I will not allow them to chill me

“We want to show the world that we are innovators. We want to show the world that cloud storage has a right to exist. And, of course, when you launch something like this, you can expect some controversy. The content industry is going to react really emotionally about this. The US government will probably try and destroy the new business … you’ve got to stand up against that, and fight that, and I’m doing that … I will not allow them to chill me.”

via Kim Dotcom | guardian

Aaron Was a Criminal and So Are You

Make no mistake, Aaron was a criminal and, despite popular belief, there was no prosecutorial overreach. The US Attorney who oversaw his prosecution described her office’s actions as “appropriate” and, according to the law, she was telling the truth. The job of prosecutors is to bully and intimidate suspects, using the threat of some of the world’s harshest sentencing laws into plea bargaining for a shorter sentence in exchange for an admission of guilt. This is American “justice;” our current system of severe sentencing and mandatory minimums gives prosecutors overwhelming power – power that was once in the hands of judges and juries – to the point that today less than 5% of criminal cases are resolved by a jury (3% in federal cases).

via Common Dreams.

RIP Aaron Swartz.

 

Sharing knowledge and learning collaboratively at schools

(This article was written for a college magazine.)

We have a vision for a better society in which the values of sharing and collaborating knowledge and technical know-how form an integral part. There are two aspects to this issue. One is why it should be done, and given the current social structure how it can be done. Though the why question is as important as the how one in this article we will try to focus more on how it can be done with aid of proper technology and what are the possible implications of this intervention to the citizens of the future.

The current education system does little to promote and impart the ideas of sharing knowledge with peers to the students who will be the future citizens. In our educational system it is more like each-one-for-oneself; if you help your peers you will be at a loss in the future. Another aspect is that the educational system by its nature is consumerist. By consumerist we mean that the schools system treat the students more like consumers, who are then passively fed in what has already been produced by others. There is no or little scope left for students to produce or construct anything meaningful. So the platform/technology which will address these issues should have the following qualities:

  • It should be based on principles of Free Software (see http://gnu.org/education).
  • It should allow for collaboration / sharing of knowledge.
  • It should allow for active, meaningful and collaborative production / construction contexts, through which students will learn.
  • It should give immediate feedback to the student, not the delayed one (year end) which the current school system has. This is essential as it makes children reflective about the work that they are doing.

Learning in the context of constructing some tangible thing is a philosophy of education proposed by Seymour Papert, called constructionism. Constructionist learning is inspired by the constructivist theory that individual learners construct mental models to understand the world around them. However, constructionism holds that learning can happen most effectively when people are also active in making tangible objects in the real world. A closely related term that you might have heard is that of constructivism, but there are differences though.

The potential for transforming classrooms in a revolutionary way is present in the constructionist way of learning, which the existing CBTs (computer based tutorials) do not challenge but reinforce. The advances in technology have made it possible now to implement constructionist ways of learning to masses. So where are the examples of this?

The Sugar learning platform  is just one such example which is specifically developed keeping in mind the above considerations. But the idea of constructionist learning is not limited only to using computers. displayed. The very idea of the platform is centered around the idea of constructionism. Though initially developed for OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) Project, now it can run on almost all computers. Learning in an environment where sharing knowledge is an inherent principle rather than an added externality provides the students with a whole new way of learning. Each activity on Sugar is designed keeping in mind the collaborative, construction context and immediate feedback principles.

The Sugar platform provides construction contexts from different areas to learn collaboratively like language, mathematics, science, drawing, music, games, programming, photography, audio and video recording among other things. For each of this activity can be done collaboratively by the students and can be shared with others. This also provides students to make meaningful connections between different concepts. In this context we have seen a strong urge in the children to share the knowledge and activities that they have with others, but in the current school system there is no or little provision for this. Sharing of activities provides context for feedback from peers, which in turn is fruitful in improving learning. Thus we see that the tools and time is ripe for changing our perspective towards education for a more inclusive and better society, whose core values are sharing of knowledge and collaboration.

There are pilot projects of Sugar running at many places across India, one is the Khairat Project which is running successfully for past 4 years at a primary tribal school of first generation learners near Mumbai, another one is at Merces School near Panaji in state of Goa.

RMS on Success

“Success” is not our goal; we’re not here to win a race, we are here to win freedom. I didn’t write GCC with the idea of making a “better” C compiler. I wrote it so there would be a freedom-respecting C compiler, and while I was at it, I did the best job I knew how. We didn’t develop GNU to have a “better” operating system than Unix; we developed it so we could have a freedom-respecting operating system. It’s the same today.

via RMS Answers Your Questions – Slashdot

Reading in e-book era

Reading without surveillance, publishing without after-the-fact censorship, owning books without having to account for your ongoing use of them: these are rights that are older than copyright. They predate publishing. They are fundamentals that every bookseller, every publisher, every distributor, every reader, should desire. They are foundational to a free press and to a free society. If you sell an ebook reader is designed to allow Kafkaesque repossessions, you are a fool if you expect anything but Kafkaesque repossessions in their future. We’ve been fighting over book-bans since the time of Martin Luther and before. There is no excuse for being surprised when your attractive nuisance attracts nuisances.

via Boing Boing.

I agree completely.Though cases like these are going to become more common, unless we switch to a technology which we can see that is Free as in Freedom. Governments and corporates are going to use this technology against the people who are using it. It will create profiles of “dangerous” people who are reading revolutionary material, for example. It will go unchecked if we just are using the technology without questioning it.

Also see RMS’s view on this topic.

What Wikipedia is not… then what it is?

Although anyone can be an editor, there are community processes and standards that make Wikipedia neither an anarchy, democracy, nor bureaucracy.

via What Wikipedia is Not

Disclaimer: Let me make some things clear, I am not against Wikipedia, or its policies. I am (great) admirer and (very heavy) user, and (very little) contributor to the wonderful platform, which aims to provide free knowledge to everyone. In this post I am just trying to collect thoughts that I have about the Wikipedia’s social system and its relation to the society at large.

Then what is wikipedia? Is it a feudal system, which they do not mention in the list above? Although there are people who are called bureaucrats, they say it is not a bureaucracy, I think they mean it in the traditional sense of the wor(l)d (pun intended).

But for a new person, who is trying to edit the first article, there is too much of bureaucracy (read rules), involved, and it may not be a pleasant experience at all, especially for the so called technologically-challenged people. To describe in one word it is intimidating. The trouble is only there till, actually you become used to it, and become part of the system. This is more like the adaptation to smell, after a while in a stinking place, you don’t feel the stink anymore (just an analogy, I do not mean that Wikipedia stinks!). The rules become a part of your editing skills, which you do want to see in other editors. But how many people are able to get over this first major hurdle is not known to me, but I guess (which can be completely wrong) this number can be significant. This will in general reduce the number of producers and just tend to increase the number of consumers in the commercial sense of the word.

Another thing that the above quote says it is not a democracy. Again here I think, Wikipedia is not a democracy in the sense of common usage of the term. In a democracy, by definition the popular aspirations get through, and they may not be even the best for a society, as we many times see in the Indian context. But then it mostly the people who are editing the Wikipedia who decide by consensus that certain thing should be done. Is it not like majority win? So there is in fact a strong democratic element in Wikipedia.

Do we also want a society that is same as above “neither an anarchy, democracy, nor bureaucracy”? What kind of society would you like to live in?

 

The Children’s Machine

These are some unfinished notes that I have taken while reading the Children’s Machine by Seymour Papert. Hope that someday I will weave them into something more fluid.

  Why, though a period when so much human activity has been
  revolutionized, have we not seen comparable change in the way we
  help our children learn?

* Quotes

  116

  One could indeed make kitchen math part of the School by making School part of the kitchen.

  127
 
  Are there any snakes in the house?
  Yes there are, there are zero snakes in the house!

  So. negative numbers are numbers too, and their reality grows in the course of playing with turtle.

  130
  You can’t retire from a good project simply because it has succeeded.

  139

  Constructionism: It does not call in question the value of  instruction as such

  The kind of knowledge that children most need is the knowledge that will help them get more knowledge.

  140
  If the children really want to learn something, and have the opportunity to learn it in its use, they do so even if the teaching is poor.

  Constructionism looks more closely than other educational -isms at  the idea of mental construction. It attaches a special importance to role of constructions in the world as a support for those in the head, thereby becoming less of a purely mentalistic doctrine. It also takes the idea of constructing in the head more seriously by recognizing more than one kind of construction and by asking questions about the methods and materials used.

  How can one become expert in constructing knowledge?

  What skills are required?

  Are these skills different for different kinds of knowledge?

  144

  School math, like the ideology, though not necessarily the practice, of modern science, is based on the idea of generality – the single, universally correct method that will work for all problems and for all people.

  145

  Use what you’ve got, improvise, make do.

  147

  The natural context for learning would be through particiaption in other activities other than math itself.

  148

  The reason is that the educators who advocate imposing abstract ways of thinking on students almost practice what they preach – as I  tried to do in adopting a concrete style of writing – but with very different effects.

  149

  But however concrete their data, any statistical question about  “the effect” of “the computer” is irretrievably abstract. This is because all such studies depend on use of what is known as the “scientific method,” in form of experiments designed to study the effect of one factor which is varied while taking great pains to
  keep everything else same. … But nothing could be more absurd than  an experiment in which computers are placed in a classroom where nothing else has changed. The entire point of all the examples I have given is that the computers serve best when they allow everything to change.

  150

  The concept of highly rigorous and formal scientific method that most of us have been taught in school is really an ideology  proclaimed in books, taught in schools and argued by philosophers but widely ignored in actual practice of science.

  154

  They count the same, but it’s more eggs.

  161
  My overarching message to anyone who wishes to influence, or simple understand, the development of educational computing is that it is not about one damn product after another (to paraphrase a saying
  about how school teaches history). Its essence is the growth of a  culture, and it can be influenced constructively only through understanding and fostering trends in this culture.

  167
  I would be rather precisely wrong than vaguely right.
  – Patrick Suppes
  
    It had been obvious to me for a long time that one of the major difficulties in school subjects such as mathematics and science is that School insists on the student being precisely right. Surely it is necessary in some situations to be precisely right. But these situations cannot be the right ones for developing the kind of thinking that I most treasure myself and many creative people I know.

    168
    What computers had offered me was exactly what they should offer children! They should serve children as instruments to work with and to think with, as means to carry out projects, the source of concepts to think new ideas. The last thing in the world I wanted or needed was a drill and practice program telling me to do this sum of spell that word! Why should we impose such a thing on children?

    183
    The opportunity for fantasy opens the to a feeling of intimacy
    with the work and provides a peep at how emotional side of
    children’s relationship with science and technology could be very
    different from what is traditional in School. Fantasy has always
    been encouraged in good creative writing and art
    classes. Excluding it from science is a foolish neglect of an
    opportunity to develop bonding between children and science.

    184
   
    Errors can become sources of information.

    185

    Although the ultimate goal was the same, the means were more than
    just qualitatively different; they were episte,mologically
    different in that they used a different way of thinking.

    Traditional epistemology is an epistemology of precision:
    Knowledge is valued for being precise and considered inferior if
    it lacks precision. Cybernetics creates an epistemology of
    “managed vagueness.”

    197

    The real problem was that I was still thinking in terms of how to
    “get the children to do something.” This is the educator’s
    instinctive way of thinking: How can you get children to like
    math, to write wonderfully, to enjoy programming, to use
    higher-order thinking skills? It took a long time for me to
    understand in my gut, even after I was going around saying it,
    that Logo gaphics was successful because of the powet it /gave/ to
    children, not because of the performance it /got from/ them.

    Children love constructing things, so let’s choose a construction
    set and add to it whatever is needed for these to make cybernetic
    models.

    198

    What will they [children] learn from it [Logo]? And won’t it favor
    boys over girls?

    The first question concerns what piece of the school curriculum is
    being learned but I attach the most importance to such issues as
    children’s relationship with technology, then idea of learning,
    their sense of self. As for the gender issue, I am thinking more
    about, how in the long run comoutational activities will affect
    gender than how the gener will affect the activities.

    Their work provies good examples of material that overlaps with
    School science and math, and of an alternative style applied to
    these subjects – instead of formal style that uses rules, a
    concrete style that uses objects.

    202
   
    It is worth noting that the students appreciated the
    self-organizing nature of the traffic jam only because they had
    written the programs themselves. Had they been using a packaged
    simulation, they would have had no way of knowing the elegant
    simplicity of the programs underlying the jam.

    Emergent stuctures often behave very differently than the elements
    that compose them.

    207

    The cathedral model of education applies the same principle to
    building knowledge structures. The curriculum designer in cast in
    the role of a “knowledge architect” who will specify a plan, a
    tight progra, for the placement of “knowledge brick’s” in
    children’s minds.

    208

    What is typical of emergently programmed systems is that
    deviations from what was expected do not cause the wholw to
    collapse but provoke adaptive responses.

    209
   
    We are living with an edicational systsem that is fundamentally as
    irrational as the command economy and ultimately for the same
    reason. It does not have capacity for local adaptation that is
    necessary for a complex system even to function effieciently in a
    changing environment, and is doubly necessary for such a system to
    be able to evolve.

    Defininf educational success by test scores is not very different
    from couting nails made rather than nails used.
   
    212

    But calling hierarchy into question is the crux of the problem if
    educational change.

    216
   
    Each of these cases suggests ways in which a little school created
    in a militant spirit can mobilize technology as an assertion of
    identity.

    217
   
    I could continue in this spirit, but this may be enough to make
    the point that little schools could give themselves a deeper and
    more conscious specific identity. Everything I have said in this
    book converges to suggest that this would produce rich
    intellectual environments in which not only children and teachers
    but also new ideas about learning would develop together.

    I see little schools as the most powerful, perhaps an essential,
    route to generating variety for the evolution of education.

    The prevailing wisdom in the education establishment might agree
    with the need for variety but look to other sources to provide
    it. For example, many – let us call them the Rigorous
    Researchers – would say that the proper place for both variation
    and selection is in the laboratory. On their model, researchers
    should develop large numbers of different ideas, test them
    rigorously, select the best, and disseminate them to schools.

    In my view this is simply Gosplan in disguise.

    218

    The importance of the concept of the little school is that it
    provides a powerful, perhaps by far the most powerful, strategy to
    allow the operation of the principle of variation and selection.

    This objection depends on an assumption that is at the core of the
    technicalist model of education: Certain procedures are the best,
    and the people involved can be ordered to carry them out. But even
    if there were such a thing as “the best method” for learning, it
    would still only be the best, or even mildly good, if people
    believed in it. The bueracrat thinks that you can make people
    beleive in something by issuing orders.

    221

    The design of learning environment has to take account of the
    cultural environment as well, anad its implementation must make
    serious effort at involvement of the communities in which it is to
    operate.

    223

    It is no longer necessary to bring a thousand children together in
    one building and under one administration in order to develop a
    sense of community.

    224

    I do not see that School can be defended in its social role. It
    does not serve the functions it claims, and will do so less and
    less.

*

  MegaChange!

  Talking about megachange feels to them like fiddling when Rome
  burns. Education today is faced with immediate, urgent
  problems. Tell us how to use your computer to solve some of the
  many immediate practical problems we have, they say.

  Impediments to change in education such as, cost, politics, the
  immense power of the vested interests of school bureaucrats, or lack
  of scientific research on new forms of learning.

  Large number of teachers manage to create within the walls of their
  own classrooms oases of learning profoundly at odds with the
  education philosophy espoused by their administrators…

  But despite the many manifestations of a widespread desire for
  something different, the education establishment, including most of
  its research community, remains largely committed to the educational
  philosophy of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and
  so far none of those who challenge these have hallowed traditions
  has been able to loosen the hold of the educational establishement
  on how children are taught.

  Do children like games more than homework because, the later is
  harder than the former?

  Most [games] are hard, with complex information – as well as
  techniques – to be mastered, in the information often much more
  difficult and time consuming to master than the technique.

  These toys, by empowering children to test out ideas about working
  within prefixed rules and structures in a way few other toys are
  capable of doing, have proved capable of teaching students about the
  possibilities and drawbacks of a newly presented system in ways many
  adults should envy.

  In trying to teach children what adults want them to know, does
  School utitlize the way human beings most naturally learn in
  non-school settings?

  If it has so long been so desperately needed, why have previous
  calls for it not caught fire?

  K[G]nowledge Machine

  Is reading the principal access route to knowledge?

  Ask a symapathetic adult who would reward her curiosity with praise.

  Literacy is being able to read and write. Illiteracy can be
  remedied by teaching children the mechanical skill of decoding black
  marks on white paper.

  /Letteracy/ and /Letterate/

  Reading from Word to Reading from World

  … the Knowledge Machine offers children a transition between
  preschool learning and true literacy in way that is more personal,
  more negotiational, more gradual, and so less precarious thant the
  abrupt transition we now ask chidlrento malke as they move from
  learning through direct experience to using the orinted word as a
  source of important information.

  …. School’s way is the only way beacause they have never seen or
  imagined convincing alternatives in the ability to impart certain
  kinds of knowledge.

    * Babies learn to talk without curriculum or formal lessson

    * People develop hobbies at skills without teachers

    * social behavior is picked up other than through classroom
      beahvior

     Parable of the Automobile:

      … certain problems that had been abstract and hard to grasp
      became concrete and transparent, and certain projects that had
      seemed interesting but too complex to undertake became
      manageable.

      Paulo Freire: “Banking model” information is deposited in
      child’s mind like money in a savings account.
     
      /Tools/ for creating new experiments in effective fashion.

      * Ideas

    * Dewey: children would learn better if learning were truly a
          part of living experience

    * Freire: chidlren would learn better if they were truly in
          charge of their own learning processes

    * Piaget: intelligence emerges from an evolutionary process in
          which many factors must have time to find their equilibrium.

    * Vygotsky: Conversation plays a crucial role in learning.

    Why did the discovery method fail?

    By closing off a much larger basis of knowledge that should
        serve as a foundation for formal mathematics taught in school
        and perhas a minimal intuitive basis directly connected with
        it.

    The central problem of mathematics education is to find ways
        to draw on the child’s vast experience of oral
        mathematics. Computers can do this.

    Giving chidlren opportunity learn and use mathematics in a
        nonformalized way of knowing encourages rather than inhibits
        the eventual adoption of formalized way, just as the XO,
        rather than discouraging reading, would eventually stimulate
        children to read.

    The design process is not used to learn more formal geometry.

    Traditionally teh art and writing classes are for fantasy but
        science deals with facts; union of technology with biology.
   

    It allows them to enter science through a region where
        scientific thinking is most like there own thinking.

    Reading biographies and iterrogating friends has convinced me
        that all successful learners find ways to take charge of their
        early lives sufficiently to develop a sense of intellectual
        identity.

    Piaget’s first article: a paradox?

    Schools have inherent tendency to infantilize the children by
        placing them in a position of have to do so as they are told,
        to occupy themselves with work dictated by someone else and
        that, morever, has no intrinsic value – school work is done only
        because the designer of the curriculum decided that doingthis
        work would shape the doer into a desirable form[for the
        authorities?].

    NatGeo: Kidnet??Robert Tinker

    Researchers, following the so-called scientific method of
        using controlled experiments, solemnly expose the children to
        a “treatment” of some sort and then look at measurable
        results. But this flies in the face of all common knowledge
        of how human beings develop.
   
    The method of controlled experimentation that evaluates an
        idea by implementing it, taking care to keep everything else
        the same, and measuring the result, may be an appropriate way
        to evaluate the effects of a small modification. However, it
        can tell us nothing about ideas that might lead to deep
        change… It will be steered less by the outcome of tests and
        measurements than by its participant’ intuitive understanding.

    The prevalent literal-minded, “what you see is what you get”
        approach measuring the effectiveness of computers in learning
        by teh achievements in present-day classroons makes it certain
        that tomorrow will always be prisoner of yesterday.

    Example of Jet attached to horse wagon.

    … most people are more interested in what they learn than in how
        the learning happens.

   
    But math is not about feeling the relationship of your body to
        numbers.

    Turtle lets you do this!

    Intellectual work is adult child’s play.

    Example that if observation of schools in some country where
        only one writing instrument could be provided for every fifty
        students suggested that writing does not significantly help
        learning.

    The change requires a much longer and more social computer
        experience than is possible with two machines at the back of
        the classroom.

    /Balkanized Curriculum and impersonal rote learning/

    What had started as a subversive instrument of change was
        neutralized by the system and converted into an instrument of
        consolidation.

    Schools will not come to use computers “properly” because
        researchers tell it how to do so.’

    It is characteristic of a conservative systems that
        acoomodation will come only when the opportunities of
        assimilation have been exhausted.

    Supposed Advantages
    * Immediate Feedback
    * Individualized instruction
    * Neutrality *

      CAI will often modestly raise test scores, especially at the low end
      of the scale. But it does without questioning the structure or the
      educational goals of the traditional School.
   
      Today, because it is the 15th Monday of your 5th grade year,
          you have to do this sum irrespective of who you are or what
          you really want to do; do what you are told and do it the
          way you are told to do it.

      Piaget was the theorist of learning without curriculum;
      School spawned the projectof developing a Piagetian curriculum.

      The central issue of change in education is the tension
      between technicalizing and not technicalizing, and here the teacher
      occupies the fulcrum position.

      Shaw: He who can, does; he who cannot, teaches.

      The system defeats its own purpose in attempt to enforce them.

      School has evolved a heirarchical system of control that
          sets narrow limits within which the actors – administators
          as well as teachers – are allowed to exercise a degree of
          personal initiative.

      Hierarchy vs. Heterarchy

      The major obstacle in the way of teachers becoming learners
      is inhibition about learning.

The problem with `developed’ countries as opposed to `developing’ ones
is that the developed countries are already there, there is no further
development possible.

In education, the highest mark of success is not having imitators but
inspiring others to do something else.

As long as there is afixed curriculum, a teacher has no need to become
involved in the question what is and what is not mathematics.

Society cannot afford to keep back its potentially best teachers
simply because some. or even most, are unwilling.

The how-to-do-it literature in the constructivist subculture is almost
as strongly biased to the teacher side as it is in the instructionist
subculture.

Some etymology:

/Mathematikos/ disposed to learn
/mathema/ a lesson
/manthanein/ to learn

\ldots mathetics is to learning what heuristics is to problem solving.

What is that feeling when you look at a familiar object, with a sense
that you are looking at the object for the first time?
It is /jamais vu/.

Attempts by teachers and textbook authors to connect school fractions
with real life via representations as pies simply reuslyed in a new
rigidity.

* What is the difference in learning at school and all other learning?
  Generally in life, knowledge is acquired to be used. But school
  learning more often fits Freire’s apt metaphor: Knowledge is treated
  like money, to be put away in a bank for the future.

 
* What does /Computer Literacy/ mean?
     

* The Technology of the Blackboard and The Technology of The Computer

   

* Lines You can use:

**
   The computer to program the student…
   OR
   The student to program the computer…

**
   Computer as an expensive set of flash cards.

**
   If the students scores improve, our approach must be right.

**
   Self-directed activities versus carefully guided ones
**
   If the scores improve does it mean that the strategy is effective/
   approach is right?
**
   Heterarchical versus Hierarchical
**
   Totalitarian Education or Trivialized Education