Tuesday, 14 February 2006

"It's the [@*&%], stupid!"

This is the third in a series on "Information, language, knowledge and connectedness". The previous posts are here and here.

As I focus on the distinction with "me" and "not me", I acknowledge the role of "language" as one of the many ways externalised knowledge (information) can enter the private internal world.

Social linguistic educators have emphasis on the role of language and even go as far as postulating that our internal world is encoded in a language. I don't have sufficient expertise in the field to argue for or against the claim. However, as a native speaker in Cantonese and brought up throught the very special "English" education system in Hong Kong, I have my doubt.

I was a science students and for years I have taught Physics as a way of making my living. At the beginning, I taught in the way I learnt. In my early Physics classrooms, I would write everything on the blackboard in English while talk through the concepts in Cantonese referencing the terms in English. It would be very interesting for anyone who is fluent in either English or Cantonese, but not both to observe that. I bet none would not have a clue of what I was trying to teach.

Language or jargons are handles to some parts of the internal world view. My students, through time, have developed a world view similar to mine so that we could communicate using the these strange language combination (jargons).

I admit that was not the best way to learn. I have learnt so much since!

One of the major failure of that approach, apart from the linguistic irregularities, is the failure to understand that helping someone to build a coherent world view which matches with the best accepted view on subject, is not justing passing information. Yes, most students would have done their part, working deligently to assimulate the stimulations (my voices and the writing on the board) into their internal world view. But I have done a poor job as a teacher to actually help them learn in the best and most efficient way.

Another interesting observation is in seeing how the students performing in assessment. In that era, a typical assessment would consist of a battery of written test using "problems". In class, I went through the "theory" and if time permited, might do an example. In most cases, "theory" was the only part that was covered.

Obviously, there is a lot of transfer from "theory" into the ability to "apply" the apply in solving numerical problems. It is NOT just a matter of building more neuron connections in the brain. I would say what is intelligence is still a big mystery yet to be understand.

Another major fault in that old way of teaching was that the process which appeared in my classroom was nothing like any real physicists would work. I was not even close to introducing my students to the community of practice of the Physicists! I would not claim to be one myself, how could I be able to introduce them to a community which I was not part of!

But, was I doing a job? Yes, I hoped I had. I was actually very proud of myself doing such a great job at that time.

The fact is some of my students, being taught in that way, ended up being a real physicist - at least got PhDs in Physics!

How could this happen?

With all that information external to us, somehow, our internal world view manages to build a coherent model. That [@*&%] process is @*&% to me.

We now know that our brain consists of billions or more neurons and they are building connections. The networked society today is also building connections. Our houses are connected by power lines, by water supply. Our computers are connected by communication devices (layer 1 of the ISO network model), and established communication via TCP/IP protocols (the range of sound we can make and hear) and web-service calls (language???).

We can learn - via building more neuron connections. ---(1)

Society can learn - via building more connections (of what?). ---(2)

Say, we have more connections among information. What does it mean? Connecting information, e.g. linking this post to some other post, does not create meaning, right? Linking this post to othe post does not create *new* information.

That's a big gap in the underlying logic to start with statement (1) and conclude at statement (2). I am not comfortable to jump across this gap.

There must be [@*&%] else!

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