Optimistic about Optimisation

Two Medium posts this week (written by Thomas Oppong and David Weinberger) have returned me to think about optimisation as an organisational opportunity that goes beyond the rhetoric of ‘world best‘ and ‘world leading‘ aspirations.

Pursuit of progress

Thomas Oppong in his discussion of ‘good enough’ and the pursuit of progress quoted Seth Godin:

You’re not in the perfect business. Stop pretending that’s what the world wants from you.Truly perfect is becoming friendly with your imperfections on the way to doing something remarkable.

Thomas concludes his post with the observation “Pursuing progress allows you to celebrate each step that feels like an accomplishment”.

Machine Learning

David Weinberger‘s Medium post considered maximising the benefits of machine learning without sacrificing its intelligence. I was particularly interested in this suggestion:

Accept that we’re not always going to be able to understand our machine’s “thinking.” Instead, use our existing policy-making processes — regulators, legislators, judicial systems, irate citizens, squabbling politicians — to decide what we want these systems optimized for. Measure the results. Fix the systems when they don’t hit their marks. Celebrate and improve them when they do.

In his discussion of optimisation, David made three proposals:

1. Artificial Intelligence systems ought to be required to declare what they are optimized for.
2. The optimizations of systems that significantly affect the public ought to be decided not by the companies creating those systems but by bodies representing the public’s interests.
3. Optimizations always also need to support critical societal values, such as fairness.

David concludes:

The concept of optimization has built into it an understanding that perfection is not possible. Optimization is a “best effort.”

Optimisation

I have been thinking about how sport systems might flourish without the burden of winning edges or outcome measures in a highly competitive global sport network.

I do have an intrinsic connection with ‘good enough’ and ‘best effort’ approaches. They are invitational and permit us to fail as a learning opportunity.

My hope is that the acceptance of optimisation processes that offer better ways of performing in less effortful ways encourages and supports playfulness and joy. This I take to be a profoundly ethical undertaking that requires us to adhere to transparent fairness.

This kind of approach offers not an edge but a wide open space for the flourishing of our imagination and optimism.

Photo Credit

Climb (Efren, CC BY-SA 2.0)

CCK08: Week 10 Utopia Amplified

This post started its journey with Lani’s post. I read it early morning on Wednesday in Mongarlowe, the birds were singing and there was a beautiful blue sky. It was the start of another great day in paradise found.

Lani’s post was very brief and shared a link to Clarence Fisher‘s site (Stephen had linked to Clarence in OLDaily to a different post about classrooms). If I had been reading an earlier post by Lani more carefully I would have noticed her acknowledgement of Clarence and her link to Mark Ahlness‘ blog too. Clarence and Mark are teachers.

This is what Clarence wrote in his post:

David Weinberger Skyped into my classroom today. This alone is amazing enough, but the story of how this took place is another showing of the power of the web.

The students in my class not that long ago read the kids version of Small Pieces Loosely Joined called What the Web is For. From this, we discussed and worked through several things, ending up in an activity where the students had to make a representation of what they think the web looks like. You may have seen the flickr pictures. I put this together into a blog post tagged, among other things, David Weinberger. Mr. Weinberger found this and was good enough to respond with a kind comment about the work we do in our classroom. A flurry of email ensued, topics were tossed around a date was set.

Today was that day.

Promptly at 1 PM today Mr. Weinberger called and we spent 30 minutes with one of the finest thinkers in the world discussing how literacy is changing and how the web has changed ideas of success, making things possible which only a short time ago were simply not. Another interesting topic that came up was the idea of freedom of speech and if it is right that “bad stuff” is allowed on the internet. Shy at first, eventiually the students in my class warmed up enough and asked a number of questions.

So I hope the kids in my class have something to say today when their parents ask: “So, what did you do at school today?”

When I wrote my Stacks post I did mention my utopian commitment to CCK08. (John commented on the post and my post here is in part a response to his comments). Clarence’s post exemplifies how wonderful the education process is in the care of passionate teachers. I was wondering how Clarence’s students’ families dealt with the excitement of news of Mr Weinberger’s call. I wondered too if education messages are best received in times of hope exemplified in Mr Weinberger’s post here.

CCK08 is a marvellous example of “thinking locally and connecting globally”. Lani introduces me to Clarence and Mark. I follow Clarence’s post and meet David Weinberger and can do so with my left brain and right brain! So at three degrees of separation in thirty minutes I am wondering why I have missed so much of David Weinberger’s writing.

This morning is a teachable moment for me and it was not timetabled. Stephen Downes has been my guide on my journey into educational technology and much, much more. CCK08 is now offering me many guides to develop my understanding of the possibilities of education. Clarence is today’s guide and David has taken over the lead given to me by Lani.

In other posts I have indicated my epistemological roots. I am a child of the Ivan Illich and Paulo Freire times. I was inexorably attracted to Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner‘s work. In the early 1970’s I was introduced to the sociology of education and found the readings in Knowledge and Control intuitively attractive. A decade later I found myself in Dartington (UK) and was involved in the emergence of a co-operative school made possible by the community building legacy of the Elmhirsts of Dartington descrived so vividly by Michael Young. I read about Black Mountain College in the Library at Dartington.

Whilst at Dartington I met David Gribble and was fascinated by his vision for education. David wrote this in his conclusion to Considering Children (1985):

We need to help children to understand their own individual importance so that they face the world with the friendly confidence that makes progress possible.

We need to help children to understand that it is a natural human instinct to want to care for others and that we suffer if we ignore this instinct.

We need to help children to understand what they themselves are capable of, so that they can use their talents to the full.

And we need to help children to understand that learning is a pleasure … we want to learn simply because we want to know.

Children who leave school understanding all these things will be wise – wise enough to understand also that their education is only the beginning. All through their lives they will persist in the search for truth.

Lani, Charles, Mark and Mr Weinberger reinforced my view that education is not a one day thing, or a someday thing, it is a right now, every day thing. I believe education has an innocence that enriches our very being.

Sands School in Devon (UK) is founded on these principles. But we find them everywhere …

(Shortly before I posted this I noted Linda‘s link to Clarence too!)