Tuesday, September 26, 2006


I wonder, if I wrote that the sky is blue, whether the dissenting opinion would come from Finland.

"If we all are just individuals in a network we will soon all be the same." This is transparently false.

It took exactly 24 hours for someone to propose a "middle way" (this is what passes for innovation these days). "Could there be "middle way" or "third way"? Something that would be between the 'closed groups' and 'individuals in open networks'?"

It will soon be noticed that a person can be both an individual (and hence a member of a network) *and* a member of a group. That they can belong to many networks and many groups. That any number of 'middle ways' can be derived from variations on this theme.

More interesting would be to see some alternative 'middle way' in the form of some sort of an organizational principle that allows things to be both open and closed at the same time, that promotes both unity and diversity at the same time, that promotes both cohesion autonomy at the same time. Read up on your Hegel; you'll find it in Phenomenology of Right. Is that where were you headed, Teemu? We all know our history, right?

More interestingly: web 1.0 is about groups, web 2.0 is about networks. e-learning 1.0 is about groups, e-learning 2.0 is about networks. Someone will write an article about that in a few weeks, probably, carefully washing all sources.

The core of the issue is whether learning in general should be based on groups or networks. Everybody says, 'learning is social', and thus (no?) must be conducted in groups. But networks, too, are social. Learning can be social and not conducted in groups. Where to now, social construction?

Is learning about subsuming your identity, or growing and asserting your identity? Can we define ourselves by why we know and what we do, or must we define ourselves by what we are and what we belong to? Yes, of course you can do both at different times (I am 'Canadian' and 'I write') but when the two conflict, as they inevitably do in education, which prevails?

There's always two ways to read my proposals: the simple way, which sets them up as some sort of polarization (and therefore always open to a 'middle way'), and the accurate way, which enters the topic knowing that I am writing, using limited vocabulary (since language is inherently not sub-symbolic), about complex matters, and that the subtlety inherent in complexity should be understood as always forming a substrate.

Grapes and bananas. Yes, one can always have both, but in sequence. Which first? It does not preclude the other, but it implies a choice. Lurking in the background is always the blender, and you can make a smoothie, even putting the two fruits in at the same time. But when you just want a bite to eat - which first? It depends, of course, on what you want to do, why you want to eat, and whether the economy of Ecuador matters to you.

Friday, September 22, 2006


Posted to ITForum:

ali carr-chellman wrote:

> .... The fundamental assumption that I am not so supportive of here is the truth is to be found out there and that it can be tested until we understand it fully. I disagree fundamentally that this is the single, primary or even the most important way we can ever understand our world. But that's completely me, and perhaps we now come to a new sort of fundamental possible disagreement in the field that may continue to fracture us and derail abilities to seek consensus?

I am in agreement with this sentiment.

It seems to me that one thing educational theory has been unable to address is the possibility of multiple theoretical perspectives, the possibility that there is no one taxonomy, set of standards, methodology, etc., that will define The Way to do education.

Certainly, any approach to learning theory that suggests that an experiment can be conducted in (say) a double-blind model in order to test hypotheses in terms of (say) achievement of learning outcomes in my view demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of the enquiry.

We need to move beyond consensus, beyond sameness.

-- Stephen

p.s. (Not posted) - and why is this the case?

Because how we teach depends not only on the nature of the learner (though it does that) and the nature of the content (though it does that as well) but also on why the learner wants to learn and why the teacher wants to teach.

And there is no single characterization that will describe those motivations, and hence, no single characterization of how best to teach, how best to learn.

Friday, September 15, 2006


What does it feel like when an educator from Canada encounters the reality of Latin America, and Bogota, for the first time?


[background: Manu Cornet, Un peu plus tard. Licensed under Creative Commons. ]

I am home again, as though I had never left. Bogota. The sights and sounds surround me still. The people. The colours. The smells.

I am walking along Seventh on a Sunday morning. The shouts of children and people echo downtown and a radio broadcast begins to fill the air. I stretch towards the sound. Music. Laughter.

And... motorcycles. And noise. Who would have expected this? People running by. Thousand and thousands of people. The Bogota half-marathon is today. And the crowds line the streets, the streets that have been closed to cars, and admit only bicycles, pedestrians, and runners. Thousands of runners. And I stand and watch.

[background: crowd noises, radio playing Shakira's Hips Don't Lie, marathon announcer speaking Spanish. Sounds recorded by Stephen Downes.]

Is this the Bogota I was expecting to see, this Bogota of music and laughter, of half-marathons on a Sunday morning, of gleaming downtown towers? No. This is not the Bogota I was expecting to see.

By the time Sunday rolled around I had been in Bogota for five days. The first day, afraid to leave the hotel. The next three days, at a conference at the School of Engineering outside the city. Then yesterday, Saturday, being shown around by Diego. And then finally, today, Sunday, exploring, discovering the city on my own.

[background: Kolokon, Ella. Licensed under Creative Commons.]

Don't go out at night, they said, Bogota is not safe. So of course I arrived at 10:30 at night, driving through the city streets in a taxi, all alone, watching the motorcycle, afraid of the motorcycle. There could be gangs, or worse, on the motorcycle.

When I arrived at my hotel the streets were absolutely deserted except for myself and the cab driver. I had to trust the cab driver. There was an armed guard with a submachine gun about fifteen feet away. He watched us. As the money came out, I looked around, afraid.

Where was I? What had I done? I was in Colombia. I was at a conference. This is what I was supposed to see. Colombia! Colombia! Latin America!

[background: inaudible text of me giving a speech]

[background, from another speech ('On Being Radical', http://www.downes.ca/cgi-bin/page.cgi?post=32533 ): "It's radical! How could this ever work? And I'm sitting there on that airplane wondering why they are calling it radical. And that's how I come to be here, giving this talk. Is it radical to have many points of view to describe a resource or a person or an idea, instead of just one, the publisher's, or his agent's? Is it radical to have, at your hands, the means of creating, easily, without having to get a degree in computer science?

[background: Manu Cornet, Un peu plus tard. Licensed under Creative Commons. ]

Who was I kidding? I didn't really know.

[background: Micko, Mujures de belleza despersonalizada. Licensed under Creative Commons. ]

Bogota has its bright lightgs, its tall towers, its Zona Rosa, and its Hard Rock Cafe. But you cannot get away from the history here. The statues, the arches, the churches, the cathedrals.

Sure. I could be a tourist. I could look at the churches and the statues and the public buildings and the public squares, see Colombia as a tourist sees Colombia. But I saw something more. I saw the people.

[background: Santo santo santo. Recorded by Stephen Downes.]

The Salt Cathedral was built at the bottom of a mine under a hill just north of Bogota. The government just spent six million dollars to refurbish it. It is gigantic. The cross stands more than 60 feet high. But it wasn't a government program or private enterprise that built the Cathedral. It was the miners themselves.

As we took the cable car down from Monserrate, Diego and I stood in silence, reflecting on what we had seen. The sounds of the traffic drifted up to us, horns honking, buses roaring. It wasn't the city of fear I had experienced when I first arrived, but it wasn't exactly safe either and we both knew it.

Diego said to me, he said, "Part of the problem is that everybody tries to get rich quick. They go for that one big score." And in a city like Bogota, that one big score is the rich person who comes down from the north.

I said to him, I was looking at the soldiers as I came in, and the thing that struck me about them is that they're so young, they are children. And I wondered what their lives would be like in 30 years if they were still standing guarding the streets. And I was wondering, what makes the cab driver want to be a cab driver for 30 years.

There's no future, there's no hope, when you define yourself, when everything you are is the way you make money. And everything you are is something very limited. Something without hope. Something without a future. Something with nothing to strive for.

[background: Joe Golan, Quiet Nights Thinking. Licensed under Creative Commons.]

Nobody pays you to run a half-marathon. What I saw on Sunday was not about the money. It was about the people, the people of Bogota.

[background: Beto Stocker, Utopia en re. Licensed under Creative Commons.]

What makes work more that just merely earning a living? It's when the work, or something associated with the work, becomes worth doing in and of itself.

How then to transform a nation? Well it has been said that the way to create a revolution is not to change the government, but to change the people.

These round figures are by Fernando Botero, a Colombian artist, from the collection donated by him to the city of Bogota. And as Diego and I wandered around the museum, we looked not only at the Boteros but at the Klimts, the Monets, the Dalis...

There was a bunch of kids clustered around one of the paintings and I commented, "They're six inches from a Monet, and they're interested in the frame."

But I asked myself too, what made any of these painters create their art? Was it to make a dollar? Was it to become famous? Or was it because they had to paint? Because the art meant more to them than anything else?

And I realized, the more I saw of Colombia, the more I saw of this happening on an everyday basis. The way I saw the people running the marathon. The way I saw the writing on the walls, the grafitti, the people creating in the streets.

And I saw, too, the basis for the revolution in education, not in wires and computers and digital content, but in the examples, the models that we can provide. Because fundamentally if you want to change a people, you have to ask, how do people learn? And when you ask, how do people learn, it is by patterning themselves, modelling themselves, after the examples that they see.

[background: classical music, recorded by Stephen Downes]

On Sunday, when I went to the market, there was a boy, maybe six or seven years old, playing the piano at the entrance, with his father encouraging him. Is this learning?

[background: street sounds, recorded by Stephen Downes]

Diego and I wandered through Candelaria district of Bogota, looking at the government buildings, wandering between the cafes. We talked about art and music and creativity. At one point we say a man repairing a car showing his son what he was doing as he went along. "On Demand learning," I commented.

[background: drums and pipes, recorded by Stephen Downes]

My lesson in learning would come Sunday, after the market and after the marathon, when I decided to take a walk in the park. I was a bit nervous, but I saw women and children playing in the park, and I figured if it was safe for them it was safe for me. As it turned out, it was more than safe.

On one side there was a group of percussionists, just practising. Taking advantage of the free music nearby, several dancers were exercising. And as I watched, this group formed and reformed, becoming something quite more in the process.

I thought about the lesson the children were learning, that you make your own knowledge, that you make your own knowing, that you make your own music, that you make your own dance.

It all comes back to the children. What they see. What examples they follow. What they learn to value. What they see in life.

Diego and I talked about this as we wandered through the Candelaria. That learning isn't saying the right thing or presenting the right content. It's doing the right thing and living the right way. And that's the learning that I was seeing in the park in Bogota that day.

[background: classical music, recorded by Stephen Downes]

And it wasn't just the one group of dancers and the one group of drummers. As I wandered through that park, and then up the road through another park, I saw more. Much more.

At one point I saw a group of people standing in a circle. The people around the circle would take turns entering the circle and telling a story or a joke. Another group, Capoeira Nago, practiced a type of martial art, looks like it came from Brazil. A second park, a massive display of group dancing, in between the orange coloured trellises.

[background: Capoeira Nago, recorded by Stephen Downes]

[background: Drums, recorded by Stephen Downes]

When Diego and I parted Saturday night, I said that Sunday would be my graduation, to see whether I had learned to live in Bogota as a Colombian. It felt safe, I said to him. He said to me, "Bogota hasn't changed. You've changed."

The ride back to the airport on Monday was during the daylight, safe as could be.

It didn't matter a bit.

[background: Kolokon, Ella. Licensed under Creative Commons.]

[background: classical music, recorded by Stephen Downes]

[background: Beethoven, Ode to Joy, public domain]

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

How to Write Articles and Essays Quickly and Expertly

Translations: Belorussian

Introduction: Four Types of Discursive Writing

From time to time people express amazement at how I can get so much done. I, of course, aware of the many hours I have idled away doing nothing, demur. It feels like nothing special; I don't work harder, really, than most people. Nonetheless, these people do have a point. I am, in fact, a fairly prolific writer.
Part of it is tenacity. For example, I am writing this item as I wait for the internet to start working again in the Joburg airport departures area. But part of it is a simple strategy for writing you essays and articles quickly and expertly, a strategy that allows you to plan your entire essay as you write it, and thus to allow you to make your first draft your final draft. This article describes that strategy.

Begin by writing - in your head, at least - your second paragraph (that would be the one you just read, above). Your second paragraph will tell people what your essay says. Some people write abstracts or executive summaries in order to accomplish this task. But you don't need to do this. You are stating your entire essay or article in one paragraph. If you were writing a news article, you would call this paragraph the 'lede'. A person could read just the one paragraph and know what you had to say.

But how do you write this paragraph? Reporters will tell you that writing the lede is the hardest part of writing an article. Because if you don't know what the story is, you cannot write it in a single paragraph. A reporter will sift through the different ways of writing the story - the different angles - and find a way to tell it. You, because you are writing an article or essay, have more options.

You have more options because there are four types of discursive writing. Each of these types has a distinct and easy structure, and once you know what sort of writing you are doing, the rest of the article almost writes itself. The four types of structure are: argument, explanation, definition, and description. So, as you think about writing your first paragraph, ask yourself, what sort of article are you writing. In this article, for example, I am writing a descriptive article.

These are your choices of types of article or essay:

Argument: convinces someone of something
Explanation: tells why something happened instead of something else
Definition: states what a word or concept means
Description: identifies properties or qualities of things

An argument is a collection of sentences (known formally as 'propositions') intended to convince the reader that something is he case. Perhaps you want to convince people to take some action, to buy some product, to vote a certain way, or to believe a certain thing. The thing that you want to convince them to believe is the conclusion. In order to convince people, you need to offer one or more reasons. Those are the premises. So one type of article consists of premises leading to a conclusion, and that is how you would structure your first paragraph.

An explanation tells the reader why something is the case. It looks at some event or phenomenon, and shows the reader what sort of things led up to that event or phenomenon, what caused it to happen, why it came to be this way instead of some other way. An explanation, therefore, consists of three parts. First, you need to identify the thing being explained. Then, you need to identify the things that could have happened instead. And finally, you need to describe the conditions and principles that led to the one thing, and not the other, being the case. And so, if you are explaining something, this is how you would write your first paragraph.

A definition identifies the meaning of some word, phrase or concept. There are different ways to define something. You can define something using words and concepts you already know. Or you can define something by giving a name to something you can point to or describe. Or you can define something indirectly, by giving examples of telling stories. A definition always involves two parts: the word or concept being defined, and the set of sentences (or 'propositions') that do the defining. Whatever way you decide, this will be the structure of your article if you intend to define something.

Finally, a description provides information about some object, person, or state of affairs. It will consist of a series of related sentences. The sentences will each identify the object being defined, and then ascribe some property to that object. "The ball is red," for example, were the ball is the object and 'red' is the property. Descriptions may be of 'unary properties' - like colour, shape, taste, and the like, or it may describe a relation between the object and one or more other objects.

Organizing Your Writing

The set of sentences, meanwhile, will be organized on one of a few common ways. The sentences might be in chronological order. "This happened, and then this happened," and so on. Or they may enumerate a set of properties ('appearance', 'sound', 'taste', 'small', 'feeling about', and the like). Or they may be elements of a list ("nine rules for good technology," say, or "ten things you should learn"). Or, like the reporters, you may cover the five W's: who, what, where, when, why. Or the steps required to write an essay.

When you elect to write an essay or article, then, you are going to write one of these types of writing. If you cannot decide which type, then your purpose isn't clear. Think about it, and make the choice, before continuing. Then you will know the major parts of the article - the premises, say, or the parts of the definition. Again, if you don't know these, your purpose isn't clear. Know what you want to say (in two or three sentences) before you decide to write.

You may a this point be wondering what happened to the first paragraph. You are, after all, beginning with the second paragraph. The first paragraph is used to 'animate' your essay or article, to give it life and meaning and context. In my own writing, my animation is often a short story about myself showing how the topic is important to me. Animating paragraphs may express feelings - joy, happiness, sadness, or whatever. They may consist of short stories or examples of what you are trying to describe (this is very common in news articles). Animation may be placed into your essay at any point. But is generally most effective when introducing a topic, or when concluding a topic.

For example, I have now concluded the first paragraph of my essay, and then expanded on it, thus ending the first major part of my essay. So now I could offer an example here, to illustrate my point in practice, and to give the reader a chance to reflect, and a way to experience some empathy, before proceeding. This is also a good place to offer a picture, diagram, illustration or chart of what you are trying to say in words.

Like this: the second paragraph sill consist of a set of statements. Here is what each of the four types look like:


Premise 1
Premise 2 ... (and more, if needed)


Thing being explained
Alternative possibilities
Actual explanation


Thing being defined
Actual definition


Thing being described
Descriptive sentence
Descriptive sentence (and more, connected to the rest, as needed)

So now the example should have made the concept clearer. You should easily see that your second paragraph will consist of two or more distinct sentences, depending on what you are trying to say. Now, all you need to do is to write the sentences. But also, you need to tell your reader which sentence is which. In an argument, for example, you need to clearly indicate to the reader which sentence is your conclusion and which sentences are your premises.

Indicator Words

All four types of writing have their own indicator words. Let's look at each of the four types in more detail, and show (with examples, to animate!) the indicator words.

As stated above, an argument will consist of a conclusion and some premises. The conclusion is the most important sentence, and so will typically be stated first. For example, "Blue is better than red." Then a premise indicator will be used, to tell the reader that what follows is a series of premises. Words like 'because' and 'since' are common premise indicators (there are more; you may want to make a list). So your first paragraph might look like this: "Blue is better than red, because blue is darker than red, and all colours that are darker are better."

Sometimes, when the premises need to be stressed before the conclusion will be believed, the author will put the conclusion at the end of the paragraph. To do this, the author uses a conclusion indicator. Words like 'so' and 'therefore' and 'hence' are common conclusion indicators. Thus, for example, the paragraph might read: "Blue is darker than red, and all colours that are darker are better, so blue is better than red."

You should notice that indicator words like this help you understand someone else's writing more easily as well. Being able to spot the premises and the conclusion helps you spot the structure of their article or essay. Seeing the conclusion indicator, for example, tells you that you are looking at an argument, and helps you spot the conclusion. It is good practice to try spotting arguments in other writing, and to create arguments of your own, in our own writing.

Arguments can also be identified by their form. There are different types of argument, which follow standard patterns of reasoning. These patterns of reasoning are indicated by the words being used. Here is a quick guide to the types of arguments:

Inductive argument: the premise consists of a 'sample', such as a series of experiences, or experimental results, or polls. Watch for words describing these sorts of observation. The conclusion will be inferred as a generalization from these premises. Watch for words that indicate a statistical generalization, such as 'most', 'generally, 'usually', 'seventy percent', 'nine out of ten'. Also, watch for words that indicate a universal generalization, such as 'always' and 'all'.

A special case of the inductive argument is the causal generalization. If you want someone to believe that one thing causes another, then you need to show that there are many cases where the one thing was followed by the other, and also to show that when the one thing didn't happen, then the other didn't either. This establishes a 'correlation'. The argument becomes a causal argument when you appeal to some general principle or law of nature to explain the correlation. Notice how, in this case, an explanation forms one of the premises of the argument.

Deductive argument: the premises consist of propositions, and the conclusion consists of some logical manipulation of the premises. A categorical argument, for example, consists of reasoning about sets of things, so watch for words like 'all', 'some' and 'none'. Many times, these words are implicit; they are not started, but they are implied. When I said "Blue is better than red" above, for example, I meant that "blue is always better than red," and that's how you would have understood it.

Another type of deductive argument is a propositional argument. Propositional arguments are manipulations of sentences using the words 'or', 'if', and 'and'. For example, if I said "Either red is best or blue is best, and red is not best, so blue is best," then I have employed a propositional argument.

It is useful to learn the basic argument forms, so you can very clearly indicate which type of argument you are providing. This will make your writing clearer to the reader, and will help them evaluate your writing. And in addition, this will make easier for you to write your article.

See how the previous paragraph is constructed, for example. I have stated a conclusion, then a premise indicator, and then a series of premises. It was very easy to writing the paragraph; I didn't even need to think about it. I just wrote something I thought was true, then provided a list of the reasons I thought it was true. How hard is that?

In a similar manner, an explanation will also use indicator words. In fact, the indicator words used by explanations are very similar to those that are used by arguments. For example, I might explain by saying "The grass is green because it rained yesterday." I am explaining why the grass is green. I am using the word 'because' as an indicator. And my explanation is offered following the word 'because'.

People often confuse arguments and explanations, because they use similar indicator words. So when you are writing, you can make your point clearer by using words that will generally be unique to explanations.

In general, explanations are answers to 'why' questions. They consider why something happened 'instead of' something else. And usually, they will say that something was 'caused' by something else. So when offering an explanation, use these words as indicators. For example: "It rained yesterday. That's why the grass is green, instead of brown."

Almost all explanations are causal explanations, but in some cases (especially when describing complex states and events) you will also appeal to a statistical explanation. In essence, in a statistical explanation, you are saying, "it had to happen sometime, so that's why it happened now, but there's no reason, other than probability, why it happened this time instead o last time or next time." When people see somebody who was killed by lightening, and they say, "His number was just up," they are offering a statistical explanation.

Definitions are trickier, because there are various types of definition. I will consider three types of definition: ostensive, lexical, and implicit.

An 'ostensive' definition is an act of naming by pointing. You point to a dog and you say, "That's a dog." Do this enough times, and you have defined the concept of a dog. It's harder to point in text. But in text, a description amounts to the same thing as pointing. "The legs are shorter than the tail. The colour is brown, and the body is very long. That's what I mean by a 'wiener dog'." As you may have noticed, the description is followed by the indicator words "that's what I mean by". This makes it clear to the reader that you are defining by ostension.

A 'lexical' definition is a definition one word or concept in terms of some other word or concept. Usually this is describes as providing the 'necessary and sufficient conditions' for being something. Another way of saying the same thing is to say that when you are defining a thing, you are saying that 'all and only' these things are the thing being defined. Yet another way of saying the same thing is to say that the thing belongs to such and such a category (all dogs are animals, or, a dog is necessarily an animal) and are distinguished from other members in such and such a way (only dogs pant, or, saying a thing is panting is sufficient to show that it is a dog).

That may seem complicated, but the result is that a lexical definition has a very simply and easy to write form: A (thing being defined) is a type of (category) which is (distinguishing feature). For example, "A dog is an animal that pants."

This sentence may look just like a description, so it is useful to indicate to the reader that you are defining the term 'dog', and not describing a dog. For example, "A 'dog' is defined as 'an animal that pants'." Notice how this is clearly a definition, and could not be confused as a mere description.

The third type of definition is an implicit definition. This occurs when you don't point to things, and don't place the thing being defined into categories, but rather, list instances of the thing being defined. For example, "Civilization is when people are polite to each other. When people can trust the other person. When there is order in the streets." And so on. Or: "You know what I mean. Japan is civilized. Singapore is civilized. Canada is civilized." Here we haven't listed necessary and sufficient conditions, but rather, offered enough of a description as to allow people to recognize instances of 'civilization' by their resemblance to the things being described.

Finally, the description employs the 'subject predicate object' form that you learned in school. The 'subject' is the thing being described. The 'predicate' is something that is true of the subject - some action it is undertaking, or, if the predicate is 'is', some property that it possesses. And the 'object' may be some other entity that forms a part of the description.

As mentioned, the sentences that form a description are related to each other. This relation is made explicit with a set of indicator words. For example, if the relation is chronological, the words might be 'first'... 'and then'... 'and finally'...! Or, 'yesterday'... 'then today'... 'and tomorrow'...

In this essay, the method employed was to identify a list of things - argument, explanation, definition, and description - and then to use each of these terms in the sequence. For example, "An argument will consist of a ..." Notice that I actually went through this list twice, first describing the parts of each of the four items, and then describing the indicator words used for each of the four items. Also, when I went through the list the second time, I offered for each type of sentence a subdivision. For example, I identified inductive and deductive arguments.


So, now, here is the full set of types of things I have described (with indicator words in brackets):

Argument (premise: 'since', 'because'; conclusion: 'therefore', 'so')
Categorical ('all', 'only', 'no', 'none', 'some')
Propositional ('if', 'or', 'and')
Generalization ('sample', 'poll', 'observation')
Statistical ('most', 'generally, 'usually', 'seventy percent', 'nine out of ten')
Universal ('always' and 'all')
Causal ('causes')

Explanation ('why', 'instead of')
Causal ('caused')
Statistical ('percent', 'probability')

Definition ('is a', 'is defined as')
Ostensive ( 'That's what I mean by...' )
Lexical ('All', 'Only', 'is a type of', 'is necessarily')
Implicit ('is a', 'for example')

Chronology ('yesterday', 'today')
Sensations ('seems', 'feels', 'appears', etc.,)
List ('first', 'second', etc.)
5 W's ('who', 'what', 'where', 'when', 'why')

Complex Forms

As you have seen in this article, each successive iteration (which has been followed by one of my tables) has been more and more detailed. You might ask how this is so, if there are only four types of article or essay.

The point is, each sentence in one type of thing might be a whole set of sentence of another type of thing. This is most clearly illustrated by looking at an argument.

An argument is a conclusion and some premises. Like this:

Statement 1, and
Statement 2,
Statement 3

But each premise might in turn be the conclusion of another argument. Like this:

Statement 4, and
Statement 5,
Statement 1

Which gives us a complex argument:

Statement 4, and
Statement 5,
Thus, Statement 1
Statement 2
Thus Statement 3

But this can be done with all four types of paragraph. For example, consider this:

Statement 1 (which is actually a definition, with several parts)
Statement 2 (which is actually a description)
Statement 3

So, when you write your essay, you pick the main thing you want to say. For example:

Second paragraph:

Statement 1, and
Statement 2
Statement 3

Third paragraph:

Statement 4 (thing being defined)
Statement 5 (properties)
Statement 1 (actual definition)

Fourth Paragraph

Statement 5 (first statement of description)
Statement 6 (second statement of description)
Statement 2 (summary of description)

As you can see, each simple element of an essay - premise, for example - can become a complex part of an essay - the premise could be the conclusion of an argument, for example.

And so, when you write your essay, you just go deeper and deeper into the structure.

And you may ask: where does it stop?

For me, it stops with descriptions - something I've seen or experienced, or a reference to a study or a paper. To someone else, it all reduces to definitions and axioms. For someone else, it might never stop.

But you rarely get to the bottom. You simply go on until you've said enough. In essence, you give up, and hope the reader can continue the rest of the way on his or her own.

And just so with this paper. I would now look at each one of each type of argument and explanation, for example, and identify more types, or describe features that make some good and some bad, or add many more examples and animations.

But my time is up, I need to board my flight, so I'll stop here.

Nothing fancy at the end. Just a reminder, that this is how you can write great articles and essays, first draft, every time. Off the top of your head.


Standing at the baggage claims counter at South African Airways domestic arrivals, Johannesburg, trying to get back to the plane to retrieve my passport and plane tickets, I watched the lone woman staffer proceed slowly from carousel to carousel, removing the still rotating baggage in the empty baggage claims area.

"Is anybody coming?" I asked another person waiting at the same counter. "That's her," he replied. Missing my passport, missing my tickets, and growing increasingly worried, I waited for the woman to arrive back at her desk and wondered why she was moving so slowly. It was all I could do to muster a smile as she approached and to explain my dilemma.

Unknown to me at the time, the woman was Diddy (pronounced 'dee dee'). Also unknown to me was the fact that she was finishing, in all probability, a shift in excess of 12 hours, acting as the point of contact for all manner of travellers in distress.

I haven't been kind to the SAA baggage claims department in recent days, and I will say, with some justification. It should not have taken three days to recover the documents. And someone should have been available to get the passport right away, given the ugency of such a loss. And at some point, somebody should have mentioned that SAE is a separate airline.

But I will also say that without Diddy, I might well have been in much greater difficulty. It was Diddy who took the original report, and she took ownership of it, in a way that did not become apparent (or even evident) until today.

When the passport was (eventually) found, she tried to contact me at the Intercontinental Hotel. At first, the hotel claimed no knowledge of me (and they had, after all, completely lost my Monday evening registration, which would have been a disaster had Tony Carr not coaxed me to Cape Town).

She then convinced them that they had heard of me, and obtained the phone number I had (correctly) supplied to the hotel on check-in. It unfortunately was sent to her missing one digit, and hence, when she tried to call my home she got a response in Portugese or Spanish, not the English she was expecting.

She then somehow was able to determine that I was booked on the British Airways flight to Cape Town, and managed to get a message to them as the plane sat at the gate. A British Airways steward came to me and handed me the message Diddy had sent. By this time I already knew that South African Express had found my passport. Diddy's note, however, contained the vital information that I had not been given when I enquired at the baggage counter - the reference number for the claim.

When I showed up at the counter bright and early this Wednesday morning, having taken an alternative 6:45 a.m. flight to give myself time to claim the passport, I was greeted at the booth by Diddy, who recognized me on site. She smiled a big smile. "Mr. Downes," she said. "Did you receive my message?" I had, and presented her with the slip of paper on which it had been written.

The pouch was still at the SAE office upstairs. "My friend," she said to the person at the other end. "I would love for you to give me a visit. And could you bring the item..." and then she read the reference number. Time passed, as I watched her handle the requests as they came in, the early hours of another workday I now knew would end after ten o'clock at night. Like an officer directing traffic, she moved bags, enquiries and other matters with dispatch.

One passenger had lost his grey baggage cart-suitcase. He had place the ticket to his next flight in the baggage, and so was now without a way to get to the next stage of his trip. He also needed the contents for a presentation he was doing that afternoon. I watched Diddy go through the possibilities - alternate carousel, alternate terminal, alternate airport - quickly and efficiently.

The man was unwilling to accept that his baggage had not been placed on the plane. She politely gave him document and reference number for future enquiries. "There is a grey bag like yours on carousel four," she said, obviously aware of what was rotating about on each of the six carousels. He left, without checking carousel four. The grey bag was still circling when I left.

Diddy's friend, meanwhile, had apparently not accepted the kind offer of a visit. "I will have to go upstairs and get it," she said, turning off her seat and with a great puff of air making her way out the door and away. By then I had taken off my jacket and was listening to tunes on my iRiver, so I smiled and said OK.

About ten minutes after Diddy had left, another person arrived, carrying my missing item report - the one I had filled out five days earlier - and a blue pouch. I looked at it. It was much larger than mine, and labled for some city council of some African city. It was - to my horror - not mine. I looked at it as it sat on the counter, trying to will it to be mine. My heart sank quickly as I began to review the backup plans that had been made just in case of something like this.

The package sat on the counter and we all waited for Diddy to return, me hoping against hope that she would have found my blue pouch in the SAE express area. She returned, about ten minutes later, empty-handed. My last hope was dashed. Then she took the blue pouch, opened it, and there, inside, lay my pouch with my passport and my plan tickets. "It came to us this way," she explained.

Now there is justice in this world. How probable is it that my blue pouch, found by the cleaner on the aircraft three days after it was left, would be placed in another blue pouch, found by the same crew on the same plane at the same time? I shuddered to think of what would have happened had this small South African town chosen red, and not blue, as a civic colour. But then, Diddy would probably have checked in any case.

Diddy handed me my pouch, I confirmed the correct spelling of her name, thanked her sincerely and profusely, and told her that I would be writing this post. Her face lit up, and I could feel the warmth of her smile.

Tonight, Diddy will be slowly walking from carousel to carousel after the last flight has come through the airport. She will remove the grey bag off carousel four and, if it is that man's, tag it and put it in the back room, properly matched to the reference number. Two or three impatient and worried passengers will wonder why this large black woman won't move any faster and why she won't leave the bags and come attend to their needs.

But I will know. And at at ten o'clock tonight, as I sit about six hours out across the Indian Ocean on my way to Sydney, I will raise a glass to Diddy.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


Originally uploaded by Stephen Downes.
A giraffe slowly wanders from tree to tree, munching breakfast while I watch. Many many more photos from Kruger (including some great shots and video of rhinos, babboons, vervet monkeys, zebras, buffalo, wildebeatss, impalas and much more) to come.

A Woman Named Deddy Has Your Passport

I woke up at 4:30 or so to prepare for the third day of my Kruger Park safari. By 6:00 I was walking with a small group of people and two well-armed guides through the South African brush. Early on we spotted Rhinos close enough it was necessary to (carefully) scurry away to safety. By 8:00 I had held the still smelly skull of a dead Buffalo in my hands. In another half hour, a rest break under a gigantic boulder, looking over the river valley. By 10:00 we were back in camp. Time for breakfast.

During breakfast I got an urgent message that Tony Carr wanted to speak to me. So I hustled down to the pay phone (a.k.a. the 'clicky') and pushed in a 20 Rand card. Some quick conversation and I had a flight booked for 6:45 to Cape Town. 2:00 p.m. saw us in White River, the Siyabona touring company's main Kruger base. We arrived at Joburg airport at 5:45 exactly. I hustled to the British Airways checkin on the top floor, presented the photocopy of my passport (never travel overseas without making a photocopy of your passport) and got my boarding pass. 6:10.

Since I had so much time to spare, I took the elevator back down to arrivals and made my way to the South African Airways baggage counter. I gave my name and information to the woman, and she turned and started searching on the computer. I could show from my perspective that nothing was showing up - she continued to widen and widen the search. Then she got up and went into the back room.

I waited. At 6:20 I showed my boarding card to the man at the booth, to stress my shortness of time. He nodded, then disappeared into the back room. I waited. 6:25. I am preparing myself to abandon the booth when the woman returns and says, "A woman named Deddy has your passport." Pronounced 'dee dee'.

My flight had been on South African Express (SAE). This is an airline that has the same logo and services as South African Airways (SAA), but is a separate airline (niminally). So when the cleaners found my passport late Sunday night (and not Friday, despite my telling the airline the exact plane and seat number where it was located) she turned it over to SAA. To a woman named Deddy.

I got the information I needed, told them I would b back in Joburg in a day or two (not having a return flight from Cape Town yet, since I still didn't have my passport and tickets), and dashed (but didn't run) to my waiting BA airplane. I was not even the last customer on board. The airline apologized, but I told them I was more than happy with the middle seat. I had long and interesting conversations with the people to each side of me.

Now it is Tuesday morning. I am in Cape Town. My talks here will go ahead as scheduled, and it appears that everything else (Australia, New Zealand) is back on.

I will comment that while I was in Kruger a lot o people did a lot of things for me, most especially Andrea, who hunted down passport regs and got our lawyer moving into action with the Canadian consulate, Tony Carr, who smoothed my way with the alternative tickets and arrangements, and Sophie Leblanc, who was communications central and who kept the Amex Travel agency (who operated travel for NRC) in the loop. Oh, and thanks to J.D. who offered to wire me money - that was very much appreciated. Big thanks to everyone, and now I have a Townships tour to take. Just as scheduled.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Stranded in Africa

OK, last update for a bit. Still no passport, airline tickets, visa to Australia, or internet access.

I can't do anything now, as Canada has no services for travellers on weekends (pretty incredile, eh?) so I am taking my trip to Kruger. I hope. The tour agency has never returned any call or email, and I never received a call from Bloemfontein that I was expecting, to confirm this. But if you don't get another post, then I am in Kruger.

I have booked a room here in Joburg, at the Intercontinental Hotel Sun, at Joburg airport, for Monday evening. Cape Town is cancelled. If the tickets have not been returned from the airline by Monday evening (I have asked South African airways to leave a message at the hotel, and of course I will check with them again Tuesday morning) I will go to the Canadian embassy in Pretoria.

At this point it would be very unlikely I could continue. From what I understand it takes a long time to reissue a passport. Also, South African Airlines informs me it does not reissue lost tickets (the other airlines would, but...). So I would not be able to proceed to Australia and NZ. If this is the case I will return directly to Canada to at least get out of this situation, try to get back on track from there (not very likely).

I have been unable to get a phone so all messages for me should be left at the Intercontinental Hotel Sun in Joburg. Because my wireless internet was also, um, 'lost', I will not be able to get online until Monday evening.

People here are very friendly but not really helpful. I am very disappointed with the airline, which resolutely would not let me go back for the tickets and passport, even though they were just a few feet away, and then 'lost' them. American Express travel - which has a sole source contract contract with the Canadian government because of 'services' such as help in cases like this, didn't help at all (but made me run up a half hour phone call first).

Friday, September 08, 2006


Originally uploaded by Stephen Downes.
Driving along the road just outside Maseru, we looked out over the valley to see the evening sun hiding behind the one cloud we had seen all day, casting the sky and land in a brilliant orange hue. Lesotho, that brilliant, incredible, fascinating, friendly, moving, sad, and beautiful Kingdom of the Sky.

Lesotho, where they said to me, "Go in peace," shook my hand three times, looked me in the eye, and thanked me for the small purchase I had made, and more, I think, for looking them in the eye, shaking their hand, and saying thank you. Lesotho, a land of quiet gentle people who have only, thorough all of their history, sought only to survive.

If there is justice in the world, I will one day return to Lesotho with more than just my goodwill and curiosity.

Outside Security

I'm sitting in Bloemfontein Airport (Vodacom, not WiFi) chatting on ICQ, and the whole thing with Heathrow Airport has come up again. And it occurred to me, I had better write. Because they will say "nobody could have seen this coming."

This, of course, is the inevitability that some terrorist somewhere will notice that the best targets today are in those heaving seas of tired, parched and irritable seas of humanity crowded immediately outside security.

I mean, look at Heathrow. You have the equivalent of a dozen 747 flights crammed in a tiny room there, and there is utterly nothing stopping a terrorist from walking in there and taking out the whole building.

Meanwhile, we are supposed to believe that the cause of this line-up - preventing people from bringing paper-clips and sealed bottles of water onto flights - is making us safer. It is not, of course. And worse, it is making busy airports - like Heathrow - much more dangerous.

But we are supposed to trust these people who are managing our security for us.

It is hard, very hard, to think of our national security forces as the enemy. Because they were set up, by us, to protect us.

But they have been captured by unscrupulous politicians who are managing a climate of fear in order to justify their illegal and unprovoked wars of empire. And as a result, it is us - and not the terrorists - that have become the targets. Of our own security.

When the inevitable happens, there will be raised fists, angry shouts of anguish, and condemnations of the bombers. And nary a word about how it was our own security that led us into the corral to be slaughtered like sheep, our own security that set up a situation that made a devastating attack not merely easy to predict, but inevitable.

I am not a specialist in security and defense and terrorism. And I can see this coming a mile away. So, therefore, must our security. Yet they continue to create this unsafe situation. We must only conclude that they are doing it deliberately.

Anyhow - avoid Heathrow and the other large airports, at least outside security. Drive to a smaller airport and start your flight from a safer departure airport. And remember - you read it here, and it was easy to predict.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Free State Braii

Originally uploaded by Stephen Downes.
Out in the country, a bonfire, food as good as you'll ever see, great conversation, and a little beer (oh year, and a vodka fountain), and you have a Free State Braii.

Update (Septmber 12): I am advised that the spelling is 'Braai'. D'oh!

My Work, My Freedom

Please note: this comment is not about the conference I am currently speaking at, and should not be interpreted to reference any particular event. In fact, my hosts here in Bloemfontein have given me free reign in my sessions, with what I feel have been very good results - further endorsement, I feel, of what I say below.

I have always tried to make my talks and sessions learner centered - I come in with an agenda, but I say at the outset, this talk is in your hands, you can direct it wherever you want. Usually they are happy with my agenda, but not always. Yesterday's workshop, for example (audio available soon, I hope) is an example, where we went way off the agenda. But did people learn? Yes - and rather more than they would have learned had I tried to plan and implement the plan.

I have noticed, however, that when I try to turn control over to the learners, there is a tendency for someone else to step in - usually the funder of the event, or more likely, a proxy for that funder - who decides to substitute their own expertise for both my expertise and that of the group, and to implement their own planning, and manage the outcomes. And then, when it fails, to hold the presenter of the workshop accountable, or worse, the audience.

I have in recent years adopted the attitude that people do not acquire instant expertise because they fund something, and that when I am invited to host or participate in a session, I will manage my own participation in my own way. Because a central part of the theory I have developed and that I believe is that this sort of management doesn't work. My seminars, presentations and workshops, therefore, are instantiations of my theory, and not merely descriptions of my theory (and again, I've learned, it's pretty futile to simply describe the theory - people will politely listen and then go back to what they have already done).

The 'outcome', therefore, of one of my talks (or for that matter, any session I attend, because I'm a disruptive influence), if anyone needs a formalized outcome (which I don't recommend, since each individual has their own expectations and needs, which simply cannot be substituted by fiat by authority) is "this method works with this group". The outcome is that we are providing evidence that the method works, we are giving participants experience with the method, and we expect (but cannot promise) that their practices will be changed as a result.

From time to time I do have organizers who state that they would like something more concrete in terms of outcomes, methodologies, processes, assessment, and the like. I gently and politely tell such funders that if they really feel this way, they should fund someone else. This is not said with malice or anything like that, but out of simple recognition of the fact that if a person wants roses, then they should buy roses, and not tulips - and it is unreasonable for me to go in there and pretend that our tulips are roses. They're not. But - I think - they're pretty good tulips. And sceptics can always look at the slides and audio from previous sessions.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Learning objects - what are they good for?

With my website and email having been down the last few days, and of course with my flight to South Africa, I am needless to say way behind on things. Oh, and very tired.

Today I completed a preconference workshop, and tomorrow morning I give a keynote address. I will have files to upload soon, but for now the outline is in my wiki at Jotspot. One of the highlights was the World Premiere of my video, Bogota, which will be online soon.

But even better, we successfully ran a Skypecast from the workshop (my thanks to those of you who were able to join). With no website and no newsletter, I wasn't able to advertise it, but I did post a note on Half an Hour.

This success means we are going ahead with part two of the plan: the World's First (I check) keynote address from anything to be Skypecast. Yes, when I speak at 9:45 local time tomorrow, here in South Africa, we will be welcoming people from around the world to join us.

To join, click on the Skypecast link around the time the Skypecast is to start (if you are early, reload the page every few minutes, just in case). You need Skype version 2.5 and when you click you will be joined to the Skypecast. We know the sound works, beautifilly, even from Africa.

I also have some photos online (not many though).

Preconference in Bloemfontein

Originally uploaded by Stephen Downes.
Hiya folks, you're on the internet.

Free State

Free State
Originally uploaded by Stephen Downes.
View outside Bloemfontein, in the Free State, South Africa.

Skypecast Update

I still have no website and I still have no email. But I have computers, and a will...

Anyhow, here's the latest on the Skypcast for Tuesday (click here to register):

E-learning 2.0

Hosted by downes

On blogs, podcasting, audio creation, video and vodcasting, and more! Part of the 'more' in this session is Skypecasting, and so we will be hosting a Skypecast for the last hour or two of the session. This Skypecast is also a practice for a world-first Skypecast on Wednesday. All are welcome, and will have the chance to interact with our audience in Bloemfontein, South Africa.

Also: don't forget, there will be another Skypecast Wednesday morning (9 a.m. local time). Information will be posted here on this blog.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Steve Irwin / Africa

Africa. I watched impalas leap majestically across the golden plain, listened to a hundred types of birds, laughed at the money hiding in the grass, spied on the ostrich guarding its nest, and so much more.

And Steve Irwin has died and I feel like I have lost a friend.

It was his voice, of course, that I spoofed when creating my famous ant-training video. And when I travelled to Australia in 2004, it was right at the top of my list to visit his Australian Zoo just north of Brisbane, where I watched his show and even shot video of him behind the scenes.

I never met him, but I felt like I knew him, because I understood his passion.

My website is down today, and I'm getting only a trickle of email, so it looks like I won't be able to send out my newsletter. But I will post some Steve Irwin photos and video when I can - I have published the photos before, on my site (link not working at the moment) and I've never posted the video.

I am in Bloemfontein, in the Free State. I have an all-day workshop tomorrow, and a keynote on Wednesday.

I had planned to talk about this in my newsletter, but here's the plan (and please pass the word around if you read this, since most people don't read this).

I've talked with the people here and it looks like I'll be able to pull off a Skypecast. I am going to test the system tomorrow afternoon - I plan to officially start it at 2 pm (that is at 9 am Atlantic time, am Eastern time (I believe I'm in GMT+2 right now but check that).

If it works (and I'm sure it will) I will Skypecast my keynote on Wednesday - I think we're looking 9:30 a.m. here, which means it will be tough to see in North America (but prime-time for Australia and New Zealand). I will keep you posted here, even if I can't get my website up.

So I hope to chat with you tomorrow and - since (to my knowledge) the Wednesday event will be the first ever Skypecast keynote address, I hope to make history with you the day after.

Now I'm off to dinner. Until tomorrow...