Monday, December 6, 2010


This is probably Wittgenstein territory to be quite honest, but driving to work this morning there was someone giving out about the way that nouns are being turned into verbs in English today. We Google, we Flip Chart.

In principle, I am a champion of the Kings English, I own a number of style books grammars and writing guides. Not that my writing is perfect but I am optimistic that the fact of ownership will lead to a kind of osmosis of enlightenment if I keep these things hanging around.

However that’s not my point here.

I started thinking about nouns turning into verbs, and I started with a few simple examples.

I table a motion.

I chair a meeting.

I floor an opponent.

I wall up an opening.

I roof a cottage.

I pencil in a meeting date.

I pen my memoirs.

I paper a wall.

I dot my I’s

I cross my T’s.

I knife my opponent. (Mac the knife was playing on the radio this morning.)

I could go on, but the above examples will, I think, suffice. When we divide up and categorize words, just how real are our divisions, and how many words are there which wander into pens where they are not supposed to be? Educationally, we do a lot of boxing up knowledge and much of teaching is unwrapping these parcels and putting them back out into real life.

Friday, November 12, 2010



Do you teach with whimsy? or is your teaching always serious and to the point.  I’ve been doing a little research on teaching and humor, and I find it seems to be more common in subject areas where the content may be challenging or disturbing.  Its major use seems to be to relieve tension or to discus difficult subjects.  In this sense it seems more commonly used when training doctors or nurses, although this may be an artifact of the existence of therapeutic humor.
There are some very serious people considering humor, for instance, here “Educated Insolence”, or closer to home this paper on IHPT. As I’m sure you are aware IHPT is instructional humor processing theory.  This paper seems to indicate that telling bad off topic jokes does not aid student learning, but telling on topic good jokes can help. My thinking would be that humor can break down the barrier between the teacher and the class, and particularly with adult learners, overcome their feelings of insecurity  about being back in a learning situation. I also feel it can make your examples more memorable, and humorous examples can push your learning more towards a narrative form which can aid memory, but can also distract students from the true point of the exercise.
All thoughts on a postcard please...

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Eharmony (tm) for professional relationships.

At this point a survey of online users in 16 countries has indicated that 30% had used online services to initiate dating activity. This is in some sense a tipping point in the social sphere where we have tools such as Facebook which are used to support weak tie relationships.
As of yet there does not seem to be a professional equivalent that I’m aware of. Is this just me or is there a genuine gap?  As I see it at this point we are still, professionally, going to events on the internet where we think people like us will hang out in the hope of meeting some one interesting. (Note I’m still within the social activity analogy here) Do we need a professional version of e-Harmony? If so what should our profile’s look like? Should they be like our C.V, which primarily shows off our accomplishments, or should they be more inspirational and forward looking, like the dating agency profile that cheerfully lists some-one who has just given up smoking as a non-smoker, because that is the person they aspire to be.

So two questions here
1)      Do we need a “dating agency” for academic and learning interactions?
2)      What information should be in the profile?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The network and the message

In looking at phenomenology, one of the very distinct perceptions of the tradition is that in transforming it from its origins with Husserl into a French context with Merleau-Ponty, the movement was transformed not only by by reflection into the French philosophical culture, but also  by translation into the French language.  I find myself again looking at it after a double translation, as I see it through the lens of commentators in English on both aspects of the movement.
What is interesting is that the process of translation seemed to strengthen and clarify the core values of the movement.  Thus an extension and amplification of a system of thought has appeared as an emergent property of its transmision through the network.
In education we take our understanding of the subject and translate it into terms which we expect our students to understand.  There must be a translation, because if there was no translation then there would be no learning involved.
At times this translation is merely a communication, but at other times the translation is much more involved, involving paraphrase, analogy and simplification.
The question here is what new and more powerful concepts are going to emerge from this translation, and how can we maximize the potential of their engendering?

All links are to the current version of The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy Principal Editor: Edward N. Zalta  URL:,The Metaphysics Research Lab Center for the Study of Language and Information Stanford University, Stanford Ca.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Pre verbal thinking and the web

Growing out of a discussion on critical thinking which has been taking place on #PLENK2010 I found my self considering preverbal thinking at a GradCAM seminar on Maurice Merleau-Ponty this afternoon.
Pre-verbal thinking is the first layer through which perception travels before it receives our attention, but it may also be involved in an artists interaction with their medium and it is also a way of thinking about an audiences interaction with a performance, when it has gone beyond just watching and is totally engaged.
Communicating over the web lends itself to verbal modalities and logical analysis, but the web has the potential to be a much richer medium. Academic analysis is historically biased towards the text and the spoken word.  As the medium gets richer, are we moving beyond the affordances of our conventional academic analysis?
In this richer medium what do we do with the precept that you have not mastered a medium unless you can create in it?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Assessment and models of learning

This is really more a thought experiment than a practical suggestion but please walk with me for a bit on this. What if we use the student at the end of their course as the input for an expert system? i.e. we queried their knowledge over an extended period until we felt it was captured within a rule set and a data store.
Now imagine we have evaluated the students, and we now have a set of expert systems, all encoded from separate students impressions and connections built while taking part in the course.
Now how do we compare these expert systems to verify that they are close enough to a canonical system to qualify as being fair copies?
Would such a comparison, if it were possible, be a valid assessment?
Would it preclude the possibility that the student had gone beyond the teacher and built a more valid learning network?

What’s interesting here is, as ever, the implied spaces.

Matters arising: The first issue is can an expert system, given sufficient time and resources, successfully capture the sum of the knowledge acquired by the student. If it can’t, what is it going to miss and how can that be assessed?

The second question is assuming such a thing is possible, should all such systems resemble each other? If the topic is flying a plane, we would appreciate it if they were similar, and bore some passing resemblance to the Airbus peoples model of the actions of an ideal pilot, but if the subject is creative writing, its less clear that this method will work. Here I would claim that the implied space, the part of the learning which cannot be captured in a set of rules, is the real learning on the course. #PLENK2010

Thursday, October 14, 2010

What Does a theory do?

This is coming from a discusion of "Theory" in week four of PLENK2010

A theory is a simplified model of some real world phenomena which tries to encode previous experience with a view to guiding future action.
A really good theory will make wild improbable predictions which turn out to be true. Think things which glow in the dark and the photoelectric effect leading to H bombs here.
A fun theory starts with minute observations of some trivial inconsistency in conventional explanation and replaces it with a much grander structure.
Many theories will cover the facts, few give you a totaly new vision of the existing landscape.

I would sugest
The school of Barbianna
Foucault's analysis of power in the classroom

as examples of theories which do.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Bereiter's Learning Paradox

Existing theories of learning fail to account for the expansion and creation of knowledge (what Bereiter calls the learning paradox: “If learners construct their own knowledge, how is it possible for them to create a cognitive structure more complex than the own they already possess (cited in Cambridge Handbook of Learning Sciences, p. 103). Connectivism and networked learning, on the other hand, suggest a continual expansion of knowledge. New and novel connections open new worlds and create new knowledge. Source George Siemens, September 12, 2009 “what is conectivism” on Google Docs at
Bereiters Learning paradox as described above ignores two things.
1) The first is a fundamental principle of computer science, which is that once a computer language contains a few simple constructs it is possible to perform arbitrarily complex computations with it, given sufficient memory to store intermediate results,
2) The phenomena of emergent behavior whereby as systems get larger unexpected behaviors emerge (Conways game of life is an early example, as are many systems beloved of investigators in the field of Chaos theory.)
The word used to name conecitivism implies a vast preexisting web of potential knowledge onto which we sling our hammock of knowing. I think there is more to learning than that, and I like to think that there are processes at work which generate, in addition to a plethora of connections to existing knowledge sources and systems, new substrate in knowledge space through which we can “boldly go where no man has gone before”.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Are we doctors, artists or actors?

Roger Neilson blogging at has a nice post where he draws an analogy between a doctor using 150 year old tools and a teacher using 150 year old methods and by analogy asks why we don’t throw such teachers out on their ears. However I think the analogy is an unfair one.

In medicine there is a clear goal: cure the patient, and very solid evidence that technology helps.

In education the goal is misty (what’s an educated student?) and there is less evidence that technology is an essential tool.

First I'd like to draw an analogy not to medicine but to art, considering the proposition that as educators we are artists. Some artists use technology to very good effect, some don’t. Its not clear that the low tech artists are “ipso facto” doing a worse job. This analogy works at a lot of levels, but it still doesn’t quite capture what educators do. This brings me to my final analogy which is with actors.

Here in some sense the core performance remains the same, but the role of technology although subservient, is stronger. A theatre performance without stage lighting and other technology would be an arcane thing which would require extra artistic justification to validate it. Maybe that’s how we should view teachers who haven’t moved on.