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Online knowledge organizes itself better than educators can do it

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Posted on 30th December 2009 by Judy Breck in Connective Expression, Emerging Online Knowledge, Findability, Golden Age of Learning, Networks and Open Content

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A recent post posits how knowledge for learning is growing as a superorganism from which everyone on earth can learn. That superorganism is a network that lives within the open internet. The first image (above) sketches how the learning mind, which is a network, can directly apprehend patterns of knowledge from the network that forms the superorganism online of what is known by humankind. That apprehending can be thought of as the mind mirroring patterns it encounters on the internet.

If the learning mind can apprehend knowledge patterns from the emergent knowledge online, why then is it that we spend $$ billions every year on systems of knowledge delivery to education that look something like the second image (below)? Would it not make more sense to curate the online knowledge nodes and network, refining them to signal among themselves to create cognitive patterns to mirror directly into learning minds?
The education establishment has assumed from the beginning of the internet era that it was they who should judge, select, and organize knowledge to be learned that is located on the internet. There is a fatal flaw in those assumptions: in the open internet, the knowledge self-judges, self-selects, and organizes itself better than those things can be done by educators because human knowledge is itself a network and obeys network laws. My statement here is radical, I know. It is also a fact of the internet that is morphing learning resources into the superorganism of what is known by humankind. It is a truth too beautiful not to be true and enormously hopeful for the global future.

Musings on how online networking knowledge mirrors our learning brain


Posted on 29th December 2009 by Judy Breck in Emerging Online Knowledge, Findability, Golden Age of Learning, Networks, Open Content and SEO

museBrainNetworkOur brain is a network. The illustration of the brain here is from Mapping the Structural Core of Human Cerebral Cortex. The Author Summary of the article begins: “In the human brain, neural activation patterns are shaped by the underlying structural connections that form a dense network of fiber pathways linking all regions of the cerebral cortex.”

museBrainNetworkThe knowledge that our brain takes in as we learn is also a network. The networking of knowledge — study subjects that form what is known by humankind –  is illustrated in the images here from the Los Alamos Map of Science. As we use the internet to learn, we can observe and learn the patterns that emerge from knowledge networking online. The internet is the first mirror medium of the networking of ideas we have ever had. It promises a global golden age of learning. We should be using it more in education and working to stimulate its cognitive networking.

museBooksBefore the internet mirrored the networking of ideas, the main way students had for locating nodes of stuff to learn by connecting ideas is illustrated here: We would get them one-by-one out of books and then make the network of their relationships in our minds.

museCMSSince the internet came along, educators have used content management systems, curricula, and the like to harvest learning stuff nodes from the internet and organize the nodes into patterns to convey to students’ minds. This approach should be understood and developed so as to include in the harvest the naturally networking patterns of the open internet.

Educational nodes need to signal like our bacteria do

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Posted on 25th December 2009 by Judy Breck in Connective Expression, Emerging Online Knowledge, Findability, Networks, Open Content and SEO

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bodyPoliticSince the late 1990s, when I was working with education study subjects that were then pouring in to the internet, I have been convinced that what is known by humankind would form a “grand idea” online. By that, I have meant a large network, fully interconnected, of all the subjects we know — what we call academic subjects, the stuff we learn in school. That grand idea network would not and is not something that has grown from the top down. It begins as nodes that signal and connect to each other based on their meaning — the cognitive content they have that is learnable by us humans.

Can it be that the grand idea is like a superorganism, as described in a fascinating article in SEED magazine on this topic: “Our bodies harbor 100 trillion bacterial cells, outnumbering our human cells 10 to one. It’s easy to ignore this astonishing fact. Bacteria are tiny in comparison to human cells; they contribute just a few pounds to our weight and remain invisible to us.” The following are some excerpts from the article [with some comments by me] that suggest similarities between the communication among our bacteria and the behavior of knowledge online. The fundamental reason they are alike is that bacteria and bits of learnable knowledge are small pieces that communicate in network patterns.

Indeed, several scientists have begun to refer to the human body as a “superorganism” whose complexity extends far beyond what is encoded in a single genome.

The physiology of a superorganism would likely look very different from traditional human physiology. [Learning resources in libraries look very different from what is online.] There has been a great deal of research into the dynamics of communities among plants, insect colonies, and even in human society. What new insights could we gain by applying some of that knowledge to the workings of communities in our own bodies? [to the workings of knowledge when it gets online] . . . .

Even confined in their designated body parts, microbes exert their effects by churning out chemical signals for our cells to receive. [Yesterday I posted about signaling by cells and signaling by learning nodes.] Jeremy Nicholson, a chemist at Imperial College of London, has become a champion of the idea that the extent of this microbial signaling goes vastly underappreciated. Nicholson had been looking at the metabolites in human blood and urine with the hope of developing personalized drugs when he found that our bodily fluids are filled with metabolites produced by our intestinal bacteria. He now believes that the influence of gut microbes ranges from the ways in which we metabolize drugs and food to the subtle workings of our brain chemistry. [The influence is a form of connectivity.]

Scientists originally expected that the communication between animals and their symbiotic bacteria would form its own molecular language. But McFall-Ngai, an expert on animal-microbe symbiosis, says that she and other scientists have instead found beneficial relationships involving some of the same chemical messages [again: signaling connects] that had been discovered previously in pathogens. Many bacterial products that had been termed “virulence factors” or “toxins” turn out to not be inherently offensive signals; they are just part of the conversation between microbe and host. [Open educational resources (OER) often are, and need to be, able to converse (signal) each other.]

Signaling cells show education how to use online resources


Posted on 24th December 2009 by Judy Breck in Connective Expression, Emerging Online Knowledge, Findability, Networks, Open Content and SEO

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Placing OER (open educational resources) online without optimizing their components to signal is like expecting a single cell or group of cells to perform their role in isolation. Yet educators and subject experts put non-signaling lesson plans, courses, and curricula into the internet all the time. This was not surprising in the early days of the internet: educators were used to analog materials like textbooks, lesson plans, and and the separation of experts by geography. But the best knowledge for learning is now online, and education is far overdue in utilizing the cognitive connectivity of the internet.

What the e-Commerce world calls SEO (search engine optimization) is one way to give resources signals they can use to reach out to related stuff online. For OER, SEO is vital, but just a first step in the creation of signaling pathways. There are other very effective signal methods inherent in learning resources including: experts linking to (creating a network with) other OER they respect, landing pages that point (signal toward) excellent OER, and RSS-type signals that roll out expertise as it is published.

So would this signaling stuff work in a real network? Yes, and molecular biology is a very compelling model. The Wikipedia article on Cell Signaling (from which the above illustration is taken) explains:

Traditional work in biology has focused on studying individual parts of cell signaling pathways. Systems biology research helps us to understand the underlying structure of cell signaling networks and how changes in these networks may affect the transmission and flow of information. Such networks are complex systems in their organization and may exhibit a number of emergent properties . . . .

nihNetThe following excerpt is from a current article in Molecular Systems Biology. Click on the small illustration from the article at the right to see a chart of network relationships — which are the real world way in which life itself works. Instead of bundling a course or textbook in a pdf and tossing it online, how can we instead optimize the knowledge within the OER with some of these principles in the excerpt that follows by which our cells keep us alive and keep us thinking?

Despite their value in aggregating diverse and scattered information, protein networks inferred purely from data and those assembled from the literature suffer from significant and complementary weaknesses: reverse-engineered networks ignore a wealth of existing mechanistic information about individual proteins and reaction intermediates, whereas literature-based networks are too disconnected from functional data to encode input–output relationships. Thus, even the most comprehensive interactomes do not capture the logic of cellular biochemistry and—critically—cannot predict the responses of cells to specific biological stimuli. Two nodes in a node–edge graph might have a positive effect on a downstream node, but a graph alone cannot specify whether the target is active when only one upstream node is active or whether both must be on.

The arriving choice for poor kids in inferior schools


Posted on 20th December 2009 by Judy Breck in Emerging Online Knowledge, Findability, Golden Age of Learning, Mobile Learning, Open Content and Schools We Have Now


This week, Congress voted to end a proven program that was sending achieving District of Columbia students to private schools where they were successful students. The Washington Post headline called it ‘Duplicitous and Shameful’ in a report that begins:

The waiting is finally over for some of the District of Columbia’s most ambitious school children and their parents. Democrats in Congress voted to kill the District’s Opportunity Scholarship Program, which provides 1,700 disadvantaged kids with vouchers worth up to $7,500 per year to attend a private school. . . .

In terrible schools across America, students are supposed to learn subject standards that keep going lower, and little help is usually available in learning even the less and less of government controlled expectations.

The illustration I have made and posted above indicates a new choice.

On the left, government — state and federal — decide what kids learn.

On the right, a student uses a mobile internet browser to engage unlimited knowledge.

As more and more kids put a smartphone in their pockets, they each can connect to the global knowledge commons. Students like those who were dismissed from good schools this week by the politicians have a choice to go where knowledge is selected in the open internet.

As to the knowledge available online, we should no longer let the education establishment hold the internet judgmentally at arms length. Every education energy should work to optimize the full range of study subjects online knowledge to be findable for those who teach and learn.

Network laws emerge the true and unbiased as peer review falters


Posted on 18th December 2009 by Judy Breck in Emerging Online Knowledge, Findability, Networks, Open Content and SEO

Open online science emerges to make prominent the links loved by experts and inquirers. This new selection process is a gift of the internet that is fundamentally superior to peer review by a selected few of articles before they are published. To illustrate how network laws affect online study subjects, I keep posting the Los Alamos Map of Science, as I have above, because it is an image of actual network emergence online. It illustrates the citations experts in their fields have made to articles that augment or enforce their work.

Setting aside our own views on global warming, it is instructive to compare network emergence to peer review, as it is critiqued by Martin Kozlowski’s illustration inserted in the image above. In the future will selected scientists continue “write the book” by judging their peers? Or will every shade of opinion compete in the open network where the most respected ideas will rise to prominence? I think the latter.

Here is a pertinent bit from today’s Wall Street Journal opinion piece where I found the Kozlowski drawing:

But there’s something much, much worse going on—a silencing of climate scientists, akin to filtering what goes in the bible, that will have consequences for public policy, including the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) recent categorization of carbon dioxide as a “pollutant.”

The bible I’m referring to, of course, is the refereed scientific literature. It’s our canon, and it’s all we have really had to go on in climate science (until the Internet has so rudely interrupted). When scientists make putative compendia of that literature, such as is done by the U.N. climate change panel every six years, the writers assume that the peer-reviewed literature is a true and unbiased sample of the state of climate science.
[emphasis mine]

The time is long overdue for scientists and experts in all academic fields to no longer turn their backs on the network laws that have made peer review obsolete.

Education is overdue dealing with the data deluge


Posted on 16th December 2009 by Judy Breck in Emerging Online Knowledge, Findability, Golden Age of Learning, Networks, Open Content and SEO

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It is unacceptable to teach standardized dabs of school subjects to youngsters who will be confronted in their careers by the data deluge described in Science Times this week:

In a speech given just a few weeks before he was lost at sea off the California coast in January 2007, Jim Gray, a database software pioneer and a Microsoft researcher, sketched out an argument that computing was fundamentally transforming the practice of science.

Dr. Gray called the shift a “fourth paradigm.” The first three paradigms were experimental, theoretical and, more recently, computational science. He explained this paradigm as an evolving era in which an “exaflood” of observational data was threatening to overwhelm scientists. The only way to cope with it, he argued, was a new generation of scientific computing tools to manage, visualize and analyze the data flood.

In essence, computational power created computational science, which produced the overwhelming flow of data, which now requires a computing change. It is a positive feedback loop in which the data stream becomes the data flood and sculptures a new computing landscape.

The image posted above is from a screenshot of how Google’s “Wonder wheel” search feature offers related subjects for a search for “Organelles of the Eukaryotic Cell.” The search returned about 518,000 data links for organelles.

The education establishment has dealt with the abundance of data Jim Gray described primarily by screening and choosing for students. The practice has been to deliver pre-selected knowledge items via standards, textbooks, curricula, and courses — all of which are creatures of the analog age now almost over. Education has yet to embrace the reality that computing is fundamentally transforming the practice of engaging knowledge.

Education as the selective gatekeeper to learning inevitably will be swept away by the deluge of data available in the hands and pockets of essentially all students within a handful of years. Education must, as science must, give learners access to: a positive feedback loop in which the data stream becomes the data flood and sculptures a new computing education landscape.

A major step toward a more positive feedback to education is making resources findable at the node level at the time experts put their subject knowledge online. The effect of that is to open the gates of knowledge, connecting those who know the most to those who would learn their subjects.

Expensive college degrees vs. job-qualifying online training


Posted on 10th December 2009 by Judy Breck in Schools We Have Now


Yahoo! News is running an article today from TIME titled College Degrees More Expensive, Worth Less in Job Market. It begins:

Employers and career experts see a growing problem in American society – an abundance of college graduates, many burdened with tuition-loan debt, heading into the work world with a degree that doesn’t mean much anymore.

The problem isn’t just a soft job market – it’s an oversupply of graduates. In 1973, a bachelor’s degree was more of a rarity, since just 47% of high school graduates went on to college. By October 2008, that number had risen to nearly 70%. . . .

Compare these heavily indebted diploma carriers with people their age qualifying for future looking jobs by taking corporate online tutorials and certification, at for example Apple or Microsoft or for careers like selling real estate. The “college graduate” ideal needs badly to be readjusted to and integrated with the practicalities and economies of learning and getting certified online.

Network laws and the transparency of emergence


Posted on 3rd December 2009 by Judy Breck in Emerging Online Knowledge, Findability, Networks, Open Content and SEO

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Control of what is known is being pushed from the top downward by the network laws that operate in the open internet. The result is a refreshing new kind of transparency.  Two article sources quoted below from this week give examples. Roger Simon describes a cracking of elite control of climate science. Mark Zuckerberg tells Facebook folk that he is putting control of what others learn about them in each of their hands.

Any time an elite group controls information published for a subject, at least some transparency is lost in what is excluded by the elite. The hope of peer review is that only the lesser stuff is excluded (made opaque). In complete contrast, network emergence is broadly transparent. The search engine principle invented at Google sends to the top of its search results the nodes visited by the most users, with known experts given more weight. The results are a long tail, where even the least of the nodes still appear somewhere down the list.

Education has not yet let the transparency of emergence operate for its online materials much at all. Most digital learning stuff is still controlled by businesses that pay elites to structure it by grade, standard, curricula and that keep it behind pay-for-it walls. For the most part, open educational materials (OER) are repositioned structured bundles (curricula, courses, lesson plans) that do not allow nodes to emerge from within very much.

It occurred to me when I read the following articles today that this breathtakingly simple principle is at work in both: In an open network emergent patterns are transparent. When small pieces (nodes) of an open network determine what connects to what online, what emerges and its long tail of related information are all transparent. The elites then have to complete like everyone else to give weight to the nodes causing those nodes and the patterns they make to become what is most used used. In the new Facebook system, the individual can decide what nodes to open into this emergent transparency.

Roger Simon: “Climategate is about a lot more than climate. It’s about science and its relationship to politics and profit, the academy, the state and, perhaps most importantly, information control. The manner through which we learn (or thought we did) important knowledge about key aspects of our existence, the way things are hidden, has been exposed in this one instance like the Wizard of Oz.”

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg wrote this week in “An Open Letter” to members that Facebook’s regional networks are “no longer the best way to control your privacy . . . . The plan we’ve come up with is to remove regional networks completely and create a simpler model for privacy control where you can set content to be available to only your friends, friends of your friends, or everyone. We’re adding something that many of you have asked for — the ability to control who sees each individual piece of content you create or upload. In addition, we’ll also be fulfilling a request made by many of you to make the privacy settings page simpler by combining some settings. . . .”