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.
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.
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 . . . .
The 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.
Presenting subject matter to learn online inside of a curriculum or one of its courses causes extra steps for learners and teachers go through to find that subject matter. The illustration* above of the network structure of the internet shows why this is true.
For example, in the network illustration above, the Frog Animal Bytes page from the San Diego Zoo could be the 4-dot webpage, with the green dot representing the upper left frog photo. Fortunately, in this case the excellent Animal Bytes pages each have their own urls, and can readily be found through searching online.
Because the Animal Bytes frog and Toad page is an independent url, it can be networked into curricula, independent study, science work and all sorts of subjects: jungles studies, flycatchers, comparative amphibians, and power jumpers, to name a few.
But when curriculum makers and aggregators make their users drill down into through curriculum to lecture to chapter before getting to the meat webpages of the subject matter, the benefits of open source and open content are pretty well lost. Putting curriculum materials online without making their knowledge assets findable on their own degrades the quality of learning. After all, can we suppose that curriculum makers will create a better frog page than the San Diego Zoo has? Yet if you look around at online curricula you will find that often (most often?) the folks who make the curricula do not connect out to the excellent resources like Animal Bytes. That needs to change.
The mechanisms inside of a living cell and inside the materials we read and see on the internet are remarkably similar. Both emerge and network from the complexity of many, many little pieces that somehow find each other and connect meaningfully. The gorgeous video embedded in this post is an animation of what happens inside of a cell.
As you watch this amazing BioVisions – The Inner Life of the Cell video, imagine that the pieces are webpages connecting and forming patterns. Think of, for example, information about the astronauts who are working far above the Earth this week making repairs and alterations to the International Space Station. Linking online is going on profusely within a cluster of NASA personnel managing the event, reporters researching it and writing about it, the public following the astronauts activities online, etc. You could also think of what you watch on the video as the activity of all the people on the planet who are currently using the internet for travel information: booking tickets, following flights, trying to find lost luggage, controlling traffic from towers, etc. Zillions of little pieces find each other, connect, form patterns, roll into clusters, dissipate — all of it creating and carrying meaning. It seems to me, that is exactly like what is going on in managing life with the cell.
And how do the pieces find each other? How do they know at what point on another piece to connect? At least for the internet we are understanding these answers more and more. Actually, makers of webpages have powerful control over the process. A major means of this control is search engine optimization (SEO). As I have written here often before, educators can use SEO to greatly enhance learning. To see what I mean, try watching the video again, thinking of the connecting stuff as molecules of knowledge for physics, or French history, or Native American linguistics, or the ecology of Australia — or anything else you would like to teach or learn. All of those subjects and everything else humankind knows is becoming virtually and dynamically interconnected in the great online global knowledge commons. The inner workings of this commons, at least metaphorically, are remarkably similar to those of the living cell.
Educators need to switch from focusing on searching among junk — and learn how to fine tune the good stuff causing it to emerge to become findable.
The internet is a swamp full of gold. It is the patterns of connections among the bits of gold that cause dross to float away and allow us to connect to refined and authenticated meaning. As I wrote in my last post: The fabulous adventures ahead for educators are to understand and make findable what Stuart Kauffman calls the “ceaselessly, co-constructing creativity” that describes the emergence.
The image above is derived from the actual internet swamp; it shows only a tiny portion of its complexity. To make the image I took a 400 pixel square from the Los AlamosMap of Science, a 400 pixel square from a Berkman Center mapping of Iran’s public blogs — and superimposed these two bits of networks. The science map depicts ideas interconnecting and the Iran map depicts points of persons connecting to the internet. (The Iran map does not depict the interconnections among the blogs, which are profuse in reality.)
A crucial key for educators to master and employ into the future is that the two kinds of swamp stuff these maps focus on interact to select and vet what forms the emergent patterns. If the blogging depicted were among chemists and their pattern of interaction included linking to some of the chemistry webpages in the science map, those webpages would get “link love” and get boosted on the findable scale for search engines.
As chemists and historians and linguists and other literati twitter, blog, and link among themselves and with content pages they respect, they too cause useful, meaningful, golden patterns to emerge in the internet swamp.
It is possible now to stand on the same spot where the photographer placed his tripod. He would have fastened his camera on top of the tripod, measured the light with a handheld meter, adjusted F stops and shutter speed, and squeezed the cable release bulb in his hand to take the picture. Not a lot of people trekked to what was then Rhodesia, and few of those who did were equipped to take a picture. This image is interesting and valuable because it is scare.
Today a lot of people visit Victoria Falls and most of them have a digital camera or mobile phone in their pocket. Most of the digital cameras and more and more of the phone cameras that can take picture of the great falls that are of superior photographic quality to the one shown in this post. It is a matter of a few clicks to place an image from these device online.
Will we one day drown in all the images we are capturing? How can the best of the current Victoria Falls images make it to the LOC and be preserved for future generations?
Making findability happen is a new and crucial responsibility of knowledge stewards and educators. Not tagging your urber picture of Victoria Falls with keywords and other meta data is tantamount to the guy who took the picture above leaving it in his attic to be thrown out one day with the trash. When you do tag images you think worthy, they are found by search engines and their users. If the search engine users, especially those known to be experts in the field relevant to the image, like and link to your image, it emerges above the images less liked. Without your meta data, this natural network vetting does not kick in and your image gathers cyber dust in the virtual attic.
As academics, researchers, field experts, educators, and the rest of the smiths of knowledge practice the arts of findability, the best education resources will emerge, connect, and form the richest ecology of learning humankind has yet known.
After describing a considerable flap that has been going on among neuroscientists about peer review sparked by the early release of a Perspectives article and the phrase “voodoo correlations” bouncing around online, Seed Magazine quotes Perspectives founding editor Ed Diener: “There are some very important questions that this raises for science. Most important, how can we guarantee quality in what is sent around?
“The internet is full of wonderful information — but it is also full of disinformation and errors. How can readers know whether what they are reading is solid information?”
Physics: spotlighting exceptional research is a American Physical Society feature with small capsules of cutting edge research. An example capsule this month is Lending an iron hand to spintronics, about (are you ready?): Enhanced Spin Hall Effect by Resonant Skew Scattering in the Orbital-Dependent Kondo Effect. That is a very small subject which approaches this challenge: “A dream of spintronics is to find a way to easily convert between spin and charge currents, a task many believe will involve tapping into (so far) unutilized quantum properties of matter.”
To foresee how learning is about to flip end-for-end, contrast the tiny spintronics charge switching subject with the college physics textbook you used. The textbook began with big subjects in chapters that in turn divided downward into smaller and smaller topics. If a small new topic came along, about the best you could do to add it into the textbook would be to slip a clipping between pages of a relevant chapter.
How different learning is becoming! If you are collecting material online about quantum properties, electron charges, and many other subjects, the little tiny spintronics spotlight page would be relevant in the mix of materials you are collecting. Today you might find the little spotlight on Google, but you could easily miss the chance to use it. Something profoundly more powerful lies around the corner.
When search engine optimization, linking by subject experts, tagging, and the rest of the network tools of emergence have taken hold of educational online resources, knowledge will organize itself. While you are researching quantum properties, the latest spintronics spotlight will make itself known. The optimization of the spotlight will make this emergence happen for you just when its ideas are relevant to what you are learning.
I am simplifying here a bit to make the point that knowledge abounds in the network matrix. It is the little bits that will dynamically replace the printed hierarchies of the textbook past.
An example from a hit TV show, Saturday Night Live, shows the powerful reality of unbundling by the internet. A report in the Washington Post this morning called TV Breaks Out of the Box includes this fact:
When Tina Fey debuted her impression of Sarah Palin on “Saturday Night Live” last month, more people watched the comedy sketch online at NBC.com or Hulu.com than during the show’s broadcast.
The fact that viewers can select a node to watch from the bundled hairball of an entire television episode is a fundamental structural change that is massively reconfiguring the TV industry — and essentially all other analog content that has migrated online. E-commerce is way ahead of this game, letting you zip in a click or two to exactly the camera or pair of sneakers you want. Education has barely begun to think about unbundling its subject matter, usually expecting you to dig through tightly bound course, standards, or curricula pdfs to find a topic nugget you want to learn.
The underlying mechanism in the online cloud that forces the unbundling is that little pieces need to be free to connect. Ideas, meaning, varieties of concepts emerge as different patterns among little pieces. In the network platform online, it is the law: nodes and links, which are little pieces and their connections. Bundles of little pieces locked into just one arrangement as a fact of their bundling stall knowledge emergence online. Unbundling is also crucial to online findability.
Yesterday I discovered the following description of bundling on this list: “Ten threads have influenced the makeup of Western higher education’s tapestry in this millennium . . . .” The quotation is from a new book Educause released this week: The Tower and The Cloud: Higher Education in the Age of Cloud Computing. In the first chapter, the book’s editor Richard N. Katz explains a change the cloud demands of the tower:
5. Academic activities are bundled. . . . Bundling academic offerings into programs and courses of instruction enables (and masks) a complex system of cross subsidies that make it possible for institutions to provide for study in those disciplines that may be impractical or out of favor. This insulates colleges and universities to an extent from pressures to be fashionable. From a narrower consumer perspective, bundling allows these institutions to offer—or even require students to take—instruction they have available rather than instruction that students (or employers) may want.
UPDATE: As I have read farther into the Katz chapter, I have discovered that (starting on page 14) there is a subsection on “Unbundling,” which Katz discusses as one of “four disruptive forces [that] are bearing down on higher education at this very moment: unbundling; demand-pull; ubiquitous access; and the rise of the pure property view of ideas” — as described by University of Virginia Vice President James Hilton. For a look at these sources, the full text can be downloaded as a pdf: The Tower and The Cloud.
As my recent post on findabity introduced, I am discovering tricks from the SEO (search engine optimization) guys in the online commerce world that educators can use to improve online learning in major ways. Take for example giving link juice. That potential professorial power is defined by a post atgetfoundnow.com: “Link Juice refers to the quality or weight that any website can pass on to other sites through links.”
Interestingly, professors have been giving link juice for a long time in the form of listing their favorite links on a webpage they make themselves about the content in which they are expert. In his bookBuilding Findable Websites, Aarron Walter puts the idea this way (p. 80):
Content that Sucks (Users In)
Well-produced, valuable content on a website has a gravity that can suck users in with great force. When people find something on the Web that’s exciting, they love to be the first to introduce others to it. Perhaps it’s ego or maybe it’s altruism. Combine this fact of human nature with the inherent connectivity of the Web and you have a recipe to unite a large number of people around your website.