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Week 6 of Know Thyself – The Somatic Marker

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Week 6 of Know Thyself and we are looking at Neuroscience, emotions and somatic markers, particularly, Antonio Damasio and his book Descartes’ Error. The study question I chose was;

Damasio hypothesizes that one factor causing certain societies to permit genocide, discrimination, slavery, and related forms of injustice is the corrosion or manipulation by demagogues and propagandists of somatic markers across an entire population. Please explain his reason for this view.

Somatic markers are;

The somatic marker hypothesis (SMH) proposes a mechanism by which emotional processes can guide (or bias) behavior, particularly decision-making.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Somatic_marker_hypothesis

Basically, for Damasio, the somatic marker is your gut feeling. He used an example of you meeting a potential business partner with whom you could make lots of money with. However, you know he is your best friends arch enemy. You can conjure up an image of sitting outside the cafe with the potential business partner and your friend walking past and seeing you. Not only can you conjure up the image but you can “feel”how your friend would feel when he saw you. This would then probably make up your mind not to continue the association.

Most of us have the ability to use gut instincts to make decisions. In fact most of us have the ability to make logical decisions but also follow our instinct and use our gut feelings to help the process. Some might go as far to say that the somatic marker hypotheses can be considered a higher type of reasoning and precludes practical reasoning. This You Tube video featuring Damasio sums it up nicely. It is also a process based on previous experience. You aren’t born with it as you need to first experience things and how they make you feel. If you are trying to make a decision and it conjures up a previous experience that was pleasant it may encourage you to follow a specific course of action.

As part of this theory it is also important to understand that we have two types of emotions, primary and secondary. Primary emotions are basic and are generally found across cultures; happiness, sadness, anger, surprise, fear and disgust. Secondary emotions can be described as more sophisticated and are based on evaluating and reflecting on a previous experience and can be based on your specific culture. In the lecture Professor Green used the example of the Japanese emotion of “Ame” (can’t seem to find out any more about this and don’t even know if this is the correct spelling). This is a feeling of bliss that some people may feel when lost in a large crowd. This obviously can’t be described as a primary emotion as it more than a basic emotion and is based upon you holding certain views or being from a certain culture. You are unlikely to experience “Ame” if you grew up on an African plain or in the Canadian mountains.

However, there are some people who have somatic marker dysfunction as Damasio touched upon in the interview on You Tube. Professor Green spoke to us about one of the subjects that Damasio studied, Phineas Gage who had appeared to have this dysfunction following a brain injury. Professor Green explained

he seems to have no way or at least no feasible way of contemplating a potential outcome of his actions and having a gut feeling as to whether or not that would be a good thing or a bad thing. Remember, he has emotions, but he’s not able to apply his effective responses to
perspective outcomes, in such a way as to get the whole process of practical rationality up and off the ground.

Another subject was Damasio’s patient “Elliot” (his name was changed for anonymity). He had sustained damage to the same area of the brain as Gage and experienced similar problems particularly when it came to making decisions and being able to apply emotions to perspective outcomes.

This is an outline of Damasio’s somatic marker hypothesis, so now on to the study question. Damasio suggested that it was the corrosion or manipulation by demagogues and propagandists of somatic markers which allowed genocide and other forms of injustice or cruelty.

Damasio said that “a sick culture prevailed upon a presumably normal machinery of reason with disastrous consequences” when discussing Nazi Germany and Pol Pot’s Cambodia.
https://gustavus.edu/philosophy/kaaren.html

Basically he proposed that people can manipulate individuals, or even large groups of society, into believing that its okay to hurt certain groups within society i.e. Jewish people, black people, women etc. It’s something we have seen throughout history and sadly continue to see. No doubt this won’t change any time soon.

Damasio claims that

Most of the somatic markers we use for rational decision-making probably were created in our brains during the process of education and socialisation, by connecting specific classes of stimuli with specific classes of somatic state.

https://gustavus.edu/philosophy/kaaren.html

Damasio goes on to say that these markers can also go wrong. The Nazis successfully convinced a large part of society that Jewish people or disabled people were not human, sub-human, and therefore it was okay to discriminate against them and kill them. They didn’t count. Ordinary Germans contributed to this. Can we say that this was because they followed orders because they were scared? In some cases yes but certainly not all. They had been successfully brain washed into thinking this was okay. If, as Damasio, claims, somatic markers are used for rational decision making, and they are created thought the process of socialisation and education, it is easy to see where the weak link is.

If somatic markers are created through socialisation and education and they are based on experience then it is easy to see how they are open to manipulation. If you grow up being told by your family, school and community that a particular group of people are bad, wrong, sub human, there is a good chance you will believe this. If it is true we use our somatic marker for rational decision making then, to you anyway, discriminating against a particular group will be rational or normal. This reminded me of an experiment I once read about where a teacher in America divided her class into blue and brown eyed groups. She then told the blue eyed children they were better and treated them more favourably. It didn’t take long for them to become arrogant and pick on the blue eyeds. The blue eyeds in turn quickly became subservient. If this can be done by a teacher, in a short period of time, without conviction it’s no wonder that political leaders, can manipulate large groups of the population.

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Oops! How did that OER happen?

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Image by Tim Morgan

I have just finished a Google Hangout with Sukaina Walji and John Baglow where we started planning our OER. Creating our own OER? How did that come about? Well it was all John’s fault for not being clearer. Or possibly mine for not reading properly.

In response to one of my posts John wrote

Nat, do you work in He or FE, where I am? In preparation for our TMA I am thinking about ways that MOOCs could have a role in my college. It would certainly be with adult learners, not the 16-19 students and maybe CPD and HE courses in FE are the best candidates.
I wonder if we could produce a mini-MOOC just for our own staff. What do you and Deborah think?

I read…….. “let’s create a MOOC!”

John replied

Nat, when I wrote “perhaps we could produce a mooc for our own staff” I meant we in my college – but maybe we could come up with one ourselves! What topic do we already have some stuff on? I teach teacher training now. Maybe we could come up with part of a mooc for our own colleagues. It wouldn’t be very massive of course. Any ideas for a subject? Blended learning? Improving your learners’ digital literacy? Communication? …..

Then Sukaina joined in and that was that.

This to me is the epitome of open learning and captured the spirit of creativity, collaboration and of in the “momentness” it’s supposed to embody. Despite having using G+ for a while this was my first Hangout and John introduced me to Etherpad so if nothing else I have learnt something already.

We have since down scaled the MOOC to an OER but that doesn’t matter. We have started something, we will invite others to join in, and we will see where it takes us. Hopefully we will create am OER. Maybe someone else will develop it into a MOOC. Who knows. Watch this space………..

PLN – Innovative or Old Hat? – Activity 16

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Photo by Garfield Anderssen

Activity 16
Now you have a definition of PLN, the question you need to answer is:
‘Does this offer anything new?’
In terms of innovation, can we say a PLN is truly innovative, or merely a rebadging of existing practice? As with many new terms in educational technology, some people find a PLN usefully captures a new development, while others say it is simply a new term for an old practice.
In considering this, take into account the scale and possibilities offered by new technologies, past networking practice and any of the references you found when constructing your definition.
Write a blog post setting out a position statement on what PLNs are and whether it is a useful term or not.

Of course PLNs are not new. Since the beginning of time humans have reached out and connected with each other and tried to establish networks.

People still connected with each other before the Internet and the World Wide Web was invented. In fact, academics trying to connect with other academics was one of the driving forces behind the creation of the internet. Prior to this people phoned each other, met face to face, held meetings, sent memorandums (for the youngsters out there memorandums are basically emails but on paper, hand written and put in a person’s pigeon hole. If you don’t know what a pigeon hole is you haven’t lived). People would hold training courses and attend conferences.

This blog sums up the changes perfectly.

What is new is the way they are done. We now have the technology to connect with anyone, anywhere at anytime in our neighbourhood or the world. Social media is now being considered as a PLN, even as part of someones personal development.

The blog author summarises;

The kinds of discussions I have, and information I share with my PLN hasn’t changed all that much over the years–what works in class, how students learn, how to become a better teacher. How I meet other teachers, where we discuss ideas, and how we share information has changed. Significantly. My PLN now includes teachers who live quite far from me—in Asia, Australia, the Americas, Europe and Africa. I meet them online. I learn from them online. I share with them online.

There are a lot of sites and posts about PLNs out there which highlight their importance and how guidance is being sought by users. It would appear there are PLNs for PLNs!

35 ways to build a PLN online

Your PLN made easy

Supporting PLNs for educators

What is the point of a PLN?

In this blog, Teachers Helping Teachers: The PLN Road Map Andrew Marcinek explains how to start a PLN

Find like-minded people and start a conversation. Make your PLN personal and beneficial. And remember, it’s ok to make it all about you

PLNs are not new they are just wearing a different coat. The term, PLN, is useful because it is simple and says exactly what it is. It is up to you how and what tools you use and who you connect with (personal). The aim is to acquire knowledge through connecting and collaborating (learning). It’s all about talking to the people you work with and people all over the world (network).

My definition

A network of people who work together (digitally or face to face) and support each other in a learning experience. Learning is improved by this connection which is dynamic, global, supportive, exciting and constantly on the move

highlights the other exciting aspect of PLNs. They aren’t just for teachers and their students or even subject and industry experts. It’s a network of people which can be anyone. Because of the technology and resources available to us we can all be students whenever we want to be.

Activity 15 – Defining a PLN (Personal Learning Network)

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Photo by Sue Waters

Activity 15 concerns PLNs;

As with many new terms, PLN is used in a variety of contexts. The Wikipedia entry defines it as:

‘an informal learning network that consists of the people a learner interacts with and derives knowledge from in a personal learning environment . In a PLN, a person makes a connection with another person with the specific intent that some type of learning will occur because of that connection.’ (Wikipedia, 2012 )

Use search tools and the discussion in the forum to formulate your own, one-sentence definition of a PLN.

I have had PLNs in my life, at college and uni, but this wasn’t what they were called then. Study group or partner was what we would have called them except we didn’t give them a name, we just did it generally because we had been asked to as part of an assignment. In my experience you either teamed up with friends and did well (once you had stopped snacking, gossiping and flicking through magazines) or were teamed up by a teacher and it turned out badly. Someone didn’t pull their weight or turn up and there was always an over-ambitious one that out shouted everyone else in the group.

It is only since I started doing MOOCs that I have discovered the power of PLNs. Actually I didn’t discover it in my first 2 MOOCs, it was the third one E-learning and Digital Cultures where I was truly inducted. Some of you may have already heard me going on about this course but it really was a defining moment for me. I had embarked on a course I was terrified and exited about. On my previous two MOOCs there had been no interaction on social media and I wasn’t keen on the official forums. All of a sudden I was thrown into a thriving, dynamic and supportive network which I still remember with great fondness today.

Obviously PLNs don’t need to be purely digital, you can have a discussion by the water cooler or in the canteen. But social media and technology make them global, instant, dynamic and potentially as big as you like. My experience of them has made me determined to try and create or build upon a PLN in future courses if one doesn’t already exist. To me it is an essential component of any learning experience.

I came across lots of websites dealing with the subject which highlights how important they are becoming/have become. I have included a selection;

Ways to build a PLN

How to create a robust and personal PLN

What is the point of a PLN?

So to the difficult bit. My one sentence definition of a PLN

A network of people who work together (digitally or face to face) and support each other in a learning experience. Learning is improved by this connection which is dynamic, global, supportive, exciting and constantly on the move.

(Okay two sentences but that was hard enough without trying to get it in one!)

The MOOC Approach – activity 12

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Photo by OCLC

Activity 12 for Open Education is;
Before we examine MOOCs in more detail, briefly consider if the MOOC approach could be adopted in your own area of education or training. Post your thoughts in your blog and then read and comment on your peers’ postings

The first thing that comes to mind when considering this question is staff (teaching and non-teaching) and not students.

It is difficult to find time for all staff to get together and learn. We hold twilight sessions and inset days but there are a limited number of days in the year set aside for this. There is also a lot to fit in and it is mainly teacher focussed. MOOCs could be offered as part of the twilight/inset days or as separate personal development, or even both. Courses could be tailored to teaching, non teaching and combined groups.

We don’t always have the space to have all the staff learning together and MOOCs would create a virtual space for debate and collaboration. I would love to be part of a staff MOOC, particularly if it involved all the additional “chatter” found when using social media and blogs.

Obviously there will be staff that either won’t be interested or need encouragement but I can definitely see its value in staff development.

In terms of students, I think it would be useful but would need to be targeted and used in conjunction with traditional methods. Our students are aged 11-18 and many would benefit greatly, especially as they are considered to be “digital natives”. For some students, who perhaps don’t respond to traditional methods, for whatever reason, this could be a way of engaging them.

In practical terms it could also be used for students absent for long periods because of illness for example. They could also prove helpful during holidays to target those students revising for exams. We currently hold one off revision sessions in the holidays but MOOCs would be a great supplement.

Some adaptations would need to be made but I think MOOCs would play an important role, in partnership with traditional pedagogy for staff and students.

cMOOCs or xMOOCs? Both please

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image courtesy of Wesley Fryer

I am now on week 4 of my Open Education course and the theme is MOOCs (Massive, Open, Online Course). This is rather handy as I am currently doing 5, so I hope I have something to say!

This week we have been asked to;

Compare either DS106 or the Change MOOC with offerings from Udacity or Coursera

Write a blog post comparing the courses with regards to:
– Technology
– Pedagogy
– General approach and philosophy.

I have decided to look at DS106 and Coursera. Apart from this one from the Open University, all my MOOCs have been offerings from Coursera, so I have some experience from a student perspective.

The biggest difference between the two is that one is a cMOOC and one is a xMOOC. DS106 is a cMOOC. This is basically a MOOC that is based on connections (connectivism) and is less structured, or at least more dynamic in that the participants seem to drive the course. I suppose you could call them a virtual learning community. Coursera is a xMOOC

Have a look a look at the two sites and the different philosophies are immediately apparent. You get a different vibe from each site. DS106 feels like you have just walked into a party where there are nibbles and drinks all over the place and groups of people chatting in every corner of the house. The music is eclectic and dancing varied. Even walking in as a stranger you will soon find someone to talk to. Coursera is like visiting your favourite restaurant. If you are celebrating a special event it can be exciting. The rest of the time it’s familiar and, hopefully, makes you feel welcome. You know what to expect, food, wine, staff, etc and, as a regular customer, you will have an established routine.

Basically Coursera is a traditional “classroom”. You can see from the photo of the HCI course I am doing that there are lectures, assignments, deadlines, syllabus and quizzes.

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It is everything you remember from school, college or university, just online. In fact in Making Sense of MOOCs: Musings in a Maze of Myth, Paradox and Possibility Bates is quoted as saying that the teaching methods

‘are based on very old and out-dated behaviourist pedagogy, relying primarily on information transmission, computer-marked assignments and peer assessments

http://jime.open.ac.uk/article/2012-18/html

If you visit the DS106 site you will see the difference straight away. There are assignments but the difference is that lots are suggested by participants themselves. It feels more relaxed, as you can see from this excerp from their About page

Digital Storytelling (also affectionately known as ds106) is an open, online course that happens at various times throughout the year at the University of Mary Washington… but you can join in whenever you like and leave whenever you need

It goes on to say

First of all, in ds106, there are multiple levels of participation- but most importantly, it is designed so you can pick and choose the when and where. We expect NO APOLOGIES for not being able to participate when other parts of life intrude. There is no concept in ds106 of “dropping out” c.f. Groom, Jim (2010-present), “ds106 is #4life”.

The other big difference, highlighted in the above quote, is that there is “no concept of dropping out”. You can dip in and out as you like. You can of course leave a Coursera course anytime you like. There are no fees to pay so you won’t lose anything except perhaps any time you may have invested. If you leave you have to click on the “unenroll” button which makes it feel formal and of course you won’t receive your final grade for any of the quizzes or assignments you may have already done. You don’t join Coursera with a view to leave, although the “drop out” rate is high, but with DS106 it almost feels like you should pop in and out. Some people argue that students aren’t dropping out but engaging with MOOCs the way you should. Dipping in and our, using and sharing resources. The problem (depending on your point of view that is) is that Coursera is structured whereas DS106 isn’t.

There are some similarities, no formal accreditation for example and the need for basic IT equipment (computer and Internet connection) and a certain level of IT and social media literacy. However, technology, it is claimed, is another area where there are differences in c & xMOOCs. xMOOCs use technology but are less focussed on connecting in the same way cMOOCs do. In the quick start guide on their website they specifically ask you to do a number of things including, create a gravatar and social media accounts, create and/or register a blog and explore digital tools. You are generally not required to do this in Coursera but it may depend on the course. For example it would have been impossible to complete the E-learning and Digital Cultures course offered by Courera without social media, blogs etc. However, it is possible to get through most of the courses with access to a PC and the Internet and nothing else. I have taken Coursera courses where I haven’t connected with a single fellow student.

There are differences in MOOCs. However, a lot does also depend on the participants. I have been on Coursera courses where it has all the flavour of a cMOOC and others where it is definitely an old fashioned xMOOC. The subject matter is the driver of this. One of my courses The Ancient Greeks, lends itself to tradition. Whereas, Human-Computer Interaction is more about connectivism. Both are Coursera courses but both are very different.

Although there are differences in DS106 and Coursera generally we have to be careful not to tar all of Coursera’s courses with one brush. I see the same differences in the Secondary School I work at, some classes will be more dynamic, IT based, exciting and allow for more interaction compared to others. Think maths v PE. It also depends on the the teaching style, overall school philosophy and resources. Ultimately, some classes are just “cooler” but teachers and students can make of them what they will.

Just as there are different MOOCs there are different types of learners. We need to embrace the variety of MOOCs as it ensures that there is one out there for everyone.

It’s a “mindfield”

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Image by Nevit Dilmen

We are now on week 5 of Coursera’s Know Thyself which focuses on Timothy Wilson and his book Strangers to Ourselves

The study question I chose for this week is

What is the “psychological immune system”? In light of your answer, please elucidate Wilson’s remark that the conflict between the need for accuracy and the need to feel good about ourselves is, “one of the major battlegrounds of the self”

According to Wilson the mind needs to gather accurate information to make decisions and judgements. We do it all the time, gauging people’s facial expressions to determine their mood or assessing the danger level of a situation. However, he felt that there are two facets to the unconscious mind. As well as accuracy the mind has a “spin doctor” whose purpose is to make you feel better about decisions you have made. Didn’t get the job you wanted? Well the salary wasn’t good. Been dumped? Well he was no good anyway. Failed the exam? Well it’s not a subject you will be using in your career anyway. We all do it and according to Wilson we don’t even realise we are “boosting our psychological immune system”. It’s known as as boosting our psychological immune system because it protects our emotional well being.

Of course we know people who operate on the either end of the scale, those whose mind is a sea of accurate information and nothing else. The “spin doctor” is absent and this can manifest itself as pessimism or depression. We also know people whose “spin doctor” is operating on a high spin and everything is great and will be great. They could be described as naive or not living in the real world. It’s about hitting the right balance.

How much “spin” or accuracy you have affects the decisions you make. If you have lots if spin you may take more risks, do things out of your comfort zone because you feel “everything will be okay”. Being on the opposite scale may mean that you get bogged down in the facts, issues and concerns and not dare take a risk. For those of us in the middle there will be times when we are faced with making a decision and we have to work out what to do, any decision will be based on how we think it will turn out.

Not looking after our psychological immune system is also one of the factors in the bad decisions we make when it comes to affective forecasting. This is basically being able to predict how we will feel in the future, something which we are notoriously bad at. We often overestimate how positive we would feel about a significant windfall for example.

Because we are unaware that we boost our psychological immune system, when we end up feeling better about a situation then originally predicted, we attribute it to something else for example God. It also affects decisions in other ways. Wilson used an example of buying a jumper from a shop without a returns policy. People will try and rationalise a bad purchasing decision as there is nothing that can be done about it. However, if there is a generous returns policy there is little or no need to justify the decision. As a result people are often happier with decisions they can’t change as they are already in the process of boosting their psychological immune system.

This is just a short piece on the subject but already I can see why it is a battlefield. We are constantly trying to make ourselves feel better and justify our decisions (without realising) and yet we are so bad at predicting how we are going to feel in the future.

Do we really know our own minds?

References
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Affective_forecasting#Immune_neglect

http://web.missouri.edu/~segerti/capstone/AffectForecast.pdf

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