Leaders of Learning Class

I love learning, and it can be even more enlightening to learn about learning.

An excellent example of learning about learning is the HarvardX class Leaders of Learning, offered through edX.org. Although it quickly became apparent that the class was intended for educators, I decided to complete it anyway.

My final grade was 99% and I earned an Honor Code Certificate (pdf) for successfully passing it.

Modes of Learning

The class closely examined four modes of learning, based on the various combinations of these two independent qualities:

Collective or Individual
We can learn either in a group or alone
Hierarchical or Distributed
We can learn in either a formal environment, where the reward is a grade, perhaps leading to a degree of some sort, or in an informal environment, where the only reward is the additional knowledge

There are certainly other ways to look at learning, and at first these terms can seem a bit foreign. But this is how we analyzed the act of learning, and how education is changing, in this class.

Analyzing Four Ways to Learn

Because these qualities are independent, we can view the various combinations of them as quadrants in a table:

Collective Individual
Hierarchical Hierarchical-Collective learning often takes place in a classroom in a public school or at an accredited college or university Hierarchical-Individual learning takes place when a more knowledgeable person teaches a student one-on-one, for example, when tutoring
Distributed Distributed-Collective learning is the learning children might experience in a playground, when learning a sport, or what adults experience at meetups and conferences Distributed-Individual learning takes place when we read a book, on our own, to gain the knowledge therein and nothing more

The class began with a self-assessment. On the initial assessment, I scored much higher in the Distributed-Individual quadrant (73%) than I did in the others (20-30%).

The assessment was accurate because, since graduating from college, I have been mostly keeping up-to-date with technical advancements on my own, specifically by reading O’Reilly books.

Venturing into Other Quadrants

The class encouraged self-awareness and flexibility in crossing into other quadrants.

The class was intended for educators, and stressed that these four quadrants represent the playing field. With the internet changing everything, it’s important to know what your strengths and options are.

As a life-long learner, it’s also easy to see that flexibility on my part can lead to new and improved learning opportunities and experiences. In fact, this class was one of the things that encouraged me to start going to meetups and taking more MOOCs.

My First MOOC

The first Massively Open Online Class(MOOC) I took was The Science of Everyday Thinking, offered by The University of Queensland, Austrialia through edX.org.

I completed the class with a score of 84%, earning an Honor Code Certificate (pdf).

Constant Negativity

I grew up with a lot of negativity, and the echoes of those words continue to haunt me. I know that I am not alone in my struggle with these recurring thoughts, and work every day to fight them off, yet they persist.

This, my constant curiosity, and an enduring interest in psychology, led to my interest in this class. The time I spent in it was well rewarded.

Thinking and Our Biases

The class presented a wealth of information from a variety of people, but repeatedly referenced the book Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. The result of decades of work, his book earned several awards, and the instructors referred to “System 1” (fast, subconscious) and “System 2” (slow, calculating) thinking throughout the class.

The class also discussed some of the unconscious many cognitive biases that affect our decisions, if we are not careful and take the time to think slowly. A complete list of these can be a bit overwhelming; it would be a mistake to let this fact deter you from learning about them, and how they can limit us from fulfilling our potential.

A Great Start!

The class was a great start to taking more, both at edX and at Coursera. As I later learned in the Leaders of Learning class I took at HarvardX, the internet is changing how we learn, opening up grand opportunities for all of us!

Why I Loved Going to College!

Rather than rely on my parents to pay for it, I worked my way through school, and did it my way.

After finishing my Bachelor’s of Science in Mathematics degree at Virginia Commonwealth University in 1986, I decided to get a Master’s degree.  Back then, Artificial Intelligence was a very hot topic.  The books and articles I read about it kept saying it was a very Interdisciplinary field.

Also, at the time, I was growing tired of playing music (I played bass in a bluegrass band) and took a class in Photography.  This led to a History of American Photography class, which led to other Art History classes.  Who would’ve guessed that I would love Art History?  In later years this would lead to interests in Dance and Film Noir, but I digress….

So I talked to Nicholas Sharp, who was in charge of Interdisciplinary Studies there at VCU, and to several other faculty members in both the School of the Arts and the College of Humanities and Sciences.  And I took some more undergraduate Art classes, including a Graphic Design class using those old Apple ][ E‘s.  Then I signed up for and got accepted to a graduate program in Math, and after a few semesters switched over to the School of Interdisciplinary Studies.

As an Interdisciplinary student, I took enough Computer Science classes to earn a Masters of Science in Math, and in addition took some Graduate-Level Independent Study Art classes.  These are the classes in which I wrote the first version of the Graphical Representations of Jungian Archetypes or GROJA program, using LISP on an old 8086 PC.

The Groja program uses the results of the MBTI personality test to draw an image of an individual’s personality.  Since the original version I have put three versions online, the latest of which is at SeeOurMinds.com .  But I digress yet again….

So, that’s why I loved going to college: I was able to pick the classes I wanted to take, and do them my way!

The C Programming Language

The Assembler, Fortran, Snobol, Cobol, PL/1, and Pascal books are all gone, but I still have this one, “The C Programming Language,”   by Kernigan and Ritchie, affectionately known as “K & R.”

And I just want to say one thing about it, and that is, there are a lot of different indentation styles, but when it comes to server-side programming languages, I for one do not care for the “K&R braces” style.  It’s not consistent!

Servers and Browsers

When it comes to server-side languages like C, PHP, and Java, I prefer the Allman Style, and it’s nice to know I am not the only one.  White space and consistency are important!

However, when it comes to browser-side code — and CSS: I am looking at you — I find myself using the K & R style. This is, of course, because there is very little need to nest CSS, and hence no need for the ambiguity (and I admit it is very slight) we see in their book.

Java and JavaScript

At first this left me in a bit of a quandary when it comes to everyone’s new darling, JavaScript. Because JS works hand-in-hand with CSS, it’s only natural to follow the same policy.

So for S&G I started using the K&R-style braces on some JS. I hereby admit that it is working well!

For one thing, I am learning it does indeed have some appeal when working on large projects. This is because we typically have many windows open so real estate is at a premium.

And for another, most, if not all, text editors and IDEs these days make it easy to find pairs of matching parentheses. So wake up to find out that consistent vertical alignment of braces is no longer of high importance.

Mixing Styles

Moreover, using both styles this way actually has a bit of an advantage, because it is immediately and glaringly obvious whether I am working on server or client code. My plan is to continue using this hybrid policy, at least until I start using Node.js, anyway….