Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Experience and Education

Recently I read John Dewey's "Experience and Education". It is a great book on the nature of education. His central thesis is all teaching must relate back to human experience, and from that premise he explores(quite abstractly) how education should work.   As I read the book I considered how it would apply to my current task of creating and running a MOOC. I found that much of what I am doing aligned perfectly with his recommendations. I believe any good teacher would find that they agree and already practice with much of what Mr. Dewey sets forth in the book. What follows here is a set of notes I came up with while reading the book.

An experience may be immediately enjoyable and yet promote the formation of a slack and careless attitude; this attitude then operates to modify the quality of subsequent experiences so as to prevent a person from getting out of them what they have to give.
Dewey, John (2007-11-01). Experience And Education (Kindle Locations 208-209). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition. 
Both aspects of experience must be addressed in education. The experience of learning must be agreeable, and it must have an impact on future student activities. The first is accomplished by the performance of teaching and the relationship of material to environment. The second is harder, but the same thing that makes the material agreeable, relationship to the student’s life, also makes it influence the future life experiences.

the central problem of an education based upon experience is to select the kind of present experiences that live fruitfully and creatively in subsequent experiences.
Dewey, John (2007-11-01). Experience And Education (Kindle Locations 231-233). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition. 

Instead of “teaching” the teacher is to create an experience for the student that relates to their life and brings them to discover a way to proceed through future experiences positively. What is the experience of taking a MOOC? It can be overwhelming and intimidating. So much going on at once, so many things to think about. To make it a positive experience I must guide the student through the environment smoothly. Structures must be in place to meet their questions and support their needs. I think I should lessen the assignment in the first week. There is so much new to learn already, possibly waiting on the tutorial assignments till the second week would be a good move. Introduce the complexity slowly. Give the students success first, so they have a positive experience, then move toward the harder tasks.

It is reduced to a form of words which may be emotionally stirring but for which any other set of words might equally well be substituted unless they indicate operations to be initiated and executed.
Dewey, John (2007-11-01). Experience And Education (Kindle Locations 239-240). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition. 

Mr. Dewey is referring to a lecture based class where a stirring teacher talks wonderfully, and at the time the students may enjoy the experience, but the material doesn't stay with the students. The student's lack of a true experience limits what they retain and limits the usefulness of this type of teaching.

I believe I fall into this routine often. The truth is I am good at the “performance” of teaching that is being described here. I can talk for hours giving a great lecture and transmitting great information. But, is it becoming kowledge in the student mind? Is the information being received? How important, really, is the quality of the discourse? This book argues that the orator is much less important than the student activity. As a teacher I should stop focusing on the lecture, on the performance. Instead I must focus on the student activity, the student experience. 

I admit gladly that the new education is simpler in principle than the old. It is in harmony with principles of growth, while there is very much which is artificial in the old selection and arrangement of subjects and methods, and artificiality always leads to unnecessary complexity. But the easy and the simple are not identical. To discover what is really simple and to act upon the discovery is an exceedingly difficult task.
Dewey, John (2007-11-01). Experience And Education (Kindle Locations 260-263). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition. 

We must question even the foundation of our educational system. It seems he is trying to find a single point to start from: a kernel of truth to build a system of education. His kernel is experience, which makes sense since it is the only thing we all share. If we are to transmit symbolic knowledge(communicate) it must symbolize something we all share, experience. Then the educational system should be built on the social structures we naturally form. Family being an important one, but dictatorships are another structure we also find humans falling into. As he describes “progressive” schools, I find myself thinking of a family model and as he describes traditional school it is more dictatorship related.

The mature person, to put it in moral terms, has no right to withhold from the young on given occasions whatever capacity for sympathetic understanding his own experience has given him.
Dewey, John (2007-11-01). Experience And Education (Kindle Locations 358-359). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition. 

Make all teaching personal. The teacher must be personally invested in what he/she is teaching. John rarely resorts to "moral terms" in the book. I think this is unfortunate because speaking to the rights and responsibilities of a teacher is valid. I believe establishing a set of "moral responsibilities" for teachers raises their role and importance within society. 

It is, among other things, the need for these abilities on the part of the parent and teacher which makes a system of education based upon living experience a more difficult affair to conduct successfully than it is to follow the patterns of traditional education.
Dewey, John (2007-11-01). Experience And Education (Kindle Locations 364-366). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition. 

This is a shift in the attitude and needs of a teacher. In this section we are describing a teacher that is actively focused on the dynamic needs of the students. This job is more difficult than reciting the same lecture over and over.  This goes hand in hand with the previous point of being personally invested in the material and in the students. How can this be accomplished when a teacher is already burdened? To focus on the shifting needs of the students is time intensive. Technological solutions and leveraging the power of a large class can help to solve the issue.

Every genuine experience has an active side which changes in some degree the objective conditions under which experiences are had.
Dewey, John (2007-11-01). Experience And Education (Kindle Locations 368-369). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition. 

Class experiences, to be true experiences, must have an impact beyond the individual, and beyond the classroom. It is a mistake to cloister the classroom. In the MOOC we give the students the ability to change their environment, to build something together (wiki's). 

A primary responsibility of educators is that they not only be aware of the general principle of the shaping of actual experience by environing conditions, but that they also recognize in the concrete what surroundings are conducive to having experiences that lead to growth. Above all, they should know how to utilize the surroundings, physical and social, that exist so as to extract from them all that they have to contribute to building up experiences that are worth while.
Dewey, John (2007-11-01). Experience And Education (Kindle Locations 379-383). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition. 

Teachers must be aware of and even embrace the contemporary social and technological environment. To connect with the experience of the student means having a real knowledge of their life experience. Again, like many recommendations in this book, numerous tasks are placed on the educator. It is difficult to keep abreast of the changing social and technological climate. I feel with the MOOC that I am setting up an experiment for other educators to learn from. It is my hope that my hard work here will be a benefit to future educators. I must take this role seriously and attempt to answer some clear questions. The nature of these questions is the next task I put forth. What am I trying to prove. What can I extract from my teaching experience that can be of clear benefit to future educators?

The principle of interaction makes it clear that failure of adaptation of material to needs and capacities of individuals may cause an experience to be non-educative quite as much as failure of an individual to adapt himself to the material.
Dewey, John (2007-11-01). Experience And Education (Kindle Locations 470-472). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition. 

The education environment must be adjusted for each individual. Each person has different needs based on his or her live/surroundings/situation etc.. In a mooc with thousands of students how can the educational environment be adjusted on a person to person basis. At first this seems impossible, there is no way for a single teacher to guide thousands of students. The teacher must supply an environment that has all the objective elements that every student would need. Then the teacher must teach the student how to choose what serves them best. Supply videos, text, competition, social interaction, and sound. Then show the student how to pick the best method for them to learn.

What, then, is the true meaning of preparation in the educational scheme? In the first place, it means that a person, young or old, gets out of his present experience all that there is in it for him at the time in which he has it.
Dewey, John (2007-11-01). Experience And Education (Kindle Locations 501-502). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition. 

Learning needs immediate value. Education can not simply prepare for future lessons. Education must be connected to a practical immediate need in the students current environment.

it is not the will or desire of any one person which establishes order but the moving spirit of the whole group. The control is social, but individuals are parts of a community, not outside of it.
Dewey, John (2007-11-01). Experience And Education (Kindle Locations 557-558). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition. 

The school was not a group or community held together by participation in common activities. Consequently, the normal, proper conditions of control were lacking. Their absence was made up for, and to a considerable extent had to be made up for, by the direct intervention of the teacher, who, as the saying went, “kept order.” He kept it because order was in the teacher’s keeping, instead of residing in the shared work being done.
Dewey, John (2007-11-01). Experience And Education (Kindle Locations 576-579). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition. 

Control should not be from above but from the whole. Social systems naturally form structures that support the group. Forcing a top-down order from above will fail. Instead foster the community and create situations which allow leaders to emerge. Teachers have been forced into positions of “dictatorship” by our current system. By removing the teacher entirely and focusing on supporting the community the group will have social experience and will self regulate.

A genuine community life has its ground in this natural sociability. But community life does not organize itself in an enduring way purely spontaneously. It requires thought and planning ahead. The educator is responsible for a knowledge of individuals and for a knowledge of subject-matter that will enable activities to be selected which lend themselves to social organization, an organization in which all individuals have an opportunity to contribute something, and in which the activities in which all participate are the chief carrier of control.
Dewey, John (2007-11-01). Experience And Education (Kindle Locations 582-585). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition. 

This speaks to my previous point. The educator must become a designer of a self supporting educational environment.

But it is certain that the general principle of social control cannot be predicated upon such cases. It is also true that no general rule can be laid down for dealing with such cases. The teacher has to deal with them individually.
Dewey, John (2007-11-01). Experience And Education (Kindle Locations 589-590). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition. 

An additional role of the teacher is to support those students that have pre-conditions that make them unfit for the social/experiental learning environment. I am unsure how to provide this in a MOOC. Self exclusion will naturally occur, but that is not ideal. There should be a way to identify struggling students and support them. This deserves more thought.

He must survey the capacities and needs of the particular set of individuals with whom he is dealing and must at the same time arrange the conditions which provide the subject-matter or content for experiences that satisfy these needs and develop these capacities. The planning must be flexible enough to permit free play for individuality of experience and yet firm enough to give direction towards continuous development of power.
Dewey, John (2007-11-01). Experience And Education (Kindle Locations 610-613). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition. 

For my MOOC this is particularly difficult. The skill range will be wide, but will largely be on the inexperienced side. The material should assume no prior knowledge so the videos can support the beginner. The advanced student will be supported in the forums and by sufficiently flexible assignments. The assignments and forums must be structured to permit and encourage free play and individuality.

I may have structured my assignments too much, I will reassess the assignments and consider more flexibility and more chances to create music in their creation.

The principle that development of experience comes about through interaction means that education is essentially a social process.
Dewey, John (2007-11-01). Experience And Education (Kindle Locations 614-615). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition. 
It is absurd to exclude the teacher from membership in the group. As the most mature member of the group he has a peculiar responsibility for the conduct of the interactions and intercommunications which are the very life of the group as a community.
Dewey, John (2007-11-01). Experience And Education (Kindle Locations 615-617). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition. 
I and the TA’s need to be an active part of the MOOC community. Additionally, it is our responsibility to go to the environments where the students already connect. In this instance that would be social media. Creating a facebook page, twitter account, google plus and hangouts will show the student that I am active and involved. It is not enough that they are a part of my community, I must become part of theirs.

The teacher loses the position of external boss or dictator but takes on that of leader of group activities.
Dewey, John (2007-11-01). Experience And Education (Kindle Location 622). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition. 

This clearly states my role within the MOOC, a leader of group activities.

The particular form a convention takes has nothing fixed and absolute about it. But the existence of some form of convention is not itself a convention. It is a uniform attendant of all social relationships. At the very least, it is the oil which prevents or reduces friction.
Dewey, John (2007-11-01). Experience And Education (Kindle Locations 627-629). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition. 

The establishing of “politeness” within the MOOC is another responsibility of me as a teacher. I have tried to set an example of professional attitude in the videos. Even more so in the assignments I require they end by thanking the person that will be assessing them. What other ways can I create a peaceful and respectful environment when all these cultures will be interacting? 

There is, I think, no point in the philosophy of progressive education which is sounder than its emphasis upon the importance of the participation of the learner in the formation of the purposes which direct his activities in the learning process, just as there is no defect in traditional education greater than its failure to secure the active co-operation of the pupil in construction of the purposes involved in his studying.
Dewey, John (2007-11-01). Experience And Education (Kindle Locations 699-702). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition. 

I think the purpose and desire of the student is self evident in a MOOC. The student has decided to partake and the continued activity is completely voluntary. I am not sure though this is what is meant by “formation of purposes.” 

The crucial educational problem is that of procuring the postponement of immediate action upon desire until observation and judgment have intervened.
Dewey, John (2007-11-01). Experience And Education (Kindle Locations 725-726). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition. 

Purpose and the creation of purpose is essential for an effective education. I have striven to give the student the bare facts. In the assignment they are required to consider the implications and devise an example that demonstrates the effective usage of those facts. They, in the assignments, develop a purpose for the knowledge they have been given. The assignment is the postponment of desire. Without the assignment they might move right to experimenting with their own music, while this would be one way to approach the knowledge, it would not support them and their peers nearly as well. This is a major part that divides the active participant from the inactive participant. The inactive participant may get the knowledge, the facts, but will likely be missing the purpose.

It is possible of course to abuse the office, and to force the activity of the young into channels which express the teacher’s purpose rather than that of the pupils. 
Dewey, John (2007-11-01). Experience And Education (Kindle Locations 757-758). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition. 
I need to watch out for this. It would be very easy to consider my exposure and the possibilities of that above the needs of the group. I must make sure that with every decision I make I consider the group, not my desires.

The plan, in other words, is a co-operative enterprise, not a dictation. The teacher’s suggestion is not a mold for a cast-iron result but is a starting point to be developed into a plan through contributions from the experience of all engaged in the learning process. The development occurs through reciprocal give-and-take, the teacher taking but not being afraid also to give. The essential point is that the purpose grow and take shape through the process of social intelligence.
Dewey, John (2007-11-01). Experience And Education (Kindle Locations 761-764). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition. 

Online education can be very rigid and can rigidly adhere to previous teaching methods. Using videos and a predetermined syllabus can reduce the change of give and take being described here. Much of the flexibility of a classroom is removed. In this way I think we should keep the structured portion of the class as minimal as possible. Reduce the videos to the bare essentials and focus on the community. In this aspect I believe I have mis-stepped with my course. When I started the material I was thinking of a traditional classroom and my previous highly structured online teaching practices. Hopefully the video content will not be overwhelming to the students and will give them time to really take part in the course. Too many videos and too much information is possibly my biggest fear with running this course.

It thus becomes the office of the educator to select those things within the range of existing experience that have the promise and potentiality of presenting new problems which by stimulating new ways of observation and judgment will expand the area of further experience.
Dewey, John (2007-11-01). Experience And Education (Kindle Locations 789-791). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition. 

In choosing subjects to teach the teacher must first make a connection with the student’s life experiences. In teaching music this would mean starting with music the student already knows and possibly loves, then developing a language of sound based on those previous experiences. This is an area I may have failed at in my MOOC. There are distinct limitations on what I can use. Ideally I would play professional popular music, but there are copyright issues. How can this deficiency be solved? I will attempt to create listening rooms in the forums. Places where students can play music and analyze it based on the knowledge they just acquired. 

The educator by the very nature of his work is obliged to see his present work in terms of what it accomplishes, or fails to accomplish, for a future whose objects are linked with those of the present.
Dewey, John (2007-11-01). Experience And Education (Kindle Locations 798-799). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition. 

What do I hope to achieve with this course? I hope to empower people to make music and to educate each other. I see the future of 101 classes like this one to be self supporting communal structures. The basic knowledge in any field is already shared by all. With a quality structure the class will be self supporting. What are the needs of this structure? That is a question I will be examining in detail as the next month goes on, and beyond!

There is nothing in the inherent nature of habit that prevents intelligent method from becoming itself habitual; and there is nothing in the nature of emotion to prevent the development of intense emotional allegiance to the method.
Dewey, John (2007-11-01). Experience And Education (Kindle Locations 872-874). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition. 

I completely agree with this. Logical thinking and scientific method is a habit. And if we were all to adopt this habit the world would function in a much better way. This book is largely focused on teaching youth, and I support the methods he is espousing. In my case I attempt, particularly in the effect sections, to apply a scientific method. I break the devices down to their bare essentials, and expose their inner workings. From their musical usage becomes possible and perhaps apparent. Beyond the material I hope this encourages the student to take a scientific approach to working with new pieces of gear. It is my hope that they see the scientific approach I took in learning and teaching this material and they begin to apply it in their own life, even beyond music technology.

Activity that is not checked by observation of what follows from it may be temporarily enjoyed. But intellectually it leads nowhere. It does not provide knowledge about the situations in which action occurs nor does it lead to clarification and expansion of ideas.
Dewey, John (2007-11-01). Experience And Education (Kindle Locations 946-948). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition. 

I may have fallen into this trap. In formulating the MOOC I have chosen to introduce a very wide range of topics. Particularly in the first few weeks the topics come quickly and  I may be presenting them from a point of authority: “this is a fact, remember it”. This runs in accordance with traditional practices, but contrary to what is being suggested here. I should formulate a hypothesis “I believe this is true” then test it experimentally as a demonstration before stating it as fact. It is my hope that some of this experimental learning will happen in the assignments. I must make it obvious that I want to be challenged. That the student should be constantly skeptical about what I say. The student should challenge my “facts” and devise experiments to prove me wrong. If I am proved wrong, wonderful, the teacher and the student body is all the better for it! If I am proved right, in developing the challenging experiment the student has gained real experimental and experiential knowledge.

scientific method is the only authentic means at our command for getting at the significance of our everyday experiences of the world in which we live. It means that scientific method provides a working pattern of the way in which and the conditions under which experiences are used to lead ever onward and outward.
Dewey, John (2007-11-01). Experience And Education (Kindle Locations 958-960). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition. 

Couldn’t agree more, apply scientific method to all we do. This is becoming more an more the way. Contemporary “lean startup” models of business development emphasize testing and experimenting. Technology has made the experimental model more possible, surveying and computers make information retrieval and digestion easier than ever. This approach must be applied within the class for the students and on the class as well. The success of the course must be analyzed with the scientific method and reviewed and adapted from that point on. We must take time to establish the parameters of this experiment, the metrics of success, the methods of data acquisition and analysis, and the mechanism of adapting the course for future terms.

IN WHAT I HAVE SAID I have taken for granted the soundness of the principle that education in order to accomplish its ends both for the individual learner and for society must be based upon experience— which is always the actual life-experience of some individual. I have not argued for the acceptance of this principle nor attempted to justify it.
Dewey, John (2007-11-01). Experience And Education (Kindle Locations 968-971). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition. 

The entire book is based on this premise. Everything he says follows logically from this beginning. To accept what he says throughout the book you must first accept this premise. I agree with it. All we can possibly know is known through an experience of ourself or is a recounted experience of someone else. To take his premise means that all we teach we must relate back to a human experience because human experience is all that we have in common, that is the common ground between humans. There is a chance of building up too many layers of theoretical abstraction which distances the material from the experience.

There is a practicalness to this method that is appealing and for the vast majority of disciplines it seems entirely appropriate. I wonder if this sort of practical approach will lead to those huge paradigm shifting moments, the eureka moments. Does a theoritical/conceptual mode of teaching and learning help us to conceive beyond experience?

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Open Access

Research that is worth funding or facilitating is worth sharing with everyone who can make use of it. 
-Peter Suber "Open Access"

I believe fundamentally that knowledge should be shared.

In reading "Open Access" I have confirmed my beliefs, have been given a language to describe those beliefs, and  have been introduced to a community that shares those beliefs. It is thrilling to know that that community includes the best scientific minds on the planet.

Intellectual property is a strange thing. I don't really like the term "property" for it, because that predisposes people to treating it like a car or a house or a TV. If I take away your TV, I will be watching "the Today Show" while you sit un-entertained staring at a void on your wall on Tuesday morning. If I use your intellectual property you still have access to it. Digital intellectual property is infinitely divisible and perfectly reproducible. Intellectual property is non-rivalrous. It is valuable and people need to find ways to support themselves through creating digital intellectual property, but it shouldn't be thought of in the same way as "property."

Our current system of copyright is broken. It was designed to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts. Its main mechanism of doing so was to grant the copyright holder a time limited monopoly over his or her writings and discoveries. The length of time was 14 years with a 14 year renewal. This has been extended and distorted by numerous laws extending the monopoly to the life of the author plus 70 years and beyond. Corporate influence on lawmakers who have forgotten to be true to copyright's purpose has led us to where we at now, with a system of copyright that impedes the progress of science and useful arts. John N. Berry expands on this poetically in his article in the Library Journal.

Peter Suber outlines a solution,"Open Access." In his words "The basic idea of Open Access is simple: Make research literature available online without price barriers and without most permission barriers."

His book straddles the line between between ideology and practicality. It shows how the scholarly journal publication industry can move smoothly to a future with no access barriers to information while staying financially sound. Much of the book is devoted to dispelling myths about open access. It reads like Suber has been having this debate with publishing and journal insiders, has gotten very good at it, and is now putting it all in a book. For me, the most important parts are the ideology and the knowledge that the scientific community is heading in this direction anyway.

Throughout the book there are hints of a broader context for open access. All digital information can be made open access, all that is required is a place to store the information and the agreement of the content creator. He points out numerous times that this works for scholarly publications because the payment method is not royalty based. The authors are not getting paid for publishing the works, the funding comes from elsewhere. This frees the author to focus on the content and not money, and enables a smooth transition to an open access model. The reasoning behind this type of funding was surely to keep money and politics from influencing science and research, but it has had the wonderful side-effect of allowing OA to flourish.

For the arts the challenges of OA are more difficult, because it functions largely on a royalty scheme. So, for music in particular switching to an OA model would remove a significant type of payment. Or would it? There is a common attitude among the music business that the model is shifting away from royalties, particularly for young musicians. At the same time the remix culture is expanding fast due to inexpensive access to high quality music software. These trends lead the music industry directly into the path of OA. If you aren't making money from royalties and you need access to other artwork to make your own, OA is the obvious answer.

Creative Commons is the most popular form of OA licensing and it has been adopted by Sound Cloud, the most important contemporary sound artist repository site. With every track uploaded to SoundCloud you get the option of what CC license you would like to apply, and you can search the catalog of sounds on SoundCloud for sounds with a particular license.

The Sound Cloud developers have done an excellent job of explaining and making it easy to release work under an open license. I can imagine that this move on their part will have a major influence in expanding the role of Open Access in the music industry.

Youtube has also given the opportunity for content creators to release their videos under a CC BY license: http://www.youtube.com/yt/copyright/creative-commons.html. These videos are then available to be remixed by other users, opening many creative options. Creative Commons released a great blog post describing the youtube licensing and creative options surrounding it: Four Million CC-Licensed Videos Uploaded to YouTube!

Freesound.org has been at the front of removing the access barriers to sound for a long time. It is a vibrant community of people dedicated to adding to the global pool of sonic artistic material. The beauty of this site is the assistance it provides in attribution. I think the challenge for most is confusion around OA and understanding exactly how to attribute. Freesound makes this easy by keeping an "attribution list" of sounds you have downloaded and giving clear instructions on how to attribute what you use.

We are in a transitionary moment here. We are shifting from false barriers to information and government sanctioned monopolies on information to free information exchange based on a simple human social trait, politeness. Open access and the CC Attribution or CC BY license really boils down to being polite to the content creator. A CC BY license is an honor code. It is saying that information is unlike property, we can all own it and can all benefit from it. As people and artists recognize themselves as a brand public awareness is success and attribution is currency. Knowledge is a shared resource. Just give credit where credit is due.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

If games came first...

Steven Johnson, in his 2005 book "Everything Bad is Good for You," posits an alternate history where video games are popularized before books. In 2005 it may have required a fanciful situation like this to make his point, but if we follow current trends we are heading into his situation anyway. It doesn't matter which was invented first, what matters is what humans are exposed to first. It matters where the children get their value system from.

In this alternate history schools would be completely different. Age no longer matters, students reach their level of capability at each subject individually by playing individual and group video games.

The beauty of video games is that they put you on the edge of your capability all the time. The goal is to keep you in the flow, right at the peak of your capability. Constant leveling-up and positive feedback are used to keep you invested in the task. This keeps the player learning quickly and enjoying the time. 

There is a great hope in this style of learning. It is effective and granular, each students rises to his or her capability as fast as possible. What is the value system and set of skills that a video game taught child will have? I'll examine two that I think are important:

An expectation of instant gratification and constant feedback. 

What happens when this video game educated person reaches an analog problem that they don't have the capability to solve? Will they have the ability to struggle with an impossible problem without getting that gratification and feedback? Or will they just give up and look for digital pleasure?  I worry most about physical relationships. Dealing with a wife or husband or sibling or child is much different than a video game. The goals are uncertain and the rewards are inconsistent. I would be afraid that video game education would hurt our ability to have fulfilling family relationships. But, the solution would obviously be video games designed to teach family relationship situations!

Too many chiefs, not enough indians.

In Steve's hypothetical he points out that video games teach the players to be leaders. Do we want or need a population of leaders? Is that really a good thing? On one hand it could make an active participatory populace that would see politics as a game and work to improve their own situation. Honestly though, I have never been able to work in a group where everyone is a leader. Nothing gets done! Instead of completing the task we fight over who is leading and everything that is done is undone by someone else. Having few leaders and many followers is efficient. Some people are better at making decisions at thinking strategically, at problem solving. The video game population would have wonderful statistics(in their class score board) on how well they do at each of these categories. They would have data to show who the "best" leader is, but would people be willing to follow? Maybe all the concrete stats would be trusted to an extent that people would know and accept their position in life. The solution to this problem, more video games designed to teach group dynamics!

The pleasure in books is that they are not immersive. If the brain is being constantly challenged by someone else's stimulation when will it have time to create? If we are taught from a young age to be led into flow by a computer, will we be able to get there without it? Are we teaching our brain to be dependent on the computer for all pleasure?

In our rush to create fast pace immersive learning are we actually removing our ability to learn without the computer? Are we turning the computer into a "learning prosthesis" that we are helpless without?

Monday, January 21, 2013

What is there to gain in this transition?

I start with what I consider axiomatic, an assumption about who we are. I would love to see this challenged and I will research to refine and expand on this in the years to come:

The human ability to learn and adapt is what sets us apart from all other creatures. We are the self-aware learning animal. We are the only social group that can determine its own evolution. With that role comes a responsibility to shape who we will become mentally, morally, socially, and physically.

In defining our future, I agree with Greg Ulmer that we are in a transitionary period of human history, and that contemporary information storage and retrieval systems will change humanhood at a core level. We have been shaping our future at a deep level for quite a while now. Survival of the fittest has been replaced by survival of the richest. Those with access to technology can repair themselves (extending their life) and alter their appearance (increasing chance of propagation). This is a limited example, but points to our newfound deviation from Darwinian survival-of-the-fittest. We are already controlling some evolutionary variables. We have even largely removed some, like poor eyesight. There was a time when having very poor eyesight would limit what you could do for work, and lessen your chance to have children. Left un-corrected poor eyesight might naturally dwindle through the generations, but poor eyesight is no longer a challenge. We are now stuck having poor eyesight until we can correct it at a genetic level that will propagate to our children. We are stuck correcting genetics with technology in a huge number of ways. We have arrested the mechanism that brought us to where we are now. An expansion on these ideas and their consequences can be found in the book "Our Posthuman Future."

We have already defied Darwin, now we accept it and move forward responsibly. What is there to gain in this transition? Very old problems can be rethought for new solutions. Is there one major change that can be brought forth during this shift to propel us healthfully into the future? An intelligent society. We have to shape who we will become, because it will not happen for us anymore. I would like to give future generations a right to access all information.