This Molecule of the Month, Influenza Neuraminidase, is also known as swine flu and H1N1. The webpage featuring this timely molecule grabs a teachable moment to provide the latest in-depth information about the virus causing a new flu that may be poised to cascade through the world population.
A potent advantage of the internet over analog input to students for subjects they are learning is that what is online will always be at least as up-to-date as any analog medium. Often what is online is significantly more current. Today’s flu concerns are an example: there is an outbreak online of new articles, animations, and follow-along news. This means that at the time students are worried about the flu, information is emergent for that teachable moment.
By clicking the image above, you will go to the entry page for the talk I gave last month at the Design for Mobile 09 in Lawrence, Kansas. The 12 little icons across the top take you to 12 aspects of the knowledge emergence online — from what I call the golden swamp.
The lad in the picture is my grand nephew. He is operating his Mother’s iPhone, where he taught himself how to switch on his own among the games he plays there. He is not yet two-years-old. He will be in elementary school in 4 years and will move on to college the early 2020s. What will we prepare for his focus into this newly emergent cognitive venue? Our stewardship and enrichment in the golden swamp is the most meaningful thing we can do as educators for his generation and those to follow.
There are, I think, several dimensions, including social, games, etc., within the internet swamp where educators can cultivate, husband, and interconnect learning resources and activity. My own focus is on what I like to call “The Grand Idea” — which is the formation underway of a virtual network of what is known by humankind. As we more perfectly optimize the nodes within The Grand Idea — this small world network — everyone in the world will learn from the same virtual pages. The recently announced Map of Science created at Los Alamos National Laboratory illustrates the beginnings of The Grand Idea, and gives a glimpse of it (see below).
Although this map visualizes connections among article citations, what is being networked is the relationship among the meaning of the content of the articles. The meaning of content — not curricula, school grades, or standards — is the cognitive relationship and the context of the knowledge to be learned. The internet is the first medium we have had outside the human mind for mirroring these relationships. Very cool indeed.
What our kids learn in schools is censored by the textbook selection process. They learn a standard take on knowledge as written in textbooks and selected by state governments. In recent years there has been loud clatter about how students might learn the wrong thing on the internet. In its early years, we would defend online knowledge by saying that in the open internet at least students are exposed to the spectrum of ideas on subjects.
Through methodology of the search industry, open internet knowledge now not only offers varying takes on subjects. It offers broadly vetted material. Google’s towering success is based on elevating webpages that are liked and respected in the open golden swamp of the internet. This open vetting process has become highly refined and effective under the intensive pressures for quality results from the e-commerce sector (with educators barely noticing).
Meanwhile, as Seed Magazine reports today, the textbook narrowness expensively reigns on in schools. For example, pretty much nationwide, our kids learn the science Texas thinks they should:
. . . because of the state’s enormous purchasing power for textbooks, Texas’s standards will ultimately affect textbooks nationwide. The board spent more than $200 million on K-12 textbooks last year—buying more high school science books than any other state. “Publishers typically write their textbooks to Texas standards and then sell those books to smaller states,” explains Kathy Miller of the civil liberties watchdog Texas Freedom Network. If the board rejects a textbook, it can destroy a publisher.
Starting today with a column titled Math and the City, Steven Strogatz is guest author for three weeks of the New York Times feature The Wild Side. Professor Strogatz and his then graduate student Duncan Watts discovered small world networks! The chance to read Strogatz is always marvelous; he explains the world through understanding at the edge of 21st century mathematics and network science, the latter of which he is a founder.
The core premise of GoldenSwamp.com is that what we know and teach is a small world network. I am convinced that network laws offer the blueprint for future learning that is nondiscriminatory, emergently vetted for veracity, and economical to the point of providing the most accurate and authoritative knowledge globally for free. As I have posted before, I have already learned a lot about networks from Professor Strogatz. I look forward to glimpsing new nuances from his insight in his next two New York Times columns.
A nickname for the education establishment is The Blob. The Economist ran a story earlier this month called “The golden boy and The Blob,” with the above illustration of the new US Education Secretary Arne Duncan. The illustration gives you the idea of where The Blob gets its name.
The Economist article concluding section “Enemies of promise” is pessimistic about things getting better for education — because of The Blob. It is also unsettling that the WhiteHouse.gov section on education now online describes what looks like about 100 billion dollars that will soon be flowing toward The Blob.
One of the chapters in my book 109 Ideas for Virtual Learning is about The Blob. The point I make is that virtual learning is a real bummer for The Blob because it is emergent from the open internet and increasingly available to individual students beyond The Blob.
Already a great deal can be learned individually by students through the mobile device under their arm or in their hand. This is a new intellectual liberty and 21st century civil right. The mobile device places the option to learn this way outside of the education establishment. As I wrote about The Blob in 109 IDEAS:
Does The Blob really know more than you and I do about education? Does The Blob have any sort of real handle on the digital age we have entered? Is this ogre really better qualified than you are to judge your children and help them choose their path in life—and then to decide with what they should be equipped for the twenty-first century? Should we really commit our kids by law to twelve years of confinement under The Blob?
The biggest threat The Blob has ever faced is the migration of education’s most obvious commodity, knowledge, into the virtual knowledge ecology.
In 1966, when I saw the first episode of Star Trek, I was an advertising copywriter in El Paso, Texas. In that fairly small market, I was present at the local television studios when we taped the spots I wrote for clients. Production was visually analog. The insert above from the first episode of Star Trek gives you the idea. The stars were walking on a stage with rocks undoubtedly made out of cardboard. The cliffs and sky was surely painted props too. Nothing was digital.
The larger picture above is from a trailer for the new Star Trek movie that opens today in theaters. We see the silhouette of a young James Tibernius Kirk against a gorgeously complex digital depiction of the future.
When I got to thinking about the contrast between how the Star Trek story was conveyed by media 40 years ago to what we have now, it struck me how little the presentation of subjects they are supposed to learn in schools has changed for students during that same period.
Having completed high school in the 1950s, I found the 1966 Star Trek production compelling. Times, however, have changed. The television ads I created back then with a few analog props have been replaced by dazzling digital commercials. Millions of school kids who will enjoy the new digital extravaganza of this year’s Star Trek movie — and are accustomed to the dazzle of digital ads – will return in the fall to essentially analog classrooms.
For educators to take on this Starship Education challenge would be a lot better than throwing huge amounts of money once again at the analog education methods our children endure:
Learning… the Final Digital Frontier. This is the voyage of the Starship Education. Its five-year mission: to explore the strange new worlds of the internet and mobiles, to seek out new ways to teach ideas and new access to knowledge, to boldly go where where our youngsters already are.
The Telegraph reports from the UK:
“Computing skills will be put on an equal footing with literacy and numeracy in an overhaul of primary education that aims to slim down the curriculum – but not lose the basics.
“Children will be taught to read using internet search engines such as Google and Yahoo in the first few years of school, it is announced.
“Pupils in English primary schools will learn to write with keyboards, use spellcheckers and insert internet “hyperlinks” into text before their 11th birthday under the most significant reform of timetables since the National Curriculum was introduced in 1988.
“The review by Sir Jim Rose, former head of inspections at Ofsted, also recommends the use of Google Earth in geography lessons, spreadsheets to calculate budgets in maths, online archives to research local history and video conferencing software for joint language lessons with schools overseas.
“Sir Jim insisted the changes would not replace come at the expense of traditional teaching, saying: ‘We cannot sidestep the basics”‘ . . .”
Near the top of the left sidebar of this page is the entrance to the expanding GoldenSwamp Study Subjects section. I am now spending a couple of weeks building that section from my EdClicks study links that I have been collecting since 2002. The links I have and will continue to collect are samples of the superior learning links available online. You are welcome to click into the collection as it is being built now. Hopefully it will be a useful source into the future for those of us dedicated to showing the high quality of online study subject materials.
It has been fascinating for me to go through the links I have collected in the past. Almost all of them are still active, and I would say most of them have been well kept up over the years. Many were at the cutting edge when they were first created years ago — and remain so. Clearly their keepers are individuals or teams of expert Web developers and content devotees.
Since the CIA is so much in the news today, I have picked them as an example of edgy Web folks. Their World Factbook has been online since 1997. It is a standard source that only gets better over time. CIA for Kids is fun, and a little spooky.