Blogue do utilizador: Vitor Teodoro

Página: () 1 2 3 4 ()
[Anyone in the world]

"R. En física o química las cosas que investigas no tienen su propia mente, no tienen valores éticos, no tienen posiciones políticas. La ilusión de considerar la economía como una ciencia ha tenido dos consecuencias. Una es que, a nivel intelectual, la materia se ha convertido en muy dogmática. Porque si crees que es un ciencia, no puedes aceptar que haya dos o tres explicaciones de un misma cosa. Esto ha animado a los economistas neoclásicos a excluir otras escuelas. Pero no hay una sola escuela económica, hay al menos nueve. Por otro lado, está la exclusión de los asuntos económicos del debate democrático.

P. Usted explica que ni siquiera el libre mercado existe como tal, que es una construcción política.

R. Hace 200 años podías comprar personas, podías comprar opio, podías emplear a niños. Ahora hemos decidido sacar eso del mercado. Pero no hay una teoría económica que diga que no deba haber trabajo infantil. Es una decisión ética, política. ¿Cómo va a ser, entonces, una ciencia?"

[Anyone in the world]


Should search algorithms be moral? A conversation with Google’s in-house philosopher

(Fanqiao Wang)
August 05, 2015

When you have a question for the universe, where do you turn first? Google, of course.

We all expect search engines to provide the best, smartest information out there. Everyone knows someone who trusts search results above their doctor’s expertise. We even feel smarter when we’re “in search mode,” according to a 2015 Yale University study (whether we find what we were looking for or not).

But one of the first search results when you Google “What happened to the dinosaurs?” is a website called Answers in Genesis. It explains that “the Bible gives us a framework for explaining dinosaurs in terms of thousands of years of history, including the mystery of when they lived and what happened to them.” Scroll down, and you’ll find a collection of acerbic articles in response to the Biblical theory and another collection of articles responding to those responses. Only below, and nearly forgotten, finally appear scientific explanations of what really happened to the dinosaurs (a ten-kilometer wide asteroid slamming into the Gulf of Mexico).

Luciano Floridi, known as “the Google Philosopher,” thinks that’s fine.

Floridi is a philosophy professor at the University of Oxford, and the sole ethicist serving on the advisory board Google formed to help devise strategy for the European Commission’s new “Right to be Forgotten” ruling. When I spoke to him, Floridi was quick to call the creationist’s view on dinosaurs “totally insane.” But in spite of his own convictions, he says he wouldn’t advocate Google remove its faith-based answer.

“You can imagine how much I like truth as a philosopher,” said Floridi, “but Google’s a business and we have to be careful about who is managing truths. If you put too much power in the hands of a private company, that’s very dangerous. Google should not be in charge of what is true today or what is true tomorrow.”

Search is indifferent to the truth

Google has never claimed to deliver the best information. Google’s search algorithm is designed for efficiency: To provide the results users are most likely looking for and to move them on to their next site as quickly as possible. In order to do that, they pool and analyze our every digital fidget to best  Google has never claimed to deliver the best information. provide the content we’ll welcome and click on.

From the algorithm’s perspective, the Answers in Genesis page is the optimal result for our particular search. First of all, its headline, “What Really Happened to the Dinosaurs?” differs by only one word from the search terms. Not to mention, a plurality of Americans believe in creationism, as Gallup polls have found consistently since 1982, so it’s bound to be a popular option.

By contrast, if you search “Where did the dinosaurs go?” the algorithm will recommend   Its opening lines:

Sixty-five million years ago
On the Yucatan peninsula in the Gulf of Mexico
There crashed a mighty asteroid of ten miles wide, or so
Sixty-five million years ago

In other words, Google’s search engine—and that of Bing, DuckDuckGo, and most of the other tools out there—is indifferent to truth.

Indifference to the truth happens to be part of the established philosophical definition of bullshit. “Bullshit is grounded neither in a belief that it is true nor, as a lie must be, in a belief that it is not true,” wrote Princeton philosophy professor Harry Frankfurt in his seminal 1986 paper on communication theory, “On Bullshit.” “It is just this lack of connection to a concern with truth—this indifference to how things really are—that I regard as of the essence of bullshit.”

By this measure, even in the best of circumstances and overlooking SEO-manipulation and competitor discrimination, Google’s search engine is a bullshit engine. Search itself is a bullshit endeavor.

Yet we users treat digital search as though it were designed to provide the truth. In Feb. 2012, the Pew Internet and American Life survey 

found that “73% of search engine users say that most or all the information they find as they use search engines is accurate and trustworthy.

A Reuters report earlier this year indicated that “search” is an increasingly popular “starting point” for finding news online in the twelve countries surveyed, with particularly pervasive usage in countries like Italy, Japan, Germany, and Spain. And according to a 2007 study published in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, people using search engines put more trust in results that appear higher on the page, for no good reason.

The “dozen doughnuts” problem

Projects by Google and other search providers have tried to close this gap between user trust and search return trustworthiness.

In Mar. 2015, Google researchers proposed a new search model based on a knowledge-based trust (KBT) index, in which its search engine could extract the facts on a chosen website and compare them to a “knowledge vault” in order to “reliably compute the true trustworthiness levels of the sources.”

Another initiative headed by Google News chief Richard Gingras and ethicist Sally Lehrman is called the Trust Project. Launched in Oct. 2014, the Trust Project aims to identify the qualities of a news story that correlate with high standards of journalism, to make it easy for automatic aggregators like Google News to highlight the best reporting.

But how or if these measures find widespread adoption remains to be seen. What’s evident, as The New York Times reported in July, is that machine-learning algorithms trained exclusively on human behavior will reflect human biases in its answers. In other words, we are part of the problem.

While search users may believe we prefer the best and most truthful information, our clicks tell a different story. Stephen Levy reporting from Facebook’s content lab in Knoxville, Tennessee, dubs this the “dozen doughnuts problem:”

“Many people conscious of their weight know it’s not a good idea to eat a doughnut every day,” Levy writes. “But once that delicacy is in front of you … Oh, what the hell!”

In the case of search, we prefer media doughnuts—links that promise such swift satisfaction that clicking is irresistible. This in comparison to a ruminative exposition that puts accuracy and attention to detail  We have a deep-rooted sense of virtuous consumption. above all else, and takes at least an hour to digest—that would be media kale.

A few media companies generate lots of cash pushing media doughnuts on Facebook. Meanwhile the forms of reporting that earn the bulk of industry awards, like investigative journalism, are struggling to keep themselves alive and thriving. “The impact of digital media and dramatic shifts in audience and advertising revenue have undermined the financial model that subsidized so much investigative reporting during the economic golden age of newspapers, the last third of the 20th century,” wrote Leonard Downie Jr. for the Washington Post on the 40th anniversary of the Watergate scandal, in 2012.

Although a legion of nonprofit news organizations with hard-hitting missions has emerged over the last decade, they too are struggling to break even and in recent years have been “losing traffic share to commercial news organizations,” according to Nikki Usher and Matthew Hindman’s analysis of the Knight Foundation’s 2015 report on the subject. “Nonprofit news is never going to fill the news gap in the states and communities that need it most,” they concluded.

Cultural critics have contended for centuries that society can only improve when fields like investigative journalism flourish, and complex issues can gain exposure and drive informed debate. We often admire our friends who actually read the difficult, sourced stuff (and have all been guilty of pretending to read it ourselves once in a while). This deep-rooted sense of virtuous consumption demands that we consume more media kale than we actually do.

Sticking to a healthy information diet

So should the Facebooks and Googles of the world—our few, major content distributors—put users on a healthy diet, by filtering search results to reflect the truest truths and News Feeds to promote nuanced, substantial discourse?

“The day Facebook does that, we start living in a utopia,” Floridi opined to me.

With regards to search, Floridi concedes that undisputed falsehoods—that 2 +2 = 5, for example—should be monitored. “Controlling the truth value of what is being circulated, information quality,” he says. “Absolutely, it should be something that gets checked.”

But that doesn’t mean we should entrust Google to fact-check itself. “Now we have the impression that Google provides us with true information, but the day we’re told ‘your truth has been deleted by a Google official,'” he explains, “I’m going to be really scared. That is the ultimate Big Brother.”

One way to fix search without inviting a new Big Brother is to consider the knowledge it delivers as a basic, common necessity, and as such, one that requires a democratically-empowered quality control. Just as governments put books in schools to make us smarter, add fluoride to the water to make us healthier, subsidize green tech to save the environment, and police the streets to prevent us  Floridi suggests a universal search engine that presents competing companies’ results side by side. from harming ourselves, the lords of search could keep us honest by responding to user demand for truth on certain issues.

Of course, Google and Facebook (and Apple with its upcoming Apple News app, among others—this article could have focused on countless tech companies) already study consumer preferences and privately reshape themselves based on their research. But we know already that what users unconsciously tend to select (doughnut), and what we know we should have (kale), are two different things.

Democratic governments, on the other hand, ask citizens to name their preferences and publicly reshape themselves based on elections. In theorytransparent checks and balances ensure universal accountability. If private tech companies made similar decisions with the same accountability—that is to say, if they made decisions on search mechanisms out in the open, and honestly engaged with users—we might actually end up with the truth we say we want.

Some day, perhaps, in the perfect marriage of good and useful, there could even be a competitive process for technocrats—Floridi suggests a universal search engine that presents competing companies’ results side by side. “For once you’d get different answers to your question … maybe not all of them would confirm that dinosaurs disappeared because of some kind of creationist, insane sort of theory.”

But the first step, of course, is to have an active, thoughtful digital demos. “If we could have better users, more intelligent human beings who would require a better service, those human beings would move the market and information providers like Facebook would have to react,” he said.

In other words, before inventing a moral search algorithm, we need moral users.

[Anyone in the world]

Centenas de euros em manuais são um "pesadelo" anual para as famílias

É o terceiro ano consecutivo em que há manuais novos obrigatórios por causa da entrada em vigor das metas curriculares.

Um pesadelo. É assim que Joana Quintela descreve esta fase em que, todos os anos, se vê confrontada com os preços dos manuais para os seus sete filhos em idade escolar e em que deita mão a todas as alternativas para aliviar uma factura que facilmente ascende a muitas centenas de euros.

“Guardamos todos os manuais que podemos para passarem de filho para filho, recorremos aos bancos de troca, à família, aos amigos, aos amigos dos amigos, para ver quem tem livros que possam servir, mas muitas vezes não tem sido possível reutilizá-los por causa das mudanças aprovadas pelo Ministério da Educação nos últimos anos”, conta.

É um dilema partilhado por grande parte das famílias com filhos em idade escolar, numa altura em que, para aproveitar o máximo dos descontos propostos pelas editoras, estão a finalizar as encomendas dos manuais em vigor para o ano lectivo de 2015/2016.

Na véspera de falar com o PÚBLICO, Joana Quintela recorreu, precisamente, a um dos maiores bancos de trocas de livros a funcionar em Lisboa, o Dê p’ra troca, da Junta de Freguesia de Belém. Sem grande êxito: “Os manuais para deitar fora, porque já não estão em vigor, são muito mais do que os que estão nas prateleiras para serem reutilizados”.    

A partir do 2.º ciclo de escolaridade, o preço dos manuais escolares por aluno ronda em média os 200 euros. No ano passado, quando os filhos de Joana em idade escolar eram seis, a factura em manuais rondou os 700 euros e só não foi bem superior porque conseguiu vários livros usados que ainda podiam ser utilizados. “Todos os anos é esta extorsão”, desabafa.

Dança de manuais
Desde 2006, os manuais passaram a ter um período de vigência de seis anos que, contudo, pode ser reduzido por decisão do Ministério da Educação na sequência da revisão dos programas ou metas curriculares que tenha aprovado. O próximo ano lectivo será, por isso, o terceiro consecutivo com mudanças obrigatória de manuais: em 2015/2016 há novos livros para a maioria das disciplinas do 9.º e 12.º ano; no 10.º também tiveram de ser adoptados novos livros para as disciplinas de Física e Química A, Matemática A, Matemática B e Matemática Aplicada às Ciências Sociais e Português.

 “Já recolhemos milhares de manuais, mas a maior parte não é reutilizável por não serem os adoptados para este ano”, confirma Graça Margarido, da associação de pais do agrupamento de escolas Filipa de Lencastre, em Lisboa, responsável pelo banco de troca de livros que está ali a funcionar pelo quarto ano consecutivo.  

 “O que está em causa, em Portugal, é o incumprimento da Constituição e de várias leis da República”, alerta Henrique Cunha, do movimento Reutilizar, que está a preparar uma queixa para apresentar na Provedoria da Justiça, com vista a pôr termo à “extorsão” anual que é feita às famílias, aqui denunciada por Joana Quintela.

Henrique Cunha lembra que a Constituição apresenta como incumbências do Estado as de “assegurar o ensino básico universal, obrigatório e gratuito” e “estabelecer progressivamente a gratuitidade de todos os graus de ensino”. “Ora, se um aluno é obrigado a ter livros escolares e eles não são grátis, então o ensino não é gratuito!”, contrapõe, precisando que, na opinião do seu movimento, a inversão desta situação “não significa que deva ser o Estado a comprar livros novos todos os anos, para todos os alunos”.  

“A criação de um sistema de partilha de livros em cada escola e acessível a todos os alunos - previsto na lei desde 2006 - acabaria com este encargo para as famílias sem custos adicionais para o Estado”, defende, lembrando que já por três vezes, em 1989, 2006 e 2011, o Conselho Nacional da Educação, um órgão consultivo do Governo e da Assembleia da República, se pronunciou também no mesmo sentido, sem quaisquer efeitos práticos porque “todos os seus pareceres foram ignorados”.

“Ou seja, há 25 anos que os livros escolares mais não são do que um imposto encapotado sobre as famílias para financiar a indústria livreira perante a passividade cúmplice de todos os parceiros da educação”, denuncia o líder do Reutilizar.

É para tentar acabar com este estado das coisas que o movimento está a apelar aos pais para que apresentem testemunho das situações com que têm sido confrontados, para serem incluídos na queixa que será entregue na Provedoria da Justiça no dia 15 de Setembro. Para o efeito, foi criado, no início de Julho, um evento no Facebook (, em que foram apresentadas, até ao momento, “70 denúncias muito relevantes”, a esmagadora maioria das quais apresentadas por mulheres, informa Henrique Cunha.

Sendo a escolaridade obrigatória até aos 18 anos, “o que é estritamente necessário a um bom trabalho de aprendizagem dos alunos deve ser gratuito”, defende, a propósito, e o presidente da Confederação Nacional das Associações de Pais (Confap), Jorge Ascensão, frisando que há ainda mais soluções que podem ser adoptadas de modo a reduzir os encargos das famílias, nomeadamente por via de alterações do sistema fiscal para garantir que as deduções das despesas com a educação sejam mais benéficas para as famílias. “Todos os intervenientes no sector da educação, onde se incluem as editoras, devem ser chamados a debater a situação e a encontrar soluções que garantam, de facto, a gratuitidade do ensino e a equidade entre os alunos”, acrescenta.

Bolsas para carenciados
A partir do ano lectivo 2013/2014, por decisão do Governo, foram também criadas nas escolas bolsas de manuais escolares destinadas aos alunos com Acção Social Escolar, cujas famílias recebiam até então comparticipações anuais do Estado para a aquisição dos manuais escolares. Só têm direito à Acção Social Escolar os agregados familiares com rendimentos mensais iguais ou inferiores ao salário mínimo nacional.

A comparticipação na compra de manuais passou só a ser garantida no caso de não existirem livros disponíveis naquelas bolsas, cuja constituição é da responsabilidade das escolas e que obedecem a princípios diferentes daqueles que norteiam os bancos de trocas de manuais criados por associações de pais, juntas de freguesia e várias outras organizações.

A criação destas bolsas, só para agregados carenciados, foi criticada pela Confap: é uma medida que irá “aprofundar as diferenças entre alunos”, alertou. Também Henrique Cunha considera que, com esta medida, “o sr. ministro da Educação fez uma infeliz associação da reutilização com a pobreza, reforçando a discriminação daqueles que mais deveria proteger”.

No banco de troca de manuais do agrupamento de escolas Filipa de Lencastre, onde os alunos com Acção Social Escolar não representam mais de 8% do total, Graça Margarido tem constatado que não existem barreiras sociais na procura por livros usados. “Toda a gente vem ao banco de livros e muitos pais fazem-no também com intuitos educativos, para reforçar junto dos filhos a importância de reutilizar e reciclar os materiais usados. Não se trata só de procurar poupar dinheiro, mas sim de uma mudança de mentalidades e esse é um dos traços mais interessantes de projectos como este”, diz.

Joana Quintela fala também de educação ambiental, mas para sublinhar o paradoxo de existir tanto “desperdício” de livros por via da adopção de novos manuais: “Nas escolas estão sempre a falar aos alunos da necessidade de reciclar para depois existirem milhares de livros que não podem ser reutilizados. Não se pode dizer que isto seja educativo para as crianças”.

Já Graça Margarido frisa que o resultado dos bancos de trocas “vai sempre para alguma coisa boa”. Exemplos: muitos dos manuais são reencaminhados para países de língua portuguesa e os que não servem para mais nada acabam por ser encaminhados para os bancos alimentares no âmbito da campanha “Papel por Alimentos”, em que por cada tonelada de papel recolhido é doado o equivalente a 100 euros em produtos alimentares básicos.

[Anyone in the world]


Portugal tem futuro sem Engenharia?

É urgente perceber as razões que “excluem” tantos jovens da aprendizagem, sobretudo, da Matemática.

Numa altura em que os jovens são solicitados a definir as suas escolhas, designadamente no acesso ao ensino superior, ensino que em Portugal tem uma procura inferior ao desejável, há que disponibilizar informação credível que lhes permita, na altura da decisão, que ela se processe de forma consciente e esclarecida, equilibrando a vocação de cada jovem com a perspetiva de futuro e de empregabilidade que a sua escolha lhe proporcionará.

As informações recentemente publicadas por um jornal diário de circulação nacional, alegadamente desenvolvidas com base em elementos disponibilizados pela Direção-Geral de Estatísticas da Educação e Ciência, é um exemplo desta situação, por serem apresentados valores absolutos e não relativos, não permitindo aferir a realidade efetiva de cada par Curso/Instituição de Ensino.

Este instrumento, esta informação, que tem tanto de imprescindível quanto de necessidade de rigor e de credibilidade, não existe verdadeiramente. A constituição de dados oficiais, desenvolvidos mediante a utilização de critérios sérios e transparentes, não tem pertencido às prioridades do país. Os jovens e as suas famílias, na hora de escolher algo que os condicionará para o resto das suas vidas, ficam à mercê das informações divulgadas e/ou publicitadas pelos órgãos de comunicação social, pelo seu gosto pessoal, por tendências ditadas pela moda e por meia dúzia de dados públicos deficientemente tratados.

Outras vezes essa escolha fica condicionada pela desistência, em fases anteriores do ensino, da aprendizagem de disciplinas cruciais para prosseguir determinadas áreas do conhecimento. É o caso da Matemática, mas também da Física e da Química, disciplinas fundamentais na estruturação do pensamento lógico, que, no entanto, carregam a tradição e o estigma da dificuldade e do trabalho árduo. Áreas do conhecimento que são determinantes para a entrada em cursos de engenharia.

Não se entende as razões para este estigma, bem evidenciado nas pautas das escolas de todo o país e nos resultados dos exames nacionais em Matemática em 2014, com notas negativas numa percentagem de 65% do total das provas realizadas. Felizmente que os resultados foram, este ano, bastante mais favoráveis. É já, estamos convictos, um sinal positivo, mas ainda insuficientemente expressivo para garantir que as áreas das ciências, da Engenharia, da Tecnologia, indispensáveis ao crescimento e desenvolvimento das sociedades, terão a adesão que a comunidade necessita. Sublinho, ainda insuficientemente expressivo e, de algum modo, de difícil compreensão: não se entende como, no prazo de um ano, se possa passar de uma situação de “quase desastre” para uma situação de “quase otimismo”. Pergunto se os alunos que cumpriram as provas nacionais em 2015 reunirão capacidades muitíssimo superiores que os seu colegas do ano anterior?

É, por tudo isto, urgente perceber como está organizado este processo e as razões que “excluem” tantos jovens da aprendizagem, sobretudo, da Matemática: porque não têm realmente capacidades? Porque os programas no preparatório e secundário estão mal elaborados? Porque os professores estão insuficientemente preparados? Não estimulam os alunos? Não ensinam com paixão uma área que poderá ser determinante para o percurso do seu educando? Porque a sua aprendizagem exige trabalho contínuo?

É imperioso perceber as razões e agir, combatê-las, sob pena de virmos a ter, daqui a anos, um país desprovido de cientistas, de gente ligada às tecnologias, de engenheiros…

Conscientes de que o país tem défice de engenheiros e da consequente necessidade de promover, designadamente em fases precoces do percurso escolar, nomeadamente o ensino básico, o gosto e o interesse pelas formações em engenharia e tecnologia e pela ciência em geral, a Ordem dos Engenheiros tem desenvolvido diversas iniciativas, sendo a mais recente baseada numa campanha com visitas às escolas sob o lema: “E um mundo sem engenharia? Já pensaste como seria?”

Ressalto, igualmente, as recentes iniciativas promovidas pela COTEC e por empresas de referência internacional que têm o mesmo objetivo: lutar por cobrir o défice nas áreas de engenharia e do conhecimento científico.

Falta agora que os decisores políticos tomem verdadeiramente consciência deste problema e façam o seu papel: atuem. Porque um país sem engenharia é, sem sombra de dúvida, um país com um futuro muito débil!

Bastonário da Ordem dos Engenheiros

[Anyone in the world]

""(...) depriving the advertising industry of an estimated $3bn a year in revenue."

"Third, we’re seeing the spontaneous rise of collaborative production: goods, services and organisations are appearing that no longer respond to the dictates of the market and the managerial hierarchy. The biggest information product in the world – Wikipedia – is made by volunteers for free, abolishing the encyclopedia business and depriving the advertising industry of an estimated $3bn a year in revenue."

[Anyone in the world]

Aluno de 20 valores explica segredo do sucesso

 | Ontem
Tudo certo. Nem uma milésima ao lado ou uma vírgula fora do lugar. Gonçalo obteve 200 pontos nos exames nacionais de Matemática A e de Físico-Química A e acabou o secundário com uma média final de 20 valores. Melhor era impossível.
Gonçalo Madureira, 18 anos
1 / 2

"Foi para isto que trabalhei. É a recompensa de três anos de estudo no secundário, mas o trabalho já vem de antes porque sempre procurei ter bons alicerces para agora assimilar conhecimentos mais facilmente", explica Gonçalo Madureira, que tem apenas 18 anos, mas que há muito sabe o que quer.

Vive na aldeia do Pinhão e, desde o 10º ano, todos os dias percorria cerca de 20 quilómetros até à Escola Miguel Torga, em Sabrosa. "Sempre tive a noção de que era preciso trabalhar para conseguir aquilo que nos realiza. O estudo compensa", garante.

Estar atento nas aulas, estudar bastante e ter em conta a tipologia das questões que saem nos exames são o segredo de Gonçalo para obter boas notas. Medicina, na Universidade do Porto, é o curso há muito escolhido. "É aquele que satisfaz as minhas necessidades, é exigente e tem muitas opções", revela.

A investigação é a área que lhe enche as medidas até porque quer "continuar a estudar e contribuir para a produção cientifica do País". Aos cinco anos tinha um microscópio como brinquedo preferido. "Sempre gostou muito de fazer experiências e de investigação", lembra a mãe, Maria Jorge, que só teme que o futuro leve o filho para fora de Portugal.

Mas nem só de livros e estudo vive Gonçalo. "Não podemos deixar para segundo lugar as atividades fora do plano académico. É preciso encontrar um equilíbrio", acredita. É um leitor ávido e apreciador incondicional de séries, sobretudo ligadas a médicos. Gonçalo não se vê como um aluno "nerd", um "totó", e valoriza muito as relações com os amigos e a família.

Mesmo em época de exames, acompanhava a mãe nas caminhadas ao fim do dia. "Vou sentir muita falta dele quando for para a universidade porque é muito companheiro", lamenta Maria Jorge, que não se mostra surpreendida com estes resultados.

"É um orgulho muito grande mas já esperava porque ele sempre teve boas notas", revelou. Por ser professora e dar aulas longe de casa, passava a maior parte do dia fora. No início, não consegui acompanhá-lo como queria, mas ele sempre foi muito independente", conta.

O pai, Paulo Madureira, garante que Gonçalo é um jovem como os outros, com uma exceção: "quando queremos castigá-lo, não o deixamos estudar". Gonçalo garante que qualquer um pode ter boas notas. "Com esforço, tudo se consegue", remata.

[Anyone in the world]

"A questão que se colocou a seguir foi: qual é a causa do movimento dos planetas em torno do Sol? No tempo de Kepler algumas pessoas responderam a esta pergunta dizendo que, escondido atrás de cada planeta, havia um anjo, que, ao bater as asas, o empurrava ao longo da órbita. Como vamos ver, esta resposta não está muito longe da verdade. A única diferença reside no facto de os anjos estarem numa posição diferente e de as asas empur­rarem o planeta para dentro."

Richard Feynman, O Que É Uma Lei Física

[Anyone in the world]

“Gostaria de vos falar de professores de Ciências que me tivessem estimulado na escola primária ou no liceu. Mas, quando recordo esses tempos, vejo que não existiu nenhum. Havia a memorização maquinal da tabela periódica dos elementos, alavancas e planos inclinados, a fotossíntese das plantas verdes e a diferença entre a antracite e a hulha. Mas não havia um sentimento de exultação e de deslumbramento, o menor vestígio de perspectiva evolucionista e nada sobre ideias erradas em que toda a gente em tempos acreditara. Nas aulas laboratoriais do liceu havia uma resposta que devíamos dar e, se não o conseguíamos, tínhamos nota negativa. Não havia estímulo para nos debruçarmos sobre os nossos interesses, palpites ou erros conceptuais. No final dos manuais havia material que se podia considerar interessante, mas o ano acabava sempre antes de lá chegarmos. Encontravam-se livros maravilhosos sobre astronomia nas bibliotecas, por exemplo, mas não na sala de aula. As contas de dividir eram ensinadas como um conjunto de regras de um livro de cozinha, sem qualquer explicação sobre o modo como esta sequência particular de pequenas divisões, multiplicações e subtracções nos dava a resposta certa. No liceu, a extracção de raízes quadradas era-nos apresentada com veneração, como se fosse um método sagrado. Tudo o que tínhamos a fazer era recordar o que nos tinham mandado fazer. Dá a resposta certa e não te rales se não percebes o que estás a fazer. No 2.° ano tive um professor de Álgebra muito competente com quem aprendi muita matemática; mas também era um bruto que se comprazia em deixar as raparigas lavadas em lágrimas. O meu interesse pelas ciências manteve-se durante todos esses anos por ler livros e revistas científicos e de ficção científica.” 

Carl Sagan, Um Mundo Infestado de Demónios.

[Anyone in the world]

Why did I want to write an open textbook?

1. The need for change in teaching and learning

My main reason is that there is a major paradigm shift happening in education, driven partly by a changing economy and the need for a highly skilled and knowledgeable work-force, greater diversity of students as access has increased, and of course new technologies that not only have great capacity to change the way we teach, but which are also in common use by our students.

Although there are lots of articles and discussion about online, blended, hybrid, open learning and MOOCs, and too many books that exhort faculty and instructors to change, I felt (this muzzy, subjective word expresses well the intuitive rather than empirical basis for my view) that there wasn’t any other book ‘out there’ that really provided evidence-based, strong guidelines for faculty and instructors about how to teach in this volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous environment. At least writing the book and throwing it out there would test that idea.

If I was going to do that, though, I needed to practice what I preach, so it was important to design the book to embed some of the key principles and guidelines that I was extolling. An open textbook, easily accessible, technological, interactive, collaborative and dynamic, seemed a good way of doing this.

2. The BCcampus Open Textbook Project

A second reason is that right at my back door was this exciting, government-supported project for open textbooks. This provided me with the technology support and encouragement that I needed, as I had never written an open textbook before.

3. Giving back

This is the most difficult motivation for me to write about, so let me be frank. I’ve had a wonderful 40 year career in open and distance learning, earned good money by any standards, and I really believe in what I do as an open and distance educator. I don’t need the money from book royalties, I’ve already got 12 commercially published books behind me, and I’m at the end of my career, so I can afford the risk of it not working. So now is a good time to give something back.

Most important of all, there’s vanity (or is it narcissism?). Writing this book is a way to encapsulate all that I’ve learned in my career, and leave it, if I’m successful, in an easily accessible form for anyone who wants to make use of this experience – a sort of legacy project.

Perhaps most importantly, I believe knowledge – or at least academic knowledge – should be free and open to all. Why not the knowledge that I’ve acquired, for what it’s worth?

4. Testing the concept of open publishing

A big challenge is to get (other) authors to write an open textbook. There is no direct financial reward, and perhaps even more importantly, there is a much higher level of risk than going through commercial publishers. Who will read it? Will it be accepted in the academic community? Will it have as much influence? And a very practical question: how to do this? What do you need to know? Who can help you? How do you preserve the integrity of the book if people can just copy or alter what you’ve written? What will it cost?

I’m a researcher and evaluator by desire and training, so writing this book seemed to me to be a good way to examine and maybe stretch not only the technology of open textbooks, but the larger concepts and questions about open publishing. Hence this blog post, which is an interim report on the experiment. These motivations provide a framework for assessing the experience.

What did I learn?

I’ll start with the easiest question

1. The technology worked – mainly

I used the BCcampus version of Pressbooks, which is an open source, ‘simple book’ production software, built around WordPress. Thus anyone who has experience in blogging, particularly if they have used WordPress before, will find it very easy to use Pressbooks. I was literally writing within 10 minutes of opening the editing page.

BCcampus added a few extra features, such as edit boxes for learning outcomes, activities, and key takeaways from each chapter, that I was easily able to embed into the main text. BCcampus gave me a url for the editing and publishing and hosted the book on their server. There is a function, controlled by the author, that enables each part of the book to be private, or published on the open web site.

Figure 1: The Pressbooks editing page

Figure 1: The Pressbooks editing page

I also wanted my book to be multi-media so it could easily demonstrate the value and appropriateness of different media for teaching. Importing graphics and podcasts is simple in Pressbooks, through the Add Media function. For video (as with most of the graphics) I use entirely copyright cleared material (i.e. OERs). I just provided a url to the site hosting the videos, with a graphic from the video where appropriate as the hot link. I created my own podcasts, using Apple’s Garage Band and a few graphics myself using Powerpoint. However, next time I would use a graphics designer from the beginning (see an earlier post on this) and get original graphics designed properly.

Second, it is easy to edit and re-structure the book, which I needed to do when I finished the first draft. I had to merge materials from different sections, split lengthy chapters into two or three separate chapters, move some parts earlier or later in the book, and make sure I had a consistent set of references throughput the book. This was all very easy to do, using the ‘Text/organise’ function, which allows you to drag and drop each section of the book.

Figure 2: Text/organise page

Figure 2: Text/organise page

The most important feature of all though, which I did not get to appreciate until I had finished the book, is that as well as the html version that can be read online, Pressbooks exports the html version into a variety of formats for downloading, including pdf, epub, mobi, xhtml, and wxr, so it can be read on tablets and mobile phones as well as laptops. Creating these different versions is also extremely easy for an author to do, using the ‘export’ function in the text/organize page.

However, there were of course some unexpected technical problems that I ran into. Pressbooks confusingly uses the terms ‘parts’ and ‘chapters’ in a way that may suit novel writing, for which it was originally developed, but is not intuitive for a text book. The ‘parts’ function is really a header (like ‘Part One’ in a novel). I found that I could use the ‘Part’ function as a chapter heading and an advanced organizer, with learning outcomes, a brief list of chapter contents, and key takeaways/summary points, and the ‘Chapter’ function as ‘Sections’ of the chapter. This was critical, as research indicates most people spend a maximum of one hour on any particular chunk of academic reading, so I wanted to ensure that each section of a chapter was relatively short and could be covered within one hour. However, I was a third of the way through the book before I realised that I needed to reverse ‘chapter’ and ‘part’, so that ‘part’ was the header, and each ‘chapter’ was in fact a section of the chapter. (I should have followed my own advice, and read the Pressbook instructions before starting, but it is still not intuitive.)

The other, more serious, problem was exporting graphics into the different versions (pdf, epub, etc.), which I have discussed elsewhere. This is a problem on which I am still working.

Lastly I ran into a problem that most bloggers face at some time or another, persistent hacking attacks on the site, which required a lot of help from BCcampus technical support to manage. However, the public version of the book was never compromised.

Overall, though, the technology worked wonderfully well and should not stop any technology neophyte from writing an open textbook, although as always, good technical support is a necessary back-up when problems do occur.

2. Textbook or course?

One conceptual issue I kept running into was whether I was writing a textbook or a course. It’s important to realise that Pressbooks is NOT a learning management system, and does not come with all the functions of an LMS. For instance, although there is a comment function available at the end of each section of a chapter (as in blogs), this is not an adequate tool for discussion, compared with a threaded discussion forum in an LMS.

I wanted to incorporate a threaded discussion tool into the book, but there were two problems, one minor, one major. The minor problem was my inability to find a suitable open source, secure, password protected online discussion forum that I could integrate into Pressbooks. It’s a minor problem, because there are probably such tools available, and if not, it wouldn’t be difficult to build one.

However, the major problem is conceptual. An open textbook, if successful, will be used in many ways, by many people. Thus you need a way of separating out discussion between different groups, so that Instructor A using the book has his or her own group of students and discussions separate from Instructor B using the book. The same issue arises with embedding tests or even activities.

I therefore had to step back then and design the book as an open resource, parts of which could be incorporated or linked to easily from within an existing learning management system or even some other range of tools, such as social media.

The nice thing about a Creative Commons-licensed text book is that instructors – or students – can go the other way, and embed parts of the book within their LMS or e-portfolios or other platforms for their learning. So the looser the technological and conceptual structure for the book, the easier it is for end users. Nevertheless, the book is not as interactive as I would like, although if I had more time, I could probably incorporate more tests, open-ended questions and maybe even some games or simulations to reinforce the writing.

3. Accessibility

This leads to another point, which comes back to my goals for the book. My main target group for the book are mainstream, subject discipline faculty and instructors who are very busy doing research and have relatively little time to become experts in teaching. I wanted therefore a book that was easily accessible, organized in such a way that faculty could find what they were looking for with one or two clicks of a mouse. Each section can be read in less than an hour, but the whole book hangs together as a coherent whole. If instructors wanted to go further or deeper, I added activities and further reading within the section.

The contents page on the first screen/page of the book enables this – just click on the topic and you’re in.

Figure 3: Pressbooks table of contents: one click to the topic

Figure 3: Pressbooks table of contents: one click to the topic

4. Independent peer reviews are still necessary

I used my blog to float drafts of each chapter to a wide community of practitioners in online course design and research, and had an instructional designer and a group of digital learning specialists at Ryerson University giving me detailed feedback as the book progressed.

I also published each chapter when it was ready, seeking comments from general readers, as the book progressed. I also have 12 other peer reviewed, commercial publications behind me.

Nevertheless, I still had graduate students writing to me saying that their supervisors did not want them using my book as a reference in their theses as the book was not peer reviewed. My initial reaction was to tell the supervisors to go to hell, but that wouldn’t help the students, who were all anxious to quote my work, so I have requested three independent peer reviews that will be published as an appendix to the book. These will be ready by the end of June.

Was it worth it?

Emphatically, yes, from my perspective:

  • the book has been downloaded roughly 10,000 times within two months, and more importantly, the qualitative responses to the book through e-mails and comments indicate that I am reaching my main target audience (see Measuring the success of an open textbook for more details);
  • although all the reviews are not yet in, the response to the contents of the book have been generally highly favourable;
  • I have been able to practice what I preached; I was able to write the book mainly in the way I wanted as someone with an instructional design background;
  • there does seem to have been a gap in the market which the book is filling;
  • the technology does work, and even technologically-challenged authors will be able to use the technology easily;
  • I was able to go from initial idea to final publication of the book in 15 months. I have had a publisher take that long from handover of the final draft to publishing. For a book of this kind, quick publishing is important otherwise it starts to look out of date, even if the main foundations do not change;
  • open publishing offer many possible routes for getting the book known, and with a little effort by the author, open textbook marketing works far better than the usual pathetic marketing efforts of commercial publishers;
  • the book is dynamic; I can continue to edit, change and update the book on an ongoing basis.

So I feel really good about it. However, this kind of publishing may not work for others. It may be too risky for someone early in their career to go the open publishing route, in terms of credibility or academic acceptance. Those not experienced in writing books probably need the support of a commercial publisher. If you are looking to make money from writing, this is definitely not the way to go, unless you have a very creative business model. The support of BCcampus was essential for me, and others may not have such support.

But if you have something important to write and want to get out to as many people as possible, then I strongly recommend open publishing. But I’m not doing another one for a while!

Audio recording

A 41 minute audio of the full presentation on ‘Why write an open textbook?’ can be downloaded from here

- See more at:

[Anyone in the world]

"Is a work of art always meaningful?"

"Is a person's conscience only the reflection of the society they live in?"

"Am I what my past has made of me?"

No, you haven't inadvertently ingested a controlled substance. These questions and others like them are part of a bizarre annual French ritual, the "Bac Philo."

Let's take that one word at a time.

"Bac" is short for "Baccalauréat," which is the annual high school exit exam which all students must take. This is a national, standardized test. Every year, on the same day, at the same hour, all students across the country take the same one.

The most notorious in the panoply of sections that makes up the "Bac" is the "Bac Philo" — the philosophy test. It is mandatory, and it consists of a four-hour, sit-down essay, without notes, on a question like the ones above. (Students can also choose to comment on a text, although in practice almost none do. This year, the authors were Cicero, Spinoza, and Tocqueville.)

The yearly ritual of the Bac Philo has become an ingrained part of French consciousness. Every French parent with a child taking the Bac has also gone through the punishing rite of passage. The days before the test, celebrities are asked on TV news programs to reminisce about their experiences. On the day of the test and later, as soon as the essay questions come out, intellectuals are interviewed about what their own answers would be.

The Bac Philo is a wonderful example of everything that is so great, and everything that is so frustrating, about France.

Let's start with everything great. Isn't it actually a good thing that France is so in love with its love of intellectual things? Isn't it nice that a society has collectively decided to take seriously the stuff of ideas?

I regularly bang the drum of the importance of the liberal arts, especially in K-12. And this is something French society actually takes seriously.

The French public instruction program has made an official and hundreds-of-years-old decision that the job of school isn't to train you for a job, it's to train you to be a citizen, who will hold a piece of the country's destiny in your hands through participation in the public sphere. Democracy can only endure stewarded by enlightened, responsible citizens, lest it devolve into demagogy. (As, we are inevitably reminded, happened under the Vichy Regime.) And in order to be an enlightened, responsible citizen — or so we cheese-eating surrender monkeys believe — you have to spend at least some time grappling with the Big Questions, and understanding the intellectual traditions, such as Greek, Medieval, and Enlightenment philosophy, that shaped the world we live in, as well as its institutions, such as liberal democracy, free market capitalism, and the modern scientific method.

All this I believe and agree with. It is a high ideal, and one that I wish the U.S. — especially the U.S. — would draw inspiration from.

The problem is the way it has been implemented.

Let's, first, start with the way philosophy is taught. As a high school philosophy teacher friend of mine joked, everybody who chooses to become a high school philosophy teacher is either a far-rightist or a far-leftist (he was the former). That's pretty much been my experience. Or, something close to it. There are also those who were far-rightists or far-leftists when they joined, and now are just time-servers. I pity them. Decades of trying to fit the world's greatest ideas into the hormone-filled brains of maniacally texting, acne-dotted adolescents would be enough to destroy anyone's spirit.

Today, school manuals are far from the grandiose visions I've laid out. Post-'60s, France's ministry of education has been far too afraid to believe that it actually stands for something in philosophy and now manuals are pretty much just lists of authors and bad summaries of what they thought. This is the best way to convince teenagers what most of us secretly suspect, that philosophy is just a bunch of bla bla, since none of these losers can agree on anything and are all just making it up as they go along.

Finally, the essay. The Bac Philo is a four-hour essay test. But not just any kind of essay. You have to write a very specific kind of essay, une dissertation. The dissertation is a form of essay writing that is so deeply and artificially codified as to make kabuki look like an epileptic fit. Taking a stand — answering one of those questions with either "yes" or "no" — is absolutely prohibited. Instead, the author must restate what other thinkers have said about the issue, even when they contradict each other, and try to reconcile their differences (without seeming to do that).

The intro of the essay must be about rephrasing the essay's question into another question, called a "problématique" (I never found out what that means either, and I always got top grades on my philosophy essays), and that question is the one your essay must answer (without actually answering it, which is hopelessly gauche). No, I am not making this up — I wish I were.

Again — everything works to reinforce in students the notion that philosophy (and really all schooling) is purely formal and without meaningful content. Exactly the opposite of what it should be.

More damning, by far, is that the best way to write a good dissertation, I have found, is to have parents who wrote good dissertations. A four-hour essay is exactly the kind of test that rewards the soft human capital skills that only birth in a high socioeconomic background home affords, with its insane emphasis on subtleties of style, vocabulary, and hair-splitting conceptual differences. Thus an exercise meant to reinforce and symbolize republican equality instead serves to entrench class differences.

If you fail at your Bac Philo, all of official France tells you, you must be an idiot — really, if you follow the internal logic to its conclusion, unworthy of citizenship — even though, in reality, your problem might just be poverty or immigration, and if you had been taught the right way and tested the right way you would have thrived.

In the end, what was supposed to be a lofty instrument for building culture and equality ends up being an empty, meaningless, ritual.

But after years of being drilled into them as a teenager, I still enjoy reading Bac Philo subjects and imagining the dissertation I would write.

[ Modificado: Domingo, 28 Junho 2015, 12:45 ]
Página: () 1 2 3 4 ()