Im-/Export from/to other think tools

Finally, my tool is able to export to, and import from, two other great think tools, and

The work allowed me to thoroughly compare the various needs and approaches, and I would encourage everyone interested in highly effective tools to explore these difference, too.

To demonstrate them, I chose a very simple example of a small family and their neighbor. iMapping focusses on the texts that are hierarchically arranged, but allows for arbitrary cross connections.


DenkWerkZeug, by contrast, focusses on the relationships and their own big hierarchy, such that the reasoning engine can draw conclusions.


Comparing them with my own tool one can say that they are rather suited as the big long-term storage “cupboard” while my own tool is more like the “table” where things are put for a temporary large overview.


Sometimes it is necessary to pull together many items from multiple sources. (See below a metaphorical example of this diversity: if the two maps are combined, the nephew finds more neighbors with daugthers.)


I realized that, for such big stores, I need some hierarchical relations such that I can browse through them. And I need browsing because I have always been bad at searching.

If you want to try out the two tools without typing in your data, you may drag them into my tool, and export them into the two other tools that currently don’t have an import function. Enjoy.

For more details on the design decisions of my import/ export, see my documentation on Github. Disclosure: I know the authors of both tools since a long time.

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I read this great book in February and I am not surprised that its ideas are now widely spreading.

Jenny Mackness draws the connections to McGilchrist’s work, and I want to add to this.

Usually, the styles spectrum is depicted as “linear” vs. wholistic, which sounds rather value-laden. By contrast, Sousanis’ notions of sequential vs. simultaneous are much more conducive to the necessary awareness about the two fundamental modes of thinking.

“This spatial interplay of sequential and simultaneous — imbues comics with a dual nature — both tree-like, hierarchical, and rhizomatic, interwoven in a single form.” (p. 83)

I like the distinction that nicely adds to the dichotomies of tree vs. network, or nodes vs. edges (as in Deuleuze & Guattari, and in Connectivism, respectively, see this old post).

For me, the gem was that the book does a great job explaining why the right hemisphere mode (all-at-once) lives from relations: Basically, it argues that the eye is “dancing and darting”, i.e. by its saccadic motion (palpation by means of the gaze) it captures only small fragments at a time, and it is our imagination that needs to combine them into vision. It quotes R. Arnheim “To see is to see in relation.” Other explanations draw on rather optical phenomena, like the distance of our eyes, and the refraction at the contact of two media, that yield different but related images. In particular, they remind me of the binocularity that enables an owl to recognize in the darkness what a single eye would never alone identify.

Then, in this week’s #gridsgestures exercises, I learned how much I struggle with the sequential. When the assignment was to sketch the shape of my day, my first attempt was to draw the day vertically upwards, like a carpet lying in front of me, not as a real grid. And I completely missed (repressed?) the part of the task about “gestural lines, marks of some sort that […] represent […] activity”, because I have no idea how to depict gestures and movement. (Maybe there will be some examples of elements that could serve as a sort of the ‘alphabet’ that Dave Gray often shows?)

The restriction were, not to draw things, and to use a pencil or pen, i.e. monochrome, and like many participants I gradually let go of some restrictions, but I still struggle with depicting my imagination — which seems to be just too static. I also have problems to interprete the drawings of others, much like there are problems to understand the mindmaps or concept maps of someone else. For me, the most benefit is not in the communication or the drawing result, but in the making of the drawing — and the sense-making along the process.

PS Don’t miss Jenny’s great image image and Howard Rheingold’s interview with Sousanis.


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Wish list

There was the question of what @downes and @gsiemens can do working together, and I don’t want to miss this opportunity for an early Christmas wish list 🙂

Over the years, both thinkers have emphasized different important things but without explicitly disagreeing with each other:

  • Siemens still points to the conceptual level of Connectivism, creating coherence, and sensemaking;
  • Downes has deep thoughts about how human recognition actually works;
  • Siemens has ideas of how technology can support knowledge as an “outboard brain”, not just as logistics (storage and communication of information), and also about a learning analytics that is not patronizing the learner towards prescribed outcomes but keeps a human face;
  • Downes emphasizes assessment as human recognition, and independent/ autonomous navigation within the subject matter rather than memorizing it.

What is needed is a learning solution that leverages all of the above aspects.

  • A demonstration of how human recognition works differently than the AI competitor who is catching up rapidly.
  • An illustration of how learning works when there is no predefined true or false outcome but a real understanding of complex conceptual networks is needed.
  • A demonstration of how connectivist principles apply to concrete subject matter from sample knowledge domains,
  • … to drill down to which structures lend themselves to non-linear, networked coverage,
  • … and to study which kinds of learner preferences influence their interaction with the sample subject matter.

Personally, I am particularly curious about how the “outboard brain” can help to offload parts of the emerging conceptual network, to free precious working memory (of course because I work on a think tool). Or what non-patronizing analytics will find out about different learner and teacher bias towards speed and (a)synchronicity. But there is much more in the field of machine-supported human recognition.

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#NRC01PL Choice and Agency

In today’s hangout, both fathers of Connectivism were unanimous.

“There is automation that enables choice & human agency & that which doesnt” (@gsiemens, see @Autumm’s tweet)

It is encouraging that they are on the same side when it comes to the important issues of educational technology.

It sounds simple but it is really very important, and it is easy to forget it because it is easy to be too much enthused about technology. For me, the issue of empowerment vs. patronization has been a central one, see my blog post “Between Empowerment and Patronization: 40 Years IT“.

Of course, choice in IT may also be intimidating, when the user interface is stupid and the help texts mindlessly reiterate nonsense like “select the desired option” — because the programmers were too lazy to think enough about the options themselves.


And some users are easily contented with perceived control. A dashboard — doesn’t this sound great? Indeed I picture my ideal PLE as a dashboard, and start ramp into my PLN.


But openedX’s dashboard means the point where I could navigate to my various edX classes. For me, it is only always an annoying obstacle between the start page and my only one course, NRC01PL. (Besides this, it is annoying during the startup how quickly the “remember me” expires, and that they don’t tolerate a space after my email address, as it is copied after doubleclicking.)

So I think it is important to distinguish between true control and disguised patronization. To learn this distinction, may be even more important than crap detection (if I dare to say this on an April 1st ?). Skills like such distinctions are not acquired through memorization but often through navigating diverse spaces. So Stephen’s formula of March 18 is spot on:

“It’s not that there is nothing to learn, it’s that it’s complex and needs to be navigated… not memorized”

Navigating through choices, not via pre-programmed walkthroughs.

But I should add that I understand the choice to select edX at this stage: because it speaks some LTI language which is needed for LPSS’ interfaces. At the threshold between an old type system and a new type paradigm, I have often met such solutions of gateways, proxies and encapsulations that mitigate the legaccy system.



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#NRC01PL Minimal PLE ingredients

This week’s topic in #NRC01PL is PLEs. A cMOOC like NRC01PL is always inspiring to think about something (even if it is seemingly starting slow, which I attribute to the terrible edX discussions platform). This time, the question for me is:

What does my PLE need as a minumum?


I quickly found the answer that, for me, it is not sufficient to have discussions with posts and comments, but I need to see people behind the comments, and this means that I like to look at their profiles and click the URLs leading to their blogs or other homepages. If there is no permanent address like a blog but only a stream like Twitter, Facebook or Google plus, it is less attractive for me since my preference is not the rapid flow but the more aynchronous affordance of slower conversations.

But on the edX platform, I could not simply click on a name to see the links leading to more about the person. This is a big disappointment for me, as I know since we thought about the relationship between personal and conceptual connections in a previous cMOOC.

It is often emphasized that cMOOCs thrive through content artefacts created by the participants. Should I dig out my old PLE picture (which I find great, of course) and the related blog post of some previous cMOOC? If I were a fellow participant, I would not like old content to be thrown at me and pushed to me. Rather, I like to pull and pick it myself. And this needs the link to the persons of the course.

The discussions in the forum alone don’t suffice, let alone discussions of the stale edX format. Even on Moodle, the forums are much richer and more flexible — the first thread of CCK08 is a real firework compared to an edX forum.

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First approximation?

Why is the denial of brain lateralization so grim, piqued and emotional?

Once again, a post of 2013 circulates on the social media who shouts at us “WRONG” and “Stop it. Please.”

The research cited identifies three parts of the brain, two of which nicely match what McGilchrist says about his “Master”:

  • The Imagination Network
  • The Salience Network

and the third aligns with the “Emissary”:

  • The Executive Attention Network.

The article argues that all these parts work together in creative prcesses. This is what McGilchrist keeps emphazing, for all mental processes. And that structures from both the left and right hemisphere are recruited. This is what McGilchrist does not deny but considers possible:

“If it could eventually be shown definitively that the two major ways, not just of thinking, but of being in the world, are NOT related to the two cerebral hemispheres, I would be surprised, but not unhappy.” (p. 461) and “[I]t seems like a metaphor that might have some literal truth. But if it turns out to be ‘just’ a metaphor, I will be content. I have a high regard for metaphor. It is how we come to understand the world.” (p. 462)

The scientists call their work a “first approximation”. Is this true? Isn’t the idea of different modes of the brain a much older approximation, that has been around in the pre-scientific experience of real life, in knowledge of human nature, and wordly wisdom, for long?

And these two approximations are even closer, in that the post has to admit (in a well hidden footnote) that “There’s some grain of truth to the left brain/ right brain distinction” (about spatial reasoning, language, and the Aha moment.)

So why the grim attacks? Is it just pedantism, cantankerous bossiness, or literalistic orthodoxy?

The very idea that there are different modes, may be unsettling. The complacency that there is just one right way (and of course this is mine) may be threatened. Furthermore, the notion of two hemispheres suggests that the two modes are equitable, i.e., this threatens the superiority of the “left hemisphere” mode.

I think it is a pity that the controversy is stuck in grim denial, while the gradual approximation of the two basic modes would be so fruitful, for learning and understanding. In particular, the concept of “salience” is such a powerful idea which may explain a lot of what makes an expert: It is not an accumulation of propositional facts in the expert’s brain, but rather, his or her performance in recognizing what is salient, for example in a disease pattern and anamnesis of a patient.

Personally, I am much more interested in the understanding of everyday cognition than in the amitious goals of deciphering creativity and problem solving — which appear like gold synthesis to me.

Posted in Cognitive Styles | 2 Comments

Physical overhead of Mindmapping

While I have often argued for Cmapping and against simple hierarchical mindmapping, Quinnovation offers some plausible thoughts about the benefit of simple mindmaps: They may help understand the structure of a talk when you try to capture it during a presentation. And:

“[…] find the drawing and rearranging to be a nice physical overhead to facilitate reflecting.”

I like the idea of the physical overhead as a possible explanation why rearranging “[is] part of the benefit”.

I also suspect that, for many people, the radial, spatial layout can be superior to a merely linear outline form of the same nested hierarchy, because it activates the mode of brain operation that McGilchrist calls the Master, and that Sousanis characterizes as all-at-once instead of sequential.

These are benefits that mitigate the inherent problem of such nested hierarchies, that they lure us into premature pigeon-holing, in particular when the typical mindmapping applications make it difficult to add cross-links. The best application for nested thoughts and notes that I know, is iMapping — notwithstanding, of course, my own tool that Jenny Mackness has tested recently.

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Clearing out

I quit my job at the university and so I had to clear out my workplace. It was quite interesting to revisit the digital and physical traces of 36 years.

It is amazing how many notes, excerpts, bookmarks, compilations, assemblies, drawings and drafts were necessary to produce the results that were finally sent out, and to gather sufficient understanding for all the new developments. In the end, my “knowledge base” consisted of approximately 12.000 files in a deep folder hierarchy of 1.500 folders. In the following diagram, I color-coded the 300 major folders (those that contained at least one subfolder): Red through purple means new to very old.

hierarchyWinDirStat tells me that the vast majority of files is of type .txt (Plain Text), followed by .lnk (Shortcut) and .url (Internet Shortcut).


I wrote earlier about my dense network of folder shortcuts, so I was not surprised that I had more than a thousand shortcuts. But I was surprised that I still had so many plain text files.

It started with little slips of paper, to capture data from telephone calls or other little notes, piled up in a drawer. I found a total of 828 old pieces of paper, in 59 paper “folders”. 164 contained small drawings — such notes were later captured as a powerpoint slide, or as a Cmap, or most recently with my own tool. But the bulk of it were tiny text notes.

They were best simulated by plain text files. So, until today, I capture my notes quickly by firing up the Notepad editor, and all the shiny Personal Knowledge Management tools have not convinced me to employ such a complex application for the simple task of storing little text snippets in linked folders — which the Operating System can do for me. (This week, the also wrote about .txt files, in German).

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A very inspiring paper has been released after its embargo: “Synesthesia” by R. Williams, S. Gumtau and J. Mackness. The authors report on two case studies, but the paper offers much more insight.

The case studies cover two opposing extreme situations in which cross-modal environments can help children with issues: in a Montessori kindergarten, children incrementally approach abstract concepts, while in the “Mediate” project, autistic children interact with adaptive environments.

Trinomial Cube

Trinomial Cube

But after reading the paper, you have not only learned about extreme situations, or about “some people’s quirky imaginations”, as the title might suggest. Rather, a wide spectrum of the cognitive development appears very clear and suggests how all the pieces fit together: From embodied cognition, synesthetic abilities, metaphors, to generalizations and abstractions. (And in my view, of course, from RH mode all the way through LH mode.)

The authors plausibly describe “the progression and extrapolation

  • from involuntary synesthetic perception across senses
  • to involuntary synesthetic perception across senses and concepts,
  • to broader synesthetic ability, which identifies and creates completely new, modality-free abstractions.”

and I think this is a great new way to think about abstractions.

I have long been intrigued by the role of cross-modality (most recently here) and metaphors for our language and cognition. And now the same line of thought leads to generalization and abstraction at one end, and at the other end to direct and enactive perception (Gibson) and embodied cognition!

There is just one point that is difficult for me to agree: Their quote from Ramachandran speaks of

“other types of abstraction that [we] excel in, be it metaphor or any other type”

i.e., metaphor is seen as abstraction. Is the metaphor that bridges two domains (or often two senses), really withdrawn, removed, abstracted from the two domains, is it no longer grounded in any of them? Or is still grounded in both of the domains or senses? In none of the contexts or in both of the contexts? One could argue that this is also the difference between abstraction (none) and generalization (both) — and perhaps that it is the reason why so many pupils have issues with the great generalizations of mathematical thinking: because they perceive them as only abstract and applicable to nothing rather than to many cases. In the case study, however, abstraction was approached via multi-modality and cross-modality generalizations, such that, in the end, totally abstract (modality-free) concepts were easier to bear? Lots to speculate.

Posted in Cognitive Styles | 1 Comment

Anthropomorphic misdirection

Since the stone age of IT, we have been using anthropomorphic speak to communicate about what the computer “knows” (at a given stage of user input) or what he “thinks” (based on the programmers’ interpretation of these inputs). I think it is perfectly OK to simplify and explain things by metaphoric comparisons with human attributes; this has been done for decades by science writers whom I often admire for their difficult job of making things understandable.

But sometimes, such human terms can be very misleading. One such area is the deep learning by neural networks. When the journalists here use anthropomorphic terms for the techniques and successes of the approximations of human intelligence by AI, then they dangerously blur the border between reality and science fiction. For example, what does it mean that the machine learns, understands or correctly “recognizes” a pattern of, say, a painting by Pissarro or Monet? After much learning from the training set and from numerous iterations of ever more sophisticated algorithms, it sounds plausible, after all, what the human terms suggest: that the machines indeed arrive at human-like “recognizing”. noise And we might forget that it is still the human who must state that the “correct recognition” is one of the correct ones — i.e., the human who knows how correct knowledge feels like. Knows it because s/he has acquired the skill of independent judgement over a long time, from beginnings of trusting the parental environment, via gradually improving their fearless guesses, to ever more self-trust. (Not through graded assessments which cultivate the external judgement.)

Another area where the anthropomorphic terms are problematic, is McGilchrist’s Master and Emissary as a metaphor for the two basic modes of cognitive processing, or as a personification of the two brain hemispheres. I have embraced the metaphor because it distracts a bit from the unfortunate “religious war” of whether the anatomical claims hold true. But gradually, I see also the downside of the comparisons.

Regarding the “right hemisphere (RH)” mode (the Master), it is certainly useful to be reminded of its role of a sort of “the other”, “the counterpart”, the “vis-a-vis”, because that is how this mode presents the outside world. And regarding the “left hemisphere (LH)” mode (the Emissary), it is certainly useful to think of the capsulated entity that fulfills a task. a goal or a subgoal, much like a subroutine in a computer, or an emissary.

But on the other hand, the “agency” of the two, tacitly and misleadingly suggests that both of these agents could be instrumentalized, or used, like a tool. And nothing can be more wrong than thinking of the broad vigilant attention (RH) mode as a tool. On the contrary, this mode is the one that you just “let happen”, while tool use is the essence of the other (LH) mode that focusses and pursues intentions. This may be a big hindrance against understanding the RH mode.

Probably, the two modes are too different to be represented by the same metaphor domain, at all. And the domain of social beings is even more problematic because it is loaded with so many misleading connotations. I would prefer to describe the two modes by patterns of neutral concepts, in particular as patterns of how the “many” are related to the “one”. In the LH mode, you focus on one item (like a grip or handle) that represents many collapsed items. Conversely, in the RH mode, you are facing a multitude of many tesserae of a mosaic picture, but they appear as one whole of statistical normality until a deviant one, or salient one, stands out and becomes “recognised”.

At least this is how it works for me, and here is no danger of ascribing human traits to the two.

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