Choral Explanations [...]

Mike Caulfield explains:

This new breed of Q&A sites is replacing more traditional wiki as a source of information, through a modality we’ll call “choral explanations” (a term based on Ward Cunningham’s claim that federated wiki is a “chorus of voices”)

These newer sites do not work like older Q&A sites. Older sites (e.g. Yahoo answers) are essentially transactional. A person with a question poses a question, and the answers below the question respond to it. When the original poster of the question selects an answer as sufficient or best, the question is closed, and people move on.

These older Q&A sites are simple variants of general forum architecture. And they get good results occasionally, but it also have the sort of problems a forum runs into — they tend to produce answers that look more like replies than generalized explanations. ...

Quora and Stack Exchange turned this process on its head. Instead of envisioning the Q&A site as a single-purpose forum, the new breed of Q&A site sees the model as half-wiki/half-forum. The question asked is like the title of a wiki page; it’s not transactional but communal. A question like “How can a person increase their chances in the lottery?” is the place where the community will store their collective knowledge one that point, and it is not owned by the person who asked the question.


See also "Chorus of Voices" by Kate Bowles:

What happens next in the participatory web is that our solitary and wandering search trails can become visible, shareable and open. Of course, they also get fed into the algorithmic mincer in the hope that a drop of profit can be squeezed out of enthusiasms we might be part of. And of course, open is also always open to abuse. But whatever predatory or corporate interests have an eye on our pathways, the fact is that we make them first by ourselves, and then we make them socially. We answer one another’s questions, generating spin-off curiosities of our own. We follow another person’s line of thinking. We’ve always done this in conversation, in a way that leans on presence and familiarity, and we’ve always done it as scholars (at least, until we took a wrong, wrong turn into the citation farm). Now on the open web we do it asynchronously with strangers:  leaving a book on a bench, lemons on a fruit stand, a message under a bridge, a comment on a blog post, all for someone else to pick up.

Weaponized Transparency and the Blockchain [...]

> We need to look right now at some of the problems inherent to the notion of a “permanent, censorship-resistant” Internet. Even in the Internet we have right now, which is designed to be mutable, the distribution of abusive material online disproportionately affects women, particularly Black women, and other marginalized demographic groups, sometimes to the point where these users no longer feel safe online. A web environment in which content cannot be removed without the consensus of all the nodes on a network, if at all (à la the current model of blockchain organizations) could make the Internet unbearably dangerous for these groups. Think deletion-proof non-consensual imagery, deadnaming and outing, not to mention the doxxing of any sensitive materials — from private interactions to bank statements, social security numbers and home addresses. A hyper-durable archive that resists needless censorship is worth very little if it does not include protections that enable all users to explore it safely.


Platforms in Education [...]

Investor Tom Vander Ark recently wrote on op-ed on LinkedIn, arguing that "platforms" were poised to transform education. It's actually an old argument, one reprised from 4 years ago when there was a lot of hype (and investment) in the very topic, most notably perhaps a sizable investment in Edmodo (a company that Vander Ark's VC firm has funded).

Here's how Vander Ark defines "platforms" in his recent post:

A platform is a business based on enabling value-creating interactions between external producers and consumers. The platform provides an open, participative infrastructure for these interactions and sets governance conditions for them. The platform's overarching purpose: to consummate matches among users and facilitate the exchange of goods, services or social currency, thereby enabling value creation for all participants.

It's one of those definitions that's vague and buzzword-filled enough that anything can be a platform.

Here's how Marc Andreessen defined "platforms" in 2007:

A “platform” is a system that can be programmed and therefore customized by outside developers — users — and in that way, adapted to countless needs and niches that the platform's original developers could not have possibly contemplated, much less had time to accommodate.

Are education platforms successful? What counts as an education platform? The LMS? It doesn't really have an "open infrastructure," does it? The MOOC providers like Coursera (Vander Ark is also an investor) can't boast an "open infrastructure" either, particularly if you're talking about an extensible, programmable, customizable system. These are all decidedly closed.

Papert on Learning Theory [...]

From Seymour Papert's The Children's Machine:

Behaviorists are fond of using the designation "learning theory" for the foundations of their thinking, but what they are talking about is not "learning" in the sense of something a learner does but "instruction," in the sense of something the instructor does to the learner.

Computer History and Computer Culture [...]

From Seymour Papert's The Children's Machine:

The point I am making is not simply that this was a mathematical culture (which it was), but that it was the particular kind of mathematical culture in which precise calculation plays the dominant role and the technical and analytic have more weight than the intuitive and the experiential.

Thus, many factors conspired to cast the early computer culture in the hard and analytic shape that for most people remains even today synonymous with the word computer. After the war the computer slowly moved out of the sanctums of high science and the military into a wider world of business and run-of-the-mill industrial and university research. As it did so it took its culture with it, and so the popular image of the computer as "analytical logic engine" grew up and took root. What is significant here is how elements of the original computer culture persisted even when the technology no longer required or favored them. Once launched, the culture acquires a logic of its own. Although some of the mathematical extremes of the early ways to control computers were gradually softened, the hard core remained.

Constructionism versus Instructionism [...]

From Seymour Papert's The Children's Machine:

The word instructionism is intended to mean something rather different from pedagogy, or the art of teaching. It is to be read on a more ideological or programmatic level as expressing the belief that the route to better learning must be the improvement of instruction -- if School is less than perfect, why then, you know what to do: Teach better. Constructionism is one of a family of educational philosophies that denies this "obvious truth." It does not call in question the value of instruction as such. That would be silly: Even the statement (endorsed if not originated by Piaget) that every act of teaching deprives the child of an opportunity for discovery is not a categorical imperative against teaching, but a paradoxically expressed reminder to keep it in check. The constructionist attitude to teaching is not at all dismissive because it is minimalist -- the goal is to teach in such a way as to produce the most learning for the least teaching. Of course, this cannot be achieved simply by reducing the quantity of teaching while leaving everything else unchanged. The principal other necessary change parallels an African proverb: If a man is hungry you can give him a fish, but it is better to give him a line and teach him to catch fish himself.


Papert on Teaching Computer Skills [...]

From Seymour Papert's The Children's Machine:

In the case of computer knowledge, [Paolo Freire's] banking approach is often defended by the argument that it will stand the students in good stead when they grow up and look for jobs that will require computer skills. Nothing could be more ridiculous. If "computer skills" is interpreted in a narrow sense of technical knowledge about computers, there is nothing the children can learn now that is worth banking: By the time they grow up, the computer skills required in the workplace will have evolved into something fundamentally different. But what makes the argument truly ridiculous is that the very idea of banking computer knowledge for use one day in the workplace undermines the only really important "computer skills": the skill and habit of using the computer in doing whatever one is doing. But this is exactly what was given up in shifting the computer into the computer lab.

School versus Computers’ Subversiveness [...]

From Seymour Papert's book The Children's Machine:

...little by little the subversive features of the computer were eroded away: Instead of cutting across and so challenging the very idea of subject boundaries, the computer now defined a new subject; instead of changing the emphasis from impersonal curriculum to excited live exploration by students, the computer was now used to reinforce School's ways. What had started a subversive instrument of change was neutralized by the system and converted into an instrument of consolidation.

The Robin Hood of (Ed-)Tech [...]

Seymour Papert in The Children's Machine describing his first experiences with computers at MIT, alongside Marvin Minsky:

We were like infants discovering the world.

It was in this situation that I thought about computers and children. I was playing like a child and experiencing a volcanic explosion of creativity. Why couldn't the computer give a child the same kind of experience? Why couldn't a child play like me? What would have to be done to make this possible?

These questions launched me on a new quest guided by the Robin Hood-like idea of stealing technology from the lords of the laboratories and giving it to the children of the world.

Freire and Papert on the Future of School [...]

Video of their discussion on "the future of school" via YouTube. The transcript is also available on An excerpt:

Paulo Freire: His speech is profoundly stimulating and, hence, challenging. First I'd like to make a sort of list of themes -- the generative themes, closely related to my own terminology -- that I have heard in his speech.

For example, the "historical dimension", "history and technology", "history generation and technology", "culture". Talking about culture, I immediately include the culture of classes. My 23-year-old grandson beats any specialist in this Internet thing. He's keen on it. And I have a 6-year-old granddaughter who works on the computer. But they are a minority in the Brazilian society. What do we say about the 33 million Brazilian children who at this moment are dying of starvation? What is the repercussion of technology in the majority of the lives of these Brazilian children today? And 20 or 30 years from now these millions of Brazilian children will be even farther removed from the current technology.

I agree with Papert's analysis of the three stages, the three moments he established in the experience of the production of knowledge. I find this division very lucid, and I agree with his criticism of the second stage, which is the school stage. But I don't accept his proposal that this isn't really a proposal. He does not propose. He says that the ending of school is inevitable. It's the end that is not proposing.

Seymour Papert: And it's very hard to get educators to see that distinction.

Paulo Freire: Yes. Absolutely. To me this is not a statement yet. I state that school is bad, but I don't state that school is disappearing and will disappear. That's why I am appealing to all of us who have escaped cognitive death by school -- who are the survivors here -- to work on modifying it. For me, the challenge is not to end school, but to change it completely and radically and to help it to give birth from a body that doesn't correspond anymore to the technological truth of the world to a new being as actual as technology itself.

So I keep fighting in the hope of putting school on the level of its time. That doesn't mean to bury it, but to remake it. And I explain: I'm quite sure that if we go back in time some millenniums ago, when men and women were eating an apple or banana. It doesn't matter now. There is new research that claims that the sin was committed because of the banana. It doesn't mater whether it's an apple or a banana.

Men and women, while experiencing themselves socially, while confronting challenges, ended up discovering that they were doing something, they didn't know exactly what it was yet. Very probably there wasn't yet any word in their vocabulary indicating the thing they were doing. They probably knew, but the verb didn't exist yet or, perhaps, the language was only created millenniums after men and women were already changing the world.

The first thing we did was make change. Giving a name to change came later with language. We began to know a long time before saying that we know. We learned before teaching. And it was precisely the realization that we've learned without teaching that taught us to teach. It was the experience of learning, the experience of the last and first stages, that invented the second one.

To me, the problem we face today is the correction of the mistakes of the second stage that are not all didactic and not methodological mistakes but, indeed, ideological and political ones. Thus, what we must do is to change the world politically. It's the power that ought to be changed. In order to do this we shouldn't say that history is dead or that the classes have disappeared. All this is just talking in order not to change the second stage. All these speeches of the new liberal perspective ideology are trying to preserve the second stage. Nevertheless, in order for us to change the second stage we have to change the liberal speech.

Seymour Papert: But I just want to say something.

Paulo Freire: Yes?

Seymour Papert: Will there be school? I'm not saying that school is going to go away. It depends what we mean by school, but I think that what we need to note and very clearly and this is something else I learned from you, actually -- is that we must be conscious and critical of what it's about fundamentally.

And now what's wrong with schools is not details. What's wrong with school is absolutely fundamental. It is so fundamental that to say you're going to correct that is not very far from saying we don't have school.

And I just have to make a list of problems with school because I think there are some we haven't even touched on... I mean I know you concentrate on the political, which is there, but... and I agree... but let's take something else. How ridiculous is this? First of all, the idea that school is a place where you say now you are learning, not living. [That these actions are somehow distinct.] Then there's the fact that we segregate people by age.

Paulo Freire: Well, look, I agree with you but my main question is this: Is this an ontological problem or a political problem? It's political, not ontological.

Seymour Papert: No, no! It is all these things.