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personal Science

Comment: Nasa ‘re-masters’ classic ‘Pale Blue Dot’ image of Earth.

The bright dot in the sunbeam on the far right in the image above is the “dot” being referred to.

ā€œLook again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

Sagan, C. (1994). Pale Blue Dot.

The quote above isn’t from the article that this post takes it’s title from. You can read that here. The headline just reminded me of Carl Sagan’s book, Pale Blue Dot, which is one of my favourites and from which the quote is taken.

It’s a useful reminder – for me – of how small we all are in the greater scheme of things. When work is overwhelming, and the kids are screaming, and the electricity is off, and the rain isn’t raining, I try to remember that in 10 000 years, none of it will matter. For some reason, this gives me a non-trivial degree of comfort šŸ™‚

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 developmentā€“in so many ways, it canā€™t match our own intelligenceā€“and computers certainly canā€™t replace doctors at the bedside. But todayā€™s machines are capable of crunching vast amounts of data and identifying patterns that humans canā€™t. Artificial intelligenceā€“essentially the complex algorithms that analyze this dataā€“can be a tool to take full advantage of electronic medical records, transforming them from mere e-filing cabinets into full-fledged doctorsā€™ 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 wouldnā€™t advocate for a new era of luddism in higher education, we do think itā€™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 shouldnā€™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 ā€“ 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
learning personal

Cultivating curiosity

Creativity and science

Carl Sagan is one of my favourite people in the world. Not only did he have his own sense of delight in discovery, but he could express it Ā in ways that cultivated that sense in others.

Categories
learning teaching

Are we preparing students for life?

The following is an excerpt from Tom Whitby’s post, Are we preparing students for life?

Content in past decades was slow to change. Even as advances were made in science, history, geography, and literature, the world itself moved at a slower pace, so time and change were less critical. We had a print media that was driven by time sensitive events, but the time was stretched out by print deadlines. Textbooks were relevant for longer periods of time. Today, whole countries that were in existence a short while back have changed names boundaries, populations, and cultures seemingly overnight. Our outdated textbooks that we continue to use cannot hope to keep up with the rapid change of the world today. Yet, we still claim to be preparing kids for life.

In reading the post above, I was reminded of this piece from Carl Sagan’s The Demon-Haunted World:Ā Science as a Candle in the Dark (pg. 300 – 301):

When the training is unchanged for immense periods of time, traditions are passed on intact to the next generation. But when what needs to be learned changes quickly, especially in the course of a single generation, it becomes much harder to know what to teach and how to teach it. Then, students complain about relevance; respect for their elders diminishes. Teachers despair at how education standards have deteriorated, and how lackadaisical students have become. In a world in transition, students and teachers both need to teach themselves one essential skill – learning how to learn.

melting glacier

The only way to prepare students for life is to prepare them to deal with change because the world is always changing – only now the rate of change is accelerating.

Categories
reading

I enjoyed reading (December)

reading outsideI’m going to try something new on this blog. At the end of every month I’ll write a short post highlighting the things I particularly enjoyed reading. I found that simply pushing them into a Twitter or Google+ feed would tend to obfuscate them among all of the other things that I wanted to point out to people. I guess this post is a way to say, “Of all the things I read this month, these are the ones I enjoyed the most”. I’m not trying to summarise everything I read, just present a small sampling. I’ll try it out for a few months and see if I like the process.

 

The web we lostĀ (Anil Dash). A look back over the past 5-10 years of social media and how things have changed, usually not for the better. In many instances, we’re actually worse off now than we were before the rise of the new social platforms. He talks about how we’re progressively losing control of our online identities, of the content we create and share (and which makes those platforms as powerful as they are), and lost sight of the values that actually led to the development of the web in the first place. Here’s a quote from the end of the article:

I know that Facebook and Twitter and Pinterest and LinkedIn and the rest areĀ greatĀ sites, and they give their users a lot of value. They’re amazing achievements, from a pure software perspective. But they’re based on a few assumptions that aren’t necessarily correct. The primary fallacy that underpins many of their mistakes is that user flexibility and control necessarily lead to a user experience complexity that hurts growth. And the second, more grave fallacy, is the thinking that exerting extreme control over users is the best way to maximize the profitability and sustainability of their networks.

The first step to disabusing them of this notion is for the people creating the next generation of social applications to learn a little bit of history, toĀ know your shit, whether that’s aboutĀ Twitter’s business modelĀ orĀ Google’s social featuresĀ or anything else. We have to know what’s been tried and failed, what good ideas were simply ahead of their time, and what opportunities have been lost in the current generation of dominant social networks.

Update: Here’s a follow up post from Anil on Rebuilding the web we lost.

 

Mobile Learning, Non-Linearity, Meaning-MakingĀ (Michael Sean Gallagher). What I liked most about this post is the suggestion, presented below, that the true power of “mobile” is that it transforms every space into a potential learning space.

They refer to the ā€˜habiĀ­tusā€™, the sitĀ­uĀ­atĀ­ed locale of the indiĀ­vidĀ­ual. Yet the locale doesnā€™t define the learnĀ­ing per se as the process of mobile learnĀ­ing transĀ­forms the habiĀ­tus into a learnĀ­ing space. Tools, conĀ­tent, and comĀ­muĀ­niĀ­ty are reconĀ­structĀ­ed to allow for meaning-making. TurnĀ­ing the enviĀ­ronĀ­ment in which we hapĀ­pen to find ourĀ­selves into an enviĀ­ronĀ­ment for learnĀ­ing. Mobile techĀ­nolĀ­oĀ­gy assists in bringĀ­ing these eleĀ­ments into conĀ­juncĀ­tion, an orgaĀ­nizĀ­ing agent in this process. But it is realĀ­ly about the transĀ­forĀ­maĀ­tion. From space to learnĀ­ing space. From noise to meanĀ­ing.

 

Arm Teachers? (Tom Whitby). When I first read about the suggestions to arm teachers, in the wake of the Newtown shooting, I dismissed it as ridiculous without even considering it. What I liked about this post from Tom is that instead of just dismissing the suggestion out of hand, he follows it through to some logical conclusions. I realised that his approach does far more to systematically dismantle the argument than simply rejecting it.

 

The demon-haunted world: Science as a candle in the dark (Carl Sagan). Carl Sagan is one of my heroes. Few people have done as much as he did to bring a sense of wonder about the world, to the public. This book is an exploration of scientific thinking over the past few centuries, highlighting the many areas where a lack of this critical approach to the world has led to a stumbling of our species. Think of the hysteria of witch-burning, UFO abductions, racism and all the other instances where a lack of critical thought has brought so much suffering and misunderstanding about the world. This book should be required reading for everyone.

 

The robot teachers (Stephen Downes). Stephen argues against the idea of universities and higher education in general as a system designed to maintain division between a cultural elite and everyone else. He suggests that the solution is not to open up those institutions (i.e. MIT, Harvard, etc.) but to build a better system outside of them.

We must develop the educational system outside the traditional system because the traditional system is designed to support the position of the wealthy and powerful. Everything about it – from the limitation of access, to the employment of financial barriers, to the creation of exclusive institutions and private clubs, to the system of measuring impact and performance according to economic criteria, serves to support that model. Reforming the educational system isn’t about opening the doors of Harvard or MIT or Cambridge to everyone – it’s about making access to these institutions irrelevant. About making them an anachronism, like a symphony orchestra, or a gentleman’s club, or a whites only golf course, and replaced with something we own and build for everyone, like punk music, a skateboard park, or the public park.

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twitter feed

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2012-05-28

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twitter feed

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2011-03-21