Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Let's Find Ten Terminally Awful Ideas in One Futurological Sentence

via KurzweilAI:
"X-Prize chairman Peter Diamandis plans to launch an Education X Prize to help fix the U.S. educational system, such as coming up with better ways to crowd-source education, or rewarding the creation of a 'powerful, addictive game' that promotes education."
Here are my Ten, perhaps you can come up with others in the Moot?
"…Prize to help fix the U.S. educational system…"

That the progressive reform and proper support of the U.S. educational system can be described as a “fix” is Terminally Awful Idea One.

That offering up a “prize” will yield this "fix" is Terminally Awful Idea Two.
"…such as coming up with better ways to crowd-source education…"

I have to wonder about this phrase "crowd sourcing education." Is this the way a corporate tool "Thought Leader" stumbles onto and thinks he has invented what everybody else already thinks of as class discussion or in-class workshopping or peer editing and the like? That there might be anything helpful about introducing pointless self-promotional futurological neologisms into a discussion of education is Terminally Awful Idea Three.

If, by the way, "crowd sourcing education" is instead meant, as the term usually is, to describe the idea of replacing professionals with fandoms as yet one more way owners don't have to pay as much or even anything for the labor on which they depend for their profits, then this phrase may actually be about replacing teachers and having, say, groups of students themselves or possibly random passers-by teach classes simply by whomping up sufficient can-do enthusiasm for the subject on somebody's part, or perhaps even replacing both teachers and classrooms with meet-ups or chatrooms and still more crappy and fraudulent digital diploma mills, in which case, well, then that has to be Terminally Awful Idea Four.

Given that this is the X Foundation we are talking about here, one is very tempted to presume the sort of "fix" on which Diamandis will be fixated will be a "technofix" –- you know, like pretending low earth orbit momentary gravity-free amusement park rides constitute a Space Program, or pretending an unaffordable electric luxury sports car will solve global warning, or pretending airdropping snazzy would-be "tricorders" across the planet will cause planetary universal basic healthcare to exist –- especially a "technofix" that, like crowdsourcing, also tends to assume the less rich elites have to depend on skilled labor to make profits the more "we" all benefit -- you know, for kids! -- one has to wonder if the idea of replacing teachers with tee vee monitors or mannequins with .mp3 players embedded in their jaws or even X-boxes (no, they couldn't mean that? just stick around my dears) may be what is in mind here. I won't actually list this as another Terminally Awful Idea since it is inferred rather than explicit, but the idea is quite typically corporate-tool futurological and is well worth castigating all the same. Now, back to our list!

"…or rewarding the creation of a 'powerful, addictive game' that promotes education."

That education needs "promotion" –- classic futurological move by the way -- rather than reform and support is Terminally Awful Idea Five.

That education can or needs to become a game or even series of games (you thought I might be kidding about the let's replace teachers with glorified X-boxes proposal?) is Terminally Awful Idea Six.

That the improvement of knowledge or even the inculcation of habits of attention, discipline, and critical scrutiny is usefully construed as a form of addiction is Terminally Awful Idea Seven. That a game that is addictive is therefore "powerful" is an idea I'd also want to pressure on, but I will leave aside for the moment whether it is a Terminally Awful one, so we are still at Seven.

That the way in which games can be powerful is the same as the way in which education should be powerful is Terminally Awful Idea Eight.

Man, that's the end of the sentence. Only Eight Terminally Awful Ideas. But wait! Returning now to the beginning of the sentence I daresay we have justified a couple more.

"X-Prize chairman Peter Diamandis plans to launch an Education X Prize…"

That the world needs another X Prize is Terminally Awful Idea Nine.

And… (drumroll…) Paying earnest attention to anything Peter Diamandis plans or has to say is this futurological sentence's Terminally Awful Idea Ten.

Thanks for playing ladies, gentlemen, and germs!


Chad Lott said...

I prefer the cut-up method:

"X-Prize plans to fix the' powerful, addictive source of rewarding X Prize chairman Peter Diamandis. Such as the U.S. education creation, or education game, that promotes an educational system better to coming up with ways to help launch a crowd-education”

jimf said...

> . . .let's replace teachers with glorified X-boxes. . .

This is a really **old** idea.

It goes back at least 60 years to the kinds of mechanical
machines for "programmed instruction" that B. F. Skinner
was building and promoting in the 50s.

Then, when computer timesharing became available in the 60s
and 70s, there was the PLATO system (running on multimillion
dollar mainframes)

Still later in the 80s, when PCs became ubiquitous, there were
all sorts of "educational" games, mostly for young kids.

Since then, I've had the (dis)pleasure of actually having to
take on-line training courses at work. (At worst, these can
be **excruciatingly** boring; they are of course less painful if they're
well-constructed and have decent entertainment value. ;-> ).

In all cases, the overwhelming difficulty (for the course
designers) is breaking down a field of knowledge into bite-sized
chunks, plotting a coherent (and comprehensive) trajectory
through the bits and pieces graded graded according to difficulty,
and shoe-horning the whole lot into the kind of rigid logical structure
(True or False, multiple-choice) required by a computer (whether mechanical or
electronic), and hoping that the student 1) can stay awake
through the experience and 2) can be thought by any stretch
of the imagination to have "mastered" anything when it's over.

I certainly, at the beginning of the age of personal computers,
would have predicted that by 2012, traditional education using
human teachers would be a thing of the past. (Though I also
seem to recall that Ted Nelson, in 1975's _Computer Lib_, wrote
skeptically about CAI -- Computer-Aided Instruction -- he thought
it was a seductively-beckoning Fata Morgana similar to AI.)

Well, computers still aren't substituting for human teachers,
and aren't likely to any time soon, despite a computational
ubiquity I would never have dreamed of back in 1980.

On the other hand, the Web itself -- Google, Wikipedia, YouTube,
Amazon, etc. -- has created a **fantastically** rich resource for research
and knowledge acquisition, even though it looks **nothing** like
the pioneers of CAI would have imagined. It's more like an
unstructured mountain of books, newspapers, magazines, photos, records,
films, and TV shows. It's still **people** who are completely
in charge of adding to the pile and navigating their way
through it. The computers just **host** the "pile" and
make it possible to browse through it all very, very quickly
(and yes, to automatically locate words, sentences, and logical
combinations thereof -- that's something entirely new and,
of course, indispensable).

It's funny though that schools now have the problem of making
sure that kids don't **over-rely** (or plagiarize from) the Web.
I'm told that some elementary-school kids, when assigned research,
are explicitly **forbidden** to use Wikipedia. If I were
a parent -- which I am **not**, thank God! -- I might be tempted
to "help" with homework by using Wikipedia **myself** to at
least create a high-level roadmap, and a bibliography, as a
point of departure for research of the old-fashioned library-based
kind that the schools are apparently still emphasizing.
(And of course, they have a point -- a lot of stuff is not yet
on the Web, and may not be for a long time, because of the
copyright and intellectual property barriers. And skimming
through hyperlinked Web pages is **not** the same as reading
a book.)