Saturday, August 9, 2008

Student Textbook Wiki

I ran across an interesting student-developed wiki that is essentially a 20th century history textbook they created. I like the idea in theory and this project actually looks pretty interesting to me.

Friday, August 8, 2008

My Stroke of Insight

I first ran across Jill Bolte Taylor's book "My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist's Personal Journey" on the TED website. Her account of her stroke at age 37 is riveting and the fact that she's chronicled this with the training of a brain scientist only makes her story that much more compelling. The book is an interesting combination of her stroke, her recovery, some brief introductory brain science, as well as some self-help stuff.

The account of her stroke is riveting. She experienced some rather psychadelic episodes that make me wonder how others experience these sort of events. What does the brain do during death? What do people experience in a coma? There seems to be an interesting combination of euphoria, disorientation, wonderment, and fear, all of which are competing simultaneously.

I also found her discussion of the hemispheric differences between the left and right side of the brain riveting. The whole "left brain/right brain" distinction is insightful. Her account of her recovery from her stroke provides lots of practical information to stroke victims and their caregivers and friends. Her recovery is truly inspirational and inspired many. Dick Clark named her one of the most influential people in Time Magazine and with good reason.

The fact that a scientist had the logical/rational part of her brain essentially shut down due to a stroke, makes for interesting reading. During this time she got more in touch with her emotional/intuitional side and it seems as if she learned greater patience and forbearance. At times, her language is a bit too New Age for me, but given what she's been through and the lessons she's learned, I may still be using too much of my left brain in thinking about all this.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Madrassas for the 21st Century

The BBC posted a report on an Islamic theological school in northern India that is undergoing a major image makeover.

The teachings at the Darul-Uloom Deoband madrassa are said to have inspired tens of thousands of other seminaries across south Asia - but also groups such as the Taleban.

Now the school is trying to equip its students with 21st-Century skills.

The BBC's India Correspondent Sanjoy Majumder made a rare visit to the institute, which for years has been closed to the outside world.

Take a look here.

Internet Cheating

The Chronicle of Higher Education has an article on a disturbing trend on YouTube: how-to videos on cheating. Take a look:

Wednesday, August 6, 2008


I stumbled upon a really interesting news report about a school that has decided the stop homework. In its stead, they have students watch podcasts of teacher lessons. In class, they work on projects, research, and the like. According to the report, there's been some widespread interest in the process.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Designing for Virtual Communities in the Service of Learning

I didn't go to ed school -- I'm one of those private school teachers who opted for the subject-area route. As I look back over my career, I sort of wish that I had taken some education courses. Some of my major "insights" turn out to be things that ed school people learned from the get-go. But books like "Designing for Virtual Communities in the Service of Learning" make me see the other side of things and realize some of the nightmares I avoided.

The book reads like a caricature of every bad graduate school, techno-babble-filled I've ever read. In history, the equivalent was the spate of postmodernist, Derrida-esque studies involving "hermeneutics" and "topologies" of such things as textuality, logocentrism, and the like. Anyway, this book seems to outline the obvious. It develops a typology of communities and the analyzes the methodologies involved in constructing a virtual community. The premise is interesting: can we develop meaningful virtual communities for education? The book itself never seems to get to this topic, however. I look at the pages, read the words, and then I just hear buzzing inside my head. For the life of me, I don't know what the authors are trying to say. Part of it is probably me. I never "got" those types of books in grad school and I think I've just got a mental block. Read this one at your own risk.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

True Enough: Learing to Live in a Post-Fact Society

"True Enough" by Farhad Manjoo, is another in the long line of books that argues that new technologies are changing the way we approach knowledge. Manjoo's contention is that the new media has made it much easier for people to selectively choose what information they process. This allows them to develop their own versions of the truth which are essentially impervious to any outside information. It's an interesting argument, but he does a pretty poor job of actually supporting it.

Manjoo provides lots of case studies ranging from the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, to 9/11 Deniers, to those who think that the 2004 presidential election was fixed. In themselves, these case studies are pretty interesting, but he never really convinces me that any of this is essentially different than what preceded the new media. He asserts that the right-wing talk network is different from what preceded it, but provides little in specific proof. Father Coughlin in the 1930s had his own little right-wing network. He compares the Kennedy assassination conspiracy theorists with the 2004 election conspiracy theorists, but never really shows the difference between the two.

I'm skeptical that Manjoo can ever make his case -- I firmly think that the whole apocalyptic approach to new media is overblown and alarmist. Still, I'm open to the idea that it might be the case. But the author never really makes the necessary logical connections. He provides lots of specific information and he makes lots of interesting assertions, but if you examine the text closely, he never actually links the two together in any meaningful way. Given the author's presumed defense of some sort of objective truth and logic, this is a rather startling oversight.

There are some pretty broad assertions in the book that took me aback as well. He argues that conservatives are more prone to filter out information that contradicts their ideological mindset more than progressives. Now don't get me wrong here, I'm a progressive. But I've known plenty of fellow leftists who are as dogmatic and closed-minded as any conservative. I've also known some pretty open-minded conservatives. He cites one university study as proof. In the end, I think True Enough is as "true enough" as some of the items he tackles in the book.