Replacement vs. Reinforcement

I came across an idea about how machines interact with people while watching some TV. They were joking about Sat-Nav devices and all the silly voices they can make when it occurred to me that Sat-Nav devices are indeed replacing our natural abilities to navigate and know where we are and how to move around in our urban areas. (Most of us have long since lost our ability to know where we are and how to get around in the wild)

This is an example of a device which replaces a natural talent so well, that we find we don’t need our mental functions any more. But of course the one great evil of this is that we no longer know how to operate without them, thus Sat-Nav will always be required by people who use Sat-Nav a lot. (forgetting of course people who couldn’t operate at all until Sat-Nav came into being)

Picture showing a set of microschips on the left, a nerve cell on the left.

So what’s the alternative to technological replacement? I think one idea is technological reinforcement; the idea that the best technology improves the human operator through it’s use. Take Wikipedia; the fear is that no one will never need to remember anything and we’ll all forget to remember everything. But using Wikipedia seems to do the opposite, reinforcing information and making us more certain about some of the billions of facts we can hold in our heads. (but maybe it hasn’t been around long enough to show it’s effect)

So this got me thinking about what I would like a Sat-Nav device to do, to help me reinforce and hone my skills navigating the streets. Partly it could help by always stating the names of the roads when you’re in a local or frequently visited place. “Turn Left” is an instruction but “Turn Left at Washington Street” is educational and reinforcing if I take that route a lot. The information is certainly being presented at the right time for me to combine it with other sensory information so I can call it back up later. Another idea is to mention the absolute direction, North, South etc so we get a feel for the absolute direction we’re traveling in.

Of course none of this might work, so to test we could see how Sat-Nav devices effect people’s ability to judge medium and long distances. Most devices mention how many yards/meters it is until a junction so it’s already going into our heads and reinforcing something in there, but maybe we can’t process it because we don’t really have a sense of speed (in a car, I do on my bike of course). Maybe the brain just throws all the information away, but I find that hard to believe since brains are really good at learning to understand all sorts of data.

What do you think?

FOSSed 2011

Between July 6-8 2011 there will be another FOSSed event here in the North-east of the United States. It’s up in Maine and features a mix of educational and software types, a good solid event for anyone interested in FOSS and the education scene.

I went last year and did enjoy it quite a bit. The sessions were fun and we got to see some of the interesting ideas being experimented with in various schools around the country. There was plenty of time to just chat about all sorts of tech during the breaks and the accommodation was on site. Easier to deal with travelling.

This concludes this public service announcement. Comments welcome below.

FOSSed Notes

The FOSSed conference was certainly very interesting and although the heat was almost unbearable, the sleeping and presentation rooms un-air-conditioned at least the event fed us well (a little too well as I note by budda belly this morning) and we got to talk with some very interesting people with a different take on Ubuntu and FOSS.

First of all there are plenty of people using Ubuntu, both strait up and as a basis for educational distributions. But almost everyone at this conference was using an Apple Mac, it’s something a lot of schools have invested in. I maintain that the bastards are going to be Apple in this and upper-middle class residential markets.

One sys-admin was explaining to me how their school is ditching Ubuntu in favour of Apple Macs because he (as a sysadmin) is not paid enough to do his job properly and just doesn’t want any more work to deal with. Of course far be it from me to suggest that doing a job at all is worth doing right, but I can’t imagine how a fleet of rented Apple Macs could be easier to manage even on a larger scale. I chalk this one up to professional folly and lack of imagination.

There were plenty of positive thinkers too, lots of people really wanted to learn some of the available programs in depth so they could go off and teach other people. this is great and it’s certainly something we should be doing more of. I know Inkscape has really good how-tos and guides available to download in manual format.

In the end though we got to talk a lot about all the challenges, politics, dumb decisions and rotten thinking that goes on in education. There was certainly a lot to complain about, most of the time it didn’t seem like it was malicious, just that old problem of pushing incompetent people further up stack into management instead of firing them. Of course I also remember being told: “No one likes being their own boss, because suddenly it’s hard to tell yourself just what a dumb boss you really are to yourself”

Your thoughts?

Ubuntu Manual – Time for Testing

According to OMG! Ubuntu the Ubuntu Manual project is looking for testers, people who can read the manual and find errors.

They’re going to freeze it at the end of the month so the community needs to get cracking in making sure it’s all good to go, I think everything should be able to give one chapter a brief read over and to report problems.

Report Problems here

Learn in Fractal

If you’ve ever been involved with teaching then you’ll know that you teach the small stuff first, little lies, small over simplifications that get the students off in the right direction. Sometimes this is characterised as getting students on the first rung of the ladder of learning.

Then there is the fear that our modern world is too complex, it’s pushing our children to think, process and work out their mental faculties more and more. Some say you can see the result of this in the ever upwardly reassessed median IQ. Others say you can see it in the stress levels, the increase in trivialities and the reduction of curious pursuits.

But what I see is something different. There are and always will be a range of people with a range of mental facilities and abilities, that not everyone understands computers doesn’t mean that everyone is expected to grapple everything. We worry about the lowest common denominator focus of society, but the common don’t.

When you see the world looking a little simple, basic, too well understood, not progressive enough, I recommend looking a little deeper because it’s fractals all the way down. You used to learn how to farm wheat, now you learn how to drive a tractor, one day you’ll learn how to press a tractor robot activation button, but there will always be more to it and deeper understandings to have for those that seek them.

Don’t refrain from making things simple, the simpler they are the more you can zoom in to greater complexities. The simpler the big stuff is the more you can get on with making progress.

Don’t worry about the apparent deficit of mental alacrity in the general population, it’s always been like that, if anything things are getting slightly better though the shaping and presentation of learning to even the unenthusiastic student. Some are saying that we shouldn’t teach children facts and figures, who cares who the third US president was (Tom) as soon we’ll all have mobile computers with permanent access to wikipedia where all our fixed knowledge can be stored.

Is that progress? do facts help us think up new idea, or do ideas and concepts only matter? Do we need new narratives and tales to pass on these concepts to our children?

Your cognations?

UOW: The Ubuntu Learning Project

learning-branding-largeYesterday Elizabeth Krumbach (pleia2) gave an Ubuntu Open Week presentation describing the Ubuntu Community Learning Project. This is the project that aims to create the materials that teachers can use to teach Ubuntu and other Free Software tools to everyone.

Firstly I would like to thank Elizabeth for gathering together all the details about the project into an Open Week session, making sure that we stay connected to more parts of the Ubuntu community and hopefully attract more people that want to teach, organise, write and/or illustrate.

Do go read the log here: Learning OW Session

Quick Start Guide

Now that you’ve read the Open Week presentation and have a want, nae a thirst to provide the community with high quality learning materials. What do you do?

Go over to the wiki page and take a good look at the five sections, they’re huge big buttons, can’t miss them. Now inside each on of these lies a page where all the sections are organised.

Job One: Organise

One of the jobs for those with only a few spare minuets in the day is to go through those pages, cleaning up, organising and pruning. It’s a job of research too, since any useful sources of information should be linked into that page for class writers.

Job Two: Get Writing

Once you’ve had a look at those sections, if you see one that your just dying to write as a class, then you should check out the bazaar branch and get writing. Open up a terminal (for now) and change into your projects directory and run:

bzr branch lp:ubuntu-learning-materials

This will get you a copy of the current source files, and you can have a look around to see how things are shaping up. Now you’ll need to pay attention to each of the directories, the maintain, teach, using, develop and community directories are where classes related to the five sections go.

You change directory into one of those, say develop and then have a look at existing classes (if any), be sure that what ever your going to write, that someone isn’t already working on it by noting your name on the wiki page next to the subject your going to be writing about.

cd develop
mkdir python-basics
cd python-basics

Create a directory for your class, say if I wanted to teach python-basics, I’d make that my directory name. Now copy in everything from the commandline-basics class, which I’ve left as a sort of template until our helper scripts are written:

cp -R ../../maintain/commandline-basics/* .

Now all these files make up the source of the class they will be compiled into various published formats such as a website, pdf documents and moodle classes. So things are split out. First things first, edit the authors file and put your name there instead of mine.

Next you’ll want to edit the lesson-plan.txt, this text file that looks like a wiki document and is your starting point. It’s where you go to plan out your class, how it will flow from introduction to topics which neatly come together to explain, demonstrate and then have students perform. Each section should be given thought over it’s order, it’s basically a list that looks like a wiki formatted list.

Each of your sections in that list will be hopefully taught in a single sitting, so don’t put too much in there and try to keep things logical. So for instance for our python-basics I might put:

Python Basics Lesson Plan
Martin Owens
:Author Initials: MO

Class Sections

.List of Sections
* What is Python
* Opening up a Python Shell
* Basic Statements
* Conditional Blocks
* Looping Blocks
* Including Modules
* …

Once you’ve brought order to the chaos by naming your sections, you’ll have to write each one. But we will come back to that part at some other time. Now you have some changes, you should commit them. This part requires you to have a launchpad account and to have your ssh keys set up with launchpad. If you don’t, we’ll be giving classes on it in #ubuntu-learning or you could read this guide.

Assuming you have those set up, you can do the following to change directory into the parent directory of the checked out data and add, commit and push your branch:

cd ../../
bzr add develop/python-basics
bzr commit
bzr push lp:~[lpusername]/ubuntu-learning-materials/python-basics-class

Now you’ve pushed your changes, you should come and tell us in the mailing list and the IRC channel. We can show you where to move on from here and you can talk to other contributors to learn from each other and how we are putting these courses together.

If you’ve got this far, then your probably chatting in the IRc channel aready, it’s where we do most of our chatting so please do joinif you have any questions, problems or ideas.

Systems Administration: User Authentication and Authorisation

This class comes with introductions into basic users and groups, file permissions and ownership as well as moving on to more advanced topics such as PAM modules, ACLs, Kerberos and OpenLDAP.

Go here for the source files, or below for each of the PDFs.

Systems Administration: Processes, Services and Deamons with Apache

OK this weeks course! Processes, Services and Daemons with Apache2 is a course for teaching the concepts of processes under gnu/linux based operating systems such as Ubuntu. It’s only at revision one, so be critical and keep your eyes peeled for errors and omissions.

Go here for the source files, or below for each of the PDFs.

Ubuntu Learning Organised

We’ve been holding back any announcements of the Ubuntu learning group, even as I write the basis of the systems administration section of the set of courses it plans to offer.

The reason for the delay has been the organisation and policies of the team, not only the leadership board, but also the user joining policies for certain levels of joining. Since we want to have students and teacher-users as an open group accessibility, in order to promote internal support for the courses. We also want to manage groups that contribute media and course materials as contributors, similar to the way any software project is organised into commiter and publisher roles.

The groups current material status as of today:

* Moodle based website branding and functionality still on test site
* Desktop course taking route, pleia2 to take a go at the first courses
* Systems Administration course in full swing with a physical class under way as it’s being written by doctormo.
* Programming course currently unattended, if you think you can make a structure and manage the creation of this course, get in touch.
* The Local Community Advocacy courses are also currently unattended, if your skilled at this area, you should get in touch too.
* How to teach course, there are moodle moodle course, but no lead organiser, publisher or sections for brand new teachers, just information about how to use the tech. Need more attention.

If you think you can lend a hand, do get in touch!