Categories
reading writing

#APaperADay: Why and How Academics Write.

…non-academics regard writing as bullshit when it is abstract and vague and full of jargon. Here, academics are accused of hiding behind prose which is dense, exaggerated, obfuscating, overblown, and full of deepities as our frequent claims to profundity have been termed. We could write more clearly and simply but we use our academic bullshit to continue a vicious cycle which encourages students and new staff to imitate abstruse, professorial styles.

Badley, G. F. (2020). Why and How Academics Write. Qualitative Inquiry, 26(3–4), 247–256.

This article doesn’t include a list of instructions that will make you a better writer but it might serve as stimulus, inspiring you to think of writing as more than the reporting of facts. For the most part it’s a nice article for novices who haven’t yet ossified their practice into something “pompous and needlessly complex”, as well as for experienced writers who’ve been doing it for so long that they don’t even think about why and how they write anymore.

I did think that the paper tapers off towards the end, becoming something that reads more like a stream of consciousness than anything coherent, although I think that this may have been the point.


“Academics are often criticized for their poor or rotten writing”.

Writing that is “pompous and needlessly complex”.

How do we make our writing less awful?

Why do we write badly?

  1. We use academese; writing that is “turgid, soggy, wooden, bloated, clumsy, obscure, unpleasant to read, and
    impossible to understand” (Pinker, 2014).
  2. We convince ourselves that our subject matter needs us to use insider-shorthand to convey complex ideas.
  3. We think that “ponderous prose will get us published”. (Nice phrase).
  4. We assume that readers know what we’re talking about; this is called the curse of knowledge.
  5. We use academic bullshit to fill our writing with “deepities”; claims of profoundness that need big words to show just how deep they are.

Our belief that we’re “entering the conversation” is part of the problem; we’re just continuing the cycle of producing more vague, dense, passive, boring writing.

Why do we write at all?

It’s not a good enough reason to say that, as academics, we “have to” write, or because it’s tied to funding. The author provides some examples of other reasons for why academics write. Here are some that I loved:

  • To produce order out of chaos.
  • To satisfy a desire for revenge.
  • To thumb our noses at Death.
  • To act out antisocial behaviour.
  • To allow for the possibility of hope and redemption.

“…writing is the act of saying I, of imposing oneself upon other people, of saying listen to me, see it my way, change your mind. It’s an aggressive, even a hostile act” (Didion, 1976).

“If we try to write as humans for other humans, then we are more likely to make our writing less rotten and more accessible to a wider audience.”

How we academics (should) write

We should consider writing as a daily, human practice.

Producing meaningful text is as dependent on how we write as it is on what we write.

While there are many specific tips we could use to improve writing (e.g. avoid the passive voice, altering the length of sentences, etc.), the simplest might be to commit to writing every day. The aim of this might be to make our practice “routine and mundane.” (Silvia, 2007).

Reading is a prerequisite for writing. One way of joining a community is to start reading what others in that community have written.

Reading can help us to reorient our thoughts. Reading and writing are tied in with thinking. It may not be that we write what we think but rather that what we think becomes clear as we write. “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” (O’Connor).

“People who write a lot outline a lot.” Preparing an outline isn’t a prelude to “real” writing, it’s part of writing, even if the outline is ultimately abandoned.

“A clear sentence is no accident.” (Zinsser, 2006). But, early messiness can help us to make new connections and get a better sense of what we want to say.

Knowing the how of our writing helps us get closer to knowing why we write.

“…watch out for all attempts made by writers to empty their prose of people as agents by substituting ‘things that act like people’…”. Avoid writing about the world while avoiding the people in it.

Writing as “…an adventure in thought” or a “quest”.

Why and how do I write?

First, Why do I write?

“…writing is an act of hope, a sort of communion with fellow men…a tiny beam of light to show some hidden aspect of reality…”

And how do I write?

” I see my writing as knowledge-in-the-making even though I am not as skilled as some in using writing to learn what I know rather than to state what I think I know.”

Note: For me, this last section was a bit odd; I think it’s an attempt to be playful with words (lots of words) that all present a different facet of how the author thinks of his writing. But for me it doesn’t work. Rather than being a clear description of anything it comes across as a word-salad, with so many meanings as to make it meaningless. It’s also quite long. If you can get through it, you may find some nuggets of value. I skipped most of it. The conclusion is no less confusing.

Categories
reading research

#APaperADay – Conceptual frameworks to illuminate and magnify

Bordage, G. (2009). Conceptual frameworks to illuminate and magnify. Medical Education, 43(4), 312–319. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2923.2009.03295.x

Conceptual frameworks represent ways of thinking about a problem or a study, or ways of representing how complex things work the way they do.


A nice position paper that emphasises the value of conceptual frameworks as a tool for thinking, not only more deeply about problems, but more broadly, through the use of multiple frameworks applied to different aspects of the problem. The author uses three examples to develop a set of 13 key points related to the use of conceptual frameworks in education and research. The article is useful for anyone interested in developing a deeper approach to project design and educational research.

Frameworks inform the way we think and the decisions we make. The same task – viewed through different frameworks – will likely have different ways of thinking associated with it.

Frameworks come from:

  • Theories that have been confirmed experimentally;
  • Models derived from theories or observations;
  • Evidence-based practices.

We can combine frameworks in order for our activities to be more holistic. Educational problems can be framed with multiple frameworks, each providing different points of view and leading to different conclusions/solutions.

Like a lighthouse that illuminates only certain sections of the complete field of view, conceptual frameworks also provide only partial views of reality. In other words, there is no “correct” or all-encompassing framework for any given problem. Using a framework only enables us to illuminate and magnify one aspect of a problem, necessarily leaving others in the dark. When we start working on a problem without identifying our frameworks and assumptions (can also be thought of as identifying our biases) we limit the range of possible solutions.

Authors of medical education studies tend not explicitly identify their biases and frameworks.

The author goes on to provide three examples of how conceptual frameworks can be used to frame various educational problems (2 in medical education projects, 1 in research). Each example is followed by key points (13 in total). In each of the examples, the author describes possible pathways through the problem in order to develop different solutions, each informed by different frameworks.

Key points (these points make more sense after working through the examples):

  1. Frameworks can help us to differentiate problems from symptoms by looking at the problem from broader, more comprehensive perspectives. They help us to understand the problem more deeply.
  2. Having an awareness of a variety of a conceptual frameworks makes it more likely that our possible solutions will be wide-ranging because the frameworks emphasise different aspects of the problem and potential solution.
  3. Because each framework is inherently limited, a variety of frameworks can provide more ways to identify the important variables and their interactions/relationships. It is likely that more than one framework is relevant to the situation.
  4. We can use different frameworks within the same problem to analyse different aspects of the problem e.g. one for the problem and one for the solution.
  5. Conceptual frameworks can come from theories, models or evidence-based practices.
  6. Scholars need to apply the principles outlined in the conceptual framework(s) selected.
  7. Conceptual frameworks help identify important variables and their potential relationships; this also means that some variables are disregarded.
  8. Conceptual frameworks are dynamic entities and benefit from being challenged and altered as needed.
  9. Conceptual frameworks allow scholars to build upon one another’s work and allow individuals to develop programmes of research. When researchers don’t use frameworks, there’s an increased chance that the “findings may be superficial and non-cumulative.”
  10. Programmatic, conceptually-based research helps accumulate deeper understanding over time and thus moves the field forward.
  11. Relevant conceptual frameworks can be found outside one’s specialty or field. Medical education scholars shouldn’t expect that all relevant frameworks can be found in the medical education literature.
  12. Considering competing conceptual frameworks can maximise your chances of selecting the most appropriate framework for your problem or situation while guarding against premature, inappropriate or sub-optimal choices.
  13. Scholars are responsible for making explicit in their publications the assumptions and principles contained in the conceptual framework(s) they use.

The third example seems (to me) to be an unnecessarily long diversion into the author’s own research. And while the first two examples are quite practical and relevant, the third is quite abstract, possibly because of the focus on educational research and study design. I wonder how many readers will find relevance in it.

In a research context, conceptual frameworks can help to both frame or formulate the initial questions, identify variables for analysis, and interpret results.

The conclusion of the paper is very nice summary of the main ideas. However, it also introduces some new ideas, which probably should have been included in the main text.

Conceptual frameworks provide different lenses for looking at, and thinking about, problems and conceptualising solutions. Using a variety of frameworks, we open ourselves up to different solutions and potentially avoid falling victim to our own assumptions and biases.

It’s important to remember that frameworks magnify and illuminate only certain aspects of each problem, leaving other aspects in the dark i.e. there is no single framework that does everything.

Novice educators and researchers may find it daunting to work with frameworks, especially when you consider that they may not be aware of the range of possible frameworks.

How do you choose one framework over another? It’s important to discuss your problem and potential solutions with more experienced colleagues and experts in the field. Remember however, that some experts may be experts partly because they’ve spent a long time committed to a framework/way of seeing the world, which may make it difficult for them to give you an unbiased perspective.

Reviewing the relevant literature also helps to identify what frameworks other educators have used in addressing similar problems. The specific question you’re asking is also an important means of identifying a relevant framework.


Note: I’m the Editor at OpenPhysio, an open-access, peer-reviewed online journal with a focus on physiotherapy education. If you’re doing interesting work in the classroom, even if you have no experience in publishing educational research, we’d like to help you share your stories.

Categories
AI clinical reading research

Resource: Towards a curated library for AI in healthcare

I’ve started working on what will eventually become a curated library of resources that I’m using for my research on the impact of artificial intelligence and machine learning on clinical practice. At the moment it’s just a public repository of the articles, podcasts, blog posts that I’ve read or listened to and then saved in Zotero. You can subscribe to the feed so that when new items are added you’ll get a notification in whatever feedreader you use. Click on the image below to see the library.

The main library view in the web version of Zotero (note that the public view is different to what I’m showing here, since I have the beta version enabled; all of the functionality is the same though).

For now, it’s a public – but closed – group that has a library, meaning that anyone can see the list of library items but no-one can join the group, which means no-one else can add, edit or delete resources (for now). This is just because I’m still figuring out how it works and don’t want the additional admin of actually managing anything. I may open this up in future if it looks like anyone else is interested in joining and contributing. I’m also not sharing any of the original articles and books but will look into the implications of sharing these publicly, considering that most of them – being academic articles – are subject to copyright restrictions from the publishers.

The library/repository isn’t meant to be exhaustive but rather a small selection of articles and other resources that I think might be useful for clinicians, educators, students and researchers with an interest in AI in healthcare. At the moment it’s just a dump of some of the resources I’ve used and include notes and links associated with the resources. I’m going to revisit the items in the list and try to add more useful summaries and descriptions of everything with the idea that this could be something like a curated, annotated reading/watching/listening list for anyone with an interest in the topic.

Categories
ethics reading

PSA: Peter Singer’s “The life you can save” is available for free

In 2009, Peter Singer wrote the first edition of The Life You Can Save to demonstrate why we should care about and help those living in global extreme poverty, and how easy it is to improve and even save lives by giving effectively.

This morning I listened to an 80 000 hours podcast with Peter Singer and learned that, on the 10th anniversary of its publication, his book, The life you can save, is now available as a free ebook and audiobook (you can get the audiobook as a podcast subscription, which is very convenient). Singer’s ideas in this book, and Practical ethics, have been hugely influential in my thinking and teaching and thought that more people might be interested in the ideas that he shares.

Click on the image below to get to the download page.

Categories
reading research

#APaperADay – It’s Time for Medical Schools to Introduce Climate Change Into Their Curricula

This is my first attempt to share a short summary of a paper that I’ve read as part of my #APaperADay project, where I try to put aside the last 30-60 minutes of every day for reading and summarising an article. Obviously, I’m not going to be able to finish an article a day so these won’t be daily posts.

Also, paper selection is likely to be arbitrary. This isn’t an attempt to find “the best” or “most interesting” articles. It’s probably just me going through my reading list and choosing something based on how much time I have left in the day.

I’m going to try and make these summaries short and may also start adding my own commentary within the main text as part of an attempt to engage more deeply with the subject. Please don’t assume that my summaries are 1) accurate representations of the actual content, 2) substitutes for reading the original, 3) appropriate sources of knowledge in their own right.


Citation: Wellbery, C., Sheffield, P., Timmireddy, K., Sarfaty, M., Teherani, A., & Fallar, R. (2018). It’s Time for Medical Schools to Introduce Climate Change Into Their Curricula. Academic Medicine, 93(12), 1774–1777. https://doi.org/10.1097/ACM.0000000000002368

This is a position piece that begins by describing the impact of human beings on the planet (the Anthropocene).

The effects of climate change will disproportionately affect the most vulnerable populations (the very old and very young, those who are sick, and whose who are poor).

Current efforts in HPE policy have been directed towards preparing health professionals to help address the effects of climate change. However, medical school curricula have not made much headway in updating their curricula to explicitly include this new content.

Rationale for including climate change in medical education

  1. Today’s generation of HP students are those who have a large stake in developing a strategic response.
  2. The health effects of climate change and getting worse and HP will need to be adequately prepared to meet with challenge.
  3. It is everyone’s responsibility to drive efforts at reducing the environmental footprint of healthcare, which is a non-trivial contributor to global warming.
  4. Climate change will disproportionately affect the most vulnerable populations, who HP are obliged to help.
  5. The inclusion of climate change will facilitate the development of thinking skills that are (hopefully) transferable to other aspects of the curriculum.

Current curricular interventions

There needs to be a rethinking of the division between public and individual health. Climate change will increasingly affect the environment, which will increasingly affect people. These complex interactions among complex variables will affect political, social, scientific, and economic domains, all of which are currently beyond the scope of medical education.

Climate change as a topic of discussion can be relatively easily integrated into medical curricula, alongside already existing conditions. For example, a discussion on asthma could include the negative effect of global warming on this particular condition. In other words, climate change need not be included as a separate module/subject/topic but could be integrated with the current curriculum.

“Climate-relevant examples and the overarching macrocosmic mechanisms linking them to individual disease processes could broaden discussions of such topics as cardiovascular health (related to changing air quality), sexually transmitted infections (related to displaced populations), and mental health disorders (related both to displaced populations and also to extreme weather).”

The article finishes with a few examples of how some medical schools have incorporated climate change into their curricula. It seems likely that this is something that will need to happen over time i.e. programmes can’t simply dump a load of “global warming/climate change” content into the curriculum overnight.

Comment: This is a short paper that might be interesting for someone who’d like to know why climate change should be a topic of interest in health professions education. Even if this is something that you’re only passingly familiar with, you’re probably not going to get much from it. But it may be useful to pass on to someone who thinks that climate change isn’t relevant in a health professions curriculum.


Note: I’m the Editor at OpenPhysio, an open-access, peer-reviewed online journal with a focus on physiotherapy education. If you’re doing interesting work in the classroom, even if you have no experience in publishing educational research, we’d like to help you share your stories.

Categories
reading

I enjoyed reading (September)

I’m going to be presenting at The Network: Towards Unity for Health conference in Fortaleza, Brazil later this year and so my reading has largely been focused around what I’m thinking of talking about. I haven’t formalised the structure of the presentation yet but will probably publish it here as I figure out what I want to do.

What is public? (Anil Dash)

Public is not simply defined. Public is not just what can be viewed by others, but a fragile set of social conventions about what behaviors are acceptable and appropriate. There are people determined to profit from expanding and redefining what’s public, working to treat nearly everything we say or do as a public work they can exploit. They may succeed before we even put up a fight.

….

What if the public speech on Facebook and Twitter is more akin to a conversation happening between two people at a restaurant? Or two people speaking quietly at home, albeit near a window that happens to be open to the street? And if more than a billion people are active on various social networking applications each week, are we saying that there are now a billion public figures? When did we agree to let media redefine everyone who uses social networks as fair game, with no recourse and no framework for consent?

….

The business models of some of the most powerful forces in society are increasingly dependent on our complicity in making our conversations, our creations, and our communities public whenever they can exploit them. Given that reality, understanding exactly what “public” means is the only way to protect the public’s interest.

 

What is privacy? (danah boyd): Think of this piece as an extension of the piece above, where boyd unpacks the notion of privacy in the context of “public” that Anil Dash wrote about.

The very practice of privacy is all about control in a world in which we fully know that we never have control. Our friends might betray us, our spaces might be surveilled, our expectations might be shattered. But this is why achieving privacy is desirable. People want to be *in* public, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they want to *be* public. There’s a huge difference between the two. As a result of the destabilization of social spaces, what’s shocking is how frequently teens have shifted from trying to restrict access to content to trying to restrict access to meaning. They get, at a gut level, that they can’t have control over who sees what’s said, but they hope to instead have control over how that information is interpreted. And thus, we see our collective imagination of what’s private colliding smack into the notion of public. They are less of a continuum and more of an entwined hairball, reshaping and influencing each other in significant ways.

….

When powerful actors, be they companies or governmental agencies, use the excuse of something being “public” to defend their right to look, they systematically assert control over people in a way that fundamentally disenfranchises them. This is the very essence of power and the core of why concepts like “surveillance” matter. Surveillance isn’t simply the all-being all-looking eye. It’s a mechanism by which systems of power assert their power. And it is why people grow angry and distrustful. Why they throw fits over beingexperimented on. Why they cry privacy foul even when the content being discussed is, for all intents and purposes, public.

 

Are Google making money from your exercise data?: Exercise activity as digital labour? (Chris Till)

In this article I made a suggestion of what I believe to be a previously untheorised consequence of the large scale tracking of exercise activity by self-tracking devices such as Fitbit and Nike+ and related apps on smart phones.

My suggestion was that this kind of tracking is potentially transforming exercise activity into labour. By synthesising existing analyses of self-tracking and quantified self activities with theories of digital labour I proposed that by converting the physical movement of bodies during exercise into standardised measures which can be analysed, compared and accumulated on a large scale they are made amenable to the extraction of value.

….

Another study conducted by web analytics and privacy group Evidon commissioned by the Financial Times found that data was shared with nearly seventy companies by the twenty most popular health and fitness apps and some of these companies were advertising firms (see graphic below). Although the headline rhetoric often presents a concern for the privacy of users an analysis of the privacy policies of many of the most popular health and fitness tracking apps and devices most allowing “non-personally identifiable information” to be shared and many were ambiguous on whether they permitted sharing of user data.

 

Wearer be warned: Your fitness data may be sold or used against you (Deborah Lupton)

When self-tracking was an activity limited to jotting notes down in a paper journal or diary, this information could easily be kept private. No-one else could know the finer details of one’s sleeping or bowel habits, sex life, diet, heart rate, body weight or efforts to give up smoking.

However when people use digital devices that connect to computing cloud storage facilities or developers’ data archives, the user no longer owns or control their own data. This personal and often very private information becomes part of vast digital data collections that are increasingly used by actors and agents in many different social domains.

Personal health and medical data is now used for much more than just gathering information on oneself for one’s own private reasons. This information is a commodity that can be used for commercial, managerial and governmental purposes and on-sold to third parties.

 

Every little byte counts (Evgeny Morozov)

When Big Data allows us to automate decision-­making, or at least contextualize every decision with a trove of data about its likely consequences, we need to grapple with the question of just how much we want to leave to chance and to those simple, low-tech, unautomated options of democratic contestation and deliberation.

As we gain the capacity to predict and even pre-empt crises, we risk eliminating the very kinds of experimental behaviors that have been conducive to social innovation. Occasionally, someone needs to break the law, engage in an act of civil disobedience or simply refuse to do something the rest of us find useful. The temptation of Big Data lies precisely in allowing us to identify and make such loopholes unavailable to deviants, who might actually be dissidents in disguise.

Categories
reading

I enjoyed reading (August)

You can tell from the excerpts below and from previous posts that I’ve been putting some time into thinking about, and writing about, writing. I had to put my writing on hold for a while while I paid attention to other projects, but I’m starting to get back into it again and I’m exciting about it like I haven’t been in a while. It’s hard to begin again and even the movement of my fingers on the keys feel clumsy and awkward.

David Foster Wallace on Writing, Self-Improvement, and How We Become Who We Are (Maria Popova, sharing excerpts from David Foster Wallace):

Like any art, probably, the more experience you have with it, the more the horizon of what being really good is . . . the more it recedes. . . . Which you could say is an important part of my education as a writer. If I’m not aware of some deficits, I’m not going to be working hard to try to overcome them. . . .

Like any kind of infinitely rich art, or any infinitely rich medium, like language, the possibilities for improvement are infinite and so are the possibilities for screwing up and ceasing to be good in the ways you want to be good.

Grit and the secret of success (Maria Popova): I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit lately, since we started a project in my faculty where we look at student success and possible strategies to improve it. One of the proxy measures of student success is student engagement i.e. the amount of physical and cognitive effort that students put into completing an academic task. One of the areas in which student engagement can be enhanced is in academic challenge, which is the idea that by creating tasks that push students to work harder than they are used to, they will be more engaged and therefore potentially more successful.

“Inspiration is for amateurs — the rest of us just show up and get to work,” Chuck Close scoffed. “A self-respecting artist must not fold his hands on the pretext that he is not in the mood,” Tchaikovsky admonished. “Show up, show up, show up, and after a while the muse shows up, too,” Isabel Allende urged. “You have to finish things,” Neil Gaiman advised aspiring writers.

Mary Gordon on the Joy of Notebooks and How Writing by Hand Catalyzes Creativity (Maria Popova):

I listen to music, often string quartets or piano sonatas. … I enjoy the music and the rhythm of the mindless copying. Or not entirely mindless; I’m luxuriating in the movement of the words which are, blessedly, not mine. I’m taking pleasure in the slow and rapid movements of my pen, leaving its black marks on the whiteness of paper. … I can’t listen to music when reading poetry or fiction. Into the notebook I am using for the fiction I’m writing, I copy paragraphs whose heft and cadence I can learn from. And some days, if I’m lucky, the very movement of my hand, like a kind of dance, starts up another movement that allows me to forget the vanity, the folly, of what I am really about.

An academic writing playlist (Pat Thomson)

1. A song for staring at the blank screen
2. A song for explaining to your lover why you didn’t hear what they just said
3. A song for reading reviewers’ comments
4. A song for that feeling of being really, really stupid
5. A song for pressing the submit button
6. A song to drown out the noises in the hall
7. A song to remind yourself to get off twitter now
8. A song for an impossible deadline

…. Click here for the rest of the playlist.

Categories
reading

I enjoyed reading (July)

Artificial Intelligence Is Now Telling Doctors How to Treat You (Daniela Hernandez)

Artificial intelligence is still in the very early stages of development–in so many ways, it can’t match our own intelligence–and computers certainly can’t replace doctors at the bedside. But today’s machines are capable of crunching vast amounts of data and identifying patterns that humans can’t. Artificial intelligence–essentially the complex algorithms that analyze this data–can be a tool to take full advantage of electronic medical records, transforming them from mere e-filing cabinets into full-fledged doctors’ aides that can deliver clinically relevant, high-quality data in real time.

Carl Sagan on Science and Spirituality (Maria Popova)

Plainly there is no way back. Like it or not, we are stuck with science. We had better make the best of it. When we finally come to terms with it and fully recognize its beauty and its power, we will find, in spiritual as well as in practical matters, that we have made a bargain strongly in our favor.

But superstition and pseudoscience keep getting in the way, distracting us, providing easy answers, dodging skeptical scrutiny, casually pressing our awe buttons and cheapening the experience, making us routine and comfortable practitioners as well as victims of credulity.

Is it OK to be a luddite?

Perhaps, there is some middle-ground, not skepticism or luddism, but what Sean calls digital agnosticism. So often in our discussions of online education and teaching with technology, we jump to a discussion of how or when to use technology without pausing to think about whether or why. While we wouldn’t advocate for a new era of luddism in higher education, we do think it’s important for us to at least ask ourselves these questions.

We use technology. It seduces us and students with its graphic interfaces, haptic touch-screens, and attention-diverting multimodality. But what are the drawbacks and political ramifications of educational technologies? Are there situations where tech shouldn’t be used or where its use should be made as invisible as possible?

Reclaiming the Web for the Next Generation (Doug Belshaw):

Those of us who have grown up with the web sort-of, kind-of know the mechanics behind it (although we could use a refresher). For the next generation, will they know the difference between the Internet and Google or Facebook? Will they, to put it bluntly, know the difference between a public good and a private company?

7 things good communicators must not do (Garr Reynolds): Reynolds creates a short list of items taken from this TED Talk by Julian Treasure. If you can’t watch the video, here are the things to avoid:

1. Gossip
2. Judgement
3. Negativity
4. Complaining
5. Excuses
6. Exaggeration (lying)
7. Dogmatism
Reynolds added another item to the list; 8. Self-absorption

Personal Learning Networks, CoPs Connectivism: Creatively Explained (Jackie Gerstein): Really interesting post demonstrating student examples of non-linguistical knowledge representation.

The intent of this module is to assist you in developing a personalized and deep understanding of the concepts of this unit – the concepts that are core to using social networking as a learning venue. Communities of Practice, Connectivism, Personal Learning Networks, create one or a combination of the following to demonstrate your understanding of these concepts: a slide show or Glog of images, an audio cast of sounds, a video of sights, a series of hand drawn and scanned pictures, a mindmap of images, a mathematical formula, a periodic chart of concepts, or another form of nonlinguistic symbols. Your product should contain the major elements discussed in this module: CoPs, Connectivism, and Personal Learning Networks. These are connected yet different concepts. As such they should be portrayed as separate, yet connected elements.

The open education infrastructure, and why we must build it (Davis Wiley)

Open Credentials
Open Assessments
Open Educational Resources
Open Competencies

This interconnected set of components provides a foundation which will greatly decrease the time, cost, and complexity of the search for innovative and effective new models of education.

Categories
reading

I enjoyed reading (February)

Disrupting the diploma (Reid Hoffman): I love the idea of a certification as a “communication device”.

…we need to apply new technologies to the primary tool of traditional certification, the diploma. We need to take what now exists as a dumb, static document and turn it into a richer, updateable, more connected record of a person’s skills, expertise, and experience. And then we need to take that record and make it part of a fully networked certification platform.

a different approach to research questions: a useful holiday read (Pat Thomson): This made me think about the kind of research that I want to end up doing. Yes, there’s always a space to “fill in the gaps”, but will I really be able to innovate if I simply fill in what’s missing?

Alvesson and Sandberg take issue with the dominant mode of generating research questions – they call this gap spotting. They argue that the usual process consists of reading literatures, finding what’s been said about a particular topic and locating something that isn’t done – the gap. This gap spotting leads to an incremental approach to research, they say. While gap spotting is perfectly defensible, and will certainly garner the do-ers of gap-spotting research PhDs and even research grants, it won’t, they suggest, produce game-changing research, particularly in the arts, humanities and social sciences. Instead, gap-spotting produces work which is predictable. Gap filling adds to what is known, but doesn’t change the field.

Is It Plagiarism or Collaboration? (Jennifer Carey): If we’re trying to create learning spaces that prepare students for the “real world”, and we acknowledge that working in the real world requires collaboration with others, why don’t we develop more assessments that require students to work together?

We want students to do “group work,” to collaborate, and to discuss. However, we have very specific realms in which we want this to happen: the group assignment, the in-class discussion, studying for exams, etc. At the same time, many of us want to put up barriers and halt any collaboration at other times (during assessments, for example). When collaboration takes place during assessment, we deem it plagiarism or cheating, and technology is often identified as the instrument that tempts students into such behavior.

The attack on our higher education system — and why we should welcome it

For one thing, the MOOC hypesters were wrong. They discovered, on the backs, or within the wallets, of their VC partners, that knowledge building is a complex integrated system with multiple facets. The linear nature of MOOC solutions to the perceived problems of higher education (better instructional software and greater numbers of learners) failed to account for knowledge building as an integrated social, economic and cultural activity of society. Suggestions of MOOCs replacing universities began to seem quaint and childlike.

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reading

I enjoyed reading (January)

This post is also a bit delayed, but I’m OK with that. During January I found myself reading a bit more than usual about robots, androids, augmented reality and related topics. I’m not sure why it worked out that way, but this collection is more or less representative of what I found interesting during that time. Interestingly, I realised that a common thread throughout this theme are that they’re pretty much related to three books by Daniel Suarez; Daemon, Freedom, and Kill Decision. If you enjoy this kind of thing, you have to read them.

I, Glasshole: My Year With Google Glass (Mat Honan): I’m fascinated with the concept of wearable, context-aware devices and services, of which Glass is simply the most well-known. I think that the ability to overlay digital information on top of the reality we perceive represents an astounding change in how we experience the world.

For much of 2013, I wore the future across my brow, a true Glasshole peering uncertainly into the post-screen world. I’m not out here all alone, at least not for long. The future is coming to your face too. And your wrist. Hell, it might even be in your clothes. You’re going to be wearing the future all over yourself, and soon. When it comes to wearable computing, it’s no longer a question of if it happens, only when and why and can you get in front of it to stop it with a ball-pein hammer? (Answers: Soon. Because it is incredibly convenient. Probably not.) In a few years, we might all be Glassholes. But in 2013, maybe for the last time, I was in dubiously exclusive face-computing company.

Robots of death, robots of love: The reality of android soldiers and why laws for robots are doomed to failure (Steve Ranger): The idea of fully autonomous robots that are able to make decisions in critical situations is both disturbing and appealing to me. Disturbing because embedding a moral framework that can deal with the complexity of warfare is ethically problematic. Appealing because in many situations, robots may actually be able to make better decisions than human beings (think of self-driving cars).

While fully autonomous robot weapons might not be deployed for two or three decades, the International Committee for Robot Arms Control (ICRAC), an international group of academics and experts concerned about the implications of a robot arms race, argues a prohibition on the development and deployment of autonomous weapons systems is the correct approach. “Machines should not be allowed to make the decision to kill people,” it states.

Better Than Human: Why Robots Will — And Must — Take Our Jobs (Kevin Kelly): Kevin Kelly’s article, We are the web, was one of the first things I read that profoundly changed the way I think about the internet. Needless to say, I almost always find his thoughts on technology to be insightful and thought-provoking.

All the while, robots will continue their migration into white-collar work. We already have artificial intelligence in many of our machines; we just don’t call it that. Witness one piece of software by Narrative Science (profiled in issue 20.05) that can write newspaper stories about sports games directly from the games’ stats or generate a synopsis of a company’s stock performance each day from bits of text around the web. Any job dealing with reams of paperwork will be taken over by bots, including much of medicine. Even those areas of medicine not defined by paperwork, such as surgery, are becoming increasingly robotic. The rote tasks of any information-intensive job can be automated. It doesn’t matter if you are a doctor, lawyer, architect, reporter, or even programmer: The robot takeover will be epic.

And it has already begun.

A review of Her (Ray Kurzweil): Kurweil’s thinking on the merging of human beings with technology is fascinating. If you’re interested in this topic, the collection of essays on his blog is awesome.

With emerging eye-mounted displays that project images onto the wearer’s retinas and also look out at the world, we will indeed soon be able to do exactly that. When we send nanobots into the brain — a circa-2030s scenario by my timeline — we will be able to do this with all of the senses, and even intercept other people’s emotional responses.