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kathy and bert - ideal way to learn?

Pauline McNamara
Sheriff

Joined: Jan 19, 2001
Posts: 4012
    
    6
Hi Kathy and Bert,
Just read the interview with you two in the latest newsletter.
At one point you talk about getting the brain's attention by turning up the dials, then you mention that it's not the ideal way to learn. What would you say is the ideal way to learn? (Aside from having a tiger deliver messages to us just before pouncing...)
Thanks,
Pauline
Kate Head
Ranch Hand

Joined: Oct 31, 2002
Posts: 67
I read the article this morning - I've been following MindMapping and other Advanced Learning Techniques (I'm dreadful at exams!) for some years and the Head (no relation!)First books do seem like a good idea.
Keep up the good work Kathy and Bert (and all the Nitpickers!).
All the best,
Kate!!
John Hembree
hired gun
Ranch Hand

Joined: Mar 07, 2003
Posts: 250

I think your answer might have been included in the article itself:
The bottom line is that the brain learns and remembers most that which causes you to *feel* something.
jason adam
Chicken Farmer ()
Ranch Hand

Joined: May 08, 2001
Posts: 1932
Being an ex-teacher myself, having taken numerous psychology courses (both the abstract cognitive stuff and physiological) along with education courses, not to mention all the workshops on how people learn (ranging from doing some fancy statistical analysis to finding what "color" you are... I always end up being orange, which just happens to be my favorite color), I get very leary of defining the "ideal" way to learn. It's way too subjective; even when dealing with one individual, that person will learn successfully from different methods.
Personally, I have to do it, I'm one of them hands-on learners. Some argue that everyone falls into this category, but that's not always the case. Some of your really oragnized people can read a step-by-step manual that is as dry as no-fat, no-salt crackers and will be able to retain that information and perform the steps perfectly. While others, like myself, throw away the manual and just start mucking around with things.
Simple example, chords to the VCR/DVD/TV. Read through the manual, hadn't a clue as to what I just read. So I started plugging things in, discovered that yellow chords go to yellow ports (wow, what a concept), and then by a process of elimination found the right combination to make things work. If I want to record from the satellite, I still have to swap a few cables, but I know exactly what needs to be done to get it to work. Probably wouldn't have learned that from a book, no matter how many pictures, how many jokes, or how creative it was. Not saying it isn't possible, just not the way I need it to stick.
Same thing with Java, learned most of it by doing. However, now that I've got a bit of experience with it, I can read a book on EJBs, understand the concepts, and then start coding them. Does that supercede the learning from actually doing them? No, but I am learning and retaining the information without having to do it while I'm reading it. The actual doing just reinforces the concepts newly wired into my head.
However, take something related to business/economics. I don't care how great the teacher is, how flashy the textbook, or how many projects I do, my extreme lack of interest in these fields pretty much sets my brain to quickly get through what I need to do, and then quickly forget it. I wouldn't even take these courses unless forced. Setting myself up for failure from the beginning, but that's fine with me when it comes to that stuff.
And then you get some situations where the person will never grasp the concepts, no matter what method you use. Some people just can't learn to do technical stuff, I'm sure we all know a few. They just don't have the capacity, no matter how interested they may be. They might pick up a few bits and pieces here and there, but applying that knowledge escapes them. So they learned a few keywords to throw out during an interview, but not a clue as to how to actually use what it is they are talking about effectively. Is this true learning? Not in my book.
I think this book is a step in the right direction... make that a huge leap. The authors definitely know their stuff, both from a programming perspective and a learning perspective. But I guarantee you there will be people that won't learn from it, in fact may very well be distracted by all the pictures and games and what have you.
The bottom line, in my opinion, is find what works for you and do that. You're the only one who truly can discover the best way for yourself to learn.
Kathy Sierra
Cowgirl and Author
Ranch Hand

Joined: Oct 10, 2002
Posts: 1572
Howdy cattle drivers
- When I said, "it's not the ideal way to learn", I was referring to a book format. So, we did as much as we could work out for a book format. The *ideal* format would still bring people together in some way (even if virtually), although *not* in a traditional classroom with a teacher at the front of the room, and the typical lecture/lab/lecture/lab format.
A traditional classroom environment -- and especially a pure lecture, which is pretty much the *least* efficient / effective way to learn -- is not NEARLY as conducive to learning as a Head First book.
But... a truly experiential environment, where people are interacting together, talking through things out loud, working on projects together, quizzing each other, having fun, figuring things out together (as opposed to the "teacher" trying to deliver new information into their passively-waiting heads), multiple-senses engaged, would, for most people, still be better than what we could do with a printed book. As long as the participants are allowed to still work at a pace that suits them.With even highly-interactive classrooms is that you still have the problem of everyone having to work at the same pace. Many times in a classroom, learners don't have time to process the new content in a deeper way, so they still come out with only surface information. The idea is to get from data to information to knowledge, and that can only happen when people's brains are actively making sense of the new information -- linking it with existing knowledge, constructing new patterns, etc. When people are forced to go at a particular pace, that pace is often not right for them.
You *can* partly overcome this in a classroom, but it requires a lot of dancing and preparation on the facilitator's part. You have to give people a chance to go more slowly than some learners would like, so you have to have a way to keep those quicker folks actively engaged. Boredom is obviously *not* good for learning. So... you can do things with students like have "scalable" labs and exercises, where you have different levels -- a baseline level that you will NOT move forward until everyone has achieved a certain state, and then optional (but really cool!) add-ons / extensions that give people more to work on. But they can't just be pasted-on busywork to give the advanced people something to do. They have to be really interesting and motivating things. If students have to ask, "WHY are we doing this?", you've failed.
OK, so that's one way to have a group learning experience, that *could* -- if all conditions are right -- be potentially better than a book format.
You can get some of this benefit from bringing people together in a virtual way, like with discussion forums like this! Which is also what we plan to do with Head First -- to encourage readers/learners to interact with one another about the content.
So we're planning to give readers a chance to come up with solutions together, through the website for the book. (not up yet, we have exactly 2 1/2 weeks to get it ready before the book starts appearing!)
But if we had to pick an *ideal* format, that could work for the greatest number of people, it would actually be some form of technology-delivered learning. Not like the 90% of CBT or Web-based Training that is just crap, but true, intelligent tutoring systems and interactive simulations, etc. And a few people really do know how to make this happen. Roger Schank, long-time AI guru, and now an expert in "Learning Sciences", probably knows more about this than anyone, and has managed to build things that could change the way so much learning occurs. We are a big fan of his, and have used some of his research in the Head First book.
But yes, it can all be summarized in that notion of "that which causes you to *feel* something". Anything offered in a dry, dull, or not personally-motivating way has a very hard time making it past your brain's "This Must Not Be Important" filters. Neurobiologists have found that a large part of the chemical processes related to memory are actually related to PREVENTING memory. In other words, your brain is actively working at STOPPING you from encoding new things. We'd go crazy if we processed everything. So you are in a constant struggle with your brain to try to convince it that something is meaningful to you. But your brain says, "You can't fool ME... I can TELL that this isn't meaningful." So you have to do sometihng to convince your brain that you really do *care* about this.
If something is entertaining, engaging, motivating, funny, shocking, surprising, sexy, scary (but not in a bad, stressful way -- because stress is the one thing you do NOT want to feel if you want your brain to work for you), unusual, interesting, etc. your brain is more likely to notice, because you are experiencing subtle physical changes that the brain is sensitive to. Also, your brain is tuned for two things in particular:
* visuals (most humans take in 80-90% of their information visually)
* novelty (your brain is always scanning, on the lookout for something unusual)
And it doesn't have to be anything dramatic.
OK, I'll step off my soapbox now
I'd love to continue this discussion any time, so don't hesitate to write -- here if its appropriate, or to me directly.
(kathy.sierra@wickedlysmart.com)
cheers,
Kathy
jason adam
Chicken Farmer ()
Ranch Hand

Joined: May 08, 2001
Posts: 1932
Excellent post Kathy, it's nice to see that you are truly dedicated to helping people learn, not just to write a book.
You touched on a point that I found mildly amusing while taking courses in education, and that is the dreaded lecture. The teachers preached repeatedly that lecturing to students should be the last way to plan an assignment, yet they themselves did nothing but lecture! As you stated, I think this is mostly because lectures are the easiest way to go in terms of planning, in that everyone is doing the same thing at the same time, just sitting and listening. For some teachers, having an open-ended, student-directed lesson plan not only takes more work, but is a frightning concept because of a perceived lack of "control".
But I've been in classes, from the elementary level to college, where breaking the class into groups to work on a project or a lab actually distresses some students. Some people actually want to sit and take notes and listen to the teacher all day long. For them, that's the "best" way to learn.
Looking forward to the results of y'alls efforts.
PS - still hoping a Java meetup will happen for us Denver area folks, but doesn't seem likely
[ May 09, 2003: Message edited by: jason adam ]
Matt Cao
Ranch Hand

Joined: Apr 03, 2003
Posts: 715
Hi Kathy,
Different folk have different yolks, people may said whatever they want but I think you are on into the different methodology of teaching gearing toward adult. I recognize there are many methods outthere all appealing to certain sector of readers. Let's see "For Dummies", "In the NutShell", and "Cookbook" name to a few. Why's not "HeadFirst"? The last time I have seen this similar concept when I was in grade school.
Next step have audio book? People could listen to while commuting or while practice programming. Would that be wild, a recipe for aspiring executives? One have to force the brain to listen, to read, to code, and above all tune out the external distractions. It should have a catchy name like "Zen Java" or "Java in Nirvada."

Thanks,
MCao
Donald R. Cossitt
buckaroo
Ranch Hand

Joined: Jan 31, 2003
Posts: 401
Jason;

And then you get some situations where the person will never grasp the concepts, no matter what method you use. Some people just can't learn to do technical stuff, I'm sure we all know a few. They just don't have the capacity, no matter how interested they may be. They might pick up a few bits and pieces here and there, but applying that knowledge escapes them. So they learned a few keywords to throw out during an interview, but not a clue as to how to actually use what it is they are talking about effectively. Is this true learning? Not in my book.

I often wonder this about myself with OOP. Trying to understand that an object can be it's own grandmother gives me a headache. But, like you, I am a learn by doing; over and over and over and over. Then about the time I want to quit BOOM! a light goes off and I get it. But, I am also very visual, I MUST have an example; then I tweak & poke untile I can get it to do what I want; text only just will not work for me. Then, trouble is with technology, by the time 'I' got it - it changed.
doco
[ May 09, 2003: Message edited by: Donald R. Cossitt ]

doco
Pauline McNamara
Sheriff

Joined: Jan 19, 2001
Posts: 4012
    
    6
I should be typing away at a final paper due next week, but since it's a course on online education and training I figure I can allow myself the distraction...
Thanks for the answer Kathy. Aside from my own personal experiences, this how-we-learn-best stuff is relatively new to me and I find it fascinating. Lucky me, my job lets me get into it too (tech support and development for courses delivered over internet). So what you say here is especially interesting for me:

But if we had to pick an *ideal* format, that could work for the greatest number of people, it would actually be some form of technology-delivered learning. Not like the 90% of CBT or Web-based Training that is just crap, but true, intelligent tutoring systems and interactive simulations, etc. And a few people really do know how to make this happen. Roger Schank, long-time AI guru, and now an expert in "Learning Sciences", probably knows more about this than anyone, and has managed to build things that could change the way so much learning occurs. We are a big fan of his, and have used some of his research in the Head First book.


Do you have any favorite articles/links/etc to any of Roger Schank's stuff?

Ride 'em,
Pauline
Pauline McNamara
Sheriff

Joined: Jan 19, 2001
Posts: 4012
    
    6
Another comment before getting my butt back to work...
If something is entertaining, engaging, motivating, funny, shocking, surprising, sexy, scary (but not in a bad, stressful way -- because stress is the one thing you do NOT want to feel if you want your brain to work for you)...
A few years ago when I was going through a series of exams, a popular topic of discussion was what helps you prepare for the exam (not, of course, the actual material covered in the exams ). One interesting idea that I heard was that when we have to just reproduce something in an exam situation (not necessarily learn it for recall *after* the test), we can better recall things that we learned while we were in a state similar to the state we're in when we take the exam. So, if while we're preparing for the test we *feel* like we will during the test, i.e. the usual stressed shaking-in-our-boots, the things we stuffed into our heads in that state will come back more readily during the exam stress. If, for some strange reason, someone is a calm test-taker, what they learned in a calm state will be more easily recalled during their calm testing time. If my memory serves me well it had something to do with neural pathways and which ones are "available for transport" when.
When I first read about the principles behind Head First, I thought maybe this might have been related. Yet I don't think it really fits with what you say about stress not getting our brains to work for us. Maybe my brain is twisting together ideas that don't necessarily go together, like Studying for a Test and Real Learning?
Pauline McNamara
Sheriff

Joined: Jan 19, 2001
Posts: 4012
    
    6
Another question for the cowgirl (after this post I'm going to have to pull the cable out of the computer and *really* get back to work)
Recently someone recommended a title by Richard Mayer to me. Do you have an opinion of his work?
....
Maybe I need to make another coffee before getting back to that paper... sigh.
Kathy Sierra
Cowgirl and Author
Ranch Hand

Joined: Oct 10, 2002
Posts: 1572
Howdy all,
You brought up some great points... all of you. I'll respond to a couple of them here.
Let's see... Pauline, I believe there *are* some important differences between learning to DO versus learning to PASS THE EXAM. Although those two goals overlap (we hope in a very large way), there are times when -- for the exam -- you need rote memorization of facts that you would otherwise refer to in a reference book. In most cases, a deeper understanding of the content is more useful for an exam than a good recall of facts, because with a deep understanding you can figure out the answers to problems and scenarios and code examples that you've never seen before.
On the cert exams, people with strong memorization of the facts but only a surface understanding will often be thrown off by questions that are only slightly different from the mock exam questions they studied.
But... people who become, say, very proficient Java programmers cannot pass the exam without raw memorization of those things that they never use, and probably never will!
So the Head First EJB cert book will be different from the Head First Java (an intro to Java, not a cert study guide) book, because of the additional emphasis on improving retention and recall. The memory stuff is not a replacement for the deeper understanding, but is an addition, added on to support someone who needs to know not just how to do and think about EJB, but also how to pass the exam.
And it is true that some learning / memorization can become linked ('anchored') to other things. So we recommend, for example, that when studying for the exam, you don't always study in the same place. That way your learning will be independent of a specific location, so that when you're in the exam room, you aren't thrown off. On the other hand, you *can* use this to your advantage. Maybe wearing the same shirt when you study, that you can then wear into the exam room. It might have some *small* benefit to do that. But hey, sometimes that extra point or two is exactly what you need. When I first studied for the SCJP, I always carried a stuffed "Duke" (the Java mascot) with me. I took it into the exam room (I can't believe I just admitted that). Even if my learning wasn't anchored to that Duke toy, at least I felt more comfortable in the room, and being more relaxed will ALWAYS help you in the exam.
There is good stress and bad stress. Good stress can help you learn, but that's the stress that comes with the excitement of a challenge, something you know will be difficult but that -- and this is the key -- you are UP TO. In other words, you have to believe that you can do it. When the stress comes from feeling overwhelmed, stupid, unable to do it, etc. -- then memory and learning are harmed. The chemistry of bad stress works against learning. So if you're teaching, anything you can do to make people feel relaxed and that, "yes, this is tricky stuff, but you will absolutely be able to do this."
A lot of people feel stressed because they think they are the only ones who aren't 'getting it'. Or that they shouldn't be confused. One of the things I try to do in the classroom, and in the Head First book, is to always let people know when it is OK -- and normal -- to feel confused! On some topics, I wasn't able to say it all in one page in a way that would make perfect sense, so we would even have a character on the next page who looks completely confused and says, "What did you just say?"
Another phenomena in the classroom is that many people are afraid to ask questions. So they hope and hope that someone ELSE will ask the question that they have. In the book, we have sections in every chapter titled "There are No Dumb Questions", where we ask the questions that students so often ask, even if they seem obvious and silly. We don't make very many assumptions in this book, because that's something I personally HATE about a lot of books. They make a statement without explaining it, assuming that it made perfect sense the way they explained it. We assume, on the other hand, that most of what we say does NOT make perfect sense after one clear sentence. So we say the same thing in multiple ways, and using different techniques. There is redundancy, but not repetition. We say that same thing in multiple ways, not by repeating the same thing, the same way, over and over.
Another key point that's been mentioned several times in this thread is individual learning styles/preferences. This is important in many ways, which we try to exploit in Head First (I'll explain in a moment). But even taking into account the uniqueness of each brain, there *are* attributes common to all humans -- things like:
* Our brain is tuned to process most information visually. Everyone's brain.
* Our brain is tuned for novelty. It is always seeking that which is unusual, unexpected.
Plus, some folks think a particular style is a valid way to learn simply because they managed to learn that way in SPITE of how sub-optimal it was. Like people will insist how much they learned from a lecture, without realizing that they could have learned so much more... and more quickly and deeply... in another way.
Having said that, everyone's brain IS unique and there can be a wide range of perferences. This was really a big consideration for the Head First format -- there was a lot of research on this about 10 years ago, when people were building "adaptive" CBT programs. We all imagined that the learning needed to be in the learner's own preferred style. So we did what was called "over-authoring", where you create content for learning a particular topic in multiple ways, not just one. It was speculated that this would only serve to distract everyone... but they found just the opposite. People would naturally be drawn to the styles that they preferred, AND when multiple styles were offered, people learned BETTER than if the entire learning was presented in their preferred style alone. So, you want people to have their preferred style, but layering in other styles enhances EVERYONE's learning.
In Head First we're somewhat limited, because it is a printed book, but we rely heavily on over-authoring. Nearly all of the information in the book is presented in several different ways -- the same content. Everything from right-brain stories and metaphors and patterns to left-brain bullet points and step-by-step sequencing.
And everything is supported by both pictures and text. The ratio of pictures to text is vastly different from a traditional book, however.
We try to use other senses, but that's difficult. The hands-on exercises are meant to be done right inside the book, workbook style. The *games* are optional, and only at the very end of the chapter. They are there for people who like them, on the assumption that "more time on task" is always a good thing.
We don't have anything auditory, but we do a "poor-man's audio" by including rhymes and a lot of thought-bubbles over the heads of characters, where you can "hear" them talking out loud. This isn't ideal, but a lot of people will "hear" these things in their head because they are pictures of people talking, or the rhymes, and that still offers a chance that the info will be coded in more than just a text or visual way.
Gotta talk to O'Reilly about the scratch-n-sniff for the next book (just kidding)
Now, will *everyone* learn from the book? No. We figure some people will hate it -- and hate it with passion! And they will hate it without ever even giving it a chance, from a learning perspective. Hating it doesn't mean you won't remember Think of all the things you WISH you couldn't remember...
For one thing, though, the book has a definite personality style, and that -- much more than learning style -- will turn some people off. The book was absolutely geared for a younger, hipper audience than your father's text book. It is kind of a wired-meets-MTV-meets Dick-and-Jane workbook. And there is a little edginess to it that some people won't like. It's actually much more tame than we had originally planned, but still... it has a photo of a girl in a bathtub discussing polymorphism, and there are a few implied (but not explicit) swear words, for example.
Some people may even find that personally offensive. But think about it -- I came under fire for javaranch, many times, because people said "You aren't taking Java seriously."! Those people will hate it. Some people believe humour is a distraction. In reality, it can be extremely beneficial for learning.
In America, though, because most people aren't given any training in learning, they *believe* that things are distracting in a bad way, when in reality these distractions are actually enhancing their learning. Xerox Parc did a lot of research on this -- where they studied how much certain distractions actually *improved* learning! Counter-intuitive, I know, but there is a basis for it. Most of it has to do with simply waking the brain up by changing the pace, instead of a relentless march of pure technical content.
So, you might be annoyed by something, yet still learn better from it. But if someone hates the Head First format and style, as we know some people will, they probably shouldn't get near it.
Some people will dismiss it as just "pasted in clip-art distractions". There is, I'm sorry to say, a tiny bit of that. But VERY little. 95% of the visuals/pictures in the book are there to support the learning. So if you just flip through the book without really looking at it, you might think, "Oh lots of pictures and people and fun stuff, but where's the meat?" Without realizing that these things ARE the meat.
The Roger Schank book I most recommend is :
world class e-learning book amazon link
In fact, if I could recommend only one book for people developing courses of any kind (not just elearning), that would be the book.
But if you google him, you'll find other interesting things
If you're from a CS background, then you might already be familiar with his older AI work, which I also love.
OK, a couple of other comments... someone mentioned that getting people to work in groups together can be stressful for some people. Yes! That's absolutely true. A human instructor has to be very sensitive to that, and there are ways to introduce people into working in groups in the most non-threatening way. You can't put people on the spot, or draw attention to them, unless they are comfortable with this. But if done well, it can be helpful to take someone just a little beyond their comfort zone, as long as they do not become stressed. Many instructors are not capable of doing this, and a lecture is often the safest thing for them to do. This is also culturally-specific as well -- although not quite as much as many people believe.
But that's why I am a huge fan of e-Learning, because you can have the best of both worlds. People can interact together, yet at their own pace and without feeling threatened. If done right, I believe that this could be the "ideal" learning scenario for the greatest number of people. It is still missing the important aspect of people talking through things out loud, although in our book we tell people to do this. We can't make them do it though.
This talking out loud thing is a classic programmer trick, some people call it "Teddy Bear Programming" where if you don't have someone around, you prop a teddy bear (or pet) in front of you and start explaining the situation. More often than not, this leads to a solution -- even though the teddy bear obviously didn't actually SAY anything (and if it did... I would like the number of your pharmacist but just the act of speaking it out loud triggers previously-untapped parts of your brain, for working on that issue.
OK, that's more rambling than you ever wanted
Back to work now, thank-you to all for this discussion. I love it!
cheers,
Kathy
Johannes de Jong
tumbleweed
Bartender

Joined: Jan 27, 2001
Posts: 5089
agree with Kathy you are either going to love the book or you are going to hate it, where will be no in between.
Its a pity however that quite a few people will not even bother to attempt to read it after browsing through it. Their "hate" will thus be immediate, if however they take the time get to know the 'girl" they might actually fall deeply in love
Kathy & Bert has as their target audience the younger generation but as an old fart myself I'm quite convinced that it (Head First Java) is the perfect book to train old procedural programmers new tricks. I for one will "promote" the book as such. Everybody that I meet with my background that struggles with Java (& this OO thing) will get my "sales" pitch.
Yes Tom was right when he said that I was a groupie, but heck it sure is easy being one of the "Head First way"
I'm very interested how the "Head First way" will work in the class-room & e-learning environments. Personally I believe that before the actual "class-room" starts there should be quite a bit of preperation by the students.
jason adam
Chicken Farmer ()
Ranch Hand

Joined: May 08, 2001
Posts: 1932
I soooo wish this sort of approach was adopted more when I was starting to learn the language. Heck, the book alone would have been a huge improvement over the ones that were out there.
My e-learning experiences have been dreadful. The classes were pretty much centered around a forum, and people were randomly put into groups and told to do a fairly rigidly-defined project. Being active here at the Ranch, I naturally wanted to get into some good discussions/debates about various topics related to the course. Most, if not all, of the rest of the students posted the minimum amount that the class required, and that was it. The group work was horrible, I guess people felt that because it wasn't classroom based, that they didn't need to put in as much effort. Drove me nuts.
I applaud your efforts, and really look forward to delving further into your approach, and into the research y'all have so thoroughly done!
Heck, you even motivated JdJ to come visit us, it's gotta be good
Jason
[ May 12, 2003: Message edited by: jason adam ]
Johannes de Jong
tumbleweed
Bartender

Joined: Jan 27, 2001
Posts: 5089
Heck, you even motivated JdJ to come visit us, it's gotta be good.
Jason, to quote Paul Wheaton, "I wanted the ten horseshoes to be defined as "you can have this book when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers". see
This is the 1st techie book that I'll award Paul's "rating".
But please note the book will only appeal to a certain type of person !!!
Not eveybody loves bundgy jumping
Amy Phillips
Ranch Hand

Joined: Apr 02, 2003
Posts: 280
This book sounds greater than great! I can't wait to get my copy. I have been using Teach Yourself Java by Deitel and Deitel and yes i'm sure it teaches you loads but it is drier than dust.
I have recently embarked on the ambitious task of trying to read it, normally I just flick to a useful example and work from that but having recently joined the Cattle drive I am trying to learn some of the rules too. Now 3 chapters in and things are looking bad as we seem to jump between advanced java and the basics randomly. There is no doubt they are very skilled programmers but I'm not totally convinced about their style of teaching.
Might just give up and wait for the Head First java to be published
Pauline McNamara
Sheriff

Joined: Jan 19, 2001
Posts: 4012
    
    6
My e-learning experiences have been dreadful. The classes were pretty much centered around a forum, and people were randomly put into groups and told to do a fairly rigidly-defined project. Being active here at the Ranch, I naturally wanted to get into some good discussions/debates about various topics related to the course. Most, if not all, of the rest of the students posted the minimum amount that the class required, and that was it. The group work was horrible, I guess people felt that because it wasn't classroom based, that they didn't need to put in as much effort. Drove me nuts.
I'm just finishing an online course that was also heavily based on discussion forums. After reviewing how it all went, I see that there were big differences from week to week. Fortunately, the last few weeks I was in a group that really gelled and we all ended up contributing beyond the minimum simply because the discussions were so interesting.
Doing group projects is a challenge whatever the means of communication, but virtual collaboration has to be the hardest. We had a few weeks of that too, and they marked the low point of the course for me. I feel your pain.
So much depends on the group. And whatever it is you have to do together, I think, really has an impact on whether real conversations happen or not. Requiring minimum posting seems necessary, and it seems like getting a juicy topic to discuss makes a big difference too. Plus the group has to feel a little familiar with eachother. (Takes time to interpret all those smileys correctly. ) I think it makes sense that, in my course, we kind of knew eachother better by the time the fun topics came up at the end, so it worked.
Of course, the Cattle Drive is the standard against which all online courses get compared.
Mapraputa Is
Leverager of our synergies
Sheriff

Joined: Aug 26, 2000
Posts: 10065
Kathy, thanks for recommending Roger Schank books. My reading list is updated.
What are other books about learning that you found useful? Tell us the whole list.
Alistair Cockburn in "Agile Software Development" recommends two "obscure and interesting" books, "Sketches of Thought" by Vinod Goel and "Situated Learning" by Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger.
This is from "Sketches of Thought" book description:
"Many cognitive processes lie beyond articulate, discursive thought, beyond the reach of current computational notions. This text argues that the cognitive computational conception of the world requires our thought processes to be precise, rigid, discrete and unambiguous, and yet there are dense, ambiguous, and amorphous symbol systems, such as sketching, painting and poetry, found in the arts and everyday discourse that have an important place in cognition."
Paul Graham develops similar ideas in his last article "Hackers and Painters":
"For example, I was taught in college that one ought to figure out a program completely on paper before even going near a computer. I found that I did not program this way. I found that I liked to program sitting in front of a computer, not a piece of paper. Worse still, instead of patiently writing out a complete program and assuring myself it was correct, I tended to just spew out code that was hopelessly broken, and gradually beat it into shape. Debugging, I was taught, was a kind of final pass where you caught typos and oversights. The way I worked, it seemed like programming consisted of debugging.
For a long time I felt bad about this, just as I once felt bad that I didn't hold my pencil the way they taught me to in elementary school. If I had only looked over at the other makers, the painters or the architects, I would have realized that there was a name for what I was doing: sketching. As far as I can tell, the way they taught me to program in college was all wrong. You should figure out programs as you're writing them, just as writers and painters and architects do."
But this topic was already covered by Jason Adam
Etienne Wenger has another book, "Communities of Practice". Did you read it? Is it good?
[ May 16, 2003: Message edited by: Mapraputa Is ]

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I agree. Here's the link: http://aspose.com/file-tools
 
subject: kathy and bert - ideal way to learn?