Wednesday, January 31, 2007

connectivism challenge essay draft

I've put a draft of my connectivism conference presentation here: A Challenge to Connectivism.

I'm interested in feedback. If you don't want to join the wiki then leave a comment here or send me email. Thanks.


The role of language (Vygotsky) and “objects to think with” (Papert) in learning predate the Internet

The theory of embodied active cognition (Clark, 1997) argues that the scaffolding provided by language and "objects to think with" extends our minds from the brain into the environment.

I would argue that the sort of ideas being put forward in connectivism theory have already been developed by Clark. Language is so ubiquitous that it is not always noticed. Network based learning theories might be more visible because the network is more visible.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

why education technology has failed school

And School has failed technology. This is a wonderful essay by Paul D. Fernhout, January, 2007, which also ventures into the issues of work and history.

He argues cogently that modern technology makes schools obsolete. Some extracts:
Ultimately, educational technology's greatest value is in supporting "learning on demand" based on interest or need which is at the opposite end of the spectrum compared to "learning just in case" based on someone else's demand.

Compulsory schools don't usually traffic in "learning on demand", for the most part leaving that kind of activity to libraries or museums or the home or business or the "real world". In order for compulsory schools to make use of the best of educational technology and what is has to offer, schools themselves must change...

So, there is more to the story of technology than it failing in schools. Modern information and manufacturing technology itself is giving compulsory schools a failing grade. Compulsory schools do not pass in the information age. They are no longer needed. What remains is just to watch this all play out, and hopefully guide the collapse of compulsory schooling so that the fewest people get hurt in the process.
So, who is going to get hurt in the process?

I was also fascinated by Paul D. Fernhout's PataPata project which is/was an experiment focusing on taking ideas from Squeak and Self and moving them to Python, as well as trying to go beyond the ideas in a Pythonic and educational constructivist way. Paul has written a post mortem critique of this project which is again a fascinating read. I hope to get time to return to this and follow up on the issues raised. It is sections of the free software community that has the vision for the future.

Alan Kay Still Waiting for the Revolution

Alan Kay is saying that the problem with education is the adults, their lack of imagination and their dislike for maths and science

I think this assertion has some truth in it but needs to be deepened. I think its closer to the mark to blame the system. Some adults conform to it; others don't. However, it does seem to be true that teachers are too trapped within the system to be able to change it radically. And with each passing day radical change is more and more required to Schooling. So how will School change? Hard to say, I'm thinking about it.

Extracts from an interview with alan kay (well worth reading the whole interview):
If you look with a squinty eye at most of personal computing today, you'll see we're basically just automating paper—using digital versions of documents and mail ...

I can go into virtually any school that has computers and see children who are happily using them, as well as see teachers who are happy that the kids are using them. Parents are happy, principals are happy, and school boards are happy. But if you know anything about computing or about math and science, you can see that very little of importance is going on there ...

I think the most difficult part is helping the helpers. Logo was a great idea and it failed. It didn't fail because computers couldn't do Logo, and it didn't fail because Logo software was bad. It failed because the second and third waves of teachers were not interested in it as a new thing, and virtually none of them understood anything about mathematics or science. It's very hard to teach Logo well if you don't know math...

The most critical thing about the 20th and 21st centuries is that there's a bunch of new invented ideas—many of them connected with modern civilization—that our nervous systems are not at all set up to automatically understand. Equal rights, for example. Or calculus. You won't find these ideas in ancient or traditional societies.

If you take all the anthropological universals and lay them out, those are the things that you can expect children to learn from their environment—and they do. But the point of school is to teach all those things that are inventions and that are hard to learn because we're not explicitly wired for them. Like reading and writing.

Virtually all learning difficulties that children face are caused by adults' inability to set up reasonable environments for them. The biggest barrier to improving education for children, with or without computers, is the completely impoverished imaginations of most adults...

Don't even worry about computers yet. When did math and science actually start becoming important for everyone in our society to know? Probably 200 years ago. Now think about how poorly math and science are being taught in elementary school today. So don't even worry about computers; instead, worry about how long it takes for something that is known to be incredibly important to get into the elementary-school curriculum. That's the answer. Of course it's taking forever—because the adults are the intermediaries, and they don't like math and science.
More information about alan kay at learning evolves wiki.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

21st Century School

Greg Whitby, executive director of Catholic Education in the Parramatta diocese (Sydney, NSW, Australia) outlines the philosophy and some of the detail of a new innovative school. Link to mp3 of his address.

Cost: $40 million; Size: 1800 students

School ought to be relevant and meaningful. A radical change of both the physical built environment and the virtual environment is required. Tinkering around the edges of reform won't work. Serious reframing is required.

Best practice is a limiting concept. If we are good then we ought to aspire to be great.

Greg asks his audience to put their hands up if they know about "web2.0" world. Gen Y has moved on but the adults have gone missing in web2.0 space. He's being confronting. You are not with it if you don't understand web2.0 relational, personalised spaces like EBay, MySpace and Amazon. He explains what a mashup is, providing examples, eg. web applications combines Google Earth with selling real estate. Once you seen this technology then a "normal" classroom seems very dull.

Professor Stephen Hepell railway / school comparison: The railway system of 50 years ago might have anticipated every journey and thought they had the perfect system. But then cars came along, were new and more exciting. Schools might end up are like railways.

Parents have a strong sense of foreboding about children being exposed to more danger through the internet. We need to have a strong educational program for parents as well as students.

The current reality of schools is that significant numbers of students are not improving or going backwards. This is "intolerable". We need to "add value" to each and every student.

It's not good enough to say "we're here to let them sniff the flowers". He ridicules that statement from someone who has commented to him at some other time. The attendance rate for post compulsory students is 60%

[As an aside he mentions that LMS (learning management systems) and VLE (virtual learning environments) are dead already, like a CD is already dead. They are bridging technology, on the way to something better]

We need to treat teachers like adult professionals, rather than people who jump when a bell rings. Teachers are downtrodden and enslaved. The old industrial model of education is no longer appropriate. He sounds very sincere and believable about this in response to criticism of 24/7, 365 being abused and creating extra work load for teachers.

Teacher professional development is central to this initiative working. There will be a significant challenge of "keeping track" of student learning when students have more freedom

This school implements a redesign of space and time.

There will be new flexible patterns of work, not by bells, 24/7, 365. The built environment will is being redesigned so that learning is not classroom bound in the sense of a bricks and mortar classroom. This includes the use of meshed wireless network (v cool). There will be extensive use of read/write web apps, aka "web2.0". Some nice details of how the built environment will be micromanaged were included, eg. 10 metre pavers, measurement built into the environment.

Cross curricular learning teams will be setup, not discipline based learning.

The school curriculum will still tied into the NSW BOS (Board of Studies) curriculum, even though it was said that the "curriculum is dead and a google search reveals more than a curriculum does"

Free software is not a feature of this school. A platform agnostic approach will be taken.


On the one hand teachers and students will have an incredibly enhanced ability to explore learning and topics that they are interested in through modifications to the way space and time are organised in the use of technology and the built environment

On the other hand its still all going to be tied to the NSW BOS curriculum. School curriculum is a controversial beast at the moment, there are curriculum changes / wars happening all over australia Check out the PLATO (People Lobbying Against Teaching Outcomes) site in WA. The argument is along the lines of preserving the importance of traditional content (eg. maths content) versus a transformation to "learning how to learn" process skills. From both of Greg's talks I get the feeling that curriculum reform - and getting that to work in a more or less traditional curriculum framework - hasn't been addressed as deeply as the other aspects of the project (space, time, built environment, "web2.0"). You can't change everything else and keep an old curriculum. I guess it will be up to the teachers to figure that one out. I get the feeling that admin (Greg) will be supportive
"School is like being invited to the worlds greatest banquet and then being fed the menu"
That quote (Murray Gell Mann) encapsulates the issue I want to raise

"pipe more important than contents" revisited

The curriculum, being told what to teach makes some people feel secure. If we had the freedom to choose what to teach, then what would we teach? Freedom is hard.

Here is a connectivist style argument putting the case for change:
If year 12 exams are content based then nobody can blame teachers for focusing on content. That is true but another way to look at it is that students see schools as less relevant each year because the students have little input into what they have to learn.

Some assertions:

1) half life for relevance of any given piece of knowledge is declining
2) informal learning is becoming more important
3) The pipe is more important than the contents
The above quote is based on something I wrote to the South Australian teachers list in January 2006 when I was more supportive (but with some reservations even then) of George Siemen's connectivism theory

An interesting discussion ensued, here are some of the points and counter points that were debated :
  • Students need to obtain a certain level of independent learning skills before they can learn how to use the "pipe"
  • Some content is important, trust me, it's the adult teachers who know this, not the students.
  • Students need guidance about what content is important, guidance about what that content actually means when they study it and guidance about how to apply it
  • One lister expressed anger that his daughter had done a tertiary photography course and had not been taught about focal length.
  • Discovery learning and student centred learning can largely be dismissed as fads, which lack sufficient teacher direction. Course objectives that replaced content with expressions such as "must be able to seek appropriate methods and apply them accordingly" were ridiculed.
  • Teaching learning how to learn skills is important (granted) but content is still very important. We are going backwards wrt science, maths and trade skills in Australia
  • The difficulty of trying to define "fundamental knowledge" and the amount of time that can be wasted in attempting to do that
  • The counter argument that "fundamental knowledge" does change over time but it is still worthwhile spending the time to re-evaluate and define it
So the discussion morphed. The pipe / content slogan was a reasonable way to morph into discussion about the nature of knowledge (not whether content is important, but which content is important?) an evaluation of different learning approaches (since open ended discovery learning doesn't work then what approaches do work?) and the role of the teacher in the classroom (direct guidance versus other approaches).

But the slogan, "The pipe is more important than the contents" doesn't hold any deeper meaning than being a good, provocative discussion starter. The responses I received on the list shows that teachers are looking for hard edged, verifiable theories with exemplars. Although, sometimes, this does reflect conservative attitudes about change from some teachers the responses are nevertheless extremely reasonable.

Friday, January 19, 2007

In our write mind

"If all you want to do is figure things out, why do you need to write anything, though? Why not just sit and think? Well, there precisely is Montaigne's great discovery. Expressing ideas helps to form them. Indeed, helps is far too weak a word. Most of what ends up in my essays I only thought of when I sat down to write them. That's why I write them."
- The Age of the Essay by Paul Graham

What happens when we write?

For a substantial piece of writing my preferred medium for first draft is pen, pencil and paper. Or I might type up some ideas, print them out and then annotate the print out with pen and pencil. Another way I might start writing is through reading a book or article and underlining and making marginal notes with a pencil. For a significant book I might even make an index of marginal notes on the front or back cover, with page numbers, so I can look them up quickly. I always carry a pencil and paper with me so I can jot down thoughts that seem significant when they arise. Otherwise they can be lost forever. So, I've always seen the writing process as one requiring some careful scaffolding of the environment.

For a substantial or complicated piece I prefer to take my time, making lots of notes first, before I commence word processing. For example, in writing “Invitation to Immersion” I ended up with a thick folder of handwritten notes (say 40 pages) which were further transformed by multiple word processed drafts (at least 7 versions). Taking time, revisiting and ongoing reflection is an important part of the process for me. The thinking and the writing can change quite significantly in the process.

I remember being impressed by a university lecturer once for sharing that when he wrote his PhD thesis he redrafted the first sentence over 100 times.

Until recently I've thought that the process was one of concepts being created in my brain (or mind?) and that writing and editing was the process of expressing and clarifying those concepts more clearly on paper or screen. There was an inner voice, or a voice in my head and writing was an expression and clarification of that voice. Writing clarified thought.

I didn't think that my mind was routinely processing grammatical sentences as part of my thinking. But after learning about concept maps (Learning how to Learn, Novack and Gowin) I thought my mind worked like that. That inside there was a bunch of concepts with various connections to each other and somehow my task as a thinker was to retrieve those concepts and by thinking about them to modify and improve the connections between them. My mind was a concept map.

There was no “ghost in my machine”. I had a concept map!

I'd now call this view mind-centric. I'm not suggesting that I thought there was a ready made blueprint about topic xxx inside waiting to come out. The notes above indicate that I've thought the process is tortuous and involved considerably self scaffolding to capture elusive ideas that might suddenly arise. It's more that I saw the mind as the master of the situation, that the mind was in control of the whole process and I had to be ready to jump when the mind spat out a new idea from its unconscious or where ever those new ideas come from.

I now have an alternative view which is: Writing is a form of thought. The thought lives on the page just as much as it lives in the mind. Sometimes the mind is manipulating the writing and at other times the writing is scaffolding the mind. How could my mind be in charge of something that is interacting with so much outside? Editing doesn't clarify thought, it can totally reconceptualise thought

You can end up with something completely unintended

the skin is not all that important as a boundary

- connectivism conference presentation
(this replaces an earlier summary)
schedule and all abstracts

Abstract: Connectivism attempts to redefine learning. Existing theories are superficially critiqued. An artificial radical discontinuity is manufactured. A new learning theory is invented without adequate grounding. The critique is situated by positive reference to existing learning theories.

"the skin is not all that important as a boundary" BF Skinner

The notorious Skinner got that one right. The boundary issue is crucial. In considering the learning process we need to ask: What happens inside our body / brain, what happens outside, in the external environment, and how are the inside and the outside connected? What is the mind, where is it and how does it work? These are core theoretical questions about learning with immense practical significance. The necessary process of formulating a new learning theory ought to incorporate and struggle with a modern synthesis of philosophy, cognitive science (including artifical intelligence research) and the history of learning theory. My critique of George Siemen's Connectivism suggests that a better job could have been done.

I'm keeping the full draft here and currently updating daily. Please leave your critical comments either as a comment on this blog or join the wiki and leave it there.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

connectivism time zone problem

The connectivism conference (Feb 2-9) schedule and abstracts are here

For the Australian region the conference times are not good, they could not be worse IMO. All the sessions except for mine will run at 11am Winnipeg time, which converts to 3:30AM Adelaide, South Australia time on the next day and 4:00am Melbourne time (east coast of Australia)

George rescheduled my session to 1:30PM Winnipeg time, which converts to 6AM Adelaide time and 6:30AM on the east coast of Australia

However, it's still unreasonable for Australians and others in this time zone, who wish to participate in the whole conference.

If you wish to participate and find the time issue unreasonable then maybe leave a comment on this blog or alternatively write to me (billkerr (at) gmail (dot) com and I'll pass it onto George. If there is a lot of interest then he might be persuaded to change the times to allow participation from this time zone.

I'd be interested to hear from others who have organised conferences across the globe about how these sorts of issues are normally worked out

btw I've been quiet on my blog recently because of working hard on the learning evolves wiki, where I'm making notes on various learning theories in preparation for the conference. Tony Forster has recently been active there too.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

truth seeking environments

We can't know absolute truth but we can help to build truth seeking environments.

To obtain a better understanding of learning theory we need to seriously study learning theory and be prepared to argue rationally about it with others. The method would involve study of the important knowledge domains related to learning theory:
  • philosophy
  • cognitive science
  • neuroscience
  • artificial intelligence
  • history of learning theory
I would identify the characteristics of a truth seeking environment discussion as:
  • rational argument,
  • providing evidence for assertions
  • listening to the arguments of others (eg. able to summarise what they are saying),
  • displaying awareness of the history of the ideas being argued about,
  • rich descriptive knowledge which aids the development of practical learning interventions which can be evaluated
At a time of rapid social and technological change which is undermining traditonal School it's important to develop truth seeking environments

Many educational forums do not attempt to meet these standards

there is no unified learning theory

Assertion: There is not yet a unified learning theory of everything
Analogy: Just like there is no unified theory of physics yet
Corollary: Useful things can be learnt from different learning theories

There are a lot of different learning theories! See this page of the learning evolves wiki

I am not advocating even handedness, that all learning theories are equal. Some learning theories are better than others. My personal favourite at the moment is Andy Clark's theory of embodied active cognition.

However, we haven't reached the stage yet where a single learning theory has gobbled up and subsumed all the other learning theories and that the others no longer have anything useful to offer. It might be possible to get to that point one day but we are not there yet.

Some learning theories that are suspect at their core still seem to have some useful things to offer.

There is strong evidence that cognitivism seems to be flawed at its core in suggesting that humans process information (input / output) through hypothesised internal structures (variously called symbols, schema, frames or scripts), ie. that we are creating an elaborate internal model of the outside world. Nevertheless, IMO, supporters of this school of thought still come up with useful research, for example, the finding that hard work, focused effort (effortful study), is the most important factor in acquiring expertise. Another cognitivist, Roger Schank, has produced sublime critiques of current day School based curriculum development and very interesting alternatives based on learning by doing, goal based scenarios and story centred curricula. I feel it would be dogmatic to dismiss ideas such as these because the theoretical base of cognitivism is now under a cloud. It's better in this instance to cherry pick the ideas that seem good, try them out in practice and to keep evaluating both the theory and practice of these different approaches.

I have criticised George Siemens for developing a new learning theory, connectivism, without first thoroughly evaluating already existing learning theories. I've been particularly critical about George's understanding of constructivism and constructionism.

George has responded to this criticism as follows:
I don't agree, however, with your assessment that my ideas have shifted significantly at their core. In the article, I expressed the need for connectivism largely in reaction to the changed climate of learning and knowledge today. Knowledge is growing exponentially, people are using new tools of technology, our information is digital vs. physical, etc. Essentially, we exist in a different space today than we did 30 years ago. The manner in which we encounter information is dramatically different than it was even a decade ago. Or for that matter, with the development of blogs, 5 years ago. With connectivism, I am attempting to address a particular type of knowledge and a type of knowledge need.
So it appears that connectivism is a learning theory for "the act or state of acquiring or possessing actionable knowledge" in a new world where networked digital tools are available to interact with the knowledge explosion.

I still see a problem with connectivism as a niche theory for rapidly changing knowledge, in the context of other learning theories that have not been rigorously evaluated. Either other learning theories have something to say about this type of knowledge or they don't. The claim that connectivism offers better ways to deal with rapidly changing knowledge is not credible unless compared with up to date knowledge of alternative learning theories. For example, I would argue that embodied active cognition presents a well researched and up to date view about how knowledge is processed that is quite adequate for the modern ecology of knowledge. My point is that learning theory has continuted to evolve and that George hasn't checked it out thoroughly. It's not a good idea to create a new theory without a thorough awareness of existing theories.

Of course I can't stop George doing that. But surely a better way forward to improve our knowledge of learning would be to study and evaluate the current knowledge contained in all the many learning theories that already exist.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

economics of information: resources

I'm gathering resources on this question. Here are some annotated links. Please get in touch if you are studying and want to share ideas on this topic.

Eben Moglen
General Counsel, Free Software Foundation
Founder, Software Freedom Law Center
Great resources available from his site.

Coase's Penguin, or, Linux and The Nature of the Firm (pdf) by Yochai Benkler
For decades our common understanding of the organization of economic production has been that individuals order their productive activities in one of two ways: either as employees in firms, following the directions of managers, or as individuals in markets, following price signals. This dichotomy was first identified in the early work of Ronald Coase and was developed most explicitly in the work of institutional economist Oliver Williamson. In this paper I explain why we are beginning to see the emergence of a new, third mode of production, in the digitally networked environment, a mode I call commons-based peer production.

The Magic Cauldron by Eric Raymond
This essay analyzes the evolving economic substrate of the open-source phenomenon. I first explode some prevalent myths about the funding of program development and the price structure of software. I then present a game-theory analysis of the stability of open-source cooperation. I present nine models for sustainable funding of open-source development; two non-profit, seven for-profit. I then continue to develop a qualitative theory of when it is economically rational for software to be closed. I then examine some novel additional mechanisms the market is now inventing to fund for-profit open-source development, including the reinvention of the patronage system and task markets. I conclude with some tentative predictions of the future.

The Scientific Flask - critique of The Magic Cauldron by Fare Rideau

Open Source as a Signalling Device - An Economic Analysis
We argue that the particular way in which open source projects are managed and especially how contributions are attributed to individual agents, allows the best programmers to create a signal that more mediocre programmers cannot achieve. Through setting themselves apart they can turn this signal into monetary rewards that correspond to their superior capabilities.

Ross Anderson
has published extensively on the economics of information security (not sure how relevant)

In this blog post, Stuck in the 20th Century, Lawrence Lessig (one of the initiators of the Creative Commons licenses) describes himself as a communalist when accused of being a communist: "So Nick Carr charges me with launching the Cultural Revolution, in a post dripping with references to the evils of communism ..."

Lessig goes onto recommends these three (really four) books for those who "really don’t see that there are different economies":

The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom by Yochai Benkler
In Benkler's view, the new "networked information economy" allows individuals and groups to be more productive than profit-seeking ventures. New types of collaboration, such as Wikipedia or SETI@Home, "offer defined improvements in autonomy, democratic discourse, cultural creation, and justice"-as long as government regulation aimed at protecting old-school information monoliths (such as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act) doesn't succeed. Non-market innovation is a good thing in itself and doesn't even have to threaten entrenched interests, Benkler argues; rather, "social production" can use resources that the industrial information economy leaves behind

The Success of Open Source
by Steven Weber
Ever since the invention of agriculture, human beings have had only three social-engineering tools for organizing any large-scale division of labor: markets (and the carrots of material benefits they offer), hierarchies (and the sticks of punishment they impose), and charisma (and the promises of rapture they offer). Now there is the possibility of a fourth mode of effective social organization--one that we perhaps see in embryo in the creation and maintenance of open-source software.

Democratising Innovation by Eric von Hippel
Von Hippel argues that manufacturers should redesign their innovation processes and that they should systematically seek out innovations developed by users. He points to businesses -- the custom semiconductor industry is one example -- that have learned to assist user-innovators by providing them with toolkits for developing new products. User innovation has a positive impact on social welfare, and von Hippel proposes that government policies, including R&D subsidies and tax credits, should be realigned to eliminate biases against it. The goal of a democratized user-centered innovation system, says von Hippel, is well worth striving for

The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More by Chris Anderson
Smash hits have existed largely because of scarcity: with a finite number of bookstore shelves and theaters and Wal-Mart CD racks, "it's only sensible to fill them with the titles that will sell best." Today, Web sites and online retailers offer seemingly infinite inventory, and the result is the "shattering of the mainstream into a zillion different cultural shards." These "countless niches" are market opportunities for those who cast a wide net and de-emphasize the search for blockbusters

Monday, January 01, 2007

seymour papert interview on OLPC

OLPC = one laptop per child aka the one hundred dollar laptop

Can kid power + OLPC defeat corrupt third world governments? Whenever there is a hard questions Seymour says, kid power will fix it

Where I agree:
  • one computer per child, which they take home, is qualitatively different to computers chained up in a lab, with limited access
  • seymour's answer: "Our principle is being open, open, open. Children should be able to download anything and everything."
The lack of these two things in developed countries are two very good reasons why the computer revolution has not really started yet. Can we build a campaign around this in the west. Isn't it time that we had one computer per child in developed countries if it going to soon happen in some environments which are much poorer???????????

Where I question and / or need to know more:
  • political change (the corrupt third world governments) is put into the too hard basket
  • there does need to be some strategic adult direction of use of the computers, moderation on the ground for best results, does need to be more than teacher as co-learner (in response to this answer by seymour: "our children will take charge of knowledge. ... The role of the teacher is to become a co-learner. Eventually, teachers, that is to say, adults with experience of learning will join with children in learning new materials that neither of them has known in the past")
  • seymour overstates the case for natural learning. I doubt that it will work just by putting the computers into the hands on children and then leaving it mainly up to them. (also see, alan kay's list of non universals)

Bureau of International Information Programs
USINFO Webchat Transcript
(the version here has been edited, follow link above for full version)
Digital Development: How the $100 Laptop Could Change Education
Guest: Seymour Papert
Date: November 14, 2006

Q [Martha]: This is a fantastic idea, but what about tech support? surely the computers--hardware or software--might go haywire at some point.
A: I believe in "Kid Power." Our education systems underestimate kids. It INFANTALIZES them by assuming they are incompetent. An eight-year old is capable of doing 90% of tech support and a 12 year old 100%. And this is not exploiting the children: it is giving them a powerful learning experience.

Q [Daniel Iglesias]: Which are the OLPC Project's plans about the educational use of the $100 Laptop? Will the $100 Laptop include educational software?
A: Of course this is a university, a universal computer connected to this Internet. So every sort of software that is considered to be educational will be available. But a deeper answer to the question is that the software that is really educational is not software made especially for children.

Web browser is an educational software because it let's people of any age get to information. Being able to computer the program, a simple programming language like LOGO or squeak, is educational software because it enables people of any age, including children, to get the experience of mastering the computer.

So my answer is that, yes, they will be the educational software that the real educational software is not what is made for schools, but is made for everybody.

Q [Kuba]: I see that you mentioned that for now, only governments can buy them. Please forgive my pessimism but many of the governments in the countries most in need of a tech boost are corrupt and can not be trusted. What is to prevent these computers from reappearing in local markets or being misused by governments and corrupt officials? Are there safeguards?
A: We are doing our best to make computers available to all the children of the world. It's not in our power to control which governments are corrupt. There are safeguards. The machines are safeguarded in many ways against being stolen, but in the end, if the governments of the country don't protect them, there nothing we can do. One protection against theft is that these computers will not look like any other computer. And because they are only sold to governments, if anybody has a stolen computer, it will be obvious to everybody watching.

Q [davehat]: How closely does the OLPC concept mesh with your ideas about how children learn? Moreover, given the focus on child-centered learning, or "doing" - what is the role of the classroom and the teacher in an OLPC nation?
A: The OLPC concept measures with the idea that children can take charge of their own learning.

Making videos, communicating, creating their own programs, our children will take charge of knowledge. I believe that having the individual computers--each child owns a computer and has it all the time--is the only way we can empower really learner-centered learning.

The role of the teacher is to become a co-learner. Eventually, teachers, that is to say, adults with experience of learning will join with children in learning new materials that neither of them has known in the past.

And this is the best way to learn, to learn with somebody else who is already experienced.

Q [Kuba]: This program looks to be another example of the "leap frog" effect of technology going beyond the conditions on the ground. With this in mind, does your project maintain contact with the international development community and NGOs so that time and resources are used most effectively? It would be a waste to have NGOs promoting "black board" distribution when they could jump many years ahead and help to spread these computers.

A: I think this project is different from all the other large scale projects on bringing technology to the developing world. The reason is that the technology will be in the hands of children--in the hands of people who want to learn to use it for their own benefit. And I think that the cliché that big developmental projects don't work because people go beyond the conditions on the ground, does not apply here because children are the conditions on the ground. They want to learn, and they are the best learners who ever existed.

Q [Talas Ordosu]: Will there be any moderators or any control because some children are weird and can turn education into entertainment (not learning but playing a game or watching porno)?
A: We envision 100 million laptops being in the hands of children in a few years' time. It is impossible for us to even think about moderating what all these children are doing. No doubt in each country and each community, some local action will be taken and that's the proper way for it to be done. I would like to make a correction to what I just said. The proper kind of moderator is the children themselves. The children themselves should be the control over the best use of the computers, and preventing what you call weirdness.

Q [wunschmm]: How will teachers and students be trained on using the laptop?

A: In the end, they will teach themselves. They'll teach one another. There are many millions, tens of millions of people in the world who bought computers and learned how to use them without anybody teaching them. I have confidence in kids' ability to learn.

Q [Charbax]: Can kids automatically download and install firmware and software upgrades?

A: Our principle is being open, open, open. Children should be able to download anything and everything.

Q [davehat]: What do you think of the call today by the National Council of Teachers of Mathmatic's for schools to change their focus away from creative thinking and back to teaching basic skills.
A: NCTM has not yet understood the role of computers. NCTM still belongs to maybe the 20th century, if not long before. I think they call it totally wrong. I think that the reason why there is a conflict between creative thinking, and basic mathematics is that they try to do it with pencil and paper.

In a pencil and paper environment, it is very hard to be creative with mathematics. The great contribution of computers is that, it is now possible to use mathematical ideas to make things that kids care about. Making their own game. Making artwork. Turning mathematics through these activities into a useful tool for something that kids really care about.

This is the secret to mathematics education. NCTM is just blind because it assumes that mathematic will always be done pencil and paper. It does not understand that computers change the ballpark.

Q [davehat]: to your mind, does learning to use a computer share much of the same process as a child uses in learning to learn?
A: I believe that school is an unnatural way for learning. I believe that natural learning is what happens before school and after school. But there are many things that can't be learned in the environment of the home. School became necessary because some things are not embedded in the culture of our daily lives so children cannot learn them.

The computer greatly expands what is in the culture of the child's life. What the computer does is to make it possible for natural learning, which really means learning without teaching, without being taught, to be extended [exposed] to a much greater range of knowledge. I think we see when kids learn by themselves, to use the computer and to play very complex games, and overcome technical problems, we see them exercising the same natural learning abilities that enable them to learn to speak, learn to get around their parents, find the way around the house and find the way around the parents et cetera, all the stuff they learn outside of school. That's the natural learning.

I agree completely with Davehat's suggestion when they learn the computer, they are able to exercise that natural learning skill. But the conditions of school forces them to use more artificial ways of learning. So the big impact of putting out more computers under the control of children is to promote learning, learning. We will promote the learning of being a better learner, and that's the most important skill in a rapidly-changing world.

Once upon a time, schools could hope that children would go into the world, knowing how to do what they were taught. In a rapidly-changing world, they have to go out, knowing how to do what they were not taught that is to say, that to go out was the skill of learning to do work and deal with situations that have never existed before.

"Learning, learning" is the ultimate slogan for education of the future.

_isms as filter, not blinker

Learning theory, like politics, is full of _isms: constructivism, behaviourism, cognitivism and now a new one, connectivism. What should we do about these _isms? Are they a useful guide to what to think and do?

In October I wrote this on the home page of the learning evolves wiki:
Learning theories might help deliver radical curriculum reform. I think that’s why we have all those -isms (constructivism, behaviourism, connectivism, etc.) and that although -isms can be dangerous we still have them and they might be necessary. Because how else could we have a big change without a theory to justify it and help us think about it? Should we stick to -isms or should we be more pragmatic and just cherry pick different useful ideas out of the various theories? I’m not entirely sure but I am more inclined to think that we need big change. That might mean the -isms are necessary. You might develop a new unit of work under the influence of constructionism, for instance. The learning theory is indispensible to the curriculum reform effort.
What I have noticed is that these _isms do not stand still. They evolve, they listen to criticism and move on. I've also noticed that learning theorists, who have a different favourite _ism to mine, might still come up with significant findings in their empirical studies that I find hard to reject or ignore. So, although it is possible to make perfectly valid criticisms of Skinner's behaviourism or the theoretical foundation of cognitivism that is not the end of the story.

That premable helps explain my responses to some recent blogs by Stephen Downes which has become a dialogue between him and Karl Kapp about learning theories. In reponse to this post by Karl Kapp, Stephen began with a blanket rejection of behaviourism:
... it remains puzzling that so much of the instructional design community remains rooted in behaviorism - this more than 30 years after the theory was abandoned everywhere else
- Definitions: ABCD Objectives
I wrote this in disagreement on Stephen's blog:
Philosopher Daniel Dennett has extended the core correct concept of behaviourism (generate and test) into the inner environment. It's not correct to say that the "theory was abandoned everywhere else". Actions which are followed by rewards are often repeated. Doesn't that make us all behaviourists, despite many excellent critiques of Skinner?

Daniel Dennett. Why the Law of Effect Will Not Go Away. Chapter 5 of his book, Brainstorms
From my perspective see more detail about Dennett's argument: Dennett's Creatures

Karl Kapp replied and Stephen continued with his critique:
Kapp writes, "For mission critical items, we cannot write an objective like: The nuclear technician, upon encountering a meltdown of the primary reactor will use a discovery method to explore possible options for stopping the meltdown... We really need something like: The nuclear technician, upon encountering a meltdown of the primary reactor will follow a defined set of steps to stop the meltdown." But this is not true, and the proof is this: if it were true, then the human performance could be replaced by a machine. If you are working simply on stimulus-response, then you are working on programmable behaviour. But we use humans in nuclear reactors (and elsewhere) just because we understand that 'knowing' involves a set of cognitive processes - like recognition, inference, association - between stimulus and response. The difficulty is, of course, convincing politicians, customers, and (apparently) instructional designers of this
- Design: Behaviourism has its place
I responded again on Stephen's blog:
stimulus: behaviourism
stephen downes response: dehumanising

Now that the best chess player in the world is a machine should we stop playing chess or reconceptualise it as an undesirable human activity?

I haven't researched it but think it very likely that in nuclear power plants activities previously carried out by humans are now carried out by machines. It has happened everywhere else. Machines now do a variety of maths type behaviours better than humans (algebra, chess, etc.). If machines evolve further and start displaying visceral emotions then how should we deal with that? An alternative to dehumanising humans would be to humanise machines. At that point behaviourism might make a come back.
Changing topic, Karl Kapp then posted about cognitivism and Stephen's response was:
I have always depicted cognitivism as a response to behaviourism and also as a philosophy of learning and of mind to which I stand essentially opposed (and no, that does not make me a behaviourist). "The idea is that the learner is a complex information-processing system and to understand how learning occurs, one must understand how information processing occurs within the human brain... in the cognivitist's view learning occurs internally and through the social interactions with others." Now how could I disagree with that? It is with the central concept: 'information processing'. The mind is not like a computer, at least, not like most any computer we've build, and depicting the mind as analagous to (and governed by the rules governing) symbol system processors is to misrepresent it in a fundamental way. In my view
- Definition: Cognitivism
Again I have left a comment on Stephen's blog, as follows:
I agree with you that the architecture of the mind is very different from that of a computer (including connectionist machines.)

Nevertheless, at the level of empirical studies some who fit under that broad umbrella do useful work IMO, eg. Ericsson on the role of deliberate practice in the acquisition of expert performance

ie. Ericsson is emphasising deliberate practice I suppose because that does fit an information processing model whereas someone with a constructivist perspective, for example, is looking intently at some other aspect of learning (eg. rich, exploratory learning environment but with some implied or overt guidelines)

It seems to me that each _ism is offering something useful without any of them being complete or stand alone in their own right
My Conclusion: _isms are important but use them as a filter, not as a blinker