Internet Identity: Fear of Failure

This week I had a fantastic opportunity to attend the ‘Flexible Teaching, Flexible Learning’ conference at Bangor University. I was particularly moved by the keynote speaker, Steve Wheeler from Plymouth University.

I am already doing research on social networks and connected learning and the way Steve talks about it is just music to my ears. Let me share some of the points that he put across so elegantly.

People were never designed to be factory taught or put to work in batches. There’s just something that doesn’t resonate through drill or monotony. The most ‘optimal experience’ takes place when we are challenged at a level that corresponds to our skill level. That is why the production (or synthesis) as opposed to a consumption centred model of learning leads to better understanding and higher creativity.

With that in mind, the ubiquitous computing of the postmodern age serves as a tool for the mind, to curate, share and enter into discourse over the how’s and why’s of all things. Never before has the blog or the tweet empowered the common man into a content curator. Never before could people across the world speculate and critique in matters of seconds, and benefit from the enhanced serendipity that comes with the state of flow.

And what’s exciting is that it’s not just about finding information. It’s about being found. With tweets, wiki’s, slideshare presentations and sites such as or linked in, there’s never been a better time for the inquiring mind.

This thought provoking video was shown too, which had been produced by a student in one of Steve’s classes. She talks about her online identity and asks different soul searching questions about why we do what we do, and why we might want to hide such trails.

This is something I found really interesting because I am currently in the process of applying for jobs, and I’ve been considering my own various blogs and social networks that I have written online over the years. Some of them I read and wonder how a potential employer might feel reading them. Even now as I write, I feel to choose my words carefully because of what this could imply. The reality is I don’t drink, or engage in destructive rebellious behaviours. But I have blogged about politics and the economy. In today’s climate these can indeed be dividing topics.

Some might suggest abstaining or moderation; however I can genuinely say that it is through the putting of my thoughts and feelings into words that has helped me recognise the efficacy of my view points. In a very real sense, sometimes you have to go somewhere to more fully understand it, and that includes contemplating the extremities of political opinion. Yet because it is an incomplete work I feel to hide it away from the world in case I be misjudged. The problem with the internet being written in ink is that it leaves little sympathy for mistake.

Another remark of Steve’s that I liked was his acronym for failure. A ‘fail’ is simply a First Attempt In Learning. In the attitude of tearing down walls, why should errors and mistakes made using the fantastic infrastructure for social learning that we have hamper those engaged with the best learning of the day. Can the internet just be a little more forgiving?

How Not to be a Pavlovian Lab Rat

This is my final weighted blog of the science of education module. I have collaborated the ideas of the previous weeks and synthesised my own model of education based on them.

Barky: Science of Education


Whether it was Pavlov’s dog, Thorndyke’s cat or Skinner’s rat (Miltenberger, 2004), behaviourism can be a governing principle.  Differing reinforcers including grades or social reinforcers such as the spelling bee do shape our learning behaviour, while drill and practise are the academic representation of stimulus reward pairing (Skinner, 1953).

Such learning does have a place in education. Tournaki (2003) demonstrated students using rote compared with principled strategies to learn addition. The rote learning predicted an increase in post test and transferable task scores, but the principled strategy predicted the highest scores in the heretofore mentioned variables. This is also in line with Willingham’s (2006) research describing how the foundational semantic knowledge is a springboard to skills such as critical thinking, or more automated processing of intellectual functions.

The damning factor of the behavioural paradigm is determinism. It says you are the product of your environment; it is entirely systematic…

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A Case for Home Schooling

Most of the literature surrounding homeschooling surrounds legal matters and U.S. constitutional rights surrounding the topic.
Since none of that has anything to do with psychology, I suggested how the principles of mastery, empowerment and social networks are best deployed in a home school set up.

Barky: Science of Education

What I want to do today is put before you a case. There’s plenty of evidence that home schooling is better for students, however I want to submit before you a framework through which education would be best done, and I want to demonstrate how that framework works best through home-school or grassroots teaching. I am going to discuss three principles of education, and then at the end I will relate them to home schooling.

Mastery Learning

One of the troubles with ‘stack it high/sell it cheap’ education was highlighted by Bloom (1968). Assuming that mastery of knowledge is governed as a function of aptitude and time, anybody above the median is being under stretched, and anyone below is unable to master anything completely. In other words, with standardised classrooms, very few can attain mastery.

Mastery based learning is actually quite a systematic theory; it argues that each student…

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Be iKinder!

This week I covered how the recently published 1:1 iPad’s in school’s report sits with theories of social learning and social networking.

Barky: Science of Education

If you’ve been reading my topic series so far you will see that I have been highlighting the dangers of a system centered on conformity and looking for ways to empower the individual before ones novel thinking skills are conditioned out of them. Last week I looked at the ‘erdkinder’ model, which connects the work done in class to real life. This week I’m coining the term ‘iKinder’ to demonstrate how our generation of digital natives can use technology with cognitive benefits that couldn’t be attained without it.

I’ve been investigating the Scotland iPad Evaluation (Burden et al, 2012), which has investigated the use of iPad’s in primary and secondary schools. There is evidence for and against the use of iPads/tablets, ranging from its being a ‘content receiving device’ (Clark, 2013) to the seamlessly connected nature it boasts.

The Rote Learned Base

The research is supportive of…

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Power to the Textbooks

Recently I’ve been wondering about the role of original research. In fact, it has been a question I’ve wondered about since I began studying my degree: we do a lot of research, and we try to chase the original sources, but do we ever really get back to the original research to scrutinize it, or indeed simply to enjoy its simplicity.

Let me give an example. Last week I wrote an article about behaviourism. The bare original research is Pavlov and his dogs. However there’s no simple citation, other than his written works, which, let’s face it, how many people have really read that? I certainly wasn’t about to scour it just to say I did it when everybody “knows” what it says.

The are plenty of simple-written explanations found on sites like or Wikipedia, which do all cite Pavlov’s works. But they are not peer reviewed, and there’s a very real chance you are reading a load of hogwash. In the end, I just accepted that the principle of conditioning was well enough accepted that it didn’t need a specific citation.

So what’s happening here? Do we find ourselves in a bit of a phenomenon that the research is so inaccessible that it sails into anecdote? Where do I get a strong citation for classical and operant conditioning.

textbook meme

To me it’s almost a mockery to just find a research paper that investigates conditioning as evidence for its existance. And textbooks do carry a bit of a stigma to them, likely because when you cited the textbook during an essay it was a tell-tale giveaway that you hadn’t done any novel reading.

The assignments for which the higher marks are obtained through doing extra reading almost do a disservice; they condition a bit of a mental block in the writer that narrows the research down to the peer-reviewed journals. Yet when it comes down to making an argument compelling yet simple, some of the strongest arguments I have heard still go back to the pivotal research such as Asche, Milgram and Pavlov; they are the most effective means by which to demonstrate a principle.

A quote by religious leader Dieter F. Uchtdorf, demonstrates how effective the use of simplicity can be:

The story is told that the legendary football coach Vince Lombardi had a ritual he performed on the first day of training. He would hold up a football, show it to the athletes who had been playing the sport for many years, and say, “Gentlemen, … this is a football!” He talked about its size and shape, how it can be kicked, carried, or passed. He took the team out onto the empty field and said, “This is a football field.” He walked them around, describing the dimensions, the shape, the rules, and how the game is played.

The best arguments come when there is no mark scheme, and no hoops to jump through to get that life changing grade. They are pragmatic. They demonstrate principles in action, and explain the mechanics of how they achieve their merit. So if the textbook is a worthy relay that gives compelling clarity to the original research, that should be every bit available to use in compiling an argument. And actually, I’ve read plenty of papers that do use textbooks in citations. I think we do just have a bit of an undergraduate sub-culture.

If the cap fits, wear it!

Mechanisms of Memory

You will have seen a lot of cover on the science of education recently. Certainly that topic has been taking a lot of my time. However the other module I am enrolled in this semester is the ‘biological foundations of memory’.

I’ve been studying today the encoding of memories; specifically the electroencephalogram (EEP) readings for the encoding of memories. In this domain, the encoding of memories can be identified by a simple test. One presents images during a study phase, and then presents those images again, along with some novel ones, and asks participants if they have seen the said images before. By subtracting the brain waves recorded during the encoding phase (discriminated by the results of the test phase) of images subsequently recognised from those forgotten, one can measure the brain activity at given locations that represent memory encoding. Differences are discovered, as you might expect, but there’s more to it than that.

Another comparison, carried out by Yovel and Paller (2004) compared difference waves between familiar items, and recalled items, compared to items forgotten of the respective categories. Familiar items represent semantic memory (of meaning), whereas recalled items represent episodic memory. This is because as items are recalled, the participant remembers memorising them in the test phase. Indeed, as you can see below, there are some unique patterns for each category.

Yovel & Paller (2004)

Yovel & Paller (2004)

As far as our class goes, it is now mine to judge whether this represents a general unspecific mechanism or a number of specialised mechanisms.

Topographically, the recollection brain activity (which indicates episodic memory) completely encompasses the familiarity brain activity. Certainly the components of any episodic memory contain semantic components, so it is entirely logical that the components to process the episodic memories will activate semantic areas.

I don’t see any dissociations, however at the same time, these topographies span the entire brain, which is a bit big for one general mechanism. Based on that, I think the system breaks down into specific components which are actively connected during the episodic encoding experience.

So that is my synthesis. I don’t know what the most groundbreaking research might be saying about these concepts. It is likely that further experiments might be able to break this down and dissociate things further, however our lecturer is an active researcher in the field, so I imagine things are largely up to date. However I am going to leave matters at this conclusion for now.

Being Erdkinder – in relation to politics

I’ve been observing the continuing changes that are taking place behind the scenes to the British economy. That being the sale of many of our public and private services to foreign investors. For example, our train operator Arriva now belongs to Deutsche Bahn and if anybody wonders what EDF energy stands for, it’s Electricite de France. India owns Jaguar Land Rover and goodness only knows where the royal mail will end up.

And then I found it really interesting this week when I heard Max Keiser describe the British enomic climbate as turning to a ‘Neo-feudal’ state. Where you have the wealthy capitol holders and all the proles pay rent for the privilege. It wouldn’t be the end of the world to reach that point, especially since with the advances in medication, technology and greater spread of ownership of capitol goods among the working man (a British man’s home is his castle). However it isn’t what we particularly want either, especially for our quality of life.

So why are we selling ourselves down the river? Well. In university this semester I have been studying the psychology behind education, and have been looking at the Erdkinder model of education described by Maria Montessori. She observed the Erdkinder (german: children of the land) going about their operations, and noted how they understood the relationships between work and upkeep, as well as the relationship between cooperation and upkeep (Kahn, 2003).

An ‘Erdkinder’ school in Germany; Photo credit:

As society has gotten increasingly more global, that connection has been lost. Even though it should be obvious, the way to get fed is no longer to shoot your own elk, but it’s often to work for a large corporation as only a single small node of the operation, or live on state handouts. Of course there are other options, however these are common examples of how the natural connection between work and upkeep is conditioned out of people. This is psychological behaviourism in action, and it is taught to children from day one of their primary education.

It’s not hard to see then why the (should be) alarming notions of selling our capital goods to foreign countries are taking place. It simply goes over their heads when governments describe it as an academic means to an end of solving our economic woes.

There is a false mediation between work and upkeep, and it needs to change. Schools need to stop teaching to token qualifications, and start demonstrating cause and effect on where things come from. When youth reach adolescents, they start to wonder where they fit in to the world (Rathunde, 2001). That is the point when they need to see how things really work, where and how the things that control our quality of life are produced. Adolescence is a pivotal point, and an education that is in line with the psychological contract described here can set them for life.

Be Erdkinder!

I’m really quite excited about how this is coming together. I think the Montessori theory taps into parts of the human psyche that are so beautifully simple.

Barky: Science of Education

This week I want to stay with the theme of behaviourism, and I want to respond to the matter that in a behaviourist world, in which you are the product of your environment, fundamentally there cannot be creativity. Indeed there are those such as Steve Jobs and Richard Branson, who have ascended to the top rung of society without any structured education at all. If school conditions our children to stop asking ‘why’, it is only further evidence that our children are being operant conditioned into mindless drones.

I’ve done some research into Montessori education, or as my mum calls it, ‘please yourself teaching’. Montessori schools by and large cater for young infants up to six years of age, however schools are also present for children up to twelve years. These classes of mixed ages are unstructured sessions implicitly guided by the teacher. Classrooms are set up as learning laboratories…

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