I love that Johannes Klingbiel’s article Building a new website highlights having his own place on the Internet as a means to learn.
To learn—A rather obvious one, but I wanted to challenge myself again. ❧
While I suspect that part of the idea here is to learn about the web and programming, it’s also important to have a place you can more easily look over and review as well as build out on as one learns. This dovetails in part with his third reason to have his own website: “to build”. It’s much harder to build out a learning space on platforms like Medium and Twitter. It’s not as easy to revisit those articles and notes as those platforms aren’t custom built for those sorts of learning affordances.
Building your own website for learning makes it by definition a learning management system. The difference between my idea of a learning management system here and the more corporate LMSes (Canvas, Blackboard, Moodle, etc.) is that you can change and modify the playground as you go. While your own personal LMS may also be a container for holding knowledge, it is a container for building and expanding knowledge. Corporate LMSes aren’t good at these last two things, but are built for making it easier for a course facilitator to distribute and grade material.
We definitely need more small personal learning management systems. (pLMS, anyone? I like the idea of the small “p” to highlight the value of these being small.) Even better if they have social components like some of the IndieWeb building blocks that make it easier for one to build a personal learning network and interact with others’ LMSes on the web. I see some of this happening in the Digital Gardens space and with people learning and sharing in public.
[[Flancian]]’s Anagora.org is a good example of this type of public learning space that is taking the individual efforts of public learners and active thinkers and knitting their efforts together to facilitate a whole that is bigger than the sum of it’s pieces.
Both Western culture and a tremendous number of indigenous cultures throughout history have used a variety of mnemonic techniques to teach students and help them remember a variety of knowledge. In her seminal work The Art of Memory (University of Chicago, 1966), Francis A. Yates indicates that this tradition in the West declined following the Puritan education reforms of the late 16th century led by Peter Ramus.
This decline is unfortunate as there is a lot of value and even entertainment in these methods. The difficulty of returning to some of these older forms of mnemonics or even revised and modernized methods is coming up with examples that a variety of teachers will quickly grasp and then be able to create lesson plans that will leverage the power of mnemonic techniques for their students.
The break in pedagogy is now so severe that most mentions of mnemonics I’ve seen in modern educational settings are viewed as one-off “tricks” rather than as a bedrock of teaching and learning techniques that they were in our recent past. (How our culture has managed to lose these traditions instead of the scala naturae is beyond me.)
In the Western tradition they were one of the major pillars of rhetoric. In many oral cultures they were integral to those peoples’ lifeways and means of survival to the point that colonizers over history have been known to specifically target, minimize, and even destroy the means for indigenous peoples to use them. My hope is that we might learn from our shared past and resurrect these methods.
This is where a very powerful example of mnemonics pedagogy from the film Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Warner Bros., 2004) may be a great illustration.
Before we start, I realize that the idea of mnemonics pedagogy is both a neologism and a new concept for almost everyone, so let’s take a moment to define it.
Mnemonics pedagogy is the design of lessons, hopefully in a seamless manner, that combines a lesson and attendant facts with the arts of memory (in the Western tradition) or songlines and various mnemonic devices (in the tradition of indigenous cultures). It could be considered a sub-area of instructional design. In it we might hope that the art of memory serves as the bedrock upon which the lesson is built in such a way that it becomes more natural that the students both understand the lesson, but also find it easy to store in their long term memories with minimal revision.
The design should be such that the art of memory is integral and demonstrated organically. The student or learner need not have a pre-existing idea of the arts of memory, but they naturally hear or see them occurring without the need to do the additional work of creating memory palaces, songlines, or doing numerical translations into words or images. At some point, after seeing many examples, the students will have all the attendant mnemotechniques and they’ll be able to more quickly and easily do the memory portion of the work for themselves either in real time, or after-the-fact when browsing their notes.
These techniques may already be practiced by those in curriculum and course design, particularly in digital spaces, though they may be using some “gut feeling” in their practice because they’re not explicitly aware of our shared memory traditions. Hopefully with a stronger knowledge of the space, the instructional design may be more intentional and thus more useful.
For those who are still lost on the art of memory portion, stick with me, and we’ll explore some by example. I’ll also provide some references at the end which will provide some additional description of other practices and methods which may help teachers educate themselves in these techniques and begin experimenting with them in their teaching philosophies.
There’s nothing difficult about any of these techniques; I find that they can be easily taught to even beginning elementary school students. In a moment or two, you’ll have your first one mastered.
Learning to ban boggarts
The scene in the third installment of the Harry Potter film series which we’ll focus on is that in which Professor Remus Lupin in his Defense Against the Dark Arts class teaches his students how to fend off the shape-shifting boggart. Boggarts take the form of what a person fears most. The charm for banishing them begins by creating a strong image in the student’s mind’s eye that takes the form of that feared thing in a silly or absurd context. This followed by the incantation “Riddikulus” (ri-di-KULL-lis) will cause the boggart to take the new shape and the laughter will take the boggart’s power away from it allowing it to be banished.
If you haven’t seen the movie, I’m including a clip from the scene in question as it provides some incredibly valuable context. Most of mnemonics occurs in the practioner’s mind, so in this scene consider the boggart and its various forms as something which is happening in the student’s mind, but through the magic of filmmaking, these images can be seen by everyone in the class as well as viewers of the film.
Those with a background in the art of memory may immediately see where I’m going with this. The remainder may be clueless—if this is you, worry not. A few small hints will speed us along and provide not only a beginning foundation on creating a broader practice of the art of memory, but the example will provide a memorable example of something that we can all see physically compared to the exercise which is usually only practiced in each practitioner’s “mind’s eye”.
Hopefully the additional creative visual scaffolding that the movie example provides will give us enough support to more easily imagine what is going in the thought process we hope to create in our students’ minds. When we remove that scaffolding both teachers and students will be able to expand their learning and study practices. Sometimes it’s having the ability to imagine what is going on in the art of memory that is the most difficult part of beginning to use it.
Lupin makes a suggestion to the first student and tells him that if he “sees it, we’ll see it.” The example is solid enough for other students to easily follow its creativity. Again, the wizarding magic in combination with movie magic allows the viewer to see physically what would otherwise be happening in each mnemonic user’s mind.
The example Lupin provides is incredibly similar to what Rhetorica ad Herennium would suggest. The Rhetorica ad Herennium (translation: Rhetoric for Herennius), formerly attributed to Cicero, but in fact of unknown authorship, is the oldest surviving Latin book on rhetoric, dating from the late 80s BC. It tells us in 3.22 (English translation by Harry Caplan (Loeb Classical Library 403, Harvard University Press,1954)):
Now nature herself teaches us what we should do. When we see in everyday life things that are petty, ordinary, and banal, we generally fail to remember them, because the mind is not being stirred by anything novel or marvelous. But if we see or hear something exceptionally base, dishonourable, extraordinary, great, unbelievable, or laughable, that we are likely to remember a long time. Accordingly, things immediate to our eye or ear we commonly forget; incidents of our childhood we often remember best. Nor could this be so for any other reason than that ordinary things easily slip from the memory while the striking and novel stay longer in mind. A sunrise, the sun’s course, a sunset, are marvelous to no one because they occur daily. But solar eclipses are a source of wonder because they occur seldom, and indeed are more marvelous than lunar eclipses, because these are more frequent. Thus nature shows that she is not aroused by the common, ordinary event, but is moved by a new or striking occurrence. Let art, then, imitate nature, find what she desires, and follow as she directs. For in invention nature is never last, education never first; rather the beginnings of things arise from natural talent, and the ends are reached by discipline.
We ought, then, to set up images of a kind that can adhere longest in the memory. And we shall do so if we establish likenesses as striking as possible; if we set up images that are not many or vague, but doing something; if we assign to them exceptional beauty or singular ugliness; if we dress some of them with crowns or purple cloaks, for example, so that the likeness may be more distinct to us; or if we somehow disfigure them, as by introducing one stained with blood or soiled with mud or smeared with red paint, so that its form is more striking, or by assigning certain comic effects to our images, for that, too, will ensure our remembering them more readily. The things we easily remember when they are real we likewise remember without difficulty when they are figments, if they have been carefully delineated. But this will be essential — again and again to run over rapidly in the mind all the original backgrounds in order to refresh the images.
Lupin cements the lesson to his students by having each come up with their own unique image which they associate with their fear. Having students come up with their own images will almost always be more interesting and more memorable in the long term than them using images that the teacher devises. While using teacher supplied images to start may be helpful from a demonstration perspective, the mnemonic associations will be more relevant, useful and long lasting if the student provides them.
The incantation in the lesson is a logical one as riddikulus is cognate with ridiculous, but has a quirky sounding pronunciation. This funny pronunciation will help the student to more easily remember it. I can also imagine students getting some of the sound of the word “kill” in the middle of riddikulus, and by association they may intend to “kill” the boggart with its use.
Few who have seen the film are likely to forget the worst fears of Neville Longbottom, Ron Weasley, Parvati Patil, Harry Potter, or Remus Lupin. (Go ahead and try it. Can you remember them all? I’ll bet you can.) They will remember them because the images which each conjures to banish their boggart are so well exaggerated, strong, creepy, and funny. Who could forget Professor Snape in a tatty old woman’s dress, hunched over clutching a purse, and wearing a vulture hat? I can almost smell what I’m sure are his elderberry wine-breath, patchouli oil perfume, and his musty stockings. I still chuckle at the concept of a monster sized spider attempting to remain standing while wearing roller skates. For the benefit of coulrophobiacs I’ll stand on apophasis.
While not as strong an association in the exercise, many viewers may be able to remember the order of the participants based on the transformations that occur to the boggart as each takes their turn. Perhaps a stronger grounding in a technique like a the songline or memory palace could have improved our example for this sort of retention.
These undeniably memorable images we see on screen are just the same sorts of images most good treatises of memory have suggested we try imagining in our minds’ eyes to improve our memories for millennia. These include the writings of Aristotle, Cicero, Quintilian, Thomas Aquinas, Roger Bacon, and Giordano Bruno among others. I’m sure I could also cite a ceaseless variety of elders, but the vicissitudes of orality versus literacy and the brutalities of erasure and colonialism prevent providing proper credit.
These writings and teachings admonish us to take objects associated with the thing we want to remember and exaggerate them, make them bigger or smaller, give them a smell, texture, sound, movement. Make them stand out. Make them funny. Make them absurd. These things make the ideas incredibly sticky. They make them hard to forget. They make them dead simple to remember.
As students in the exercise, the creative and absurd images are difficult to forget, so they’re more likely to remember the boggart-banishing spell. As viewers of the movie, the lesson works on a similar level as it makes it easy for us to associate each individual character’s fears with them.
From a pedagogical perspective, the boggart lesson is incredibly well designed because it builds the mnemonic structure directly into the exercise. The students are forced to use their creative imaginations to come up with memorable mental images. For the novice, there would appear to be only one lesson here: the charm. But the clever instructional designer using mnemonic pedagogy will also see a subtle parallel lesson in mnemotechy.
This sort of lesson should be much more prevalent at the lower grades from kindergarten through fourth or fifth grade. They should also be used in upper levels for those just acquainting themselves with these sorts of techniques. Later on in fourth to seventh grades a variety of specific techniques could be taught in turns over a month or so to help students learn the broader variety of thirty or so techniques they might employ over the remainder of their academic careers or even their lives. Some of these techniques might include creating memory palaces, songlines and related journey methods, the phonetic major system, peg systems, and mnemonic devices like lukasa and neolithic stone balls among many others. We might also incorporate into these uses art, music, and dance as well. One would hope that crafty students may learn to use the Guidonian hand and find that it’s easier and more effective than cheating by writing the answers on their hand because it’s less work and the answers are etched more indelibly in their minds.
For those new to the incredibly rich history of the art of memory, keep in mind that this example is very simple and concrete. It only scratches the surface of available techniques. I would hope that folks take some time to delve into the broader practice of mnemonic techniques and experiment with ways of embedding them into their teaching.
Having read a vast swath of books, treatises, and pamphlets on these techniques written over the past two thousand years, one of the best resources I would recommend for teachers is Lynne Kelly’s Memory Craft: Improve Your Memory with the Most Powerful Methods in History (Allen & Unwin, 2019). She outlines one of the largest collections of mnemotechniques in print along with examples of how they might be best used and in which settings. She’s experimented with a wide variety of these techniques and outlines how many of them might be used in practice including the idea of creating what she calls rapscallions to memorize things like multiplication tables or points of grammar in foreign languages.
Some of these techniques are also becoming the focus of some specific research as can be seen in an article earlier this year in PLoS ONE:
Reser D, Simmons M, Johns E, Ghaly A, Quayle M, Dordevic AL, et al. (2021) Australian Aboriginal techniques for memorization: Translation into a medical and allied health education setting. PLoS ONE 16(5): e0251710. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0251710
I’m curious to hear from teachers and researchers who are familiar with these techniques. I’d love to hear examples of how you’ve used or embedded them into your lessons. How effective do you feel they were? Did you use them with spaced repetition techniques as well?
It would be great to create a resource book of examples for others to use in their teaching for lessons at all age levels and abilities.
I’m eager to chat about this topic with others curious about its use and potentially help design lessons that integrate them. I encourage you to reach out.
I’m also happy to provide more focused reading lists and suggestions to those who want to delve deeper.
If you’re curious to delve into the specifics of mnemotechy more seriously, I’m planning on leading another cohort of my course The Art of Memory soon. Feel free to sign up to get notifications.
Our current system of higher education dates to the period from 1865 to 1925. It was in those decades that the nation's new universities created grades and departments, majors and minors, all in an attempt to prepare young people for a world transformed by the telegraph and the Model T.
As Cathy N. Davidson argues in The New Education, this approach to education is wholly unsuited to the era of the gig economy. From the Ivy League to community colleges, she introduces us to innovators who are remaking college for our own time by emphasizing student-centered learning that values creativity in the face of change above all. The New Education ultimately shows how we can teach students not only to survive but to thrive amid the challenges to come.
Read the last few chapters. Not as strong or useful to me as the opening chapters.
I’m curious if anyone has created lists of graduate programs in education that are actively teaching/researching pedagogy described in @CathyNDavidson‘s #TheNewEducation? I’m considering tying some of my interests into a potential new career path.
During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, one of the most important tools of a reader or writer was a commonplace book (CPB). Peter Beal, leading expert on English manuscript studies, defines a commonplace book as “a manuscript book in which quotations or passages from reading matter, precepts, proverbs and aphorisms, useful rhetorical figures or exemplary phrasing, words and ideas, or other notes and memoranda are entered for ready reference under general subject headings.” Your sources can include, first and foremost, the assigned readings and supplementary materials, as well as any other useful texts you come across. I encourage you to supplement CPB entries with extra-curricular material: quotations from readings for other classes, lyrics from songs, lines from movies, tweets with relevant hashtags, an occasional quotation from a classmate during discussion, etc. These extra-curricular commonplace passages, however, are in addition to and not in place of the required passages as described below.
The practice, back then, was surprisingly social — people would mark up books for one another as gifts, or give pointedly annotated novels to potential lovers. ❧
This could be an interesting gift idea. Definitely shows someone that you were actively thinking about them for extended lengths of time while they were away.
It’s also sort of founding example for the idea of social annotation given that most prior annotation was for personal use. (Though Owen Gingerich has shown that early annotations were copied from book to book and early scribes added annotations to texts for readers as well.)
It also demonstrates the idea of proof of work (in this case love “work”), which is part of the reason that social annotation in an educational setting using tools like Hypothes.is is worthwhile. Students are indicating (via social signaling) to a teacher that they’ve read and actively engaged with the course material.
Of course, unlike the example, they’re not necessarily showing “true love” of the material!
Efforts to move higher education instruction online en masse highlight the necessity of affective labor—work that a person does to suppress their feelings so as to create a desired feeling in others (in this case, a sense of calm)—as well as the toll it can take.
Speakers:Lee Skallerup Bessette and Susannah McGowan
Openness can be fraught for faculty; the classroom has often been a sanctuary of academic freedom and teaching approaches are personal in the strongest sense. In preparing our faculty for the Fall 2020 semester, we, as faculty developers and academic technologists at CNDLS at Georgetown University, were working with faculty who were openly discussing their pedagogy and the limits of their knowledge of digital tools and learning strategies.
The work moved us past knowing “what works” or “what’s possible” (Hutchings, 2000) in using tools into the realm of affective labor (Horthchild, 2012), where we managed a complex interplay of support, emotions, and uncertainty in order to evoke the proper emotions from faculty. To make our expertise on pedagogy and digital tools “stick” (Ahmed, 2010) we worked within our own emotions while fielding the emotions of faculty. But this work, while taxing, has borne fruit: more faculty are embracing open pedagogical practices such as Domains, ungrading (Blum & Kohn, 2020), and flipping the classroom (Talbert, 2017). The presentation will work to uncover the affective labor we have been practicing, ways to acknowledge it, and what joys it can bring.
Ahmed, S. (2010). The Cultural Politics of Emotion. Routledge.
Blum, S. D., & Kohn, A. (2020). Ungrading: Why Rating Students Undermines Learning (And What to Do Instead). West Virginia University Press.
Hochschild, A.R. (2012). The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling (3rd ed.). University of California Press.
Hutchings, P. 2000. Approaching the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. In Opening Lines: Approaches to the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, edited by P. Hutchings, 1–10.
Talbert, R. (2017). Flipped learning: A guide for higher education faculty. Stylus Publishing, LLC.
The Theories of Instruction course is for graduate students who are interested in the study of the emergence and the present status of instructional theories. The overall goal of this particular course is to equip course participants with the knowledge of instructional theories comparing and discussing the relationships among learning theories, and their practical applications. The development of the knowledge on instructional theories will be fostered by a) learning by design activities, and b) opportunities to critique and evaluate applications of the theories.
Talking out loud to oneself is a technology for thinking that allows us to clarify and sharpen our approach to a problem
I ran across this article this evening and some of the ideas resonate strongly with me. The article mentions some areas of psychology research and a few papers I hadn’t seen before.
I’m also particularly interested in the idea of embodied cognition within cognitive psychology. Has anyone delved into these areas in their research or memory-related work? @LynneKelly’s research and written texts encourage singing, dancing and performing (I don’t recall specifically speaking or walking in her contexts, but I’m sure they’re all closely related), but has anyone else experimented with these additional modalities in their practice?
Most of the Western-based mnemotechniques I’m aware of are focused almost solely on internalized speech/thought. Can anyone think of any which aren’t?
I’ve seen several works in which Nassim Nicholas Taleb propounds the benefits of the flaneur lifestyle for improving thought, though his mentions are purely anecdotal as I recall. I’d appreciate any additional references to research in these areas if others are aware.
Like many of us, I talk to myself out loud, though I’m a little unusual in that I often do it in public spaces. Whenever I want to figure out an issue, develop an idea or memorise a text, I turn to this odd work routine. While it’s definitely earned me a reputation in my neighbourhood, it’s also improved my thinking and speaking skills immensely. Speaking out loud is not only a medium of communication, but a technology of thinking: it encourages the formation and processing of thoughts. ❧
I’ve noticed speaking out loud also seems to help me in practicing and acquiring a new language.
Annotated on December 28, 2020 at 09:52PM
The idea that speaking out loud and thinking are closely related isn’t new. It emerged in Ancient Greece and Rome, in the work of such great orators as Marcus Tullius Cicero. But perhaps the most intriguing modern development of the idea appeared in the essay ‘On the Gradual Formation of Thoughts During Speech’ (1805) by the German writer Heinrich von Kleist. ❧
Some of this is at play with the idea of “[rubber ducking](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rubber_duck_debugging)” as a means of debugging programs
Annotated on December 28, 2020 at 09:55PM
In both cases – speech and writing – the materiality of language undergoes a transformation (to audible sounds or written signs) which in turn produces a mental shift. ❧
There’s surely a link between this and the idea of thought spaces in the blogosphere or the idea of a commonplace book/digital garden/wiki.
Annotated on December 28, 2020 at 10:06PM
Mute inner speech can appear as an inner dialogue as well, but its truncated form encourages us to create a ‘secret’ abbreviated language and deploy mental shortcuts. By forcing us to articulate ourselves more fully, self-talk summons up the image of an imagined listener or interrogator more vividly. In this way, it allows us to question ourselves more critically by adopting an external perspective on our ideas, and so to consider shortcomings in our arguments – all while using our own speech. ❧
I’m also reading this and wondering about memory techniques and methods and how these may interact beneficially.
Annotated on December 28, 2020 at 10:07PM
It’s no coincidence that we walk when we need to think: evidence shows that movement enhances thinking and learning, and both are activated in the same centre of motor control in the brain. In the influential subfield of cognitive science concerned with ‘embodied’ cognition, one prominent claim is that actions themselves are constitutive of cognitive processes. That is, activities such as playing a musical instrument, writing, speaking or dancing don’t start in the brain and then emanate out to the body as actions; rather, they entail the mind and body working in concert as a creative, integrated whole, unfolding and influencing each other in turn. It’s therefore a significant problem that many of us are trapped in work and study environments that don’t allow us to activate these intuitive cognitive muscles, and indeed often even encourage us to avoid them. ❧
I’m curious if Lynne Kelly or others have looked into these areas of research with their Memory work? She’s definitely posited that singing and dancing as well as creating art helps indigenous cultures in their memory work.
Annotated on December 28, 2020 at 10:10PM
This book examines a collaborative partnership model between academia and Indigenous peoples, the goal of which is to integrate Indigenous perspectives into the curriculum. It demonstrates how the authentic and creative approaches employed have led to an evolution of curriculum and pedagogy that facilitates cultural competence among Australian graduate and undergraduate students.
The book pursues an interdisciplinary approach based on highly practical examples, exemplars and methods that are currently being used to teach in this area. It focuses on facilitating student acquisition of knowledge, understanding, attitudes and skills, following Charles Sturt University's Cultural Competence Pedagogical Framework. Further, it provides insights into the use of reflective practice in this context, and practical ideas on embedding content and sharing practices, highlighting examples of potential "ways forward," both nationally and globally.
I love the bridge that book formats like this can provide in learning new languages. Reminds me a bit of some of the Folger Shakespeare annotated plays that helped to define words, terms, and culture that have changed significantly since they were written.
How does one find more of these?
ReadTimeful Texts by Andy Matuschak, Michael Nielsen(numinous.productions)
How might one escape a book’s shackled sense of time, extending the authored experience over weeks and months?
It looks to me like Andy and Michael are grasping at recreating with modern technology and tools what many (most? all?) indigenous cultures around the world used to ritually learn and memorize their culture’s knowledge. Mnemonics, spaced repetition, graded initiation, orality, dance, and song were all used as a cohesive whole to do this.
If they take her ideas as a basis and then layer on their own thinking, I think they’ll get much further much quicker. Based on my reading of their work thus far, they’re limiting themselves solely with western and modern cultures or at least those of a post-Peter Ramus world.
As an example, I’ve recently been passively watching the Netflix series The Who Was? Show which is geared toward children, but it does a phenomenal job of creating entertaining visuals, costumes, jokes, songs, dances, over-the-top theatricality, and small mnemonic snippets to teach children about famous people in our culture. Naturally this is geared toward neophytes, but it’s memorable, especially when watched with some spaced repetition. To follow it up properly it needs the next 10 layers of content and information to provide the additional depth to move it from children’s knowledge to adult and more sophisticated knowledge. Naturally this should be done at a level appropriate to the learner and their age and sophistication and include relevant related associative memory techniques, but it’s a start.
I’ll note that our educational system’s inability to connect (or associate) new knowledge with previous knowledge is a major drawback.