Monday, June 30, 2014

Who am I? and if so, how many? – book overview

Who am I? and if so, how many? A philosophical journey by R.D. Precht originally written in German and translated by Shelley Frisch. A 2011 edition printed by Scribe Publications and borrowed from the local library.

In the introduction, Precht writes about how his initial introduction to the study of philosophy was stymied by the dry and difficult to access ‘text books’ on philosophy. These text books largely took an historical journey, meandering through the various philosophers. His book uses a thematic approach, bringing up one of more philosopher/ neuroscientist / palaeontologist as the need arises.

After the introduction, the book has three sections – What can I know? What should I do? And What can I hope for?

The first section, covers the foundations of philosophical thought in 9 chapters. These 9 chapters provide a concise but also critical overview. Precht does not just report various philosophers’ approaches but updates and brings in viewpoints from contemporary scholarship. In particular, findings in neuroscience, palaeontology and psychology either support, replace or introduce new ways of looking at the world. The work of Nietzche, with the call to view humans as not a ‘superman’ but an ape with evolved capabilities opens this section. Human evolutionary journey and the workings of the brain are summarised in the next 2 chapters. The work of Descartes ( of - I think therefore I am) leads the discussion on dualism and its effects. Then Mach’s work on ‘who is ‘I’’ discussed. Freud’s concepts are debunked followed by chapters discussing the frailities of our memory system, what are feelings, subconscious and language (Wittenstein’s contributions to philosophical thought on language’s role).

The second section has 15 chapters discussion various moral dilemmas posed by living. Discussed are various questions of why do we need others? Should we help others and should we be ‘good’ and does it ‘pay’ to be good? Is there morality in the brain and if so, why does it sometimes not reign in behaviour that leads to the detriment of others? Discussion also on should we become vegetarians? Allow euthanasia, cloning, designer babies? Pros and cons are introduced with the challenge to the reader to find their place in the continuum and pose their own substantiations.

The last section of 9 chapters provides some direction for the confused. Discussion on ‘what can I hope for’ discuss a range of big questions including: Does god exist? Does nature have meaning? What is love? What is freedom (of choice and free will)? Do we need possessions? What is just? What is a happy life? Can happiness be learnt? And Does life have meaning? All very weighty questions we mull over now and then when we lift our heads up from our busy lives. In short, life and the meaning of life is what we make of it. As individuals, we are only here for a short time. We can make that time miserable, or happy. Live in harmony with others or not. Mostly, we have a choice (sort of , within the bounds of our hereditary and social means) and each needs to make the best of what life throws at you.

I found the book to be readable, using contemporary examples and analogies to bring to life, the concepts of various philosophers. Each chapter covers the ground of various philosophical questions, posing more questions at the end for the reader to contemplate and reach their own conclusion. The book is never preachy but provides the basis of philosophical thought as perceived, argued and sometime empirically proven but various scholars. Each chapter may be read separately but there is some merit in working through the book as it is laid out so your philosophical journey is better scaffolded. Overall, the book provides a good introduction to the reader interested in gaining a better understanding of Western philosophical thought who does not just want to be ‘talked at’. The book encourages one to question one’s belief system, to select the ways individuals may become contributors instead of takers, and to live a ‘good’ life.

Notes from each chapter provide resources to follow up on. There is an index but no reference list as such.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Tell tale brain - book overview

Tell tale brain

Over the recent long weekend, worked through a 2011book by V. Ramachandran called – the telltale brain: unlocking the mystery of human nature.

The book is written in a conversational style and peppered with the author’s wry humour and story telling. Some of the case studies presented are from Ramachandran’s work with patients who have had neurological trauma or illnesses. Therefore, the book mirrors some of the techniques used in other books and over viewed in previous blogs.

Tell-tale brain consists of an introduction and nine chapters. Each chapter deals with an aspect of brain function and provide laypersons’ guides to contemporary understanding of neurophysiology and neuropsychology.

The introduction details the rationale for Ramachandran’s writing approach. In short, a need for a lay person’s book that does not ‘talk down’ to the intelligent reader but has sufficient substance to intrigue and inform.

Chapter 1 covers an aspect forming the foundation of Ramachandran’s work on ‘phantom limbs’. Neurological explanations for why some amputees still ‘feel’ their detached limb with a plausible reason for sensory regions to still be networked and accessible when parts of the brain in proximity to the detached bit are activated.

The second chapter summarise current understandings on seeing and knowing. Providing for an extension of the concepts discussed in the previous chapter.

Chapters 3 and 5 cover the interesting phenomenon of ‘synesthesia’, the ability to ‘see’ in colour or feel or taste numbers or music and the challenges presented by autism. A good overview, especially on autism and why and how savants develop.

The fourth chapter discusses the ‘neurons that shaped civilisation’. A precursor to the next chapter on language. Discusses how neurons have evolved to allow for social interactions. Therefore, takes on an evolutionary psychology / neurological stance. Importance of 'mirror neurons' and their role in human empathic processes discussed.

Chapter 6 delves into the evolution of language. How the brain works to allow us to learn languages. What is innate in us to allow language to develop and the role and contribution of ‘nurture’ – the socio-cultural dimension.

The topic of aesthetics is covered in chapter 7 with the authors’ ‘universal laws’ of how humans gauge ‘beauty’ and other forms of qualia discussed in chapter 8. Perhaps the weakest chapters in the book as Ramachandran argues for the neurological roots of art appreciation and our need to find  balance and patterns to deal with the complex audio visual sensory world we live in.

The last (and important) chapter provides food for thought on the topic of ‘how introspection evolved’. A summary on edge makes for good reading plus extensive summary and discussion from this blog on this last chapter 'an ape with a soul'. 

A glossary is provided along with notes pertinent to each chapter along with a bibliography and index.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Technology-enhanced professional learning - book overview

An brief overview of ' Technology-enhanced professional learning: Processes, practices and tools edited by Allison Littlejohn and Anoush Margaryan and published 2014 by Routledge.

16 chapters including introduction and commentary on each of the 3 sections – work practices, learning processes and digital technologies.

Relevant chapters to current project surface tablet work now summarised.
1)      The introduction by the two editors lays out the concept of technology-enhanced professional learning (TEPL). The rational for the book (i.e. there is very little research in the area of TEPL) is presented. TEPL has influences from ‘new’ work practices (organisational learning, distributed work), learning processes (expansive learning, networked learning, development of expertise, mimetic learning) and technologies that can be leveraged to enhance TEPL (semantic web, learning analytics, collaborative technologies, simulations and games). Brief overview of each of the chapters is also provided.

Section 1 – work practices has 4 chapters.
2)      Julie Clow writes on ‘work practices to support continuous organisational learning’. The historical and social movement of work from craft to manufacturing to ‘knowledge’ work is summarised. Current work requires the creation of rapid learning cycles for workers to learn and move on to next project. Workers are now required to ask questions, think big, work cooperative on complex problems in ever evolving teams. Learning and development within organisations now need to keep up with the pace of change. Crowd sourcing now used within and outside organisation to bring in training / development expertise as and when required. In-house programmes to share organisational learning also now a requirement, an example is the use by Google engineers of Snippets, to publish weekly updates of progress and learning on various projects.

3)      ‘Distributed work: working and learning at a distance’ by Matthew J. Bietz covers the move by organisations towards employing people, working on collaborative projects, who are separated geographically or temporally. Challenges include not only distance effects exampled by lack of ‘water cooler type serendipitous discussions’ but also the need to help employees work in diverse social and cultural contexts. Learning and development for distributed work is challenged to assist workers in accessing the organisations’ ‘tacit’ knowledge and meeting diversity of learning needs.

4)      The relatively new form of work organisation ‘crowd work and collective learning’ is discussed by Jeffrey V. Nickerson. Here, large numbers of usually unconnected people are brought together to complete objective/s. Relationships between worker and organisation may be fleeting and workers find it difficult to learn new skills when they are focused on specialised tasks. Crowd work sourcing sites (Amazon’s Mechanical Turk) and crowd work practices are introduced and discussed. Future direction includes possibility of moving crowd work from individuals on to groups, increasing the complexity of managing organisational TEPL expectations and goals for crowd sourced workers.

5)      A commentary on the three chapters on work practice is provided by Sebastian Fiedler. The emergence of ‘new forms’ of organisational work structures require review of existing ways workplace learning and development are enacted. This chapter evaluates each of the chapters in the section. The caution is not to apply generic approaches to TEPL but to study each context and develop appropriate TEPL responses.

Section 2 has 5 chapters on learning processes

6)      ‘new forms of transformative agency’ by Ritva Engestrom covers the contribution of cultural-historical activity theory (CHATs) on understanding work and learning at work. The chapter provides a good summary of CHATs. A Finnish case study is provided as an example and the model derived is explained.

7)      Chapter on ‘expertise development through schooling and work’ by Henry Boshuizen and Margje van de Wiel summarises studies on expertise development. An overview of the development of expertise is provided with emphasis on deliberate practice and self-regulated learning and performance.

8)      Stephen Billett’s chapter covers ‘mimetic learning in the circumstances of professional learning’. I have summarised this chapter in an earlier blog.

9)      ‘Networked professional learning’ is presented by Peter Sloep. Two fictitious companies are used to describe various aspects of networked learning. Then, there is discussion of social networking tools (Linkedin, mendeley, research gate) plus usual suspects Twitter,, Storify, delicious, google docs etc. and customised tools developed by the author – ASA (automous tutor locator) and COCOON (a group assembly instrument).

10)   The final chapter in section 2, by Terje Valjataga and Sebastian Fiedler is a commentary on ‘learning processes’ chapters. The diversity of the 4 chapters is acknowledged and each chapter is critiqued in relation to the others. Again, the recommendation is that TEPL needs further study to bring sense into how to best deploy TEPL across diverse sectors with complex learning processes.

The last section digital technologies has 5 chapters and is perhaps the weakest in the book as some are case studies and others based on preliminary studies. This could be due to the emergent nature of TPEL and the volume of empirical work still required to identify workable processes and approaches.

11)   ‘Orchestrating collaboration and community technologies for individuals and organisational learning’ by Tobias Ley, Kairit Tammets and Stephenie Lindstaedt. Communities of practice model used to develop organisation learning systems to encourage collaboration within and across and beyond organisations. Introduces the internal organisation APOSLDE system which generates a top down strategy. The system generates ‘individualised’ or customised learning programmes, based on individual’s expertise level to learn processes required to complete their work tasks. An ‘external’ bottom up cross-organisational system intelLEO also described. Both compared and reviewed.

12)   A chapter on the ‘social sematic web and workplace learning’ by Melody Siadaty, Jelena Jovanovic and Dragon Gasevic provides introduction to this form of learning technology.the pedagogical framing strategy is discussed along with affordances and limitations within workplace learning contexts for leveraging the social sematic web.

13)   ‘Learning analytics and their application in TPEL’ is by Bettina Berendt, Riina Vuorikari, Allison Littlejohn and Anoush Margaryan. Defines different ways learning analytics assist the TPEL process and provides a case study to illustrate concepts. A good introductory chapter to learning analytics.

14)   Heide Lukosh, Allison Littlejohn and Anoush Margaryan write on ‘simulation games for workplace learning’. Provides overview of state of play in using simulation games to assist workplace learning and 2 case studies used to example utilisation.

15)   A commentary on the 4 chapters in the digital technologies section written by Colin Milligan. Identifies commonalities within the 4 chapters in this section. These are: training is now more difficult and it does not suit needs of modern worker; learning is learner-led (perhaps organisational-led as well); tools used are personal and social; and technology increasingly links peoples’ work and learning.

The concluding chapter by the editors discusses the challenges and future directions of TEPL.

The book provides a good overview of new organisational practices and efforts to develop TEPL appropriate for the diverse contexts. Many questions are raised and some suggestions to assist are discussed and critiqued. As always, food for thought.

Monday, June 09, 2014

mimetic learning

Book chapter from Technology-enhanced professional learning a 2014 Routledge book edited by Allison Littlejohn and Anoush Margaryan.

I came across this book through my yearly browse of Professor Stephen Billett’s publication site. Much of Billett’s chapter on mimetic learning is available via the google books site for the edited book.

Billett’s chapter summarises the nature of mimetic learning and its relevance to professional practice. The basic principles of mimetic practice are discussed with respect to ‘professional learning’ i.e. ongoing learning for work and practice.

Mimetic learning can be explained through nativist approaches alluding to the evolutionary, physiological and neurosensory foundations for animal learning. Empiricist approaches suggest human learning to arise from experiences with individuals constructing concepts and responses and learning through social interactions. 

Billett favours the empiricist explanation as studies in anthropology, developmental science, cognitive and neuroscience and cultural psychology support current explanations.

Mimetic professional learning is discussed with both advantages and limits and perils.
The four specific suggestions for using technology to enhance professional learning include:
·         Authentic instances of practice need to be provided;
·         Engagement with practice needs to be progressive;
·         Engagement in workplace practice important to observe, hear and sense workplace learning requirements;
·         Practice requires time.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

UNEVOC forum on vocational learning pedagogy

Over the last two weeks, I have participated in an interesting eforum organised by UNEVOC, an offshoot of UNESCO.

The forum or virtual conference is titled ‘vocational pedagogy: what it is, why it matters and how to put it into practice’ is facilitated by Professor Bill Lucas.

There were almost 200 participants from over 60 countries although about 10% of the participants posted on the forum itself. Topics included 'signature pedagogies'; skills and attributes of TVET teachers and how to assist people to train to become TVET educators.

It was good to be able to catch up current thinking on TVET pedagogy with much of the discussion starting from the groundwork established by the 2012 report on vocational pedagogy by Lucas, Spenser and Claxton.

New report on 'thinking like an engineer' was shared, providing a resource modelling how 'signature pedagogies' can be leveraged.