Two Worlds Reflecting

For almost twenty years, my professional life has centered around EdTech. Using the tools that are available to extend the ability of individuals to communicate with each other, and in so doing, teach and learn in more efficient ways. I haven’t abandoned my interest in that sphere, just shifting it away from the tools toward the product. The product is the story, and the tools? Well they can range from the most basic technology of spoken language, to well, nothing. Our technologies are all used, in some manner or another to communicate with each other, and in communicating, we learn and grow.

So this morning, when I saw this (NYT original), story online, and heard it on CBC, it got me thinking. For a very long time, people have been talking about using computers in the classroom. But it seems that this use, hasn’t been as an extension to the abilities of the students or teachers/instructors, but as a replacement. And there is why, I believe that laptops in the lecture theater are failing students. As a replacement for pen and paper, it has become too each for everyone involved to process the information only once (if at all – image directly linked from NYT).

So while the research talks about other reasons, from the storytelling perspective, I’m thinking what’s missing is that people have forgotten that notes taken in meetings are stories that we will later tell to ourselves or to others. The words on the screen, or on the page are nothing until they have been processed through reflection.

“Learning without reflection is a waste. Reflection without learning is dangerous” – Confucius

Looking at the quote from Confucius, I realized how/why I had to put down some words when I read and heard the story. I’m under no impression that what work I will ever do will “save” EdTech, Teaching, or Storytelling, that’s not the point, what I’m interested in, as I mentioned before is how we can use stories to improve teaching. And all stories are told in some manner through technology. But because so much of technology makes things “quick and easy”, we have fallen into the trap that Confucius is warning about.

In a lecture (already a barely adequate teaching paradigm, it’s really just spray ‘n pray), we perform an action that we believe to be learning, using technology, that cuts out the reflection. In a lecture, this would have been re-copying notes, or doing further research. To Confucius’s point, it is learning without reflection.

But what about the second point? Reflection without learning? I think that is what we are doing now. We have seen what poor integration of technology in the classroom (or other meeting spaces) has done to the quality of the learning environment, so how can that be changed?

Perhaps by telling students about what they need to learn, versus talking at them. Perhaps by creating a grander context for details versus merely dumping facts. Perhaps by leaving space for students to think, and not just boxes to check off on an exam.


Truth and Perspective – Laughing to the other side

I was listening to the October 27th Startalk Daily as Neil deGrasse Tyson talks to Bill Maher. During the interview, cut together with other conversations, Maher brings up some interesting points that I’m sure we have all heard in some manner before. The first is truth. The second is laughter. Looking at the second point first, there is a well recited claim that “if they are laughing they are listening, if they are listening, there is a chance that they are learning”. And the first point, the truth is relative.

Looking at Truth and truth, there are many people who have spent their life examining truth and a short blog post isn’t going help move the stick here. For now, we will assume that truth is related to an idea that is accepted as being fundamental to being. In order to get someone to accept your story, they need to to be able to align the ideas that they are being presented with the truth or the type of truth that they are looking for. Around the 51:51 mark, Tyson identifies three types of truth. The first being a personal truth. This is a truth of personal conviction that you would see in someone who is looking at truth in religion. This is a truth that is well, personal. Next is a political truth. This is an idea that becomes truth simply from repetition. Finally there is an objective truth that is established through repeated observation.

These truths need to then fit into a story arch. And just as there seem to be prescribed forms of truth, there are also common story lines. Kurt Vonnegut has a decent little video looking at this on YouTube, and this graphic from io9. Linked below:

Shapes of stories from io9.

All this brings me back to an article from The Atlantic that pulled all these ideas together. And part of what kicked off my interest in the power of storytelling was this section:

“This is an active area of research,” Reagan says, “and there are a lot of hard problems yet to be solved. In addition to the plot, structure, and emotional arc, to write great stories, a computer will need to create characters and dialogue that are compelling and meaningful.”

If we are trying to get computers to do this, we need to understand it first. And once we can do that, once we can systematically understand storytelling, we can use it for some amazing ends.