Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Help Desk

I recently heard a story about a young student who was asked on a test the meaning of PTO. In the end he wrote Postal Transport Officer. This reminded me of one of my favourite YouTubes from years ago where a monk encounters a new technology, the book, and calls the medieval Help Desk:

Sunday, December 09, 2018

indigenous icons activity

I've uploaded some indigenous icons (mainly gifs) with transparent backgrounds, suitable for incorporation into a Scratch activity.

I prepared these icons from the original sheet using GIMP.

DAY ONE
The activity which I set my class, which is roughly 50% indigenous, was to make up a story based on these icons. Initially I gave them a printout of the icon sheet and asked them to do the story with pencil and paper. I found that all the students preferred to draw the icons themselves rather than cutting and pasting, which is an option I provided.

DAY TWO
The next day we went into a computer room. I had taken one of the student sheets and had begun to duplicate their icons into a Scratch page. I made the icons available in the common drive and told them to put the folder onto their Desktop, since Scratch offer an import from desktop feature.


I added a few extra icons to the folder (of kangaroo, emu and honey ants) based on reading their stories.

I asked the students to put the relevant icons onto the page, to name them (that makes it much easier to follow what you are doing) and then program an icon click that would display the name for 2 seconds. I also suggested they put a pale coloured background on the Stage. For some of the icons that were hard to click because of their transparent spaces I suggested they edit and add an unobtrusive colour.

DAY THREE
I showed them more work I had done on my exemplar by adding an introductory page with the words of the story. This page had a button which when clicked hid the page and revealed the icons underneath. I showed the class how to hide the page when the button was clicked and how to show the page when the green flag was clicked to start the program again.

EVALUATION
The class hadn't done much Scratch before and there were some teething problems. The main one was that some students didn't realise that they had to make a new sprite before importing each icon. They were putting multiple icons onto each sprite. This was easily fixed with some extra instruction.

I felt the indigenous students engaged strongly with this activity, just by getting on with it without any fuss.

One student on his own initiative added the waterdrop sound to the button when it was clicked.

This was a last week of school activity. If I had more time I would have shown the class how to animate one of the animals relevant to their story.

Monday, November 19, 2018

inspirational example of making a difference

"I want to make a difference" is a well worn phrase but still a good one. To make a difference you need two things: a commitment and a skill. Here is an inspirational example from Mick Ebeling, who says:
"I have a process. The process is you commit then you figure out how the heck you are going to do it"
For more inspirational information visit the Not Impossible website

Friday, October 19, 2018

tangible digital education theory

Words are important. What we call something triggers connections and perceptions. Words can connect our minds, no, our whole being to something tangible. It was the words of Seymour Papert (“Mindstorms”) that got me started in computing in the first place. Not a technocentric dialogue but a different, body syntonic, way of doing maths, which would be more engaging for those who were bored, discouraged and despairing of textbook maths.

What began as “computing” has turned into a bloated educational nomenclature: computer science, computational thinking IT, ICT, web2, web3, STEM, STEAM, maker ed, cyber ed etc. How can we inspire anyone to follow if we are all travelling down different, not clearly thought out and possibly over-hyped pathways?

The philosophical lameness of much of the commercial computing hype is flawed. Their technocentric mantra focuses on jobs, fun and money. This is activism without understanding. Recall Papert’s critique of technocentrism. Their tendency is to ignore economics (can everyone afford the new toys, some of them are very expensive?), social justice, learning theory and perhaps most importantly that the new digital medium is consuming the previously dominant print medium. McLuhan famously said, "the medium is the message". But who understood him?

There is a plethora of new tech toys from the micro:bit to Cozmo the robot to the Raspberry Pi Sense hat and much more. The CSER digital lending library (thanks, Steve Grant) helpfully allows educators to borrow and test the following kits: Beebot, Sphero, Ozobot, Makey Makey, Lilypad, two version of Little Bits, Dash & Dot, Bluebot and Micro:bit.

As well as taking time to play and learn with some of these new toys I’ve discovered some writings that begin to help me theorise what is happening. At this stage I’m just repeating extracts from the abstracts of some of these writings for anyone who wants to come along with the theoretical ride, to develop a concrete theory to inform practice. I’ve added some bolding to some points I think are important.

DiSessa, Andy. Computational Literacy and “The Big Picture” Concerning Computers in Mathematics Education (2017) download
This article develops some ideas concerning the “big picture” of how using computers might fundamentally change learning, with an emphasis on mathematics (and, more generally, STEM education). I develop the big-picture model of computation as a new literacy in some detail and with concrete examples of sixth grade students learning the mathematics of motion. The principles that define computational literacy also serve as an analytical framework to examine competitive big pictures, and I use them to consider the plausibility, power, and limitations of other important contemporary trends in computationally centered education, notably computational thinking and coding as a social movement. While both of these trends have much to recommend them, my analysis uncovers some implausible assumptions and counterproductive elements of those trends. I close my essay with some more practical and action-oriented advice to mathematics educators on how best to orient to the long-term trajectory (big picture) of improving mathematics education with computation.
The following two articles are PhD theses obtainable from BirdBrain Technologies Research page

Bernstein, Debra. Developing Technological Fluency Through Creative Robotics (2010)
Children have frequent access to technologies such as computers, game systems, and mobile phones (Sefton-Green, 2006). But it is useful to distinguish between engaging with technology as a ‘consumer’ and engaging as a ‘creator’ or designer (Resnick & Rusk, 1996). Children who engage as the former can use technology efficiently, while those who engage as the latter are creative and adaptive with technology.

The question remains of how best to encourage movement along this continuum, towards technological fluency. This study defines three habits of mind associated with fluent technology engagement [(1) approaching technology as a tool and a creative medium, (2) understanding how to engage in a design process, and (3) seeing oneself as competent to engage in technological creativity], and examines the implementation of a learning environment designed to support them.

Robot Diaries, an out-of-school workshop, encourages middle school girls to explore different ways of expressing and communicating with technology, to integrate technology with personal or fictional storytelling, and to adapt their technical knowledge to suit their own projects and ideas. Two research purposes guide this study. The first is to explore whether Robot Diaries, which blends arts and engineering curricula, can support multiple pathways to technological fluency. The second purpose is to develop and test a set of instruments to measure the development of technological fluency.
Lauwers, Tom. Aligning Capabilities of Interactive Educational Tools to Learner Goals (2010)
This thesis is about a design process for creating educationally relevant tools. I submit that the key to creating tools that are educationally relevant is to focus on ensuring a high degree of alignment between the designed tool and the broader educational context into which the tool will be integrated. The thesis presents methods and processes for creating a tool that is both well aligned and relevant.

The design domain of the thesis is described by a set of tools I refer to as “Configurable Embodied Interfaces”. Configurable embodied interfaces have a number of key features, they:
  • Can sense their local surroundings through the detection of such environmental and physical parameters as light, sound, imagery, device acceleration, etc.
  • Act on their local environment by outputting sound, light, imagery, motion of the device, etc.
  • Are configurable in such a way as to link these inputs and outputs in a nearly unlimited number of ways.
  • Contain active ways for users to either directly create new programs linking input and output, or to easily re-configure them by running different programs on them.
  • Are user focused; they assume that a human being is manipulating them in some way, through affecting input and observing output of the interface.
Spurred by the growth of cheap computation and sensing, a large number of educational programs have been built around use of configurable embodied interfaces in the last three decades … this work provides case studies and a set of guidelines that can inform technologists interested in designing educationally relevant embodied interfaces.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Bret Victor

worry dream

I wasn't aware of Bret Victor but have looked at Seymour Papert and Alan Kay in some depth previously. I've now read a few of BV articles and looked at a few videos and see that he continues and develops in that tradition. I'll be promoting his material with enthusiam.

For those not familiar with this lineage perhaps Bret Victor's article about the hand would be a good place to start since that correlates well with the Engel's essay on the hand which would be familiar to those who follow Marx: A Brief Rant On The Future Of Interaction Design

From a digital world behind a screen we are emerging into tangible, haptic or physical computing with more varied human inputs and interactions becoming available. Bret Victor's examples of a more intuitive user interface for programmers are breathtaking. eg. Inventing on Principle

(Historical aside: Seymour Papert co-authored logo programming / turtle geometry as a way to make powerful maths ideas more accessible to those who found them difficult).

Following some technical wizardry at 35:40 of that video he begins to explain his motivation to his audience of software engineers:
"Ideas are very precious to me and when I see ideas dying it hurts. I see a tragedy. It feels like a moral wrong, an injustice. If there is something I can about it then it feels like a responsibility for me to do so. Not an opportunity but a responsibility"
The computer is now emerging from being a relatively expensive, large closed box and transforming into a miniature capable of interacting with a variety of sensors to create the internet of things. BV goes beyond the predictable and usually mundane commercial hype (Apple watch etc.) and informs us how a more intuitive user interface (“One of the greatest user interface design minds in the world today.” — Alan Kay) can promote creativity. ie. he explains how creativity can be enhanced, not just uses it as a nebulous hype word. The principle he argues for is immediate connection between the creative process and its visualisation or appearance. He has the skill and knowledge to implement that principle, as part of a team, in the real world.

I've been developing a curriculum around the BBC micro:bit and was looking for a theorist who continues to develop the Papert / Kay tradition. Bret Victor may be that theorist.

I'm also impressed by the Yin / Yang sidebar of his Bio.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

mobile digital education course update

MOBILE DIGITAL EDUCATION: Micro:bit Course Outline

Digital technology has ushered in a cycle of disruption aka creative disruption. What is disrupted? Traditional businesses, for one. In the case of digital wearables the fitness and healthcare industries are reinventing themselves. Think Apple Watch or FitBit.

Are schools keeping up with these changes? There is much talk about STEM and computer coding but to bring this future to students requires a combination of hardware, software and teacher expertise that is not always apparent. Does anyone remember Seymour Papert's advice about how teachers will have to become more skilled to incorporate the new technologies into the overall educational context:
  • Skilled in modern learning theories and psychology
  • Skilled in relating to a variety of children
  • Skilled in detecting new, important elements of their student's culture
  • Skilled in cross curricular applications
  • Skilled in computing
  • Able to apply a variety of skills creatively
The BBC micro:bit is a pocket-sized codeable computer with motion detection, a built-in compass and Bluetooth technology, which was given free to every child in year 7 or equivalent across the UK in 2016.

Here are some ideas for a Middle School mobile digital course outline. It represents a small beginning towards adapting the school curriculum to preparing students for this future. A future which is already present. Please feel free to adapt and reshare these ideas but remember to acknowledge the source. Many thanks to Roland and Paul for initially suggesting these ideas to me.

THEMES

Digital wearables – take home – ownership - affordable At $25 the micro:bit (cheaper with a bulk buy) could be bought by each student – real ownership of the micro:bit is empowering and invites further exploration.

Robotics introduction for everyone
The Kitronik :MOVE mini buggy, which can be controlled by the micro:bit and is a relatively low cost ($112 with accessories) introduction to robotics
Computer coding
Far more accessible these days due to block based coding (drag and drop tiles) of Microsoft Makecode, which has built on the earlier success of MIT Scratch.

SOFTWARE

Microsoft Makecode is free online or a free app download– for coding of affordable hardware such as the BBC micro: bit (wicked simulator included)

HARDWARE AND PRELIMINARY COSTING
All prices from Core Electronics

BBC micro:bit $24.95 (plus $3.95 micro USB cable plus $2.41 battery holder and batteries), with the option of personal ownership.

PCs, Macs, laptops or tablets to access Makecode

Android or iOS phone runs a micro:bit app – code can be sent to micro:bit by bluetooth

The Kitronik :MOVE mini buggy kit for the BBC micro:bit is a fun introduction to the world of robotics. To get the most out of it some add ons are required:

The Kitronik :MOVE mini buggy kit $53.95
Line following add on (sensors underneath buggy) $20.95
Servo:Lite board $19.50
Bulldozer add on $15.00
Bumper add on $ 2.95
TOTAL $112.35

LESSON PLANS
There are many free resources about the micro:bit for teachers on line: https://microbit.org/teach/ and at Code Club Australia https://codeclubau.org/

Here are some incredibly good lesson plans by Lorraine Underwood for the :MOVE buggy
  1. Movement and Lights
  2. Drawing Shapes
  3. Simple Autonomy
  4. Radio Control
BBC MICRO:BIT TECHNICAL FEATURES


32-bit ARM Cortex-M0 CPU
256KB Flash
16KB RAM
5x5 Red LED Array
Two Programmable Buttons
Onboard Light, Compass, Accelerometer and Temp Sensors
BLE Smart Antenna
Three Digital/Analog Input/Output Rings
Two Power Rings — 3V and GND
20-pin Edge Connector
MicroUSB Connector
JST-PH Battery Connector (Not JST-XH)
Reset Button with Status LED

PATHWAYS
This course is envisaged as part of a curriculum pathway. Some suggested hardware and software features of the future path could include:

Electronics: Break out board, eg. Kitronik Inventor's Kit (for class use) $39.95

MIT app inventor – writing apps for you mobile phone http://appinventor.mit.edu/explore/

Drones – the Tello drone is programmable in Scratch

Raspberry Pi A small and affordable computer that you can use to learn programming and more … link to essentials for the Raspberry Pi

Combine the Raspberry Pi with the Sense HAT ($52.80)

Curriculum: A Raspberry Pi curriculum has been developed here

Interesting book here, Make: Sensors: Projects and Experiments to Measure the World with Arduino and Raspberry Pi (link takes you to the contents and part of Chapter one)

UPDATE (August 25th):
Microbit Evaluation Report (pdf 51pp).
"Over 1 million of the microcomputers were given free to every child aged 11 to 12 across the UK in March 2016"

This study evaluates how this initiative went. Highly recommended.

UPDATE (August 31st)
The micro:bit Matters
Gary Stager outlines the latest micro:bit related developments, including:

Scratch 3.0
micro:bit blocks may be added to the free popular web-basedScratch 3.0 by clicking on the extensions button and your projects may combine on-screen graphics with off-screen interactivity

Microblocks (Mac, Windows, Linux)
A team of quite accomplished developers, including Jens Monig (SNAP!), John Maloney (Scratch 2.0), and Bernat Romagosa (Snap4Arduino), have created Microblocks, a free new block-based platform for programming technology like the micro:bit, in a much more intuitive fashion than MakeCode, but with potentially more functionality than Scratch 3.0. Microblocks eliminates the issue of uploading/downloading code between the computer and micro:bit by running programs on the micro:bit directly. Make a change to a program on your computer and it runs live on the micro:bit.

Check the rest of Gary's article for other updates in the pipeline, coming soon.

Friday, August 10, 2018

mobile digital education

Here are some ideas for a Middle School computing course. Feel free to steal them although I would appreciate if you acknowledge the source. Many thanks to Roland and Paul for initially suggesting these ideas to me.



THEMES
  • digital wearables – take home – ownership - affordable
  • at $25 the micro:bit (cheaper with a bulk buy) could be bought by each student – real ownership of the micro:bit is empowering and invites further exploration
  • the mobile phone has become the socially preferred computer – it is desirable to find a way that students can use their phone to enhance their education, as distinct from entertainment
  • electronics, can be linked to the micro:bit (electronics tends to be a neglected subject)
  • computer coding –far more accessible these days due to drag and drop tiles of Scratch / Makecode (apparently the official term is block based coding since you drag blocks of code around)
  • Maker Education themes
SOFTWARE
  • Scratch – introduction to coding
  • Makecode (MS) free online or free app download– for coding of affordable hardware such as the BBC micro:bit (wicked simulator included)
  • MIT app inventor – writing apps for you mobile phone
HARDWARE and PRELIMINARY COSTING

BBC micro:bit $24.95 (plus $3.95 micro USB cable plus $2.41 battery holder and batteries) from Core Electronics - link - (to be owned by each student)
Features – technical specification, listed at the end

PCs to access makecode (computer lab)

Androd or iOS phone runs a micro:bit app – programs can be sent to micro:bit through bluetooth

Mobile phone programmable by app inventor

Electronics: Break out board, eg. Kitronik Inventor's Kit (for class use) $39.95 from Core Electronics

RATIONALE:

We are rapidly moving towards a world of smart homes / cities, driverless cars and digital wearables for fitness monitoring, health care and fashion statements. Commercially, the Apple watch incorporates all of this. We can anticipate a future where computers are ubiquitous in our environment, eg. the smart frig which will suggest a suitable recipe for its contents. Computers will become as common as dust or oxygen. Refer MITs Project Oxygen

This course outline represents a small beginning towards adapting the school curriculum to preparing students for this future.



BBC MICRO:BIT TECHNICAL FEATURES
32-bit ARM Cortex-M0 CPU
256KB Flash
16KB RAM
5x5 Red LED Array
Two Programmable Buttons
Onboard Light, Compass, Accelerometer and Temp Sensors
BLE Smart Antenna
Three Digital/Analog Input/Output Rings
Two Power Rings — 3V and GND
20-pin Edge Connector
MicroUSB Connector
JST-PH Battery Connector (Not JST-XH)
Reset Button with Status LED

Sunday, June 17, 2018

one pathway to happiness

Here is someone, a very interesting girl, who found a pathway against odds to happiness

http://choosemaths.org.au/karlie-noon/

Watch the video at the bottom. Final words:
"I think to reach your full potential you have to believe in yourself and find something to make you happy"
A very powerful statement in the context of an indigenous woman choosing maths / astronomy.

Friday, June 15, 2018

the state of the climate debate

Judith Curry has for a long time made more sense to me than most others on this still contentious issue.
  • her slides for a debate she is having with Michael Mann, David Titley and Patrick Moore.
  • her blog about those slides
Implications:
LHS: Climate can be controlled by controlling atmospheric CO2
RHS: Earth's climate is largely uncontrollable


BEST SOLUTION

Climate pragmatism has 3 pillars:
  • Accelerate energy innovation
  • Build resilience to extreme weather
  • No regrets pollution reduction
These policies provide near-term socioeconomic & environmental benefits and have justifications independent of climate mitigation & adaptation

These are no regrets policies that do not require agreement about climate science or the risks of uncontrolled greenhouse gases

Saturday, June 09, 2018

Sir Ken Robinson: silver tongued charlatan

Alternative titles:
(1) it takes 10 years of very hard, effortful, intelligently directed work to become a genius
(2) why does Ken Robinson refuse to debate his many informed and articulate critics?
(3) I too am a creative person who doesn't like formulas but if there is a formula it would be hard work + supportive, mentored environment is what leads to genius, more so than the random variations of the gene pool

Much to my annoyance Sir Ken Robinson won't go away. I guess I'm just jealous that I don't have a TED talk with 25 billion hits. Or maybe I just can't get enthusiastic about 103 different ways to poke a paper clip into his eye. It doesn't matter where I go, I'm eventually subjected to someone lecturing on the importance of creativity (that rather fuzzy buzz word) and how we should all take notice of Sir Ken Robinson (referred to below as KR)

Sir Ken Robinson:
“all students have tremendous talents”
What does Sir Ken say? That children have tremendous natural talents and these are crushed by School (the capital S signifies the institution of school) because School favours one sort of learning (academic head learning) above other sorts of learning (the multiple intelligences).


My goal here is to look at KRs thesis through the prism of what is required for genius. I argue that genius does not depend primarily on tremendous natural talents, so this key premise of KRs argument falls flat.

I am not arguing that Schools are great places. The reason KR appeals to many is that he is critical of School and many have had negative experiences in School, "it's boring", where their abilities were not encouraged or developed. I agree that school reform is required. But this requires more depth of thought than that provided by KR. I am arguing that children do not have tremendous natural talents. I am arguing that talents develop through a supportive home or other educational environment and hard work.

I use genius as the prism through which to view the debate because to puncture or deflate the mythology surrounding genius - that there are individuals amongst us with extraordinary natural talents that we can't hope to emulate since they are born with it - does at the same time deflate KRs core argument.

This article (How to be a genius by David Dobbs) is one of my chief weapons. In summary it says:
  1. hard work, focused effort (effortful study), is most important
  2. supportive environment, mentoring is also very important
  3. natural ability (genetics) has some importance but is not so important as the first two
A family I know well have home schooled their three children and their youngest, Connor, has become a unicycle "genius". He busks on a regular basis and has raised a shitload of money to fund a Scout trip to America. The older girls have won awards and qualifications for their community service efforts and involvement in the Scouts.


The parents were also impressed by the KR talk and I can see why. Regular school would never have thought of developing Connor's unicycle skill to the extent that this family has pushed it. So, it does illustrate a part of KRs thesis that non academic talents are not recognised by School to the extent that they should be.

I would argue, however, that Connor's natural kinesthenic talent, whilst undeniably, is not the key factor here. The key factor is mentoring. The parents saw an entrepeneurial opportunity and encouraged and facilitated Connor to put in the hard work to develop further in that direction.

I'll add some quotes from the genius article to further elaborate on the theme that the key factors are hard work and mentoring

99 percent Perspiration
...as the American inventor Thomas Edison said, genius is 99 per cent perspiration - or, to be truer to the data, perhaps 1 per cent inspiration, 29 per cent good instruction and encouragement, and 70 per cent perspiration.
Five times the effort
Anders Ericsson:
"These people don't necessarily have an especially high IQ, but they almost always have very supportive environments, and they almost always have important mentors. And the one thing they always have is this incredible investment of effort. ... it's a bit overwhelming to look at what these people have to do. They generally invest about five times as much time and effort to become great as an accomplished amateur does to become competent. It's not something everyone's up for."
Practise, Pracise, more Practise
So what does create genius or extreme talent? Musicians have an old joke about this: How do you get to Carnegie Hall from here? Practise.

A sober look at any field shows that the top performers are rarely more gifted than the also-rans, but they almost invariably outwork them. This doesn't mean that some people aren't more athletic or smarter than others.

The elite are elite partly because they have some genetic gifts - for learning and hand-eye coordination, for instance - but the very best rise because they take great pains to maximise that gift.
It took Mozart 10 years to develop what appears to be effortless natural ability
This has led scholars of elite performance to speak of a 10-year rule: it seems you have to put in at least a decade of focused work to master something and bring greatness within reach... Mozart was playing the violin at 3 years of age and received expert, focused instruction from the start. He was precocious, writing symphonies at age 7, but he didn't produce the work that made him a giant until his teens.
Supportive learning environment and mentoring is of crucial importance
Study so intense requires resources - time and space to work, teachers to mentor - and the subjects of Bloom's study, like most elite performers, almost invariably enjoyed plentiful support in their formative years.

Bloom, in fact, came to see great talent as less an individual trait than a creation of environment and encouragement. "We were looking for exceptional kids," he said, "and what we found were exceptional conditions."

He was intrigued to find that few of the study's subjects had shown special promise when they first took up the fields they later excelled in, and most harboured no early ambition for stellar achievement.

Rather, they were encouraged as children in a general way to explore and learn, then supported in more focused ways as they began to develop an area they particularly liked. ...

Finally, most retrospective studies, including Bloom's, have found that almost all high achievers were blessed with at least one crucial mentor as they neared maturity ...

When Subotnik looked at music students at New York's elite Juilliard School and winners of the high-school-level Westinghouse Science Talent Search, he found that the Juilliard students generally realised their potential more fully because they had one-on-one relationships with mentors who prepared them for the challenges they would face after their studies ended.
What it is that high ability performers learn? Answer: Pattern recognition of the important bits
So what do elite performers attain through all that deliberate practice and sensitive mentoring? What makes a genius? The creme de la creme appear to develop several important cognitive skills.

The first, called "chunking", is the ability to group details and concepts into easily remembered patterns.

Chess provides the classic illustration. Show a chess master a game in progress for just 5 seconds and they will memorise the board so well that they can recreate most of it - 20 pieces or more - an hour later. A novice will be able to place just four or five pieces.

Yet chess masters don't necessarily have a better memory than novices. Their clustering skills begin and end at the chessboard. Show a master and a novice a random list of 20 digits, and a few minutes later neither will be able to recall more than seven or eight of them in sequence.

In a chess game, by contrast, the master sees not the 20 pieces that confront the novice but clusters of pieces, each of which is familiar from experience.

Interestingly, the chess master will remember about as many clusters - four or five - as a novice will individual pieces. The better the master, the larger the clusters he'll remember.

We all exercise such clustering skills when we read. Learning to read means coming to recognise chunks of letters as words, then chunks of words as phrases and sentences, and - at a deeper level - sentences and paragraphs as components of a work's larger meaning.

This chunking puts individual words into logical, recallable contexts. As a result, we'll remember almost all of a logical 20-word sentence and only four to seven words from the same 20 words ordered randomly.

Apart from chunking, the elite also learn to identify quickly which bits of information in a changing situation to store in working memory so that they can use them later.

This lets them create a continually updated mental model far more complex than that used by someone less practised, allowing them to see subtler dynamics and deeper relationships.
Importance of repetition, repetition, REPETITION ...
Eric Kandel of Columbia University in New York, who won a Nobel prize in 2000 for discovering much of the neural basis of memory and learning, has shown that both the number and strength of the nerve connections associated with a memory or skill increase in proportion to how often and how emphatically the lesson is repeated.

So focused study and practice literally build the neural networks of expertise. Genetics may allow one person to build synapses faster than another, but either way the lesson must still be learned. Genius must be built.
Previous:
Challenging Sir Ken Robinson
Design for the Creative Spirit

Saturday, June 02, 2018

Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience (AIME)

I picked up a book called Mentoring: The key to a fairer world from the Alice Springs library. It describes the story of AIME (Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience) founded by Jack Manning Bancroft in 2005.

Conceptually, it is a simple model which makes sense. Team up university students and others who want to make a difference as mentors with aboriginal students in schools, many of whom are feeling that school is not much use to them.

It worked! AIME has grown to mentor 15,000 students in Australia and further expanded into mentoring in Uganda, South Africa and Canada.

The book consists of personal stories from those who made AIME work, 17 different authors. The message is that mentoring done right can turn around someone to believe in their own worth and ability to succeed. Everyone needs support, someone who believes in them. That is what AIME delivers.

I don't think I fully understand it yet. Why this program has worked where so many others have failed. There are reasons given in the book for success and perhaps I should summarise those. Still reading and thinking ...

Watch this video and you'll get some idea of the concept and why it has worked, from quietly spoken, inspirational citizens ... : Classroom interview (27 minutes)

From the video at 7 minutes, Glen Isemonger:
"The beauty of AIME is in its simplicity. It's about relationships and building one on one ... showing that you are valued and if you know that you are valued, that you are appreciated, that you are not judged, then the mantle of negativity that often shrouds kids just falls away. And we just watch these kids bloom. It's a place for them to be themselves and explore their identity and people really encourage them on that journey ... it's a learning curve for all of our mentors and all of our mentees"

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

grim depiction of reality for many indigenous in Alice Springs and surrounds

I'm reprinting this because in spite of some traces of journalistic hyperbole I believe it does describe accurately the reality of life for many indigenous in Alice Springs and surrounds.

http://www.adelaidenow.com.au/news/special-features/in-depth/community-in-crisis-the-fight-to-protect-indigenous-children-from-abuse-and-neglect/news-story/bdd869155c403dd1977fa0f786aa8d83

use https://github.com/nextgens/anti-paywall to bypass paywall to see the pictures and video

Community in crisis: The fight to protect indigenous children from abuse and neglect
Paul Toohey, News Corp Australia Network
May 26, 2018

ON the south side of Alice Springs, a Thursday afternoon, five adults are gathered around a sedan at the entrance to the showgrounds. A man king-hits a woman and she goes down, hard. She is helped up, then carefully lined up and smashed again, in the face. She’s so drunk she has no hope of defending the punch. She goes down again.

Sitting on the window ledge of the car, watching, is a child. This is what she thinks is normal: incoherent adults enacting the brutal afternoon rituals of total alcohol dysfunction, as desensitised locals drive by with barely a glance.

Alice Springs is at Australia’s spiritual heart: the creation point in our landscape, where raw earth blends seamlessly with the cosmic, and even diehard atheists confess to sacred encounters with the almighty red rock. Now that heart is broken.

There’s deep trauma here. Some Aborigines blame white settlement and loss of culture; others see income support as the driver of destruction, because it buys alcohol and obliterates self-reliance.

The tragedy for the child is that she has already been traumatised, by her parents, for whom acts of ultra-violence carry no shame and rarely result in repercussions, other than visits to the ICU.

She has no opportunity to start life clean but is at the vanguard of another broken generation, same as the last. She doesn’t know it, but she is already caught up in a hopeless hunt for answers in which blame will always displace solutions.

Tired and self-interested politicians; overworked and numb cops; distraught and confused welfare workers; cries for more money from all directions. The spotlight never tracks on the parents causing the harm, because of a shielding instinct that says they have been injured by history.

The middle of Australia, from Tennant Creek down to Alice, is at the statistical epicentre of Australian child neglect and abuse. Each attempt to intervene becomes a forced retreat about saving culture, rather than saving kids.

LIFE IN HARM’S WAY

CALABRIA Family Wines, makers of 2017 Richland chardonnay, recommend it be served with grilled polenta and wild mushrooms. In Alice, where it sells in plastic weapon-proof bottles for $8, it’s served with brain-jarring punches and stomps to the head.

When adults hurt each other, children are hurt. The crisis in Central Australia is decades old, going back to the 1950s when the painter Albert Namatjira was prosecuted for buying alcohol for family and friends in the Morris Soak town camp, which led to the murder of a woman by her husband.

It’s been happening ever since. A month ago, a 62-year-old woman was allegedly stabbed to death by her husband at Charles Creek town camp, just near Morris Soak.

The town camps were once stopover places for out-of-towners that became squalid permanent homes; nowadays, they are crowded as people from remote areas stay longer, seeking services and alcohol — and also because life in the bush communities can be bleak, with few luxuries.

Though liquor is banned in the camps and all public places, the rules are in constant, visible breach.

John Boffa, a veteran Central Australian doctor who drives the People’s Alcohol Action Coalition, wants a total lockdown, with police stationed full-time at takeaway outlets refusing alcohol sales to all but those who can provide proof of a permanent local residential address.

He’s got stats to prove when takeaway sales are totally controlled, violence drops accordingly. But point-of-sale prohibition doesn’t address Central Australia’s estimated 4000 problem drinkers, who are chronically dependent and remain free to drink in the town’s bars.

Boffa is extremely reluctant to criticise the Aboriginal constituency, but some statistics cannot be avoided. “The Territory has the highest rate of substantiated child neglect in Australia, and the lowest rate of children in out-of-home care,” he says.

What this means is that children who live in at-risk situations often remain there, without help. Such was the case in Tennant Creek, where Territory Families, the welfare department, received 21 notifications over two years about disruptive behaviour at a notorious address on the town’s eastside.

It was decided there was no basis for intervention because — as reporters were told at the time — the notifications did not directly relate to the small children in the house.

Then, in February, it is alleged a two-year-old girl was raped at the house by a 24-year-old relative.

She would be left with gonorrhoea and require a blood transfusion due to injuries to her genital area.

It was subsequently learned there had been numerous notifications related the girl’s siblings, and the behaviour of her parents, stretching back years. The department’s inaction appears to imply a view that indigenous children have a higher threshold for living with sustained violence than non-indigenous children.

Underpinning such attitudes is the overarching welfare policy, mirrored in all states, which holds that if an indigenous child must be removed, the child should be placed (in descending order) with family and kin; with Aboriginal carers in the community; with carers in another Aboriginal community; and with non-indigenous carers as a last resort.

The ultimate aim is to reunify the child with its family. NT Children’s Commissioner, Colleen Gwynne, says it’s nice in theory, but there’s a shortage of indigenous carers who can satisfy requirements of providing a safe environment.

“Child safety is paramount, so if you’re not satisfied the child will be safe or thrive, you have to find the next best option,” she says.

Simplistic media-generated propositions, such as wholesale adopting neglected Aboriginal kids to white families, have no genuine support — anywhere. “I don’t believe there’s this push to have a whole heap of Aboriginal kids with white families, that’s rubbish,” says Gwynne.

In reality, most Aboriginal children who have been identified as neglected or abused are in white homes, anyway. For the more than 1000 kids in foster care in the Territory — 89 per cent of whom are indigenous — two-thirds are with white carers.

Yet Gwynne says Territory Families feels compelled to fast-track the reunification of the children in foster care with kin. “We have cases where a child has been fostered for six years and all of a sudden a decision is made: let’s reunify them back with family in a community, just like that,” says Gwynne.

“We’ve got to go back to the child. If a child is with foster carers, and the assessment is made that the child is thriving, the child is happy and loved, why would you change it? If the biological parents say we want the child returned, they should need to demonstrate that they absolutely have the capacity.”

CHAOS, NOT CULTURE

White couple Leigh Swift and Yvonne Mudford started caring for a little girl named Mikala when they lived in Tennant Creek. The girl’s Aboriginal parents were drinking and fighting, and leaving Mikala unattended, unfed, unclean and wandering.

Before she was one, Mikala was declared a “child in danger”. Her father had 48 convictions and her mother a heavy drinker who at one point stabbed her husband. Mudford and Swift looked at adoption as a way to protect Mikala.

But Swift, then the local fire chief, was legally too old to adopt. They persisted in caring for Mikala in an informal way.

Several years ago, they told the parents they planned to move to southwest WA. The parents demanded Mikala back, but Swift and Mudford were not willing to throw the child back into a damaging environment.

“They said they were taking us to court,” says Mudford. “I went to a solicitor in Alice Springs and it started from there. They said it would it be tough and expensive. But there was a whole history, not just of Mikala, but two older siblings that had been in foster care.”

Mikala’s parents failed to show up to court. In 2015 the Federal Circuit Court made the highly unusual decision to grant Swift and Mudford sole custody of Mikala. More unusually, Justice Michael Baumann’s orders made no mention of Mikala’s “culture”. It might be guessed he took the view that the only culture she had known was violence.

The judge laid out tough conditions — on the biological parents. They can see Mikala once a year during school holidays, and only during the day. The father cannot visit the child unless in the company of a responsible adult and neither parent can be under the influence of alcohol.

Even so, Swift and Mudford pay for the mother to make regular visits. They even took Mikala to visit her father in prison.

Mikala is now aged nine. She currently lives in Alice Springs. She says she loves school and reading adventure stories. Asked if she is happy, she gives a pause and a such a direct look that you know you’re going to get the truth: “Sometimes, I feel alone,” Mikala says.

To his credit, Swift makes no attempt to edit Mikala or explain what she says. She misses the family she loves, but says she is frightened of them when they drink.

What Mikala tells us is powerful: that out-of-home care is not easy for anyone. It can involve great reward but is, by definition, borne of sadness. “Nothing about this is simple,” says Swift.

THE POVERTY DELUSION

Just after 8pm, a Tuesday night. A white ute driven by a white man pulls in by the Hungry Jack’s, located close by the Charles Creek town camp, associated with hard drinking and homicide.

A young woman, possibly mid-to-late-teens, emerges from low bushes. She approaches the driver, handbag on her shoulder, has a short discussion, then gets in the passenger seat and they drive away.

It has often been claimed without evidence prostitution is coming out of the town camps. Now we have footage. But what does it tell us? No culture is immune from prostitution. Slums are slums, wherever they are, and they always provide victims to the sex trade.

Jacinta Price, a Central Australian woman who identifies as Warlpiri-Celtic, says it does matter.

At the next federal election, Price will take on Labor’s Warren Snowdon. Snowdon is Australia’s longest-serving MP — a 28-year career politician who presides over the nation’s most troubled electorate, Lingiari, but says nothing on child abuse or parental neglect because, one suspects, he does not wish to upset his crucial indigenous vote base.

“There’s Manila, but we’re not a third-world country,” says Price. “Given the rates of sexual abuse and the violence that exists, and the fact these kids are neglected and don’t have safe homes, it’s too easy to turn a blind eye to it.

“I know there’s young girls out there as young as 13, prostituting themselves. The truth is blackfellas know about it but aren’t talking about it. It’s happening and these are Australian children.”

In Alice and Tennant, you’ll hear that Aborigines in live in “abject poverty”. But this is not Manila, the black townships of South Africa or even rust-belt USA.

There’s income support and child money. The free health system is world-class and education is available to all, without cost. Everyone can eat, if they choose. There’s also work, but that requires motivation.

In Alice Springs, there are hundreds of Africans employed in security, shops and government departments. They’re working remote to build credits for their citizenship applications. Good for them, but why aren’t locals doing these jobs?

A Warlpiri man approaches outside Coles for a friendly chat. He’s waiting for his wife, who’s shopping for a trip to Lajamanu, 900kms northwest of Alice, for a royalty payment meeting from the Granites gold mine. He expects she’ll be paid $50,000, tax-free, directly into her bank account.

He says this is “the small one”. She’ll receive a bigger payment later in the year.

NO WORD FOR RAPE

Talking to youth workers around Alice, who spend time with children who roam the town, they say they would never ask them about sex abuse and, even after trust is built, never hear children volunteering stories.

Like many cultures, parents don’t discuss it; abusers are likely family; talking to authority figures is difficult; there may be different understandings of right and wrong; and kids may have poor English.

In the Warlpiri language, there is not even a word for “rape” — they use “kanyi”, which means take.

The youth workers claim most of the kids have FASDs — or foetal alcohol spectrum disorders, caused by mothers drinking during pregnancy, and which can affect learning and may produce physical symptoms.

The children have not been diagnosed: the workers are guessing. They may be right, but this in itself is a problem.

When every child is assumed to have embedded developmental issues, other real-time causes which are just as likely to hinder learning and attentiveness — lack of sleep, poor nutrition and hygiene, the shame of being dressed in dirty clothes, and repeatedly witnessing violence — take a back seat.

“We have to work with those kids, but from a public health perspective it’s more important to work on the chain of events leading up to it,” says the NT’s former children’s commissioner, Howard Bath.

He points to studies by Harvard’s Martin Teicher, who for 30 years has laid out a clinical case that children exposed to neglect, abuse and violence, such as the girl watching the adults fight outside the showgrounds, suffer brain impairment.

Teicher has written that such experiences “can leave an indelible imprint on [the brain’s] structure and function. Such abuse, it seems, induces a cascade of molecular and neurobiological effects that irreversibly alter neural development”.

Teicher says childhood maltreatment “is the most important preventable cause of psychopathology” yet accounts for 45 per cent of child-onset psychiatric disorders.

Says Colleen Gwynne: “So many children have violence around them and the damage caused is significant. They can’t develop because they’re under heightened alert from six months old. They stop developing and thriving.”

The money, the concern, the care is already there. There is a solution: that parents start being parents.

AFTERWORD

IN response to the recent killing of the woman at Charles Creek, Central Australian Aboriginal Congress — Central Australia’s largest indigenous health provider, and a political advocacy group — demanded the resignation of the NT Police Commissioner Reece Kershaw for not having cops permanently stationed at bottle shops.

Congress CEO, Donna Ah Chee, said Kershaw had “abdicated his responsibility to protect law and order and promote public safety, especially for our community.”

But what about responsibility from within the community? Ah Chee said nothing about Aboriginal men creating so much violence.

Myself, and another journalist, have heard off-the-record statements from senior people working in indigenous organisations that some of the recent sex attacks on children are “not that bad”.

They’re wrong — the attacks are bad. This defensiveness seems to be about protecting reputations, and diverting attention from their failures as frontline agencies in order not to draw political fire. Yet all they are doing is further marginalising kids.

Monday, April 30, 2018

APY lands — drugs and alcohol, child sexual abuse, family and domestic violence, unemployment

Indigenous children no safer from abuse than a decade ago

Children living in remote Aboriginal communities in South Australia’s far north are no safer from sexual abuse than they were a decade ago, with Premier Steven Marshall warning there is no silver bullet for the “very significant” issues.

Ten years ago today former Supreme Court judge Ted Mullighan revealed widespread sexual abuse of children and substantial under-reporting of incidents in his “Children on the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands” report.

A raft of recommendations were adopted by the state government, but Sue Tilley, a researcher for the Mullighan inquiry and Uniting Communities’ manager of indigenous policy and advocacy, said there was no evidence this “box-ticking exercise” had made children in the APY lands any safer.

“It was a missed opportunity,” she told The Australian. “They could have done a whole lot more in terms of having a sustained approach, an on-the-ground embedded approach, working with families rather than a mere fly-in, fly-out ­approach.”

A royal commission into South Australia’s child protection system reported in 2016 that there was no reason to ­believe the incidence of child sexual abuse in the APY lands had reduced since the Mullighan inquiry.

The state’s Department of Child Protection has ­inves­tigated 319 allegations of child abuse in the area since July. Mr Marshall, who oversees the Aboriginal affairs portfolio, said solving the “very significant” issues in the APY lands would be one of his government’s biggest challenges.

“There are serious social problems on the APY lands — drugs and alcohol, child sexual abuse, family and domestic violence, unemployment — but there is no silver bullet,’’ he said.

A Child Protection Department spokeswoman said six APY lands-based workers had started in the past six months.

- The Australian 30-4-2018
This report has a familiar ring to it. People express shock and outrage at dysfunctional remote indigenous communities. Government responds by holding an inquiry and / or Royal Commission. Ten years later the cycle is repeated. See my earlier blog about this: dysfunctional community syndrome in remote Queensland (and West Australia)

Sunday, April 29, 2018

why software might be superior knowledge

Software is not a product. It is a medium in which we store knowledge. Historically, in the order of their coming about, there have been 5 such media:
  1. DNA
  2. Brains
  3. Hardware
  4. Books
  5. Software
The reason software has become the storage medium of choice is that knowledge in software has been made active. It has escaped the confinement and volatility of knowledge in brains; it avoids the passivity of knowledge in books; it has the flexibility and speed of change missing from knowledge in DNA or hardware.

This analysis originates from Philip Armour. The five orders of ignorance.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

RACHEL is the answer

https://worldpossible.org/rachel/

What was the question?: How do we bring computing based learning to very remote Australians at low cost?
(watch the 40 minute video at the bottom of the above page)

RACHEL = Remote Area Community Hotspot for Education and Learning

You can upload your own content (and customise existing content) so lots of indigenous, geographically relevant material can be added

Sunday, April 22, 2018

I survived a Centrelink phone call wait

To put it crudely: it is not so much that bureaucratic procedures are inherently stupid, or even that they tend to produce behavior that they themselves define as stupid, but rather, that are invariably ways of managing social situations that are already stupid because they are founded on structural violence
- David Graeber (link)
After 87 days (22nd Jan - 19th April) my old age pension application to Centrelink was finally resolved in my favour.

During this process I submitted 2 complaints to Centrelink (earlier blog), a complaint to Nigel Scullion's office and a complaint to the Ombudsman.

The whole process is done on line these days. When it came to making phone calls to Centrelink I had to wait one time for 30 minutes (when I gave up), a second time for 20 minutes and the final time for 50 minutes.

When I made my second complaint to Centrelink (on the phone) I was told that most claims are settled in 49 days.

I have been on the old age pension twice before and in those cases everything was finalised within a couple of weeks. Things have changed dramatically. I guess this happened during the Abbott PM years.

The Ombudsman's office told me that some claimants have had to wait 2 hours on the phone. They advised me to keep phoning and this proved to be the most effective strategy in the end. My advice is to call them, put it on speaker phone and make dinner while you are waiting. The violin concerto is tedious but it could be worse.

When I ring a business such as the Commonwealth Bank they have a call back facility. Not Centrelink.

At no time was I interviewed face to face. All documents have to be submitted digitally. This impersonality of the process combined with very long waits on the phone would seem to be designed to induce people to give up. It would be devastating to someone in dire financial need. Certainly there were times when I felt I would never receive what I believed was my right according to Australian Law.

I thought of a good T shirt slogan, "I survived a Centrelink phone call wait". I just typed it into google and this article popped up:
Older Australians are waiting an average of 25 minutes to speak with Centrelink on the phone and more than 33 million calls have gone unanswered in the past nine months.
- Can't get through to Centrelink? Busy signals jump as pensioners wait longer to talk to staff

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Remote Teacher Corp for indigenous students

"Apart from targeted incentive packages, there are two other ways we could lift quality teaching in remote schools... The second is to look at senior teachers at the other end of their careers who could sign up to a Remote Teacher Corps program for a rotational pool of senior and experienced teachers to work in remote schools"
Something in Warren Mundine's book, In Black and White, pp. 301-2 helped me recall and find an article in The Australian from 2014: Making a difference in indigenous education, Andrew Penfold, The Australian, October 18, 2014

Andrew Penfold is the Executive Director of the Australian Indigenous Education Foundation (AIEF) which provides scholarships that enable Indigenous students to attend leading Australian schools and universities.

The section of the article that most interested me is quoted above, the idea of senior and experienced teachers forming a Remote Teacher Corp.

This should have potential. It is actually what I am doing as an individual on my own initiative. But you can't achieve much as an individual. A Remote Teacher Corp is a great idea.

Friday, April 13, 2018

technology and indigenous progress

This is the next iteration of my thoughts which began with "Digital Immersion Mongrel Vygotsky"

TECHNOLOGY AND INDIGENOUS PROGRESS

Progessive pathway: from little bits big bytes grow
Conservative pathway: the sinister glamour of modernity

Technology initially invades, just like colonialism.

When the Yolngu first saw a ship’s anchor they thought the explanation for such a massive amount of metal was that it must come from the gods. Up to that point they had only traded small amounts of metal for spear tips, with the Macassans.

But unlike colonialism, the attraction of the new technology is an irresistible force. Rusted car bodies litter remote Australia, the legacy of opportunist car dealers exploiting the indigenous.

Technology without understanding is not empowerment. The cargo cult is not liberation.

Others speak of the sinister glamour of modernity. That is sometimes true. In 19thC Australia the combination of repeating rifles, horses and native police recruited at a distance were used to brutally crush the local tribes.

How do we frame the whole discussion about technology and change?

There are arguments for and against the use of more sophisticated technology in schools.

The most common expression of this is that technology is just a tool, which assists us in delivering a curriculum whose content is determined by other factors independent of technology (instrumentalism)

More interesting is the them and us framing. There are two version of them and us.

The first has a Damnation theme, as represented in movies or characters such as HAL, the computer in 2001: a Space Odyseey, The Matrix and Terminator.

The second theme is Salvation. A few years ago Ray Kurzweil predicted a Singularity at 2020 when due to increasing processing power machines transform into something totally different.

Rather than them and us I prefer the augmentation theme: Us as Them, We the Machines. We use technology as a means to augment our human characteristics - something that we have already been doing for thousands or millions of years

Nevertheless there remains a difference between commercial progress and human progress. Commercial progress is mainly about making more money. This leads to rhetorical lameness and a dumbing down of the true potential of technology. Commercial rhetoric focuses on technology hype, jobs, money and the obligatory “fun”. They ignore real economic analysis (deep problems of capitalism), philosophy, social justice, cultural diversity, learning theory and that we are dealing with a new medium.

Digital is the new medium, the new literacy. How could you justify resistance to that?

STEM is overhyped and promoted in the wrong way by commercial interests. But it makes as much sense to resist STEM as a monk scribe resisting the printing press in the 15thC. Resistance is futile, you will lose. More importantly, it is not the right thing to do.

1450: printing press invented by Gutenberg
1454,5: Gutenberg Bible produced (Gutenberg Bible )
1456-mid 80s: classical and religious books were produced, essentially copies of profitable old manuscript books
1484: the first scientific illustrations appeared in books

The first novel did not appear till the 1700's and comics did not appear till the 1900's.

So, it's reasonable to assume that the older generation has to die out before the new generation can find their own path. Although the older generation has it's share of creative visionaries they are marginalised by the majority.

NEXT SECTION Exemplars before detailed rationale. But the exemplars need to tap into both local, contextual culture and a proven or at least plausible learning theory.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

technology as trickster, revisited

I wrote the following in 2006 (original) I looked it up because I've been thinking more about the epistemological and technological rationale as part of my 3 teething rings in my "Digital Immersion Mongrel Vygotsky" article. ie. there has to be a powerful and persuasive rationale to bring digital technology to indigenous people. I'm not there yet. Some critics argue that the STEM push is over hyped and I recognise that commercial interests will do that.

2006 article begins with this cartoon which shows Alan Turing tangled up with his invention:
I've been rereading about Alan Turing, one of the inventors of the idea of the computer, and Douglas Hofstadter's Godel, Escher, Bach. It's slow going because sadly, I've neglected my maths over the years.

This relates to the old discussion / biases about technology. Some people see technology as reactionary, eg. The Greens, Braverman, Theodore Roszak, Michael Apple. Others see it as neutral, just a tool that can be used for good or bad. I see technology as having a life and evolution of its own, its own internal dynamic. We are co-evolving with technology.

To ask, "Is technology progressive?" is equivalent to asking, "Are humans progressive?" My answer is "yes" but it's the wrong question to start with.

I think we can say that humans are technology. I've long been aware of an essay by Engels (1876), The Part Played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man, which argues that the hand preceded and in turn assisted the evolution of the human brain.

Alan Turing's concept of the universal computer is saying the same thing from another direction. Humans are technology.
" ... there is really only one kind of computer, or, more precisely, that all kinds of computers are alike in what they can and cannot do .... whether its' built of transistors, sticks and strings, or neurons ... making a computer think like a brain is just a matter of programming it correctly."
- W. Daniel Hillis, The Pattern on the Stone, p. ix
2018 update: [I am a materialist but no longer believe that computers can be made to think like brains and so have to think more about the implications of that now]

My point is that you have to ask the more fundamental, structural question, "What is technology?" first in order to answer the sociologists question, "Is technology progressive?" The latter question is the wrong question because it immediately encourages people to separate humans from technology whereas in reality we are just two different variants of an evolutionary process.

Part of this thought was triggered by a recent essay by Jeremy Price, Technology as Trickster (update 2018: unfortunately, I can't find this on the web anymore), where he rejects both the ideas of technology as neutral and the McLuhan idea of "techno-zen environment/ecology" (technology as just a medium). Jeremy draw his metaphor by imaginatively cross fertilising from a book by Lewis Hyde, Trickster Makes This World, linking Hyde's observations about human behaviour to machine behaviour. Jeremy's conclusion:
The idea of technology as neutral, as a hammer or screwdriver to do with as we please, sits uncomfortably with me. The strict Canadian-McLuhan ideal of a techno-zen environment/ecology ("technology exists") similarly does not work for me, for while I like the idea in theory, I cannot get away from my American bias towards the idea of "progress." In my mind, the idea of Technology as Trickster allows for progress but not in a way that is our own design; try as we might to deny it, technology still has agency. Technology may not have a "human consciousness" (I think we're still working on a definition of that one), but it is something to be engaged with -- not to be controlled. Technology may not be aware of the upheaval it engenders, but we can be, and part of our engagement with technology is an acceptance of change and a vision for making the best of complexity in order to improve ourselves and others.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

In praise of contamination

... the ideal of contamination has no more eloquent exponent than Salman Rushdie, who has insisted that the novel that occasioned his fatwa "celebrates hybridity, impurity, intermingling, the transformation that comes of new and unexpected combinations of human beings, cultures, ideas politics, movies, songs. It rejoices in mongrelisation and fears the absolutism of the Pure. Melange, hotchpotch, a bit of this and a bit of that is how newness enters the world. It is the great possibility that mass migration gives the world, an I have tried to embrace it"
-Kwame Anthony Appiah. Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers (2006)
This is where the idea of including mongrel in "Digital Immersion Mongrel Vygotsky" originated

Sunday, April 08, 2018

digital immersion mongrel Vygotsky

DIGITAL IMMERSION MONGREL VYGOTSKY
- a contextual pathway to enable modern indigenous technology

The origin of this was an exploration of an effective way (pragmatically) to bring digital technology to indigenous people. This turned into a hands on exploration of disparate fields which for convenience can be organised under three sub-headings which can in turn be melded together:

Epistemology: One interpretation of Vygotsky argues that all knowledge is socially constructed and that ethnomethodology, paying detailed attention in the now, is the best or only way of detecting and evaluating what is going on (Wolff-Michael Roth). This world view is critical of other learning theories be they behaviourist, cognitivist or constructivist.

Culture: Martin Nakata’s (cultural interface) and Kwame Appiah’s (cosmopolitan) approach is that indigenous (and other) culture is mongrel (no longer traditional), consisting of disparate, complex threads created by the intermingling of the traditional with the colonial. It follows from this that effective communication between different cultures must be contextual based by paying detailed attention to the now.

Technology: Taking a broad view there are many human technologies originating from the hand and the word. Digital technology (moving bits) is now replacing print as the dominant social medium. The only effective way to master digital technology is through full immersion in the medium. Some groups working with the Disadvantaged in the Third World have understood this, eg. Learning Equality, and use affordable hardware (Raspberry Pi and low-cost Android tablets), software (FOSS) and infrastructure (sneakernet where internet connectivity is limited).

Combining these approached leads to “Digital Immersion Mongrel Vygotsky”. The goal is to combine these three approaches to find the contextual sweet spot in the middle of the teething rings.

Reference:
Appiah, Kwame Anthony. Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers (2007)
Learning Equality
Nakata, Martin. Disciplining the Savages, Savaging the Disciplines (2007)
Roth, Wolff-Michael. The Mathematics of Mathematics: Thinking with the Late, Spinozist Vygotsky (2017)

Friday, March 30, 2018

thank you wikispaces

Sadly wikispaces is closing due to the high cost of keeping up. Their farewell statement.

Wikis are one of the great things about the world wide web. From 2006 on I founded or help create 4 to 5 separate wikis which were all free thanks to wikispaces generous policies towards educators. Here they are:

Learning Evolves
Africa Game
Universal Communications
xo-WHS

According to the farewell statement these links will disappear after 31st July, 2018.

I want to say a big thank you to the wikispaces team for developing and maintaining an awesome system.

What next?

With the ongoing commercialisation of the web it seems safest to stick with the giants so I've decided to continue with Google Sites. I prefer the Classic version over New because with the Classic you can do some HTML/CSS.

So, see Living Contradictions for my continuing presence on the web.

Friday, March 16, 2018

my complaint to Centrelink

My Customer Reference Number: (provided)

When I visited the Centrelink Office in Alice Springs I was told that I had to submit my Age Pension Claim online.

I went ahead and did that. I found the computer user interface to be not user friendly. In particular when documents were uploaded they disappeared from view so they couldn’t be checked. When multipage documents were uploaded I was informed they were being merged into one document but there was no way to for me to view the final product of the merging. At other times I was informed that the system wasn’t working.

(1) In my opinion you need to improve the user friendliness of your online sofware.

Recently, after a very long wait I’ve received a letter from Centrelink reference (provided) dated 12th March 2018 requesting my bank account balance on 10 January 2018. The letter was signed by (provided) MANAGER

If I don’t meet this request by 25th March I am informed that my “claim for Age Pension may be rejected”

This is strange because I have already provided Centrelink with my bank account balance in my Age Pension application.

(2) Why don’t you accept the bank account balance that I have already provided to you?
(3) My application was submitted on 22-1-2018 online so why do you want my bank balance on a different date (10-1-2018)?

My bank account balance is split into 3 sections (Streamline, Netbank Saver, GoalSaver). I phoned the Bank and they have told me they don’t issue statements for particular days.

(4) How do you expect me to provide details for my bank account balance on a particular day when the bank does not issue them?

When I uploaded my application I received a response saying it would take you 6 weeks to process. Your nominated date was 12th March. You then sent me an automated mail every 4 or 5 days saying that my claim was “progressing”. But there was zero evidence that anyone was working on my claim during that 6 week period. I believe my claim was straightforward and could be processed in less than an hour.

(5) Why have you taken so long to process my claim?
(6) Why did you state that the claim was progressing when it is clear that no progress was made for 6 weeks?
(7) Why do you threaten to not provide me with an Age Pension if I don’t meet your demands within 2 weeks and yet you take more than 6 weeks to process my form. That is not equitable fair dealing.

The current letter says I can “download forms to be completed by going to humanservices.gov.au/forms and searching the name of the form”. But the letter doesn’t say which name to search for! I visit the URL suggested and do a search for “bank account” and I can’t find a form on that site to provide my bank account balance.

(8) Since you want me to fill out a form why don’t you provide me with the name of the form or attach the form to the letter you sent me?

The letter says “please call us on 132 300” if I have any questions.

I called that number and a computer voice spoke to me requesting information which I did my best to provide. The computer then put me on hold and played a violin concerto for the next 30 minutes from 16:30 to 17:00 on Friday 16th March. After 30 minutes waiting I give up and hung up the phone.

(9) Do you think it is reasonable to keep people waiting for more than 30 minutes on a number which you provide for questions?

All my dealings with Centrelink have been digital.

(10) I would like to offer you the opportunity to interact with me face to face. I would happily open any Bank Account or Super Account I hold and show you the details. I believe this would be a far more friendly and time efficient way to resolve any doubts you may have about the veracity of my claim.

Regards,
William Kerr

update 17th March:
(1) When I arrived in Alice Springs I received a form letter from Senator Nigel Scullion where he offered to assist me with matters of federal responsibility (including) Centrelink. His letter went on to say
If you feel that you are getting the "run around" ... give me a call
So I sent Nigel Scullion an email and attached a copy of my Complaint about Centrelink.

I then received an automated rely which included:
Responses to portfolio related correspondence typically take between 4 – 6 weeks and we endeavour to respond to constituents at the earliest opportunity but certainly within 6 weeks also.

Not all correspondence receives a response...
(2) I'm rereading David Graeber's 2006 essay "Beyond Power/Knowledge an exploration of the relation of power, ignorance and stupidity"

Extract:
This essay is not, however, primarily about bureaucracy—or even about the reasons for its neglect in anthropology and related disciplines. It is really about violence. What I would like to argue is that situations created by violence—particularly structural violence, by which I mean forms of pervasive social inequality that are ultimately backed up by the threat of physical harm—invariably tend to create the kinds of willful blindness we normally associate with bureaucratic procedures. To put it crudely: it is not so much that bureaucratic procedures are inherently stupid, or even that they tend to produce behavior that they themselves define as stupid, but rather, that are invariably ways of managing social situations that are already stupid because they are founded on structural violence. I think this approach allows potential insights into matters that are, in fact, both interesting and important ...
This is a wide ranging essay which covers bureaucracy and violence from an anthropological perspective, with references to Weber, Foucault, Marx, Kafka and others. Well worth reading.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

the little children are still sacred

Jacinta Price:
In the wake of the alleged rape of the toddler at Tennant Creek she took to Facebook and in ­typical style went right in at the deep end. “I have said it over and over again that a child’s life is far more important than anything else whether that be the child’s culture or kin!” she began. “Those who complain about the high rates of removal of Aboriginal children fail to point out why this is happening. Those of us who push for children to be removed in order to save their lives are ­fighting an uphill battle. The parents are failing their children and then the system is failing the children and this has to stop! The blood of our children is on the hands of those who want to keep pushing the ‘second ­stolen generation’ myth … political correctness and stigma brought on by our ­country’s history renders us useless to act on what is the right thing to do!”
- Uncomfortable truths
Follow the link for a moving insight into Jacinta's inside story (update: unfortunately the linked article is behind The Australian paywall)

Saturday, March 03, 2018

Some books I am reading in 2018

Broad, Neil. Eastern and Central Arrernte Picture Dictionary (2008)
Bruner, Jerome. The Culture of Education (1996)
Clendinnen, Inga. Dancing with Strangers (2003)
diSessa, Andrea. Changing Minds: Computers, Learning and Literacy (2000)
Dobson, Veronica Perrurle and Henderson, John. Anpernirrentye: Kin and Skin: Talking about family in Arrernte (2013)
Gibson, Ross. Seven Versions of an Australian Badland (2002)
Hogan, Eleanor. Alice Springs (2012)
Graeber, David. The Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy (2015)
Graves, Colleen and Aaron. The Big Book of Maker Space Projects (2017)
Green, John. Turtles All The Way Down (2017)
Ilyenkov, Evald. Dialectical Logic: Essays on its History and Theory (1977)
Karvinen, Tero;Karvinen, Kimmo; Valtokari, Ville. Make: Sensors: A Hands-On Primer for Monitoring the Real World with Arduino and Raspberry Pi (2014) pdf pp. 1-40
Kundera, Milan. Immortality (1992)
LeGuin, Ursula. The Telling (2000)
Leontyev, Aleksei Nikolaevich. Activity and Consciousness
Livingston, Eric. Ethnographies of Reason (2016)
Livingstone, Sonia and Sefton-Green, Julian. The Class: Living and Learning in the Digital Age (2017)
Mahood, Kim. Craft for a Dry Lake (2000)
Manning Bancroft, Jack and others. Mentoring: The key to a fairer world (2018)
Mitchell, Euan. Your Book Publishing Options: How to Make and Market Ebooks and Print Books (2014)
Morrison, Glenn. Songlines and Fault Lines: Epic Walks of the Red Centre (2017)
Mundine, Warren. In Black and White: Race Politics and Changing Australia (2017)
Murdoch, Iris. Existentialists and Mystics: Writings on Philosophy and Literature (1999)
Nakata, Martin. Disciplining the Savages, Savaging the Disciplines (2007)
Rennie, Ellie; Hogan, Eleanor; Gregory, Robin; Crouch, Andrew; Wright, Alyson; Thomas, Julian. Internet on the Outstation: The Digital Divide and Remote Aboriginal Communities (2016)
Rennie, Ellie; Yunkaporta, Tyson; Holcombe-Jones, Indigo. CyberSafety in remote aboriginal communities: final report (2018)
Reynolds, Henry. Forgotten War (2013)
Roberts, Tony. Frontier Justice: A History of the Gulf Country to 1900 (2005)
Robinson, Kim Stanley. Red Moon (2018)
Roth, Wolff-Michael. The Mathematics of Mathematics: Thinking with the Late, Spinozist Vygotsky (2017)
Sheets-Johnstone, Maxine. Putting Movement Into Your Life: a beyond fitness primer (2014)
Smerdon, David. Smerdon's Scandanavian (2015)
Suchman, Lucy Human-Machine Reconfigurations: Plans and Situated Actions (2007), link goes to free pdf
Upton, Eben and Halfacree, Gareth. Raspberry Pi User Guide 4th Edition (2016)
Wells. Linda. Still a Town Like Alice: Alice Springs 1986-2008 (2011)

Sunday, February 25, 2018

On the death of Sean Dunne

I only just found out that Sean died by his own hand on the 10th February aged 34 yo

He was the head of Boys Boarding at Djarragun College where I lived in Term 4 last year.

We chatted quite a bit and discovered that we shared similar opinions on many issues. I incorporated some of the phrases he used in my article "Life After Noel". We both agreed that Noel’s leadership had become toxic.

I learnt that he was trained as a psychologist and that he had done some hard yards for a few years in Aurukun. He described to me once a horrific murder he had witnessed in Aurukun.

I had some dealing with difficult students at Djarragun some of them Boarders. Usually I would report this to Sean and he was always very supportive. We would talk to a student together about the problem and on another occasion he phoned a parent on my behalf.

He voiced his concerns about the state of the College to me. That the buildings were old and run down, that personnel had been reduced, that shifts were longer and as a result it was becoming near to impossible for him to do his job properly.

I now know there were other issues in his life too which I didn’t know about then.

We both agreed that the College was a disaster waiting to happen. I never dreamed that it would take this form.

I left the College at the end of last year. Sean said he would drop in and say goodbye on his last working day in December 2017. I went out looking for him on that day but couldn’t see him. I felt we had a budding friendship which I wanted to continue.

Everyone knows, whether you are close to it or distant from it, that with aboriginal and TSI issues, death is never far away. Those voices, now stilled, need to be heard, however imperfectly.