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Posts Tagged ‘memory

Like most Build For Tomorrow podcast episodes, the most recent one All the Fun Facts You Have Wrong! was enjoyable and informative.

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Jason Feifer, the podcast host, debunked “facts” that some of us think are absolutely correct. For example, that goldfish have very short memories (anywhere between 2 to 10 seconds depending on your source) or that vomitoriums were where affluent Romans used to puke food in order to consume more.

Feifer then explored why we value such “facts”, the harm in such thinking, and how to overcome this inherent cognitive weakness.

Feifer spoke with five experts. He discovered that we need to learn how to question what we assume to be unshakable truths. But why might we make these assumptions in the first place? One expert, David Rapp, a psychology professor at Northwestern University, explained that we mistake the ease of recall with correctness.

This is dangerous because the ease of recall can be due to an information’s recency and repetitiveness. We might have just heard something and/or have it repeatedly delivered to us, so we take it in as true. This could explain phenomena ranging from disinformation campaigns to drill-and-practice regimes.

Dr Rapp also pointed out how people make the mistake feeling that things are true instead of thinking them through. This, in turn, might stem from an unwillingness to be wrong. How so? It takes work to engage in the habit of lateral reading of valid and reliable sources. It also requires humility to admit that we are wrong.

I reflect on how seductive the low-hanging fruit of a good memory is. People might be amazed at a child’s ability to memorise and recall, and a few of those kids might even perform on TV. Entertainers might use memory structures to remember a long list of items or a sequence of playing cards.

I say we recall our ability to simply recall. The recall (a take back) is a return to what we know about memory — it is imperfect, manipulable, and fallible. There is also little point in being able to recall a wealth of information if it is not valid, reliable, or contextually relevant.

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The latest Build For Tomorrow podcast episode explored how nostalgia might colour our collective memories of the current pandemic.

The podcast host explained how some of us already look back fondly at behavioural changes during lockdown and loathe to return to “normal”, e.g., not commuting to work, spending more time with family. 

He then explored why we might remember the good things about bad events and forget (or play down) what made them terrible. By interviewing experts on memory and cognition, the host explained that our memories do not operate like a film reel played back with original fidelity. Our minds simply do not and cannot capture every thing. 

Our memories are like fragments of an experience and we fill in the blanks with our imagination. We do this every time we try to remember something and relate that memory to someone else. The experts also explained how remembering the positive might be a coping, survival, or learning mechanism. 

It was fascinating to realise how little we know about memory. We work more on assumption of how we remember rather than on established fact because the latter is barely there. This podcast episode could challenge the assumptions of anyone who teaches, counsels, or records witness accounts.

As an educator, our fragmented recall strategy reminds me of why it is important to challenge learners to discuss ideas and teach one another. What one remembers is not the same as another learner’s, and peer teaching is a way for small groups of students to triangulate what they learn.

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Watching this video about the original Macintosh and other old computers brought back memories. When I was in secondary school, I joined a brand new computer club that had a few Apple I computers and IBMs.

We had lessons on BASIC and optionally on COBOL. We learnt from recipes the teacher in charge wrote on a blackboard and we wrote them down in note books.

As each of us had very little time with the shared computers, we wrote our simple programmes on paper in advance and tried to foresee what might happen. When we had actual access, we typed in what we wrote and tried to troubleshoot as fast as we could.

This was one of the first few times I felt empowered to create something, test it, and learn safely from failing. I caught the bug and needed my own Apple I.

But these computers were expensive and I bugged my father for one. Long story short — we could not afford an original so we bought one of the many clones.

I dove into simple programming at every waking moment. I enjoyed being able to start the Apple computer with my own programme running from a floppy diskette.

But my joy was interrupted by a demand from my father. He dumped a pile of unmarked papers in front of me and asked if the computer could grade them.

I was flabbergasted then and the memory troubles me now. Computers, particularly those without any of the peripherals and AI we have now, could not grade homework almost 40 years ago. Despite the advances in computing power and ability, they are still stumped by human nuance.

I was also stumped by wilful human ignorance as well. Older and sometimes well-meaningful folk (like administrators and policymakers) tend to observe technology from a distance. Without an immersive experience and use, they cannot see possibilities or limitations.

Technology makes change seem inevitable. But human change, not so much.

Recently I have been reflecting on the frailty of our memories and ability to recall events [example] because of current events.

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Memories are imperfect not just for victims and witnesses of events. The same could be said of all of us. With the exception of very few, most of our brains are designed to forget, not to remember.

Justice systems might learn from cognitive and psychology research. How about those that reinforce the building that is old school and hunker down in it?

Even as some folks cannot get beyond the basement of Bloom’s Taxonomy and push content, shortcuts, and memorisation, here is research on the fallibility of sheer recall.

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Our memories are imperfect. Our brains are wired to forget instead of to remember. Yet some people insist that we reach for the low-hanging fruit of recall. Why? This is the easiest to measure.

Since we cannot run away from this necessary evil, how might we improve memory retention with research?

This segment offers some clues:

  • Leverage on recency by testing memory without distractions
  • Warning the learner of misinformation (fallacies, misconceptions).

Whether you have a good memory or not, your memory is imperfect. According to this video, our memories are like fake news if we can only compare one part of a book with another part of the same book.

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The video went on to explain how it was psychologically easy to implant false memories or reshape existing ones, and then influence a person to believe falseness as fact.

If we shave the our memory problem down to its core, the issue is that we do not have one or more other reliable sources for comparison.

Take the recent fake news scandal about one of our Ministers of Education — and later our Director-General of Education — supposedly claiming that Singapore was winning the wrong academic race. The person who wrote the article reported a false memory.

It was impossible to prove because the event was not open to everyone. It was only when the speech transcript and video recording were shared months after the fact that there were sources for comparison.

In a similar vein, the invisibility of a learner’s thinking can lead a teacher to make assumptions. To compare what the teacher and student knows, the teacher can require that student to make their thinking and learning visible.

I do not rely on just my memory. I externalise it by tweeting, blogging, photographing, and video recording. These provide evidence of memories and learning that I can compare with what I have in my head.

A value of current technology it is that is helping us arrive at the Cyborg Age. Our memories are less fallible because we augment and improve them with various technologies.

The saying, “Pics, or it didn’t happen” is wiser than it appears.

The phrase is a quick way of saying show me evidence, specifically photos, because what you claim to be a truthful or factual account may not be valid or reliable.

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Our memories are imperfect. The majority of us do not have “photographic” memories, and those that do are exceptional talents. Even then, captures are not facts devoid of colouring, contrasting, or other manipulations.

Any teacher who still thinks that drill and rote memory are still the best ways to teach and learn needs to reconsider or retire.

What you capture today might not be relevant tomorrow in the age of social media. There is as much point to objecting to such circumstances as there is blowing raspberries at a tornado.

Instead, “pics, or it didn’t happen” could be one principle to base change on. It could be the foundation for dealing with fake news. It could start the line of questions against learning styles, digital natives, “best” practices, and extrinsic gamification. It could shift the focus away from just learning-about (content) to learning-to-be (contextual thinking). It could spur the search for evidence-based practices, and personal and professional development.

Video source

I cannot remember the last time I read a textbook about how we think we think. So this video by Veritasium was a good reminder of how working memory and long-term memory operate.

I like how YouTuber, Derek Muller, role-played Drew (working memory) and Gunn (long-term memory). But the video went further than just explaining these two concepts. It highlighted how we become lazy thinkers and hinted at how we might start thinking more actively, i.e., by forcibly putting things into working memory.

The best bit of the video was how strategically making things more difficult was optimal for learning. I have highlighted this in the video segment above.

Muller described how lectures relied on coasting and lazy thinking (if any at all) while more active learning designs like workshops made students process questions.

Active learning is like exercise: Most people do not really like to work, but the same folks will appreciate how the effort pays off.

That is one more reason to blog every day. It helps me stay fit and sharp by dredging up what I think I know, laying it bare, and keeping only what is current or relevant.

Bonus: I have already thought of ways I can use this video in two different workshops I conduct. The first is as a primer for setting the expectation that questions drive learning, not answers. The other is for instructors who have not been weaned off lecturing. There will be so much dissonance!

The National Library Board (NLB) has an effort called the Singapore Memory Project (SMP). It is seeking blog pledges.

Like some other bloggers, I have been invited to pledge my blog to the SMP so as to contribute to the gestalt of Singapore or being Singaporean.

At first I wondered why someone might want to archive a mirror and magnifying glass. I use this blog to reflect and to examine things that catch my eye more closely.

Then I started to I wonder if we need an archive given that there are no borders in the blogosphere.

I understand the rationale of the project though, but I have other perspectives.

From the FAQ of the SMP site:

3. Why should I pledge my blog to the SMP?

By contributing to the project, you are affirming that every memory matters. Whether your posts are an account of your daily life, or an expression of your thoughts, the SMP hopes to find a home for your memories so that it can help build towards an understanding of Singapore. Last but not least, you will enjoy the traction provided by SMP with more visitors reading your blog.

I agree that online memories and artefacts matter, but they are not limited by borders. That is why I operate as a global citizen and make my contributions with blog entries, tweets, social bookmarks, SlideShares, YouTube videos, concept maps, and other artefacts.

What if I do not care about driving traffic to my blog? I did not start blogging with this objective and it is still not something that drives me to blog.

I am still not sure if I should jump on the bandwagon. I am not obliged to. And at the moment, I am not inclined to.


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