Re-inventing the Computer

I’ve spent a long time now, looking at different ways that psychology might be applied to improve education. I’ve learned about networked learning; how knowledge is stored more intelligently across groups. I’ve researched motivation; the ways in which student empowerment and student directed learning creates a more whole educational experience in the individual. I’ve read about the flow state of mind, being captured by the moment in a most pure state of intrinsic motivation. I’ve found out about the dangers of carelessly deployed technology, which only teaches students to accrue points, or merely provides a virtual alternative to what worked perfectly well with paper.

Indeed, I would say that not many of the present classroom applications of technology are really hitting the nail on the head. There is, however, one computer game, which seems to apply these ideas exceedingly well: Minecraft.

This retro style indie game has risen to be the best selling PC game of all time. It is an open ended, sandbox style game, in which plays build things through placing and removing blocks. The game has developed over several years, giving users items such as switches, power sources and hoppers, allowing for some quite smart mechanisms to be created. It began with the automation of ‘crafting’ (putting several raw materials together to create a new item), however as peoples ingenuity has developed, so have their creations. Right now, they’ve advanced as far as having built 16-bit computers. In a very real way, the entirety of the enlightenment and the industrial revolution have now repeated themselves – in a cult computer game!

The Analytical Engine, the mechanical computer proposed by Charles Babbage.

The Analytical Engine, the mechanical computer proposed by Charles Babbage.

Now, you need to think about that for a second. Think about what a computer is, and how they have developed. What is now done in a microprocessor, was originally done through a contraption which filled a whole room. Furthermore, before even that, the first computer ever to be invented was entirely mechanical. Now, we have an army of young people replicating these archaic structures using Minecraft.

This community incredibly well networked. Take a look at the number of examples and tutorials that come up with you search ‘minecraft redstone computer‘ on Youtube. When one learns, the wealth is shared. And when the one shares their understanding with the many, that individuals own understanding is strengthened. Ideas bounce serendipitously, and the evolution of these systems has been rapid. The bottom line of it is this: young adults, teenagers and children even, within this community, can master the very fundamentals of modern day computing. I don’t even understand that, and I have been a computer enthusiast since I had my baby teeth.

This is the type of educating that is fun, motivating and above all, highly effective. Each and every learner within the Minecraft community is participating in a race to the top. These skills and this understanding are the very thing that will drive knowledge economies to excellence. To this I would ask what parallels can be drawn, to make an educational model as resonant as the Minecraft community.

It would be very different. It would challenge all convention. It would likely be chaotic. However these things have all been recognised as attributes contributing to a successful knowledge economy.

It would be a brave teacher to set up a Minecraft lab inside their classroom, but hey! Here’s to the crazy ones right?

Coping with Autism: My Perspective, Part 1

A powerful and open perspective from a friend of mine.


I’ve been in one of those moods recently. The sort of mood which begs for some sort of output, some sort of creative release. The last time this happened, it was brought on by watching what turned out to be an abomination of a show. You could probably say that what brought this on is of more consequence.

This past week I was in Nottingham, volunteering as a counsellor in a youth programme called FSY (For the Strength of Youth). I was responsible for nine incredible young men, and it was one of the most rewarding and exhausting experiences of my life. I loved it. And yet, when it concluded on Saturday, I ended up in one of the lowest moods I’ve felt for a long time. Why? I’ll get into more specifics later on, but for now it suffices to say that I tweeted this at one of my…

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Help the Man who will Never See an Aston Martin DB6

Well yesterday I got some pretty good feedback on my practise analysis, so I decided to implement it and write another one today. Just one day to go until the exam!!!

Here’s todays ad:


Image Credit: Publicis, Brussels, Belgium

Psychology of Target Consumers

The target audience has no dempgraphic particularities. Instead, it is targetted at people who believe they share the responsibility for the welfare of others and who have the intention to donate to charities. It also targets everyone in that it intends to promote the attitude that donating to charitable causes is good.

The advert from a consumer psychology perspective

The advert contains a bit of puzzle. It draws attention through the iconic Aston Martin. Reading the slogan then draws attention to the blind man walking by and the cause of the ad. When the consumer considers the meaning of the ad, they become aware that the blind man will never see the sensory pleasure of the DB6. This is meant to create feelings of guilt and compassion. The compassionate mood should ideally encourage the consumer to donate.

The ad does not use hevy branding, however it does provide cues for consumers intending to donate. The instruction, and phone number for donation presents a clear means of implementation for intending donors. The ad does not address possible competing charities, but does create compelling feelings, and a route for implementation. It would struggle to create an enduring memory trace or drive repeat business.

One in Five Teachers Experience Social Media Abuse

A press release issued this morning by the NASUWT teachers union reveals how 21% of teachers surveyed reported having had adverse comments posted about them on social media websites.

When I look at that, I think of the operant conditioning that Bjork (1994) says teachers become the subject of. Bjork (1994) explains that teachers become conditioned by reinforcers such as the happiness of trainees or performance indicators. Psychologically speaking, neither of these are valid measures of quality teaching, so such would be a flawed system.

I looked on to see what was being said about the teachers in my old high school and I was mortified.

First of all, let’s take a look at what a good teacher gets:

good_teacherThis would appear to be a classic case of the student rating the teacher according to what they value: fun and entertainment.

Now let us look at a badly rated teacher:


Again, I would say this is a narrow minded comment coming from an immature student. I remember being taught by the teacher in question, and I remember being told off a few times. But I also remember the reason why: because I was disrupting the class. This was a good teacher, from whom I learned a lot. I enjoyed attending her lessons.

Last of all, I have some words to say about the sub scales by which teachers have been rated. Easiness is just a joke. If we reward our teachers for making it easy, we really are on a race to the bottom. And helpfulness and clarity are definitely not evidence based scales if we are looking to cognitive psychology for a robust measure of teacher quality. Going back to Bjork (1994), we learn that making it harder is a much more effective way of fostering durable learning. Techniques such as reducing feedback or varying the conditions in which students practise what they learn (Bjork & Bjork 2011) are much more effective teaching strategies.

Now I do not dispute for one minute that there are some rubbish teachers out there. But I also have a lot of sympathy for what I believe to be a majority of teachers who are trying their best to teach in ever toughening conditions. There is a scholarship of teaching and learning, against which teachers ought to be judged and encouraged. It is wrong to measure teachers against shallow performance indicators and the angry mob of rebellious students and misinformed outspoken parents. The whole logic of sites like ‘Rate my Teacher’ or any abuse through social media is more likely an example of ‘stupidity of the mob’ (Wheeler, 2012). Abuse of any type is wrong anyway.

The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education (Albert Einstein)

This is a blog from one of my fellow class mates. While I didn’t read/comment on it during the assessed period, I heard good things about it so have come back to visit it.
I see the arguments in the main post to be robust, and what is interesting is that in the comments section, about one quarter of the class come to take-on the author over her conclusions. Jesse (the class teacher) humorously describes grades as a ‘sacred relic’ that students pay a bit too much homage to. But note how so many of the class still fight in favour of grades, typically based on reasons of keeping stability/the popular vote.
My own thoughts on grading are thus: the menace of grades is the token economy that grading has fostered. We need, even so, a way to certify what people can do, however what right have we do draw a line of dissemination separating those who can and those who can’t. The real classification needs to merely be those who can, and those who can’t YET. And, this needs to be qualitative certification. Using instead mastery learning paradigms, qualitative feedback and portfolios are a much more positive way to measure skill and capability without creating a class of sub standard graduates that inevitably make the tail end of the bell curve.

Science of Education

In this module we have been involved in student-centred learning, becoming independent learners by actively choosing topics of interest for our blogs. My central focus has been on evaluating the grading process.  Grading is an integral part of the education system, yet its use is often questionable.

My initial blogs focused on the issues with grading, with the belief that with certain adjustments, the grading process could be improved. For example, there is a disparity between the subjective process of grading, and the ‘objective’ assessment produced (Kohn, 1994). Markers aren’t machines, and are subjected to a number of influences in the grading process (York, Bridges & Woolf, 2000). Therefore educators must decide whether to follow strict guidelines (or use automated marking) to obtain objectivity and reliability, or accept the subjectivity of grading, allowing students to surpass the mark scheme through novel creativity.

As I gained…

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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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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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The Behavioural Phenomenon

Barky: Science of Education

We are the angry mob, we read the papers every day. We like who we like, we hate who we hate, but we’re oh so easily swayed.
– Kaiser Chiefs

’By itself,’ he said, ’pain is not always enough. There are occasions when a human being will stand out against pain, even to the point of death. But for everyone there is something unendurable — something that cannot be contemplated. Courage and cowardice are not involved. If you are falling from a height it is not cowardly to clutch at a rope. If you have come up from deep water it is not cowardly to fill your lungs with air. It is merely an instinct which cannot be destroyed. It is the same with the rats. For you, they are unendurable. They are a form of pressure that you cannot withstand. Even if you wished to. You will do what…

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