Categoryschool

open-source textbooks – connexion

This is absolutely brilliant. It is brilliant to the point that it excites me. Open source textbooks. Books that are open to everyone, and books that can be freely shared, modified, copied, reprinted etc etc etc. Brilliant.

As Richard Baraniuk says in his TED talk (please watch it below), this allows knowledge to be contextualized for the cultural and social regions it will be used in. That is not only brilliant but necessary. Not only that, but this allows knowledge to be customized and specialized per student. Ideas are good alone, but they are better when they are shared.

Textbooks should be free. But they will not be free if students keep paying absurd amounts for them. Knowledge should be free. Free to access, free to share, free to use. If students were to stop buying textbooks they could change the way universities do business. Hah, that won’t happen anytime soon. But in the meanwhile, we have the opportunity to spread the word and contribute.

This is why technologies like the Internet are so important. They allow for things like this to happen, the Internet makes this easier. And that is awesome.

on thinking and doing

teetering on the edge I am,
teeter teeter

I have a headache. I need to wrap my head around it, but it seems to have me wrapped. I suspect that it is a symptom of thought, or of desire, or some combination thereof. But it is there. I can feel it.

I remember simpler times, when I just did things. It wasn’t as if I wasn’t thinking, I was, but that thinking happened in the process of doing. A shift occurred somewhere along the lines. The process of thinking overtook the process of doing. Maybe I was just done with doing, seeing as how I had already done it. Maybe not.

On the commute to and from work I started to read tech books (back in 04/05) even when I didn’t have any immediate use to draw from them. Some of them were on the deep tech aspects and others on the design aspects. It was basically a knowledge store, I wasn’t using this information for anything, I was just collecting it. At lot of it came in handy, when something was crashing or breaking, or when someone asked me a question a window would open up in the brain and I’d either know the answer, or know where to find it. Better yet, being able to combine two separate ideas to devise a possible new use. All this is good, but at some point all this thought collected and got to a point where I couldn’t implement the ideas I was holding (or maybe I felt I couldn’t). This was/is problematic.

It’s not like I didn’t try doing things. I’d load up the machine and get ready to string together ideas in code, and then I’d feel a thousand pulls from a thousand ideas, leaving me in a state of paralysis. Overload, crash and retreat. I would think things and not do things. So I’d leave things incomplete. This incompleteness is not particularly new, I can’t remember a personal project that I’ve “completed” to completion even when I was doing things. But now I would barely get started and get stuck. What is this state of “completeness” anyway? Maybe I started to believe there was such a thing as “complete”, and knowing I could not get there prevented me from doing anything?

I found myself going through this cycle with magic as well. First I learnt and did, then I read and read and read. When you read volumes of books with titles like “The Structural Conception of Magic” you tend to place more thought into magic. How can you not? And it’s great, I love that aspect of magic as well, it’s fascinatingly fantastic. But if you’re like me, to a large degree it prevents you from doing. Oh and there’ll be no false modesty here, I am very good at this magic thing.

I can see an effect and like it for what it is, but you can’t see an effect the same way after you’ve changed your frame of thinking on it. This has nothing to do with the secret of the effect or “how it is done”, far from it (anyone who really has a feel for magic should know that the secret is far from the Most Important Thing). So while I did magic the last couple of years, I wasn’t really there, I wasn’t in the magic, not as much. Hah, and I’ve only been doing this for 3 years now. All of this, of course, is going on in my mind alone, not like anyone else sees it or cares, nor should they.

But of late I’ve started to get that feel back, that feeling of raw excitement, an inexplicable trembling passion. I was watching a couple of my favourite magicians, stuff I’ve seen before, stuff I’ve done before, and l was very moved by the magic. It was exciting and fun. What I feel magic should be like, the flow and the feel. So awesome, so fluid. It occurred to me, how do they do it? These are people who have done magic for decades, thought and thunk, written books, performed thousands and thousands of times professionally and otherwise, they have forgotten more about magic than I will ever know in my lifetime. How do they do it? This applies to all the software monkeys too, they’ve designed and redesigned, built and torn, they have more knowledge in their left pinky nail than I will ever scratch. How do they balance this thought and action?

What should be my approach in comparison? Why am I in paralysis? Why am I not in a state of doing what I love?

It’s foolishness.

totter totter

on schooling

Initially I thought this would be a long entry, but the more I think about it the less I have to say. Maybe because I’ve already said it, or maybe this will be a long entry. These are only the first few sentences. Also, these are again random thoughts in disarray.

What is it about school that bothers me? Do I need to be bothered about it? I think if I wasn’t bothered, I’d be insane. Or maybe I’m insane because I’m bothered.

In our “Leadership and Thinking Skills” course, I enjoyed the content but I think that there was a gap or a disconnect in the way it was being taught by the professors and how it was being absorbed by the students. I find that the students don’t speak up when they disagree with something. They are afraid of something. Maybe they’re afraid of looking foolish in front of the rest of the class? Afraid of disagreeing with the professors? Afraid of being wrong? I’m not sure what it is exactly, but the schooling environment does very little to discourage this fear. This is how you produce “yes men” or “yes women”. People who will walk out into the work force and say “yes boss” because it makes them look good and leads to that promotion, instead of considering the proper consequences of saying “yes boss”. I don’t want to be a “yes man” unless I agree.

But this isn’t a problem that is related to this specific course, it’s a larger issue about the state of education. I don’t pretend to know any solutions, I can just state what I find problematic.

I would like to think that it’s not just me who sees certain absurdities. I know it’s not. It’s foolish and self-righteous/holier-then-thou to assume that we are unique in what we go through. We are not unique.

There was this one point in class where I called out a professor on this concept of using metaphors and how well they apply in certain situations. Whether I was right or wrong is irrelevant, the point is that I brought it up, and in the end the professor gave us a cop out answer. Which is a shame. But during the break, a bunch of students came up to me and told me they were thinking the exact same thing and were glad that I spoke up. I’d like it if they spoke up as well.

If people speak up more, it allows the professors to realize that students don’t understand what they’re saying. It allows the professors to rethink what they’re saying, and perhaps present it in a different manner, or reiterate and correct what the students are thinking. This way we don’t have education based on assumptions. Students don’t have to cry and complain only after they get their marks back (because, you know, that matters so much). If you disagree with something conceptually, please bloody hell say it! I don’t say things because I like hearing the sound of my fucking voice, I actually give a damn and a half.

It’s easy not to say things and I understand. There’s a flow and we’re all part of it. It’s uncomfortable to go against the grain. I get it. You put your head down, slug through your courses, get your degree and you’re out. It’s done. You needn’t be bothered.

I choose to be bothered while I’m in the system. I don’t want to play this grading game. I’m not part of any competition. I’m not aiming for any prizes. There is no grand design and there is no cheering crowd at the finish line. There should be more to school than resume padding.

Maybe I’m mistaken in my interpretation of things. Maybe I have it all wrong. I know there’s still ways to go before I get a broader understanding of things. But I expect better, from myself and from the university.

But I am also a problem to myself. I don’t have myself figured out enough. My thoughts aren’t fleshed out properly. I’m stuck somewhere and I’m not sure where. My mindset is not that of a working person and is not that of a student. And even if I’m able to adopt either or both, I’m still not sure if I can solve the problem that I am to myself.

If time has taught me anything it is that I lack discipline. If I am to accomplish anything, in school or at work or in “life”, I need to regain a certain sense of discipline and focus. I don’t have this right now. Even with work and school, with this exhaustion and with this supposed “lack of time”, I’m not as good as I can be. Sometimes it is, but other times good enough simply isn’t.

So I’ll try and start the new semester with renewed focus and see how long it takes me to tumble down.

No, I didn’t say everything I wanted to say, and this entry is not as long as I thought it would be. Consider yourself spared.

slip

Did my fingers slip during that shuffle? Is their card where I want it?

People are still chattering all around us and the music is still playing loud. I had moved these sounds into my periphery, but now I’ve moved them beyond that. There is nothing but uncertainty in this moment, this moment is as silent as stone.

So I’m supposed to show them a card that isn’t their chosen card? But what if I turn it over and it is their chosen card?

“No! That’s not the card!!!”

So far so good. Now I have to make their card appear. Will it appear?

“Well, if this isn’t your card, then what’s the one on the table?”, I point to the card on that table. Everyone turns their heads to look at it. It has been sitting there a while. I keep pointing to the card. Indicating that someone should turn it over.

Someone does.

Well? Is this it? Is this your card? Please be the card. Please be the card.

A few seconds of silence. I could hold out my hand and feel the silence coming down. I can’t do anything to change it. It’s falling on my hand, but it is not in my hands.

Then, suddenly, an eruption of wonder.

Phew.

“Wow! How is that possible? That was amazing!”

Yes it was. It was as much a miracle for me as it was for you.

Subhanallah.

Was this a trick? Could have fooled me.

what will I do?

What, oh what, will I do?

I took the next week off from work. I have an exam on Thursday and a (small) paper due Monday. In my mind I’ve divided the time up, in terms of where I will spend it. I will spend Friday night (tonight) working on the paper and finish it off on Saturday. Then, starting Sunday, I will pull out the humongous Financial Accounting textbook and it’s accompanying Case Book, go through each chapter and draw notes on the important points. From those notes I will make the cheat sheet I’m allowed to take into the 3 hour exam. I will have Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday to study. That’s four days.

So far I’ve spent today reading a small graphic novel I picked up from the book sale at work. I picked up a whole bunch of other books too. I don’t understand. I still have piles of books I have not read, that I ought to read. I have books I’ve borrowed from friends, those books I ought to read. But I read this book first, the new one that I just bought. And I read it when the plan in my mind was to start on that paper. Did I make mention of how I don’t understand?

In reality I know I will do the paper on Saturday, or maybe even on Sunday. It’s due Monday after all. This plan in my mind will mould itself to the shape of wasted time. But really, if you enjoy the time you waste, is it really wasted? Maybe it’s just misplaced somewhat.

I’m here writing this post, about how I’ve planned to study, but will probably spend that time not studying. My point exactly.

Maybe I will stare a little at the static internet, if I stare long enough the words and images may change. Maybe I will watch a TV show, or two, or three. Perhaps I will watch an entire movie, or two. I just might read the new books I now find around me.

Maybe, just perhaps maybe, I will study.

What will I do?
What will I do?
What will I do?

you do not call the shots

This is a story from high school. This is a story I tell a lot. I’m not sure anymore if all of it is true or exact. It’s possible that every time I tell it, it changes a little. So now it’s morphed into what is presented below.

A story from high school – my last year of high school – about 7 years ago. The names have been changed or shortened not to protect anyone, but because it is easier to type this way. The head of our computer science department had left the year before and a new department head was hired. Mr. O never went to teacher’s college. He was hired during the time when it was okay to hire teachers without teaching degrees; I’m not sure if it is still this way.

The students were able to quickly determine that Mr. O was not only a poor teacher, but also fairly incompetent in matters of computer science. I was part of the computer council at school that year and we decided we ought to bring this matter up to the principal, Mr. S.

We all sat in his office, we raised our concerns, and he seemed forthcoming. I wasn’t expecting any drastic change, but hoped for at least something to happen. A few weeks passed by and I believe we raised our concerns to the principal again but Mr. O remained a clueless teacher. Then a few weeks after that, Mr. O was late coming to class. I was frustrated with the lack of change and started to speak to my classmates about what possible actions we could take. One idea that cropped up was to talk to the guidance councillors. I thought, why not all go together, book appointments one after another and all talk about the same issue. We had to make a point somehow.

We were able to collect about 10 students, we crowded the guidance councillors’ office and started to sign up for appointments one after another. The head guidance councillor noticed us and invited us into the meeting room so we could discuss the issue together. She lead us to the room and said she’d be back with some paper. By the time she returned, 10 more students had joined us.

In the while she was gone, the students had decided that I speak for them. So when the guidance councillor returned, I listed off the points we had collected. She took note, saying that we were making good points. She then decided to bring the principal into the meeting.

Maybe he was already having a bad day. He came in with a stern, authoritative tone and said something that amounted to, “This is the person we hired for this role, and you guys will have to learn how to deal with him. I know some of you are really smart, but you can’t expect all your teachers to be smarter than you.”

I responded to this with, “I’m not sure how you expect us to deal with the situation. How are we supposed to tell someone who controls our marks that they’re not doing their job properly? I want to know who hired this man.”

I want to know who hired this man. I think that was the straw that broke Mr. S’s back. His face turned red, and he started to speak directly to me, fingers pointing and all. He said many things. I don’t remember all of them. I remember him telling us that he placed ads in reputable newspapers like The Globe and Mail, indicating perhaps that smarter people would respond to them. I recall rolling my eyes a little to that point.

He really must have taken great exception to me demanding to know who hired Mr. O. I remember Mr. S saying, “If you’re going to take this down that route, you might as well just leave.” He pointed to the doors to the meeting room as he said that.

I really don’t remember all the other points he made. He was mad and angry. I remember the last thing he said. I remember it clearly. “You are a student in this building, you do not call the shots.” He was pointing at me and staring me right in the eyes.

Clearly, Mr. S had interviewed and hired Mr. O.

When we left the room all the students were giving me high fives and fist pumps. I, of course, was more than slightly terrified. It’s one of those moments where you’re terrified because of the moment itself, not because of consequences or anything else. I didn’t even know what to think next, or if this would result in anything at all.

To his credit, Mr. S audited the class about a month later. He surveyed the students. At the end of the year Mr. O was either let go, or his contract wasn’t renewed. I’m not sure which.

I had another run-in with Mr. S that year that ran in parallel to this story. But that’s another story for another time.

Regardless of what really happened, I’d like to think that we were able to get a teacher fired on the basis of incompetence. That’s something that is nearly impossible.

problem –> solution

A lot of management folk I’ve dealt with have brought this up enough times that it’s worth talking about. I cannot stress how wrong this is, but I will try.

The idea is that if you bring up or voice a problem that you must also present a solution.

Any managers that say this or propagate this are practising weak management. They are not doing their job properly.

There are many reasons for this. Most important of all is that organizations that truly excel and improve have a policy of transparency and brutal honesty. Problems and concerns within an organization must traverse the entire management food chain.

In my opinion, bringing up a problem is the most crucial part, regardless of whether you propose a solution or not. Problems equal opportunity, and that opportunity ought to be shared amongst the team/organization. To assume that the person who finds the problem will be the best to solve it is foolish. Having the “no problems without solutions” policy leads to people bottling up problems until they’re able to draw out a solution. This leads to a collection of problems that should have been addressed a long time ago. You cannot afford to have people afraid to voice problems and in general their opinions.

Bringing up problems provides everyone a chance to collaboratively find solutions. Delaying problems simply magnifies them in the future.

The idea is not to create an environment where people are whining, no. The idea is to foster an environment where people are free to voice problems, and collectively discuss and solve them. So as a manager when you tell your team that they shouldn’t voice problems without solutions. You’re failing them. You don’t know what you don’t know, it’s okay to accept that.

mark my words

I’m trying my darnedest at school not to be sucked in by grading systems. Marks are wrong. The system by which we are graded is extremely flawed. I’m not saying I know a better way. I do not. I simply see what we have currently as flawed.

It’s not conducive to the process of learning at all. Not to mention how the competitive nature of the ranking process often discourages creative collaboration.

In one of the classes a girl was asking a series of questions to see if her approach to the a problem was correct. Her last question was, “But I won’t get a zero will I?”. This highlights the problem with marks. Students are tailoring the way they think and approach problems so that they achieve the highest grades. This, as opposed to thinking about ways to best solve the problem.

In fact, students will often only do assignments because they will be graded on them. Marks become a reason for getting students to do things or else they wouldn’t be interested in doing anything. The grading systems we have are poor substitutes for proper teaching techniques. Grading schemes allow teachers to be lazy in the way they structure the “learning” process. They don’t have to make lessons involving or interesting. They simply need to attach a value by way of marks.

Clearly the system is broken.

More on this later.

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