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The communismization of knowledge and Open Educational Resources

Fig.1. I like spirals. Thirty years ago this was just a photo. For me it is an expression of what learning looks like. (I think this is St.John’s College, Boat House – or is it Balliol?)

At the base are the undergraduates, the first years, as you climb the steps you find the second and third years, then the middle common room the MA and D.Phil students while at the top are the lecturers, senior lecturers and professors.

And when you die they raise a flag.

In 1983 (or was in 1982?) this was the epitome of ‘closed learning’ – the Oxford College boat house.

Not so much ‘dreaming spires’ as ‘dreaming spirals’.

  • It was a privilege, but like many of these I’ve been either in denial or trying to shake them off for the best part of 25 years.
  • ‘Je suis comme je suis, je suis faite comme ca’ (Jacques Prevert)
  • And there’s no going back.

I was up at 4.03am. Back to bed at 6.15am. Then up again 20 minutes ago.

  • My body was tired, my head continued to buzz.

Regarding ‘Open Learn’  what’s all this fretting about process for?

Have we all forgotten the purpose of research????

Not ‘how?’ but ‘why?’

Why? Why? Why?

We are seeking answers, not trying to construct a bridge across the English Channel with chopsticks and bendy-straws.

Not to get the process right, but to get answers to problems, to find better ways, to understand and share what is going on so that we can act, or not act on it?

Sometimes I read an academic paper and it is all about the process.

Too often I write an assignment and it has to be written to be marked – not to generate ideas. In fact, my finest few hours, a total End of Module Assignment rewrite was a disaster for a set of marks but is my theory and philosophy of what learning is. It was the culmination of months of work, years even. Expressed somewhere like the School of Communication Arts I would have had the attention of eyes and ears.

Fig.2. Submitted as the hypothesis for an End of Module Assignment the grade was catastrophic – it is of the module, but the examiners didn’t have a grid filled with the appropriate crumbs that would permit them to ‘tick the boxes’. (I did submit more than the image, 6ft high and drawn on a sheet of backing wallpaper).

Creativity doesn’t fair well in a process driven system, either in research or in marking assignments.

This isn’t an excuse regarding a grade or the need and value of process drive, guideline controlled, parameter set research, but rather a cry for some ‘free thinking’ the ‘parcours’ of mental agility and expression.

Fig.3 The cliffs below Roche de Mio, La Plagne

There is value in going off piste.

It isn’t even the democratisation of education and knowledge either, it is the Tim Berners-Lee rather than the Google approach to knowledge – i.e. give it away for free.

It  is ‘communismization’ – which is a word, however horrible it sounds, I just looked it up.

This moves me onto dwelling on Creative Commons.

If the idea of openness is to give it away for free what is the reward for the author? Recognition as the author. However, I get the feeling that unless it is published some readers think they can help themselves to the ideas and words of others and claim them as their own.

There will always be theft, but as children aren’t we told that for someone to copy your ideas is a compliment?

We need to behave like the children we still are.

But does even that matter in an open society – theft of intellectual property I mean?

If the spreading of the word is all important should any of us give a fig?

If we have a roof over our heads, food and water, electricity to charge the iPad, the BBC  … a health service like the NHS what more can we want?

  • Better schools.
  • Better roads.
  • Better weather.

‘Peace on earth and good will to humankind’.

A better word needs to be found for what is meant by ‘communismization’.

Is is just ‘communization’?

  • Is it simply ‘open’?!
  • ‘Open’ might do.
  • Free
  • Open

As the air we breathe …

P.S. I worked the season in Val d’Isere in my gap year and returned a decade later and stayed in La Plagne from December to May researching a book and a couple of documentaries for Oxford Scientific Films. None saw the light of day, though after several weeks thinking about it I came down that cliff face. I made a big mistake by slowing down at the edge and nearly didn’t have enough distance to clear the rocks. I no longer have a death wish. And it wasn’t even fun. It focused the mind though. In fact, the best way to stop yourself thinking about other stuff is to take such risks. Racing Fireballs in the English Channel has its appeal  – I  have a tendency to end up in the spinnaker or under the hull though.

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?


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)


How to use your blog for Tutor Marked Assignments

This is my approach, it works for me.

Everything goes in here: notes from what I read or come across, sometimes so I didn’t lose track of them, course related comments I post on people’s blogs too.

A good deal of this remains hidden (private), however I will sometimes ‘expose’ notes and cryptic thoughts in case someone can make sense of it for me, or chivvy me along to construct some rounded thoughts and sentences with the stuff.

There’s some random stuff too.

Tagging matters immensely.

‘Search’ leaves it to chance, which might help you serendipitously to come across a thought or note you had, but is scrappy and can be time wasting, rather be tag happy and have a system.

Everything gets the module reference, if there is an activity reference this is added as a single word such as ‘h807activity3.4’ or some such so that it can be searched for and found with ease.

Come TMA time I revisit all the content from that block and start adding the tag, for example, ‘h807tma2’, or as I’m currently doing ‘b822tma3’.

Gathered in one search list I then go through each relevant post refining my thinking.

At some stage I may add further tags to identify arguments or to give it a chronology if that isn’t apparent. I then cut and paste to a word document.

I MAY assemble in PowerPoint simply to help shuffle ideas around.

A system?

Hardly. Each to their own. I panic like anyone else over an assignment but know the stuff is here and having done the reading and activities and having shared my thinking and had this coloured and shaped by others that I ought to be able to assemble a cogent case.

Tags are strategic, Search is more random.

I switch between the two when revisiting note


The best form of ‘cognitive housekeeping’ is to sleep on it.

So I blogged three months ago when considering the merits and demerits of keeping a learning journal and reflective writing.

It transpires that sleep really does sort the ‘memory wheat from the chaff’ according to a report in the Journal of Neuroscience, DOI, 10,1,1523.jneuorsci.3575-10.2011) referred to in the current New Scientist. This Week. 5 FEB 2011.

‘It turns out that during sleep the brain specifically preserves nuggets of thought it previously tagged as important.’ Ferris Jabr says.

I have always used sleep to reflect on ideas.

If I expect or wish to actively dwell on something I will go to sleep with the final thought on my mind, a pen and pad of paper by my side. Cat naps are good for this too. I will position myself with pillows and a book, or article and drift off as I finish. Waking up ten or twenty minutes later I glance straight back at the page and will feel a greater connection with it.

I wonder if there is commercial value in working from home and doing so up ’til the point you need to fall asleep? It’s how my wife works when she is compiling a hefty report. It’s how I work when I have an assignment, or a script to deliver … or a production to complete. The work never stops and it doesn’t stop me sleeping.

Going back to tagging.

How does the mind do this? In curious ways. We all know how a memory can be tagged with a smell or a sound. For me how mothballs remind me of my Granny’s cupboard (an image of it immediately in my mind). A Kenwood blender will always remind me of my mother ginger biscuits to put on the base of a cheesecake. And a sherbert dip the Caravan Shop, Beadnell, Northumberland. Often when a random recollection enters my consciousness I try to think what has triggered it: the way the light falls on a tree, the exhaust from a car or even a slight discomfort in my stomach. It is random. Indeed, is a random thought not impossible?

There has to be a trigger, surely?

Can any of these be used?

Perhaps I could categorise content here, or in an eportfolio by taste. So chocolate digestive biscuits might be used to recall anecdotes. Toothpaste might be used to recall statistics. Varieties of Bassett’s Liquorice Allsorts might be associated with people I have got to know (a bit) during the MAODE.

The mind boggles; or at least mine does.

Colour and images (Still or moving) is as much as we can do so far.

I’m intrigued by memory games. I like the journey around a familiar setting where you place objects you need to remember in familiar places so that you can recall a list of things. Here the tag is somewhere familiar juxtaposed with the fresh information.

Are there better ways to tag?

Look at my ridiculously long list of tags here. Am I being obtuse? When I think of a tag do I come up with a word I’ve not yet used? How conducive is that to recalling this entry, or grouping similar entries to do the job?

I like the way some blogs (WordPress/EduBlogs) prompt you to use a tag you’ve applied before; it offers some order to it all. I long ago lost track of the 17000 entries in my blog. Would I want to categorise them all anyhow? I think I managed 37. I prefer the ‘enter@random’ button I installed.

Going back to this idea of tagging by taste/smell, might a word (the category) be given division by taste/smell, texture and colour? How though would such categories work in a digital form? Am all I doing here recreating a person’s shed, stuff shoved under their bed or stacked in a garage, or put in a trunk or tuck box in the attic?

In the test reported in the Neuroscientist those who went to bed in the knowledge that they would be tested on the information they had looked at that day had a 12% better recall.


Testing works.

It doesn’t happen in MAODE, if at all. When are we put on the spot? When are we expected ever to playback a definition under ‘duress’?

‘There is an active memory process during sleep that selects certain memories and puts them in long-term storage.’

Like an e-portfolio?

Is the amount of sleep I’ve had, the 350 or so nights since I started the MAODE … part of the learning environment required?


Sleep Selectively Enhances Memory Expected to Be of Future Relevance
Wilhelm et al. J. Neurosci..2011; 31: 1563-1569

How we read and contribute online

Once you have the definitive response to a fact, something composed as a wiki that has been thoroughly reviewed I’d then like to see this thinking, initially just in words, animated via a slider, the kind of volume control we’re used to seeing, only this, instead of increasing the volume of sound, increases the number of words.

In this way you choose your moment to read a bit, a bit more, or a lot, the whole thing, and or everything (in theory) that went through the author’s mind when they wrote their chapter/boo/report in the first place by having not just the links, but the references open and ready to read in an instance.


The expert mind does this anyway. By the time you’ve read so extensively on a subject that you hear its authors speaking, you tap into a form of this. You could at any moment offer a summary, or talk for hours on ‘your’ subject.

I would like this opportunity from the start, from the point of ignorance, to nudge back and forth, to ‘rock n roll’ as a soundengineer would put it, finding the point to cut a sound track, the ‘sweet point’ for where I was at, where enough was being said to engage me … or, were I about to alight from a train, a bitsize thought on which I could chew ’til the opportunity arose to indulge and nudge this ‘text volume control’ along the scale.

Now think of this as a slice in a pie.

Just a thought.

Open it out and you migrate away from text alone to include stills, video and sound. For example, the image-based expression of this concept, and a particular issue/idea/fact/report, begins with a single image, like a book cover, or TV title sequence … as you run along our ‘volume control’ the number and range of images expands.

How to study


Elaborately Cautious Language

’In every day life we cheerfully use language as a blunt instrument for cudgelling our way through the cut and thrust of events around us. However, in academic writing language is meant to be used more like a scalpel, cutting precisely between closely related arguments, so that they can be prised apart and analysed in detail.’ Northridge (1990:29)

An academic text is not a narrative – it is an argument.

An academic text aims to be unemotional, detached and logical.

Whilst I can understand applying this to a TMA or ECA, this is surely not the required or desired approach in what is called a Blog? And for writing in a forum, should we reference everything? It doesn’t half interrupt the flow of ideas. If talking over coffee or a glass of wine would we cite references we knowingly made? The lines distinguishing the spoken word to text or TXT or blogging and messaging are blurred if not broken.

Manage Feelings 2.6 Northridge (1990:31)

Find ways of:

* building upon your enthusiasms
* avoiding sinking into despair
* making the topic interesting
* accepting specialist language
* accepting academic text styles
* constructing valid criticisms

My preferred approach to reaching:

* cafe
* walk
* pool
* while travelling (trains, planes, ferries and yachts)

Though surely not

* in bed
* on the kitchen table in the middle of the night
* in the pub
* on holiday

(though this can be exactly what I do/have done)


* a room of my own

(married life, children and a modest home have left me with a cluttered shed or lock-up garage packed with the contents of our last house – we moved three years ago).

Approaches to Reading

Skim paragraph ahead, then read more slowly using the ‘mile stones’ to guide you.

Skimming – about the text
Reading – follow the argument

Lighting skim – very fast.

I typically ‘light skim’ the last chapters of a Stephen King novel, as the plot becomes ludicrous yet I feel an obligation to have glanced across the page in case at some stage sanity returns (it never does). Though the story will reach a resolution.

Intensive Study – very slow

Something new, something I don’t understand. Something I need to understand or want to understand. But never the small print of a bank overdraft facility. Probably the diaries of Anais Nin and the novels of Henry Miller. Probably the history of WWI, as I need to glean info from it for my own writing. And of course the books and papers I read for H807 (Innovations in E-Learning) and will read for H808 (The eLearning Professional).

Is it making me think?

Am I getting a better grasp of the subject?

‘The underlying purpose of reading is to develop your thoughts; to weave new ideas and information into the understanding you already have and to give new angles to your thinking.’ Northridge, (1990:34)

My reading speed, 300 wpm? i.e. far to quick, but is a page a minute that fast? it does depend of course on the writing style and my familiarity or otherwise with the concepts.

The purpose of reading = ‘rethinking’ Northridge, (1990:34)

I like that ‘re-thinking.’ So building on what you now already, whether or not you think you know much at all … or know a great deal.


* To develop your thoughts
* To weave new ideas and information into the understanding you already have
* To give new angles to your thinking

The point of reading:

‘The point of reading is to be able to understand what you read and to be able to get back the ideas at some future point when you need them again.’ Northridge, (1990:38)

The point of taking notes:

‘Taking notes forces you to think; to ‘grapple’ with the ideas in the text as you read them, because you have to decide what to write down and how to say it.’ Northridge, (1990:44)

I don’t grapple at the note taking stage, I find it more mundane than that, I do desire a tussle at some stage, which is why I can find the manner in which we engage asynchronously (its nature) somewhat tame. I don’t recommend debating online either, or getting into an argument (or even a heavy discussion) … when in Elluminate, messaging or anything else.

This is why the face-to-face tutorial at least, fellow students over a beer in the MCR or in a formal debating chamber ideas gain a voice, that becomes your Word, and your Voice.


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