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The Mind is Flat: University of Warwick [Six Weeks] (5 hours pw)
A challenge in many ways. As Nick Chater carries the entire course, with aplomb, one feels as if you are in the presence of Socrates: there is a dominant voice – his. Perhaps because he is the expert in this niche. That said, there are many interviews, which although he may conduct are carried substantially by the interviewee. The subject matter is mind boggling and breathtaking. If you’re not familiar with the subject it can take a few reads of the transcript to get on top of it. The weekly roundups and better than anything I’ve come across: a comprehensive, reasoned selection of the key ideas and the thinking behind them. The ‘experiments’ are exceptionally good – a treasure to indulge and a surprise always with the results. The FutureLearn quizzes are used less well: too much like multi guess, that multi-choice.
Fig. 1. Father and daughter
From four or five months after conception with the formation of the brain, to the moment of brain death we have the capacity to learn, subconsciously as well as consciously.
Whether through interlopers before birth, in infancy and early childhood, or through family and carers in our last moment, days, weeks, months or years. At both ends of life the Web through a myriad of ways can advise, suggest and inform, and so educate, like never before. While for all the time in between as sponges, participants and students we can access, interact, interpose and interject in an environment where everything that is known and has been understood is presented to us. The interface between person and this Web of knowledge is a fascinating one that deserves close study for its potentially profound impact on what we as humans can do as people and collectively: Individually through, by, with and surfing the established and privileged formal and formal conveyor belt of education through nursery, primary, secondary and tertiary centres of learning. Individually, also through expanding opportunities globally to learn unfettered by such formal education where such established opportunities don’t exist unless hindered through poverty and politics or a lack of communications infrastructure (a robust broadband connection to the Web). And individually and collectively alongside or beyond whatever formal education is provided or exploited by finger tapping into close and expanded networks of people, materials, ideas and activities
Open learning comes of age.
By seeking to peg answers to the role the Web is starting to play, at one end to the very first opportunity, at the micro-biological level to form a thought and at the other end to those micro-seconds at the end of life once the brain ceases to function – and everything else in between, requires an understandings neuroscience and an answer to the question ‘what is going on in there?’ How do we learn?
From an anthropological perspective why and how do we learn?
Where can we identify the origins of knowledge sharing and its role in the survival and domination of homo sapiens? And from our migration from the savannas of Eastern Africa to every nook and cranny of Earth, on land and sea, what recognised societal behaviours are playing out online? And are these behaviours mimicked or to a lesser extent transmogrified, warped or elevated by the scope, scale and speed of being connected to so much in such variety?
A history of learning is required.
From our innate conscious and subconscious capacity to learn from our immediate family and community how has formal education formed right the way through adding reading, writing and numeracy as a foundation to subject choices and specialisms, so momentarily expanded in secondary education into the single subjects studied at undergraduate level and the niche within a niche at Masters and doctoral levels. And what role has and will formal and informal learning continue to have, at work and play if increasing numbers of people globally have a school or university in their pockets, courtesy of a smartphone or tablet and a connection to the Web?
The global village Marshall McLuhan described is now, for the person connected to the Web, the global digital fireplace.
It has that ability to gather people around. Where though are its limits? With how many people can we develop and maintain a relationship? Once again, how can an understanding of social networks on the ground inform us about those that form on the Web? Multiplicity reins for some, flitting between a variety of groups while others have their niche interests indulged, celebrated and reinforced. Is there an identifiable geography of such hubs small and large and if visualised what does this tell us? Are the ways we can now learn new or old?
In relation to one aspect of education – medicine – how are we informed and how do we respond as patients and clinicians?
The journey starts at conception with the mixing of DNA and ends once the last electrochemical spark has fired. How, in relation to medicine does the quality (or lack of), scale and variety of information available on the Web inform and impact upon our ideas and actions the length of this lifetime’s journey At one end, parents making decisions regarding having children, then knowledge of pregnancy and foetal development. While at the other end, a child takes part in the decision-making process with clinicians and potentially the patient – to ‘call it a day’. Both the patient or person, as participant and the clinicians as interlocutors have, potentially, the same level of information at their fingertips courtesy of the Web.
How is this relationship and the outcomes altered where the patient will know more about their own health and a good deal about a clinician’s specialism?
The relationship between the doctor and patient, like others, courtesy of the connectivity and capacity of the Web, has changed – transmogrified, melted and flipped all at the same time. It is no longer them and us, though it can be – rather, as in education and other fields, it can be highly personalized and close.
Can clinicians be many things to many people?
Can any or only some of us cope with such multiplicity? A psychologist may say some will and some won’t, some have the nature for it, others not. Ditto in education. Trained to lead a classroom in a domain of their own, can a teacher take on multiple roles aimed at responding to the unique as well as the common traits of each of their students? While in tertiary education should and can academics continue to be, or expected to be undertake research as well as teach? Where teaching might be more akin to broadcasting, and the classroom or tutorial takes place asynchronously and online as well as live and face-to-face.
Disaggregation equals change.
In relation to one aspect of education in medicine and one kind of problem, what role might the Web play to support patients so that they can make an informed decision regarding the taking of potentially life saving, if not simply life improving, medications? Having understood the complexity of reasons why having been prescribed a preventer medication, for example, to reduce or even eliminate the risk of a serious asthma attack, what is going on where a patient elects, sometimes belligerently, not to take the medication. Others are forgetful, some misinformed, for others it is the cost, or the palaver of ordering, collecting and paying for repeat prescriptions. Information alone isn’t enough, but given the capacity of the web to brief a person on an individual basis, where they are online, what can be done to improve adherence, save lives and enhance the quality of life?
My hypothesis is that a patient can be assisted by an artificial companion of some kind, that is responsive to the person’s vicissitudes while metaphorically sitting on that person’s shoulder i.e. in the ‘Cloud’ and on their smartphone, tablet, headset, laptop or whatever other assistive interface will exist between us and the Web.
Fig. 2. Where it ends … more or less
At a parent’s side when they die is a profound experience. The breathing stopped and a trillion memories drained away. To what degree will this no longer be the case when a life logged digitally becomes a life in part preserved?
Fig. 1. Education as nurture – the graduates of the School of Communications Arts, 1988)
As Vygotsky put it:
‘The gardener affects the germination of his flowers by increasing the temperature, regulating the moisture, varying the relative position of neighboring plants, and selecting and mixing soils and fertilizer, i.e. once again, indirectly, by making appropriate changed in the environment. Thus it is that the teacher educates the student by varying the environment’. Vygotsky 1926 (Kindle location 1129)
And further on he says:
‘The basic rule is that before imparting new knowledge to the child and before fostering a new reaction in him, we must be sure to prepare the ground for it i.e. arouse the appropriate interest. For an analogy, just think how we loosen the soil before planting seeds’. (Kindle location 1755)
The way we learn hasn’t changed in a generation, not in centuries or even millenia – natural selection doesn’t work like that, we are still hunter gatherers on the plains of Eastern Africa. Our imagination, our struggle in adversity, has brought us a long way though. The tools we use to learn have changed more so in the last decade than at any other time in several centuries – eBooks are replacing print and our classroom has virtual walls and may comprise several thousand minds … and can be as intimate as you and a leading academic you stumble upon.
If a place of learning is a garden and a classroom a raised bed, then perhaps the way we should look at connected Web 2.0 learners is more akin to rows of strawberries.
Fig. 2. Self-organisation and interconnection in a bed of strawberry plants
- Here’s how to improve retention in e-learning – scaffolding, mentors, interaction and community (mymindbursts.com)
- How to weed your garden – Weeding Guide (abellandscaping.wordpress.com)
- Lev Vygotsky: Pioneer of Psychology (learnpsychology.wordpress.com)
- A beginner’s guide to starting a veg garden (telegraph.co.uk)
An MBA alumni of wthe OU’s ‘Creativity Innovation and Change’ recommended this read. Ittoucheson familiar territory in a familiar way so I’m enjoying, having my understanding refreshed and being topped up with some new ideas.
Follow me @JJ27VV as I share the insights. Pick up the book yourself and we’ll read along – the best possible way to gain deeper understanding.
The current generation will be able to begin to achieve a fraction of this if they please; all I have to go on are diaries I stared in March 1975 and efforts since then to recall all the events, feelings and dreams of my life to that point.
This alongside photoalbums, scrapbooks and sketch books, with lists of books read and films seen, maps of places visited and a complete extended family tree ought to offer a perspective of who or what I am.
Does any of it impact on how I think and behave?
Without my mind is it not simply a repository of typical memories and learning experiences of a boy growing up in the North East of England?
Blogging since 1999 there are like minds out there, though none have come back with an approximation of the same experiences (its been an odd, if not in some people’s eyes, bizarre, even extraordinary roller-coaster of a ride).
It’s value? To me, or others?
I could analyse it ’til the day I die. My goal is no longer to understand me, but to understand human kind. And to better understand the value of exercises such as this, not simply hoarding everything, but of consciously chosing to keep or record certain things.
For now I will exploit the tools that are offered. In theory anything already digitised on computers going back to the 1980s could now be put online and potentially shared. Can I extract material from a Floppy-disc, from an Amstrad Disc, from a zip-drive? Should I add super8mm cine-flim already digistised on betacam masters? And the books Iv’e read, beyond listing them do I add links even re-read some of them? And a handful of school exercise books (geography and maths) A’Level folders on Modern History. I kept nothing from three years of university, yet this is where the learning experience ought to have been the most intense. But I had no plans to take that forward had I?
My university learning was spent on the stage or behind a video camera.
Should I undertake such an exercise without a purpose in mind?
Do I draw on it to write fiction?
There is a TV screenplay ‘The Contents of My Mind’ that could be stripped down and re-written, even shared.
And all the fictoin, the millions of words.
Will this have a life if put online?
Is it not the storyteller’s sole desire to be heard? To have an attentive audience?
In 2001 I registered the domain name TCMB.com. Long gone, but I had this desire to do what is now possible, to create an active repository of the contents of your mind to be better able to access it. Simply having kept a diary for 35 years means in the family at least I am in effect the archivist; I’m not remembering conversations we had over Sunday Lunch in 1977 … I have it written down. There might even be a photo. There could even be a sketch of where people sat. There might be a dream I had that night.