The Norman Prize, 2013

Tony Bates, on acknowledging being the recipient of the 2013 Downes Prize, suggests that someone needs to bestow a similar honour on Stephen. I concur. So, the inaugural Norman Prize is hereby awarded to Stephen Downes.

I’ve been lucky enough to know Stephen for over a decade – first meeting him as part of the Edusource national learning object repository project back in 2001(?!). Even back then, Stephen had ideas that were years ahead of where everyone else was. We all looked at him like he was crazy, but he persisted. And eventually we realized he was right.

One of my most important, and scary, professional experiences was co-keynoting the BCEdOnline conference back in 2006, along with Stephen and Brian Lamb. It was important (to me) because it was a professional risk – an unkeynote presentation, flipped presentation, Phil Donahue style. The audience was the presentation. We took a huge risk – having no presentation, and having an anonymous chat back channel projected onto the main screen. We had no idea if it would work, and we paced in front of maybe 300? 500? (Felt like 10,000) people. At first, it didn’t work. At all. Scariest moment of my professional career. And then it did. And we had an interesting discussion with the entire conference rather than just blabbing at them. Years ahead.

That’s kind of the history of knowing Stephen. First, you think he’s crazy. Then, he persists, clarifies, elaborates, and keeps true to his vision. And, eventually, the rest of us realize that he was right all along, and that he was (and is) years ahead of us. And also right there playing with us.

What makes Stephen’s work so remarkable and important isn’t that he’s been the source of many foundational ideas, but that he has the energy and persistence to keep pushing the boundaries and to work to bring the rest of us with him.

So, thank you Stephen. Keep on OLDailying!

Noam Chomsky on progressive changes

From a Rawstory article about Chomsky’s interview on NPR:

“If you take a look at the progressive changes that have taken place in the country, say, just in the last 50 years – the civil rights movement, the antiwar movement, opposition to aggression, the women’s movement, the environmental movement and so on – they’re not led by any debate in the media,” Chomsky said. “No, they were led by popular organizations, by activists on the ground.”

Sounds consistent with what we see in education and edtech – progressive changes are made in the trenches. The media (and other parasitic corporate organizations) does not lead the changes – they follow (usually with a poor level of fidelity, and with co-option of ideals through monetization, financialization and other greedmongering urges).

It might be interesting if we recognize the power of in-the-trenches progressive changes led by activists (i.e., us), and use that influence to harness the corporate lapdogs rather than limply ranting against them…

on disabling adblock in my browsers

Clint mentioned that he’d disabled adblock, and gave his reasoning. Stephen somewhat disagrees. Here’s my take:

I have been running adblockers as browser extensions, CSS overrides, and .htaccess filters for years now. It’s not bulletproof, but it sure takes care of most of the ads. The web is a much less tacky place with these tools in place.

But, in my role as a lowly edtech geek 1, I’ve been bitten by this before. Case in point: we’d gotten reports from instructors who were seeing ads in our Desire2Learn environment. WTF? I’ve never seen any ads. That’s not possible. They must be mistaken, or have a popup from somewhere else. Then, I checked on my phone, without Flash and without any adblockers, and saw this:


Not only were there ads in our D2L environment, they were incredibly stale. I checked with our D2L contacts, and the ads were not inserted by D2L. They were put there by Adobe, through their “hey! you need flash!” download “helper”. Working with D2L, they tried to get Adobe to avoid inserting ads on their clients’ D2L learning environments. Not sure if they succeeded, yet, though.2

So, my use of adblockers and flashblockers and privacy enforcement utilities was actually changing my experience (for the better) in such a way as to make it inconsistent with what the people I work with and for were seeing. Now, I could just advocate that everyone must install flashblockers and adblockers etc… but that’s just not realistic. We still have people who insist on using Internet Explorer 6 or 7. They’re not going to install a modern browser, and they’re definitely not going to install any of these other utilities that help make the web suck less.

If I’m going to be deploying, managing, configuring, supporting, integrating and using online tools to support teaching and learning, I need to see what the instructors and students will be seeing, warts and all. if for no other reason than to work with service providers to get ads and their ilk out of our educational environments.

Now, for almost everyone else – please install adblockers. And flashblockers. And privacy enforcement tools. According to the latest neuroscientific research, the web is on average 86% less painful to use with these tools in place [citation needed].

  1. integrator? consultant? advocate? evangelist? what do they call people like me now? []
  2. and before you get all smug that your open source LMS would never (NEVER) have such an issue – if anyone ever (EVER) embeds Flash in any of their course content, this same ad will be helpfully inserted by Adobe. []