ETF Newsletter
Happy new year, and welcome back to the weekly ETF newsletter. This is the first newsletter since last summer, and there have been a few changes to how I am putting this together.

First, I have stopped using TinyLetter as the newsletter service and am now using the WordPress plugin MailPoet to publish. You can read why, but the tl;dr version is that I want to self-host as much of my own content as possible, so moving away from a free web based service and onto a self-hosted WordPress site I control made sense.

Second, I want to blog more about EdTech, OpenEd and online/blended learning that are not simply responses and summaries to what I am taking in. The newsletter is specific to responses and summaries of things I read, view or listen to. But there are times that I want to write things that are not responses and needed a space for that. So, on the blog I will be publishing both original articles, and articles that are summaries & responses. But the weekly newsletter that you are subscribed to will only be the summaries of 3 articles I have have read. If you want the full meal deal, you can subscribe to the RSS feed for the blog, or follow edtechfactotum on Twitter or Facebook.

Ok, here are 3 things I read & found interesting this week.

Net Neutrality and Online Learning

Net Neutrality and its Implications to Online Learning
Lisa C. Yamagata-Lynch, Deepa R. Despande, Jaewoo Do, Erin Garty, Jason M. Mastrogiovanni, and Stephanie J. Teague, IRRODL, September 2017

While I breath a sigh of relief living in Canada and having a government that, in public anyway seems to support net neutrality, I know the web is a global resource controlled primarily by US based corporations. So any change in the rules around net neutrality will likely have global repercussions, including here in Canada. And considering that trade agreements between Canada and the US are being renegotiated, there is a very good chance that, like copyright terms, net neutrality could end up being something on the bargaining table.

But that is a commercial perspective. Realistically, what kind of effect could the removal of net neutrality protections have for higher education and, more specifically, online learning? This is the focus of this IRRODL paper.

The paper is authored by a group of researchers based at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, so does approach the topic from a US perspective. But,as noted above, if net neutrality does find its way into international trade negotiations, we could see similar results here in Canada.

The authors point out that, without net neutrality in place, there are implications for both distance educators and students.
We believe that if net neutrality is not in place, both distance learning educators and learners may find difficulty in engaging with online materials depending on where they live, personal finances, and what features they are willing to bundle into their cable services.

For higher education, the issue of net neutrality is primarily an issue of access. Without net neutrality, there could be additional barriers put in place for students who wish to access information and services on the internet, especially at-risk or economically disadvantaged students. As the authors note;
When net neutrality is not maintained, disadvantaged learners can encounter structural inequalities that affect their access to information and experience digital disempowerment (Hacker, Mason, & Morgan, 2007). Despite efforts by the US government to enhance educational opportunities for P-20 learners through online learning, network discrimination is re-widening the gap for access to these educational opportunities (Gorski, 2009; Whitacre & Mills, 2007). This can exacerbate existing social inequalities (Robinson et al., 2015).

The paper goes deep into the history of net neutrality and the US regulatory environment and explains how we are now in a situation situation that could have direct implications on students beyond, I would argue, simply distance education students. With the rise of blended learning and the use of the internet as a primary research tool by students, net neutrality and the cable packaging of the internet that could result will have implications for all of our learners.

The Question of Blockchain

Blockchain – don’t ask how, ask why
David Kernohan, Wonkhe, Dec 21, 2017

With the mainstream explosion of interest in Bitcoin in the past few months, I have been seeing many more conversations and questions in the higher ed networks I inhabit about blockchain. Interest seems to be moving beyond the innovators and people are trying to wrap their head around how blockchain works. But how is the wrong question higher ed should be asking at this point about blockchain. Instead, David Kernohan argues we should be asking "why"?

To do that, we need to understand the culture and environment blockchain has risen from. What problem was it built to solve? For blockchain, the problem is trust. As David notes:
Trusting people and entities is hard, specifically where buying and selling is involved – much harder than trusting something as cold and logical as code. Using code to manage transactions (code is law, with profound apologies to Larry Lessig) means that we can interact with things we don’t trust.

David's article does focus on why blockchain was created and he provides some good "why" context specific to higher ed.
In higher education, much of the action has been around storing learning credentials – providing a way to independently verify that person X has qualification Y in subject Z from institution A.

But along the way, David actually does a very good job of explaining how it works. Which, despite the headline, is also important to understand. I draw an analogy to the web. Not many people understand how the web works, but use it everyday. This lack of web literacy about how the web works has introduced a slew of new problems that we are now dealing with. Here I am thinking about the web literacy work of Mike Caulfield, or other attempts to understand the convoluted algorithmic ghosts in the machines of Facebook and Google, whom don't even understand what is going on themselves.

Asking why is important and does often get lost in the rush to something new and shiny. But let's keep asking how as well. In my mind, these are companion questions because, even though you or I may never use blockchain in our day to day life, there is a very good chance that it will be used on our behalf in the future. And there is already more than enough unknown technologies running our life right now.

Horizon Report - Redux

Beyond the Horizon Report: towards a new project
Bryan Alexander, January 3, 2018

Like many of you I suspect, I was shocked to see the sudden ceasing of operations of the New Media Consortium last month. The NMC Horizon Report is something that I consider a must-read each year. It helps to synthesize the zeitgest of the EdTech field, thanks to the modified Delphi method used that brought together many of my EdTEch peers in a collaborative, consensus making project.

While the report has had its share of critics over the years, I have also found it useful to help move projects forward. I have often cited it in project proposals, and used to to help support testing out new methods and technologies that may not yet have an established empirical base. It was a good tool.

Which makes me happy to see that there are efforts to keep something similar to the Horizons report live in the wake of the NMC demise. Bryan Alexander, who has had a hand in more than a few of the Horizon Reports in the past, has written a post that begins to ask the wider community if there is value in creating something new. Not necessarily a re-creation of the Horizons Report, but instead using the demise of the NMC as an opportunity to examine the value of the report to our community & imagine what might be. As Bryan states:
What’s next? Will the Horizon project become a historical artifact and recede into the past? Or can we create a new project, one that explores the future of education and technology, using some of Horizon’s strengths while building a fundamentally new effort? Put another way, if we wanted to create a new project from scratch in 2018, what would it look like?

It's an invitation to the community to participate in the creation of something new that could deliver the same kind of value to our field that the Horizon Report has.

Until next week.
Like this? Feel free to forward onto a friend or colleague who may be interested in subscribing. Unless otherwise noted, all content CC-BY Clint Lalonde.
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