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


Monday, November 15, 2021

Hegel Bildung and educating for the state

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770 – 1831), a German philosopher, spent three years as a private tutor, seven years as Headmaster of the Gymnasium at Nuremberg, six years as an unpaid lecturer and was a professor where he taught for many years  at the University of Berlin and Heidelberg. Although he had a speech impediment when lecturing, he was liked as a teacher by his students. Hegel never wrote a specific text on education but saw it as an important feature of his personal and political philosophy.

Schools

The state must supervise and determine the education of a child. This role supersedes the various choices and preferences of parents. It is society that must be the prime agent. Schools, unlike family contexts, must mould the learner into civil society, through restraining behaviour to act as a bridge between family and society.

Education as play he sees as childish as it lowers the sights of education. Even children see it as childish. One must get the learner to strive towards maturity. If not, the result is a form of contempt for one’s elders, a vanity and conceit that makes the child feel falsely superior. The child must eventually learn to break his toys.

Discipline, in particular, matters, as it limits the impulsiveness of the young. The child should not be disciplined by appeal to their reason, as that leaves it to their whim. The child has no intrinsic sense of good and evil, only their own impulses. To appeal to these impulses would be wrong as they will use this to avoid obedient behaviour.

Obedience actually frees the learner to move towards the education of their own minds. He has no time for teaching that bends to the will or individuality of the individual learner, on the basis that, firstly, teachers don’t have the time to do this and secondly that schools must apply universal rules and constraints, not for the development of the individual or spurious originality but the development of the learners themselves in society.

Instruction

He is against the idea of avoiding instruction, as if there is such a thing as critical, philosophical thinking, separate from knowledge of what already exists. One learns to think through understanding what others have thought. Science is a body of hard-won knowledge, that took time and effort to realise. It needs to be learnt and learning is a form of re-thinking this body of knowledge. The idea that the free thinking learner must come up with fully formed knowledge and skills is a foolish idea, as others have done this for that learner. A myth in learning is to think that one must start with the experiences of circles and work towards the general principles of circles. The reverse, he thinks, is preferable, to move from the known and drawn circle and its properties, to the particular instances of circles. Indeed Hegel is particularly critical of the young as being opinion, illusion, half-truth, distortion, and indeterminateness. 

Bildung

The inward looking child must be educated to realise that those dispositions need to be turned outwards towards society. The external authorities of a social order then become internalised.

The learner should not be seen as a solipsistic entity ‘thinking for themselves’ but rather as thinking in tune with others. Thinking or oneself is fine but with a goal in mind, not for the sake of just being an individual. The constant encouragement of argument and disputation leads to impertinence. The goal should be the formative development (Bildung) towards the universality of self-consciousness. The learning process (Bildung) is dynamic in that what is learnt is particular to the culture of the moment, which pushes previous cultural norms to the past. The learner must strive after education and be given role models and examples to strive towards. This changes over time.

Citizen and state

He unequivocally rejects Rousseau, seeing the methods in Emile as ‘futile’. The child must be encouraged to do the opposite and become a citizen of the state and its laws. True individuality, for Hegel, is to become the good citizen of the good state.

Critique

Karl Popper rejected Hegel’s historicism and adulation of the state, blaming his philosophy for the totalitarian ills of the 20th century. He saw Hegel as an intellectual apologist for the absolute rule of Frederick William III. In addition he criticised hegel as the intellectual catalyst for both fascism and communism, his dialectics being used for purposes of genocide. Bertrant Russell was even more scathing, describing almost all of Hegel’s doctrines to be false.

Although Hegel may not have been responsible for the dialectical theory taken up by Marxism, it was responsible for the mudrer of millions in the former Soviet Union, China and Cambodia, including the decimation of the teacher and academic class.

Influence

One can see the influence on Dewey and others who see education as the inculcation of larger beliefs of the state. Isaiah Berlin, on the other hand, saw Hegel as an architect of authoritarianism, in opposition to liberal democracy. The state has certainly played an increasing role in education from this time. There is also the tradition of discipline, moving the child out of the realm of parental influence and play into the more serious development that is Bildung. Whatever the talk of Rousseau and the need for progressive education, it is this vision of education that has endured.

Bibliography

Hegel, G.W.F., 2007. Phenomenology of spirit (pp. 28-38). Duke University Press.

Hegel, G.W.F., 1991. Hegel: Elements of the philosophy of right. Cambridge University Press.

Butler, C., Seiler, C. and Hegel, C.B.G., 1984. Hegel: The Letters. 

Report to Niethammer. Online here https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/hegel/works/letters/1812-10-23.html


Sunday, November 14, 2021

Krug Don't make us think

Steve Krug has a background in writing computer manuals. He saw that this was not the solution to most problems and moved on into usability design. He has had a huge influence on web design through his best-selling book Don’t Make Me Think (2000). He also provided a method for quick and effective testing in his second book Rocket Surgery Made Easy (2009). The huge success of these books meant that user interface design was taken more seriously in terms of good practice and the need for testing with real users. Interface design, or UX design, has gained importance as part of general online learning design.

Interface design

Krug asks a simple question, ‘How do we really use the web?’ We glance, scan and muddle through. We don’t read pages, we scan them, choose the first reasonable option, and because we’re lazy, we meander through content. This is important and, if excesses in design are to be avoided, it has to be understood when designing web sites and online learning. His theory is based on real practice and positive results on real web sites. Krug’s first law of usability is to strive to make things self-evident or self-explanatory, hence the title ‘Don’t Make Me Think’.

Users and learners want the interface to be an unthinking act, easy and unobtrusive. The more they think, the more likely they are to stop and go elsewhere. Forget instructions. People don’t read them and don’t want them. He recommends that we design out the need for a tutorial or instructions.

Design recommendations

Sensitive to the needs of the internet as a medium in itself, he emphasises the importance of the Home page. This leads to reflection on the importance of the ‘Big Picture’, namely the essential purpose of the site or online learning programme. He recommends tag lines that capture the essence of a site or web experience. Mission statements he hates, as they rarely tell you the real story and usually miss the Big Picture. 

Navigation hierarchies

Taking his lead from newspapers, always an interesting source for screen design, he recommends carefully designed hierarchies. He hates navigation that breaks down when you get past the second level. The solution, he thinks, is persistent global navigation at the same position on every page with a home button and tracking. He loves fixed menus. He also makes the useful distinction between navigation, utilities (print, search and so on) and content. It is always a payoff between ‘wide and deep’ hierarchies. 

Be conventional

Following on from Norman and Nielsen, he stresses conventions. Don’t play fast and loose, make things easy and consistent. Use conventions, such as shopping carts, standard video controls and icons. This is sound advice. Conventions are more than just objects of convenience, they are part of the grammar of interface design. Designers often refuse to use conventions as they crave creativity and innovation – this, in his view, is rarely useful. Pages should also be broken up into carefully defined areas, clickable areas should be obvious and every attempt made to minimise ‘noise’, again a Mayer and Clark principle in online learning.

Half the number of words and half again

True to his belief that screen readers are different from readers of print, he has strong views on writing for the screen. Less is more and so he exhorts designers and writers to omit needless words. In his own words, “Half the number of words and half again”. 

Search

Krug was among the earliest evangelists for search on websites. Search is a window into the collective mind of your users. It tells you what people really want, look for and what is most likely missing.

Interface design in online learning

In interface design, as Steve Krug says in the title, the point is NOT to make people think. In learning, the whole point is to make people think. Yet many of his recommendations are applicable across learning experiences. His advice on drastically reducing text has been confirmed in research by Mayer and others in online learning design. The importance of search has also come to the fore in Learning Experience Platforms used for learning in the workflow.

Krug’s prescriptions are even more important in online learning than in web design, as learning’s great enemy is cognitive overload and dissonance. If learners have to work hard to understand, navigate and read online learning, they have less sustained attention for retentive learning. Most online learning, like most offline learning, is too long winded and needs to be seriously edited to avoid cognitive overload. Keep navigation simple and consistent, use de facto conventions, avoid deep hierarchies and write for the screen not the page. And don’t forget to test – a few iterations with experts.

Usability testing

His second book Rocket Surgery Made Easy, shows how to do modest, low budget testing. His starting point is that designers can’t see the mistakes they make as they get too close to the design and as the navigation has come from their own heads, they lack objectivity. You need other fingers and eyeballs, guided by experts, using voiced testimonies. 

Krug, like Norman and Nielsen, is a strong believer in a specific form of usability testing. Following Nielsen and Landauer he takes the view that a few good, experienced testers and a few iterations are all you need. Forget the large-scale focus groups and massive testing, which suffer from the law of diminishing returns. His practical experience shows that just one, or a few testers early on are more effective than a large number at the end. 

He recommends evidence gathering with a camcorder and facilitator who asks questions and gives tasks, especially ‘Get it’ tasks where you probe the user for their understanding of the point of the experience, how it works and how it is organised. The point of the facilitator is to probe and ask them not only what they’re looking at but what they’re thinking. Listen, keep an open mind and take lots of notes.

An underlying point, made many years before by Dewey and Heidegger is that technologies work best when they hide themselves in things and tasks. Technology is at its best when it is invisible. This is the consistent theme in all good usability theorists and practitioners. The task of the designer, to make the delivery mechanism as invisible as possible.

Krug understands the different roles of specialists in design teams and the tensions that arise between them. His solution is to objectify the debate through testing, not with the mythical average user, but with real users. His is a useful, practical and prescriptive approach to good usability through good design.

Influence

Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think has sold over 600,000 copies. Rather than depend on academic literature, this popular book, in a sense he practices what he preaches. It is readable and does exactly what the user expects, give concrete advice on design and testing. As user design has grown as a practice Krug’s work is still relevant for its lasting recommendations.

Bibliography

Krug, S., 2009. Rocket surgery made easy: The do-it-yourself guide to finding and fixing usability problems. New Riders.

Krug, S., 2000. Don't make me think!: a common sense approach to Web usability. New Riders.