Notes from the field:
The Venue 8 7000
Success is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm, or so says Winston Churchill. Makes you wonder about what it means to be quotable. Of course that may be only saying the obvious in short form: Winston Churchill said that “Plans are of little importance, but planning is essential.” and Dwight Eisenhower said that “In preparing for battle, I have always found that plans are useless but planning is indispensable.” Which of course begs the question of what’s obvious.
But this is about short form not philosophy or counsel. In the tree falling in the woods category, I’ve been off-line for awhile, again. Happens to us all, but it’s time for a restart.
The title intends a certain indecision. At first encounter I’d rather that community and commodity were things of so different a class that they could not be paired, but Facebook proposes something like community based on Likes, music, films, perhaps shoes. Certainly the 80% subscribers to W Magazine form something like a culture if not a community, and Wired has evolved into some-sort of Geek equivalent of W. Is community then, or perhaps currently, merely something to be consumed, and would that be a bad thing? In some sense the Ivy-Legue has always been selling community, so perhaps we should start thinking about what we’re packaging, and what it means that we are so doing. We, or perhaps only I, think of community a thing, as though there were only one. In reality there are a multiplicity of micro-cultures which we call communities. However, a better entrance is commodity. In a formal sense commodity is simply something thad can be traded. The concept is at its root ideological. Land is not naturally a commodity, but we have a history of treating it as such. Slavery transforms some segment of the population as commodity. You might think of commodity as something that can be owned, but in a sense it’s broader. You can’t exactly own style, but you can most certainly buy it. You can perhaps in this sense sell community, but questions of ownership remain. Let’s break off here and check-in with some smarter minds: From Semiotics for Beginners:
The modes of address employed by texts within a code are influenced primarily by three inter-related factors:
- textual context: the conventions of the genre and of a specific syntagmatic structure;
- social context (e.g. the presence or absence of the producer of the text, the scale and social composition of the audience, institutional and economic factors); and
- technological constraints (features of the medium employed).
In this context it may be useful to consider a basic typology of modes of communication in terms of synchronicity – whether or not the participants can communicate ‘in real time’ – without significant delays. This feature ties together the presence or absence of the producer(s) and the technical features of the medium. The obvious options are:
- synchronous interpersonal communication through both speech and non-verbal cues (e.g. direct face-to-face interaction, videolinks); through speech alone (e.g. telephone) or primarily through text (e.g. internet chat systems);
- asynchronous interpersonal communication primarily through text (e.g. letters, fax, e-mail);
- asynchronous mass communication through text, graphics and/or audio-visual media (e.g. articles, books, television etc.).
Note that this framework seems to posit an apparently empty category of synchronous mass communication which is hard to imagine. Clearly such features of the mode of communication also relate to the relative numbers of participants involved, which are sometimes categorised in terms of: one-to-one; one-to-many; many-to-one (e.g. petitions and requests for information); and many-to-many(e.g. internet discussion lists and newsgroups). Once again, the limitations of such a framing should be noted – this one tends to overlook the importance of communication in small groups (which consist of neither ‘one’ nor ‘many’). Whatever the shortcomings of any particular typology, however, all of the factors referred to here have the potential to influence the mode of address employed.
And from The Interdome:
The basic premise is that the Web changes everything.
The question is not so much what counts as knowledge as it is what do we need to Know without resorting to Google. The kings of England, the presidents of the US, or for that matter the multiplication table are pretty much waste of grey space. If you’re worried about what will happen if the electricity fails, I can only suggest that in those circumstances past leader lists aren’t going to be a priority and while battle history might be mildly useful Krav Maga would serve you better.
I’m very well acquainted, too, with matters mathematical,
I understand equations, both the simple and quadratical,
About binomial theorem I’m teeming with a lot o’ news,
(uh..lot of news…lot of news..ah)
With many cheerful facts about the square of the hypotenuse.
Learning then is applied Knowledge, both what you do with the Googled results and, perhaps more important, what to Google in the first place.
Life Long Learning:
This is a dangerous one and thus not surprisingly a critical underpinning to our entire project. Too often lost in Study Circles and various other “Good for You All” endeavors, it is in fact what will come to redefine everything we mean by Education. L3 has several possible variants:
Huizinga identifies 5 characteristics that play must have:
We are of course thinking of serious play; you can not only lose, you can die.
Beauty has no obvious use; nor is there any clear cultural necessity for it. Yet civilization could not do without it.
…by perceiving the idea
Of this invention, this invented world,
The inconceivable idea of the sun..
You must become an ignorant man again
And see the sun again with an ignorant eye
And see it clearly in the idea of it.
The purpose of Education is the creation of Citizens.
The purpose of Learning is Evolution, survival.
Learning in its eventuality stands against Education
A Syllogism of sorts and thus conditional on your acceptance of the premises, but interesting in any case. Nature is by nature Conservative, but the root of concervation is change. The city requires Laws, or at least that’s the story we’re told; power demands them. However, the environmental evolutions of the moment, think: new technologies, require the city to evolve in unexpected ways. Our project is proper change, and at the moment we are questioning the role of what is commonly called Higher Education in this process of change. The primary grades prepare one for social integration; “I learned everything I needed to Know in Kindergarten.” In America that pretty much means, “How to stand in line.” In secondary school we are Taught the Skills necessary for our Productive Employment in the Social Fabric. The Academy for those who venture within its Walls, us designed either to induct one into the life of the Academy, sometimes called the life of the mind, or to give one the tools to change the City and its Laws. History. (Editorial Interjection: The current state of Things suggest a general failure of that second purpose.)
Recently the University has become more or less an extension of Secondary Education; Professional Schools and Disciplines dominate, and a Degree has become a near Requirement for General Employment. Not surprisingly the Academy wears this mantle with some discomfort, it is in its way antithetical to the Ivory Tower mentality that has been central to its self-image. Lately all this has been discussed, debated, and documented, thoroughly would be understating, which while interesting in an academic way, has little to do with our project. We want to create something new and depute its problems the University may be as good a launching pad as any.
As it turns out the question of what we mean by Citizen is as much the issue as is what we mean by state, in so far as that is even an appropriate term. What we are about is Cultural Engineering; the trick will be to keep that open-ended. Which brings us to Learning Aesthetics, this time with the emphasis on how Aesthetics can shape Learning. (There’s a Kantian thread here particularly the Critique of Judgement’s First Moment, but perhaps more important is the Google Digression that crops up when you search and mistakenly click on Kantai Collection; remember game theory and applications are going to be important.)
As mentioned over on Live, the Governing Hexagram is 22 Grace or Adornment, not particularly auspicious if you’re you’re of a Confucian persuasion; fortunately we’re not. We are not so much trying to create a better society or world or self, as we are trying to let them happen. If that sounds like one of those Taoist puzzles, it pretty much is. So let’s just wander ahead, with faith that it will eventually work itself out.
Things cannot be forever separate. Hence there follows the hexagram of Limitation.
Limitation. Success. One should not engage in bitter limitation.
Above the lake is water: This is the image of Limitation. Thus the superior person establishes measures and limits, and deliberates about the nature of virtuous conduct.
I used to hate drawing this hexagram; takes a while to understand the way things work, which is why it’s 60 out of 64, and why what I hope will work finds Limitation as the governing concept. I should point out that all that follows is an evolution of the 5 Friends proposal (search 5F here on LA for details); Limitation being what I was missing in terms of making it work. (Interestingly, return would be the logical transformational hexagram, with lines in either direction warning not to miss the moment.) I should also point out that 5 was a minimum number and not an upper limit; as we’ll see 9 may be a better bet.
Table Stakes: One of the problems with Social Media platforms generally and MOOCs in the educational particular, is that they’re just too damn big. Dunbar’s Number comes into play here, but even that 150 low-ball estimate strikes me as way too big for anything like a learning cell. The 5F proposal was based on this assumption, but I was basically skipping over how cells were going to be created. Before we get to that however a disclaimer and some tentative definitions.
This is not a full blown proposal, more like development notes and brainstorming. More than ever the target audience is myself; if I seem to be addressing a more general audience, write it off too another art-flake thing, like corespondinc with long ago imaginary playmates over on Live. You are, however, invited to ease drop and I’ll be grateful for comments and corrections, but don’t expect too much in the way of linearity.
Cellular Learning Network: This one is fairly obvious, but attractors vary significantly. Some networks are discipline specific, some more general, but two qualities are central: While individual cells may die, Networks persist, and Networks are interconnected. This last is important because it is how networks become cultures, which are the logical type directly above Networks in the proposed schema.
Learning Cells: A group of individuals who study/conduct research within a knowledge domain. Cells are connected to other cells via agent members; connections are primarily with other domain members, but occasional connections to other Knowledge Domains are important to overall network health. The minimal size for a Leaning Cell is 5 members; I suspect that the optimal size is 9 members, with 12 being the theoretical maximum size.
Cell Members: All participants but used specifically to indicate participants who have no connection with other cells.
Agents: Cell members who have a connection (perhaps membership in) another cell in the Knowledge Domain.
Strange Attractors: Cell members who have connection (again membership) to External Knowledge Domains.
The Set Up: Again we’re in Draft mode here and much of what I’m proposing needs a great deal of fleshing out. Membership in Learning Cells will be machine assigned, the the governing rules will vary, but will in all cases attempt to balance consistency with innovation, or perhaps better, rigor and imagination. We can imagine applicant profiles that include: how ofter he or she has voted since reaching their majority, whether they have taken biology, what type of music they prefer, sexual orientation, income, degree or accreditation status, etc. In certain instances testing, computational, vocabulary, or domain specific competencies. In other words pretty much any input parameters you could dream up. The key will be figuring out how much and what kind of diversity will give the best results.
Play: Here’s where thing get really odd. In thinking about all of this I was taken back to fractals and cellular automata. From there it’s a short trip to Conway’s Game of Life and Moore’s Neighborhood. Here are the basics:
The universe of the Game of Life is an infinite two-dimensional orthogonal grid of square cells, each of which is in one of two possible states, alive or dead. Every cell interacts with its eight neighbours, which are the cells that are horizontally, vertically, or diagonally adjacent. At each step in time, the following transitions occur:
Any live cell with fewer than two live neighbours dies, as if caused by under-population.
Any live cell with two or three live neighbours lives on to the next generation.
Any live cell with more than three live neighbours dies, as if by overcrowding.
Any dead cell with exactly three live neighbours becomes a live cell, as if by reproduction.
We can’t directly map Learning Networks onto this schema, but it opens the door to some interesting possibilities. (You may have noticed that I use Learning Network and Knowledge Network interchangeably. I’m starting to think that we’d be better off talking about Knowledge Networks and Learning Cells.) If we assume that Knowledge Networks persist while Learning Cells are to one degree or another transitory, we will need rules (machine enforced rules) thad determine the viability of cells, and basing this on the number of Active Agents and Strange Attractors seems sensible.
I’m going to break off here, because I want to get this posted on the off chance that I can some external feedback, and I need to start thinking in both more general and more specific terms.
A semi-long absence probably requires some excuse or explanation, something like that can be found over on Live for those that are interested. Here we’ll just take up where we left off. There have been some local changes and I have of late found myself attempting to articulate what I see as the current state if education, which happens not coincidently to model in some odd trailing fashion the state of technology, meaning mainly the Web, generally. I’n not doing too well. The thrust of modernism was the assumption that science, and by that we meant logic, reason, compulsory education, technology, information technology, and lately Big Data would solve everything. Postmodernity, occasionally considered as Rampant Relativism, recorded the gaps in Modernism, with the promise of some-sort-of-techo-political-cultural transcendence that didn’t so much answer our questions, as make them irrelevant. Then came Twitter. Here’s a real time example: Two days ago I developed an interesting target bruise on my arm; looked so cool I thought I might turn it into a tattoo. Coincidently I had my regular 6 month checkup with my oncologist today, so I figured that I might as well get a professional opinion on the curiosity. Nurse said looks like a tick bite. Doctor says, “Not my speciality, but it looks like Lyme disease,” and headed for the laptop.
“You’re going to Google it?”
“Up to Date; we don’t use books anymore. Up to Date, I don’t know how we got along without it.”
Ten minutes and six nurses, turns out I was a perfect teaching opportunity, I’m diagnosed and the magic bullet has been called to the pharmacy. The point of all this being that it calls into question exactly what we, currently and even more so in the future, mean by first “knowledge” and then by extension “learning”; knowledge being the ability to process Up to Date information and learning being something like the ability to apply knowledge successfully and creatively (you might think of it as k=information & l=competency) . If this seems a reversal of what we used to, and to some degree still do, mean by K&L, I’d argue that it is, but also that this reversal is about to transform education totally. I would also argue that many of us know that, but we haven’t figured out exactly how to make the necessary change to methods. Most of what today passes for educational reform and innovation is covered by McLuhan’s notice that, “We drive into the Future using only our rearview mirror”. We talk a good game. A few moments ago I started to write: “We need to create applications, environments, ecologies which change…” you can add some appropriate predicate involving learning, pedagogy, education, etc. Sounded pretty good, maybe like it might mean something, but then…and we’ll come back to that in a moment; for now let’s look at the actual state of things. Let’s use the Tablet PC as an analogy, we are currently in the same place as we were before the “invention” of the iPhone/iPad; at that point most of us known for at least a couple of years that the future was what we called tablet computing, big companies & small built big clumsy devices and quite a few of us bought these devices and tried to use them, but it took Steve Jobs to figure out that the “tablet” was first a consumption device rather than and input device, and that fingers worked better than styluses. Part of this was hardware, but most of it was concept and design. Today we know that the future of education, learning, etc. will be social networks, ePortfoilios, gamification and Open Educational Resources (take a moment to think about OER, a necessary movement and idea, but isn’t Up to Date a pointer to Resources that require some sort of certification for access, and how much attention are we paying to how those should be created and administered? (Side-note, Up to Date argues a good deal of attention, but most of us don’t know about what’s going on.) You can put a bit of pressure on any of the ed-tech domains and find a similar state: we know what the Future looks like, but most of the tools we are using to create it are again big, clunky, and locking some (design?) element. There must be a way around, out of our current situation, (just for clarity I should say, “MOOCs, yes, very nice, but not an answer in or even of themselves, and rapidly approaching their sell-by date.) I want to suggest that the first steps need to be thinking harder and watching our language; for instance, I used “ecology” above, and I’m far form alone, but we use ecology in ways similar to how Bateson accuses us of using “instinct”. In this particular case ecology isn’t so much an explanatory principle as it is a comfort; it seems like we’re saying something profound, when in fact we might as well say “thing”, because if we don’t think about what we mean, what we say isn’t likely to mean anything useful. What I think would be useful is to think creatively about what might create a community of knowledge and learning. But we need to face the fact that talking about change isn’t change, and talking about the future won’t make the future. Currently the best way to cause systemic change is to introduce a new technology, think Twitter and the Arab-Spring. We’re looking here not so much for direct or planned effect, as we are unspecified change. We can begin by laying out some basic characteristics:
Any Application must be:
Let’s break off here; we’ll need to come back to the list and fill in the detail, but there’s no particular hurry.
It’s been a while, which would suggest some major changes.
Day Job Related: Thinking about my current title: Director of Learning Environments and Media Production.
Learning Environment refers not to a place
Either physical or virtual
But rather to an ecology,
And is as such inevitably evolving,
Which is a most serious
Manifestation of Learning.
Or co-evolving, for our technologies
Are no longer merely extensions of man.
We are no longer separable
from that which we make and in turn makes us.
We are at our best constant gardeners;
Our harvest informs our design,
Our designs imagine crops,
And as we take up the tool
We are made anew.
Media Production brings us to
The origin of the work of Art
Which I don’t pretend to understand at all.
What I do get is that, as with the nofilm School, media going forward must define itself by what it is not, that’s the only way to keep it open ended. Its identity extends beyond the antecedent triad of analytic modeling. YouTube threads us as both individuals and collectives. Ze Frank informs Crashcourses and Wigs teams up with Fox to bring Cognitive Dissonance to new levels of wtf cultural engineering. In local terms: What will it mean for students (likely an outdated signifier) to notfilm their learning experiences? Or faculty; we’re ramping up MediaSite and I’m thinking about a 50 seat room with a 90 inch confidence monitor. What will it mean to lecture to a life-size mirror? Think Observer Effect.
On a more personal note, a new camera is sending me back to at once the roots of photography and the future. One 50 mm prime lens and enough features to require a 508 page instruction manual. During the startup phase I’m occupying myself with a new Molecular project. 16 base images, giving 4 derivatives each, makes 64 finals. I’m 1/16 finished; stay tuned for the show.
If you need an argument, if you think about it who doesn’t, you might want to go with Peter Gray’s article in aeon on the play deficit, which is cited, well reasoned, example supported from hunter-gatherer to the Sudbury School and to all appearances academically sound, or you could, if you prefer exploration to explication, check the LOL Cat Bible Project, any of the various Pynchon wiki sites, I favor AtD but Inherent Vice is nice, or if the enforcement side calls more urgently to your particular state or situation jump back to aeon and Dharma Dog by Anthony Sorge, who reminds us that control of the external more or less reflects the dictates of the internal, and that thinking should, in so far as you want to deal with shoulds, be more like taking a line for a walk rather than telling it where to go, because it seems likely that the language games of our discourse community (if we insist on using phrases like discourse community) will insure that we will remain locked in systems of schooling, education, learning, that will in the end sentence us to the very boredom that we’re accusing others of promoting, while what we need are more tools like twitter, which is where this wander found its inception, and tweets which lead to places like Notegraphy, with a thanks for all to transmooc.