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Education Bookcast

Education Bookcast is a podcast in which we talk about one education-related book or article per episode.
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Now displaying: March, 2018
Mar 26, 2018

Edward de Bono has long stressed the need to be open to the creation of new words in order to support the development of new concepts and ideas, even in areas not considered "cutting edge". For example, in his book Simplicity, he makes the case (not too convincingly) that the words "simple" and "simplify" are too long and complicated, and they should themselves be simplified to the word "simp", as in "We should simp this so it will be more simp." (Understandably, de Bono has his detractors when it comes to these neologisms.)

"Po" is a new word. (To be fair, it was actually new in 1969 when he first mentioned it in The Mechanism of Mind, but every time de Bono refers to it he calls it "new"). It is somewhat unusual in that it is not a noun or a verb, as most neologisms are, but a grammatical particle, like "yes", "no", "and", "but" or "should". The form of the word comes from the initials of the phrase "provocation operation", but also happens to be the first two letters of a convenient list of words in English, such as poetry, possible, and ponder. 

Po is used in order to introduce a phrase or word that is not be be taken seriously, but merely to be used as an input to lateral thinking. Consider the following examples: "Po politicians should be encouraged to be tyrants." "Po children should be given sharp objects to play with." "Po the sky is red." Each of these ideas appears either crazy or non-sensical, but we can use them to gain new perspectives or think of new ideas.

What if encouraging politicians to be as bad as possible would uncover the untrustworthy ones quickly so that they could be removed before they do too much damage? What if children were trusted with things we usually don't trust them with, so they learn more responsibility and get a taste of the real world? What if we could wear glasses that would invert all the colours that we see? I'm not saying that the above are necessarily all *good* ideas, just that they are outgrowths from the silly provocations deliberately presented to make me think in new ways, which I otherwise wouldn't have thought of.

For most of this episode, I cover de Bono's general thoughts and the argument presented for why Po is important, rather than talking about the application of Po itself. This is discussed near the end, and doesn't take long to introduce. De Bono's arguments are worth engaging with, though, as they give us an unusual perspective on thinking, and let us realise why a word like po may be useful to creative thinking.

Enjoy the episode.

Music by podcastthemes.com.

Mar 12, 2018

In the previous episode, we looked at a range of articles concerning the effectiveness of so-called "brain training" in general, with a particular focus on Lumosity, one of the big players in the market. In this episode, we home in on perhaps the most promising type of "brain training": dual n-back.

Dual n-back has more evidence than most other forms of "brain training" that it can increase working memory. This is a big deal, since working memory has otherwise not been found to change due to any intervention, but it is strongly implicated in higher reasoning and generally in intelligence. To paraphrase cognitive scientist Dan Willingham, if a genie were to suddenly appear and offer to increase your cognitive capacity in any way, your best choice would be to ask for more working memory. And dual n-back might just be the granting of that wish.

One further advantage of dual n-back is that it is an unpatented technique, rather than software from one company in particular. You can find and use free dual N-back applications for the computer or mobile device. This also means that the waters are less muddied by the advertising / propaganda of people trying to make money from it.

One thing we must keep in mind is that investing time and energy into any sort of "brain training" brings up an opportunity cost. Could that time and energy have been better used by learning something new - a new sport, craft, language, or field of study? Might not a change in diet, improved sleep, or increased exercise do more for the day-to-day working of one's brain than such specialised computer games? While none of the above are proven to permanently increase working memory, their effect on thinking is well-documented, and considerably less controversial than any brain-training, including dual n-back.

If dual n-back works, we should probably have all pupils and students use it; if it doesn't, then we must not be distracted by it. Which will it be? Listen to the episode to find out more.

Enjoy the episode.

 

Articles referred to in this episode:

Jaeggi et al. (2008). Improving fluid intelligence with training on working memory.

Jaeggi et al. (2010). The relationship between n-back performance and matrix reasoning - implications for training and transfer.

Morrison and Chein (2011). Does working memory training work? The promise and challenges of enhancing cognition by training working memory.

St Claire-Thompson et al. (2010). Improving children's working memory and classroom performance.

Kroesbergen et al. (2014). Training working memory in kindergarten children: Effects on working memory and early numeracy.

Shipstead et al. (2012). Is Working Memory Training Effective?

Reddick et al. (2013). No Evidence of Intelligence Improvement after Working Memory Training: A Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Study.

Lervag and Holme (2013). Is Working Memory Training Effective? A Meta-Analytic Review.

Lilienthal et al. (2013). Dual n-back training increases the capacity of the focus of attention.

Colom et al. (2013). Adaptive n-back training does not improve fluid intelligence at the construct level: Gains on individual tests suggest that training may enhance visuospatial processing.

Lebedev et al. (2017). Working memory and reasoning tasks are associated with different modes of large-scale dynamics in healthy older adults.

Mar 5, 2018

Could specially designed exercises on your computer or mobile phone make you smarter? "Brain-training" is now a multi-billion pound industry, and that money comes from people hoping to get a boost in their mental faculties from spending time playing the various games in the apps in question. Do these apps work as they are supposed to? And if they are, shouldn't we have all children (and maybe adults too) make use of them?

In this episode, I go through the research on this topic, with a particular focus on Lumosity, one of the biggest players in this market. I start from the scientific articles provided on Lumosity's website, and continue with articles found from elsewhere on the same topic.

Of course, there are many more brain-training apps out there other than Lumosity, including Peak, Elevate, Cognito, Left vs. Right, Brain It On!, and Fit Brains Trainer. But they are generally similar enough that the research literature probably applies to basically all of them. Lumosity is a particularly interesting case to analyse since its marketing is so insistent that the app is "scientifically designed". What is the substance behind this claim?

I won't spoil it for you! Have a listen to see what I found out.

Enjoy the episode.

Music by podcastthemes.com.

Mar 3, 2018

In this episode, we will look closely at Edward de Bono's idea of lateral thinking by considering two of his books, The Use of Lateral Thinking (1971) and Lateral Thinking: A Textbook of Creativity (1977).

Lateral thinking is the central idea behind all of de Bono's work. It grows out of the models of mind that de Bono presented in his first book The Mechanism of Mind (1969), and was initially introduced in the second part of that book. De Bono coined the term himself, but now it is a commonly used word in the English language.

De Bono argues that, although logical thinking is a powerful and important approach, it is not enough. Logical thinking cannot generate new ideas. Like a car with an accelerator but no steering wheel, pure logical thinking can only have us move down existing well-trodden paths, or keep moving forward in the direction we are already going.

Lateral thinking, on the other hand, like a steering wheel, allows us to change direction. The very word "lateral" means "sideways", so lateral thinking is about moving "sideways" out of existing patterns to generate new perspectives.

The author explains that lateral thinking is closely related to both insight and humour, something that was also explained in The Mechanism of Mind. It is all about perception and perspective. Although computers can do logical operations very well, computers cannot (at least for the forseeable future) laugh. This uniquely human trait is one facet of the human capability for change of perspective - the basic idea behind lateral thinking, and a latent human strength.

Enjoy the episode.

Music by podcastthemes.com.

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