The Dynamo and the Social

Thought this was an interesting piece at Slate based on Paul David’s paper. There are some obvious parallels with personal or mobile computing and education and the difficulties we have with using it well.

“Electric light bulbs were available by 1879, and there were generating stations in New York and London by 1881. Yet a thoughtful observer in 1900 would have found little evidence that the “electricity revolution” was making business more efficient.

Steam-powered manufacturing had linked an entire production line to a single huge steam engine. As a result, factories were stacked on many floors around the central engine, with drive belts all running at the same speed. The flow of work around the factory was governed by the need to put certain machines close to the steam engine, rather than the logic of moving the product from one machine to the next. When electric dynamos were first introduced, the steam engine would be ripped out and the dynamo would replace it. Productivity barely improved.

Eventually, businesses figured out that factories could be completely redesigned on a single floor. Production lines were arranged to enable the smooth flow of materials around the factory. Most importantly, each worker could have his or her own little electric motor, starting it or stopping it at will. The improvements weren’t just architectural but social: Once the technology allowed workers to make more decisions, they needed more training and different contracts to encourage them to take responsibility.

Last year’s OECD report was one of many to suggest that it might, just might, be a little more complicated than putting more computers in classrooms. I do wonder whether, at some level, the school as an organisation will have to undergo a similar redesign to make the most of our new dynamos.

Wittgenstein, Popper and Education

A little bit of history goes a long way – and certainly puts some of the 21st Century Learning rhetoric in perspective.

“The Pedagogic Institute had been established to further the Austrian educational reform program. This attempted to steer education away from a ‘drill school’ approach, in which schoolchildren were treated as empty vessels to be filled by the accumulation of dictated knowledge and respect for authority, toward seeking children’s active engagement through self-discovery and problem solving. Both Popper and Wittgenstein were trained in the methods of encouraging this. Integral to the vision was a general view of the mind as innately capable of producing frameworks within which information could be organised.”

from Wittgenstein’s Poker


The Lost Tools Of Learning

we let our young men and women go out unarmed, in a day when armor was never so necessary. By teaching them all to read, we have left them at the mercy of the printed word. By the invention of the film and the radio, we have made certain that no aversion to reading shall secure them from the incessant battery of words, words, words. They do not know what the words mean; they do not know how to ward them off or blunt their edge or fling them back; they are a prey to words in their emotions instead of being the masters of them in their intellects. We who were scandalized in 1940 when men were sent to fight armored tanks with rifles, are not scandalized when young men and women are sent into the world to fight massed propaganda with a smattering of “subjects”; and when whole classes and whole nations become hypnotized by the arts of the spell binder, we have the impudence to be astonished. We dole out lip-service to the importance of education–lip- service and, just occasionally, a little grant of money; we postpone the school-leaving age, and plan to build bigger and better schools; the teachers slave conscientiously in and out of school hours; and yet, as I believe, all this devoted effort is largely frustrated, because we have lost the tools of learning, and in their absence can only make a botched and piecemeal job of it.

from: The Lost Tools of Learning


Many nations, many views of psychology

In Britain, there was a noteworthy interest in individual differences, the distribution of these differences in the population and the significance of this data in social, educational and political questions. The result was a psychology intimately bound up with statistics.

In France, a clinical method and an interest in the exceptional, perhaps pathological, individual case (the hysteric, the prodigy of memory, the double personality) was characteristic of early work.

In Germany, the dominant academic interest, supported by an experimental methodology adapted from physiology, was in the conscious content of the rational adult mind. This interest interacted with philosophical questions about the foundations of knowledge.

In the United States, a pragmatic temper and the opportunity to obtain funding for a psychology aimed at the solution of social problems directed psychology towards a science of behaviour, with a methodology appropriate for the study of learning and adaptation.

In Russia, stark opposition between a conservative politics of the soul expressed in Orthodox belief and radical materialism led, in the Soviet period, to support for psychology as a theory of ‘higher nervous activity’, in Pavlov’s phrase, which threatened to make psychology part of physiology.

Such generalisations go only so far, but they do make clear the sheer variety and complexity of psychology just at the time when, as convention holds, the modern discipline emerged.

via Mind Hacks


Text based adventures in the classroom

There’s a wonderful idea over at Ed Stuck in the Cloud: why not use the Inform platform to create text based adventures a la Zork to enthuse students?

“While the idea of asking students to create video games could be daunting to a teacher with core curriculum concerns, it becomes quickly evident with use that Inform is crazy easy to use.

By the end of the one hour workshop at GLS7, I had built a text-based framework of an Elizabethan theatre, replete with a mysterious Bard, a stage to explore, and several theatrical props. The potential for using Inform in a classroom is endless, whether you approach it as a vehicle to create games, simulations, or narratives. The nature of the programming language is such that it reinforces for students the importance of grammar, spelling and punctuation (for example, the system will tell you if you’re missing an action verb while giving examples of how to fix it). Just look at a line of my “code.”

The Bard is a man in the Globe stage. The description of the Bard is “A pale balding man dressed in black with a modest ruff. A pained expression plays across his visage as he angrily aims his rolled quarto stage left.”

The Inform Engine Josh is talking about looks pretty straightforward. This screencast, by Aaron Reed takes you through how to get up and running.

Inform 7 Introductory Screencast from Aaron Reed on Vimeo.

It’ll take some thought how best to use it, but I feel pretty confident it would get the children hooked. One idea off the bat would be to do something cross-curricular. So if they are studying the Tudors in History perhaps we could have project where each child has to write a short piece of code on one of several randomly generated Tudor characters and places. So one child gets Henry VIII and The Tower of London, one child gets Anne Boleyn and Hampton Court, one gets Francis Drake and Plymouth Hoe. If they emailed them to me I could put them in, the software has the ability to publish online, and then we could spend a lesson exploring what they had come up with.

Still, it’s got me all enthused. Thanks Josh!

BBC News – Diagrams that changed the world

One of the first to use the visual world to navigate numbers was Florence Nightingale.<br />
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Although better known for her contributions to nursing, her greatest achievements were mathematical. She was the first to use the idea of a pie chart to represent data.<br />
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Nightingale's diagrams were designed to highlight deaths in the Crimea<br />
Nightingale had discovered that the majority of deaths in the Crimea were due to poor sanitation rather than casualties in battle. She wanted to persuade government of the need for better hygiene in hospitals.<br />
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She realised though that just looking at the numbers was unlikely to impress ministers. But once those numbers were translated into a picture – her Diagram of the Causes of Mortality in the Army in the East – the message could not be ignored. A good diagram, Nightingale discovered, is certainly worth 1,000 numbers.

Source: here

In just 25 years, the mobile phone has transformed the way we communicate | Business | guardian.co.uk

Having seen mobile phone penetration soar above 100% in 2004, the industry has spent the later part of the past decade trying to persuade people to do more with their phones than just call and text, culminating in the fight between the iPhone and a succession of touchscreen rivals – soon to include Google's Nexus One.

John Cunliffe, chief technology officer at Ericsson in north west Europe, believes the next wave of growth for mobile telephony will come not from persuading more people to get a phone – because many already have one – but connecting machines to wireless networks. Everything from vehicle fleets and smart electric and water meters to people's fridge freezers will one day be able to communicate.

Source: here

How Robber Barons hijacked the “Victorian Internet”

In many ways this story is far field from our contemporary debates about network management, file sharing, and the perils of protocol discrimination. But the main questions seem to remain the same—to what degree will we let Western Union then and ISPs now pick winners and losers on our communications backbone? And when do government regulations grow so onerous that they discourage network investment and innovation?

These are tough questions, but the horrific problems of the "Victorian Internet" suggest that government overreach isn't the only thing to fear. In 1876, laissez-faire "freedom for all" meant (in practice) the freedom for Henry Nash Smith to read your telegrams if he didn't like who you supported for President. It meant freedom for Associated Press to block criticism of Western Union, and even to put potential critics and competitors out of business. And it meant freedom for a scoundrel to hijack the system at his leisure.

Source: here