Remember Sammy Jankis

Today’s class on Cognitive Theory, in particular, the discussion about cognitive information processing, had me thinking about the movie Memento

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If you haven’t seen the movie, and think you would still like to, I will try not to spoil it too much. But I will have to discuss the salient points from just the early part of the film so if you would like to shy away, then feel free to do so.

Still here? Good. let’s talk about Leonard Shelby. Leonard, the protagonist in the film, has suffered a terrible trauma and is thus afflicted with Anterograde amnesia: “a selective memory deficit, resulting from brain injury, in which the individual is severely impaired in learning new information.” (Myers, 2006, para.1) We discussed how the brain takes very little time to decide what information to move into long term memory and what to discard. In the movie, Leonard is unable to process short term memories into long term memory. He can remember events from before the traumatic event, but cannot make new memories since. A real shame, as he has thoroughly embraced the idea of tracking down his wife’s killer.

ImageBecause he can only remember facts anywhere from about 30 seconds to a couple of minutes at a stretch, he must resort to taking polaroid photographs, writing notes to himself, and tattooing the key clues to his wife’s murder on his body. He befriends a police detective who is also trying to help, albeit with tongue in cheek. Leonard is certainly not a professional investigator, and with his disability seems to be getting nowhere. But Leonard forges on, firmly of the belief that one day revenge will be his, and yes, it will be sweet.

This brings to mind not just our discussion of cognitive theory, but of that little ‘devil in the details’, gathering data in research. Leonard Shelby’s quest is driven purely by facts. The clues he gathers must be immediately written down and catalogued, as they are his only way to coherently put together a history. His ‘research’ is tattooed all over his chest and arms. His references are jotted on cocktail napkins, bar coasters, matchbooks and polaroid photographs. But slowly he is working on solving his question. And once he has it figured out, his intention is to murder his wife’s killer.

How would Leonard’s research methodology hold up in the real world? Would this method bear fruit? Not likely. In Leonard’s case, any new knowledge he gathers disappears after a couple of minutes. His only way of maintaining custody of the information is to commit it to writing. Can this be any way to proceed with something of such grave consequence? Someone should share some research methodologies with him. Not that he would remember them, anyway.

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References

Myers, Catherine A. (2006). Anterograde Amnesia. Memory Loss and the Brain. Retrieved from http://www.memorylossonline.com/glossary/anterogradeamnesia.html

Images copyright Newmarket Films

Social media in the classroom

Of particular interest to me right now, and what may end up being a fascinating research topic is the use of social media in the classroom. I’m not sure the term ‘digital native’ is as accurate or appropriate as some might think, but in my experience, there are many learners in my classes that are using social sites such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and others to communicate with their peers. From a research perspective, we can’t say many. We have to ask, “how many?”, “how often?”, or more appropriately, “Is there anything to be gained from it?”

The epistemological implications need to go beyond just how social media is being used in the class, to some sort of reporting of any benefit to learning. It is fine for instructors or facilitators to make the class ‘cool’ by using these resources, but if it isn’t bringing improvements to learning, it may be increasing the facilitator’s workload for no reason. ImageI know in my program, that by setting up a facebook page for our students (in our face to face classes), as a forum for posting interesting articles, discussion topics, and class information, our contact with the students has improved. The students are online so often, that even last minute room changes are appropriate posted there, than via more traditional means.

This blog is an example of a school assignment, and it was assigned with specific criteria. While it may be a valid project for learning, a facilitator would have to be careful to guide the use of social media, if it were to be expected to be successful at contributing towards student success at meeting or exceeding learning outcomes. Of course, this is just speculation based on my personal experience with a certain group of students. But I do think it would be interesting to study the addition of a social site to work alongside more traditional online learning portals such as D2L or Moodle.

The beatings will continue until morale improves…

Motivational Theory. As learners, where and how do we get the drive to move forwards? At this moment, one week into my Master’s residency, I feel highly motivated. I want to be here, I’m enjoying being here, and I want to be successful, for a number of reasons. Of course, over time, this feeling may change, as it does for all of us.Motivation

I have been thinking about motivation and comparing it to theories we discussed in class. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs makes a lot of sense, as do a number of other theories that Lisa presented. (By the way, who did Maslow have to pay to get so popular? Maslow this, Maslow that… enough already!)  Out of all of them, I am particularly interested in MacClelland’s 3 need theory. The concept of putting needs across a spectrum and having the ‘middle’ of the chart represent the ideal is appealing to me—and seems to align to my own philosophical beliefs.

The other thought that comes to mind in studying motivation, is the idea of people being ‘motivated’ to participate in research, and by this I mean at the subject level. As we have been discussing using both surveys and interviews towards answering research questions, I am struck that we need study participants to be motivated to give their opinion. How is that possible when everyone already claims to be busy or overloaded, and nobody wants to get involved? When telephone pollsters call me, my standard line is, “I’m sorry, I don’t do surveys.” (This works, by the way, and I prefer it to just ‘hanging up’, which to me, always feels rude.) 

But now, I am placed in the position of planning to do research to finish my degree. How am I going to motivate people to participate? And even more importantly, what methods of motivation won’t inadvertently skew the results? 

The Tao of research?

When we are doing research, are we asking questions to study and document how the world actually exists, or in doing research, are we calling into existence our perception of world, as viewed through our questions?

This question may sound more appropriate in a study of philosophy, but as we discussed today, is equally relevant in the world of research. The ability to adhere to critical thinking and objective researching is of ultimate importance. In the realm of both qualitative and quantitative study, facts and numbers can be represented in a myriad of ways, often resulting in the opportunity for confusion, or even a misunderstanding of what was measured.

Take quantitative study, for instance. It can be thought of as being ‘more scientific’, immutable, and authoritative, but one needs to remember that a ‘measurement’ is simply an arbitrary number applied to an observable constant.

The Zen/Taoist philosopher Alan Watts (1995) describes an imaginary scene of an ancient fisherman floating on the ocean in his fishing boat. As he looks back at the shoreline and the mountains, the man holds up a fishing net and looks at the hills through it, counting their height; “One, two, three, four, five. The mountain is five squares high!” he declares. His desire to quantify his environment is appealing. But in this simplistic example, does he really have the mountain’s number (p.86)? Of course, most of us recognize that his system of measurement is seriously flawed. What size is the net? How far was the mesh from his eyes? How far was the ship from shore? How many other variables did he fail to account for, that even we, as modern people, have the ability to overlook?

Although this seems a silly example, I am intrigued by the challenge of attaining ‘real’ data when our entire ability to describe the world with language and numbers is simply a construct we have developed for describing the very world we desire to measure! Ask the mountain how many feet high it is, and it will laugh at you. People developed the measure, not the world. Naturally, if enough of us follow an established set of rules for ‘measuring mountains’, then our numbers will equate, and our folly will pay off.

In my past experience, I have witnessed many occasions where people were in conflict or at odds with each other over a topic or concept that either side had thought resolute, explicit, and crystal clear, only to later realize they were talking at cross-purposes, and had completely misunderstood the issue.

Therefore, when committing to a research project, it would behoove us to make sure to remember the vagaries of language and measurement, and to make sure we are being critical in our thoughts and assumptions of what is being studied. In this way, others may benefit from the results of the study. Without it, we are just arbitrarily counting squares in a fishing net.

References:

Watts, A. (1995). The Tao of philosophy the edited transcripts. Boston: C.E. Tuttle.

Ready to learn

This is the beginning of the online blog for Ken Jeffery, submitted for the residency component of the RRU MA in Learning and Technology, 2012.

Orientation, trepidation, acclimation.
Time to get to it. I’ve been in the midst of interviewing instructors for our Diploma program at the Institute, and although I had booked the time off, I had to go in to work on Monday to  interview our last potential candidate. With that done, I can now seriously tackle my studies. Spent most of the first day just orienting myself to the assignments, readings, and posts on the Moodle site, and finding an easy way to move articles and readings onto my iPad for easier reading.

Less trepidation, getting down to business.
I expect a busy six weeks, and am glad to have aligned some holiday time to be able to immerse myself in graduate-level studies. By the time I go back to teaching in late August, I expect I will have completed the first two courses of the program, including the two week residency. I have already exchanged posts with fellow classmates and faculty, and I look forward to meeting and working with these fine people as the program proceeds.

Critical self-reflection.
I am very interested in looking deeper into my own learning, in order to understand how it relates to teaching others. I expect to find that who I am at the front of the class relates to how I would like to be taught as a learner. For now, this sounds like it may be a very simplistic assumption, but I’m eager to see if this might be the case. Critical self-reflection, indeed!