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Underlying tension for millennials against standardized education

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Posted on 3rd August 2011 by Judy Breck in Connective Expression, Golden Age of Learning and Networks

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The way Millennials live their lives — creating their own iPod playlists, designing their own Facebook pages grates against one-size-fits-all, industrial-era public education policies . . . . The preceding words are adjusted to education from a point made this week by conservative columnist Michael Barone:

In the wake of the 2008 election, I argued that there was a tension between the way Millennials lived their lives — creating their own iPod playlists, designing their own Facebook pages — and the one-size-fits-all, industrial-era welfare-state policies of the Obama Democrats.

Instead of allowing Millennials space in which they can choose their own futures, the Obama Democrats’ policies have produced a low-growth economy in which their alternatives are limited and they are forced to make do with what they can scrounge.

Every parent who has given a youngster his or her own mobile knows that an individual kid is empowered in important new ways by owning the device. That power is far more than the social connectivity the kids enjoy. As Barone points out, in the virtual world accessed through the device, the youngster is no longer constrained to a one-size-fits-all scenario such as school classrooms and curricula demand.

I think the empowerment that a personal mobile connection to the internet gives an individual is as fundamentally transitional as what occurred at these pivotal historical events:

The network science unfolding in the 21st century will continue to give us clearer understanding and a new perspective on the fact that human creativity and progress emerge from patterns of individuals. Top down power and patterns stifle, whether it is in a political campaign or a classroom.

The individual is a node in a network. We are just beginning to understand (see network science) how connectivity both gives power to nodes link out, and wisdom to crowds. Today’s Millennials are like the new Athenian voters, Brit serfs with new liberties, and America’s Minutemen — enjoying new individual liberty and ready to fight to keep it.

Great, great amounts of treasure are being poured toward giving every child a standardized education, and the system is not succeeding. Meanwhile, a new, better, individualized — and far, far cheaper — way of learning is already in the hands of Millennials.

Trees communicate using mycorrhizal network


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.

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.

Testing students as nodes releases them from class notches


Posted on 22nd July 2009 by Judy Breck in Emerging Online Knowledge, Networks and Testing

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kidAfganThe emerging networked system that increasingly links a student to knowledge, teachers, other students — and now testing — will release that student to compete globally. Treating a student as is our usual way, as a member of a class, traps her in the bell curve that evaluates her achievement in relation to others in her class.

This locks her learning into a notch within a group directed by a certain teacher and happening in a certain place or time. Doing this is an advantage if she is in a class of superior students at a terrific school. Not so much if she is a member of a class in a mediocre or failing school — where the student in her class who tests at the top of her class would score below the bottom student in a better school. This mechanism defeats all the optimism and cash dumps toward “getting scores up” in awful schools in Chicago, Detroit, New York — as well as many schools in developing countries, etc. etc, etc.. Analog student testing is affected in major ways by the school setting where it is happening.

The future online system will let a student anywhere take a test for Algebra 1, for example, and be scored against everyone else — in the world! — who takes it. The setting where this will happen is the emerging global network of learning individuals who are interlinked as individual nodes. And as Clay Shirky put it: Here Comes Everybody! In the next very few years virtually everybody in the younger generations will be connected — each becoming a node, free from the old time class notch.

One of the most elevating changes for a student that networking will bring to education is this transition of testing and assessment from the class group to the individual learner, accomplished by connecting an online test to a student being evaluated. We are just a little way down that road so far, but we are moving inexorably in that direction. An article this week in WebWire describes: Fifteen hundred college exams proctored online:

. . .  Jarrod Morgan, co-developer of the unique online system [says]: “We have improved the system by adding live certified proctors, real time audio/video using TokBox, technical assistance, practice exams, identity authentication, and the ability to assist exam-takers by remotely controlling their computers during an exam,” said a proud Morgan.

“Now that we’ve perfected online live-proctor exams and coupled the service with identity authentication,” commented Morgan, “and actually proven the system by proctoring 1,500 exams, we’re attracting more and more interested colleges and universities each week.”

Picturing connections happening in life and online


Posted on 19th July 2009 by Judy Breck in Findability, Networks and SEO

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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 Blue Brain waves patterns to educators

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Posted on 14th July 2009 by Judy Breck in Connective Expression and Networks

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The Blue Brain project, first reported on GoldenSwamp in January 2008, is the subject today of a Wall Street Journal feature: In Search for Intelligence, a Silicon Brain Twitches. The illustration above compares excerpts of Blue Brain’s neural network construction (left) and connections in the internet among science articles from the Map of Science (right).

The left network is thicker because brain connectivity is thicker than the connectivity of ideas about science on the internet. But the same thing is happening in both places: a structure from which idea patterns emerge is present.

Of course, the Blue Brain is not flesh-and-blood. It is a model made of silicon, and yet, as the WSJ reports:

Dubbed Blue Brain, the simulation shows some strange behavior. The artificial “cells” respond to stimuli and suddenly pulse and flash in spooky unison, a pattern that isn’t programmed but emerges spontaneously.

“It’s the neuronal equivalent of a Mexican wave,” says Dr. Markram, referring to what happens when successive clusters of stadium spectators briefly stand and raise their arms, creating a ripple effect. Such synchronized behavior is common in flesh-and-blood brains, where it’s believed to be a basic step necessary for decision making. But when it arises in an artificial system, it’s more surprising.

The implications for this same sort of activity within networks of human knowledge online are a big “Hello” to educators — a Mexican wave, as it were, hailing them to harness the internet for reflecting knowledge to students.

Interacting web patterns, link love, and the literati


Posted on 10th July 2009 by Judy Breck in Connective Expression, Findability, Networks and SEO

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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 Alamos Map 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.

Education is arriving late on the scene for appreciating the tools of online emergence. Suddenly now, the politicians are all over it. I wrote this post after reading Micah Sifry’s post today at Personal Democracy Forum titled Needed: Better Tools and Data for Understanding Social Media’s Role in #IranElection.

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.

Visions of network governance


Posted on 2nd July 2009 by Judy Breck in Networks

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Vivek Kundra is the U.S. CIO, appointed by President Obama. CIO = Chief Information Officer. At the Personal Democracy Forum, that I attended this week, CIO Kundra “pulled back the curtain,” as the PdF writes, on the new federal IT spending dashboard. Kundra talked about the IT Dashboard in terms of changing “government culture.”  On the dashboard homepage dated July 02 is this Agency Update:

“Monday June 29, 2009
Almost 400 Federal employees help test the IT Dashboard. From June 11 through June 29, OMB hosted daily Open House sessions, with tremendous attendance from over 30 Federal agencies.”

The IT Dashboard has cool and edgy tools for going “deep,” as the USCIO put it, into our country’s “investments.” What kept going through my mind was that the dashboard would be an excellent tool for Congress to look at how the Administration is spending money. Someone in the audience asked if the dashboard looks at how stimulus and healthcare funds are invested. The USCIO explained that only what is spent for information technology by government departments is thus far covered, but there are considerations for extending the process.

In another talk at the conference, Jeff Jarvis, author of What Would Google Do?, predicted that government is going to change [because of network effects] as the newspapers are now and as other sectors [have been shaken to the core]. [Brackets my words] So, the interesting thing to watch with the Obama administration’s networking initiatives is which way will change flow. I disagree with the apparent White House assumption that ideas from the Administration will permeate the nets. I think they will experience emergence rather than control the flow.

Networks will platform 21st century learning


Posted on 5th June 2009 by Judy Breck in Golden Age of Learning, Networks and Open Content

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The internet is a network platform in which humankind is embedding everything it knows. Educators who are building the future of learning are using the networked, embedded knowledge that the internet contains. It is important for educators to no longer hold the internet off judgmentally. Educators should be hands-on optimizing and connecting knowledge online. The image above shows the reason why: it is how networks connect.

The column going up the right side of the illustration with this post visualizes how knowledge grows in a network. A student’s mind is a network. The internet is a network. Knowledge is a network. It all meshes, and that is a beautiful thing about the new education.

Click this line to watch the video from which the right column is taken. Imagine as you watch that what is spreading is in a student’s mind. Connecting as a richer and richer network as the student learns is his understanding of biology, of the topics to the left of the column in the image above. (Actually the video depicts the spreading pattern of a Bluetooth mobile phone virus — but networks follow their own laws regardless of what is embedded in them.)

I made this illustration with boy and the K-12 ruler several years ago to show how school grades and standards chop apart ideas that need to connect to be understood. I added the right column today because I think it is a powerful visualization how open online content does the opposite of the traditional grades/standards chop chop. Networks connect ideas and deepen context causing learning.

A National Science Foundation press release explains more about the video.

Fitting education into the smarter world


Posted on 10th April 2009 by Judy Breck in Golden Age of Learning, Mobile Learning and Networks

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This new IBM ad tells us: “When systems connect the world gets smarter.”

There is a principle here that should be central to how we reconfigure education. Throwing a lot of money at education that is disconnected from the changing world is throwing a lot of money down a dark hole. When students connect to the smarter world network the world gets smarter. The mobile internet will connect kids so they can connect with ideas and systems of ideas. Doing education any other way in the 21st century is not smart.

This map depicts the future of education resources


Posted on 5th April 2009 by Judy Breck in Emerging Online Knowledge, Findability, Networks and Schools We Have Now

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Ten years ago, I was leading a project called, with a  graduate student team captained by two Ph.D’s, for sciences and the humanities. We built an open online network of 35,000 study subjects comprised of about 150,000 links to webpages picked by our scholars for sciences, humanities, arts, technologies and more. was very popular, receiving 4 million monthly visitors in the year 2000.

Those of us who connected the webpages of subjects imagined what the resulting network might look like, but had no way of representing it visually. This month the Los Alamos Laboratory has released what they call a Map of Science, which is a first look at what we realized was happening a decade ago. The Los Alamos research and map appear in PLoS ONE (the Public Library of Science).

Although Johan Bollen, who headed the project team was “surprised” by the networking of subjects that he saw, I was not:

Bollen and colleagues were surprised by the map’s scope and detail. Whereas maps based on citations favor the natural sciences, the team’s maps of science showed a prominent and central position for the humanities and social sciences, which, in many places, acted like interdisciplinary bridges connecting various other scientific domains. Sections of the maps were shaped by the activities of practitioners who read the scientific literature but do not frequently publish in its journals. was taken offline in 2003, and made proprietary. The practice for online “education” materials in the years since has not been to use the open internet as a network. Education is packaged in standards, curricula, courses and other formats repositioned from the analog 20th century. These formats do not allow the subject (cognitive), granular (unbundled) connectivity you see on the Map of Science.

Even back in the late 90s, as I watched the graduate students find and judge links in their fields, and then link what they found in cognitive patterns, I was sure that this method would be the future of learning resources. The Map of Science proves me right!

In the Golden Swamp that is the internet, the network whose depiction is glimpsed in the Map of Science has evolved to mirror the subjects education is meant to teach. This network delivers the freshest, most authoritative manifestation of these subjects. We should be using — and optimizing — this network for teaching and learning.

A curious case and science voodoo

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Posted on 24th February 2009 by Judy Breck in Emerging Online Knowledge, Findability, Learn nodes, Networks and Open Content

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My Point of View article just published by Educational Technology magazine explains the key to SeedMagazine’s lede article on That Voodoo that Scientists Do.

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?”

My article addresses exactly that question, and begins to answer it with some new network analysis from the BarabasiLab. The Curious Case of the Polio Virus Learn Node is the tale of a quality node that found its way to prominence through nature’s network laws.

Download The Curious Case of the Polio Virus Learn Node

Information is a happy camper in networks

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Posted on 18th February 2009 by Judy Breck in Emerging Online Knowledge, Golden Age of Learning and Networks

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The brilliant folks at Maya have created this video that explains what information is. The Golden Swamp – the internet – is a new habitat that information has been flooding into for the past couple of decades. We do not understand very well yet the life of information within the swamp. I think a fundamental fact about the internet will turn out to be this: information is a happy camper in the internet because, like the internet, information is a network.

As you will see in the video, confusing information with cups and colors is not recognizing what the stuff really is. The narrator shows how he has to give the information of his color choice for us to know. The internet has vast amounts of information to give – which is a key to the future of learning.

Via information aesthetics

How the Body Works: Blood Clotting from Medpedia


Posted on 17th February 2009 by Judy Breck in Biology, Blogs, Wikis and Swarms, Emerging Online Knowledge, Golden Age of Learning and Networks

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This video illustrating blood clotting in a wound is from the new online Medpedia. The welcome page explains that Medpedia “is applying a new collaborative model to the collection, sharing and advancement of medical knowledge that, over time, will produce the world’s most comprehensive resource.” Having watched new learning content come online since 1997, I can claim some authority when I say this is the right way to do a very important thing that will profoundly benefit humankind! Wow! By networking medical knowledge among all the medical experts, this resource will be superior, comprehensive, and self-vetting. Again, wow!

The following is from the Wired Campus announcement today:
Collaborative Online Medical Encyclopedia Goes Live
Medpedia, a new online medical encyclopedia relying on user-generated content from anyone with an M.D. or a Ph.D. in a biomedical field, officially became available today. The venture, which has the backing of numerous leading medical schools, was explored in an earlier Chronicle article that takes a detailed look at issues for contributors and users of the site. –David Shieh

Nature is the model for networking knowledge


Posted on 6th February 2009 by Judy Breck in Carnival of the Mobilists, Connective Expression, Emerging Online Knowledge, Golden Age of Learning, Networks and Open Content

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The open internet gives education a new place from which to access the knowledge it teaches. Organization of that knowledge that mimics nature’s network laws will keep us from laboring in vain. Supporting evidence is found in one of the most popular listings this morning on delicious: The 15 Coolest Cases of Biomimicry, which begins:

“Those who are inspired by a model other than Nature, a mistress above all masters, are laboring in vain. – Leonardo Da Vinci . Biomimicry – The practice of developing sustainable human technologies inspired by nature. Sometimes called Biomimetics or Bionics, it’s basically biologically inspired engineering.”

My personal favorite, of the 15 cases, is Lotus Effect Hydrophobia.

They call it “superhydrophobicity,” but it’s really a biomimetic application of what is known as the Lotus Effect. The surface of lotus leaves are bumpy, and this causes water to bead as well as to pick up surface contaminates in the process. The water rolls off, taking the contaminates with it. Researchers have developed ways to chemically treat the surface of plastics and metal to evoke the same effect. Applications are nearly endless, and not just making windshield wipers and car wax jobs obsolete. Lots of researchers are working on it, and General Electric’s Global Research Center is busy developing coatings for commercial application right now.