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John Seely Brown is hot

He's been into digital learning and artificial intelligence and technology and culture longer than nearly anyone. He was the head of Xerox PARC (the folks you should think of every time you move a mouse or pulldown a menu). He doesn't seem to have a blog (yet), but his site has a ton of links to an endless number of papers and articles on things that I guarantee a LOT of you care about.

About that "hot" comment... I was a kind of PARC/JSB groupie in the late 80's and early 90's, haunting every obscure, academic AI or Intelligent Tutoring conference. While most of us know PARC for giving us GUIs and Smalltalk, they were at the forefront of "learning sciences", working on research that has driven a great deal of the principles we use in Head First. So there I was, with only half the IQ required to understand what these guys were saying, but some of it was eventually absorbed through my skin.

John Seely Brown has a cool title too--now that he's left PARC, he's "Chief of Confusion." Start with this page if you want to read things about learning, but I mean it -- he's got enough on that whole site to keep you busy for days. Not so interested in learning? He's got stuff on IT, "the social life of information", and a lot to say about design, too.

Here are a few learning-related snippets:

On wikipedia:
"...it plays a much more subtle role as an emerging form of cognitive apprenticeship"

On digital learning:
"...there is a new kind of digital divide now and it is the divide between faculty and students. Faculty, stuck in yesterday's analog world, are confronted with students who arrive nicely fluent in digital technology and the virtues of hyperspeed. Students already have a handle on how to convey their emotional states electronically. It's up to adults to learn that vernacular..."

On passion, learning, and school: (my favorite)
"I’m very unpopular in certain circles for saying that we are all inveterate learners but when we go to school we get our passion for learning turned off. I keep hoping we can change schooling so as to amplify our innate passion for learning and that we can change the workscape into becoming a true learningscape. "

I was reminded of JSB by a kick-ass woman who stumbled on this blog, Judy Breck. She's been in there fighting the good fight to drag learning experiences out of the dark ages (and getting much of the same trouble for it that we got). Judy has a new book on virtual learning that brings an open source sensibility to learning. I can't recommend it yet because I haven't read it yet (should arrive any moment), but I ordered it the moment I saw that John Seely Brown wrote the forward.

(What first got my attention from Judy was that she mentioned how the cubicle problem maps to classrooms.)

Posted by Kathy on February 22, 2006 | Permalink


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» Mathematik lehren, mal anders from {Bücher,Unterwegs,Rechner-Basteln,Kochen,...}
Dan Steinberg schreibt ein Analysis-Buch im Stil von Head First (siehe auch hier) und berichtet in Extreme Teaching ber seine Erfahrungen dabei. Bisher hat das Blog erst 6 Eintrge, aber ich hatte schon ein echtes coolso hab... [Read More]

Tracked on Feb 23, 2006 4:14:12 AM


Thanks for the reminder about and link to Dr. Brown. The PARC mission always impressed me when they were part of Xerox (something like): "To create discontinuity in our core business." This was exemplified by PARC predicting the "paperless office" back in the '70s while working for a company that makes most of it's money from paper.

Think about creating discontinuity in your field of endeavor, or even your life. Only then can you truly make a leap of innovation.

Posted by: Gary Davis | Feb 23, 2006 7:23:35 AM

What a great quote Kathy (your favourite). I've got two daughters and my greatest fear, as they were growing up, was that the educational system would kill any interest they had in learning; it was a constant battle to convince them that "Yes, school might be boring but learning never is" and that the world is never boring as there is always something new to learn. I didn't win all the battles but I think (hope) I have won the war :)

Posted by: Jane Griscti | Feb 23, 2006 7:45:01 AM

Absolutely horrible, tragic news can be found on Dan's blog this morning. He and his family deserve all of our prayers and support in the midst of so much sadness.

Such an emotional reminder to treasure every second with our children.

Posted by: Brian Bailey | Feb 23, 2006 7:45:33 AM


I like the idea of Head First Calculus. What about Head First Algebra? The National Academies of Science and Engineering and Institute of Medicine commissioned a study on 'Prospering in the Global Economy of the 21st Century'. The report made several recommendations (executive summary: http://fermat.nap.edu/execsumm_pdf/11463.pdf), the first of which was to "Increase America's talent pool by vastly improving K-12 science and mathematics education". Their subproposals included scholarships for people to enter the field, summer programs, etc. It all sounded like pouring more millions down the same rate holes. I thought "they'd be much better off if they just took the money, created 'Head First' books in the subjects, and made them available inexpensively to all takers." I'm guessing the CEOs on the committee could fund the project personally, and it would be an incredible legacy for them.

Are any of those books in the works, or is Dan's the only one?

Posted by: Mike | Feb 23, 2006 8:07:06 AM

Kathy - Are you sure you're over visiting every academic, etc. conference to hear JSB speak? If not, might I suggest coming to Ohio on March 6 to hear him at the Ohio Digital Commons for Education 2006 Conference?

He's going to do a book signing...

It would be great to have you, so I just had to ask.

Posted by: Candi | Feb 23, 2006 8:18:12 AM

Hey everyone -- I edited the post and removed the link to Dan Steinberg's blog, given the tragedy about his daughter yesterday. I didn't want him to feel the pressure of suddenly having people come to his blog right now. Dan was the quintessential dad -- he talked about his kids more than anyone I know. As I type this, he was supposed to be on a plane on his way out here to work on his book with Bert and I. Brian, you are so right -- it is a big reminder, and I'll give my daughter a big hug today. She's a teenager, so it will annoy the hell out of her, but I'm doing it anyway : )

When Dan is ready to get back to work on his book, I'll post about it again, and he'll really appreciate feedback and participation as he builds the calculus book we all wish we'd had (or at least all non-majors!)

Gary, I like the "creating discontinuity" line--that's a great way to think about it.

Jane -- I so hear you on the school thing. It is one of the biggest struggles a parent can have--to keep that natural passion for learning from being squashed by a school system that sometimes works against it. Fortunately, there are usually those very special and inspiring teachers that make such a huge difference.

Candi--you have no idea how quickly I would have been making a plane reservation for that, but it's the same time as another conference I have to be at. Thanks for mentioning it though! Now that I think about it, I could definitely use a JSB update ; )

Posted by: Kathy Sierra | Feb 23, 2006 10:04:20 AM

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