Friday, August 15, 2008

Splitting the Knol

Tēnā koutou katoa - Greetings to you all
Ice Block - artist Ken Allan.
We have the knowledge.
Now we have the
knol - a Web 2.0 effort to quantise knowledge.

This is not the first time an attempt has been made to invent a unit of something to do with learning. The invention of the knowledge object, similar to the learning object and now more recently called the learning resource, were endeavours to bring together essential elements of knowledge so that they could be packaged and transported to the learner to achieve a single learning objective.

The matter with Knol:

This latest pursuit, of which Knol is one of its offshoots, is a bit like the quest for an understanding of matter itself. Like the way Science analysed the substance, found the molecule, split the atom, detected the sub-atomic particles, and by all accounts is still pursuing the analysis of these. New Zealand born Nobel prize-winner, splitter of the atom, Ernest Rutherford, would be fascinated today. I wonder if the person who manages to split the knol will win a Knol Prize.

It’s all to do with knowledge, the common fibre that led to the so-called ‘string theory’ of matter and all its sinuous threads. Isn’t it funny how the same patterns run through seemingly different disciplines? We talk about the ‘thread’ of an argument, and how we 'string' together ideas – the 'fabric' of education. How the stuff of science has 'woven' its way into everyday life. How different constructs can 'knit' together. How knowledge is being constantly 'tailored' to fit the learner – never mind the quality, feel the width. And how, for some of us, it is all 'sewn up' when it’s understood.

Well, my understanding of it is that a fair bit of darning is needed to patch the holes and pull the material to meet at the seams. My tartan bag of knowledge is anything but stitched together yet.

But now we have the unit of knowledge - the knol.

Ice-cubes go with the flow:

One model of knowledge, at least from its management point of view, is the idea that it can be a thing or a flow. A bit of knowledge can be looked on as an ice-cube, for instance. How it gets from one place to another can be thought of as the flow of water that’s needed to make the ice-cube. So it can be considered as a thing and a flow. That’s to say it is both at the same time.

This idea is not unlike the way light has been thought of in physics or the way matter has been considered, as a wave and as a particle. It all depends on the situations and how the occurrences are observed.

Frozen knowledge, as ice-cubes, sits in the books in my library at home. When an enquiry is made from the books, bits of the knowledge melt and flow, at least for a short time, into the mind of the reader. There it may solidify again, remaining till it flows to some other recipient or simply evaporates. Of course, here the model tends to founder on the rocks, as nothing really happens to the ice-cubes in the books even if some of them flow elsewhere. It’s nevertheless a cool model.

So what is the knol? Is it a thing and a flow? Let’s see:

Thing, as the ice-cube, sitting somewhere on a server at Google.
Flow, as the digital information when I download it to my PC.
Thing, as the ice-cube, sitting on my PC.
Flow, as I read, observe, listen and understand its content.
Thing, as the ice-cube in my mind, when I think I’ve understood and learnt what there is to learn.
My head hurts.
Flow, as I try to tell someone about it.

What if I’ve got the wrong idea altogether? What if I misunderstood the content of the ice-cube? Is a new ice-cube developed in doing this? Is the new ice-cube useful and worth passing on? Is what’s passed on still knowledge? Could a knol be made out of it? Hmmm.

I think I’ve got some stitching to do on my model for knowledge.
What do you think?

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Ka kite anō - Catch ya later


V Yonkers said...

My gut instinct is that it is dangerous to try to "measure" knowledge. I think it creates an environment in which apples and oranges are compared and then (actually based on just preference) valuated.

This makes me think of the IQ tests that are really culturally bound and used to keep one group "above" another. If used the correct way, IQ tests can be invaluable (how is a child learning compared to the way the educational system is set up) but we have decades of research that demonstrate how politically charged IQ tests are.

Who decides the value of the Knol? Who decides the "quantity" of Knol? Who decides what the unit actually measures?

Tom Haskins said...

Greetings Ken!
I've made lots of use of the metaphor of "flow learning" over the years, but without ice cubes. I've had fun pondering what you've proposed here as it relates to "flowing while learning". Here's one way to combine the two metaphors.

When learners have curiosity, questions, search terms, etc -- they exude warmth that can change the state of knowledge. When knowledge is stored, it is frozen solid and doesn't go anywhere on its own, as you envision. The accumulation of knowledge can put a chill on learners, causing them to lose fluidity, warmth as well as their ability to move beyond their comfort zone. The learners coalesce into rigid experts, unbending bigots and unyielding authorities in their knowledge area. They lose their curiosity and ability to question their knowledge. They take on the qualities of a data base of stored expertise: a closed-minded know-it-all. They become slush, then solid ice.

For learners to locate new knowledge, extract value from learning resources, or make use of what they find in their lives -- they need the warmth of their curiosity. As you propose, the ice melts knowledge into a flowing condition to move out of its stored state. Learners in active pursuit of an enquiry find their melting of some ice brings about greater flow. Their experience of flow becomes tangible: one good thing after another comes along, coincidences abound, surprising finds lead to more questions, excitement mounts as their momentum increases.

When learners either have no further questions, decide their minds are made up or admit the issues seem resolved -- their knowledge turns to ice in their minds. It hurts to try and relate to them or play around with what they know. It's easy to go into a skid, lose control of the conversation, get into trouble with their intolerant outlook or get stopped their solid stance.

Until the ice forms, what learners know without finality spawns more questions, explorations and reflections. Ice melts in the presence of their energy which is fueled by their series of successes at finding what they're looking for, getting answers to their questions, discovering solutions to their problems., etc. The more they know, they more they don't know and want to explore further. The ice cubes are incidental to their warmth and the melting brought on by their heat.

Thanks for this rich metaphor to play around with :-)

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Tēnā kōrua!

@Virginia - a recent post by Joe Firestone analyses and refutes the idea that a knol can be a unit of knowledge.

Units are supposed to be well defined amounts, usually according to a well defined standard. Though Google attempts to outline what's meant by this unit of knowledge, the knol, it seems the definition is fuzzy and unclear. What comprises a unit of knowledge is so imprecise by this description, let alone matters to do with its contextualisation.

@Tom - let the metaphors flow! I love playing with metaphors. I had, in my mind, the idea of being left cold with some aspects of knowledge content and the way it might be conveyed. But I have always believed that the best metaphors are those that are less explicit and leave the detail up to the imagination. They are, after all, only metapors.

But your 'slush' is a good metaphor too. It reminds me of ice and snow that often partially thaws to form the slush that becomes quite discoloured by entrained dirt. Later it might refreeze to a grey-black amorphous mass - not quite the crystal snow or ice it was originally. Then what?

Ka kite anō

Tom Haskins said...

Thanks Ken
I agree the best metaphors live much up to the imagination. There's some scientific evidence that our unconscious thinking, learning, and deciding processes are organized without language. We not only dream in metaphors, we make up our minds with them.

Dirty slush calls for some warmth where the knowledge getting formed can be called into question and reconsidered as "good for flowing" or not.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Tēnā koe Tom!

Yes, I'm with you on this idea of metaphors stimulating our unconscious thinking, learning, and deciding processes. I don't doubt the levity of the metaphor one bit. All the greatest poets will vouch for that, for they understood the power of the metaphor. Some would claim that metaphors are like subliminal imaging in their contribution.

Connotation through metaphor plays a huge part, I believe, and can be as influential as the effects of more tangible things such as music and scent.

But I don't want to slide too far off the topic :-) the 'dirty slush' metaphor is very fitting and such happenings bring about the need for what I call 'unteaching', before attempting to put matters to right in learning.

Ka kite

Tom Haskins said...

Ken All you say about the role of metaphors is profound and articulate! We're very much on the same wavelength. Thanks for keeping this mini-dialog going.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora Tom!

Thank you for pushing my thinking on the metaphor. This artefact can be used and abused in education and other disciplines. I believe that the correct use of it is a skill in itself. Overused, it can become a barrier to learning; used appropriately, it has the potential to be a stimulant to open learning pathways.

Ka kite