Saturday, February 26, 2011

The write stuff

I'm linking Martin Jaques' TED Talk on the rise of China not so much because of the content of his presentation, but rather to observe that the audience isn't busy scribbling notes trying to take it all down. At TED, we can listen to so many great minds speak about our times but we don't bother writing down what we're hearing?

What does that say about us and our egos when we insist that our kids write down everything we say in our piddly little lectures and tutorials, like as if we were spinning pure gold from our mouths?

Oh, if you want to listen to Jaques, go ahead. Interesting guy. Don't mind my ranting.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Noise to signal

The kids have completed something of an in-house survey regarding how they view themselves, and their personal goals and traits. Interestingly, the majority of them claim that they study best alone, isolated from external distractions. This I believe. When we set our minds to study, we don't like any unnecessary noise that would disrupt the signal we're trying so hard to focus on.

But the kids are now on the threshold of having to distill more knowledge from more information that they have ever encountered before. Alone, they're going to have a terrible time coping with such a deluge of material. That's why we put them in classes -- so they can work together, and help each other in the distillation process.

From this level onwards, study becomes an increasingly social process. We're looking at big concepts that have to do with life, human behaviour, and power relationships, for example, and are considering the many facets making up the big questions that we as a species have currently no answer to. What can a class of 16 year-olds do to make any headway in a task this huge? Same thing as the rest of humanity is doing: share our observations with one another and hope the pooling, sifting and combining of our collective thoughts and ideas will eventually help us make sense of it all.

So the class is like an old-time distillery, with lots of processes to break down the raw materials and lots of hands to make the machinery work. The finished product is a fine cognac to look forward to. This is the knowledge that the kids will take away from their cooperative labours. The best thing about a good liquor is that it can be further shared and enjoyed in a social environment, or taken into a private study to be savoured at one's leisure. That's when studying alone really comes into its own.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Three little words make all the difference

Which are the three most important words in any human language? 'I don't know'.

Which are the next three most important words in any human language? 'Let's* find out'.

At this point of human intellectual development, we've encapsulated the total cognitive objectives of primary and secondary school. If the kiddies can prove that they can recall all the facts they've been told about the world, they get a pat on the head and can move on to JC.

At JC, they learn the next three most important words in any human language: 'I don't believe'.

The shock for the kiddies when they arrive at our doorstep is that everything they'd learnt before may be a lie. Or at least, as far as GP is concerned, that they should treat everything that purports to be non-fiction (including their own textbooks) with a dose of healthy skepticism.

This step is key to significant intellectual development for JC kids because it unlocks new brain capacities, helping them to approach their studies as inquirers and testers of knowledge seeking understanding, rather than as mindless information sponges nearing saturation.

To understand leads us to the next three most important words, 'I got it!' After which the next level would then be, 'Let's work together'. If they can get to this stage of mental preparation, they're ready to benefit from uni education.

Sadly, many of our undergrads enter uni still thinking like secondary school students, their two years spent in GP notwithstanding. I wonder why?

*I'll accept concatenations as a single word

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A little taste of dragon

Dragon Age II is nearing release. But before the main course arrives, Bioware has deigned to present us with a little appetizer of a demo in which we play through the opening sequences of the actual game, and have a taste of a key mission scenario. It's just an introduction, really, to the new game mechanics and to some of the NPCs that will be tagging along in our hero's party.

No spoilers: it's exactly the same scenario that the developers used in an earlier webcast though this time we, the players, finally get hands on and play it our way, our style. Although gameplay is familiar, the tweaks still need some getting used to. Enemy characters now attack in multiple waves which means a lot more hacking-and-slashing than before. While that's great for scoring level-up points, it requires a bit of stamina to grind through every fight before moving on to the next checkpoint -- which could be yet another fight or plot-advancing cut-scene. Loser gamers like me who have short attention-spans may occasionally have difficulty keeping track of the battle and end up dead. Oops. Retry...

I found the opening to be quite a hand-holding experience, like I was being guided on rails from one plot element to the next. Hopefully when I get my hands on the real thing, the game world will feel a lot more open-ended with more places to explore and more NPCs to chat with.

The graphics have had a major upgrade. The character movements are more fluid, varied and energetic, with special attacks landing with visible power. Bodies fly when hit, occasionally disintegrating in fountains of gore when they succumb to particularly nasty hits. Every visual element stands out in sharp relief against the background, nice, but this kind of effect also looks cartoony, lacking a focal depth of field that would give a better illusion of reality.

Since the party in this demo offer a limited mix of ranged, melee and magic abilities there's also a chance to test out party tactics in battle. As usual, this will take a few more plays through to figure out -- yes, I'm slow -- but I believe I'll get it by DA2 release day, March 8. Bring it on!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Fighting obsolescence

Edit 01:
Oops, perhaps there's a little misunderstanding. This post is not about me quitting blogging. I'm just commenting about the changing nature of the blogging audience. There are many different online apps to target specific audiences with specific material. For example, if I need to address the student population, I use the campus online forum. To contact my immediate group of students I'm experimenting with other apps such as FB, which is a different account from the one I use to keep in touch with my social circle. This blog will be less targeted, more random in content, but it's still functioning. Thanks for reading! :)

I think NYT says it all in its article about blogs losing their appeal. Doesn't mean I'm giving up on blogging, but considering the frequency and quality (or rather, lack thereof) of my recent activity here, it's obvious that I'm no longer as anxious as I once might have been in getting my daily spiel out into the ether.

I think blogging still has its uses, and I'll keep returning to make self-indulgent posts because I'm odd like that. This space will continue to be a dumping ground of random thoughts and ideas, perhaps as a focal point or aggregator of the various bits of information I encounter that cause a synaptic spark to ignite somewhere in the ol' grey matter, though like everyone else I'll be keeping in touch with my audience -- that has recently become very fragmented -- through alternative online apps as appropriate to their disparate needs and interests.

Monday, February 21, 2011

You have five minutes... start talking!

With the new J1 oral defence assessment component, I'm using the Pecha-Kucha movement to inspire the kids. The general PK rule is 20x20, that is, 20 PowerPoint slides set to auto-advance at every 20 second interval which amounts to a presentation slightly less than 7 minutes long. Each slide contains minimal text to avoid distracting the audience from the speaker, while the speaker learns to make a sharply focussed presentation with no time for kerfuffle.

I think it's a fun and creative means of getting the kids to develop their communication skills, and it should certainly help them prepare for their oral component during their end-of-year Project Work assessment as well. Might as well start them off early, I say.

But for the purposes of our J1 newbies, their first oral exercise will only last three minutes. If you're doing the math, that's 9x20. That's fine by me. Who knows? We just might be reviving the movement here in S'pore with our little experiment -- it seems to have died out a couple of years ago. Wouldn't that be a hoot?