The Economics of On-line Learning

Virtual Growth Projects has an interesting essay on the economics of on-line learning. The essence of the idea is that the teacher/student relationship in the on-line world has allot in common with the economics of file sharing:

The seed/leech terminology is borrowed from file-sharing where a
‘seeder’ is someone who possesses 100% of a file and is in a position
to share it with others. A ‘leech’ is someone who does not yet have
the file, and hence cannot share it.

  • a knowledge-leech has not yet achieved mastery of the subject
  • a knowledge-seeder has achieved mastery (and hence is in a position to share it with others)
  • knowledge transfer is converting leeches to seeders

The knowledge-transfer process creates ‘seeders’ who are capable of
productively contributing to it.

Given that the best way to demonstrate understanding of a subject is the ability to teach it to someone else, it seems plausible that the business model that on-line education is likely to gravitate towards is one where students evolve into roles involving teaching, essay grading, exam question writing, etc as they gain mastery of the subject that they are learning. Success in your studies would, in this model, act as a sort of currency that would allow one to recoup some or all of the up-front costs involved in taking a course.

It might also take us away from the traditional production model of pedagogical contents–expert writes a text book and course materials–to one of edited but crowd-sourced content, much like Wikipedia.

Noteworthy Links

Bradley Manning and “hacker madness” scare tactic

Prosecutors in the Manning case portrayed the use of the unix utility wget as if it were a dark art of criminal hackers.

The relevance of the latest Snowden files

Once again, the issue concerns what sort of oversight can we possibly have when the legality of surveillance rests on blanket search warrants, rather than warrants targeting specific individuals and groups. The statutory authority for these warrants clearly rests on interpretations that go against the spirit of the law. In the UK the relevant statues are

  • 1994 Intelligence Services Act
  • Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA).

It seems that the warrant authority relies on paragraph 4, Section 8 of RIPA. Read it and decide for yourself whether you think this gives a legislative mandate to GCHQ’s programmes.

The statutory analog in the US is of course the Patriot Act. Section 205 of the Act is what is being used by the administration to justify PRISM, an interpretation of the law that one of the Act’s authors, Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, claims was not congress’ intent.

Back to the UK, the other aspect of its “oversight” is the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC), made up of 9 MP’s. Unlike the Senate and House intelligence committees in the US–who in theory at least represent a check to executive authority–the nine members of the ISC are appointed by the PM.

It’s worth remembering that the British Government’s blanket search warrants were one of the grievances of the American colonialist and inspired the 4th Amendment of the US Constitution.

Woman in Chelsea strip-searched by police

Charts on decline in registered gold inventories

Noteworthy Links

U.S. issues global travel alert, cites al Qaeda threat

I guess it’s just a coincidence that this popped up at a time of growing hostility towards America’s security apparatus.

Court Rulings Blur the Line Between a Spy and a Leaker

“A majority of the Supreme Court not only left open the possibility of prior restraints in other cases but of criminal sanctions being imposed on the press following publication of the Pentagon Papers themselves,” Floyd Abrams, who also represented The Times in the case, wrote in a new book, “Friend of the Court.”

“To the extent that you have aided and abetted Snowden, even in his current movements, why shouldn’t you, Mr. Greenwald, be charged with a crime?” Mr. Gregory asked.

Mr. Greenwald responded, “If you want to embrace that theory, it means that every investigative journalist in the United States who works with their sources, who receives classified information, is a criminal.”

Latvia resists US call to extradite ‘virus maker’

Bradley Manning protests – in pictures