Verbatim

a commonplace blog of quotations about learning and learning design

On choosing standards

August 14, 2006 by · Comments Off · bit literacy

The wonderful thing about standards is that there are so many of them to choose from.

Generally attributed to Rear Admirable Grace Hopper

a mess

May 26, 2006 by · Comments Off · complexity

We have also come to realize that no problem ever exists in complete isolation. Every problem interacts with aother problems and is, therefore, part of a set of interrelated problems, a system of problems…Furthermore, solutions to most problems produce other problems…English does not contained a suitable word for ‘systems of problems’. Therefore, I have had to coin one. I choose to call such a system a ‘mess’.

Russell Ackoff, Redesigning the Future, 1974.

I’ll tell you why I regularly work four shifts

May 26, 2006 by · Comments Off · Uncategorized

After the Second World War the British coal mining industry introduced tehcnically revolutionary methods of coal cutting. THe industry was re-equpped with expensive machinery. Being now a much more capital-intensive industry its economic performance depended very much upon high utilization of the coal cutters, converyers, and powered supports. In the 1950s Lord Robens, then Chairman of the National Coal Board, was concerned that so many miners were working four shifts instead of the regulation five, and absenteeisim was a public issue. A newspaper recorded the following exchange between the Chairman of the Board and one working miner: Lord Robens — Tell me, why do your regularly work four shifts instead of the regulation five? Miner — I’ll tell you why I regularly work four shifts; it’s because I can’t quite manage on the money I earn in three.

P.B. Checkland, Systems Thinking, Systems Practice, 1981, p. 216. An anecdote that illustrates the radically different perceptions of the nature of the mine in which they worked.

innovation

May 12, 2006 by · Comments Off · bons mots, the spirit of inquiry

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different outcome.

attributed to Albert Einstein

critical thinking

May 12, 2006 by · Comments Off · the spirit of inquiry

Very few really seek knowledge in this world. Mortal or immortal, few really ask. On the contrary, they try to wring from the unknown the answers they have already shaped in their own minds – justification, explanations, forms of consolation without which they can’t go on. To really ask is to open the door to the whirlwind. The answer may annihilate the question and the questioner.

Spoken by the Vampire Marius in Ann Rice’s The Vampire Lestat, 1985.

standing on the shoulders of giants

March 14, 2006 by · Comments Off · bons mots, the evolution of ideas

If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.

Sir Isaac Newton

If I have not seen as far as others, it is because there were giants standing on my shoulders.

Hal Abelson, although according to Wikipedia, he attributes it to his Princeton roommate, Jeff Goll

school’s out

February 16, 2006 by · Comments Off · bons mots, brave new world

No more pencils
No more books
No more teacher’s dirty looks

Alice Cooper, title song of School’s Out, 1972.

education is what survives when what has been learned has been forgotten

February 16, 2006 by · Comments Off · bons mots, learning design

It has often been remarked that an educated man has probably forgotten most of the facts he acquired in school and university. Education is what survives when what has been learned has been forgotten..

B. F. Skinner, New Scientist, May 31, 1964, p. 484.

the most difficult thing in the world

February 16, 2006 by · Comments Off · bons mots, the theory-practice gap

Thinking is easy, acting is difficult, and to put one’s thoughts into action is the most difficult thing in the world.

Johann Wofgang von Goethe

participatory citizenship

January 22, 2006 by · Comments Off · the essential citizen

The idea of citizenship is not the only way we can pursue our commonalities and needs, not the only way to entertain our longings and dreams. But it is a crucial one; and, when linked to the deep insight that we owe a duty of justice to our fellow citizens, the concept of citizenship sheds its dark origins in the project of keeping people out and, reversing the field, becomes a matter of bringing people in – not loving them or liking them or even agreeing with them, much of the time, but making room for them to be at home too.

Mark Kingwell, The World We Want: Virtue, Vice and the Good Citizen, 2000, p. 22.

the virtue of civility

January 22, 2006 by · Comments Off · the essential citizen

The key to resolving and managing the deep conflicts of pluralistic politics is a willingness on the part of citizens to tolerate imperfect solutions. In order to make a social order of diverse goals tend towards justice, it is necessary for each citizen to internalize the virtues of dialogue, in which the claims of others are considered and one’s own claims are phrased in terms intelligible to others.

Mark Kingwell, The World We Want: Virtue, Vice and the Good Citizen, 2000.

the essential citizen

January 22, 2006 by · Comments Off · the essential citizen, the evolution of ideas

Tomorrow is election day in Canada. If the last Federal election a scant 18 months ago is any indication, some 40 percent of us will not exercise our fundamental right and civic responsibility to vote. It’s a perfect time to reflect on the nature of citizenship and the possible role that learning designers play in such a state of affairs. University of Toronto philosopher Mark Kingwell writes that, “Citizenship, if it means anything, means making our desire for justice active. It is not something we can do alone” (The World We Want, 2000, p.19). Yet, my memories of my high school civics class are more of dwelling on the arcane workings of government, less of galvanizing the social desires for justice. In this weekend’s (appropriately named!) Ottawa Citizen, Tony Atherton quotes John Myers, a curriculum instructor at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, who concurs: “Students are really interested in programs in whch they feel they can make a difference. They’re not really interested in the role of the governor general or the powers of the Senate.”

The quotations for this theme will be collected as the essential citizen, and what better place than to start with Mark Kingwell.

Update Jan 25, 2006. In fact, more people cast ballots in this election than the previous two, with about 65% of registered voters showing up at the polls. I guess that’s a good thing. But does voter turnout=good citizen?

pictures and conversation

January 6, 2006 by · Comments Off · learning design

John Tenniel's rabbitAlice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, ‘and what is the use of a book,’ thought Alice, ‘without pictures or conversations?’

Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 1992 (Folio Society; originally 1865), p. 3. Illustration by John Tenniel.

adventures first, explanations later

January 6, 2006 by · Comments Off · learning design, the spirit of inquiry

And the Gryphon added ‘Come, let’s hear some of your adventures.’

‘I could tell you my adventures – beginning from this morning,’ said Alice a little timidly: ‘but it’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.’

‘Explain all that,’ said the Mock Turtle.

‘No, no! The adventures first,’ said the Gryphon in an impatient tone: ‘explanations take such a dreadful time.’

Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 1992 (Folio Society; originally 1865), p. 91-2.

the curious sort of life

January 6, 2006 by · Comments Off · brave new world

‘It was much pleasanter at home,’ thought poor Alice, ‘when one wasn’t always growing larger and smaller, and being ordered about by mice and rabbits. I almost wish I hadn’t gone down that rabbit-hole – and yet – and yet – it’s rather curious, you know, this sort of life!’

Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 1992 (Folio Society; originally 1865), p. 29.

applied learning

January 6, 2006 by · Comments Off · learning design

Down, down, down. Would the fall never come to an end! ‘I wonder how many miles I’ve fallen by this time?’ she said aloud. ‘I must be getting somewhere near the centre of the earth. Let me see: that would be four thousand miles down, I think – ‘ (for, you see, Alice had learnt several things of this sort in her lessons in the schoolroom, and though this was not a very good opportunity for showing off her knowledge, as there was no one to listen to her, still it was good practice to say it over) ‘ – yes, that’s about the right distance – but then I wonder what Latitude or Longitude I’ve got to?’ (Alice had no idea what Latitude was, or Longitude either, but thought they were nice grand words to say.)

Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 1992 (Folio Society; originally 1865), p. 5.

the art of prophesy

January 5, 2006 by · Comments Off · bons mots, complexity

The art of prophecy is very difficult, especially with respect to the future.

Often misattributed to Mark Twain.

the computer will blow up the school

January 4, 2006 by · Comments Off · brave new world

There won’t be schools in the future … I think the computer will blow up the school. That is, the school defined as something where there are classes, teachers running exams, people structured in groups by age, following a curriculum all of that. The whole system is based on a set of structural concepts that are incompatible with the presence of the computer … But this will happen only in communities of children who have access to computers on a sufficient scale

Seymour Papert, Trying to Predict the Future, Popular Computing, October 1984, p. 38.

an approach to style

January 2, 2006 by · Comments Off · bit literacy

Young writers often suppose that style is a garnish for the meat of prose, a sauce by which a dull dish is made palatable. Style has no such separate entity; it is nondetachable, unfilterable. The beginner should approach style warily, realizing that it is an expression of self, and should turn resolutely away from all devices that are popularly believed to indicate style — all mannerisms, tricks, adornments. The approach to style is by way of plainness, simplicity, orderliness, sincerity.

William Strunk Jr. & E. B. White, The Elements of Style, 3rd edition, 1979, p.69.

the beauty of brevity

January 2, 2006 by · Comments Off · bit literacy

A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all sentences short or avoid all detail and treat subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.

William Strunk, in Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style, 3rd edition, 1979, p.xiv.

the strength of weak ties

January 1, 2006 by · Comments Off · connectedness & separateness

Because one’s acquaintances are less likely linked than one’s close friends, they connect individuals to other social circles, providing a vital resource for such tasks as finding jobs. Cliques are bridged by weak ties, which are therefore crucial for transmission of information and for social cohesion.

Mark Granovetter, The Strength of Weak Ties, American Journal of Sociology, May 1973.

you should have meant

January 1, 2006 by · Comments Off · bit literacy

‘Alway speak the truth–think before you speak–and write it down afterwards.’

‘I’m sure I didn’t mean–’Alice was beginning, but the Red Queen interrupted her impatiently.

‘That’s just what I complain of! You should have meant! What do you suppose is the use of child without any meaning? Evean a joke should have some meaning–and a child’s more important than a joke, I hope….’

Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass, 1992 (Folio Society; originally 1872), p. 110.

which way from here

January 1, 2006 by · Comments Off · learning design

‘Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’

‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.

‘I don’t much care where–’ said Alice.

‘Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the Cat.

‘–so long as I get somewhere,’ Alice added as an explanation.

‘Oh, you’re sure to do that,’ said the Cat, ‘if you only walk long enough.’

Alice felt that this could not be denied, so she tried another question. ‘What sort of people live about here?’

‘In that direction,’ the Cat said, waving its right paw round, ‘lives a Hatter: and in that direction,’ waving the other paw, ‘lives a March Hare. Visit either you like: they’re both mad.’

Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 1961 (Folio Society; originally 1865), p. 56.

metcalfe’s law on the value of the network

December 31, 2005 by · Comments Off · connectedness & separateness

If you had the only telephone in the world, who would you call? Networks seem to grow more valuable to a user proportionately with the number of other users he or she can call. In a network with N users, each sees a value proportional to the N-1 others, so the total value of the network grows as N*(N-1), or as N squared for large N.

Robert Metcalfe, Metcalfe’s Law: A network becomes more valuable as it reaches more users, From the Ether, Infoworld, October 2, 1995.

…we propose another rough rule, that the value of a network of size n grows like n log(n). This rule, while not meant to be exact, does appear to be consistent with historical behavior of networks with regard to interconnection, and it captures the advantage that general connectivity offers over broadcast networks that deliver content. It also helps explain the failure of the dot-com and telecom ventures, since it implies network effects are not as strong as had been hoped for.

Andrew Odlyzko & Benjamin Tilly, A refutation of Metcalfe’s Law and a better estimate for the value of networks and network interconnections, March 2, 2005.

intentions

December 30, 2005 by · Comments Off · bons mots, complexity

I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.

Douglas Adams, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, 1988.

relationships are all there is

December 21, 2005 by · Comments Off · connectedness & separateness, noteworthy

Relationships are all there is. Everything in the universe only exists because it is in relationship to everything else. Nothing exists in isolation. We have to stop pretending we are individuals who can go it alone.

Margaret Wheatley, Turning to One Another: Simple Conversations to Restore Hope to the Future, 2002, p. 19.

low at my problem bending

December 19, 2005 by · Comments Off · connectedness & separateness

LOW at my problem bending,
Another problem comes,
Larger than mine, serener,
Involving statelier sums;
I check my busy pencil,
My ciphers slip away,
Wherefore, my baffled fingers,
Time Eternity?

Emily Dickinson, Part Five: The Single Hound, LXXX, The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, 1924; from Bartleby.com

much madness is divinest sense

December 19, 2005 by · Comments Off · the spirit of inquiry

MUCH madness is divinest sense
To a discerning eye;
Much sense the starkest madness.
’T is the majority
In this, as all, prevails.
Assent, and you are sane;
Demur,—you ’re straightway dangerous,
And handled with a chain.

Emily Dickinson, Part One: Life, IX, The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, 1924; from Bartleby.com

proprioception in the digital age

December 19, 2005 by · Comments Off · connectedness & separateness, noteworthy

Proprioception, the perception of movement and spatial orientation arising from stimuli inside the body, is a medical concept. Although the name for it is not well known, the phenomemon is familiar to all of us. Our proprioceptors incessantly inform us that we are standing up, inclining our head, squinting our eyes, or clenching our fists. Proprioceptors work as sensory systems not for outside information about others or the environment but inside the body. Nerves attached to muscles fire when they detect motion such as change in positioning of the body. These self-monitoring nerves tell us whether we are standing on our feet or our head or are on the bus at a standstill or jogging along at thirty-five miles an hour. The Earth has enjoyed a proprioceptive system for millennia, since long before humans evolved. Small mammals communicate the comming earthquake or cloudburst. Trees release “volatiles,” substances that warn their neighbors that gypsy moth larvae are attacking their leaves. Proprioception, the sensing of self, probably is as old as self itself. I like to think that we people augment and continue to accelerate Gaia’s newfangled proprioceptor capability. A fire in the Borneo forest and a crash of a U.S. helicopter in the Italian Alps are broadcast on televised news in New York City. Yet extinct packs of wolves and flocks of dinosaurs enjoyed their own proprioceptive social communication; the global nervous system certainly did not begin with the origin of people. Gaia, the physiologically regulated Earth, enjoyed proprioceptive global communication long before people evolved. The air circulated gas emissions and soluble chemical from tropical trees, mating-ready insects, and life-threatened bacteria. Love compounds have wafted in spring breezes since the Archean age. But the speed of proprioception has greatly increased with the electronic age.

Lynn Margulis, Symbiotic Planet: A New Look at Evolution, 1998, pp. 113-4.

the name of the vine

December 19, 2005 by · Comments Off · the evolution of ideas

Any taxonomic scheme has problems. We tend to label and dismiss anything once we assign it a category. Our classifications blind us to the wildness of natrual organization by supplying coneptual boxes to fit our preconceived ideas. They should reflect our study of nature. The two-tiered five-kingdom system will always need revision. Whatever its difficulties, it does not perpetuate the age-old errors of the “animal versus vegetable” dicholomy. We can group life into three or five or a million categories, but life itself will elude us.

Lynn Margulis, Symbiotic Planet: A New Look at Evolution, 1998, p. 68.