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Aristotle: The Polis, from Politics


I am now in week 2 of Coursera’s, The Ancient Greeks Course, and one of our assignments is to read a section from Aristotle: The Polis, from Politics and put forward what the main elements in Aristotle’s definition of the polis are?

I will start with a definition of the polis

literally means city in Greek. It could also mean citizenship and body of citizens. In modern historiography “polis” is normally used to indicate the ancient Greek city-states, like Classical Athens and its contemporaries, so polis is often translated as “city-state”.

The main elements begins with the idea of the Polis being the ideal.

Every State is a community of some kind, and every community is established with a view to some good

Secondly, he talks about the groups that make up the Polis and he advocates an almost scientific approach to studying the different components. The first part is the union of marriage and the family. A group of families becomes a village and the state comes into being when there is a group of villages. The Polis is necessary as a whole because without it the other parts, families, villages etc, would not exist.


Also man is a better person under the Polis as he is subject to Justice

For man, when perfected, is the best of animals, but, when separated from law and justice, he is the worst of all………..

…………But justice is the bond of men in states, for the administration of justice, which is the determination of what is just, is the principle of order in political society. . . .

Reading the text it becomes apparent that he favours the middle classes and believes they make for the best citizens.

Again, the middle class is least likely to shrink from rule, or to be over-ambitious for it; both of which are injuries to the state

Aristotle feels that a city is most efficient when it is composed of equals, which can only be the middle classes

The evil begins at home; for when they are boys, by reason of the luxury in which they are brought up, they never learn, even at school, the habit of obedience. On the other hand, the very poor, who are in the opposite extreme, are too degraded. So that the one class cannot obey, and can only rule despotically; the other knows not how to command and must be ruled like slaves. Thus arises a city, not of freemen, but of masters and slaves, the one despising, the other envying

He believes that a dominate middle class prevent the other groups (very rich or very poor) from taking over. If one of these groups were to dominate

Great then is the good fortune of a state in which the citizens have a moderate and sufficient property; for where some possess much, and the others nothing, there may arise an extreme democracy, or a pure oligarchy

For this reason he also felt that bigger states were better as smaller states are more likely to create a rich/poor divide with no middle class.

He ends this piece by saying that the rich (oligarchy) or poor (democracy) fight to dominate. Whichever side wins believe that their political supremacy is the ultimate prize instead of the creation of a just state. No change there then.

Aristotle: The Polis, from Politics

Open Education – 3 priorities


I am continuing to enjoy my Open Education course from the Open University. This week we have been asked to;

Imagine you are advising a funding organisation that wishes to promote activity and research in the area of open education.Set out the three main priorities they should address, explaining each one and providing a justification for your list.

Open Education, The Open University

OER are defined as teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use and re-purposing by others. Open Educational Resources include: full courses, course materials, modules, learning objects, open textbooks, streaming videos, tests, software, and any other tools, materials, or techniques used to support access to knowledge.

Definition provided by Wikipedia

So here are my three priorities

The question of how to assess is obviously going to be difficult when you have tens of thousands of students enrolled on a course. This is before you even get to the issue of the different types of evaluation. Peer assessment is the most commonly used method of appraisal but that brings with it a whole host of advantages and disadvantages. Clearly it is an efficient way of assessing large quantities of works. Peer assessment also means that students (and professors) are learning from other students whilst evaluating against a set of criteria. However, and this is something I have worried about, can you assure quality? When I have completed an assignment and put time and effort into it, I would expect an objective, knowledgeable assessment and a fair mark. Can we rely on each other to do this? This article from the University of Sussex gives an overview of peer assessment and the pros and cons.

I became quite anxious completing peer assessments on my Greek Mythology Coursera course as I mentioned in a previous post about peer assessment. But then in my EDCMOOC it was a completely different experience, whether this was due to the course, assessment type or peers I can’t say. It also depends on the individual, some people are just better at this sort if thing.

Peer assessment created a huge amount of debate on a Twitterchat me and my fellow EDCMOOCers organised, with some strong views on the subject. The type and quality of peer assessment could make or break an OER so needs to be carefully considered.

Regulation and Quality
How do we regulate the OER “industry”? Can we ensure the quality of the resources? Once a resource has been posted it is there for eternity in some format or another. If mistakes are made then they are there for the world to see and subsequently use. Even if the original author corrects an error it’s too late. The resource has been downloaded and then shared again and again. The issue of quality also relates to the concern about Open Education being taken seriously. I have earned certificates and, although this isn’t my main motivation, I would still like them to be taken seriously, I have worked hard for them after all.

Learner support
How do you ensure 40,000+ students are supported? Within that number there will also be a range of learner types. This is manageable in a class of 30, but thousands? Again I refer to personal experience. In my Greek Mythology course I watched the videos, completed the tests and written assignments and that was it. I needed, nor wanted, anything else. In the EDCMOOC it was a two way system of support, mainly between students. I needed a little more support but also felt like I could offer some. Students learn in different ways and I am not sure how OERs can support or embrace this.

A overriding issue is that of consistency and collaboration with the institutes involved with OERs. Is there an “industry standard”. Do/will they work together to try and conserve credibility and create a reputation of excellence for OERs?

Open Education

As part of my Open University Open Education course I had to create an artefact defining open education using some of ideas put forward by Weller and Anderson

Here is my artefact for which I used Prezi.

My main point is that we have now, more or less, achieved education for all (obviously lots of countries still have a way to go and some might argue the UK still has lessons to learn, but that’s another post!) and this is one aspect of “openness”. However, humans and technology are evolving and we are now accessing education differently. It’s not just about being able to access education, it’s how we access and use it.

The MOOCs (massive open on-line courses) I do have highlighted this. We are now called “open scholars”. Wells raises the following point in his article The openness-creativity cycle in education – A Perspective

The combination of digital content and a global, socially oriented distribution network has created the conditions in which new interpretations of open education can develop. Indeed, some commentators have begun to talk of the ‘open scholar’, which is almost synonymous with the ‘digital scholar’ so closely aligned are the new technologies and open approaches.

I completely agree that the new technologies and open approaches are interlinked. Without technology I would not be competing these courses. They have opened a new world of global on-line collaboration which I have never encountered before. The access to resources is another aspect new to me. The fact that people are so willing to share their resources, ideas and experiences is amazing. Throughout the MOOCs I am a scholar but will also “teach” as will the others taking part. We all have something to bring to the course. The lecturers are there and start us off but the scholars are the drivers.

This model of education has the potential to “open” education to all. Whether to those who have already been through the education system or those who have never had the chance. I saw one of the most inspirational TED talks recently. I love the idea that the “teacher asks the question and then stands back and admires the answers”. Sugata Mitra, educational researcher, has a wish; “My wish is that we design the future of learning. We don’t want to be spare parts for a great human computer, do we? So we need to design a future for learning. My wish is to design a future for learning by supporting children all over the world to tap into their wonder and their ability to work together”.

And this is how I feel about MOOCs in that they support me to learn by tapping into my sense of wonder and letting me collaborate and share with like minded people. I am open to education and education is open to me.

Ceefax as a forerunner to the Internet


I am now on week 3 of Internet History Technology and Security and have started to look at the essay question;

In many ways the Internet is the result of experts exploring how people, information and technology connect. Describe one example of at least two of these areas connecting, and how that connection ultimately helped form the Internet. Your example should be taken from the time periods 1930-1980

The first thing I thought of was Ceefax. Ah bless Ceefax, it was a British institution that we seem to have quickly forgotten in this day and age of the Internet. There were however outpourings of love for it when it was switched off in 2012.

Ceefax was the worlds first teletext information service. Teletext was “created by John Adams and was a television information retrieval service developed in the UK in the early 1970s”. Wikipedia

Ceefax was first created by BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) engineers whilst developing a system for providing farming news and stock market results in the 1960s. However, the project was abandoned as the system for delivering the information, the Muirhead Drum Facsimile Transmitter, was clunky and too noisy. It was resurrected in the 1970’s as engineers worked on a project for providing subtitles for viewers with hearing problems. Whilst developing this they discovered “unused lines” on the analogue TV system which could be used to “transmit” Ceefax. Ceefax was launched in September 1974 with Colin McIntyre as the sole editor. He updated 24 news pages by feeding punch tape into machines. Later on journalists were recruited to keep up with the public’s demand for information. One of the early editors, Mort Smith describes the process;

“Ceefax journalists would monitor incoming wire copy and when a story was to be updated they would type at one of two production terminals and create a Ceefax page.

Then, they had to produce a punched tape – approximately a yard long – and take it down two flights of stairs to the Central Apparatus Room, load it into a tape reader and watch as it was read into an anonymous metal box called a core store which actually transmitted the pages.

A walk back up to the sixth floor followed and if, at that point, it was discovered that a spelling mistake had been made, the journalist had to go through the whole process again.

It ensured close attention to detail when writing!


Not every TV was able to receive Ceefax but as it increased in popularity in the 1980s people started buying Ceefax enabled TVs. People were able to get recipes from cookery programmes they had just watched, up to the minute news, sports results and even book their holidays. In the 1990s 20 million viewers checked Ceefax once a week. Radio Times

To get the information they wanted viewers had to punch in 3 digits on their remote control based on the menu on screen. It wasn’t quite as speedy as the Internet though. If the item you sought was part of several pages, you might arrive half way through and then had to wait until it went back to page one. This provided particularly tense moments for sports fans if their team score was page 1 of 5 and they arrived at page 2 and had to wait until it returned to page 1. I have included some additional information for the more technically minded of you who want to know the technicalities of how Ceefax worked.

These days it’s hard to imagine how revolutionary Ceefax was particularly as this was in the days before 24 hours news and when TV stopped transmitting after a certain time. With Ceefax people could still catch up on news and sport results when TV programmes finished transmitting for the night. At one point Ceefax even had “video” for the popular Oxford/Cambridge boat race. 2 dots represented the boats as they moved towards the finishing line.

As well as being a forerunner to the Internet, Ceefax was similar to Twitter in that characters per page were limited to 40 characters across and 24 lines down.

Even when the Internet arrived lots of people still relied on Ceefax. Not because they didn’t want it, Ceefax had already proved our thirst for information, but because they couldn’t afford it. Ceefax was the poor mans Internet. For a short period Ceefax even broadcast computer programs, known as telesoftware, for the BBCMicro.The BBCMicro was designed and built by Acorn who dominated the Education market but also supplied home computers in the UK. One fan of Ceefax commented on the BBC website;

Ceefax was also used to support the BBC’s Computer Literacy Project with pages in the 700 range backing up various programmes on the subject. Those with a BBC Microcomputer and the additional Teletext adapter could download software from Ceefax. Back then, this seemed like witchcraft, but is now commonplace for any computer connected to the Internet.


Ceefax was still running in 2012 and came to an end only when the analogue/digital switchover took place in the UK. As well as being a forerunner to the Internet, Ceefax “introduced” people to the World Wide Web and, for people who couldn’t afford the Internet later, was the only way they could “surf” for information. It showed how peopłe crave information and how it came to be a part of everyday life. Just like the Internet is now.

In my childhood we didn’t “Google it” we “Ceefaxed it”.

What is the meaning of Open Education?

Image by Gideon Burton, Flickr

So Open Education by the Open University will be my 6th MOOC (Massive Open On-line Course) and I think that sums up my personal definition of Open Education. I don’t think I achieved my full potential at school, college or university. I also don’t think I was “mature” or confident enough to make the right decisions when it came to institutional learning. Now I know what I want to study but I have little time or money to do so. Tough. I had my chance and blew it. How wrong I was. My yoga teacher posted a link on Facebook about websites that change your life. I can’t remember what the others were but the one that caught my eye was Coursera

My initial reaction was “what’s the catch” as they were offering on-line courses from some amazing universities for free. I took a risk and signed up for Greek Mythology, something I have always wanted to study but never got the chance. I loved it, got 92% with distinction and was hooked. The last course I studied was E-Learning and Digital Cultures and it was a blast. I “met” some amazing people and learnt so much from my fellow students. There were professors but mainly in the background. It was us students who drove the course and in fact still do as we continue connecting, communicating and learning. It was a fellow student who introduced me and others to this Open University Course. I am now in the middle of a philosophy course Know Thyself, a course called Internet History, Technology and Security and next week start on Open Education, The Ancient Greeks, and English Composition. For the rest of the year I will be studying an Introduction to International Criminal Law, Animal Behaviour, Critical Perspectives on Management, A Brief History of Humankind, Planet Earth and 3 different psychology courses. All of this is free.

The dictionary definition of Open Education is;

Open education is a collective term[1] that refers to educational organizations that seek to eliminate barriers to entry. Such institutions, for example, would not have academic admission requirements. Such universities include Open University in Britain and Athabasca University in Canada. Such programs are commonly distance learning programs like e-learning, mooc and opencourseware, but not necessarily.

I think there will always be barriers, poverty, limited/no access to technology etc, but the fact that people are trying to reduce, limit and remove them is what is important. I am not saying that MOOCs are the solution to the barriers to education but they are a bloody good start.

Is my brain really in a vat? Are my senses deceiving me?


I briefly touched upon this subject in my introduction to philosophy course with Coursera and now it’s come up again in Know Thyself. It fascinates and intrigues me so I have decided to look at it more closely. The basic concept is that we can’t prove that we aren’t simply brains in vats being fed experiences. Ridiculous you might say, but prove it’s not true. You can’t. And if this is the case how can we be sure what we believe is true. Do we really know anything?

Descartes discusses this issue in his meditations of first philosophy published in 1641. This is a process he undertook where he basically discarded all the beliefs he held before of which he couldn’t be certain, and then tries to establish what he can be sure of.

SEVERAL years have now elapsed since I first became aware that I had accepted, even from my youth, many false opinions for true, and that consequently what I afterward based on such principles was highly doubtful; and from that time I was convinced of the necessity of undertaking once in my life to rid myself of all the opinions I had adopted, and of commencing anew the work of building from the foundation, if I desired to establish a firm and abiding superstructure in the sciences. But as this enterprise appeared to me to be one of great magnitude, I waited until I had attained an age so mature as to leave me no hope that at any stage of life more advanced I should be better able to execute my design.

Meditation 1 of Meditations on first philosophy, Rene Descartes

What an amazing task to undertake. To decide that maybe everything you knew may not be true and to sit down and look at your beliefs and try and establish what you can be certain of, if anything.

He asks whether our senses, or even a mischievous god, deceive us into believing things. Most of us have experienced this at some point. Maybe experiencing a dream so vivid that it feels like it is happening whilst you are awake. Or perhaps having our minds messed with by our devious senses. I recently watched an episode of QI (comedy quiz show on the BBC) and saw something that still scrambles my mind to this day. See for yourself

I started looking at other optical illusions, this one for example, or this one and it made me think how easily we can be fooled and can’t rely 100% on our senses. Our memory plays tricks on us too. So it would appear our whole being is out to deceive us. So if we can’t rely on our beliefs, senses or memory what else is left? And if the answer is nothing how can we be sure that we aren’t brains in vats?

I look forward to reading Descartes’s meditations but hope that I am not a brain in a vat as I would like to think that I really am experiencing the things I am experiencing and not just being fed them by some evil scientist. But then again, if I don’t know that I am a brain in vat does it matter if I am a brain in a vat?


Components of the Self

Image provided courtesy of

We are now at the end of the second week of Coursera’s Know Thyself

So I have decided to tackle another study question to help me understand the subject. Last week I tackled The Unexamined Life

This weeks question is;
Please explain, with the aid of examples, the four main components of the self that we have isolated thus far: cognitive, affective, experiential, and character traits. Are any of these components more amenable to introspection than others? Please explain your answer. Finally, explain why some hold there to be an asymmetry between my knowledge of my introspectible states, and my knowledge of others’ introspectible states.

According to the lectures by Mitchell Green there are four main components which I will briefly describe here;

This basically means what you know, information and also memory. For example you know that Paris is the capital of France and you remember learning this at school.

Emotions and moods make up the affective component but there is a difference between the two.

Mood is a temporary state of mind or feeling

Oxford Dictionaries

Emotions can be described as

a strong feeling deriving from one’s circumstances, mood, or relationships with others.

Oxford Dictionaries

The difference between them is substance. Moods don’t have substance. You can be in a particular mood, ie anxious, and not necessarily have a reason for being in that state of mind. On the other hand an emotion is about something; sad because someone has upset you, angry because you missed your train, happy because you have been told you are getting a pay raise.

Things that are based on the look, taste, feel of a thing (sensations) and an experience of a thing.

Although separate the three components intertwine. For example if you are looking at a lemon you know (cognitive) it’s in front of you and the colour might remind (cognitive) you of a dress you once owned. This will then bring up happy thoughts (affective) of the holiday where you wore the dress.

Character Traits
Character traits, basically describe your personality; grumpy, easy going, highly strung etc. Character traits are not a component of the mind in the same way that cognitive, affective and experiential are but nonetheless form part of the self.

So now we have described the four components of the mind, are any of them more open to introspection compared to the others? This is something we will be studying in the coming weeks. However, I am interested in attempting to answer the question now from a layman’s point of view.

Firstly, what is introspection?

Introspection is examination of one’s own conscious thoughts and feelings.[1] In psychology the process of introspection relies exclusively on observation of one’s mental state, while in a spiritual context it may refer to the examination of one’s soul. Introspection is closely related to human self-reflection and is contrasted with external observation.


Based on this definition, and taking each of the four components of the mind, I would suggest the following;

Cognitive introspection would be the easiest as it is tangible and you can produce standardised exams to test your knowledge and memory.
Moods and emotions are still fairly easy although not as simple as cognitive. You can look back over a day or event and consider how you felt. What might be difficult is trying to pinpoint a feeling or mood if it’s not clear. You may remember feeling tense but maybe it was anxiety or trepidation or stress. Maybe it was all four. What makes it more complicated is not necessarily knowing why you felt a certain way or what caused it. You may feel a bit down, but has that been caused by a specific event? Maybe it’s a symptom of tiredness or perhaps you are coming down with something.
Experiential is another difficult, I think, component to self study. As it is based on your experience it may be tangled up in all sorts of emotions, feelings and thoughts you were undergoing at the time. It’s also age and experience related. The way you experienced something at a younger age will probably change when you look back on it later as you have changed and experienced different things since then.
Character traits are also tricky because you may consider yourself an introvert but someone else may describe you as moody. Can you really be relied upon to conduct a truly objective introspection of your own character traits?

Which leads on to the last part of the question regarding the possibility of asymmetry between my knowledge of my introspectible states, and my knowledge of others’ introspectible states.

Are we really the best judges of ourselves? In some respects no. Have you ever been asked by someone if you are okay and said “yes, why?” And they point out that you had been fidgeting, scowling, looking sad or distracted. They saw something that you may not have been aware of. On the other hand a stranger may say that their first impression of you was that you were uptight or arrogant. However, if you are shy then maybe this is how it translates to the outside world. I suppose emotions and moods are tricky so they can be misjudged or misinterpreted by others or by yourself.

It’s a big subject which I can’t cover in one post especially as I have only just started the course. But I hope to develop my understanding over the coming weeks and improve the cognitive component of my mind without short circuiting the other components!

Image by MIT OpenCourseWare

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