Archive for November, 2012

[2b2k] MOOCs as networks

Siva Vaidhyanathan [twitter: sivavaid] has a really well-done (as usual) article that reminds us that for all the excitement about Massive Open Online Courses — which he shares — we still have to figure out how to do them right. There are lots of ways to go wrong. (And I should hear note that I’m posting this in order to: (1) recommend Siva’s article, and (2) make an obvious point about MOOCs. Feel free to stop here.)

The fundamental issue, of course, is that real-world ed doesn’t scale very well. The largest classes in the real world are in the hundreds (oh, maybe some school has a course with thousands), and those classes are generally not held up as paradigms of Western ed. Further, traditional ed doesn’t scale in the sense that not everyone gets to go to college.

So, now we have a means for letting classes get very big indeed. Hundreds of thousands. Put in the terms of Too Big to Know, the question is: how do you make that enormous digital classroom smarter than the individuals in it? 2B2K’s answer (such as it is) is that you make a room smart by enabling its inhabitants to create a knowledge network.

  • Such a network would at a minimum connect all the participants laterally, as well as involving the teacher

  • It would encourage discussion of course topics, but be pleased about discussions that go off topic and engage students socially.

  • It would enable the natural experts and leaders among the students to emerge.

  • It would encourage links within and outside of the course network.

  • This network would enable students to do their work online and together, and make those processes and their traces fully available to the public.

  • All the linking, discussions, answered questions, etc., would be fed back into the system, making it available to everyone. (This assumes there are interactions that produce metadata about which contributions are particularly useful.)

  • It would encourage (via software, norms, and evaluations) useful disagreements and differences. It doesn’t always try to get everyone onto exactly the same page. Among other things, this means tolerating — appreciating and linking to — local differences among the students.

  • It would build upon the success of existing social tools, such as liking, thumbs upping, following…

  • Students would be encouraged to collaborate, rather than being evaluated only as individual participants.

  • The learning process would result in a site that has continuing value to the next students taking the course and to the world.

I’m not trying to present a Formula for Success, because I have no idea what will actually work or how to implement any ideas. Fortunately, there are tons of really smart people working on this now, with a genuine spirit of innovation. All I’m really saying is something obvious: to enable education to scale so that MOOCs don’t become what no one wants them to be — cyber lecture halls — it’s useful to think about the “classroom” as a network.

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The person who beat Nate Silver – DailyKos and journalism

One political analyst was actually ever so slightly more accurate than Nate “Poll God” Silver: Markos Moulitsas, the founder of DailyKos.

I’ve always checked in on DailyKos occasionally, but over the past year or so it’s become a multi-daily stop, and was one of my primary sources of news about the campaign. It embodies a lot of the good stuff the Net is doing to news, and some of the bad.

DailyKos is obviously a partisan site. It’s perfectly clear about that. In fact, it wants to build its followers into an effective political force. The news it presents takes sides. Yet, I find it a really useful source of political news, for a few reasons:

1. I’d rather have the bias visible than hidden.

2. My understanding itself is biased: I have political views and commitments. DailyKos generally is in line with my views. So, when I want to understand the impact of some event political event, DailyKos’ contextualization is immediately helpful; I don’t have to read through it, unpacking the assumptions that I don’t share. Reading the Republican contextualization is an interesting and even an important anthropological exercise, but DailyKos gets me to understanding much faster.

3. Although it’s a partisan site, it’s also reality-based. For example, when DailyKos happily reports today that opposition to Obamacare is at its lowest, it prominently adds, “That doesn’t mean that America is suddenly in love with Obamacare, though. The support/oppose numbers remain in the range they’ve been in since the law was passed…” It’s what keeps DailyKos from being a standard-issue echo chamber.

4. It’s a community. The people writing on the front page are generally on staff, but there are thousands of bloggers (or “diarists” in Kos nomenclature) writing on the site and a useful system for bringing them to attention.

5. It’s funny. Often the humor is biting, and it frequently is more negative and personal than I’m comfortable with. But it’s also frequently damn funny.

You can find as much to not like at DailyKos as you want. With all those diarists, there’s no shortage of bad ideas and nasty edges. And the staff writers give plenty of materials to critics. So? DailyKos is one good model for tribal news.

But…

Of course I’d say that. People in echo chambers always think their echo chambers are Halls of Truth. That’s what it means to be in an echo chamber. So, is DailyKos any better than, say, Fox News?

I think so. But, again, that’s #1 and trending at ThingsPeopleInEchoChambers Say.com.

I’d point to a few reasons DailyKos is (a) a better echo chamber than Fox, (b) is not an echo chamber, (c) is a good echo chamber, (d) something else.

1. DailyKos seems to me to be more willing to point to negatives in its own positive news — it’s got more respect for reality.

2. DailyKos seems to me to be more often right at the level at which facts are checked. It also has not been caught as often at Photoshopping (taking “Photoshopping” literally and metaphorically). There have been times when I think DailyKos has taken candidates’ remarks out of context — I still think Romney’s “Corporations are people, my friend” may have meant to point to the consequences for real people when corporations fail. But I haven’t seen (or haven’t recognized) the massive and I believe Fox’s knowing editing of quotes to get them to sound like people are saying something entirely different (“You didn’t build that”).

3. DailyKos seems to me not to spend as much time on paranoid theories. There is nothing that I know of that DailyKos has pursued that sinks to the level of birtherism, or that is pursued with as much single-minded intensity as “You didn’t build that.”

4. DailyKos is genuinely committed to building a community in which all have a voice. Yes, not everyone has an equal voice, but the upvoting mechanism and the ability to follow favorites helps people further down the long tail.

5. DailyKos does not pretend to be non-partisan as the news part of Fox News does. Of course, no one is fooled by Fox’s protestations.

I may be falling prey to the Echo Chamber Fallacy — the belief that my echo chamber isn’t really an echo chamber — but even if I am, there’s no reason to think that all echo chambers are equally bad. And there is, I believe, reason to think that an echo chamber can in fact be a useful way of getting information…and of forming a movement that can then act on that information.

 


I sent the link to this post to Markos, and he replied in part:

I often see people accuse me of “preaching to the choir”. My response is if that’s so bad, why do churches exist?

People want that tribal experience. So Daily Kos is like a church for the progressive movement — a place where people come to get informed, get validated, find community, and get organized so they can evangelize outside its walls.

Not to mention, anyone who thinks that Daily Kos is an echo chamber didn’t see the site in 2010, when we spent months preparing our readers for the electoral catastrophe that would inevitably hit in November. We were the exact opposite of Republicans this year.

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The person who beat Nate Silver

One political analyst was actually ever so slightly more accurate than Nate “Poll God” Silver: Markos Moulitsas, the founder of DailyKos.

I’ve always checked in on DailyKos occasionally, but over the past year or so it’s become a multi-daily stop, and was one of my primary sources of news about the campaign. It embodies a lot of the good stuff the Net is doing to news, and some of the bad.

DailyKos is obviously a partisan site. It’s perfectly clear about that. In fact, it wants to build its followers into an effective political force. The news it presents takes sides. Yet, I find it a really useful source of political news, for a few reasons:

1. I’d rather have the bias visible than hidden.

2. My understanding itself is biased: I have political views and commitments. DailyKos generally is in line with my views. So, when I want to understand the impact of some event political event, DailyKos’ contextualization is immediately helpful; I don’t have to read through it, unpacking the assumptions that I don’t share. Reading the Republican contextualization is an interesting and even an important anthropological exercise, but DailyKos gets me to understanding much faster.

3. Although it’s a partisan site, it’s also reality-based. For example, when DailyKos happily reports today that opposition to Obamacare is at its lowest, it prominently adds, “That doesn’t mean that America is suddenly in love with Obamacare, though. The support/oppose numbers remain in the range they’ve been in since the law was passed…” It’s what keeps DailyKos from being a standard-issue echo chamber.

4. It’s a community. The people writing on the front page are generally on staff, but there are thousands of bloggers (or “diarists” in Kos nomenclature) writing on the site and a useful system for bringing them to attention.

5. It’s funny. Often the humor is biting, and it frequently is more negative and personal than I’m comfortable with. But it’s also frequently damn funny.

You can find as much to not like at DailyKos as you want. With all those diarists, there’s no shortage of bad ideas and nasty edges. And the staff writers give plenty of materials to critics. So? DailyKos is one good model for tribal news.

But…

Of course I’d say that. People in echo chambers always think their echo chambers are Halls of Truth. That’s what it means to be in an echo chamber. So, is DailyKos any better than, say, Fox News?

I think so. But, again, that’s #1 and trending at ThingsPeopleInEchoChambers Say.com.

I’d point to a few reasons DailyKos is (a) a better echo chamber than Fox, (b) is not an echo chamber, (c) is a good echo chamber, (d) something else.

1. DailyKos seems to me to be more willing to point to negatives in its own positive news — it’s got more respect for reality.

2. DailyKos seems to me to be more often right at the level at which facts are checked. It also has not been caught as often at Photoshopping (taking “Photoshopping” literally and metaphorically). There have been times when I think DailyKos has taken candidates’ remarks out of context — I still think Romney’s “Corporations are people, my friend” may have meant to point to the consequences for real people when corporations fail. But I haven’t seen (or haven’t recognized) the massive and I believe Fox’s knowing editing of quotes to get them to sound like people are saying something entirely different (“You didn’t build that”).

3. DailyKos seems to me not to spend as much time on paranoid theories. There is nothing that I know of that DailyKos has pursued that sinks to the level of birtherism, or that is pursued with as much single-minded intensity as “You didn’t build that.”

4. DailyKos is genuinely committed to building a community in which all have a voice. Yes, not everyone has an equal voice, but the upvoting mechanism and the ability to follow favorites helps people further down the long tail.

5. DailyKos does not pretend to be non-partisan as the news part of Fox News does. Of course, no one is fooled by Fox’s protestations.

I may be falling prey to the Echo Chamber Fallacy — the belief that my echo chamber isn’t really an echo chamber — but even if I am, there’s no reason to think that all echo chambers are equally bad. And there is, I believe, reason to think that an echo chamber can in fact be a useful way of getting information…and of forming a movement that can then act on that information.

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[2b2k] What do we learn from our failure to believe the polls?

There’s lots being written about why the Republicans were so wrong in their expectations about this week’s election. They had the same data as the rest of us, yet they apparently deeply believed they were going to win. I think it’s a fascinating question. But I want to put it to different use.

The left-wing subtext about the Republican leadership’s failure to interpret the data is that it’s comeuppance for their failure to believe in science or facts. But that almost surely is a misreading. The Republicans thought they had factual grounds for disbelieving the polls. The polls, they thought, were bad data that over-counted Democrats. The Republicans thus applied an unskewing algorithm in order to correct them. Thus, the Republicans weren’t pooh-poohing the importance of facts. They were being good scientists, cleaning up the data. Now, of course their assumptions about the skewing of the data were wrong, and there simply has to be an element of wish-fulfillment (and thus reality denial) in their belief that the polls were skewed. But, their arguments were based on what they thought was a fact about a problem with the data. They were being data-based. They just did a crappy job of it.

So what do we conclude? First, I think it’s important to recognize that it wasn’t just the Republicans who looked the data in the face and drew entirely wrong conclusions. Over and over the mainstream media told us that this race was close, that it was a toss-up. But it wasn’t. Yes, the popular vote was close, although not as close as we’d been led to believe. But the outcome of the race wasn’t a toss-up, wasn’t 50-50, wasn’t close. Obama won the race decisively and not very long after the last mainland polls closed…just as the data said he would. Not only was Nate Silver right, his record, his methodology, and the transparency of his methodology were good reasons for thinking he would be right. Yet, the mainstream media looked at the data and came to the wrong conclusion. It seems likely that they did so because they didn’t want to look like they were shilling for Obama and because they wanted to keep us attached to the TV for the sake of their ratings and ad revenues.

I think the media’s failure to draw the right and true conclusions from the data is a better example of a non-factual dodge around inconvenient truths than is the Republicans’ swerve.

Put the two failures together, and I think this is an example of the the inability of facts and data to drive us to agreement. Our temptation might be to look at both of these as fixable aberrations. I think a more sober assessment, however, should lead us to conclude that some significant portion of us is always going to find a way to be misled by facts and data. As a matter of empirical fact, data does not drive agreement, or at least doesn’t drive it sufficiently strongly that by itself it settles issues. For one reason or another, some responsible adults are going to get it wrong.

This doesn’t mean we should give up. It certainly doesn’t lead to a relativist conclusion. It instead leads to an acceptance of the fact that we are never going to agree, even when the data is good, plentiful, and right in front of our eyes. And, yeah, that’s more than a little scary.

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[2b2k] How students e-research…and is it helping?

Pew Internet has been producing some important and interesting studies on how students do research in the world of e.


A couple of weeks ago, Pew released a report on how Americans 16-29 use the library. Here’s Pew’s highlights:

  • 83% of Americans between the ages of 16 and 29 read a book in the past year. Some 75% read a print book, 19% read an e-book, and 11% listened to an audiobook.

  • Among Americans who read e-books, those under age 30 are more likely to read their e-books on a cell phone (41%) or computer (55%) than on an e-book reader such as a Kindle (23%) or tablet (16%).

  • Overall, 47% of younger Americans read long-form e-content such as books, magazines or newspapers. E-content readers under age 30 are more likely than older e-content readers to say that they are reading more these days due to the availability of e-content (40% vs. 28%).

  • 60% of Americans under age 30 used the library in the past year. Some 46% used the library for research, 38% borrowed books (print books, audiobooks, or e-books), and 23% borrowed newspapers, magazines, or journals.

  • Many of these young readers do not know they can borrow an e-book from a library, and a majority of them express the wish they could do so on pre-loaded e-readers. Some 10% of the e-book readers in this group have borrowed an e-book from a library and, among those who have not borrowed an e-book, 52% said they were unaware they could do so. Some 58% of those under age 30 who do not currently borrow e-books from libraries say they would be “very” or “somewhat” likely to borrow pre-loaded e-readers if their library offered that service.


The report usefully breaks its population into three age groups.


Then yesterday, Pew Internet released a report called How Teens Do Research in the Digital World. It surveys Advanced Placement teachers and National Writing Program communities. Her’s Pew’s overall summary:

Overall, teachers who participated in this study characterize the impact of today’s digital environment on their students’ research habits and skills as mostly positive, yet multi-faceted and not without drawbacks. Among the more positive impacts they see: the best students access a greater depth and breadth of information on topics that interest them; students can take advantage of the availability of educational material in engaging multimedia formats; and many become more self-reliant researchers.

At the same time, these teachers juxtapose these benefits against some emerging concerns. Specifically, some teachers worry about students’ overdependence on search engines; the difficulty many students have judging the quality of online information; the general level of literacy of today’s students; increasing distractions pulling at students and poor time management skills; students’ potentially diminished critical thinking capacity; and the ease with which today’s students can borrow from the work of others.

These teachers report that students rely mainly on search engines to conduct research, in lieu of other resources such as online databases, the news sites of respected news organizations, printed books, or reference librarians.

Overall, the vast majority of these teachers say a top priority in today’s classrooms should be teaching students how to “judge the quality of online information.” As a result, a significant portion of the teachers surveyed here report spending class time discussing with students how search engines work, how to assess the reliability of the information they find online, and how to improve their search skills. They also spend time constructing assignments that point students toward the best online resources and encourage the use of sources other than search engines.


But the most distressing takeaway is: “87% say these technologies are creating an ‘easily distracted generation with short attention spans’ and 64% say today’s digital technologies ‘do more to distract students than to help them academically.”

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[2b2k] How students e-research…and is it helping?

Pew Internet has been producing some important and interesting studies on how students do research in the world of e.


A couple of weeks ago, Pew released a report on how Americans 16-29 use the library. Here’s Pew’s highlights:

  • 83% of Americans between the ages of 16 and 29 read a book in the past year. Some 75% read a print book, 19% read an e-book, and 11% listened to an audiobook.

  • Among Americans who read e-books, those under age 30 are more likely to read their e-books on a cell phone (41%) or computer (55%) than on an e-book reader such as a Kindle (23%) or tablet (16%).

  • Overall, 47% of younger Americans read long-form e-content such as books, magazines or newspapers. E-content readers under age 30 are more likely than older e-content readers to say that they are reading more these days due to the availability of e-content (40% vs. 28%).

  • 60% of Americans under age 30 used the library in the past year. Some 46% used the library for research, 38% borrowed books (print books, audiobooks, or e-books), and 23% borrowed newspapers, magazines, or journals.

  • Many of these young readers do not know they can borrow an e-book from a library, and a majority of them express the wish they could do so on pre-loaded e-readers. Some 10% of the e-book readers in this group have borrowed an e-book from a library and, among those who have not borrowed an e-book, 52% said they were unaware they could do so. Some 58% of those under age 30 who do not currently borrow e-books from libraries say they would be “very” or “somewhat” likely to borrow pre-loaded e-readers if their library offered that service.


The report usefully breaks its population into three age groups.


Then yesterday, Pew Internet released a report called How Teens Do Research in the Digital World. It surveys Advanced Placement teachers and National Writing Program communities. Her’s Pew’s overall summary:

Overall, teachers who participated in this study characterize the impact of today’s digital environment on their students’ research habits and skills as mostly positive, yet multi-faceted and not without drawbacks. Among the more positive impacts they see: the best students access a greater depth and breadth of information on topics that interest them; students can take advantage of the availability of educational material in engaging multimedia formats; and many become more self-reliant researchers.

At the same time, these teachers juxtapose these benefits against some emerging concerns. Specifically, some teachers worry about students’ overdependence on search engines; the difficulty many students have judging the quality of online information; the general level of literacy of today’s students; increasing distractions pulling at students and poor time management skills; students’ potentially diminished critical thinking capacity; and the ease with which today’s students can borrow from the work of others.

These teachers report that students rely mainly on search engines to conduct research, in lieu of other resources such as online databases, the news sites of respected news organizations, printed books, or reference librarians.

Overall, the vast majority of these teachers say a top priority in today’s classrooms should be teaching students how to “judge the quality of online information.” As a result, a significant portion of the teachers surveyed here report spending class time discussing with students how search engines work, how to assess the reliability of the information they find online, and how to improve their search skills. They also spend time constructing assignments that point students toward the best online resources and encourage the use of sources other than search engines.


But the most distressing takeaway is: “87% say these technologies are creating an ‘easily distracted generation with short attention spans’ and 64% say today’s digital technologies ‘do more to distract students than to help them academically.”

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