I enjoyed reading (July)

Image from MIT-Library’s Flickr stream.

In Connectivism, No One Can Hear You Scream: a Guide to Understanding the MOOC Novice (Keith Brennan): An interesting critique of Connectivist thinking…

What we think about who we are, and where we are, tells us how much we are likely to learn. This is key to the gap in Connectivist thought. Central to that gap, at the core of what I think Connectivism might be missing is this idea: Motivation is the engine of effort, and the sense of self is the ticking heart of motivation. Our sense of self is formed by the experiences we have, the environments we have them in, and the people who design those environments. And that negotiated sense of self can engineer the success or failure of the educational experience.

…and the response from Stephen Downes (Connectivism and the Primal Scream).

The key is to stop thinking of these as content to be mastered, and to start thinking them as skills to be practiced. There isn’t some point of success or failure in any of these, you just do them – like talking to your friends, like walking from class to class – until it becomes second nature.

Indeed, so long as you think of knowledge and learning as something to be acquired and measured and tested – instead of practiced and lived and experienced – you will be dissatisfied with connectivist learning. And – for that matter – there’s probably a limit to how far you can advance in traditional education as well, because (to my experience) everybody who achieves a high degree of expertise in a field has advanced well beyond the idea that it’s just information and skills and things to learn.

edcan-v50-n3-dunleavy_g_2Flow: A measure of student engagement (Jackie Gerstein):

Students differ in their aspirations, interests, and aptitudes. But it is worth considering how distinct pathways, trajectories, or streams that too often limit opportunities for students could become permeable spaces for learning. What if the curriculum anchors their learning, but ceases to anchor the students themselves because its aim is the development of important competencies through diverse learning experiences that value and extend young peoples’ knowledge, interests, and capacities across all curriculum domains?

No excuse for giving boring presentations (Garr Reynolds):

They are not sophisticated, erudite scientists speaking above our intellectual capability; they are arrogant, thoughtless individuals who insult our very presence by the lack of concern for our desire to benefit from a meeting which we choose to attend.Failure to spend the

This slideshow could not be started. Try refreshing the page or viewing it in another browser.

time wisely and well, failure to educate, entertain, elucidate, enlighten, and most important of all, failure to maintain attention and interest should be punishable by stoning. There is no excuse for tedium.

The challenges and realities of Inquiry-based learning (Thom Markum):

As education continues the march toward a student-driven, project-oriented approach that values intelligent solutions to open-ended problems, it won’t be sufficient to focus on the wonderful discoveries and authentic work that result from an inquiry-based system. Instead, a far more difficult issue will come to the fore: How will we know if inquiry-based learning is successful, and what non-standardized measures of achievement, like better attitude, apply?

transhumanNanoethics and human enhancement (Patrick Lin & Fritz Allhof):

Human enhancement—our ability to use technology to enhance our bodies and minds, as opposed to its application for therapeutic purposes—is a critical issue facing nanotechnology. It will be involved in some of the near-term applications of nanotechnology, with such research labs as MIT’s Institute for Soldier Technologies working on exoskeletons and other innovations that increase human strength and capabilities. It is also a core issue related to far-term predictions in nanotechnology, such as longevity, nanomedicine, artificial intelligence and other issues.

The implications of nanotechnology as related to human enhancement are perhaps some of the most personal and therefore passionate issues in the emerging field of nanoethics, forcing us to rethink what it means to be human or, essentially, our own identity. For some, nanotechnology holds the promise of making us superhuman; for others, it offers a darker path toward becoming Frankenstein’s monster.


I enjoyed reading (May)

autumn book

Stop publishing web pages (Anil Dash):

Start moving your content management system towards a future where it outputs content to simple APIs, which are consumed by stream-based apps that are either HTML5 in the browser and/or native clients on mobile devices.

What happens when everyone is pushing their content out into streams that can be filtered, mixed together, repurposed and republished? I shouldn’t have to go to a page to get your stuff. I should be able to subscribe to your feed. And more than that, I should be able to subscribe to only the parts of your feed that interest me.


Impact factors declared unfit for duty:

I think basing a judgement on the name or impact factor of the journal rather that the work that the scientist in question has reported is profoundly misguided…Do not use journal-based metrics, such as Journal Impact Factors, as a surrogate measure of the quality of individual research articles, to assess an individual scientist’s contributions, or in hiring, promotion, or funding decisions.

Of course, the problem is that while I may not think the Impact Factor has any real value, my institution does. Sad face.


The world needs you to stop being boring (Garr Reynolds):

Stop being boring. “The world needs you to stop being boring,” he says. “Everyone can be boring. Boring is easy! “What will you create that will make the world awesome?” Robbie Nova asks. “Nothing if you keep sitting there!” So get up and take the road less traveled — that’s the road that leads to awesome!


This 3D printed biplastic windpipe saved a baby’s life (Clay Dillow):

Using high resolution imaging to build a digital picture of Kaiba’s trachea, they were able to print a customized biopolymer tracheal splint for the infant using a 3-D printer.

OK, so we can do this now. We can basically take pictures of things and then print them. Perfectly. And it’s getting cheaper. How long before every house (or community) has a 3D printer connected to a database of shared schematics that people can use to print whatever they need?

Related (kind of): Two year old girl receives new trachea made from her own stem cells, and Injectable oxygen keeps people alive without breathing. Science is awesome.


Let there be stoning (Jay Lehr):

We attempt to achieve excellence of written presentation in our journals. We can require no less in our conferences. It is an honor to be accepted as a speaker who will spend the valuable time of hundreds of scientists at a conference. Failure to spend this time wisely and well, failure to educate, entertain, elucidate, enlighten, and most important of all, failure to maintain attention and interest should be punishable by stoning. There is no excuse for such tedium, so why not exact the ultimate penalty?

Is this a bit harsh? No. I don’t think so. I spend a lot of time preparing my presentations. I read up on design principles. I spend ages deciding what font I will use. I choose my pictures carefully. And that’s after I’ve spent a lot of time preparing the academic content. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect the same of others. If you don’t have time to prepare well, don’t submit your abstract. See also How to give a presentation that bores your audience.

conference research

Storytelling for academics


In 2012 I gave a short presentation on a few elements of giving a conference presentation, using images from Pixar movies (see bottom of post). I wanted to convey the idea that sharing academic research needn’t be boring, a problem that I think is rife among academics. That’s why I was delighted to come across Pixar’s 22 rules of storytelling, some of which I think can be adapted for academics to use when sharing their work.

  1. You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.
  2. You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be very different.
  3. Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.
  4. Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.
  5. Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.
  6. What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?
  7. Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.
  8. Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.
  9. When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.
  10. Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.
  11. Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.
  12. Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.
  13. Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.
  14. Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.
  15. If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.
  16. What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.
  17. No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later.
  18. You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.
  19. Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.
  20. Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like?
  21. You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way?
  22. What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.

Here is the presentation I gave:

twitter feed

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2011-05-30