When Elliott encouraged everyone to read. Zealous participants went to work on it immediately.
Lance Dublin's and my book, Implementing eLearning, had just arrived from the printer.
It sold out! More about the book here.
Am I happy about this?
Does a dog have fleas?
For those of us with nonlinear tastes, here's a Mind Map I created for my own assessment of major themes.
This morning I recorded a 15-minute presentation for Collaborative Learning 2002. According to sponsors iCohere and Replay Rich Media, "Leading industry experts will be accessible from your computer: e-Learning managers from HP, Lucent and American Express. Pioneers like Cliff Figallo and Nancy Rhine, early directors of The Well. And Marcia Conner, Editor in Chief of Learnativity and LineZINE." (I wonder what I have to do to achieve pioneer status.)
Admission to the virutal conference is $199. I get to give away five free registrations. To enter the ticket lottery, email me your first name, last name, organization name, and email address, plus one line on why you're interested. Make the subject: collab2002 so I can separate your email from the two or three hundred SPAM that arrive here every day.
A few mementos. I'll add more after I get some sleep.
If you can't afford the Coronado hotel (or don't feel comfortable sleeping in a place that's patrolled with Disney stormtroopers), you could stay 10 minutes away, in Kissimmee, for $35/night.
Dave Barry and Diane Hessan comparing Miami and Boston.
Cathie, Stan & Elliott
An ominous twist: Joe thanks the Supporting Sponsors before welcoming the audience.
The Raspyni Brothers, phenomenal jugglers and terribly funny comedians, explained that they had worked with the Masie Center to select this year's presentations from among hundreds of submissions. They presented their TechLearn Top Ten List of the worst of the rejects:
Eileen Clegg interpreting the keynote graphically.
Lance Dublin and I gave the first presentation Monday morning. This is what the presenter sees. The left and right monitors display what's on the big screens; the center monitor is what's on your PC. We were more than pleased to have 15% of the participants turn out for an 8:00 am presentation -- and not fall asleep. The presentation was based on our new book, which we saw for the first time later that day.
The TechLearn community convened in Orlando this Sunday through midday Wednesday for the sixth time in five years. Why do I say community instead of conference or show? Because Elliott Masie and his acolytes have created a culture replete with rituals, castes, customs, expectations, and entertainment.
I asked two-dozen people, half newbies and half old-timers what they thought of TechLearn. Every one -- every single one! -- said TechLearn was the best show they’d ever attended. New people are attracted by Elliott’s reputation; his broad contacts are an early warning system for the industry. Old hands come to find out what’s going on, to sniff out business, and to renew friendships. This was my fifth consecutive TechLearn, and I felt like I was returning for a club meeting.
1452.5 people from 37 countries came to Disney’s Coronado Springs hotel to pass the talking stick this year. (The .5 is a prenancy.) This year’s group was more senior in their organizations, perhaps a reflection of budget restrictions on travel for the junior folks. About a third were first-timers. A large contingent were members of the consortium (whose employers kick in $5,000 a year for membership.)
How do Elliott, his wife Cathy, and his partner Stan, pull this off?
Another tradition: Booz Allen’s Mike Parmentier, assisted by his former colleagues at ADL, prepares a trip report summarizing the entire event. I don’t intend to reinvent the wheel. Besides, with as many as 25 concurrent sessions, it’s impossible for any one individual to take part in more a small fraction of the show. Download the trip report for the facts. The Masie Center is working away right now to post presentations and streaming audio; I'll note when things start to appear.
Here on the Blog, I’ll add color commentary, opinions, and a few photographs.
More than twelve-hundred people will participate in tonight's opening session of TechLearn 2002 in Disney World's Coronado Resort.
TechLearn's theme this year is The Futures of eLearning, an improvement over last year's Now More Than Ever.
The Limited's Beth Thomas modeled one of the futures of eLearning, making like a Disney interpretation of Judy Jetson:
eLearning vendors are in such a slump that they didn't stuff many goodies in this year's famous TechLearn wheelie bag. A couple of pens, an Element K potholder, a Thinq t-shirt, a DDI pencil case, a 4" rubber bear, and a stack of cheesy brochures and product spec sheets On the other hand, the variety of buttons has grown. A few from last year seem odd when taken out of context ("Bullied as a kidl")
I'm going to head back over to the Coronado. The Learning Showcase opens soon. I want to catch the reaction to this first in-your-face commercialism at TechLearn, especially as the kick-off event.
This morning I'm off to TechLearn in Orlando. Watch this blog!
There's a whole lot more eLearning going on in the world than meets the eye. No one's keeping track of the tens of thousands of modules being authored in PowerPoint, Word, FrontPage, Dreamweaver, or even HotDog.
Friday I ate lunch with a fellow from Impatica. His firm's software converts a narrated PowerPoint presentation into a web presentation, complete with streaming sound and fancy transitions -- and no plug-in required. I've touted this as a dirt-cheap authoring environment. Most SMEs understand what it means to narrate a PowerPoint show.
Who's buying? More than two hundred colleges and universities, particularly community colleges. More than 300 businesses, a clear majority of them small businesses. Some large organizations use Impatica, but mostly it's the small fry who couldn't afford a full-blown LMS if their lives depended upon it.
Many of the major eLearning vendors are facing tough times. Impatica's revenue is running ten times the rate of a year ago.
To download a 30-day free-trial version of Impatica, simply fill out this form.
An article by two academics, Moving Past Time as the Criteria: The Application of Capabilities-Based Educational Equivalency Units in Education, suggests that the "Carnegie unit," which equates college credits with hours spent in class with a qualified instructor is hopelessly out of date.
I couldn't agree more.
The Carnegie Foundation for Advancement in Teaching defined a college unit as 750 classroom hours back in 1909, long before the advent of the Internet, the computer, television, tape recorders, or the ballpoint pen. It's no surprise that simulations, distance learning, and online collaboration count for naught in the Carnegie scheme.
The researchers propose the Capabilities-Based Educational Equivalency (CBEE) unit as a replacement. The say the CBEE "offers an approach that is not time-dependent but is responsive to emerging technologies, supportive of systematic instructional design, and focused on the achievement of learners."
For each course, CBEE units are determined from Course Objectives (Given appropriate resources, learners will be able to…). Type of Objective (Gagne type) and Instructional method (text, online reading, async chat, etc.)
Colleges face a huge problem. They have no way to recognize what students learn outside of class.
I don't think these authors have the answer. Outcomes are outcomes. How one reaches them or how Gagne would pigeonhole them is irrelevant.
On a practical level, implementing competency-based education would probably involve more voodoo than what colleges are saddled with now. If a student learns three times as much in a Princeton course as in a Podunk U. course, does she receive three times as many credits? If not, why not?
I've assessed experiential learning for college credit in university assessment centers; it's the intellectual equivalent of touring the sausage factory.
I won't say where, but I've also developed lists of competencies for accredited off-campus degree programs. Most of the time, we developed the course before writing the competencies. This is like Charlie Brown painting the target around the arrow he has shot into the wall.
And what would happen if to courses that rate no CBEE units? A story in the August 14, 2002, New York Times reported "One day in 1931, Hamilton Holt, president of Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla., startled his colleagues at an academic conference when he declared that Yale and Columbia, which he had attended in his youth, 'taught me virtually nothing.' The reason, Mr. Holt explained, was that the lectures delivered by his teachers, as with those delivered by professors almost everywhere, were examples of 'probably the worst scheme ever devised for imparting knowledge.'"
Your comments on my perspective are welcome.
This morning I assembled a new presentation entitled eLearning Is Not Important. It's only fifteen minutes long, so if you've got a soundcard and want an eLearning wake-up, please listen in. And then come back here to give me feedback.
This is another experiment with Impatica; for more information on their technology and a demo copy to play with, press the big red button on my home page.
When you return to add your comments, note that I am already aware that I need to upgrade my microphone, although I've grown quite attached to my six-year old $2 Labtec.
This paper on KM, The Duality of Knwoledge, strikes me as important. Knowledge is not the codifiable subject matter of AI. Nor is it the tacit and explicit categories described by Nonaka which have served as my intellectual overview of KM. The authors, Paul Hildreth and Chris Kimble, state flatly that Nonaka's spiral of knowledge creation is flawed. Tacit (soft) knowledge simply doesn't translate into explicit (hard) knowledge as Nonaka proposes. Take soft knowledge out of context and it becomes meaningless, "lost in the unfathomable depths of obviousness."
For Lave and Wenger (1991) LPP defines a CoP. Newcomers learn the practice of the community by being situated in it and from its established members. LPP is part of the process by which a newcomer becomes an established member of a CoP. LPP allows the development of both hard and soft knowledge. Hard knowledge can be articulated and may be exemplified by tasks the members of a CoP perform. Soft knowledge is that knowledge which the newcomer cannot learn simply by demonstration or instruction. It includes learning the language and unspoken conventions of the community. Soft knowledge is developed and learnt through being socialised into the community and through interaction with the existing members.
Orr's 'war stories' (1997) provide a good example of this as well as demonstrating the process of legitimation in a CoP. The utterance of the story itself is an externalisation of the teller's inner thoughts, although the knowledge held by the teller cannot be wholly externalised and passed as information. The members' of the CoP soft knowledge is necessary for a complete understanding the story. An outsider or a newcomer who has not yet developed the appropriate knowledge will not have the same level of understanding as an old-timer.
Thus, CoPs are more than environments in which soft knowledge is developed - both hard and soft knowledge are created and shared. The implication of this is that it is pointless to seek soft knowledge on its own. Knowledge is not made up of opposites; regarding knowledge in these terms is a false dichotomy. Rather than seeing knowledge as opposites, perhaps we should think of it as consisting of two complementary facets: a duality consisting simultaneously and inextricably of both what was previously termed 'structured' and 'less structured' knowledge.
Quoting Cook and Seely Brown,
Back to Wenger's communities of practice.
Learning is social participation, that is, defining oneself in the context of the professional group, but it's more than that. Any community produces artifacts from its values, a process Wenger calls "reification." He writes that he uses reification "...to refer to the process of giving form to our experience by producing objects that congeal this experience into thingness. This is the creation of sacred cows, rules of thumb, war stories, professional jargon, and the like.
KNOWLEDGE = a balance of participation & reification
The authors point out that "the key attribute of knowledge: that it exists in people's heads. Once explicit knowledge has been committed to paper, (or any other medium) it becomes information. The original knowledge remains in the mind of the author and (in an ideal world) is only transmitted to the mind of the reader through this medium."
Can stories capture the dual knowledge? Not necessarily, because "knowledge taken out of context is just noise."
This shows us that the role of technology must be substantially different from the earlier technology-driven approaches. The problem with these approaches was that they ignored the soft side. Therefore, at best, such systems were Information Management Systems and at worst simply Data Processing Systems. Where the softer side of knowledge has been ignored, the wrong approach is often taken. The idea that a company can capture tacit knowledge is clearly misleading because in essence embodied knowledge cannot be extracted.
The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding by Al Ries, Laura Ries.
Successful branding programs are based on the concept of singularity. The objective is to create in the mind of the prospect the perception that there is no other product on the market quite like your product.
Marketing is what a company is in business to do.
That's about as deep as this book gets. The "Laws" could be termed the "Observations." Most of them say one thing, "Focus." Less is more. Don't try to be all things to all people.
Oh, by the way, don't name yourself this:
Time by Design makes watches and on-screen clocks that are intriguing but difficult to read.
Their site is a charming collection of quotes and observations about time.
What should business be prepared to address in the next decade? The Global Business Network asked fifty well-known people and has shared selected quotes on their site. The whole lot will appear in What’s Next? Exploring the New Terrain for Business.
These quotes grabbed my attention:
In China, they’re discovering that when you redecorate your bathroom and get ten pairs of platform shoes and a nose job, you’re still unhappy. Orville Schell
The way to create healthy, vibrant economies and societies is through diversity. We know that scientifically. Any system that loses its diversity loses its resiliency and is more subject to sudden shocks and changes from which it can’t recover. The corporatization of the world is the loss of diversity—it’s forcing uniformity upon people. Paul Hawken
That’s what this Cultural Revolution is about: How everything fits together than now appears disconnected. It’s the search for coherence in what is increasingly incoherent. We’re trying to get into the box. We are trying to create a new box. Thinking outside the box turns out to be so yesterday. Joel Garreau
You can’t have part of the world where there’s a small, aging bubble of Western elites and then this massive, throbbing, younger, and increasingly impoverished group of people. Jaron Lanier
The question is whether we’ll have a youth culture with old demographics. Youth culture, geezer bodies—does that work? Kevin Kelly
I believe we are heading toward a single global culture. That’s a very scary thought to most people because they see that if they’re not part of the dominant culture, then their culture will be wiped out, their values will be wiped out, the things that are important to them will be wiped out. Yet, I think that it is absolutely inevitable. Danny Hillis
There’s a perfect storm coming at the 100-nanometer level. Information technology, biotechnology, and nanotechnology are all converging on that scale. Stewart Brand
Education is where medicine was about 100 years ago. A hundred years ago, most of medicine was empirical—somebody tried it and figured out whether it worked or not. Gradually, over the last century, medicine has become half scientific and half empirical. Over the next few decades, I suspect the same thing will happen with education. William Calvin
If you get microbiologists drunk, or at least a few beers into them, it’s not rare for them to say they’ll have aging solved in 20 years. Robert Carlson
I think by any rational standards you’d have to say that the proposition we call China is a mass of almost insoluble contradictions. I could be wrong, but 1.3 billion people trying to have a lifestyle like Orange County? Can you imagine just the environmental consequences of that? Orville Schell
I think this may be a theme for the decade—that we’re going to take packages of things and unbundled them and reassemble the parts. It happens with cultures and biological organisms. It also happens with governments. Danny Hillis
InfoRomanticism on the Internet
Romantic sensibility in the design of online content
To stimulate the visualization of potential answers, apply the art of drawing. This takes the form of hard sketches. Other synonyms include models, diagrams, renderings, thumbnails, storyboards, flat prototypes, studies, and "wireframes" (a term that I recently picked up). The benefit of drawing is to quickly provide a relative map of elements, text and graphics, in a playful format to expedite exploration of ideas. Drawing promotes an organic growth of concepts. Toggling between risk-taking and discovery-making is inherent here. Such a conceptual evolution provides an engaging platform to determine distinction and relevance of a variety of approaches. This, in turn, streamlines a concept's approval and translation into code.
I learned this, at least, by my experiement: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavoers to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him,, or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings. In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the uniververse will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness. If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.
Asked upon his deathbed if he had made his peace with God, Thoreau replied "I did not know we had ever quarrelled."
This evening I read Bill Horton's Illustrating Computer Documentation, the Art of Presenting Information Graphically, On Paper and Online. (1991)
What a practical book! Now out of print, you can buy an electronic copy for $20 from Bill's website. Such a deal.
Bill goes on to give lots of information about color, some of it, ah, eye-opening. What freaks me out is how little use of color one finds in books, cases, "white" papers, and so forth.
The next chapter, Enriching Graphics, describes such things as how to number graphics and captions. Captions! Authors will spend hours getting the words just right or diddling over a comma, but dash off captions as if they were a useless bother. I have news: People read subheads, then captions, and then, if they're still on board, the body copy.
Fortunately, ...enlightened writers and graphic designers now realize that their job is not to put words on paper or to make pretty pictures but to communicate. They are taking steps to put text and pictures together into effective pages."
So many reminders. Page design. Cultural nuances. Symbol libraries. On and on. Illustrating Computer Documentation is chock full of rules of thumb and practical advice.
A precious present,
Poetic semantic web
from Stephen Downes
We're talking about professionals. One definition of professional is "active member of a professional community of practice." Brooke: "In the knowledge economy, learning is doing." Trust is required to make CoPs function, but this isn't honesty so much as authenticity in relationships -- being reliable, making a contribution, and upholding community standards.
Looking at how communities spread and grow, small groups connect with others through people whose role is linking them. (Think of the people Malcolm Gladwell calls "connectors" in The Tipping Point. Think of communities as the informal learning objects of larger professional organizations. You can string them together into meta-communities, i.e. communities of communities.
This isn't so much a matter of technology, for communities can work with video conferencing, application sharing, listservs, websites, and the standard bag of Internet tricks. The telephone. Rhythm and ritual are key to keeping a community strong. The technoogy can be simple but the social aspects can be quite complex.
CoP is the formal organization recognizing that the informal organization exists. The formal organization should nurture and listen to the CoP, not try to control them. (I wonder how many traditional organizations will be able to facilitate CoP without unduly messing with them.) 2/3 of the participants just surveyed don't recognize community participation in indvidual performance reveiws.
CoP is knowledge up; KM is knowledge down. Experience validates the CoP.
Johnson & Johnson has maybe a hundred CoP. They look at how well they support their communities. Sponsorhsip, resrouces, barriers down, cultural issues, and technology. This is sort of an audit of CoP.
The "Tech Clubs" at Chrysler evolved into more strategic entities. In time, the Clubs helped Daimler and Chrysler come together as one organization.
What are the incentives that make a robust community work? In the SafeCities program, showing up at the teleconferences was the ticket of admission. F2F meetings reinforced the social context. These people are practitioners. They are accountable for improving their craft.
Strategic knowledge management cycle. You must identify the domains of knowledge that are critical to your strategy, find the communities, tie the learning to achieving results, and feeding the knowledge back into the business strategy. Brooke: Does the strategy feed the domain, or is it the other way around?
Metrics? Sometimes there's simply an intuitive belief that this is what to do. At Xerox, they calculate how much value is added. At HP, where they collect stories, they let the community tells its stories. At Shell, they tell the story of revitalizing a dry well -- the benefits pay for the donuts and travel forty times over. You need the stories to generate the numbers. The results come back on the job. If you save a few weeks, you can put a number on that.
Critical success factors: Domains energize core group: Executive sponsorship from client organizations. Enough support but not too much.
Archived presentations are available on Saba's website.
I don't have the patience for much of what passes for eLearning, but Human Capital Live has always justified investing an hour of my time. Check it out.
The Technology, Education and Copyright Harmonization (TEACH) Act passed the Senate and awaits the President's signature. The American Library Association describes the law and its implications for Distance Education.
"In other words, much of the law is built around permitting uses of copyrighted works in the context of "mediated instructional activities" that are akin in many respects to the conduct of traditional classroom sessions. The law anticipates that students will access each "session" within a prescribed time period and will not necessarily be able to store the materials or review them later in the academic term; faculty will be able to include copyrighted materials, but usually only in portions or under conditions that are analogous to conventional teaching and lecture formats."
So. What about learning objects? What about learning as a process, not an event? What about learners building personal portfolios of lessons? What about replacing courses with short learning events?
By the way, the passages above were quoted under the doctrine of fair use.
For one thing, Elliott didn't hire telemarketers to twist my arm once a week.
This morning a colleague told me about several learners in a recent seminar he was leading who faced a tough challenge. Their organizations had spent almost their entire budget buying and installing learning management systems. They had next to nothing left with which to buy content.
This is like spending so much building the new library that there's no money left over to buy new books. Geez.
Criticizing Knowledge Management is about as challenging as shooting ducks in a bathtub. Nonetheless, it's fun to look at the extremes, and Darwin magazine has a humorous take on why KM isn't K or M.
When Bad Things Happen to Good Ideas BY ERIC BERKMAN begins with this apt description of the KM show in Santa Clara:
By 1997, those in the know realized that this was because knowledge management wasn't about technology; it was about people and human behavior. By this point, however, it was too late. "Working with many customers who have struggled with this concept, I can tell you that [the vendors] have confused a lot of people," says Dan Schimmel, CEO of OneSource Information Services, a content provider in Concord, Mass. According to Schimmel, vendors have made a lot of customers think of KM in terms of working forward from a tool rather than looking at their knowledge needs, figuring out how to solve them and then finding the right tool.
Another vendor warns, "It's mostly techie snake oil. They tell you, 'Enter a keyword and something will happen.' And that something is one of two things. Either they'll find a document for you or they'll go find a human with some sort of profile matching the keyword. But who cares? The information could be out-of-date."
Generic Corporation could use this paragraph to describe eLearning or Quality Management or the study McKinsey did for us or the Atkins Diet : "I don't know of a vendor out there willing to say, 'This is the business value you'll get, and I'm willing to be compensated based on how much value you'll receive,'" he says. "That's not how the industry works. It's, 'Buy my software and good luck.'"
Let's close with a few more truisms for Generic Corporation:
Don't forget: Buy low and sell high. Collect early and pay late. Start with the end in mind.
I mentioned yesterday that I'm assessing whether or not to take a daily hit of Distance-Educator.com. I just followed a link in today's issue to "An Assessment of the Effectiveness of e-learning in Corporate Training Programs" by Judith B. Strother of the Florida Institute of Technology.
The conclusion is the usual call for more study of the matter.
C'mon. Why no mention whatsoever of RESULTS? Outcomes? Meeting the objectives that justified conducting eLearning in the first place?
I rely on publications to screen their recommendations and save me time. Strike One.
It shouldn't be a surprise, but it never fails to grab my attention: a one-hundred year-old menu listing steak for a dollars, scrambled eggs for a quarter, and beer for a dime.
The surprise comes from confusing the value of 1902 dollars with that of 2002 dollars. Thanks to the ravages of inflation, one 2002 dollar is worth one 1902 nickle. Expressed in today's values, the old menu's steak goes for $20, the eggs cost $5, and the beer is two bucks. No surprise there.
We live in a world that has sped up since 1902. A hundred years ago, my great grandfather might spend half an hour writing a letter and half an hour each way carrying it down to the Post Office to mail. These days I dash off an email in a matter of minutes. An hour is worth more to me, at least in business terms, because I can do more with it than in the past.
So, what's the time equivalent of the obsolete prices on my old menu? Is time really more precious now than it used to be?
At this point, all I have is questions.
Walking saves time. Huh? It's true. The Washington Post says so.
Okay, we admit we don't have good comebacks for any of those. But for the rest of the excuses -- the more common ones you're probably using and that keep you in the high-risk category for just about everything you don't want to happen to you -- we offer the following irresistible rebuttals.
1. I DON'T HAVE TIME
Yeah, right. Do the words "computer solitaire" ring a bell? Just how many "must-see" TV shows do you have on your list this season? How about all that Web surfing for . . . what were you looking for again?
Ah. We thought so.
The important thing to understand regarding walking and time is that, when properly done, walking is actually a time generator, giving back more time than it consumes. We know of nothing else in the universe with this incredible ability.
For starters, walking lets your brain do something else while your body is moving: talk, think, connive, dream, plan, negotiate, work through the budget numbers, relive a vacation, recite epic poetry. Walking is essentially mobile multitasking.
"After millions of years of evolution, we are programmed to think while we walk," says Ellen Vanderslice, president of America Walks, a national coalition of pedestrian advocacy groups. "Walking keeps you organized. It actually puts more time in your day."
(Walking is, however, not compatible with talking on the cell phone. We refuse to provide any cover for those people you see on hiker-biker trails, suburban streets and city crosswalks yakking into the digital tin can like some schizophrenic bond trader. In fact, if you see them, tell them we said to cut it out.)
Then there's the idea that walking time makes the rest of your time more productive. It clears your brain and makes it work better when it's devoted to work later on.
"Walking increases blood flow to your brain," says Wendy Bumgardner, walking guide for About.com and a reformed sofa spud. "Studies show clearer thinking in seniors who walk for exercise versus those who do not. I find that going for a walk, you usually, first, stop thinking about the problems at hand. After a while, you can take up those problems with a fresh perspective and can prioritize them better."
Ron Looper, president of the Chesapeake Bay Country Wanderers, measures the extra time walking provides differently, even cosmically, by looking at the dividends it pays on the back end of life.
"Time is all you have," he reasons, "and walking for exercise probably will help extend your amount of time on earth."
All of which is to say: You don't have time not to walk. Next excuse?
Last Wednesday, I gave a guest lecture on eLearning to a group of seniors in the business program at San Francisco State University. Aside from the fun of it, preparing something like this forced me to evaluate where we are with eLearning. Today I chopped back on the slides (the talk on campus was two hours; you don't have the patience) and narrated a description of what's what. Cut on your speakers and listen to the talk .
Please drop me an email if you hit any glitches listening to the presentation. Thanks!
Stephen's Web features an article today entitled The New Literacy.
Academics are wringing their hands over the decline in student literacy. Professors lament that their charges can't write a sentence, follow the rules of grammar, or read a complex passage. Last year researchers found that most of the students on the campus of a California State University lacked the skills to read the textbooks in their heavy backpacks.
Perhaps the current crop of students fill in for reading with other forms of literacy. They are "polyfocal."
Stephen Downes says,
Stephen purports that
Today's reader works with a much wider grammar. Even such simply typographic conventions, such as the use of italics, bold and capitals, can add new meaning to a text. The addition of symbols, such as smileys, convey emotion or sentiment. The breaking of linguistic rules - like this - can add urgency or clarity. The dropping of nouns, verbs or pronouns can express coreference (essentially, placing two separate thoughts into a single context). True, the haste with which people type online can result in a myriad of interesting typos and other errors - but then the error rate in a message also designates its degree of formality (conversely - to remove the errors reduces all text to the same sterile state of formality).
Perhaps taking in many short bursts of information in parallel is superior to the text-only communication we are accustomed to. Stephen concludes, "The new literacy may not be an even greater grasp of the fine points of language, but rather, a capacity to move beyond the limits of text and to manipulate experience directly."
Robert Horn tells the story of a medical student at Stanford who whizzes through medical texts, taking in their messages by reading only the pictures.
There's not so much wrong with having a short attention span for a person who can grok deep meaning in tiny bursts of time.
The New York Times reports, Forbes ASAP, Magazine of New Market, Shuts Down
"There is no market for a dedicated new-economy publication," said Monie Begley, spokeswoman for Forbes.
In remarks in August, Steve Forbes, president and editor in chief, said that the company was responding to "a fall-off that hasn't been seen since the '30's."
Drat! Forbes ASAP was one of my favorite magazines. Its special one-topic issues were absolutely wonderful; I read them all cover-to-cover. The issue on Happiness featured articles from P.J. O'Rourke, Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, George Plimpton, Noall Bushnell, Lance Armstrong, John Perry Barlow, Jesse Jackson, and Christie Hefner. For me, ASAP's special issues were the timeliness of a magazine combined with the quality of a damned good book.
It's ironic that the final issue deals with feedback, since feedback from the marketplace is what's closing ASAP down.
Surrender to the self-correcting system.
It is emerging as the defining metaphor of our time. Like other great scientific phenomena discovered over the past two centuries--natural selection, genetics, relativity, nuclear fission, DNA, digital--feedback is about to burst out of the theoretical stage and into everyday life. "Feedback is what has been missing from science since Newton," says British scientist Steve Grand, who is trying to develop artificial life forms. "We thought it was a rare phenomenon--now it's hard to name anything in the universe that isn't feedback. Life itself turns out to be feedback."
We are starting to rethink science in light of feedback. It is at the heart of the most compelling new inventions. And now we are seeing the first signs that it is beginning to reorganize both corporations and national economies.
"We don't even have the words yet to describe this," says Grand. "We don't yet have the names. Before this is over, we're going to need a new mathematics, a new physics, and a new ontology of the world."
Welcome to Feedback Universe.
Mix that information in a vast shared database with mountains of data coming in about you from millions of sensors scattered across the landscape in roads, cash registers, and video cameras, and it soon will be possible to construct a virtual image of you--your tastes, interests, patterns, and perhaps even dreams--that will be almost indistinguishable from the real thing. This will be the face of retail--and probably law, education, health care, and entertainment--in the 21st century.
The classic explanation goes like this: You prick your finger, which irritates the nerve endings at the site of the wound. These inflamed nerves fire off electrical signals, which travel up the larger nerve pathways to your brain, where they are decoded as pain. The brain, itself a bundle of nerves, responds by sending a message back down a nerve path to the muscles in the finger, ordering them to contract and pull the finger away.
It appears mechanically straightforward. But the clue that it might not be so direct comes from a simple but shocking fact: In many of those nerve pathways, there are at least as many nerves heading toward the senses as there are heading away from them toward the brain. This suggests a much tighter and faster feedback loop than anyone imagined.
So what's going on? Nobody's quite sure. But one strong possibility is that even as the senses are telling the brain what they are encountering, the brain is telling them what they should be experiencing.
Grand compares this to a virtual reality system. The world is so complex that the human brain cannot deal with it directly. So instead, based on the information flowing in from the senses, the brain constructs, in real time, a simplified and weighted view of the world, one that picks out the important things from this infinite field of data. It is this vision of reality that the brain sends back out to the senses. "Brains are really billions of feedback loops," he says.
Heinz Von Foerster, one of the pioneers and co-founders of the field of cybernetics, died yesterday in his home on Rattlesnake Hill in Pescadero, CA. Converge magazine recently printed an interview with this wonderful man. Excerpts:
we need to completely transform the role of the teacher. The system considers the teacher to know everything and charges the teacher with filling empty brains with knowledge. This concept is idiotic. Consider the learning situation as a research situation. The teacher plays ignorant and poses a problem: How should we solve this problem? Can you help me? The students then interact with the teacher and with each other to explore, and find answers together. When students interact and help each other, astounding things happen.
Without interaction and feedback, there is no learning. I can share information, and technology and the Internet have enabled that, but understanding requires feedback. It is an essential element of cybernetics. Feedback lets you know whether what you have put out was heard as you intended. Remember, the hearer, not the speaker, determines the meaning of an utterance. You have to interact to be a good teacher. You can see in the eyes of a child whether they understand what you are saying. This feedback tells you whether you have made your point understood. It is up to the student, then, to do something
Do not think about the technology first - think about learning first.
You have to focus on the process. Dialogue is the beginning. If you listen, you come to an understanding.
Also see Ted Kahn's commemorative page at Design Worlds.
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