Serialized RSS

At Stephen Downes is discussing and experimenting with delivery of on-line courses via Serialized RSS.

What this means is basically that an RSS feed is provided which shows itself as updated periodically (usually daily) from a fixed sequence of content items with the same starting point no matter when the feed is subscribed to (as opposed to the usual behaviour in which the content items are associated with time of posting and each new subscriber joins in to a conversation, or monologue, in progress).

At first I though this might be a good idea, then I had reservations based on the rigidity of timed delivery as opposed to just paging at one’s own pace through a sequence of pages. But I decided to try it anyhow by enrolling in Stephen’s “Logical Fallacies” demo course, and actually I can see it has some appeal and utility.

The experience of a daily ‘hit’ of material (in this case a brief discussion of one of a number of types of logical fallacy) is a bit like reading a Dickens novel in the original serialized format. And despite the initial urge to just skim through the whole lot, there is some merit to the chunking as it forces time for reflection, which may not be a bad thing if the material needs it and if rapid progress is not essential. In fact, especially if the lessons are designed to refer back to one another, the forced delays may be helpful in ensuring that the content gets into long term memory and in exercising the power of deliberate recall.

With regard to Stephen’s Fallacies course itself, the units are largely independent, so, apart from its limited overall duration, the experience is a bit like having a daily puzzle or one of those “word-a-day” sites.
The chunks consisting of a brief description, examples, refutation, and references seem quite appropriate to this type of delivery and I have have found most of the “Proofs” (of invalidity) to be pretty well stated but the one I read today (on the fallacy of proof by ‘Appeal to Consequences’ strikes me as a bit weak (and so will give me a chance to see how comments are handled in this format).

In fact, the definition (and examples) given for this fallacy come very close to the generally accepted logical argument of ‘Reductio ad Absurdum’ so we need to be quite careful in dealing with it. After all, if the disagreeable consequence is in fact self-contradictory (or entails negation of an axiom) then the argument is valid (or, resp., at least the conclusion is a logical consequence of the axioms).

So, for the “Proof” of error it is necessary to either identify the “disagreeable” consequence as not necessarily false, or to find a flaw in the claimed implication.

Thus, for one who accepts our superiority to the apes as axiomatic, example #1 would be valid if the implication was correct. To refute it one could either argue that the assumption of our superiority is inappropriate or that evolution from a common ancestor does not preclude superiority (and probably both work fine in this case).

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