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November 16, 2012

[2b2k] MOOCs as networks

Siva Vaidhyanathan [twitter: sivavaid] has a really well-done (as usual) article that reminds us that for all the excitement about Massive Open Online Courses — which he shares — we still have to figure out how to do them right. There are lots of ways to go wrong. (And I should hear note that I’m posting this in order to: (1) recommend Siva’s article, and (2) make an obvious point about MOOCs. Feel free to stop here.)

The fundamental issue, of course, is that real-world ed doesn’t scale very well. The largest classes in the real world are in the hundreds (oh, maybe some school has a course with thousands), and those classes are generally not held up as paradigms of Western ed. Further, traditional ed doesn’t scale in the sense that not everyone gets to go to college.

So, now we have a means for letting classes get very big indeed. Hundreds of thousands. Put in the terms of Too Big to Know, the question is: how do you make that enormous digital classroom smarter than the individuals in it? 2B2K’s answer (such as it is) is that you make a room smart by enabling its inhabitants to create a knowledge network.

  • Such a network would at a minimum connect all the participants laterally, as well as involving the teacher

  • It would encourage discussion of course topics, but be pleased about discussions that go off topic and engage students socially.

  • It would enable the natural experts and leaders among the students to emerge.

  • It would encourage links within and outside of the course network.

  • This network would enable students to do their work online and together, and make those processes and their traces fully available to the public.

  • All the linking, discussions, answered questions, etc., would be fed back into the system, making it available to everyone. (This assumes there are interactions that produce metadata about which contributions are particularly useful.)

  • It would encourage (via software, norms, and evaluations) useful disagreements and differences. It doesn’t always try to get everyone onto exactly the same page. Among other things, this means tolerating — appreciating and linking to — local differences among the students.

  • It would build upon the success of existing social tools, such as liking, thumbs upping, following…

  • Students would be encouraged to collaborate, rather than being evaluated only as individual participants.

  • The learning process would result in a site that has continuing value to the next students taking the course and to the world.

I’m not trying to present a Formula for Success, because I have no idea what will actually work or how to implement any ideas. Fortunately, there are tons of really smart people working on this now, with a genuine spirit of innovation. All I’m really saying is something obvious: to enable education to scale so that MOOCs don’t become what no one wants them to be — cyber lecture halls — it’s useful to think about the “classroom” as a network.

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July 17, 2012

[2b2k] A New Culture of Learning

If you want to read a brilliant application of some of the ideas in Too Big to Know to our educational system, read A New Culture of Learning by Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown. And by “application of” I mean “It was written a year before my book came out and I feel like a dolt for not having known about it.”

DT and JSB are thinking about knowledge pretty much exactly the way 2b2k does. What they call a “collective,” I call a “knowledge network.” With more than a hat tip to Michael Polanyi, they talk insightfully about “collective indwelling,” which is the depth of insight and topical competency that comes from a group iterating on ideas over time.

Among other things, they write provocatively about the use of games and play in education, not as a way to trick kids into eating their broccoli, but as coherent social worlds in which students learn how to imagine together, set goals, gather and synthesize information, collectively try solutions, and deepen their tacit knowledge. DT and JSB do not, however, so fetishize games that they lose site of the elements of education a game like World of Warcraft (their lead example) does not provide, especially the curiosity about the world outside of the game. On the contrary, they look to games for what they call the “questing disposition,” which will lead students beyond problem-solving to innovation. Adding to Johan Huizinga‘s idea that play precedes culture, they say that games can help fuse the information network (open and expansive) with the key element of a “bounded environment of experimentation” (116). This, they say, leads to a new “culture of learning” (117). Games are for them an important example of that more important point.

It’s a terrific, insightful, provocative book that begins with a founding assumption that it’s not just education that’s changing, but what it means to know a world that is ever-changing and now deeply connected.

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March 1, 2012

[2b2k] Moi moi

Google has posted my [email protected] talk. Thank you, Google!

And Steve Hargadon has posted the hour interview he did last night as part of his Future of Education series, in which we talked about knowledge and education. Thank you, Steve Hargadon!

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November 7, 2011

Avi Warshavsky on the future of textbooks

I’ve posted a brief video interview with Avi Warshavsky of the Center for Educational Technology, the leading textbook publisher in Israel. Avi is a thoughtful and innovative software guy who has been experimenting with new ways of structuring textbooks.

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November 1, 2011

Eric Frank on Creative Commons textbooks

Eric Frank is the co-founder of Flat World Knowledge, a company that publishes online textbooks that are free via a browser, but cost money if you want to download them. It’s a really interesting model. I interview him here.

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October 6, 2011

Open Education Resources bill in Brazil

Carolina Rossini passes along the following:

Today, the Sao Paulo State Legislature Representative, Mr. Simao Pedro, assisted by his team, specially Lucia F. Pinto, and the OER-Brazil Project, has introduced an OER bill to regulate the educational resources developed directly and indirectly (contracts for products or services or public purchases) by that state, and determine that an open license should be applied (CC-BY-NC-SA). It also deals with repositories for such OERs.

Soon the text of the bill will be available from the ALESP website http://www.al.sp.gov.br/portal/site/Internet/.

You can follow the www.rea.net.br (in Portuguese) for more information and analysis, including the recent analysis on the Sao Paulo city OER Decree.

Well done, Sao Paulo!

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August 4, 2011

Knowledge is the network

I forked yesterday for the first time. I’m pretty thrilled. Not about the few lines of code that I posted. If anyone notices and thinks the feature is a good idea, they’ll re-write my bit from the ground up.* What’s thrilling is seeing this ecology in operation, for the software development ecology is now where the most rapid learning happens on the planet, outside the brains of infants.

Compare how ideas and know-how used to propagate in the software world. It used to be that you worked in a highly collaborative environment, so it was already a site of rapid learning. But the barriers to sharing your work beyond your cube-space were high. You could post to a mailing list or UseNet if you had permission to share your company’s work, you could publish an article, you could give a talk at a conference. Worse, think about how you would learn if you were not working at a software company or attending college: Getting answers to particular questions — the niggling points that hang you up for days — was incredibly frustrating. I remember spending much of a week trying to figure out how to write to a file in Structured BASIC [SBASIC], my first programming language , eventually cold-calling a computer science professor at Boston University who politely could not help me. I spent a lot of time that summer learning how to spell “Aaaaarrrrrggggghhhhh.”

On the other hand, this morning Antonio, who is doing some work for the Library Innovation Lab this summer, poked his head in and pointed us to a jquery-like data visualization library. D3 makes it easy for developers to display data interactively on Web pages (the examples are eye-popping), and the author, mbostock, made it available for free to everyone. So, global software productivity just notched up. A bunch of programs just got easier to use, or more capable, or both. But more than that, if you want to know how to do how mbostock did it, you can read the code. If you want to modify it, you will learn deeply from the code. And if you’re stuck on a problem — whether n00bish or ultra-geeky — Google will very likely find you an answer. If not, you’ll post at StackOverflow or some other site and get an answer that others will also learn from.

The general principles of this rapid-learning ecology are pretty clear.

First, we probably have about the same number of smart people as we did twenty years ago, so what’s making us all smarter is that we’re on a network together.

Second, the network has evolved a culture in which there’s nothing wrong with not knowing. So we ask. In public.

Third, we learn in public.

Fourth, learning need not be private act that occurs between a book and a person, or between a teacher and a student in a classroom. Learning that is done in public also adds to that public.

Fifth, show your work. Without the “show source” button on browsers, the ability to create HTML pages would have been left in the hands of HTML Professionals.

Sixth, sharing is learning is sharing. Holy crap but the increased particularity of our ownership demands about our ideas gets in the way of learning!

Knowledge once was developed among small networks of people. Now knowledge is the network.

 


*I added a couple of features I needed to an excellent open source program that lets you create popups that guide users through an app. The program is called Guiders-JS by Jeff Pickhardt at Optimizely. Thanks, Jeff!)

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July 9, 2011

Conrad Wolfram on teaching math right

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June 29, 2011

[ftf] Nitin Nohria

Nitin Nohria, Dean of Harvard Business School, talks about what education is for.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

He had never been out of India when he got accepted to MIT. Plus he got a fellowship, or else he would not have been able to go. Education opens up opportunities in ways people could not even imagine.

What words to you hear when you hear “HBS,” he asks? Audience: elite, rich, case method, leadership, lehman brothers…

The case method is the idea most associated with HBS. But it took 20 years to evolve that method. What can we do in our second hundred years? The school is in a good place. The program is strong. Enviable applicant pool. Strong placement record, even in bad times. There’s a natural engine of innovation in the case method: they write 300 new cases per year. New faculty come in. New courses, etc.

Why the case method? It’s close to life. It’s real problems. “If you were in the protagonist’s shoes, what would you do?” You learn why you think differently from others. Over 2 yrs, students will have been through 500 cases. Problem-solving becomes a habit. You get good at collaboration, communication. “Our alumni think of the case method as developing a meta-capability.”

A few years ago, HBR wrote cases about 7 different business schools, and researched 200 others. They found business schools generally agree that their task is teaching knowing what it means to be a leader, translating that knowing into doing, and getting over the gap between doing and being (i.e., how you are being experienced). HBR has been asking how it can do better at the “being” component. So, it’s creating the field method in addition to the case method. It puts student in the “field” in a small group (about 6). Students will be the protagonist, rather than stepping into someone else’s shoes. They are presented with a scenario, and must take action, and then reflect on the action and outcome. Students should be in about 10 different situations by the time they are graduated.

Also, all students will have to build a venture that they can launch in eight weeks. In teams. The school expects one third to fail at this; those students can then either join one of the surviving teams or write a case about a team.

The key is to have a method. That’s why the case method works. In 7-8 years, Nitin hopes a method for field exercvises will emerge.

The case method needs an amphitheater; try running it in a flat classroom and it won’t work. The field method will have an architecture based on hives. The instructor will be at the center of the room.

Q: What percentage are involved in social entrepreneurship programs?
A: 8% . Last year, 9% of graduating students went into social enterprises.

Q: You spend a lot of time on the how, not on the what.
A: We have no innovation on the “what.” There are plenty of people doing field studies. If there’s anything new, it will be in the “how.”

Q: BTW, a lot of what you’re doing are what’s happening in middle schools. What about the design process?
A: We’re not sure. That’s why in the Harvard Innovation Lab we’re creating a space to think about this. We’re also working on cultural entrepreneurship. By doing all that, hopefully we’ll discover something. (Students are the best innovators. They don’t always know what they’ve done.)

Q: Aren’t you inventing a formula for making MBA education even more expensive?Why not put Michael Porter online? Also, how will you help students reflect on what they’ve learned?
A: Lots of other schools offer lower-cost educations. Second, the reflection will happen after every encounter. We don’t yet know the precise methodology of the reflection cycle.

Business leaders often suffer from moral over-confidence. People think they won’t even be tempted to do anything immoral. People are more over-confident about their morality than about their intellectual abilities. It’s important for HBS to address this.

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[ftf] Four tables

We’re divided into four groups. I get assigned to Kurt Squire‘s, who works on games for edu at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery in Ann Arbor.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

What can we learn from games about transforming education? As technologies of change emerge, his group thinks about how to engage the public in a conversation about them? The write games that try to make discovery visible. “We want people to experience the thrill of discovering something new,” and then, having discovered them, have the public participate in science.

E.g., Virulent for the iPad. Design viruses that will carry medicine throughout your body.

Another example. Anatomy ProAm lets you role play being a doctor saving people. There’s 17% variation in diagnoses of breast cancer, and a 3-4x variation in cervical cancer. Doctors don’t like to admit this. This project was intended to make them more open to discussing the variances in diagnoses with their patients. Imagine getting not a second or third opinion, but two million opinions. The crowd wouldn’t replace the doctors, but aims at helping them. The game has four audiences: children, people in medical training, radiologists and doctors, and the general public. In the game, you get symptoms, and you train beams through the body. The game has been shown to improve understanding of radiology, knowledge about what’s difficult about radiotherapy (you have to avoid frying healthy tissue), about treating cancer, etc. It increased students’ interest in being doctors.; this was especially true for girls.

The next step is to make this multi-player. They’ve started a Facebook game. You’re given a case. You assemble a team of online FB friends. You chat. You submit your diagnoses.

Game communities are not age segregated: In WoW, the elderly and the young play without regard. Curtis imagines professional medical folks playing with kids and the general public. This is the power of games: Get people to engage authentically while spanning demographics, ages, etc. Also, by playing in FB, the game can know a lot about you. It should enable peer ratings, e.g., doctors say that this 14 yr old knows a lot about anatomy. Public assessments will be controversial and will stimulate discussions. In fact, you will be able to roll your own assessments.


We talked about Curtis’ session. The investment in agency is powerful, we agreed.
Now we go to new tables where we summarize what went on in each of our tables.

Table 1: Neurological discoveries. There’s a correlation between how the brain works and how you learn. If a kid has dysgraphia, you can give the kid exercises that change neural pathways. Adding a gambling-based point system stimulates dopamine and learning. It’s not competition so much as the knowledge that there’s a chance you might get it wrong.

Table 2: Conrad Wolfram talked about the ability to create manipulable mathematical knowledge objects. That should change how we teach math. We waste time teaching computation. We should teach how to translate problems into math and how to interpret the results; the computation is the least important part of it. But, someone objects, we embedded these mathematical models into the financial system without knowing the computations underneath them. Response: The problem was in building the models, which Conrad would like students to become more adept at; he is advocating that they don’t need to do the computations themselves by hand. But the countries that do best on the international tests are the ones who drill on computation. Because that’s what get tested? Because it develops high order skills?

Table 3. Stanley Yang presents a biosensor device to wear on your head. It tells you whether you’re concentrating or bored, which problems are challenging, etc. The biofeedback can be integrated into learning. E.g., language learning: It won’t tell you what the Korean word for an object in the room is unless you are actually concentrating on the object. Is there evidence of the results? It’s very early. They are developing it for games, too.

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