Wednesday, 31 May 2006

Books with blank pages

from by Oyvind Solstad

This is a book with many blank pages. A city guide book from Moleskine and there are 76 blank pages to be exact.

I wish more books came with blank pages. More space for notes. Books like “Blink” and “Freakonomics” - books that triggers tons of ideas as I read them.

Maybe Moleskine could do some research: Which books would be popular with their biggest fans? Wouldn’t it be cool to have “Blink” with the Moleskine black binding, and lots of extra blank pages? Two extra blank pages after each big idea. Six extra pages after each chapter. And tabs included to mark those special pages. I would buy it. All my books are full of notes and drawings. Books are to be used.

The same to text books. Why not print text books with lot of blank spaces, in the margin, every alternate page...

But is it too late for publishers to realise how important annotation space is for learning? Because we are going digital!

But wait, how can we annotate any information we found?

I once have an implementation called ANN which allows authors to insert annotation points in their web pages. Anyone can annotate and see all the annotations. Unfortunately, the system disappeared after I left University of Melbourne.

SideNote is similar to my ANN.

Here is Facilitating the social annotation and commentary of web pages which provides more information about annotation implementations.

Tuesday, 30 May 2006

College 2.0: No Lectures, But Plenty Of Podcasts, Blogs And Text Messages

A lecturer at a West Yorkshire university has abolished traditional lectures in favour of podcasts.

Dr Bill Ashraf, a senior lecturer in microbiology at Bradford University, says the move will free up time for more small group teaching. [from BBC news]

Students can then ask questions via email or text message, and the professor will respond on his blog. [from techdirt]

Distance education has been doing this for a long time, this is just another form of delivery.

Is this better than lecture in a hall with 1000 students inside? yes.
Will this increase "learning"? no.
Is this increase interaction between teacher and students? no.

The benefactor of this:
Students: do not have to travel and sit in the lecture hall, but lost the opportunity to going out with friends after the lecture.
Teacher: do it once. Next year, same podcast. Save time.

Web site as graphs

via OLDaily

This is the graph of this blog.

The author use colour to represent the tags in the HTML documents. Here is the legend:

blue: for links (the A tag)
red: for tables (TABLE, TR and TD tags)
green: for the DIV tag
violet: for images (the IMG tag)
yellow: for forms (FORM, INPUT, TEXTAREA, SELECT and OPTION tags)
orange: for linebreaks and blockquotes (BR, P, and BLOCKQUOTE tags)
black: the HTML tag, the root node
gray: all other tags

You are encouraged to to put your graph on flickr, and tag it "websitesasgraphs". Here is the link to the flickr pool.

Monday, 29 May 2006

Whose responsibility - children missing schools

A Current Affair in Tonight's nine channel reported on an issue very much at my heart.

The parents of a 12-year old boy will be fined thousands of dollars if their son continues to miss school, according to the report. The problem is it is not the parents who are forbidding the boy to go to school. The boy did not want to go to school!

We all know that we cannot force a horse to drink. We can only lead it to the water.

We all know that we cannot force a person to learn. Learning is very much self-motivation.

Years ago, parents would keep their children at home either because they did not want to pay the school fees, or wanted the children to help in the chores or made some more money. Hence, punishing the parents by not letting the children to go to school made sense.

Today, with all the material attractions and the protection of children, parents are powerless. Schools are not prison. Students should not be locked inside a school. Parents can only do as much as sending the children to school. In the case reported, the mother quitted her job in order to ensure her son goes to school. But, she cannot force him.

This is a problem very much to my heart because my only daughter was suffering from the same problem. She lost motivation. She is strong, both physically and mentally. If she did not want to go to school, no one can force her.

I am glad to say today that she is on her way to recovery. But that is a lot work done by our psychiatrist, social worker, school, teachers and all the people helping us. I am very grateful to all these people and I am very fortunate.

One thing I learnt, if any, is that punishing the parents do not help!

We all understand that children need education in order to secure any hope to have a decent job. Unfortunately, at their age, children just do not understand.

The worse thing a government can do in this situation is to fine the parents!

Learning Design - 2a

In Learning Design - 2, I have left out a significant part of the idea.

I briefly touched on the learning environment which I define as "the situation at which learning occurs". In many cases, the learning environment is just a classroom. The teacher is in control and usually is presenting information. Learners are as passive listener trying to absorb as much as possible the information presented to them. However, it is NOT the only possible learning environment. Learning environment may model the community. Artificial, or simulated environment may be created to support. Learners are given roles, scenarios and episodes so that learners can “feel” being a member of the community.

Sunday, 28 May 2006

Can anyone own "Web 2.0?"

by Cory Doctorow

O'Reilly has an amazing, wonderful gift for popularizing hard ideas and for explaining abstruse technology in catchy ways. "Web 2.0" is only one of O'Reilly's many accomplishments, which started with the publication of the first user documentation for Unix, and has continued through many iterations of excellent, world-changing ideas and memes.

The downside of creating amazing, industry-shaking ideas is that they become embedded in the popular consciousness. While the digerati know that O'Reilly originated Web 2.0, the idea is so infectious that it's just become part of the fabric of the industry. One of the things that makes O'Reilly's ideas so great is that they go on to be part of the infrastructure, invisible and huge and powerful.

According to Cory, it is a choice O'Reilly needs to make: control the use of the words "Web 2.0" or continue to inject great memes into the technology world.

If O'Reilly continues to control the use of the words, I believe the value they can extract from it will be short term and limited. With the evidence backlash occurred in the last couple of days that people will be using a different term for the same concept. The value of "Web 2.0" will be lost in new terms such as Web 2.1.

If O'Reilly wants to continue to be influential and continues to publish good books (and make good profit), they need to do a lot of damage control. At this stage, they can apologize, stop the service mark enforcement. If this is done sufficiently quick, the damage should be minimal.

Saturday, 27 May 2006

Web 2.0 service mark controversy

via OLDaily

O'Reilly has long been heralded as a leading advocate of the open source ethos. But that reputation is under siege today. In a story that began here and spread into Tim Reilly's blog here [snip] it was revealed that O'Reilly is trying to enforce ownership of 'Web 2.0' as a service mark (at least for conferences). While I held out hope that it was all a mistake, their eventual admission has brought down the wrath of the blogosphere. [Stephen Downes]

I don't know the details about how one can register a trade mark or service mark. Even if Tim O'Reilly and company have coined the term, they are guilty of misleading thousands of developers all over the world. Without indicating that a term is or will be applied for a trade mark or service mark, but promoting the term in (or near) CC licensed content will mislead developers into thinking that this term can be used freely. That has prompted thousands of developers to put their effort into developing various concepts, routines and interesting application and linking such development to the term. This has the effect promoting the term further. Without all these people adding value to the term, there is NO value to that term. When people are later being told that the term you thought was free to use is in fact being trademarked or service marked, it is only natural to feel being betrayed.

With business man hat on, I understand there is a need to protect one's trademark or service mark. One would not like other people to dilute or damage a careful developed reputation through hard work and good service to your clientele. I believe that's the fundamental understanding of trademark or service mark. If the popularity of the mark was not your sole effort and when you capitalise on other's people work in order to gain commercially, that is immoral! That is greed! That is the beginning of the end of your empire!

Let's pull that bug out of O'Reilly's ass, and start calling it Web 2.1 - the bug fix release ;-) [Posted by: MarkB at May 26, 2006 12:58 AM from here]

Let start the bug fix and release our code and/or effort as Web 2.1. Please note that Web 2.1 is first coined by MarkB in a thread of a discussion clearly licensed under a Creative Common license. I hope people will understand that Web 2.1 is NOT trademarkable or service markable!

Friday, 26 May 2006

Net neutrality

via Engadget

In a move that may pave the way for legislation forbidding phone and cable companies from charging content providers a premium for access to customers, the House Judiciary Committee today approved the net neutrality bill introduced by Committee Chair James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and Ranking Member John Conyers (D-MI).

That is a good news and should set an example for the world to follow - provide a neutral service.

Carriers should not be allowed to peek into any data packet and set performance difference based on who and whom the packages are sent and received. Priority as set by the sender or receiver should be respected - but not who and whom.

Anyone connected to the network, no matter whether he is the source or the sink of the data packet should enjoy the same speed of transfer within the carrier's network. Of course, there will be differences in the connection speed of the "last mile" as determined by pricing difference of plan or other factors. The idea is that a data packet is a data packet is a data packet. Every data packet should be transferred across the carrier's network at the same performance level.

In the news linked to by Engadget:

"The Committee - in a bipartisan fashion - understands that this legislation will provide an insurance policy for Internet users against being harmed by broadband network operators abusing their market power to discriminate against content and service providers. While I am not opposed to providers responsibly managing their networks and providing increased bandwidth to those consumers who wish to pay for it, I am opposed to providers giving faster, more efficient access to certain service providers at the expense of others. This legislation is a must for any telecommunications legislation because it will ensure that this type of discriminatory conduct will not take place, and will help to continue the tradition of innovation and competition that has defined the Internet," stated Chairman Sensenbrenner.

A bad dream

After a lesson which I thought I was exceptionally inspirational, delivered a number of "deep" insights into the subject matter I was teaching, a student put up his hand and said that he did not understand what I was saying.

I said,

I teach the whole class the same thing. You have all heard what I have said. The rest of the class understood and you did not. Then don't ask me. Ask your parent.

In today's point of view, I was utterly insensitive.

However, that was what an "information" shovelling model had made me. I thought if I delivered an information rich, logically arranged "brilliant" lesson, I have done my job.

Understanding was a task for the students. They needed to understand the concepts. They needed to be able to recite every words I have said. They needed to study hard in order to pass examinations with questions set to ask tricky and minute details of what I have said in class. It did not matter if any student developed any coherent understanding. It mattered only if the students were able to guess correct answers during examinations and tests.

In fact, my performance was measured by the number of distinctions and credits during the public examinations my students have. My job was to make them tough enough to get good marks. Who cared how they felt.

The scene changed suddenly.

I was in front of a judge, being accused of insulting and damaging the psychological well being of my students. The judge found me guilty as charged. The judge was definitely very angry. He said he was going to set the maximum penalty....


My wife woke me up. I was having a bad dream!

Wednesday, 24 May 2006

Curriculum is Dead - Teacher as Tour Guide

by David Warlick

Education, defined by it limits, required a curriculum that was packaged into products that could be easily used in the classroom. We used textbooks with scope and sequence, pacing guides, and a teacher’s guide with the answers.

Education, defined by it’s lack of limits, requires no such packaging. It’s based on experiences, tied to real-world, real-time information that spans the entire spectrum of media — crafted an facilitated by skilled teachers, who become more like tour guides than assembly-line workers.

Great points.

As I continue to develop the concepts in learning Design (1 and 2 here, the rest coming), I think a lot about the role of content and the scope of content or experience which should be provided to a learner in order to empower to learner to meaningful participation. [Sorry for the strange words used here. Please read my previous posts. :-)]

Informal learning cannot ensure a broad coverage of experience (compared to a well designed formal setting). Informal learning is "chance"-driven and formal learning is "plan"-driven.

I have questioned the validity of "expert" designed curriculum. I also question how much we know about the future in which our students will operate. How can we convince ourselves that the curriculum we plan for our students will cover all the skills and knowledge they will need? How can we sleep peacefully at night?

However, the alternate is equally difficult. Do we meet our duty of care if we just let the learners venture to different content as chances bring them? When we guide them, where are we guiding them to?

Monday, 22 May 2006

Learning Design - 2

This is the second part. The first part is here.

Section 3. Data, Metadata, Information, Language and Community

Information is manifestation of someone's part IWV (Internal World View). Being an externalisation, information is not necessarily an accurate representation of one's IWV, nor represents the whole of one's IWV. However, being externalised, information can be transferred from one place to another and from one time to another and stored externally.

It involves great skills to externalise one's IWV or imagination. Hence, some are greater writer and story teller than others.

The process of "importing" information, among many other activities which may or may not have the same effect, as being part of one's IWV is called learning.

Since the start of humanity, we have been trying to externalised our understanding, conceptualisation or imagination. We tried and are trying to pass that onwards. With the advent of printing, these externalised information of many great minds have been accumulating faster and faster, to the point that I will never able to read them all and hence will never be able to incorporate them all into my IWV. With today's technology, lots of them are at my finger tips. I will be constantly enchanted and enlightened by more reading and hence extending and growing my IWV. But before I get the chance to read them, these externalised information, remains as "non-knowledge" to me.

Language is our vehicle of communication. Language is accumulated, compromised and negotiated. We agree, implicitly or explicitly, that certain sound when under certain condition convey a certain idea.

Different culture, through different circumstances, developed different language. Usually, people speaking two different languages will have great difficulty in communication, even basic needs. However, there are sufficient common elements in most languages that “translation” is possible. As I have assumed, the world we live in has been producing coherent stimulation to our senses. It is very likely that these stimulation have built similar, albeit different IWV in our brains. Physicists in China would share a similar world view (in Physics at least) with western physicists from both USA, England, Germany or France even they do not have the same communicative language.

Human language is in constant flux and is changing. A core set of language remains fairly stable for a sufficient long time for us to engage in meaningful communication. But the communication is imperfect because we may have different shades of meaning attached to the same term we use.

Language can also express things that are not "real". Language can be used to construct new idea, new artifact, fictional stories and creative artifacts. That's a power of language!

We are able to communicate using language when the language itself is used to indirectly reference multiple level of representations without much effort .

Language is intrinsically “recursive condensation of information”. As a community is negotiating a concept, the details of the concept is examined, discussion, debated and eventually come to an agreement (or an agreement to disagreement). The concept will then be given a term, or jargon. As exchange progresses, the importance of the complex concept behind a term is faded into the background and become transparent to those involved. A large collection of information has condensed into a term.

Information is encrypted in language, be it language as we normally use the term or other symbolism such as painting, dance, music or sign language.

Information is intrinsically inter-connected. Information is connected because information are manifestations of different people's IWV which are all based on a coherent consistent world that we all experience. Information is connected because it is based on language, which is social, shared and negotiated. Information is connected because some of the "concept" will come from or refers to other information, such as in citation or references at the end of an academic paper. This referencing is much as intrinsic than just citation or references. In a paper within Physics community, no one will provide further citation or reference to terms such as “work” which, obviously is strictly defined within the community. Citation and references in academic paper only cover those concepts which are considered in the paper.

There are two types of disagreements: interesting and uninteresting. The uninteresting disagreements are those disagreements due to the imperfection of communication. This is easily resolved by agreeing to a common term. The interesting disagreements are those situations whereby we have common agreed terms and language representation, but there are differences in our IWV when we are trying to compare and negotiate. Eventually, it would come down to our differences in past experience including the information we have met and internalised.

When we are managing information, e.g. the assignments submitted by students, we give that each assignment a code (John's essay). After we marked the assignment, it is given a score. This score is linked to John in our record book. At the end of the year, all these scores are collated to give an overall score for John. This is again an example of recursive condensation of information. The final score represents a much larger collection of information and teacher's opinion on John's performance.

A collection of condensed information is a data set. Implicit in any data is the structure and supporting information. A stock market transaction datum represents the price at which two parties agreed to exchange two types of valuable things (stock and money). The temperature in the today’s weather report represents a whole theory in defining temperatures (in Physics at least), the negotiated and agreed scale of measuring the temperature and the “thing” which is being measured and reported.

Librarian used to handle a large collection of information (books we used call them). Every book is given a unique identifier. Multiple copies of the same book are also given item identifier.

The same applies to information when it is digitised. Information is given URI.

When we are finding or managing information, we are treating such information as data. We are interested in the collection of information represented by this data.

In order for us to find data, we try to collect some of the characteristics of the data. We found that there are some common characteristics which are useful, e.g. the author, the date of publications, the subject domain the information is about. So librarians added "metadata" to the data.

But some may call author writer, others call the same creator. So, we need to create a common agreed term for similar concepts (similar internal world views of different people). So we have metadata standards which
1. standardise the term to represent the characteristics (the name of the characteristics),
2. the exact characteristics (negotiate the common IWV of the term included),
3. the way the value to be expressed (firstname first, or firstname last?, how to handle middle name etc.) (The scale and the reference units etc.)

Soon we found that there are variations of "similar" concepts. The metadata needed "qualifiers" both to extend the grey area of "similarity" and "overload" the term.

"Metadata" are data themselves. So we can apply the same principle on metadata which leads to "metametadata". Metametadata are data themselves. So we can apply the same principle on metametadata which leads to "metametametadata.

The range of condensed meanings (terms and jargon) within our daily language represents the complex relationship we have with different community. The parties, which participated in the negotiation of a term or jargon, belong to a common community. However, there is no clear boundary for most communities (except formal organisations such as countries – citizenship; business organisations – employer, employee, customers.) By participating in the negotiation of a condensed meaning, one is definitely at the core of the community which shared some common IWV represented by the term/jargon. Those, who used such term/jargons in its appropriate way, are part of the community because they are also sharing the same IWV.

Here I define a community as a group of people who share a specific part of their IWV.

A pilot does not have the knowledge of every piece of equipment on the air plane. However, a pilot does have a functional model of how the whole air plane will work under different circumstances in order to fly the air plane safely. A aircraft engineer may not be a pilot. However, the engineer will have great depth of knowledge and skill in different parts of the plane. A fluid dynamic Physicist has great understanding about how the air flow around the wing of the plane will affect the balance and the subsequent motion of the plane. But the physicist may not be an engineer nor a pilot.

A physicist is not a pilot because there are things in the pilot’s IWV which is not in physicist’s IWV and vice versa. A community is quite arbitrarily defined by the scope of the common IWV parts as agreed by the members of the community.

We are simultaneously in more than one community. If all the pilot, physicist and engineer mentioned above are Australian, that means they shared a common geographical area to be called home, among other things.

Section 4. Foundation of Learning Design

This unified theory of learning design has several facets:

From what has discussed as far, the most important factor (or dimension) affecting the success of any learning program is obviously the intention of the learner and the degree of participation as a member of a community (target community). We shall refer to this as context and participatory intention. Depending on the maturity of the target community, it may have developed rich set of jargons, rituals, established practices and large body of published literature, referred to as language and content respectively. The existing IWV of the learner has significant impact on the reception of any presented content. The existing IWV relative to the target community is referred here as pre-existence experience or simply as experience. The individual differences of learners, with respect to his preference of how learning is carried out, is his learning style. Finally, there is also a learning environment which describes the situation at which learning occurs.

Context is not subject matter. Subject matter is a narrower term referring partly to the content and partly to the established practices. Context involves knowing holistically the language, the content, major participants of the community and everything else which would enable the learner to meaningfully participate in the community.

Obviously not every learner will have the intent or capability to become an active meaningful participant in the target community. Many would be satisfied just to be able to make sense of the activities occurring within the community, or be able to communicate in a shallow level with members of the community. Some will not be participant themselves, yet are interested in understanding about a community. Others may be at the early stage of eventual full participation. Some may already be highly involved and are/were active in the community wishing to continue a growth. These different levels of intent are expressed by terms such as: non-participatory observer, early participants, experience participants, experts or ex-participants.

A young child, Amy, may be an early participant of the society (a community) in which the child is being brought up. Of course, the implied, and commonly non-explicit intent would be to become a successful participant in the society. In this case, among many things, she will need to learn the language used by the society in order to effectively communicate, need to established practices and respect to rituals and cultures, including laws and rules, know the key participants such as community leaders, politicians and other respected members of the society, develop a skill in order to become a valuable member of the society.

As young adult, Bob, is trying to enter a profession, e.g. into a medical practice, he would need to understand all the jargons being used by the medical professions, able to communicate complex concept efficiently and perform the established practice in order to cure his patients. This process of becoming a medical profession may start with a medical school where he learns from current members of the profession (i.e. his teachers are currently practicing medical professions) or from non-participatory observer with in-depth understanding of the community. At this stage, he learns as a non-participatory observer. As Bob graduates from the medical school, he will go through further learning process, such as internship before fully qualified to perform his duties without supervision. This would be the early participant stage with mentor supports. Continuous up skilling, learning and development are required in many professions. Members of the community will continue their learning process at different participatory distance.

The publishing of research results is a mean of contribution to the development of a community as well as an opportunity for experience experts (of a community) to learn. As noted earlier, learning is the process of changing one’s inner world view to enable better meaningful participation of a community. By publishing, senior members of the community help to clarify the accepted practices of the community, aligned their own inner world view better (by influencing the community’s view or by modifying their own inner world view).

It should be noted that Amy begins her learning from the day she is born as an early participant. This learning typically occurs in an informal manner, supported by her parents. Babies and young children learn through imitation, role playing, games, rehearsals and a variety of other learning activities. A little later, the young child will enter school, a formal learning environment established specifically for learning.

As Bob leaves the formal learning environment (the medical school) into a semi-formal environment where he is doing his internship. Experienced members are available to assist this budding doctor to put the skill and knowledge acquired in the medical school into real practice.

Learning is a life-long process, almost without start and end. Learning occurs under many different situations with varying individually different motivation, ability and constraints. Learning is an effort, part of the need of survival in the past, today and in the future. Some learning occurs almost like without explicit effort, many required demonstrated effort by the learners.

During this pursuit to become an effective participating member of a community, one role stands out. It is the person who is giving help, guiding and supporting the learner. I will use the traditional term teacher to denote this special role. Teacher used to be the main source of information. With the advent of the information and communication technology, this role needs careful reexamination. However, teacher is still a significant facet of learning and learning design.

[more to come...]

Saturday, 20 May 2006

The Death of Learning Object - 2

Karyn, in response to my earlier post, wrote:

As a learning designer, I'm still trying to decide how I would get by without them.

I left a comment in her blog and asked for an example. I greatly appreciate examples of effective use of learning objects.

She pointed me to one of her earlier post. The training situation is:
Barbara Manager has someone standing in front of her, red-faced and furious, claiming to have been subjected to on-going gender discrimination.

What should Barbara do?

Karyn proposed three possible reactions:
1 If we're honest, she's most probably going to call HR. It's the kneejerk reaction.
2 She could ask a colleague - either over the phone or in person
3 She might Google it (I know, I know - just bear with me, okay?)

and consider designing the learning based on these situations.

I would argue that it is reactive training and it will cost the organisation when situation like this happens. As eLearning professional, we should advocate "preventive" training. Prevention is always better than cure!

I would split that situation into two parts: training to prevent such situation to occur (preventive and pro-active) AND just-in-time information (reactive).

The first part is the role of training. The latter is the role of information distribution. A search engine incorporated into the organisation's policy repository should provide the simple answer to the latter.

What we should be interested and focussed on is the preventive and pro-active training.

For sexual harassment in the work place, there is good role play simulation "Xmas party from Hell" which has been run over 20 times. See Marie Jasinski's description of the 2001 run here. BTW, the URL listed in Marie's article is a bit old, but should work.

Here, I don't need to use any learning object!

Save the world from economic collapse - due to music piracy

via Boingboing

A post in Boingboing led me to Donny's Blog which claimed that RIAA has been claiming much lower damage (300 million per year) due to piracy. The actual figure was $11,440,939,650,000 for January 2006 alone. I am speechless.

I checked the research method from Donny [to ensure that the claim are based on facts]. Without running the experiment again, I have no way to verify the numbers. But the methodology is absolutely sound. OK, I trust you, Donny.

As pointed out by his first fan-mail, the cost of piracy is three times the GDP of all countries combined!

Unfortunately, in the email, there is an incorrect claim:

Thank God the RIAA has stood up to these "pirates" and warned us before it's too late. [my emphasis]

People, it IS too late now!

The figure was for Jan 2006 and it is May 2006. Since then, 5 months have passed and gone. The accumulated debts as of today is already more than the world's GDP combined.

Don't panic! The title of this post is "Save the world from economic collapse".

I am proposing a rescue here.

I believe it was invented by Eron: accounting by projected income.

US government should immediately issue a tax collection notice to RIAA based on the projected income of RIAA (35% right) to collect 46.2 trillion tax dollars owned by RIAA for 2006. BTW, anyone has any estimate about how much RIAA should pay for the past years since piracy began? US government can use that sum of money to set up a fund to help people driven to bankruptcy due to piracy to help pay back and settle the debts, say 10cents in a dollar.

Make sense?

Friday, 19 May 2006

"If you aren't doing anything wrong, what do you have to hide?"

by Bruce Schneier

[This may be off topic, but hey, it is my random walk. Learning to deal with our basic human right is learning, right? :-) ]

Some clever answers: "If I'm not doing anything wrong, then you have no cause to watch me." "Because the government gets to define what's wrong, and they keep changing the definition." "Because you might do something wrong with my information." My problem with quips like these -- as right as they are -- is that they accept the premise that privacy is about hiding a wrong. It's not. Privacy is an inherent human right, and a requirement for maintaining the human condition with dignity and respect. [my emphasis]

Bruce has included some inspirational quotes:

Quis custodiet custodes ipsos? ("Who watches the watchers?")

"Absolute power corrupts absolutely."

"If one would give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest man, I would find something in them to have him hanged."

and his own words:
Too many wrongly characterize the debate as "security versus privacy." The real choice is liberty versus control. Tyranny, whether it arises under threat of foreign physical attack or under constant domestic authoritative scrutiny, is still tyranny. Liberty requires security without intrusion, security plus privacy. Widespread police surveillance is the very definition of a police state. And that's why we should champion privacy even when we have nothing to hide.

Also see here for those living in America for a bitter smile. I just hope that NSA's service is not extended to my country. Thank you very much.

Thursday, 18 May 2006

Learning Design -1 Feedback 1

Stephen Downes commented on Learning Design -1 in today's OLDaily.

"Learning as the process of building an inner world which enables one to participate meaningfully in a community." I would be happier with 'growing' than 'building'. And 'environment' than 'community'. And I think 'inner world' and 'meaningful' need to be carefully specified, because they are, in my view, not rooted in language.

Stephen is a great thinker and I respect his opinion. Thank you.

Yes, I will change the definition to

Learning as the process of growing an inner world which enables one to participate meaningfully in a community.

I still keep "community" for the moment. More on that in my next Learning Design post where I will, hopefully, to make it clear why I use community (and also implies that we are members of multiple communities at the same time).

The notions of understanding, meaning and consciousness are difficult subjects which I would like to avoid for this piece. So I would like to keep "inner world" as it is and leave it as a "black box" without further explanation. Of course, if Stephen would like to be a co-author and expand on that.

"Participation" is a very general term and for the moment, I will still keep it that way. I may come back to change in a later version.

Language is an important part in this work and I will expand on this later.

Microsoft Windows Genuine Advantage Validation Tool

My XP informed me of a software update. As usual, I started the installation process. I needed to accept an End User Agreement. I have a quick scan and noticed that there are some font changes in the Agreement. So I pulled a printed version and the EUA is enclosed to this post in its entirety later.

OK, this is a MICROSOFT WINDOWS GENUINE ADVANTAGE VALIDATION TOOL and it is PRE-RELEASE. Fine, I think I would trust Microsoft. I am using its software anyway and my XP is a genuine version which came installed with my laptop anyway.

But hang on, when did I requested such a tool to be installed to my laptop?

So, reading through the EUA, I found what this software is meant to do:

· When you install the software on your premises, it will check to make sure you have a genuine and validly licensed copy of Microsoft Windows XP (“Windows XP”) installed. If you have a genuine copy of Windows XP, you receive special benefits, which are listed on the following link:
· If the software detects you are not running a genuine copy of Windows XP, the operation of your computer will not be affected in any way. However, you will receive a notification and periodic reminders to install a genuine licensed copy of Windows XP. Automatic Updates will be limited to receiving only critical security updates.
· You will not be able to uninstall the software but you can suppress the reminders through the software icon in the system tray.

Aha, it sounds like the Sony's rootkit. I would not be able to uninstall the software! It sounds very dangerous.

In clause 13 (nice number), more alarms are sounding:

The maximum damage I can claim is US$5 and even if Microsoft knew or should have known about the possibility of the damages.

The laptop is my work horse. If anything breaks, the damages will be many many time greater than US$5. OK, I think I will pass about the installation of this software. Thank you very much.

I'll also be actively looking for a replacement desktop OS for my laptop.

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Wednesday, 17 May 2006

Learning Design - 1

I intend to call this paper, when finished, "Unified Theory of Learning Design". This is a far too ambitious title, so I am going to settle for "Learning Design" as a token for this series of posts.

I believe in "rapid releases and rapid updates" and I welcome comments so that I can incorporate better ideas into the paper. I hope it will be a collaborative effort. Please feel free to send me comment and ask to be included as an author.

Section 1 Understanding Learning

“Despite the remarkable progress, brain research has not yet found an application in theory or practice of education. And yet, one of the major contributions neuroscience is capable of making is illuminating the nature of learning itself”. [Blakemore, S-J and Frith, U (2000) The implications of recent developments in neuroscience for research on teaching and learning, London: Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience.]

“From a biochemical perspective, it could be said that learning is what happens when some molecules are modified. At a more global level, it can also be described as the increase in association between two events. The term “association” has been traditionally linked to the concept of “learning.” Indeed, in 1949 one of the fathers of computational neurobiology, Donald Hebb, postulated a computational rule, known as the “Hebbian rule,” which makes explicit this assumption. This rule postulates that learning implies coincident pre- and post-synaptic activity. Although many of Hebb’s ideas were not right, recent research on neurobiology has shown that this coincidence of activities causes synapses to change, and therefore, they constitute the very basic mechanism of learning.” [Núria Sebastián Gallés, A Primer on Learning: A Brief Introduction from the Neurosciences online:,2340,en_2649_201185_33625337_1_1_1_1,00.html]

Since we don’t know what happens when we learn, we will look at philosophy for some guidance. René Descartes holds that the mind is a nonphysical substance. Descartes was the first to clearly identify the mind with consciousness and self-awareness and to distinguish this from the brain, which was the seat of intelligence. []. From Psychology, Cognitive Science and Physics, Karl H. Pribram David Joseph Bohm suggests the Holonomic brain theory that cognitive function as being guided by a matrix of neurological wave interference patterns situated temporally between holographic Gestalt perception and discrete, affective, quantum vectors derived from reward anticipation potentials. Neither of these descriptions is satisfactory for me. The Dualism theory satisfies my way of looking at our cognitive functions as “software” and our brain as a computing hardware. The Holonomic brain theory via the processes in quantum mechanic concepts provides me with a way of understanding why we almost act differently every time even under similar conditions , although I do not believe that quantum effect would be occurred at the synaptic activity. Further more, none of these provides me with a way to describe a framework for improving learning design.

Taking one more step further from the biological stance, I looked at how people attempt to define learning. Wikipedia [] defines learning as “the process of acquiring knowledge, skills, attitudes, or values, through study, experience, or teaching, that causes a change of behavior that is persistent, measurable, and specified or allows an individual to formulate a new mental construct or revise a prior mental construct (conceptual knowledge such as attitudes or values)”. A comment is to this definition is that “knowledge, skills, attitudes or values” are abstract concepts which do not address the aim of learning.

Gerry White (CEO,, Australia,2005) [] suggests (following Etienne Wenger) “learning is the process of negotiation, in searching for identity, between a community of competence (knowledge) and the experiences of the participant (learner) in an economy of meaning .” This view takes “social structures and 'knowing' which is a part of the tension of negotiating a learner's identity. It also brings into focus [snip] knowledge and community as well as the identity of the learner.”

Section 2 Learning Basic

Been influenced by the aforementioned authors (and many more) greatly, here is my attempt which is based on observations rather than controlled scientific experiments.

We are born with instincts such as the ability to suck at nipples, cry, smile and IMITATE. Our other genetic differences partly account for the differences we exhibit as our learning styles, giftedness and different intelligence traces as we become developed. In other words, when we are born, we already have some built-in survival instincts. However, I believe that what we are is influenced both by our genetic composition as well as things that we learnt as we grow.

As we grow, senses develop (vision, audition, gestation, olfaction, tactition, thermoception, nociception, equilibrioception and Proprioception). Corresponding parts of the brain also develop to support the developing perception and to process these senses . Responding to senses and the immediate satisfaction or pain (the first and second levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs), we begin to build the foundations on which our inner world view (called IWV for short hereafter) is created. Some of our skills are acquired easier during the developing stage, e.g. we learn language effortlessly when young, but quite difficult at older age. Accent is developed and carried to later acquired language.

Human baby is known to react strongly to level 3 (love and belonging) of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs []. As we grow, the response to stimulation also reflects the maturity of the person. (for example Jean Piaget’s theory of developmental stages, Kohlberg's stages of moral development, Loevinger's stages of ego development, Erikson's stages of psychosocial development and Sigmund Freud's Psychosexual stages). However, we do not understand what electro/chemical and associations in our brain (or other part of our body) account for the processes that produce the response. In this paper, I am treating the inner world as a “black box”.

Of particular importance to learning is the role of language. Most of the learning, both pre-school, in school, post-school depends on language to communicate the subject matter with the learner. This is also true in most work environments as well.

Nativist linguistic theories hold that children learn through their natural ability to organize the laws of language, but cannot fully utilize this talent without the presence of other humans. This does not mean, however, that the child requires formal teaching of any sort to master the language. For instance, Norm Chomsky claims that children are born with a hard-wired language acquisition device (LAD) in their brains. They are born with the major principles of language in place, but with many parameters to set (such as whether sentences in the language(s) they are to acquire must have explicit subjects). Social interaction is a dynamic, changing sequence of social actions between individuals (or groups) who modify their actions and reactions due to the actions by their interaction partner(s). In other words they are events in which people attach meaning to a situation, interpret what others are meaning, and respond accordingly. Social-interactionists, like Snow, theorize that adults play an important part in children's language acquisition. In Thought and Language, Vygotsky argued it is through speech that thinking, thoughts and mental constructs (a child's intellectual being) is formed. . “Vygotsky is well-known for his model being termed sociocultural approach. For him, a child's development is a direct result of her/his culture. For Vygotsky, development applied primarily to mental development, such as thought, language, reasoning processes and mental functions. However, Vygotsky observed that these abilities developed through social interactions with significant people in a child's life, particularly parents, but also other adults. Through these interactions, a child came to learn the habits of mind of her/his culture, namely speech patterns, written language, and other symbolic knowledge that effected a child's construction of her/his knowledge.” []

Human are social and also curious. In our early years, sound patterns (speech) are associated with objects and events. Such sound patterns, often supplied and repeated many times to the baby by her parents, form the basis of the beginning vocabularies. It is important to note that I have assumed a consistent world . This formed a common part of IWV in the immediate community where the baby is being brought up. According to Jerome Bruner’s The Narrative Construction of Reality [Bruner’s, 1991 "The Narrative Construction of Reality" (1991). Critical Inquiry, 18:1, 1-21.] IWV structures itself through "cultural products, like language and other symbolic systems". While I will not engage into details of the inner world (as a black box), there are evidences of using higher level symbols to represent complex construct of concepts and such construction in recursive. (For example, in this article, instead of diverge to discuss different concepts encountered, I quoted the concept as “Jean Piaget’s theory of developmental stages” which itself will require pages of elaboration.)

For me, I view language is a system of codified symbols which are socially negotiated and acquired. Most will communicate using language via the visual or audio senses. However, this concept of language applies to those who use sign language too.

Community here may mean social community such as the immediate family, larger community as such the neighborhood or the society. Community may also refer to profession groups. In any community, there are special agreed symbol(s) used exclusively in one particular way by members of that community. We call these special symbols “jargons”. For example, the word “work” means quite different to a Physicist to an IP lawyer to a museum curator to a worker in the factory floor. So one of the important aspect of learning in order to participate meaningfully in any community is to acquire the jargons associated with that community.

Language also plays an important role from another prospective. Language is one of the main tools which enable us to externalise the IWV (output) and accept other’s opinions (input). Told as stories, experience and knowledge are passed among individuals. As technology developed, stories can be recorded as written words and printed as text. Human experience and knowledge are preserved and passed between generations. Converged as digital streams, stories, texts, performances are transmitted across today’s networks at high speed. Search engines help us to find almost any existing information instantly. The volume of such externalised experiences (someone’s part IWV) increases rapidly. The value of good information is also increasing.

In this model, the IWV which we build throughout our lives
1. Are all different. Some of the difference is accounted for by genetic characteristics inherent in the underlying “hardware” – our individual special strength and weakness. Other differences are formed because we have different accumulated experience.
2. Are built through a continuous process of stimulation and response. We all live in a consistent world, ie under the same situation, to you an apple when released will fall. This is the same to me under the same situation. This consistent world form to basis for us to establish a common portion of our views of the external world.

Language is possible because of the consistency of the external world. Language was negotiated based on those parts of the IWV that are results for interaction with the consistence external world. With the commonality of the language, we are able to express ourselves so that other people can understand. However, it is also noted that language is meaningful codified symbols for us when we are active members of communities.

Language is able to express both real and imaginative events and circumstances and we are able to draw upon our common portion of our IWV to make sense of the communication.

Artifacts we create do not reflect the complete IWV. There is no ONE artifact which can completely externalise my IWV because some of my feelings, my emotion lack words which mean the same to you AND me. At the same time, as I am writing, I am reflecting and modifying my own understanding of the subject matter at the same time. However, many fine writers do express some part or portion of their inner world with such clarity that it makes sense to a lot of people.

With all these clarification, I will define
Learning as the process of building an inner world which enables one to participate meaningfully in a community.

This definition assumes nothing about the construct of the IWV or cognition . It emphases on the practicality of learning (meaningful participation). It acknowledges the multiplicity of purpose and objectives of individual within a community. Community may refer to specific professional group or general community as in citizenship. Any learner will be simultaneously engaged in more than one community.

Reading, a process which has effect on our IWV, is not necessarily a learning process. Yes, reading may help build one’s IWV. But the reading may not enable us to participate in our designated community.

Writing may be a learning process. Writing may help other clarify your understanding of the issues of the community, establish better communication between you and the other members of the community. Writing is a meaningful participation in a community. Writing itself changes one’s IWV as well.

With this board definition, I argue that “learning” demands an effort exerted by the learner. It involves messages (mostly in the form of agreed symbols) crossing the border between real world and IWV. The IWV being a black box, learning design is about understanding the role symbols play, the community the learner is engaged in and the purpose the learner would like to achieve in order to meaningfully participate in the target community.

The Death of Learning Object

Since my post Content Packaging and Shipping Container, some bloggers have noticed the calls for the death of learning objects [Harold calls for the death of learning objects] and I became the first member of the choir.

The love affair and pursuant honeymoon between educators and Learning Objects appears to be pretty much over. It's becoming more obvious to me that we haven't found much real value in this concept during the past several years. [LOR & SCO Naysayers]

What a wonderful feeling!

If you have ever seen my online photo, you will notice that I am actually wearing a hard hat. I am a self proclaimed "eLearning Professional". I have published on Implementation Issues of SCORM, Learning Objects Metadata, Learning Objects and all the usual stuff on the subject.

I still believe in the value of re-usability (ie minimize duplicated, repetitive work), interoperability (so that I can copy and paste), adaptability (so that I can edit as much or as little as I like), discoverability (get rid of Google!) and accessibility (I am getting old and will definitely need accessibility soon).

What I like to say is that learning technology standards effort has focused at the wrong spot. Teachers do not need technologists to tell them how to do their job. Teachers do not need technologists to draw a square on the floor and be asked to stand inside the square. Teachers need tools, good tools so that they can use to craft their wares - whatever that may be.

Blog is godsend. That's why people are all jumping into this bandwagon.

Discussion board was a godsend. We can find lots of articles and best practices coming out from the use of discussion forum in online teaching. This is to the extend that online discussion almost is equal to online learning/teaching.

But there are still more work we can do.

Fablusi online role play simulation is the work I am currently working day in day out. I am eating, sleeping and breathing Fablusi at the moment.

However, I would also like to see tools such as WebQuest being promoted more and Quia too. Of course I am still very interested in my own version: virtual apparatus framework

This paper introduces a conceptual model of "virtual apparatus" for designing virtual experiments with the emphasis on minimising the technical burden on the teacher by using generic programmable objects. A virtual apparatus is a reusable software component which non-programmers can set-up and modify using a forms based interface. Some virtual apparatus behave like real world objects such as a beaker or pulley and provide a simple and intuitive interface for the teacher. Like its real world counterpart, a virtual apparatus can be used by a teacher and students in an experiment. Other virtual apparatus may be hidden, performing monitoring functions to provide feedback to the teacher as well as providing a mechanism for moving the simulation from novice to more advanced levels. For this concept to be viable over Internet, these apparatus must adhere to a strict set of open and common software specifications to ensure inter-operability between virtual apparatus from different sources and perform across different computing platforms. [From an outdated (1996) paper]

Teachers still need easy to use components to build interactive, interesting content pages! (Sorry, I mean teachers still need easy to use tools to enable students to build interactive and interesting reports.)

Tuesday, 16 May 2006

Australia Copyright proposal, a step forward or a step backward?

There are two conflicting headlines about the current proposal Changes to the Copyright Act:

From Sydney Morning Herald [via Boingboing]:

Under the Australian Government's proposed new copyright laws it will no longer be technically illegal to tape TV shows or rip tracks from your CD onto your iPod. That's the good part - getting rid of something that almost everybody had honoured in the breach.

But it replaces that stupid law with another stupider one - one that can never be properly policed and one which will continue to put almost everyone in breach of the copyright laws.

Under these proposed new laws it will be illegal - for instance - to lend a video copy of a TV show you have made to your family or friends if you have already watched that copy.

And those same proposed laws will required you to delete that program once you've watched it once. Yeah, sure everyone's going to observe that one. via OLDaily
Some good news from Australia, where the government appears to have determined that draconian copyright restrictions are perhaps not in the country's best interests after all. In summary, the AG has announced:
- use exceptions - time-shifting and format-shifting;
- exceptions for schools, universities, libraries, and other cultural institutions - exceptions for people with disabilities;
- exceptions to allow parody or satire;
"If the changes go as far as the press release indicates, the government will have dealt with some long-standing issues in Copyright law."

So I dig a little and find this:

From, "No fair use for Australia - but some expanded exceptions for time-shifting, format-shifting, parody - and more (with a not-so-little serving of enforcement on the side)". That means I cannot quote this like. I will be committing a crime when I quote. That's would be a big trouble for any academic work. Clarify, CLARIFY please!

New exceptions for private use:

1. Time-shifting - but limited to be viewed only once. Does this mean that when you view while recording, you cannot view your recording! And this is also limited to be viewed by the person who made the recording. So my wife is NOT allowed to tape a TV program for me to view later!

2. Format-shifting - but no more "backup" allowed for the original! I suppose we may need format-shift the same recording to multiple different formats in order to protect our treasure recordings. By the way, you must own the original in the first place. Who should bear the burden of proof in case you need to show that you own the original copy? The defender or the prosecutor? If the burden is on the defender, you need to keep receipts of EVERYTHING you bought and will buy forever and hope that these receipts will not disappear or misplaced. If it is the prosecutor, it would be interesting to see how a prosecutor may prove, beyond reasonable doubt, that you never obtain a legal copy in the past somewhere in the world from someone who nobody can remember. Oh, by the way, if you purchase a music online, somehow you must store the transaction details safely somewhere.

The other four exceptions are: non-commercial uses by libraries, museums and archives; non-commercial uses by educational institutions for the purpose of teaching [Is research included?]; non-commercial uses for the benefit of people with disabilities and lastly parody and satire [What about compliments?].

Ah, Revised presumptions: The Government will make it easier for copyright owners and prosecutors to prove ownership and subsistence of copyright. This will make it harder for copyright pirates to frustrate proceedings in court.

Pay TV piracy: As announced last year, dishonestly accessing pay TV services will be criminalised. Under the new measures, it will also be an offence for a pay TV subscriber to distribute a subscription broadcast to other premises or for a subscriber to use the broadcast for commercial purposes if the appropriate subscription fee has not been paid.

Can I also ask the government to criminalise those broadcasters who send unsolicited electromagnetic waves into my home without my consent - especially those who want to charge me if I happen to be able to pick up the signal?

Sorry mate, I think we are a BIG step background.

But it is a BIG step forward in terms of the skill of the current government kowtow to our US big brother!

Monday, 15 May 2006

The power of open content

This may not be the best example, but quite funny:

First someone took this video and put it on

Someone put on the subtitle in Chinese:

Someone else put on the English subtitle to make it bilingual:

OK, now you know what it was about. Watch this remix verstion:

Content Packaging and Shipping Container

In the #387 Updates from Elliott Masie, I learnt that May 13 is his birthday (Happy Birthday to Elliott) and the birth of the cool invention, the shipping container.

The shipping container introduced a standardized form of packaging content
(goods). It accelerated the globalization of markets, allowing goods to
flow with ease, automation and lower costs from every corner of the globe.

The standards of the shipping container were adopted by ships, docks and
manufacturers worldwide. It changed how goods were moved, with lower labor
costs and with higher tracking capability.

I must also add that the shipping container added a new way of putting "portable classrooms" in many schools! :-)

Elliott continued to reflect on the connection to content packaging for the learning space. He wrote:
As we adopt XLM, core learning standards and systems, it is possible for us to achieve some of the same benefits as the shipping container brought to transportation:

* Imagine the ability to easily move content from any source and rapidly integrate it.
* Imagine the increased ability to track content, through versions and localization.
* Imagine the impact of the "democratization" of content. Sharing the knowledge from many to many, with greater ease and greater organizational comfort with opening up the knowledge walls.

One of the most successful adaptations of content packaging would be the SCORM standard. I heard and read quite a bit about how successful SCORM has been. I am yet to read any report on the "volume" of learning content being traded or exchanged as SCORM package. [Please enlighten me if anyone can point me to any statistics about how much (either in number of courses or dollar value) course content has been exchanged using SCORM or any standard.]

I have been a strong advocate of learning technology standards such as SCORM, I am now starting to question whether these standards actually deliver any value to the learning community. The problems these standards meant to solve, ie interoperability, reusability,... etc, were not in the educators radar screen and frankly are not in their screen now too. It seems to be that these are problems created by technologists like myself trying to market our wares.

Can anyone show me some concrete proof that any learning technology standard has made a difference in learning? Will be greatly appreciated.

Thursday, 11 May 2006

Victoria eLearning Industry Association

A new industry body will be formed in Victoria, Australia in the next few weeks.

Vision: “That Victoria is recognised as a world leader in eLearning practice.”
Mission: “Increase the demand for eLearning and improve the ability of Victorian organisations to deliver products and services to meet this demand.”
Objectives: The association will exist to provide:
o Member registration
o A collective identity for the organisations involved in eLearning.
o A network through which individual members can relate to each other.
o The capacity to advance the industry as a whole, projecting it into the wider economy.
o Liaison with external bodies, associations and government agencies.

The Stroop Effect: Not as automatic as was once thought

by Dave Munger of Cognitive Daily

From wikipedia:

The Stroop effect is a demonstration of interference in the reaction time of a task. When a word such as blue, green, red, etc. is printed in a color differing from the color expressed by the word's semantic meaning (e.g. the word "red" printed in blue ink), a delay occurs in the processing of the word's color, leading to slower test reaction times and an increase in mistakes.

Dave reported on a new finding:
Amir Raz and colleagues noticed that they could reduce and even eliminate the Stroop Effect by hypnotizing participants and suggesting to them that the words were in a foreign language, so they could focus solely on color.

The result:
Whether or not participants were hypnotized, all showed a diminished Stroop Effect when it was suggested that the words were gibberish. There was no significant difference in the results between hypnotized and non-hypnotized participants.

Raz's team argues that this experiment demonstrates that reading is not entirely involuntary. The experiment is an example of a simple way that individuals who have not been hypnotized can voluntarily reduce the tendency to automatically read the word they are looking at.

Speech Accent Archive

by Alec via Couros Blog

The speech accent archive uniformly presents a large set of speech samples from a variety of language backgrounds. Native and non-native speakers of English read the same paragraph and are carefully transcribed. The archive is used by people who wish to compare and analyze the accents of different English speakers.

I am from Hongkong. Cantonese is my mother tongue. I have been in Australia for 11 years. Here is my recording. You can compare mine with other Cantonese speakers here.

Wednesday, 10 May 2006

Reading Wars

By Laura (who has PhD in political science, but is not affiliated with any university right now. Instead she's changing diapers in New Jersey.) - from her About

There is a political war between two sides about reading in America [All are quotes from Laura]:

Whole LanguagePhonics
SupportersTeachers College experts and the Board of EducationDiane Ravitch, Bush, and the City Journal people
BeliefTeachers are directionless. Many are slackers, protected by their union brethren. Phonics will force the teachers to conform to a uniform approach to teaching, one that proven results. Test scores improve after using phonics. This method has been especially useful working with kids on the lower end. key words -- proven, uniform, tested, science, rulesteachers and students shouldn't be cramped by rules or testing. Both will blossom when given the opportunity to choose their own course. If the whole language approach works well in upper income schools, then it should also be used in lower income areas. key words -- self-directed, creative, natural, holistic, intuition
have faith in:teacherstest scores

There are a number of comments worth noting as well:
The most ridiculous part of these arguments (and I agree that they are political) is that both sides seem to agree with the premise that there is one right way to teach reading, instead of accepting the fact that different kids learn in different ways ....

Not only do they forget that children learn in different ways, but also that teachers are effective teaching in different ways as well. If both camps agree on one thing, it's that individual teachers should not be able to determine for themselves the best methods of teaching their own classes.

I try to be as pragmatic as possible about child development and educational methodology, and I'm profoundly suspicious of false choices. Why not have a big healthy dose of structured phonics instruction, lots of reading out loud, some controlled phonics readers, and then quickly move on to "real literature"? There is no reason why it has to be either/or, particularly since learning to read should be the main business of the first years of school, so there's nothing else more important.

The trouble is that we're locked into an extreme debate by people who have professional reputations based on one system of learning and by people who have come to hate each other feverishly.

With kids from prosperous families, we have absolutely no idea what is the deciding factor in their academic success. Is it school? Is it mom and dad reading to them? Is it mom and dad buying and using Hooked on Phonics or Teach Your Child to Read in 100 lessons? Is it mom and dad's good example in reading a lot for work and personal pleasure? Is it the tutor? Is it the Kumon worksheets? There are potentially dozens of confounding factors, and who knows which is the deciding one. With poor children, I would think that it is considerably simpler to figure out what is working, because there aren't as many outside academic inputs. In fact, school might be the only input.

I have no expertise in language learning. Although I did my whole formal education under an "English" environment - which is a second language to me, I can say I am NOT a proficient reader/writer!

I see language as a socially negotiated symbol systems so that we can meaningfully participate in our community. Every generation develops its own slang and culture. The problem of language learning is the problem of defining the community you want the students to participate. Literature, indeed any written information, is part of the collective "intelligence" of human race. Whether it is useful for one depends on how one wants to participate in the community. [My view was developed in this series of posts.]

I recall Mary Noggle's way of teaching "the Scarlet's Letter". Immersing the students in the era as described in the literature, students associated with the "virtual community" and communicated in the appropriate language at that era. Bingo!

Tuesday, 9 May 2006

Random Walk in Learning

Those with keen eyes and having been visiting my blog will notice that I have made a slight change in the title of this blog: from "Random Walk in eLearning" to " Random Walk in Learning". This small change reflects a BIG change in my way of looking at technology and learning.

I have gone through several cycles in my career. I started as a Physics teacher, mainly reciting all the information I have from the textbook to the students. I then got a teacher-training and specialised in "learning technology". At that time, it was all about audio recording, overhead projectors, slides and so on. I have been as the learning technology coordinator for the schools where I served ever since - until the last day of job.

At the meantime, I became more and more interested in motivating students to learn rather than dealing with the subject matter itself. At one point, I even stopped a lesson when all the students were motivated and waiting for me to deliver the content. I saw those eager eyes looking at me, begging to know the answer. I stopped and asked them to find that out themselves from the textbook! (How cruel I was!) The class was in dead silence. Then someone opened the textbook and started reading. Gradually, these children were all reading. Then a hand went up. I allowed him to ask me a question which he could not understand just by reading. I asked him to come forward to the bench and explained in details to him. I can still see the joy of this young fellow with that special treatment. Then more hands came up. The class had just found out that they COULD ask me question to get individual attention. I knew I was in trouble! It would not be possible to explain to 45 kids one by one!

I came up with a scheme. The students were allowed to discuss while I was not talking to the whole class. If they had any question, they asked their friends first. If three of them have the same problem, they could ask me!

OK, that would have reduced the number from 45 to 15. But it would be still too much for me. I also found out that they did not have the same kind problem at the same time. Some would ask a question on one aspect. But other would ask a question on another aspect, or from another angle. There were still too many questions to answer.

I came up with another scheme. I would only answer a question only once. I used a notebook to record who asked what questions. When another group came and asked me a similar question, I would refer them to the students who had got an answer from me. I called this scheme: "First to question, first hand answer. Second to question, second hand answer". One unexpected side effect of the scheme was that as the first hand group was questioned, they needed to produce the answer. This answering of the questions to another group itself helped them to understand better. It was a win-win situation.

This was my first cycle. I started as information shoveller to a guide, a helper and an organiser.

Fast forward to the second half of my life.

I started working on eLearning as a technical specialist to EdNA dealing mainly with issues related to resource discovery, learning metadata standards and so on.

Fast forward to the last couple of months.

I am now coming to say that resources, technologies are NOT the focus of our effort to help people learn. Resources are information. We use them when we need them. The focus is NOT to memorise all the information. Technology is tool. We should use technology to help learning. Technology is NOT the focus.

To reflect this significant change, I decided to take out the "e" in my blog title.

From now on, I will random walk in learning and bring you whatever I encountered in my journey - including of course, how technology has helped people learnt!

Saturday, 6 May 2006

A different approach to school

by Karyn Romeis

I came across this post [my post: What if everything we think about school is wrong?] via Stephen Downes's OLDaily. Watching the video, I found myself thinking, as my kids would put it, "Just no!"

When I put up the post, I did not make much comment except saying that
The kids in the film are articulate, intelligent and well informed. If all students graduating from Fairhaven School are like them, I don't have problem sending my child there.

When Stephen picked up my post, his comment was
"A wild animal, as opposed to a caged animal, knows chaos and can adapt to it." These words conclude this video, well worth watching, about Fairhaven, an alternative democratic school. A lot of my own thoughts are captured here. For example, "Learning is what happens when you're doing something else." And I like the thoughts, expressed here, about how being forced to learn leads you to allow yourself to be forced into other things later in life. Albert Ip also quotes some comments - this one struck me: "The world is not run by democratic process, and you usually CAN'T do what you want to do..." Well, yes, most of the world is undemocratic. But this is the problem. And we will not counter this by silently acquiescing to authoritarianism, either in our schools or in our lives.

Karyn did not agree:
So I'm going to have to continue to differ from Stephen on this one, although I'm sure if we had to have a debate about it he'd open a can of whup-ass on me.

Karyn based her view on three points:
parents and teachers have a greater breadth of experience and a perspective that only time and, well, experience can provide. I acknowledge that these are going to be flawed adults, but as far as possible, they should have a child's best interests at heart. From this vantage point, surely they are better positioned to know what a child will need to know in order to tackle what experience has told them life is likely to have in store?

I encountered a school run on similar lines several years ago, and met several of its existing and past students. They generally seemed inadequately prepared for "real life". Their academic results were mediocre, their sporting ability was all but non-existent, they lacked drive and ambition. They seemed kind of, well, woolly - a bit granola-and-birkenstocks-and-we-are-one.

This kind of harks back to Jeff Utecht's post about people not knowing what they don't know (although admittedly he was talking about teachers, but I think the principle holds). If they don't know what they don't know, how do they know what knowledge will prove beneficial?

So Karyn believed that the curriculum (what needs to be learnt) is better dictated by adults who know better. Her objection is also based on some interactions with some students who have gone through the "same" process. Finally, reflecting on the first point again, people just don't know what they don't know.

Upon reading this, I did a bit more research into Fairhaven school. This is the school website which points to an article in Washington Post. Here I found some interesting details about the school.

Class is small, if we may even call it a class for obvious reason. However, it seems that those attended the class learnt a lot in the same time compared with traditional classes. Some others are as quotes from Washington Post's article:
Students come and go when they want. The only requirement is to spend at least five hours at school between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Many roll in after 9 a.m., some close to noon. Those who fail to sign in pay a 50-cent fine.
Meetings are central to a school without a principal or headmaster. A student judicial committee convenes daily to enforce a thick rule book established collectively by students and staff.
Fairhaven relies on the threat of boredom to spur student creativity.

Let me just bring myself back couples of hundred years. I don't believe the concept of curriculum existed then. Education was for the privileged only. I don't believe the teacher (if I may still use the term) would have much power over the students. Is that pretty much the same in Fairhaven where students are given the power to determine the outcome for themselves?

Back to Karyn's concern, first I don't agree that her experience with some other students who were "educated" on similar lines is a valid reason here. Obviously, Fairhaven has rules, just not the traditional ones! As Washington Post puts it: "A student judicial committee convenes daily to enforce a thick rule book established collectively by students and staff." which sounds very much similar to current western systems which depend on previous cases.

We have our best interest in our children, so obviously we want to give them the best we can. However, I also see from my own daughter that during the teenage years, she is learning to be independent and is rebelling against MY ORDER! She knows that I have the best intention for her, but she just does not want to do it my way and wants to discover for herself. Is Fairhaven's way better? I would say it depends - depends on the child!

Our children do not know what they don't know. We don't know what they will face in the future as well. In a way, as an adult, I am equally uncertain about what kind of skill will best equip my daughter to face the new challenge when she becomes as adult. Unknown is very scary. May be that's why I let the days go by without really doing anything to help prepare my own daughter. I tried and only managed to send her to the "best" school I can find for her. As I said before, I don't know whether I am making the right decision for her!

Adults have experience which is built by mistakes we made, or stories about mistakes other have made. One of the thing a school can do, at least, is to provide a "safe" environment for our children to make non-life threatening mistakes which can became their experience. May be Fairhaven is really the school I want to send my daughter to.