I wanted to bring attention to two articles that came across my desk today. The first was in the Chronicle of Higher Education titled Creativity: a Cure for the Common Curriculum on efforts at range of universities seeking “to train students in how innovative thinkers …[and] use the tools of creativity to solve problems.”
I have been thinking and writing about this for a while now – and it is good to see some of these initiatives taking root. These are difficult issues to deal with mainly because the return on investment, as it were, for teaching creativity is hard to measure. But that just makes the task all the more interesting.
I had written before, CEP917: Knowledge Media Design, a course taught by Dr. Danah Henriksen and myself, in the Fall semester of 2012, received First Place (in the Blended Course category) in the2013 MSU-AT&T Instructional Technology Awards Competition. The awards ceremony was a couple of days ago, and sadly I had to miss it because I was/am out of the country (busy doing this). 917 was well represented at the awards ceremony by Danah as well as William Cain and John Bell (representing the CEPSE/COE Design Studio). Here, for the record, are a couple of links if you want to find out more about the course and the award: Read the rest of this entry »
The latest in our series Rethinking Technology and Creativity in the 21st Century is now available. The article was co-authored with Aman Yadav of Purdue University (and the Deep-Play Research Group) and focuses on the art and science of computational thinking. We offer a slightly broader frame for thinking about computational thinking, a frame that includes artistic creativity.
Here is a link to the full article
Mishra, P., Yadav, A., & the Deep-Play Research Group (2013). Of Art and Algorithms. Tech Trends, (57) 3. p. 10-14.
CEP917 (Knowledge Media Design) a course I co-taught with Danah Henriksen, in the fall semester 2012, received the First Place (in the Blended Course category) in the 2013 MSU-AT&T Instructional Technology Awards Competition. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention John Bell and William Cain as being part of the design team that made 917 possible. You can read our proposal (here) AND see the video that we made as a part of the proposal below.
I just found out that our next article in the series on Technology and Creativity is now published. You can find a link and the complete reference below. Written this time with Dr. Danah Henriksen, with help from the Deep-Play Research group, in this paper we extend our argument for trans-disciplinary learning by providing examples from the history of science. In essence we argue that
I have been a huge fan of Don Norman ever since I first ran into his book on the Psychology of Everyday Things (which he later renamed as The Design of Everyday Things, and the story behind that name change is worth reading as an excellent example of design). Don Norman also was the inspiration behind my collection of examples of good and bad design, something that ended up in the CEP817, Learning Technology by Design seminar.
The Dubberly Design Office has created a series of models of innovation, play and design. These are terrific resources and I just found out about them by chance. I see these as being quite significant in the classes I teach, including CEP817: Learning Technology by Design; CEP818: Creativity in Teaching and Learning; and CEP917: Knowledge Media Design.
I am including links to a couple of their models – but I do recommend visiting their site to see more…
My friend and colleague Leigh Wolf forwarded me this article on Edward Tufte: The Many Faces (And Sculptures) Of Edward Tufte. I have been a fan of information design guru Edward Tufte’s work for years (decades?). I love his emphasis on clarity and simplicity in presenting information. I love the fact that he designs and publishes his own books (so that he can have full control over each and every aspect of the presentation). What I didn’t know of was his playful artistic side. It turns out that ET (as he is known) is also an artist, crafting giant metal sculptures in his “back yard” (if you can call the hundreds of acres that stretch behind his house a “back yard!”).
Over the past few years I have been thinking quite hard about the idea that creative people are not creative in just one area but rather tend to play within and across multiple disciplines or areas. Robert and Michele Root-Bernstein have in their book Sparks of Genius often talked about how the most creative scientists are polymaths, often having artistic and other interests that go beyond their immediate professional interests. In fact they argue, and I would tend to agree with them, that creativity cannot be forced into one box or domain. Creative individuals are curious about everything and often engage in creative activities in multiple areas, though they may specialize in just one area (usually the domain they are most known for).
This is true for the most creative people I know. For instance, consider Douglas Hofstadter (best known for his book Godel, Escher & Back and is work in Artificial Intelligence) dabbles in everything from mathematics to music, wordplay to art. Similarly Scott Kim (best know as a puzzle game designer) creates ambigrams and composes music, plays the drums and teaches mathematics using dance!
In my own way I have tried to do the same. Everything I do, from creating ambigrams to teaching, from photography to developing keynote presentations, from being a parent to advising students on their research, seems to me to be connected and inter-woven. I think my success as a researcher and scholar (to whatever extent I have been successful) derives from this “dabbling” across disciplines.
What is sad, however, is how much such “dabbling” is frowned upon. Through high-school and college, through graduate school and even as a faculty member, I have been advised, always by by well-meaning people, to focus, to find my niche, to become an expert on one thing. I have resisted it, mainly because knowing just one thing, seems, at least to me, such an impoverished way of being.
And I understand why I have received the advice I have. We live in a specialized world. A world where expertise is valued. And an expert, after all, is someone who knows more and more about less and less. There is no space for dabbling in this world of.
But I wonder about that. I have a friend who is a successful professor of civil engineering. Turns out, that as he was growing up, what he really wanted to be, was a chef! I haven’t had a chance to talk to him about this but I wonder how his vision of being a chef influences what he does as a researcher and a teacher? Does it contribute (in some subconscious manner) to his work? Or has he suppressed it completely?
Either way I see it as a tragedy, in the first case because we haven’t developed a way of speaking of these influences, and in the second case because a possible, fruitful career was nipped in the bud.
The sad thing is that I am seeing school do the same thing to my kids, in fact to most kids I know. NCLB has not helped either. Don’t get me wrong. This is not an argument for some form of dilletantism (dabbling for the sake of dabbling). Not at all. What I am recommending (thanks to the Roob-Bernstein’s for this term) is polymathy. One of my students, Danah Henriksen, is currently working on a dissertation on looking for polymathy in teachers. As she says:
“Polymathy” may be thought of as an informed enthusiasm for more than one field of knowledge or expertise, or excellence in several realms that might seem distant from each other. It has been suggested that what makes polymaths so successful and fluidly creative is an ability to cross-pollinate ideas and information. People who open their minds to, and who learn from, multiple knowledge areas can apply new information and unique ways of thinking from one discipline into another.
This for me is the biggest reason for supporting such playing around in multiple areas. These experiences at the fringes (so to speak) of our professional lives, provide us with newer ways of being in the world. They allow us to see the world in new ways. They allow us to question things the field may have taken for granted. Just as Tufte says at the end of the piece, my goal, is to “make people see a little differently.” Turns out one of the best and easiest ways of doing so is by seeing through different disciplinary eyes.
We need to provide better opportunities for our students to do the same.
Three different news-stories/articles came to my notice today all connected by the infamous brood parasite the cuckoo. The first is a part of Olivia Judson’s blog (on the NYTimes) on biology and life (read Cuckoo! Cuckoo! here), the second is is about how scientists have tried to understand what it is that the cuckoo does to trick other birds into caring for the cuckoo’s eggs (read, Scientists Get Bird’s-Eye View of How Cuckoos Fool Their Hosts) and the third is regarding a new way of engineering design and optimization inspired by the Cuckoo! (read about the ‘Cuckoo Search Algorithm‘ here) .
Olivia Judson makes a very important point about how our perceptual systems prevent us from seeing the world “as is.” For instance, as it turns out what we “see” when we see a cuckoo’s egg is very different from what the bird sees. As one of the articles say:
In the past, this kind of analysis was tackled by humans comparing eggs by eye, but human vision differs hugely from that of a bird. Birds can see ultraviolet light and because they have four types of cone in their eyes, compared with three in humans, they see a greater diversity of colour and pattern.
What this means is that over evolutionary time, cuckoos and the host birds are engaged in an arms-race to develop better and better deception (on the cuckoo’s part) and detection (on the part of the host birds) mechanisms. As a consequence one of the host birds studied:
… lay probably the most diverse range of eggs of any bird in the world, and this is likely to be an outcome of the long co-evolutionary battle with the Cuckoo Finch.
The eggs are analogous to a bank note, in terms of the variety and complexity of markings, perhaps to make them very hard to forge by the parasite.
So the same techniques used by currency designers to reduce forgery (the intricate markings that are the defining characteristics of today’s currency notes) is used by the host birds as well. Of course forgers keep coming up with better techniques to trick us, as do the cuckoo birds… all this of course leading to a runaway race where every innovation by the forgers (read cuckoo birds) has to be matched by the police (read host birds).
Now, it turns out that a couple of engineers have take this a step further, utilizing the idea of this evolutionary war to develop a better search algorithm! So what we have here is an interesting confluence of evolutionary forces and the manner in which scientists have tried to understand how these forces work and leading to the development of new technologies and techniques for solving engineering problems. How very cool is that!
All this is interesting in and of itself, but there is a deeper point about perception being made here that I would like to highlight. Olivia Judson says it much more eloquently than I ever could, so I quote:
Which makes me wonder: what are we missing? Like the birds — like any organism — our sensory system defines the way we perceive and interact with the world, and it is limited in important ways…
And in a more metaphorical way, the sight of the cuckoo chick makes me wonder what we miss by our routine habits of thought. To what extent do our preconceived notions narrow our perception of the planet, and ourselves?
What a great question? What are we not seeing? How do we learn to see?
Followers of this blog (and people who have seen my presentations on creativity) know that this idea of “learning to see,” is in my opinion, the most critical first step towards being creative. I have talked of this in terms of “recognition v.s. perception” and it underlies my arguments for repurposing technology (that I go on and on about, most recently here). I think it is important that we continually ask ourselves this question that Olivia Judson leaves us with:
To what extent do our preconceived notions narrow our perception of the planet, and ourselves?
In other words, what are we not seeing?
(H/T Ken Friedman for the first and third links and Google for the third).
I stumbled across this little machine that shuts itself off once it has been switched on! How cool is that. I don’t have an clue whom to credit it to and would appreciate a heads up on that. I was reminded of the myth of Sisyphus which led to a great piece of hand-drawn animation on YouTube. So here they are… somewhat apt images for a dull, dreary day in mid-Michigan.
I recently received an email from a teacher in Poland, seeking advice for a curriculum outline for their Design Technology Section. They said, and I quote:
Unfortunately, I have minimal experience with the subject as a teacher or as a student in my younger years, consequently, I have little background as to what a DT class should look like.
As you might guess I’m struggling trying to put together some sort of DT curriculum for our Middle School.
Our small school does not not have any kind of fabrication equipment so our DT class is currently heavy on IT design aspects….(web design, research on a topic and devise a solution, book creation,etc… )
The specific request was for”some useful and practical information that I can implement fairly easily.”
I had written about the EduPunk movement earlier, in fact had even designed a logo for it.
A brief description of Edupunk can be found on Wikipedia (a google search will reveal many more). Wikipedia describes it as follows:
Edupunk is an approach to teaching and learning practices that result from a do it yourself (DIY) attitude.The New York Times defines it as “an approach to teaching that avoids mainstream tools like Powerpoint and Blackboard and instead aims to bring the rebellious attitude and D.I.Y. ethos of ’70s bands like The Clash to the classroom.”
Well, I am no expert on 70′s bands but the EduPunk title does appeal to me. It appeals to me because for the longest tie the main attraction of digital technology, to me, has been this DIY attitude, the fact that I can, over an evening or two, create a stop-motion movie with my kids (here or here), or mashup a commercial, or, in this case, create my own course website. The final product may not have the finish or sheen of a commercial product but it is in some key way “authentic.” It is mine. It embodies me, my sensibility, my approach, my vision in ways that other products can not.
For my entire tenure here at MSU I have constructed my own course-websites, cobbling them together with what I have often jokingly called “duct-tape and magic.” I have even written about this, long before the EduPunk moniker came along (see links at end of post). What I want to describe in this post are my current experiments (for my CEP817 Learning Technology by Design course) using using WordPress as a learning management system, and boy am I impressed!! [My partner in crime in this is Kristen Kereluik, a graduate student in our program.]
Sir, I was reading the article in Wikipedia on ‘Samarangana Sutradhara’ (King Bhoja’s treatise on Architecture). I was of the impression that there is no translation of the work in English. Though the article says that there is a translation by you of the work, the list of your works and publications on your webpage does not include any such work. Kindly let me know if you have indeed translated the treatise. If so kindly let me know how I can access a copy.
The fact that I had translated this ancient Sanskrit treatise came as a surprise to me.
… when you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot measure it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind.
More succintly he said, “To measure is to know.” Numbers provide us (particularly academics) with credibility.
Of course this dependence on mathematics and numbers can often be misplaced. I am always impressed how we use numbers mindlessly – sometimes to levels of accuracy that don’t really convey much. I was reminded of this while reading a recent NYTimes article A Deluge of Data Shapes a New Era in Computing.
Don Norman has a great essay titled Technology First, Needs Last that I strongly recommend. We have been making a similar argument in some of our more recent pieces, see here and here…
What do you think of Norman’s ideas? Read it first and come back here to discuss what it means for teaching with technology. Can innovation in teaching only happen when we put technology first? What about content? and pedagogy?
Already every bank of any importance probably uses calculating machines. It is not likely that the fatiguing and uncertain process of having arithmetical calculations of any sort performed in the brains of clerks will survive the improvements of which these machines are capable. Account books, invoices, and all similar documents will doubtless be written by a convenient and compendious form of combined calculating machine and typewriter, which we may suppose to be called the numeroscriptor. … It will make any kind of calculation required. Even such operations as the weighing and measurement of goods will all be done by automatic machinery, capable of recording without any possibility of error the quantity and values of goods submitted to its operation.– T. Baron Russell, A Hundred Years Hence, 1906
Ken Friedman, whose article I had used as the basis of my previous posting, From incompetence to mastery, the stages dropped me an email in response to my critique. To provide some context, (you can read my full post here) I had suggested in my posting that it may be inappropriate to label the the highest level of mastery as being unconscious competence. My concern, of course, was with the “unconscious” part – since I felt that true mastery requires a level of reflection, something denied by the word “unconscious.”
Ken wrote that he actually sees examples of unconscious competence everywhere. He went on to say (quoted with permission) Read the rest of this entry »
This is a question often asked of me, when I am conducting creativity workshops or talking about passionate teaching. In fact I was asked this just a couple of days ago when I was at the Dexter Schools talking about 21st Century Learning and Creativity. This issues comes up most when I am in India where the magnitude of the problems is just so large that scalability is always an issue.
My response to this typically has been quite straightforward. I say that I can’t think that big. I have a congenital defect that renders me incapable of thinking of projects on a large scale. I cannot comprehend states and nations. I can barely comprehend a district. What I am most comfortable with is one classroom. What this does is color my way of thinking about innovation, pushing me towards the position that change can be effected one classroom at a time. When I teach my summer courses as a part of the MAET program, I usually have 25 students, a number I can comprehend. My goal is to touch these 25, to connect with them, and to raise within them a passion for using technology to teach subject matter. If I manage to touch even a fifth of them and they go back to their classes inspired to do something new and better, hey I have succeeded.
This is not to say that policies don’t matter that social change can’t happen. Just that I am personally incapable of thinking in grand generalities. I have a feeling that my skepticism regarding large scale efforts comes from my deep suspicion that visions and plans mutate in often detrimental ways when they move out of the local. So I stay in the local, and frankly that is good enough for me.
Now Scott may think that this is a cop-out and not necessarily a response to his question, but sadly that is the best I can give. The Ron Clark Academy works well where it does. Just training a bunch of teachers in the techniques used there and asking them to implement it in their classrooms will not necessarily translate into better student achievement. For instance, I am not sure that the Ron Clark approach would work in India, a country with very different cultural and historical expectations of what teaching and learning could/should be. So I choose to withhold judgment and work harder with the people I know I can influence.
Two robots made entirely using Lego Mindstorms NXT Retail-kit that can solve Sudoku problems and the Rubik’s Cube! How totally cool is that. LEGO Mindstorms is a line of Lego sets combining programmable bricks with electric motors, sensors, Lego bricks, and Lego Technic pieces (such as gears, axles, and beams). See Wikipedia article on Lego Mindstorms
See the videos below, and check out the website for the project: Tilted Twister
Rubik’s Cube Solver
This is truly amazing… What is also great is that the designer also include directions for making these robots. I gotta get myself one of these
I had written earlier about the idea of Jugaad, the quintessential Indian idea of situational creativity. One of the masters at this is Arvind Gupta. Check out his website for tons of wonderful science toys and experiments that can be made from stuff we typically throw away. Very cool and a critical part of the kind of repurposing of artifacts we need for creative teaching.
Throwaway Technology, playful Pedagogy and powerful Content… who says TPACK needs hi-tech!
I had written earlier about how the rate of change of technology is speeding up, i.e. technologies are changing at an ever faster rate. Related to this is something I just came across today (on Kottke.org). Kottle links to a chart that provides a historical look at the speed of information travel from one point to another (in miles per hour). For instance,
For instance, in 1805 the news of the Battle of Trafalgar took 17 days to travel the 1100 miles to London; that’s a speed of 2.7 mph. By 1891 when the Nobi earthquake occurred in Japan, it only took the news one day to travel 5916 miles, a speed of 246 mph.
The 2008 Sichaun earthquake occurred 5100 miles from London with the first Twitter update in English occurring about 7 minutes after the quake started. Assuming the message was read a minute later by someone in London, that’s 38,250 mph.
In essence the speed of information travel has gone from 1.4 MPH in 1798 to almost 200,000 MPH today!! That is an amazing level of change!! Just indicates how the world we live in today is fundamentally different from the past.
In an age where experts are a dime a dozen, willing to pontificate at the drop of a pin, it is hard to tell whom to believe, and whom NOT to believe. In comes Phillip Tetlock, an academic who has made it his mission to evaluate the prognosticators! This is described in his book:
Tetlock, P.E. (2005). Expert political judgment: How good is it? How can we know? Princeton: Princeton University Press.
I recently came across a review written by him, titled Reading Tarot on K Street (in the September/October 2009 issue of The National Interest) and I thought it captured his work in this area quite nicely (and would be worth preserving).
When we score the accuracy of thousands of predictions from hundreds of experts across dozens of countries over twenty years, we find the best forecasters tend to be modest about their forecasting skills, eclectic in their ideological and theoretical tastes, and self-critical in their analytical styles.1 Borrowing from philosopher Isaiah Berlin, I call them foxes—experts who know many things and are not finicky about where they get good ideas. Paraphrasing Deng Xiaoping, they do not care if the cat is white or black, only that it catches mice.
Contrast this with what I call hedgehogs—experts who know one big thing from which likely future trends can be more or less directly deduced. The big thing might be any of a variety of theories: Marxist faith in the class struggle as the driver of history or libertarian faith in the self-correcting power of free markets, or a realist faith in balance-of-power politics or an institutionalist faith in the capacity of the international community to make world politics less ruthlessly anarchic, or an eco-doomster faith in the impending apocalypse or a techno-boomster faith in our ability to make cost-effective substitutes for pretty much anything we might run out of.
What experts think—where they fall along the Left-Right spectrum—is a weak predictor of accuracy. But how experts think is a surprisingly consistent predictor. Relative to foxes who are less encumbered by loyalties to an all-encompassing worldview, hedgehogs offer bolder forecasts and, although they hit occasional grand slams, they strike out a lot and wind up with decidedly poorer batting averages.
The implications for people who make projections about technology and schools and learning is quite obvious to me. It is the hedgehogs we need to be careful of, mainly because of the vehemence of their beliefs which can sometimes override our “foxy” nature. I say inherent because I think that educators, for the most part, are pragmatists, sensitive to the limits of arm-chair theorizing and big ideas. A hard nosed approach to reality, that recognizes its complexity, that demands multi-faceted problems solving approaches is what is needed, not being wedded to one, just one overarching idea.
Imagine controlling machines, typing text or juggling balls using nothing but the power of thought. What sounds like far-fetched science fiction is gradually becoming possible, providing hope for disabled patients — and new gimmicks for the computer gaming industry. Read more in Playing With Your Head: The Dawning Age of Mind-Reading Machines
What implications do these new technologies have for learning and education? I mean even Mattel is getting into the action… As the article says
The new system Mattel is introducing at computer trade shows is called “Mindflex.” According to the company’s fact sheet: “A true mental marathon, Mindflex exercises the brain in an entirely new way as players learn to continuously control their brain activity.”
So, you ask, how does it work? To train the brain, the user puts on a headband with sensors at the temples and a cable connected to something that looks like a mini miniature golf course. Then the user tries to master the first task: balancing a small ball above an air current, causing it to levitate and making it pass through a plastic ring.
At this time these interfaces work only in one direction, from the brain to the computer. But can the reverse, from computer to the brain be far behind? The power being discussed here is truly revolutionary. We have all known that computers are cognitive tools i.e. working with them changes the way we think. However, at some level changes in brain states are mediated via our senses and through movement, a somewhat inefficient process. What these technologies indicate is the future is in a merging of our brains directly with the computer… where the distinction between us and the machine will be increasingly blurred till we won’t be able to tell one from the other. Imagine having access to Google like search engines whenever a question pops up in our heads? How can we tell where the brain ends and the machine begins?
Stacy Clause just sent me this very cool link to an article titled Exploring logo designs with Mathematica. In this article, Chris Carlson, of the User Design Group at Mathematia shows how one can mathematically develop variations on commercial logo designs by the systematic tweaking of various parameters. As Chris says,
As starting points for design explorations, corporate logos are ideal. They often distill a single idea into simplified geometric form that is straightforward to parameterize in Mathematica. Once a logo is in Mathematica, exploring its parameter space quickly leads to the discovery of new graphic phenomena, emergent forms, unexpected relationships, and burgeoning lines of inquiry.
What does this mean for graphic design (and graphic designers)? Does it mean that computers can now do what we used to pay people to do? This could be grim news for designers, particularly when they are already under siege from democratizing Web 2.0 tools like CrowdSpring (whose tag line is “just post your project, watch the world submit ideas and choose the one you like”). Below are some of my thoughts on this issue. Read the rest of this entry »
As I read the story on the technology Review website, I came to the comments made by readers. One stuck out. This is what somebody had said:
Wow, they took the speed of light and multiplied by 2.62 then divided by 2. Interesting method of doing it, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist for sure.
By focusing on the surface aspect of the math this person misses the point of the story almost completely. Misses, it I may add by almost the distance from the Earth to the moon. Read the rest of this entry »