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.



Posted in NRC01PL | 2 Comments

#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.

Posted in NRC01PL | 2 Comments

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.

Posted in Personal Productivity | 1 Comment

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 Toolblog.de 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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New: Read Mode for my Tool

For my last post about word roots, I had to significantly enhance my tool: A read mode format is now available that can be viewed without using my tool.

The output file can be shown off to other people. This was not my original intention for the tool because, as a think tool, it just needs to support the process of compacting and converging my notes and thoughts, not to produce a communicable result. “The journey is the reward.”


But several reasons caused me to create a by-product of the process. For one, I have gradually recognized where the place of my tool is in my workflow: It is near the end of a long process of collecting, importing, condensing, rearranging and connecting “the dots”. This also means that I rarely edit a map once it is finished.

Then, I just enjoy the extremely condensed overview that still has immediate and nondisruptive access to the details’ richness. (“At your fingertips”. Immediate: unlike web pages that need loading which causes the brain to switch into a wait mode, and undisruptive: unlike pop-up windows that destroy the visual overview.)

I often wanted to share this great experience and show off the condensed overview. Furthermore, it is worth sharing how this sort of visual navigation can work: Everybody today talks about connections, but web links are almost always arranged in a dull linear fashion.

Technical details:

The mundane problem was that the potential users are first hassled by the operating system that is trying to proscribe Java and scares them by security warnings, even though my program does not require an installation. (Without installation, however, there is no filetype association for doubleclicking, and hence it is cumbersome to open a saved map, unless you create a tiny script whose icon can be used to drop a map on. But this, in turn, does no longer work on the Mac since some recent new patronization.)

Once you are addicted to my tool, however, and edit your own maps, you will put up with the hassle of the full Java version. The reason why I don’t switch fully to the HTML5 canvas is that it does not reasonably support the moving of individual nodes on the map. All my attempts felt like stirring in a dough. Most developers seem to accept this and even show in their demo videos how a dragged object follows the mouse-pointer only very reluctantly.

BTW. I still hope that the functionality of my tool will soon be included in some larger widespread application, therefore I still have not tried to give it a name and pimp its download page.

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Spatial word roots are most prolific

Certainly my amateur work is very flawed, and my poor translation will obscure what I am trying to get across. But still I need to try it, because I am so much fascinated by my “data”.

top300If you stroll around the word roots on my map and explore their verbose definitions from my etymological dictionary, you may notice yourself that the category #3, “Space, Position, Form”, shows particularly many items and even large clusters of items, e.g. around “warped”, “to bend”, “to wind”, “to plait”. All the 300 shown word roots are very prolific ones, as you can see from their descendant tree. So what does it mean that spatial concepts are significantly overrepresented among those that have inspired many more new words?

I would speculate that the role of the broad picture, of looking about, watching, demonstrating and imitating, was very important for the emerging language. That is, even though language is regarded as a “left-brain” activity, it is deeply anchored in the visual modality, and the words were transferred to other modalities, and even to abstract notions, by means of synesthesia and metaphor.

Already many years ago, I was struck by how much “multimedial” meaning was included in the verbose definitions of the Indoeuropean roots, in particular, categories #7 and #8. In the meantime — most recently by looking at prepositions — I have realised how important these spatial relationships and are for thinking (at least for my thinking).

I also like to visualize similarity relationships by spatial proximity and connector lines, and I wonder if my map succeeds to visualize the connectivist idea that meaning resides in the connections between the entities: Look at the unlabelled dark grey nodes that are connected to multiple words shown by light grey nodes? These guessed and reconstructed meanings of the Indoeuropean words are, IMHO, a good example of such “residing in the connections”, namely in the connections of tha adjacent modern words.

Disclaimer details

  • My excerpts from my word origins dictionary Duden 7 may be faulty because I simply noted “word 1 > word 2” whenever the dictionary said that word 2 may stem from word 1 or that its origin were covered in the word 1 entry — so, for correct details, consult a full text such as Harper’s;
  • My dictionary contained beautiful verbose definitions (based on Pfeifer or Pokorny) that I did not find anywhere in English, so I frivolously translated some of them — but if you understand German, here is the original;
  • My selection of words includes thousands of German words but only a fixed basic vocabulary (based on my own discretion) of English and French ones;
  • My top 300 statistics (of the words with the most descendants) may be influenced by faulty speculative derivations, by near duplicates due to unmentioned kinship, and by the uneven language distribution;
  • My assignments to Dornseiff’s categories may be questionable;
  • I omitted all diacritics and the “*” denoting the reconstruction of the roots;
  • My reference was the 2nd edition of the Duden 7 which contained problems that are fixed only in the current 5th edition; if you want to trace my errors you may find the reasons in dwds.de; my errors with English may be my misunderstandings of etymonline.com, and those in French are from the wiktionary.fr;
  • Finally, there may be numerous more flaws that I am not even aware of.


Incidentally today, I found a related resource: “Mapping Metaphor“, from Glasgow University.

Posted in Multimedia and Language | Tagged | 5 Comments