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Category Archive • The Internet
November 10, 2004
Japanese textbook toxicity

From time to time I purchase a copy of the news digest magazine, The Week (although I'm afraid that link is only to puff telling you to buy it in paper form), and thanks to the November 6th 2004 issue I learned about an Asia Times article from last month about a toxic textbook which is being distributed in Japanese schools.

Says The Week, in its summary of this article:

If Japan, unlike Germany, has always been reluctant to take full responsibility for its crimes during the Second World War, says Tang Liejun, at least it used not to deny them. But that's what's being attempted in a new history book being distributed in Japanese schools. Far from acknowledging the rape and pillage carried out by Japanese troops, this "toxic textbook" insists Japan invaded its neighbours to "liberate" them from Western imperialists and to "bring prosperity to their peoples". By persisting in regarding this as a hostile occupation, China, Korea and other Asian countries show rank "ingratitude", the book complains. It calls into question the Nanjing massacre, in which Japanese soldiers raped and murdered 200,000 civilians, and fails even to mention the hundreds of thousands of Korean and Chinese "comfort women" forced into sex slavery for the invaders. We've given up expecting contrition from the Japanese, but this "ennobling" of their past barbarism is completely unacceptable. It might spare their children some "pain and guilt", but in the long run it will only perpetuate the hostility towards Japan felt by so many of its Asian neighbours.

The Asia Times article includes this quote from the book:

"It seems that up to now Asian people still mistakenly regard Japanese as invaders, [but they] risked their lives and cooperated closely with weak or strong peoples in Asia in fighting the Western big powers in order to advance the worldwide colonial liberation movement; Asian peoples' equating of Japanese with the Western imperialists is totally ungrateful and against morality, [since it was the Japanese] who came to their help and inspired them to get independence."

I know I keep banging on about the Internet and its effect on education, but it does seem to me that the Internet is bound to have an effect on little nationalised intellectual ghettoes of the sort that this textbook is trying to perpetuate and strengthen. As Tang Liejun says, the Japanese may never apologise, but it seems unlikely that it will be possible to keep them in universal and permanent ignorance of what it is their Asian neighbours are saying they should apologise for. They are bound at least to learn that their neighbours see things differently.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:32 AM
Category: AsiaHistoryThe Internet
[1] [0]
September 10, 2004
Broadband education

No surprise here:

Broadband is having a marked impact on children's education in the UK by helping them make the most of the internet as a research tool.

According to a detailed survey of 50 UK families by the Future Foundation, two-thirds of children with broadband access are spending more time using the internet for academic purposes, including research and revision.

Yes. The very same electric boxes, which, in their first form, television, wrought such educational havoc, are now, in their later and more civilised and wordy form, helping to sort out the mess.

Broadband has certainly been a huge education for me.

Just done a big Samizdata piece of the sort which a couple of months ago I thought I might be incapable of ever again, and am busy for the rest of the day, so that may be all here. So maybe no more here today, and of course nothing promised over the weekend, but have a nice one.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:49 PM
Category: The Internet
[1] [0]
July 08, 2004
The ultimate textbook price cut

Adriana (again – see below) emails me about this:


CNET reports that a professor rebuffed by Cisco decided to offer his own networking textbook free of charge. The solution, the tech news site says, highlights powerful new publishing techniques that promise to shake up the textbook industry, offering cheaper alternatives to cash-strapped students.

Bravo. And please keep the links coming, Adriana.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:17 AM
Category: Learning by doingThe Internet
[0] [0]
June 14, 2004
An interesting website about an interesting school

This looks like a really interesting little row.

One of Hounslow's most successful schools has been severely criticised by a website claiming to represent some of its students.

The Heathlands School, in Wellington Road South, has some of the best results of the borough's schools, and was recently awarded specialist science status, to much acclaim.

However, apparently not everyone is happy with this, and a website, called www.voiceofheathlands.co.uk' has been set up by an anonymous group, who claim to be students, but are only contactable by email.

I tried to get to that website, of course I did, but got no result. Maybe if you click that link you'll get luckier.

What is more, googling for Heathlands School didn't even clarify for me exactly which school this is. Not this one, I'm assuming. And certainly not this one.

They say that their aim is to ask questions, criticise and flag up issues which they feel are of concern at the school.

It is unclear, however, whether the website is a genuine attempt to get across students' views, or whether it is merely a half-term prank.

Meaning, I presume, that "This is local London" doesn't know who to ring, or does, but isn't getting any answers. I can tell them a guess/answer: neither exactly, and both, a little bit, I daresay. What it most definitely is is politics. "Flag up issues". That's politics-speak for grab hold of some problems and shout about them, thereby making them worse and very possibly insoluble.

Hounslow Local Education Authority has refused to comment on the website.

Don't know what's hit them, in other words. Website? Website? What's that? What do we do? How can we close it down? Ought to be a law against it, blah blah blah. Say nothing. We must have a meeting, and then say nothing more eloquently.

The authors of the website claim to have set it up because: "We felt it was about time to do something, and raise our voice against the wrongs we saw.

Like I say, politics. "Voice". "Voice" means poltiics, every time.

"Through experience, we knew that talking to the school, through the school council, would achieve nothing, so we looked for a more powerful means to bring our message forward."

The point about a website is that you don't need anyone's permission to say what you want to say. You don't have to get it past any editor, who may have fishes of his own to fry. And there is not a lot of expense involved.

And everyone else can ignore you, or of course start their own website and say you're prats.

Their main complaints, which are posted on the website, are that the specialist status is making the school selective, rather than open for all.

They also criticise the political leanings of their teachers, and an assembly on the benefits of Margaret Thatcher's leadership, and cast a sceptical eye over the relationship the school has with local multi-national pharmaceutical company, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK).

Which certainly makes this sound like a lot more than a mere "half-term prank". Interesting that these clearly left-wing websiters at least perceive the teachers to be – or try to present them as – Thatcherites. I wonder what they really are. My guess is, they gave Thatcherism a respectful look-in, in some school discussion/debate they organised. They refused to present a united front of wishy-washy leftism. That would be my guess. But that could be quite wrong, and maybe these teachers are indeed gung-ho pro-capitalists. If so, hurrah! This will be even more fun.

Regarding the specialist school status, and the school, as a whole, they claim: "Many students feel that they are ignored, and have no way of channelling their views.

"Most students on the school council feel it is a puppet organisation.

Well, not an organisation that the school's actual bosses will allow to take over the school, that's for sure.

"The school used to be so proud of being unselective."

Not all of it, evidently. Otherwise, why the change? Maybe, they were just so good that thousands more people suddenly wanted to send their kids there, and they had to choose, because they didn't have enough room for everyone, whereas before, anyone could come.

The issues surrounding GSK were: "The school's close relationship with GSK is looked down upon by the majority of pupils in the upper years of the school.

"The introduction of Lucozade into the school canteen blatantly suggests that the school has some kind of agreement with GSK, which produces Lucozade, which it is not open about."

They continued: "Also, we have complained for many years, through the school council, that we have trouble affording the food in the canteen.

"This has always been ignored; prices continue to rise, and we are told it is a matter which the school has no influence over, due to the private catering company setting prices.

"We would like to know why the school has the influence to introduce Lucozade, but cannot make the food affordable?"

The students also raised concerns that there were now plasma screens in reception, a lot of extra CCTV cameras around the site and a painted tennis court, which has little benefit'.

Politics, politics, politics. What did I tell you? Not that they don't have a point. Maybe on this matter, they do. If the real agenda of GSK is to sell Lucozade, that is a bit tacky, I think.

However, they did admit that: "Heathlands is a good' school, which achieves some of the best public exam results in the area, and has a highly-respected reputation.

"The exam results have a lot to do with the commitment and dedication that the staff show towards pupils."

So, Thatcherite bastards and committed and dedicated teachers. Or are the teachers divided between these two groups? I'm guessing not, or they would have said this.

No one was available to comment from Heathlands School at the time of going to press.

And they don't know what's hit them either.

It will be interesting to see if this story goes anywhere. Maybe I should try to help turn Heathlands School into a Global Focus of Fascination, as per Cecile Dubois.

But anyway, fascinating. What an interesting mixture of things going on here. As with the previous post, material for many novels.

I support - and will seek to provide aid and comfort to - both sides in this row. I support under-age trouble-making websites and Thatcherite schoolteachers.

But sadly, I fear that the shut-down of the website is permanent. Those teachers knew at once who was behind it, and threatened expulsion if they kept on with it. It's over, in other words. If so, shame.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:12 AM
Category: PoliticsSelectionThe Internet
[0] [0]
March 11, 2004
Birmingham University tightens up its website policy

No time for prolonged thought about it, but this is interesting:

Academics at Birmingham University have condemned moves by the university authorities to ban 300 of their personal websites.

The university's decision to stop hosting staff websites on university computers follows a series of controversies over links to allegedly anti-semitic content.

As at many other universities, staff have been able to set up sites on a university server on any subject they like. Under new guidelines, from March 31 they will have to demonstrate that content is "relevant and legitimate to their academic or administrative work".

Instant, off top of head reaction: the University is quite within its rights. Here’s how the story ends:

A spokeswoman for the university said: "It is important that our website accurately reflects the business of the university. Personal websites that are relevant and legitimate to academic or administrative work are being re-registered through a process of peer review."

She added that staff were free to create websites using external internet service providers.

That seems to me the key line. A "ban" sounds more like they aren't free to do this. But, as always, I'd be interested to read any comments.

Further thought: although the University may be entitled to do this, maybe it is not wise. Universities ought to be havens of free speech etc. (Not that they ever are.)

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 06:18 PM
Category: The Internet
[0] [0]
February 13, 2004
Blogosphere High

As I say, busy, but just a quick pointer to this NRO piece, already linked to by Jackie D. It's by Cathy Seipp, the mum of Cecile Dubois, and I think Cathy's final paragraph is exactly right.

I've become more and more convinced that, because of the internet, and because of all the other kit they have in their bedrooms, "freedom for children" is not so much an aspirational political slogan as an accomplished sociological fact. Which totally changes how teachers have to go about things, and how we ought to judge their effectiveness. Ever since I went for the lady on Samizdata, and again in more measured tones here, I've been wondering what it must be like having to be the teacher of Cecile Dubois.

Or, as Cathy puts it:

So even if she hadn't received such an outpouring of support, I think Cecile's regular stops in the blogosphere would have served as an antidote to what happened at school this past Friday. Certainly if a teacher implies a student is a racist idiot one day, and by the next some 200 smart and articulate adults have said she's not and here's why, that rather counteracts the original lesson plan. Now that so many teens have blogs, concerns about doctrinaire teachers may be passι. Our sons and our daughters are beyond their control.

I and Jackie D, and Michael Jennings all get a mention, along with Samizdata of course.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 09:53 AM
Category: BloggingThe Internet
[3] [0]
February 12, 2004
I suppose living children have to have knees

The invaluable Dave Barry (whom I missed severely when he took his Christmas break) points the world to a site where you can learn about virtual knee surgery.

By slicing the "knee" bit off that address I found my way here. I don't get how livingchildren.com gets to be so particularly fascinated by knee surgery, but there you go. Americans, eh? What's the betting money was involved?

I haven't run the knee surgery thing. The photos were enough for me.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 05:10 PM
Category: The Internet
[0] [0]
February 10, 2004
Chinese higher education on the internet

I'm guessing, but I should imagine that this will have a huge effect, because the hunger of Chinese people to get educated far outstrips the traditional means available for them to contrive that. (Commenters, you are welcome to tell me I'm wrong.)

BEIJING, Feb. 10 (Xinhuanet) -- China has selected 151 academic courses as high-quality ones and put them online through the official website of the Ministry of Education (MOE), with a view to giving excellent education resources free to the public, a high-ranking official said here Tuesday.

Wu Qidi, vice-minister of education, said at a press conference that the 151 courses, selected out of nearly 500 courses, was the first step of a national project on improving higher education quality.

The MOE plans to promote 1,500 academic courses in five years and realize the sharing of education resources with the help of modern technologies.

She said the selected academic courses, all given by Chinese professors, were recommended by schools and local education administrations, and gradually approved online by specific jury committees organized by MOE.

According to Wu, China's national academic courses not only emphasize the subject itself, but also include construction of teaching material and teaching staff.

An MOE investigation showed that since 2001, the degree of Chinese students' satisfaction with teaching material and their teachers has increased by 22 percentage points.

Wow. Twenty two percentage points more satisfaction. Imagine that.

Seriously, do you get the feeling of hundreds of cats, solemnly and with due deliberation, being let out of hundreds of bags? I do. The Internet is, I believe, one of those revolutionary technologies which changes everything it touches, no matter how carefully it is supervised. This news report reminds me of things I've read about committees of Elizabethan bishops equivocating for months, and then finally allowing some book to be published.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 05:40 PM
Category: Higher educationThe Internet
[0] [0]
January 08, 2004
"The dramatic increase in available information …"

Here's an essay about the rise of the amateurisation of nearly everything with obvious educational vibes attached to it. I found it at a blog which a friend of mine recommended to me, as one of the best on general trends in technology, the internet, etc.


But it's not only equipment that separates the professional from the amateur, it's also access to information. The dramatic increase in available information constituted the second shift towards mass amateurisation (and was the first that the internet provided). Suddenly it became effectively effortless to research information online and to connect with communities of people interested in the same things. Film-makers could meet one another, animators find out each other's tips and tricks, audio-professionals could learn from and collaborate with their peers. Before the internet, large swathes of technical information had no accessible forum in which to be exchanged had previously been disseminated top-down via training courses, Universities and within industries. That remains true to an extent today but to a much lesser extent – today much more information is available to everyone – one way or another. This has had a parallel effect quite outside media production – helping to amateurise almost every field of human activity from fixing cars to fixing people. For good or ill, self-diagnosis tools, support groups and dedicated information resources are increasingly helping people to figure out what's wrong with themselves and even (sometimes) to fix it.

And the reference to Universities shows that he knows it.

The traditional school was based on doling out scarce information. But now, the environment outside the school pulsates with information, and often the classroom is one of the most informationally impoverished environments most of us ever now experience. In a word it is boring.

The answer from your internet savvy teacher now is that without "education" you can't make any sense of all that "information" out there. Well, depending on your definition of "education" that may well be so. But the anti-classroom come-back is that you can surely get this "education" on the internet too.

Speaking for myself, I don't just get facts from the interenet. I also get the schemas and frameworks to make sense of and to arrange all these facts. I get understanding, as well as information.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:25 PM
Category: The Internet
[2] [0]
January 02, 2004
The educational value of television and of the internet in combination

I'm not in Edublogging mode right now. Normal service, as already stated, will only resume next Monday. But today, while concocting this posting on my Culture Blog.

I was struck once again by the educational value not of television as such, nor of the internet as such, but by the two together.

The telly told me about a new skyscraper I'd not heard of, and google got me to all the info about it. Without the telly I wouldn't have known what I was looking for. Without the internet I wouldn';t have gone looking, and found it.

It is a common pattern in the history of new communications that when a new method arrives, it gives new value to older ones, despite widespread theorising to the effect that the new method is nothing but a threat to the old one. The printing press thrashed out new stuff to talk about. TV sells books. Now, the internet makes of a snatch of telly reportage.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 06:37 PM
Category: TechnologyThe Internet
[1] [0]
December 08, 2003
The virtual academy

Last Friday, Patrick Crozier sent in to and had published on Samizdata a piece about what caused the outbreak of the First World War. (He blamed the Kaiser.) WHen I last looked there had been 55 comments.

This posting, together with the comments it provoked, gives me a chance to return to a favourite theme on this blog, which is the educational power and impact of the internet, and of blogging in particular.

In my opinion this posting, and the debate and discussion it sparked off, illustrates the educational power of the blogosphere at something like maximum strength.

Education is a complicated thing, but one of the many things it surely means is the opportunity to participate in a community united by shared intellectual interests, and to talk around subjects before plunging head first into all the details, and all the reading one might do. (A number of further reading suggestions were offered by various commenters, including one from me, in the one comment I contributed to the discussion.)

There is probably no completely satisfactory substitute for face to face contact to get this kind of intellectual stimulus and guidance, but this kind of virtual discussion is probably the next best thing. Several of the commenters on this thread made this point themselves, but added that actually getting a face-to-face discussion of this quality would be very hard indeed. So for many, it would be this kind of virtual discussion, or nothing.

Equally, if you don't want to get stuck into too much detail, but merely want an overview of a topic like this one, then such a discussion would probably give a more complete picture of the topic, and of how various different intellectual camps argue about it, than any one screed of comparable length by just one scholar, however distinguished.

None of which means that it's an either/or thing. There's nothing to stop a university student reading through this post and all the comments, and feeding what he or she learns into the other face-to-face discussions and learning that they are also doing.

Speaking for myself, I believe that I'm learning an enormous amount from having joined the community of bloggers.

And especially from Samizdata. I really don't know quite how Samizdata does it, but Samizdata comments at their best can be remarkably informative and interesting. At their worst, comments on Samizdata are the usual crass rubbish you get everywhere, but at their best, they can be exceptionally good. The occasional interventions of the presiding editorial geniuses, Perry de Havilland and Adriana Cronin, help. These can often be quite assertive, but that, I think, serves to keep everyone on their toes, and to frighten sillier commenters into silence, while putting the best ones on notice that only their best will truly impress. It also helps that the most relentlessly silly commenters have the plug pulled on them. Maybe that's some of why Samizdata sometimes works so very well. But in truth, I no more know how you create a great group blog, with a great commentariat, than how you set about creating a great university.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:38 PM
Category: BloggingThe Internet
[10] [0]
December 07, 2003
If you are a geek – be a happy and successful geek by switching to e-ducation

If you are interested, as I am, in the whole subject of what I'm starting to call e-ducation, then do go and read this New York Times article, quickly, before it disappears.

The deal for a typical e-school of this sort is that you pay something like $250 a month, and they educate you at your home computer rather than in a regular school. But, you are a member of a virtual school, with many of the trappings of a real school. What you escape is the social grief. The traditional class-room educational system is what remains. In a sense, it's the opposite of de-schooling. The most schooly bit of a regular school is set up in your home, but without all the debased-Clueless stuff that generally goes with a regular school.

These two, buried on page 4, seem to me to be the key paragraphs:

When talking to virtual-school kids, this is a common thread: the sense that they have escaped something dangerous by getting out of high school. ''I saw the way the social system was set up, and I wanted to get away from that,'' says Kristen Dearing, a student at Basehor-Linwood charter school in Kansas.

MacKenzie Winslow, 14, who attends the Laurel Springs school in Ojai, Calif., from her home in Colorado, says: ''I didn't want a bad experience. I had a lot of friends who'd gone to high school, and they said the kids were pretty nasty. I didn't want to deal with that.''

One of the strongest memes in our culture is that children, unlike adults, shouldn't try to escape from situations they don't like. Instead they should stick around and "deal with" them. (Adults, on the other hand, are allowed to escape whatever they can afford to escape. The argument for such talk is that it prepares children for dealing with later horrors. And the argument against this is that again and again, one of the absolute best ways of dealing with horrors is simply to get away from them, the way adults do if they can. Escape is dealing with. And the sooner children learn this basic lesson, then they can get used to re-arranging their own lives for the better, if they choose, whenever they need to. True, some things can't be escaped. But thinking that nothing can be escaped when a lot can is no preparation whatsoever for dealing with the truly inescapable.

That was the really interesting thing about this NYT piece. It suggested to me strongly that now a different and opposite meme is beginning to spread in a quite big way. It strongly confirmed what I've been sensing for a long time, which is that parents are more and more moving towards a freedom-for-children model of child growth, and that giving more freedom and more choices to parents, will lead directly to more freedom for children. Parents and children already talk a lot about the educational options a child has. Children are already feeding a lot into these discussions. So, another choice, like this virtual schooling arrangement that is springing up in America, leads directly to more freedom for children.

Pause. As in: slight change of subject. What follows might have made more sense as a separate posting, merely linked to this one.

It occurs to me that opening up school choices like this makes more sense if you believe that children are genetically different from each other, rather than blank slates (in Steven Pinker's phrase). And increasingly, distinct people with an inner nature is what our culture is coming to believe children to be. If your genes make you a geek, then any amount of socialising with Cher, the Alicia Silverstone character in Clueless, or her down-market black finger-nailed equivalent, isn't going to stop you being a geek. It's just going to make you into a geek who fails to be a social star, but who also fails to be a successful and happy geek. By going against your inner nature you are unhappy, and you fail to make the best of that inner nature. So if you are a geek, be a successful and happy geek, not a failed Cher.

Sign up for a virtual school. Race ahead with your schoolwork. Graduate at fifteen. Get to a college full of other geeks and be happy, as soon as you can, and then get a great geek job. And when you have ten million bucks from your swank job in computers, well, that should take care of a lot of your socialisation problems and peer group pressures. At that point, Cher will realise that maybe you have social potential after all.

Actually, I've made Cher sound like a social monster. She isn't. She also believes in geeks being good geeks rather than bad Chers, but that's a different argument. The Cher I'm maybe really talking about here is a street-copy of the original Cher, as in mad bitch in fishnet stockings dancing up a storm on a battleship, but without the money the real Cher got paid to do that. Fine if you can pull it off, as she presumably does later on in the evening, but geeks don't want to be joining a social system run by people with those kinds of aspirations, not least because people with those aspirations often hate geeks and want to make them miserable and ashamed of their geekness.

Big complicated post. Sorry, if your inner nature is such that you prefer the short ones.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 03:10 PM
Category: Parents and childrenPeer pressureThe Internet
[2] [2]
December 01, 2003
Government e-University scheme flounders

It may sound ideological and churlish, but I sincerely believe that I have good and honourable reasons to be quite pleased about this:

A flagship learning scheme has been branded a failure after attracting just 900 students. The online teaching programme, UK e-Universities Worldwide, has spent £30m so far, equivalent to more than £33,000 of hard-pressed education funds on enrolling each pupil.

Launched three years ago in a blaze of publicity by then Education Secretary David Blunkett, only 15 universities have so far joined the attempt to introduce internet courses for students the world over.

The programme banked on attracting 100,000 students by 2010 on to a set of undergraduate, post-graduate and life-long learning courses. Experts were confident it would be immensely popular by allowing international students to take advantage of a UK university education.

It's not that I'm against e-ducation, to coin a hyphenation. Far from it. E-ducation is a regular theme here. But the way to get anything started is to start it small, then do lots of ducking and weaving while you find out what works and what doesn't, and only when you have perfected things on a very small scale, to start expanding. The besetting sin of politicians is that they jump to conclusions ("experts were confident" - aren't they always?) about what will work, and neglect that early experimental phase. Governments do this (a) because they can – because they have the money, and (b) because for them, the appearance of activity is at least as important as the reality of it. A big launch, followed by nothing much, serves purpose (b) quite well. If they do too many schemes in the (a) category, public spending gets so out of control that even their interests are severely threatened. But much more damaging, in my opinion, is that if the government did throw big money at e-ducation, lots of other small schemes along these lines which are being funded by, you know, people, would face being trampled under foot by a herd of government funded e-ducational elephants.

The reality of e-ducation is that huge numbers of people are doing it in huge numbers of different ways. The less the government piles in with big money, the better. If the failure of this scheme causes the government to back off, good.

Besides which, one of the things that e-ducation should surely be is cheap. And you can't discover what is cheap by writing out cheques for thirty million quid, and when that disappoints, throw in another sixty million.

As so often these days, the Conservative complaint/response is not based on the principle of whether some scheme is or is not a good idea, but merely on the alleged unsatisfactoriness of its execution. Time and again, the Conservatives say, as here: words are all very fine, but where's the action? - but without troubling to consider whether it might not have been even better for there to have been even less action, or no action at all.

Tim Yeo, Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Education, said: 'As with so many of its initiatives, the Government failed to move from eye-catching announcement to effective action.'

But as I say, that's probably no bad thing. Do the Conservatives favour lashings more money being thrown at e-ducation? In their own way they are being just as sneaky as the government and in much the same way, implying that they would spend more on whatever scheme they are complaining about, but not actually saying that they will.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:40 AM
Category: The Internet
[2] [0]
November 19, 2003
Braille on the Internet

This was a short email:

Link suggestion.

Suggestion accepted.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:38 PM
Category: The Internet
[1] [0]
November 07, 2003
Educate yourself about fish

A (perhaps junk but thanks anyway) email from "Russ" went thuss:

Hi Brian,

Thought you might be interested in this fathead (genus Psychrolutes)
trawled during the NORFANZ expedition:

Or, for a for a full range of fish info:


These links plug into what strike me as being excellent educational resources. Many a child might learn a lot rootling around in these kinds of virtual locations.

You absorb a mass of good stuff by such wandering, such as spelling, the way different species are classified, the use of the letters of the alphabet in a set order (something often forgotten) to organise and present information and to make it easily accessible, and much much more.

Above all, if you like this kind of thing, it's fun. I quickly found my way to extraordinary images like this one.

And remember also to eat fish.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:39 PM
Category: ScienceThe Internet
[2] [0]
October 19, 2003
Thoughts on internet cheating

The Libertarian Alliance Forum has a piece on it from the Daily Telegraph of October 11th (just over a week ago) which doesn't seem to be at their website in any form, and was presumably therefore only on paper. The spacing and spelling of the text certainly says scanner rather than copy and paste. Here is all of the text we got. Presumably this is all of it, but I can't say for sure:

Pupils using internet material as their own

Exam boards have criticised teachers who let pupils present material from the internet as their own.

Examiners at two of the three boards in England say some teachers are providing their students with too much help or failing to spot copying.

Teachers mark GCSE coursework which is then "moderated" by boards which look at sample work from different grades.

They are required to sign that material submitted by pupils is their original work, but a report by Edexcel, one of the boards, found the rules were being breached.

Some teachers failed to sign authentication statements or submitted photocopied signatures. "In some cases, teachers signed [?scanning?] authentication statements for some candidates, when a cursory glance indicated collusion," said a report on the GNVQ in information and communication technology.


First, this was why exams of the old-fashioned sort – with a kids imprisoned in a big exam hall for three hours with nothing but a desk, an exam paper, blank paper to write on, a pencil or pen, and a suspicious and embittered old-fashioned schoolteacher prowling around looking for rule-infractions – were invented in the first place. Not only can pupils not cheat. Neither can their teachers.

Second, teachers are now cheating, because that's the way more and more of the incentives are fixed. If your school income more and more depends (as it does) on how well your school scores in various "outcomes", then your school is extremely liable to fiddle these outcomes. The key fact is that London-based education bureaucrats are more and more "finding out" how well education is being done by saying to those doing the educating: "How well are you doing it?" Lie and you get your money. Tell the truth, and you don't get so much. This is the day-to-day reality of all those "initiatives". The School Inspectorate can't keep up.

Third, the cheating goes right to the top. There is a steady trickle of headmasters getting done for this kind of thing, and the ultimate cheat, claiming that the system is doing better than it really is, is the Secretary of Education himself, and above and beyond him, the Prime Minister.

After all, why have they switched to "continuous assessment"? More precisely, why might they now be reluctant to switch back to an assessment regime based more than now on old-fashioned exams? Because the news might, for the system as a whole, be unwelcome, is why.

This is why I have a category here called "Sovietisation". In the old USSR you just could not trust the numbers. And that's the way British education is headed.

However, fourth: the Internet now makes the administration of exams, however old-fashioned, harder. Any leaking of the contents of next week's exam by anyone anywhere becomes common knowledge to everyone everywhere. That makes the exam business a lot harder.

However, fifth: it goes deeper even than that. The internet make old-fashioned education itself a lot harder to do, because old-fashioned education is built around the fact of information scarcety. Old-fashioned education is, you might say, a solution to a problem that no longer exists.

Amen. Enjoy the rest of your Sunday.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:56 AM
Category: SovietisationThe Internet
[3] [0]
September 12, 2003
MIT gives it away

Nancy Lebowitz has just commented on the posting immediately below, and included a link to the MIT OCW (that's Massachusetts Institute of Technology OpenCourseWare) site. It's a long time since I've been so impressed by an educational website, of any sort.

Welcome to MIT OpenCourseWare a free, open, publication of MIT Course Materials. We invite you to view all the courses available at this time.

I went to the FAQ page.

1. What is MIT OpenCourseWare?

The idea behind MIT OpenCourseWare (OCW) is to make MIT course materials that are used in the teaching of almost all undergraduate and graduate subjects available on the Web, free of charge, to any user anywhere in the world. MIT OCW will advance technology-enhanced education at MIT, and will serve as a model for university dissemination of knowledge in the Internet age. This venture continues the tradition at MIT, and in American higher education, of open dissemination of educational materials, philosophy, and modes of thought, and will help lead to fundamental changes in the way colleges and universities utilize the Web as a vehicle for education.

Free of charge. That was the bit that got my attention. That's what Nancy had said, but there it was in black and white, with them saying it. That means, among a million other good things, that blogs can link there way right into the middle of this stuff.

Well, I assume they can. And I do that because the whole site just oozes the feeling that these people know exactly what they are doing, and, equally important, what they are not doing. They are dishing out course materials. They are not going to tell anyone on your behalf that you have paid any attention to them, nor, in general, do they offer to preside over your education.

If you want to have an email correspondence with your preferred MIT faculty member, forget it.

2. How do I contact a specific member of the MIT Faculty?

MIT OCW is intended as a publication of MIT course materials on the Web, and not as an interactive experience with MIT faculty. It provides the content of, but is not a substitute for, an MIT education. The most fundamental cornerstone of the learning process at MIT is the interaction between faculty and students in the classroom, and among students themselves on campus. MIT OCW does not offer visitors to the Web site the opportunity for direct contact with MIT faculty. Inquiries related to specific course materials will be forwarded to the MIT faculty member associated with that course for their consideration. However, due to the tremendous volume of email inquiries received, it is unlikely he or she will answer all emails.

I've heard about this in a vague way, but have never even properly scratched the surface of the website before. I am extremely impressed. I'll be back. In fact I left a comment there saying this.

In general, I think that we can expect many more major institutions with world-wide reputations (and not just educational institutions) to just give stuff away. The BBC, for instance, has recently said that it may be about to do this.

Meanwhile the educational impact of this particular MIT give-away can only be guessed at.

My deepest thanks to Nancy, and particularly for the URL.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 04:42 PM
Category: The Internet
[1] [3]
September 11, 2003
Global Virtual Classroom

I know nothing about this at all, other than the email I got about it today:

The Global Virtual Classroom project opened for business this week.

It's a collaborative cross-border experience for primary and secondary schools, allowing them to develop both web and global communication skills so necessary today.

A mention in your blog would be greatly appreciated for this non-profit endeavor that is still searching for sponsors.

Frank Patrick
Project Manager
Global Virtual Classroom Project
Give Something Back International

Comments anyone?

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:41 PM
Category: The Internet
[4] [1]
September 09, 2003
Cheating on Samizdata

I just did a posting here on Internet cheating, and then I thought it made more sense for it to go on Samizdata, so I put it there, and deleted it here (in case anyone observed this and was wondering).

I say I did a posting. Actually I stole it all. From the New York Times. Hah.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:31 PM
Category: The Internet
[0] [0]
August 19, 2003
When people ask Brian's Education Blog: "Brian's Education Blog, where can we get cut-your-own snowflakes on the Internet?", I tell them …

I don't know if it's education, but it's fun. The site calls it snowflakes, but I think they mostly look more like paper table mats. This is a kind of internetted version of what people complain about children doing in primary schools instead of having the three Rs pounded into them.

Where would the world be without Professor Dave Barry?

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 07:49 PM
Category: Learning by doingPrimary schoolsThe Internet
[0] [0]
August 06, 2003
Who is Santiago Calatrava? – a culture blogger on the educational power of the internet

The other day my super-intelligent friend Alice, whose judge of a good blog is infallible, I've always thought, recommended a particularly fine culture blog , and while rootling around at it I found this, on the educational power of the internet:

For now I just want to give the Internet a pat on the back. The Internet, I think, is very good, which I did not think of first, but which I am now thinking with particular thoughtfulness.

I was once a failing architecture student, and as regulars here now know, I remain a (st)architecture fan. But until recently, I despaired at the cost of keeping up with it all. Keeping up means you had to have pictures, and pictures on paper are just too expensive, and too bulky to share a flat with if you get at all serious.

Until today, I had no idea who Santiago Calatrava was, or about that beautiful footbridge in Bilbao. I am, in short, thanks to the Internet, catching up.

I dined with Michael Jennings last night, and he was likewise raving about how much sheer stuff the average bright fifteen-year-old now has at his finger tips, compared to the time when he was a bright fifteen-year-old, searching through inadequate libraries for dumbed down books about whatever it was, that as likely as not weren't there at all.

And who, pray, is Santiago Calatrava? That's no the point, apparently.

… the real point of this posting here is not Hurrah For Calatrava. It is hurrah that I was able to learn about the guy, and so amazingly quickly.

About fifteen minutes ago, I knew nothing of him. Then, the daily New York Times email, and I'm straight to the op-ed piece linked to above. Google search: "Santiago Calatrava". Bingo. Now I've done about half an essay on him. Education or what? I am myself back to being a bright fifteen-year-old.

I couldn't have put it better myself.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:10 PM
Category: The Internet
[2] [0]
June 30, 2003
Teacher training

According to this (which I got to from here), my spelling age is fourteen and a half, and falling.

To be a bit more serious, I think that putting documents like this (for those who hate following links, this one is a page full of words to test spelling prowess), and while we're on the subject this (which does something similar for reading age), is extremely valuable, and fraught with educational significance. Sooner or later the lowdown on how to teach children the 3Rs will be entirely available for free on the Internet, in the form of a step by step guide of the sort that is commonplace when one is trying to assemble furniture from a box, but which is hard to come by for the trivial matter of teaching children to read and write and add up.

Of course, maybe it's there already and I haven't been informed. You know what to do.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:26 PM
Category: The Internet
[0] [0]
June 09, 2003
How to educate with the Internet

Alice Bachini linked (go to her main site and scroll down to "anti-semitism" if that first link doesn't work) to this over the weekend. It's a denunciation, as Alice's heading indicates, of the new anti-semitism, of the sort that Islamists and the new left are now accused of.

My point is nothing to do with the fact that I personally agree strongly with the message being presented. (I might as well be honest about that, and acknowledge that it may have influenced what follows.) My point is that this seems to me to be very well presented argument, and a model of how to use the internet to put across ideas. Aesthetically it is very satisfactory. And it is well-written.

I loathe the use of the word "education" to describe propaganda, and this is propaganda. The central dishonesty in the education/propaganda blurring being that ideas are being put across which the protagonist of them knows to be controversial, buit he conceals the fact that they are controversial and instead trying to say that they are as universally agreed about as the facts, say, of which city is the capital of which country, and of what 62 + 35 equals. Nevertheless, this particularly item of propaganda, it seems to me, has a lot to say to educators about how to communicate with the latest technology.

I'd love to be told of other equally excellent (or better) examples of how to put ideas across on the Internet.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:52 PM
Category: The Internet
[6] [0]
June 06, 2003
Rocket science in a pizza parlour

Here's an interesting piece of education. You know the expression "It's not rocket science". Well, this is rocket science. "Rocket science made simple." It's linked to by Glenn Reynolds here, to illustrate how easy it is now to educate yourself, wherever you are. I tried copying and pasting some of it, but couldn't make the actual equations work ("simple" is a matter of degree with rocket science), so you'll just have to go there yourself if you want to learn more.

It's the same observation as the one about why homeschooling works so much better now than it used to. The average home is now better informed than even the best university a couple of generations ago.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:44 PM
Category: Home educationThe Internet
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