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Without tagging this is your blog

From E-Learning V

Fig.1. The contents of your learning journal, or e-portfolio or blog could look like this

As I’m prompted to do so, or is this just a MAC thing? I now tag documents downloaded to my desktop. They can be found wherever I or the operating system has buried them.

I tag religiously here (except, since a month ago, when writing from my iPad as it crashes the page and the iPad ?!).

I tag for a number of reasons:

I jot down ideas and thoughts, facts, even grab, cut and paste stuff that may be of use later so tag it so that I can tickle it out later as the mood or need fancies.

By tagging by module, and by activity you can then regularly go back and add a further tag as you plan a TMA (tutor marked assignment) or EMA (end of module assignment). For example, L120 is my current module. I will (or should) add L120A1 perhaps or L120S1 to identify an activity or session (NOT necessarily shared at all if I am giving away answers potentially or breaching copyright too blatantly by privately ‘curating’ content). Potentially L120TMA1 obviously helps me pull out content pertinent to this. That’s the idea anyhow. The OU used to have an e-portfolio called MyStuff, a bit clunky, but it did this and then allowed you to re-shuffled the deck as it were, to give order to the things you picked. In theory you then have a running order for an assignment.

Tag clouds, number of tags or simply the weight and size of the font, indicates the strength and frequency of certain themes and ideas. When playing with the idea of an ‘A-to-Z of e-learning’ it was easier for me to see, under each letter, what I ought to select … and then immediately have a load of examples, some academic, some anecdotal, all personal to me, at hand.

I come here to find things I’ve lost! Amongst 20,000 saved images I know I have a set from early training as a Games Volunteer for the London Olympics. I searched here, clicked on the image and thus found the album in Picasa Web (now Google Pics). Why can’t I do that in my picture/photo pages? Because I never tagged the stuff. There is no reliable search based on a visual – yet.

No one can or should do this for you.

My blog and e-portfolio is fundamentally and absolutely of greatest value to me alone. So why allow or encourage others to rummage in the cupboards of my brain? Because it tickles and stimulates me to share views, find common or opposing views and to believe that others are getting something from it.

The connectedness of ideas by learning online – towards a new theory of learning

From E-Learning V

Fig.1. This IMHO is what learning has become in the 21st century – and how it got there

There’s more going on here than you may realise!

From E-Learning V

Fig.2. Traditional top down learning

Two triangles, one above the other and linked with a down arrow suggests traditional top down learning … or simply knowledge transfer from someone who knows something to someone who does not.

From E-Learning V

Fig. 3 By someone’s side

Two triangles, one facing the other, may represent a shift towards collaborative or horizontal learning in a formal setting, though for me it represents the learning you do away from the institution – with friends, with family ‘on the same level’ as it were.

From E-Learning V

Fig. 4. Participatory and situated, networked learning on the periphery

From E-Learning V

Fig.5 The thinking starts with Vygotsky and his research into behaviorist learning

It then progressed to the study and analysis of learning in communities

From E-Learning V

Fig. 6. Activity Theory as conceived of and developed by Yrjo Engeström. 

From E-Learning V

Fig.7 The interplay between two entities or communities coming together to solve a problem and thus producing something unique to them both (object 3) – a fresh idea.

From E-Learning V

Fig.8. Activity Theory re-connected – breaking out

Though developed over some thirty years the structure of ‘Activity Theory’ as a model is breaking down because of the quality, speed and way in which we now connect overrides barriers and invades silos making communication more direct and immediate.

From E-Learning V

Fig. 9 Activity Theory in a connected world

Everyone and everything is just a click away.

From E-Learning V

Fig.10 Visualizing the maelström of original ideas generated by people sharing their thoughts and ideas as they form

The maelström of new ideas where people and groups collide and interact. Historically this had been in grounded ‘communities of practice’, whether a London coffee shop or the senior common room of a prestigious university, the lab, the studio, the rehearsal room … today some gatherings online are frequent, enabled by the Internet and no less vibrant as like-minds and joiners contribute to the generation of new ideas.

This, drawing on Engestrom via Vygotsky, might be a more academic expression of Open Learning. Here a host of systems, expressed in model form, interpose their drive to achieve certain objectives into the common whole. That mess in the middle is the creation of the collective powers and inputs of individuals, groups, departments or institutions. The Open bit are the connections between any node in one system, and any other node from any other one of the systems … which blows apart the actions within a single system, making them more open, though not random.

From E-Learning V

Fig. 11 It’s going on inside your head.

fMRI scans reveal the complex way in which ideas form and memories are recalled and mixed-up, challenged and re-imagined. We are our very own ‘community of practice’ of conflicting and shared viewpoints.

From E-Learning V

Fig.11. Perceiving brain activity as the interplay between distinct, interacting zones

From E-Learning V

Fig. 12 Ideas enter your system, your brain and are given a fresh spin

From E-Learning V

Fig.13 Ideas coalesce until you reach a point of understanding. The penny doesn’t so much as ‘drop’ as to form.

Where would we be without one of these. 98 billion neurons. A uniquely connected mass of opportunity and potential. This is where, of course, memories are formed and thoughts had. Increasingly we are able to share ideas and thoughts as we have them, typically through the tips of our fingers by sharing our thinking online, especially where it comes to the attention of like-minds, and troubled-minds – anyone in fact or strongly agrees or strongly disagrees enough to contribute by adding their thinking and revealing their presence.

Vomit Bobbins

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As a child whenever I was going to be sick I dreamt of bobbins drifting through the sky like clouds, as if my head was upside down in a brightly lit drawer of the things.

I saw bobbins yesterday and my mind took me back to the 8 year old who felt unwell – it turns out that my system can’t abide certain things: too much chocolate icecream might have done it, or just a Cadbury’s Fudge Finger and a Coke.

Curious is it not how the brain first constructs such an image and then tags it?

How great is the impact of anything on the brain?

Fig.1. From Prof. Susan Greenfield’s 2012 presentation on consciousness

My belligerent stance on the impact of computers to the brain – not much in my view, we’re too complex, our brains too massive (94 billion neurons) has been tipped on its head courtesy of a short interview on good old BBC’s Woman’s Hour last Thursday. The interviewee was Susan Greenfield (Professor & Baroness).

She invited listeners to get in touch if they wanted the facts on ‘mind change’ – as big as ‘climate change’ in her view, that as the brain is affected by everything that hours spent in front of a 2 dimensional world (sound and vision) our minds, especially younger, plastic brains, will form connections that make these people different.

I particularly liked the thought that all the time a child spends in front of a screen is time NOT spent ‘climbing trees, interacting face to face and having hugs’. I may be adrift at the moment but have a reading list for the summer.

Shell-shock – there’s evidence of the impact of circumstances on the brain. But playing on your computer for too long? Too much free will to cause ‘damage’?

When I think if learning, I think of the minuscule intricacies of the component parts of the brain and at the same time the immense vastness of the known universe.

As humans we are eager to understand everything.

It seems appropriate to marry neuroscience with astrophysics, like brackets that enclose everything. From a learning point of view then ask as you look at a person or group of people, ‘what is going on?’ specifically, ‘what is going on in there? (the brains) and between them to foster insight, understanding, innovation and advancement.

The best interface for this, a confluence for it all, is the Internet and the connectedness of it all.

What has the impact of the Internet been and based on everything we currently know, where do we presume it is going?

Teenagers doing physics with the intervention of a computer to prompt discussion: a paper reviewed

In the abstract we are told that ‘Although ICT resources are commonly expected to produce uniform benefits’ Tolmie (2001) Are they? And that, ‘they are necessarily employed within pre-existing contexts of educational and social activity’. Tolmie (2001)

When and where could a context NOT be pre-existing?? Something is, or is not. Context is an absolute.

Rather, what is that specific context. Otherwise this is tautology. It is like saying that electricity pylons go into an existing landscape. Isn’t this stating the obvious so that a gullible audience nod in agreement?

Tolmie (2001) talks of ‘unexpectedly diverse effects’. Unexpectedly or diverse? Surely not both.

Is this not something of an exaggeration? And in any case, such diverse responses should be either expected, or not presumed either way to be likely or unlikely to happen. It is very dangerous to pre-empt findings.

I visualise the introduction of new technology such as this as drops of ink in a pool of water in a stream  – it has to compete with the mix that is already there, as well as its natural flow and other behaviours – leaking away into the land and evaporation for a start.

My conclusion based on reading the abstract is to: Think people above all else. Internal and external contexts are fluid and based on responses too and feelings.

It is all complex, and more to do with the brains of the individuals than simply their context . Everything can and should be measured in some way, from an agreed benchmark, to monitor, track then analyse. It is far more complex.

Take any class, habituated by the classroom, the people around us and the pattern and behaviour of the teacher … especially on a warm Friday afternoon, no wonder the mind wanders. Just because a person is physically in a classroom, even participating in a task, does not mean that much is going in if they are dreaming of the weekend or Fiona Henderson from the girl’s school down the road …

The expression ‘oversimplified’ used by Tolmie (2001)  is a) hyperbole b) a value judgment.

Better ‘simplified’, preferably qualification of the term – simplified as in ‘clipped or contained’ that parameters are created because of the remit of the funding process. You are not able to ‘look outside the box’ as only that which takes place in the box is funded. There needs to be some of one and some of the other – research based on ‘tackling circumscribed needs’ while at the same time research that has an open brief and is open ended – that stands back to see the wood for the trees, rather than, to continue the metaphor, to examine only one kind of tree in the woods in order to avert the ‘mentality of one-stop resources’ mentioned by Oliver & Conole (1998)

How else do you address improving a situation other than by identifying the problems?

Anything else is misguided (literally), or indulgent. Far worse, in the NHS, and Post Office and Banking System have been wholesale computing systems that really were alien and universal.

Change management. Everyone has a point. Time to listen and involves matters most. The psychology of innovation. Resistance is despised. (Robinson et al., 1998)

Making the wrong assumptions that blame the teachers rather than the technology – which is a catalyst for complexity, rather than a tool for conformity.

Evaluation work also rarely does more than examine the explicitly intended effects of ICT, and so fails to identify unintended or serendipitous repercussions that may actually be a critical aspect of its impact (Jones, 1998).

But the entire point and context of an exam is to remove such context in the surroundings by placing the student in ‘exam conditions’ in a neutral space, where parameters of time and context are controlled and aim to be common to other students and impartial.

Surroundings mean different things to different people. It is naive and deterministic to think that people are so easily governed by their context. The individual over the surroundings. Unless we think students are like a uniform tribal grouping.

I’m through the reading and taking it further – reading the original paper to see if my concerns and amusement are justified.

I find the gender difference uninsightful and unhelpful – we know this anyway. Men and woman are different physiologically – which includes the brain where there are various documented differences especially between the differing amount of grey and white matter and the concentration of neurones and close connections in women compared to men. But the differences between men and women are not black and white (and their are not racial differences whatsoever) … within these differences there is considerable variety.

Now add each person’s context – which for me starts a few months after conception and every possible influence since – the same chaos theory that says that when a butterfly beats its wings in the Brazilian Jungle there is a typhoon in Malaysia will suggest that that marshmallow your grandmother gave you on Christmas day when you were six while watching Jimmy Saville introduce the Chart Show will influence how you respond to the 14 year old boy you have been paired up with in a physics class who offers you a handful of mini-marshmallows by way of ‘making friends’ who in turn is nervous about this strange but beautiful creature who he hasn’t noticed all year but rather fancies even though his older brother has his eye on her – what was that the teacher said checking the trajectory of your balls on the computer ?????

The wrong approach was taken, though the theory throws up some interesting questions

I will change my opinion as I go through my notes but my current stance is that a quantitative before and after study requires many hundreds of participants in a randomised controlled trial and the gender differences are a distraction – far better to have administered questionnaires before and after and drawn upon each students SATS results or some such to get some sense of where they were coming from in relation to physics.

More interesting pairings would be like-minds and enemies – really. A couple of buddies having a laugh might learn less than a pair who can’t stand each other, or another pair who are rivals.

Have I been watching too many teen movies? Probably.

Already I have a script in my head based on Tolmie in which far from being the less talkative, the FM pairs are chatting away to themselves (in their heads, written and delivered as stream of consciousness voice over), communicating in subtle ways through body language and as a result actually communicating more, not less than the ones who won’t shut up – and who may be playing up to the research conditions.

This is the other fundamental humdinger of a problem – these students are being tested under ‘lab conditions’.

My memories of teenager physics classes are more akin to St.Trinian’s with boys. I even have a diary to call upon which I may look at just to get me into the role. I have a household of teenagers and another five nephews and nieces in this age bracket if I need to be reminded of what it is (and was) like.

Oddly enough, work is often the last thing on their minds. Which is why homework is so important – fewer potential distractions.

This will be less than hearsay in due course – I am also refreshing what it was and is like to be a teenager through some additional reading. Problem is my daughter senses that I am observing her from time to time.

I’m just asking myself the same question I asked when she was born, ‘what is going on in there?’ – but in a quasi-academic rather than father-daughter way.

Researchers make the mistake of believing that their intervention – in this case using a computer to support a physics class by trying to prompt discussion – is going to make some measurable difference.

Can they not see the bigger picture, and how vast it is?

If each human brain has as many neurons in it as the visible galaxy – 98 billion, and each brain though similar, is connected in different ways, by gender but essentially by genetics, with every remembered moment of waking and sleeping life in between. This is why, to have something measurable, researchers taken to the lab and until recently would have stuck with sea-snails, rats and in the past cats and primates … while gradually observation and measurement of electro-chemical activity in the human brain has become possible.

When it comes to exams surely examiners know that the response to a unique set of questions in an exam, certainly at undergraduate level, if not at post compulsory level, will test the student’s ability to construct a response both from what they know, and what they have to surmise.

REFERENCE

Jones, C. 1998 Evaluating a collaborative online learning environment Active Learning

Oliver, M. & Conole, G. (1998) Evaluating communication and information technologies: a toolkit for practitioners. Active Learning, 8,3–8.

Robinson, H., Smith, M., Galpin, F., Birchall, D., Turner, I. (1998) As good as IT gets: have we reached the limits of what technology can do for us? Active Learning, 9, 50–53.

Tolmie, A. (2001), Examining learning in relation to the contexts of use of ICT. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 17: 235–241. doi: 10.1046/j.0266-4909.2001.00178.

What’s going on in there? This apparently!

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New Scientist 9 February 2013 Mind Maths by Colin Barras

Learning & Memory – my 1,500th post to this blog

Fig. 1. Looks a like a good read

I’m starting to read papers on neuroscience that result on my starting to use my hands and fingers as I read, even reading and re-reading phrases and sentences out loud as I try to ‘get my head around it’. (A search in the Open Universal Online library for ‘hippocampus rats memory’ brought me to the above.

This is the kind of thing from the abstract:

 The nucleus accumbens shell (NAC) receives axons containing dopamine-b-hydroxylase that originate from brainstem neurons in the nucleus of the solitary tract (NTS). Recent findings show that memory enhancement produced by stimulating NTS neurons after learning may involve interactions with the NAC. However, it is unclear whether these mnemonic effects are mediated by norepinephrine (NE) release from NTS terminals onto NAC neurons. (From Kerfoot & Williams (2011:405)

On the other hand, when I read this I think I’ve taken it too far. Like the skier who watches with admiration as someone comes down a gully but would never do it themselves. 

 The A2 neurons are activated during times of heightened arousal by the release of glutamate from vagal nerve fibers that ascend from the periphery to the brainstem (Allchin et al. 1994; King and Williams 2009). Highly arousing events increase epinephrine secretion from the adrenals and facilitate binding to b-adrenergic receptors along the vagus nerve (Lawrence et al. 1995) that in turn, increase impulse flow to brainstem neurons in the NTS (Lawrence et al. 1995; Miyashita and Williams 2006). Epinephrine administration, stimulation of the vagus nerve or direct infusion of glutamate onto A2 NTS neurons are all known to significantly potentiate norepinephrine release within the amygdala and hippocampus (Segal et al. 1991; Liang et al. 1995; Williams et al. 1998; Izumi and Zorumski 1999; Hassert et al. 2004; Miyashita and Williams 2004; Roosevelt et al. 2006). (From Kerfoot & Williams (2011:405).

Fig. 2. Neuroscience for Dummies (Frank Amthor 2012) L5704

This is the bold step I’ve taken, not having to reading papers on neuroscience but feeling the need to do so. I’ve had three years of considering the theory behind learning, now I want to see (where it can be seen) what is happening. Papers rarely illustrate. What I want are papers with photos, charts, and video clips, with animations and multi-choice questions, then a bunch of contactable folk at the bottom to have a conversation with.

Figure 2 will have to do for now, though having got through ‘Neuroscience for Dummies’ I’m ready for the sequel ‘Neuroscience for the Dolterati’.

To understand how the nervous systems works, according to Professor Frank Amthor I need to know how neurons work, how they talk to other neural circuits and how these circuits form a particular set of functional modules in the brain. Figure 2 starts to do this.  (Amthor, 2012. Kindle Location 323)

What is going on here?

If I understand it correctly there is, because of the complexity of connections between neurons, a relationship with many parts of the brain simultaneously, some common to us all, some, among the millions of links, unique to us. Each neuron is connected to 10,000 others.  To form a memory some 15 parts of the brain are involved.

Learning is situated, much of it we are not aware of.

There is a multi-sensory context. Come to think of it, while I was concentrating I got cramp in my bum and right thigh perched as I am on a hard kitchen chair, and the lingering after taste of the cup of coffee I drank 45 minutes ago. I can hear the kitchen clock ticking – though most of the time it is silent (to my mind), and the dog just sighed.

Does it matter that my fingers are tapping away at a keyboard?

Though second-nature touch-typing it occupies my arms and hands and fingers which could otherwise be animated as if I were I talking. Would this in some way help capture the thought? I am talking, in my head. The stream of consciousness is almost audible. It was a couple of sentences with a few new acronyms involving an image I have in my head on what neurons, synapses and axons looks like.

What would happen where I to use a voice recorder and speak my thoughts instead?

By engaging my limbs and voice would my thinking process improve and would the creation of something to remember be all the stronger.

I’m getting pins and needles/cramp in my right leg. Aaaaaaaaaaagh! Party over.

The question posed is often ‘what’s going on in there?’ referring to the brain. Should the question simply be ‘what’s going on?’

Learning & Memory

My eyesight is shifting. In the space of six months of moved to reading glasses. Now my normal glasses are no good either for reading or distance. Contacts are no use either. As a consequence I’m getting new glasses for middle distance and driving. The solution with the contact lenses is more intriguing.

To correct for astigmatism and near or short sightedness I am going to have a one lens in one eye to deal with the astigmatism and a different lens to deal with the short sightedness in the other. My mind will take the information from both and … eventually, create something that is sharp close up and at a distance. This has me thinking about what it is that we see, NOT a movie or video playing out on our retina, but rather an assemblage of meaning and associations formed in the brain.

I will try these lenses and hang around, wander the shops, then return. I am advised that I may feel and appear drunk. I can understand why. I could well describe being drunk as trying to navigate down a path with a microscope in one hand and a telescope in the other while looking through both. I feel nauseous just thinking about it.

So ‘stuff’ is going on in the brain.

These days the activity resulting in the brain figuring something out can, in some instance and to some degree, be seen. Might I have an fMRI scan before the appointment with the optician? Might I then have a series of further scans to follow this ‘re-wiring’ process.

I need to be careful here, the wrong metaphor, however much it helps with understanding may also lead to misunderstanding. Our brain is organic, there are electro-chemical processes going on, but if I am correct there is no ‘re-wiring’ as such, the connections have largely existed since birth and are simply activated and reinforced?

Fig.3 . Synaptic transmission

Any neuroscientists out there willing to engage with a lay person?

What would observing this process of unconscious learning tells us about the process of learning? And is it that unconscious if am I am aware of the sensations that have to be overcome to set me right?

REFERENCE

Kerfoot, E, & Williams, C n.d.(2011), ‘Interactions between brainstem noradrenergic neurons and the nucleus accumbens shell in modulating memory for emotionally arousing events’, Learning & Memory, 18, 6, pp. 405-413, Science Citation Index, EBSCOhost, viewed 7 March 2013.

Amfor, F (2012) Neuroscience for Dummies. Cheat Sheet. (for the time challenged)

 

The idea of ‘left brain’ versus ‘right brain’ learning has no credence in neuroscience.

Fig.1. The idea of ‘left brain’ versus ‘right brain’ learning has no credence in neuroscience.

The idea appears to stem from the fact that there is some hemispheric specialisation in terms of the localisation of different skills.

For example, many aspects of language processing are left-lateralised (although not in blind people or in those who emigrate in later childhood to a new linguistic community). Some aspects of face recognition, in contrast, are right-lateralised. However, it is also a fact that there are massive cross -hemisphere connections in the normal brain. Both hemispheres work together in every cognitive task so far explored with neuroimaging, including language and face recognition tasks.

So far, neuroimaging data demonstrate that both ‘left brain’ and ‘right brain’ are involved in all cognitive tasks.

Goswami (2004:180)

Why do we latch onto myths such as these?

We crave simplicity.

Use the idea as a metaphor if you like – but it is nonsense.

I will liken the internet to a digital ocean – that’s an idea. A thought. A way to visualise the complex.

Our brains are complex.

Heck, 100 billion neurones offers up a lot of choices.

REFERENCE

Goswami, U. (2004) ‘Neuroscience, science and special education’, British Journal of Special Education, 31 (4), 175–183.

What’s your brain worth? £10,000 or £100,000 a year?

I came across this on the rear page of ‘World War’ a partwork published in 1936/1937.

I was struck by its clarity.

This is an age where the ‘working man’ left school age 14. My grandfather started work the day of his birthday having got through ‘Standard 7’ the term before. He had the mind, he survived the First World War as a machine gunner, transferred to the Royal Flying Corps and qualified as a Fighter Pilot and went on to be a Regional Manager for the North Eastern & then Scottish & Newcastle Breweries.

But he always deeply regretted not having a more enduring education. At least he saw his daughter through Durham University with an M.A.

Is this what the Open University offers? To man and woman alike? This chance to ‘engage the brain’?

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