What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence, a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it. -- Herbert Simon, Recipient of Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics and the A.M. Turing Award
I've been on a blog hiatus for a while because I thought it would make me more productive/less distracted. As it turns out, it does the opposite. Writing allows me to solidify my thoughts (through creating "physical" artifacts) and gives me a way to let ideas go because I know they're recorded somewhere. It's the "output" side of the equation, the input side being my astonishing reading rate. I didn't realize my reading speed was a working asset until my junior year of college, surprisingly - up 'till then I'd thought it was a handy recreational ability that helped me waste time reading stuff I "wasn't supposed to" (meaning that it wasn't assigned). So I'm back.
Mindblurt the first: personal learning environments for managing individual explorations into "hard" topics.
What's missing from the learning resources we have today? Here's a quote I love from "The Search For Design In Electrical Engineering Education":
"Finally, we didn't realize until mid-stream the importance of having appropriate textbook references available, because otherwise there are so many unanswered questions that frustration easily occurred. When teaching in a “do-learn” fashion, we must give students very good resources to find answers to their questions. We now realize that we need to write a new text-book (or at minimum a set of course notes) that presents the material in a manner appropriate for a “do-learn” subject. Current text books, for example, explain synchronous detectors, but use language that depends on a semester or more of ECE."
Yesterday I met the founders of a great project called e3f (education for everyone everywhere - for free). They're creating a place where people can rank and review learning materials on the web, especially material past the K-12 level - I'm looking forward to seeing where they go! One of the things they discussed was enabling people to eventually build "portfolios" and personal learning environments (PLEs) to keep track of the things they're learning, so I sent them some of the links I've been reading through on PLEs:
- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Personal_Learning_Environment (of course)
- http://www.cetis.ac.uk/members/ple/ - research group at Bolton University
- http://headspacej.blogspot.com/2006/02/personal-learning-environment-model.html - one model for a PLE; I think it contains all the components, but not necessarily in the right organization.
- http://michelemartin.typepad.com/thebambooprojectblog/2007/04/my_personal_lea.html - a walkthrough of one person's PLE
- http://www.elearningeuropa.info/files/media/media11561.pdf - very skimmable paper
Mindblurt the second: Libraries and self-directed learning
I'm also struggling with the relationship between libraries and autodidacts. I know there is one, but what is it? From an email I sent MetaOlin and Dee Magnoni (the head of Olin's library) this morning:
I think of librarians as (among other things) teachers and propagaters of information fluency rather than The People Who Are Really Information Fluent... I'm still struggling to pin down a global and concise definition of "library" and "librarian" - just like it took years for me to summarize "engineer/engineering" as "problem-solver/solving problems."
Not quite sure where this train of thought is going yet. It shall be fun to watch. I feel like I'm drifting away from engineering, but I haven't really - I'm just starting to focus into the domains of using technology to teach, and teaching about technology, and taking a sabbatical to get more of a grounding in education before I jump back into the study of engineering. Someday, somehow, I'm still going to get that second* PhD in EE or CS. At least that's still the plan.
*The first is going to be something related to education, although whether it'll be an education degree, an anthopology degree, or something else entirely is completely up for grabs still. If I want to bridge these two ivory towers, I'd better become part of both of them first.