Sunday, July 25, 2010

Maybe we should have left it as it was

John Basinger recites Milton's Paradise Lost--the entire 60,000 words--from memory.  He started memorizing the poem when he was 58.  (You can listen here.)  I can't decide what fascinates me more, that he started at 58, that he was able to memorize Milton's entire work (I have trouble with my grocery list), or that he learns something new (what he describes as "a delicious possibility") with each recitation of the 60,000 words.

So, when Newsweek reported (this month) the data demonstrating that creative thinking is declining in America and explained that "those who diligently practice creative activities learn to recruit their brains’ creative networks quicker and better," I wondered again why we've abandoned the rigor that shored up innovation.  Some of the highlights:
  • A recent IBM poll of 1,500 CEOs identified creativity as the No. 1 “leadership competency” of the future.
  • When scholars gave creativity tasks to both engineering majors and music majors, their scores laid down on an identical spectrum, with the same high averages and standard deviations. 
  • A lifetime of consistent habits gradually changes the neurological pattern.
And the last quote reminded me that I've written before about Proust and neural networks and the possibilities for change--change at a fundamental, personal, neurological level.  We can alter our own realities (we can debate the limits another time), far later in life than previously thought and far more rigorously in the service of creativity, education, and innovation.  The education of our grandparents and great-grandparents was largely rote memorization, which has been widely vilified in favor of more open-ended instruction.  Rigor and creativity are inextricably confounded; why do we persist in attempts to separate them academically?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

People who know how to cheat will soon be on the front lines of cyber defense.

The title for this post is a quote from a recent NPR story on cybersecurity.   I read the story and a source document from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) with mixed emotion.  From the CSIS report:
The nation and the world are now critically dependent on the cyber infrastructure that is vulnerable to threats and often under attack in the most real sense of the word.  
From any perspective--strategic, military, identification theft, extortion, terror--the vulnerability of our cyber infrastructure is frightening.  And, from the perspective of a citizen, educator, and parent, some of the underlying assumptions are markedly, well, troubling. One example, from the related National Security Council report:
While billions of dollars are being spent on new technologies to secure the U.S. Government in cyberspace, it is the people with the right knowledge, skills, and abilities to implement those technologies who will determine success.  
 It is, most definitely, people who are creating both the problems and the solutions.  Highly intelligent, out-of-the box (trite, I know) thinking, creative, problem-solving people.  People who must understand how to break something in order to know how to build it to withstand breakage.  
The analogy is physicians who must understand etiology in order to heal.

But the concern (for me) comes when we reward those who cheat the system, simply for beating the system.  It's a subtle distinction, I know, but we have strong punitive measures (beginning with The Hippocratic oath) for physicians who create illness or do harm.  It's a slippery slope to reward hackers for hacking, rather than for building.  Take a few minutes to read the links, think about the implications, and work out your own position.  It's harder than it sounds.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Sometimes I'd really rather be wrong

Though I am an advocate of expressing opinions and advocating for position, I am also mindful of the damage that can be done, albeit unwittingly, through the written word.  Bright, passionate business students who are eager to make their mark in the world have difficulty understanding why I caution them about what they put in whom...and when.

The temptation to use quick and easy communication tools has landed more than one high profile person in the hot water of public outcry.  Recently, CNN's Middle East editor lost her job due to a tweet.  Though she later explained articulately and fully what she did--and, more importantly, did not--mean by the short tweet, the damage to her reputation was done.

"If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail" is often attributed to Abraham Maslow.  I heard it countless times in graduate school as explanation for why we needed more than one theory to account for human behavior.  And, as a dear friend reminds me, New and Improved! is usually neither--the advice that served me well in the pre-Facebook, pre-blog, pre-Twitter, pre-internet days has stood the test of time.

Having a cool tool makes it oh-so-easy (and tempting) to use it when you shouldn't.  And, for better or for worse, the communication device is (still) mightier than the metal weapon.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Who knew work could still be fun?

During the past week, I've taught myself to use Prezi (you can see my first attempt here), created a web site to use for a high school technology program, and installed Google Chrome (that was actually today).  The week before, I finally mastered the web cam I blogged about earlier and actually used the administrator rights for the Facebook page for that same high school technology program.  And it's all been fun.

Fun is not a word I hear my colleagues use very often. We tend to use more academic terms such as intriguing, useful, invigorating, stimulating, challenging, cutting edge, or (if we're really going out on a limb) refreshing.  All of those are swell words--really, they are.  But multi-syllabic words don't capture what you see in a girl's eyes when she talks about how much FUN she just had at the park...or what you hear in a boy's voice when he tells you how much FUN it was to go fishing.

Call me old-fashioned, quaint, anachronistic (if you must, but not in my hearing, please), but don't take the joy out of learning something, accomplishing something (I had to create the Prezi twice, thus, twice the satisfaction of finally getting it right), or finishing something.

Life isn't, can't be, shouldn't be all about fun.  But there are places for sheer joy--and learning should be one of those places.  If we allow the fun to flourish where it can, it is partial recompense for those inevitable places where learning is just difficult.  And I do love that Prezi...