Archive for November, 2011

The Wisdom of Motivated Crowds

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011

Wikimania 2011 Group Picture flosse 1024x451 The Wisdom of Motivated Crowds

I have been lately thinking a lot the idea of motivated crowds and how the idea could be used in teaching and learning. Firstly, what is a motivated crowd?

In an interview published in the Wikipedia Signpost Umberto Eco makes a difference between wisdom of crowds and wisdom of motivated crowds:

“I don’t quite agree with this. I am a disciple of Peirce, who argues that scientific truths are, ultimately, approved by the community. The slow work of the community, through revisions and errors, as he put it in the nineteenth century, carries out “the torch of truth”. The problem is the definition of truth.

If I were forced to replace “truth” with “crowd”, I would not agree. If you make a statistical analysis of the 6 billion inhabitants of the globe, the majority believes that the Sun revolves around the Earth, there’s nothing you can do. The crowd would be prepared to endorse the wrong answer.”

Some research suggests (see a summary e.g. in the Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowicki) that crowds are good at choosing from a selection of predefined answers but bad in defining problems or to invent solutions. Later in the interview Eco describes the idea of motivated crowds are follows:

“We must therefore find another criterion, which I think is the motivated crowds. People who work on Wikipedia … are not the indiscriminate crowd [but] are the part of the crowd who feels motivated to work with Wikipedia. Here it is: I’d replace the theory of the “wisdom of the crowd” with the theory of the “wisdom of the motivated crowds.” The general crowd says we should not pay taxes; the motivated crowd says that it’s fair to pay them. In fact, it’s not the ditch diggers or illiterates who contribute to Wikipedia, but people who already belong to a cultural crowd for the very fact they’re using a computer.”

This leads us to the second issue: what constitutes motivation?

Steven Reiss has proposed a theory with basic desires that explain human behaviour. In the article Multifaceted Nature of Intrinsic Motivation: The Theory of 16 Basic Desires Reiss (2004) describe the motives behind the desires. These are:

  • Desire to influence (including leadership; related to mastery),
  • Desire for knowledge,
  • Desire to be autonomous,
  • Desire for social standing (including desire for attention),
  • Desire for peer companionship (desire to play),
  • Desire to get even (including desire to compete, to win),
  • Desire to obey a traditional moral code,
  • Desire to improve society (including altruism, justice),
  • Desire to exercise muscles,
  • Desire for sex (including courting),
  • Desire to raise own children,
  • Desire to organize (including desire for ritual),
  • Desire to eat,
  • Desire for approval,
  • Desire to avoid anxiety, fear,
  • Desire to collect, value of frugality

A motivated crowd is a crowd that provide possibilities to full fill these desires in a balanced way.

Nevertheless, when we approach the wisdom of crowds from the motivational point of view, the term crowd starts to loose its original dictionary meaning: “a large number of people gathered together, typically in a disorganized or unruly way” ( Apple OSX Dictionary). The motivated crowds are people gathered together, but as they are driven by motives (to fulfil their desires) they start to organize themselves.

I have been sceptical about the idea of massive open online course (MOOC). I have a theory: many courses (not only the MOOCs) are not motivating because they do not pay enough attention to the participant’s desires.

In a good course students should have the opportunity to practice leadership, gain knowledge, and be autonomous. Students should be provided ways to get social attention and opportunities to play and compete with each other. But this is not enough. Students should have the opportunity to make connections to deep philosophical issues, too: to obey moral codes, improve society and have connections to past and upcoming generations. Students should feel safe and secure and opportunities to take part in rituals, organize themselves, eat and express themselves as sexual beings. Finally, according to Reiss, we also have a desire to exercise muscles. Maybe the idea of school children gymnastics and the Bauhaus’ practice to began lessons with exercises is not that bad idea (I have tried the morning exercises, stretching, yoga, etc. in my lessons).

Aakash $35 tablet: pedagogical affordances and investment advice

Tuesday, November 8th, 2011

Aakash Tablet

The Akash table, designed in India, is expected to be delivered for schools and other education institutions with a price tag of $35 per unit (this is the Indian government’s subsidised price). The Akash is naturally challenging the One Lap Top Per Child project’s XO-laptop and number of other netbooks provided for schools.

I have been critical about the design and development process and some aspects of the pedagogical approaches in the OLPC. After reading the first reviews of the Aakash I am not convinced about their pedagogical design, either. For someone outside, it looks that the Aakash is designed as “generic tablet”, not as a pedagogical tool. In this area, I think, the OLPC’s XO is at least trying to make a real difference.

I am afraid that the Aakash design team did not have anyone thinking about the pedagogy. The main aim has been to deliver a cheap tablet. Maybe that is what is needed, but from research (or innovation) point of view, I do not find it very interesting. Aakash is just a cheap tablet.

Actually, I think that in the Aakash there are probably many usability issues, too. The Aakash comes with a resistive touchscreen. I know that this is a matter of price, but the difference in the user experience between the resistive and capacitive touchscreen (used e.g. in iPad) is a real issue. People want to use thing with their fingertips. I believe that there are biological reason for it: the fingertips contains densest area of nerve endings.

We love to touch things. Pressing and touching feel very different. With a touch we can navigate, move things around, draw with our fingers (most natural way), and write relatively comfortably (with a virtual keyboard). This is the right starting point for a school device. When this is in place, we should think and design another “layer” that could work more like a paper and pen. For instance a cover of a touchscreen could be a “digital paper” on what one could draw and write with a stick, with any stick. The “smart cover” could be even smarter.

The online review also tells tat the Aakash actually does pretty good job with playing video. That is of course nice, but this can be analysed also from the point of view of pedagogical affordance. Is the idea that one could watch educational video programs with the device? Probably. Again OK, but not necessary a priority.

Design is difficult. Designing pedagogical affordances is really difficult. Will we ever get it right?

Here is my advise for schools and parents considering buying new devices for school children:

If you are short of money. Wait. We may get it right (affordable pedagogical tool), soon (in 3-4 years). At this point there is no hurry. You can still carry out quality education with papers, pens, books and maybe some PCs in the corner of the classroom. Invest to teachers, drawing paper, colours and pens, library with books etc.

If you have some money: At first, iInvest to teachers, drawing paper, colours and pens, library with books etc. With ICT budget invest mostly to netbooks with some easy-to-use Linux distribution, eg. EduBuntu. Buy maintenance of the Linux netbooks from a local service provider. If there isn’t any ask your high school students to start one – they can do it. In addition to this, you may also buy couple of iMacs as workstations for more advanced creative work (graphic, audio, video etc). These are pretty maintenance free. Your service provider should be able to take care of them too (they are Unix anyway).

If you have a lot of money: At first, iInvest to teachers, drawing paper, colours and pens, library with books etc. With your ICT budget just get it all: iPad 2s, netbooks with easy-to-use Linux distribution and iMacs for more advanced creative work (graphic, audio, video etc). Buy maintenance from your a local service provider. Again, your students should be able to run it.