Monday, February 24, 2014

REL 2014

C’est avec grand plaisir que je vous annonce l’ouverture des inscriptions à notre cours en ligne ouvert et massif portant sur les ressources éducatives libres.

L’inscription est à l’URL 
Notre communauté Google se trouve ici
Et notre page Facebook ici.

Merci de diffuser la nouvelle dans vos réseaux. Merci de nous aimer. Merci de vous inscrire. Et au plaisir de vous retrouver en ligne, hebdomadairement ou sporadiquement dès la semaine prochaine.

À titre d’information, je ne diffuse pas encore la nouvelle aux médias. Je l’annonce à la communauté universitaire Université de Moncton. Je laisse les individus répandre la nouvelle dans leurs réseaux. Et nous ferons une annonce médiatique plus tard, lorsque nous aurons du temps à consacrer aux médias, ce qui n’est pas le cas maintenant.

Pour plus de facilité, voici quelques textes que vous retrouverez dans notre page d’inscription, si vous désiriez vous en inspirer :

REL 2014 – Pour une éducation libre vise à éduquer tous les acteurs de l’enseignement et de l’apprentissage quant au potentiel que présentent les REL pour rencontrer les objectifs éducatifs de l’Unesco qui consistent à accroître l’équité et l’accès à une éducation de qualité pour tous.

Parallèlement, le CLOM cherche à augmenter la capacité Francophone en matière de REL dans Internet. Le cours en ligne ouvert en massif (CLOM) REL 2014 – Pour une éducation libre est une initiative de l’Organisation internationale de la Francophonie (OIF).

Le cours porte sur les ressources éducatives libres (REL). Il vise à éduquer tous les acteurs qui interviennent dans le cycle de vie d’une REL quant à sa nature, ses conditions de déploiement et les pratiques exemplaires qui l’entourent.

L’Organisation internationale de la Francophonie (OIF) organisait, en février 2013 à Moncton au Nouveau Brunswick (Canada), un atelier d’experts internationaux des ressources éducatives libres (REL). L’une des recommandations de l’atelier portait sur la création d’un cours en ligne ouvert et massif (CLOM) pour éduquer tous les intervenants aux enjeux entourant les REL. L’objectif ultime est double. Il s’agit dans un premier temps d’augmenter la capacité francophone en matière de ressources libres pouvant être utilisées dans l’enseignement et l’apprentissage. L’objectif final demeure en lien avec le mandat de l’Unesco qui correspond à accroître l’équité, la pertinence et l’accès à une éducation de qualité pour tous.

Agissant sur cette recommandation, l’OIF a demandé à M. Stephen Downes, chercheur au Conseil national de recherches Canada (CNRC) et co-auteur de la théorie connectiviste de l’apprentissage comme du concept de CLOMc, de piloter une initiative libre et ouverte pour enseigner les REL par la prestation d’un CLOM. Les chercheurs Guillaume Durand et Hélène Fournier du CNRC collaborent à ce projet avec M. Downes.

À la demande de Stephen Downes, l’Université de Moncton, par l’intermédiaire de son Groupe des technologies de l’apprentissage (GTA), agit comme gestionnaire de projet. L’équipe du GTA comporte des spécialistes de la conception pédagogique et de la médiatisation des contenus. Elle assure à la fois la coordination du projet et la numérisation de tous les contenus suivant une approche pédagogique congruente avec la théorie du connectivisme.

Dans ce modèle d’apprentissage libre et ouvert, tous les experts mandatés pour intervenir durant les neuf semaines de cours le font bénévolement. Nous tenons à transmettre l’expression de notre gratitude la plus sincère à tous ces experts qui, dans la majorité des cas, remplissent leurs fonctions en dehors du cadre de leur emploi régulier.

Il faut noter que ce cours est entièrement libre et gratuit. La propriété intellectuelle des créateurs de contenus est protégée sous licence Creative Commons CC – BY qui autorise les utilisateurs à réutiliser, réviser, adapter et redistribuer les contenus pour autant qu’ils en citent l’auteur original.

Pour toute demande de renseignement supplémentaire, contacter Participez à notre communauté Google+ ou suivez-nous sur Facebook c’est la meilleure manière de communiquer avec nous!

Economists and Education

Fred M Beshears writes, "Here's an upcoming panel discussion that might address some of the issues we've been discussing. It will be interesting to see if the idea of 'Open Education' becomes linked to the idea of  'Free Trade'".

Does he mean the 'free trade' where corporations and capital are free to move about the world seeking the lowest possible wages and benefits while citizens are locked in their own countries by passport, visa and immigration laws that make it impossible for people to leave the sweatshops and migrate in search of higher wages?

Does he mean 'free trade' where commerce is governed by documents hundreds of pages thick and which can only be understood by lawyers, and even then only after jurisprudence, such as the case of NAFTA?

Or even the idea that 'education' is a commodity that ought to be produced and protected and bought and sold as though it were property? Because I'm not sure economists can see it in any other light.

Indeed, instead of asking how economists should consider campus course import and export policies, wouldn't it be more relevant to question why economists have any influence on education, articulation or matriculation policy at all? After all, degrees and certifications shouldn't simply be things bought and sold on the open market - should they?

Steve Foerster writes, "I'm with you on the immigration issue, and agree that regardless of what it's called, if something is long and hard to understand then it's almost certainly a way to protect well connected companies rather than really being a free trade agreement. 

"I believe that most economists would look at education not as a commodity, but as a service. And it certainly can be provided like any other service, although people with different first principles will disagree whether it should. I don't think economists have all the answers, but in areas where they know what they're talking about it's unwise to disregard them."<

I agree that " in areas where they know what they're talking about it's unwise to disregard them." No doubt they understand currency exchanges. But they do not understand education.

'Teaching' is a service. An 'education resource' is a commodity. But 'education' and 'learning' are neither commodities nor services. You can't buy a 'temporary PhD in Astrophysics' the way you can buy a temporary tattoo.

Economists get this sort of thing wrong a lot. Other things that are neither commodities nor services are 'climbing a mountain', 'true love', 'health', 'a positive outlook', etc.

The reason economists aren't able to deal with this is that they cannot be expressed in monetary value, not because they're priceless, but because they cannot be counted.

Even the word 'commodity' has suffered from this sort of myopia - it originates from the Latin from Latin commoditatem (nominative commoditas) "fitness, adaptation, convenience, advantage," from commodus "suitable, convenient", but only in the 15th century with the rise of mercantilism does it come to mean, "benefit, profit, welfare;" and later "a convenient or useful product."

You can't count 'fitness' or 'adaptation', you can only count the proxies for these, and economists over time have come to value these proxies so thoroughly they do not even equate terms like 'education' and 'learning' with their original meanings.

That is why when we read people like Kevin Carey we read a lot about test scores, about institutions' ranking on league tables, about the value of a degree, and such.

A bank or a business can be judged to be 'successful' by economic metrics, but I think few would judge the 'success' of Harvard or MIT in their respective communities in terms of the money they make or even the earnings people accrue from having attended them. When I visited Harvard, I went there to soak in the weightless atmosphere, not to count bricks.

Economists are the logical positivists of social and cultural theory. They believe they have been able to identify a strictly rational path from observations to principle. But along the way, they have lost the concept of 'value', rendering it a useless reduction into purportedly theory-neutral 'observation statements' and hypothetical-deductive models. Economists should read Quine. But, of course, they don't. There's no money in it.

I wouldn't complain, and would be happy to pat economists on the head, just as I do logical positivists and behaviourists, and say "there there, that's a good boy," but they have inserted their way into political and policy discourse, creating a misguided and generally harmful social and political theory, often known as 'capitalism', into common convention and culture.

But as my friend Graeme Decarie writes, "Government is a social institution, not a financial one." It may make sense for a business or large corporation to achieve 'success' through the reduction of others (aka 'the competition') to poverty, but government and society cannot function this way.

Economists talk and act as though we will accomplish nothing if what we accomplish is not measurable, because progress toward that 'accomplishment' cannot be tracked. In a business environment, where we are exchanging value and money for accomplishment, this makes sense. To a person cycling on a lonely dead-end forest road, this simply seems confused.

And hence, talking about education in the same same terms as 'free trade' comes to make sense for them, while to any more knowledgeable observer the identification of these two very different things is at best a dog whistle and at worst a conceptual howler.

And that is why there is no merit to debating an economist on education or learning policy. It's like debating a True Believer. As Bill Nye found, after a certain amount of discussion you ask your opponent "what would change your mind about this?" and the answer comes back, "nothing."

I put it to economists, what can you prove? They spend all their time coming up with explanations about the past. What can they really predict? All these interventions that they propose - programmed learning, class size rationalization, anti-teachers' unions, high-states testing, educational league tables - all these seem to have, when tried, a negative impact on learning. If chemistry or even education were wrong so frequently, we would be comparing them with phrenology and astrology, not discussing whether we can design a society based on such principles.

I've stopped reading people like Kevin Carey. If I want to read about numbers, I can consult a calculator.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Where Government Money Comes From

Jacky Hood writes,

> All government grant money comes from taxpayers.

Unless this means, trivially, “all money comes from someone”, then the statement is false.

A certain amount of money comes from resource royalties. If the resources are destined for exports (as most are) then taxpayers do not contribute to this revenue at all.

Similarly, a lot of government revenue comes from profits on operations. Here, for example,  the government runs the liquor store, and makes a profit. This money is returned to revenues. Crown corporations (ie., government-owned companies) in Canada run energy utilities and used to run telecommunications companies. These can make money, and when privatized contribute a sizable amount to revenues.

Governments also make investments. The most famous were the investments the US government made into banks and the auto industry after the 2008 crash, which eventually returned them a profit. But governments make loans (not all of them forgivable) all the time.

Governments also obtain financial leverage though ownership of assets. When France sold Louisiana, or Russia sold Alaska, they were converting these assets. Even though it’s hard to imagine similar sales today, governments sell or lease large numbers of their assets. Even our province makes money by leasing campsites on crown land.

Why is this important? Because the language of “all government grant money comes from taxpayers” is calculated to create a negative impression of government investments and government spending. This negative impression should be countered as it reflects more propaganda than truth.

Indeed, even money paid by taxpayers that becomes grants might not actually represent a cost to taxpayers. A grant to an OER agency, for example, that results in significant savings for students and higher education institutions, may result in *less* money being paid by taxpayers. In such a case, the statement that the money “comes from taxpayers” completely misrepresents the impact and flow of the money. This isn’t a case of spending their pizza money, this is a case of *giving* them pizza money.

We may as well say “all private enterprise earnings come from taxpayers”. The level of support for private enterprise is so significant, the scale of the public subsidy so massive (through everything from free infrastructure to fire and police and military security, though to trade laws, patent protection, and other rules and sanctions, government investments, loans and incentives, and more) that if it were not for taxpayer intervention, private enterprise would not be able to exist at all.

The argument that government grants represent a taking of funds from individuals and enterprises is misleading and unsound, and should not be propagated implicitly or overtly.

-- Stephen

The OU Did Not Invent MOOCs

Responding to Fred Bershears, who writes:

Here are some quotes from Berkeley professor David L. Kirp on the British Open University. They were offering MOOCs long before the term was coined in the US. But for this university, it's not a sideline - it's their core competency.

Since they typically charge students to take their courses, I guess you'd have to say that they aren't "open" courses. However, they have started to make some of their course materials available through their open learn website at:

I would say that charging tuition fees for online learning automatically disqualifies them from saying they were offering MOOCs. When the materials - and all the discussion, community, etc., are behind a paywall, the course loses most of the affordances found in actual open online learning.

In particular, what closed courses fail to enable is the distribution of content and interactions across a network of locations (as opposed to centralizing all on a single location). This has an impact on the cost and ease of scaling the course (since the OU needs to pile on resources as the course gets larger) as well as on the autonomy and freedom to interact (or, often, freedom from unwanted interaction) for members of the course.

And, significantly, they don't use open educational resources. That's why we see, eg., "The Pacific Studies course… cost $2.5 million, and other courses have cost as much as a million dollars more." In the MOOCs we developed originally, the bulk of the material was openly licensed, or at the very least, openly accessible, which we linked to and encouraged discussion around (having a distributed course means never having to combine materials into one single site or course package). Even counting staff time, our development costs were a few hundred dollars, not millions.

So it's simply incorrect to say that the Open University was offering MOOCs long before the term was coined. Certainly massive courses were offered before MOOCs. Even massive open online courses - I have described in the past examples of massive email courses offered in the 1990s. But the idea of a course developed to operate over a network of distributed sites and services, a course that scales by expanding to more sites, rather than by making one site bigger, a course that makes use of OERs more so than simply making them - that's what became new with MOOCs.

I am not denying the importance and the influence of the Open University. It is there and obvious for all to see. I am also supportive and encouraging of their attempts to increase access to learning and learning materials through the OpenLearn and FuitureLearn projects. There is no question that OU has continued to innovate. But they did not create MOOCs, and they have only recently begun to offer limited types of MOOCs.