Category Archives: unschooling

PyCon speech text version: Real life learning and design of Knowledge Engine

We have been calling for the coming of Knowledge Based Economy for years. But in my view, Knowledge Based Economy hasn’t really come yet. Among many reasons, one key reason is that we need a technology breakthrough here. The current way knowledge is represented, such as books, blogs, wikis, or other knowledge management systems, are all fundamentally document-based. With document-based representation of knowledge, it is hard to achieve continuous learning and knowledge management.

In the industrialization age, we invented engine to transform energy from gas into mechanical power, thus we can build airplanes, boats, cars or other products of the industrial age. In the Knowledge Based Economy age, we also need an engine, which I call Knowledge Engine, to transform people’s daily experiences and gathered important infos into well-structured knowledge, so we can build various products in the Knowledge Based Economy age, to help us better learn or do project management.

Talking about learning, the current mainstream learning is school learning. School learning is isolated from real life. One isolation is its learning “content”. The textbook in school is too outdated and cannot meet the rich needs of real life, which is in various aspects and on various levels. With Knowledge Engine, however, everyone becomes a knowledge explorer, and knowledge can be shared more timely. We will have more varieties of knowledge to be shared and they will be shared on a much more massive scale. Sharing by book publishing, blogs and so on is still too slow for knowledge propagation. Knowledge Engine will greatly lower the threshold of knowledge sharing. Through learning in a domain, the learner can accumulate his experiences in various aspects of this domain, important infos or facts, together with rich learning materials. He can work on his collections, form a good structure of knowledge and share with others while he is making progress in his learning. Actually, this is what we do in our real life learning. When we ask someone for his learning experiences in a domain, usually the knowledge sharer will list 1,2,3,4,5… key points quickly and give a brief explanation for each. In Knowledge Engine, we want to make that summarizing work happening on the go and can be done very quickly.

The second isolation of school learning from real life is that people who teach in the school have no learning experiences and thus true knowledge of the domain that they are teaching. With Knowledge Engine, however, learners collect and form a good structure of knowledge while they are learning and doing knowledge exploration. When the accumulation of knowledge is rich, complete and mature enough, the learner can try teaching it as a subject. So this way, excellent professionals in all walks can start teaching in their spare time, and become a high quality of resource of teachers. This will change the profession of teaching. Furthermore, students’ learning states can be well reflected by the Knowledge Engine, so the teachers can offer very effective instructions to the students. The teachers can build knowledge frames very timely according to the students’ learning needs.

The school learning mostly fills students with dry knowledge. People staying in school for more than 10 or 20 years still haven’t learned how to learn. With Knowledge Engine, however, the future learning will be chiefly learning by oneself. The teachers (or the early learners) have built up knowledge with good structure and accumulated rich learning material(books, blogs, videos, examples, projects, questions, and so on) through their own learning. So the students (or the future learners) can use these as their rich learning resources. With a good overview of all the knowledge to learn and with rich learning resources, the learner can decide for himself how to learn in the fastest and best way, as Knowledge Engine also helps the learner knows clearly his current knowledge structure. The essence of learning is self-learning. In the future, learners will learn mostly by themselves or through peer learning. The teacher only gives guidance to help learners learn, besides providing a good knowledge structure and learning materials.

Because of school, people have very misled concepts of learning and knowledge. But through Knowledge Engine, people will get to know quickly what is learning and what is knowledge. Only by editing operations and through some predefined workflows, the learners can learn quickly how to learn effectively. I think this is where the power of software is.

Last but not the least, students’ knowledge is visible in their exploration of knowledge. Also when they build up open space knowledge with their teachers together, they are participating in very meaningful social works, and their contribution is visible to the public. These will be an important part of their portfolios. (Just like what happened in open source software) Future employers will use these to pick competent candidates instead of relying too much on test scores, which can not really evaluate how much the person really understand the knowledge. Furthermore, through Knowledge Engine, the learner’s capability to learn and to explore knowledge can be demonstrated. Especially if the learner is able to open a course and teach others what he has learned, it certainly reflects that he has mastered the knowledge pretty well.

So the real life learning is not very difficult. We don’t need to be locked away from real life for more than 10 or 20 years to learn. Life is the primary. Learning is only secondary. Learning is to make out life better, instead of replacing it. Otherwise, there would be no learning, just like our current schools.

I hope the work of Knowledge Engine, can help make real life learning the mainstream learning of the future, and really start the Knowledge Based Economy.

This is a conference of Python. Starting from 2002, Python has been my favorite programming language. But I only got chances to write Python scrips for years. Finally in my job, my boss allowed me to prototype in Python, but required me to translating into Java after each iteration. That was a very painful experience. Finally in the research work on Knowledge Engine, I am able to do this exploratory work with Python. When Guido was designing Python, there was a clear goal in his mind: to make everyone being able to program, to express their ideas through programming and to do exploratory works. I cannot imagine how I can do the mast work on Knowledge Engine without Python. It would be hard to imagine with Java. So this is the first huge contribution that Python makes to this project.

The second comes from the idea of Pythonic. For me, it can be simplified as Principle of Playing. The design of Python has greatly inspired me in software design and my understanding of learning. This is the second huge contribution of Python to this project.

This experimental work of Knowledge Engine has passed two stages of experimentation. The first stage is me using the software to help myself learn, to see if it can be really helpful for my own learning. It turns out an incredible tool for my daily learning, and I need to use it daily for my learning. The second stage of experiment is to have a few other people use it to see if it can help other people as well. The result of this has been quite satisfactory to me. People who have no skills of reflection earlier can learn how to reflect quickly and thus open up the space of real life learning. The result proved my hypothesis when starting this project, and made me more confident on this project. Now I want to expand the experiment to a broader group of people, but still focus on people who already are strong self-learners, and are already using various internet tools for their learning. I hope to explore and find a mature practice of learning with this Knowledge Engine. Thus we can demonstrate to the world the possibilities and the power of real life learning.

For projects similar to this internationally, I found the following: wisdomclouds. The founder of wisdomclouds shares similar or exactly the same understanding of this kind of things. He didn’t use the word Knowledge Engine. But he used this phrase “All problems, one solution”. His software is used for project management only.

Trello, Joel claims that it will be able to manage all human consciousness. This means he already sees the potential of this kind of things. Trello is also used for project management currently.

Bagtheweb, is mainly for content curation.

This is a quite new field. I hope more people can join the work.


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waiting for a wrong superman

Normally I don’t comment on things happening in a country I don’t live in. But this time I will make an exception.

Waiting for Superman pointed out the crisis in education. But the solution it offered is plainly wrong.

Standard test is not the solution. The test score cannot tell you much about a person. If I am an employer interviewing a job applicant, his high test score only tells me that he is able to control himself and is able to budget his time well and follow a plan through. Can a poor test score imply the person is unable to control himself? It is very debatable, however. I have childhood friends who are not good with school tests, but later proved themselves very able to concentrate on things that really interested them once they got into society. And a person with high testing score is also quite likely a person who has lost the flexibility and richness of mind, the curiosity and most importantly the ability to learn and analyze. If I have a factory that is mass producing something like toys and I need a lot of workers and team leaders to carry out the production, only looking at the applicants’ test score might be enough for me. But if I run an Internet company that is providing some service in this ever-changing environment, I need to find out a lot more about the candidates. Self-control is important. But I also need to know whether they are able to think independently faced with an unknown world, know how to analyze, and how to untangle the myth, and offer solutions in steps. I need to know if the candidate has a sound judgment of people and whether he has a good understanding of the world. School test scores tell me too little of these qualities.

Mass production area needs a lot of people who can be disciplined and follow existing commands in a confined environment. So modern schools come into being. But what the mass production needs and what you need are two different things. Your education is totally a different thing from schooling. You don’t have to turn yourselves into a dumb command follower to find a job in the factory. You can have your own factory if you can really “educate” yourself. Or your kid can own his own factory if he can get real education. That is how parents should tell their kids instead of instructing them to get good test scores so they can be workers in factories and lose their happiness of life.

But luckily computer software and internet are changing everything. Because of software and internet, the production becomes easier. The barrier of production is much lower. And because it is much easier to find market through internet, there is less need for mass market and mass production. Especially software and internet ushered a new age in the space of social product, causing an explosion of self-production of social product. In this new age of social product production, knowledge become the uppermost important thing. And here I mean the real knowledge, not the dead knowledge in the text book. Real knowledge is live knowledge that you form and shape and reconstruct daily with you your daily experiences and practices. Modern schooling is too outdated for this.

If Alvin Toffler  (the author of The Third Wave) is to comment on this movie, I guess he will say this is the thought of second wave pushing back. In his book, he said: “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”   The movie still talks about reading and math. How stupid is that?! And how stupid are American politicians trying to “fix” education by standardized tests?! According to Toffler, in the 50s, America already has more people working in knowledge based jobs instead of labor-intensive jobs. Now although America is still the No. 1 country in industrial production, the percentage of population working in this field drops to less than 20% (This is from Toffler’s book Revolutionary Wealth, which is written in 2006). So I guess it is still from the old idea that math is so important and Americans are losing that kids are not good at math. My experiences tell me that math is a difficult and dry subject for most people, and for most people, they will avoid it if they can. For most people, they like arts, management, and other jobs that are related to human beings. For a minority of people, they do have a strong passion for math and the physical world. So I just think that American people have a choice not to learn math if they don’t feel a strong passion for it. And there are plenty of other kinds of jobs for them. But for people in developing countries such as China, there is still no such option. So I don’t know what the director is complaining about. Is he very good at math himself? Why doesn’t he become an engineer?

Furthermore, kids have different interests at different ages. Some kids just are ready for math earlier. Some will wait until very late to develop the interest in math. Why can’t the kids have the freedom in what they want to learn and not to learn? Why we have to kill their ability to learn in order for them to learn some math?  I already talked quite a lot about this in my previous posts. So I will not go into details here.

In the internet age, in the age of knowledge, the schooling model that was set up in the industrial age for the purpose of mass production will have to be changed. Otherwise the crisis will just get more serious. We cannot fail so many kids. Still holding the ideas of the second wave and trying to strengthen the current school model is not the solution. Education/learning is a deep and broad issue. To provide the real solution you need deep and broad knowledge and a long time of focus.  So although this movie does draw a grim picture of current education system, the solution it claims it finds is very backwards and stupid.

A second wave establishment needs to be replaced by new third wave constructs. It cannot be fixed by second wave thoughts.

p.s. as for the solution that I think will work, read the previous post.

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How will Internet change education?

How will Internet change education? 1. helps self-learners and makes self-learning easier; 2. transforms professionals in various walks into a high quality teacher resource by spending just their spare time; 3. helps individuals build up comprehensive portfolios online, which reflect their learning and skills. All three hinge on one core tech breakthrough: the knowledge engine, which transforms daily experiences into knowledge. And this knowledge engine will be used to build cars, ships, and airplanes in the knowledge age.

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Why I am here

I came to the states for the cause of education/learning. I have identified the education as the most important thing for China, as the thing that will make the real change. I recognized that for the macro-environment, it is better to do it in America. I believe what I am doing here will eventually benefit China greatly. So I came here.

But here in this foreign culture, I am limited by my micro-environment. I have been trying here for about 9 years. When I first came here, I made my decision that if I could not speak English like Americans (I don’t mind accent. As long as I can express myself freely and people can understand me without any problem, it is ok.), I will definitely go back. Now I already passed the deadline I had set for myself. The restrictions the US government put on foreigners make it very difficult for me to have free time to make the breakthrough. Chomsky says language is what makes human being human being. Many times when I look at the cats, I feel I am in a state between the cat and the human being. Yes, not only are the immigrants/foreigners slaves, they are also not human being. I wouldn’t go to graduate school if I stayed in China. To come to the states, I chose to go to graduate school and wasted a lot of my time there. I came to the states for the purpose of unschooling. But to come here, I need to put myself into school. How ironic is that?

I surely had my fun here, and it is always good to learn new things and meet new people. But my life is limited. I have to choose where I am going to base myself.

People who believe in national border is very short-sighted and lack of knowledge and imagination. I thought America is about Equality.

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Open response to Tim O’reilly

Open response to Tim O’reilly’s keynote speech at Web2.0 Expo New York.

The keynote speaking today given by Tim O’reilly is very inspiring. Thank him for giving that kind of speech. In response to him, I want to talk about my thinking on these issues. I don’t have all the answers. I have some, which hopefully can get us to the next step.

I’ve been thinking about these since my childhood. So even I am still young, I have a lot of experiences of this. I can think about those since my childhood because I had a very wonderful childhood and I think life is precious. Thus I think everyone should have the opportunity to best pursue his life. Seeing many adults around me not able to do that promoted me to think about it.

Since then I have tried all my life to expand my knowledge and improve my understanding of the world. I have tried to learn many different things. They open myself up to various worlds of knowledge and help me understand the world we are living in.

O’reilly talked about all the one line slogans of MS and google. Those are what they are fighting for. What is my one line slogan? Two things. Bring out the true face of learning. Build a better playground.

Clay Shirky talked about a very good story of a student getting into trouble after starting a study group on the facebook. But in this story, I want to ask why people have to be forced to learn. Should they just participate in learning what they want to learn? What are all these energy wasted in trying to take a free ride and steal the answers. Obviously something is very worng with our education system.

Below is an assembly of links to my essays that you can read to get to know more of what I mean by “Bring out the true face of learning. Build a better playground.

Against Compulsory Schooling: from mass production to empowering individual professionals

Peace: what is peace and how to build peace in our world

Build a better playground

Featured Essays:

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When the world is still, the whole world is just one. When it starts moving, forces are applied to its body and split out many small parts.  Under the forces, the small part has to make itself stronger correspondingly in order to follow the flow of the whole. Thus there is more life. This is the same in the human world. Each individual is a separation out of the whole. Each individual is under the forces caused by the movement of the whole. Under the (social) forces, each individual has to make himself/herself stronger so the whole can move together. Thus we have more life. So under the force of the movement of the whole, separation happened. Each separated individual has to absorb that force and make himself/herself stronger and connect back to the whole so the whole can move together. (This understanding of life is the same as how life is interpreted in the book Nature of Order.) When the world moves faster and faster, greater and greater forces are generated and smaller and smaller parts are split out, and they have to be stronger in order to follow the movement of the whole. Take sports for example, when the game becomes faster, you rely on components of your body that are the primary organs of that sport to be stronger and more skillful in order to follow the flow. So when you really enjoy the sports, or we can go more specific, for example in the sport of soccer, if your legs really enjoy the ball, you can play better and be better at following the flow. Thus play and enjoying fun are the essential part of life. Life is about playing.

So play is space interacting with the space. On the individual level, it is the individual’s inner space interacting with the outer space. On the level of society, it is how individuals interact with each other, or on a larger scale how organizations of individuals interact with each other. So we can see in the future sophisticated and ever-changing society, we rely on the individuals to be stronger players.

To play with other players, you need to make yourself easy to understand and other people know how to play with you. So play is space communicating to space.

As the universe becomes faster and has more life, we can say the universe is playing.

When I was a kid, I heard adults saying that when you get older you are not afraid of death anymore. As a kid, I reflected on it. I had a lot of fun in my childhood. I thought the adults were not afraid of death probably because there were nothing fun in their lives anymore. As I was looking at many adults’ lives, it was certainly true. Then I figured that they forgot to play because they could not keep growing their knowledge and ability as their bodies grew. So naturally after you have played with dragonfly for so many times, you will get bored. So what I saw was that adults got bored with life, or overwhelmed by responsibilities or little things of life, and thus forgot how to play. So I thought it was a challenge to be able to keep improving yourself as you grow up, and I swore to myself that I would keep improving myself and expanding my world so I can keep playing with the same kind of fun I was playing in my childhood.

In the recent years, I realized that one thing that contributed to those adults forgetting how to play is the compulsory schooling system. When children become teenagers, they need to naturally expand their world in the human world. However, the compulsory schooling system occupied all their time, and they have no time to continuously expand their space, and later become very passive in this new space of human world. When they are kids, it is easy for them to get excited when they first see the snow, or play with the insects. Everything is new, and it is easy to learn of new things. So we see kids always have a lot of curiosity. Kids are not interested in the adult world, however. To them, the adult world is too complex and they cannot understand. So they prefer watching the more simplistic version of it, the cartoon. Cartoon is very simplified, and the kids enjoy the stories in it. But as the kids grow older and become teenagers, they will get bored with what they have been playing before. At this stage, it is natural for them to be curious of the adult world. They want to know how the professionals work. They are interested in knowing about society. It is an adventure for them. But since the kids have to go to school, and in the middle school, the schoolwork becomes more intensive. Even when kids go back home, they have to work on “homework”. Together with TV, the compulsory schooling occupied the teenagers’ time. For the teenagers to understand the adult world and society, they need big blocks of time to try things out in the real world, read a lot of literatures, novels, and history. Not being able to expand into that space for many years (more than 10 years), they become passive about that space. They have been living in that space of adult world for many years without being able to understand it, they don’t seek to understand it anymore. They become very passive. The doors to many worlds closed down on them. They cannot comprehend their world anymore. They become powerless. They will just be satisfied if they can find a job after school that can pay them well. They forget how to play. You can imagine what kind of problem you will have if a civilization forget how to play.

Thus to solve the problems we have today we need to restore the fun of playing, which certainly cannot do without dismantling the compulsory schooling system and return the true learning to the hands of the individuals.

Since playing is space interacting with space, it will certainly lead to appreciating the beauty of the emptiness of the space. Thus playing in its highest form is to pursue art. Because everyone of us is unique and the life of this world relies on our diversity, every individual needs to identify and pursue his/her art of life. Thus every profession is art. To encourage individuals pursuing their art of life is to empower individual professionals to  bring out the true value of their professions. Yes, we need to empower the individual professionals.

The problem of our world is that individual professionals are dictated by the capitalists, and thus they cannot pursue their arts. Musicians cannot be true musicians and journalists cannot be true journalists. To address this problem, we need to build a better playground, which provides equal access to every individual. The web and social software, by connecting people’s consciousness together, makes it much more difficult for a group of minorities in power to set up barriers to deny the majority of the people the access to the playground. The web and social software themselves build up the infrastructure of the playground in the human world.

So this is why I dedicated myself to bringing out the true face of learning and ways for individual professionals to cooperate with each other through various forms of organizations.

Thus I said, don’t tell me any big ideas, as long as what you say is fun, it is the biggest idea.

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I have never let my schooling interfere with my education

Read of Mark Twain said this from this wikipedia entry of Autodiadic, which has an entry to John Taylor Gatto.

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