Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘education’

28 JANUARY, 2011

Isaac Asimov on Science and Creativity in Education

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What vintage science fiction has to do with the future of self-directed learning.

I’m deeply fascinated by how the past envisioned the future. Previously: retrofuturistic artwork, Orson Welles’ Future Shock techno-paranoia, a vision for the iPad 23 years before the iPad, Marshall McLuhan’s “global village” concept, and a living timecapsule of futurism by cultural luminaries.

Now comes a brilliant bit from beloved sci-fi author Isaac Asimov, the quintessential futurist, interviewed here by Bill Moyers in 1988. Recorded upon the publication of Assimov’s 391st book, Prelude to Foundation, this three-part interview offers a rare peek inside one of history’s most fascinating minds. Asimov shares invaluable insights on science, computing, religion, population growth and the universe, and echoes some of own beliefs in the power of curiosity-driven self-directed learning and the need to implement creativity in education from the onset.

Eventually, Asimov predicts not only the very birth of the Internet, but also a number of today’s digital darlings, from standbys like Wikipedia to hot-shots du jour like Quora, as well as recently buzzworthy concepts like Clay Shirky’s “cognitive surplus” — the notion that advances in technology are freeing up more human thought to be put towards creative, pro-social endeavors.

Once we have computer outlets in every home, each of them hooked up to enormous libraries where anyone can ask any question and be given answers, be given reference materials, be something you’re interested in knowing, from an early age, however silly it might seem to someone else… that’s what YOU are interested in, and you can ask, and you can find out, and you can do it in your own home, at your own speed, in your own direction, in your own time… Then, everyone would enjoy learning. Nowadays, what people call learning is forced on you, and everyone is forced to learn the same thing on the same day at the same speed in class, and everyone is different.

Sound familiar?

Moyers: But what about the argument that machines, computers, dehumanize learning?

Asimov: As a matter of fact, it’s just the reverse. It seems to me that, through this machine, for the first time we’ll be able to have a one-to-one relationship between information source and information consumer.

Sound familiar?

Science does not purvey absolute truth, science is a mechanism. It’s a way of trying to improve your knowledge of nature, it’s a system for testing your thoughts against the universe and seeing whether they match.

For more of Asimov’s cunning insight on the role of science and creativity in education, we highly recommend The Roving Mind — a compelling collection of 62 edifying essays on everything from creationism to censorship to the philosophy of science, in which Asimov predicts with astounding accuracy not only the technological developments of the future but also the complex public debates they have sparked, from cloning to stem-cell research.

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20 JANUARY, 2011

Vi Hart’s Playful Mathematics: Flatland on a Möbius Strip

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What Victorian novellas have to do with higher mathematics, optical illusions and illustration.

Vi Hart has a rare gift: making math cool. She distills mathematical concepts in clever, engaging, relentlessly creative ways using visual metaphors like balloons, doodling, beadwork and food to illustrate anything from Platonic solids to hyperbolic planes to binary trees.

In this fantastic 7-minute video, two months in the making, Hart takes the iconic 1884 satirical novella Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions, which applies Victorian knowledge of higher mathematics to a witty story about a fictional two-dimensional world and a humble square who tries to wrap his mind around a third dimension, and adapts it to a Möbius strip, a non-orientable looped surface that only has one side and one boundary component, with lovely hand-drawn illustration.

(For the definitive resource on the fascinating Möbius strip, do check out The Möbius Strip: Dr. August Möbius’s Marvelous Band in Mathematics, Games, Literature, Art, Technology, and Cosmology.)

Hart’s work reminds me of Robin Moore’s string math portraits from the 1980s and Kevin Van Aelst’s edible science, a living testament to the power of playfulness as a gateway to learning.

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Bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings takes hundreds of hours each month. If you find any joy and stimulation here, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner.





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18 JANUARY, 2011

A New Culture of Learning: Rethinking Education

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The evolution of education, particularly as filtered through the prism of emerging technology and new media, is something we’re keenly interested in and something of increasing importance to society at large. Now, from authors Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown comes a powerful and refreshing effort to approach the subject with equal parts insight, imagination and optimism, rather than the techno-dystopian views today’s cultural pundits tend to throw our way.

A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change makes a compelling case for a new kind of learning, one growing synchronously and fluidly with technology rather than resisting it with restless anxiety — a vision that falls somewhere between Sir Ken Robinson’s call for creativity in education paradigms and Clay Shirky’s notion of “cognitive surplus.”

We’re stuck in a mode where we’re using old systems of understanding learning to try to understand these new forms, and part of the disjoint means that we’re missing some really important and valuable data.” ~ Douglas Thomas

The book touches on a number of critical issues in digital learning, from the role of remix culture to the importance of tinkering and experimentation in creating, not merely acquiring, knowledge. Central to its premise is the idea that play is critical to understanding learning, something we can get behind.

Sample the content with some excellent talks by the authors on the book’s site and grab a copy of A New Culture of Learning — you won’t regret it.

Thanks, Helen

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