Archive for the ‘knowledge’ Category

Should History be Compulsory?

January 27, 2007

Once people pass out of the school system, everyone forms an opinion on what kids “should learn”. It’s like politics, it gets heated, and people get angry, but just like politics has a real world effect, so too does our schooling system.

So-called curriculum and the various ways of measuring it (A levels, SAT, outcome-based education) are real, because our kids are subjected to six years of it. So much of schooling is about peers and socialisation, but there is all this time spent in classrooms too.

So what makes a good foundation? The three R’s (reading, writing, ‘rithmetic) are taught at lower levels, and I take as a given. The latter two years of high school give students a choice in what they focus on, so there is personal discretion there. What of the middle years?

I wonder if history should be given a greater emphasis. Not the dates, but a broad grasp of civilisation and different cultures. Seeing all the mistakes and wrong turns taken, where positive steps have been made, how slavery was ended, how the vote was won. This “informing” of the mind to know where we came from to understand the world of today.

And this historical learning doesn’t go out-of-date (pardon the pun). It gives individuals tools for thinking about the world, and analysing events. Learning history seems to be empowering.

Of course, there are those who argue that history is highly subjective, and always filtered to present a particular point of view. There is some merit in that. But ignorance, and only studying “objective” sciences is no answer either. Better to be have an open system that allows people to question and redress any biases that may exist.

I can coming to the view that learning History may be a a very positive thing for young people (and slightly older ones too).

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The Library Redefined

January 11, 2007

Ten years ago, if you wanted to find out something, there was only one place to go. The Library. It might have been the local council library, or a university library, or maybe even the state library, but a library it was.

There you had your reference books, newspaper archives, the latest magazines, biographies, journals, maps, novels and non-fiction. The library was the information archive for man, and had been that way for nigh on 500 years.

What change has been wrought in a decade. Everything now has a digital existence; from words to sound, video and animation, it’s all online and on tap through the google machine.

So where to now for the Library? What role can it have now?

1) some libraries are going down the terminal path. They reason – if the information is now online, we can provide an access point. But this only makes sense if computers and broadband are expensive. They are not. So turning libraries into terminal spaces is folly.

2) as an archive for less and less books being published. This is the role state libraries have always played, and it is a noble goal. But eventually, such places will become museums and relics; curios for bibliophiles and interested tourists.

So where to? I cannot see an easy answer. But if the question is not confronted and opened up to public debate, we might find those library spaces we so cherished when we were growing up and studying, just utterly sidelined. And it could happen in 5 years time.

Two Ways of Gaining Knowledge

January 9, 2007

Through my own observations and experience, there appear to be two main ways of aquiring knowledge –

1) active – this is when the question is already there. You want to know the definition of a word, how to fix something, where to find someone. It is highly focused, and well defined.

2) passive – this is almost the search for a question. You have an area of interest (literature, tech, music) and you go for a journey of discovery. Through magazines, conversation, random stumbles, you expand your sphere of understanding.

Quite often the passive path triggers off questions that lead to a more active approach, and other times you think you know what you want to know, but it’s not well-defined enough to really nail down. You need to read around a subject, and pick up some passive understanding.

Between Search and Serendipity

January 3, 2007

Google is great at what it does, that is, search for something specific enough, and in most cases, you’ll probably get it.

But what’s missing is that element of browsability.  Pick up a book, and have a flick through it – you’ll pick out key elements.

How often have you gone to a bookstore looking for one thing and buying something unrelated?

So be careful for what you search for … you might actually get it.

Timely Knowledge

December 28, 2006

The whole archive of human knowledge and wisdom is being put online.  Whether it be wikipedia, classic books, great art, or mp3 music, the collective output of two and a half thousand years of thinking and industry is there for all.  And it’s indexed and searchable too.  So what’s the problem?

The problem is, the tiny little brain each of us has can only process so much information per hour.  And more importantly, we don’t need to know everything.  What we really need to know is what’s relevant to us at any particular time.

And that’s the Real Problem.  What is relevant, and what is applicable to my situation right now?  What do I need to know to get the job done in the best possible manner?  What is the best source of that information?

Developing strategies for Timely Knowledge will keep you ahead of the game.  It means success, and personal satisfaction.  It also means fulfillment of potential.

We all need to devote some time to the issue of Knowledge, and more importantly, Timely Knowledge.

Feed Reading: Time to Drop the Numbers

December 26, 2006

Do you approach Google Reader or Bloglines with a sense of trepidation?  Know you have an hour or two of hard grind ahead of you?  It’s all in the numbers.  Total clips left, and the number of clips in each feed is there in front of you.  Hard work it says.

What started out as being fun and amusing becomes a chore.  What’s needed is for these Feed Readers to drop the numbers.  Just give me a list of all the subscriptions I have, and when I click on one, give me the last 10 posts.  If I need more, I can go back, but just the most recent ten posts initially.  Your mood and temper will guide you through the feeds depending on your needs, but having the numbers stare you in the face is too daunting.

Bloglines have experimented with playlists, and Google Reader with a river-of-news, but what is needed is to just drop the numbers.  Let me decide what to read, and don’t let the numbers affect my decisions.