Tuesday, 28 August 2012

A Little Knowledge Can Be A Dangerous Thing

Have you seen the film from last year called "21 Jump Street"? It's hilarious. I'd recommend it. Don't be put off by Channing Tatum. He's actually very funny. One of the scenes is where they go into a modern high school and to their amazement find it's quite cool to be clever and environmentally responsible and so on. I couldn't help doubting that this is the case in many modern schools but I was reminded of it again at work last week when I mentioned that my Gamification course was starting yesterday. Immediately the criticism begins.

"Ewww, why you doing a course on that? It's all about mind control"
"Don't believe what they tell you on the course. It's all the government trying to control how we think."
"You should watch this documentary on youtube before you do anything."
"I've seen loads of documentaries about it and you don't realise what you're getting into."

It reminded me of when I was in Year 12 and a Hari Krishna guy gave me a book during a lunchtime outing to McDonalds and the Head Girl confiscated it in Maths because she'd "heard stories" about people who read their books. 100% uneducated bollocks.
Some of you may be wondering what Gamification is. To be brief - it is taking game features and game design elements and putting them into non game situations. For example, you ever driven past one of those speeding signs that lights up and tells you your exact speed as you drove towards it? You usually realise you're driving a tad too fast and slow down a bit.
sign dump
Well in Stockholm they added a license plate recognition camera to one and it took a picture every time someone was under the speed limit. Under, only. Then they entered them into a lottery and the winner got a portion of the money raised from speeding fines in the local area. During the pilot the average speed in the area dropped by 30%. They gamified their anti-speeding strategy. You'll notice that in this example no one got their mind controlled and, to my knowledge, no documentaries have been posted on youtube about the subsequent annihilation of Stockholm's residents by some speed crazed freak.

I'm doing the course through Coursera, which is an interesting experiment to watch if you happen to be a learning and performance professional, which I am. University led training courses delivered completely online with certification at the end and all completely free. I'm halfway through the materials for week one of my course and I am very impressed. I've seen a lot of online resources, especially free ones, and the quality can be a little dubious. This course, coming from the Uni of Pennsylvania, is very well put together and the Professor clearly knows his subject.
Gamification Screenshot
Excellently researched and informative. I may only be a week in but I like it. As do others, clearly. Thousands of people from 147 countries have signed up to this one course and because of the delivery method it is entirely accessible to all of them, provided they are fluent in english and have an internet connection. Online delivery of training is an area I've long been interested in hence my decision to actually take a course rather than merely read industry articles on how it is all going.
Commit No Nuisance Sign
Which brings me to my second gripe. When I was at school it was not cool to study. It was cool to be intelligent without studying but that's not something I ever managed, if in fact did the cool intelligent people. In 21 Jump Street it was slightly cooler to study but still not much. At the age of 34, in the comfort of my own home, during my evening free time, after a full day at work, I am told I'm a "geek" for watching an online lecture instead of an episode of Lewis which I can see anytime. I get called a geek quite a lot because I can fix photocopiers, know how to wrangle Microsoft into doing what's needed and remember BODMAS. I see it more as a lazy label to recognise a skill-set others seemingly lack but in this case it was meant as a definite insult and seems completely unwarranted.
Geek is the New Black
At a time when employability is everything, knowledge means power, intelligence is key and people draw lots of graphs that show higher qualifications mean higher earnings, how can anyone be criticised for learning? How is it bad to increase your knowledge? In fact how can that ever be bad, not just during a recession? Would it be a better use of my time if I just sat there, mesmerised by the picture box, letting the inevitable wise cracks and homely morality wash over me? We all relax in different ways. Some people relax productively and others relax unproductively. That's fine. But no one will convince me it's a bad thing to relax productively. And certainly no one would ever convince a knitter of that either. What does seem a bad thing is people who sit around saying "Oh, I don't need to know about all the geek stuff. I'll just get a geek to do it." You know how every time you say "there's no such thing as fairies" a fairy dies? Well every time someone even thinks that sentence about 'geek stuff' a new Tech starts working on how to automate their job out of existence. And even in the worst case scenario I'll be the one who developed the online redundancy training they're watching as they head out the door.   

This post started out very sweary but having got it all out of my system I've cleaned it up. Perhaps that bodes well for another course I've signed up for called "Think Again: How to Reason and Argue" which I dare say will not be in favour of the respond-angrily school of communication. It's also a Coursera course and there are lots of other ones so if you are interested in expanding your mind from the comfort of your own home and for free I'd recommend going and having a look. I am not sure of the finance model behind the website but suspect that they will have to start charging at some point so you might as well sign up while it is all still free and easy. The "Think Again" course starts in 3 months while I've also got "Intro to Philosophy" pencilled in for the New Year. You can even sign up for the Gamification course for the rest of this week if it has tickled your fancy since you still have time to catch up.
Gamification Video Lectures

Personally I have always found knowledge in whatever quantity to be rather useful. Feel free to quote me.


NIckerjac said...

The learn to programme looks interesting

bagqueen said...

You made me have a look at the site, a sciencey for me but I agree with you there is always something we can learn that will enrich our lives and our society.

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