Robert Taylor

The ABC has shared news of Robert Taylor’s death.

Much of what we take for granted on the Internet today is connected with Robert and his colleagues’ work.

A citation for a Computer History Museum fellowship in 2013 notes:

Robert William Taylor discovered computing while a graduate student in 1957 when he paid his first visit to The University of Texas computer center to process his thesis data. Taylor was dismayed to find that computers of the day were focused on arithmetic and business data processing. They were not interactive; they were clumsy to use, and were severely limited in their application. He soon chose to dedicate his career to re-defining computing with a focus on interactive communication, networking, and search technology.

On his journey to that redefinition, Robert met and worked with, amongst others, Douglas Engelbart and JCR Licklider.

There is an excellent biographical article about Robert in his local newspaper. This was written in 2000, by Marion Softky.

I have compiled a Google Slide presentation to synthesise some of his life story.

I have spent some of the day reading the paper he published with Joseph Licklider in 1968, The Computer as a Communication Device.

The first paragraph of the paper is:

In a few years, men will be able to communicate more effectively through a machine than face to face. That is a rather startling thing to say, but it is our conclusion. As if in confirmation of it, we participated a few weeks ago in a technical meeting held through a computer. In two days, the group accomplished with the aid of a computer what normally might have taken a week. (1968:27)

I was fascinated by their discussion of on-line interactive communities:

In most fields they will consist of geographically separated members, sometimes grouped in small clusters and sometimes working individually. They will be communities not of common location, but of common interest. In each field, the overall community of interest will be large enough to support a comprehensive system of field-oriented programs and data. (1968:37ff) (Original emphasis)

They add:

You will not send a letter or a telegram; you will simply identify the people whose files should be linked to yours and the parts to which they should be linked-and perhaps specify a coefficient of urgency. You will seldom make a telephone call; you will ask the network to link your consoles together. (1968:38)

Their conclusion to the paper anticipated a digital divide debate that occupies us now:

For the society, the impact will be good or bad, depending mainly on the question: Will “to be on line” be a privilege or a right? If only a favored segment of the population gets a chance to enjoy the advantage of “intelligence amplification,” the network may exaggerate the discontinuity in the spectrum of intellectual opportunity. On the other hand, if the network idea should prove to do for education what a few have envisioned in hope, if not in concrete detailed plan, and if all minds should prove to be responsive, surely the boon to humankind would be beyond measure. (1968:40)

It would have been fascinating to be part of Robert, Douglas and Joseph’s conversations in the 1960s. Robert was the longest surviving of the three friends. He was 85 when he died on 13 April. Joseph died in 1990 and Douglas in 2013.

Vale Robert.

Photo Credit

Robert Taylor (Computer History Museum)


Whenever I come to England to meet coaches (twice a year), I hope my visit coincides with a Chris Porter facilitated ‘Gathering’.

It did last week.

Chris has been organising Gatherings since his appointment as the Coach Development Manager for GB Boxing in 2015. I have manged to attend five of these. The venues emerge from Chris’s personal learning network. This time it was a Gathering at Hartpury hosted by Dean Clark and Tony Ghaye.

Invitees to the Gatherings are involved in coach education. I believe that everyone who attends is enthralled by the possibility of coach ‘educere’ (Randall Bass & JW Good, 2004).

Educere as leading out aspires to prepare:

a new generation for the changes that are to come – readying them to create solutions to problems yet unknown … (and) requires questioning, thinking, and creating. (2004:162)

On this occasion at Hartpury, there were eight attendees to immerse themselves in conversation. I do not take notes at these meetings. I try to listen very carefully and absorb the appreciative inquiry atmosphere.

Inevitably, the ideas being discussed send me off on tangents. I try to bring myself back but I can be gone for a long time.

An example from this Gathering.

A friend who works in an Olympic sport (I am trying to be discrete as I have not asked explicit permission to mention names other than organisers), explored the idea of removing descriptors from coaching such as ‘elite’ and ‘high performance’. He shared some extensive research he has been monitoring to support his case.

What sent me off (to Copenhagen) was his discussion of coaching as a Michelin system.

Very good cooking in its category
Excellent cooking, worth a detour
Exceptional cuisine, worthy of a special journey

Why I was in Copenhagen for part of the conversation, was to do with my interest in Noma and the discussion about its two star status.

I did come back into the room and enjoyed the momentum of the conversation. I think it is a profoundly important debate in England in the context of UK Sport’s Elite Programme.

I am very comfortable with the coach title that is used without qualifiers but the Gathering is exactly the kind of place to debate these issues without prejudice.

This led smoothly to another conversational point: how do we design learning experiences for coaches? I am afraid I went off again to some distant place to think about how we might enable personal learning journeys. I was brought back to earth by Tony Ghaye. I had made a point about what ‘learning organisations’ do. In his delightful way, Tony suggested that perhaps I was referring to ‘organisations that learn’.

With that nudge, I was off again somewhere else thinking about scaffolding and microlearning. I had not read Christy Tucker’s post on the same theme. Christy suggests:

  • ‘Scaffolding’ is support for learners that gradually fades away until the learner can do the task without support.
  • Scaffolding is removed over time, but microlearning doesn’t have the long time span for typical scaffolding.

I did not articulate my interest in David Weinberger‘s observation about small pieces loosely joined and how this was guiding my thoughts about learning experience design rather than coach ‘development’. David suggests:

The Web is binding not just pages, but us human beings in new ways. We are the true ‘small pieces’ of the Web, and we are loosely joining ourselves in ways that we’re still inventing.

All of which led me to ask about how those in the room dealt with transitions in educere practice and within organisational governance of coaches’ learning journeys. I even threw in mention of epistemic cultures and how these might be transformed.

Why I asked these questions is because of the very special experiences in the room.

  • Institutional transition to new academic possibilities
  • A new appointment to a national organisation with responsibility for coach learning
  • Two colleagues who were transferring responsibilities within a national organisation
  • A colleague with growing organisational responsibility for coaching journeys
  • A colleague two years into a new sport with opportunities to extend others’ zones of proximal development
  • … and my project as a critical friend to 23 rugby union and cricket coaches

I did stay in the room to savour the conversations and the afternoon sun … with only occasional glimpses to the Grade II listed gardens and thoughts of Hartpury’s origins (established after World War II as an agricultural education centre with 50 students).

I think there is a metaphor in there somewhere about fertile soil and innovation.

That is what Gatherings do to you and with you.

Photo Credits

The gardens from Hartpury House (Keith Lyons, CC BY 4.0)

The Noma Crew (Nick Webb, CC BY 2.0)

History (Hartbury website)

#coachlearninginsport: self-organising networks

Last month, I was invited to join a group of coaches in an online forum.

I was delighted to be asked but I have spent much of the time as a peripheral participant … enjoying the open sharing but not contributing.

I thought listening might be a good way to start in a group of online acquaintances.

Yesterday, I responded to this message from one of the group:

Hi everyone. I’m early in the process of setting up new CPD events. I’ve been slightly dissatisfied with recent experiences and groups like this show the value of sharing and exploring new ideas.

They won’t be linked to NGB/club/County – more of a ‘by coaches, for coaches’ approach focusing on interaction, conceptualisation of ideas and discussion, building a network etc.

From your recent CPD experiences, what have been the best elements? If there was one thing you want, or would want, from a CPD experience then what would it be?

Any ideas and feedback welcome.

It seemed a great opportunity for me to discuss my thoughts about #coachlearninginsport.

It coincided too with my participation in an open online course, Connectivism and Learning. Stephen Downes is the facilitator of this course and he has this to say about connectivism:

At its heart, connectivism is the thesis that knowledge is distributed across a network of connections, and therefore that learning consists of the ability to construct and traverse those networks. (My emphasis)

Elsewhere, Stephen (2012) has discussed course design. He notes that in  a connectivist course “the content does not define the course”.

By navigating the content environment, and selecting content that is relevant to your own personal preferences and context, you are creating an individual view or perspective. So you are first creating connections between contents with each other and with your own background and experience. And working with content in a connectivist course does not involve learning or remembering the content. Rather, it is to engage in a process of creation and sharing. Each person in the course, speaking from his or her unique perspective, participates in a conversation that brings these perspectives together. (My emphasis)

I am hopeful that our online group might discuss these issues … if they are of interest.

For the time being, I look forward to engaging in a conversation on the platform that explores whether we might move from CPD to CPL and to celebrate the sense each of us makes of our self-organising networks.

Connected by shared interests.

Photo Credits

At Coogee (Keith Lyons, CC BY 4.0)