Friday, January 22, 2016

What I Learned Using Paypal

Doug Belshaw wrote an item this week called 3 things I’ve learned from 200 weeks of sending out an email newsletter which made me smile and think "newbie" to myself. That's not even four years!

But it's actually a major commitment  and I respect anyone who can carry out something on a regular basis for 200 weeks. I have a good sense of what it takes, not only in terms of effort, but also in terms of computing power and servers.

He draws three lessons:

- "You are the most important audience". By "you" he doesn't mean "you, the reader," he means "you, the author." If the newsletter didn't mean something to me personally, I would not keep it up. Belshaw has learned the same lesson.

- "People like commentary". I can attest to this. I've run surveys a couple times over the years, and I always ask whether people like the commentary or whether I should shut up and just deliver the news. The responses are unanimous. Readers want the opinion. Informed opinion.

- "A little bit of personality goes a long way." Like Doug, I don't just stick to a narrow diet of education technology tools and applications, or some similar specialization. My items reflect an interest in a range of disciplines, and the articles orbit around a set of core ideas, not some market managers conception of a vertical.

But also, like Doug, I have asked for donations. As I explained in my Donations page, my website costs me $200 a month to run, or $30,000 over the years. The traffic demands it; I have tried to run OLDaily and the rest of the website on a cheaper server, and simply crashed the server. It has created some financial stress, so I asked for help.

But I was also curious. Some people say that you simply have to ask, and you will receive, but I don't really fit the demographic. I'm not private-school pretty, I'm prickly and annoying, I'm not exactly a supporter of the corporate and entrepreneurship agenda, and I don't really have an interest in self-promotion (that doesn't mean I don't do it, it just means I feel guilty whenever I do).

But, you know, I always wonder, if I ever wanted a backup gig, could this be it? I look at some of the other people who started out as ed tech pundits and became self-employed as writers or consultants. There are some who make a living doing it, but I don't see people retiring early on the money. It looks like a tough life, with a lot of work in the trenches.

So how did I do?

From 30 donors I received about $1478. Most of the donations were the minimum $25 but I receive a large number of $75 contributions and a couple of people gave $250. Nobody selected the $1000 option (I thought maybe a company or two might want their name and link on the logo, but it didn't happen). It really is a tremendous response, and it comes close to covering my server costs for the year, and I'm grateful.

Here's what I did: when I redesigned the site to make it mobile-friendly over the holiday break, I added a donation page. I put a donate button on the home page, and ran one link in the January 4 issue of OLDaily. That was it for advertising. I thought anything more would be crass. But given that the link had (as of this writing) 67 views, maybe it wouldn't have been so crass.

I thought I would get a flurry of donations right away, and then nothing, but that's not what really happened. I've had a steady flow of donations spaced out over the last three weeks. Sure, I got 12 donations in the first two days, but it's averaged a steady one-a-day since then, in varying amounts.

I got my thank-you emails sent out today. At first I didn't think I could even send them - while PayPal faithfully reports the incoming donations, it downplays the sender's email. It has a co-branded service whereby it will print shipping lables and handle delivery for you - for a fee. Smart. But that was more than I wanted to pay just to send an email.

Sending out 30 individual emails took some time, and I was always afraid I would get the person's name wrong (happened once) or misrepresent the amount they donated (happened once). Cut-and-paste seems so impersonal, but retyping the same message would have been too much, but I was able to add some personal touches. Were the frequency of donations to increase, I would create a 'thank you' script.

I received a few comments on the list of options. Feeling very clever, I created the following range of choices: $25, $75, $250, $1000. And as we see on donation pages everywhere, I offered incremental rewards for each level (I resisted calling them 'gold', 'platinum', 'sustaining', etc.). Within a day I had to add two additional notes on the donations page: one telling people they could choose whatever amount they wanted, and another telling them they did not have to have their name listed on the page. A few people chose their own amounts, and two people took the extra effort to mail me a cheque instead of using PayPal.


Would I do it again? Definitely. I feel people appreciated the opportunity to say thanks. The money was significant. And server costs aren't going away. And hey, maybe a few companies will start using that $1000 option. :)



Saturday, January 16, 2016

Organizing

Quoted at length from Self-organization of complex, intelligent systems: an action ontology for transdisciplinary integration, Francis Heylighen, Integral Review:

A mobilization system would combat this confused and unproductive way of acting by
redirecting effort in the most efficient way at the most important issues. This requires the
following steps:

  • helping people to reach consensus about the specific goals that they consider most important. This can be done in part by seeking inspiration about fundamental values in the evolutionary worldview [e.g. Heylighen & Bernheim, 2000], in part by creating effective discussion systems that help a group to come to a well-reasoned consensus. Examples of such systems are being developed on the web [Klein, 2007; Malone & Klein, 2007].
  • motivating and stimulating people to work towards the goals that have thus been agreed upon. Here, a very useful paradigm is the concept of “flow” [Csikszentmihalyi, 1990], which specifies the conditions under which people work in the most focused and motivated manner. These conditions are:
    • clear goals: there should be minimal ambiguity about what to do next;
    • immediate feedback: any action should be followed by an easily interpretable result, so that you either get a confirmation that you are on the right track, or a warning that you need to correct your course;
    • challenges in balance with skills: tasks should be neither too difficult nor too easy for the people entrusted to perform them, in order to avoid either stress or boredom.
    • Additionally, there exists a wide range of techniques from psychology, behavioral economics and memetics that help us to formulate goals and tasks in a way that is maximally motivating, persuasive and easy to follow [Heath & Heath, 2007; Thaler & Sunstein, 2009; Heylighen, 2009]
  • coordinating and aggregating the individual contributions so as to ensure maximum collective results. This can be built on the mechanisms of stigmergy and selforganization mentioned before [Heylighen, 2007a; Parunak, 2006].
By minimizing uncertainty, confusion, friction and procrastination, work that is mobilized by
such a system would not only become much more productive and effective, it would also
make the participants more satisfied with what they are doing.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Banality of Death

Late last fall my cat Bart died, then Jay Cross died, and finally 130 people in Paris died, all within a few weeks of each other.

Bart's death was not felt widely beyond my own immediate family, Jay Cross's death was more widely felt, and of course the impact of the Paris attacks was worldwide.

They all felt about the same to me.

It seems shameful to admit this. The sheer number of people killed in Paris should give the event more significance, shouldn't it? And surely the loss of Jay Cross is of more significance than that of a cat.

But it set off in me a chain of thought that I cannot escape, and which runs around and around in my head even to this day.

After the Paris attacks, I felt like I was the only remaining opponent to war, the only person who did not at once rise to the challenge and call for the degradation and destruction of those responsible.

I felt that way after 9-11 as well. I felt the United States would feel it had to attack someone (in this case Afghanistan, and then for good measure, an innocent bystander in Iraq) but I didn't have any sense of what good it would produce. And as the intervening fifteen years have shown, no good at all.

We heard a lot in those years about the fight to bring democracy to Afghanistan, to improve the lives of women, to increase self-sufficiency and end poverty. All of those are noble goals, but none of them were really the reason for the war in the first place. They were fictions we told ourselves as the occupation wore on and on.

I have a similar feeling about the bombing campaigns in Syria. The flow of refugees has made it plain that all anyone has accomplished was to make life miserable for the general population.

How many Syrian dead does it take for their deaths to become as meaningful as those in France, or here in Casselman? What is the calculus of death?

It seems to me that the fighters for ISIS have, like so many idealistic youth before them, been the victims of the great con, that theirs could be and would be a 'meaningful' death. In this regard, it doesn't matter what they are fighting for - it could be for religious purity, it could be for the advancement of society, it could be 'for peace'.

What I realized on that fall day is this: there are no meaningful deaths.

Bart's passing was as peaceful and timely as could be hoped. He slipped away without a murmur the morning after his failing kidneys took away his sight. His last night was peaceful; he slept beside me, twitching and dreaming of play-games, listening to classical music. He always loved music.

But it was still wrong, it still hurt like a deep knife, and it was still pointless.

Why is there death at all? It is part of the package deal that makes us human (and him feline). It's part of the same mechanism that underlies thought and sentiment, perception and cognition.

It's how humans (and cats) evolve. It's how they have come to be at all. Death is what enables the dynamic interaction and reproduction of the species to create new versions of themselves. It is the ultimate feedback mechanism informing a mechanism driven by the interplay between small things.

It was a great mechanism for getting us to the point where we are conscious, self-aware, adaptable, and even caring beings. But it's no longer needed, and there's no 'off switch', and it's clear to us now that the same objective can be achieved without doing away with the participants.

Assuming we even wanted more evolution, we can imagine means much more subtle than the cudgel that is death. We can tweak the DNA with gene splicing, we can induce change with tailored phage, we can decide. And similarly, socially, we can create a new government, or a new society, without the need to exterminate any proportion of its members.

A nation is not better because it arose out of the ashes of revolution. A cultural identity is not forged on the battlefield. These are not the engines of birth, they are the engines of destruction, elimination, of utterly needless death.

We do not need to destroy in order to be able to see.

All I ever feel when I think of death is a feeling of loss. It was never "someone's time". It is never made up for by the fact that he led "a beautiful life". It matters naught that he died for "something greater than himself." It's means nothing that "he died with dignity." That's all the big con.

In truth, it is death itself that is the enemy. It is death itself that is the blackness that erases the light. It is death itself that is ultimately the most pointless, banal, distressing part of a person's existence.

Nothing can convince me that some social, political, economic or religious ideal is "worth" a life. Nothing is left behind by death, even the death of a vanquished foe, but loss and emptiness. Where once there was life, now there is only silence.

Today we talk about the morality of accepting refugees, as though there were actually a moral question regarding the desirability of allowing people to be bombed, starved, beaten or drowned into submission.

The existence of borders blocking the flight of people to safety is an affront. The waste of human lives in the name of a nation, a religion, or an idea is offensive to the sight and mind.

No matter how pointless or meaningful we are told that it is, each death is to someone the ultimate tragedy. All deaths are the same. Once we come to realize this, together, we can begin thinking about how we can live together, work together, and begin to cherish this most beautiful thing in the world: life.

Friday, January 08, 2016

Ought and Is

Experts are typically expert in two types of things:
  • what is the case
  • what ought to be the case

And for that matter, we all have attitudes and beliefs regarding both types of statement. For example:

  • it's 20 degrees in here
  • it ought to be warmer
That's fair enough.

Science and research are sometimes depicted as consisting necessarily only of the first sort of statement: that is, researchers should confine themselves to discussing what is, and not what ought to be the case.

I don't agree with this. I think that unless research is guided by some sense of ought there is no motive nor even mechanism for determining what is. For example, if it didn't matter what the temperature is, why would anyone bother measuring it, and indeed, what sort of scale would we even use?

Indeed, it's pretty hard to make sense of any human endeavour without invoking both an is and an ought. Any action plan, indeed, contains these two elements: the action plan is a description of the route from the is to the ought. And all research is based on this formulation.

Having said all of this, there are two hard and fast rules that apply regarding inferences involving is and ought:

1. You cannot derive an ought from an is

Suppose it's 20 degrees in here. Does it follow that it should be warmer or colder? No. It depends on your point of view. If you're a duck, you're probably OK with 20 degrees. But if you're me, you want it warmer. And if you're a rock, it doesn't matter at all.

It's sometimes hard to see this. "Look at that starving child," someone will say. Well, yes, the child is starving. But that by itself doesn't allow us to infer that the child should be fed. The inference follows only if we have an expression of need or value, for example, "allowing children to starve is wrong."

This is sometimes called the 'naturalistic fallacy'. People say, for example, "It's human nature to do such-and-such, so such-and-such is OK." Or, conversely, they say something is wrong because "it's not natural."


2. You cannot derive an is from an ought


"If wishes were horses," goes the old saying, "then beggars could ride." There's wisdom in that. Certainly we may believe things ought to be one way or another. But this belief doesn't mean that anything actually is one way or another. This would be nothing more than wishful thinking.

These lead to a third rule:

3. An ought is derived only from an ought, and an is is derived only from an is.


It follows from these two rules that the veracity of is and ought statements is determined very differently for each.

There are two very different forms of logic. The first - the logic of wants and desires - is called deontic logic. Other forms of logic (propositional logic, for example) describe the other sort of inference.

So why is all this important?

Well, as I said, or pretty much any enquiry, including scientific research, you need both an is and an ought. So, on the one hand, you need data, to tell you what is the case, and on the other hand, you need some sort of problem or domain of enquiry, which tells you why you need the data and what you hope to do with it.

This means that the citations for any research should include some from column A and some from column B. Good research requires a clear context, problem, or domain of application, and it requires facts, data and evidence. And - even more importantly - the references supporting each of these need to be of the right type.

4. Define context, problem or domain of application from expressions of need or obligation, including social, political and economic perspectives, and not from data.

This should be obvious, but isn't. Even your unit of measurement is going to incorporate these perspectives, and will in some sense define the desired state. The units of measurement are not inherent in the facts of the matter.

We often hear sentences like "the data dictates that...". No. The data does not dictate anything. The only thing a set of data can produce for you is more data.

For example, the data may say "5 percent of the people finish the course." Nothing about the quality of course design follows from this. You only get this sort of statement if you've already agreed that "not finishing reflects a design flaw" or some similar ought statement (which in turn needs to be substantiated).

I see in the academic community a lot of expressions of value or obligation criticized on the basis that it's not derived from data. The idea these critics express is that all reference in an academic paper ought to be peer reviewed, and the statements of value and obligation therefore grounded in some sort of fact. But that's an error. There is not some sort of fact-based mechanism for determining value or obligation. 

5. Define data in terms of empirical measurement, and not in terms of expression of need or obligation.

This is probably the most consistent flaw of research provided by the education policy 'think tanks'. The 'data' they provide owes as much to the center's political orientation as it does to 'facts'.

Take a statement like this: "The professional expectations for today’s teachers are undoubtedly high." This looks like data; it looks like a statement of fact (as indicated by the word 'undoubtedly'). But it's a statement of what ought to be, in two senses: first, it describes 'expectations', and second, it uses a relative value-laded term of measurement, specifically, 'high'.

Of course, it's OK to make statements like that. But they need to understood as expressions of what ought to be the case, and subject to assessment in terms of value and obligation, rather than represented as data and misused as the starting point for an action plan.

There's a lot more that could be said on the subject of ought and is, but I'll leave it here for now, happy if I've managed to alert the reader to be sensitive to these two types of statement.

More reading:

Is ought - University of Texas
The Is-Ought Problem - Wikipedia
The Is-Ought Gap - YouTube
Hume on Is and Ought - Philosophy Now
Is/Ought Fallacy - Fallacies Files






Thursday, November 05, 2015

What Else can Work at Scale? and Techniques from Social Media

My contribution to the Networked Learning Conference 'Hot Seat' discussion. You can read the whole discussion here.

# # #

Anything that can be automated works at scale. Anything that cannot be automated must be distributed, and if so, works at scale. Only centralized non-automated things do not work at scale.

# # #

This is a good question:

"Humans scale, and have scaled before any automation existed, so what made us scale? Localized transmission of knowledge (oral tradition), the automated cell/gene replication in combination with adaptations? "

And I think that the answer is inherent in the nature of life: that we are autonomous, and interactive, so we create a distributed network of diverse activities, adapting to local conditions, and scaling naturally.

Life seeks conditions of success. Humans, crickets, birds, plants - we migrate to the places where we flourish and avoid the places we don't, each making our decisions one by one.

Too dense a network and society fails. Too sparse a network and society fails. Autonomy is productive; eliminate it and society fails. But where autonomy is extended to point where it disrupts the network, society fails. (These aren't truisms; they are empirical observations, and subject to verification.)

# # #

Also, comments from the thread titled 'Educational Designers and Techniques from Social Media'.

I have argued that the design for MOOCs should take more from games than from social media (though there are some pretty strong overlaps), including in a talk just last week3. My point was that instead of trying to design learning, which is focused on content, we should create environments in which people can practice.

Social media is a bit like an environment. It is a space (mostly) not bounded by structured presentation of material or decision trees (Facebook's stream is an oft-criticized exception). People are able to try out new ideas and new personals. The problem with social media is that the interaction is (mostly) limited to conversation. I would much rather see people interact by solving problems, figuring out puzzles, playing games, and creating things.

# # #

Again, I have not clearly stated my point.

I use games as a metaphor to talk about MOOCs:

There are two types of games:
- those that depend on programmed design and memorization, and
- that create an environment.where players and objects interact

In the same way, there are two types of MOOC:
- those that depend on programmed design and memorization - xMOOC
- that create an environment.where participants and objects interact - cMOOC

The first type of game was a failure. They could be defeated by mere memorization and were not interesting. They disappeared from the market.

The second type of game was a success, and should be used as a model for MOOCs (and indeed, were a part of the model George and I used when we developed cMOOCs).

So this second type of games is the type of games I am talking about.

When comparing this second type of games and social networks, I agree with you that there are many elements in common. They are both environments, they are based on the interaction between participants, and they can be used to solve problems, negotiate and communicate.

But there are also some important differences:
  • games are inherently about solving problems or responding to challenges, while social networks can be much more passive.
  • games typically involve a wide range of different types of objects (even objects in the physical world) while social networks involve conversational elements only.
This not to say that we must choose between either games or social networks. Both inform the theory of environmentally-based learning, where participants interact in a common space with objects and with each other.

But it is to say that a model based on social networks alone will be insufficient to inform the design of successful MOOCs. The elements of a successful networking environment need to be taken into account.

Because, yes, the connections are of the utmost importance. We cannot learn from each other without connections.

But the manner, organization and structure of those connections must be designed with the intent of creating the most interesting and accessible environment. People will learn from each other, not from the MOOC.

# # #

I don't agree with this: "It's important what the discussion is about, what the goal of the discussion is..." I think there is too much desire on the part of educators to shape the learning of individuals. We should see our function as more supportive than directive.

# # #

You say: "The content - or the concrete problem - should be the center in dialogue for learning." And yet: "not that this should be determined by the instructor/teacher/facilitator."

Two things:
  • First, I don't think both things can be true. If you are going to say something should be the case in learning, then you cannot say that it should not be determined by the instructor/teacher/facilitator.
  • Second, there are many cases wher this need not be the case. Where someone is learning merely for pleasure, for example (which explains how I acquired a knowledge of the Roman Empire). Or where different people are working on different problems, not a common problem.



 

Analysis and Support of MOOCs

My contributions to the Network Learning 'Hot Seat' addressing the question, "How do we analyse and support the networked interactions of thousands of people learning together?" View the whole discussion here.

# # #

These are two very different questions and I'm not sure it's useful (or even appropriate) to ask them together.

With respect to the analysis of the networked interactions, it's not clear to me that we should even be doing this, at least, not in the sense suggested by the question. If someone had said "how do we analyze the conversations of university students one to another" or "how do we analyze the thousands of phone calls between people" we would quite rightly question the breach of confidence required to undertake such a task, beyond very gross calculations about the numbers of calls and conversations (and even then, we're treading on dangerous grounds). One of the differences between mass courses (at least the way I see them) and more traditional forms of online learning is that students discussions are not automatically located in the LMS not subject to ownership and use by the institution.

I'll leave discussion of the second point until later.

# # #

@jonathanbishop I would be more inclined to say that Etienne Wenger was drawing some the same foundational concepts as George Siemens and I, though I was aware of Wenger's work as far bacl as 2004 (you can hear me mispronounce his name through this entire presentation, the first I ever recorded, from 2004 )

The ideas of connectivism, communities of practice, etc., are derived from a network view of the world, and are rooted in ideas of network theory, 'small pieces loosely joined', the computational theory of connectionism, and the work of people like Francisco Varela, Paul and Patricia Churchland, Stephen Kosslyn and J.J. Gibson.

It has been occasionally suggested that MOOCs have their origin in the work of Ivan Illich. I'm sympathetic with his view, but his work has no influence on the development and design of either connectivism nor the MOOC. If people must credit someone writing specifically in the educational domain, then I would say I was far more influenced by John Holt's How Children Fail. But for me, the origins are from the scientific and philosophical domain, not from educational theorists or social scientists.
 
# # #
No it isn't. Wellman is interested in the formation and definition of community, and social network theory. This work is interesting, but is not the same as connectivism, which is a theory about knowledge and learning.

What you'll find in connectivism, but not in Wellman:

- 'to know' is to be organized in a certain way, as in a set of connections (such that 'to know x' is to recognize x)
- 'to learn' is to to grow, adapt and change that organizations, ie., to grow and shape connections

Contrast with Wellman, who when he talks about knowledge, talks in information-theoretic terms, such as 'knowledge transfer' or 'knowledge mobilization'. He depicts networks as conduits of knowledge, rather than as instances of knowledge.

Finally, though I am indeed the person who coined and described e-learning 2.0 (based on the earlier concept of web 2.0) I am not trying to "sell" it, or MOOCs, or connectivism. People can decide for themselves, based on the evidence, whether any of these concepts has any merit.

# # #

I see MOOCs as "Closed Educational Resources" for the reason that they
are stand alone, unlike say SCORM packaged learning objects.
This may be true for xMOOCs. It is certainly not true for the cMOOCs George Siemens and I created. Indeed, you could attend one of our MOOCs from beginning to end without even visiting the platform, solely through the use of syndication technologies like RSS. Moreover, our MOOCs were not in one place, like an xMOOC, but were distributed across a web of connections linking students resources, OERs from multiple locations, groups and conferences, and more.


 

Role for Educators in MOOCs

My comments to the Networked Learning Conference 'hot seat' on the role of educators in MOOCs. Read the full discussion here. 

# # #

At the risk of self-reference, I'd like to contribute to this discussion by pointing to something I wrote on the role of the educator a few years ago - The Role of the Educator - which was based on a few talks, including We Don't Need No Educator.

The point of these presentations is to say two things: first, that as the learning environment is reshaped by technology, it doesn't make sense to think of it as being provided by a single artisan manually performing a wide (and increasing) range of professional tasks; and second, that the role of the educator(s) is far more varied than one might think, even in the age of the MOOC.

After all, it's not as though the one task of the educator was to present content, and it's not as though the educator disappears once a person begins to be able to manage their own learning and find and view resources for themselves. Rather, it means that the same number of professionals (probably more) can now begin to offer specialized services to a much larger number of people.
 
# # #
 
@hsp writes, "I have no issue with social constructivism per se, but I do have an issue with the relative and subjective knowledge that it can generate. It leaves room for groups of people to come to different conclusions based on the same facts."

We've digressed a lot from the topic of 'the role for educators' but in an interesting and necessary way. And indeed, many of my discussions of MOOCs begin with a discussion of the nature of knowledge.

Allow me to begin, though, by dividing the discussion into a practical thread and a theoretical thead:
  • the practical matter of whether educators ought to see themselves as conveyors of authoritative knowledge, whether or not such knowledge actually exists, and
  • the nature of truth, and whether there are truths that can be known in an absolute sense, as opposed to the relativism described by @Zerove
With respect to the second matter, I think that the net result of some 2600 years of philosophical enquiry into the nature of knowledge and truth is that knowledge and truth are at best relative to a community, a symbol system, a model, a perceiver, or some such non-global entity.

It does not matter that "a further dialectic process towards a global understanding of facts" is hampered by this. [x] Arguably, this is beyond our reach - we could engage in the process forever, but never know whether we are even getting closer to a conclusion.

We could discuss the state of knowledge and truth at length, but that might best be a separate thread.
The practical question is whether, despite this, and for more pragmatic reasons, teachers out to be seen as conveyors of authoritative facts and knowledge.

Several reasons have been advanced in the discussion this far:
  • it may be the case that students are unable to learn unless facts and knowledge are presented in this way, ie., there are pedagogical reasons
  • it may be the case that there are cultural reasons for presenting knowledge and information this way, ie., there are cultural reasons
  • it may be that the stability and prosperity of society as a whole may depend on a common understanding (or, if you read Rawls, agreement) on certain propositions, ie., there are social reasons
Against these arguments I offer my own proposition that social, pedagogical and cultural issues are better addressed by encouraging learner autonomy than by encouraging teachers to act as sources of authoritative facts and knowledge.
  • first, it is arguable that students learn better if they are able to understand and reconstitute the knowledge for themselves, rather than having it distributed to them as already known and authoritative. There have been some recent discussions1 around the Common Core approach to mathematics that are illustrative of this.
  • second, it is arguable that culture, rather than being harmed by a decline of authority, is actually strengthened by it. This is a long digression which I won't explore here, but a significant topic worthy of discussion.
  • third, society as a whole is more stable if the ondividuals in it are viewed as autonomous, pursuing (as Mill says) "their own good in their own way". There has been a lot of recent discussion showing the quality of decisions and stability of social systems are increased when organized as networks of diverse autonomous members.
One final note. We will not doubt touch on the distinction between 'authority' and 'expert'. The two are very different. The former represents a perspective that is imposed on the learner. The latter represents a perspective that is given weight by being recognized as such by the learner.

Contrary to the perspective of cMOOCs offered in the paper cited by @Vivian below, the position of connectivists (or, at least, of me) is that while teachers should not take on an authoritative role, they can and certainly should function as experts.

Their role is not merely to facilitate - that is a conflation of connectivism with constructivism. Their role is, to put in slogan form, to model and demonstrate.

[x] In the same way the assertion that "we do not have wings" hampers our ability to fly. But no much it hampers our ability to fly, it does not follow that we have wings.

# # #

@Fleur_Prinsen I guess I would ask first of all why it is wrong for people to come to different conclusions based on the same facts. This is a very common phenomenon, and it is indeed this diversity of opinion that strengthens our own cognitive processes and the cognitive processes of a society as a whole.

But also, secondly, I challenge the presupposition that there is such a thing as the "same facts". To my knowledge everybody experiences the world in different ways, and while there may be social and linguistic conventions concerning our shared experiences (eg., the sentence "Paris is the capital of France") even these are experiences by different people in different ways.

What we call 'facts' are theory-laden representations of the world and experience, and are literally different depending on whether one believes in spiritual entities or not, on whether one believes in an underlying reality or not, on whether one interprets the perceptions as particles or waves. They vary from perspective and point of view, in significant and importance and relevance, in salience, and with reference to background knowledge, context or understanding.

So I do not think that it is an objection that people come to different conclusions. I think it is a strength.

# # #
 
@jeffreykeefer Most of the research on 'theory-laden data' was actually done on research in the hard sciences. This slide show3 outlines some of the foundational work by people like Popper, Kuhn, Lakatos and Feyerabend to establish this. Even the nature of observations themselves, much less theoretical statements, are interpreted differently depending on one's theoretical perspective.

This is important not because it puts astronomy and astrology on the same level - it doesn't - but because it corrects a persistent misunderstanding about the nature of knowledge and scientific theory.

There is no 'foundation', there are no 'basic truths', no particular 'facts of the matter' carry a special status over and above the rest. Knowledge is not an edifice, construct, or canonical representation of the world. It is far more complex (and far more interesting) than that.

A couple of examples, one from Lakatos, and one from my own writing:
  • the Millikan oil drop experiment1 was one of the foundational moments in chemistry and physics. It involved dropping oil drops between two charge plates, measuring the effect of the plates, and deducing the value of the charge of a single electron. Previous efforts had attempted the same with water, but because the results were so fickle, Millikan employed oil instead. "The Millikan–Ehrenhaft contro-versy can open a new window for students, demonstrating how two well-trained scientists can interpretthe same set of data in two different ways."
  • 'basic' mathematics. It has long been held that children should learn 'basic arithmetic', such as addition and subtraction, multiplication and division. But the selection of these as 'foundational' is completely arbitrary (and are not surprisingly challenegd by Collon Core). Mathematics itself may be thought to be based on a foundational set of axioms, such as are represented by Peano arithmetic1, based in the concepts of set theory, identity, and succession. Or perhaps we could employ Mill's methods1, which derive mathematics from as a set operations on a series of pebbles. In view of modern computation (and to help in their later understanding of modal logic) perhaps the core concepts taught ought to be transitivity, substitutivity, and symmetry.