Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Cuttings: January 2016

Will video kill the lecturing star? - article by Han Dorussen, Theodora-Ismene Gizelis and Phil Arena in The Guardian's Higher Education Network. "For our modules on conflict resolution and international relations, we have created short video lectures for our students – from first-year undergraduates to master’s – to watch at home. And when they come to class, we work on applying what they have already learned. Here are our tips on how to ['flip the classroom']: Keep it brief... Track engagement... Flip the reading... Keep content in one place... Check your stats... Have a clear message... Think about the future... Flip back sometimes." 

New Year, New You? Forget It - column by Oliver Burkeman in The Guardian. "Behind the seductive lure of 'New Year, New You' lies another kind of mistake, too: the idea that what we require, in order finally to change, is one last push of willpower.... But the real reason that transformation is hard ... is that people (and organisations) have powerful 'competing commitments', or reasons not to change. To use weakness of will to explain why you take on too much, or overeat, or date disastrous people, is to neglect the fact that those habits make you feel indispensable, or assuage feelings of loneliness, or distract you from inner conflicts you’d rather not address.... One useful way to shift perspective is to hand both Old You and New You their marching orders, and narrow your focus to Present You. Don’t resolve to become 'the kind of person' who runs, meditates, or listens to your spouse. Instead, just do that thing, once, today. Preferably now."

Why a simple spreadsheet spread like wildfire - article by John Naughton in The Observer, referenced in his Memex 1.1 blog. "Years ago, I began to wonder if the popularity of spreadsheets might be due to the fact that humans are genetically programmed to understand them. At the time, I was teaching mathematics to complete beginners, and finding that while they were fine with arithmetic, algebra completely eluded them. The moment one said 'let x be the number of apples', their eyes would glaze and one knew they were lost. But the same people had no problem entering a number into a spreadsheet cell labelled 'Number of apples', happily changing it at will and observing the ensuing results. In other words, they intuitively understood the concept of a variable."

Do we really need more guides to mindfulness? - article by Oliver Burkeman in The Guardian. "You’d be forgiven, amid this deluge [of mindfulness-mania and mindfulness-debunking], for having forgotten – or maybe never having quite grasped in the first place – what mindfulness actually is. Often, the word just functions as a non-religious, de-hippified synonym for formal meditation practice, which most commonly involves sitting quietly and following the breath. But it’s perhaps most usefully understood not as a practice but a state: a moment-to-moment awareness of one’s experience, conducted in a non-judgmental spirit, and without undue focus on the achievement of any particular goal.... Contrary to the debunkers, the point certainly isn’t that mindfulness is rubbish. It’s that it’s so non-rubbish – so much a crucial foundation of a fulfilling life – that you shouldn’t relegate it to the status of a minor hobby, something to be done with your downtime. And that you might already be doing it."

Anti-Education by Friedrich Nietzsche: why mainstream culture, not the universities, is doing our best thinking - review by John Gray in The Guardian. "Nietzsche argues that education (he uses the German word Bildung, a term with multiple senses but that broadly means the formation of culture and individual character) has been degraded by being subordinated to other goals. Both the German gymnasium – the secondary school that prepared students for university – and universities themselves had forfeited their true vocation, which was to 'inculcate serious and unrelenting critical habits and opinions'. Instruction in independent thinking had been renounced in favour of 'the ubiquitous encouragement of everyone’s so-called "individual personality"' – a trend Nietzsche viewed as 'a mark of barbarity'. As a result, education was dominated by two tendencies, 'apparently opposed but equally ruinous in effect and eventually converging in their end results. The first is the drive for the greatest possible expansion and dissemination of education; the other is the drive for the narrowing and weakening of education.' The first extends education too widely and imposes it on a population that may not want or need it, while the second expects education to surrender any claim to autonomy and submit to the imperatives of the state....Anti-academic Nietzsche may have been, but his mistake was in pinning his hopes on 'high culture'. If you look beyond the walls of the academy, you will find a scene that is remarkably vital."

Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli: quantum theory made charming - review by David Kaiser in The Guardian. "In the early 1960s, famed physicist Richard Feynman developed a new lecture course for new undergraduates at the California Institute of Technology. Feynman aimed to turn the standard physics curriculum on its head, introducing young students to some of the most exciting questions in the field right away, rather than slogging through the usual staid topics en route to the research frontier. By most accounts (including Feynman’s own), the classroom experiment was a flop. Even in the hands of such an acclaimed teacher, the leap was just too far for most incoming students to handle. Yet all was not lost. The Feynman Lectures on Physics, first published in 1964, have become some of the most admired – even, cherished – lectures in modern science. Sales of the English-language edition have topped 1.5m copies, and counting."

Together in electric dreams: how the art world embraced modern technology first - article by Steven Poole in The Guardian. "The first use of 'electronic superhighway' is credited not to a media theorist but to the Korean American visual artist Nam June Paik, who foresaw developments that we would now recognise as YouTube and Skype. In his 1974 essay 'Media Planning for the Postindustrial Society', Paik announced the coming 'electronic superhighways' of optical cable that would encircle the globe. He was a pioneer of video art and used bulky old analogue TV sets as modular components for sculpture.... As this exhibition shows, a lot of what we consider internet-age worries about gorging on electronic stimuli were developed first, not as a response to the internet, but in the age of television. "

Revolts, race, Russia: 60 years on, 1956 is disconcertingly similar to 2016 - article by Simon Hall in The Guardian, based on his book 1956: The World in Revolt. "Headlines filled with turmoil in the Middle East, racial violence in the United States and arguments about Britain’s place in the world. Not from 2016, but 60 years ago. Towards the end of 1956 Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr – the charismatic 27-year-old leader of the Montgomery bus boycott – delivered a rousing speech before an overflow crowd at the city’s Holt Street Baptist church. In a tumultuous year that had witnessed the Suez crisis, a popular uprising in Hungary and an upsurge in anti-colonial nationalism across Africa and the Middle East, King told the supporters of the boycott – whose own year-long struggle against segregated buses was on the brink of a historic triumph – that they were 'living in one of the most momentous periods in human history'. 'We stand today,' he declared, 'between two worlds – the dying old, and the emerging new.'... This battle, between the champions of freedom and the guardians of the old order, lay at the very heart of 1956 – one of the most dramatic years of the 20th century."

The science of resilience: how to teach students to persevere - article by Judy Wallis on The Guardian's Teacher Network. "In schools today, the focus is not only on helping students pass exams, but also on improving their character by making them more resilient. Resilience in learning, as in life, is about being able to persevere through setbacks, take on challenges and risk making mistakes to reach a goal.... It’s not always clear, however, how to develop more resilient students. I believe there are three main areas to focus on: a child’s competence, their tolerance to mistakes, and their ability to set goals. These components help young people to sustain effort even when a challenge seems too great.... When students make mistakes, explain that these are not failures: they are opportunities for the brain to build a bridge that will bring them success in future."

How to formulate a good resolution - article by Tom Stafford in MindHacks blog. "What we want isn’t straightforward. At bedtime you might want to get up early and go for a run, but when your alarm goes off you find you actually want a lie-in. When exam day comes around you might want to be the kind of person who spent the afternoons studying, but on each of those afternoons you instead wanted to hang out with your friends. You could see these contradictions as failures of our self-control: impulses for temporary pleasures manage to somehow override our longer-term interests. One fashionable theory of self-control ... is the ‘ego-depletion’ account. This theory states that self-control is like a muscle. This means you can exhaust it in the short-term... My issue with it is that it reduces our willpower to something akin to oil in a tank. Not only does this seem too simplistic, but it sidesteps the core problem of self-control: who or what is controlling who or what? Why is it even the case that we can want both to yield to a temptation, and want to resist it at the same time? ... [George] Ainslie’s account begins with the idea that we have, within us, a myriad of competing impulses. ... Willpower is a bargaining game played by the forces within ourselves, and like any conflict of interest, if the boundary between acceptable and unacceptable isn’t clearly defined then small infractions can quickly escalate. For this reason, Ainslie says, resolutions cluster around ‘clean lines’, sharp distinctions around which no quibble is brooked.... This is why advice on good habits is often of the form 'Do X every day'... We know that if we leave the interpretation open to doubt, although our intentions are good, we’ll undermine our resolutions when we’re under the influence of our more immediate impulses."

Spotlight: the reporters who uncovered Boston's Catholic child abuse scandal - article by Henry Barnes in The Guardian. "The Spotlight team had identified 12 priests who they knew had been implicated in child sex abuse. They wanted to get the names out there, but Baron told them to hold their fire and aim for the bigger target: the Catholic church itself. 'Would an editor have that sort of restraint now?' asks [Josh Singer, co-writer of the film Spotlight]. 'As opposed to just throwing what you have up on the web? If you’d just run those names it would have been a he-said-she-said with every single one. Instead of talking about the bigger story, which is the system.' 'The internet has forced us to think in short bursts,' says [journalist Walter "Robby"] Robinson. 'We seldom have time to get a really strong grasp on what the full story is. Everybody’s trying to get morsels out there, instead of the full meal.' "

As Mein Kampf returns to Germany, the world is again awash with hatred - column by Paul Mason in The Guardian. "Since 1945, every generation in the educated world has been taught “the lessons” of the rise of Nazism. But surveying the world at the start of 2016 it seems as if we have been learning the wrong lessons. The world is awash with hatred. And since around a quarter of its inhabitants have mobile social media accounts we are leaving a very detailed evidential trail about its spread.... It is impossible to view this global rise of rage, ethnic conflict, victimisation and the curtailment of democratic norms with anything other than alarm. In particular, because it is happening on the cusp of a second global economic downturn. The collapse of growth in those middle-income countries dependent on commodities, combined with mass unemployment in southern Europe and the stagnation of China, may not produce another catastrophic financial event. But it does not need to. The route to a different kind of catastrophe is all too clear, as countries resort to trade embargoes, currency war and overt manipulation of the oil supply as geopolitical tools. The result is likely to be the deglobalisation of the world; the political destabilisation of the emerging economies; more floods of refugees from conflict zones the west cannot be bothered to engage with. Amid all this, the danger is not just another demagogue toting a modern Mein Kampf; there are thousands of little Mein Kampfs being written on social media by people who feel victimised and betrayed and have come to the conclusion that someone else’s death, starvation, expulsion or torture would solve their problems."

Ruqia Hassan: the woman who was killed for telling the truth about Isis - article by Homa Khaleeli, Aisha Gani and Mais al-Bayaa in The Guardian. "Family members say that, in person, the 30-year-old was shy and quiet. Yet on social media she showed no fear, documenting with brutal honesty life [in Raqqa] under Isis, and never attempting to hide her disgust for it.... 'The only thing the secular man remembers from the Qur’an is that God is the most merciful, and everything comes from that,” she wrote. “The only thing the extreme Islamists memorise is one verse – to be tough with infidels and merciful to believers – but to the extreme Islamists, everyone is an infidel, whether Muslim or not.'... [Her cousin says] 'She taught many people a lesson they would never forget. She taught us not to fear the tyrant ... I’m sure we will have many other Ruqias from now.' "

Last Futures by Douglas Murphy: utopian architecture, from space colonies to ziggurats - review by Andy Beckett in The Guardian. "During the anxious early 1970s, when the west was spooked by the oil crisis and economic stagnation, by the first widespread fears for the environment and predictions of global overpopulation, a giddy alternative to it all began to seize the imaginations of some Americans: space colonies.... During the 80s, most of the utopian architectural schemes of the previous two decades were so quickly forgotten or derided ... that it was almost as if they had never existed. Murphy tells the story of this counter-revolution pithily and well. This is not a long book, but it is really about much more than buildings; it is a fresh and haunting way of explaining what happened to the radical 60s and 70s as a whole, in Murphy’s view quite possibly the last chance the west had of creating a decent and environmentally sustainable society. Like all good revisionist history, the book concludes unexpectedly. The flexible, socially responsive sort of building first conceived by progressive postwar architects lives on, he writes, but it has mutated into the supermarket, the open-plan office, the distribution warehouse – not usually spaces of liberation but of control. In Britain and beyond, the 60s and 70s did contain the seeds of a new world, just not quite the one Murphy’s heroes imagined." the no-backup backup service I trusted to store my valuable files - consumer rights column in The Guardian. "I subscribed to the cloud backup service operated by in 2014, then backed up daily. Its website promises: 'Your files are constantly backed up and you can access them at any time from any device in the world'. In particular, the 'restore' feature allows 'disaster recovery' to restore lost files in the event of a computer crash. Last November I had a PC problem which meant I had to reinstall Windows. I then tried in vain to restore my files from the cloud. After some days of dealing with the JustCloud tech team it admitted all my files had been 'deleted in error'. It offered me a refund and to cancel my subscription. I was appalled to discover they were not operating any backup of the data they are holding for others. The 'service' was clearly worthless.... I have written to the managing director but received no response."

These Tricks Make Virtual Reality Feel Real - article by Tom Vanderbilt in Nautilus. "[Ken Perlin, Director of the Media Research Lab at New York University] suddenly slips on his own head-mounted display, and he - or, rather, a large bright, animated figure that looks like some failed entry for an Olympic mascot competition - appears across the clearing from me. He waves his hand, tracing a line that seems to hang in the air. And then, with eyes no more lifelike than a snowman's two pieces of coal, he looks at me. This is a curiously powerful moment. Locking eyes with the simple avatar unleashes that warm, almost familiar prickling of human connection. What do you want from me? What can I do for you? Just the fact that someone else is in the virtual environment underscores the sense of 'social presence,' as media scholar Carrie Heeter has called it. 'If other people are in the virtual world, that is more evidence that the world exists.' The act of recognition inside a shared space validates both your existence and the existence of the space. A lack of recognition denies those things, not unlike the Hollywood trope in which a person, who has not yet learned he is a ghost, tries in vain to get other people’s attention. We are social mimickers. When we see our peers accepting the reality of an environment, we are encouraged to accept it too. Our behavior in virtual space is no different. While much of the current energy in virtual reality research is channeled into getting things to look real as possible, Perlin suggests that even with heightened visual verisimilitude, virtual reality will still feel solitary unless a compelling social presence is achieved. 'The holodeck,' says Perlin, 'is other people.' "

The bridge from education to experience - blog post by Harold Jarche. "When looking at the 70:20:10 model (Experience, Exposure, Education) the 10% formal education component is easy to understand, as is the 70% experience component. Less obvious is what makes up the 20% exposure component. Given the dominance of knowledge work in the modern workplace, the cognitive apprenticeship model may provide some insight. It includes six methods: (1) Modeling, (2) Coaching, (3) Scaffolding, (4) Articulation, (5) Reflection, (6) Exploration. While cognitive apprenticeship was originally designed for teachers working with students in a formal setting, it can be used in the workplace as well. In organizations where experts may be significantly more advanced in their skills than novices, there is a role for a knowledge journeyman. This person’s role would be to provide the six components of cognitive apprenticeship, and be a bridge between the experts and novices. Too often experts forget how they learned the basics and find it difficult to coach novices. Novices need the support of sense-makers as companions on their journey to mastery."

Connecting cooperation and collaboration - blog post by Harold Jarche. "According to The Collaboration Paradox: Why Working Together Often Yields Weaker Results, some of the reasons that workplace collaboration fails is due to: overconfidence in our collective thinking; peer pressure to conform; and reliance on others to do the work. The article goes on to show that collaboration works when: we work with people with different skills; we do what each person does best; and we all contribute our own work. This shows the underlying problem with collaboration. To be effective, collaborative work needs to be done by cooperative people."

Free love or genocide? The trouble with Utopias - article by Tobias Jones in The Guardian, based on his book A Place of Refuge." In 1999, John Carey published a great compendium of excerpts on the theme of utopias and dystopias. They grow, he wrote, 'from desire and fear … cry out for our sympathy and attention, however impractical or unlikely they appear'. To live without that alternative to contemporary society was to remove from record the dreams and nightmares of the human subconscious. To live without such a record was to live in a bland, thin world.... On 25 January, London’s Somerset House begins 12 months of exhibitions, installations and commissions to investigate the renewed allure of utopianism. One of the most eye-catching events is the opportunity to see the view from Anarres, the anarchic planet in one of the last century’s greatest novels, Ursula K Le Guin’s The Dispossessed. In that interplanetary book, the arch-anarchist Shevek travels to a new planet, and struggles to understand the 'propertarian' anxieties: 'Was it because, no matter how much money they had, they always had to worry about making more, lest they died poor?' "

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