▶ I got air: interview with Terry Greene

Since 2018, Terry Greene has been producing a wonderful series of podcast interviews with open and online learning researchers and practitioners called Getting Air. Prompted by the publication of How Education Works, (Terry is also responsible for the musical version of the book, so I think he likes it) this week’s episode features an interview with me.

I probably should have been better prepared. Terry asked some probing, well-informed, and sometimes disarming questions, most of which led to me rambling more than I might have done if I’d thought about them in advance. It was fun, though, drifting through a broad range of topics from the nature of technology to music to the perils of generative AI (of course).

I hope that Terry does call his PhD dissertation “Getting rid of instructional designers”.

▶ How Education Works, the audio book: now with beats

My book has been set to music!

Many thanks to Terry Greene for converting How Education Works into the second in his inspired series of podcasts, EZ Learning – Audio Books with Beats. There’s a total of 15 episodes that can be listened to online, subscribed to with your preferred podcast app, or downloaded for later listening, read by a computer-generated voice and accompanied by some cool, soothing beats.

Terry chose a deep North American voice for the reader and Eaters In Coffeeshops Mix 1 by Eaters to accompany my book. I reckon it works really well. It’s bizarre, at first – the soothing robotic voice introduces weird pauses, mispronunciations, and curious emphases, and there are occasional voice parts in the music that can be slightly distracting – but you soon get used to it if you relax into the rhythm, and it leads to the odd serendipitous emphasis that enhances rather than detracts from the text. Oddly, in some ways it almost feels more human as a result. Though it can be a bit disconcerting at times and there’s a fair chance of being lulled to sleep by the gentle rhythm, I have a hunch that the addition of music might make it easier to remember passages from it, for reasons discussed in a paper I wrote with Rory McGreal, VIve Kumar, and Jennifer Davies a year or so ago.

I have been slowly and painfully working on a manually performed audiobook of How Education Works but it is taking much longer than expected thanks to living on the flight path of a surprising number of float planes, being in a city built on a rain forest with a noisy gutter outside my window, having two very vocal cats, and so on, not to mention not having a lot of free time to work on it, so I am very pleased that Terry has done this. I won’t stop working on the human-read version – I think this fills a different and very complementary niche – but it’s great to have something to point people towards when they ask for an audio version.

The first season of Audio Books with Beats, appearing in the feed after the podcasts for my book chapters, was another AU Press book, Terry Anderson’s Theory and Practice of Online Learning which is also well worth a listen – those chapters follow directly from mine in the list of episodes. I hope and expect there will be more seasons to come so, if you are reading this some time after it was posted, you may need to scroll down through other podcasts until you reach the How Education Works. In case it’s hard to find, here’s a list of direct links to the episodes.

Acknowledgements, Prologue, introduction

Chapter 1: A Handful of Anecdotes About Elephants

Chapter 2:  A Handful of Observations About Elephants

Part 1: All About Technology

Chapter 3: Organizing Stuff to Do Stuff

Chapter 4: How Technologies Work

Chapter 5: Participation and Technique

Part II: Education as a Technological System

Chapter 6: A Co-Participation Model of Teaching

Chapter 7: Theories of Teaching

Chapter 8: Technique, Expertise, and Literacy

Part III: Applying the Co-Participation Model

Chapter 9: Revealing Elephants

Chapter 10: How Education Works

Epilogue

Originally posted at: https://landing.athabascau.ca/bookmarks/view/20936998/%E2%96%B6-how-education-works-the-audio-book-now-with-beats

Recording and slides from my ESET 2023 keynote: Artificial humanity and human artificiality

Here are the slides from my keynote at ESET23 in Taiwan (I was online, alas, not in Taipei!).

I will try to remember to update this post with a link to the recording, when it is available.

Here’s a recording of the actual keynote.

The themes of my talk will be familiar to anyone who follows my blog or who has read my recent paper on the subject. This is about applying the coparticipation theory from How Education Works to generative AI, raising concerns about the ways it mimics the soft technique of humans, and discussing how problematic that will be if the skills it replaces atrophy or are never learned in the first place, amongst other issues.

This is the abstract:

We are participants in, not just users of technologies. Sometimes we participate as orchestrators (for instance, when choosing words that we write) and sometimes as part of the orchestration (for instance, when spelling those words correctly). Usually, we play both roles.  When we automate aspects of technologies in which we are just parts of the orchestration, it frees us up to be able to orchestrate more, to do creative and problem-solving tasks, while our tools perform the hard, mechanical tasks better, more consistently, and faster than we could ourselves. Collectively and individually, we therefore become smarter. Generative AIs are the first of our technologies to successfully automate those soft, open-ended, creative cognitive tasks. If we lack sufficient time and/or knowledge to do what they do ourselves, they are like tireless, endlessly flexible personal assistants, expanding what we can do alone. If we cannot draw, or draw up a rental agreement, say, an AI will do it for us, so we may get on with other things. Teachers are therefore scrambling to use AIs to assist in their teaching as fast as students use AIs to assist with their assessments.

For achieving measurable learning outcomes, AIs are or will be effective teachers, opening up greater learning opportunities that are more personalized, at lower cost, in ways that are superior to average human teachers.  But human teachers, be they professionals, other students, or authors of websites, do more than help learners to achieve measurable outcomes. They model ways of thinking, ways of being, tacit knowledge, and values: things that make us human. Education is a preparation to participate in human cultures, not just a means of imparting economically valuable skills. What will happen as we increasingly learn those ways of being from a machine? If machines can replicate skills like drawing, reasoning, writing, and planning, will humans need to learn them at all? Are there aspects of those skills that must not atrophy, and what will happen to us at a global scale if we lose them? What parts of our cognition should we allow AIs to replace? What kinds of credentials, if any, will be needed? In this talk I will use the theory presented in my latest book, How Education Works: Teaching, Technology, and Technique to provide a framework for exploring why, how, and for what purpose our educational institutions exist, and what the future may hold for them.

Pre-conference background reading, including the book, articles, and blog posts on generative AI and education may be found linked from https://howeducationworks.ca

Look what just arrived on my doorstep! #howeducationworks from @au_press is now available in print and e-book formats

Photo of hard copies of How Education Works

Hard copies and e-book versions of How Education Works are now available, and they are starting to turn up in bookstores. The recommended retail price is CAD$40 but Amazon is selling the Kindle version for a bit less.

Here are a few outlets that are selling it (or order it from your local independent bookstore!):

AU Press (CA)

Barnes & Noble (US)

Blackwells (UK)

Amazon (CA)

Amazon (JP)

University of Chicago Press (US)

Indigo (CA)

Booktopia (AU)

For those wanting to try before they buy or who cannot afford/do not want the paper or e-book versions, you can read it for free online, or download a PDF of the whole book.

The publishers see this as mainly targeted at professional teachers and educational researchers, but those are far from the only audiences I had in mind as I was writing it. Apart from anything else, one of the central claims of the book is that literally everyone is a teacher.  But it’s as much a book about the nature of technology as it is about education, and as much about the nature of knowledge as it is about how that knowledge is acquired. If you’re interested in how we come to know stuff, how technologies work, or how to think about what makes us (individually and collectively) smart, there’s something in the book for you. It’s a work of philosophy as much as it is a book of practical advice, and it’s about a way of thinking and being at least as much as it is about the formal practice of education. That said, it certainly does contain some ideas and recommendations that do have practical value for educators and educational researchers. There’s just more to it than that.

I cannot begin to express how pleased I am that, after more than 10 years of intermittent work, I finally have the finished article in my hands. I hope you get a chance to read it, in whatever format works for you! I’ll end this post with a quote, that happens to be the final paragraph of the book…

“If this book has helped you, however slightly, to think about what you know and how you have come to know it a little differently, then it has been a successful learning technology. In fact, even if you hold to all of your previous beliefs and this book has challenged you to defend them, then it has worked just fine too. Even if you disagreed with or misunderstood everything that I said, and even if you disliked the way that I presented it, it might still have been an effective learning technology, even though the learning that I hoped for did not come about. But I am not the one who matters the most here. This is layer upon layer of technology, and in some sense, for some technology, it has done what that technology should do. The book has conveyed words that, even if not understood as I intended them to be, even if not accepted, even if rabidly disagreed with, have done something for your learning. You are a different person now from the person you were when you started reading this book because everything that we do changes us. I do not know how it has changed you, but your mind is not the same as it was before, and ultimately the collectives in which you participate will not be the same either. The technology of print production, a spoken word, a pattern of pixels on a screen, or dots on a braille reader has, I hope, enabled you, at least on occasion, to think, criticize, acknowledge, recognize, synthesize, and react in ways that might have some value in consolidating or extending or even changing what you already know. As a result of bits and bytes flowing over an ether from my fingertips to whatever this page might be to you, knowledge (however obscure or counter to my intentions) has been created in the world, and learning has happened. For all the complexities and issues that emerge from that simple fact, one thing is absolutely certain: this is good.”

 

 

A decade of unwriting: the life history of "How Education Works"

How Education Works book coverAbout 10 years ago I submitted the first draft of a book called “How Learning Technologies Work” to AU Press. The title was a nod to David Byrne’s wonderful book, “How Music Works” which is about much more than just music, just as mine was about much more than learning technologies.

Pulling together ideas I had been thinking about for a few years, the book had taken me only a few months to write, mostly at the tail end of my sabbatical. I was quite pleased with it. The internal reviewers were positive too, though they suggested a number of sensible revisions, including clarifying some confusing arguments and a bit of restructuring. Also, in the interests of marketing, they recommended a change to the title because, though accurately describing the book’s contents, I was not using “learning technologies” in its mainstream sense at all (for me, poetry, pedagogies, and prayer are as much technologies as pots, potentiometers and practices), so it would appeal to only a small subset of its intended audience. They were also a bit concerned that it would be hard to find an audience for it even if it had a better title because it was at least as much a book about the nature of technology as it was a book about learning, so it would fall between two possible markets, potentially appealing to neither.

A few months later, I had written a new revision that addressed most of the reviewers’ recommendations and concerns, though it still lacked a good title. I could have submitted it then. However, in the process of disentangling those confusing arguments, I had realized that the soft/hard technology distinction on which much of the book rested was far less well-defined than I had imagined, and that some of the conclusions that I had drawn from it were just plain wrong. The more I thought about it, the less happy I felt.

And so began the first of a series of substantial rewrites. However, my teaching load was very high, and I had lots of other stuff to do, so progress was slow. I was still rewriting it when I unwisely became Chair of my department in 2016, which almost brought the whole project to a halt for another 3 years. Despite that, by the time my tenure as Chair ended, the book had grown to around double its original (not insubstantial) length, and the theory was starting to look coherent, though I had yet to make the final leap that made sense of it all.

By 2019, as I started another sabbatical, I had decided to split the book into two. I put the stuff that seemed useful for practitioners into a new book,  “Education: an owner’s manual”, leaving the explanatory and predictive theory in its own book, now grandiosely titled “How Education Works”, and worked on both simultaneously. Each grew to a few hundred pages.

Neither worked particularly well. It was really difficult to keep the theory out of the practical book, and the theoretical work was horribly dry without the stories and examples to make sense of it. The theory, though, at last made sense, albeit that I struggled (and failed) to give it a catchy name. The solution was infuriatingly obvious. In all my talks on the subject my catchphrase from the start had been “’tain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it, that’s what gets results” (it’s the epigraph for the book), so it was always implicit that softness and hardness are not characteristics of all technologies, as such, nor even of their assemblies, but of the ways that we participate in their orchestration. Essentially, what matters is technique: the roles we play as parts of the orchestration or orchestrators of it. That’s where the magic happens.

But now I had two mediocre books that were going nowhere. Fearing I was about to wind up with two unfinished and/or unsellable books, about half way through my sabbatical I brutally slashed over half the chapters from both, pasted the remains together, and spent much of the time I had left filling in the cracks in the resulting bricolage.

I finally submitted “How Education Works: Teaching, Technology, and Technique” in the closing hours of 2020, accompanied by a new proposal because, though it shared a theme and a few words with the original, it was a very different book.

Along the way I had written over a million words, only around a tenth of which made it into what I sent to AU Press. I had spent the vast majority of my authoring time unwriting rather than writing the book and, with each word I wrote or unwrote, the book had written me, as much as I had written it. The book is as much a part of my cognition as a product of it.

And now, at last, it can be part of yours.

30 months after it was submitted – I won’t go into the reasons apart from to say it has been very frustrating –  the book is finally available as a free PDF download or to read on the Web. If all goes to plan, the paper and e-book versions should arrive June 27th, 2023, and can be pre-ordered now.

It is still a book about technology at least as much as it is about education (very broadly defined), albeit that it is now firmly situated in the latter. It has to be both because among the central points I’m making are that we are part-technology and technology is part-us, that cognition is (in part) technology and technology is (in part) cognition, and that education is a fundamentally technological and thus fundamentally human activity. It’s all one complex, hugely distributed, recursive intertwingularity in which we and our technological creations are all co-participants in the cognition and learning of ourselves and one another.

During the 30 months AU Press has had the book I have noticed a thousand different ways the book could be improved, and I don’t love all of the edits made to it along the way (by me and others), but I reckon it does what I want it to do, and 10 years is long enough.

It’s time to start another.

A few places you can buy the book

AU Press (CA)

Barnes & Noble (US)

Blackwells (UK)

Amazon (CA)

Amazon (JP)

University of Chicago Press (US)

Indigo (CA)

Booktopia (AU)

Slides from my ICEEL 22 Keynote, November 20, 2022

ICEEL 22 keynote

Here are the slides (11.2MB PDF) from my opening keynote yesterday at the 6th International Conference on Education and E-Learning, held online, hosted this year in Japan. In it I discussed a few of the ideas and consequences of them from my forthcoming book, How Education Works: Teaching, Technology, and Technique.

Title: It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it, that’s what gets results

Abstract: In an educational system, no teacher ever teaches alone. Students teach themselves and, more often than not, teach one another. Textbook authors and illustrators, designers of open educational resources, creators of curricula, and so on play obvious teaching roles. However, beyond those obvious teachers there are always many others, from legislators to software architects, from professional bodies to furniture manufacturers . All of these teachers matter, not just in what they do but in how they do it: the techniques matter at least as much as the tools and methods.  The resulting complex collective teacher is deeply situated and, for any given learner, inherently unpredictable in its effects. In this talk I will provide a theoretical model to explain how these many teachers may work together or in opposition, how educational systems evolve, and the nature of learning technologies. Along the way I will use the model to explain why there is and can be no significant difference between outcomes for online and in-person teaching, why teaching to perceived learning styles research is doomed to fail, why small group tutoring will always (on average) be better than classroom teaching, and why quantitative research methods have little value in educational research.