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#opened16 - Gardner Campbell keynote notes

5 min read

Gardner kicked off with an impressionistic and immersive video journey - covering aspects of counterculture, rebellion and learning. I can't really do it justice in words, but it drew particularly on the career of (Nobel Laureate) Bob Dylan. You can see it here.

And that @actualham actually periscoped the entire presentation.

Robert Wagner Dodge was a member of a team of smoke jumpers who dropped into forests to fight wildfires. A change in the wind direction claimed the lived of 12 out of 15 men. But a creative idea saved his life. He threw a match out ahead of him to start another fire - he could then lie in the ashes of this fire and survive as the main fire blew over.

A 2008 New Yorker magazine article ("The Eureka Hunt", Jonah Lehrer) described this as an example of "insight learning". Insight is a Scandinavian word (according to google) in increasing usage over the past 200 years. The use of, and perhaps need for insight, has grown. Common definitions draw on the ideas and language of higher education - but synonyms are on the banned list for learning outcomes. It can be a capacity to gain an intutitive understanding, the understanding itself and in psychiatry an understanding of the causes of ones own disorder. 

Insight-oriented therapy depends on conversation between the therapist and the client (but will it scale?). Monied interests in mental health focus on the use of medicines support scale - but this may be less sustainable.

Describing the insight experience, Lehrer ennumerates the following stages:

  • concentrate
  • search
  • mental block/impasse
  • walk away/distraction/relax
  • then the problem has been solved. (a "sudden sense that the solution occured already")
  • feeling of certainty

But what happens between the distraction and the solution? Neuro-resonance imaging shows the activity of the anterior superior temporal gyrus (aSTG) - this is a part of the right hemisphere, where neurons are "less precise, but better connected". This is followed by a gamma wave spike (Kandel, "The Age of Insight", 2012). Gamma waves are thought to result from the binding of neurons, as cells draw themselves into a new network. This peak happens 300ms before a test subject offers an answer to a puzzle requiring insight. An insight is therefore thought (Earl Miller) to permantly alter the structure of the brain.

Science and myths both describe this process. Linda Rondstat described the process of recording with Brian Wilson - focusing on the way in which he worked out harmony vocals... he would go to the piano and play something entirely unconnected (another key, in a different genre) and then immediately solve the problem. Gardner gave other examples of using alternate gamelike processes to generate insight in the self and in others. But you *have* to wait.

Bruner ("some elements of discovery" in Towards a Theory of Instruction, 1971) suggested that a failure to wait would result in obedience rather than reflection - shallow learning rather than deep. And this "deadening" is made more likely by the pressures of a curriculum or timetable, (Garder gave the example of the use of the "Eureka Hunt" article in a blogging assignment (which used Sample and Long's "Blog Scoring Rubric). The goals that lie behind these exercises are not "bad" goals, but when students write to a rubric the result is not pretty (thrown into sharp, ironic, relief by the subject matter).

[*breaks fourth wall* here I'm also aware of the irony of my notetaking]

These summaries and responses could well be written by an algorithm.

Lehrer notes that trying to force an insight can actually prevent the insight. A clenched state of mind inihibits the outpouring of creativity... there are flashcards available for the eureka hunt, with a robot voice. There is also a request for a step-by-step guide to a response (on "Course Hero", a paper mill site).

The four deadly mantras of student success: 

  • "students don't do optional"
  • "define more pathways"
  • "we need to graduate more students" [memo to higher ed: we don't graduate students, students graduate themselves]
  • "students are our product"

Pushback against this is around insight orientated education being only for talented learners.

But neuroscientist Eric Campbell suggests: "The Aha! moment is well within the competence of the average person". Can we afford not to give all students this opportunity?

Blogging is an example of an "insight generator" - the freedom of analysis and response without a rubric can be scary. 

A student in Gardner's "Milton" course looked at the idea of blindness via a youtube video made by a man who was born blind. Sharing this with the class allowed him to surprise, and to contribute to the development of their own learning. Other examples of students own work also demonstrate this insight - "my favourite thing about blogging for your classes was being encouraged to take and active role in my own education". 

Gardner is running an "Open Education" course for AAC&Us faculty in January. [Gardner's blog]