The Extended Mind

Following Clark Quinn’s hint, I obtained “The Extended Mind” by Annie Murphy Paul.

Her section about “Thinking with the Space of Ideas” was the most interesting one for me — naturally, because the tagline of my own think tool is “Offloaded thoughts, close to your mind”. And it did not disappoint me. It reads like a promotional rationale for why to buy my tool (which you can’t buy because it’s free :-), and in particular, it explains my main point much better than I did: the limitations of trying to do all the thinking within the brain (the “brainbound paradigm”).

There are many passages that I liked very much. For example:

“[T]rue human genius lies in the way we are able to take facts and concepts out of our heads, using physical space to spread out that material, to structure it, and to see it anew.” (Kindle position 2568, bold by me)

I would even say: rearrange it, see it anew, and (then) structure it. Or this one:

“Architects, artists, and designers often speak of a ‘conversation’ carried on between eye and hand” (position 2778)

I think this is a much more powerful dialog than the simulated teacher – pupil dialog of current ‘interactive’ textbooks which merely use questions and answers to keep asynchronous learners awake.

Book cover of "The extended mind".

Of course it is arguable if this kind of thinking should be called “outside” the brain. Even more so in the other sections about “Thinking with…”: other spaces of the Surroundings (Natural and Built ones), or with Bodies (Sensations, Movies, Gesture) or Relationships (Experts, Peers, Groups). The formulation “thinking with” cleverly blends the two senses of “with”: instrumental (using tools), and the other sense sometimes called “comitativus” (accompanied by persons). But the contrast with the “brainbound” paradigm is certainly useful.

The book caused me to consult the SEP entry on Embodied Cognition, where “Extended Cognition” is mentioned as a “Close Relation”. Here, the contrast is against the traditional cognitive science “wedded to computationalism”. To me as a long-time reader of Stephen Downes, the criticism of its “computationally-inspired concepts, including symbol, representation, and inference” is very plausible.

But even more clearly I found parallels of Paul’s book to McGilchrist’s description of the two modes of the brain, for example:

“what researchers call ‘open monitoring,’ or a curious, accepting, nonjudgmental response to all we encounter.” (position 1763)

reminds me of the “broad vigilant attention”, and the cited

“two kinds of attention, wrote James in his 1890 book The Principles of Psychology: ‘voluntary’ and ‘passive.'” (pos. 1751)

remind me of McGilchrist’s “ways of attending” and the intentional focus of what he attributes to the left hemisphere.

With McGilchrist’s descriptions, it sounds very plausible to “see” the offloaded stuff “anew” (see above), because this is what the ‘right hemisphere’ mode can optimally contribute where all new information from the outside world is firstly processed, in contrast to the other mode that is often fed internally by re-presentations. (And McGilchrist himself often uses expressions like “see anew”).

So when the “Extended” and “Embodied” theories rightly criticize the limitations of the brainbound and computational approaches, I wonder if they mostly target the limitations of the ‘left hemisphere’ mode. In this case, it would not be necessary to look for the missed values from beyond in some external locations but rather in the ‘right hemisphere’ and its better contact with the outside world and space and body and and co-humans.

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Commonplace Book

Chris Aldrich wrote a very comprehensive description of the “new boil” of note-taking, a topic that has been engaging me for quite a while.

One thing expected from the note-taking tools, makes me particularly skeptical: their collaborative/ public use. I think the lifecycle of notes cannot be continuous from capturing to communication, unless I forgo the possibility of cryptic, sloppy, abbreviated shorthand meant just for the “me later” that Magdalena Böttger depicted so aptly in 2005.

My own workflow is optimized for quick capturing, and only subsequent careful curating, as shown in this little video:

Note that such careful treatment applies only to a certain kind of my notes. While many project-related notes go straight to simple folders of the operating system, the notes that don’t fit in one of the folders, deserve special attention. I don’t know yet where I might deploy them — possibly in multiple places. Which makes them similar to “commonplace”: reusable in many places. But this connotation has led to a pejorative flavor of the German translation “Gemeinplatz” which means platitude. That’s why I prefer to call them ‘evergreen’ notes, although I am not sure if I am using this differentiation correctly.

(Via OLDaily.)

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Seeming rip-off

I just started reading a new book, and there it happened again: I became aware that some writing of mine might seem like plagiarism. Not verbatim stolen, but the idea in the book looks like it might have inspired me, and I did not cite or acknowledge it — which I would still consider stealing. But I had not read it before, so in my view I acted ‘bona fide’.

Now I’ll start a list of these instances, and I intend to update it when I become aware of more examples.

1. In ‘The Extended Mind”, Annie Murphy Paul writes about getting ideas in walking rather than sitting:

“Far more conducive to the act of creation, Gros continues, is ‘the walking body'” (Kindle position 53)

and in Distant Associations, I wrote about the feeling of the Ah-ha moment, after a long time of gradual emergence of simmering and vague hunches:

“via intuition rather than inferring and reasoning, often during a break, on a walk, away from the papers” (Section “7. Conducive circumstances”, emphasis added)

2. In “The Master and his Emissary”, Iain McGilchrist likens musical passing dissonances to Hegelian Aufhebung:

“The passing discords so frequent in Bach are aufgehoben into the wider consonance as they move on and resolve.” (p. 420, emphasis original)

and in Expectations make the difference, I wrote:

“When a chord with a ‘nonharmonic tone’ is played out of context, it sounds awful, but when we hear it as a ‘passing tone’ or as a ‘neighbor tone’, we don’t notice the dissonance — because we expect that it will immediately be resolved.”

3. In “The Master and his Emissary”, Iain McGilchrist writes, in the context of the left and right hemispheres, about tendons, longing, muscles, and joints:

“‘sinew’ used to refer to the whole elastic union of muscle and tendon.” (p. 203)

and in Mental flexors and extensors, I likened the two hemispheres to two muscles:

“we need to understand the ‘flexors’ and ‘extensors’ of brain operation, and we need to identify their respective contribution to the balance in everyday behaviors.”

(It may sound implausible that I had not read these passages before writing my stuff, given that I have so often mentioned McGilchrist, but as a slow EFL reader, I still have not worked through all of this 500+ English pages tome.)

Two lightbulbs symbolizing an idea, and a CTRL+C / CTRL + V clipboard in between.

Added 2021-07-06:

4. Lakoff and Johnson wrote about spatial metaphors:

“Lakoff hypothesises that principles of abstract reasoning may have evolved from visual thinking and mechanisms for representing spatial relations that are present in lower animals.” (Wikipedia entry Cognitive linguistics).

and in Spatial word roots are most prolific, I wrote about my unprofessional etymological map:

“If 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 “

as well as in Prepositions and the Funnel:

“I was amazed about how much our ancestors applied their visual and kinesthetic experience of space to all sorts of other things”

Added 2021-08-29:

5. See the below pingback from my post about “limit case” in McGilchrist’s forthcoming book.

6. Also in McGilchrist’s forthcoming book, there is a lot of emphasis on the idea that relationships are more important than the things related.

“I suggest that relationships are primary, more foundational than the things related” (13:28 in the narration of the introduction to “The Matter with Things”)

This is an idea that appears in numerous places in my own writing, perhaps most centrally in section #11 of my 2016 Recognizing page, or tersely in a former (2011) Google Plus discussion reconstructed here:

“Isn’t this the connectivist view (nodes are less interesting than ties)”

I hope I left no doubt that I owe this idea to Stephen Downes and Connectivism. Even in case I occasionally forgot an explicit attribution, it should be clear from numerous other posts that my thinking draws heavily on his work.

7. Similary, some minor mentions reminded me of points I owe to Downes:

  • homunculus (30:07) — here;
  • direct perception (“directly”, 30:56) — here;

8. See the below pingback from my post about “collapsing” in McGilchrist’s forthcoming book.

Posted in Misc | 2 Comments

Ungrading, my take

A yardstick, being thrown into a recycle bin.

Grading is currently discussed by several bloggers, e.g. here, here and here. My take is unprofessional but by a pupil of the 60s. I wonder why simple pass/fail results should not suffice in most cases.

Except for vanity ranking, the biggest role of grading is probably: to counterbalance a failed subject with a passed subject. This creates a lot of misdirected efforts and stress — but it allows education politics to duck out some important questions:

1. How much early and radical specialization on a few focussed subjects is desirable today? Schools just let it happen, and pupils and parents are happy to dismiss the failed subjects. And what criteria should be used to make the choice: preferences (or — heaven forbid — styles) ? Nope, just ‘ability’, measured by the questionable proxy of grades.

2. On the other hand, there seems to be still some concern for breadth, or ‘general’ knowledge and understanding — which I appreciate. For once, some important skills are often fostered by distant topics rather than just the narrow frame at hand. Moreover, experts of one discipline should be able to talk and listen to some expert of another field, not just try to sit somewhere in between. Do these benefits still occur, perhaps to a lesser extent, if the subject is failed? I cannot believe that. So, how many diverse subjects should minimally be passed, and how much should the disliked stuff be enforced? Again, the answer is escaped.

3. According to Stephen Downes, education should help the student to “become the kind of person they want”1). IMHO this also means to help them that they don’t waste time and energy with work that they thoroughly and consistently fail. Instead, there is the chance that the student themselves readjusts his or her wish about what they want to become. Perhaps a work life sitting all day behind texts and information or agonizing over decisions, is not exactly what they imagined? Or if the student’s wish was just to be a rich person without much effort, and now they see that this also entails cultivating recklessness and unsocial skills, which is not what they really want, either? Then a radical and timely reorientation might be a blessing, even though the idea of ‘drop-out’ seems to be a taboo in some cultures, especially where one has to pay a lot for education. So: what extent of mastery is minimally needed unless a failure must suggest a reorientation? By counterbalancing the passed and failed subjects, this decision can be ducked out, too.

All this ducking out, ultimately, relates to the unanswered question of what knowledge, skills and understanding are still necessary in the age of googling and AI, which I addressed in my recent post Distant associations. Spoiler: I did not duck out.

Note1) Cannot find the reference, closest match is here.

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Annotation. 2021

My latest read is Annotation, a great book by Remi Kalir and Antero Garcia. MIT Press 2021.

Book cover of Annotation by Remi Kalir and Antero Garcia

And here are some of the things I learned:

1. More on Social Annotation: “We can think of an information infrastructure as part technical system and part human network” (p. 165), which reminded me of my PLE and PLN. “[A]n author’s word is not final, and readers respond by speaking back to and constructing idiosyncratic or shared meaning within and about texts” (p. 19).

This social aspect is an important complement to my past experience with annotation tools and practices which I mentioned yesterday

2. Some detailed distinctions, e.g. “different types of annotation like marginalia, glosses, and rubrication have historically appeared as notes within books” (p.21), and “glossaries are a curated list of annotations.” (p. 30),

Furthermore, the authors “distinguish annotation from commonplaces, a related act of meaning making whereby personal notebooks record thoughts, musings, and other information often when reading another book.” (p. 20-21).

This made me think of my own practice which is probably a mixture between the two because often, my notes are not anchored to a single text passage and I “want to revisit annotation and make use of this cumulative corpus” (p. 164), by exporting and mapping them, such that my divergently sparked associations might finally converge into meaning.

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Annotation interactivity

For the latest addition to my free tool, I was once again occupied with annotations. And I realized how long this topic has engaged me already.

  • In 2019, I wrote an importer when I participated in an event about Engelbart’s famous text on Augmenting human intellect;
  • In 2005, I wrote Stepchild Annotation, and there I pointed even further back, to this:
  • in a 1994 circular to history librarians, I likened email quote comments to the margin notes used in monastery libraries.

Moreover, annotations also played a role in descriptions like The Zoo of collaboration/ personal productivity tools (2006, comparing them to comments in text processors’ Review function, in blogs, social bookmarking etc.) and Cogged PLE’s (2010, about a collaboration on a wiki where we indented them just like added list items).

Piece of a placeholder text, and a handwritten nonsense annotation.

Then there is another kind of annotations: those which are anchored in an image or a map. These occupied me when I tried out the H5P framework which makes educational resources more interactive and engaging (see a demo Connected H5P hotspots and an app feature Export some interactivity, 2020).

However, the interactivity of H5P does not mean something like the students’ activity of creating their own annotations. Rather, it mimics the dialogical interaction between teacher and student, with questions and answers. And the annotated image can be exploratively consumed by clicking on hotspots.

The reason for the limitations is probably an old doctrine which demands that annotations need to be close to the items they are referring to. (This has occupied me e.g. here Cmaps and the “Split Attention Effect”, 2018, and here Intelligent textbooks, rejected, 2020.)

But now I bought “Annotation” by Remi H. Kalir & Antero Garcia, and I am looking forward to learning more.

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Purpose

Screenshot of a tweet which is linked to the image.

In a recent comment, Stephen Downes tackled the question of “What’s the purpose of schooling?”, and he took issue with the “view [of] education as something we do to someone else that turns out to be for our benefit“. A few days before, I tried to answer a part of that question myself and, yes, I had also society’s benefit in mind — probably because my experience was shaped by my education paid largely by our country.

See here https://x28newblog.wordpress.com/2021/04/12/distant-associations/ for what I think is necesssary to learn, for people, jobs, and society. I mention imagination and independence, in particular for insight and innovation, and I hope there is room for reconciliation.

(My main motivation for that post was the long series by Jenny Mackness about the philosophy of education, starting around here.)

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Distant Associations

1. Question

What I am trying to consider here is: What kind of knowledge, understanding, and skills is necessary for people, jobs, and society, given that technology takes giant steps to compete with us in ever more aspects.

2. Distant associations

What is necessary, in particular for insights and innovation, is the ability to come up with an associative connection between distinct areas. Insights, here, somewhat differs from understanding, and innovation differs from creativity — more on that later. And distinct areas is not just the same as in domain-independence of the competences often called critical thinking. For explaining what I mean by distinct areas to be linked  I need to go farther back.

A big yellow arrow, from one tree on o photo of several tree rows, to another farther behind.

In connectivism’s neural metaphor, “not all links are of equal strength”. In particular, some links have strength = 1 and connect a concept with a unique ‘parent’ concept. For example, ‘wheel’ belongs to ‘vehicle’. In fact, a vast share of our knowledge consists of such hierarchical (arborescent) links. Even if the hierarchy is sometimes exchangeable (e.g. Diderot > France > 18c, or Diderot > 18c > France, i.e. multi-faceted), all linked concepts belong to the same frame (or ‘script’, or ‘scheme’), such as doctor, nurse, pill. This sort of relationships is the basis of much of machine learning, by ‘co-occurrences’ of, say, a word on the same page. Although the idea is still a bit vague in my head, Lakoff’s frame concept is probably the closest match.

Now contrast these types of links with Lakoff’s metaphors where things are not ‘related’ in the way family members are relatives, but just similar in some way, maybe in some formerly unnoticed way, or by any other associative thought. These links are not arborescent, but rhizomatic, “see also” links. As I understand McGilchrist, they need the right hemisphere mode, while the left hemisphere mode is happy to focus and drill down within ever more specialized and isolated frames and expertise areas. In a 2019 reading group, we were pointed to an article which even considered different distances within the brain: “Local efficiency [among] nearest neighbors” vs. flexibility by “connections between physically distant regions“, here.

You probably want an example for the distant associations. Examples are always difficult for me, but I’ll try: while innovation is akin to creativity, and insight is akin to understanding, innovation is distant from, but similar to, insight in the respect I am trying to describe.

3. Understanding

Now understanding, as it happens in school after teaching and explaining, is basically making links within a frame of how something works. Downes described it as “the last piece has fallen into place” here. But for the society as a whole ‘learning’ new knowledge, there is more needed: insight across distinct areas, i.e. distant links.

(This description might sound a bit oversimplified. Pieces falling into place sounds like links of all strength 1 and like a mechanic appliance starting to work, while for me, full understanding often feels more holistic, like “standing right in between” (like the root ‘inter’ of English under-standing) or right before (like German ver-stehen). And for children, learning relationships that are new to them might feel like rather distant links that will only later form a topic frame.

But for the quick and effective mediation of understanding, small links are typically used which connect to the stuff already known, while insight in new knowledge (new for everyone) involves more distant links.)

4. Imagination

There are two important requirements for coming up with new distant links: imagination, and independence (and these two are the central sections in the summary of my blogging of the last 5 years).

Much of human cognition has to do with the invisible, and the future is always invisible, so it must be imagined by our brain whose main function is that of a ‘prediction engine’, and each innovative idea and plan must be able to picture the intangible. (Also abstraction, albeit more akin to the left hemisphere mode, involves imagination, if we look beyond the generalisation as something removed, as a value in itself, modality-free, towards something that helps transferring practices into a second context, as an indirection/ a detour, cross-modal, much like a metaphor.)

Now what has technology done to imagination? I hate to sound like Nicholas Carr, because simulations for quickly acquiring critical skills are certainly a blessing. But on the occasion of the pivoting to online schooling I became shockingly aware how stupidly the affordances of New Media have been selected during the last 20 years: Instead of full New Media (including overcoming the limitations of pages), the fascination has been mostly about multi-media, and about bringing an abundance of pictures, videos and talks ever closer, to make every experience more colorful and louder, more lively, more immersive, from remote and ancient cultures to microcosmos to macrocosmos — at the expense of the need for imagination. The threshold of my frustration was reached when I learned from H5P’s interactive textbooks, that even interactivity is only meant as simulating the teacher – student interaction (with questions and quizzes). Apparently, the limitations of the paper page are not even noticed, so eager are we to mimic traditional writing on our computers — which is mostly still a typewriter, just with built-in whiteout.

5. Independence

The other big prerequisite for coming up with solutions for future challenges, is independence in learning and thinking. There is the opportunity to skip a teacher and just ask the internet. But I have gradually become aware that the type of questions is changing, and with this, also the information offerings have changed.

I have noticed this in an especially negative way with questions about programming (on the forums like Stackoverflow, which I have encountered as a place of arrogant ‘meritocrats’ who talk down newcomers). Before a long hiatus in writing code myself, I used to obtain the information needed in Reference Manuals, where I could look up the individual elements as building blocks and use them. Now ever more software publishers don’t offer such manuals anymore, but just send the users to the forums of other users. Superficially, it sounds like a progress that I can now ask a question for my concrete specific problem, and may get a bespoke ready solution, instead of having to build the solution myself from building blocks. The downside, however, is that I can’t get information about building blocks anymore, and so I am dependent on finding a fitting case or at best an FAQ.

(IMHO, this trend has started already much earlier in a very different environment: in the library help-desks and catalogs. When lazy researchers asked the help staff for literature, the traditional browsable classification catalog was not as helpful to the general staff as it would have been for the researchers themselves. The latter would navigate the special subsections without many search words because they knew their stuff when they saw it. The general staff, by contrast, who did not know enough specifics, were happier about a keyword catalog. And then the libraries ‘delegated’ their work to Google altogether.)

Now it seems to be easier to get a ready response, but if it is about an innovative problem that nobody has been asking about before, it is in fact much more difficult now that Google is optimized for the lazy usage. The offer of full-text search in every software has more or less halted the development of more sophisticated organising tools; not even the shortcut to a folder (the equivalent of the “see also” link) is sufficiently usable. Everywhere I look, the impatience grows to get a result fast and without effort — for example also in the ‘tools for thought’ business where the desired products are not really tools but prostheses that promise to do the work for us.

Now the online schooling has revealed how big the problems are that pupils have with independent work. I have always believed in the saying that there are no stupid questions, but I have become aware that some pupils are so much pampered with readymade answers, solutions, and ‘walkthroughs’ that parents and teachers have become reluctant to accept all of their kid’s asking for help. Which, in turn, causes other children to hesitate to ask and feeling dumb about it, as a relative of mine was told in the 50s that if she had listened, she would not have to ask. A tweet thread that shocked me was this:

“[…] students who will struggle silently and cry rather than indicate they need help. They actively HIDE their struggle, so that I have no idea there’s a problem until they’re melting down.” and  “I have students like this and it breaks my heart every time. It takes a LOT to earn their trust, and next to nothing for another adult to shatter it again.”

How much help is okay — this seems to be such a difficult question that only a human teacher/ coach familiar with the child can appropriately know it. It is such a wide spectrum from independence to getting help to getting the task done by someone else. In sports, I never succeeded with the upstart exercise at the horizontal bar — always the two helpers had to lift me around. And similarly, if every abstract concept is immediately dissolved by an example, the purpose of the whole exercise (to practise one’s independent imagination) is missed.

6. Stuff

Now how is this all related to acquiring and retaining knowledge about the stuff from the curriculum? At least in my country, school administration insist stressing that it is no longer about retaining knowledge, let alone rote memorizing or mere factual knowledge. They call the target “competencies”, but often these seem like just a disguise for memorized stuff. For example, “Pupil can point out/ expound/ state” something — which for good measure is even biased against the shy and in favor of the loudmouths. I think the focus is ever more on stuff, this has become particularly apparent when they refused to cut some of it during the pandemic.

The reason for this is, IMHO, that it is what can be assessed in the easiest way, and in the most fine-grained and accurate and, yes, ‘just’ way. I think this focus on justice of assessments is derived from laudable motives but has now utterly went awry. When the measure is mistaken for the thing being measured (the grades for the abilities) then the abilities are eventually harmed. Parents plague the pupils until some results are filled in on the homework assignments, or until a procedure for calculation is finally brought to an end, no matter if any understanding or skills have grown. In my opinion, much less of justifiable exactness, and more discretionary and perhaps a little biased judgement by seasoned teachers, could indeed be ethically superior, when I understand John Rawls correctly: even those disadvantaged by the inexactnesses would eventually be better off. The obsession with verifiable, bullet-proof grading results may have been increased by the schools’ fear of being sued by influential parents of dumb children, such that there is no leeway left for teachers’ human judgement. The assessment system already works like a machinery with industrial precision, like automated — much like artificial intelligence already.

So, it seems the entire society, like paralyzed, shies away from thinking about the simple question what do we really need to know by heart, when every fact, procedure, explanation can be looked up in Google and YouTube? What concepts do we need to have “down pat”/ “at the ready” within our brain? Apparently, many have a hunch that the answer would be: almost none, but that the answer does not feel right because experience says that concepts at the ready feel so useful? I think this is where the desired distant association comes in: To come up with such a link, we need several memory contents simultaneously available. So, we do need to learn how to, and get used to how it feels like to, have things ready in the mind. But not for the sake of that stuff itself. Like the McGuffin, any exemplary content for in-depth exploration will do.

7. Conducive circumstances

The distant link does not form suddenly, in a Eureka fashion. It is just the sudden awareness about it that feels like the Ah-ha moment, after a long time of gradual emergence of simmering and vague hunches, from a rich background picture, via intuition rather than inferring and reasoning, often during a break, on a walk, away from the papers (having things in mind), or while doing unrelated work, maybe household work. This is, IMHO, the big difference from same-frame knowledge which derives from focussing and isolating. This is where McGilchrist’s modes of attention come to play: Distant associations emerge from a multi-point background picture, rather than isolating focus. And this is why such mental activity has become less esteemed and is more akin to less reputable practical and craft skills that require quantitative eyeballing, experience with bricolage, trial and error, and a big internal ‘database’ of holistic pattern images. I think it is an important takeaway from McGilchrist to education.

8. Creativity

Creativity is often seen as the main distinguishing superiority of human cognition over machines. And indeed, it often involves the same kind of novel link as described above. Often the heart of an artwork is the unexpected juxtaposition of two very different things. But there is a caveat which McGilchrist has pointed out: the novelty that is born from boredom. If the purpose of a creation is just a stimulus against boredom, it can be generated by machines just by applying combinatorics to the juxtapositions. A genuine human’s work, by contrast, is unique via a personal, subjective individuality, as far as I understand it.

A similar desire is, IMHO, the curiosity that is often praised as indicating forthcoming STEM researchers. When a child is fed with astonishing stories about nature, he or she will naturally consume them as happily as candy, because in any case the stories are much better than boredom. Similarly, at a certain stage he/ she will have learned that the question of “why” will yield the longest and richest responses, and will love those narratives, without primarily being interested in the actual causal relationships. And furthermore, science stories often involve novel superlatives that impress the young mind.

So, the curiosity and creativity needed for useful innovations and insights, is not necessarily fostered by consumption against boredom.

9. Teacher vs. AI

So, what might be a useful division of labor between teacher and AI?

(A recent trigger was the question of how AI teacher machines might even motivate students. I think I don’t underestimate AI’s eventual abilities, and how far some extreme thought experiments of ‘raising’ AI personalities can liken hypothesized machines to us — which I tried to describe in my EL30 post about alien AI intelligences. But I still think that the awareness of the humanness of our counterpart is a crucial requirement.) 

Since I think the personal, subjective individuality is a necessary ingredient for “modelling and demonstrating”, I don’t believe that AI would be able to do the motivation job.

There is also a big fuss about automatically identifying gaps and suggesting the appropriate resources. But I think the charm of this idea is just the affordance which is already present in the flipped classroom: by making transparent what is required for the next lesson, rather than silently providing the scaffolding steps, the students may be better motivated to independently explore the prerequisites.

What remains for me, is the coaching role: with a high sensitivity towards every single child, the teacher can guess if the child needs help, or if there is another chance for independent work. I wonder if one day machines will be able to guess this from objectively observable cues. I doubt it.

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Decentralized

As I did twice before, I assembled many of my blog posts of several years into a curated summary which is now available from my Contents page. I called it “Decentralized Knowledge” although this is definitely not a correct title — if you have an alternative idea, please tell me.

Colrored dots and arrows randomly connected, and an unconnected big black dot in the center

There is certainly much more to be said about decentralization that I have not covered, in particular, the question of servers, addresses and hosting infrastructure. If you look at a web address there are many parts where you can have decentral instances instead of central ones. Compare

(1) http://central-provider.top/myown/page.html
(2) http://myown.central-provider.top/page.html
(3) https://central-platform.top/myown/post.html
(4) https://myown.central-platform.top/post.html
(5) https://myowndomain.top/post.html

My first homepages were of type (1) with the university and then with the formerly state-owned telco when there were no alternatives available, and I still have one of type (2) there. My first blogs were of type (1) and then type (2) at the university. Yes, corporate vandalism killed some addresses. This blog is of type (4) with wordpress.com, and I think this feels much more decentralized than sites on medium.com or hypotheses.org of type (3). Currently, I also have two of type (5): one on Reclaim Hosting and one with a German provider, with a self-hosted wordpress.org — but it’s still a bit centralized because I use Jetpack from wordpress.com, for services like trackback. Furthermore, the web server is shared and the database is on a central server — but the ‘server’ is probably on a cloud service which is probably distributed but maybe belongs to a monopoly kraken service.

(The little “s” in https is a hidden place for another hierarchical / central element: the security certificate must be signed by an authority that is recognized by the big browsers — and I still remember what trouble the German edu community had to get theirs acknowledged by Firefox. Not to mention our wires on the lowest level, which almost all meet at a big CIX center in Frankfurt, and the fat pipes across the Ocean.)

For me, the level of the site is crucial: if it is me who decides what to post, then it is decentralized.

IMHO, the bigger challenge is how all these addresses are communicated. Since the academic and public libraries have elegantly ‘delegated’ their task of resource cataloging to Google, we have now a monopoly. Similarly, for email and texting among friends and wider family, people’s addresses are no longer registered in telco’s directories, but another monopoly has built on that gap.

Such directories and registries cannot be decentral. But they are an essential part of the infrastructure, and hence should be publicly owned.

Again, the biggest problem is not on the server side but on the user side. And while the Google Reader gave access to decentralized blog resources, the Reader user interface was a centralized web application that was easy to kill, such that the promising many-to-many RSS topology is now almost dead, as well, or depending on broadcasting any new posts’ addresses via the centralized Twitter.

Posted in Web | Tagged | 1 Comment

Indieweb frustrations

Maybe I have totally misunderstood WebMentions. But in the IndieWeb plugin that I tried, it appeared to me so confusing that I never really got it working for me — never had the patience.

After reading Downes’s critique, I understand now that a big part of the problem is their concept of a post.

They have plenty of distinct ‘moulds’ for posts (e.g. checkin, event, presentation, bookmark, jam, read, watch, review, listen, collection, venue). This offering style is unlike gRSShopper’s generic malleability, and unlike the generic “items” in my own Condensr.de, and it is also what I disliked in a previous post.

Colorful icons for the post types enumerated in the text

What I would want, instead, is a distinction between a post and a comment. I’m now a user of the “silo” of WordPress.com, and in this ecosystem, the (proprietary) Pingback works great. I don’t know how I can find the address for the more general trackback on other people’s Blogspots, or even whether my WordPress would still support it, despite it seems to be so unpopular.

For me, the great thing of blogging is that it preserves a sense of place, i.e. the idea that I am visiting someone on their (decentralized) front porch, rather than on the central market place, and that I can feel as a guest when I leave a (moderated) comment.

I chose wordpress because it was the easily available service for anyone who wanted to participate in the “conversation”. Before, in 2004, I hand-crafted the XML for my RSS by myself. But despite it was valid RSS, it was not until I switched to WordPress that I was discovered and started to receive comments.

I still believe in the idea of the “conversation”, despite many Social Media users now think that consuming content is the important thing here — and hence go to the large sites of the power law distribution where this consuming is easiest.

The easiest entry (or re-entry) into the conversation, however, would be to create a site on whatever platform, not immmediately a self-hosted thing or a server

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