Archive for August, 2009

Dreyfus, Dreyfus, and face blindness

August 25, 2009

Two thinkers who have been very influential over many years about the use of computers in education are Hubert and Stuart Dreyfus, brothers who have jointly written books and papers and who are both professors in California.  The arguments they put forward 25 years ago in putting computers in their proper place (Dreyfus and Dreyfus, 1984) remain relevant.  They include a closely-argued discussion of the differences in cognitive processes between humans and computers.  They also put forward a useful five-stage classification of computer skill acquistion (novice/advanced beginner/competence/proficiency/expertise) which influences my own classification of students’ competences in relation to the resources now available in the Internet. 

Hubert Dreyfus (1992) took the point about computers and people thinking in different ways further, with some robust criticism of artificial intelligence research that set out to replicate human thought processes.

Hubert Dreyfus teaches philosophy at Berkely, and his web page includes an interesting insight into his own human thought processes.  He asks people to introduce themselves to him, and warns them that he may not recognise them, even if he’s met them before, because he has a minor form of ‘face-blindness’.

Now, I’m a much less eminent academic than Hubert Dreyfus, but my work brings me into contact with a lot of students each year, and I must say I struggle to remember all, or even most, of the faces.  My suspicion is that most people who teach large cohorts of students have the same experience.  I also recognise that facial recognition (like writing philosophical treatises on computers in the classroom) is a skill where different people have vastly different levels of proficiency.  But I am sometimes uncomfortable with the idea  that merely not being very good at something should be labelled as a syndrome or a disability.  If you’re not good with the hand-eye co-ordination necessary for ball games, when do you stop being butterfingers and start being dyspraxic?  Incidentally this is not to disparage the work on facial recognition, at UCL and elsewhere, that can be reached through links from Hubert Dreyfus’s page.

Me?  I have a much better memory for stories than for either names or faces.  So if you know me from the past, and want to get in touch, but you’re not sure whether I’ll remember you, think about whether there’s some amusing or memorable incident, or something distinctive that I know about your own background, which will help me to place you.

Dreyfus HL and S E Dreyfus (1984):  Putting computers in their proper place: analysis versus institution in the classroom.  Teachers college record. 85 (4) 578-601

Dreyfus H (1992): What computers still can’t do.  Cambridge MA: MIT press

Forecasting white van man

August 25, 2009

There continue to be twists and turns in the story of General Motors’ attempts to find a buyer for its Vauxhall and Opel subsidiaries.  My father worked for Vauxhall as an economist in the 1950s; he told me that they, and presumably other motor manufacturers, had underestimated the demands for vans such as the Bedford CA, because they didn’t predict the growth in the service economy after the second world war.  Now, one of the biggest uncertainties surrounding Vauxhall is the future of van production in Luton; of course plumbers, gardeners, glaziers and so on still need vans, but it doesn’t necessarily make sense to build them in Britain.  And, like other vehicles, they last longer and rust less than their equivalents from the 1950s.  So this is a classic example of the rise and fall of a product, with one set of circumstances encouraging its growth and a completely different set of circumstances prompting its demise.

Update December 2009: GM has now decided that it wants to hold on to Opel and Vauxhall.  Although is mostly about Saab it implies that intellectual property may play a part in GM’s reluctance to sell off parts of the business as going concerns


August 25, 2009 makes interesting reading especially given that a propensity for continuous partial attention has been highlighted by some observers as a characteristic of the millennial generation

A framework for millennial students

August 20, 2009

One purpose of this blog is to generate some increased interest in the research that I’m working on at the moment.  Of course it might not generate the sort of interest that I really want, but that’s the Internet for you…

In any case, in the spirit of an open-source community, I’m making this post, and the framework attached to it, available under a creative commons licence in the hope that others will pick it up and possibly work with it.  Creative commons is a framework for sharing material.  The creative commons licence that I’ve chosen for this post (including the framework attached to it) is called ‘ Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike’ .  In simple terms this means that for non-commercial purposes you can use it freely, and make derivative works if you wish, providing you share your work with others, and providing you credit me as the originator of the framework.  That isn’t hugely inconsistent with the way that research is disseminated traditionally, in that I’m publicising it and inviting others to comment it and/or build on it; I’m using a blog very much in the same way that, in the past, a university might have printed working papers covering research in progress that hadn’t (yet) been published in a more formal setting.

With some support from the Higher Education Academy, I’ve been looking over the past couple of years at the way that students born from around 1982 onwards relate to technology.  I use the term ‘millennials’ to describe this group; please look further down the blog at my earlier post on generational issues if you want to read more of the background to the term.  This is a topic of some interest within higher education, because this generation accounts for almost all our undergraduate students and a high proportion of our postgraduates, and it directly influences teaching and learning policies.  But it’s also increasingly a topic of interest for employers; I’m particularly mindful of the 2008 Management Today survey, which highlighted the level of mutual incomprehension between baby-boomer and generation-X managers and the staff now entering the workforce.

I’ve developed a framework to represent the different factors that influence millenials’ use of information – particularly in the context of higher education, but I’d be really interested to hear more about how applicable it might be in the world or work.  If you’ve been at a conference with me over the last two years you might well have seen this framework before.  In any case, it’s attached here as a PDF file – you will need the Adobe Acrobat reader, which you almost certainly have, on your computer to see it.  The boxes in the bottom half of the diagram reflect various factors influencing millennial students.  Those in the top half, with wording in italics, are quotes from students (mostly early 20s and postgraduates, as it happens) in a focus group.

 Millennial framework 2009

Finally, I did notice that I’ve used ‘licence’ in the text above, which is the correct spelling in British English when you’re using the word as a noun, but that the standard text pasted below uses the American spelling ‘license’ – even in the England and Wales version that I’ve adopted.  Sorry.


Creative Commons License
A framework for millennial students by Martin Rich is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

A couple of interesting recent links

August 1, 2009 on Moore’s law: of course if Jack Schofield is right in his prediction that the setup costs for hardware to make will become prohibitive within a few years, then Moore’s law will have stopped.  Incidentally I’d never heard of Rock’s law until I read this article. is a useful antidote to the hype that sometimes appears about broadband speeds.