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New book by Steven Brill describes how schools do not work

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Posted on 20th August 2011 by Judy Breck in Emerging Online Knowledge, SEO and Schools We Have Now

Schools simply do not work as a way of teaching many individual children up to their potential. Schools do not work in teaching groups of children so that every child in a group has equal knowledge. Schools do not work so that a student in a failing inner city school has the same opportunity to learn as a student in affluent districts.

I have been reading Steven Brill’s new book Class Warfare. After a few chapters it hits you in the face: schools cannot be fixed. Brill describes a variety of wonderful people who have realized how schools are failing kids, thrown themselves at the problem, and failed. This has been going on for decades. Why? Because of unions, bad teachers, poverty, race, wrong theories, not caring about children. Well, no. They fail because it is impossible to put a couple of dozen same-age children in a room all day, and day after day, and thereby produce 24 youngsters who know the same thing at the same time. Think about how just plain silly trying to do that is.

Schools we have now in the United States were created in the 19th and 20th centuries. Back then, building schools gave children a place to go to learn reading, writing, arithmetic, and subjects such as history, science, and languages. Except for rich kids whose parents hired tutors to teach them at home, school was about the only place a child could get this knowledge.

By the time we arrived in the closing decades of the 20th century, schools were dominating the lives of youngsters from late toddling until late teens. [Then, convention demands, on to college for more of the same.] Brill does a great job of describing the true disasters schools have become. He quotes Joel Klein, who attempted reform as New York City schools chancellor, as frequently observing: “You just can’t make this s**t up.” Having coordinated a major Mentor project in the New York City schools (1982-1992), and coached and judged high school debaters in the New York city schools (1993-2009), I can tell you Mr. Klein is correct. Schools are seldom much of a place to go to learn very much reading, writing, arithmetic, and subjects such as history, science, and languages.

But lo, in the 21st century there is another place a student can go to learn those things: the web.

The student can now have the web in his pocket or under her arm on a mobile smart phone or tablet. Every kid who has a mobile browser has access to what is known that is equal to the access of every other kid that has such a device. And the device has no idea how rich its owner is, whether it is a boy or girl, and what the kid’s age, nationality, or race are. The device has no expectation of what the kid can learn and it offers equal knowledge to all.

The primary location of knowledge is now the web — certainly much more than the dribs and drabs in textbooks that weigh down school backpacks. Why the heck are we expecting to teach knowledge to our children by dumbing subjects down and filtering them through places where “You just can’t make this s**t up” — in places called schools, where so many incredibly talented and determined people have failed to make things better?

If we make sure all the kids have their own web access to knowledge, schools can be made to work as places to meet with teachers, do discourse, arts, and sports. They will be community centers and socialization places, and of course babysitters for working parents.

Suggestion: Let’s take a break from throwing gifted people, billions of dollars, and yet another generation of children into schools, expecting somehow the kids will learn, and learn equally. Let’s get back to that after we take these steps:

  • See to it every kid has his or her own web browser with wireless access.
  • Make sure the kids know how to find knowledge to learn on the web.
  • Put some real effort into optimizing online knowledge for search engines and natural vetting.

Every child will not emerge from this new approach with the same cookie cutter education. But each child will experience equal access, opportunity, and expectations from the bountiful new virtual knowledge online commons offered freely to all on the web.

BTW: I recommend Class Warfare, based on Brill’s forthright portrayal of the New York City public schools, Teach for America, and other aspects of the education debacle with which I have personal experience. For one thing, it is hard to read this book and continue to think we can “fix the schools.” The great blessing is that the internet and individual access devices have arrived, giving us a new way to put knowledge that is untethered to schools into the hands of any and every child.

Trees communicate using mycorrhizal network

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Posted on 23rd July 2011 by Judy Breck in Emerging Online Knowledge and Networks

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Learn some fascinating facts about forest interactivity from Brian Lamb’s post Do trees communicate? Networks, networks… and from the 5-minute video by Dr. Suzanne Simard embedded there. Wow: Nature’s use of networks for sharing and managing ideas is awesome. We learn here that a forest is able to communicate among its trees which are in need of CO2, and to thereby supply the CO2 to needy trees. Fungi do the job — for real!

Dr. Simard explains (at 2:30)

. . . all these parts are working together — the fungus is working together with the trees. It’s a lot like how our brains work. In neural networks we have — our brains are comprised of neurons and axons and these neurons are physically related, but they are also almost metaphysically related because they are sending messages back and forth and they are building upon each other. It works a lot like a forest ecosystem that is comprised of overlapping networks . . .

The GoldenSwamp is devoted to the concept that knowledge is itself a network, and that it is best served in a network medium. The Web is a network medium. That is what education should use as its primary source of knowledge in teaching and learning.

In any event, you will have trouble not being fascinated by Brian’s terrific post, the sources he links to, and Dr. Simard exciting video about what happens underground in the forest.

Challenge shows the innovative behavior of parrots and crows

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Posted on 11th July 2011 by Judy Breck in Animals, Emerging Online Knowledge and Open Content

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A Public Library of Science (PLoS) One article describes challenging birds in the boxes shown above. Titled “Flexibility in Problem Solving and Tool Use of Kea and New Caledonian Crows in a Multi Access Box Paradigm,” the article is an example of the excellence of science outside of the garden walls of online journals that cling to the paywalled, print past.

PLoS One “is an interactive open-access journal for the communication of all peer-reviewed scientific and medical research.” Articles like the one on the parrots and crows are both excellent sources for the knowledge conveyed, and provide outstanding models for students of scientific investigation and writing. The abstract for the article featured in this post begins:

Parrots and corvids show outstanding innovative and flexible behaviour. In particular, kea and New Caledonian crows are often singled out as being exceptionally sophisticated in physical cognition, so that comparing them in this respect is particularly interesting. However, comparing cognitive mechanisms among species requires consideration of non-cognitive behavioural propensities and morphological characteristics evolved from different ancestry and adapted to fit different ecological niches. . . .

BBC presents the British History Timeline

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Posted on 6th July 2011 by Judy Breck in Connective Expression, Emerging Online Knowledge and History

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The challenge of making clear the long, complex history of Britain is met admirably by the interactive digital timeline across which the BBC has locked events and people into their positions. The timeline begins at 6000 BC marking the separation of Britain from the European mainland. As of this post, the most recent year is 2005. Any of us who at one time had to learn the sequence of British kings will wish we had had the BBC’s timeline at the time.

A long historical timeline has been tough to create physically until it could be done virtually in the digital world. Lengthy paper versions have been cumbersome or impossible to print, and even tougher to keep up-to-date. Museum walls dedicated to long timelines have been costly and inadequate to provide much detail. Spending some time with the BBC’s British History Timeline is an excellent way to enjoy the benefits of interactive digital technology for timelines as well as to learn some British history.

Tables of elements show how online subjects endure

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Posted on 5th July 2011 by Judy Breck in Chemistry, Emerging Online Knowledge and Open Content

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There are 3 websites for periodic tables of elements that have been the most popular ones on the internet since the 1990s. The article that follows describes them. These three are examples of many excellent websites about academic knowledge that are created by experts in a subject and kept up-to-date and authentic by their authors.

The most remarkable thing about the following article is that it was true in 1999, true in 2006, when I first wrote it, and remains true today in 2011. The three tables of elements described in the article remain in the top Google search results, as they have for over a decade.

Amateur, Laboratory and University Open the Tables: Interactive Tables of Elements
By Judy Breck 2006

One of the most popular early topics for digital education interpretation was the periodic table of elements. The reason is obvious. The table begs to be interactive. On a webpage, each of the elements can become interactive: click on an element and you arrive at its details.

In the late 1990s dozens of tables of elements clogged the popular search engines. Then Google came along to elevate the tables of elements that users liked best. Three of them floated to the top of the Google search return. Those same three have stayed there for several years.

I described these three open education resources for tables of elements in Education Technology magazine in the summer of 2006*:

“On February 28, 1996, eighth grader Yinon Bentor presented his science project to his class at school. It was an interactive periodic table of chemical elements displayed on an Internet browser — a new tool that Yinon had coaxed out of the connecting digital world. At the time there were only a handful of periodic tables on the World Wide Web. In the months that followed his class presentation, Bentor’s project took first place in his school science fair’s brand new Computer Science/Mathematics category and won the “Navy/Marines Distinguished Achievement Special Award” at the 40th Piedmont Region, Illinois Science Fair. These are commendable achievements for an eighth grader, but school recognition was just a beginning.

“The project Yinon Bentor put online a decade ago is still there and he still hosts it and tinkers along with improvements. Two other period tables of elements, one from Los Alamos National Laboratory and another from the University of Sheffield, along with Bentor’s, nearly always are the top three periodic tables listed in a search for “periodic table of elements” on Google.”

These websites are prime examples of open education resources. Are their tables of elements really of high quality? Materials that cost money are better, we feel it in our gut. There must be a highly paid expert inside ivy walls somewhere who has created the superior learning material for every and any subject.

The way the Internet has developed, that line of thinking has proven wrong. In the example of tables of elements, in what kind of superior walled off source of origin would those websites be? The three open tables of elements described here are tended, respectively, by a devoted amateur, scientists at a leading government laboratory, and academics at a major university. Here is what these keepers say about the open education resources they oversee.

Yinon Benton writes on the About page of ChemicalElements.com, the website he has been nurturing and supporting personally since he was in junior high school: “Recently, I’ve added advertising to this site in order to make up for the costs I incur because of having this site on its own domain hosting the site on Pair Networks, a fast commercial host, and in order to make a profit from the work I put into this site . . . . More Coming Soon! I’m always looking to update this site and add more information. If you know of something that would make this page better, please let me know and I’ll do my best to add it in future updates.”

The scientists at Periodic Table of the Elements at Los Alamos boast about their web-child: “Originally this resource, the Periodic Table, was created by Robert Husted at Los Alamos National Laboratory during his time as a Graduate Research Assistant. The Periodic Table that you are currently viewing was inherited by the Chemistry Division from the Computer Division who provided the laboratory some of the internet’s first web sites. This page was given a face lift, tummy tuck, and lobotomy in 2002/2003 by Mollie Boorman.” [Current version here]

The Papa of WebElements, the periodic table at the University of Sheffield, is Dr. Mark J. Winter of the Department of Chemistry. He explains how the website came to be that he continues to tend for thousands of online visitors: “The periodic table on the WWW [is my] first site. Running since 1993, although its origins lie in a HyperCard program (MacElements) I started work upon around 1989.”

Open education resources like the three tables of elements discussed here are custom projects by experts in the knowledge they interface. They virtually let the student look over the shoulder of scholars like Dr. Winter, shown here—sparking study and exciting learning.

* Judy Breck, “Why Is Education Not in the Ubiquitous Web World Picture?” Education Technology, July-August 2006, pp. 43-46.

The new Golden Swamp aggregation

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Posted on 18th November 2010 by Judy Breck in Emerging Online Knowledge

UPDATE:  The eBook has been put on hold. This blog is reverting to its original purpose: to showcase the best of online nodes of study subjects. You can reach my other work at Handschooling.com and the Subject Sampler.


Golden Swamp goes big picture with Handschooling.com

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Posted on 28th January 2010 by Judy Breck in Emerging Online Knowledge, Findability, Golden Age of Learning, Mobile Learning, Networks, Open Content and Schools We Have Now

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A new website Handschooling.com has been spun off of GoldenSwamp.com. Click this line to go there to see what is a big picture of exciting new serendipitously, wonderful brand new way to learn in the 21st century.

Here is why I created Handschooling.com, from the About section of the new website:

Handschooling will — at last — break each individual child’s learning free to go beyond the control of education establishments. Sound scary? Nothing scares me more about the future than limiting yet another young generation to the analog, tradition-dominated, doling out of a bit of this knowledge and a bit of that knowledge by some remote priesthood (pedagogical, secular, ideological, political, — yes and/or religious too).

We should all be very afraid of education policy reigning from far away. The range of control and chaos these distant pedagogues cause is wide. There is the sort that pumps gushes of money into celebrating mediocrity which perpetuates an underclass the nanny standard setters can count on to keep them in power. There are tyrannies that nurture hatred and spawn fanaticism in the young, even to the horror of blowing people up. Settling for inferior, and even destructive, education for other people’s children is all too easy when those children are in other people’s neighborhoods and towns and beyond.

While we nurture our children up close, we should strive for equal opportunity to learn for each child. Serendipitously, wonderfully — in the 21st century there is a brand new way to do just that! Handschooling has almost suddenly opened the way for every youngster across the world to learn from a global commons of that is known by humankind.

Go to Handschooling.com.

Dwarf dance debuts new knowledge while standards setters lock in the old

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Posted on 15th January 2010 by Judy Breck in Emerging Online Knowledge, Golden Age of Learning, Mobile & Ubiquitous, Mobile Learning and Open Content

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Will school science continue to teach the long-standing problem in cosmology about how dwarf galaxies form? I don’t know if/where schools teach the dwarf problem, but I do know curriculum and testing standards lock in old knowledge to what is taught and tested.

When I watched the video above this morning, I was only the 302nd person to do so. I found it on nature.com’s The Great Beyond science news blog.

In this week’s Nature Fabio Governato and colleagues present computer simulations that appear to have solved a long-standing problem in cosmology — namely, how the standard cold dark matter model of galaxy formation can give rise to the dwarf galaxies we see around us.

The beautiful animation above shows how exploding stars are a key force in shaping dwarf galaxies.

Educators are long overdue in dancing away from locking students into subject matter that fossilizes into printed textbooks and their matching tests. As I lamented this week, Texas is doing that right now for history.

galaxyVideo180WThe education establishment has judgmentally held the internet at arms length for way too long. It is time for teaching to step into the magnificent ballet of what is known by humankind in the open internet.

And wonderfully, it is now possible to put knowledge like the dwarf dance into the hand of every child.

Five Star OER: Scientists explain their major new discovery about Walking Tetrapods

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Posted on 7th January 2010 by Judy Breck in Emerging Online Knowledge, Findability, Golden Age of Learning, Open Content, Paleontology and SEO

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NatureNews reported yesterday that the clock for four-legged creatures has been turned back 18 million years. Anyone connected to the internet can learn this new information from the scientists who made the discovery. The video above is narrated by one of these paleontologists and the report from NatureNews sketches the facts.

As OER (open educational resources) these materials are the footprints of the future. Previous educational resources, especially printed ones like textbooks, are now obsolete on the dating of walking tetrapods. They will continue to place walking tetrapods 18 million years later than they should be on their timelines — for months or years until they can be updated and reprinted.

scientistThe NatureNews report and video are Five Star OER because they can be used as a direct interface to students from big science in almost real time. In his narration of the video, Dr. Ahlberg says: “I have been working personally in this field since the mid-1980s. I have had over 20 publications in Nature. And this is the most important paper that I have ever worked on.”

Watch the video and I think you will agree that the learning experience is worth making sure paleontology students see it. I was only #352 to watch it on YouTube. What can educators do to make sure Walking with Tetrapods gets into the learning mainstream? There is a lot we can do by optimizing the video for learning networks and linking to it robustly. Educators can fundamentally upgrade global learning by concentration on Five Star OER, and letting go of analog resources with less learning star power.

Google and Apple innovations should be heads-up for educators

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Posted on 3rd January 2010 by Judy Breck in Biology, Emerging Online Knowledge, Findability, Golden Age of Learning, History, Mobile & Ubiquitous, Mobile Learning, Networks and Open Content

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How do educators anticipate new tech opportunities? Do educators think ahead, or are they still “innovating” what was new tech quite a while back? Let’s see: At Edgelings today Michael S. Malone gives us peeks at the big, cool offerings from Google and Apple due out soon. They are sketched in the excerpt from Malone quoted below about these two big things coming down the pipe:

1. “‘Webphone’, a device that uses the Internet, a la Skype, as its transmission medium and thus escaping forever the tyranny of the phone companies.” Malone does not think Google will do the Webphone in its new Nexus. If/when it does arrive, he says such a device will “stun the tech world.” When the Webphone does arrive, it will stun the education world by ending establishment control of learning content. A student with a Webphone will have individual, free access to the internet in his or her pocket. Here are some opportunities educators should be preparing for in the coming Webphone era:

  • Only open educational resources (OER) will be findable online by Webphones doing searches.
  • Because educational resources will move to the cloud, they become globally within reach.
  • Connecting to any education resource can only happen via a single url (node) making it necessary to optimize nodes for findability (or, for sure, they will not be found)
  • You may think of others . .  .

2. Apple’s new “‘category-buster,’ . . . think of an oversized iPod Touch, but no doubt with much of the functionality of a personal computer (not to mention all of those iPhone apps). It will also no doubt, have one or two very cool and unexpected new features . . . .” Of course, the iPod Touch is already a wireless way to access the internet without phone company control. Webphone changes for education again come into play. Other factors educator might anticipate in mulling how to teach toward students interacting with stuff to learn through their Apple tablet that is interfacing the internet:

  • Should, and how should, curricula and pedagogy in general intrude into the natural patterning of knowledge subjects in the open internet?
  • Can, and should, education standards writers impose grade levels upon learning resources being directly accessed by students? Here, for example, are expertly curated learning resources online; what is education’s remaining role in standardizing them, if any?
  • Library of Congress Today in History
    Molecule of the Week

  • How else should educators anticipate the handschooling era that is fast upon us?

moleculeAs this image from the Molecule of the Week reminds us, patterns of networking nodes emerge to create much of the real and virtual worlds. Educators need capture this emergent abundance from within OER. To do so education must focus on two kinds of nodes: the ones online that form OER (not the just the bundled pedagogy) and the nodes that each are a student toting 24/7 access to the internet cloud.

NEXUS ONE AND THE TABLET by Michael S. Malone
. . . But if any could stun the phone world it would be Google.  It too [like Apple] is full of smart, arrogant people, the company has lots of dough, and because phones are outside its core business it can in theory take a big risk without worrying about legacy issues.  For example, as many industry insiders have suggested, Google could stun the tech world – and hit Apple at its weakest point – by coming out with a “Webphone”, a device that uses the Internet, a la Skype, as its transmission medium and thus escaping forever the tyranny of the phone companies.  There’s a lot of problems with that strategy, of course, but it would certainly shock the world, and put Apple on the defense.

Unfortunately, the early reports suggest that what Google will introduce next week, the Nexus One, will be a largely conventional smartphone.  That’s a pity, because I suspect Google will never get this chance again.

Meanwhile, strong on momentum and flush with cash, Apple isn’t waiting around for the world to catch up with it.  Two weeks from now, the company is expected to introduce yet another category-buster:  this time it’s rumored to be a tablet device – think of an oversized iPod Touch, but no doubt with much of the functionality of a personal computer (not to mention all of those iPhone apps).  It will also no doubt, have one or two very cool and unexpected new features that will make it a gotta-have for Apple fanatics everywhere.  Once again, Apple will have a new product that challenges convention, seemingly obsoletes an entire multi-billion dollar industry (in this case, handheld computers) while overwhelming a second, newer industry (netbooks, such as the Kindle) and yet is still stunning to look at.

UPDATE: Coursesmart has a video imagining Apple’s tablet from the viewpoint of textbook publishers.

Take online courses to advance your career.

Is open education stuff really open, nuanced, or decided at a table?

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Posted on 1st January 2010 by Judy Breck in Connective Expression, Emerging Online Knowledge, Golden Age of Learning, Golden swamp defined, Networks and Open Content

openTableA very interesting, complex conversation about what open content for education means is underway among several of the top thinkers in the field. Back in November, David Wiley wrote a post called “Defining ‘Open.’” George Siemens weighed in with “Open isn’t so open anymore” in which he took issue with David’s statement that: “open is a function of gradients (”a continuous, not binary, construct”).” David responded yesterday in detail, George has responded there. There are many comments to the posts. The Reverend also wrote about the conversation yesterday; I grabbed the open table image from that post.

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openWiley

I thought it would be fun to toss  illustrations into the mix, if only because I am a “stubborn, irritating, aggravating visionary” of the sort George says we need in his introductory paragraph. So let me be aggravating: It makes little difference if pedagogy is open, nuanced, or behind a wall. Curricula, courses, textbooks, lesson plans — pedagogical content — are great to have online, but are essentially analog teaching tools. As the image to the left suggests, pedagogical stuff now draws some content from the open internet, but is not using the networking laws of the internet for cognitive organization nor to mirror ideas directly to a learning mind.

Pedagogical tools and the knowledge they teach are not the same thing! It is the knowledge that must be open for learning gold to emerge from the internet swamp. Knowledge itself is network of cognitive nodes that has nestled into the online open (only open) network.  This is the theme of my GoldenSwamp.com blog where I advocate that the time has come for education to engage the network power of online knowledge.

openBreckIn this third image, I have suggested a pattern of knowledge emerging from where it openly networks online. The huge change when this is allowed to happen in learning is that this emergent pattern mirrors directly into the networking mind of a student. Open (yes, binary open) is absolutely necessary for every node that participates in patterns of this sort. Proof that this sort of networking is real and very powerful is illustrated in the Los Alamos Map of Science, which I used in the above illustration. Here in a larger size is a portion of that networking, captured from the reality of what is going on online with cognitive knowledge:

PLoS450

Web 4.0 works by nodes signaling each other and linking into patterns

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Posted on 1st January 2010 by Judy Breck in Emerging Online Knowledge, Findability, Golden swamp defined, Networks and Open Content

wolframAlpha
Exploring “Wolfram|Alpha: What is it Good For?”, this ReadWriteWeb REDUX story concludes with this speculation:

It was interesting to hear about some of the potential uses of Wolfram|Alpha. We at ReadWriteWeb think this product has a promising future. If Web 2.0 was about creating data (user generated content, to use the most familiar term for this), then the next generation of the Web is all about using that data. Wolfram|Alpha is premised on using and computing data . . . .

Use Case: Sports Watching – Imagine sitting in your sofa in the lounge, remote control in one hand and your favorite beverage in the other. You’re watching the Friday night game on TV, it’s a close game and you’re curious about which team has the better chance of winning. Why, check Wolfram|Alpha of course! In real time, Wolfram|Alpha could compute statistics about not just the history of the two teams – but the history of the location of the game, the weather, the season so far, etc. . . .

This is exciting stuff. We humans are creating content management systems that pluck a bunch of data out of the internet and manipulate that data to be useful for us. In the sports watching example, the data is made useful to a guy on a sofa watching a game in progress. If we call this use and computing of data Web 3.0, what then is Web 4.0?

Web 4.0 on has been humming away in the open internet for years, but almost completely ignored in education applications. When this powerful phenomenon manages to emerge for education into the way we interface online content, for education resources Web 4.0 will dominate Web 2.0 (creating data) and Web 3.0 (using/computing data). What I am calling Web 4.0 in this post is the fact that network laws rule. And rule they do when we let them: The essence of Google is to let network laws emerge its SERPS (search engine results pages). Amazon flings its books, all other products, reviews, rankings into a milieu governed by network laws.

Network laws function as the natural content management system of the open internet that I call the Golden Swamp. There is certainly nothing wrong with managing the content that emerges from the online networking. E-commerce caught on to that long ago, responding by developing the SEO (search engine optimization) industry to harness networking.

Web 4.0 works by nodes signaling each other and linking into patterns. If we want to manage OER (open education resources) at the level where network laws can select and vet it globally, we need to build signaling into the nodes of data that we put online.

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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mirrorToBrain

A recent GoldenSwamp.com 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?
mirrorToCurriculum
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

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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.]