. It makes being a teacher in this kind of environment all the more challenging. Educational developers take it as a given that university professors mostly have not really learned to teach or design courses well. The new learning environments put us all in that boat. We all need to learn new ways to share and create knowledge.

      Thanks for a stimulating paper!



      Mary Pringle September 7, 2016 - 9:37am

    • Thanks for the stimulating response, Mary!

      I largely agree re gamification, as long as (as rightly you imply) it's not pointsification. I particularly like that you can fail frequently in most games and only progress when you are ready, able, and willing -we can learn from that. Apart from anything else, accreditation would be less harmful if we could keep trying until we succeeded. Not sure about competition, though: it can have a place but can be two-edged sword, especially when we are seeking creativity and expansive thinking, and it can put pressure on in ways that can be positively harmful to both winners and (especially) to losers. The educational game can and maybe should be played to win, but it doesn't have to be part of the rules that winning means beating others, let alone scoring points.

      Re motivation, it is certainly true that there are things we need to do which do not intrinsically motivate us (at least, not straight away). Social support is indeed crucial: it really helps to see that what we are doing matters to others, that others care. It is also a critically important teacher role to help learners to see why doing something unpleasant or to which they are indifferent aligns with their own personal goals and values - it's about encouraging internally regulated extrinsic motivation rather than pushing, I think.

      I totally agree about assessment as a learning tool: I know of no theory of learning that does not explicitly emphasize the importance of feedback, and learning goals are really useful things. The problem is not assessment as such (though grades are normally a bad idea) but accreditation. As you say, there are lots of ways to provide evidence of learning and lots of means of assessment that naturally lend themselves to providing such evidence without accreditation becoming the reason for learning.

      I agree about plagiarism etc too.  If we divorced accreditation from learning then it would largely vanish: we would be letting people learn, not making them learn. It would make no sense for learners to cheat when literally the only person they are cheating is themselves. It would be almost inevitable that learning designers would design activities that make plagiarism irrelevant, too, because the only reason for undertaking them would be to learn, not to (summatively) assess. For now, given the constraints that we are forced to work under, I agree that mindful learning design and constructive alignment can make a huge difference.

      I think it remains one of the most critical roles of universities to nurture scholarly networks, and it makes great sense to continue to teach much as ever, as long as we don't force learners to comply, so I'm not too worried about the perils of autodidacticism as long as we nurture those networks wisely and teach well. I think it is useful to have scholars with a duty of care in such networks, who can help to minimize the risks, but there is also a role for crowd-driven collectives to help sort the good from the bad (including those scholars). Without such means of identifying value, as well as checks and balances on those means, self-organizing networks are potentially dangerous, thanks to Matthew Effects, filter bubbles, and echo chambers, amongst other things, that can reinforce bad patterns and ignorance: good for networks, bad for learning. Of course, that is not a bad description of academia in general. It's one big web of trust that, with its tribes, disciplines, peer reviews and so on, illustrates all the good and bad aspects of self-organizing networks! In many ways, it rewards the already rich, separates more than it connects, is filled with cliques, is answerable only to itself, and reinforces doctrine. Of course, it does have mechanisms designed to soften this, but that's the point: those mechanisms are designed. We can improve those designs.

      Jon Dron September 8, 2016 - 11:05am