Monday, December 13, 2021

Wittrock Generative learning

Merlin Wittrock (1931 - 2007) worked at the University of California and saw good learning as a generative process. In a series of papers over two decades he saw 'generative' learning as the key to creating a shift in education towards more efficient learning. 
It has its roots in Bartlett (1932) and Piaget (1926) who both saw learning as acts of construction and, for Piaget, fitting knowledge into existing schemas. But for Wittrock, generative learning theory was built on the idea of learners integrating new knowledge and skills into what they already know though generative activities, where effective teaching facilitates leavers to construct meaning from various generative experiences.

Generative theory of learning

Wittrock not only developed his generative theory of learning, he also researched its effectiveness and applied it in practice. Learners, for Wittrock, are not passive receivers of knowledge, they are active reorgansisers of knowledge, creating meaning from their own generative activities. His generative learning theory was built on the idea of learners integrating new knowledge and skills into what they already know through generative activities. Effective teaching must therefore facilitate learners to construct meaning from various generative experiences.

His model encourages learners to generate meaning and understanding from instruction through effortful, generative activities and has four major processes:

(a) attention - directing generative processes on relevant incoming material and stored knowledge

(b) motivation - willingness to invest effort to make sense of material

(c) knowledge and preconceptions - prior knowledge, experiences, and beliefs

(d) generation - sense making

For Wittrock all four have generative components, what some would describe as constructive, where the learners control and build their own models, rather than interpreting taught content. Teachers must therefore learn to lead learners towards learning by encouraging generative activities. 

Generative activities

The generation of notes in one’s own words, use of analogies and effortful activities are all generative. Summaries and analogies in reading, for example, is an effective learning strategy, Wittrock & Alesandrini (1990). 

Fiorella & Mayer (2015) recommend eight types of generative strategies:

Summarizing: Create a written or oral summary of the material 

Mapping: Create a concept map, knowledge map or matrix organizer 

Drawing: Create a drawing that depicts the text

Imagining: Imagine a drawing that depicts the text 

Self-testing: Give yourself a practice test on the material 

Self-explaining Create a written or oral explanation of the material 

Teaching: Explain the material to others 

Enacting: Move objects to act out the material

Problem solving

With Richard Mayer, Wittrock also contributed to research on problem solving in order to identify the best way to teach it, with three main findings:


  1. Domain-specific principle - teach problem as a domain specific skill not as a general skill

  2. Near transfer principle - accept that problem solving skills work across a limited range of applicability

  3. Knowledge integration principle - use guided problem-solving tasks to teach knowledge


Wittorck was heavily involved in teacher training and his generative theory was not just about what the learner did, it was also about appropriately generative teaching strategies. Problem solving was one such strategy.

Critique

Generative learning has been criticised by some as swinging the instructional pendulum too far towards discovery or exploratory learning, diminishing the role of direct instruction. Its singular focus on the generative processes, some think are partial, with other processes involved in learning.

Influence

Wittrock’s work on generative learning has not had as much influence as the topic and his work deserve. As technology has developed and social media normalised, the creation of text, images and videos have become common online, generative activities.

Bibliography

Wittrock, M.C., 1992. Generative learning processes of the brain. Educational Psychologist, 27(4), pp.531-541.

Wittrock, M.C., 1989. Generative processes of comprehension. Educational psychologist, 24(4), pp.345-376.

Wittrock, M.C., 1974. Learning as a generative process. Educational psychologist, 11(2), pp.87-95.

Fiorella, L. and Mayer, R.E., 2016. Eight ways to promote generative learning. Educational Psychology Review, 28(4), pp.717-741.

Wittrock, M.C. and Alesandrini, K., 1990. Generation of summaries and analogies and analytic and holistic abilities. American Educational Research Journal, 27(3), pp.489-502.

Mayer, R.E., 2010. Merlin C. Wittrock's enduring contributions to the science of learning. Educational Psychologist, 45(1), pp.46-50.

Mayer, R.E. and Wittrock, M.C., 2006. Problem Solving In P. Alexander, P. Winne, & G. Phye.


Education during COVID debate in Berlin


The UK Government has announced an acceleration of the booster programme, as they know a huge wave of infections is coming based on Omicron's infection rate (high). Although the variant is less lethal, when you have so many people infected, the strain on hospitals will be intense and people will die.

Yet the Government (and opposition) completely ignores the fact that schools and Universities are two massive vectors for infection. They are basically wheel and hub networks designed to optimise viral spread. Schools bring huge groups of people, a thousand and more, from every street in the community, to sit in small cramped rooms all day, then send them back to their homes, five days a week. With Universities you do this on a national scale with longer distances. These vast networks basically boost infection by forcing millions into close contact wil Amazon levels of distribution reach.


I took part in The Big Debate in Berlin this month. The motion was “This house belives that Education has failed to learn the lesson of Covid19”. I was up against the head of the NUS, who thought that “poor students who had to study in their pyjamas and dressing gowns” were “suffering badly from mental illness and loss of social contact”. Not only was this a caricature of education, as most people being ‘educated’ were in schools or the workplace, it was the usual placing of students on a social pedestal.


My retort was that viewing students as victims was an insult to the front line workers who had no choice other than to risk their lives, and sometimes die doing so, to keep us fed, supplied and safe - the delivery drivers, lorry drivers, paramedics, care home workers, police officers, bus drivers and factory workers - almost none of whom went to ‘Uni’.


I did argue that educators did a good job, many raising their skills as online educators under immense pressure. It was also good for both teachers and learners to raise their digital skills and literacy. Like Eric Mazur at Harvard,, I argued that it would be "almost unethical" to go back on those gains,


Rather than build on the advances we’ve made on Blending learning, the education system seems to be defaulting back to their old model. Why? Lecturing is easy, teaching is hard. We have a chance to make Higher Education cheaper, more accessible and efficient. We may blow it.


Saturday, December 11, 2021

Tales of the absurd from Berlin

It was my first live conference for eons and the final session was a L&D roundup which was a bit of fun but two odd things happened. It was one of those bingo word events, where someone in the audience chooses a word from the screen and someone else stands up to say something for five minutes on that word. I can’t remember all of the words but they were things like ‘resilience’ and ‘curiosity’ and ‘obstacles’. When asked about ‘obstacles’ I put my hand up and said that I thought faffing around with abstract words in L&D had become an ‘obstacle’ to progress. 

BIG mistake, as I then heard the words ”Next we have (can’t remember their names) who will speak on ‘Resilience’”. To be fair the whole room laughed. If I’m resilient, it’s on one thing, trying to stop learning people rattle on about grit, resilience, or any other obscure, abstract noun, that no real people ever actually utter. We’ve only just put ‘mindfulness’ to bed, when a new one appears. I’ve had a bellyful of the stuff and lost interest when they were describing their ‘resilience meter’. It really is a thing. It just wasn’t my thing. Actually they were lovely people.


My SECOND mistake was to drift off, then coming round to hear “...so turn to the person next to you and give it a try” a phrase that makes my heart sink. I missed the first part of the sentence and on turning round, I said something and the person, who is a good friend of mine, started to object to what I said. She was repeatedly abrasive. My responses, at first polite, became angier and then I got obstreperous. Turns out it was a role-play, the key piece of information that had failed to register . A third person turned to me and said “You do know it’s a role-play?”. I apologised and all was fine. Again we had a bit of a giggle.


I suppose I’m just weary of this stuff, the idea that L&D is some sort of pop-up therapy service. Is this resilience thing much more than HR once again ticking people off for having a perceived deficit, a weakness, a flaw? Then there’s that old-school performative ‘turn to the person next to you’ BS. Are we really going back to that after Covid?


Sunday, November 21, 2021

Stickgold & Walker Sleep and learning

Robert Stickgold is a US Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, whose sleep research looks at the links between sleep and learning, especially sleep deprivation. He was a colleague and mentor to Matthew Walker, an English sleep researcher, now Professor of Neuroscience and Psychology at the University of California, Berkeley. His research is on sleep and his international bestseller Why We Sleep (2017) contains much that is relevant to the topic of sleep, memory and learning. His 2019 TED talk Sleep is your Superpower was also hugely popular, watched by millions.

Sleep and memory

Walker has written about the effects of sleep on student learning and recommends a rethink around the idea of end-of-semester exams that encourage cramming, even all-nighters. He has changed his own teaching to avoid final exams, splitting his courses up into thirds to spread the assessment load. 

Sleep before learning

Sleep is an active process that improves memory. When we are awake the hippocampus experiences and learns things in the real world, as a short-term location for new memories. It is also limited in capacity. It deals with this by shifting memories into other locations, namely the cortex, during sleep. You can test this using daytime naps and Walker compared a 90 minute ‘nap’ with a ‘no-nap’ group, after they performed a taxing 100 face-name pair task. Later that day, another intense learning task was performed, to see if learning had declined. Those that napped actually increased their ability to learn, while those that stayed awake showed a decline, the difference being a staggering 20%. It would appear that light, Stage 2 NREM sleep and short sleep spindles led to greater retention. It would appear that sleep refreshes our ability to learn, especially the later period of a night’s sleep. Getting up too early and shortening your sleep period seems to be deleterious to learning. This seems to decline with age.

Sleep after learning

What about after one has learnt something? Consolidation of memories has been posited for 2000 years, but it was Jenkins and Dallenbach (1924), who tested forgetting of verbal facts over eight hours, either awake or asleep. This has been replicated many times and forgetting in the group that was awake is greater, the benefits of sleep being 20-40% greater for the sleep groups.

REM and NREM  sleep was then discovered in the 1950s and the link between consolidation of memory and deep NREM was established, with MRI evidence indicating that memories literally move from the hippocampus to the neocortex during sleep. It would appear that your cache of memories gets cleared and stored every night, leaving  you ready for the next day’s learning. Sleep can also improve learning by recovering memories you lost while learning. It seems to rescue memories. Motor skills are also consolidated and enhanced during sleep.

Stimulating learning during sleep

Sleepers stimulated by electrical voltage pulses during deep NREM. The sleepers felt nothing but doubled their ability to recall facts learnt just before going to sleep. Quiet auditory tones synchronised with brain waves, from speakers next to the bed, have also been found to have an effect, namely a 40% improvement on recall. 

Sleep to forget  

When two groups were presented with words to remember but told to remember some (tagged R) and forget others (tagged F), the group that had a 90 minute nap had actively remembered more R words and forgotten more F words. It would seem that sleep is quite intelligent or active in what it selects as memories to be stored.

Sleep and emotions

Emotions or the affective side of learning are also influenced by sleep. The brain does reprocess or modulate emotions through sleep. Sleep deprivation encourages high emotional responses including aggression, bullying and behavioural problems in children.

Critique

Walker has been criticised for being slapdash with his data and references in his book. He has responded and apologised for some of its weaknesses.

Influence

Walker’s book and TED talk popularised sleep research and although he has been criticised for some inaccuracies, the benefits of sleep are now well known, especially among teachers and parents, worried by the rise in late night screen time.

Bibliography

Walker, M., 2017. Why we sleep: Unlocking the power of sleep and dreams. Simon and Schuster.

Stickgold, R. and Walker, M.P., 2013. Sleep-dependent memory triage: evolving generalization through selective processing. Nature neuroscience, 16(2), pp.139-145.

Walker, M.P. and van Der Helm, E., 2009. Overnight therapy? The role of sleep in emotional brain processing. Psychological bulletin, 135(5), p.731.

Walker, M.P. and Stickgold, R., 2004. Sleep-dependent learning and memory consolidation. Neuron, 44(1), pp.121-133.

Walker, M.P. and Stickgold, R., 2006. Sleep, memory, and plasticity. Annu. Rev. Psychol., 57, pp.139-166.

Jenkins, J.G. and Dallenbach, K.M., 1924. Obliviscence during sleep and waking. The American Journal of Psychology, 35(4), pp.605-612.


Saturday, November 20, 2021

Engelbart Collective intelligence and IQ

Douglas Carl Engelbart (1925 – 2013) was instrumental in establishing human-computer interaction as an area of technical and psychological research, playing an instrumental role in the invention of the computer mouse, joystick and tracker-ball, also bitmapped screens and hypertext. These and other prophetic features were shown in the famous ‘Mother of all demos’ in 1968. He also put forward an early and full vision of collective intelligence and the idea of collective IQ. He envisioned much of this before the advent of the internet but foresaw the importance of networked knowledge and the networked organisation.

Collective intelligence

While in the Navy he read Vannevar Bush’s article As We May Think and saw the possibility of a shared network being able to be more than the sum of its parts.


We need to get better at getting better. To do this we needed to augment our individual intellects with techniques that leverage collective knowledge. He saw this as the solution to solving complex problems. He called this Bootstrapping and at the heart of the Bootstapping Paradigm was his Dynamic Knowledge Repository (DKR) which allowed a process called the  Concurrent Development, Integration and Application of Knowledge (CoDIAK). This DKTR is also subject to the CoDIAK process.

There is, of course, the human activity with tools and within networked technology but Englebart’s focus was on

A-level, core business as usual activities

B-level improvements on that process, such as quality control

C-level improving on the improvements. 

This C-level is the most im[ortant for exponential improvement. It is what he meant by getting better at being better and is an iterative process where lessons learnt are included in the process of improvement.

Collective IQ

Beyond the mere qualitative description of the web being a place where collective intelligence could flourish, in 1994 he proposed a measure for such intelligence - collective IQ. It measures ‘effectiveness’ or how well groups work together to anticipate and respond to problems and situations. 

This could be a product, service or research goal. Whatever the goal, Collective IQ determines the effectiveness of the response. Speed and quality of response are the key measures, along with development and deployment. It is not an abstract measure of reason but a measure of getting things done and completed, to meet the goal.

Complex goals need more collective IQ, so it is challenging projects, such as the Moonshot or Manhattan project that are often quoted as examples, where collective efforts resulted in goals being met faster and more effectively than they would have been, on the basis of a less collective effort.

The components of Collective IQ are, unlike the brain and individual IQ:

  1. Group process - collective ability to develop, integrate and apply knowledge to a goal

  2. Shared memory - gained, captured, accessed as a shared resource

Collective IQ can be raised or lowered through ignoring, obstructing the bootstrapping process.

Critique

The measurement of individual intelligence is hard enough, the measurement of collective intelligence that much harder, not only in terms of how one combines the individual inputs but also any additional value that images from it being a collective. It is not clear that any general measure could be possible.

Influence

Engelbart’s invention of the mouse and initalm work in envisioning the internet is reason enough to see him as an influential pioneer. His further work on collective intelligence saw the start of serious analysis of networks in terms of their emerging features as forms of collective effort and intelligence.

Bibliography

Boosting Our Collective IQ, by Douglas C. Engelbart, 1995


Lanier Virtual Reality and Digital Maoism

Jaron Lanier is a US technologist and musician. As he founded the first Virtual Reality (VR) company, VPL Research, to sell VR goggles in 1985 but went bankrupt in 1990, so is seen as the inventor, father or, more realistically, the person who came up with the phrase ‘Virtual Reality’. His insights on technology, such as ‘Digital Maoism’, ‘Micropayments’ and his disdain for the collective output of the web and social media, have also been influential. He has for many years been a gadfly for the big tech companies, critical of how Silicon Valley has turned out. He now works at Microsoft.

Virtual reality

In Dawn of the New Everything: Encounters with Reality and Virtual Reality (2017), he takes a wide view of VR, explaining his journey in exploring the medium, presenting its strengths; such as healthcare applications for PTSD and work with those with disabilities, as well as its weaknesses. He presents it as a new medium, not a gadget and explains its complex, fluid and evolving role.

VR now undoubtedly plays a growing role in learning and Lanier’s early work with headsets, gloves, bodysuits and virtual, multi-user spaces, laid the foundation for further developments. His focus on user interaction within those spaces is now being made easier as the technology has improved and the research implemented, and so are its learning and training applications. 

Digital Maoism

Lanier, in a clever phrase, warns against Digital Maoism (2006) aided and abetted by Google, that may take the wisdom of the crowd and turn us all into slavish followers of it and other monolithic services, such as Wikipedia, as the single font of all authoritative knowledge. It drags us towards the single view of authoritative truth that is presented online. He cleverly compares this drift as the sort of drift we see towards totalitarian regimes, towards a single view of the world. 

He also sees the online world as dehumanising people, a place where subtlety and individuality is lost. The subterfuge is that Google monetises your search data and is “selling people (their advertiser-targetable personal identities, buying habits, etc.) back to themselves“. This is an interesting counter to the many theorists, such as Engelbert and Shirky, who see the internet as the source of collective intelligence or the wisdom of crowds. For Lanier it has too many inherent vested interests, structures and limitations.

Internet

He has little time for Kurweil’s single-event analysis which is part of his general critique of AI, as not being capable of being, even replicating, what it is to be human. In You Are Not a Gadget (2010), he again criticises the mob mentality and structures of the web. His individualism sees collective production, such as Wikipedia, open source and open educational resources, as using the labour of individuals without attribution or rewards. There is a sense in which innovation is curbed by collective builds, as it crushes the efforts and flair of the individual. Attempts at standardisation, such as MIDI in music, heattacks as dumbing down.

He takes up the attack again in Who owns the future? (2013), where he again sees users as being duped into handing over their data, while large online organisations profit from that data. He again puts forward a micropayments solution to this problem, that repays individuals for their efforts. In Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now (2018), he takes the Postman idea that social media users are becoming the tool they use and being turned into fractious, tribal addicts, losing their sense of well being and place in the real world.

Critique

Lanier has become more critical, polemical and prescriptive in his attacks on online technology, social media and its uses but it is not clear that becoming prescriptive about not using it is justified. Individuals and small businesses and organisations have bloomed and many see the transaction of data for useful free services such as search, translation and communication as fair. His views on technology also, at times, seem somewhat dated as events overtake his analysis, especially in AIU where generated code and transformers break free from what he sees as being the limitations of AI.

It is also not clear that Digital Maoism has actually emerged on the web. If anything it has gone in the opposite direction producing diversity and tribal divisions. On the whole, Lanier tends to play the technology card then swipe it back. This is best summed up in the fact that he has written several books about the hegemony of large tech companies but works for Microsoft.

Influence

Lanier’s contribution to initiating and maintaining interest in VR is undisputed and useful. His provocations on the nature of the web have also contributed greatly to the debate around who profits on the web and some of the dangers around its commoditisation. His role as a writer and speaker has allowed him to present interesting and novel theories, such as Digital Maoism, as well as solutions such as micropayments. His work in VR is now also bearing fruit with a growing body of research and learning applications, see Clark (2021).

Bibliography

Lanier, J., 2018. Ten arguments for deleting your social media accounts right now. Random House.Lanier, J., 2017. Dawn of the new everything: Encounters with reality and virtual reality. Henry Holt and Company.Lanier, J., 2014. Who owns the future?. Simon and Schuster.

Lanier, J., 2006. Digital Maoism: The hazards of the new online collectivism. The Edge, 183(30), p.2.

Lanier, J., 2010. You are not a gadget: A manifesto. Vintage.

Clark, D., 2021. Learning Experience Design: How to Create Effective Learning that Works. Kogan Page Publishers.


China's second Cultural revolution

Some years back Gil, our sons and I travelled in a huge loop around China but especially loved Shaolin, the Temple where they combine Buddhism with martial arts. Almost all modern martial arts originated there. Callum, all these years later, is just about to go to the European Championships in the ITF TaeKwon Do England Team but on that day 10,000 practicing martial arts kids were out in their silks (we were lucky). There were, everywhere, disciplined kids demonstrating their skills, who were attending one of the many schools. It was spectacular.

Turning my thoughts to the China of today, that discipline has turned the country into a superpower. We saw the poverty that existed in the countryside, almost feudal, and who can deny that its great success is in lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty. They did that by using socialist principles to leverage hard working, productive labour but who really paid for this - you and I. We lapped up those cheap goods. Almost every Christmas decoration and present you will buy this year has come from China. The complaints about low wages and what is called slave labour is a bit rich from those who have iPhones and wardrobes full of rarely worn clothes.

However, that brings me to some strange goings on… a second cultural revolution or clampdown. This has been led by the enigmatic Wang Huning. There’s a brilliant portrait of him here...

https://palladiummag.com/.../the-triumph-and-terror.../...

Wang, like all iconoclasts in the past, is using state control to do some pretty unusual things.

TECH COMPANIES

In addition to a fierce clampdown on large tech companies trying to become monopolies, Alibaba was fined US$2.8 billion, Didi was removed from all app stores, they have all been issued with a strict warning - comply or we'll crush you. They've also banned Bitcoin, a clever move for all sorts of reasons, not least weaponising finance to blame the US and others for climate change.

SOCIAL MEDIA

Wang's also behind the move to control large tech companies with a ‘Minor Protection Law’, implemented in June; a crackdown on social media use, which means time management, content restriction and consumption limits for minors.

  • On Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, owned by same company, with 600 million daily users, if you’re under 14:
  • Swipe and you get a compulsory science lesson or Museum exhibit, before you can get back to the fun. It’s a mass nudge campaign.
  • Limited to 40 mins a day.
  • Mandatory 5 second delay on scrolling.
  • Not available 10pm to 6am.

ONLINE GAMING

A clampdown on online gamers targets what they see as the decadence of this activity:

  • Under 18 gamers can only play on public holidays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 8pm to 9pm.
  • Then there’s censorship in the form of not being able to play games that feature ‘cross-dressing’, ‘gay romance’ and ‘effeminate males’.
  • Changing ‘established’ historical narratives is also frowned upon, this includes  ‘politically harmful’ or ‘historically nihilistic’ content.

ONLINE TUTORING

This sector has been decimated:

  • Private sector tutoring companies have been banned.
  • Foreign education companies have come under strict regulatory scrutiny.
  • Compulsory state registration controls all education companies and platforms.
  • No approval for new off-campus tutoring centres providing core/compulsory education.
  • All must become registered as non-profit institutions.
  • Tutoring banned on weekends, public holidays, and winter and summer vacations, which are popular times for off-campus education.
  • All new enrolments and payments stopped until registration complete by end of 2021.

This is all backed up with sophisticated tracking. Of course, since the dawn of the internet kids have circumvented restrictions through illegal websites, VPNs and foreign sites. Wonder how your kids got to watch that recent cinema only movie release?

Now we feel repulsed by all of this but for years I’ve seen keynote speakers and so-called liberal and progressive people call for similar restrictions on screen time, gaming and many agree that tutoring is ‘gaming’ the education system in favour of the wealthy. It's no more than many have demanded.. We should use the Chinese clampdown to reflect on what we in the liberal, democratic world really want here.

Then there’s the social credit system, which is widely misunderstood, more on that later in another post


Friday, November 19, 2021

Shirky Cognitive surplus

Clay Shirky is a US writer and commentator on technology. He is the Vice Provost of Educational Technologies of New York University(NYU), after being the CIO at NYU Shanghai. He has commented on the immense impact the internet has had on politics, economics and education. He foresaw the disintermediation, decentralisation and democritisation effect of the internet but is not uncritical of the negative side of such phenomena.

Mass amateurisation

Here Comes Everybody (2008) was an appeal for the power of collaboration and crowdsourcing which the internet had enabled. He sees this as a bottom-up process, a sharing culture of the internet, in terms of sharing by individuals of content, links, reposting and so on. This is followed by conversations, with one to many dialogue, where people learn from each other, in a meeting of minds. This can develop into collaboration where people coalesce around a common goal, a problem to fix or idea to be developed. Finally, a team forms for collective action, with division of labour, to get something made or done. This removes the traditional blocks in business and general human endeavour, in what he calls ‘mass amateurisation’. Wikipedia and mass publishing have been examples of this.

Cognitive Surplus

Clay Shirky’s Cognitive Surplus (2010) moves us beyond the descriptive to the prescriptive. Cognitive Surplus is a direct assault on TV, as the post-war medium that soaked up almost all of our free time. TV “immobilizes even moderately attentive users, freezing them on chairs and couches”. This 50 year aberration made us less happy, pushing us more towards material satisfaction than social satisfaction. Year on year we spent more time in this “vast wasteland”. It became a medium of ‘social surrogacy’ replacing time spent with family and friends with imaginary friends. 

Shirky then posed a fascinating question. What if even some of that cognitive effort and time were put to better use? Shirky’s cardinal argument is that this passive ‘cognitive surplus’, squandered on passive consumption, could be bountiful. For example, one year of US TV watching is the equivalent of 2000 Wikipedias. In practice, the internet has allowed us to ‘make and share’, with sharing being the driver. We produce rather than just consume and he says that “the stupidest possible creative act is still a creative act”. It’s Shirky’s belief that “It’s in our nature to interact – we enjoy it.” Being part of the web is being part of a global network and the numbers matter. More is better as we can harness this global cognitive surplus to create a new future that is less passive. It is a matter not of using it up but using it constructively through broad experimentation. He compares the web with the print and telephone revolution, in that it results not in a monoculture but increased and unpredictable forms of communication arguing for “as much chaos as we can stand".

TV, unlike the telephone and internet, is unbalanced. Being part of the web is being part of a global network and the numbers matter. More is better as we can harness this global cognitive surplus to create a new future that is less passive. It is a matter, not of using it up but using it constructively, through broad experimentation. He compares the web with the print and telephone revolution, in that it results not in a monoculture but increased and unpredictable forms of communication arguing for ‘as much chaos as we can stand’. Fundamentally, he sees interactivity and social communication as a more natural form of behaviour, destroyed by TV, but coming back to the fore.

Education

In 2015, in the article The Digital Revolution in Higher Education has already happened. No one noticed, Shirky claimed that online learning was already the norm for many with most colleges and most students doing this in some form. He sees the whole date as being, wrongly, about elite four-year colleges, when the real revolution is taking place elsewhere. He also sees the Higher Education system shrink to much fewer and larger organisations, as online learning takes hold

Critique

Shirky’s vision of a world increasingly shaped by mass amateurs and collaboration has not quite come to pass. Yet progress has been steady. It has opened up opportunities for small businesses, projects, activities and publishing on a global scale. On the other hand, the power of large tech companies has intensified. Similarly, his predictions for the changes in Higher Education have not yet come to pass, although the Covid period is certainly putting them under strain.

Influence

Shirky was a new type of commentator, active online, largely concerned with the shift from traditional mass media to online culture. He had and still has wide popular appeal, based on his published books. The shift from old to new media continues as does his predicted shift to a more decentralised world.

Bibliography

The Digital Revolution in Higher Education has Already Happened (2015)

Shirky, C., 2010. Cognitive surplus: Creativity and generosity in a connected age. Penguin UK.

Shirky, C., 2009. Here comes everybody: How change happens when people come together. Penguin UK.


Chinese clampdown on tutoring, social media and games

Some years back Gil, our sons and I travelled in a huge loop around China but especially loved Shaolin, the Temple where they combine Buddhism with martial arts. Almost all modern martial arts originated there. Callum, all these years later, is just about to go to the European Championships in the ITF TaeKwon Do England Team but on that day 10,000 practicing martial arts kids were out in their silks (we were lucky). There were, everywhere, disciplined kids demonstrating their skills, who were attending one of the many schools there. It was spectacular.

Turning my thoughts to the China of today, that discipline has turned it into a superpower. We saw the poverty that existed in the countryside, almost feudal, and who can deny that its great success is in lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty. They did that by using socialist principles to leverage hard working, productive labour but who really paid for this - you and I. We lapped up those cheap goods. Almost every Christmas decoration and present you buy will have come from China. The complaints about low wages and what is called slave labour is a bit rich from those who have iPhones and wardrobes full of rarely worn clothes.

However, that brings me to some strange goings on… a second cultural revolution or clampdown. This has been led by the enigmatic Wang Huning. There’s a brilliant portrait of him here. Wang, like all iconoclasts in the past, is using state control to do some pretty unusual things.


Tech companies 

In addition to a fierce clampdown on large tech companies trying to become monopolies, Alibaba was fined US$2.8 billion, Didi was removed from all app stores.

 

Social media

He’s behind the move to control the tech companies with a ‘Minor Protection Law’, implemented in June; a crackdown on social media use,which means time management, content restriction and consumption limits for minors. 

On Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, owned by same company,with 600 million daily users, if you’re under 14:

  • Swipe and you get a compulsory science lesson or Museum exhibit, before you can get back to the fun. It’s a mass nudge campaign.

  • Limited to 40 mins a day.

  • Mandatory 5 second delay on scrolling.

  • Not available 10pm to 6am.


Online gaming

A clampdown on online gamers targets what they see as the decadence of this activity:

  • Under 18 gamers can only play on public holidays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 8pm to 9pm.

  • Then there’s censorship in the form of not being able to play games that feature ‘cross-dressing’, ‘gay romance’ and ‘effeminate males’.

  • Changing ‘established’ historical narratives is also frowned upon, this includes  ‘politically harmful’ or ‘historically nihilistic’ content.


Online tutoring

This sector has been decimated:

  • Private sector tutoring companies have been banned.

  • Foreign education companies have come under strict regulatory scrutiny.

  • Compulsory state registration controls all education companies and platforms.

  • No approval for new off-campus tutoring centers providing core/compulsory education. 

  • All must become registered as non-profit institutions.

  • Tutoring banned on weekends, public holidays, and winter and summer vacations, which are popular times for off-campus education.

  • All new enrollments and payments stopped until registration complete by end of 2021.


This is all backed up with sophisticated tracking.Of course, since the dawn of the internet kids have circumvented restrictions through illegal websites, VPNs and foreign sites. Wonder how your kids got to watch that recent cinema only movie release?


Now we feel repulsed by all of this but for years I’ve seen keynote speakers and so-called liberal and progressive people call for similar restrictions on screen time, gaming and many agree that tutoring ‘games’ the education system in favour of the wealthy. We should use the Chinese clampdown to reflect on what we in the liberal, democratic world really want here.


Then there’s the social credit system, which is widely misunderstood, more on that later in another post