Archive for the ‘Related Issues’ Category

Four or Five Stages of Learning: a case study of learning Bogglific on Facebook.

Tuesday, December 18th, 2007

This is the story of a friend of mine, whom we’ll call Jane, discovering Bogglific and getting better at it.

Bogglific and How It Is Played

What’s Bogglific?  It is an on line version of Boggle on the social networking site Facebook.  It is a 4X4 or 5X5 grid in which random letters of the alphabet are displayed.  The game is make words from the letters.  To form a word the letters have to be next to each other.  The player enters the word they see in a box and hits return after each word is entered.  Players can elect to play with penalties for incorrect words or without.  The players receive points for words which other players don’t get.  There are two lengths of game – forty-five seconds or three minutes.

This is a case study of how learning occurs in a very simple situation.  I think it shows some important things about how learning occurs – which I’ll talk about after I’ve told you the story of Jane learning Bogglific.  She has become quite proficient by now.  She has a large vocabulary and is a quick learner.  She is also quite analytical: her changes in perception (which I set out below) came from analysing what better players did.  From a couple of months ago as a complete beginner she now rates in the top 200 of over 5,000 players.

How Jane Learnt to Play Bogglific

Beginning.  At first Jane approached Bogglific by looking at a letter and seeing what other letters were around it and if they formed words.  In this way it was easy to find three and four letter words.  As she got better at this she was able to find longer words.

First realisation.  Groups of letters form many words.  That is a group of letters such as a,t,e,s make up several words (seat, eats, sate, eat, ate, eta, sat).  Once you see a group of letters there is no need to look for these words you just ‘know’ they are there and can enter them without thinking.

Next comes the seeing of different groups of letters.  There are prefixes, (such as an- and re-) and suffixes (such as -ing and -er).  There are also groups of letters within words (such as double letters).  These different groups of letters can then be put together to form longer words.

Second realisation.  It is possible to see the whole ‘board’ and look for the clusters of letters within it.  That is the first look at the board is the whole – not searching it for particular groups of letters but seeing the whole array of letters and where the different clusters are.

Third realisation.  This perception of the whole leads to the possibility of developing strategy.  It means that Jane can decide what to focus on: lots of small words, longer words, or more unusual words.  It may be possible to win with one obscure word if no one else gets it.  Or it may be possible to win by having a great number of small words.

At this stage it is possible, with simpler games to do other things while playing, such as have a conversation that doesn’t involve much thinking.  The playing has become at some level a routine or ‘habit’.

Bogglific also offers the option of playing solo.  This offers the player the possibility of trying out different ideas and seeing the results without the distraction of other players.  Jane used this to increase her ability to see groups of letters and especially to develop her ability to see the whole array at once.

At this stage other factors than perception become relevant, such as the speed of typing and knowing the other players (different players are better at different groups of letters) so this is where we’ll leave Jane’s learning.

What can we learn from this simple experience of one person?

Firstly progress is by jumps in perception.  Jane didn’t work her way gradually from seeing letters next to other letters to seeing groups of letters.  This perception changed in a flash.  In one game she saw isolated letters in the next game groups of letters.

Secondly the growth in perception is growth in seeing patterns.  From “one letter next to another forms a word” to “groups of letters mean several words” to “this array of the grid offers these groups of letters” to ” this array offers the possibilities for these kinds of strategies”.  Each realisation lead to a more inclusive way of seeing.  It was a better organisation of perception.  It wasn’t just seeing more letters next to each other, it was seeing differently.

Thirdly it helps to have a place where there is less pressure to compete where it is possible to try out ideas and see the results.

Fourthly, it is possible to learn from others.  Jane could see that other players were doing something she didn’t understand – she then set about watching what they did.

Applying this to learning.

Education is the learning of patterns.  Drill has its uses – to speed up the routine, once the patterns are perceived.  But without this perception of the patterns drill is literally meaningless.

In whatever you are learning look for the patterns.

In whatever you are teaching help the students perceive the patterns (not necessarily by telling what they are, but by assisting them to see them for themselves).

It will be helpful to have ways that the performance of the better practitioners can be analysed.  So that students have a way of learning and aren’t just told to ‘hang around’ in the hopes that excellence will somehow ‘rub off on them’.  This is a problem with many a mentoring program.

It is good to have a place to try out different ideas.  At this point pressure to perform will be counterproductive.  The fad for frequent testing in education is very dangerous.  People need the space just to play and tinker – to see what happens when they do something and if that doesn’t happen then to try something else.

Is Jane’s experience the same as yours?  I’d love to hear about the good and bad learning experiences that you have had.

Acupuncture, Ecology and Social Justice

Friday, November 16th, 2007

Acupuncture started out as, and remains, an individualised form of treatment.  The needles are inserted into one individual at a time by one individual at a time.  This means that the acupuncturist and their client can develop a genuinely human relationship.

Acupuncture also has wider implications – for ecology and social justice too.

 These are not as often commented on as its healing benefits, so I’d like to spend a little while in this article drawing attention to them.

Acupuncture is a very ‘light’ technology.

Most of the skill in acupuncture resides in people and the technology it uses (the acupuncture needle) is very simple, and costs little (money or energy) to make.  Acupuncture needles are recyclable.  Acupuncture doesn’t require the very sophisticated machinery of modern western medicine, each machine containing extraordinary amounts of embedded energy to make and then more to run.  Acupuncture is a very ecological form of medicine.

Acupuncture can also be practised in a way that promotes social justice.

One factor that disguises this is the subsidies which governments give to western medicine.  If people had to pay for machines and medicines they use directly there would be very few people using western medicine.  The cost of even routine medicines for blood pressure is quite hight.  The costs of a single dose of more specialised drugs can run into hundreds of dollars (for each dose!).  The cost of just one machine can be hundreds of thousands of dollars.  Compared to this the acupuncture needle is incredibly cheap.  This means that acupuncture can be provided cheaply and so can be readily accessible to poor people as well as rich people.

The other cost associated with medicine (and other carers) is training.  I’m convinced that this can be done quickly and easily.  Unfortunately neither private colleges nor professional associations have an incentive to make acupuncture as easy and speedy as possible.  I first learned acupuncture two nights a week for a year from a course run by a friend.  I then went to a government approved college – and learned less in three years four days a week than from the first course.  This has convinced me that acupuncture can be taught simply and easily.  Especially with the kind of media that can now be accessed on line it should be possible to spread training in acupuncture far and wide.  There will of course have to be some person to person as well, but this can be fairly brief and concentrate on the people to people part: how to relate well to clients when doing diagnosis and treatment.  All the theory can be delivered and demonstrated on line.  This means that huge numbers of acupuncturists can be trained rapidly, easily and cheaply.  Who is doing this?  Well, me for one (you can see how I’m going at

Acupuncture is a form of medicine that is both ecologically sound and has the ability to fit well with social justice.

Talking to Clients

Monday, August 27th, 2007

A big question for most acupuncturists is how to talk to their clients.

The problem is how much jargon to use.

You don’t want to bombard people with strange words, but then you don’t want to be misleading.

Where this problem is most difficult is the ‘translation’ into English. Telling someone they have a heart deficiency could cause one!

My approach is not the usual but I think it is better.

The usual approach is to use the standard translation, like ‘heart deficiency’ or ‘liver excess’ and then put in some time explaining that this doesn’t mean they have a heart or liver problem in the sense used by western medicine. This has a couple of problems:

1. Well, then what does it mean? Why use these words if they are wrong?

2. The client often doesn’t listen, and will tell others that their acupuncturist told them they have a heart or liver problem, or whatever. This isn’t likely to spread understanding of acupuncture or raise your credibility.

My approach is firstly to use a different vocabulary.

Most people who come to an acupuncturist have heard of qi and know that it doesn’t have an equivalent in western medicine. You can say things like, “Your qi is maybe a bit hyper. Are you feeling driven and hyper?” Going into more detail you could use the elements. You could say things like, “In acupuncture we’d say that maybe you have a bit too much wood energy [or qi in your wood element] . Are you feeling hyper? Do you have any eye problems at the moment? Would you say you are feeling angry?”

Secondly, you can talk about the symptoms fairly directly without using jargon.

It’s my opinion that acupuncture lends itself to this approach: that one aspect of the genius of acupuncture is that it refers so directly to our experience (heat, dryness etc). This means with a little work we can pretty much avoid jargon and speak in ways that are readily understood by most people. So you can say things like, “Well in acupuncture we’d say that you are a bit dry – you know, that dry skin and your thirst. So we remedy this by ‘moistening you’ using these points.

I hope this makes sense. It’s only sketching out my approach not going into depth. I’ll respong to any comments and do more posts on this if this is wanted.

If you are an acupuncturist I’d love to hear if you have this problem, and if so how you handle it.

Colleges Shouldn’t Own Buildings

Friday, August 24th, 2007

When we own an expensive asset (and real estate is very expensive) we naturally want to make this financially worthwhile. This is only sensible and entirely moral – good stewardship of resources is completely admirable.

This means that once a college owns a building then time and attention need to be devoted to it. There will be maintenance issues – if it is not looked after this will be very costly. There will also be the desire to extract maximum value from this asset. So time and attention will be devoted to using the building to get the best possible return. All this is sensible and moral. And has unfortunate consequences.

In my opinion the time and attention devoted to the building would be better spent improving acupuncture practice and how it is taught. Time that a college does not spend on these things is simply wasted time.

It seems to me far more sensible for a college to ‘outsource’ all the time and hassles that come with buildings. This may most easily be done by renting. Then others can worry about making the building pay.

It seems likely to me that colleges that run classes at difficult times (and with a valuable asset there is pressure to have classes going as close to 24/7 as possible) are putting the building before the students and their education.

For all these reasons it seems to me that it is far more sensible for a college to rent it’s buildings.

What do you think? Does renting make sense? Are there other things that distract colleges from focussing on students and education?

I Would Like Your Help

Tuesday, August 14th, 2007

One ambition of mine is to write the best possible acupuncture course.

To do this I would like your help.

If you are an acupuncturist I would like you to answer two questions:

1. What were the problems you had when you first started working as an acupuncturist (on either the healing or business side of your work).

2. As time has gone on what problems have you had?  The same as in 1 above, or have they changed.

The course I write will be shaped by the answers to these questions.

I’d be very grateful for anything you may write.

With many thanks in advance.  Evan 

Acupuncture Terminology and Translation

Friday, July 6th, 2007

1. Terminology
Whenever people get together to talk about something they develop special words.  Acupuncture is no exception.  Acupuncture has special words (or normal words with special meanings) that you need to understand if you want to talk about acupuncture.

With acupuncture these words are usually easily understood because they talk about our health and experience.  So we can find out what the words mean fairly easily.  There aren’t many words that are very abstract – like you would find when people talk philosophy, or very obscure – like when chemists or physicists get together.

Most of the words in acupuncture refer fairly directly to what we can experience for ourselves. 

There are words like:

  • “qi” which is the experience of energy, or
  • “liver” which means a part of our body and sometimes a kind ofdrivenness (due to the theory about what this part of our body does).

For me this terminology that refers directly to our experience is part of the great genius of acupuncture.  And it makes it far easier to learn – you don’t need to learn a foreign language (like Latin in western medicine) to understand acupuncture.

This means that I am against terminology which moves away from our experience. 

Amongst acupuncturists there is a move to do this – to invent a special medical terminology to replace the simpler language.  I regard this as entirely counter-productive.  It makes acupuncture harder to understand and learn (and we need lots of acupuncturists and don’t need to place anything in their way to stop them learning).  Just one example will have to suffice.  There is a term for a function of  the Lung channel in Chinese Medicine it is “descend and disperse”.  This means that the qi is sent down the body (to the organs below the lungs) and then dispersed to these organs.  The proposed replacement for “descend and disperse” is “depurative downbearing”.  The individuals responsible for this travesty (and other similar ones) are called Wiseman and Ellis.  They have translated Chinese texts in this way and then published a dictionary to the special words they use in their translation.  For me a translation that needs a dictionary to read is no translation!  My preference is for simple words that refer directly to experience.

2. Translation

Acupuncture works much the same for all people everywhere. 

All people everywhere experience roughly the same things and are helped in roughly the same way by acupuncture.  This means that, strictly speaking, translation of the acupuncture terms from Chinese is not necessary.  We could come up with our own words, in whatever language, from how people describe their experience and their experience of acupuncture.  This would take a lot of work and lots of time.  Fortunately this work, over several millenia, has already been put in – by the Chinese.

There is a huge wealth of acupuncture resources still awaiting translation from the Chinese.  In the last few decades this treasure has begun to be unlocked by translators.

We then have the choice about which translations to use.  My own preference – as stated above – is to use words that refer as directly as possible to experience and that are in everyday use.  Anything else makes learning acupuncture more difficult than it need be; and so is to some extent restricting the practise of acupuncture and is indirectly impeding people’s healing.