The Memi: a tool for pedagogy

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This page describes the outline of an MA thesis proposing the design of a new tool, that embodies visual knowledge building techniques as well as linear narrative, to facilitate learner-directed education in a digital age: an age in which the gaps between production and consumption are breaking down, as are the supposed gaps between education and entertainment.

This page is also, in effect, the permalink for the thesis.

The thesis was originally written on this site as a series of interlocking web pages, both as a working example of the arguments that it proposes, and of the methods that it proposes to advance those arguments.

“Only in action can you fully realize the forces operative in social behavior. That is why I am an experimentalist.”

Stanley Milgram, 1974

What follows is the original page, drafted as a part of the thesis-writing process.

Concept Map

Below is a concept map that outlines the route we will be taking.

An outline of the journey

My aim is to draw the strands together, and publish a fully working version by mid-summer 2007.. A printed version of that document will be made available for download here.

Overview and Summary

The nature of a memi is easily described. It is a personal data-space on the internet that, ideally, contains everything that the owner amasses during their lifetime: diaries and journals; notes and jottings; papers and essays; correspondence; photo and music collections; citations, quotations and references; and so on.

The original idea of such a thing was originally suggested by Vannevar Bush in an essay How We May Think, published in the July 1945 issue of The Atlantic Monthly. He had in mind a desk-sized machine that read, sorted and searched microfilm, and he termed this imaginary machine a memex.

In 2004, this idea was taken up in an article entitled Beyond the Electronic Portfolio: a lifetime personal web space, by Ellen R Cohn and Bernard J Hibbitts. They proposed a software version of a memex that lived on the web.

I had been exploring the idea of combining blogs and wikis for almost a year, with the aim of constructing such a personal repository for specific purposes concerned with learning in a digital world. This work had started by asking small questions and proceeded in an exploratory way, using this site as a testbed. I realised that Cohn and Hibbits ideas could be used to clarify my own thinking, andindicate fruitful lines of development. However, I baulked at appropriating Bush’s term as they had done, and so created a diminutive – the memexie. I soon abandoned this name for the crime of being unwieldy and pompous and opted instead for describing the data-space as a memi . The logic of this change is explained here.

I am now in a position to write up the basis of my work so far, and to lay out the steps that will need to be taken to construct a fully functional memi. A single memi will be more useful to its owner than a single telephone, but like telephones and all social hardware and software, the more there are the more sense having one makes. This thesis cannot therefore be the end of a process, in any sense. It can only map out the starting point for a journey that will be social as much (if not more than) it will be technical.

I am writing this thesis for the MA in epedagogy (visual knowledge building) organised by the Universities of Industrial Art & Design, Hesinki; the University of Hamburg; and InHolland, Rotterdam. I intend to write it in public on this site, and invite comments as I write. This page will be the introduction and overview, and I will add sections as I write them, linking them to this page.

I shall be using concept maps as a method of delineating the arguments, as well as making many links to external sources. For the moment the thesis will have the overall form described below. The points below will become active links as drafts of each section are written or compiled.

Structure of the Thesis

1. Background to the study

This section will outline how and why the research began; the research questions that were asked; and the methods and approaches used to answer them. It will explain why the thesis is being constructed in this manner, and how that forms part of the overall research strategy.

2. Living digitally

This section will look at the background to the arguments I will develop: bits vs atoms; prosumers and conducers; convergence; microlearning and unofficial education; always-on networking; identity and privacy.

3. Transformative pedagogy

This section will look at various response to the events and situations described in the preceeding section. It will draw together arguments made by educators ranging from John Holt and Paulo Friere to Marc Prensky.

4. Why a memi?

This section will list the key aspects of an imagined memi. It will provide an overview of a memi, and show how and why it would be a key tool for a digitally-rooted transformative pedagogy.

5. Identity and privacy

This section will look at how the user of a memi can present themselves in the same data-space to their friends and family; their work colleagues; their employer and potential future employers; and the world at large.It will look at layers of privacy and methods of authentification.

6. Originality and plagiarism

This section will analyse the nature of the recurrent questions about plagarism that haunt academic circles when students begin to use the web. It will examine the relationship between original research and plagiarism and suggest ways forward. It will look at questions of ownership, intellectual property, sharing and fair use; and the solutions to these questions proposed by open source and Creative Commons licences.

7. Organisation and retrieval

This section will look at different strategies for organising information: blogs and wikis; linear essays, mind-maps and concept maps; footnotes and hyperlinks. It will also examine different strategies for retrieving information: tables of contents and indexes; taxonomies and folksonomies (categories, sections or tags); searches and tag clouds.

8. Data and metadata

This section will examine how a memi can be constructed in order to offer peer-to-peer publishing. It will discuss the concept of the peerticle, and look at what needs to be done to make peerticles into automatically generated objects that users can subscribe to. I have already posted a very preliminary draft of some of the ideas that will appear in this section.

9. Networks and education

This section will look at the transformative effects a tool such as a memi could have in the context of purpose-free virtual networks. It will discuss Stanley Milgram’s small world effect, and how it relates to learner-directed education.

10. Building a future

This section will draw the arguments together and suggest further lines of enquiry, as well as outlining a set of practical experiments that will be carried out to develop the ideas here in practice.

This essay was first published on February 1, 2007