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About Creativity from Jonah Lehrer

Jonah Lehrer
Jonah Lehrer

We hurried back from Cullowhee Thursday so that I could see Jonah Lehrer talk about his new book, Imagine, at the Quail Ridge Bookstore in Raleigh.  We’d been in Cullowhee for events leading up to the installation of Western Carolina University’s new chancellor, Dr. David Belcher.  Brenda and I both graduated from WCU more than 35 years ago — “GO CATAMOUNTS.”

But I had seen some buzz about Lehrer’s new book, and I wanted to hear more.  His background is neuroscience, but he also studied 20th century literature and philosophy at Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar.  He blogs at Frontal Cortex.  Evidenty, one of Jonah’s passions is “healing the rift between sciences and humanities.” ((Wikipedia contributors. “Jonah Lehrer.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 25 Mar. 2012. Web. 30 Mar. 2012.)).  Also, he looks to be only a bit more than 17 years old.  But that’s OK.

He was not able to share much during his 30 minute lecture and what he did share had little to do with the buzz I’d gotten (You have to suffer in order to create – link).  Jonah did describe two sources of creativity.  He talked about those sudden insights that we have when struggling with a problem.  There are two features of these insights, that they seem to come from nowhere and that we intuitively know they’re right when they come. They also seem to come from a brain that is relaxed and emanating alpha waves.

Creativity is the residue of wasted time! — Einstein

My notes from the lecture

The other source was not such good news for those of us in the standing-room audience who were looking for a shortcut to creativity.  It is the GRIT factor.  He said that creativity is hard work and that it comes to people who stick with a problem long enough to combine the pieced of the non-obvious solution.  ”If creativity was easy, we wouldn’t have a Bob Dylan.”  Angela Duckworth was the researcher he quoted with regards to the grit trait.

While he signed my copy of his book, I expressed some frustration with efforts in the education world to try to teach creativity.  He told me that kids are naturally creative.  The best thing we can do is just get out of the way and encourage them to express their creativity.

After the Beyond the Textbook Forum

Photo by Joyce Valenza, who came in spite of her broken knee

I had originally intended to append yesterday’s blog post with more information about, and from the forum.  But I think that I have a little more to say than I left room for yesterday.

First of all, I left the Discovery Communication Headquarters yesterday with one of those deliciously contradictory sensations of both exhaustion and exhilaration. It was certainly an echo chamber of people who have the room, by choice or by definition of job, to think about and talk about the future of education. But even though we have largely drawn the same conclusions, when you get these familiar ingredients together in the same pot and stir vigorously, new flavors often comes out.

I’m not going to present a comprehensive report of the conversation here.  I would point you to better reporters, Audrey Watters (Hack Education) and Wes Fryer (here, here, here and here) and others who will come linked in the #beyondthetextbook Twitter thread that certainly continues.  Essentially, its all about rethinking education, being educated, teaching, learning, and curriculum.  I can’t add much to that.

Here, I want to focus in on just a few outlying ideas that I walked away with, especially from my internal efforts to put myself in the shoes of our hosts and an industry that has become one of the definers of education.

One of those ideas got pried loose when a Discovery person asked the un-askable, “How do we monetize this?”  It was the only time that the business of selling textbooks came up — and I can’t fault anyone for making a living.  It’s an important question, because they know that they need to be doing things differently, and I suspect that they are sincerely trying to get on the other side of just digital textbooks with animations, videos and flash games.  There were suggestions of repackaging the conversation, thinking in terms of selling pages (modules), or talking more about digital libraries that children take with them after graduation.  This intrigues me, that being educated is knowing, doing, and cultivating tools that help you to continue to learn, unlearn and relearn.

Much was said about resistance from many teachers.  Many feel that a classroom without a textbook starts to look like a classroom without a teacher.  In addition, few teachers have the time to construct their digital textbooks or supervise student-constructed learning materials.

But another barrier became evident to me that gave me – and this is going to open some eyes – a new sympathy for the textbook industry.  I’m for the kids and the future, and I don’t fault an industry for making a living from this endeavor.  Who among those of us in that room are not.  I do fault efforts to influence the shape of education in order to perpetuate a control-model that is clearly no long relevant.

I want to welcome anyone who wants to be a part of this new adventure.

My sympathy comes from the fact that the only way Discovery could run a sustainable education support business is to go where the money is, and the most uninterrupted money has traditionally been textbook budgets.  So Discovery has to frame its service as a textbook, as defined by legislation. It’s easy to say, we don’t need textbooks, that “..the Internet is the best textbook.”  But when many politicians hear, “We don’t need textbooks,” what they may be seeing another avenue for slashing education funding.  It’s one of those, “Becareful what you wish for…”

So, I think I may unapologetically continue to call it a “textbook.”  I could be writing this blog on my tablet (do a Google image search for tablet).

It just seems to me that with some imagination, a product, either commercial or open, could be designed to help children to develop the literacies of learning from their world and the authentic record of that world — and our world has never ever been so recorded.

I think that we could see something come out of this, that, as Steve Jobs might say, “We didn’t know we couldn’t live without,” and part of the compellingness of that product will not be so much in what it is, as in what it can become.

It’s what excites me about today’s tablets, their capacity to become new things.

 

 

 

Beyondthetextbook Forum

At this moment, I’m sitting in my hotel room in Silver Spring, Maryland, and continuing to think #beyondthetextbook. I will likely continue to grow this particular blog entry as the next two days progress at the Discovery Communications Headquarters, just a couple of blocks away.

Blog and Print Articles about “the other side of textbooks”
Beyond the Textbook 3/13/12
The Page is Dead! Long Live Curriculum 11/29/11
Not Learning Managed but Learning Empowered 7/20/11
So What do you Call a Textbook that isn’t a Book? 7/5/11
Next Textbooks are… 6/26/11
Six Reasons Why Textbooks Should Stop Being Textbooks 5/19/11
Only 6 Reasons Why Tablets Are Ready for the Classroom 5/17/11
TechLearning Article: Textbooks of the Future 5/15/04

But right now, I thought I would post some links to blog entries I’ve written over the past few years on the subject of “what’s on the other side of the textbook.”

Also, the other day, I asked readers to come up with a simile for the other side of textbooks, “It will be like a…” Here are a few that plucked my imagination.

The TB of the future will be like a..

  • like a quest
  • like a production studio
  • like an extension of our brains
  • like a reality game
  • like a video playlist
  • like swiss army knife
  • like a personal assistant
  • like a platform that provokes conversation
  • like a holodeck
  • like a choose your own adventure story
  • like a Palantir
  • map for a learning journey
  • like an interaction engine
  • like a Matrix up-link
  • like an aggregator that searches and updates content
  • more like a word problem than a calculation problem

More to come!

 

Beyond the Textbook

I have been invited to participate in Discovery Education’s Beyond the Textbook Forum.  I feel quite honored, especially as I’ve scanned the names of other folks who are attending.  It will be a special treat to spend some time with Steve Dembo and David Jakes, two talented thinkers and conference speakers.

One thing that struck me about this event is the title.  When talking about my dissatisfaction with print-based textbooks, I often ask, “What will textbooks evolve into?”  This implies some assumptions, that textbooks, as we know them, will simply morph into something else that acts like a textbook.

The title of this event seems to be asking what the other side of textbooks might look like — and the opportunity of this wide open idea fascinates me.

We’ve been assigned to use our blogs and Twitter to solicit from our readers some ideas about what we might find on the other side of textbooks.  As a teacher, I need a simile.  I need to be able to say,

“The learning device(s) that our learners will walk into their classrooms with will be more like a ________________.

So, if you don’t mind, would you think for a moment about this task and fill in the text box above with no more than 150 characters that complete the sentence. You’ll notice that I’ve changed your question a bit, “..will behave more like a…”

If you would like to expand on your thoughts, please feel free to post a comment.

Added at 12:17 PM two days later – Here is a word cloud from the similes that have already been posted.

Reflections on Neck Ties

It’s an odd title for a blog entry, but it’s how Ken Shelton, Thursday’s keynote speaker pronounced our NCTIES conference. North Carolina’s ISTE affiliate, NCTIES has hosted what has become the primary focal event for folks interested in education, technology and other aspects of retooling classrooms in this and surrounding states.

Shelton delivered a high energy and courageous keynote.  He walked up on stage with his computer bag and hooked everything up after being introduced and with us watching. Astounding!  I insist on connecting and testing everything an hour before the speech begins.

6816912352_f0336aa2da_m.jpg
Empty Metal Chair

The high point of the conference, for me, was being lucky enough to get into Shelton’s photography workshop on Wednesday morning. The biggest part of the session was a photo safari along Fayetteville Street to the old Capital Building, and then back down Salisbury street. It was wonderful being tutored while actually wandering around and taking pictures.

On Friday, Ken asked me if I’d noticed any improvement in my photos from the beginning of the walk to the end. Always taking such questions seriously, I thought hard and honestly said that I couldn’t think of anything in particular – not the polite thing to say. But with some reflection, I can say the my eye improved, that is to say that I got better at finding photos to be made, rather than snapshots to be taken. You’d have to have taken the workshop to understand the distinction. (Hope you’re reading this, Ken.)

It was great seeing and talking with some old friends from the old days, but there were not very many.  Being a conference that I have attended for many MANY years, I have a basis for impressions that seem important to me, and one of them was the youth of the NCTIES attendees.  I know that it’s partly my advanced age that causes this feeling, but someone else commented to me about the number of classroom teachers who were attending this conference – and most of them were very young.

This conversation compelled me to post the following tweet, “Sitting with P. Sheehy, L Gillispie & C Lawson & thinking, ‘Any sufficiently tech savvy teacher is indistinguishable from a wizard.’”

Another thing that impressed me was the technical sophistication of most of the attendees. They were imaginative, tech-savvy educators, who were open to new ways of using their skills and their tech to create new learning experiences for their learners.  It was exciting.

This sense of rising sophistication was most apparent during an unconference session I facilitated on tablets in the classroom.  It was not a structured as I would like, and, as usual, I walked away feeling that I had not done my job.  I hadn’t taught anything.  I’ll never get over that.  But the ideas flew and grew and partly at the bidding of several attendees who played the devil’s advocate better than I could have.  The bottom-line message, to me, was that our learners deserve convenient (easy & fast) access to today’s prevailing information landscape to practice relevant learning.

..and this brings me to the last impression I’ll report here, and that was the overwhelming prevalence of tablet computers.  I asked others, who agreed that there seemed to be more people with iPads and other tablets in their hands at the sessions and keynote than laptops.  In fact, at some points, laptops seemed to be the exception.  It’s all bringing into focus a term that I’m seeing more and more, that we are entering the post-PC era.  I’m not sure I entirely agree with the picture that evokes, but I do not recall seeing any tech rise in prominence so quickly.

Thanks to the conference committee at NCTIES…

Coolest Thing I’ve Seen in a While

I have felt bad about not blogging lately. It’s partly because of travel, but mostly because of three projects that have drawn most of my attention lately. One of those has been preparation for the NCTIES conference later this week. It’s a special event for me because NCTIES is the ISTE affiliate for my home state and also because it is an especially successful conference. This year’s featured speakers include Richard Byrne, Patrick Crispen (regular), Rushton Hurley, Peggy Sheehy, Kathy Schrock (regular) and Tammy Worcester, with a kickoff keynote by Ken Shelton.

One of my presentations will explore instructional potentials of data visualization and infographics and in preparing for this session, I found one of the coolest things I’ve seen in a while.  I ran across the link via Nathan Yau’s Flowing Data blog, where he quoted Jeffrey Winter…

There was an idea floating around that continuously following the first link of any Wikipedia article will eventually lead to “Philosophy.” This sounded like a reasonable assertion, one that makes a certain amount of sense in retrospect: any description of something will typically use more general terms. Following that idea will eventually lead… somewhere.

Winter’s explanation of how he accomplished a test for this idea made it sound easier than I’m sure it was.  But the outcome was an intriguing mashup where you can type in a word or numerous words separated by comas, and his app will thread through the first link in each linked-to article until it reaches Philosophy.

Sitting in Starbucks, I looked for logical connections between Starbucks, coffee and caffeine. (click img to enlarge)

What struck me as I played with this data visualization, was how this operation meshes with our notions of curriculum and of libraries.

When information is scarce and education is defined by knowledge delivery, then the job of curriculum and of libraries is to package content into subjects and units and dewey decimal classifications.

When I watch seemly unrelated topics threading their way to a common subject and re-examine Boyack, Klavans and Palen’s Map of Science, which shows how various disciplines are interconnected by citations, it seems clear to me how schools and libraries need to become more like learning-literacy playgrounds than managed corals.

But that’s me!

 


Photo taken by Ewan McIntosh in a Taxi in Shanghai

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