Education Bookcast



Education Bookcast is a podcast in which we talk about one education-related book or article per episode.


  • 119. Stages of learning

    04/10/2021 Duração: 35min

    I realised I missed something, and I kicked myself. For a while I've been toying with the idea that learning occurs in two stages, which can be mapped between cognitive science and neuroscience: Exposure to new material -> neuronal connections Practice and repetition -> myelination ...with elaboration (e.g. relating one piece of information to another) being a practice that involves both stages. This model appeals to me for several reasons. Firstly, it is simple, which is a relief in the complex world of teaching and learning. Secondly, it is grounded in the idea that learning is all about addition to long-term memory, which is now a deeply ingrained idea with me. Thirdly, it is in line with the way that most teachers would teach, which makes sense - you would think that teachers tend to do something more or less right after so many years of experience. However, there is one anomaly that I couldn't place in this model: pre-testing. It turns out that when you are given a test on something before you start le

  • 118. The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks

    20/09/2021 Duração: 01h17min

    This book touched my heart, and it changed my mind about neuroscience. I wasn't going to read this book. While I was at my friend's house, I picked this book up and read the preface, written by Will Self. He wrote that Oliver Sacks is extraordinary in the way in which he fuses such humanity with his scientific probing of the brains of his patients. At that point, I got interested, and my friend told me I could borrow it. I gobbled the book up in two days. Having read the book, I can see what Will Self was saying. I used to feel that neurologists were dehumanising of people, seeing them as a pile of neurons, and seeing themselves arrogantly as masters of the most important discipline. Oliver Sacks couldn't be more different. He has a real care for the humanity, for the soul of his patients, even as he describes the areas of brain damage. He marries up scientific description and human concern in a way that is life-affirming and touching. I used to think that neuroscience is too low-level to be relevant to educa

  • 117. Gut Feelings by Gerd Gigerenzer

    06/09/2021 Duração: 49min

    This episode feels almost nostalgic, as it is a return to the theme of the roles and interactions of the conscious and subconscious mind, something which I focused on early in the podcast and came out strongly in my main series on expertise (around episode 20). It also shares some relation to books on the topic of cognitive biases on the one hand, and the complexity of the world on the other. Psychologist Gerd Gigerenzer has two main points to make: firstly, that ignorance and cognitive biases often outperform knowledge and "clear thinking"; and secondly, he proposes a way in which gut feelings work. On the first point, Gigerenzer points us to some experiments which are convincing of their point but difficult to know how to make use of. It turns out that, in tasks like guessing which of two cities has the larger population, if you've heard of one but not the other, the one you've heard of is probably more populous. This requires that you are "somewhat ignorant" - you know one city but not the other - as if yo

  • 116h. Summary and conclusion

    09/08/2021 Duração: 32min

    This episode concludes the series on Jin Li's fantastic book Cultural Foundations of Learning, East and West. After reviewing the key differences between the cultures of learning, we quickly look once again at the evidence for these claims. Then we will see what Chinese teachers think of American educational practices. Finally, I will add some commentary of where in my own learning I have some apparently Eastern views and practices. Enjoy the episode.

  • 116g. Speech, silence, action

    08/08/2021 Duração: 41min

    This is the final part of the series on Jin Li's book Cultural Foundations of Learning, East and West before the summary and conclusion. Speech is seen in the West as a distinct personal quality, a right, a leadership trait, and an art. Rhetoric was part of university curricula since the Middle Ages, and we celebrate famous orators like Cicero, Martin Luther King, and Winston Churchill. But in the East, speech is not seen so favourably. Chinese people assume that those who speak less are likely the more intelligent (in America it is those who speak more who are thus perceived), and Chinese culture has a general distrust of speaking, seeing it as inferior to action and potentially a way to mislead. Notably, unlike Cicero, King, and Churchill, there are no famous speakers in East Asia. This different attitude to speaking has consequences for education. Notably, we know from experiment that Chinese people's thought process is inhibited when they vocalise, whereas this is not true for Americans. But it also leads

  • 116f. Socratic and Confucian mothers

    07/08/2021 Duração: 31min

    This is a continuation of the series on Jin Li's book Cultural Foundations of Learning, East and West. In this recording, we will see how mothers interact with their children in such a way as to promote their cultural worldview, which goes a long way to explaining how the culture is perpetuated. Interestingly, it is clear from the sample interactions that the children often do not know how to respond to the parent, and so have not yet learned the cultural mindset, so we get a real sense of attitudinal transmission going on through the interactions. Enjoy the episode.

  • 116e. Curiosity begets enquiry, heart begets dedication

    06/08/2021 Duração: 01h08min

    This is a continuation of the series on Jin Li's book Cultural Foundations of Learning, East and West. In this episode, we will see the emotional side of learning, with a Western focus on interest, curiosity, and enquiry juxtaposed against an Eastern focus on dedication, conviction, and commitment. This also leads to a different conceptualisation of time within the sphere of learning, which leads to concepts like success and failure make less sense in a Chinese cultural context. Since the process of learning never ends (or, at least, is considered to be very long), one cannot that one has reached "success" or "failure" at any stage, as things could always get better (through application and virtue) or worse (through becoming slack and irresponsible). Westerners, in contrast, have a much shorter-term and piecemeal view, seeing motivation as dependent on the nature of the material (empirically shown to not be important to Easterners), and viewing learning problems as requiring technical solutions (rather than h

  • 116d. Mind-oriented vs. Virtue-oriented learning processes

    05/08/2021 Duração: 01h11min

    This is a continuation of the discussion of Jin Li's book Cultural Foundations of Learning, East and West. In this recording, I discuss the differences between Western learning process concepts (active learning, exploration and enquiry, critical thinking, and self-expression) and Chinese ones (sincerity, diligence, endurance of hardship, perseverance, and concentration). Enjoy the episode.

  • 116c. East Asians don't respond to intrinsic motivation, and other gems

    04/08/2021 Duração: 01h07min

    This is the third in a series of recordings on Jin Li's book Cultural Foundations of Learning, East and West. In this episode we will see a range of empirical data reflecting the differences between the cultures in question, mostly from psychology, including issues of motivation, attitudes to competition, and the language which is used to describe learning. I will also discuss British and Chinese students' views of the nature of understanding, pointing out what existing cognitive science has to say about this issue. Enjoy the episode.

  • 116b. Mastering the Universe vs. Transforming the Self

    03/08/2021 Duração: 01h30min

    This is the second in a series of recordings on Jin Li's book Cultural Foundations of Learning, East and West. In this part, we will see how the fundamental aims of education differ among the cultures in question, and how this is grounded in philosophical traditions that go back thousands of years. At the end, we will see a startling and unexpected piece of evidence which supports the author's hypothesis. Enjoy the episode.

  • 116a. Cultural Foundations of Learning, East and West by Jin Li

    02/08/2021 Duração: 33min

    You may have noticed that I am generally quite disappointed in professors of education. It seems that the work of cognitive scientists, (some) psychologists, anthropologists, (some) economists, historians, and even machine learning researchers and philosophers is reliable, trustworthy, and can offer a good contribution, whereas that has not been my experience with people explicitly employed by university education departments. However, Jin Li breaks that trend. And boy, how she breaks it. Cultural Foundations of Learning, East and West follows Jin Li's research into the nature and causes of differences in learning beliefs, attitudes, and behaviours between Westerners (mainly European-Americans) and people from "the East" (mainly Chinese, Taiwanese, and Chinese-Americans). She goes into issues of parenting, teaching techniques, student attitudes, language usage, and underlying philosophy. Overall, she paints a coherent picture which is invaluable to helping see the water in which we are swimming. What is reall

  • 115. Bullshit Jobs by David Graeber

    12/07/2021 Duração: 01h51min

    "It’s as if someone were out there making up pointless jobs just for the sake of keeping us all working. And here, precisely, lies the mystery." The above text is from David Graeber's super-viral article On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs. His basic, audacious thesis is that there is a large and increasing number of "bullshit" hours worked in the economy, through a combination of some outright "bullshit jobs", and previously normal jobs that have become increasingly "bullshitised". Graeber's intention with the word "bullshit" is completely unnecessary work that is useful to nobody, and a "bullshit job" typically contains much pretending to work while actually browsing social media, as well as carrying out a number of tasks that really don't need doing, but not being able to face up to the Kafkaesque reality head-on as there appears to be a taboo about letting people know that you aren't doing anything, or that your job is pointless. Ironically, such soul-destroying employment is often considered to be quite p

  • 114. Philosophy of Science - the good bits

    28/06/2021 Duração: 01h25min

    I was recently contacted by a fan of the show asking for advice in the choice of their research topic. Oddly, the best advice I could give them pertained to philosophy of science. In this episode, I expand on what I told them, to explain the most important ideas in the philosophy of science that I think are worth knowing about. My ultimate target is Imre Lakatos. If you can understand Lakatos' idea of research programs then you have all you need. However, in order to properly understand Lakatos, you need to know about Thomas Kuhn's concept of paradigms, "normal" science, and scientific revolutions; and to understand Kuhn, it helps to have some grounding in what Karl Popper had to say about falsificationism before him. I add in Francis Bacon as the founder of science and William of Occam just to mention his timeless razor. The "feel" of this episode is to say that science is done by people, and people are imperfect. Philosophers of science have long discussed the ways in which science should be (or is) done, a

  • 113. The Hidden Half by Michael Blastland

    14/06/2021 Duração: 51min

    When we ask the question of whether something is "nature or nurture", we are implicitly suggesting a dichotomy, or excluded middle - it is either nature, or nurture, or a mix of both, but not a mix of both plus something else. In The Hidden Half, Michael Blastland takes us on a journey of skepticism which somehow magically reveals the presence not only of a "third factor", but shows, startlingly, that such a factor has been known to account for as much as half (!) of the variation in some traits. References to dark matter immediately spring to mind. After reflecting on a paradigm-shifting species of parthenogenic crayfish, the author discusses, among other things, how you only have a 50% chance of developing the same mental disorder as your identical twin you were raised with is already suffering from (shared genes and environment, remember - shouldn't this be close to 100%?); the mysterious inability to transfer infant mortality reduction measures to new regions; and the still inexplicable sudden drop in tee

  • 112. Out of our Minds by Sir Ken Robinson

    31/05/2021 Duração: 35min

    So far, one of my most downloaded episodes has been number 42, on Sir Ken Robinson's talk Do Schools Kill Creativity? Numerous members of the audience have told me that they appreciated my critical eye on the matter. But at that time I had not read any of Ken Robinson's several bestsellers. "Don't you think you should? How can you be critical of him when you haven't even read him?" It was goading from someone else, asking me to rise to my own intellectual standards, that made me finally give in. I decided to read a book of his. Suffice to say, it was not a very good use of my time. Out of our Minds comes with the subtitle Learning to be Creative, and yet it gives very little concrete advice on that point. A jumbled book with no clear order, it mixes worn-out platitudes with click-baity list articles ("Nine qualities of a creative leader" - all that was missing was "Number six will shock you!!"). He weaves in talk of a "schism" between arts and sciences without properly defining what he means by this, as well

  • 111. Intelligence: All That Matters by Stuart Ritchie

    17/05/2021 Duração: 01h20min

    Let's set things straight - intelligence isn't really *all* that matters. The editor seems to have forced a provocative title that even the author doesn't agree with. But intelligence does really matter, and the evidence on this point is overwhelming. Early on in my study of education, I was enamoured with Carol Dweck's Mindset research, and in all of my growth mindset zeal I couldn't bear to even consider that people might differ in some apparently "fixed" way. However, with time I have had the courage to face this issue; or, more realistically, it has beseiged me enough that I have had to give in. Intelligence is real, it varies from person to person, and it has a large heritable component. Research on intelligence has continued for well over 100 years, and it has several findings which are very well supported by evidence. The most important finding is the positive manifold, which states that all mental capacities - from vocabulary size to social intelligence to mental rotation to reaction time - are positi

  • 110b. Declarative knowledge is central to transfer

    04/05/2021 Duração: 43min

    This is the second part of the episode about Robert Haskell's book Transfer of Learning. In this part, we go in detail into the importance of rich declarative knowledge for transfer. Topics include: The difference between surface structure and deep structure of problems, and how experts can see through the former to get at the latter, allowing transfer to happen How pure scientific discoveries with no application resulted in groundbreaking technological breakthroughs decades later Prolific inventors' advice on what it takes to be a great inventor (hint: "irrelevant" knowledge) How even specialists in procedural knowledge ("skills") openly admit that rich, well-structured declarative knowledge is the cornerstone of transfer Enjoy the episode.

  • 110a. Transfer of Learning by Robert Haskell

    03/05/2021 Duração: 01h03min

    One central question which I find very difficult to answer is "What is education for?". There seem to be many parallel purposes, most of which are subjective, ill-defined, and hard to measure. It is difficult to navigate between the Scylla of unrealistic expectations far from the core activities of school (e.g. developing well-adjusted entrepreneurial job-ready good citizens) and the Charybdis of uninspiring flat-footed apparent irrelevancies (e.g. hoping that they at least remember Pythagoras' Theorem). However, there is one aim that seems to me to pass both of these criteria: the ability to use what one has learned in novel situations. It seems absolutely necessary to make for a justifiable education - after all, if you are unable to apply your knowledge anywhere outside of the classroom, what's the use of learning it in the first place? On the other hand, it also seems eminently achievable and related to real classroom content. Application of what one has learned to new scenarios is known in the psychology

  • 109. America's Critical Thinking Crisis by Steven Pearlman

    19/04/2021 Duração: 01h23min

    "Critical thinking" is an idea commonly discussed in education. Most people who talk about it say we need more of it. Almost nobody seems willing or able to define it. I have trouble believing in it. With anything that I believe, I keep an open mind and even force myself against my cognitive biases to hear out those whose opinions I disagree with. This has been very useful to me in the past, as there have been a number of education-related ideas that I have had to eschew on further investigation. In line with this attitude, I was happy to give this book a chance, particularly since the author claimed to be a fan of the show, and therefore would presumably have some sense of my predisposition to this issue. The book opened with promise. The author writes that he is aware of the many criticisms levied at critical thinking - that "it cannot be defined, ... or that it takes away from the content of the course, or that it is different in every discipline, or that it depends on knowledge..." (all of which would be

  • 108. Expert Political Judgement by Phillip Tetlock

    05/04/2021 Duração: 54min

    Phillip Tetlock is an expert on expertise, but of a different kind to the late K. Anders Ericsson. While Ericsson's work focused on experts within "kind" domains (as defined by Range author David Epstein) such as music and chess, where feedback is near-immediate and clear and the rules are known to all and stated at the outset, Tetlock is interested in those who specialise in "wicked" domains, such as economics and politics. These are fields in which we can't run experiments or train for specific, recurring situations; where the rules are unknown; and where the situation at hand is not bounded, but can be influenced by a myriad of unpredictable forces. The author's most important finding is that cognitive style plays a major role in deciding who is good or bad at predicting world events. He reaches for Isaiah Berlin's concept of the Hedgehog and the Fox: "the fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing." Hedgehogs tend to view the world through their particular favourite lens, basking in the p

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