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Paragogy Book D2


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Cf. This book's outline.

This article is from the Paragogy book Joe and Charlie are writing during November. On the main page you can see more articles and the book's progress.



This is a sort of Foreward that describes the "shape" we want the book to take (a Plan of the Work so to speak). This will also sum up how we want people to interact, what relevant business models might be, and so forth and so on. It could take a while to get this right! - luckily we now have an outline of material to work with.

About this book

Shape of the book

We currently seem to have 2 parts - a "theory" part (Motivating discussion, Five principles, Interviews, Theory); and a "practice" part (Practice, Case studies). The "practice" part is still philosophical and abstract, and may not yet be as practical as it should be. Both parts need revision. Indeed, the "Practice" section might be suitable to revise into a submission to this call about "Baudrillard and Politics" from the International Journal of Baudrillard Studies (a high-level open access journal in continental philosophy). On the other hand, writing continental philosophy isn't necessarily the best way to make the ideas accessible to the general public. In any case, the second part of the book will likely be revised heavily after I've read Baudrillard's "Mirror of Production"!

Right now the book is also very "non-fiction", though we are inspired by long fiction of David Foster Wallace and Socratic dialogs. We might want to change the book, or parts of the book, so that it reads more as a "dialog".

Revision plans

In particular, we need to engage more deeply with the works we cite. And we need to make things "flow" better (the draft was authored as separate essays - will it work as one book?). It would be good to find a friendly critic or two who would be willing to read the entire book and comment on things "inline". For starters, we can play this role.

Using Etherpad would likely make editing easier, but it doesn't currently integrate with Mediawiki.

Publication models

  • Online publication on Mediawiki, licensed via CCZero (this wiki)
  • A "living" book published via Etherpad and open for editing
  • A short ebook of the first "snapshot" (e.g. Kindle and/or PDF)
    • 40K, make a "1 hour read" (or two of these, one for each part)
    • Lulu, see for example
  • A short paper book (probably around 130 to 180 pages)

Interaction models

  • Throw contents of book into Etherpad and have an editing party.
  • Invite selected peers to add to
  • Modify to run something less like a wiki and more like a CMS (e.g. a site based on Drupal+Etherpad, like Planetary)

Business models

  • Create a "marketplace" (agora) along the lines described in this article on the Free Technology Academy's wiki about a "Free Software Guild"; see also Sole Proprietorship
  • Build a paragogical high school curriculum (like the International Baccalaureate programme) and start an online and/or charter school that pilots this curriculum
  • Create a plugin that works with e.g. Amazon but that crowdsources more critical reviews about products - contributors gain referral bonuses and takes 5%. (Researching products could be part of the paragogical curriculum.)


With the book we don't have so many space constraints. A good place to start might be writing down definitions for all of the relevant concepts. Note that since writing the first two papers, we've had more exposure to critiques of "this kind of paper", notably

  • Lisewski, B., and P. Joyce, Examining the Five Stage e-Moderating Model: Designed and Emergent Practice in the Learning Technology Profession, Association for Learning Technology Journal, 11 (2003), 55-66.

and it seems likely that a bigger work would take better account of the more "mature" critical reflective style used in that paper.

People keep telling us that what we're doing here is very relevant to things happening in the world today. Maybe some of what's relevant is here:


See Main Page.

Roadmap / Strategy

Note on "Practice"

I've decided in the "Practice" section to rewrite the (second) Paragogy paper backwards, using the same high-level outline that we used when working on that paper. The outline is something I came up with after messing around with a printout of the first paragogy paper and some mystical kabbalistic ideas (see I later realized that those ideas meshed with some buddhist ideas in an interesting way (see, so this produced a sort of refinement of the outline, or parallel text, to use in the essays.

Vision Quest

Author's Note I wrote this Friday night, but did not publish it until 12:09 AM Monday morning, missing 3 of the first 7 days of the Quest. --Charles Jeffrey Danoff 06:10, 7 November 2011 (UTC)

This month o' paragogy is akin to a vision quest. Considering I “failed” yesterday by writing less than 750 words and today after working from 06:15 – 21:30 plus dinner with colleagues I have again missed the mark I don't know if that means my vision quest is over or not or whatever, but in any event I plan on continuing and am now writing this around 23:54 on November 4th as my paragogicla entry.

What I am trying to say is that I have wanted to do a vision quest type experience for lots of my life and always imagined it as something epic like going off into the forest naked, alone and surviving. Instead its sitting in front of the computer at my parent's house typing about education. Dreams and reality, eh?

But, this is probably better. The vision quest would be sweet for myself, but this is an investment in humanity. I mean we're trying to uncover the basic mechanics of the most traditional form of learning we have done: paragogy, or from our peers.

External Links

Motivating Discussion (Why?)


One of the topics that we should consider in the book is the number and kind of analytics that can be used, and how they are deployed. Analytics are one example of a "technology of the self" [Foucault]. Like all technologies, they come from and feed into a social context. Unlike other media (books, libraries, television, transportation systems), "analytics" provide a synchronous feedback mechanism. Interactive systems in general come with analytic features built in.

Educational systems tend to give feedback asynchronously (grades on each paper or at the end of each semester), wherein students are informed of the worthiness of their effort (A, B, C, D, F or other forms of stratification and measurement). Whether this is intended or not, schools play the role of county fair judge, stratifying students into "best", "worst", and "mediocre". The feedback that is given by schools has an effect not just on the learning process, but also on future career options. Schools both produce and measure "desirability" of students in the further education and job market.

If this causes anxiety among students (or for the reader), this may be part of the intended purpose. Formal learning isn't a matter of fun and games: it deals with "failure", "ability" and other high-intensity concerns of judgement. Informal learning may sidestep some of the judgement, but it cannot get away from the social pressures that are expressed through institutional learning (the requirement to become employable, and to become adapted to other social norms).

To summarize, learning is an adaptive process, typically featuring the learner as subject (adapting to the environment), but often undeniably positioning the learner as object (someone to be acted upon, changed, improved [Foucault]).

In paragogy, we would like to steer away from the objectifying aspects of the learning process. This means that we have to understand them well enough to move away from them. And we should do this in a way that doesn't damage (and hopefully enhances) the learner's adaptivity. It is not so much we abhor the stratifying aspects of education per se, rather, we question the efficiency of this system from the point of view of the student. Of course, it is nice to have a good transcript or diploma and to be recognized as employable (a sort of "secondary quality" that is abstracted from raw qualities) if indeed that comes to pass, but at least in some cases there may be other ways to go about the process of personal empowerment that work better (for the individual) than those catered for via "the system".

These might include: (1) information or knowledge transfer that takes place outside of scope, under the "radar", and beyond the analysis of formal educational institutions: here for example we consider the services provided by libraries and bookstores, where readers connect with writers without an evaluative intermediary.

This may branch out to several sub-categories: (1a) Topics that are "too new" to have been codified, for example, new technologies. (1b) Topics that are "too personal" to be interesting to many people, for example, the topics that are discussed in counseling or psychotherapy. (1c) Forbidden topics, perhaps religion or politics, depending on the context.

But here we might switch gears and take up another point of concern, namely the relationship between knowledge artifacts themselves, by which I mean the arrangement of things and topics in the world. In other words, the environment that the learner as subject is moving through, adapting to, and, in some cases, co-producing (both in their own adaptative process, and "stigmergically" by leaving traces for others, and also in some cases via explicit collaboration). The relationships among and between topics and things is tremendously important for paragogy, as it is for pedagogy. But in paragogy we do not expect other people to have sorted the connections out yet.

Thus we would assert that paragogy is what typically takes place "at the frontiers of knowledge". Certainly we may find idiosyncratic individuals working there, but when they communicate with each other, they tend to do so in a peer-like fashion. This communication is important (even in the extreme case of individuals working alone and in isolation, "communication" via texts or other artifacts passed over time is what allows us to know anything whatsoever is happening).

So this is about as much as I have to say about paragogy things for today -- I've written a sort of outline of topics that are interesting to me; analytics, the potential reasons for thinking about and studying paragogy. There is an emotional reaction to "education" here, and it should be questioned.

What makes learning fun?

This section will be more meta than others, as the ideas here apply to all formsof learning, including Paragogy, Pedagogy and Andragogy. Idea, or question rather, being, as was posed to me at a recent social event "What makes learning fun?" (Wilder Cusick, private communication, 29 October 2011).

What is it about learning how to make your skateboard float in the air for a split second that will motivate a teenager to invest hours of their time studying the mechanics of the trick, not to even mention the physcial pain that comes with failure? Especially if that same student could not pay attention for more than 2 minutes at a time during Chemisty and spends less time than that trying their homework before giving-up?

Why is learning skateboarding fun for her and chemistry not?

Part of it relates to motivation. Skateboarding is most likely primarly intrinsically motivated, with some extrinsic motivation coming from the respect they'd receive from peers if they mastered the trick. Chemistry would be the reverse, mostly the motivation would be extrinsic, coming from parents and society's expectations that the student do well in their studies and get into a posh college, or their future will be doom. The student very well could be intrinsically motivated to have a high report card for their own vanity, but even then, chemisty is not done for the sake of learning chemistry, but because they need that high grade as part of their overall portfolio.

Taken a different way, what is it about chemistry that's fun for those who love the science? Do they want the respect, power and prestige that comes from being the one to announce a new breakthrough? Or, is it akin to "art for art's sake" and they love doing chemistry just for the sake of doing it? Instead do they feel their work is important for the greater good, or prosperity, of humanity? That they are contributing, somehow?

Perhaps more specifically, is it the act of learning that can be in, itself fun? Or is it the rewards that come from successfully applying said knowledge being studied that is fun? How would this apply, say, in the context of learning how to be intimate with your partner? Is that fun?

Tangentially, why did some of the original masters of Judo, feel it would lose something if it were to become a competetive sport with scoring, as opposed to just a Japanese martial art?

Certainly learning is a highly individual endeavor and what works pour moi, may hurt you in your studies. That understood between us, I will attempt an ad hoc list of what (I think) makes learning fun for me. I welcome your ideas.

  • Learning something it is possible for me to understand. Even though it wasn't fun for me as a kid, I do now enjoy studying Japanese. The majority of the language is beyond me, but because I have a sound footing and confidence I can figure out the next step of what I do not know, it is usually fun. Its especially fun learning while drinking with colleagues in a bar, and less so sitting by myself trying to master hiragana. On the other side, while I would love to comprehend Galileo's The Assailer translated from Italian into Japanese both to show off my Nihonogo skills and to see the skies better, sitting down to try and slog through the book alone does not sound like what I want to do after an 8 hour day.
  • Learning is ESPECIALLY fun if I'm studying something as a way to procrastinate from another assignment that is due. I have never been known to passively study accounting concepts in my free time, but you can be sure I will have fun learning some tangential fruit of the accounting tree, so long as its unrelated to the accounting exam I am cramming for tomorrow.
  • Learning that has value for me in my immediate reality, today, now. Learning fun new Japanese words living in Japan was cool. The idea of learning fun, new Japanese words has not motivated me much since I left. I think this concept is especially important to consider, given how our culture places so much value on the stark reality check students undergo moving from the world of school to the real world. I am not sure how to properly articulate this, but I believe this constant preparing students for some unseeable, mysterious future as opposed to knowledge usable in their daily existence is not optimal. Certainly there are things necessary to learn for the real world, but I think students would be better served realizing whether you are in school or not they're part of the “real world” and should be learning helpful things in that vein.
  • It helps if learning is “cool” i.e. getting tips on how to navigate a snowboard down a hill was more fun for me than my Dad showing me the proper way to buff the car's leather seats as a child.
  • There's also the learning thats fun, but only later. It was not fun in the moment for me to sit and make a 30 page reading journal for Frankenstein, or to re-write essays four times for my high-school English teacher. Now, though writing is fun for me and learning how to write better is fun because of those experiences. Perhaps for anything there's a certain pain threshold one has to endure to get the basics of a concept before learning it can be fun? And depeneding on the difficulty and/or how that threshold is reached (alone, with a peer, with a good teacher, with a bad teacher) determines for me whether or not that is fun?

What makes learning boring?

One obvious way learning becomes boring is if you are forced to do it. Whether it be by parents or society being forced to do something, as opposed to choosing to, typically makes the individual less likely for success.

Perhaps trying to figure out what makes learning fun is too difficult. Maybe there is no cut and dry, clear-cut answer. Either way, identifying what factors can make learning boring will be helpful. Could be that learning certain things is boring, no matter what, and that that is OK!

Whether it be fun or boring, for the purposes of this book our focus is on what makes it successful amongst peers.

Within that idea I would like to briefly describe what David Foster Wallace's posthumous novel The Pale King had to say on boredom (spoiler alert). Early on as Sylvanshine, a high-level assistant within the IRS, is sitting on a plane we are treated to his stream-of-consciousness as he goes from fact-to-unrelated-fact (we later discover he is a fact psychic) spending a lot of time saying how much difficulty he has passing the CPA and the amusement that gives his colleagues. Succinctly, the narrator confides “What you pay attention to is the whole ball game in the CPA and in life.” This idea percolates throughout the novel and comes out the end in the author's note's section with DFW's idea that if you can handle boredom you can do anything in modern life. This is related to a scene at a college accounting class where the character narrating at the time hears that “in modern life there are no new worlds to discover or battles to be fought. Now it is time to account, and accounting is boring, and because of that those who can do it are heroes.”

For context, Pale King is set on a day in 1985 at an Internal Revenue Service facility in Peoria, Illinois. In my mind, there are not too many more boring things in life than taxes and accounting. Yet, they are both invaluable parts of American society, without them it would not be going too far to say that our society would collapse.

OK, so accounting is boring and important. How does fun play into that? Certainly there are some people born to be star IRS employees, for them, perhaps studying accounting is fun and therefore easy, or if not easy the challenge is part of the joy.

What about others, like me? I recognize the value of accounting and want to learn it, but in my summer course on Managerial Accounting I got a D and am headed on the same track this term with Financial Accounting. Why is it that I am loathe to do the work?

Part of it is a lack of consequence for doing badly. I have already completed a bachelors degree, and while a CPA would be an invaluable feather in my cap, it is not necessary for employment, nor societal respect. Furthermore I am not paying for the courses myself, so I lack “skin in the game” if you will. Additionally I'm not a full-time student and have a life (i.e. work, friends, family, etc.) which kept me busier than I could keep up with before I even began my CPA quest.

What am I trying to say by complaining and giving a lack of excuses? I'm trying to figure out why time and again I chose to invest my time in alternative pursuits, and not do my accounting homework. Its boring, yes. I felt I could get an A with very minimal effort, yes. Its too hard for me, I do not believe so but that is what the results indicate.

So then what, I'm lazy and dumb? Perhaps, but maybe also I have not had the proper drive/hunger to complete this quest. I can access the material, most of my exam grades have been B's and C's (plus I got an A in Intro to Accounting at The University of Chicago), yet …

So, maybe accounting is boring because I cannot just sit down and do it, like I can with writing or coding HTML. To successfully study accounting I, believe I, need to give it my full attention, on a daily (or at least 5X/weekly) basis.

Maybe there could be some sort of graph with difficulty on one axis and attention-ability on another. Topics (i.e. Accounting, Skateboarding, etc.)

→ Bad consequences of school not being fun? → Why does society expect school to educate its citizens and then blame them for the results? → Why can't people be expected to educate themselves?

Five Principles

Changing Context as a decentered center.

I think the key to getting this is making sense of this first paragogical principle is the decentered center part. Think of it as a surfer riding his board on a wave. The surfer and the board are peers: human may control wood, but neither works without eachother. The "deceneted center" then is the water.

The surfer may be comfortable at a certain level of h2o force "context center", but (it isn't necessary to have tried surfing [as I have, failing badly] to get this metaphor, btw) the center is always changing, or its "decentered". Too much and either peer can fail: surfer falling or board snapping. Too little and there won't be enough energy for the surfer to stand up. If conditions are apropos and the surfer/board combo can handle the changing context as a decentered center, i.e. the constantly shifting state of the water, surfing can be done. If more surfer/board combos, or peers, join then the possibilities for surfing or learning and a given beach increase exponentially. Consider all the art being made at Waikiki beach in Honolulu on an ideal spring morning.

Moving from metaphor to theoretical example, consider students getting together in a library to form a study group for their neuropsychology class as I did Sophomore year. We had different roles in the study group and points of leadership. A friend of mine who did well on the first test (I did not.) was more the surfer and myself the board. There was another friend/peer (surfer metaphor breaks down a little here, but roll with it) and our decentered center was the library. We had a vague idea of what we wanted to accomplish: high grades on the next morning's test, but no clear road to how to get there (this was our first time studying together). Going through our notes, flash cards, textbook and more we somehow learned together, and for the next test I received a candy reward for having the 2nd highest improvement in score from the first to second test. My peers did about as well as they did the first time round.

What makes learning work?

If learning is the desired outcome, we should ask "What makes learning work?" (Cf. What makes learning fun?). Psychologically, we experience emotional pain as a reason to stop and think (I shouldn't have done that, how stupid, what can I do differently next time, etc.). On the other hand, we experience emotional pleasure as a motivator to embrace what just happened and try it again (wow I am so in love with that person, this feels great, I'm so happy). Learning seems to weave a course between pleasure and pain, with learned patterns and techniques as the outcome. (Cf. Marvin Minsky's "The Emotion Machine" and essays for One Laptop Per Child for more discussion about pleasure and pain.)

If we want to understand what makes learning work, we should try to understand not just the desire to avoid pain and secure pleasure, but how moving between these states produces useful patterns. We can evaluate a learning context in terms of its efficacy at securing outcomes. For example, it is widely agreed that immersion is the best way to learn a language. Charlie isn't going to be as motivated to master Japanese vocabulary if the opportunities or reasons for practice are slim. Joe isn't going to study mathematics just for the sake of studying mathematics: there should be some point, maybe an engineering problem to solve.

So, part of what makes learning "work" is the context and opportunity for application. At the same time, this is also what produces risks (e.g. risks of saying something embarrassing in a new language, risks of building a bridge that falls down). This suggests that people learn well when the stakes are high enough (but probably not too high: we don't ask beginning engineers to build bridges until they have mastered enough skills that we can be reasonably sure the bridge won't fall down). (Cf. Voygotsky's "Zone of Proximal Development".)

Again, if learning is the desired outcome -- not just for the individual, but socially (e.g. learning how we're going to deal with climate change), then "learning" becomes an important economic good, almost a new "currency" for society. The typical approach is to use the market as a mechanism for learning, in other words, successful businesses make money, others fail. In this context, the "fictional" currency of money in a fairly direct sense is substituted for the "real" currency of learning and adaptation.

(Why are Harvard tuition fees so high? Partly because Harvard degrees typically command a high salary, which is itself partly because Harvard graduates have almost invariably got what it takes to perform well in the world of work.)

And yet, if we want to be a bit creative about it, we can look for more direct means to support learning; and people do this all the time, ranging from parents who put brain-stimulating mobiles over the cribs of their children, to teenagers reading various and sundry "how-to" guides for various and sundry fields of interest, to college grads shelling out bucks for test preparation books or courses so they can get into a good business/law/medical school, etc. The "economy" of learning can be managed as a generalized "commons". Which, arguably, is what it is.

The market approach is one way to manage a commons, or one aspect of a commons management approach; but there are many others. Paragogy's first principle "Shared context as a decentred centre" is an invitation to look for ways to manage the learning commons/ecology/economy in ways that work well for everyone involved.

Which brings me back to the point about how learning can work well for individuals (immersion, application, relevance, "appropriate challenges"). People have been organizing learning enviroments that work well for the people involved since the dawn of time. Whether we consider a pottery workshop, a hunting party, a communal kitchen, or a 17th Century college, social organizations around learning are a big part of what people, historically, do.

Accordingly, there is a great range of styles of organizing learning -- perhaps as many as there are different resources to manage. We have everything from hands-on instruction, to formal apprenticeships, to learning on the job, to lectures, textbooks, and dialogs.

The idea of an "expert" instructor -- a pedagogue -- seems like something of an exception to the rule. (Cf. Ivan Illych.) Nevertheless, it is indeed historically the case that the wise old master teaches younger and more naive students. (Not so for wise old rats, cf. William Burroughs.) Nevertheless, kids learn together on the playground, young wedded couples figure out how to make a life together, and democratic societies work out resource management issues on the large scale through (more or less) egalitarian means. Peer learning has, accordingly, been as important as learning from older and wiser folks since time immemorial, though it may be harder to understand or formalize.

We should look more at how these different kinds of approaches to learning support different kinds of learning tasks and solving different kinds of problems.

Starting over

I'm at my new house. £400 per month of pure potential. It's time to reassess my life.

Right now I'm sitting in the dining room. It's quiet, apart from a neighbor's dog barking and one of my new flatmates munching toast in the living room. In the old house, one of the flatmates always dominated the common area with his TV watching habit. I don't want to be "that guy", but at the same time I'm feeling iffy about keeping my laptop in my room. Days when I roll out of bed and immediately get on the computer (or rather, don't roll out of bed and get on the computer) feel far too slack. On the other hand, if I don't do my casual computing at home, I'll end up doing it at work, and that can take up the entire day. And again, if I don't go into the office at all... well!

Partly since I work with computers (and, obviously, the internet), the whole idea of being an "internet addict" just strikes me as funny, ridiculous. That would be like being addicted to books or addicted to talking on the phone, yeah? What they have in common is information transfer. Some people get by fine without books, phones, or computers, but no one can do without information.

Nevertheless, linguistic information is of a particular sort. It's different from a landscape in the sense of being discrete. A fisherman might rely on linguistic information when selling his fish, but when fishing, well, it's a different story. (The Old Man and the Sea.) Yet, if we look closely, each physical body is somehow a "discrete landscape" with texture and form. Language is so many physical bodies made of sound or image.

I work with these, I immerse myself in these. If I throw away what's extraneous (things like the boxes of papers I don't read, memorabilia that I never look at), what's left? Still more of the same thing, but now it looks like a Zen garden instead of an overgrown back yard. What else can be thrown away? Maybe start by throwing out those old papers and we'll see.

Why have I hung onto them anyway? Maybe I thought they'd be relevant later, you know, when I'm writing my thesis or something. The problem being that my thesis isn't going to be about papers, it's going to be about experiments, and the experiments haven't happened yet (PlanetMath Overview). And why is that?

There have been the inevitable delays, and distractions. Numerous aspects of the project have been "close" for months. (A few stalled efforts have been "close" for a year or more, which presumably means, not that close.) I seem to frequently get out of my depth. Working closely with my friends/colleagues usually helps (All that glistens...), but even they get stuck at times. Then they ask someone with more particular expertise for help and the tasks become more clear.

Distractions on the other hand: informal writing, social life, a few physical ailments, sometimes too much noise or a bad smell at home or at the office. In other words, things that I can "manage" in a way, but that take attention. Perhaps many of these are less "distractions" than they are the necessities of life. Instead of comparing these things to the boxes of papers I keep but don't read, maybe these things are more like the clothes I wear but don't like that much. Both disgruntle me. How many times have I looked at those boxes of papers and said "Why am I taking up space with those things?" But also -- how many times, after my favorite pair of jeans (which themselves have a rip in the cuff from a misencounter with my old single-speed bicycle) and a couple of favorite shirts have been worn that week -- have I said "I really have nothing left that I want to wear". And yet I have a backpacking pack full of clothes that I don't really like.

This might be the side effect of student poverty. It's not so clear what any of this has to do with my work, except that it puts a damper on my mood. The worst thing there, though, is the sense of not making progress. Then I feel like I'm in the Donner party and it's getting on towards February ("a taboo always allures with as great strength as it repels."). Anyway, post-move, I feel like I'll be nursing myself back to health, in one way, shape, or form.

Meta-learning as a font of knowledge.

This may seem obvious, but it is important for us to clarify. We need to arrive at some 1-3 sentence thesis on "how peers learn to learn" but we aren't there yet. If you have one, that is an answer to the question "How do peers learn together and do it well?" please e-mail it to

If you put a blade to my throat, I'd say now "They learn by doing. First there's the 'baptism by fire' where awareness of how far away they are from their goal comes, if they have the social tools to survive that, then they have to endure the monotony of repeating the process over and over until the goal is realized. Even a shared journey of 10,000 miles begins with single steps."

Going back to the study group from the first principal, we learned by doing: we had the study group to do well on the test. We survived the 'baptism' with distractions being: not showing up at the library at all, spending the time gossiping about college hook-ups, drinking, studying for another class, etc. We managed to keep our attention on the task at hand: appropriately prepping for tomorrow's test. We endured the monotony of studying for multiple hours, and then the goal was realized.

How does learning work in practice?

Learning often takes a long time. Not always, perhaps. But learning anything with any degree of complexity is likely to take a long time, and a lot of trials (and tribulations).

When we talk about "meta-learning" (i.e. learning about learning), we are assuming there is something there to learn, in other words, "knowledge about learning". A reasonable question to ask is whether this is a general "body" of knowledge about learning (something we might go to school to study), or whether it is a specific sort of knowledge that can only be developed in practice (e.g. learning "how I learn best").

So far, the wording of the principle is vague, but let's say: anything that we can identify as a general body of knowledge about learning will be useful, surely (psychological theories of learning, abstract theories of learning, etc.). As for the kinds of learning that have to happen in practice, here maybe we can draw on theories of practice (I am thinking primarily of Buddhism, but marxism or gnosticism etc. also come to mind).

Indeed the word "learning" suggests that there is something concrete or objective to be learned (like the French language), but many things that we "learn" are more personal or subjective (like table tennis). The concrete things have more of an edge, and tend to have right and wrong answers. By contrast, assuming you stay within a few basic rules, there's no right or wrong way to play table tennis. Some techniques may helpful to learn, but on the whole each person will play using his or her own style.

Of course, people speak in their own style, too. But a certain degree of mastery is needed before "style" can be achieved. Before that point it's not even clear that the person is speaking the language (they may just be making sounds, or reciting a few memorized phrases).

And this seems similar for "emotional learning" or "thinking". It is possible to experience something emotionally in a more articulated or less articulated way. Typical not-well-articulated ways of thinking and feeling are termed "reactive", since they are associated with simple rules (imagistically, "seeing red"). More articulated ways include "responsibility" -- the ability to take a situation into consideration without an immediate reaction. Here instead one takes into account things like the possible consequences of a given action, patterns learned from experience associated with previous actions, and so forth. In particular, there is a degree of self-knowledge and an understanding of the consequences of a given course of action.

Both of those tend mainly to come from experience, though there are also "expedient means" like learning from the experiences of others. (A recent study said that people who watch sitcoms tend to increase their degree of social comfortability, through observing how the television characters relate easily to one another.)

The human mind is only so complex, so learning about learning about learning in practice is bound to swamp everyone. And anyway, it's not necessarily so practical! What we typically tend to need is practical knowledge about how to become sufficiently competent with a given practice to get to a certain goal (if we think in an ends-driven way) or to maintain or develop a given condition (if we think in a more procedural way).

For example, what does it take to cross two or three things off of some todo list each day? Obviously the answer depends on what sort of todo items we're talking about. But it is indeed an interesting question to look at just how!

Some things (breathing, eating, shitting) more or less take care of themselves if we let them. Other things don't happen so automatically, and circumstances need to be engineered for them to work. Or, if not engineered, then otherwise developed. For example, dating, where it's possible to "just meet someone", but even then life is complicated. People for whom everything "just works" are probably entirely mythical. Most of us have some difficult problems to solve.

Or at least it sure seems that way. Nevertheless, difficulty is somewhat subjective, and using things like the principle of simple machines, even "difficult" tasks can be accomplished a little at a time. So we can ask things like "do I really want this, and if so, how am I going to get there?" Buddhism says "Desire is the root of all suffering", but surely this applies to unsatisfied desires, otherwise we would say "Desire is the root of all satisfaction".

It is very easy to tout principles like "Break complicated tasks down into smaller parts", but in practice, there's often considerably more complexity than one initially expects!

Reflections on the process

I chatted briefly over oatmeal with my friend (the one who invited me to live in this house), about anthropology and sociological studies of science. I'll be working today on a "rebuttal" to some reviews for a co-authored paper that was sort of in that niche.

The paper is about "Massively Distributed Authorship of Academic Papers", and it has about 30 co-authors. Our approach was to write about the experiences we had writing the paper, if that makes sense. From a methodological standpoint, this approach is similar to something called the "talk-aloud protocol", where someone doing a task "talks aloud" about the thought process they are going through when solving a problem. This is written about by our old paragogical pal K. Anders Ericsson.

Anyway, two of the reviewers found the paper confusing and easy to dismiss ("It is a very 'Seinfeld-ish' paper, in that it is a a paper about a paper about a paper"). One of them, however, was much more complementary: "The whole point of science is to provide a base for others to build on, and this paper does so in a unique and excellent way. In short, this may be the most exciting CHI paper I've ever reviewed, and I reiterate my strong recommendation that it be accepted." In short, the reviews came back something like a 7-10 split. For whatever reason, I've personally taken on the task of trying to pick up the spare. Maybe the other co-authors have for the most part given up at this point, it's hard to tell.

What's so interesting about the paper? In the words of our star reviewer, "This new approach would break a lot of tacit knowledge and assumptions about how research works." Imagine working on research not as a small group, but in a large distributed pool, sort of like the way Wikipedia is authored. But in fact, this isn't fair as "what if" question. As we've noted several times, science is already perfectly paragogical. It's absolutely true that just reading works from someone else is better understood as andragogy, but when you contribute something back to the discourse, paragogy kicks in (even over massive distances and timespans). The assumptions that the "massively distributed authorship" approach breaks are not so much our grounding assumptions about scientific discourse, as assumptions about how people get credit for their work, and about the technology they use to do the work.

So the "what if" question shifts onto technology and something more like sociology or economics. We're not submitting the paper to a sociology journal, but writing for a conference on human computer interface issues. But in either case, we should be asking, how is this really going to work? For example, is Etherpad really sufficient for real-time collaboration, or do we need something else? Is real-time collaboration "better" in any genuine respect than asynchronous means, like a wiki or version control system? If we kept coming back to reflective questions like that, the paper would be a better paper.

As it was, we drifted quite frequently onto sociological questions like "how to distribute 'credit' for authoring papers like this". First and foremost it is important to realize that there will be no credit to distribute if the paper isn't published. But the issue we took up in the paper was more like "what does it mean to be 1st author on a paper with 30 authors? or 6th author? or 27th?".

Experientially, working on the paper was something like participating in a seminar or a course -- perhaps a P2PU course where instead of having a course forum, we only had an Etherpad, and instead of each person having his or her own "assignment", we had a shared goal, putting together a paper. (Hey, our paragogy writings are kind of like that too.)

In a sense, the recursive nature of this particular paper was both its greatest strength and its greatest weakness. It's a strength because we got to examine the thought process of co-authors in detail, something we couldn't have done so easily had we been trying to study the work of (for example) Gowers et al. in the Polymath project. It's a weakness because people found it confusing and distracting, maybe sort of like a relationship where too many conversations are devoted to "processing".

But perhaps there is a fundamental statement about how science works in this kind of writing. We don't get away from reflections on the process (nor should we try),[1] however, we would do well to work to make the reflections give us something useful and coherent at the end of the day.

  1. Cf. "The Pale King".

Peers provide feedback that wouldn’t be there otherwise.

This principle is fairly self-explanatory. Whatever learning you are undertaking, if you do it with peers you will get critiques, and if you learn alone you will not. Continuing on with my study group example, if I had been studying alone and then read my notes that said the pleasure region of the brain's scientific nomenclature is "the fun zone", I may have just trusted that and moved on. Even if my notes were incorrect, without a peer to provide feedback its likely I would have accepted that as the correct nomenclature. Studying with peers I might have told one of them that area of the brain is the fun zone, and then they could've corrected my mistake.

Another example of this came on the eve of me and Joe's first talk in Berlin. The night before we wanted to go over out notes and prepare, instead we ended up at a bar with a nice lady we met at the conference and P2PU friends. We then decided to practice our talk on them. We had a bunch of slides with all sorts of technical information, but before we even got past the first one, our audience was full of questions. They needed clarification on some of the grounding ideas of paragogy. We did not think to go into detail on those, because they were clear to us.

Thanks to the wonderful peer feedback we received, we re-worked the presentation and did it way better the next day. Even though we kept it simple and focused on the basic principles we still got lots of confused looks and questions. If it hadn't been for our peer feedback the night before and we'd done the speech as planned its quite possible no one in the audience would have understood our ideas and it would've gone horribly.

Learning... with peers

"Do you like working with people, or do you like working alone?"

My 17-year-old half sister asked me that question yesterday. I said, "I like working together with other people when I'm working on something that I don't understand very well because it's new for me."

It's of course useful in such a situation if the work colleagues understand the topic better than I do, but even then, if I'm going to do my part I also have to figure out what I can contribute. "Research work" can be a great opportunity for me to learn things, but it's still work, and things still have to get done.

And apart from that fact, one typically learns by doing, and learning with peers is no different. I'm perfectly happy to absorb some information, more or less passively, by myself (TV, comics); but if there's something more interesting going on, I'm going to want to talk to people about about, or do something even more embodied, active, or interactive.

Involvement of other people in a learning process shouldn't be a surprise. People are more or less inherently social, and times when people do things truly on their own would be more the exception than the rule. And yet, the historical standard of what makes "a person" is someone with a high degree of independence (Sherry Turkle); teaching something that could be called "self-sufficiency" is a goal for a lot of degree programs.

And while it makes sense to cultivate these skills, part of being an independent person is being able to relate to other people in a productive way. Without any further elaboration, "learning with peers" could be part of a recipe for all kinds of non-individuation. If a person can always turn to a peer (or teacher) for help, how will they ever learn to do things on their own? It's a reasonably interesting psychological concern, but as everyone who is reading this has been weened and toilet trained, it's not a particularly damning concern.

Indeed, what I've suggested above is that working with peers is one of the best incentives for figuring out how to do one's part. Probably no one likes being needy and dependent all the time (even little kids tend to take pride in being able to help out). When there's a job to be done, social pressures against "freeloading" kick in to motivate people to do work.

The arrangements become interesting and complicated when there are multiple different tasks going on, with different social groups involved. One may have multiple competing motivators (work, family, friends, etc.), which can also become burdensome "obligations" if one isn't careful.

But (going out on a limb a little bit here), in this scenario, it may be possible to change the perspective to look at each of the different domains of life as a "peer" in some abstract sense. Each of these domains of life "gives feedback that wouldn't be there otherwise". As the number of domains grows, things become potentially very complex, and one can get spread a very thin. The idea of working in multiple domains or within multiple spheres of life should somehow be about quality, not merely quantity.

But what is quality? There's been a lot of popular writing on this topic (Pirsig). It may very much be in the eye of the beholder, but this hasn't stopped people from trying to find general patterns (Aristotle). From the point of view of work and learning, quality can as in the previous section be described in terms of outputs (products that satisfy the customer) and means (processes that satisfy the producer).

As discussed in the introduction, a learning process may be fun or boring. For example, I'm imagining that writing a novel with a group of collaborators might be really fun. But it could also be tedious in a lot of ways. The novel might drift all over; it might look more like a collection of short stories, or just a bunch of disconnected fragments. It's not entirely clear that the things that make the process fun (conversations, joking, personal anecdotes) make the product itself a good one. And that can be OK, in a "prosuming" context in which people consume (at least in part) their own experience.

To sum up, life quality does probably have something to do with being an "integrated person", and this in turn has something to do with relating well with others. This has both experiential aspects (which can make an experience fun and which can make it "feel productive") and also "objective" aspects related to products.

I'll mention another recent anecdote. We had a fun Halloween party last weekend, but one of my friends couldn't make it because he was sick. The next day he was feeling a bit better and was over at my house for dinner with another friend (who had been at the party). The three of us were talking about how the party had gone, who was there, and so on -- with the guest who hadn't been there basing all of his remarks on the photos he had seen on Facebook. Consumer experience is, clearly, as subjective a matter as producer experience, and the lines between the two are very often blurred. Although this friend hadn't been at the party at all, he did contribute something to my post-party enjoyment, with an experience that built on the earlier in-person experience.

Leningrad Gothic

Feedback makes me think of "feedback and distortion", the stuff that contemporary guitar rock is made of. Anyway, today's essay comes with a soundtrack:

I was trying to do zazen today and there was this guy outside with a leaf blower. I wanted to kill him.

(NB. I started blasting the above MP3, and my flattie appeared from upstairs - I didn't know she was home. She said I didn't wake her up though.)

What is a peer? We arrogate ourselves into the company of Socrates, Darwin, DFW, and maybe Deleuze and Guattari in this writing project. Maybe it's an exaggerated sense of self-importance that does it? Like in Lou Reed's chorus: "You're going to reap just what you sow."

At the same time, "paragogy" seems to denote more of a horizontal movement than a forward movement. Paragogy is practiced by the kids talking in the back of the class. We're the film critics who either make or break someone else's work. Like in the MP3 we're quite comfortable playing Philip Glass against the Leningrad Cowboys covering Lou Reed to see what comes out of it -- not that we're so much "peers" of these guys, and after all it's not as if layering two audio tracks requires too much intelligence.

The track was on my mind though, because of this quote I read on Slashdot:

What made "great" scientists recognized, in the previous century, was not mere genius or relentless work or even showmanship. The only ones that were noticed were the ones who realized the great collection of authorities in the field were dead wrong, and then had the guts and genius to prove they were wrong. They were cowboys like Einstein and Tesla. The days of the cowboys are gone. (And forget about working in a patent office part-time, while working on your breakthrough discovery. Then again, the pay and financial security of academicians/researchers are so bad, the next vanguard of scientists just may require a day job.) The last scientist I can think of who went maverick and made her mark was Barbara McClintock. She had to stand by her research for decades while it was dismissed by her peers, until they couldn't continue to look stupid and wrong. And who the hell here even knew who she was when I mentioned her? [...] There are probably many scientific discoveries unknown to us, merely because the first guy to prove it just didn't have the right juice, or some bureaucratic body had a financial interest in dismissing the findings. -- slashdot_commentator,

So there's a mythology here: the myth of the cowboy (or gunslinger), the man (though of course it is not always a man) who works alone ( In literature: William S. Burroughs (though in fact he often called on colleauges). In journalism: Hunter S. Thompson. There's a thrill in the encounter, though; and I think the "gunslinger" myth does a good job of capturing the "first person perspective" and getting "you" into the story (cf. Scott McCloud, "Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art").

In the same way, there's a thrill to working with others. It's generally a pleasurable sensation to get feedback from other people on what you do. Why? Certainly we're not talking about the "feedback" of noise pollution here, the noise that comes from modernity itself and that leaves us with no space to ourselves. Or what? What is it that makes a given connection fun and friendly, and another one tedious and obnoxious? And of course the same goes for one's connection with oneself.

"Future you is just past you with new molecules. We shoot the old ones out follicles and hair is dead cells so our faults get shed well, meaning our parts that are hard to adore get mopped up on the barber shop floor." -- George Watsky,

Words are what work for communicating with other people or with yourself. "Burroughs sees the significance of a written word as a distinguishing feature of human beings which enables them to transform and convey information to future generations." (Or downstream users more generally. "He proposes the theory of 'the unrecognised virus' present in the language, suggesting that, 'the word has not been recognised as a virus because it has achieved a state of stable symbiosis with the host.'"

The word for us is a bit like the pheromone trails used by ants. Practically next door to working alone is not existing at all, or just being an "ant" -- working as a mindless drone on the larger "organism" that is the ant colony.

PS. The title of the essay comes from my blog:

Learning is distributed and nonlinear.

This fits well with the first paragogical principle. Depending on the object of study this is more or less true, i.e. studying accounting is more linear than entrepreneurship. Still though, even if you do enter university knowing you want to study accounting your learning will be distributed and nonlinear. You may take the intro courses and then when you're in advanced tax accounting, realize you did not master exactly how the statement of cash flows works and now you need to go back and re-study, even though you've past the course.

Outside the walls of academia, this holds as well. Consider learning how to play ice hockey. At the beginning its pretty linear, you learn how to skate and handle the puck with your stick. After that? Maybe then you focus all your energy on getting a fantastic shot you could place anywhere you want in the net. Fairly linear, right? But then, it turns out you are too slow to ever get an opportunity to shoot, so you have to go back and learn the finer points about exactly where to put pressure on your blade as you skate for maximum efficiency and speed. Then you get a new coach who gets mad at you for only playing on the offensive end of the ice and not trying in the defensive zone, so you have to learn the proper way to backcheck and cover your opponent the entire length of the ice.

At the end of it all, you may be a complete forward able to score and defend, but you didn't get there in a straight line and the learning was distributed over time.

Learning as adaptation

Learning, again, especially emotional learning, seems to involve everything in life. There are analogies between personal relationships and work, or between personal history and dreams about the future. Sometimes a movie sparks a philosophical notion which is phrased in terms of a technical metaphor. You get the idea.

In with all of this complexity there's one particularly difficult point: focus. Given that attention can spread all over the place and can drift easily from one thing to another, how is one supposed to stay "on task"? And what does this even mean, if we think of learning as something that happens all the time?

Again, I think we get some benefit from thinking about learning as adaptation. Without adaptive results, we can say there is no learning, or the wrong thing was learned. Imagine a coach saying "If you keep practicing like that, you'll learn it wrong. You need to practice it like this."

Some emotional or aesthetic sophistication is required to be that "coach" in your own life, as well as being the player with the willingness to give up an approach that isn't working well and try something else. For this to work it's important to be able to detect problems early on -- for example, not just to detect "distractions" but to look at the conditions that make one prone to distraction. Generally speaking, simplicity, order, and routine help manage complexity. These things aren't always immediately available, and generally have to be built (or paid for as a service).

Indeed it seems reasonable to hypothesize that the more disciplined a person is in terms of work management, emotional processing, clear communication about difficulties and so forth, the more complexity and chaos they will be able to handle in their work life, and the more adaptive they can be as circumstances change.

Then again, one man's "discipline" is another man's "chaos".

"This is a very complicated case, Maude. You know, a lotta ins, lotta outs, lotta what-have-you's. And, uh, lotta strands to keep in my head, man. Lotta strands in old Duder's head. Luckily I'm adhering to a pretty strict, uh, drug regimen to keep my mind limber."

If we're to look at what makes adaptation work well, it would be good to have some standards for evaluation, like a clear assessment of emotions (I don't think things are going well), or some more objective reading (the score in the game). It would also be good to have some sense of how the, potentially many, factors involved influence outcomes. And to recognize that the outcomes themselves are quite varied, ranging from summary statistics (like a score or a grade) to more subtle things (like adequate mastery of a given technique, or a strained tendon).

There is in all of this a potentially infinite complexity which could give us a lot to study, ranging from classical philosophy of mind (e.g. Hume) through to contemporary cognitive science (and organizational science to boot). It may be most useful for us here to adopt a phenomenological approach, in other words, to look at how people think about learning, problem solving, and other adaptive tasks.

Is learning a matter of doing something "by rote" (in which case, perhaps flash cards are the right technology)? Or a matter of doing something "in practice" (in which case, a suitable form of, probably social, engagement should be found)? Do the people involved need to know what they are learning and devise strategies as they go (problem solving), or can they absorb the information more passively (television)? What kind of "reenforcement" is needed (is scientific evidence enough, or are rewards also necessary)? What sorts of examples are they to work from? How is learning to be assessed (or, in other words, what adaptive pressures apply)?

Some of the answers will be fairly obvious. After we get through the more obvious answers, there will be more subtle things. How does the moment looking out the window on the bus bring about an "a ha" relative to a difficult problem that one has been looking at for weeks? Is this connection important, or is the consistent effort over a period of time more important?

Given the difficulties that come up in adaptation tasks -- learning new skills broadly speaking, maybe setting aside some old habits as well, etc. -- can we come up with some "general purpose advice"? Or will specific problems require specific and non-generalizable solution strategies? The field of "heuristics" looks at this question, as applies to technical problems.

Loose ties

This evening the five of us went into the city centre - Kim, her boyfriend Manu, Stefan, Minh, and myself. I had been thinking about the idea that three's company and four's a crowd, so what's five?

I guess if you take the five of us, you find five different nationalities: Dutch, French, German, Canadian, and American. That's five different perspectives on life, love, family, identity, and culture. All of us are studying for Ph. D.'s at present, though, except maybe Manu has his already.

With five friends around you can count on someone to pay the tip. You can count on someone to have a laptop to borrow, and someone else to make tea. There is always the chance that four will rule against one or that one will rule against four. You can count on someone to have to leave early, and someone else to keep him company. There are always jokes, and different people have seen the same movies and they have different perspectives on them. One of us does shopping online after trying things on in the store. Another is the happiest person (when he or she is happy) who another one of us knows.

Some of us want to get groceries; others have an early bus to catch in the morning. At the grocery store, the checkout clerk, who is named Elizabeth, is really one of the smiliest and happiest persons I have ever seen -- and she is a checkout clerk in a grocery store that closes at 11 PM and it is 10:30. She has just sent off her application for university today, maybe that's why she's happy. She hopes she gets in somewhere. I hope so too.

Three's a company, it is enough to disrupt any dyad. It's the father and the Oedipus complex. It's the other woman, or man.

Four is the number of grandparents. Maybe some of them are already deceased. Maybe some one lives downstairs. Maybe there's one to venerate and one to despise. You know what it's like at my family reunions? Of course you do, because you've been to your own.

But what is five? It's a crazy number. We toast to social networks. Do we span the globe? Not quite, but maybe it's close enough. To look at us on our bicycles is to understand a certain pageant. Kim is tall and colorful and rides a bicycle that is too small for her. Manu is riding her other bike and wears a grey sweatshirt; he ends up carrying most of the groceries on his handlebars and in his paniers. Stefan is wearing a giant hooded coat and riding a woman's bicycle. Minh is dressed entirely in white and rides a mountain bike that suits his stature, small by European standards. I have a white hybrid bike that routinely does 80 miles a week, and I'm wearing a brown sweatshirt.

Five is not so little as to be familiar. It is not enough to be a social movement. If you were to draw the graph connecting us up, it would look like a star inscribed in a pentagon. We are not just a tetrahedron. We do something more than take up space.

In a sense, there isn't even a "we". Manu will go home to Bordeaux soon enough. Over time, first Minh, then me, then Stefan and Kim will graduate and leave -- at least that's what we hope. Then perhaps we will have friends in many different places around the world. That doesn't just mean a couch to crash on -- who knows.

Five is the number that represents a seed pod. Think of star anise or starfruit. We are ready to be scattered to the four winds. In mysticism, five represents judgment and a certain sense of struggle or opposition. There is always someone there to break any tie. This is more than the simple difference of opinion. On Sunday we are planning to play Risk. Stefan is going to sit this one out. He was somewhat mysterious as to why. Things to do. Maybe he has had enough fun for the week. Maybe he has a date that night.

Five has no more room for universally close ties. We are not a building block in space but perhaps instead the seed pod or seed crystal existing in space time. Perhaps, because you never know. It depends on a very uncertain judgment. Perhaps it depends on Elizabeth. If so, then I think, today, we're in luck.

Realize the dream if you can, then wake up!

This is one of the more awkward or difficult to execute aspects of the principles. When you start your learning you have that distant goal in mind. Working with your peers you figure out a way to get there, and all of a sudden you have achieved your goal!

Now what?

Dealing with success is seemingly easy. You got what you wanted, why aren't you happy? Ironically, dealing with success can be as difficult as the work getting to that success. Its easy to rest on your laurels, content with yourself and the accolades you may be receiving from others for your accomplishments. Maybe even you take some time off to congratulate yourself and enjoy.

But, you know inside that its not over. Reaching a higher peak only lets you see farther, not that the travel is over. You need to "wake up" and realize there is still far more to learn! Wake up and approach your next journey laden with the same hunger that got you to where you are.

I am still figuring this part out myself, but I think "wake up" is definitely the best term. I think it involves the fact that I need to wake up and realize despite my success there is more to do and its still as boring as it was before I was successful. Maybe its even harder now that I know the goal isn't as sexy as I thought it was before?

The dream realized

So, now we have discussed all of the principles but the last one in a bit more depth. The last principle is the one that people usually find the most hokey, like paragogy itself is just a big scam. We might even wonder whether the medium in which we chose to present paragogy in the first place is a bit of a scam (see Lisewski and Joyce, Examining the Five Stage e-Moderating Model). Five principles for learning? Give me a break.

But paragogy started off as a critique or, let's say, a parody of andragogy, that is, as a riff or inversion of the five principles that form the basis of Malcolm Knowles's program or design for adult education. We said, it doesn't always work like this. There isn't always an adult educator around, for one thing. People often learn from one another in a less structured way. What's going on here?

With some considerable work, we were able to put together a paper that was acceptable for an academic conference on "Open Knowledge". At the conference, there were some other people who were curious about the future of learning and education in an increasingly networked society. Many institutions of higher learning are justifiably curious about the same thing.

On the one hand, society is undergoing some educational inflation: jobs that previously required a bachelor's degree now require a master's; jobs that previously required a master's degree now require a Ph. D. And yet at the same time, the cost of education is going up, and education loans constitute a significant portion of debt in several Western countries. It is not clear that, in a time of economic recession and a broadening divide between rich and poor, that access to education is improving. Some speak of a "crisis" in contemporary education -- to go along with the other crises facing modernity, no doubt.

Enter paragogy! Of course,we do not claim to have made much of an impact on global problems with our writings (as yet); nevertheless, we have received a number of kind comments telling us how timely this effort is. Paragogy reflects the contemporary cynicism about old, hierarchical, institutions -- as well as the hope for something different. It does not need to be a rallying point as much as a description of what is actually happening in contemporary society now.

We are somewhat less excited about visionary perspectives on what may happen to learning and education in the future, and are more interested in practical efforts. Partly this comes from our experiences, where brainstorming and opining reached the limit of its usefulness. We became more interested in developing systems that work.

That is, systems that work for our own educational needs, and that help drive the cost of a quality education down significantly (potentially to zero, or to the nominal costs associated with getting on the internet). We are interested in the large scale and complicated problems facing a global society.

Here's an example from a conversation with my aunt. Rising incomes in China promote a greater demand for ivory, while poverty in West Africa makes poaching an attractive job option when two elephant tusks fetch $2000 or more. Can education help? Since many people in China want to learn English, what about the idea of putting some information about elephants into language learning materials? (E.g. explaining that the tusks do not just "fall out".) This seems like a very clever idea, for education-minded people who like elephants. But what about creating real job prospects that don't feature breaking the law in Africa?

It seems that global problems are always going to come with a "but" like that -- something that brings the complexity home to roost. The "dream" of some answer that will solve all problems has basically been explored to death under National Socialism! Paragogy does not look for final solutions, but rather an ongoing re-problematization of issues of concern.

With examples coming from Occupy Wall Street to the ways in which people think about love in the Internet age, "para-" institutions are springing up all over. This is itself the dream realized. And yet, despite "a generation of 20- and 30-year-olds who are used to self-organizing [who] believe life can be more participatory, more decentralized, less dependent on the traditional models of organization, either in the state or the big company" (Yochai Benkler), big companies and states are still very much a part of our daily lives. It's not so much that "small is beautiful" but that we do not yet understand well the organizational patterns that make society work well for more people more of the time.

Waking up from the OER realized dream

I got into a long conversation yesterday with a friend about Open Education, its opportunities and some of its pitfalls. Started around whether it was fair that you need to have a Bachelor's degree to get so many jobs in America. I feel it is, as a bachelor's is an indication you have completed a substantial amount of work in a given field of study and you have a degree of expertise in said field. Next question then, is the cost of that BA fair?

Should add a disclaimer here that I know life isn't fair, and that, IMHO, no societally wide building block like education will ever be "fair" but certainly that's the goal all of us working in the education field should be working towards. Also I loved my undergrad experience and while American colleges may be forced to adapt to 21st century learning realities, it doesn't mean they haven't been doing a fantastic job for hundreds of years (put another way, I'm not interested in any "revolution" nor do I have problems with the system as is, I'm just trying to explore what is happening now and how it may evolve).

Back to the cost, I would say in the current reality of America, no it isn't fair. Wish I had numbers to back me up, but I assume there are few new grads who are getting jobs where they can honestly say, from a financial perspective, that their investment paid off, i.e. $120,000 was paid for my education and within 2-3 months have a job making $35,000 with sincere room for growth, that justifies the huge financial investment.

Obviously, college is about more than just earning a salary big enough to justify the sunk cost of tuition. So, what is college about? Is it about becoming a contributing citizen to our democracy, i.e. one who can think critically about how the government whose salaries they're paying with taxes is performing as it should? And the ability to succeed within bureaucratic systems (i.e. doing the monotony of filling out forms, calling senators, etc.,) so that if they feel the government should be behaving differently they can make their voice heard? Is it, as my friend suggested, about having people "learn how to work together"? Or, could it be, that the most important thing college does is give 18 year-olds 4 years to grow up before they are forced to face the realities of life for 21st century American adults? Put another way, college is there not for school but to organize young people in a way so they can mature outside of class, but still inside school, coming out of it with a societally respected degree?

I'm not sure what the answer to that question is, and its obviously different for each individual.

In any event, something that is happening and will quite likely continue to snowball are Open Educational Resources (OER). OER are a way for students outside of school to learn freely and for students inside to have another way of learning what they are taught in class. The progress over the past 10 years has been incredible, and now we've come to a point where there probably is enough content online for someone to self-study for any course they could take as an undergrad. There's also organizations like the Peer 2 Peer University developing OER that students can use to learn specific skills like web design.

The big question is accreditation and/or a way to demonstrate learning with OER that employers will respect enough to hire an OER peer learner over someone with a college degree, because the OER peer learner has more specific skills for the job that employer needs done. A good example of this is P2PU's school of webcraft, where students can complete challenges to earn badges from Mozilla. One thing they're studying is HTML5 a nascent language that probably isn't offered yet by too many schools in undergrad classes. Conceivably someone cold complete all the webcraft challenges, demonstrating command of HTML5 and backed up with earned badges. Would an employer hire them to take their company to the next level of HTML over someone with a BS in Computer Science? I don't know, but for OER to be a sustainable, legitimate success that has to happen.

In this context OER are sort of a middle ground, not a replacement for traditional colleges, but a complement. Students can go to them for specific skills they need for the workplace, and still realize a traditional liberal arts education will serve them well in their life. Especially because one of the most imporant things you get if you finish a BA is a massive network of bright people to grow with as you all advance in your careers. Maybe that frat buddy becomes your co-owner 20 years down the line. Is this sort of networking possible online? Maybe, but I have a hard time seeing the connections being as strong as students who spent 4 years studying, partying and questioning together. If the network is actually one of the key reasons for going to college, OER can't replace that, I think.

An example we discussed of how OER could disrupt the current educational marketplace is Wikileaks and journalism. In a matter of a few years Wikileaks broke more news stories than major newspapers had in like 20 years combined (that quote is from somewhere, maybe Clay Shirky, that I need to follow-up on). They did this because new technologies allowed them to more efficiently let whistle-blowers blow their whistles. Those individuals trusted their story more to Assange and his team than they did the NY Times.

How could this play out in Education? If OER were improved to a point that students knew they could study them and have skills that'd be relevant in the working world, that'd be akin to Wikileaks.

There is more to waking up from the dream, but here are 3 important ideas I think will be crucial.

1 An education is a hard thing to earn, and even if you are studying outside school with OER it'll still take a lot of work. Maybe its just me, but I feel there's an opinion that OER are not only ethically superior, but somehow they make learning faster or easier. Ideally they'll make it more efficient, but it'll still be a 10,000 mile journey.

2 Peer and students need to ask themselves before starting "What am I learning this for?" an honest answer to that question, even if its just "I wanna stay in school for 4 years so I can party." is important and will make their efforts less likely to be in vain.

3 It is not the state nor the school's responsibility to educate you. It is your responsibility, just because it doesn't work out doesn't mean there needs to be systemic change or a "revolution". You need to take ownership over your own learning at as young an age as you can and realize with libraries and the internet (we'll see how open it stays) you can teach yourself or find peers to study almost anything you could learn from ages 0 to 22 in schools. Don't focus on changing the system, just learn what you need to learn, and if OER are the best way to do that for lots of people the system will be forced to adjust.

A dream controlled

I feel a little bit petty going for the Albatross badge (30 days of typing 750 words in a row), but somehow it motivates me to think... I have this goal in mind, and I may be able to stick with it over time. Actually, there are a lot of things that motivate me in the same way. It's this comfortable feeling that comes from things working they way they should. I don't know if it's an aesthetic of "clockwork", quite. It's hard to tell what makes things feel good: maybe it's the trains running on time that does it, or maybe it's the percentage of milk fat that's present in the cups of hot cocoa. Maybe it's knowing that the streets are relatively safe at night. Whatever it is, the thought is that they have some of this sort of quality in Switzerland. Maybe they have other aspects of it here and there. Is it aesthetic? Is it something else? Maybe it doesn't have so much to do with progress -- I mean, the kind of progress that you could have from spending 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, in front of a computer. Instead maybe we imagine a kind of quality like the way a hand-crafted hammer's handle fits the hand of its maker. In this sense quality is a sort of ergonomics -- not necessarily a watered-down ergonomics either, I mean, there are plenty of tools that are "ergonomic" in ways that bring surprises or even death! So what gives with this sort of thing?

To be clear: are we talking about forward progress, or about maintaining something that works for now? What would forward progress even mean? It sounds nice and all, but just what is it? Does it mean that people who are hungry now have food? Or does it mean that people who are blind can now see? Is it a matter of traveling to other planets? Or experiencing things that we haven't experienced before and expanding the comfort zone in this fashion?

I sometimes feel like a degree of progress takes place when I read a new book and get some new ideas, and these get integrated into my mental "network" somehow. But I get even more of a kick when I think of some strange idea -- say, the other night, I was talking about Diego Rivera -- and then there's some weird instance of synchronicity -- in this case, a couple hours later, a friend of mine started talking about Diego Rivera. It's not like every single day of my life I'm talking about this guy Diego. It happens fairly rarely. But then she brings him up on the same day. That's weird!

William Burroughs talked about something he called "intersection points". These are the features of experience where something that you've been working on (maybe in a cut-up) suddenly comes up in real life experience, or vice versa. It's this "weird" feeling of synchronicity. The mind is so interesting in this way.

Sanity is a madness put to good uses; waking life is a dream controlled. -- George Santayana (source for the title of the film "Waking Life")

Sometimes something weird happens, and you then assume that weird things are going to keep happening like that. They don't, of course, at least not typically; not the same way. It's completely unclear what makes it possible for people to "call" the weirdness in advance sometimes though -- coincidences aren't exactly something you can bring about, unless you mislead yourself. And yet, the world is only so complicated, and if you reduce the number of dimensions (say, if you consider people who come from the same cultural background) there are only so many permutations of things. Much like in a group of about 30 people, you expect two of them to have the same birthday, coincidences are likely to arise for purely combinatorial reasons.

But are these coincidences really interesting? Or, why are they interesting? People seem to absolutely love patterns, at least, some people do. They go apeshit for them because a pattern might be a way to make someone recognize something that you made, it might be a way to get some brand-name recognition, or it might be a way to pull something valuable, something qualitatively "good" out of the otherwise misty nature of day to day experience. How does this work?? It's really one of these mysteries of life, the difference between "coincidence" and "control", the way that sometimes these things play against each other, creating circumstances of pleasure or power.


Question Pool

  • How did you get interested in peer learning?
  • What's an example of a peer learning experience you had that went well?
  • ... that went badly?
  • What do you do when you really need to focus?


Learning in networks

I've been thinking about why paragogy is such an "old" form of learning. My guess is that it relates fundamentally to what learning is. I'm thinking on the level of neurons in our brains. There's a whole modern theory of neural networks -- maybe we can get into that a bit! -- but at an abstract level, think about how a pattern is presented as a set of data, and these data are fed into a system for further processing (a new pattern). As the different neurons "speak up" and communicate a message on to other neurons, eventually some actions at the level of "phenomena" are triggered. Maybe a screen displays a certain result, or a person carries out a certain action.

"Learning" at the abstract level of neural nets usually means "present a number of abstract patterns, and tune the system so that it gives the 'right' result on these; then give some other patterns and use the system as it was trained in the first phase to classify the new patterns." These systems can be used to do things like successful recognize faces and so on.

Although it is a simple model of learning, the model in paragogy isn't necessarily much more complex. People talk to each other, certain outcomes are generated. "Learning" happens as the individuals involved master some new set of patterns. As a group, even more complicated patterns can be managed, at least in theory. Certainly in academia, the whole "standing on the shoulders of giants" phenomenon is what lets complicated ideas and approaches grow, though this may take significant real time.

Perhaps it takes less time now than in former days, due to the speed of global communication, and thanks in part to tools (like search engines and indexes) that help people find just the right bits of data. But "faster" isn't in and of itself interesting. What's interesting is that "faster" can enable what feels like a completely different model.

Instead of the teacher getting up at the front of the class and talking about another culture, students in a language class can chat directly with people far away and exchange thoughts on their experiences. The pen pal experience moves closer to immersion, at least when class is in session.

It seems like there's some cost to all of this interconnection, namely a sort of homogenization of culture. At the level of statistical mechanics, you'd expect to see differences between populations going away.

And yet, cultures are also organisms, and one of the things organisms do is specialize their organs. It's not clear that even within a given culture, or a given facet of a culture, that anything like homogeneity occurs (consider "the 99%" and compare it with "the 1%"). Specialization based on interest also happens in global academic culture.

Fear of a mono-culture on the non-academic level may or may not be justified.

Within a given sub-culture (say, mathematics) all sorts of specialties or "specialisms" arise, based largely on the real-world problems that are being tackled. Again, consider the simple model of neural networks and patterns. Some mathematicians deal with a certain kind of pattern, and others deal with other kinds. The world of patterned data is so complex, there is little chance of mathematicians dwelling overly much on any given part.

And yet, arguable, that is exactly what happens in the "teacher gets in front of the classroom and talks" model of mathematics education. Centralized dissemination of cultural artifacts (whether its math lectures or TV shows) tends to promote a degree of homogeneity. This can be fun -- as when, in another country, I can rely on my friends' knowledge of American TV shows -- but it can also feel a little bit awkward or boring.

Ivan Illych tends to be against "expert" specialisms, which is another level to the whole thing -- the economics of being an expert. If you're in that position, and you're in demand, then you can make a lot of money from everyone who wants your services. (Or, in a copyright-centered economy, your knowledge goods.) Instead of that model, Illych is in favor of a more home-spun economy, where individuals have the ability to make what they need. This "small is beautiful" extreme isn't necessarily the only other answer.

A more interesting (and realistic) model is given by so-called scale-free networks -- like the internet, or the semantic models of natural languages. Some services (or words) are used a lot, by most people, and are the oldest and most central complexes in the system. Other newer bits and pieces are more peripheral.

5 Principles for Neural Networks

From "Introduction to Connectionist Modelling of Cognitive Processes" by Peter McLeod, Kim Plunkett, and Edmund T. Rolls, pages 11-15, "Five assumptions about computation in the brain on which connectionist models are based".

  1. Neurons integrate information
  2. Neurons pass information about the level of their input
  3. Brain structure is layered
  4. The influence of one neuron on another depends on the strength of the connection between them
  5. Learning is achieved by changing the strengths of connections between neurons

Note some similarities and differences to our five principles.

Learning about collectives

Thinking about what a given person in a given situation actually needs makes things more concrete. Sometimes I need a lot of input or feedback from other people, sometimes, maybe, I'm better off on my own. The idea that there are certain forms of social support that a person needs at different points in life makes sense. The classics we're all familiar with: sometimes it's a matter of mirroring, sometimes it's a matter of encouragement, sometimes it's a matter of caution and saying "no".

In adult life, it can be difficult to offload this sort of need onto other people without being a burden or annoyance. Nevertheless, when everyone has a stake in working together, there's less annoyance or burdening, and more enthusiasm about progress. It's possible to approach other people as a sort of a leech (what can I get from them) or as a sort of a salesman (what can they get from me) -- which is often a similar thing, actually.

A more paragogical question to ask is "what can we build together?" The fact is that, quite often, the answer will be "nothing" -- either because of "cultural barriers" (values aren't shared, language cannot bridge the gaps) or because of economic barriers (as much as two people might like to work together on something, their time may be taken up with other things). Other times, the desire to "work together" may be completely one-sided, reconstituting the "leech" phenomenon described above (with reference to the essay on Pop Music, this makes me think of "Stan" by Eminem).

"Adult" needs are often phrased in terms of knowledge, production, and pleasure. If I don't understand something well, I will look for someone who can explain it to me. If I'm having trouble making something, I'll look for people who can do some of the work. And of course pleasure is increased when it's shared (Tony Duvert, "Good Sex Illustrated").

Talking about adult needs for maintaining "identity" is somewhat less popular. Someone who needs continual encouragement (or discouragement) is seen as childish, for example. And yet identity, or something like it, is often what's at stake in the adult spheres of scholarship, work, and sex. People invest a lot of emotional energy in being able to "be" who they want to be. And yet identity can be continually subject to challenges. You want to be someone who can drive fast, then some asshole (who's driving faster) cuts you off in traffic.

At the same time, it's not entirely clear that "identity" is what we really need to make it through daily life or even to thrive there (Kathy Acker, "In Memoriam to Identity"). A blurry, fuzzy, "self" may be adaptive in some circumstances, and not in others. In particular, if we examine social arrangements at the level of collectives, "self" and "ego" fade into the background. This phenomenon is immortalized (ironically) in the words of Isaac Newton: "If I have seen further than others, it is because I stood on the shoulders of giants".

Becoming a "we" instead of just an "I" is another approach to establishing an identity, surely. Typically a "we" is made up of individuals, or, more accurately, fractions of individuals, who are themselves distributed across lots of other sorts of engagements. The "needs" of collectives are different from the needs of individual humans, who basically comprise the cells or organelles of the larger collective.

Without humans involved in the larger organism, it dies. This gives individuals some degree of power, since they can "vote with their feet". And, incidentally, from the point of view of a body, it is useful to be aware of the "rebellions" of various organs, compare the story of "The Rebellion Against the Stomach".

What if anything does all of this have to do with learning? Let's review where we've gotten to. First, whether we take a hard line on "identity" or not, we should admit that we function in various collectives, and that we are ourselves "collectivities" of a sort. Knowledge, production, and pleasure are themselves the actions or domains of collectives. Should this "fact" disempower or empower individuals?

We've already seen a limited form of power in voting with the feet, but what about a much-enhanced sort of power that comes from being able to form collectives that serve one's particular ends or ambitions? Do we know, or can we learn, how to do that? The challenge of learning about how collectives form, how they relate to individuals, and how individual satisfaction results (or doesn't) remains before us - but perhaps some of the background ideas have become more clear.

What is paradata?

(Text excerpted from - video interview here:

Daniel Rehak introduced the Learning Registry, which he described in a blog posting prior to the event as ‘social networking for metadata’.

Rehak discussed some of the difficulties and deficiencies associated with conventional metadata, and the advantages of looking at other types of data when searching and evaluating resources. He provided examples such as paradata (usage data), analytical data, linked data and context, drawing parallels with the ways in which Google and Facebook work.

‘We have a legacy problem of hundreds of different metadata formats and it really doesn't work for finding resources... if you look at the way that Google and Facebook work, they base their data not on conventional catalogues but on very informal things [such as] the usage of data and how things are related ... so we are trying to see if we can capture similar information about learning resources. We believe that by doing this, that “second-class” metadata can be used to build discovery systems and feedback loops.’

Rehak outlined the flow from a resource being made available in the Learning Registry, which then creates a common metadata timeline, effectively re-aggregating metadata to show how the resource is used. This data can then be used a social way. They currently have around 180,000 paradata records, which can be quite small, such as ‘I like this data’ or ‘I use this data’.

Rehak explained that the Learning Registry is an ‘open everything’ push network which provides a set of APIs enabling developers to build interesting stuff on top. He emphasised that they were keen to see what participants could contribute to or build upon this during the event.

‘We see Learning Registry as an international activity and we're just at the point where we are starting to deploy, so this is a good opportunity for us to connect to people, see what people are doing in the UK and to see how we can leverage and build upon what we have already built.’


Attention, Infotention & The Pale King

Can liking boredom help you use the internet better?

"The Pale King" is an unfinished novel by David Foster Wallace (DFW). In her review of the book (p. 15 New City, June 2nd, 2011) Monica Westin, a former college contemporary of Wallace at Amherst college, notes:

"That boredom can be a path to nirvana is the core of the book-the character who levitates is the one happy figure in the novel, an auditor named Drinion who achieves transcendant ecstasy through giving himself completely to utter concentration on the mundane. As Wallace writes to himself in the appendix of 'The Pale King,' which contains outlines, unfinished fragments and notes by the author: 'Drinion is happy. Ability to pay attention. It turns out that bliss-a second-by-second joy + gratitude at the gift of being alive, conscious-liese on the other side of crushing, crushing boredom. Pay close attention to the most tedious thing you can find (tax returns, televised golf), and, in waves, a boredom like you've never known will wash over you and just about kill you. Ride these out, and it's like stepping back from black and white into color. Like water after days in the desert. Constant bliss in every atom.'"

I don't know if I agree with Wetsin's sentiment of Drinion being the novel's only happy character, (Sylvanshine and Reynolds, if troubled, seemed happy in a modern life resigned kind of way) but the point here is about boredom. Boredom and its relation to modern life is absolutely one of the keys of DFW's work. Although as a friend pointed out, isn't enduring boredom the same way to nirvana via the monastery?

This crystallizes itself in section 22 of the work amidst 'Irrelevant' Chris Fogle's recounting of the moment when accounting became his life's work, as he was sitting in on the incorrect final review session for his final the next day. The gentleman leading the Tax Accounting review delivered an exhortation, or horation,:

"I wish to inform you that the accounting profession to which you aspire is, in fact, heroic. ... the heroism of your childhood entertainments was not true valor. It was theater. The grand gesture, the moment of choice, the mortal danger, the external foe, the climactic battle whose outcome resolves all-all designed to appear heroic, to excite and gratify an audience. An audience. ... Gentlemen, welcome to the world of reality-there is no audience. ... Cowboy, paladin, hero? Gentlemen, read your history. Yesterday's hero pushed back at bounds and frontiers-he penetrated, tamed, hewed, shaped, made, brought things into being. Yesterday's society's heroes generated facts. For that is what society is-an agglomation of facts. ... In today's world, boundaries are fixed, and most significant facts have been generated. Gentlemen, the heroic frontier now lies in the ordering and deployment of those facts. Classification, organization, presentation. To put it another way, the pie has been made-the contest is now in the slicing. ... You deal in facts, gentlemen, for which there has been a market since man first crept from the primeval slurry. It is you-tell them that. Who ride, man the walls, define the pie, serve." - Pp. 228 - 233 of "The Pale King" ISBN 978-0-316-07423-0

Contrary to opinions that the novel itself is boring "one culture blog, on hearing about its subject, wondered if it might turn out to be 'the most boing book ever.'" (p. 52 NY Times Magazine, April 10, 2011) I was extremely excited to read the passage above as it spilled out. In general I thought the work was interesting, despite being about boredom.

On a related tangent, infotention is a neologism coined in 2009 by Howard Rheingold, as he defines it on City Brights:

"Infotention is a word I came up with to describe the psycho-social-techno skill/tools we all need to find our way online today, a mind-machine combination of brain-powered attention skills with computer-powered information filters. The inside and outside of infotention work best together:

Honing the mental ability to deploy the form of attention appropriate for each moment is an essential internal skill for people who want to find, direct, and manage streams of relevant information by using online media knowledgeably.

Knowing how to put together intelligence dashboards, news radars, and information filters from online tools like persistent search and RSS is the external technical component of information literacy. " Viz.

So what does all of this have to do with "King"? allow me one more quote, ripped from Sylvanshine's (a fact psychic) stream of consciousness "The entire ball game, in terms of both the exam and life, was what you gave attention to vs. what you willed yourself to not." (p. 12 of "The Pale King") That sounds pretty similar to the quote from Howard above, doesn't it?

In my class at Rheingold U on Mindamplifiers, we studied Infotention and tried to build our own radars. They were a collection of RSS Feeds, Twitter streams and other 21st century media designed to cull the useful info from the information overload known as the internet. If, for example, you were interested in graphic design, you should find the most efficient way to get the relevant, current info about graphic design, plus how to keep out useless stuff. A big portion of all this is reading stuff online that will help you reach your goals, vs surfing aimlessly or lurking around facebook. Not to say socializing isn't important, but you want to find the right people to be social with online who can help your infotention. Follow important graphic designers on Twitter and engage them in a dialogue so both of you can learn from eachother better.

How does boredom, the exhortation and Sylvanshine's quote fit in? Perhaps because there a properly tuned infotention radar is perhaps more dull than I have outlined. Perhaps instead of spending hours online keeping track of dozens of blogs and Tweets, you are actually better off reading, re-reading and critiquing 20th century print books about graphic design by yourself on your desk. Certainly there will be times to be social and publicize your reading online, but maybe that's 30 minutes on a proper Facebook status update, after 10 to 20 hours critical reading, analytical thinking and drudgery.

Obviously this is a hypothetical, and I am open to your ideas concerning how infotention and DFW's conception of boredom as both a pathway to nirvana, plus a truly heroic 21st century undertaking, are connected, what do you think? E-mail, follow @danoff and comment on the lab's Facebook page.

Footnote: Check out the formulas on page 1 and 2 of

All that glistens...

Focus: I think I don't have it at all when I'm on my laptop. My desktop might be better for work, but the laptop is just so much better for everything else! - nice screen, fast processor, up-to-date software. And it's got so much of what I like - music, a way to connect with friends, audio and video chat. How fun! And over the years I've gotten lots of work done with laptops too. When I'm working I usually put away all the fun glowing windows and set the thing up so that there's one big black screen that looks like an old terminal. Then I write code or something like that.

But in daily life at the office, the computer just sits there beckoning me to watch things on YouTube, or to check my email. If my office-mates are noisy, then I can listen to music instead. (The only problem here is that the noise in the office eventually dies down, but the music goes on potentially forever.)

So it's not entirely clear that I "have problems focusing". The problem might be that I have a spiffy new laptop to play with. Of course, when the other option is doing work... well, again, there's the difference between work that's going well, and work that isn't going well. If I was working with my friends (and probably I would have the laptop with me then), we'd be chatting a lot in person -- about work -- and there wouldn't be any reason to distract myself with entertainments. On the other hand, in the isolating-in-proximity open-floor-plan office, I don't really have anyone to talk to about work or about anything else. This would be fine if I was really good at what I'm trying to work on. I'd just put in my hours (like anyone else) and go home and relax.

But since I'm not all that good at it, I'm happy to find any distraction. Writing a paper? Reading some random news article or opinion piece? My mind works in mysterious ways (I say to myself), so why not feed in all sorts of oddities and see what comes out? Maybe it will be something creative.

And, indeed, there's nothing wrong with publishing a few extra papers (assuming they get accepted) or even working on a book (since that helps me clarify my ideas) -- but it's not going to do me a whole lot of good if the main things I'm supposed to be working on don't get finished. It seems like I have to tell myself, slow progress is better than no progress. Like in Infotention and "The Pale King", it's OK if the work isn't all that interesting!

Besides, I'd be better at it if I took some kind of training course, given that I can't just sit with my friends and work in person in a kind of "immersion" environment. And I can at least create my own "immersion" by not messing around with the laptop and all of the fun it promises when I'm at work. (Then again, keeping the laptop at home does pose the threat that I'll never leave the house.)

It seems like there's something so painful about facing work (again, especially when it's something I'm not good at, and especially when I'm alone) that I'd almost rather do anything else. Removing all the major distractions should help. And getting better at the task should help as well. Working with other people would be great too. I think it's the isolating or isolated way I'm used to working that makes the experience painful. If I'm making steady progress with friends, then work is pretty much bliss.

By the way, Leni Riefenstahl, director of "Triumph of the Will", points out that if there's any message in the film, it's one of "work" and "peace". According to her, Hitler wasn't talking at that time about war or about racial theories or anti-semitism, he was just talking about the things everyone wanted. But it's not entirely clear that her version of the truth is the most true or accurate version. Susan Sontag wrote about the film, " the document (the image) is no longer simply the record of reality; 'reality' has been constructed to serve the image." However, it's not entirely clear that she's right about that, either.

Point being, I guess, that all that glistens isn't gold. The nice shiny 'reality' of the consumer-grade personal computer and the internet is potentially wrapped up with the isolating, post-industrial, state of affairs in office life -- and with the escapist tendencies of a student or office worker who hasn't yet figured out the proper way to make the adjustments to get what he or she needs in order to do good work. This sort of thing is a great prompt for "changing the context", and a call for something other than merely passing the time with anodyne entertainments or heterogeneous "background" thoughts and distractions.


The paper expands on ideas about peer learning that I presented with Charles Jeffrey Danoff at OKCon 2011 (, and interrogates them from the point of view of "practice". In other words, the question this paper takes up is: "Is paragogy practical?". The paper will draw on Zen Buddhism, Socrates, and Baudrillard's "The Mirror of Production" to argue that the answer is "yes, and indeed, paragogy can be practiced to great personal fulfilment, but it always develops through a process of social dissonance, since it is at odds with any 'received' view." However, far from being simply a contrarian philosophy, paragogy can be used to design functional systems to support information access and social life, as well as learning.

The following sections can be read as they are presented here, or in the opposite order


They refer to the literature as a "body". So if we consider "surveying the literature", it's similar to a body scan (from Jon Kabat-Zinn), similar to body awareness, the first step of the Anapanasati Sutta. (Cf. So in terms of the sutra:

While breathing in long, he knows “I am breathing in long”, while breathing out long, he knows “I am breathing out long”.

And in terms of the literature, maybe it's a book-length piece. For our domain: M. S. Knowles, "The modern practice of adult education: From pedagogy to andragogy". M. Tennant, "Psychology and adult learning". E. Wenger, "Toward a theory of cultural transparency: Elements of a social discourse of the visible and invisible". Carl Bereiter, "Education and Mind in the Knowledge Age". But it is in some ways bad form to cite a long book in a paper, I think, since you impose on your reader. Will they have actually read the "long exhalation" in question?

The hag, who had placed the costly gift of Arbaces in the loose folds of her vest, now rose to depart. When she had gained the door she paused, turned back, and said, 'This may be the last time we meet on earth; but whither flieth the flame when it leaves the ashes?--Wandering to and fro, up and down, as an exhalation on the morass, the flame may be seen in the marshes of the lake below; and the witch and the Magian, the pupil and the master, the great one and the accursed one, may meet again. Farewell!' -- The Last Days of Pompeii, Edward Bulwer-Lytton, 1834.


The slang term "bogarting" refers to taking an unfairly long time with a cigarette, drink, et cetera, that is supposed to be shared (e.g., "Don't bogart that joint!"). It derives from Bogart's style of cigarette smoking, with which he left his cigarette dangling from his mouth rather than withdrawing it between puffs. --
While breathing in short, he knows “I am breathing in short”, while breathing out short, he knows “I am breathing out short”.

Maybe it's a gasp; perhaps more likely, a sort of shibboleth, or else a buzz-word, or mere muttering.

"Hazel, you've been a part of me forever. Don't you know that? I breathe your name on every exhalation." Caden Cotard, in "Synechdoche, NY"

If it is too much to ask people to read the work in question (which I think almost always is), then you have to summarize it in the literature review. Some of these works represent a flash of inspiration for you. Maybe a sort of "intersection point" where something weird happens.

“You can cut into The Naked Lunch at any intersection point,” says Burroughs. [...] He is fond of the word “mosaic,” especially in its scientific sense of a plant-mottling caused by a virus, and his Muse (see etymology of “mosaic”) is interested in organic processes of multiplication and duplication. The literary notion of time as simultaneous, a montage, is not original with Burroughs; what is original is the scientific bent he gives it and a view of the world that combines biochemistry, anthropology, and politics. -- Mary McCarthy, writing in New York Review of Books, 1963,
He trains like this: experiencing the whole body I will breathe in, he trains like this: experiencing the whole body I will breathe out.

We can imagine a pastoral or an industrial landscape, but the truth is, if anything, more complicated. We can see this when "cut in" via Google search.

I know all the various arts and crafts and sciences in the world dealing with writing, mathematics and symbols, physiology, rhetoric, physical and mental health, city planning, architecture and construction, mechanics and engineering, divination, agriculture and commerce, conduct and manners, good and bad actions, good and bad principles, what makes for felicity and what for misery, what is necessary for enlightenment, and behavior linking reason and action. I know all these sciences, and I also introduce them and teach them to people, and get people to study and practice them, to master and develop them, using these as means to purify, refine, and broaden people. -- From the Flower Ornament Scripture (Avatamsaka-sutra), translated by Thomas Cleary
He trains like this: making the bodily process calm I will breathe in, he trains like this: making the bodily process calm I will breathe out.

So we look for the purpose of all of this: it's not just a matter of endless literary machinations and remixing. More likely, it's a matter of getting down to work.

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You're there at the end of a long work or workout session. Your body hurts, but you know it would be worse if you weren't doing this. You are, after all, only human.

Mentally, things seem a bit scattered too, because you're thinking along a lot of different possible timelines. What just happened? What was supposed to happen? What's right or wrong about what actually happened? How might things be improved for next time? Is there gonna be a next time?

You decide that you better stick with it - after all, what you're doing is a matter of conditioning the body and mind, making some outcomes more likely than others. But stick with what, precisely?

Things can always be refined, in some dimension or another. Maybe you do continue with how things have been, because you're making steady progress. Maybe you have to switch directions or change tactics, change modalities. Why? Because you're tired. This has been a brutal struggle. So much of the struggle has been in your mind, but it's no less brutal for that.

You have some stories you can tell your grandkids about though, if you ever have 'em, if the scars you show off in the bars impress well enough. If nothing else, you've gained experience, and that ought to count for something, somewhere, somehow.

Maybe out of all of this, you've established a better connection with yourself. (And how does that work, precisely?) You've explored some possibilities, and some possible ways of being. Because everything you do here is a way of being: maybe a pose, maybe an attitude, maybe an embodiment of some underlying Platonic form, who knows, but it feels like an exploration of a possible society, a possible life for yourself therein.

Of course, it would be easy to say to yourself that you haven't done enough. I suppose that if you haven't reached the goal you had in mind, it's a natural thing to say. But do you say it cruelly, or kindly? And why?

Or, now, let's switch the perspective, and make all this prospective. You're just at the beginning of planning a project -- how do you want things to wind up? Do you want to be celebrating, or crying? Are we talking about the glee of an endorphin rush? Or is the conclusion not so happy -- dead in a ditch by the side of the road, perhaps. Of course this is not your ambition. You'd rather have the right kind of adventure, something where you come away knowing your capabilities, you come away perhaps a bit stronger.

Here's the tricky thing, though.

You're neither at the beginning nor at the end of a project. You're somewhere in the middle -- and it's tempting to just fix yourself a cup of tea with milk, look out the window, maybe take a walk around the block looking for inspiration. So much depends on this. Are you feeling defeated as you go, or are you in love with life? If you want to go back to bed, why is that? Not enough rest lately? Working too hard? Or is that not it at all? Too much conflict perhaps, making it impossible to rest. You lie down, you sleep, but it doesn't do much for you anymore. Maybe the problem is that you're not eating right. Maybe you don't have enough people around to talk to about your concerns. You're walking around that block and you're kicking at a rock. What ever got you into this game in the first place?

You figure you better get rooted. You can't keep approaching these days blowing around like a leaf in the wind. These days had better be about something. You're not yet ready to retire. So it's not just about whether or not you're moving forward, it's your whole approach.

You're back inside now, you sit down and you start writing. You fill a page or two of your notebook. Things are looking different. You've got some prospects, you figure. You're through with all of that "maybe tomorrow" stuff. After all, it's just noon, the day is not yet -- well, just -- half over.

"We explored connections between paragogy and peer production, and paragogy and learning analytics, and showed how paragogy can intertwine with these to open new avenues for productivity, learning, and evaluation."

It was a good attempt, certainly. We would improve on it later. This afternoon, there are other things to be done, quite a full agenda, really.

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  • : The above "poetic" text is meant to go in the direction of getting the reader thinking about "what purpose do the activities that I am engaged with serve?" Max-Neef's list of fundamental human needs provides a good place to start. For example, for me, work helps to serve my need for "participation", for "subsistence", and for "creation", whereas rest helps to serve my need for "protection" (in the sense of immune systems), and the things I do for entertainment take care of a lot of the others. Keep in mind that the Max-Neef needs are, in fact, needs -- they all get served in different ways. It's interesting to ask "how do I think about the things that I do". I sometimes kick myself for getting so involved with "entertainments", but actually, they seem to do a lot for me. It's useful when thinking about a given piece of research to say, what purpose does this serve? For example, does it shift the relationship between a given activity (work, say) and a given need (e.g. identity)?


He trains like this: experiencing joy I will breathe in, he trains like this: experiencing joy I will breathe out.

There is a sense of the victory of oneself over things, and a sense of the victory of things over oneself. There is also a sense of being in tune with things, and that might be called "conquering illusion" or something like this.

"We encourage the research community to test our ideas in practice of various forms. Some ideas for paragogical design include: (1) Establish a group consensus for expectations/goals/social contract of the course and how each of them should be evaluated at its conclusion. (2) Have learners designate learning goals that they then commit to stick with. (3) Formalize a process for assisting peers (e.g. responding to questions, giving feedback on publicly posted work). (4) Develop explicit pathways for learner feedback to translate into changes to the learning environment."

He trains like this: experiencing pleasure I will breathe in, he trains like this: experiencing pleasure I will breathe out.

And, as a footnote, "bodily pleasure is described as bodily agreeableness and pleasure arising from bodily contact; mental pleasure is described as mental agreeableness and pleasure arising from mental contact." (Ānandajoti Bhikkhu)

These are the sorts of things we want: the fit of the hammer handle in the hand of the master carpenter, the positive camaraderie within a group whose social ergonomics are well suited to their task, the suiting of the words to the action and the action to the words of Prince Hamlet.

It doesn't always always seem to work like this. We are in mental and physical contact with a lot of limitations. This seems to go hand in hand with the world being full of relationships. In my own life: I figure I can say "I will put in 7 hours of work today on programming and grantwriting", but I also expect that I will be defeated by circumstances. Either something will come up in my work context, or else, supposing I'm successful and I manage not to get distracted, I worry that 7 hours won't be enough. I mean, even 7 hours today, tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. This sort of thought is rather foundationless and the futility that I imagine constitutes the victory of the world over my ambitions, before I have even gotten off of the ground.

On the other hand, if I work with genuine effort, we might even say valiantly, for, say 5 hours instead of 7, and this happens again tomorrow etc., at least we have not declared a default victory to the world and to circumstance. The default and defeatist judgments are "suffering" in the Buddhist sense of the word, in this context.

The things we know about (Kant), and how much more the things that we experience, come in a certain context. Potentially a constructed reality that we exist in only to keep ourselves in check (PKD, "Time Out of Joint"). It is relatively easy to draw relationships between things on the ideational level, but more difficult to make precise sense of things on the level of experience.

How does a person get stuck with a defeatist attitude? How do they get unstuck? This is on the level of daily practice, though it probably also applies interpersonally and across time, when we look at the limits of knowledge or science or experience at any given point in time. It's not that these things are so horribly disappointing (unless one, for whatever reason, identifies with the sense of "flawedness" or "incompleteness"), there are just some things that we as humans don't know, can't do, etc.

There's the whole "glass half full, glass half empty" thing to consider here. The same things that might be considered limitations give a flavor or color to the world that we're in (actually define this world and its possibilities?). The sense of "defeat" is presumably just another local flavor, much like the sense of "joy" or pleasure.

What are we really in touch with as operating principles? There is something quite pleasurable about giving up an axiom or scientific truth, about taking an assumption that has been held for ages and seeing it go topsy-turvy. Particularly when we're talking about something that was always assumed to be a limitation but that is revealed not to be. So for example when looking at a social context with chagrin or with esteem, at something that either holds one back or pushes one on.

In any case it is the context in question that we respond to, often in a very automatic way.


He trains like this: experiencing the mental process I will breathe in, he trains like this: experiencing the mental process I will breathe out.

The things we cook up! So that perhaps there is a strong sense of how we think things should be, what we want to have happen, etc. If you drop your bicycle or car off at the shop for repairs, you want a certain set of repairs done.

"While I was working on the transmission, I noticed your brakes were gone, so I fixed those as well, that's going to be an extra $600."

"But I didn't ask you to fix the brakes."

"Well, it wasn't safe to drive on like that!"

I'm imagining what it might be like to start a paragogical charter school (see Business Models for or even a model for learning like the International Baccalaureate. It would have been pretty different from my high school, though my home state did have a nice feature whereby students with a "B" average or better could take courses for free at local colleges and universities, up to full time. So for my junior and senior years of high school I got to take pretty much whatever I wanted to take, because I wasn't in a degree program. In a way this sort of spoiled me for disciplined work -- but that didn't matter because by the time I was ready to "go away to college", I mostly wanted to study mathematics courses anyway, so I got something resembling discipline for free.

Still, both of these model are pretty different from the way people learn in free software communities. I'd say that even though I was a good student during my 6 years of undergraduate training, I didn't have the same kind of the kind of "plugged in" feeling that I had later, when I was learning how to program in Emacs Lisp by posting my questions and ideas on the Help-GNU-Emacs mailing list.

It was actually pretty cool: getting help from the people who really make this program that I really use, with the sense that I could contribute things too. In a way it's similar to the undergraduate research stuff I did in math, through the NSF's Research Experiences for Undergraduates program. But Emacs hacking felt even more "real", since I was making up my own goals as I went along.

(I mean, what's real? Is academia like Santa Claus for young adults? I don't think that's quite what I'm saying.)

He trains like this: making the mental process calm I will breathe in, he trains like this: making the mental process calm I will breathe out.

One thing's for sure: around the time when I was learning how to program in Lisp, I stopped being such a good student. This was grad school. Discipline, again, wasn't particularly attractive to me, especially when it meant doing what I was "supposed to do". I was big into questioning the system, and I was saying "this doesn't make sense, it doesn't seem particularly efficient". My professors for the most part didn't get it. Those who did sort of understand what my interests were were saying, "Well, supposing it was worthwhile to work on this sort of system stuff, but you should do it when you're a professor, not when you're a student -- when you're a student, you should be focusing on passing your exams."

The only problem with this way of thinking is "When you're a young academic without tenure, you should be focusing on getting tenure" etc. System stuff is this no-man's-land. I remember the graduate advisor in the mathematics department saying that the things I was working on were "secretarial" in nature. And he was right -- but the thing is, since I didn't have a secretary at my disposal, I felt I had to do the secretarial work myself.

Things got to the point where the program really wasn't going so well, and I had found some colleagues on the internet, and I was like, "You know what, I don't really need this place, and they clearly don't really need me. If the exams are such an important obstacle, maybe I can pass them later after I've gotten some of the system stuff taken care of."

It's certainly somewhat odd that I didn't really want to go to class or anything when I was in that program. I kept telling them "Oh, yes, I will turn my behaviour around" and I would try going to class for a while. Some of them I was getting A's in. But there were other classes I didn't care so much for, and I just wouldn't go to those, and I wouldn't officially drop them either, then I'd get "F's".


He trains like this: experiencing the mind I will breathe in, he trains like this: experiencing the mind I will breathe out.

(Because of the long breath (etc.) there is mind-consciousness.)

"One key difference between Star/Wenger on the one hand and Engeström on the other has to do with the nature of boundaries. In the community of practice view, boundary objects exist to effect translations or initiations. In Engeström's view, attention is drawn to boundaries that remain in flux (via an ongoing process of co-configuration) or which are blurred (e.g. by a blurring of consumer and producer roles)."

The various conceptions of human ecology (Star, Engeström, etc.) bring to mind McCalla, writing on "The Ecological Approach to the Design of E-Learning Environments: Purpose-based Capture and Use of Information About Learners". McCalla's idea is in some ways reminiscent to what Slavoj Zizek calls the fantasy of total recycling:

"(It is often said that the ultimate products of capitalism are piles of trash – useless computers, cars, TVs, and VCRs ... : places like the famous "graveyard" of hun­dreds of abandoned planes in the Mojave desert confront us with the obverse truth of capitalist dynamics, its inert objectal remainder. And it is against this background that one should read the ecological dream-notion of total recycling – in which every remainder is used again – as the ultimate capitalist dream, even if it is couched in the terms of retaining the natural balance on Planet Earth: the dream of the self-propelling circulation of capital which would succeed in leav­ing behind no material residue – the proof of how capitalism can appropriate ideologies which seem to oppose it.)" -- January, 2008, The Prospects of Radical Politics Today,

"This is the true utopia, the idea that a legal order can make recompense for its founding crimes, thereby retroactively cleansing itself of its guilt and regaining its innocence. What lies at the end of this road is the ecological utopia of humanity in its entirety repaying its debt to Nature for all its past exploitation. In effect, is not the idea of 'recycling' part of the same pattern as that of restitution for past injustices? The underlying utopian notion is the same: the system which emerged through violence should repay its debt in order to regain an ethico-ecological balance. The ideal of 'recycling' involves the utopia of a self-enclosed circle in which all waste, all useless remainder, is sublated: nothing gets lost, all trash is re-used. It is at this level that one should make the shift from the circle to the ellipse: already in nature itself, there is no circle of total recycling, there is un-usable waste. Recall the methodological madness of Jeremy Bentham's 'Panopticon' in which everything, up to and including the prisoner' excrement and urine, should be put to further use. [...] This is why the properly aesthetic attitude of a radical ecologist is not that of admiring or longing for a pristine nature of virgin forests and clear sky, but rather that of accepting waste as such, of discovering the aesthetic potential of waste, of decay, of the inertia of rotten material which serves no purpose." -- Living in the End Times, page 35

What we are envisioning with PlanetMath is from one point of view, a utopian ideal of "encyclopedia as complete instruction", bringing to bear all of the questions and comments of students into one integrated panoptic, an organized junkyard of all of the qualms and quandries that people encounter when they think about mathematics, with a spare part available and ready to fit any need.

He trains like this: gladdening the mind I will breathe in, he trains like this: gladdening the mind I will breathe out.

(Because of the long breath (etc.) he knows his mind is one-pointed and unscattered, and gladness arises in the mind.)

Can we also argue another point of view that says that PlanetMath is something other than the utopian ideal of a circle? Our first clue comes from one of Zizek's favorite subjects, psychoanalysis. Perhaps it is not so much a matter of reusing junk (no detail to insignificant to be interpreted) but a matter of cultivating mind, supple, creative, responsive. PlanetMath -- as mirrored or embodied in its software -- could just as well be thought of as a Deleuzian "nomadic war machine", built via the infamous process of tinkering or bricolage, which doesn't really excuse it from claims of utopianism, but does give a (potentially) different point of view to the capitalist one, since the nomad machine is happy living in and returning to the Mojave...

My point being that "construction of the subject" is part of what is going on here. How does a subject exist and function? It is not by integrating every last bit of "knowledge" -- we also forget, for example. Sometimes we forget in such a way as to become non-functional -- neglecting to think or pay attention, for example. Is the subject constituted by talking with many people? Or in relative isolation? With one trusted counsellor? Or with frenetic multi-media mumbo jumbo? Quite a lot depends on this.

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He trains like this: concentrating the mind I will breathe in, he trains like this: concentrating the mind I will breathe out.

"Blondy points out both uses and challenges to each of Knowles principles of andragogy. For example, 'Cheren stated that while learners may express a desire to be self-directed in their learning, most lack the required understanding of learning necessary to be self-directed and thus need guidance and encouragement in the learning process.'"

Actually, Cheren's view is that "being self-directed" isn't an on-off switch (either you have it or you don't), but more of a continuum, so, he speaks for example of "highly self-directed learners". He offers advice on how an educator can help a learner become more self directed, but doesn't say that they then "are" self-directed. It's a subtle distinction!

But what would it mean to be self-directed, or to be more self-directed? Considering that the mind is sensitive to its context, and is always providing feedback on things to do, problems, solutions, joys, sorrows, etc., "self-directed" seems like a somewhat iffy predicate to bear. What about being in tune with one's surroundings?

Perhaps being "more" self-directed means that one does not so much rely on other people (at least explicitly) to decipher these surroundings, and tell one what to do. In other words we would expect a "more self-directed" person to be "more in tune with their surroundings", as well as their goals and sentiments and so forth.

So a steady mind would be quite the boon here, if becoming "more self-directed" was the goal. But why would it be? Certainly, one cannot always turn to others for help -- sometimes they are unavailable or inaccessible, or they have better things to do than to guide you. (Which is probably why educators typically get paid: there is an opportunity cost to their time.) So, in these moments, will you feel lost and confused, or will you feel with it, productive (if that is your ambition), collected, and reasonably happy?

Developing powers of concentration and responsiveness would seem to be useful in these circumstances. Of course, these abilities can be cultivated in a social context and applied solo -- and vice versa, cultivated in a solo context and applied socially.

He trains like this: freeing the mind I will breathe in, he trains like this: freeing the mind I will breathe out.

(He trains like this: freeing the mind from excessive ferver ... hate ... delusion ... conceit ... wrong views ... doubt ... sloth and torpor ... agitation and worry ... lack of conscience ... and shamelessness I will breathe in, etc.)

"The first paragogical principle says that instead of focusing on how learners see themselves (e.g. as 'self-directed' or 'dependent' or something else), we should be asking how the learning context shapes what learners are actually able to do. Note that this includes looking at ways in which learners can contribute to reshaping the learning context."

Since we are thinking of learning as adaptation, it makes sense to focus on what adaptation is -- and communicate this clearly with students or peer learners. Adaptation is what we're here to do, and maladaptive patterns and strategies only get in the way of this.

That doesn't mean that maladaptivity should be paddled out of students (which would presumably only be additional maladaptivity on another level) -- rather, I think the goal would be to lead (pedagogically) people to draw attention to their own sense of what is maladaptive and what is adaptive behavior -- or else (paragogically) to enact "adaptation" and see if other people follow this good example!

Well, that might be over simplifying things, but it does bring up this question: is there really such a thing as "paragogical teaching"? Maybe peer learners need to agree to some basic axioms in the first place (e.g. "learning is adaptation") and then there won't be any particular need to missionize them and bring them on board.

Furthermore, if we agree that this is the axiom, then it works the other way as well ("adaptation is learning"). So that even "maladaptive" patterns are learned. Accusing someone of doing something "maladaptive" really means saying that they have learned something that puts them out of tune with their environment. This doesn't mean that paragogy is aiming to homogenize people: being in tune doesn't mean everyone playing the same note or even the same style. This musical metaphor presumably only goes so far, but it does have a fairly well established history in the philosophy of state-craft. It would be nice to say more about what this means -- inner conflict, interpersonal conflict, wasted resources, versus inner peace, interpersonal harmony, good use of resources, etc. -- clearly these are very qualitative and almost "aesthetic" judgements.

Key Message

For today I am presenting a sequence of quotations. First, we examine the view that commons-based peer production communities are based both on learning and on assessment, in the form of peer review. If a given piece of work is accepted into a given community, it has passed a test.

We then turn to a lyrical quotation from Leonard Cohen, examining the nature of "conflict", here imagined to take place between the would-be contributor and the potential community.

An outsider voice is, quite often, neither accepted nor desired. We could compare the notion of a constituent moment, "defined as a historical moment when 'underauthorized' individuals seize the mantle of authority, and, by doing so, change the inherited rules of authorization and produce new conditions for political representation" ( The point being, that to be in tune with one's life need not mean being in tune with one's society (to go a little further in depth with something we were talking about in the essay on Implementing).

The most outstanding "negative" instance of this is then considered in an extended series of quotes - from Plato's "Apology". A "positive" example (in the eyes of Jason A. Frank, "Constituent moments: enacting the people in postrevolutionary America") is found in a speech from Frederick Douglass.

Finally, we consider a quote that puts the conflict back in terms of gender relations figured by Cohen. (This quote is reminiscent of several chapters from "The Politics of Friendship" by Jacques Derrida.)

Having built up this weighty dossier of quotations, we offer a summary statement on their relationship to paragogy.

"[U]pon closer inspection of commons-based peer production communities we find learning at their core. [...] In a commons-based peer production framework, the concepts of (i) learning and (ii) assessment of learning become inseparable. The community continuously reviews and evaluates the contributions of its members. Open source software developers do not write exams, but the quality of their work (as an indicator for their knowledge) is tested as part of the project's inherent quality review process. Acceptance of a developer's software code into the release of the application is the equivalent of passing an exam." -- J. Philipp Schmidt,
"You cannot stand what I've become, // You much prefer the gentleman I was before. // I was so easy to defeat, I was so easy to control, // I didn't even know there was a war." -- Leonard Cohen, "There is a war", from New Skin for the Old Ceremony (
"And do not be offended at my telling you the truth: for the truth is, that no man who goes to war with you or any other multitude, honestly striving against the many lawless and unrighteous deeds which are done in a state, will save his life; he who will fight for the right, if he would live even for a brief space, must have a private station and not a public one." -- Socrates, in Plato's "Apology", tr. Benjamin Jowett,
"If any one likes to come and hear me while I am pursuing my mission, whether he be young or old, he is not excluded. Nor do I converse only with those who pay; but any one, whether he be rich or poor, may ask and answer me and listen to my words; and whether he turns out to be a bad man or a good one, neither result can be justly imputed to me; for I never taught or professed to teach him anything. And if any one says that he has ever learned or heard anything from me in private which all the world has not heard, let me tell you that he is lying." -- ibid.
"Some one will say: Yes, Socrates, but cannot you hold your tongue, and then you may go into a foreign city, and no one will interfere with you? Now I have great difficulty in making you understand my answer to this. For if I tell you that to do as you say would be a disobedience to the God, and therefore that I cannot hold my tongue, you will not believe that I am serious; and if I say again that daily to discourse about virtue, and of those other things about which you hear me examining myself and others, is the greatest good of man, and that the unexamined life is not worth living, you are still less likely to believe me." -- ibid.
"When my sons are grown up, I would ask you, O my friends, to punish them; and I would have you trouble them, as I have troubled you, if they seem to care about riches, or anything, more than about virtue; or if they pretend to be something when they are really nothing,--then reprove them, as I have reproved you, for not caring about that for which they ought to care, and thinking that they are something when they are really nothing. And if you do this, both I and my sons will have received justice at your hands." -- ibid.
"Fellow-citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here to-day? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? and am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us? " -- Frederick Douglass, "The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro",
"Only his vote can hasten the abolition of slavery who asserts his own freedom by his vote." -- David Thoreau, "Civil Disobedience"
I perceive that, when an acorn and a chestnut fall side by side, the one does not remain inert to make way for the other, but both obey their own laws, and spring and grow and flourish as best they can, till one, perchance, overshadows and destroys the other. If a plant cannot live according to its nature, it dies; and so a man.
"[W]oman, as nature has created her and as man is at present educating her, is his enemy. She can only be his slave or his despot, but never his companion. This she can become only when she has the same rights as he, and is his equal in education and work." -- Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, "Venus in Furs"

This final quote is perhaps particularly "striking"! Severin (the main character in "Venus in Furs") has received the cure for his donkey-like dilletantish slackitude at the hands of his "Venus", Wanda. This is a sexual education, if ever we saw one; one that is developed in a curious peer-like manner, as both characters egg each other on to develop the "scene" (shared context), and the final denouement of Severin's "cure".

On another level, Frederick Douglass and Socrates also seem to have the intention of whipping up some sentiment or other in their audience. (This is the speech in which Socrates describes himself as a "gadfly".) Underlying Douglass's points have to do with the virtue of equality, not just with equality itself. Like Socrates he is calling people out on their hypocrisy. Both he Socrates are in some sense on the "winning side", at least in the sense of moral victory.

It is little wonder that Douglass's essay appears on a site run by OWS activists: his case that "The existence of slavery in this country brands your republicanism as a sham, your humanity as a base pretence, and your Christianity as a lie" -- could be repeated for unrighteous inequalities without slavery. The question of what is "unrighteous" is of course something that will be socially determined. (Should wealth be distributed to each according to his need, or to each according to his greed, or something else?)

Socrates's public dialogs are one of the original "open source" forms: again, "[...] Nor do I converse only with those who pay; but any one, whether he be rich or poor, may ask and answer me and listen to my words [...] And if any one says that he has ever learned or heard anything from me in private which all the world has not heard, let me tell you that he is lying." The open criticism of those in power that Socrates foresaw is present today on the internet, along with plenty of "reactionary" talk by the same sort of crowd who despised him. The "war" (to use Leonard Cohen's turn of phrase) continues apace.

But are we necessarily talking about a conflict at all? Might not the "receptive" and "evaluating" -- what could be broadly termed "female" aspects of communities -- be brought into some sort of harmony with the "generative", "contributing" -- correspondingly, broadly male -- aspects of contributors? And what would this mean?

For the purposes of this essay, whether we call it "mind" or "virtue" or something else, there is both the question of constituting the self, and constituting the community. Foucault points out that Socrates' "care of self" will entail care for the city. We see frequently that the city (or any other corporate body) does not always care for the individual. We might consider Deleuze and Guattari's "becoming-woman" here (cf.; or Fritz Lang's "Metropolis".

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He trains like this: contemplating impermanence I will breathe in, he trains like this: contemplating impermanence I will breathe out.

Part of the challenge for us, as for all writers, is to know who our audience is (cf. Academic Peer Review). Are we writing for teachers, or philosophers? For students, or for the popular press? The proliferation of options and possibilities is somewhat exhausting.

Since this essay falls within the "practice" section, it's probably a reasonable bet to think that we are, in the first place, writing for ourselves -- aiming to create a manual that describes and helps with our own learning process as we work on and on other tasks in our own lives.

"In the situated learning and communities of practice point of view, 'learning was shown to be an inevitable aspect of all productive practices' (Engeström)."

And so life goes on, we produce lots of words, and they go out into the world's word-stream. Some people here and there read these words and they may have an effect. The human world, like an organism, is full of communication processes; the written word plays a role that is in some way comparable to cytokines in the body.

While I don't agree completely with this paragraph, I'll quote it at length:

"And in addition, if you look at the time scales that's involved here-- two billion years for life, six million years for the hominid, 100,000 years for mankind as we know it-- you're beginning to see the telescoping nature of the evolutionary paradigm. And then when you get to agricultural, when you get to scientific revolution and industrial revolution, you’re looking at 10,000 years, 400 years, 150 years. You're seeing a further telescoping of this evolutionary time. What that means is that as we go through the new evolution, it's gonna telescope to the point we should be able to see it manifest itself... within our lifetime, within this generation. The new evolution stems from information, and it stems from two types of information: digital and analog. The digital is artificial intelligence. The analog results from molecular biology, the cloning of the organism. And you knit the two together with neurobiology. Before on the old evolutionary paradigm, one would die and the other would grow and dominate. But under the new paradigm, they would exist... as a mutually supportive, noncompetitive grouping, independent from the external. And what is interesting here is that evolution now becomes an individually centered process, emanating from the needs and the desires of the individual, and not an external process, a passive process... where the individual is just at the whim of the collective. So, you produce a neo-human with a new individuality and a new consciousness. But that's only the beginning of the evolutionary cycle... because as the next cycle proceeds, the input is now this new intelligence. As intelligence piles on intelligence, as ability piles on ability, the speed changes. Until what? Until you reach a crescendo in a way... it could be imagined as an enormous instantaneous fulfillment of human, human and neo-human potential. It could be something totally different. It could be the amplification of the individual, the multiplication of individual existences. Parallel existences now with the individual no longer restricted by time and space. And the manifestations of this neo-human-type evolution, manifestations could be dramatically counter-intuitive. That's the interesting part. The old evolution is cold. It's sterile. It's efficient, okay? And its manifestations are those social adaptations. You're talking about parasitism, dominance, morality, okay? War, predation. These would [now] be subject to de-emphasis. These would be subject to de-evolution. The new evolutionary paradigm will give us the human traits of truth, of loyalty, of justice, of freedom. These will be the manifestations of the new evolution. That is what we would hope to see from this. That would be nice." -- Eamonn Healy, in Richard Linklater's "Waking Life" (2001)

This seems like a good way to get at "impermanence" -- but I think it misses some basic things about evolution, the nature of horizontal gene transfer, for example. Nothing ever really happens "independent from the external". Among other things, Healy's "new individuality" is at odds with the "post-individual human" (cf Sherry Turkle, "Alone Together"). The phenomenology of this sort of mind is in some sense the proper target of paragogy. Note that we are not talking about some sort of "universal mind" or an integrated whole (see Connections).

Regarding Sherry Turkle's book, here's an anecdote. My housemate was talking about a conversation with her friend. The friend had been saying, I got together with my family recently and all we were doing was sitting around on our laptops, we weren't talking with each other. And my housemate said, yeah, this happened when I got together with my family recently too. And now, here I am, writing about their conversation. There's something about "uploading information" that seems fun and interesting, though it is embodied in a very different kind of "moment" from the typical family gathering. This disturbing video for a David Lynch song may capture the dystopic flavor:

He trains like this: contemplating dispassion I will breathe in, he trains like this: contemplating dispassion I will breathe out.

Investigations in paragogy may in some ways resemble investigations in parapsychology, but without the hokum. Instead of looking for psychic abilities, we would instead look at real, documented, communication events. It is potentially less interesting to document "spooky effects" like yesterday's crossword puzzle's being easier to solve than today's than it is to try and get some impression of where people get their ideas from in concrete, experiential, ways.

Where do good intentions go to? Where does actual productivity come from? It's not just a matter of pomodoro technique or getting things done, though these systems (designed for the standard "individual) do, no doubt, relate.

The 43folders summary of Getting Things Done is:

  1. identify all the stuff in your life that isn’t in the right place (close all open loops)
  2. get rid of the stuff that isn’t yours or you don’t need right now
  3. create a right place that you trust and that supports your working style and values
  4. put your stuff in the right place, consistently
  5. do your stuff in a way that honors your time, your energy, and the context of any given moment
  6. iterate and refactor mercilessly

Note a sort of skew-symmetry of the first five principles with the paragogy principles. We are all existing in contexts that may or may not have a whole lot to do with "us". If we learn how to moderate these contexts in a way that works for how we work, we tend to feel better and more adaptive. If we work with the right set of supports, things go better than they would otherwise. Maintaining this supportive context is an ongoing process. Once we have all of this going nicely, we've realized the dream (in this case, the "productivity" dream).

This reading of the fourth principle stands out as an example of an evolved adaptive behavior: "nest-building", as discussed by C. G. Jung -- by now a necessary adjunct to procreation in humans. In the context of GTD, we might say that once everything else is out of the way, there will be nothing left to do but be productive. But when and how does that really happen?

What research methods are most appropriate to studying these questions without getting weird about it? Some ideas for this are outlined in the PlanetMath case study, but they could be made more precise, and generalized for other settings. We can imagine that, worst case scenario, as a reflection on the process, paragogy itself represents an amplification and re-valorization of the distracting elements that need to be cleared away in order for "real work" to happen -- a sort of "navel gazing" or an overly "processy" way of relating to one's life's work; in effect, a sort of self-disabling through frittering away of anxious energy. To look at this more positively, a "science of procrastination" or even simply a mutual aid group, "Cunctator's Universal Network and Triage Cooperative" (name created by my friend Tim) that would look at things like chatting on Facebook while doing homework without the judgmental lens -- might help people understand the current human, particularly in his/her incubatory aspects.

Recommended Reading
  • "The Presence of the Past: Morphic Resonance and the Habits of Nature" - reading the Amazon comments may be enough
  • A curious coincidence. (Studying the existence and effects of coincidences is presumably where paragogy and parapsychology have their interface.)
  • "In my coaching work I have dealt with a number of individuals who consider themselves chronic procrastinators. They often feel guilty that they take so long to engage with projects and frequently criticize their own performance. And yet, they all have in common that they are extraordinarily successful but most objective standards-- doctorate degrees, high incomes, productive at work, etc. This has led me to question whether they are really procrastinators or whether there might be a productive work style issue at hand."
  • "African cultures are often described as 'polychronic', which means basically that people tend to manage more than one thing at a time rather than in a strict sequence. Personal interactions and relationships are also managed in this way (such that it is not uncommon, for instance, to have more than one simultaneous conversation). Perhaps for this reason, an African 'emotional time consciousness' has been suggested in contrast with Western 'mechanical time consciousness' as a way of understanding African time."
  • David Allen on Weird Time "In other words, you can't do things faster until you learn how to slow down. How do you slow down? It's all about the dynamic of detachment. You have to back off and be quiet. Retreat from the task at hand, so that you can gain a new perspective on what you're doing. If you get too wrapped up in all of the stuff coming at you, you lose your ability to respond appropriately and effectively."


The theory of paragogy was developed in the context of two online courses that we ran at Peer 2 Peer University (P2PU) in Autumn of 2010. One of the courses was called "DIY Math", and it was "designed to build independent study and peer-support skills for mathematics learners at all levels." The other course was called "Collaborative Lesson Planning", and it was built around the question "Can publishing and collaboratively building lesson plans online make them better?" The first course was not such a resounding success, but we learned a lot from it anyway, especially in a rich discussion about how it could be improved that took place in the second course. The key outcome was an outline of an analytical framework that applies to peer-to-peer or peer-based teaching-and-learning-between-equals. The difficulties with DIY Math pointed to possible improvements at the organizational level, such as developing a P2PU-wide "social contract", or only running courses when sufficient commitments had been "anted up". The post-mortem analysis of DIY Math suggested that the concept of pedagogy is not sufficient in the peer-based learning context.

He trains like this: contemplating cessation I will breathe in, he trains like this: contemplating cessation I will breathe out.

We can look for places and ways in which paragogy is not just a good idea, but a descriptive theory. The five principles are a nice way to spell something out, but what's more important is to look at what really happens when peers learn together. For example, peers might learn to take over some function that had previously been run by a centralized authority, particularly when this central authority has not been doing a particularly good job. They might learn how to present themselves honestly both in terms of what they're after, and what they have to offer, and in other respects as well. Through interactive hands-on experience, they might decide that certain tasks or responsibilities aren't enjoyable, and that others are. We could be talking about a lot or sometimes just a little experience -- but whether we're talking about a lifetime of negotiations, or a day on the job, peer learning can help individuals build self-understanding, and also help them develop together ways to communicate about the potential exchanges and collaborations they can make together.

But paragogy isn't just a theory of one-to-one exchanges or transactions: it is also a theory of externalities. As people engage in exchange behavior, there are side-effects that run all over the place. The stakeholders to these "downstream effects" may well be "peers", even if they are not party to the original conversation. (E.g. Wikipedia is "the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit.")

We can look for ways to allow downstream users to communicate with each other and add additional value to the system through these communications. What we might hope to see is an end to dogma, whether that means "the customer is always right" or "the producer is always right", as the system becomes "marketized", bringing in additional conversations and resources.

It would be foolish to think that every object, every transaction, can be fully understood, that all externalities can be internalized. Indeed, the practice of paragogy works at least as much by putting things out there than it does by synthesizing and combining ideas!

Learning to do this in a way that allows us to cultivate "That quality of wisdom that all the wise wish, and call creative qualities, and good creation of the mind" seems a reasonable way to encapsulate our hopes for paragogy. As multiple conversations and viewpoints are brought to bear, knowledge systems improve, not just at the "container" level (i.e. more knowledge), but at the level of their articulation as well.

He trains like this: contemplating letting go I will breathe in, he trains like this: contemplating letting go I will breathe out.

In the end, paragogy could be "just another buzzword", or it could become a real practical philosophy. To "realize the dream and then wake up" suggests that we should discard the impractical aspects of paragogy. As we've stated elsewhere, there are often times when pedagogy or andragogy will work better for a given goal.

And yet, there are times and places where those social technologies do not work so well, and examining them was our goal in this project. People frequently learn as peers.

We shouldn't just ask just conceptual questions like "Who are peers?" or "What is learning?", but practical ones like "Who are the peers now?", "What is adaptive for the current situation?". Quite frequently, something is "learned" by identifying a pattern and learning how recognize other instance that fit the pattern. Once this is done, you can move beyond the (centralized) "training data" -- it's literally like taking the training wheels off of a bicycle.

In the same way, this month of writing in the book is shortly coming to a close. We've had a chance to generate a lot of content, but the practice of working on the book, everything is likely to change. I expect that we will gradually smooth out the text to make it more readable, getting rid of bits that are too obscure or too tedious for whatever reason. This editing process will take some time and trust!

This is similar to the way in which you would find any group of people creating their social environment (see the recent book "Bubbles" by Sloterdjik). It's curious that writing -- putting your ideas out there by doing introspection and figuring out what the ideas actually are -- often comes first. Or at least it seems to.

In fact, we have been through this cycle a few times before -- writing, critiquing, revising. In each iteration we have to be ready to let go of the result and allow other people to decide, "is this any good". Eventually we may have to let go of the paragogy project as a whole -- but we will hopefully see it in other good hands by that time.

Recommended Reading


In the beginning, there was PageRank.

A simplified model of the PageRank value for any page u can be expressed as the sum of PageRank(v)/L(v) over all v in the set of pages linking to page u, where L(v) is the number L(v) of links from page v. The PageRank computations require several passes, called "iterations", through the collection to adjust approximate PageRank values to more closely reflect the theoretical true value. [...] A version of PageRank has recently been proposed as a replacement for the traditional Institute for Scientific Information (ISI) impact factor and implemented at Instead of merely counting total citation to a journal, the "importance" of each citation is determined in a PageRank fashion. A similar new use of PageRank is to rank academic doctoral programs based on their records of placing their graduates in faculty positions. In PageRank terms, academic departments link to each other by hiring their faculty from each other (and from themselves). -- from

These days, there are also things like Facebook "like", for conferring appreciation, and Google+ for conferring appreciation while sharing content with a specific group of people. But these do not have a specific "learning" or "adaptivity" orientation.

In further developing paragogy, we could make use of PageRank-like ideas, for example, by determining when people are writing about similar concepts in a content aggregator (like or what have you), in order to indicate that these people are "peers". The amount of text that someone contributes that is related to a given topic would confer their "ranking" as an expert on that topic. Expertise could be used for prestige or price-signalling -- and even more importantly, we would quickly recognize that not everyone is an expert on everything, so varied degrees of expertise could be used to build teams (labor consumption or co-consumption bundles).

At a prototyping level, this could all also be done in a simpler and more "discretized" way, just by self-identifying interests and skill level. In this way, people can be peers in the sense of having a common interest, or peers in the sense of additionally having a common skill level related to that interest. Co-learning and working groups could be established with peer learners who will have similar questions about their applied projects, and expert guides who would help with these various projects (presumably for a fee, but possibly also as a volunteer). A current "applied" conversation about these ideas is taking place here:

On a deeper level (see recommended reading), these techniques could be used to study and develop adaptive strategies for collaboration and learning. In other words, we can see paragogy as an applied ethnomethodology.

Recommended Reading
  • "If one assumes, as Garfinkel does, that the meaningful, patterned, and orderly character of everyday life is something that people must work to achieve, then one must also assume that they have some methods for doing so". That is, "...members of society must have some shared methods that they use to mutually construct the meaningful orderliness of social situations" (Rawls/Garfinkel: 2002:6).

Case studies


PlanetMath Overview

I would like to write at least some words about PlanetMath as a potential or, by the time this book is fully edited and published, real case study or example of paragogy in practice. Right now, I will just write about my ideas.

My current "vision" for PlanetMath is that people will be able to log on and solve mathematical problems there, similar to Khan Academy, but with the twist that the solutions will be shared publicly, so that people can comment on each other's solutions, or ask for help when they run into trouble.

Furthermore, keywords from both problems and solutions will be automatically linked into the PlanetMath encyclopedia (which currently defines over 15000 mathematical terms). The thought here is that it is more or less impossible to solve a math problem when one does not know what the terms in the problem mean.

This was my strong impression as a beginning graduate student at the University of Texas, where the preliminary exams proved to be a very interesting but fatal obstacle for me. My response at the time was to compile a large catalog of definitions of terms from all of the past exams that were on file. I learned in practice that the raw definitions are not enough: one needs to know how to think about the definitions too.

Honestly, if I had seriously wanted to pass the prelims and get a Ph. D. in mathematics, I would have probably been better served by going to class regularly, doing homework to the best of my ability, asking questions to my peers and to my professors in office hours, much as I had done as an undergraduate. I was, however, taken by the idea that, even if I passed the exams, there would be more students in the future who would have to go through the same difficult process -- and I wondered if there mightn't be a way to significantly streamline the learning process, not just for myself, but for generations of mathematics students to come. I thought that would be a potentially bigger contribution than pushing myself through the degree.

Besides, I was often the only person who asked questions during class, which embarrassed me, and, although I had done reasonably well in my undergraduate courses, my peers at the university often seemed to be having a better time of it than me -- maybe because they were more used to the sort of disciplined work schedule; I wasn't sure.

In any case, I set off then on a very "alternative" course for learning mathematics, and if my ambitions in my current Ph. D. project pan out, I will start to see the vision I had then being fulfilled on PlanetMath -- about a decade after the initial decision to switch out of "mainstream" mathematics.

And so, we will need not only a massive collection of definitions, but a way for students who don't get it to speak up and say "Hey, this definition isn't really helping me solve the problem I'm working on -- I don't get it!" We also need helpful people who will respond to these requests for, er, help, and do something about them. I expect that time and time again, people will understand a definition in the abstract, but they won't know how to think about it, or they won't know what other definitions or theorems are supposed to come to mind, and why.

As time goes by, and as people ask lots of questions, and give lots of answers and advice, that PlanetMath will become an increasingly "complete" mathematical resource. "Encyclopedia" literally means "a total instruction", and I would love it if PlanetMath would become a mathematics encyclopedia in that sense, not just in the sense of being a reference resource.

I wonder if the same sort of educational and knowledge building model could apply in other domains. For example, we might imagine people on Wikiversity taking articles from Wikipedia and learning together by improving these articles. And some similar things have happened -- not necessarily by self-organizing on Wikipedia, but in classrooms (Piotr Konieczny's work).

There might be something going on with mathematics -- its abstractness, the presence of right and wrong answers -- that makes it easier to self-organize about than other domains of knowledge. Still, if I thought PlanetMath was the end of the road for me in my career, I'm not sure I would have been toiling away on it in one way or another for such a long time! My sense is that quite a variety of social and economic problems should be amenable to a similar sort of approach -- if only we can figure out the details. For the moment, I'm still trying to sort out the details of the PlanetMath case.

PlanetMath Outlook

Focusing on important problems is what Richard Hamming advocates (New School Economic Review, Volume 3(1), 2008, 5-26). This seems sensible in a research design, too, to keep coming back to ask "what is important here?".

With PlanetMath I'd like to demonstrate that people can learn a concrete and challenging subject via peer interactions on the internet. There is already significant evidence that people learn how to work with Free Software this way. So, what's important here isn't just learning, but also what happens next. If we build up a big repository of answers to mathematical questions, maybe we will be on the way to having some sort of mathematical AI. (See these notes by Jon Borwein.)

This might seem like a shocking claim: how do we move from a system for peer tutoring to a computer system that can solve mathematical problems on its own? Not without some serious work. But this has been part of my vision all along (better to be somewhat explicit about it).

The way education has worked in the past, in math, is that new generations of people keep learning the same things over and over again. Well, new cohorts of people, anyway: each year, the same standard curriculum is taught in high schools and colleges, more or less without exception across the world. But knowledge about the world has been growing at an alarming rate! Our understanding of major unsolved problems is growing -- but the problems are still problems.

Might it not make sense to give students tools to address real problems, as quickly as possible? In order to do this, education shouldn't be a series of made-up tests, but a series of real, meaningful challenges.

I don't know what evidence I'll be able to gather in the next year -- certainly nothing particularly interesting making the system "go live", and seeing how people bounce ideas off of one another there. (I'm thinking about Charlie's notes on "Frankenstein".) I'm not entirely sure I know how to do "science" about this, though, and I don't feel so happy about that.

The question I keep coming back to is "how can I detect when people are learning?" (Corneli and Ponti, submitted). If I can see from what microscopic events people learn, then I ought to be able to engineer systems so that those kinds of events come up more frequently. This is very different from engineering a large-scale test at the end of the semester that asks people to sum up what they have learned.

Maybe each problem is a sort of "test". I'm not sure if there is any other way to go about it than to have people start uploading problems and solutions and see what they get to in the end. It nags at me somewhat that there may be some copyright issues standing in the way. (We assume it is fair use to upload a given problem, even verbatim, from a textbook, though copying out all of the problems from a textbook isn't fair use.) Once we start to amass some material like this, we ought to be able to get into more detail about when learning is happening.

Another tedious obstacle is the programming work itself. My supervisors have suggested that I'm in a position to design my research studies under the assumption that all of the programming will go according to plan, but I'm still feeling hesitant about that. I don't know if I've given myself the assurances that I need. And I don't know how quickly the team I'm working with on the programming stuff is ready to progress. This has been the big hang-up for the last year or so. Maybe we're getting close -- but these "maybes" are excruciating.

From the research point of view it might help just to specify in detail what it would mean for "all the programming to have gone according to plan". I spend a lot of emotional energy being distressed that things aren't moving sufficiently, but probably not enough time crossing things off of the list. If the list itself was a bit more clear (and more clearly related to my research agenda), I might be much happier. Rather than feeling bitter that things aren't moving, I'd really do well to help them inch forward a bit.

It's hard to get my head out above the clouds to see the big picture sometimes. But years could go by with grief that the little things aren't working out and I'd never see the larger patterns, and could for this reason never spot the opportunities to make major gains somewhat quickly. In the coming days I'm going to try to go for the "big picture" approach.

PlanetMath Science

Thinking about "what works" for PlanetMath, and what the "science" is here. At the simplest level, what we're doing is building (or, more accurately, re-building) a website. It's not clear whether there is anything scientifically interesting about that.

Certainly there's an architecture to consider, and we may indeed be making a few innovations in this domain (which is a sort of "science" that doesn't subject itself to the usual double blind studies; namely, computer science). There are also users to consider, since we are (more accurately) re-building a site that has already existed for about 10 years -- we want to make sure people find the new tool at least as useful as the old one. So, again, there is a sort of science here (something like anthropology) where we can find user requirements and opinions, all of which can be directed back into making the site look better and feel better.

But "real" science won't be possible until we have use data -- not just designs (even implemented ones) and not just opinions (even if they are clearly and forcefully expressed). And on some level we do not know how people will use this tool until we see them using it. If we knew in advance, it wouldn't be science.

However, if we know nothing in advance, then what we're talking about here is more like art (say, Fluxus or what have you) than like science. So this makes me nervous, since I feel a little stuck coming up with good research questions or hypotheses. Maybe this is a sign not to go too far out on a limb making too many guesses until we have completed the computer science and anthropology phases to a reasonable degree.

Still, one of my guesses is that people using the site to study problems will end up improving the encyclopedia. "How to build a mathematical knowledge repository the peer-production way", to riff on PlanetMath president Aaron Krowne's similarly-titled essay about encyclopedia-building in D-Lib magazine. This is interesting to me, but what's interesting to government funding bodies is more like "How can we build a system that improves basic mathematics education?" -- and for that (very basic math), Khan Academy might already be the more or less definitive answer -- hopefully more research on its usefulness will show that. For more advanced math (which government funding agencies also care about, though perhaps less so), there isn't an answer yet. I feel I could go on repeating myself endlessly that I have a good intuition about peer production being the way to go here. But my opinion isn't based on science, at least, not yet.

The thing to do seems to be to start with the most general or generic topics and then work out to more specific ones: (1) website, (2) users, (3) data. Data is very specific. Analysis or interpretation this data if anything gets even more specific. Statements about what the data means or implies may move towards generality again. But, for better or worse, we are still at the first step.

And let me be the first to say that there is nothing wrong with computer science! It has a fairly different "peer production profile" than what I'm envisioning for PlanetMath. The website-building operation is mostly the effort of a small and close-knit group of about a half-dozen people, with another half-dozen or so participants playing smaller parts. Most of these people (with myself being the main exception) are co-located at Jacobs University in Bremen, Germany, in the "Knowledge Adaptation and Reasoning for Content" (KWARC) research group.

We are "nearly ready" to get something out the door and move on to phase (2). The schedule may be more determined by when I decide to move on to phase 2 than anything else, though frankly some important parts of the old system have yet to be re-implemented. (The problem being, we're trying to do things in a more general way, and while this means that we will be able to solve more problems in the long run, it makes the system architecting more complicated in the short run.)

Once we do hit phase (2), I plan to enlist the core user group from the "old" site as alpha testers. These will be the people whose opinions matter the most, at least initially. A follow-up set of studies could be done a half a year later with the same people, or whomever constitutes the core group in the "new" site.

All of this relates to the non-linearity of paragogy: how does a group of half a dozen researchers and research students relate to a group of two dozen mathematicians and mathematics students, and how do these groups relate to (potential) masses of math learners who are the "real" subjects of scientific interest? The layers may actually be (mostly) de-coupled (cf. Herbert A. Simon, "Near Decomposability and Complexity: How a Mind Resides in a Brain"). Nevertheless, some peer production principles may apply at each level.

Art and Literature

Pop Music

Is pop music a suitable case study in Paragogy? Absolutely. Start by taking a look at the artists who collaborated on Kanye West's 2010 "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy" album: Kid Cudi, Jay-Z, Pusha T, Prynce Cy Hi, Swizz Beatz, The RZA, Rick Ross, John Legend, Bon Iver and more. The same year Kanye contributed to 'Blazin' a stellar track from Nicki Minaj's "Pink Friday" record. Within 5 months of "Friday's" release Nicki was featured on 'Til the World Ends' a sensational dance number from Ms. Britney Spears's "Femme Fatalle". And we haven't even gotten started with Rhianna.

So, you get the idea. There is a lot of collaboration going on amongst the upper echelon of pop stars. I would hesitate to call Kanye a "peer" of Nicki or Britney given he's, IMHO, one of the leading figures of the non-underground music avant garde, which includes Radiohead and Animal Collective. He himself might view himself as peerless if we trust this quote from his "La Dolce Vita" essay

"I'm one of the few celebrities that are on the same wave of consciousness as all the behind-the-scene journalists, photographers, stylists, publicists, filmmakers, poets, painters, graphic artists and so on. I am the voice of the dreamers. I am the creative dream come true, and I refuse to wake up."

That established for the purposes of this piece let's call them all peers. Certainly none are teachers/students in a Pedagogical sense and nobody's working in an Andralogical vacuum.

So. They are all peers who are willing to work together to make better music and money. And that's cool. What can we learn? Let's start with Nicki, the least famous of the trio. I would never of heard her music on my favorite station, Chicago's B96, if not for the fact Britney brought her on for 'Til the World Ends'. Similarly, her "Pink Friday" album likely would be less played on radio if it didn't have a track featuring Kanye. So, what did Nicki get from her Paragogical experience? Beyond the immeasurable learning about what to/not do she assuredly got watching Kanye and Britney work she got more people listening to her music (i.e. me) and more record sales (don't have data, but its a safe assumption).

If she is the padowan of the group, Kanye is certainly the master. Perhaps I shouldn't be mixing analogies here, but you follow. What did Kanye get? From his appearance on Nicki's record probably not too much. But you need to remember, Kanye didn't come from nowhere. On his "Fantasy" Jay-Z contributed and Kanye himself refers to Jay as his "big brother" and on his debut record "College Dropout" tells the story of how Jay helped him make it big. Within this context, Kanye was taking care of the next generation of Pop stars the same way the previous one did for him.

What does all of this have to do with you and Paragogy? These are some of the biggest names with complimentary sized egos in the music industry and they are willing to work and learn together, sharing credit. How often does this happen in your workplace? When a project comes along do you seek out the best people to work with you and then are you eager to give them credit? Possibly, but my experiences in the professional world dictate that is not typically the case.

Or, how about in academia? How many papers do you see with multiple authors? Typically the lead one being the most famous?

I guess the best Paragogical lesson we can draw from these artists is that when you are trying to learn something new or ambiguous, i.e. how to make a top 40 pop song, you are served well by collaborating with peers who are more accomplished than you. Once you do accomplish your goal, don't forget to help new learners on their way to the mountain top.

November Novel Writing Month

Unbenownest to Joe and I when we started our Paragogy Vision Quest this November, it is officially National Novel Writing Month. One gentleman started the month a few years back and now it has turned into an annual happening. I would love to have some learning analytics data from these writers in terms of how many sign up, and then exactly how many novels are finished during the month. Amongst those finished, how many were started before November 1st, and how many after?

Those basic building blocks would be nice as a way to graphically display paragogy I believe. I would be shocked if the numbers were not positively correlated between the number of peers involved and the number of novels produced.

This reminds me of a common question of peer learning: Sure, learning HTML from a peer is cool, but do I really want my brain surgeon's education to come from peers online? Perhaps the gravity is less with a novelist than a surgeon, but still the question of quality remains. These works authored and shared at the end of November, what kind of quality are they? This gets into a whole nother region of ambiguity, judging the quality of a novel.

Nontheless, we push on. Let's say the literature quality could be measured by what high-brow publications reviewed the work, and impact quality by how many copies were sold. This assumes we hold America's trusted critics (i.e. New York Times Magazine, Chicago Reader, etc.) as the gatekeepers of literary merit, which is probably fair.

That aside, impact is more important, in terms of reaching readers and making scratch. Measuring these two aspects would be easier. So, if we could have sales and readership data plus an index (perhaps modeled on Rotten Tomato) of the literary merit of a work (i.e. 1 point for a review by an independent blogger, 1,000 for New York Review of Books) and evaluate finished novels by those factors, that would also yield helpful information on how Paragogy can work well.

  • Growth over time?
    • Chart would be nice.
  • Dude who started its book.
    • And derivations thereof.
  • How have peers worked together to solve this goal?
  • Joe: I think it would be very interesting to create something like or with a much more "social" aspect to the writing. Instead of just keeping track of who is writing, the system could do some light-weight text analysis (e.g. using my current favorite algorithm for this, the Concept Forest algorithm) to help people connect with each other, by finding people who are writing about similar topics, for example.
  • Joe: A quick guesstimate would indicate that by the end of the month we will have written around 70% of the 50,000 word requirement for NaNoWriMo. We can do an actual analysis of the numbers later. Note that had we both written exactly 750 words per day, we'd have done 90% of the requirement. To do it solo, one would need to write about 1666 words per day. Anyway, we now have a nice body of text to work with if we want to do further editing and refinement (which I suspect we will).

Sensemaking and the literary underground

One of the examples of paragogy is personal life. How many times have you had a relationship where you said "Well at least it has been a good learning experience!" Probably the other party felt the same way.

How do all of these little pieces of life fit together? This is something that philosophy looks at a lot. And art too: "Bits and pieces put together to present a semblance of a whole" - artwork by Lawrence Weiner on display outside of the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

I am right now thinking of various "non-human peers" coming together in the form of assemblage or montage. This is a technique that is used in literature as well, with examples ranging from Faulker's "Wild Palms" to Burroughs's cut-ups. It happens in everyday life when we look at things like photo albums or scrapbooks or even a diary. The way a "whole" arises out of parts is the major idea in Gestalt philosophy and psychology. It's a bit like the "illusion" that makes a sequence of pictures appear to move at the movie theater.

So, in personal life, a personality "emerges" out of patterns in various interactions. "The fundamental principle of gestalt perception is the law of prägnanz, which says that we tend to order our experience in a manner that is regular, orderly, symmetric, and simple." This expands into different sub-principles or "gestalt laws": closure, similarity, proximity, symmetry, continuity, and common fate. These laws are criticised on the basis of not being explanatory.

Nevertheless, if we talk about something general like "pattern", or even "shape", presumably it has to do with some of the gestalt laws. Thus for example, coming back to revisit a given theme again and again relates to both similarity and symmetry. Objects "hang together" at the very least through proximity, and then we come up with stories to explain why they are together; in other words, we describe them in terms of their "common fate".

One of the interesting things is that story-telling is a basically social phenomenon. If we are able to put something into words, then we are, at least at a basic level, ready to share the story with other people. So the ways in which we "make sense" of perceptions already functions in a space that could potentially be described as paragogical.

This is interesting partly because of the normative aspect. Something that doesn't make sense is problematic. If we can't find a way to relate it to what we know, it either must be assimilated or gotten rid of. (Cf. "The Gods Must Be Crazy".) This has both a productive aspect -- storytelling -- and a destructive aspect (getting rid of the problematic unexplainable thing). It isn't clear to me which of these two forces is usually on top.

Anyway, maybe this brainstorm can be useful for coming up with some questions (see Question Pool) to use during interviews about paragogy. Asking people how they make sense of new events, for example, we might pick up on some ways in which storytelling functions to build new culture. It would also be interesting to look a little at the things that get swept under the rug. What sorts of issues get tabled? What topics are people less willing to think about? What excuses do they make so that they do not have to pay attention to problematic sore points (even if those things are staring them right in the face)?

It is also interesting to look at how cultural formations like pedagogy or andragogy may suppress paragogical sense-making behavior. For example, consider the autocratic parent who says "it is like that because I say it is like that, and that is all you need to know". Questioning or dissent won't work as a sense-making strategy in this sort of regime, or else it has to "go underground".

This brings to mind another type of questioning, aimed at discerning "paragogy" as an "exceptional" way of thinking and criticizing the regimes in power -- something like the cloud of electrons around the nucleus of an atom. How do people form a sense-making network that opposes or goes beyond the "official" word; for example, consider how people might use Sina Weibo to generate new cultural formations despite censorship and blacklisting; or the historical example of Samizdat literature in the USSR.

Indeed, we could look for a parogogical pun on the term Samizdat ("Myself by Myself Publishers") and look for publications "By the people, for the people" (like PlanetMath!).


Copyright has become a much bigger issue than it was before, because within the advent of the internet, many more people are producing Copyrightable works. Copyright has a long history going back to the United Kingdom after the Printing Press was invented. For the purposes of this page, we will keep the discussion to the 21st century.

Typically when an author makes a work (CD, book, movie, software, etc.) they give this notice: Copyright (C) 2011 The Author. All Rights Reserved. This means that the author is keeping all the rights to themselves and you do not have permission to re-mix, re-publish or share the work without their permission.

That said, there is still "Fair Use" an aspect of US Copyright law that specifies certain uses of works that are "All Rights Reserved" are OK. These include teachers using photocopies of books in their classrooms, parodies and artists like Girl Talk re-mixing other's music. Girl Talk is the most interesting case as he has gotten famous by re-mixing short clips of works by other artists into new songs.

He is walking a very fine line that might disappear. If he were to sell his albums he would most definitely be sued by record labels, but instead he gives them away for free on his website. He makes his money by doing shows.

So, even within the "All Rights Reserved" world of Copyright there is are opportunties for Paragogy. Girl Talk is a peer of the artists he re-mixes (Jay-Z, The Verve and more) and together they are learning how to make popular music for 21st century listeners.

Another option for authors of Copyirghtable works is to license some of their rights. This is where paragogy gets really exciting! The best example of this is with Free Software, specifically the GNU Linux Operating System. GNU Linux has a license that allows others to share, modify or adapt the work to their own purposes, provided they license the derivative work the same way.

This has allowed for the GNU Linux system to be hacked by thousands, if not millions, of people around the globe. Users who have the software can change it for their own purposes and then distribute, or even sell, their new works so long as they license the terms the same way.

Creative Commons is an organization focused on Copyright licenses and they have developed a few of their own which allow for similar, and/or different rights to be reserved or not.

For 21st century authors having an understanding of Copyright and the associated licenses is of paramount importance. By carefully studying them you can collaborate with other authors from around the globe without having to contact them directly. Say you and your band make a new album. You are looking for a picture to put on the cover, but do not have the funds to pay a professional photographer. A quick perusal of the Wikimedia Commons and you find the exact picture you want. Luckily it is licensed with a Creative Commons Attribution license, so you can put it on the album so long as you attribute the original author.

Paragogy baby!

Officiating Ice Hockey

I started working as an ice hockey referee when I was a teenager. You are set up as an independent contractor, so you're working for yourself, contracting for individual games. So there's no "ref union" its a bunch of individuals, or peers, working together. Schedulers assign individual games, and then you work them with 1 or 2 other officials you may or may not have worked with before.

Every year you have to attend a 1-day seminar and do an open book test to reacquaint yourself with the rules and learn any new changes. The seminar and accompanying test are Pedagogical. Its taught by a very experienced high-level referee and the test is developed by similar officials. Beyond that, all learning is Paragogical. It can come from the guy you are doing the game with giving you a tip, i.e. when you are talking with your partner in a break about something that happened you should never point at the player(s) under discussion. Odds are the player(s) won't notice the point, but the fans or coaches might, and even if they don't say anything about it, its poor form. Referees are the most visible people on the ice, and in addition to focusing on making the right calls, officials also need to make sure they look the part. That means things like pointing are important to avoid. Little things like that or talking to a player you know before the game starts off the ice add up and determine how much fans, coaches and players respect the official.

Let's see how Paragogy as implemented by officials fits in with the five principles.

1 Changing context as a decentered center.

Save the Pedagogical seminar, the learning context is always changing for officials. Maybe it happens before or after the game in the referee room, maybe during the game when your partner tells you "You made the right call, but don't look the player in the eyes when you assess the penalty. Its too confrontational and can lead to more trouble." Whenever it is if you want to learn your craft as an official part of it is knowing how to make learning spaces whenever you need one.

Within that too, how you establish your learning context will be a big part of how effectively parties learn from one another. In the same situation mentioned earlier if the official had said "Right call, but you assessed the penalty like an idiot amateur." Its likely the listener would not take the advice to heart, instead maybe get angry at the speaker and disregard the correct (albeit delivered poorly) point. Later in the game the criticized official may not tell his partner when he sees them doing something wrong, so the partner will have missed out on a learning opportunity. On the other hand if criticism can be delivered constructively by both parties learning can flow like water.

2 Meta-learning as a font of knowledge.

Part of this comes from listening to more experienced officials. When you hear they keep a copy of the rules book by the commode and take notes every time they are in "the office", you might laugh. Instead you should take the advice to heart. If that idea grosses you out, try reading it every day on your train ride to work. Point isn't to get you to read in an odd place, its that if you want to be a good official you gotta know the rule book inside and out.

Furthermore you need to learn how to learn by watching. When your partner makes a call, pay attention. Whether they do it correctly or not, you can learn how to better do it yourself, or what to avoid when you are in the same situation.

3. Peers provide feedback that wouldn’t be there otherwise.

One way this fits into officiating is seen in principle 1, another is that sometimes officials get lucky and get "officially" evaluated or mentored for a game. If they're evaluated, someone sits in the stands with a checklist of things to watch for. They take notes, then after the game come into the ref locker room and tell you what they saw: good points and points to improve.

Mentoring is for new officials, who are typically only allowed to do games for the younger ages. The two new officials do the game and another, higher level, official skates on the ice with them. The mentor is not supposed to actually make any calls, just be there on the ice and answer questions or give tips when necessary.

4. Learning is distributed and nonlinear.

This is very true in reffing. I've been doing it for over 6 seasons and I learn something new every time I go on the ice. For example, even though I have been taught how to call icing every year at the seminar and then tested on it with the open book, only this year did I "hear" when they told me I should yell "Ice!" or "No Ice!" before I make/don't make the call. This seems superfulous, but its important to let everyone in the rink know what's happening and can avoid dangerous situations for players. I'm sure I was taught that every year, but only now am I implementing. I learned lots of more complex rule interpretations or ideas along the way, like the best way to communicate with an over excited coach (calmly) but missed this step, so my learning wasn't linear.

5. Realize the dream if you can, then wake up!

The goal with reffing is to keep the game safe and fair. Officials first need to realize that is the goal, not being a tough guy with a whistle, and then do everything they can to achieve that difficult task: i.e. when a player tells you you're stupid and you give him a penalty for unsportsmanlike, don't watch him especially hard afterwards looking to make another call. That's not fair to him nor his team. Let go of your emotion and try to have a clear mind watching the subsequent events unfold. If you are able to have a fair and safe game, give yourself a high-5 and then wake up. Its time to start focusing on your next game and giving the same, if not a better performance.

Academic Peer Review

Is it better to work alone or with other people? We've seen in examples like Officiating Ice Hockey that working alone isn't even an option in some settings. Indeed, in science, whether or not you're working directly with other people, the only way to have it be "science" is to situate the work relative to contributions from other scientists. At least that's the standard wisdom: science progresses by a survey of the literature, finding a gap, designing an experiment, and reporting on the results.

Sometimes there might be a leap that doesn't relate so much to other literature - for example, an experience report like that of Darwin. "Foundational science" is nevertheless not going to be accepted as scientific until other peers have certified it as such. (And Darwin had considerable difficulty convincing his peers about his idea of natural selection.)

It's curious how individuals sometimes "want to be left alone" (e.g. to escape from a situation of control or disruption), and sometimes actively seek out others for companionship. Socrates' advice to Meno was to talk over what he had learned with another interlocutor to see if he could convince him to come around to the same understanding. Social engagement seems important for thinking things through seriously: if you can't convince other people of your point, maybe the point isn't really that well thought through.

So for example "peer review" of scientific papers constitutes an important example of paragogy in action. If we thought of the paper as a "product" (see "Laboratory Life: The Social Construction of Scientific Facts" by Bruno Latour and Steve Woolgar, 1979), the reviewers are something like "alpha testers" or a focus group whose role is to see if the product is really fit for market. (Think about the way Motown Records made industrial product development methods part of the workflow for music production.) One good strategy for writing a good paper is to get a good critical review from a friend ("amicus curiae") before sending it in to reviewers.

But what exactly are the reviewers looking for? Generally they are looking for "a significant novel contribution to the field of X", where X is the name of the journal or conference where the paper has been submitted. It is, again, similar with music. An awesome new dubstep track should feature "tightly coiled productions with overwhelming bass lines and reverberant drum patterns, clipped samples, and occasional vocals" and an awesome new dubstep dance should feature someone dancing like a weird combination of Michael Jackson and a half way broke down robot -- or else it's probably not "dubstep". I can enjoy music as music, but somehow the genre, X, is important for people to understand what the music "is".

But the significant novel contribution part is presumably a good bit harder. Though perhaps related to a thorough understanding of X, its constituent parts, its boundaries, the people and styles that have contributed to the development (production) of X in the first place.

If you can't say "This is a significant novel contribution to X" then maybe what you've made is a sort of student piece - a study, like copying someone else's style. Or sketching something that is novel but not so significant (even great painters make sketches that aren't their best work, and which might be beautiful, but which no one really remembers).

For academic writing it tends to be good form to say up front "This is the significant and novel contribution of my paper, and here is why it is significant and novel." This makes it easier for the reviewers to function as good "alpha testers" since they can focus in on the novel aspects and decide for themselves how significant they really are, or focus in on the significant aspects and decide how novel they really are. It's not like you're just promoting some new flavour of coffee where the question is "do people like it". These people have tried pretty much every flavour of coffee there is to try and they are eager for something different, something that hits just the spot that no previous coffee flavour has hit before. Otherwise they would just go back to their old standard and leave you and your trendy new small-batch hand-roasted blend for some other hipster.

So, just like with a bottle of wine, the tasting notes should be there and they should be accurate. (Apologies for the mixed metaphors, I've been feeling my way through this essay as well as I can in a hurry!)


Language teaching

I have been teaching English since the summer of 2008, and along the way I have learned quite a bit about how to teach from peers. Whether it be working in the classroom directly with another teacher, "comparing notes" with another one in the teacher's office, discussing what works/doesn't with another at the bar and/or reading published works about how-to teach from peers.

Quick note on that last point: reading something written by someone else is actually probably not an example of Paragogoy, that's more andragogical. If you read it and then contact the author and then start learning from one another that'd be Paragogical, and/or if you discuss said work about teaching with peers that'd be Paragogical. Reading alone as I did wasn't Paragogical, but it was an important foundation of what I think about language teaching and how I talked about it with peers.

1. Changing context as a decentered center.

I believe teaching English can be built from a logical and pedagogically sound base, which would most likely come from taking getting a Master's in the subject. I did not have that base, I started teaching with very little training and basically zero personal study of my own. That may sound reckless and irresponsible, but I was hired for the job and most of my fellow new teachers were in the same situation.

Given that, there was no option, but to co-create a learning context with my peers. With my fellow foreign teachers it was established when we'd get together socially, and inevitably stories/concerns from the classroom would arise. We'd talk these out and learn from one another. With the local Japanese teachers of English (JTEs) we learned together (with them leading) in the irregular meetings we'd have preparing for our classes and in the classroom itself.

2. Meta-learning as a font of knowledge.

The way I learned how to teach was trial by fire. I regularly took notes while teaching in Japan, but it wasn't till the next year in China that I made a post-class ritual of answering 3 questions: What did I do well? What could I have done better? and What did I learn?

That method was lifted from a article my father found about "Trading Journals" suggesting financial traders should keep a daily journal including those questions above. And that if they didn't have time to review that journal at the end of the week, they didn't have time to be a good trader (need to find the source for this).

Incorporating this into my teacher-research made me a far better teacher quicker. I still made mistakes all the time, but I feel I repeated them less than I do, say, in other areas of my life where I don't review as thoroughly. As weeks went by I was left with this long list of notes I would review before making that week's lesson plans and starting classes.

Continuing that to a peer context I regularly discussed with my colleagues about my classroom. I got incredible feedback from them on handling uninterested students, useful classroom materials and more. One thing I also learned was sometimes with peers its important what you _don't_ get feedback on. There are instances where even though you may be confused about something, bringing it up and talking it over with colleagues who aren't quite aware of the context 'cause you're not really explaining it perfectly, and because they may offer advice just to be nice even if its not something they've tried in their own classrooms ... at those times keeping your own counsel is likely best.

So, part of learning how to learn is who you can learn with and how you can learn with them and when its best not to include them.

Language learning

I started informally learning a second language at age two when my family moved to Japan. My formal studies of Japanese lasted two years: first and second grade at Tokyo's Nischimachi International School (NIS).

Age 8, or 3rd grade, my family moved back home to Winnetka. From grades three to five at Greeley I remember having Spanish classes, but not many. My main memory is some sort of rap or song we sang to learn the capitals of South America. Beat was saucy "Bo-go-ta Colum-bi-A!".

I studied French at Washburne Junior High School in grades six through eight, and continued my French work during all 4 years of New Trier High School. During that period my family did 2 exchange programs with a French one, and twice I spent three weeks there.

My previous work passed me out of Colgate University's language requirement, and I haven't taken a language class from a school since 2003.

I have often worked as a golf caddy in the summer months since '03, and many of my fellow independent contractors were born in Mexico. From hanging out and asking the definition of fun words from time to time I've picked up a sliver of Espangol.

I did a semester abroad in London via Colgate and I visited Paris and used what I remembered of my French unimpressively with locals. In summer '08 I worked for Le Chateau des Enfants, an English language focused summer camp at The American School in Montagnola, Switzerland. Under the influence I impressed my fellow counselor & English Teachers by having a broken conversation in French with a cab driver on a ride back to campus. He didn't speak English, I didn't speak Italian, but be both spoke French. His was better than mine, but we communicated enough that he joked I was "the President" and I said "Non. Je suis un peasant." (No, I am a peasant.) which I illustrated with hand gestures indicating the President was high, near the cab's ceiling, and the peasant (i.e. moi) was low, on the floor mat.

After Montagnola I worked in Hamatonbetsu, Japan a picturesque rural town of 4,000 roughly 90 minutes South West of Japan's Northern tip (which is a 3 hour, very expensive, ferry ride from Sakalin, Russia). Obviously my informal Japanese studies resumed. I had 2 close friends in town from Washington state, a husband who taught at the local high school and wife. Besides them, essentially everyone else I interacted with at my office, schools, Judo club, Taiko club, and in town were native Japanese speakers. Many spoke English, some quite well. I didn't have a formal tutor and gave up on the self-study course offered by the JET Program. Yet, my spoken and aural Japanese improved considerably. I learned from peers working and being social: I wish I could quantify how much Japanese I learned at Karaoke bars. On that note, I learned to sing "Yuki" a song by Enka artist Jero somewhat popular in Japan.

July 2009 I shipped out to the small city of Anqing, China to teach Aural English at Anqing Foreign Language School. I hired a tutor born and raised near Anqing. She was an English teacher at an Anqing school and was highly recommended by a teacher from Philadelphia at an Anqing college. She helped a lot, but similarly I learned most of my Anqing-hua, or Anging dialect of Mandarin, via working and socializing amidst its 1,000,000+ inhabitants. Between weekly lessons and talking with locals I grasped enough spoken and aural Mandarin to have 20-ish minute conversations with cab drivers. I had to lead the conversation and keep it on topics I could converse about (was I married? Chinese girls? Job? English Teacher! Salary? Alcohol? America?, etc.). If I lost command it could get too abstract for my vocabulary and very quickly fizzle out.

I have never Reviewing my formal and informal language studies, and considering what I have learned about how to learn a language as an English Teacher I feel there are 3 keys to studying verbal communication in a new language well:

1 - Move to the country that natively speaks the language you want to learn. 2 - Be very social (talk to colleagues, go out to dinner, join local clubs, etc.) and very unafraid to make mistakes and look like a fool speaking the new language. Make mistakes over and over again. 3 - Hire a tutor.

For me those 3 things without any sincere formal book study or class work got me using Japanese and Chinese every day living in those cultures. I was nowhere near fluent and illiterate, but I was able to make friends, joke around, clarify confusing customer experiences and more, taking my interactive experience with the new culture to a far higher level.

Locals were almost always appreciative of my language efforts and while I did obviously get laughed at more than once, people can sense if you are earnestly trying to learn their language and normally are patient and sometimes even excited to help!

Computer languages (i.e. hacking)

This was a recent conversation with my family. My dad asked "What is the language you are trying to learn?" I said, "PHP and Drupal". My sister said, "Well, Drupal isn't really a language". I said, "Well, OK, it's more like a computer program for running websites". My sister said, "Yeah, a computer program, but one that's more of a platform or toolbox." In the end we were in good agreement, but I still find the thing rather hard to learn.

Why is that? Emacs, for example, could be described in similar terms. Instead of building websites, you mostly use it to build editing functions, but because it includes a fully-fledged programming language and connection to other GNU/Linux programs, you can get it to do all kinds of weird things. For example, one of my hacks was to get it to play music based on the keys I was typing. That was fun.

Like Emacs, Drupal has a bunch of "hooks" that allow you to modify the way it works. When something happens (say, for example the contents of a form are saved), a "hook" will fire, and any code you've associated with that hook will get run. There are quite a few hooks in standard Drupal, and learning how they work is a bit like learning a simplified "language". (Hence my comment.)

But, unlike Emacs, Drupal's debugging facilities are pretty arcane. Common Lisp tends to be even easier to interact with than Emacs Lisp, but the key word in both cases is "interact". Along with great things like "backtrace" and so forth.

In order to get proper debugging messages out of Drupal, you have to instrument the code with things like dd(). That's pretty helpful, once you know it's there. Same goes for the mailing list. I learned tons about Emacs Lisp from the Help-GNU-Emacs mailing list -- and for some reason for a long time I thought Drupal only had its site's forums and issue tracker, and IRC. Asking good questions on a mailing list is one thing I'm good at -- asking good questions (and getting good answers) on IRC is something I find harder.

My pal from the Internet, Sacha Chua, has written a bunch about Drupal on her blog (google site search). She is also an Emacs hacker, by the way, which is how I know her -- and apart from that, she generally tends to maintain a positive attitude about most things (for years, her blog has been called "living an awesome life"). Probably reading some of her tips would help me get over my own bad attitude about Drupal!

(Quick digression on Sacha: she has lists on her website of things she can help you learn and things you can help her learn which is a great paragogical networking technique in my view, and a more balanced paragogical view on "learner profiles" than the standard Learning Analytics one.)

In any case, the best way to get over a bad attitude about learning something is probably just to dive in. (Unlike with cold water, you can't catch hypothermia from programming.) At one point when I was feeling particularly stuck, I read the first ten chapters or so of "Pro Drupal 7 Development". That helped give me a reasonably good high-level impression of what's going on.

One good thing about Drupal is the number of modules that you can just install. A lot of them do almost what you're after. (Which, at least in theory, reduces the learning load, as compared with having to code everything yourself.)

So far, the best way I've found to be productive with it is to work closely with friends and colleagues who know more about the system than I do. That's fun and really useful. Unfortunately for me, these colleagues aren't available all the time: they live far away, and our email-based communications aren't as effective as our in-person conversations. As our project lead put it, the best thing to do is to be able to depend on yourself.

I'm not sure if I have a specific mental block about Drupal programming or what, but at present it is certainly feels like one of my major Achilles heels. David Allen's comment that "You can do anything, but you can't do everything" feels like something I'd like to apply to Drupal: use my strengths at writing and conceptualizing projects to apply for grants so I can get money so I can hire someone who's good at this stuff. One problem with grant writing is that it's a bit of a gamble: I've heard that 1 in 5 applications, on average, gets the award. I'd particularly like to invest in a programmer who would not only do work on the project, but teach me and other people on the team (like this).

It's weird though: back when I was working on Lisp stuff, I didn't think so much about hiring someone. Since I "got it" more easily, I just did a bunch of programming on my own. I didn't necessarily finish everything (a big David Allen no-no) but think I did pretty well given the resources I had. It would have been nice then, too, to have a few more people around to talk to about the ideas and to hack with me on the code.



P2PU Interview I

Here's the transcript of a quick, informal text interview.

X: Hi Joe. How are you

Y: Hi X! I'm OK how are you?

X: I am trying to get back in P2pU Finding that the courses are less well organised on the web site now

Y: Hm, I haven't done a whole lot there lately.

X: By this, it isnt so clear when courses start. etc They used to be done to a set pattern

Y: I think many of them do not "start" or "end" Which I personally think is likely to be a bad idea But also, confusing, when some DO have start and end dates but these aren't clear I can see why you're finding it tedious! I think (maybe this is per usual), the only thing to do is to ask a well-framed question in the mailing list!

X: You are prob right. But I find the mailing list a bit daunting It feels to me like quitea close knit group and I am not part of it

Y: Maybe easier if you just use it via the web interface (if they have a web interface) But yes, I share the same "outsider" feeling

Y: My engagements with them left me feeling quite mad (as in bonkers) and often rather angry too.

X: Can I check we are talking about the same list.!forum/p2pu-community

Y: yes that's the one I was referring to I'm no longer subscribed to it But I guess you can just join, set it up so you get no email, and then post via the web. Hey, I have a curious question for you: could I use this conversation (if I anonymise it), in something I'm writing? specifically, I'm working on a book about peer learning

X: Yes

Y: Cool thanks! It would be interesting to get some more of your thoughts - about P2PU, your own goals and ideas, etc. But what we've said so far is a great start so thanks! I had been leaving the P2PU section blank so far.

X: I will have a bit more of a think what I want to get out of P2PU or similar and come back to you

Y: great I'm often online Feel free to chat just as you've done, or send me an email any time Good luck with your efforts to get the kind of experience you're looking for - and let me know any time if you have an idea about how I might help out... Take care!

Software Platform Ideas for

Ideal software for Re-mix of OER Bit, Khan Academy and the Nethernet

At the time of this writing, is built off of Mediawiki, the popular wiki software used on Wikipedia. It is perfect for the current moment as it tracks all the new writings Joe and I do, as well as providing a slick internal website to connect everything together.

Currently its only open to edits from Joe and I. At some point we may allow other peers to edit, although part of me would prefer to not, allowing the wiki to be an ongoing account of our research. Everything is licensed CC0 anyway, so peers could take what's here and move it to their own or a public mediawiki install whenever they please.

What I would like, though, is to develop a seperate software designed to let users learn paragogically. I envision a re-mix of the University of Michigan's OER Bit (OERB), Gamelayers's Nethernet (Nnet) and the Khan Academy learning platform (KA). The overarching framework would be Nnet, a firefox plug-in that is not on all the time, but which users can flip on when they want to “learn”. It keeps track of a user's progress around the internet, and allows them to create missions or other web activities for peers to complete. Thus, Nnet would track all their users time and history as they browse the web, allowing them to tack notes for themselves or others on a give web page.

The next component OERB would be the home of the repository of OER. It is a slick modification for Drupal making our internal OER easily findable, viewable and usable with clear indications of copyright licensing and related concerns. This would also need an easy way for users to upload their own, new OER.

Finally, the “learner profile” would be built off the Khan Academy software as a place for learners to track and display (if they chose) their education with the world. It would intertwine seamlessly with Nnet tracking their web history, plus missions completed and created. Similarly it would highlight how they have been interacting with OERB, whether it be what percentage they watched of a video lecture, what E-books they have downloaded and/or what they have uploaded. There would also be some peer ranking system (including badges earned and made), where their skill in paragogical learning is assessed.

Beyond those elements etherpad should also be installed and within the domain all user contributions to individual etherpads should be noted and tracked. Etherpads are the best way I've found thus far to work collaboratively online, the only frustrating part being contributions are often lost or sorta floating out there in the internet, disconnected from a larger body of work.

Furthermore within community norms I would like there to be definitive goals: i.e. we are going to assemble an Accounting textbook for peers to learn from by this specific date, and then deliver a polished, finished product with an ISBN and have it be something someone who'd never heard of could use, learn from and respect. Obviously free versions of the books or whatever would be available, ideally there would also be an option for people to buy a print textbook as a way to fund our activities.

The big idea would be to track all the paragogical learning a user does online as a way for them to see what they have done, and to get as many analytics as possible about their learning to analyze. Once the data reached a suitable threshold, it would hopefully yield measurable insights into how peers learn together and how they do it well.

Business Models for

Soundtrack:, Dead Kennedys, "Stars and Stripes of Corruption"

Yesterday I was talking with my sister about an idea that I've had for a while. She's going to interview for an MBA programme at an elite US university soon, so it seemed like a good time to get her professional opinion.[1] Anyway, she asked me "What might you like to do after the Ph. D.?" so I gave her my answers.

The first answer was

If the PlanetMath stuff is reasonably successful, I might want to study for my math Ph. D. -- that was always part of the goal of working on this project, to make math easier for me to learn. Especially if I start to get some grant money coming in, there could be a "day job" aspect to this work too.

The second answer was

But what I've been really thinking about doing is making something sort of like PlanetMath, but for consumer products. Think about a sort of combination of Amazon and WikiLeaks. The idea would be to understand the real impact of buying a given product, so, for example, instead of just featuring customer reviews, a product page might include things like an interview with someone who works at the place where the product is made. There'd be a major 'investigative journalism' aspect of the project, like, how much money goes in and out of Ciudad Juárez, and for what purposes? Maybe a good code-name for the project is "Milieu" (which is a bit of a pun on the name of the dog-cum-deus ex machina from the Tintin comic book series). You could get started with a sort of unauthorized plugin for Amazon: think of a crowdsourced version of GoodGuide (cf. And how do I come into it? I have a certain degree of expertise on where the information that makes up crowdsourced resources comes from. The tool isn't going to be very interesting if nothing is there. For example, I had the idea to make a business model for PlanetMath by hosting paid online tutoring on the site, with the novel twist that video, audio, and electronic "whiteboard" transcripts will be shared publicly (presumably with optional anonymization). Why would students want that? Partly because it gives them a degree of quality assurance about the tutoring they receive.

I couldn't put it all together then, but I have a thought about how to continue now:

In the Milieu project, motivation to participate could be "just for fun" (like writing reviews on Amazon) or "for educational purposes" (which is why I'm writing about this on It could even be done in co-located "camps" or even extended "group therapy" sessions (cf., resembling hack-a-thons or adventure tourism. (This is just one thought on how a model of educational/economic transactions would prime the pump - long term, the system would be sustained, like Amazon, through product sales.) It wouldn't be necessary to work with troubled youth per se -- but the model of "life space crisis intervention" (cf. would be an interesting one to explore as we look at more general sorts of situations where "crisis management" techniques would be usefully applied. Much as with the PlanetMath case, building up a repository of knowledge about various crises (ranging in scale from personal to global) may itself be a useful and interesting task.

This might be intensely cynical: how can we commodify being a "lost boy"? But I think it's at least worth considering taking people's "anti-social" tendencies and turning it into something that matters, at least to those people involved. Like I was saying, this is a short term question: long-term, milieu/ wouldn't be charging the "creators" but, rather, paying them dividends from product sales. For another point of comparison, think of the project as something like the Whole Earth Catalog (whose modern-day heritage includes the Whole Earth 'Lectronic 'Link (WELL), and Wired magazine).

Much like with PlanetMath, there would be a question "how is this different from Wikipedia?", and the answer would again be something like "Wikipedia is stuck being a wiki and an encyclopedia. We can make something that goes beyond that by supporting different kinds of interactions."

Thinking about "anti-social behavior", check out this quote from director Richard Linklater:

"Slackers might look like the left-behinds of society, but they are actually one step ahead, rejecting most of society and the social hierarchy before it rejects them. The dictionary defines slackers as people who evade duties and responsibilities. A more modern notion would be people who are ultimately being responsible to themselves and not wasting their time in a realm of activity that has nothing to do with who they are or what they might be ultimately striving for."

And as a final note, so far in November, 495 "cups of patronage" have been purchased at, which at $4 per cup comes to $1980 USD. That's not millions, but it would pay my rent more than twice over.

See also:

  1. The soundtrack is from "back in the day" when she and I were up and coming post-punk personae non gratae.
Sole Proprietorship

I started reffing when I was in junior high school, and given USA hockey requires that all refs work as independent contractors, that was also when I started my first business. I expanded after graduating high school earning regular summer work as a golf caddy.

You may not think of golf caddies or referees as business owners, but they are, just as builders who work as independent contractors and freelance writers are. This is different from employees, i.e. staff writers for the New York Times or a construction crew member of Kiewitt's.

This is not to say one is superior to the other, merely to clarify that there is a difference.

How important is clarifying within the US taxable system that what you are doing constitutes a business?

Within the context of identity it appears to be important, as securing a "TIN" allows you to file your taxes with it, as opposed to your Social Security Number. Reminds me of David Foster Wallace introducing himself as a character in "The Pale King" using his social as a way to indicate it was really him.

Is it akin to someone wanting work as an employe getting a college degree, in the sense you're "in the game"?

I think it is, in that without making the tax moves you cannot engage in business-to-business commerce. If you are able to engage in those type of transactions it makes it more likely your business will earn revenue and survive.

That said, returning to the question of "How important is clarifying within the US taxable system that what you are doing constitutes a business?" it does not mean you cannot build your business without clarifying. I have been doing that since I formalized my Teaching Laboratory this February and since December 2009 when I started selling The Uncertainty Principle.

The biggest obstacle to growth has not been my lack of codifying it as a business within the IRS's definition, its been allocating my own time to the businesses. Given I have been working full-time or doing independent contracting work to earn my living, the businesses have not had a cash priority for me, i.e. I did not need them to succeed for me to survivie economically.

So, all the time I've invested in them has largely been pro-bono so far, with the idea being they will grow into sustainable businesses in their own time. Given the lack of consequences for not working on them, my progress has been slow.

From what I have learned so far the best advice I could give someone looking to grow their own business is to get a website and then put as much time as you possibly can into it. Study successful entrepreneurs, AND don't quite your day job.

I haven't gotten to the point yet where I can pay myself a fitting salary for running my businesses, but hopefully I'll be able to, soon. At that point I can give advice about when to quit your day job.

How does this all fit into Paragogy? I think it fits, because I have learned a lot from my "peers" or other people who own businesses. While reading Adam Smith's "The Weath of Nations" would not qualify as an exercise in Paragogy, reading Warren Buffet's Annual Reports for Berkshire Hathaway does, I believe. Warren is making it up as he goes along just as all other business owners are, and while I cannot learn from him directly via the Report I can attend his Annual Meeting and ask him a question. Similarly, there are countless online resources I can read that give information about how to run a business and if the author is alive that can count as an exercise in Paragogy. Especially if I were to write some sort of column responding to their ideas and then they wrote one in response to mine, etc.

Editing strategy for the Paragogy book

Charlie: Also, maybe its too soon, but any chance we could get an etherpad installed on and put an entire draft of the book on there? Give ppl a chance to edit with a BIG disclaimer that their contributions are CC0.

Joe: Etherpad editing: it will definitely be fun to do some editing with us, and yeah, I imagine it would be a cool party to invite other people to. A sort of textual hackathon. Nice idea!

  • Of course we should probably start by conducting an AAR for the November writing project.
  • Since I know that a lot of what I wrote was rather poor, here are a few animated gifs that might be useful for sending a message:
    • poo1.gif (it's crap!) 344046dwjvs6dyyu.gif (I don't get it) yawning.gif (boring) throbber-slow.gif (needs more) stelle%20(11).gif (yay) blairwalk1minig.gif (out of place)
  • It would be good to read the book carefully (or ask some friendly person to read it) and try to summarize the basic themes, then maybe re-outline it so that things can be moved into place in a nice way.
  • Note that there have been about 3500 page views on so far -- if 10% of those people had bought a book with a $10 margin, we'd have $350 to spend already! Yay! I think this is worth keeping in mind: if we get something out there, we can ask people for their contributions. For example, set up an email address associated with the book, and people who send mail to this email address may have their edits or contributions included in later editions.
  • If we installed these extensions and then we ought to be able to edit multiple pages in one form -- which could be a nice way to work.

Infinite Jest's James Incandenza

Collaborative Lesson Planning

Field studies ("In the wild")

Bootstrapping (cf. OER book)


Earlier papers

Paper 1

Paragogy: Synergizing individual and organizational learning
by Joseph Corneli and Charles Jeffrey Danoff
published on Wikiversity, January 2011

This paper describes a new theory of peer-to-peer learning and teaching that we call "paragogy". Paragogy's principles were developed by adapting the Knowles principles of andragogy to peer-based learning contexts. Paragogy addresses the challenge of peer-producing a useful and supportive context for self-directed learning.

The concept of paragogy can inform the design and application of learning analytics to enhance both individual and organization learning. In particular, we consider the role of learner profiles for goal-setting and self-monitoring, and the further role of analytics in designing enhanced peer tutoring systems.


Jonathan Grudin identified several problems for computer supported collaborative work (CSCW), which apply a fortiori in computer supported collaborative learning (CSCL)[1]. The current paper tackles similar problems, from a human and social perspective, in which both individual and organizational learning are front and center.

Grudin's thematic problems are: (1) The disparity between the people who do the work to create and support the application, and the people who get the benefit; (2) The breakdown of intuitive decision-making whenever intuition comes from a different context; and (3) the ultimate difficulty of evaluating CSCW applications, precisely because they involve complex social dynamics.

In the peer-based context, Problem 1 is somewhat mitigated, but by no means completely gone. Specializations tend to develop within every group. Power laws appear to distribute work between a core of dedicated users or contributors and a peripheral "long tail" of persons who are less involved.

We encounter Problem 2 as a direct side-effect of novelty. However, peer-based learning itself can more accurately be thought of as "new-old" (see Eisen [2]). Eisen's peer-based learning principles of voluntary involvement, trust, mutuality, authenticity, non-hierarchical status, and duration and intensity leading to closeness, are ways to describe fundamentally human situations (and quite nice-sounding ones at that). Perhaps these features are not as prevalent as they should be in our educational cultures; still the fact remains that it is not peer-based learning that is new, but many of the technologies that can support it (we count analytical methods and pedagogies among these).

We feel that Problem 3 is generally best handled by asking the people involved. If they are satisfied with their experiences, the systems involved are probably working reasonably well. If, on the other hand, they can identify some way the system could be improved, there may well be a chance to improve the system in a subsequent iteration. User feedback or even observation can thus comprise a "light" form of end-user development. That said, this approach merely transposes the problem of understanding social dynamics into a new, "technology-enhanced", version of the same problem. In any case, this will be a key problem for the nascent field of learning analytics.

In Section , we will describe our new theory of the social dynamics of peer-based education. In Section , we will develop the ideas further, relative to more general forms of peer production. Our views on how this new theory can inform the development of learning analytics are presented in Section . Finally, in Section , we describe some of our own planned work in this area, and suggest some other possible lines for future investigation.

Paragogy: a theory of peer-based teaching and learning

The theory of paragogy was developed in the context of two online courses that we ran at Peer 2 Peer University (P2PU) in Autumn of 2010. One of the courses was called "DIY Math", and it was "designed to build independent study and peer-support skills for mathematics learners at all levels." The other course was called "Collaborative Lesson Planning", and it was built around the question "Can publishing and collaboratively building lesson plans online make them better?" The first course (which was facilitated by the first author of the current paper) was not a resounding success as a course, but we learned a lot from it anyway, especially in a rich discussion about how it could be improved that took place in the second course (which was facilitated by the second author).

The key outcome was an outline of an analytical framework that applies to peer-to-peer or peer-based teaching-and-learning-between-equals. The difficulties with DIY Math pointed to possible improvements at the organizational level, such as developing a P2PU-wide "social contract", or only running courses when sufficient commitments had been "anted up". In light of this, Corneli's post-mortem analysis of DIY Math suggested that the concept of pedagogy is not sufficient in the peer-based learning context; he then introduced the etymologically more appropriate term, paragogy. He subsequently five paragogical principles (Section ), which were then improved and refined through a peer mentoring process in the Collaborative Lesson Planning course.

The fact that παραγωγή in is an existing word in Greek, meaning "generation" or "production", should not dissuade us from this new usage in English. Indeed, here we are precisely concerned with the activities that generate learning. And, vice versa, in the situated learning and communities of practice point of view, "learning was shown to be an inevitable aspect of all productive practices".[3]

In any case, paragogy will be defined here in contradistinction to another neologism, andragogy, the teaching of adults, coined in [4] Cf. [5] [6]. We found Blondy's "Evaluation and Application of Andragogical Assumptions to the Adult Online Learning Environment" to be quite useful. [7] In succinct form, Knowles's five principles of andragogy are as follows: (1) that adult learners are self-directed; (2) that they bring a wealth of experience to the educational setting; (3) that they enter educational settings ready to learn; (4) that they are problem-centered in their learning; and (5) that they are best motivated by internal factors.

Paragogical principles

Each of these principles adjusts one of Knowles's five principles to the peer-based learning context, often by turning the original by 90°. This is not because we particularly disagree with Knowles about how to teach (see below), but because paragogy deals with a very different challenge, that of analyzing and co-creating the educational environment as a whole.

1. Context as a decentered center. "For learning design in a peer-to-peer context, understanding the learner's self-concept -- in particular, whether they see themselves as self-directed or not -- may be less important than understanding the concept of 'shared context in motion'." (See "Paragogy and basho", below.)

2. Meta-learning as a font of knowledge. "We all have a lot to learn about learning."

3. Peers are equals, but different. "The learner mustn't seek only to confirm what they already know, and must therefor confront and make sense of difference as part of the learning experience."

4. Learning is distributed and nonlinear. "Side-tracking is OK, but dissipation isn't likely to work. Part of paragogy is learning how to find one's way around a given social field."

5. Realize the dream, then wake up! "Paragogy is the art of fulfilling motivations when this is possible, and then going on to the next thing."

Paragogy compared with andragogy

Blondy points out both uses and challenges to each of Knowles principles of andragogy. For example, "Cheren stated that while learners may express a desire to be self-directed in their learning, most lack the required understanding of learning necessary to be self-directed and thus need guidance and encouragement in the learning process."

From our point of view, so much seems to depend on the way things are set up in the first place. For example, the most important initial condition in andragogy seems to be that an adult educator or facilitator is part of the picture. In a peer-based setting, that may not be the case: we can easily find examples of learning environments where there is no "teacher" in the "classroom"; where, for example, the task of facilitation is shared among all participants or even encoded in the learning materials or supportive technologies. Not that one way is more desirable than another: we simply mean to highlight the fact that the most basic features of a given learning environment will influence everything else.

In particular, it seems to us that a move to the more "horizontal" regime of paragogy can often occur within andragogy, e.g. when inviting participants to interact; and vice versa, a move to a more "vertical" regime of andragogy is possible within paragogy. For example, the second author fruitfully encouraged participation in his course via personal emails to those participants who had temporarily gone quiet.

In short, we agree with Blondy when she writes "Andragogy should be used as a starting point for approaching the adult online learning environment." We recommend paragogy as an additional starting point that sits on another dimension.

Paragogy and basho

The first paragogical principle stresses the importance of understanding the idea of shared context in motion. We will elaborate here.

The philosophical foundations of this notion, originally developed by Kitaro Nishida, and summarized in English by Masao Abe[8], describe the way in which events and objects arise from their larger contexts. In other words, the idea of basho ("shared context in motion") can help us think about how a context constrains or supports different types of (inter-)actions, and also about how we (re-)shape the contexts we find ourselves in.

Nonaka and Toyama take this idea and apply it to knowledge creation. They suggest that knowledge is created as people interact over time in a shared context, in a process that can be broken up into repeated phases they call Socialisation, Externalisation, Combination, and Internalisation (SECI).[9] In simple terms, any given phase can be understood in terms of "what I do", "what we do", "how we do it", and "what it's all about".

The first paragogical principle says that instead of focusing on how learners see themselves (e.g. as "self-directed" or "dependent" or something else), we should be asking how the learning context shapes what learners are actually able to do. Note that this includes looking at ways in which learners can contribute to reshaping the learning context.

Instead of simply saying "so-and-so lacks the required understanding of learning, so I need to help them", a paragogue would also look for contextual features of the learning environment that are "blocking" self-directed learning. These may include features that block the ability of learners to make adjustments to the environment on their own behalf, or which limit their ability to ask for help.

Paragogy and Peer Production

The links between paragogy and peer production illuminate both. As Phillip Schmidt writes: "Upon closer inspection of commons-based peer production communities, we find learning at their core".[10] Conversely, in the conclusion to "Education and Mind in the Knowledge Age", Carl Bereiter writes:

Schools are places where knowledge creation can go on, but where it does not have to be market driven or competitive. [...] Knowledge creation in schools is the creation of knowledge by students for their own use. [...] To the extent that knowledge created in schools has value beyond the classroom where it was created, it enters into a barter economy.[11]

Context as a decentered center.

The idea that internal motivation is in conflict with goal-directedness (from Tennant[12], cited in Blondy) seems somewhat dubious if we consider the reciprocal effect of environment on character development described by Benkler and Nissenbaum.[13]

Meta-learning as a font of knowledge.

Continuing this idea, gaining skills, employability, or a good reputation, seems to be a straightforward self-oriented way to enhance one's quality of life. But in fact, even these motivations come from somewhere. In a proper analytics of a learning or production landscape, we ought to ask: what learning? and why this learning?

Peers are equals, but different.

Benkler describes three necessary features for peer production: (1) the potential objects of peer production must be modular; (2) the modules must be small in size (noting that heterogeneous granularity will allow people with different levels of motivation to collaborate by contributing smaller or larger grained contributions); (3) the integration mechanism must run at a fairly low cost (either through automation or enforced social norms).

There are parallels in paragogy. The choice to work in a small closed group[14] versus the choice to work as a group embedded within a larger commons[15] has to do with the question: how much difference do you want to confront while engaging with the learning process?

Learning is distributed and nonlinear.

The view of fluid social contexts advanced by Engestrom as a move beyond the traditional "communities of practice" view is quite compatible with the most famous peer production virtue, freedom (cf. ), which is what allows people to function in a distributed and nonlinear fashion relative to a learning or production "ecosystem". Star and Griesemer[16], on whom Wenger drew heavily as he was developing the idea of community of practice[17], describe their view as "ecological". One key difference between Star/Wegner on the one hand and Engestrom on the other has to do with the nature of boundaries. In the community of practice view, boundary objects exist to effect translations or initiations. In Engestrom's view, attention is drawn to boundaries that remain in flux (via an ongoing process of co-configuration) or which are blurred (e.g. by a blurring of consumer and producer roles).

A closely related idea from Engestrom is that sociality revolves around concrete "shared objects", as opposed to e.g. abstract connections between people.[18] Combining this with the idea of basho, we come to the at once intuitive and powerful idea of a context or environment as the largest shared object. An environment that is co-created by its inhabitants is likely to be a particularly meaningful and valued place.

Realize the dream, then wake up!

Blurred boundaries make it difficult to pinpoint a universally-applicable definition of "success". However, as Schmidt points out, measurable things like code commits can be used to make reasonably objective evaluations about participation in open source software projects , and we can expect to find other similar measurables related to modular contributions to other types of commons-based peer produced artifacts.[19] It is may be in some ways more challenging to measure the (equally necessary) contributions to integration and coordination.

Paragogy and Learning Analytics

We now come to the paper's main application of paragogy, namely, to produce an outline that can give shape to the effectively infinite possibilities of learning analytics (henceforth, LA).

Context as a decentered center.

George Siemens defines learning analytics as "the use of intelligent data, learner-produced data, and analysis models to discover information and social connections, and to predict and advise on learning."[20]

Measuring a student's progress in a given learning environment, whether it is centralized (Freshman to Senior) or decentralized (Padawan to Jedi), should suitably indicate the context of that student at each point. Progress may be defined relative to a context of the activities of other participants in the environment. In a straightforward case, LA will be established and maintained relative to a changing collection of goals that are defined by an instructor or facilitator. LA will themselves be a nontrivial part of any learning context that employs them, suggesting that transparency about the way they are used will be an important factor to consider.

Continuing, student and instructor LA will increase institutional effectiveness, one example being the project Paul J. Williams is working on, "to supply student and organisational `learner analytics' functionality to schools so that the decisions they make about the application of time and dollar resources amongst competing priorities can be better supported and justified. Institutions could see results for whether money invested in technology, teachers, facilities and more yields an improvement in learning for students, or not."

While applications of LA based on standardized tests is currently important, hopefully with more study the field will become more sophisticated and allow for a more holistic evaluation of learning than what is produced by standardized tests. In particular, this raises provocative question as to how best to measure school success.

Bereiter emphasizes developing a context that includes functional help for thinkers and learners, as opposed to applications of recieved wisdom about thinking or learning. He feels that thinking aloud research shows promise as a way to see just how people actually think (, p. 348). Paragogy suggests a broader view on thinking aloud: instead of traditional didactics, in a peer-based context, speech flows in a network, and thinking is done in an inherently social way.

Meta-learning as a font of knowledge.

Another definition given by EDUCAUSE's Next Generation learning initiative is "the use of data and models to predict student progress and performance, and the ability to act on that information".

In short, the meta-learning principle is the most obvious application of LA: the more effectively we can do LA, the more we learn about learning.

Peers are equals, but different.

Not only can LA be used to measure an individual student's successes, failures, and hours invested, they can be applied in relation to data about peers, including peer-facilitators or teachers (e.g. in connection with suggestions or critiques). LA could be used to pair up weaker students with more advanced ones, or to help learners with overlapping interests find each other in the crowd. Threshold values could be set to indicate when a student might be allowed or asked to move from a mentored to mentoring role. Measurements can also be made of how well students work with their peers, or how much they have individually contributed to the learning environment.

Data on how different learners appear to learn best could be combined with information on how certain tutors work to find the best pairing. Various other sorts of recommendations are part of the subject of a significant body of ongoing research.[21]

Learning is distributed and nonlinear.

LA, especially attention metadata, can measure how much a student stays on topic, and give feedback on how these attentional investments pay off in the long-run. When logged into the class wiki, do they work for an entire hour on one page, or do they move around? Topics a student touches on but later abandons should be kept track of (for instance, because they may be useful later).

Students can show off their learning on things they may not have a degree in. For example, someone who majored in English in college who wants a career change can show an engineering firm school they independently completed "90 of the work towards a Journalism BA" to prove they have the skills and motivation for an entry-level job in public relations.

To get to point where a system can give feedback of this nature, goals need to be specified and agreed upon. Long-term goals would probably be easy enough, e.g. "I want to learn Japanese." It is harder to break a task into steps, and the first step is often the hardest. Corneli suggested to look for "the simplest step (that you can actually do) that gets you toward your goal."

Students can then share that step however small, and once achieved, can chose another one along the way. These patterns can be studied to find LA that will show a learner their percentage towards e.g. fluency in Japanese.

Realize the dream, then wake up!

We feel this is the key to combining LA and paragogy: a student should explicitly spell-out their motivations/goals and then keep track of their progress towards reaching them. LA will help students have a clear way to know how close they are to realizing their dreams, and to have a way to showcase their achievements to the rest of the world. In cases of trouble, LA should help identify how changes in behavior can help.

To think highlight here one possible large-scale application, we can imagine creating paragogical accreditation standards for learners, along the lines of those used for businesses by the Better Business Bureau. This could come from a system to that would keep track of the kinds of courses people might like to take; and furthermore, courses could require people to ante up a certain level of commitment before the course would run. The degree to which people follow through on their commitments over time would determine their credibility rating.


We explored connections between paragogy and peer production, and paragogy and learning analytics, and showed how paragogy can intertwine with these to open new avenues for productivity, learning, and evaluation.

Next steps for the authors

We both plan to try running courses on Peer 2 Peer University again when the next round begins in January 2011. We will write syllabi that encourage paragogical activity while generating LA for evaluation. Another avenue we are exploring is creating our own learner profiles, as suggested by Siemens . Building on his framework, we will endeavor to maintain an outline our learning goals, steps to complete them, and criteria for evaluation. We will do what we can to encourage P2PU to support learner profiles across the board.

The ideas from Section will be further developed in an extensive case study by the first author on commons based peer-production in mathematics.[22]

Implementing paragogy

We encourage the research community to test our ideas in practice of various forms. Some ideas for paragogical design include:

  • Establish a group consensus for expectations/goals/social contract of the course and how each of them should be evaluated at its conclusion.
  • Have learners designate learning goals that they then commit to stick with.
  • Formalize a process for assisting peers (e.g. responding to questions, giving feedback on publicly posted work).
  • Develop explicit pathways for learner feedback to translate into changes to the learning environment.

Joseph Corneli's work is partially funded through the ROLE Integrated Project, part of the Seventh Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development (FP7) of the European Union in Information and Communication Technologies.

We wish to thank Marisa Ponti, Alexander Mikroyannidis, Raymond Puzio, and Thomas Lynch for their help with ideas and references. Thanks also to everyone at P2PU. Finally, thanks to the organizers of Wikimania 2010, where the authors first met and exchanged the early inklings of the ideas developed here.

Paper 2

by Joseph Corneli and Charles Jeffrey Danoff
Pubished in Sebastian Hellmann, Philipp Frischmuth, Sören Auer, and Daniel Dietrich (eds.),
Proceedings of the 6th Open Knowledge Conference, Berlin, Germany, June 30 & July 1, 2011,

Paragogy is a theory of peer learning: we endeavor to say how it works, and how it works best. This paper outlines paragogy’s contemporary relevance and expounds its principles, showing their connections to other theories. We present an extended example of paragogy in practice, where we use it to evaluate our experiences working at the Peer 2 Peer University (P2PU).


We use the term paragogy to characterize the critical study and practice of peer learning (literally, “para-” alongside, “-gogy” leading, here adapting the classical concept of pedagogy and the recent notion of andragogy to a peer learning context). The fact that παραγωγή is a word in Greek meaning “production” shall not dissuade us from this new usage in English. Indeed, along with J. Philipp Schmidt, executive director at the Peer–2-Peer University (P2PU)[fn 1], we believe that learning is frequently found at the heart of peer production processes[23]. In the case study that forms the heart of this work (Section 6), we will use paragogy to evaluate our experiences as course facilitators at P2PU.

Although peer learning has been the subject of various studies, it is typically given a secondary role, within a pedagogical framework. This rather staid definition, from a book that approaches peer learning from the perspective of cognitive psychology, illustrates our point:[24]

Peer learning is an educational practice in which students interact with other students to attain educational goals.

Although this definition is not in itself unreasonable, we are fascinated by the growth and evolution of opportunities for learning outside of formal institutions. A recent article from Fast Company, an influential business magazine, gives an expanded view of peer learning:[fn 2]

Just as more and more employees are expected to have basic multi-media skills – the ability to blog, for example, or to shoot images or videos on their smartphones – so will they be expected to have the basic ability to share knowledge with their peers.

Thus, peer learning can of course take place between non-students, and it can concern productive, as well as educational, goals.

In addition to an increased emphasis on informal learning in the workplace, recent years have seen the rise of open, online spaces that serve the needs of learners via a commons-based approach. Here we cite Cormac Lawler’s recent work on Wikiversity[25][26]. Lawler uses and advocates an action research approach, with thematic questions “What does it take to change a given system? [...] and how does the process of changing a system develop our knowledge about that system?” We have brought these questions to P2PU, and by extension to the education system that P2PU critiques (“The current model of higher education is broken...”[fn 3]).

Our aim is to develop a set of “good practices” around peer learning, suitable for use by everyone involved (individual learners, organizers, administrators). A model is provided by two related works, one from Crowston et al. concerning “open source software success”[27] and the other from Resnick et al. on “starting new online communities”[28]. We will, however, have to wait for a future work to bring these contributions into one coherent frame with paragogy.

The challenge

A. T. Ariyaratne’s essay on Rural Self Help[29], one of the foundational writings of the Sarvodaya Shramadana movement in Sri Lanka[fn 4], begins:

Nobody needs to teach rural communities about “group effort” and “self-help”. [...] The real question, therefore, is to examine what are the constraints that exist inhibiting the expression of their group effort and self-help qualities designed to improve food and nutrition levels, clothing, shelter, health, sanitation, education and cultural life?

We approach peer learning in a similar spirit: it is something we all know how to do, but can’t always do well. Intuitively, there are bound to be difficulties for a group of peers studying a subject together, outside a traditional classroom or without a teacher. Indeed, peer learning is different from other forms of group effort, the proverbial “barnraising” for example, in which the persons involved can be presumed to know how to build barns – or at least to know someone who knows, and stand ready to take orders. Typically, peers are not experts in learning, didactics, or in the subject they are studying, and are faced with multiple difficulties associated with putting together knowledge about the subject, assembling a suitable learning strategy, and communicating with one another.

What paragogy has to offer

We have five principles, with which we endeavor to both describe the phenomenon of effective peer learning, and to prescribe key aspects of its best practice.

  1. Changing context as a decentered center.
  2. Meta-learning as a font of knowledge.
  3. Peers provide feedback that wouldn’t be there otherwise.
  4. Learning is distributed and nonlinear.
  5. Realize the dream if you can, then wake up!

Generally the ideas embodied in these principles are not unique to paragogy, indeed, we will try to ground each of them in previously existing literature, while showing their relevance to peer learning.

1. Changing context as a decentered center.

In paragogy, we recognize that we are not merely teachers or learners, but are actually co-creating the learning context as a whole. The central role of environment is not unfamiliar in constructivist thinking about education[30] (p. 4):

Thinking of instruction as an environment gives emphasis to the ‘place’ or ‘space’ where learning occurs. At a minimum, a learning environment contains: (1) the learner; (2) a ‘setting’ or a ‘space’ wherein the learner acts, using tools and devices, collecting and interpreting information, interacting perhaps with others, etc.

Again, in the paragogical view, the environment should not be taken as “given” but should instead be viewed as co-created by peers.

2. Meta-learning as a font of knowledge.

Here we are concerned both with efforts to “learn how to learn”, and efforts to learn how to support others in their learning efforts[31]. Further, while it is a good idea for any organization to learn its business well[32], learning about learning is especially vital for those in the learning business. In peer learning, that is all of us.

3. Peers provide feedback that wouldn’t be there otherwise.

Learners must not simply seek confirmation of what they already know, they must confront and make sense of difference as part of the learning experience. Clearly, differences pose challenges but these are worth grappling with. Firstly, for psychological reasons: in many domains feedback is only available from peers (but of course peer learning can be relevant in domains like rock climbing and computer programming, where automatic feedback does exist). Secondly, there are philosophical or political reasons to affirm difference. In a space like P2PU, which aims to provide “learning for everyone, by everyone, about almost anything”, we can hardly avoid developing an “understanding of social relations without domination in which persons live together in relations of mediation among strangers”[33] .

4. Learning is distributed and nonlinear.

Learning does not go in a straight line[34]. In particular, involvement in co-creating the learning context becomes an important “strand” in the paragogical understanding of peer learning.

5. Realize the dream if you can, then wake up!

Without clear goals, there will be be nothing to realize. Without critical thinking about goals (leading us to change them), learning is a mostly passive game. Paragogy calls for a strategy of “deliberate practice”[35].

Literature review

The paragogical principles were conceived by turning Knowles’s principles of andragogy[36] on their edge. In succinct form, these principles are:

  1. That adult learners are self-directed.
  2. That they bring a wealth of experience to the educational setting.
  3. That they enter educational settings ready to learn.
  4. That they are problem-centered in their learning.
  5. That they are best motivated by internal factors.

Blondy[37] points out both uses and challenges for each of the Knowles principles, focusing on how they work in online learning environments. For instance, with reference to the first principle, “Cheren stated that while learners may express a desire to be self-directed in their learning, most lack the required understanding of learning necessary to be self-directed and thus need guidance and encouragement in the learning process.

While our principles can be read as a critique of andragogy, it is largely a matter of point of view: thus, unlike andragogy (which takes the view of the adult educator) or pedagogy (which again studies teachers teaching learners), and unlike heutagogy[38] (which focuses on self-directed learners), as we have seen above, paragogy focuses on cases in which learners are actively engaged in co-creating their learning environments. In formulating our first principle, we drew on Nishida’s notion of basho (“shared context in motion”)[8], which looks at the way a context constrains or supports different types of (inter-)actions, and simultaneously at the ways in which we can (re-)shape the contexts we find ourselves in . Thus, instead of asking whether or not learners are self-directed, we would follow Bingham[39], and assert that self-directedness is only meaningful within a relational context (e.g. within a social field). So much for the first principle, others are subject to a similar re-thinking.

Paragogy is not the only framework that has been used to study peer learning. We’ll mention Scardamalia’s 12-point framework for Knowledge Building[40] and Mwanza’s 8-step process coming from Activity Theory ([41], cf. [42]). Scardamalia’s 12 “socio-cognitive and technological determinants of knowledge building” are framed by the idea of collective cognitive responsibility in the workplace. (Collective responsibility for creating a suitable learning context would be another way to describe our first principle.) Scardamalia’s more extensive framework will in general support a more detailed analysis, but may be less intuitive to work with. Mwanza’s eight steps map a given situation to Engeström’s activity triangle[43], and are used to generate design requirements. This method is less normative than either Scardamalia or the present work, but also less specific. As with the work on software and community-building best practices mentioned in the introduction, we must defer the task of fully comparing and contrasting these approaches with our own.

Implementing paragogy

How to implement the principles? In this paper we will incorporate a strategy used in the US Army’s training programmes: the After Action Review (AAR)[44]. As the name indicates, the AAR is used to review training exercises. It is important to note that while one person typically plays the role of evaluator in such a review (and despite the fact that military personnel are differently ranked), the review itself happens among peers, and examines the operations of the unit as a whole. The four steps in an AAR are:

  1. Review what was supposed to happen (training plans).
  2. Establish what happened.
  3. Determine what was right or wrong with what happened.
  4. Determine how the task should be done differently the next time.

The stated purpose of the AAR is to “identify strengths and shortcomings in unit planning, preparation, and execution, and guide leaders to accept responsibility for shortcomings and produce a fix.” We note here the similarity of the AAR to the action research cycle[25].

A case study in paragogical evaluation

The paragogy principles provide guidelines on best practices for building successful peer learning experiences. In this section we will apply these principles to evaluate the lessons learned from our work at P2PU as facilitators in 2010–2011. For each of the principles we run through the steps of an After Action Review to look at how well the principle was implemented.

Changing context as a decentered center: mapping system dynamics and semantics

Review what was supposed to happen. We both organized multiple courses where participants were supposed to interact and learn about the subject matter: Collaborative Lesson Planning Fall 2010 and Winter 2011 (co-organized with Dr. Majorie King); DIY Math; Math for Game Designers; Open Governance and Learning (co-organized with Marisa Ponti); and, in Spring 2011, Shaping P2PU[fn 5], which was an “intervention” based on a preliminary version of this section.

Establish what happened.

Due to critically low participation, the mathematics courses did not run to completion. Participation in Collaborative Lesson Planning and in Open Governance and Learning was minimal, but sufficient for a conversation to be sustained for the entire 6 week session. The theory of paragogy was born in an effort to understand how to produce successful courses. Finally, as of the time of this writing, 32 people have signed up for Shaping P2PU, but so far participation has been very low.

Determine what was right or wrong with what happened.'

In the more active courses, there were nice examples of learning by course participants.[fn 6] Low participation was common across P2PU, as illustrated by Dan Diebolt’s graphical analysis, which showed that participation within courses was uneven and falling.[fn 7]

Determine how the task should be done differently the next time.

Our best experiences as course organizers happened when we were committed to working through the material ourselves. Combining this with gently prompting peers to follow through on their commitments could go a long way towards keeping engagement at a reasonable level – but this only works when commitments are somewhat clear in the first place. The case of Shaping P2PU shows that organizer commitment is not enough. In this case, we feel that further clarification about the aims and intentions of those who are already highly involved in shaping the organization would improve things.

Looking at this another way, the P2PU ecology contains an implicit rubric for learning and engagement: from the time a member signs up for a course, to its completion, peers go through a cycle.[fn 8] As we understand this cycle better, it should be possible to evaluate it for quality. Then P2PU could implement more formal check points throughout the cycle, requiring participants to specify, reaffirm, or adapt their commitments in relationship to judgments about quality.

Metalearning is a font of knowledge: transparency, accountability, and tone

Review what was supposed to happen.

Support for community members was offered as a P2PU course (Course Design Orientation), in mailing lists, via weekly phone calls, in a Q&A issue tracker, and via other informal channels. Participants in courses were presumed to be ready and willing to contribute in a useful fashion.

Establish what happened.

Core members do hold themselves accountable, but this behavior is not necessarily transferred or communicated to new members, for whom accountability is low. Course participants frequently disappeared.

Determine what was right or wrong with what happened.

Core members are doing a lot of work, and the project is moving forward, with grant funding, incorporation, and several new staff positions. Apart from contractual agreements within the nonprofit, community members have little or no accountability to one another. Governance follows a “rough consensus” model (after David Clark’s “We reject: kings, presidents and voting. We believe in: rough consensus and running code.”[fn 9]). As implemented at P2PU, the rough consensus model has its strengths, in particular, it helps avoid tyrannies of the minority in the mailing lists. However, there are a number of ways in which rough consensus seems incomplete.

Determine how the task should be done differently the next time.

It is typical for online communities to have strictly enforced community norms. It would be helpful to have a concise discussion of these available, together with up to date information on “best practices” for organizers and participants. The current Course Design Handbook provides one starting point, but it falls short of being a complete guide to P2PU.[fn 10] This sort of resource would be particularly useful for newcomers and people who cannot attend the community telephone calls.

Peers provide feedback that wouldn’t be there otherwise: dealing with problems in a respectful way

Review what was supposed to happen.

Discussions about P2PU happen in the community mailing list and other places mentioned above. Bug reports are supposed to go into the Lighthouse tracker.[fn 11]

Establish what happened.

Discussions about P2PU happen in many places (e.g. in courses). Even within the mailing list, it can be difficult to keep track of the full range of ideas circulating at any given time. There has been some talk about using the Lighthouse tracker for organizational matters, but this hasn’t taken off. Earlier experiments, like using a shared spreadsheet to keep track of organization-level tasks, appear to have been undersubscribed.

Determine what was right or wrong with what happened.

Apart from development work, it can be hard to tell what’s happening around P2PU. Presumably participants who have identified critical and unsolvable problems simply leave. The Q&A tracker and mailing list both provide ways to build factual knowledge, but seem less effective for building strategic knowledge.

Determine how the task should be done differently the next time.

In a traditional university, there are typically a lot of ways to resolve problems without dropping out. P2PU’s new “Help Desk” could, indeed, help with this issue – if people use it.[fn 12] The Help Desk and Q&A tracker will also function as a light-weight way to build certain kinds of organizational knowledge. However, there could be more clarity about how to contribute to the process of “shaping P2PU”.

One fairly straightforward thought would be to add support for site-wide content tags. Site-wide tags would allow people who are not interested in “meta-discussions” to easily ignore them, whereas a space like Shaping P2PU could aggregate and build upon the already-ongoing platform-level discussions that have arisen in other groups. Tags would provide other learning-specific benefits, including the ability to give and receive light-weight feedback about contributions, and to build a portfolio showing the impact of one’s work. This would, in turn, foster a culture of accountability.

Learning is distributed and nonlinear: design considerations

Review what was supposed to happen.

People are supposed to choose and assemble suitable learning resources (blogs, OER, etc.) for their courses, in which everyone is supposed to learn something.

Establish what happened.

This is essentially what happened, but it is hard to measure when and whether knowledge was gained.

Determine what was right or wrong with what happened.

The organization is striving to handle the complexity of life online, for example, by integrating RSS feeds into the site to allow learners to transparently draw in work that they are doing elsewhere. This system is explicitly in an experimental “beta” stage, and quality control has a somewhat precarious meaning in a beta or “eternal beta”; on the other hand, this makes life interesting.

Determine how the task should be done differently the next time.

In terms of measuring learning, P2PU would have to work hard to use anything but “participation” as a proxy value. In terms of broader issues of quality control, one serious thought is for P2PU core members (including staff) to use the platform to organize their activities – entirely in the open.

Realize the dream if you can, then wake up: high level roadmap

Review what was supposed to happen.

At one time, the high-level vision was arguably a Declaration of Independence from Formal Education.[fn 13] But arguably each participant has their own vision.[fn 14]

Establish what happened.

P2PU recently had its first board meeting, but, so far, documentation about the organization’s vision and roadmap have not been presented to or affirmed by the user community (nor has the user community presented any stipulations to the organization).

Determine what was right or wrong with what happened.

P2PU has made considerable progress (e.g. in the form of successful grant applications), but without more transparency about these efforts, the ability of non-core members to learn from organizational successes is limited. This, of course, limits the ability of volunteers to contribute to further successes of this sort, and may, to some extent, limit the ability of volunteers to “strike off on their own” to pursue alternative development goals.

Determine how the task should be done differently the next time.

It is our firm belief that P2PU should work on a public roadmap that leads from now up to the point where the vision is achieved. Both vision and roadmap should be revised as appropriate.


Reflecting on education-relevant potential of new media, Martin Weller writes: “It is [...] no easy task to adopt a decentralised model, since it will require massive procedural, economic and professional change in higher education[45]. We would argue that what’s new here is not simply a disruptive force in the traditional educational landscape: there is also a compelling chance to understand learning better. We hope that further developments in paragogy can contribute to this process in a practical way.

We close with a quote from Young[33] that sums up our current sentiments, and points to a possible wider role for paragogy:

If institutional change is possible at all, it must begin from intervening in the contradictions and tensions of existing society. No telos of the final society exists, moreover; society understood as a moving and contradictory process implies that change for the better is always possible and always necessary.
  6. E.g.
  8. See
  9. Cf.
OKCon Submission Meta Outline
  1. Introduction
  2. Body
  3. Conclusion
    • 03-Conclusion-1-Limitations (C)
    • 03-Conclusion-2-Vision (J)
      • including: what do we hope to do next

Reverse Chronological Timeline


Date Document Format
28 March paragogy-outline after meeting 2 etherpad generated html @ danoff dot org
19 March paragogy-outline after meeting 1 pirate pad
18 March paragogy PiratePad
Feb - March paragogy lesson plan now online forum from Collaborative Lesson Planning P2PU Cycle 4
15 Feb implementing paragogy (first draft) PDF @ Joe Corneli's personal homepage
Jan - March Joe's journal forum from Collaborative Lesson Planning P2PU Cycle 4
22 Jan paragogy outline latest html from a piratepad @ danoff dot org


Date Document Format
December Submission to Learning Analytics conference PDF Wikiversity
November paragogy Sex Bombe Wiki
November User:Arided/Paragogy (Old outline) Wikiversity
October Joe Corneli's journal P2PU Collaborative Lesson Planning Journal
6 October paragogical principles gathatoulie blog
19 October DIY Math, in Crowdsourcing a Personalized Learning Environment for Mathematics (page 19) Joe Corneli's personal homepage


The albatross

"Am I not getting closer and closer to saying that in the end logic cannot be described? You must look at the practice of language, then you will see it." -- Ludwig Wittgenstein

We are at the end of the month. Something exists in draft form - maybe with some edits, say by the end of next month, it will really be a draft of a book. There's also, quite likely, a philosophy paper in there as well. But we shall see.

When I think about the topics going every which way -- text that might be suitable for "Private, unfiltered, spontaneous, daily" writings -- if it is fit for being written down at all -- I wonder. What makes a quality piece of writing? Maybe it is more a matter of good writing (a verb):

"Lying to oneself about oneself, deceiving yourself about the pretense in your own state of will, must have a harmful effect on one's style; for the result will be that you cannot tell what is genuine in the style from what is false." -- Ludwig Wittgenstein

If we look at the "practice of language" -- whether by Wittgenstein or by Eihei Dogen or anyone else who can legitimately be said to have a "practice of language" -- it seems we must find something both lighthearted and exacting. Or if we look at things a different way:

Mistakes are almost always of a sacred nature. Never try to correct them. On the contrary: rationalize them, understand them thoroughly. After that, it will be possible for you to sublimate them. - Salvadore Dalí

Paragogy might be a study of psychic noise. Field theories more than electrical engineering. It may be the study and practice of "anarchy", if that means no longer being ruled by a tyrant, even if that tyrant is oneself. An anarchy with Socrates for inspiration (cf. "The Real Apology of Socrates"): Socrates whose distinguishing characteristics are (a) knowing something about love; (b) having a daimon who tells him NOT to do certain things; and, (c) having an argumentative young wife, Xanthippe. Foucault writes: "because in teaching people too occupy themselves with themselves, he teaches them to occupy themselves with the city."

Anarchy for the UK, it's coming sometime, maybe. I give a wrong time, stop a traffic line. Your future dream is a sharpie's scheme. 'Cause I wanna be Anarchy, in the city. How many ways to get what you want? I use the best. I use the rest. I use the N.M.E. I use Anarchy. -- the Sex Pistols

Paragogy might also be a study of psychic calm, quiet, and peace. There are certain tools that are considered ideal: three robes, an alms bowl, a cloth belt, a needle and thread, a razor for shaving the head, and a water filter. But in practice we use other tools as well (see References).

Or again it may be the study of signal, the difference between sound and quiet. Or in fact the study of mind -- not just a single mind, but the phenomenology of thinking in collectives. The presence of large quantities of text means that we can bring to bear digital tools for analysis and processing.

Or again, the study of electronic revolutions, in which we (mis)appropriate tools up to and including the Panopticon. Or again the study of revolutions whether or not they are electronic.

Or, paragogy may be useful for fitting in, without being a revolutionary at all - learning about what makes other people tick and in this way learning what makes oneself tick. Attention to breath is interesting, for example, because the lungs and heart and governed by the same complex of nerves that govern the face, so that paragogy may be a further exploration of "faciality" (Year Zero). With all of these possibilities on the table, paragogy may still be (merely) "the poetics of an imaginary science".

Flatulence is at the origin of the breath. The idea is to turn it back on itself, it is in this fashion that reality is demolished. [...] Such is the unique imaginary solution to the absence of problems. -- Jean Baudrillard

Or conversely:

«Thought is a consequence of the provocation of an encounter. Thought is what confronts us from the outside, unexpectedly: "Something in the world forces us to think" (Deleuze, "Difference and Repetition", page 139). What confronts us necessarily from outside the concepts we already have, from outside the subjectivities we already are, from outside the material realities we already know is the problem. The problem provokes thought [...] Thought-events [...] are singularities that mix with and have effects on other materialities, with other political [and] cultural [...] events.» Elizabeth Grosz, "Space, Time, and Perversion", 1995, pp. 128-9, Epigraph to Nicole Dawson's Master's thesis, "(Re)Thinking bodies: Deleuze and Guattari's becoming-woman"

Or at any rate:

Le Poète est semblable au prince des nuées // Qui hante la tempête et se rit de l'archer; // Exilé sur le sol au milieu des huées, // Ses ailes de géant l'empêchent de marcher. -- Charles Baudelaire

Notes on The Real Trial of Socrates

In attempting to convey the political, social and spiritual conditions of Athens in decline, I have ‘transferred’ the past to the present and have made use of several anachronisms to illustrate their common elements. - from the author's note
“Socrates is denounced because he is weak and poor, the price asked... his death!!” That is what the indictment should really say!
The mob... the opinion of the many... is like a flee- bitten dog lying on a dung-heap chained to a post in the sun. It sleeps all day, scratching its mangy hide, rushing and barking savagely at passers-by, lest they unfetter its chains.
I would kiss the fat hands of priests in front of others, just to spite them: “Just look at how that old fool outdoes us in hypocrisy!” they would murmur.
What do you say? I was a threat to the Democracy? Me a threat... and you the Democracy! Individuals who pose a threat are not put on trial, gentlemen, they are either worshipped slavishly or murdered with duplicity.
The oligarchy obstructed the freedom of speech and the teaching of rhetoric, while you attempt to obstruct the freedom of thought and the teaching of philosophy!
Your Democracy, as you can see, is little more than Tyranny in masquerade.
The strongest have always been, and always will be, the thieves.
You are free! Keep your hands-up! Free to live as you wish, to toil and to save, to get drunk, to dance, to bear children and... to die. In exchange we shall teach you... the Truth! We shall provide you with a rich imagination and a benevolent heart. We will give you an immortal soul! And whoever of you has a hankering to compose poems, he is free to do so, and to formulate theories that he may be extolled by later generations! You the people shall be sovereign! We will but only guide you... and care for your safety, your honour and your belongings. In short... your freedom. And you shall work, as much as you like, whenever you like and at whatever you like. We shall provide you with work... it’s enough that you have work... and you will give us your earnings. And lest you think that you are being wronged by us, we too shall pay the same dues to the State... in other words, to ourselves!
We forbid you only this one thing: to steal from one another... lest you steal from us!
For when I realized that all those around me possessed neither soul nor spirit, but were instead little more that bloated slugs, that my life had no purpose other than death, I neither sought-out happiness nor tried to better myself... I already was! I would succumb slowly and ever so gently to my weaknesses... and to my strengths! Rambling about, I would mock you openly... and myself privately... trying to forget the present, the past and the future... in other words, I was trying to forget death!
Whoever sleeps heavily and eats lightly... vegetables, beans, olives and barley-bread... does not suffer from flatulence. His bones don’t rust and his blood doesn’t sour... nor does he break- out in sores, boils and rashes.
And who was this Mr. So-and-So? The sophist. The politician. The poet. Those who considered themselves all-knowing and took great pride in telling lies. I would stupefy them. Not so as to make myself appear superior... It’s not worth the effort to be either first or last among men who are last but who deem themselves as being among the first. I’d squash them just as we would gnats... for neither do we seek to improve them (the gnats, that is), nor do we desire to save our neighbours from them... let alone the future generations of Greeks!
it is the price that determines the true worth of any merchandise. I, on the other hand, would give away my humble knowledge free of charge and nobody would take it... which means, of course, that it was worthless.
Power and war are inseparable you see.
First, with my youthful mind, and later still when it had matured, I would attempt to always find that singular position which inevitability applied to every situation. In other words, that which is everlasting and unchanging... beyond time, place and people... the Absolute.
But Ideas? In these, gentlemen, you must first believe before you can see them. It is the same as when some old woman is possessed with a religious mania while praying at the altar of some god and, pointing high, suddenly begins shouting: “There He is! Floating in the Heavens! I can see Him shaking His sceptre!” All the other women gathered there also witness this divine apparition and hear with their own ears the stern warnings of the god.
There will come a time when the ‘better’ will pay the charlatans dearly to work their miracles
Socrates mocks the gods and provokes their awesome power against our State. It is because of him that the gods have forsaken Athens and have abandoned their holy shrines on the Acropolis, leaving the City to the mercy of the Furies.
The Flock could not survive a single moment without the Wolves... nor the Wolves without atheists and traitors.
It was I, after all, who taught you to be contemptuous and disloyal in the name of the gods and the laws!
The more a person is humbled, the more indecisive he becomes... and the more indecisive he becomes, the less he is able to breathe, think or be roused to anger. It requires great courage and self- confidence to stand against injustice... even more so to commit an injustice!
Schools are required! And these schools shall be built by the wrongdoers themselves. Do you know why? Because our cause is good and just and noble!
I would truly have been dangerous to the public order... to “the interests of the better”... had I lived! [...] for truly there is no greater villainy and betrayal than to speak the Truth!
[O]ur shameless philosophy teaches us that you were born into slavery! But neither the gods nor nature have ordained that the seed of your fathers condemn you to such a life.

Notes on The Mirror of Production

These innocent little phrases are already theoretical conclusions: the separation of the end from the means is the wildest and most naive postulate about the human race. Man has needs. Does he have needs? Is he pledged to satisfy them? Is he labor power (by which he separates himself as means from himself as his own end)? These prodigious metaphors of the system that dominates us are a fable of political economy retold to generations of revolutionaries infected even in their political radicalism by the conceptual viruses of this same political economy.
The definition of products as useful and as responding to needs is the most accomplished, most internalized

expression of abstract economic exchange: it is its subjective closure.

In the last instance, this is the basis of political economy. This generic definition must be shattered in unmasking the "dialectic" of quantity and quality, behind which hides the definitive structural institution of the field of value.
"While labor which creates exchange values is abstract, universal and homogeneous, labor which produces use values is concrete and special and is made up of an endless variety of kinds of labor according to the way in which and the material to which it is applied." (Marx)
The use value of labor power is the moment of its actualization, of man's relation to his useful expenditure of effort. Basically it is an act of (productive) consumption; and in the general process, this moment retains all its uniqueness.
[...] the structural articulation of the two terms. Work is really universalized at the base of this "fork," not only as market value but as human value.

(Very similar to D&G's lobster.) All unhappy families are different &c.

Failing to conceive of a mode of social wealth other than that founded on labor and production, Marxism no longer furnishes in the long run a real alternative to capitalism.

This reminds me of that long-ass essay that Tim got me looking at.

The exchange value of labor power is what makes its use value, the

concrete origin and end of the act of labor, appear as its "generic" alibi. This is the logic of signifiers which produces the "evidence" of the "reality" of the signified and the referent.

This is similar to the PageRank stuff.

In other words, the system of political economy does not produce only the individual as labor

power that is sold and exchanged: it produces the very conception of labor power as the fundamental human potential. [...] In a work, man is not only quantitatively exploited as a productive force by the system of capitalist political economy, but is also metaphysically overdetermined as a producer by the code of political economy. [...] Marxist theory, on the other hand, never challenges human capacity of production (energetic, physical, and intellectual), this productive potential of every man in every society "of transforming his environment into ends useful for the individual or the society."

Science, technique, progress, history -- in these ideas we have an entire civilization that comprehends itself as producing its own development and takes its dialectical force toward completing humanity in terms of totality and happiness. Nor did Marx invent the concepts of genesis, development, and finality. He changed nothing basic: nothing regarding the idea of man producing himself in his infinite determination, and continually surpassing himself toward his own end.
Marcuse: The essential factual content of labor is [...] grounded in [...] an essential excess of human existence beyond every possible situation in which it finds itself and the world.
In effect, the sphere of play is defined as the fulfillment of human rationality, the dialectical culmination of man's activity of incessant objectification of nature and control of his exchanges with it. [...]kWith this concept we remain rooted in the problematic of necessity and freedom, a typically bourgeois problematic whose double ideological expression has always been the institution of a reality principle (repression and sublimation, the principle of labor) and its formal overcoming in an ideal transcendence.
What man gives of his body in labor is never given or lost or rendered by nature in a reciprocal way. [...] This discharge is thus immediately an investment of value, a putting into value opposed to all symbolic putting into play as in the gift or the discharge.

Ah, but here paragogy could be a bit more exciting!

The productive Eros represses all the alternative qualities of meaning and exchange in symbolic discharge toward a process of production, accumulation, and appropriation.

Yeah, so are we going for the opposite...?

Perhaps we will be finished with a Marxism that has become more of a specialist in the impasses of capitalism than in the roads to revolution, finished with a psychoanalysis that has become more of a specialist in the impasses of libidinal economy than in the paths of desire.
These are the ruses of the dialectic, undoubtedly the limit of all "critique."

Can we create a distributed critique, a multi-lectic?

Every critical theory is haunted by this surreptitious religion, this desire bound up with the construction of its object, this negativity subtly haunted by the very form that it negates.

Can we check ourselves on this?

we must move to a radically different level [...] This level is that of symbolic exchange and its theory.
Everything that invokes Nature invokes the domination of Nature.
When exploited, labor power is good: it is within Nature and is normal. But, once liberated, it becomes menacing in the form of the proletariat. This contradiction is averted by assimilating the proletariat to a demonic, perverse, destructive Nature.

Similar to the slave rebellion that would be fomented by Socrates.

The Law takes its definitive form in capitalist political economy; moreover, it is only the philosophical expression of Scarcity.
Even when the situation has clearly drifted enormously far from revolution and the dominant social relations support the very development of productive forces in an endless spiral, this dialectical voluntarism, for which Necessity exists and must be conquered, is not shaken.


All revolutionary hope is thus bound up in a Promethean myth of productive forces, but this myth is only the space time of political economy.
The model produces this double horizon of extent and time: Nature is only its extent and History only its trajectory. [...] This is not a perspective in the Nietzschean sense, which consists in deconstructing the imaginary universality of the solidest conceptual edifices (the subject, rationality, knowledge, history, dialectics) and restoring them to their relativity and symptomality, piercing the truth effect by which every system of interpretation doubles itself in the imaginary: in short, by unmasking ideology -- in the present case, ideology under the materialist and dialectical sign of production. The logos and the pathos of production must be reduced according to this radical perspectivism.
[T]he only dialectic here is that of the reproduction of the theory through the formal simulation of its object.
Marx: This much, however, is clear, that the middle ages could not live on Catholicism, nor the ancient world on politics. On the contrary, it is the mode in which they gained a livelihood that explains why here politics, and there Catholicism, played the chief part.
The exchange-gift, to be exact, operates not according to the evaluation or equivalence of exchanged goods but according to the antagonistic reciprocity of persons. [...] primitive exchange [...]

It seems like we should look for unwittingly neo-primitivist exchanges taking place within contemporary society. (Not a new idea: cf. "Gift or Donation".)

Here again is the absurd attempt to make a separate function out of the "social." Primitive "society" does not exist as an instance apart from symbolic exchange; and this exchange never results from an "excess" of production.
In fact, there is a certain type of exchange, symbolic exchange, where the relation (not the "social") is tied, and this exchange excludes any surplus: anything that cannot be exchanged or symbolically shared would break the reciprocity and institute power. Better yet, this exchange excludes all "production." The exchanged goods are apportioned and limited, often imported from far away according to strict rules.

It is important to keep in mind that (as in D&G), the "primative" societies exist by keeping the Law at bay. Don't we see here a parallel with modern day "pirate" behavior?

It is not the socio-cultural realm that limits "potential" production; instead, exchange itself is based on non-production, eventual destruction, and a process of continuous unlimited reciprocity between persons, and inversely on a strict limitation of exchanged goods. It is the exact opposite of our economy based on unlimited production of goods and on the discontinuous abstraction of contractual exchange.
As by an excess, they maintain exchange (the symbolic coherence of the group with the gods and nature).

This exchange is very similar to Sloterdjik's "biune" spheres or D&G's bi-univocality.

Scarcity only exists in our own linear perspective of the accumulation of goods. Here it suffices that the cycle of gifts and counter-gifts is not interrupted.
Concrete, actual, limited validity is that of an analytic concept; its abstract and unlimited validity is that of an ideological concept.

This is how we can "get away with" using Kostas Varnales's Socrates as a "persona" (or whatever the term is from What is Philosophy?)

Hence in the materialist interpretation there is only a replacement of "art" by "economics," "the esthetic virus" by "the virus of production and the mode of production." What has been said of the one applies equally to the other. The analysis of the contradictions of Western society has not led to the comprehension of earlier societies (or of the Third World). It has succeeded only in exporting these contradictions to them.

White man as bearer of virus: very Burroughs. Cf. also Faciality.

The fact that the slave is not separated from the master in the manner of the free laborer implies that the master is not separated from the slave in the manner of the free proprietor (or employer). Neither the one nor the other has the respective status of the individual and individual liberty neither confronts one another as such -- which is the definition of alienation. A relation of reciprocity exists between them [...] in the sense of an obligation, of a structure of exchange and obligation where the specification of the terms of exchange in autonomous subjects, where the partition (as we know it), does not yet exist.

Interesting to compare this with Thoreau's understanding of "slave". Also keep in mind that Sacher-Masoch talks about Severin becoming a "slave" via a particular form of contract.

For finally what is it that allows me to dispose of myself if not "privation" (the right of the privatized individual who is isolated from others)?

This understanding of Alientation would work with Sloterdjik's "fall"

Domination, as distinct from alienation and exploitation, does not involve the objectification of the dominated, but an obligation that always carries an element of reciprocity.
[...] the process of production develops in the framework of an integrated community (the corporation) [...]

A fragment, but it gives an interesting idea about the historical specificity of "production".

Language is not produced by certain people and consumed by others; everyone is at the same time a producer and a consumer. In fact, there are neither producers nor consumers and what is established is not the general equivalence of individuals vis-à-vis language, but an immediate reciprocity of exchange through language.

Beautiful example of "peer production" or "prosumer" behavior.

Just as there is no separation between the sphere of producers and the sphere of consumers, so there is no true separation between labor power and the product, between the position of the subject and of the object. The artisan lives his work as a relation of symbolic exchange, abolishing the definition of himself as "laborer" and the object as "product of his labor."

Clear enough. "I am the bone of my sword"

(Praxis, a noble activity, is always one of use, as distinct from poesis which designates fabrication. Only the former, which plays and acts, but does not produce, is noble.)


We have seen how the reinterpretation of slavery in terms of the expropriation of labor power led to considering its reappropriation by the "free" laborer as absolute progress in the human order. This relegates servitude to an absolute barbarism, fortunately overcome thanks to the development of productive forces. This ideology of freedom remains the weak point of our Western rationality, including Marxism.

Hm, what about "Free as in Freedom" in this context?

Proudhon had envisaged "the polyvalence by which the worker, accomplishing the whole cycle of production, would become once again the master of the complete process."

Baudrillard is deeply skeptical of this sort of "wholism".

our reality principle, which is the principle of separation

And yet he has a critical view of separation? Or maybe not...?

Historical materialism [...] is incapable of thinking the process of ideology, of culture, of language, of the symbolic in general. It misses the point not only with regard to primitive societies, but it also fails to account for the radicality of the separation in our societies, and therefore the radicality of the subversion that grows there.
And what authorizes the "science of history" to claim this disjunction of a history to come, of an objective finality that robs earlier societies of the determinations in which they live, of their magic, of their difference, of the meaning that they attribute to themselves, in order to clarify them in the infrastructural truth of the mode of production to which we alone have the key?

Yeah, and if paragogy tries to be "a communism" then it will likely fall into that way of thinking.

In fact, this break of which Marxism avails itself is equivalent, as in all "science," to the

establishment of a principle of rationality that is only the rationalization of its own process.

Hence thinking at odds with 'received' views...

Something in the capitalist sphere has changed radically, something Marxist analysis can no longer respond to. Hence, in order to survive it must be revolutionized, something which certainly has not been done since Marx.

Hm... critique taking into account all "productions".

This manipulation, that plays on the faculty of producing meaning and difference, is more radical than that which plays on labor power.

So considering the age of Code and symbolic exchange we need a very different sort of critique.

The signifier becomes its own referent and the use value of the sign disappears to the benefit of its commutation and exchange value alone. The sign no longer designates anything at all.

"She kidnapped herself, man!"

Productive forces as a referent ("objective" substance of the production process) and thus also as a revolutionary referent (motor of the contradictions of the mode of production) lose their specific impact, and the dialectic no longer operates between productive forces and relations of production, just as the "dialectic" no longer operates between the substance of signs and the signs themselves.

This is the "dystopia" for Marxism. Things have become unglued. However, for paragogy, "unproductive" conversations can be analysed, we can look at things like TPB as a "cultural commons"...

The Third Phase of Political Economy

In any case this is where B. seems to really explain things. And in the next section, the consequences:

The schema of value (exchange and use) and of general equivalence is no longer limited to the area of "production": it has permeated the spheres of language, of sexuality, etc. The form has not changed (hence one can speak of a political economy of the sign, of a political economy of the body, without metaphor).
Surplus value, profit, exploitation -- all these "objective realities" of capital have no doubt worked to mask the immense social domestication, the immense controlled sublimation of the process of production, appearing only as the tactical side of the process.

Be the machine that you are in the world.

After forced industrialization and direct exploitation come prolonged education, studies subsidized for twenty-five years, endless personal development, and recycling: everything is apparently destined to multiply and differentiate social productivity.

Exactly - the fetishization of "learning" that we see recently. It seems so debauched and decadent, though, typically. It is not coordinated or easy to work with. B. says as much in the following sentences.

For the system no longer needs universal productivity; it requires only that everyone play the game. [...] Excluded from the game, their revolt henceforth aims at the rules of the game.
This revolt can remain ambiguous if it is experienced as anomie and as defeat, if it occupies by default the marginal position assigned to it by the system or if it is institutionalized as marginal. But it is enough that it radically adopts this forced exteriority to the system in order to call the system into question, no longer as functioning in the interior but from the exterior, as a fundamental structure of the society, as a code, as a culture, as an interiorized social space.

Heh, "occupies".

If its revolt has repercussions everywhere, it is because this non-place crosses all social categories. In the economy, in politics, in science and in culture, today it is irresponsibility that is crucial. It is a revolt of those who have been pushed aside, who have never been able to speak or have their voices heard.

Youth revolt, or revolt on behalf of youth.

The insurrectional practice of the past few years has given new voice to the spoken word and eclipses traditional contradictions.

E.g. YouTube?

The radical subversion is transversal to the extent that it crosses the contradictions connected with the mode of production, and non-dialectical to the extent that there is no dialectical negativity in the relation between a repressed, non-marked term and a marked term. There can only be transgression of the line and deconstruction of the code.

This reminds me of... Deleuze's "Nietzsche"?

Not the open revolt of a few, but the immense, latent defection, the endemic, masked resistance of a silent majority, but one nostalgic for the spoken word and for violence. Something in all men profoundly rejoices in seeing a car burn. (In this sense, youth is only the exponential category of a latent process in the entire social expanse, without exception for age or "objective" condition.) On the other hand, the new left commits suicide if it pretends to have statistical significance, to become a mass "political" force. Here it is irremediably lost at the level of representation and of traditional political contradiction (the same holds true for the American counter-culture).

Again a good summary.

Against the materialist postulate according to which the mode of production and the reproduction of social relations are subordinated to relations of material production, one can ask if it is not the production of social relations that determines the mode of material reproduction (the development of productive forces and relations of production).

Even in the mode where social relations are invaded by a certain degree of abstraction.

Species, race, sex, age, language, culture, signs of either an anthropological or cultural type -- all these criteria are criteria of difference, of signification and of code.

Explaining what is meant by signification and separation.

What is produced is no longer symbolically exchanged and what is not symbolically exchanged (the commodity) feeds a social relation of power and exploitation.

So we can contrast for example the recording industry and the free culture movement, with Piracy as an effort to restore symbolic exchange.

It is this fatality of symbolic disintegration under the sign of economic rationality that capitalism cannot escape. One can also say, with Cardan, that its fundamental contradiction is no longer between the development of productive forces and relations of production, but in the impossibility of having people "participate." However, the term "participation" has a connotation that is much too contractual and rationalist to express the nature of the symbolic. Let us say that the system is structurally incapable of liberating human potentials except as productive forces, that is, according to an operational finality that leaves no room for the reversion of the loss, the gift, the sacrifice and hence for the possibility of symbolic exchange.

Perhaps. Certainly places like P2PU emphasize "participation" (which really amounts to a flow of text into and through the site). However, there are other online cultures which have less to do with this sort of system. (We can imagine my "What's new, Pussycat?" website idea as a sort of limit point of the "economy" of text, which in some sense depersonalizes everything.)

the system created the illusion of a symbolic participation (the illusion that something that is taken and won is also redistributed, given, and sacrificed). In fact, this entire symbolic simulation is uncovered as leading to superprofits and super-power. In spite of all its good will (at least among those capitalist who are aware of the necessity of tempering the logic of the system in order to avoid an explosion in the near future), it cannot make consumption a true consummation, a festival, a waste. To consume is to start producing again. All that is expended is in fact invested; nothing is ever totally lost.

I dunno, I mean, I think things like 4Chan are pretty close to being a total waste.

And this also means that each individual, each consumer, is locked into the profitable manipulation of goods and signs for his own interest. He can no longer really waste his time in leisure. Inexorably, he reproduces, at his own level, the whole system of political economy: the logic of appropriation, the impossibility of waste, of the gift, of loss, the inexorability of the law of value.

And the contemporary obsession with "education" and "learning" seems to play (sic) into this!

[T]hose who have power [...] would like to have participation, but participation is revealed each time as being only a better tactic for the wider reproduction of the system.

Critical of things like P2PU...

The more autonomy is given to everyone, the more decision-making is concentrated at the summit.


Because it is a system of production, it can only reproduce itself. It can no longer achieve any symbolic integration (the reversibility of the process of accumulation in festivals and waste, the reversibility of the process of production in destruction, the reversibility of the process of power in exchange and death).
The scholarly and cultural systems are permitted to have formal autonomy (which is theorized as transcendence and is presented as a democratic and universal truth -- equality of instruction and culture for each -- while class structure is reversed for the order of production).
all autonomized partial totalities immediately have an ideological value

Reminds me of "temporary autonomous zones"

The place of the fundamental contradiction -- the place of politics today -- is the line of separation between the partial fields.

Interesting from a "para" perspective.

A revolution that aims at the totality of life and social relations will be made also and primarily against the autonomization of the economic, of which the last ("revolutionary" and materialist) avatar is the autonomization of the mode of production under the form of a determinant instance.

So the autonomousness is the first thing to go!

Marxism is incapable of theorizing total social practice (including the most radical form of Marxism) except to reflect it in the mirror of the mode of production. It cannot lead to the dimensions of a revolutionary "politics."

Instead Baudrillardism would look at the mirror of code.

The deep logic of this decline forces us to return beyond Stalin, beyond Lenin, etc., back to the crucial point of the thought of Marx himself, back to the original event, which is always conceived as irrevocably revolutionary, of the dialectical conjuncture of his theory and the objective social practice of a class called the proletariat. We have so lived in the providential shadow of this event that the idea that this fusion was not necessary, nor necessarily the best, has never truly been formulated.

reminds me of my question about the historical coincidence of MIT-OCW and Creative Commons starting.

The cursed poet, non-official art, and utopian writings in general, by giving a current and immediate content to man's liberation, should be the very speech of communism, its direct prophecy. They are only its bad conscience precisely because in them something of man is immediately realized, because they object without pity to the "political" dimension of the revolution, which is merely the dimension of its final postponement.
utopia, for its part, would have nothing to do with the concept of alienation. It regards every man and every society as already totally there, at each social moment, in its symbolic exigency.
What an absurdity it is to pretend that men are "other," to try to convince them that their deepest desire is to become "themselves" again! Each man is totally there at each instant.

zen and psych.-an.

There is no possible or impossible. The utopia is here in all the energies that are raised against political economy. But this utopian violence does not accumulate; it is lost. It does not try to accumulate itself as does economic value in order to abolish death. It does not grasp for power. To enclose the "exploited" within the single historical possibility of taking power has been the worst diversion the revolution has ever taken.

ephemeral nature - a sort of slurry or glow but not necessarily a womb or crucible


Development Log

  1. Nov 1 - 30 750 Words per day by Joe and Charlie Vision Quest Over --Charles Jeffrey Danoff 05:59, 5 December 2011 (UTC)
  2. December Editing by Charlie Starting --Charles Jeffrey Danoff 05:59, 5 December 2011 (UTC)
  3. 25 Jan 2012 Charlie finished putting draft 2 onto 1 document. --Charles Jeffrey Danoff 05:05, 26 January 2012 (UTC)


To work on in December!

Review what was supposed to happen (training plans).

Establish what happened.

Determine what was right or wrong with what happened.

Determine how the task should be done differently the next time.


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