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Posts Tagged ‘podcast

Here is one reality bite: People will prefer to be entertained than to be educated because the latter takes openness and effort. So even if you can be educated while being entertained, some folk will spurn the opportunity to learn something new.

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Take this podcast episode from Conan O’Brien Needs A Friend as an example. I chuckled with every joke. But I also groaned when the hosts preferred to stick with schtick and fiction instead of learning from an expert.

The expert was a fan of the podcast who also happened to be a robotics expert. He showcased his robot named CUTIE, enjoyed the banter, and contributed to the laughter. But when he tried to point out misconceptions about robots, his hosts repeated Hollywood tropes, e.g., robots would kill all humans.

I recall fighting a similar battle when I offered a Masters level course on advanced technologies in education. Some participants were misled by movies and television so much that reality bytes on artificial intelligence and robotics seemed like lies to them.

I acknowledge that the podcast is about entertaining listeners with nonsense. It is not an educational podcast about science or technology, so it has a right to focus on being funny. 

But it also illustrates what a non-informed entity does, i.e., frame another’s expertise or knowledge through its own biased lens. While this gets the laughs, it also perpetuates stereotypes and ignorance.

Learning starts with being uncomfortable about your current state. It continues with the willingness to change. Learning becomes more likely if there is effort to make that change. In educational psychology, we might refer to these processes as cognitive dissonance and internalisation. 

One difference between teaching children and teaching adults is that the latter group has more experiences. These can sometimes hold adults back. None of those adults will learn anything if they are not challenged about something they believe or think they already know.

Pedagogically speaking, we might refer to this strategy as creating cognitive dissonance. This battle for headspace can start with an educator providing an external stimulus to learn. But the rest of the battle is internal. Students can reject something new, fit it into existing thought structures or schema (assimilation), or change those schema (accommodation).

Students learn when they assimilate or accommodate new information. The reality bite: Their experiences can make them reject it.

I was a student of undergraduate biology well over 30 years ago. I still remember some of the things I learnt because they caused such dissonance.

One of the things I learnt was that giant pandas were not bears even if they looked like them. I learnt then that classification is messy and depend not just on how things look. 

I learnt from one of my favourite podcasts, No Such Thing As A Fish, that pandas have since been reclassified as bears. If the podcasters have their facts right, there are actually no pandas, not even red ones. That discussion starts at the 40 min 48 sec mark and might be fascinating even to non-biologists. 

Photo by Ivan Cujic on

This reminds me how important it is to stay up to date in one’s field. It is not enough to have studied something and hope that is enough to last a lifetime. It is essential to be currently informed.

One reason I did not know about this reclassification is that I no longer study biology actively even though it was my first academic love. I am now married to the fields of education and educational technology.

By reading, watching, and listening, I unlearnt the myth of learning styles. I learnt that cooperation and collaboration are not synonymous. The same could be said of gamification and game-based learning.

To some, taking in the new and unlearning the old might seem like embracing pandemonium. It is not. It gets easier with practice, you develop a BS radar (critical skepticism), and the world around you is always exciting.   

Two content creators that I follow made recent episodes that focused on dopamine.

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The first was a SciShow Psych video led by Hank Green who explained how dopamine was not just a feel good neurotransmitter. Dopamine has multiple functions and works in different parts of the brain. 

The video was a warning that if you hear something often enough, it becomes true. Self-styled experts like to warn that video games and Instagram are “addictive” because they release hits of dopamine. The people who know better do not have as loud or as clear a voice as armchair/online gurus, so they are not heard.

Green outlined how neuroscience has taught us that dopamine helps us “move around, take appropriate risks, and focus”. If the brain is short of dopamine, the person might exhibit symptoms of Parkinson’s. If that person is given a dopamine analogue, Pramipexole, the symptoms reduce.

Dopamine affects parts of brain to prevent depression (nucleus accumbens), stimulate attention (prefrontal cortex), impact memory (hippocampus), and more. Dopamine is a systemic chemical, i.e., it has complex and interconnected functions. It cannot be used in a focused way or be reduced to the label of happy chemical.

The most recent episode of Build For Tomorrow also focused on dopamine. This one was partly about the dopes making claims they do not understand. They arrive at conclusions first, e.g., social media is harmful even though it feels good, and then find supporting “rationale”, e.g., app use feels good because we get hits of dopamine.

Host of the podcast, Jason Feifer, countered such thinking by asking an expert. Consider this bit near the 21min mark of the podcast [see transcript].

Jason Feifer: For example, when technology critics talk about dopamine, they talk about it as a thing directly tied to pleasure and addiction, and only tied to pleasure and addiction. You do something pleasurable, you get dopamine, get enough dopamine, you’re addicted. Period, end of story. But is that actually true? 

Read Montague: Like all things in biology, dopamine doesn’t do one thing. It doesn’t have this monolithic dopamine equals pleasure marque. The fact is dopamine doesn’t equal pleasure. Squirts of dopamine, transient increases and decreases in dopamine, are clearly in certain kinds of brain regions, learning signals. They’re not pleasure signals. 

To label dopamine the happy chemical is simplistic. But it is what we keep reading or hearing in much of popular media because they embrace dumbing things down.

To attribute dopamine to addictive behaviour without understanding how it works or what addiction entails is irresponsible. It makes the speaker feel smart and superior, and it makes listeners worry and fear. It creates dopes of us all. That is, unless we learn to say NO to such disinformation.

Spoiler: One quick takeaway from this Build For Tomorrow podcast episode is that the simplest action you can take is to embrace complexity.

How did podcast host, Jason Feifer, arrive at that conclusion? 

He investigated “the complexity of simple things” by examining what seems like a simple hobby — knitting. In doing so, he uncovered that knitting:

  • likely originated in Africa in the 11th century
  • was a way for women to make a living
  • had guilds where only men could be master knitters
  • was feared by clergy because the sexes could mingle as they knit

What is the relevance of these factoids? They worked against the assumptions that knitting was: 

  • a white or Western thing
  • merely a simple hobby
  • mostly what women did
  • free from controversy

The narrative that linked these concepts was a black woman who became a champion for challenging the assumptions that fuelled sexism and racism. 

The same woman also fought against the idea that politics or other complexities should not be part of the conversations around knitting. Why? In the eyes of those simpletons, knitting was pure and simple.

The fact of the matter is that knitting — for that matter, just about anything else — is not simple.  Whether we are knitting or creating content, we bring our biases and perspectives with us. To ignore that is to wear blinders.

That is why Feifer suggested that the simplest thing we can do is to embrace complexity. It is a fact of life. To ignore that is to blind ourselves to reality.

Here are my takeaways from Jason Feifer’s latest podcast episode, The Not-Boring Truth About Boredom. Being bored is not always a bad thing. It is not always a good thing either. And boredom is not a result of our reliance on today’s technology. 

The root of the complaint that people do not like being bored is technological determinism, i.e., technology makes us crave it all the time so we don’t feel bored. The podcast episode reminds us that this worry is not new and that it is coloured with nostalgia.

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We could instead be informed with critical study. Feifer interviewed two academics who co-authored a book, Bored, Lonely, Angry, Stupid. Amongst other things, they revealed that people in the 1800s also felt bored and sought to fill this void.

I watched their introductory video for their book and was reminded of how we shape our technologies which then shape us. Our technologies reshape our expectations, emotions, and efforts. We need to recognise this recursive process instead of complain about it.

We shape our tools and then our tools shape us. -- Marshall McLuhan

He then interviewed John Eastwood, a professor who ran the Boredom Lab (Twitter account) at the York University of Toronto. Eastwood revealed two aspects of boredom: Desire bind and the unoccupied mind.

Desire bind is having available options to occupy oneself but not wanting to take any of them, e.g., having lots of videos on different platforms but not wishing to watch any of them. An unoccupied mind is the underutilisation of one’s cognitive abilities. 

Eastwood summed up his thoughts by pointing out that boredom is a crisis of agency: 

…agency refers to our capacity to think about the future, to develop plans, to monitor ourselves and regulate ourselves as we engage in a plan. And so boredom throws down the gauntlet that tells us you’re not being agentic in this moment, and it invites us to address that problem and to regain our sense of agency in the world. And that can be an opportunity to either go in some positive directions or some negative directions.

We have the agency to positively take our options and occupy our minds with meaningful and productive tasks. For example, I subscribe and listen to Feifer’s thought-provoking podcast and then reflect by writing in this blog.

Or we can sit back in our collective philosophy armchairs, complain, and do nothing of worth. That not only judgemental and ignorant, it is also the most boring thing to do!

Jason Feifer’s latest Build for Tomorrow podcast episode was Yes, Talk To Strangers!

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It was somewhere in the middle of the episode that Feifer described how chimpanzees were generally more destructive and selfish. Bonobos, on the other hand, were more social and cooperative, even to those outside their social group.

This led to Feifer’s message on how to build bridging capital. In order to bring back stronger social bonds, he suggested three strategies when talking to strangers: 

  1. Acknowledge that you are breaking the rules (it is not normal to just start conversations with strangers)
  2. Break the script (do not go for the usual conversation-enders like the weather)
  3. Ask open-ended questions 

The same strategies work for teachers who wish to start critical conversations with their students. The dialogues might be about current, sensitive, or important topics. A topic that is all three is the recent attention on mental health of students following the killing of a 13-year-old in a Singapore school

Teachers and students are not strangers to one another. But it might be unusual to talk about personal issues instead of content in class. This is breaking the convention and the usual script. One way to keep conversations going is to facilitate the answering of open-ended questions.

In that sense, we could learn from our fellow apes: We should be less chimpanzee and more bonobo.

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.

I started listening to the Obsessed With… podcasts from BBC Sounds when they started following up with Line of Duty episodes. Why? I like gaining insights into the thought processes behind television products.

I listened to an old episode in the series which focused on Killing Eve. In the interview of Fiona Shaw, the hosts and guest reflected on why people disliked lockdown during the current pandemic.

They avoided superficial answers, i.e., how we are social animals. We can still socialise albeit differently, and we know we will eventually come out of lockdown.

Instead, they concluded that lockdown forced people to spend time with themselves. The question that each person had to ask themselves was: Do you like what you see?

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

Can you face yourself without the distraction of work or taking care of someone else? What do you see in that mirror? Are you happy with or disturbed by that reflection?

I know why I liked the quiet that came with our lockdown last year. I had been preparing for it since 2014 when I left full-time work to be an independent consultant. That move forced me to examine my priorities and to look both in the mirror and the crystal ball. I took comfort in what I saw then and what I see now.

The latest Build for Tomorrow podcast episode focused on the problem of participation trophies. These are the prizes that kids in the USA get even if they do not win in sports or games.

Podcast host, Jason Feifer, got to the issue quickly. One problem was not that they were given. It was the perception that such trophies are a recent phenomenon and something that contributed to the detriment of character.

By now, any regular listener of the podcast would know where the rest of the episode was heading. Participation trophies are not unique to the present and they do not lead to spineless or weak-willed adults.

Of particular interest to educators might be two interpretations from research about the impact of extrinsic rewards on intrinsic motivation. Starting around the 32min 30sec mark, researcher Dan Gould summarised how such extrinsic motivations depress intrinsic ones.

However, there was also other research that revealed that kids were less motivated by external rewards (particularly if they were not meaningful) from age 13 onwards. So these incentives might be good for conditioning behaviours of younger children, but they are futile thereafter.

Both strengthen my long-held stance on badges, particularly for adult learners. In an attempt to “gamify” learner, some instructional designers and teachers might design challenge-based tasks and assessments. But if these are primarily extrinsic and not meaningful to the learner, they are setting both themselves and their students up for failure.

I enjoyed the latest podcast episode of Build For Tomorrow (formerly Pessimists Archive). Its host, Jason Feifer, cited how some alcohol laws in the USA changed as a result of COVID-19 lockdowns.

TLDL (too long, didn’t listen)? The USA has strange state laws, like convenience stores only allowed to sell unchilled beer in Indiana, to deter consumption in transit. Such laws have been accepted as the norm and people do not question them.

But when the laws change, like how cocktails can now be ordered to-go to keep restaurants and bars operating during COVID-19 lockdowns, people wonder why the old laws even existed.

The lessons I drew from the episode were not new:

  1. You should take advantage of a negative to create positives. To promote e-learning, for example, you could cite the need for emergency learning during a disaster. These open the doors for nascent technologies and pedagogies.
  2. To elicit change, you could aim for small and decisive victories. These are not only more palatable to all, they boost the morale of change agents and might pave the way for more changes.

This way the “impossible” can become “it’s possible”.


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