How do I feel about the course E-learning 3.0 (#el30)? Why did I participate to begin with? First of all, I liked the idea of participating in a project facilitated by Stephen Downes since I appreciate his newsletter and his pioneering work in developing and facilitating Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). I’m also intrigued by what comes next in communication and collaboration. Yet, I’ve many questions and doubts – which in itself is a positive outcome of the course.
I made this post as part of a communal effort by #el30-students to express themselves about their learning. In a follow-up post I hope to react on what my co-learners posted.
“The first phase of the internet was based on the client-server model, and focused on pages and files. The second phase, popularly called Web 2.0, created a web based on data and interoperability between platforms”, so Stephen explained. A very important topic of the course is the shift in our understanding of content from documents to data; and second, the shift in our understanding of data from centralized to decentralized. It’s about emancipating yourself from the big internet companies who turn your data into a product they own.
I had great fun starting out this new blog on Reclaim Hosting and doing this in the IndieWeb style, enabling an easy interaction with other blogs. I consider it a first, modest step in emancipating myself from the data collectors and traders.
As a second step, I experimented with The Beaker Browser and the Interplanetary File System (IPFS). I like doing that, but I’m not yet convinced these projects (and others such as Solid by Tim Berners-Lee, Blockstack or Holochain) will actually get a mainstream following. It’s still very early phase, the proposed solutions require a considerable investment of time and effort by the users.
I still have to experiment with other technologies we discussed such as Docker and Jupyter Notebook. However, my interest in virtualization and software containers is not driven by any real need – which might explain why I did not yet try it out. For now I’m perfectly happy with Reclaim Hosting, WordPress and IndieWeb-plugins.
Will decentralization and virtualization change the way we learn? I’m not sure. A network of blogs such as we have for this course surely helps me to get new perspectives and it’s very motivating. Do we need to have such a network on the IPFS, do we have to use dat-files (The Beaker Project) or do we have to collaborate using Blockstack-apps? As far as the immediate learning experience is concerned, I doubt whether it would feel very different.
Data and assessment
It could be different in the future, when we collect far more data about our learning. It would feel more comfortable to manage those data ourselves rather than counting on big internet companies or other commercial entities to do this for us. If the hosting of such data would no longer be an issue, developers could compete again on the basis of functionalities of the apps they offer. They would also have to compete on the basis of the degree of trust and privacy they offer.
However, why should I, being an adult learner (and getting old), collect and analyze “my data”? Suppose I’d study the Japanese language. I could collect data about the number of hours I spend learning Japanese, about exercises I make, and about progress I make in terms of courses I finish. What really interests me is whether I’m able to have a simple conversation in Japanese, whether I can read a newspaper article (for now, I can’t). In order to find that out, I just have to engage into a conversation and to read a newspaper, I don’t need fancy data collection and management. I don’t care about proving my skill to others – if an employer would recruit me for my Japanese skills, it would very soon be obvious how very limited these are, while other skills (say, reading and understanding Spanish) would be more satisfying and useful.
The same applies for skills such as software programming. For tens of years now people have been recruited because they are coding wizards, eventually self-taught wizards. No blockchain-protected data were necessary to prove their skills. For pilots and in the medical professions, the current testing methods seem to guarantee (most of the time) a steady supply of people who you can trust (most of the time).
So do we really need blockchain, dat-documents or IPFS or are these technologies solutions in search of a problem? I lack the knowledge and visionary talents of Stephen Downes, but as yet I’m not convinced these decentralization projects will actually conquer the world. But that will not stop me from trying out whatever they do. Also, I look forward to learn more about Solid, the Tim Berners-Lee project, since that builds upon the existing web technologies in order to create an environment providing sophisticated personal data management and (I think) a read/write web.
Synchronous and asynchronous
I enjoy the course and the interactions with other participants, but I’m a bit surprised about the lack of synchronous activities. The weekly video interview featuring Stephen and one or two guests don’t seem to lead to synchronous group interaction. The classical problem with such interactions is the difficulty to find a time slot which is convenient for a group of people who live in very different timezones. Another issue is the video conferencing software – does it enable people to virtually meet, to share screens, to work collaboratively on a document (like on a mindmap)? Fifty years after Douglas Engelbart’s Mother of all Demos, these affordances are not self-evident. I think developing such a synchronous collaborative environment would be an important tool for online learning.