Some years ago I saw Alan Kays TED talk “A powerful idea about ideas” and am ongoingly impressed by his story about the many different (in terms of their quality and “neuronal sustainability”) ways to teach the Pythagorean theorem.
This notion of looking at different conceptual approaches when conveying something and then choosing the one with the deepest reach (the best neuronal basis for future concepts) really stuck with me and grew into the following idea:
A platform to hone in on the most elegant approaches for teaching scientific concepts that have maximum in-domain depth and cross-domain reach.
Many times throughout the last semesters while studying for subjects like software engineering, theoretical informatics or linear algebra, I had the strong sense that there must be an obvious “symphony of connections” between these subjects – but I would always only get short glimpses of it and professors seem to rarely speak to, or encourage seeing connections to other subjects than their own. There is much going on regarding MOOCs, we have a lot of funding for ‘excellence universities’ in Germany and there are many players in the field of education that do good work.
But what I haven’t seen yet are places where didactics are discussed down to the actual level of which angle and analogies to choose for introducing a concept and how one approach is more meaningful than another one when looked upon solely asking about the quality of the “new neuronal patterns” this approach leaves in the students brain – how well and how sustainable this sets him or her up for comprehending future related concepts. I would imagine these kind of inquiries are happening in the field of didactics, when a textbook is created, when a professors plans their first lecture series after having earned their title etc.?
I am wondering though if it might be interesting to pull this “into the daylight” and into a broader range of participants. So I imagine a platform that is centered around this idea of honing in on elegant approaches for teaching concepts. I read Siddhartha from Hermann Hesse many years ago, there is this one image that fits nicely. It talks about being the stone in the water and letting yourself sink to the ground. No matter what turbulence you go through in the process, eventually you will reach the ground. In that way I imagine different approaches to be compared, deconstructed and reconstructed until the ground of a particular matter is reached – the deepest point in the valley where the river flows the fullest and fastest. Concepts might merge into a higher abstraction and “spines” emerge that tie things together.
On a practical level I imagine the first to invite to such a platform to be educators that are interested in such an experiment and put the future-quality of their teaching before the ways the already do it. Concepts and approaches can be submitted and are all their own entities that are bound together only through links so that maximal ‘recombinability’ is possible and encouraged. Readily developed material is welcome as well as just vague ideas. The structure of the platform encourages – and in part computes automatically – the continuous structuring of all present entities. In the spirit of Christopher Alexander’s pattern language, each entity could have fields for connections to other domains, related analogies, stories etc. The template for an entity is subject to the platforms recursive development itself. Quantitative measures will be introduced that allow for automated computational support in honing in on the most elegant knowledge graph…