The trampoline: networks, standards and freedom

The network effect is powerful, and a source of tremendous value, and we need to understand how it works.

Networks depend on standardisation – a consistent, accepted standard for how computers talk to each other, or how all Lego bricks fit together, or how a community works – a shared language and set of expectations that make it easier to collaborate.

We need these norms – they allow us to communicate, to work together better and faster, to make assumptions, even to ignore each other in relative safety. Norms, the middle ground, are the gravity that holds us together, the board from which we spring.

And there’s the tension. Norms that are too numerous or too binding tie us down. Our instinct is to break free, but it’s a dance: without norms and standards (social-cultural, technological), we fall apart. There’s nothing to stand on, push off, be in tension with, break free from

Without springs and gravity there are no trampolines, and no difference between flying and falling.

Learning between the lines

You can’t ever just teach one thing.

Whether we like it or not there’s always other stuff going on: we’re teaching what we think of our students, whether we value other people’s time or feelings, how we think we should speak to people, how a person might be in the world…

All the time – consciously or not, or both – teachers are sending messages about what it means to be at school, about what education is for, whether this stuff we’re learning is part of the thrill of a lifetime or a necessary chore.

We play a huge role in determining whether or not our students like school, and the qualities that we reward and emphasise – risk taking or obedience, creativity or following the script, delight or the humdrum, kindness or indifference or worse – shape our kids’ days and so – their futures.

As with so many things, what we do and how we do it speaks louder than what we say.

What are you teaching today?

What else will you be teaching?

Education for the future (5): tools and the wielder

Recap: a foundation for life

Education – formal education at least – is concerned with equipping people with tools: skills, knowledge and ideas that will empower them them to live a flourishing life and achieve their purposes in the world.

We’ve talked about the importance of sharing a vision of the flourishing life with our kids – the best that we are able to give – and a definition of success that includes writing their own definition.

We asked “Who are we empowering?” and looked at the importance of being aware that as we share knowledge and technical skills, we’re also shaping the people who will use them. Value-neutral education is impossible and undesirable – our kids need to learn values and ethics, and its far more important that they see these in action than hear them articulated, although both is best.

If we think of skills, knowledge and ideas as tools in a person’s hand, the questions so far are all about who will be wielding these powerful tools, and what we hope they’ll be wielding them for. 

Attributes

There’s a second set of important qualities I’m calling attributes. These are the qualities that determine how effectively a person might be able to use their tools for a given purpose. In ourselves and others, most of them lie within our influence but outside of our control. Here’s a shopping list, with a bit of repetition. The lines are blurry at best – values, attributes, and tools are very intertwingled – but I’m giving it a go.

  • A reflex to kindness
  • Determination – persistence – grit – and the will to succeed
  • A sense of hope
  • Mental robustness
  • Curiosity and a desire to learn
  • Creativity and resourcefulness
  • Integrity and ‘right honesty’ (blurring the line back into ethics here)
  • A love of fun
  • Physical health
  • Energy
  • Stamina
  • A positive but clear-eyed outlook – hope
  • Confidence
  • Focus
  • Patience
  • Positive regard and right respect for others
  • Empathy and compassion
  • An inclination towards teamwork and helping others
  • Reliability
  • Humility and the ability to receive help
  • Tact and social grace – courtesy and politeness
  • Self control
  • Diligence
  • Courage (“the virtue without which none of the other virtues matter”)
  • Assertiveness
  • Some balance between caring what others think and really not
  • Initiative
  • A sense of peace
  • A sense of humour
  • Gratitude

What have I missed?

**edited 05/12/2018 to add ‘a sense of humour’ – thanks to Mas K

Show me the money

Love it or loathe it, you’ve got to know where the money’s going to come from, and where it all goes.

Get it right from the start – it’s essential to the health and credibility of your project or organisation.

It also works like an extra sense, helping you spot trends, opportunities and issues earlier than you might have otherwise.

Financial Intelligence, Revised Edition: A Manager’s Guide to Knowing What the Numbers Really Mean by Karen Berman and Joe Knight is a really great place to start.

Datapoints

What the wizards at the various casinos have figured out how to do is wire up the slot machines so that they’re constantly playing with your need to feel lucky.

The slots don’t work the way they used to. First of all, the slot machine knows who you are, and what your history is. They’ve given you this card that promises all sorts of bonuses and prizes, but really it’s designed to allow the slot machine to play you like a violin.

Seth Godin – Akimbo – Games Matter

Data can be a powerful tool. Don’t use it like that.

Hinterland

Cities can’t exist without a hinterland – the ‘land behind’ and around them that supports the city, provides people, resources, a place for the products of the city – for good and bad – to flow out to, a place for the city to grow into.

Ideas need a hinterland too – a wider landscape they emerge from, draw on, connect to. The healthier, wider, more varied the hinterland, the more connections the idea has to wider realities, the richer, more robust, more joyful and life giving the idea.

People, organisations and companies need hinterlands too – the ‘wrapper’ of other humans and groups and the spaces we live in. Often, this hinterland – these people and places – are really the main point.

So each day we have a choice: are we bringing life to our hinterland, enriching the soil we grow from, or are we growing rich by exploiting it?

Education for the future: foundations (4)

This post was lost in the Crocapocalypse – I’m reposting it with its original date.

The machine does not isolate man from the great problems of nature but plunges him more deeply into them.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, with a hat-tip to the writers of The Second Machine Age

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, with a hat-tip to the writers of The Second Machine Age

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Teacher – how are your ethics?

I heard someone talking about driverless cars explain that the technical side of things was becoming almost inevitable. In a sense, solving the problem of how to get cars to drive themselves is on its way to being easy.

The hard part is helping the car to decide who to hit if it has an accident.

In an accident a human might have to choose: hit a bus or swerve to hit a car; hit a family on the pavement or a child crossing the road.

These are usually reflex decisions – there may be rights and wrongs but fear clouds judgement and the mistakes people make are inevitable – and ultimately forgivable.

But a car driven by a computer? They might be sent out of control by an accident, but still have billions of computational cycles to make their decision in the seconds before impact. So we can imagine that a driverless car faced with the situation described above could have time to see its options clearly and have time to evaluate them and make a meaningful choice.

What do we teach it to choose? The machine forces us to think harder about our moral choices, as things that weren’t real choices before become so.

And the same is true in education: as things happen faster, as the augmentations (more on augmentation later) expand our power and widen our reach, we ask with greater intensity: who are we empowering? How will they decide to use their power?

When John Acton said “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” he was wrong, of course. We can’t hold that view and be in love the idea of empowerment at the same time.

Power doesn’t corrupt, per se, but it is an amplifier. Tools, technologies are amplifiers, multiplying the potential of what’s already there. The more powers we have, the more important the moral foundations of our humanity become.

Crikey, it’s Captain America all over again.

Education for the future: foundations (3)

This post was lost in the Crocapocalypse – I’m reposting it with its original date.

Look at the nearest child. How will they know what’s important when there’s no-one around to make decisions for them?

What will they live for?

What will they work and fight for?

Which prices will they think are worth paying, and which should never be paid?

Before basic skills, these moral underpinnings are the foundations of education. There’s a place for teaching values and ethics – also known as morals – but the best way to learn them is to see and experience them.

Education for the future: foundations (2)

This post was lost in the Crocapocalypse – I’m reposting it with its original date.

Education is empowering in a very literal sense, and most of the powers that we gain through it are easily weaponised.

Driverlesscroc– Education for the future: foundations (1)

“Who are we empowering?”

This is a fundamental question that we often overlook – and incidentally I think it underlies many of our fears about artificial intelligences.

We often ask: What are we building? Can we trust the machines?

It’s rarer to ask: Who are we augmenting? Can we trust our children?

We spend a great deal of time focusing on technical aspects of education. We concentrate on the raw materials and tools – information, ideas, knowledge and ways of understanding, skills – and neglect the more difficult conversation about deeper ethical or moral foundations.

As we augment our children (and our peers, and ourselves) with new and more powerful tools, we need to pay attention to how we’re shaping them as people – the people who will use those tools to change the world around them.

Education for the future: foundations (1)

This post was lost in the Crocapocalypse – I’m reposting it with its original date.

So the question becomes, how do we prepare our kids for a future that’s becoming less and less knowable as change accelerates?

And I think the answer is the same as it always has been. The best – the only – way to prepare our kids for any future is by showing them love, and a vision of a flourishing life, and by equipping them with the best tools we have to achieve it, and with the wisdom to use those tools well.

Stuart Patience – DriverlessCrocodile

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The higher you build, the more important foundations become.
Education is the process by which we equip people – including ourselves – with the values, attributes and tools they need to navigate and shape the world.

I use ‘tools’ here in the broadest sense, to include ideas, ways of understanding, and specific skills. Tools make it easier to do particular things, and word is more or less interchangeable with ‘technology’ as explained so well by Kevin Kelly.

To put it another way, tools make us more powerful.

Education is empowering in a very literal sense, and most of the powers that we gain through it are easily weaponised.