Despite the risk of embarrassing myself, I thought I'd get the ball rolling on this one by just dropping an essay I wrote for a class into this page. It's very rough and not a great paper, but there might be some topics in here to work with. It was written in a personal voice toward the high school and college drop out. The voice of this article should be changed to the neutral voice standard.
*I won't be offended if this paper in it's entirety needs to be deleted and replaced with a more appropriately written article.*
aka - Jordan
To Discover: A New Pedagogy (Auto-didactic Learning on the Web)
- This paper is dedicated to a gentleman I met recently who gave up on using a computer because, in his words: “I can't keep up with everything that keeps changing”. -
We were all born with innate curiosity and demonstrate it quite prominently around the age of three when; without the instruction to do so, we started asking why all the time. For some; this is enough to sustain them through the hard work that study is. For others without the same skills or motivation, the traditional classroom can be a real challenge. Real dictionaries, encyclopedias, reference material, curriculum material, news sources and video lectures are available on the Internet for free. With these web tools we can explore our own interests, in our own order, in our own time frame and with our own method. We can teach ourselves.
To all the High School or College dropouts working in what may seem to be dead end jobs, picking up garbage, cleaning hotel rooms, working the tedious assembly lines or wandering the streets; your education doesn’t have to be over. Going from job to job and working as a temp, I've met a lot of people in the same place you are in. But there are new ways of learning using the web that you might find useful for enriching your life and even advancing your career. You might have a memories of instructors who seemed like they were only hired because they knew the subject, but when placed up front it became clear by class consensus that they were not good at making speeches. Some of them were so confusing that it seemed like they didn't even know what they are talking about. And those research papers; running around the library, gather books and then wading through the stacks only to find yourself drowning in a pool with too many authors and their all too common long-winded or self-inflated tone. I know this was certainly not an experience I chose to repeat if I could help it.
Failure in school is not failure in life. I know they told us, “If you want to get a good job you've got to study hard”. You might feel like you can't, because it didn't work out for people like you and me, but there are resource out there that might be a game changer for us.
We just don’t hear many people saying, “Oh, you know what would be fun? We could go down to the library and study up on it (it being whatever the topic may be)”. This is probably because many of us don’t see study as a form of amusement. You might say, “Amusement is the very opposite of study!”, but histories great thinkers; the role models of the aspiring scholar, found the amusement of ideas.
I know it seems like studying is boring, but it could be fun. I’m not saying education has to be dumbed down to be like the boob tube or the zombifying video game.
While the physical library is usually a car drive (or bus ride) away, many similar resources are instantly available on the web where a person; not otherwise interested in study, can catch the spur of the moment answer to a curious question. We might not be able to afford a real encyclopedia set or feel it is worth the occasional question to run down to the library, but there are reputable encyclopedias on the web like MSN's Encarta <http://encarta.msn.com/ > These are excellent for those quick little tidbits.
Tangential Learning and Memorable Information
Friends and acquaintances of mine have described experiences where those sparks of knowledge lead to the exploration of the tangents they find most interesting for hours on end. I hear it everywhere, “Just Google it”. Following this tangential path of greatest interest is where things are more memorable than the things that we are forced to learn. Being force fed information that presently has no personal relevance has a tendency to suppress curiosity. Following your present interests also increases the relevance of the eventual interest in the other subjects and creates an even more solid foundation for retention.
An example of this free form of study comes from my own life. As a child I had an almost complete lack of interest in History and Socio Political Events. But now I am fascinated by these topics. What changed? By independently reading the subjects that I found most interesting, I not only brought my reading skills way up, I also developed a solid context from which Human Behavior became personally relevant. I now have a strong interest in History and Socio Political Events. One off shoot of these topics is Epidemiology from which Microbiology became intriguing. Another example is Grammar, a subject I found dry and dull. However it was made clearer to me by observation rather than memorization with my increasing appetite for reading. These are just some of the topics I had nearly no interest in when I was younger, but that now engage my sense of exploration. Many different paths of personally relevant study can reach the same educational goals.
It is learning methods like these where knowledge is applied and retained, where queries to dictionaries, thesauri and other web resources are immediately relevant and therefore far more memorable. We may be learning a lot this way, but this tangential mindset could become a problem. Information overload coupled with distractedness could limit any serious comprehension of any single subject. Focus may not be learned as easily without the guidance of mentors.
Beware of False or Misleading Information
And all this googling is not to say that all the information we are finding is accurate. There is quite a lot of false information on the web as well. Without knowing how to discern the good from the bad, a lot of people can get a head full of erroneous knowledge. It would behoove the aspiring scholar to consult the local librarian; in person, by phone, email or instant message (as available) to learn how to find reputable resources. Consult your librarian before changing your intellectual diet.
The librarian may also point you to a number of rich multimedia resources like those created by PBS. Many libraries participate in a regional exchange, so the content that is not at the local library may be available to you at another location. Some regional systems go as far as delivering the items to your local branch. If you have this in your area, take advantage of it. Your librarian may direct you to a number of other multimedia resources available on the web. The PBS website <http://www.pbs.org > houses a vast library of video and supplementary material that is available for free.
The Annenberg Foundation <http://www.whannenberg.org/ > created <http://www.learner.org > which provides a wide variety of high school and college level courses, many of which transcend the lecture format by supplementing the dissertation with video presentations. You may remember some of these being broadcast on PBS.
A website called TED (“Technology, Entertainment, Design”: <http://www.ted.com/ > exhibits fascinating presentations from leaders in their field. Listening to world renowned speakers back to back for free and as long as you like and when you like, is out of this world.
There are some universities that telecast their lectures who also post some of them on their websites for the public. In many cases these lectures are better than the ones we could afford to get in person. Try searching for universities you know about and ask your librarian.
Wikis and Forums
There is a kind of social currency among online communities where the provider of information is given stature among the community, while the provider of erroneous information is corrected with a hyperlink to the truth.
Wikipedia, for example <http://wikipedia.org/ > should not be considered in total, to be on par with a real encyclopedia, but rather a form of community based consensus and review. The most common criticism is that anyone can edit it. It should however be known that there are measures in place. Users can set the article to a watch status on their profile. This means that when changes are made to the article, they are notified. They can then research and confirm by citing a source or dismiss the claim and delete it. If it gets changed back again by an anonymous person, their IP address can be blocked. If an article continues to be changed to include false information or vandalism, it can be set to only allow edits by users and then subsequently only by certain editors. There are many other measures in place for other concerns. For more see: “Wikipedia:Editorial oversight and control”. <http://en.wikipedia.org >. 26 June 2009. Wikipedia. 26 June 2009. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Editorial_oversight_and_control >.
Keep in mind that while wikis and forums are real time peer review that is aided by reputable sources and real scholars, it is also tarnished by some bad sources and performed by some people who should not be speaking on the subjects. Question their claims, research their references, add corrections to false or misleading information by referencing the reputable websites.
One example of scanning for knowledge being very useful comes from a personal experience I had during a heat wave. I knew that I would be working outdoors and wearing the professional black pants and black shoes in 100 degree weather. I scanned about half a dozen web pages before I found a real gem of an article about keeping cool on a hot day. Hours later I heard requests on Twitter from other Seattleites for tips on keeping cool. I simply and quickly went back, copied the hyperlink, pasted it on my profile and off it went. Moments later I saw it being reposted giving me credit for the find with the Twitter convention of @username (username in this case being my screen name). It went viral. This rapid method is a great way for finding and sharing knowledge. I can’t imagine going to the library, wading through too many books with old information and then calling all those people up and describing the information that I found. But still beware, there is a lot of misleading information.
Many of you are bookworms. You might have found your current read more interesting and informative than some of the classes you took. Obviously, your persistent reading will help build a greater understanding for the structure and breadth of language. To help you on your way, there are hundreds of classic works of literature (among tens of thousands of others) that are in the public domain, free to download. Project Gutenberg <http://www.gutenberg.org > is one place you can get them. Download a couple that look interesting and just scan the first couple pages of each until you find something that interests you and that facilitates your reading style. As you enjoy literature that makes sense, you can build the foundation to read the other, older and thicker literature.
Imagine having a couple bookshelves worth of classic literature sitting in your pocket, just waiting for you to slip away to the park or a favorite coffee shop. You can, with your Cell Phone (if it supports text files) or PDA. Your Cell Phone or PDA may even be capable of installing free eBook reader software <http://www.mobipocket.com/en/DownloadSoft >. The main advantage of using the eBook reader software is that you can click on words you don’t know or understand and a dictionary pops up. There are also features that the software enables, like choosing the font size and type, adding bookmarks, dog-earing the pages (with an eBook it's just a little picture that gets put on the corner of the page making it look like it has been dog-eared), and adding notes for personal reference among others. With the web on your phone, or on your home computer, you also have immediate access to commentaries on many piece of literature.
When it comes to reading the older literature, it can be a real struggle. But many of them have been turned into films which can help you get a better visual framework to place the story in and to uncover the meaning of their verbal language from their body language. From here, reading the book will make more sense than just diving into something too thick. Of course the plot has now been spoiled. But still, there is something about mulling over a single poetic verse even after you already know what is going to happen.
You might also get something out of audio books, which Project Gutenberg also has for free. You can listen to these; on your long commute to work (especially if you ride the bus), at a boring job where they let you wear earphones while you work, at home while doing your chores or just sitting back in the evening imagining places and contemplating ideas. If you don’t have an MP3 player but have a CD Walkman, check out the library again. They just might have the audio book that inspires a new chapter in your life. The library will have additional titles that are not free to download from the web as they are not in the “public domain”. While the exercise of listening to audio books won’t be directly advancing your reading skills, you will still become more familiar with the construction of language from the masters of oration.
A Vision for the Future
I took forward to the day when all the resources necessary to the pursuit one’s vocational and personal intellectual aspirations are available for free as a kind of public service akin to the library system. Imagine how liberating it would be for the individual; with their innate curiosity, to explore their own interests, in their own order, in their own time and in their own method. It may eventually become possible for hundreds of thousands; who otherwise might not have been able to afford college, to get a free education.