What it feels like on the wrong side of the digital divide

My group in our “Why Open” course have had to come up with a collective project.
We all put forward some really good ideas but eventually settled on making an “interactive video” on different aspects, cultural, historical and academic of “Openness”.
Now I pride myself in being a good “Digital Immigrant” in that I run a blog, do a number of Moocs and can find my way around my Nexus Tablet, my Android phone and my wife’s I-Pad.
I have though little or no experience in video production. I have no video camera and only the limited facility of my wife’s I-Pad or my Android phone.
It has made me think of the realities of being on the wrong side of the “Digital Divide”. We in the richer nations (I come from the U.K.)  are able to not only access the latest technology but gain expertise in its use. When you cannot get hold of a computer, a cellphone or a video camera, then you do not have even the starting blocks to build expertise.
I feel very isolated in my non-video experience. I know that I have the ability to purchase the technology needed, but not the time to begin to master its use. How then must someone in a poorer country than mine feel? They cannot just go out and get the technology and mastery takes time.
Since we in the “Why Open” course are concerned to spread the word about the significance of allowing a free flow of knowledge in order to allow everyone to participate in our global digital community we are also right to start from a base of access. From access comes expertise and the lack of access is ignorance and frustration. At this point of time I know how that feels!

Seven Innovators Who are Doing Impressive Work in their 70s and 80s | MIT Technology Review


I am so encouraged by this article from MIT. It seems to me that we will more and more have to adapt to a world where work goes on for longer and longer.
This can be seen as a bad thing, that our children are being robbed of the ability to retire. But on the other hand ,the incredible innovators, entrepreneurs and academics who are the subjects of this article show that meaningful work (I.e. doing what you really love and are passionate about) need not stop at a particular time.
The world benefits from the continuing contributions of people who will only give up their work when they want to or of course nature makes the decision for them!

The difference between “gratis” and “libre”: no small beer

In an article that I read from Wikipedia called “Gratis versus libre” (Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use andPrivacy Policy. ), Richard Stallman, the free software pioneer and campaigner, stated, in regard to the difference between “gratis” (given away free, all rights reserved or many of them) and “libre” (free to use, adapt, change, re-share and most significantly, improve):

Free software is a matter of liberty, not price. To understand the concept, you should think of free as in free speech, not as in free beer.”

The concept of a free beer got me thinking that I could extend the analogy. Thus:

If you give away some free beer at a festival or a meeting then it does not involve a cost. The development of the product and everything involved in its process has nothing to do with any input that you may have. You are therefore merely a consumer and in this particular case you have received the glass of beer free and not at any monetary cost or indebtedness on your part.

If, on the other hand, you allow anyone who receives the beer to have it tested, to change it and maybe do some research that might improve it, then you are allowing for changes that may (or may not) be significant to others now and in the future.

The significance, as Stallman puts it in his statement, is huge.

There used to be a saying “give a person a fish and they can eat for one day, teach them to fish and they can eat forever”. This is exactly the difference between giving the beer away and holding allrights to it  (gratis) and allowing the beer to be changed, improved upon (hopefully with attribution) which is libre.

In a world of problems where any developments can be significant to our future we need a better beer and we can’t afford to accept that our beer is the ultimate frothy drink. Libre is so much more powerful than gratis!

The historical fixed mindset

I have recently had personal and educational acquaintance with the term “Mindset”.
The academic champion of this term is Carol Dwek of Stanford University, who wrote her book “Mindset, The New Psychology of Success” in 2006.
The idea behind Dwek’s theory is that the way that we see ourselves in either a positive or negative way drives our actions. Thus, in mathematics, a person with a “growth mindset” (a belief in their ability to succeed and to overcome obstacles) will ultimately have greater success than a person with a “fixed mindset”, who gives up easily and lacks the self-belief that is crucial to success.
I said above that I have had recent acquaintance in a personal way with this term and that is because I heard it recently stated by the husband of one of my wife’s friends. His wife had to lose a lot of weight in order to have an operation on her knee. The motivation of getting away from chronic pain was a huge carrot to her and she had, in the words of her husband, “developed a mindset to lose the weight that overcame her desires to eat large quantities of food”.
In an educational setting, I have been involved in a course from Stanford University” on learning mathematics. The course is run by Professor Jo Boaler who spends a lot of time calling for the development and fostering of a “Growth Mindset” in classes in order for students to have success in mathematics. She even has a number of videos featuring an interview she did with Carol Dwek about the subject.
This idea of “Mindset” made me think of the wider aspect of how society and in particular, culture, has defined our way of thinking throughout history.
I have been a product of the changing social and economic thinking of the last half of the twentieth century and now the early part of the twenty-first century. The one massive change I have experienced is the huge growth of media,which in many ways reflects and defines our way of thinking.
Looking at Victorian Britain, I see the characters in their famous novels and plays talking of a  world defined by concepts formed by religious belief and a willingness to accept defined roles within society.
I therefore believe that there was a “Fixed Mindset” that closed in possibilities for achievement and change for so many. This  attitude is seen in the way that academic research into intelligence concentrated on a belief that we have a “fixed” Intelligence Quotient. There were of course even more sinister aspects of this way of thinking which led to a view of racial and social inferiority and acceptance of practices of division and provided academic justification for subjugation of so many of the world’s population.
I feel that we have moved on in so many ways due to the massive economic and social changes that have accompanied our move into an inter-connected global, digital village. One of the things I do see changing is the attitudes of so many of our youth to the fixed notions and culture of their parent’s generation.
My biggest proof of any of this is to try and imagine this post, with its ideas and attitude, being written 50 or 100 years ago. Maybe in a hundred years time some historian will notice this post in some odd discovery of a very little known digital memory from a bygone age and laugh that we ever thought to discuss an openness of mind, because “doesn’t everyone think openly always?”

A rant against spammers and hackers.

I have recently had this blog invaded by a “hacker” or “spammer” (the actual title is really irrelevant).
I have had spam tweets sent with ridiculous links to various sites based in eastern Europe, or to amazing magical cures to all ills, or to real estate in Florida!
Today, I noticed a posting on Facebook for an organisation I strongly support called “Choose To Matter”, which is about getting youth to have confidence in themselves, whatever their race, religion, sexual orientation. It is about saying to everyone “You Matter”. The post was about “the 15 sexiest female athletes alive” and was of course more spam.
My rant will now begin: Firstly, it is so sad to see people who have coding and hacking skills using their abilities to create rubbish. Secondly, they are spoiling the work of positive people who are trying to do positive things.
The web is about us as humans, which is why there is so much on it that is inspiring and uplifting and gives you hope for our future as a species on this increasingly damaged planet we live on.
It is also about pornography, bullying, hate of others because they do not “fit in” to their world -view, to spoiling the efforts of others.
It is such a pity that so many of us experience this content as a large part of our experience of the web. It can turn hope into despair, but I remain an optimist who feels that our younger generation will increasingly come to understand that the rubbish, the hate and the negativity should not appear on our most precious collective possession.

What Open means to me

I have started a P2P Course today called “Why Open?”.
We were asked to write a short blog post on what we consider open to be.
To me it is about the freedom and potential to share and create knowledge that the digital world has provided for us.
I believe that knowledge is everyone’s birthright and that the best phrase I ever came across summed it up the best “what we know is not enough and what we don’t know will probably kill us”.
We live in a world of huge problems where everyone needs to get to their fullest potential and cooperate with others in creating, revising and sharing knowledge. I hope that on this course I will interact with like-minded people and learn more about the means to promote and use our open digital environment.

How mathematics should be learned in schools

Cover of "What's Math Got to Do with It?:...
Cover via Amazon

I am presently involved in a really good online course from Stanford University called “How to Learn Math”. I took the course because it is run by Jo Boaler who wrote what I consider to be the best book of recent times on how to teach mathematics in schools, “The Elephant In The Classroom”. (called “What’s Math Got to Do with It?” in North America).

Jo has always believed that mathematics is a beautiful and creative subject that is done to death by the way that it is presented in our schools. She uses a lot of research material to show that the so-called “least able” children are often taught the most difficult methods which create a fear and even hatred of the subject.

She uses the research on “Mindset” by Carol Dwek, who she interviews on a number of the course videos. Dwek’s research shows that children with a “positive mindset” who believe in overcoming problems and are not thrown by failure, are able to learn successfully and achieve in life.

Jo Boaler is very much one for creating an atmosphere in the class where a positive mindset towards mathematics will allow mistakes to be seen for what they are, a means to learn and indeed (using recent cognitive research) she states that mistakes actually strengthen the brain’s capacity whereas just getting the right answer does not.

In the most recent part of the course that I have studied, she goes into ways that her ideas can be used in the classroom. The above video shows a class in Palo Alto, California, where a very able young teacher,Nick Foot, of Baron Park School, is teaching a class of 3rd Graders (Year 4 in the U.K.) what Jo calls “Number Sense” which is is about playing around with numbers and seeking solutions, working in groups to bounce ideas off of (these are mixed ability groups as Jo, like myself, does not believe in setting or banding children according to so-called “ability”).

You will see how the children have the confidence to play around with different ideas, how Nick records their ideas for later class discussion and how they are not afraid to put forward ideas even if they may be wrong as everyone will learn something from the analysis of just why it went wrong.

The most important thing though is the mindset of the children in Nick’s class. In the next video in the course Jo interviewed three boys in the class about their feelings about mathematics. If you watch this you will see her ideas in practice. Here are three children who enjoy the subject, are not afraid of challenge, who learn from each other, who can collaborate and also can be creative in a subject which many children in the U.S. and here in Britain find intimidating and cannot wait to give up.

I feel that we can learn so much from these videos and also from the excellent work of Jo Boaler whose course I am thoroughly enjoying (even when I make mistakes!).