Learning, Digital & Education from Oliver Quinlan.
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This week: The fascinating intelligence of the Octopus, the arms race for your attention, and why students don't like school

I hope you've all had a good week. I've been head down in finishing off a research publication at Raspberry Pi simultaneous with the always frenzied work on our annual review. I must admit that's resulted in my not reading much else this week, so I took a bit of time Friday evening to dip into the few interesting articles that had caught my eye. I used to have a real 'workflow' for digesting all the reading I came across online, with favourited tweets sending to IFTT links to instapaper integrated with an iPad and a kindle. I find I don't have so much time for trying to keep up with it all these days, and I've been really valuing spending time focused on books. There's something about reading an in depth piece of work on something rather than flitting between fast published opinions. There's always a balance to be struck, but being in this mood I've chosen three rather long reads for this week's newsletter...

The Sucker, the sucker!

Through Laura Hilliger's newsletter, I came across this fascinating long read from Amia Srinivasan about the Octopus, its mysteries, and what our limited ability to comprehend it says about our own ways of looking at the world. 

"Because of their evolutionary distance from us, octopuses are an ‘independent experiment in the evolution of large brains and complex behaviour’. Insofar as we are able to make intelligent contact with them – to understand octopuses and have them understand us – it is ‘not because of a shared history, not because of kinship, but because evolution built minds twice over’. The potential worry is that the evolutionary chasm between us and the octopus is too great to make mutual intelligibility possible. In that case the octopus will have something to teach us about the limits of our own understanding."

"An octopus’s arms have more neurons than its brain, about ten thousand neurons per sucker; the arms can taste and smell, and exhibit short-term memory. Each arm acts with considerable independence from the brain; even a surgically detached arm can reach and grasp, avoid painful stimuli, and change colour. (In The Soul of an Octopus, Montgomery imagines an octopus testing human intelligence by seeing how many colour patterns our severed arms can produce in one second.) "

Mind opening stuff, do read beyond the rather graphic first few paragraphs as there's so much to learn and consider here.

Cory Doctorow: Persuasion, Adaptation, and the Arms Race for Your Attention

Everyone should read more Cory Doctorow. His insights on modern digital culture are crucial to consider. Here he comes down in a very balanced way on the attention economy. Technology to compel our attention may have been almost fully weaponised, but the half life of its effectiveness is short and the cost of finding the next weakness ever increasing. Crucial thoughts for really understanding how our world of digital consumption works.

Why don't students like school?

In my limited reading this week I didn't have a chance to consider education much, but I was reminded of this important work on the cognitive psychology of teaching. I've been doing a lot of work on the kinds of skills we teach people at the Raspberry Pi Foundation, particularly the idea of transferable skills. It's very popular in digital circles to suggest that digital skills are so fundamentally important and hugely transferable that learning them could benefit any aspect of people's lives. Technology is being brought to solving more and more problems, but the cognitive psychology suggests that its the tech that's transferable, not our skills. Learning to program a computer is useful because you can program a computer to do work in a range of contexts, but sometimes I think it gets confused and presented as the skill of programming have some kind of transferable effect such as making you more organised or more creative. The more I read the less I buy this kind of general transferability of skills, and the more I think the power of digital skills like programming is in the transferability of their application, not of the skills themselves.
... and finally...
  • My friends at Vijay International School in Seychelles are looking for some Early Years and Key Stage 1 teachers. If that's you it's a great school, with great colleagues, basically in paradise. Take a look.
  • If you're near London Bridge in London on Thursday evening WeAreOpen CoOp are having a meetup of open minded people. Come along.
Thanks for reading.
Until next week,


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