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Charles Leadbeater and David Runciman interview clips (Video): generation gaps and learning with the web

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Dan Biddle Dan Biddle | 11:43 UK time, Thursday, 24 September 2009

More interview rushes arriving from the filming sessions last week; these clips very much around the theme of education and learning between the generations.

Previous guest blogs from Baroness Susan Greenfield, Nicholas Carr and David Nicholas have raised concerns for the effects the web is having upon people's brains and their learning abilities. Here Charles Leadbeater offers an alternative vision of the future of young people's minds and learning in the context of the digital revolution:

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In contrast to this, Dr David Runciman considers the potential pitfalls in education produced by the digital revolution - specifically with regard to his fears for the demise of books in the learning process of younger generations:

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And talking of generations - this clip from Charles Leadbeater's interview will really test the age of its viewers. Do you find yourself nodding to sweet (or rueful) memories of times gone by, or shaking your head in disbelief that life could ever have been this way...?

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  • Comment number 1.

    Charles Leadbeater, a voice of sanity. I hold the belief that education up to 1st degree level, is the process of learning how to learn. Which is why what that actual subject degree is can have a limited bearing on the working career path of the holder. I agree with his idea that children and young people use the web as part of learning to learn and that formal lessons in school are mostly of the rote kind. This explains, for me, the need for the education process to include the different teaching/learning styles as mentioned in my comments on MBTI elsewhere in these blogs. Oh, and the pressing need for infant classrooms to be equipped with state of the art technology, those children are not afraid to use it but the purse controlling adults are.

    Yeay too for his views on the responsibility of youngsters and how they network, for boys especially the web has given them the ability to converse in a much more meaningful way.

    Those memories about having a limited use of the telephone at home, ours was the family business line too, so no long chats during my teenage years either.

    Maybe Dr David Runciman needs to live through this change in the availability of information on the web a bit longer. I would suggest that almost all academic papers and reports are submitted for peer review, conference presentation and publication online these days. Indeed are not all highly esteemed Academic Journals available online by subscription thus enabling research by those very academics to happen with less and less need for books. The start of the internet for them was JANET after all.

    I understand from University Librarian 'friends' on Twitter there is an upcoming Conference:
    Internet Librarian International 2009 on 15 &16 October 2009, Workshops 14 October, at Novotel London West, London, UK

    I think judging from comments made to me and what I've read about the Keynote Speakers, Conference Chairs and the topics being discussed etc that BBCDigRev may get some extremely useful soundbites and ideas for more than one of the programmes from interviewing people there.

  • Comment number 2.

    I posted this on the 'Fast Food' page and will repeat here:

    I love to read but in certain cases I'm mindful of the adage, "A picture says a thousand words." I've seen this innovation which will combine future e-books with embeddable videos so we may end up with the best of all worlds: literacy and dynamic pictures:

    * https://www.futureofthebook.org/sophie/download/demo_books/

    Anyone interested can read the Gettysburg Address there, :*)!

    Re. SOPHIE it's built with the Squeak language. This is originally derived from Alan Kay and Adele Goldberg's work in smalltalk and is an example of the genius that can be generated when male and female minds collaborate.

    Think of it like a cross between InDesign, which is what most newspapers and magazine layout specialists use, and the book images Jamie Oliver and Nigel Slater use on their food programs. There's a picture of what the dish should look like, formal ingredients and then their handwritten notes.

    Except that Sophie is about dynamic content rather than a static image.

    With SOPHIE we can have blocks of text, embed videos, annotate notes onto the page and layout the content as it suits our tastes. Additionally, we can save different versions of it so it comes a dynamic and organic book where we can retrace previous amendments to each page.

    Now imagine a Kindle version of SOPHIE reader with 'Harry Potter'. We would still have JK Rowling's words. On some pages we'd have video embeds showing the Warner Brothers' movie of it. We'd have some handwritten notes from various readers on how they much they like / dislike a character or a passage, for example. Then also we might have a version of how we would re-imagine the text or the audiovisuals.

    THAT would quite seriously develop the reading, comprehension, contextualization and imagination of youngsters in an innovative media synergy, in my view.

  • Comment number 3.

    I can't relate to Charles Leadbeater's recollection about telephones because I'm definitely of a younger generation. However. I do 100% agree with his statement about youngsters today using technology more SENSIBLY than adult critics give them credit for.

    Yes, there does need to be some guidance from adults about key issues on privacy, how certain content can affect their future employment prospects, ways to avoid social network pressures / bullying etc. (e.g., on pro-anorexia sites).

    Nonetheless, instead of patronizing youngsters about how the Web is supposedly damaging their brains, reading ability, social skills, etc it makes more sense to:

    (1.) Respect ad nurture their intelligence and curiosity in positive ways.

    (2.) Direct them towards teen technology role models they might want to aspire towards --- like the entrepreneurs or innovators or people changing systems for the better (e.g., online charity donations to reputable organizations like UNICEF).

    (3.) Provide them with information about safe Web usage and lists of recommended sites for educational materials that are relevant to their national exams, curriculum and future careers.

    As I mentioned, I've been using computers since pre-teen and surfing for longer than Google's existence. If people follow my comments it's clear that the Web didn't make me lose any ability to read, concentrate or contextualize. It actually helps me to synergize and understand more clearly because it provides access to others who can sanity-check me and share their wisdoms about content what I should and could be discovering, reading, hearing AND watching.

  • Comment number 4.

    LOL and typos aplenty as my brain zooms faster than my fingers can type!

  • Comment number 5.

    Person_Not_A_Bot. Would you consider yourself a typical or average representative of your generation? I suspect you're not; you represent the elite (that word again) of your generation perhaps?

    I like PNAB's idea of the SOPHIE (multimedia) approach on a PDF reader such as Kindle. Different people like to consume media and messages in different ways, so a varied approach is likely to appeal to a wider range of people. My wish-list would include text to speech (better still an audio book option), the ability to make notes and web connectivity.

    To continue thinking about the merits of video vs print from the Fast Information For The Fast Food Generation blog entry.

    If the DigRev team produced a book based on their series the book would be more comprehensive; interviews could be transcribed in full rather than reduced to short clips, themes could be explored more deeply, the history of the web be more detailed and so on.
    Presenting visually means simplifying, truncating; that which is visual takes precedence over the more conceptual.
    As most film adaptations demonstrate something is lost in the translation from book to screen.
    Could, say, John Roberts 1300 page History of the World be done fully in video or TV format? It could be attempted but I doubt it would (or could) convey the detail the book does. (Or his insights and wit.)

    Video on the Internet can be a powerful means of communication as the TED lectures demonstrate:
    But these are recordings of lectures given in front of an audience; it is up to the presenter to find ways of making the visual aspect add to the effectiveness of the material they're conveying. The video is just recording the event.

    The Open University now also has a channel on YouTube.
    and includes video/DVD materials to its students.
    Open University: Open Learning Resources

    However, I can read a web page or book, I can scan over it and pick out what's important to me. With a video I cannot scan (I can jump fwrds/bckwrds, but that means I pass over something). I must watch the entire thing or I risk missing something that I might find useful.

    I've already touched on the brain entering into a low alpha wave state when watching TV; no matter how information is presented it is, what is important is that the mind is actively engaged with the material, this isn't a skill that appears as we develop from infancy, it has to be developed over time.

    Video and multimedia is also only a good as those making it (As many YouTube contributions clearly demonstrate). Just as there are good and bad writers so there are those who are better than others at mixed media presentations; producing video also requires effort in going acquiring suitable clips, otherwise it just ends up as a talking heads or glorified PowerPoint slides. As we know not all PowerPoint presentations fulfil their makers' expectations and engage the audience.

  • Comment number 6.

    Thinking of TED made me go and browse. Some relevant to DigRev (and interesting in their own right) include:

    TED Fellow and journalist Evgeny Morozov punctures what he calls "iPod liberalism" - the assumption that tech innovation always promotes freedom, democracy - with chilling examples of ways the Internet helps oppressive regimes stifle dissent.

    While news from Iran streams to the world, Clay Shirky shows how Facebook, Twitter and TXTs help citizens in repressive regimes to report on real news, bypassing censors (however briefly). The end of top-down control of news is changing the nature of politics.

    Feeling like the world is becoming less friendly? Social theorist Jonathan Zittrain begs to difffer. The Internet, he suggests, is made up of millions of disinterested acts of kindness, curiosity and trust.

  • Comment number 7.

    @SheffTim --- I consider myself to be regular although the technology sociologists might label me as “elite”. The whole area of labeling needs democratizing which is what I’m attempting to do with my economic models and apps.

    At school, I was one of the few girls to study Computer Science (I got an A) and in my career I’ve worked in a dotcom, in TMT investments and in applications development. Those experiences inform the way I think and engage with technology differently from, for example, academics or social commentators/bloggers.

    My generation is predominantly tech-savvy with variations between those who are Web-literate and those who are mobile-literate with an entire phalanx of apps-literacy classifications in between. It’s great fun for advertisers to try and segment us, :*).

    There’s something in EnglishFolkFan points earlier about MBTI linking us with preferences and predispositions to consuming and comprehending diverse types of media and content, differently, which is also related to your observations.

    This is why I advocate the likes of SOPHIE and different, dynamic and COMPLEMENTARY forms of targeted media in children’s education rather than making them recite by rote, blackboard and chalk visuals or talking heads at the front of the room, alone. It’s also why I believe the questions to be posed aren’t of the nature, “The Web is damaging our children’s brains,” which follow closed "Yes/No" methodologies that pre-orient and pre-determine the conclusions that it does so. Instead the questions to pose are open-ended ones like, “Where and how can we teach our children about how to go fishing on the Internet for knowledge and wisdom?” This is why I applied the fishing rod analogy during my comment to Maggie Jackson’s.

    I was very lucky because whilst I experienced some of those forms of structured and disciplined rote learning, there were other more creative educational approaches that I also benefited from --- principally via game playing (chess from when I was 5, cards, handheld electronic ones, computer ones etc.), being outdoors a lot and being allowed to read comics, watch TV and nature documentaries, and digest whatever other content that stimulated me.

    This suited my personal neural navigation system and my parents and teachers respected this. I was labelled "bright" from a very early age and as my grandmother noted when I was a toddler, "She's a curious child and the adults will need to give her some smart answers because she's going to ask about everything!"

    Some schools of thought believe that children’s brains are different sized vessels into which information should be poured. My parents fostered the idea that our brains are like lungs (expandable), adaptable like the seasons and we can fill it with whatever we decide to go discover and fish for.

    “Fish” in Chinese shares a homophone with “wealth, prosperity and happiness” so when we say we go fishing, we mean we go in search of those.

    Sometimes, I think that apart from the regular literacy and numeracy tests children should also take psychometric tests. I didn’t take the MBTI until I was an adult but it might have helped educationalists understand me better when I was 5!

    In an assessment taken in 2002, I discovered I’m an ENTJ/ENTP borderline; on the thinking scale I scored 30/30 with only a slight preference in the judging versus perceiving scale. ENTJs are said to cope well with volumes of complex materials and derive the intricate inter-relationships therein. They're strategically focused, highly creative and like engaging with others to brainstorm towards actions. ENTPs are said to be cerebrally quick, innovative and ingenious at problem-solving with a keen sense of humor.

    An overview of MBTI traits is available here: https://typelogic.com/entj.html

    Although we had no idea this is my MBTI profile, I exhibited those traits throughout childhood: voracious content consumption, extremely gregarious, consistently marshalling projects and people (in sports teams, in discussions), constantly sourcing materials to examine something from different perspectives, playing Devil's Advocate until it seemed……whole, made sense.

    Yes, extremely energetic which could be difficult to cope with but thankfully no one labelled me with ADHD or prescribed medication to dull my brain, LOL. They just let me get on with being a child because, ultimately, I was a SENSIBLE one like the majority of kids are.

    The perceiving side means I appreciate that others don’t intake or process content in the same way I do. It’s all about our own personal neural navigations. At school, I’d work my way through our class’s reading box or exercises in half the time of everyone else. I’d then spend the other 40% of the time helping the other kids with their work and 10% flexing my imagination (or feeding our pet guinea pig).

    Concentration and distraction can be occurrences in children without having negative effects on them. It’s about the way how they're nurtured FITS WITH THE NATURE OF THEIR BRAINS. It’s important to set concentration standards according to THEIR PARAMETERS (the child’s), not according to our adult ones which are perceptually removed from what they’re experiencing directly, anyway.

    I would absolutely have hated it if the adults had told me to sit still and re-read that booklet for the rest of the hour. If they’d done that I’d likely have become a problem child with attitude issues instead of a star pupil. I’d already read it (precisely and properly), completed the test, got 100% within half the lesson and now I simply wanted to socialize with and help the other kids. How productive would it have been for my brain and theirs if I was forced to sit and re-read the book just to demonstrate what the adults define as “concentration”?

    In that situation, forcing someone to sit still and reflect doesn’t necessarily show concentration. Perversely, it might engender inefficiency and wastage in the way children can train their brains. If I didn’t spend that time helping the other kids, I probably wouldn’t have developed any grasp of altruism or early appreciation that the velocity (speed AND direction) with which others grasp context from exactly the same content we’ve both read is different.

    Even the way we read books now indicates that there is some romanticized nostalgia about us all (supposedly) being deeper thinkers and concentrators before the Advent of the Internet Age which, according to some neuroscientists, is stultifying our synapses and neural capabilities.

    In fact, even throughout the era of Enlightenment of the mid-C19th, scholarliness of books was determined by social strata, long before JK Galbraith defined the “haves and have-nots” in his seminal 1958 work, ‘The Affluent Society’; in our Internet Economy I’d defined it as the “digitally entitled” versus the “digitally deprived”. Women and children in the Victorian poor houses didn’t have access to books --- much less be able to pore over them and develop the concentration skills that Nicholas Carr believes we had. In China, most people of my grandparents' generation didn't graduate from junior school, much less university. Books in the home were rare. My grandmother only completed her junior education when she was an adult in night school, but this didn't prevent her from being a successful entrepreneur.

    For me, at school, the contrasts between the Anglo-Saxon and Oriental approach to books were stark and so was the way in which my fellow students concentrated. In English school, the teacher would choose one person to read aloud. In Chinese school, EVERYONE had to read the same passage aloud. Another notable difference between Western and Asian education systems is that in the latter there is NO AUTOMATIC PROGRESSION into the next class. If your literacy levels didn't meet pre-requisite standards (about 60% in exams) you'd have to repeat the year, so someone who is 18 could still be in the same class as someone aged 5. With Western systems you can scrape an E (or 35%) and go into the next year. Whatever literacy and numeracy inadequacies they have are allowed to be carried on and exacerbated into subsequent years. In Chinese school you repeat the year until you meet the literacy and numeracy criteria; there's no free automatic ascension.

    If building and layering literacy and numeracy can be analogized with building houses, some people's literacy is like a house built on silt or stilts. A few waves of distraction later and they can't stand up to the tests. Meanwhile, other's is like the Great Wall: secure, long and flowing, harmonious with the natural landscape around them. Neither wind nor waves of distraction can affect their shape or history.

    Now, we should also examine the way we each decide which books to buy and read because this also shows us we’re not all deep thinkers anyway. Some of us flip straight to the back cover summary and decide on that basis. Some of us read the foreword carefully. Some of us scan the first few pages, a few pages in the middle and a few pages towards the end. Some of us focus on the first 10 pages, line-wise. Some of us don’t read any of the content at all and simply purchase according to word-of-mouth recommendations. All of these variant processes occur whether it’s the physical paper version or the electronic/pdf Kindle version.
    Furthermore, there are the ways we engage with magazines, comics and audiovisual content differently. We go to certain features or writers first because of our own preferences and neural navigation.

    Dan Biddle mentioned before in the ‘Contemplative Mind’ thread about “it's said you have to understand the rules before you can break them (creatively)”. This was in reply to my comment:

    'Nature-nurture might (sic: be) more like gas dispersion: one is the main carrier and the other is injected into it with varying volumes and intensity."

    I see it more as FISHING, FLEXING, FOLDING AND FUSING FLUIDLY WITHIN THE RULES rather than breaking them. In other words, kids should have a solid basis in grammatical structure and vocabulary comprehension into which they can fish, flex, fold and fuse colloquialisms, street slang, TXT speak and more whilst still being cogent and coherent. As a comparison, here are two sentences. One is grammatically correct. The other shows sub-standard literacy.

    • “That vid’ was rad! Going to flick it, free, to our faces now!”

    • “Eye juice then sum yous’ gitin it 4 no nadas fae me!”

    The first sentence tells the reader the commentator thinks the video was radical and we can infer that they’re going to send the video to their friends (our faces) for free. The second sentence is clearly poor English.

    Yes and I still fish, flex, fold and fuse now as an adult.

  • Comment number 8.

    I love TED and a cool way to engage with TED is via this 3D videosphere:

    * https://www.bestiario.org/research/videosphere/

    Yes and I know how to code this type of technology.

  • Comment number 9.

    A_PERSON_NOT_A_BOT ~ The 3D videosphere is cool, but makes me think I should have a concave screen to best view it on.

    I can't comment on Asian culture and those from it brought up in the digital age, but I will say that compared to British youngsters that are of the Google generation I don't think you would be considered a typical representative.

    There are some very clear and distinctive differences between Asian and Western cultures; personally I think the West could learn a lot from Asian cultures.

    It'd be interesting to see if the studies that have been undertaken so far have an Eurocentric/Americancentric bias and if studies in Asia would reveal different conclusions.


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