Category Archives: Research

Brain Myths: Better Understand What We’re All Working With

Lately, I’m thinking and reading about how people interact with information. I love reading Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast & Slow, which discusses how the brain works through his work in behavioral economics. I wanted to brush up on my understanding of how the brain works in general, and I came across Brain Myths Exploded: Lessons from Neuroscience, a Great Courses lecture series–I used my Audible subscription to get the audio version.

Brain Myths Exploded: Lessons from Neuroscience
By: The Great Courses

I absolutely loved this series. I highly recommend this series to anyone interested in education, information literacy, learning, brain health, and our perception of reality. The lecturer, Professor Indre Viskontas, skillfully demonstrates how many common held beliefs about how the brain works do not align with scientists’ current understanding of how the brain works. I’ve been in education for 12 years, and there were several concepts I remember being taught that were challenged by this series.

If you haven’t read anything authoritative lately about science’s current understanding of how our brains work, definitely check out this series.

Thinking About What We Value

I am such a slow reader, but I’ve made a little dent in the stack of books that I got for Christmas:

Stack of books, mostly on Artificial Intelligence

At the rate I’m going, I hope to have these books read by Spring Break.

My line of inquiry went something like this: As an educator, I’m interested in how human brains interact with ideas–with information. I loved reading Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast & Slow, which presents the human brain as something that has a habit of making all kinds of mistakes in judgement as it seeks to follow a model of reality. Thinking of the brain as some kind of  faulty information processor, it made me want to investigate things that seem to process information more efficiently: computers (software, algorithms, etc.). That interest led me to many of the books that you see stacked in the image above.

I still have a lot to read, but I definitely wanted to jot down this note:

It feels like economic development has followed this path where humans are paid to do a thing, and then we get better at doing that thing, and then we get a machine to do that thing for us, and then we work with that machine to make even more improvements, and the desired end result is the machine is doing all the work and the machine owner is getting all the profit. This seems like how capitalism would be “solved.” I know I’m not making myself very clear here, but keep in mind I’m not an economist or a computer scientist–I’m a high school teacher librarian.

But, getting back to this goal of getting machines to do things for us to maximize efficiency and profit, think of the jobs that are lost if the end goal of an industry or a vocation is to make money. If money is the morality of a field of work, is that the kind of morality that’s best for our future?

  • Computers can trade on the stock exchange incredible numbers of shares to maximize profits. The mathematicians who help write the algorithms that trading software use are handsomely rewarded to use their skills to make… money.
  • Ideas can be promoted and shared and liked and retweeted by bots to grab our attention for advertisers and influence how we think about a subject. The folks who create bots are often blue collar type programmers who do the work to pay the bills. The brain power spent on making such bots seems like an example of trading money for improved efficiency at concentrating attention and influence.

If it’s all about money, and money keeps getting concentrated among 20% or 5% or 1% of the population, that’s what I mean when I say it seems like we’re close to “solving” capitalism. Like computers solved checkers and chess and Jeopardy!, capitalism will be solved and that’s kind of fun for the 1% who win, but what about everyone else?

We spend a lot of our resources, our human capital, on solving problems related to making more money. If solving the problem doesn’t lead to making more money, then why even attempt it?

  • Selling news that’s likely to get our attention, enrage us, or confirm our pre-existing beliefs is often more profitable than selling actual journalism.
  • Quality early childhood education leads to incredible benefits, but we (in the US at least) make it incredibly difficult for children from poorer families to receive quality early childhood education. A large part of the problem is that we don’t pay early childhood care providers very well. Perhaps it’s perceived that there isn’t enough return on investment to adopt policies and practices that guarantee all children access to high quality early childhood education.
  • Schools across the country have frequently elected to not employ librarians. Having such an information professional on campus is an extravagance that, apparently, doesn’t do much to boost the bottom line.

I suppose this list could go on for a while, and I understand the logic of a primary counterpoint:

Hey, nothing is stopping you from having all those things. You want early childhood education? You want quality journalism? Librarians? Pay for them. Nothing’s stopping you. The beauty of our system is we have freedom of choice–may the best forces win.

The problem is, as it’s turning out, the “best” ideas seem to be those ideas that maximize profits. Maybe money shouldn’t be the endgame.

Day 1 of the Information Literacy Workshop at CSUSM

Before our awesome librarian retired, he emailed me information about an Information Literacy workshop at CSU San Marcos. I registered and today was the first day of the workshop. A science teacher at my school (@MrEnerva) agreed to come with me–just for the chance to learn something new (how cool is that?!).

IMG_20160123_164359The CSUSM library staff shared their boot-camp-like courses designed to give incoming freshmen the research skills that professors expect college students to have. Those courses are:

The CSU San Marcos Library staff applied for and received a grant to share their Information Literacy program with surrounding high schools and middle schools in an effort to share their work and to help guide teachers prepare their students for college research expectations. I was very glad to learn about what CSUSM is doing at the college level considering that the GUHSD Library Council met just a couple weeks ago to develop research guidelines to help our own teachers lead students through the research process. Seeing this kind of work valued and shared by CSUSM helped legitimize the work our librarians are doing to promote the research process at our schools. I’m very excited to share what I learned (and my notes) with my librarian colleagues at our February 1st meeting!