March 05, 2004

Envisioning a "pubic e-Learning system"

Next Monday we meet with a foundation about policy for creating a public e-learning system. Preparing for this meeting, I sought guidance from graphic recording templates at The Grove. Reading David Sibbet's page on the Grove site was stirring, hearing how he worked with the Corot Foundation in understanding how learning works, how ideas that are not clear focus the mind on finding a pattern, so an important approach to education is creating what Montessori called "a prepared environment."

Working with the Nueva School, I saw theme-based projects taken to a high level. That involvement in creating a evocative context is precisely what we want to capture in Learning Friends' Worlds, online simulations that invite participation and the kind of learning that helps students make connections and refine meaning.

Sibbits cites Arthur Young's 7-stage V model with 7 steps that apply to the formation of the cosmos, the formation of a business and many other world views. I spent many good days learning about this from Arthur in the 70s, along with Ken Pelletier. It's gratifying to see the ideas developed and displayed by Grove people. These stages have an analog in forming a public e-learning system--it has stages, and my personal challenge is to get beyond the start-up stage, where everything is possible and nothing much is actualized. Sibbets and Le Saget describe "archetypes of sustainability" that I'll be studying and applying.

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December 02, 2003

Outside Monticello

While in Washington, DC doing some work at the National Science Foundation, I visited Cary Raditz and his family south of Charlottesville, VA. Every year Cary's family presses apples at a historic estate called Morrisenia, where Cary's grandmother lived, baking pies and having nice Thanksgiving dinners.

The cabin where she lived is of interest to historians because it's almost entirely unchanged since the 1700s--it has no interior walls covering the original wooden walls, no bathroom indoors, and apparently one wire bringing electricity to a single lightbulb. The current resident, in his 90's, offered us milk, which he lives on in healthy fashion. The family has lived on this property since the original land grant. It's rare for a cabin this old to be standing at all, so researchers can see how the nails are pounded, and every other detail about how a 200+ year old cabin was built.

We used a very old wooden press and metal grinder to press the crisp, local apples into sweet juice. My mouth waters thinking of how that juice tasted. As dusk fell, I was glad that Cary and his family had put up a 3-room tent where we all stayed for the night. Waking up to fields of soybeans and old farm equipment suited the occasion. Later I rode a hand-poled ferry across the river, a raft large enough to transport cars attached to wires.

I wanted to spend several days at Monticello, so between NSF gigs, camped nearby (no not on the lawn of the Washinton Monument) at the KOA Campground where a pine cabin kept me warm at night. The campground had trees with wavering yellow leaves, fresh air and friendly people. I ate lunch at the Michie Tavern, a store and restaurant dating from 1784, a themed restaurant by the entry drive to Jefferson's home. After filling a metal plate with food, women dressed in historic garb bring huge platters of fried chicken, stewed tomatoes, cornbread and other period food to the rough-hewn tables. This bounty brought me back each day for a main meal. Michie Tavern also offers a tour.

Did you know that on the floor of old fireplaces in Jefferson's time, there was a wire device where they placed a slice of bread near the fire, and when it was toasty on one side, used their toes to kick the wire bread-holder around so the other side would cook--giving us TOAST?

One of the more awesome experiences of my life was seeing the places Thomas Jefferson read, wrote, planted, designed and managed the many affairs of Monticello. The site on the flattened top of a mountain is spectacular, with a full view of the surrounding land and University of Virginia. You can imagine Thomas Jefferson reading in one of the small, square glass rooms he built out by the garden at the edge of the high land, because the museum has placed chairs where we can do the same. Monticello has an inviting beauty, with it's human scale and almost over-familiarity from school days.

At the same time, the eyes of the slave-overseer from the estate, photographed in a portrait for posterity, haunted me. They were very sad eyes, and I learned that Jefferson's own slave-children were not freed until he died. Such refined beauty, such great ugliness, all entwined with words that shaped the nation.

As Thomas Jefferson says in the Declaration of Independence, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal...."

I appreciated the people who keep up Monticello, especially after seeing a photo of the mansion in serious disrepair, probably during the Great Depression in the 30s.

The tour gives details that help you imagine life at Monticello. For example, Jefferson had chairs near the fireplace in the dining room, and he sat there reading until everyone was seated for dinner so he wouldn't waste a minute. I got a fresh sense of what it meant for Jefferson to send Lewis and Clark out to explore the West, when Jefferson himself could not go. The entry to Monticello is full of artifacts from that trip.

I brought home a portrait of Jefferson to place by my great-great-great grandfather Benjamin Long's clock, built in Marietta, Pennsylvania in 1801, while Jefferson was President. Benjamin took a covered wagon to the Niagara Falls area, and fortunately brought the clock, which passed down through six generations of "eldest girls" of each generation, including many teachers. Still ticks and bongs, thanks to a de Young Museum clock repair person.

Thomas Jefferson's clock, located above his door with faces inside and out, has weights that hang through holes in the floor! I learned at Monticello that most people had no time piece in their home. Benjamin Long's clock, built in Amish country in Lancaster County, PA has cleaner lines and a more beautiful face than any other clocks I've seen. Of course, I grew up listening to it call the hours, and learned about moons with its revolving face, so I am a bit partial.

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December 01, 2003

KY Folks

I spoke with Joanne Lang, Executive VP of the Kentucky Science and Technology Corporation in Lexington, KY.The KSTC site has a good list of funding sources. We're looking for projects to do together, along with others in Ohio, West Virginia and Kentucky who are part of a Tri-State Commission aimed at bringing new jobs to the area--focussed on videogames and learning software.

Lexington, KY was a main location for filming the movie, Seabiscuit, a great "rags to riches" story and a movie worth seeing (out on DVD now).

Reminds me of camping near Thomas Jefferson's Monticello last month, and driving through the hills outside Warrenton, Virginia. I'm used to tiny little pastures with white fences at home in Woodside, CA. I imagine the blue grass country of KY is amazing, too. The contrast of poverty and riches, prices and values in these places is striking.

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November 27, 2003

The Dragon Tale

Mark Foster, who lives and works at the Montara Lighthouse Hostel (photo) near Half Moon Bay, CA, has been writing a story of the time Miranda Dragon lived in the Yellow Mountains of China (photos). Mark met Miranda Dragon after she journeyed across the Pacific Ocean. She told him how when she tired, pairs of whales carried her through the waves on their backs, past the huge waves of Mavericks, and brought her to the wild little beach below Montara light house.

When I saw Harrison Owen, he knew the story of Miranda's Mother, the Great Dragon, which follows.

Continue reading "The Dragon Tale"
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Bill Daul's NextNow

Bill Daul brought together friends, among them, Doug Englebartof the Bootstrap Institute , Ted Kahn of Design Worlds, Jay Cross of eLearningForum, Jim Schuyler of red 7 communications, Jeff Saperstein author of Creaing Regional Wealth to experience a "world cafe" at the San Francisco Fort Mason Center at a NextNow event. At each table, hosts placed large white paper like a tablecloth, with markers and pens in a glass. One person agreed to be leader, recording the group's experience and staying alone at the table while others moved on to other tables after about 20 minutes. This leader then reported to a new set of people what transpired, which naturally led to the new people around the table elaborating what their previous groups said about the same topic.

The opening question, what makes us feel alive, led Claudia Weiss to talk about beauty in it's many forms. Cohesiveness emerged quickly as a new question extended the theme.

The world cafe may be a method worth trying at my class at Ohio University at Athens in January, where students come from different departments and need to coalesce quickly.

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Harrison Owen on High Play, Paradigm Shift and Dragons

Harrison Owen stopped by Half Moon Bay after an Open Space meeting in the San Juans, and shared his insights for Learning Friends. I showed Harrison Learning Friends' "under the hood" database, a "dynamic rationale tool" for linking theory and research to software design for children. The database is a repository for quotatations from disperate points of view from team members who are cognitive scientists, expert teachers, child development experts, graphics artists, interface designers and so forth, all contributing to LF models about how learning works, what children need and want and what's important to learn. This is a "cross-cultural" activity, because of the differences in language and habits of mind of these folks.

Harrison, author of The Power of Spirit: How Organizations Transform (Berrett-Koehler, 2000), has consulted to AT&T, IBM, the World Bank, Ikea, Proctor and Gamble, the U.S. Army and many other groups, is well known for his Open Space events, where people like Arabs and Israelis actually converse meaningfully. Sitting at a dinner table with him with time to laugh was one of those privileges you can't buy with mere wealth.

Harrison pointed out that besides making a "theory and research database" as planned, Learning Friends needs to create a Rosetta Stone for cross-comparing perspectives derived from different fields. While at NIH, Harrison said, researchers whose perspectives on Type A and B personalities were medical-physical and psychosocial both gathered data on subjects, and agreed on who fit in the Type A category. Then by testing for "hot responders" in videogames and cross-comparing physical (GSR, etc.) and social (ink blot, etc.) responses, the NIH study found that "true type A's" (who uniquely "went nuts" physically and emotionally while playing videogames), were at 4x the risk for heart disease than Type A's who responded physiologically like B's. The presence of data from two fields helped reveal "true Type A's" and allowed professionals in the two fields to share a perspective.

In response to Learning Friends intent to provide "high learning value" and "high play value" worlds, Harrison shared his work defining "high play" and the danger of true paradigm shift.

Continue reading "Harrison Owen on High Play, Paradigm Shift and Dragons"
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Trends for 2004

Mitch Levy sent trends for 2004 today, published first in Comdex Daily for Comdex Fall 2003: Top 10 Trends. He asked me to contribute trends but nothing about online learning made it into the top ten. Several trends will impact Learning Friends, including the growth of wireless networking, which will provide more broadband access points for "learning circles" for people with laptops, including children. Other trends to watch are consolidation of companies, growth of Internet business in China, .

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