Tag Archives: bloggingcorner08

Humanity meets in the library

This is how it goes.

I read Jenny Luca’s post ‘The future of libraries’ which she wrote after reading John Connell’s post ‘Education and the cloud’. John wrote his post after reading Kevin Marks. Kevin had read something Tim O’Reilly had written. Tim was writing after having read a book by Kim Stanley Robinson. Before spiralling further, I should redivert to the purpose of my own post which is to contribute my own thoughts following from these threads, and specifically following from Jenny’s valuable insights.

As John Connell remarks, ‘the world of knowledge is shifting inexorably onto the Web.’  Whether we like it or not, it’s true. Now, I’m not saying that, in agreeing with this statement, I’m ready to pull books off shelves, turn libraries into clubs and restaurants (as Russian communists did with churches), or make the whole population of teachers redundant. I’m here to say that the massive shift of knowledge onto the web is happening, and that people will be playing a new, even more important role in the location and management of knowledge and technology.
Thomas Frey, the Executive Director and Senior Futurist at the DaVinci Institute, has written an interesting account of the future of libraries, which is actually a history of information and knowledge, since libraries house information and knowledge in whatever form they take. Frey comments:
We have come a long ways from the time of da Vinci and the time when books were chained to lecterns.  But we’ve only scratched the surface of many more changes to come…
Throughout history the role of the library was to serve as a storehouse, an archive of manuscripts, art, and important documents.  The library was the center of information revered by most because each contained the foundational building blocks of information for all humanity.
So what do libraries become once information moves to the web? And what becomes of schools and teachers if information can be accessed by anyone anywhere?
Jenny Luca says:
There will still be a need for schools and teachers. I don’t think we will become obsolete. I do think the nature of learning will change; we will need to encourage and foster self directed learners and this is what I see the function of teachers will be in the future…
… What the point of libraries will be, I think, is as a meeting place for humanity to share ideas. A bit like Ancient Greece where the Sophists would meet up together to share ideas.

 Humanity. Both Jenny Luca and Thomas Frey have identified the larger concern as humanity. It’s not about books, computers, buildings or technology but the collective resources of humanity. It’s not about books versus the internet. And as Frey says, ‘books are a technology, and writing is also a technology, and every technology has a limited lifespan.’  People locate, write, store, use and share information. How revolutionary was Johann Gutenberg who unveiled his printing press to the world by printing copies of the Gutenberg Bible in 1455? But, as Frey says, communication systems are continually changing the way people access information:

If you were to construct a trend line beginning with the 1844 invention of the telegraph, you will begin to see the accelerating pace of change:  1876 – telephone, 1877 – phonograph, 1896 – radio, 1935 – fax machine, 1939 – television, 1945 – ENIAC Computer, 1947 – transistor, 1954 – color television, 1961 – laser, 1965 – email, 1973 – cell phone, 1974 – Altair 8800, 1989 – World Wide Web, 1990 – Online Search Engine, 1992 – Web Browser, 1994 – Palm Pilot, 1996 – Google, 1999 – P2P, 2002 – iPod, 2004 – Podcasting.

If we bring back the true meaning of libraries – to share knowledge and ideas, or, more specifically, to enable the human interaction with knowledge and ideas, then we can see that schools and libraries, as centres of learning and interaction, are challenged with a new, global purpose. Frey says:

Libraries themselves are a global system representing an anchor point for new systems and new cultures… The notion of becoming a cultural center is an expansive role for the future library.  It will not only serve as an information resource, but much more, with the exact mission and goals evolving and changing over time.
It’s humanity that Jenny focuses on when describing what libraries and schools should be:
The space where students can form relationships, the space where they can articulate ideas and glean advice and encouragement, the space where the human network forms and where they can find ways to make it grow.  
In redefining the library and its purpose, Frey advocates experimenting with creative spaces. He suggests new functionality in the library, including band practice rooms, podcasting stations, blogger stations, art studios, recording studios, video studios, imagination rooms, and theatre/drama practice rooms.
With the whole world changing so rapidly, we have the opportunity to reinvent our learning spaces creatively. In doing this, we don’t destroy what we had in books or teachers, we respond to changes by recognising what is essential, and reshape our learning instead of holding on to external structures out of habit.
Learning is about people as my first paragraph attests to. Thankyou to my learning community.

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Own the info, keep the info, hide the info

bottled-coins

 

I was reading Will Richardson’s article Get. Off. Paper. where he talks about people’s dependence on paper, and the reluctance to let go of owning information in hard copy. I’ve also just read what Joi Ito, CEO of Creative Commons, has to say about sharing photos of ourselves. It’s made me reflect on the nature of owning and sharing information, and how that has changed dramatically in the last few years.

When I was at school and university, information was power. If you wanted to be successful and get good marks, you needed information.

I remember how scarce information was. I had to work hard to get it, and I had to work hard to get it before others did, or get it from places others wouldn’t know about.

Sound strange? Think about it. An assignment is set, and the class goes to the library, but there are only a few books about the single subject that needs researching. Once I was jumped from behind by another student who clawed me until I dropped the book she wanted. Sound unbelievable? Believe it; it’s true. That experience shocked me and I’m not about to forget it. I’ve wondered since then, how important is this information, that someone would behave in such a manner? Admittedly, this is extreme behaviour, but think about this. In those days, my assignments were based on the location of content. If I owned that content, I would regurgitate it and present it attractively. Would I be in a hurry to share this information? Well, that would mean that someone else would have the same information as me. Why would I share it? Did we ever do anything with that information? Analyse it, evaluate it, modify it, create from it? No. That information was what my mark was based on.

Will Richardson talks about a paperless society. What I remember most about university, was the time I spent photocopying chapers in the library. Not complete chapters, of course, just the legal percentage of what was permissable. I focussed on collecting bags full of coins so that I would be able to photocopy pages from all the books I’d found that were even remotely relevant to my topics of study. I needed those copies, I felt empowered with all that paper, all that information that I may need during my research. When I was finished, I kept that paper. I couldn’t bring myself to throw it out. I might need it. I think I still have it.

It’s a relief but also kind of strange to be functioning now in the potentially almost paperless world. I turn to people for my links to information, and I share freely, as well as receive in abundance.  My networks are not mean. They are made of people who are smart, connected, varied, informed, interesting and willing to share ideas and knowledge. I’m happy that I’m still learning so that I can turn my back on the old ways.

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A different language

I’m still thinking in an expansive way about different ways of seeing, learning, living. I found this on Twitter thanks to @ggrosseck

Sometimes I feel my vision of people and the way things work is so tunnel-narrow. I really need to open up my understanding. It’s frightening to admit that foreigness can cause such a defensive reaction.

Here is the blog of this passionate autistic woman. This is how she describes herself and the purpose of her blog: 

This is a blog by a self-advocate who has participated in several aspects of the disability rights movement including autistic liberation, psychiatric survivor, mainstream disability rights, and developmental disability self-advocacy.

What do you think of the video or the blog?

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Synesthesia or Remembering that learning is not all thinking

My son wrote an interesting post about his association of different keys in music with colours. Although his colour association is not synesthesia, he does intuitively ‘see’ colours in music.  It’s a great reminder that our learning and understanding come through different channels, and that we’re programmed in unique ways. Here’s an extract from his post where he explains the thinking behind some of his improvisations on keyboard which are named after colours:

The image underlying Green (G minor) was one of a forest, and so I worked in some (admittedly simple) cross-rhythms to give the sensation of the complexity of the forest, of the trees in three dimensions, randomly scattered. Blue (E minor) is an ocean, with a lapping, repetitve bass line; the waves rising and falling with cresendo and diminuendo. Finally, White is in C major, more conventional and ballad-y with a recurring tonic note in the higher registers. When I was playing around with the ideas on my upright, the image was one of ice and its cold purity, especially through the harmonics that it caused; but unfortunately these were lost when I recorded it on my electronic piano.

Sometimes I think that we should trust that we’re all wired to naturally absorb things, and that teaching should be the provision of the ideal environment to assist that absorption. If our teaching interferes with this, then learning is aborted.

I wonder if that made sense?

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Good teacher, Bad teacher

Recently I’ve been thinking about teachers that I’ve had, which ones were good or bad, and what makes them so. I can remember teachers who inspired me, and whom I loved, whose classes I enjoyed. I can also remember those who worked like a sedative, or whom I didn’t respect.

Well, I just remembered a teacher who was both the best and the worst teacher. It’s a good reminder that ‘good teacher’ and ‘bad teacher’ may only exist in fairy tales, and that, just as people in general, teachers are multi-dimensional and complex. There may be aspects of their teaching that are good or bad, but they themselves can be both.

My teacher of Russian (from the age of 6 years to about 16) – and I knew her well until she died at the age of 91 – used to torment me with disparaging remarks about my ‘bad’ character, as displayed in my handwriting (narrow at the time, an obvious mark of mean character), and the fact that I was Pisces. At the age of 9, I had reached saturation point with her constant negative remarks and exploded at her, telling her that I hated her. We made up, and she continued to teach me. As an adult, I continued to visit her, and was able to forgive the early years, developing a close relationship with her, and considering her earlier ‘faults’ as idiosyncracies.

What I will always remember her for was her passionate commitment to teaching. She would speak about literature, art, drama, architecture, historial events in a way that convinced me they were part of her life, never something she had just learned from a book. She used to direct Russian-language plays, and would be directly involved in every aspect, including stage design, music, choreography – she would paint the set, design costumes, edit the script, coach us with our lines and expression, research for historical accuracy, give us the background to authors, genre, etc. She gave up every hour in her day, and we were fortunate to have had these experiences, although we didn’t always appreciate this at the time.

I think she would have embraced modern technology. I was still visiting her up until her death. In her last days, before her cancer became too unbearable, I remember her little unit with its map of the world on the wall, so that she could follow world news events, and all her books, her notebooks with summaries and research, sketches, plans. I can imagine her enjoying Google Earth, or saving her newly found links in Delicious. She lived to teach, but even more than that, she lived to learn, and I saw her learning with an unquenchable fervour, her mind fresh and excited, until her death. She is a real inspiration to me. She wasn’t perfect, and she’s a reminder that none of us are, and that you can still be great, even as you are imperfect.

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Bring Show and Tell into the 21st century

peacock

Does Show and Tell sound old fashioned to you?  Think again…

Remember Show and Tell in primary school? In my primary years (a long time ago), Show and Tell was possibly the only time that the teacher stepped aside and encouraged students to take centre stage to share sundry news items and paraphernalia. Think about what’s happening – a variety show led by students themselves. You can say or show almost anything – news (world news, local news, trivial or important news, news about your dog or about your uncle), opinions, and the freedom to bring in ANYTHING you like – stick insect in a jar, your dad’s gallstones, the latest in technology (for me, that was my talking Bugs Bunny), strange money, photos of a trip to exotic lands, a special book, something you have made, a science experiment (remember growing your own crystals) – wonderful, wonderful things. I imagine Show and Tell still happens in primary schools.

But why stop at primary school? How often does a student get free reign and the attention of the whole class? When else does the student audience get to see such a great show. By secondary school – correct me if I’m wrong – everything fits into neat little curricular boxes. Very full boxes. No room for randomness, for the unexpected, for student-directed sharing; no procession of ever-changing wonders, no exchange of opinions on student-directed topics.

And another thing. The time limits for each Show and Tell slot allow for a quick succession of small, tasty morsels. If you’re not interested in one thing, the next offering could be more to your liking.

Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Doesn’t this remind you a little of Twitter? The short, quick exchange of goodies just discovered, great links, photos worth sharing, questions offered to the group? Is blogging or microblogging our new version of Show and Tell? A reclaiming of our natural desire to share and learn with each other? Our instinctive knowledge that learning happens from and with others, and not just from the teacher?

What do you think?

What are your best Show and Tell memories?

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Dictionary evangelist – redefining the dictionary

Erin McKean does more than redefine the dictionary in her TED talk; she redefines our concept of language. She says that our idea of what a dictionary is hasn’t changed since Queen Victoria’s times – we have the idea that a dictionary contains the ‘good’ words (the ‘real’ ones) and keeps out the bad words (‘not real words’). That’s what she finds frustrating about her perceived role as lexicographer – that she is seen as a traffic cop, whereas she’d rather be a fisherman (yes, she used ‘man’). 

But, I hear you say, dictonaries have changed, they’ve come online, they are well connected; they have hyperlinks. Well, according to Erin, an online dictionary has essentially remained unchanged – it’s just a Victorian design with a modern propulsion.

What Erin challenges the audience to do is to rethink ‘good word’/’bad word’. She says when people find a word that isn’t in the dictionary, they think it’s because it’s a ‘bad word’ (think Scrabble), but actually, it’s not in there because the dictionary is too small. The book is not the best shape for the dictionary.

Erin challenges us to look past the artificial constraints of the book-form dictionary; we should study ALL the words. So how do we know that a word is ‘real’? She says, if you love a word, use it. Using it makes it real. It’s less about control and more about description. New words are everywhere, and Boing Boing is an example of the use of ‘undictionaried’ words. Erin suggests we look at the English dictionary as a map of the English language. An antiquated map of the world only contained what we ‘knew’ at that time, but there was much more to discover. As Erin says, when we left out countries in the old maps, we didn’t even know they were missing. So too with words.

And so Erin McKean is in the business of collecting words. She says that words need to be collected with all their background information – a word is ‘like an archaeological artefact’, and ‘a word without a source is like a cut flower – it dies fast’.

Well, I’m swept up by the evangelistic fervour of this New Age lexicographer, but do I dare embrace the new lexicographical freedom and risk chaos? Can we open up the business of word making to the masses when it has traditionally been the hallowed role of unseen word geeks? But then again, Wikipedia has opened up the font of knowledge, and the world hasn’t collapsed yet.

And I recommend Erin’s blog, Dictionary evangelist if you want to discover the unchartered seas of 21st century language. Here, instead of talking about a word’s etymology, Erin delights in its ‘roots, bones, innards, pips, and secret parts’. Or read about the acceptance of new words like ‘chillax’ in Erin’s article in the Boston Globe.

And let’s have some fun with words. To quote Erin, ‘if it works like a word, just use it’.

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