Posts Tagged ‘CritLit2010’

Memetic Allergies and Mutations

Saturday, August 14th, 2010

Ruth Howard asks Is Critical Thinking a Meme to Counter Memes? (in a post which came to my attention via #CritLit2010). And then she goes on to suggest that some skeptics become inflamed and hyper-sensitive when exposed to allergenic stimuli such as conspiracy theories (or at least that’s how I interpreted her juxtaposition of so many interesting analogies and ideas). I suspect that the biological metaphors are getting mixed here, but I get (and like) the idea that, in their hyper-enthusiasm for debunking some kinds of nonsense, people such as Brian Dunning in his “Here be Dragons” video go overboard to the extent of failing to apply critical thinking to their own position.

Ruth’s comments on Dunning’s video are apt. I was dismayed on seeing it myself at the manipulative presentation, including, for example, the frequent juxtaposition (to sinister sounding music yet!) of items representing real fraud or nonsense with others on which it is only fair to say that the jury is still out.

Assessing Learning in #CritLit2010

Thursday, July 22nd, 2010

Stephen Downes post on Semantics at Half an Hour: Having Reasons is devoted largely to the issue of how to establish the well-foundedness aspect of knowledge as well-founded true belief.

A large part of the discussion was devoted to the question of how confidently it can be asserted that “interesting learning” occurred in #CritLit2010. (With “interesting learning” apparently referring to the acquisition of new knowledge rather than just unfounded beliefs or behavioural responses – which are also of course examples of learning but not so interesting)

In the course of that discussion Stephen referred to slide 23, where the inference of learning appears to be derived from observation of behaviour in a social network. But it requires quite sophisticated observation to confirm that the behaviour is based on beliefs that are founded on good reasons as discussed in this posting. (For example it might involve observation of exchanges between members of the network when solving problems together and evaluation of the explanations given to one another in that process.) Also, there would have to be a change of behaviour (beyond that attributable to increasing familiarity with that specific network) in order to infer that the demonstated knowledge was newly acquired and so evidence of learning.  Given the looseness and scale of the network involved it would be a huge task to sift through all of the exchanges to identify signs of increased knowledge in even just a few of the participants.  So I must say I agree with those who are skeptical of Stephen and co’s ability to provide convincing evidence that “interesting learning” has occurred (other than perhaps by direct testimony of the participants).

Ulop’s Theory

Wednesday, July 21st, 2010

In the follow-up to #CritLit2010, Ulop OTaat (whoever he may be) has expressed a theory about what the educational theory called “Connectivism” is (or is not).

Basically he appears skeptical of its value as more than just a new lingo without practical consequences:

But that is all that connectivism does, add a different perspective couched in different terminology, jargon if you will.  It does not solve any issues, on its own. It is not the end game of learning theory.

I must admit that I have had similar concerns as to whether it had any direct paedagogical implications. But the jargon has some appeal to me because of its relation to the neural network model of how learning may occur at the physical level, and so I remain open minded as to the possibility that thinking in “connectivist” terms may in fact lead to techniques which might not otherwise have been discovered. (Perhaps it might help in dealing with the chronic problem of failure of “transference” of a concept or technique from one domain of application to another – but I have nothing specific in mind at this point.)
Also of course, any reasonably valid understanding of how learning works may help with the Critical Literacy of avoiding the learning of things that are not true.

Where I have even more difficulty is with imagining possible uses of the analogy between neural and social networks (which seems to get a lot of play in the “Connectivist” worldview). Yes, the development of patterns of connection in a social network may be “reinforced” by interaction with some external stimulus, but I guess I am not sufficiently social to have any idea of a non-trivial pattern as a goal – let alone how to design an appropriate stimulus to achieve it. Perhaps some complex business or political relationships mught be enhanced by forcing a social network to “learn” its way into a particular pattern though – so maybe  Hari Seldon will one day be quoting Stephen Downes as he takes the first steps towards the Foundation. And maybe that makes an understanding of how to train social networks a Critical Literacy for the future.


Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

#CritLit2010 is now over.

I enrolled in this largely out of curiosity about what it would entail and in the knowledge that my travel plans for subsequent weeks would make it difficult to devote much time to it.  I was interested enough to go through most of the readings and to make some discussion entries and blog postings, but if I had had to pay for it then I think I would have been a bit disappointed.

Categories, Links, and Tags

Monday, June 28th, 2010

Both Heli Nurmi and MCMorgan have commented on the CritLit2010 week 4 reading from Clay Shirky Shirky: Ontology is Overrated — Categories, Links, and Tags.

I can’t help feeling that the idea that search based on content and tags will replace heirarchical categories is in one sense overstated, but in another sense doesn’t go far enough. (more…)

Does the Internet Make You Smarter?

Friday, June 11th, 2010

I was led to this by a #CritLit2010 Tweet from Ruth Howard.

In it Clay Shirky responds to Nick Carr and others who worry that “the internet is making us dumber”. But I think to some extent Shirky misidentifies the concerns of the “dumber” camp (and certainly says nothing about making us smarter) although he does  address some important issues.

Carr and his ilk worry about the impact of web-based media on our reading habits and attention spans, and although I think that the evidence they cite is questionable I can’t really deny that their concerns about a potential issue may be legitimate.

Shirky looks instead at the concerns about quailty of content being drowned in a flood of garbage, which are also commonly expressed but not really as “the case for digitally-driven stupidity”.[1]

What I think is most useful in Shirky’s article is his claim that we will address the abundance issue by “invent(ing) cultural norms that do for the Internet’s abundance what the intellectuals of the 17th century did for print”. This is already happening (via “like this” buttons, “people who bought this also bought that” recommendations, and other reputation management schemes) but Shirky is right to draw attention to it as something that still needs work.

(June 13): Stephen Pinker does a better job of addressing the actual question of effects on intelligence.

Update (Aug 13) the Globe and Mail published a comparative review by Anthony Williams of Carr and Shirky’s books on July 16, and also, on Aug 4, republished (from LA Times) ‘The Digital Alarmists Are Wrong’ by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons

Patterns of Change – Calculus as a Critical Literacy

Tuesday, June 8th, 2010

Stephen Downes’ introductory blog posting for the second week of the Critical Literacies Online Course ( CritLit2010 ) deals mainly with how we describe change, and in fact it would (with some minor edits) be the basis of a good motivational piece for the introduction to a calculus course.

This prompts me to make a suggestion that may well lead to howls of protest. Namely that not only should calculus remain as the mathematical topic through which all mathematics students must pass, but that it should in fact be considered as a Critical Literacy for everyone – without which no person can be considered to be properly, or even minimally, educated.

Certainly there are even mathematicians who would disagree. Many feel that various kinds of discrete mathematics are more appropriate to a digital age,  others favour geometry and the study of symmetry as motivation for group theory and abstract algebra, and so on.  All of these do have value, and it might well be argued that a survey of all areas of mathematics is also something that everyone should have some exposure to.  But actually I believe that none of them is critical, and that while a global appreciation of mathematics is as important to a well-rounded education as an appreciation of literature or art, none of these is in fact a fundamental component of basic functional literacy. Calculus, on  the other hand, is crucial.

To what? To having any capacity for understanding the questions, let alone the answers, to any of the key problems facing our survival as a species. All of these key problems have to do with rates of change – whether it is economic, environmental, or political.

Many who have struggled with calculus may think that it was just a bunch of abstract formulas and procedures that couldn’t possibly be useful, and in one part of this they are right. Memorizing the formulas and procedures is not useful.  This has nothing to do with the fact that computers can now do that work for us, and in fact it has always been true. Anyone who understands how change works doesn’t actually need the “Product Rule”, and the same applies to almost everything else students think they need to memorize. Calculus is not these things and never has been. What it is is the language we need for describing the various kinds of change that Stephen is talking about – and for understanding the long term consequences of different kinds of change patterns.

Without a commonly understood language of change, political debate about things like energy supply and global warming is pointless. And that language is calculus.

50 (Not Exactly Honest) Ways to Be Persuasive

Tuesday, June 8th, 2010

This “review” by Alex Moskalyuk of Goldstein,  Martinand and Cialdini’s Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive is rather more of a summary athan a review – and by being so it demonstrates both why reading books isn’t necessarily all it’s cut out to be, and why including links in web pages is not a bad idea.

It may be that the book amplifies on how to implement each technique, and if so and if I was interested in actually going into sales then the book might be useful to me. But all I really care about is not getting tricked, and for that the brief summaries provided by Moskalyuk are in most cases all I need to “get the point”. (In fact much of what is published in books these days deserves little more than scanning so I don’t agree with those that complain about the web as encouraging that as opposed to “deeper” reading.)

But in some of the cases where I might be inclined to doubt the “research” quoted, a link to where I could check it out would have been most useful, and for that matter a well designed e-version of the book would probbaly better serve both my needs and those of the wannabe salespeople.

Why People Hate Mathematics and Atheists

Friday, June 4th, 2010

Jason Green’s response to the readings for Week 1 of the Downes&Kop Critical Literacies course concludes with the question  “how does one think critically without it coming across as a baseline of distrust?”

I actually think that a “baseline of distrust” is appropriate, but that social harmony often demands that the level of distrust not be fully expressed. This phenomenon (of people taking offense at any hesitation to accept their assertions and beliefs uncritically) is presumably related to the importance of trust in building a social network but ironically we appear to have evolved a need to be trusted that exceeds our need to be trust-worthy.

One of the puzzles of life as a mathematician is how proud many people are of their incompetence in the discipline, but perhaps it really is a social advantage – after all the one who can claim to have “never been any good at math” is less likely to bring the threat of unequivocal exposure of error which all of us in the field have to live with (and suffer repeatedly), but which most others would rather, it seems, avoid by various kinds of waffling, ambiguity, and evasion.

Perhaps the same psychology motivates those who accuse the so-called “new atheists” of stridency and belligerence where I only see bluntness (and perhaps admittedly a bit of smugness as well).

In my comment to Jason’s post, I suggest that “perhaps the key in such cases is not to deny the validity of a proposed conclusion, but just to provide enough feedback to allow the proponent to re-consider”.