POV: you look at "AI" in Education but all your questions are doomed
Good studies published on enthusiasm and usage of "AI" in #education professions. Administrators & curriculum designers seem keen. Teachers - wary. Question asked by journalists and pundits is "what would it take to change that?" Automatic assumption here is that it needs changing - "must get teachers on board!" "Taboo" assumption would go the other way - "must get admin staff off GPT!" Real value of study, to map where "AI" will/won't thrive, ignored. Such is "AI" discourse. McGehee, N. (20...
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Evidence-based offline learning
Studies suggest that paper>screens for reading & handwriting>typing for notes.* Here's a workflow to learn & share. 1 Get book from library 2 Get notepad & pen 3 Sit down, read book, take notes 4 Notes -> plain text (imagetotext dot info is surprisingly good) 5 Plain text -> #PKM tool 6 Repeat Skip steps 4 and 5 for 100% offline & private learning. You may learn better this way, & what you'll learn will be nobody's business. DOIs: 10.1101/2023.08.30.553693 &...
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Eating your own "AI" dog food
This story is well-documented: any parent working for a social media company is likely to restrict the way their own kids use social media. They want none of that on their kids' screens. Early days for "AI" still, but an interesting thought experiment nonetheless: If you took a sample of executives & employees from the top 100 "AI" companies, how many would you see using & benefiting from their product in their day jobs? How many would let their kids hang out in the worlds they created? ...
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Work Offline
My big 2024 plan: Work Offline. It can mean many things. Here are ten interpretations. 1 With my browser closed 2 In a plain-text file 3 In airplane mode 4 On old devices 5 On paper But also: 6 Asking questions face to face 7 On the road, on my bike 8 Alone, just sitting, breathing 9 Somewhere I've never been 10 Outside the comfort zone "Online" is going to change so fast, & not for the better. Time to figure out what your "offline" really does for you. (You do have an "offline", right?...
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The upsides of enshittification
Daft Social exists, is free to use and has the energy of an Ello/Posterous elegy combined with a punk zine's middle finger and a Zombo.com-style grin. "Kind Words" exists, costs $5 on Steam and is the latest game to break my heart with real human connection. Every time a Big Platform breaks something for us on purpose, you grieve and fume a little. But then, sometimes, you code back. "Oh, the periphery They throw good parties there" (Fiona Apple) ...
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Calling bullshit on "AI giveaway phrases"
These articles get shared often by my English teacher colleagues: "These words make it obvious that your text was written by AI". I looked through the list & call bullshit. I - & many of my colleagues - taught most of these phrases to IELTS learners. There are no shortcuts to learning writing. No "skeleton keys" to detecting machine writing, either. If you can't see that by stigmatising "AI phrases" you stigmatise learner interlanguage - then you don't really "get" learning, human or mac...
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It might be the papercuts that did it
Kids read differently on screens & on paper. Their brains seem to want to go deeper when reading paper material; they stay shallow when reading screens. The temptation here is to engineer your way to a solution. Build a more paper-like screen. Or a more engaging one. The big question, with no easy answers, is: Since neither screens nor paper sheets come as "nature" to them, how did we end up nurturing the "screen = skippable, paper = important" mindsets? //doi.org/10.1101/2023.08.30.553693 ...
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Review and reading notes: "How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy" by Jenny Odell
I've had an on-and-off thing with GTD for over 15 years. I've tried, and paid for, more apps and plugins than anyone needs in their lifetimes. Every January meant a new paper planner with a new promise, and every February meant a new hangover after the planner got neglected. Funny thing, among all this - I was doing so well. I had jobs, and jobs upon jobs. Bringing home the bacon, you know? Living the dream. People's projects kept coming, and I kept saying "yes", because I always felt like work...
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Review and reading notes: "Luka" ("Gap") by Jagoda Ratajczak
There are two types of language learning stories that are relatively easy to write, whether you're writing books or blogs, articles or policy papers. First, there's the case of the relentlessly positive author, whose mission seems to be to list all the ways in which being a language learner changes your life and the world around you for the better. And then, there's the bitter and suspicious voice, out to prove that all things multilingual, multicultural and multifaceted are somehow too dangegou...
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"It doesn't need the gift-wrap!"
My VPN app upgraded itself to Version 4. fanfare V4 was an 850 megabyte download, constantly used 200-300MBs of my RAM, and no longer came with the command-line interface (CLI). sad trombone I decided to uninstall v4 and re-download the cli. It's a 30 megabyte download and has no RAM footprint to speak of. Some things are worth every bell & whistle you throw at it. Others are just plumbing: ugly AF and oh-so-crucial to get right. Know which ones you're building / maintaining. ...
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More on personal algorithms
Yup, you could try to hack at Google's #algorithm. LinkedIn's. X's. Do what you're told, when you're told, with the right bells & whistles. Feels good to catch that wave. Then you're off it, and that's a bummer. That's when we buy ads to get back on - to bypass the lineup. "Algorithm" means "A finite sequence of rigorous instructions, typically used to solve a class of specific problems". You have those. For work. For study. For play. For art. For decades. Hack these instead. Be your own puz...
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EdTech bloat is tied to privilege
A survey of community college students in the US, adapting to remote study, has intriguing data for #LearningDesign. Only a minority of these reported 0 tech issues. For most, #OnlineLearning was a slow, clunky experience, draining their confidence. Our #EdTech remains tied to privilege - our starting place is where RAM is cheap, broadband is reliable, and coding small isn't necessary. The learners let down by this live just outside Harvard or MIT. Build for them. DOI 10.1007/s11528-021-00587-8 ...
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AI = Ain't It
Each Cruse car needed to be helped out, on average, every 2.5 miles. Cruse employed more remote employees to fix this than it would have drivers. All so we could live out our Jetsons fantasy. Each shiny and polished OpenAI product had to be scraped clean of profanity, bias, and racism at prototype stage by remote workers in Kenya, on a pittance. All so we could fantasise about the coming benevolent singularity. Each new neural network is trained by gig workers in developing countries, without ...
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"Come and see the violence inherent in the system!"
A few months ago, to manage burnout, I switched off every LinkedIn notification. Things were quiet for a while. Then a LinkedIn email in my inbox. A new feature, you see - hadn't been part of my purge. Gotcha! Then another one. Another new thing. Back to 1-2 emails, & 3-4 notifications per week. Rob Nixon (2011) defines "slow violence" as "[A]n attritional violence that is typically not viewed as violence at all". If your platform keeps reverting to slow violence - check for your nearest exi...
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On fixing stuff - a comedy in 3 acts
Backspace key on keyboard: stops working Capitalist self: "I was thinking of getting a new keyboard anyw - WHY DOES THIS ONE COST £259" Techbro self: "There must be a way to map an unused key to become Backsp - WHY IS DEBIAN SO COMPLICATED" Luddite self: takes screwdriver, yanks the Backspace key out, cleans out The Unspeakable Gunk Backspace key: works Self: disgusted but re-integrated Let this be a lesson about our order of priorities when fixing tech problems. Have a good weekend. :) ...
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WCAG 2.2 - a sight for sore eyes
Going through the list of recent updates to WCAG, the web #accessibility guidelines, I smiled. The way #WCAG is shaping up is good to see - not just for web users with disabilities. It makes sure e.g. you don't have to enter the same info more than once. Or that CAPTCHAs aren't too devious. If you're serious about anything you build online, I suggest you start as close to WCAG as possible & move out from there. You'll be building helpful, humane tech for tired & overwhelmed users. Good s...
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There's a reason it's still called "Mechanical Turk"
The reason why AI seems so good is the same reason why our sneakers / burgers / phones seem so cheap. It's someone else's labour. Unacknowledged, underpaid. Sure, soon enough the workers will get too expensive for the models to keep using them. But by then, the AI models will have their shiny feet in our door. If you can't see anyone doing the work on your content by then, chances are it's you. (Rowe, Niamh. “Millions of Workers Are Training AI Models for Pennies.” Wired, October 16, 2023.) ...
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The first Noble Truth of digital learning
The first Noble Truth tells it simply: there's suffering. Duhkha. Unease. Standing unstable. A bumpy ride. In #DigitalLearning, it seems, it's paraphrased: there is social anxiety. Lots of it, everywhere you look. (DOI 10.1186/s41239-023-00419-0) There are always dozens of requirements for everything a #LearningDesigner builds, coming from all sides. Might as well add this thousand-year-old question: "will this here make learners more or less anxious?" Most rides are bumpy enough without us. ...
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Doesn't take a meteor
There is a paper out today suggesting that #SystemsThinking could learn from Darwin (DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2310223120) It concerns weather systems & astronomy, but what if the following were true about anything you build / design? "[T]he system will evolve... if many different configurations of the system undergo selection for one or more functions." One-size-fits-all stopped being reasonable in businesses, #EdTech, or anywhere. Build something else. Smaller. Hungrier. Or angrier. Watch it adapt...
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Language is already AI-proof
Visual artists whose works have been scraped to train AI models are now building tools to protect their art. Glaze & Kudurru are two recent examples. With language, you'd be forgiven for thinking there's no such firewall. But meaningful language (as Ursula le Guin would argue) is always an event between people. Curiosity, contexts and personalities are all the defence you need. ...
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OK Computer
Computer says NO. Computer says NOT ELIGIBLE. Computer says it will access your location even if you thought you told it not to. It's always been OK to talk back at it, you know. Except now it's even chattier, & better at bullshitting. Our ways of thinking about how we talk through / with computers are stuck in ivory towers of academic & technical English (DOI: 10.1002/9781118584194.ch6) We need plain ways of knowing how to talk back at computers before all but the nerdiest of us get sil...
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Technologies of the self and rhythms of the machine
It was surprising to me that algorithm and rhythm have unrelated etymologies (look them up; I shan't spoil the fun). The ideas are closely connected, if you let them be. It's easy to think of algorithms these days as these mysterious black boxes that somehow rule the machines we use. It's easy to forget about the codes and technologies we ourselves are coded by ( DOI: 10.1007/978-1-349-26624-1_7) The reason cyborgs exist is that organisms & machines are equally ruled by rhythms and algorithm...
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How to learn through apps - an example I've liked
The Balance app for meditation is an example of an app I've really enjoyed using recently. (I'm not affiliated) It's simple, versatile, and generous. The guided meditations adapt to the time you can spare, the skills you want to build, and the experience you have already. The app also mixes the visual + auditory learning well, giving you a micro-lesson on screen before delivering the rest of the meditation through your headphones. It's free to try for one year. Go search it out. ...
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Dudescrolling
Researchers now begin to understand what meditation does to us (DOI: 10.1016/j.bbr.2018.08.023). There's another important effect, though. These 13-15 minutes spent with yourself are not spent doing other things. Research already suggests that social media use messes with your cortisol recovery (DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01609). I've been replacing "doomscrolling" with "dudescrolling" before bedtime these days; sitting and watching the thoughts in my head unfold. Take care of your inner wiring. ...
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The side effect of startup bankruptcies
According to data from Carta, the number of startups closing due to dissolution / bankruptcy in 2023 points to "the most difficult year for startups in at least a decade." Put that schadenfreude / indifference on ice for a minute & consider this: Many of these startups' employees used to devote time to keeping key repositories stable & user-friendly. They used to make sure the piping & plumbing worked for them. Now they're busy hustling for work. The web breaks slowly at first, then ...
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What doesn't, though?
We now know that pregnancy re-models a mother's brain (DOI:10.1126/science.adi0576). Hormones prepare the brain structure to begin responding to a world with new priorities. On a smaller, less intense scale, consider this: these kinds of changes happen to us every day. Joy, fear, pain, reward, pride, peer pressure - and all the hormones we're always awash with as a result... It would be easier to list things that don't have such effects. (Many of them are to be found at schools, ironically) ...
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What if your audience was yourself - but on a really bad day?
We were on our way home after viewing a house. "Sharp right," said the satnav. "Oh no," I thought. "That's the narrow lane again." 50 meters later, we came up against a line of cars, no way of passing them. I had to reverse these 50 meters. I feared and hated that moment. The house was lovely, but the area around it was built for big cars and confident drivers. Not me. Whatever you build - one of the better design questions you can ask is, "could I still use it if I was having a really bad day?"...
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Spreading tech privilege
Google: "We get to decide what you search for. We'll tweak your search terms to be better for us." X: "We get to decide what your news story looks like. We'll strip out the headline to make it suit our feed." Apple: "We get to decide who repairs our machines. We'll make repairs inaccessible if it helps our business." I could probably come up with a new example like this every day of the week. Tech privilege = getting to decide. Check yours, get more - then spread it all to others. ...
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The power of the question
I was preparing my strength training for the off-season. I had a doubt. I googled it. Ended up on a discussion forum for a franchised strength training program. Somebody else had a similar question, and they posted it. The author and founder of the program replied on the forum, mocking the rookie's assumptions and making fun of him. Cue more rookie abuse from followers. If you think your job as an instructor/leader is fact and bile delivery - we have bots for that. Show us some human strengths. ...
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The privilege of clean slates
Somebody said this the other day: the real beauty of things like Universal Basic Income is the chance to start from scratch. To walk away from a bulls#t job, a failed project, an abusive situation - without fear of ending up under the bridge. When we build, lead, teach, or learn, the consequences may be less dramatic - but I still think many of us don't get to work with enough clean slates. There's always the baggage of expectations, specifications, "we-have-always-done-it-that-ways". The ne...
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More than words, or, how to help a neural network understand learning
The way in which we got computers to work with words is impressive - as long as you don't expect more than you can get. To simplify: neural networks got reasonably good with language as a result of isolating words, and encoding words as collections of vectors. This then allowed us to access the kinds of math that were needed to train the models and produce results at scale. Now, how about learning? If you were to simplify the learning process to something which words can fully encapsulate, th...
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Resilient Voyagers: golden records vs. galactic whoopsies
Voyager 2 was launched 50 years ago, and its mission in space is still ongoing. This week, you may have heard that its antenna got re-positioned due to an incorrect series of commands. The good news is this: several times a year, Voyager 2 is programmed to reset the antenna's orientation. I think it goes about it the ancient-sailor way, by measuring its position relative to some well-known stars in the sky (although romantic AF, I can't confirm that). Think about this for a minute. Fifty year...
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Carbon-dating pixels
This week, one of my work projects involves looking at archived educational web pages, and bringing some of them to life. Looking at the "first published" dates for some of them can be surprising at first. A short learning resource on cytoskeletons... first published in 2002. Still popular enough to attract visitors. Think about it. 21 years ago, somebody was already building a website. Someone was making decisions, dealing with tech issues, doing the best they could with what they had, and sh...
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Mastodon, Fediverse, connections and severings
This post is a short dialogue with myself. I am writing this in response to some recent events on the Fediverse. The reason I'm writing this is to help me record and work out some ideas connected to these events. And the reason for writing this in the form of a dialogue - following Paulo Freire and bell hooks' example - is that on this occasion, I'm more interested in retaining various perspectives / questions than in deciding on which side to pick. There are two sides to the dialogue: the side...
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Ten things I learned from my latest translation project
Tonight, I'm handing over my latest translation project. I can't tell you what it is, yet - but I can tell you that it was a lot of fun! I can also share with you the most important things I learned when working on this freelance project. There is a world of difference between the way in which you work on projects you have to take (for money) and projects you choose to take (because they're interesting). This was the latter. There is only so much you can do to make average bits of text read OK...
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The world as machines see it
Today's "AI news article writer" announcement by Google reminded me of "137 Seconds", one of Stanislaw Lem's brilliant science fiction short stories. It's about machines helping to write stories, and about humans struggling to keep up with the world as machines see it. It's funny, and witty, and scary in many, many ways. It was written over 50 years ago, and is available here in Antonia Lloyd-Jones' brilliant translation (navigate the page for parts II and III) ...
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Ten ideas for a Python rookie to make the most out of Pycon UK
This post is my personal brainstorm, which I'm sharing for the benefit of anyone in a similar situation. I found out that Pycon UK - my local Python conference - is happening in just over 2 months' time in a city near me. That's great! However, although I recently re-started regular Python shenanigans, I'm still very much a rookie. This gives me a little anxiety. Here are ten ideas for things I can do to still enjoy my time at Pycon UK. Focus on the people: I'm always excited to be around peop...
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Ten ways to get more oxygen to power your learning
This post is a response to an article published on the Wired website today, which stipulates that inhaling pure oxygen helps you learn motor skills faster (https://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2023.1175649). That's good news for anyone with regular, affordable access to pure oxygen and to means of administering it. If you're like most of us, though, you'll be wondering if these findings are of any use to you. Here are ten ways to look after your oxygen supply to power your learning. Quit smoking ...
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Ten ways to tell an interactive story with very restricted choices
This post is a response to an interactive fiction jam - a showcase / competition hosted on itch.io. The premise of the jam is that your story is only going to allow one choice to the reader. There can be many options within that choice - but there will only be one occasion where the reader will decide which way the story unfolds. You can read more (and sign up to enter!) on the jam's official page. These ideas are free-to-a-good-home. I might be working on a story submission myself, but if you ...
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Ten alternatives to a Turing test (that don't involve machines getting rich)
This post is a response to an idea proposed by Mustafa Suleyman last month. In his opinion, we need new tests for AI, since the Turing test has been made largely obsolete by the recent advances. His idea? Giving AI $100,000 to play with, and waiting for the successful models to make a million bucks. As always, there are plenty of things to dislike about this idea - I'd start with the fact that it's just about the most predictable, kneejerk, run-of-the mill concept for a capitalist setting, there...
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Ten valuable benefits of a "low-value" degree
This post is a response to a recent idea which, if implemented, would force English universities to impose caps on the numbers of students on "low-value" degrees. There are many things to dislike about this idea - you can get started here - but instead, I wanted to focus on the positive. Here is a very subjective list of reasons why a "low-value" degree is anything but. You decide on your values, and a degree helps you live that choice. This is perhaps the most obvious way to start that debate...
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Ten guiding questions to keep doing your thing - without the internet
You may have seen Google's latest update to their "privacy" policy: basically, the company believes it has the right to (and declares that it probably will) train its "AI" models on any content it can find on the internet. Maybe you're OK with it. Maybe you're not. This post is a tongue-in-cheek reaction to such news; if you don't like the thought of your work becoming neural network fodder, please remember: there are always options. Here are ten of them. How ephemeral can you go? Some of the ...
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Ten reasons why I'm excited to be learning Python again
I got back to Python recently - you can track my progress here on Github. Here's why I'm doing it, and why I'm enjoying doing it. It teaches me to think strategically: with almost all kinds of computer code, I enjoy trying to work out what I want the script to do. Learning to code means I get to flex my planning/strategising muscles a little more often. It keeps surprising me: almost every other day, a line from my textbook or an example I find online makes me think, "hang on, you can do that ...
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Ten good things I remember about Twitter, in 10 x 140 characters
I remember how easy & flow-inducing the proposition was. 140 characters. 1 small idea. Out there in the world, in less than a minute. I remember #ELTChat - a weekly live hashtag discussion of English language teachers worldwide. 60 mins of a Twitter brainstorm. I remember all the people I met face-to-face because of conversations such as these - and because of conference hashtags. I remember how easy it was to grow a professional network, or a personal learning network, when one connection ...
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Uhura, not Spock
DALL-E and other technologies of its ilk will be really bad at humour, or emotion, or evocative / expressive imagery, for quite some time to come. ChatGPT may be occasionally funny in English, but its Polish jokes are literal/machine translations from the English, and therefore useless. As we're getting used to these devices in our lives, the human role models we're looking for are the empaths, the bridge builders, the translators. The character most likely to thrive in this landscape - the o...
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Seizing the means of production - digitally
Someone recently made a comment about this: the old socialist/communist call to action used to refer to factories, tools, raw resources, machines - big things worth fighting big fights about. This is still true, to a large extent. But just as the advances of surveillance capitalism are no longer big or glaringly obvious - so, too, the resistance is no longer a big, burly brawl. Think about just two examples from recent weeks. Google will no longer let your Google Assistant work with a notes ap...
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From a bad enough perspective, English lessons are just slow-lane ChatGPT training sessions
Rant incoming: One of my tasks for this week has been on lesson planners for an English reading and writing skills series for state schools. I was copying and pasting numerous bulletpoints of reading and writing outcomes and objectives from PDFs to a fancy online course planner, which people will later be able to download as a Word document. As I was doing this, I took the time to look through what the kids are being told to do while exploring each book. I was an English teacher once. Here ar...
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The opposite of the scaffolding is the jump ramp
The tutorial in the first mission of Terra Nil won't help you complete the first mission in one go. Maybe not even the second time around. Some of the early choices you make will make late-game choices more difficult, or impossible. But you're unlikely to work this out in advance, and you're certainly not told what to do. You find out - in hindsight - that creating a new habitat is much more destructive than you'd planned, or that certain species can't live where you expect them to live because...
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Limitations
What would you do if you only had 1 percent of your current capacity to spare? ...
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AI rush - here's what it looks like from the inside
There are so many exciting, scary, and new things to be found in this essay on AI (HT to Seth Godin for linking to this today) - which seems to have been originally published as an internal piece for Google. You'll find your own ways to interpret this. Here are a few things I'm thinking about: It's much easier and more affordable to make a change in AI than most people thought, even a few months ago The big players, and the wannabe get-rich-quick propositions, are just as well positioned as o...
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The redemption arc of technical difficulties
We tried to book a live streaming of a theatre show. One of the available dates was "fully booked" already. We raised eyebrows - how can a live stream be fully booked? - but we paid for a ticket for the other date. When the day arrived, we sat in front of the screen to be met with a series of glitches, then a frozen screen, and then a "technical difficulties" message. So far, so underwhelming. We went downstairs to get something to eat. In the meantime, emails started arriving. There was an em...
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When everyone around you races to the bottom, treading water looks like ascending
A year or two ago, I was exploring all that Cryptpad had to offer. I was considering moving a large portion of my work to a Cryptpad account. In the end, I decided not to do it - partly because I found that Standard Notes could scratch several more of my itches, and partly because I thought, "There might be just too much faff involved in sending the files over, and expecting people to click links to files in their email messages... people expect one environment anyway." This week, as I juggled...
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Freedom To Learn's National Day of Action
Today is Freedom To Learn's National Day of Action - relevant not just for those who live in the US. Visit their website to learn more, then spread the word. ...
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Breaking open
One of the most recognizable brands in role-playing games faces the threat of a power grab coming from the corporation who owns the rights to the image. The rules are about to be changed, to make it easier for the mothership to monetize every bit of community-created content. The community rebels and pushes back. The big corporation relents and walks back the changes, but some of the damage is done: a new, open-sourced standard for role-playing games gets launched. The company which owns one of...
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The finite net
There is an interesting comment in this article about the resurgence of cassette tapes: using them to record jam sessions can mean that, suddenly, there is more urgency to the time you spend making music together. What if the age of unlimited bandwidth and storage is coming to an end? It made sense to give us all these perks when web searches were cheap, and we were the product/content. Now that each new AI operation costs up to 100 times more energy than a web search, it will make sense to sta...
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What else must your school ignore?
One man's toxic and harmful messages manage to reach a huge population of schoolboys in a country - via YouTube, social media, and other online channels. The messages cause harm. Teachers ask to be trained, guided, and/or equipped to counter the messaging. The government's advice? Do not engage. Do not discuss this. No help is coming. This is not a blip on the radar, not an exception in an otherwise healthy system. A nation whose schools are too slow, fearful, obtuse and/or ignorant to react to...
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Weird vs smug
Spotted on a day out today: a person wearing a T-shirt with a slogan: "Keep coding weird". Dig deep enough, and every code - human language, programming language, dance, anything - becomes weird and quirky. Smooth things over enough, and all of the quirks disappear under a smug explanation. ...
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Talking 'bout you and me - and the games people play
There's a difference between the games humans enjoy playing, and the games which generative AI is capable of playing. Appreciating and supporting generosity, surprises and change: this seems to be the true delight, the way to make your work different, and out of reach of AI models - for a little while longer. ...
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Learning / career book bundle
This collection of books from the Humble Bundle is amazing, as always - generous and varied enough to help anyone, no matter what stage of their life / work they are at. Definitely recommended. ...
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Brokenness
This feeling you've maybe been getting - that there are too many plates spinning in your tech life, too many bloated, almost-broken systems... In education, this is not just a feeling any more. ...
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Keep the human in the room
The psychological effects of a smile are too many to mention. Researchers know this. Mothers know this. Friends know this. The effects of touch on human behaviour are studied similarly well. Waiters and waitresses know this. Psychologists know this. Does this mean that all our interactions need to be smiley-touchy-feely all the time? No, of course not. Any sort of interaction can be unwarranted and unwelcome, including these. But on the whole, every time we give a machine a chance to do a pie...
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Sobering
Gaia Bernstein's book, Unwired: Gaining Control Over Addictive Technologies, is out this week. In an excerpt / synopsis of Unwired, published on Wired (I know, I know...), she recalls watching her friends' 11-year-old child throw a tantrum when an iPad gets taken away for dinner time - just as her father did, years back, when he was denied a pack of cigarettes upon a bad diagnosis. "(L)earning how the battles of the past played out also provides a rich repository for future action," she argues. ...
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Document
“The explorer who will not come back or send back his ships to tell his tale is not an explorer, only an adventurer.” (Ursula K. Le Guin) These are crazy times. How are you recording your tale of them? ...
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What I'm reading now
Definitely in reading / listening mode for the past few days. Highlights include: How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell. The book I didn't know I needed. Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals by Oliver Burkeman. Rage-quit half way through: the structure of each paragraph/part/chapter is irritatingly repetitive, I don't think we would see eye to eye on meditation, and I think I saw references / quotes by the Dilbert guy later on, so, hard pass. The first h...
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"Funded into existence"
This paper about the practices of edtech investors in higher education is worth your time if you think a lot about how things happen (or not) across the learning and education landscape. If you had a bajillion dollars to "fund into existence" a future of learning or education, what version of it would you go for? And, since odds are that you're a few dollars short, what could you do instead to make that vision more real? (Hint / pep talk: even the fattest, greediest cats in the edtech investo...
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Do look back in anger
One of the weird things about the kind of language you find on the web these days is how the mainstream part it polarizes access to anger. You either get fully sterilized, incessantly positive narratives which always try to keep on the bright side and generate all good vibes... Or you get the venom pit and the hater pile-on. We find it hard to be angry in an email conversation, and to feel that the anger belongs there without messing everything up. ...
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"Coded bias" and the erosion of hope
"Coded Bias" is a 2020 documentary still worth watching, if you're interested in the power of algorithms in our everyday lives. It's on Netflix (ironically), but maybe you can find your own source somewhere. The message I heard in the documentary, over and over again, which resonated with me: people spoke of black-box decisions which went against all the good work they put in. Their good experiences negated, their attempts at improvement rendered null and void - because of their race or backgro...
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Life coaching goals for a social cyborg
Find and define the parts of life you want to stay away from. Build, fix and improve links to the machines which keep you away from these parts of life. Find and define the parts of life you want to stay connected to. Build, fix and improve links to the people who keep you connected to these parts of life. Automate whatever numbs you. Humanize whatever makes you feel alive. ...
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Print's not dead
Learners who go straight for the PDF without interacting with anything else on your page. Learners who copy and paste stuff from your websites into their Word doc. Learners who are aware that search, bookmark, highlighting and note-taking functions exist on your VLE, but never use them. Learners who come alive when they show you how many tags and flags they stuck on their print textbook. Learners who migrate all you give them straight onto their OneNote. Learners who don't feel like clickin...
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When advancements = leave-behind-ments
A short, matter-of-fact statement from this article about SMS apps hides something a bit more worrying: Although SMS remains the only way to be sure of reaching anyone with a mobile number, in any country, very few apps currently support it. That’s partly due to the age of the protocol, and partly to advancements by WhatsApp and other messaging apps. So, we're talking about "advancements" which give up on working for the majority of the population of this planet. The forward motion of the te...
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f/8 and be there
This image was the winning entry in one of the categories for the Sony World Photography Awards this year. Producing it was a complex process, and it involved many stages - some of which relied on AI-generated imagery. This photography project was a result of one photographer's idea: send one 50-year-old camera and one roll of film to his photographer friends, one by one, and see what they come up with. Both of these processes fascinate me. The first process removes the need to "be there" comp...
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The pleasures of a dark, murky ball
In "Promiscuous Fictions", published over 15 years ago, Tyler Curtain neatly summarizes the fantastical fears and anxieties felt when thinking about bloggers and their blogs (a new-ish phenomenon by then): The nature of the threat's not known, but by many accounts the Blogosphere is a dark, murky ball; gazing into it for too long makes one lose a sense of self. It is better that the mass of humanity stop writing, creating and reconstructing in a form that creates and unmanageable or indescriba...
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Host
If we think of language as a virus, then we can think of the impending wave of machine-produced language as a pandemic. There's going to be a lot of this kind of language, it will be everywhere, it will be difficult to know if the language we're dealing with is "clean" or "infected" - and the effects of this wave of words on the way we live, think, speak and work won't be known until we've seen them in vivo. This is not bad news, and it's not good news either. You can catch good things through ...
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Whoso list to hunt
Early 2002: freshman year. I've only got internet when I come back home for the weekends, or if one of the 6-7 ancient computers in the uni "computer room" is free (rarely). The library catalog and booking system is a tombola maze of index cards, paper forms, queues to the photocopy rooms, and convoluted reservation processes. It sucks, but it sucks for everyone. Early 2004: year three. Amazon kinda, sorta, sometimes ships books to Poland. Plus, there's a second-hand English bookshop in a neigh...
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Going somewhere else
Rome's plebeian citizens tried "secessio plebis" many times: they left the city and refused to come back until their demands were met. The patricians, unable to get even the basic things to function on their own, yielded - on at least five occasions. Modern employees are trying this right now. There was the Great Resignation, there's the Conscious Quitting - and my favourite trend: getting others to watch you quit your job on social media. In many ways, this has always been the promise: you ta...
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Perfect (v.)
Your faculty would need four academic years to feel really confident in delivering online learning at all times. The post-pandemic pressure to return to face-to-face settings only gives them three. Your team would need 10 years of campaigns and engagement to build a perfectly working community on your social medium of choice. The medium enshittifies itself beyond repair throughout year seven, and you close your account. You and your partner are 6-8 months away from going 100% plant-based and s...
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Giving you the time of day
Rhystic Studies is a YouTube channel whose creator publishes video essays about my favourite trading card game. These have been consistently excellent. The latest one was 2-3 times the usual length. Without thinking, I sat down and watched all of it; it did not disappoint. FortNine is another YouTube channel - this one's devoted to motorcycle content. I no longer want a motorbike in my life. But I keep coming back to watch these videos, because they keep changing the way I drive my car and ride...
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"The Moral Economy of Tech" - talk by Maciej Cegłowski
In 2016, Maciej Cegłowski delivered his talk on "The Moral Economy of Tech". The text version of his remarks is available here. It's a good read, even (especially?) seven years later. ...
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The opposite of The Suspicion Machine
This week's story in Wired is worth thinking about. "The Suspicion Machine" is an algorithm used by the city of Rotterdam to determine whether a person poses a risk of benefit fraud. To simplify: it's an automated decision-making process which takes into account several facts about a person, and then assigns a score to each of these facts. If the score reaches a certain level, that person may become the target of a fraud investigation. Earlier on in the week, the story made me furious. But it...
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The compulsion to outperform
Here's a sentence I read on LinkedIn which made me chuckle: "AI already outperforms humans on many tasks - like chess..." I suck at chess. You don't need AI to outperform me at chess. If your fridge has a computer, I'd probably lose to your fridge at chess. But just this morning, I was excited at the thought of contacting a chess coach and booking some lessons with him. I had a warm, fuzzy feeling of finding a chess coach from my home town - and realizing he might have played with a friend o...
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Three ideas for your next face-to-face learning
Open Space Technology allows participants to set their own agendas, organize their working teams, and raise issues they want to raise, in the way they want to raise them. Speed geeking allows your conference audience to get through more sessions than usual, and to get exposed to many different ideas. Triopticon is a sense-making ritual where roles, structure, and sequence play a vital part in trying to approach a topic from many points of view. We've gone from business as usual to being on mu...
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It's calmer on the other side of the wave
The best moment to start building a metaverse might be in a few years' time, when Zuck's money moves on to pastures/distractions new, taking with it the snake oil salesmen, but leaving behind some key learnings + good ideas/hardware among the debris. The surprising trend I saw the other day in someone's Twitter statistics was that although their follower count and reach didn't increase, or even fell in some months, their clicks and impressions remained steady or started rising. This is not to j...
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If you needed a physical format for your work today...
What would it be? If you decided that you're no longer happy for your work to live online, "in the cloud" - how would you spread it? What would you build on? Floppy disks? Cassette tapes? In a world where plastics are harmful and the internet is filling up with questionable content, the answer might be more pertinent - and more messy - than you think. And the formats which used to sound ridiculous, are now no longer dead and buried. 100% compostable DIY cassette tape kits, anyone? ...
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Minimum + viable
I told her that I thought I got better at cycling over the winter, by trying to reduce moves and positions which leak energy instead of directing it to the pedals. She told me about someone she knows - a future Channel swimmer - whose measure of "becoming a better swimmer" was being able to shave 4 strokes off each 100m. We spoke about hemmorhaging effort. We geeked out over Katie Ledecky's freestyle kick: it looks like it isn't there. We thought about learning to do less, while learning to fe...
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It's always just you / it's never just you
A few days ago, I started writing something which quickly got out of hand. I thought, there's no way this will end up on the blog. The ideas were there, and they were good, and I wanted to explore them further. But I saw this piece getting out of hand, and moving to places which one blog post could no longer handle. So I let it sit there, in my notes folder, and held it lightly in my mind. This morning, I logged onto my Mastodon feed and saw people discussing a few of the ideas I was ponderin...
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Bean there, done that (more on explanation thresholds)
My cheap supermarket coffee surprised me this morning. On the side of the bag, there's a really good set of instructions for brewing. Someone must have thought that one through, as it follows from start to finish by answering the most frequent rookie barista questions. How much coffee do I need? What do I do, and what are the timings? What if it doesn't 100% work the first time? The language is simple, the presentation confident. The otaku barista will know it by heart, and they'll also have ...
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Explain like I'm me
The most frequent approach to designing online learning goes like this: introduce the topic and outcomes - deliver a sequence of facts and a bunch of information - test how much of the facts and information got retained - conclude, move on to the next batch. The most frequent complaint about this approach goes like this: someone else, not the learner, makes a priori decisions about the "enoughness" of it all. They decide how much information is enough. They decide how much complexity is enough....
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What "learning" may mean
You can copy and paste the Wikipedia cheat sheet or you can pay several thousand dollars for a tailor-made course. You can play the summary of the book on YouTube, at 1.5x the speed, or you can keep listening to the audiobook and reading the print version at the same time until you're sure you know what it means. You can have an enthusiast friend explain the main points to you, or travel to the best-in-the-world expert and shadow them for a month. If it sounds obvious, consider: fifty years a...
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Neural networks need Socrateses
We may not need more folks who code, after all. Here's what we're realising instead: we begin to need folks who ask good questions about the code. The article I linked to above admits as much between the lines. Many machine learning professionals won't offer you an explanation for why their product or prototype did what it did. Or they'll offer a bullshit explanation. We're about to have lots more conversations about AI, whether we like it or not. Journalists will talk to tech "experts". DevO...
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"I knew it was possible."
Mia Brookes is 16 years old, and became the first woman snowboarder to land a 1440 trick in a competition - her first world championships, too. Here's what she had to say afterwards: I feel like I could cry, I’ve never been so happy in my life... My coach said ‘If you want to win, try the 14’. I knew it was possible. If you're teaching, or learning, or coaching, or building anything that teachers, learners, or coaches use - you could probably learn a lot from trying to decipher what went ri...
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Googling the symptoms of the good stuff
Over the years / decades / centuries, we've done a lot of work to figure out how we're wired inside. This knowledge evolves, and becomes more and more complex. Scientists can no longer seriously say that the shape of your skull predicts the kind of person you are (but they used to). But the energy, the drive to work this out, to notice patterns / mechanisms - that's always been there. Here's a relatively new thing, though: we didn't always spend so much time and effort on studying the "bad new...
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Connect the dots
Stop me if you've heard this one before. Tech startup gets their break and becomes a tech company Tech company makes lots of easy money Tech company wants more easy money Tech company buys tech startups and / or their patents Tech company makes lots more easy money from the startup ideas / solutions Tech company goes stale, and runs out of obvious ways of making more easy money Tech company fires thousands of people Thousands of fired people launch hundreds of tech startups Guess what happe...
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Innovating Pedagogy reports
"Innovating Pedagogy" is a series of reports published by the Open University, in collaboration with researchers from other institutions. It focuses on approaches, strategies and trends in teaching and learning. I am so happy I found this resource. The reports are all freely available in full. Many of the papers I already read are written with a wide audience in mind. This means it'll be of interest to veteran researchers and rookie learning designers alike. In addition, the "methods that work...
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Here's what you and I get to do on this site
I started writing this post to explain what this site does and what it doesn't do. It quickly turned into a list of technical specs and features. Then I thought: there's another way of describing it all. Let's talk about what we get to do on this site - you as a reader, and I, the author. You get to read all these posts on a simple and secure site which loads fast and works on most devices. You get to choose how you want to receive the posts. The "subscribe" link takes you to an email subscri...
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Alt text for your house, in four short lessons
Anyone who tries to drive to our place gets fooled by the satnav. The house isn't where the machine thinks it is. We found this out on Day 1 - that was the only time when our team of movers was less than superhero-tier: "We're here." "No, you're not. I'm here, and here's not where you are." That was Lesson 1: the machine messed up. Our house needed alt text. All the time. Every week. Sometimes several times a week. There was the sign by the door, of course - the house number and the street ...
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It's 2023; do you know where your blog is?
The hidden cost of relying on AI to create things for us is not just fewer jobs for humans; it's also fewer humans with the incentive to create things themselves. The unspoken, unprocessed harm of the enshittification of social media platforms is not just platform outages; it's also the sinking feeling of being forcibly sold stuff in a place which used to be social. When facing a behemoth search engine whose chatbot sidekicks no longer want users to end up on your site, the new endgame is no...
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Textbooks as NFTs: an idea whose time is gone
Three years ago, the powers-that-be at Pearson announced that they were moving to a "Netflix-like" subscription model for their textbook sales. This week, Pearson's CEO decided to use another tech-related term to describe his company's business model: Pearson's textbooks, he said, were going to be sold as NFTs. There are many reasons to doubt the shelf life of this statement - chief among them being the context of it: earnings calls, and CEO comments around their companies' financial results, a...
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Commodore 64 would survive the upcoming computing vibe shift - here's why
(Please, note: this post is not meant to advertise sales of C64 or any other computer. It's firmly tongue-in-cheek and written to illustrate general principles, not specific solutions. Your mileage will vary, I'm not your computer uncle, etc.) I turned 40 this year. You know who else did? This guy. Commodore C64 was the first computer I ever got. I never got to do interesting stuff on it - I was mainly into playing games, back then. But I did get to experience the clunky, 16-color magic of it ...
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5 reasons why RSS deserves some love from learning designers (and 5 ways to show it some)
In preparing to write this post, I've done some online research. I've looked at posts and thought pieces titled "RSS is dying," or "In defence of RSS," or "Google/Facebook/Firefox is trying to kill RSS". They were all 10-12 years old. The news of RSS' demise were greatly exaggerated. The whole thing just won't die. But I feel it's not getting the love it deserves. Today, I'll try to list several reasons for thinking more kindly of RSS, and several ways of showing this venerable piece of web fu...
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How to hire a freelancer / contributor in 30 minutes, with 1 email and 10 sentences
This week, I decided to turn down a freelance job. I was not happy with the way the work was presented to me, and with the information I was getting from the company. When I thought about the reasons for saying "no" to this project, I realised that there is a bright side to this story. In the industries I work for, and in many others, the jobs and offers are coming back on the market after Covid. This means that companies frequently need contributors at short notice. Starting a successful vendo...
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Launching today: "Computational thinking for everyday life"
It gives me great joy to share my latest course with you today. "Computational thinking for everyday life" is now available for download in the Punk Learning shop, on a pay-what-you-can basis. What is the course about, and why should you care? 1. Why does this course exist? Computational thinking is an idea which gets really complex and really ambitious every time I hear other people talk about it. In almost no time at all, the talk goes from "we should all do more computational thinking" to ...
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