For each of our five essays, we’ll ask you to experience and reflect on a particular exercise related to a key concept in the essay. The idea here is to turn concepts into experiences–in other words, to take a key “dream” from the essay and make it something you do, something you make. For each essay, we’ll specify the experience and set up the parameters. Each experience will have some game-like elements–some things that are arbitrary, but meaningful. All of them will give you practice in habits of mind and inquiry that will help you create better questions, find better problems, and craft better writing.
1. “Associative Trails” concept experience
After completing the nugget post, to get a sense of what Vannevar Bush envisioned with respect to “associative trails,” go on a little web surfing expedition. One strategy here might be to start to click around the Web to start to explore possible topics for your inquiry project. Try not to think about the assignment. Simply click around and follow your interests. This may feel random to you, but don’t worry. (I bet you never thought you’d hear that in a college class, did you?). After about 1/2 hour or an hour, go into your browser history and look at the list of places you’ve been, from the starting point of the exercise to the stopping point of the exercise. Copy-and-paste the list into a Word doc for safekeeping. You can also do a screenshot, if you’d prefer.(don’t worry about the work unrelated to the course–everything is great).
2. Formulative Thinking vs. Formulated Problems
“It requires a very unusual mind to undertake the analysis of the obvious.” Alfred North Whitehead
(“Bear in mind … Whitehead’s observation that analyzing the obvious has produced some of [humanity’s] most dramatic intellectual accomplishments.) Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner
Last week’s concept experience asked you to reflect on how the computer records, reveals, and makes shareable your own associative trails. Many of you found some surprises there, which is very interesting.
This week’s concept experience asks you to reflect on how you interact with the computer to create new associative trails deliberately but without a preconceived formula. In other words, how can you use the computer not as a map but as more of a compass? You’ll be in the intersection between prescribed (like a recipe) and utterly random (like a rock hitting your windshield as you’re driving).
This is harder to do than you may think (a Marvel No-Prize for anyone detecting the reference there). Some of you noticed that as soon as you started the associative trails concept experience, you could no longer ignore that you were doing the associative trails concept experience, and this made your associative trails different from what they usually are. School does that to you, sometimes. But there’s an interesting trick you can learn to do in which you force yourself into what Zen masters call “beginner’s mind.” This concept experience may not get you all the way there, but it’s worth a try.
Here’s the experience:
- Start a blog post with the title “Analyzing the obvious.” As the first text in the body of the post, write the most obvious thing you can think of. Something like “water is wet.” (You can use that one if you want, but there are many obvious things to analyze so you’ll probably want one of your own for extra fun.)
- Now notice the time you start your experience. You don’t need a URL yet, just the time. You’ll find the URL in your history, later.
- Now pretend that your obvious statement is the research hypothesis for your inquiry project. If this doesn’t make you feel a little silly, then you haven’t chosen a truly obvious thing to analyze.
- Now start your research (in another browser tab or window) on your computer. Your job is to analyze this obvious statement. Here’s where you’ll need to be creative. You’ll need not just to solve problems, but to find problems too. You’re not just looking for answers. You’re looking for better questions. Obvious things can’t be analyzed unless you come up with really good questions. You’re taking a leap of faith, trusting what Alfred North Whitehead observed and trusting that you can be persistent and creative enough to experience some of that for yourself.
- Work on this concept experience for at least 90 minutes. You can take breaks if you want, but the longer you can work uninterruptedly, the better the chance that you’ll get better.
- After you’ve finished, look over your history and go back to your blog post. Write an extended and extra-thoughtful, extra-creative blog post that reflects on how you interacted with the computer (there’s the Man-Computer Symbiosis link) as you analyzed the obvious. Your history will help you. Don’t wait too long to do the blog post–do it while the experience is fresh in your mind.
3. Augmenting Human Intellect through Curation and Synthesis
To experience concepts articulated in “Augmenting Human Intellect,” our focus will be on two key aspects of the research enterprise: curation and synthesis.
In the section “Some Possibilities with Cards…” Engelbart discusses his “existing note and file system” of the “unit records” of card-sized-notchable cards as his system for gathering information (curation) and making connections between sources (synthesis).
PART I: GATHERING INFORMATION (tagged “concept3a”)
“But when I digest the writings of another person, I find generally anyway that I have extracted from his structure and integrated into my own a specific selection of facts, considerations, ideas, etc. Often these different extracted items fit into different places in my structure, or become encased in special substructures as I modify or expand his concepts. Extracting such items or kernels and putting each on its own notecard helps this process considerably…(These notecards or kernels) provide a workspace for me in which I can browse, make additions or corrections, or build new sets of thought kernels with a good deal of freedom.”
Engelbart uses “kernels” as his metaphor for bits of knowledge he finds from other people. So, for your first concept experience this week, you are to create a metaphor of your own for “digesting” the “writings of (other) people.” How would you describe (using a metaphor!) your current workspace and workflow for integrating new ideas, concepts, considerations, and questions about something (anything!) in which you are interested? (that workspace/workflow might be high-tech, low-tech, or anywhere in between. It might be in your head as well as integrated with some other digital or analog tools). How does it look or feel as you read and “digest the ideas” of others? What “system(s)” do you use? What image(s) best represent(s) your research and reading processes?
We will re-visit this next week when we learn about the concept of an “ultra-rich environment” and research methodology tools/programs.
Part II: From Conceptual Chain to Conceptual Network (tagged “concept3b”)
We’ve already spent some time experiencing the concepts of “associative trails” and “human-computer symbiosis.” Now it’s time to experience the meta-concept of “conceptual networks.” Engelbart’s idea was that “human-computer symbiosis” could make “associative trails” into a kind of 3-D version of the way we think. By doing so, we could improve the way we think about thinking, an improvement that would then further improve our ability to think, both singly (thought vectors) and together (concept space). He sums up this process when he writes:
The Memex adds a factor of speed and convenience to ordinary filing-system (symbol-structuring) processes that would encourage new methods of work by the user, and it also adds speed and convenience for processes not generally used before. Making it easy to establish and follow the associative trails makes practical a new symbol-structuring process whose use can make a significant difference in the concept structuring and basic methods of work. It is also probable that clever usage of associative-trail manipulation can augment the human’s process structuring and executing capabilities so that he could successfully make use of even more powerful symbol-structure manipulation processes utilizing the Memex capabilities. [Note: this is an early example of what Engelbart seems to mean by “thought vectors in concept space.”] An example of this general sort of thing was given by Bush where he points out that the file index can be called to view at the push of a button, which implicitly provides greatercapability to work within more sophisticated and complex indexing systems.
Note, too, the implications extending from Bush’s mention of one user duplicating a trail (a portion of his structure) and giving it to a friend who can put it into his Memex and integrate it into his own trail (structure). Also note the “wholly new forms of encyclopedia”, the profession of “trail blazers,” and the inheritance from a master including “the entire scaffolding” by which such additions to the world’s record were erected. These illustrate the types of changes in the ways in which people can cooperate intellectually that can emerge from the augmentation of the individuals. This type of change represents a very significant part of the potential value in pursuing research directly on the means for making individuals intellectually more effective.
This concept experience asks you to work within these ideas as a framework for thinking about your thought vectors—and some others as well—in the concept space of the course to date. In other words, this concept experience asks you to make a conceptual network. Yes, this is a concept experience about concepts!
WHAT IS A CONCEPTUAL NETWORK?
Here’s what Engelbart writes about conceptual networks. Notice that he uses the word “argument” as a way of thinking about “concepts.” That’s an interesting move.
Conceptually speaking, however, an argument is not a serial affair. It is sequential, I grant you, because some statements have to follow others, but this doesn’t imply that its nature is necessarily serial. We usually string Statement B after Statement A, with Statements C, D, E, F, and so on following in that order–this is a serial structuring of our symbols. Perhaps each statement logically followed from all those which preceded it on the serial list, and if so, then the conceptual structuring would also be serial in nature, and it would be nicely matched for us by the symbol structuring.
But a more typical case might find A to be an independent statement, B dependent upon A, C and D independent, E depending upon D and B, E dependent upon C, and F dependent upon A, D, and E. See, sequential but not serial? A conceptual network but not a conceptual chain. The old paper and pencil methods of manipulating symbols just weren’t very adaptable to making and using symbol structures to match the ways we make and use conceptual structures. With the new symbol-manipulating methods here, we have terrific flexibility for matching the two, and boy, it really pays off in the way you can tie into your work.
STEP ONE: RECAP
You’ve completed these written assignments:
- “How it feels when I think”
- Vannevar Bush Nugget
- Associative Trails Concept Experience
- First progress report / research reflection
- Licklider Nugget
- Revised Licklider Nugget w/links
- “Analyzing the Obvious” (Formulative Thinking) Concept Experience
- Second progress report / research reflection
- Engelbart Nugget w/links
Go back and read all your writing, as well as all the comments you’ve received. Take some notes about any patterns you see, anything at all that suggests not a chain but a network.
STEP TWO: MAKE A CONCEPTUAL NETWORK
Write a blog post in which you do the following:
- Select two of your favorite sentences from each of your written assignments. These need not be consecutive sentences. This assignment may be more fun and interesting if they’re not. You should have a total of eighteen sentences.
- Select a favorite sentence from four other students’ blog posts. (Total: four sentences.) Copy the URL from each post for your later reference. Note: this URL should be the “permalink,” i.e., the link to the post itself, not simply to the blog. You can find the permalink by clicking on the title of the post. When you see that post only, along with its comments (if any), look at the URL in the address bar. That’s the URL you want.
- Select two of your favorite sentences from each of the readings so far: Bush’s “As We May Think,” Licklider’s “Man-Computer Symbiosis,” and the excerpts we read from “Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework.” Note the URL for each reading. For the Engelbart reading, note the “purple number” next to the paragraph in which your sentence appears. You can get a very precise URL (an “anchor point”) that way. Seehttp://christinaincs.wordpress.com/2014/06/10/tips-for-blogging-about-doug-engelbart-and-his-work/. This step yields six sentences. As before, the two sentences from each reading do not have to be consecutive. It may be more fun and interesting if they are not.
- You now have twenty-eight sentences. Now make a conceptual network out of them. Arrange the sentences in an order, and in paragraphs, in ways that make sense as a total post of twenty-eight sentences. In each sentence, choose one word that you will link to the original post or reading. Try to choose a word that’s not only a keyword but also an inviting or intriguing word, the kind of link word that your reader won’t be able to resist clicking on. This is both an informational and an aesthetic decision. Your conceptual network (the concept space you create out of these thought vectors) should be coherent and persuasive, but it should also be interesting, and fun to explore.
This is probably a more involved concept experience than any you have attempted so far, so give yourself plenty of time to finish it by midnight, Thursday, June 26.
For an example of an assignment like this created by a former student of Dr. Campbell, Ms. Brooke Baugher, please see http://bbaugher.wix.com/meta-team-vtclis13#!travels-through-time/c1z6m.
4. Dream Machines
5. Mapping My Dreamers
You should start by reviewing your nuggets from all of the key thinkers in the course — going back to Bush’s “As We May Think” in week 2, all the way through Goldberg and Kay from week 8. Review the readings themselves, all the time thinking about how they are actually in conversation with one another.
I encourage all of you to be creative when making these connections. Even though your course readings were written decades ago — the writers were revolutionary in their thinking, and everything you will be researching for your inquiry project is an outgrowth of some of the visionary thinking of Bush, Licklider, Englebart, Nelson, Kay and Goldberg.
The image below is a map created by Dr. Bonnie Boaz, one of the other #thoughtvectors professors. She used a service called MindMup to create a basic “concept map.” She used only the “add child” and “edit node” buttons. Also, you’ll note that she started with a potential inquiry project topic (“anti-vaccine movement on Pinterest”) and then only connected that idea to one thinker. You do not have to bring your topic/issue in yet, though you are absolutely more than welcome to do so. Your main goal is to show how the ideas of at least 3 of the thinkers/dreamers are in conversation. You must synthesize their ideas by showing us what the conversation looks like.
(Dr. Boaz’s mindmup: click on image to make it larger)
I would like you to not simply add a word “Licklider” to the map — but pull out a key concept in Licklider and place it on the map. How you do that depends on how you choose to demonstrate the conversation. It might be in parts of a concept map or it may be in footnotes. Again, that depends on your choice of media. The point is, you want to add as much narrative as necessary to make the point that makes the connections clear.
How might you demonstrate the conversation? I would suggest starting by mapping your thoughts by hand, then transferring them to another medium. Here are some ideas for other media:
- Concept mapping program – Dr. Boaz used MindMup. MindMup is a free mind mapping tool that can be used online, with Google Drive, and on your desktop. MindMup works like most mind mapping tools in that you can create a central idea and add child and sibling nodes all over a blank canvas. MindMup nodes can contain text and links. When you’re ready to save your MindMup mind map you can save it to Google Drive, save it to your desktop, or publish it online. If you publish it online, you can grab an embed code for it to post it in a blog post or webpage. There are other free mind/concept mapping programs, including Gliffy and CMap.
- Google Drawing – we’ll probably be using Google Docs more in a couple/few weeks, and if you’re not using them now, they’re game changing. Google Docs are not just for text, though. You can draw in Google Docs, too, and that may be a way for you to demonstrate the conversation between the dreamers.
- Microsoft Word – there’s plenty you can do just within Word. You probably know about text editing in Word, but you can create charts, graphs, etc. in there, too.
- Microsoft PowerPoint – maybe you want to think of the conversation among the dreamers in terms of an organizational chart.
- Other – those are just some suggestions. Maybe you want to use handwritten post-it notes on a wall and take a picture of it. Maybe you want to draw on a big piece of paper and take a picture of it. Maybe you want to do an interpretive dance and make a video of it. Your choice; be creative…
When you are done, make sure to embed or link to your synthesis in a blog post with the tag “synthesis“.