Considering the Cloud

So, I know this is late, but hey, the day job sometimes takes over, so now I’m playing catch up. So here goes – impressions and take aways from “Cloud Week” …


I’ll admit, I find the whole Jupyter Notebook/Docker/Docker hub area a bit sterile for me. I provokes the same reaction in me as being shown my car engine by a mechanic and being given an explanation of what’s going on when it’s running – a profound sense of disinterest. Don’t get me wrong, I can see the potential of this and the utility of these technologies if you are either teaching programmers/computer science, or are building applications etc. But, for someone not involved in those areas it feels like the ‘wiring’ has been exposed to the end user and she/he is being expected to understand and value it.

For me, the real power in the application of cloud technologies and services is that they can hide the wiring and create a learning ecosystem for the hardware and software you use to deliver or support your learning and/or the learning of others. In other words you can create complex arrangements where devices are interoperable, sharing information across multiple devices and make the whole experience seamless for the end user. For example, I started writing this post on my iPad over my breakfast coffee this morning (yeah, I know – deeply sad!) and I’m now finishing it on my laptop.

As a Mac OS and iOS user, the system integration Apple has been able to create using Cloud computing as the ‘glue’ to connect it’s various platforms and software offerings, is probably the slickest example I’ve seen of the potential of cloud services in everyday life.

For me it’s this potential to create engaging learning experiences which exploit the power of cloud computing, whilst hiding the complexity of the inner workings of how it’s being done, which is compelling. The majority of the leaners I serve, simply don’t want to see the wiring – and most of the time, neither do I.

The data discussion

My reflections in this post have been stimulated by the conversation between Stephen Downes and George Siemens about artificial intelligence, human cognition, what it means to be human and learning; this week’s video on eLearning 3.0 of Shelley Blake-Plock and Stephen discussing data and analytics, and my observations regarding trends in my working life.

The problem with “data”

I guess that needs some explanation? I’ll own up that I do have a problem with the term “data” and specifically about how its used. Before we get to that, I’d like to pause for a moment and ask a question: When you’re in conversation with someone you’ve just met, how do you define yourself?

  • By Job title/role?
  • By relationship (married/single/in a committed relationship/parent etc.)?
  • By location (ie where you live, e.g. country of origin)?
  • By race or gender?
  • By political or religious affiliations?

All of these bits of information are deeply personal and they are all now being gathered, stored, analysed, traded and sold as “data”.

This brings me to my problem with the term “data”: in my opinion, the indiscriminate use of this term dehumanises the deeply personal information which defines us as individuals and further, makes it more palatable (to some) to commoditise us. This depersonalisation of our information and therefore of us as individuals is amplified by the terminology in use around data – e.g. “data science”. Sounds objective eh? But the information it’s applied to isn’t.

I guess my concern is that this dehumanisation of information supports the erosion of fundamental concepts like privacy and confidentiality etc. In my own working life in human services, I’m observing a growing focus on data and analytics  to measure “success”, without really thinking about who’s “success” we’re talking about, and in planning at the macro level, without the necessary attention on the aspirations of the individuals we’re supposed to be serving.

Putting information back in control of the individual

So, it’ll be no surprise, that I firmly believe that we need to put individuals back in control of information about them and support them to do this. I was interested in this speech by Tim Cook to the European Commission on the importance of privacy as a basic human right:

There’s no doubt that GDPR (the General Data Protection Regulation) is a huge step in the right direction. But, I believe that this regulation also places a duty on public services, and indeed anyone who collects user information, to provide the tools and support necessary for individuals to exercise their right to control their information.

Week 0 of eLearning 3.0, referenced the move from the Web 2.0 (the semantic web and the prevalence of platforms – like FaceBook and Twitter etc.) to Web 3.0 (the cryptographic web – see my previous post for more on this). In that context, we have to keep in mind why people use platforms like FaceBook is such huge numbers: it’s not really that that platform is seen as the best option, it’s more that it’s easy to use and, well, “everyone’s there aren’t they?” (but as David Price points out, we get the platform we deserve).

So, It think it’s vital that in this move to the cryptographic web, we need to design tools to reap the benefits of the potential of  Web 3.0 with the individual in mind, making them easy and engaging to use. Hopefully Tim Berners-Lee’s new project will take the first steps in that direction for others to follow.

xAPI and the ownership of learning

I was also interested in Stephen and Shelley’s discussion about feasibility of individually ‘owned’ Learning Record Stores (LRS) and therefore the potential for individuals to own, manage and share their own information about their learning. As Shelley points points out, there are ‘policy’ issues to be resolved around proprietary information or information sensitive to the business of the individual’s employer and/or institution, but I’d suggest they’re not insurmountable.

In my own work, we have invested 4 years in building and developing an Open Badge platform to provide micro-credentials for  people who use our learning resources (awarded on the basis of the individual providing evidence of the application of their learning to their work practices). One of they key features of this platform, is that the accounts created and the evidence submitted to claim badges, belong to the individual – not us (as the provider of the service) or their employer (past, present or future). The learning information and their attainments belong to them and their own badge account can follow them throughout their career.

I know this isn’t an LRS, or gathering xAPI statements – yet (watch this space … we’re working on it). To create this system, we had to think about the ‘policy issues’ Shelly refers to in the discussion with Stephen and build guidelines (rules) into how people can use our system, and provide a lot of support to make all of this as easy to use as possible. Have a look at the site and you’ll see what I mean.

These are our first steps to place the individual in control of their learning information (or “data”) and hopefully stimulate them to expect that control in other aspects of their online life.


And we’re off …

eLearning 3.0 kicked off this week with an interesting overview from Stephen of the issues and topics which will be covered in the mooc. I must confess, I try to avoid using the term “eLearning” due to the negative connotations this can have for learners. In my experience, the using that term with learners, it conjures up images of PowerPoint-like ‘click next + quiz experiences. So thought my posts on the mooc, I’ll use either online learning or digital learning instead as I feel they are less weighed down by these interpretations and are more inclusive of a range of learning experiences.

AdobeStock_99469984As Stephen observed in his presentation, Some of the concepts and technologies will take some time to wrap your mind round, but ultimately I was left thinking that this ‘challenge’ would be well worth the effort as I do agree with him about the fundamental shift in how our online life could change as a result of the mass adopting of the technologies he described.

I was particularly intrigued by this description of the essence of this shift being the move from the semantic web (which is our current Web 2.0) model) to the cryptographic web (Web 3.0) and the use of layers of encrypted ‘data’ (ie information/content etc) – it’s worth viewing his presentation and focusing on the section where he describes the use of Merkle Graphs and Directed Acyclic Graphs (DAGs) used to create collections of related data items) to create distributed, encrypted, cloud based systems (like GitHub. This is the essence of what is envisaged as the foundation of web 3.0 and eLearning 3.0.

Fundamentally, it’s about moving away from platforms where user data is the commodity to a situation where the user is the sole owner of their data and controls access to that data and the sharing of that data ( eg. see Tim Berners-Lee’s SOLID project as an example of this).

In terms of online learning or digital learning, I was interested in the potential of  content addressable networking and the concept of Content Addressable Resources for Education (CARE), which Stephen described as “the new OER” as the potential foundations of a new delivery/access system for digital learning in the web 3.0 world.

It will be interesting to explore each of the topics for the mooc in the coming weeks and I’m particularly interested in how the digital learning world responds to all of this. Will we be able to develop the applications which make the very complex concepts and technologies accessible to leaners and the rest of the non-techie population?

And, how will the educational and business world respond when they can no longer benefit from trading the data they accumulate from us?

Hands up who really understands blockchain …

Getting ready for eLearning 3.0

When I saw that Stephen Downes was about to launch a new Mooc, “eLearning 3.0“, I thought it was time to dust off this blog which I set up years ago, but never quite got the time to use in earnest. So, here goes …

eL30 will give me a focus and a purpose for use this blog and I intend to share all of my work on the Mooc via this page.