Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Brain and educational virtual environments

                                       Por Alma Dzib Goodin

The interaction between brain and cultural tools started practically since  Homo Sapiens apparecenced on the planet, because this is a main characteristic of his evolution. 
Unlike the Neanderthals, and many other species of hominids, Homo Sapiens developed tools, based on cognitive skills of design and its development, gave to the specie a particular capacity to use them to respond to the needs in the cultural environment that allow a surviving opportunity and developing of new skills.

These tools were designed specifically to solve problems, which of course had impact on the brain, so there is a symbiotic relationship between a designer brain and a learner brain and the use of tools, in this sense, It can be tools such as fire, that exacerbated the sensory systems, while the use of sticks and stones benefited the use of thumb, while others developed movement as walking and the observation of the environment, all that eventually open the door to reading, writing and mathematics that gave rise to science.

Whole brain is a wonder of responsiveness to the environment, generating neural connections able to go beyond, literally, including the Moon and Mars, to benefit not only the human specie, but others, under the knowledge that those who do not adapt and respond to the environment, disappear from the face of the Earth, just as it did with its predecessors the Neanderthals and many other creatures.

It's so thousands of years after a first Homo Sapiens has used a stone to ward off a predator, the digital age opens steps, fast if we think that 30 years ago there was notablets, and breaks in the cultural, economic and educational environment, but in contrast to those who claim that this damages the brain, some others, from an evolutionary point of view, look it just like another step in human evolution.

Nature has provided to all species of mechanisms of self preservation, able to respond to the enviroment needs, human beings in particular thanks to the evolution and management of tools designs, which need a reflective thought open the door to a process called brain plasticity that permits the brain adjust to each new need even auto repair  in order to continue providing the ability to solve problems.

Years later computers burst as tool simulating a brain, giving answers and simplifying tasks, through artificial neural networks able to simulate many cognitive tasks, with ever greater precision and elegance.

Simulating the brain activities, new technology has understood that  brain changes, with each learning creates new neural networks, removed those that are not used, sharing, recycling, although unlike their natural model, gadgets are renewed at a very large cost, while never leaving  the goal of perfection as the natural model, that has never achieved because the brain never stops passing, because it can not!, when it is thought that a task is already well learned, comes a change in the environment, or even human creativity opens the door and says: and if do I add this?, and if do I do it this way?.

The brain is constantly using information, so it has specialized its data storage system. While memory is finite, its hability to recover it is prodigious, specially when the stimulus provided as a question or key is correct.

However the maximum capacity of the brain maybe are language, thought and creativity, and  computers can not yet achieve that perfection, as example I can find Siri, the personal Secretary of Apple which is incapable of understanding the inflections of the language, the double meaning or slight changes in modulation.

So at this sense, analyzing the role of technology as a learning tool, as education has been trying during the last decade, wishing an interface between the brain of the natural and the artificial, able to share files with one click, it is not possible since we can not forget a fundamental principle: the natural brain controls and provides information to the artificial brain. 

No matter how incredible is a word processor, still requires the ideas of a writer to convert a blank screen in a worthy article of a Nobel Prize winner, and this will require also the social acceptance of ideas, despite the marketing claim that this or that gadget is an intelligent devices, the user will have the last word against its use and productivity capabilities and troubleshooting.

Brain 2.10 million vs Web 3.0

My brain is renewed, learns, adapts, auto repairs, auto analyses, is capable of determining errors in its performance and start again, searching new paths of answers and even questioning. This is not a simulation of artificial systems, they are perfected processes on the basis of other natural prototypes that have been able to survive despite everything, and we took the best of every one, for example, from reptilian prototype, we obtained emotions, of the mammalian model, we got a selective memory, and attention. The human brain is the evolutionary sum of other prototypes and every day we learn more of its simple capacity to adapt. 

Before a paper sheet, there were human brains communicating. Before the video in HD, there were people telling stories. Before radio stations, there were brains sharing news and art. Before satellites, there were brains sending messages to the rest of the world. Before smart phones, there were intelligent brains who thought them, believed them possible, designing them, tried them, arranged their problems and returned to start, perfecting every detail, adding applications that make our life easier.

A Smartphone can say how to get to a place, but it needs to know the destination.

So we can say technology is an effort to simulate the brain, understanding the infinite plasticity that a natural brain has, therefore this is discarded, becomes obsolete, as well as those areas that are not used, as Darwin observed that any part of our body will atrophy and studies show that the brain also. Saturated information in a chaotic day, or week of exams, after days without sleep, similar to artificial systems after saturating the RAM memory.

The other process that has been copied as an application is the ability to process information, it is true, computers make it faster, but still can not interpret it without the support of their natural example. Although Google has an algorithm to complete words, you need sufficient information to decide what you want or need to search. This same ability to complete  information that the cognitive process has been refined over thousands of years.

Computers and education

The first great tool exploited by education in order to share specific information for the purpose of teaching - learning was the book. This replaced the word, and its most ingenious application was not improved until Jan Amos Comenicus in 17th century put images in textbooks, to help to children learning better.

Three centuries later, the next revolution, changed the books by screens, but is only a another implementation tool at the service of learning to which the brain will adapt, it’s not adding anything new, except some memory and over stimulation, which it had been aside since the man could rest from their predators, creating what is known as attentional problems which actually is the awakening of the consciousness after having spent centuries with face looking to the front and the mystical silence inherited by ecclesiastical education.

There is no mystery in these new tools, brain adapts to them, because they are part of the environment and they are used to solve problems. More adapted people are those who use them in everyday life, the rest of us mortals only employs an average of 12 apps and we know only about 20% of its total functions.

Generation X was born with this technological revolution, they did not have to learn the language of Basic to open and close documents or applications, they did not know the monochrome computer or 5 1/2 floppy disks. They did not fight with point printers. In return, they were born with Windows, not the first version that revolutionized, presenting the information with an easy-to-read structure and the wonderful quality of having icons, icons?, like the images in the books of Jan Amos Comenicus?.

After few prototypes, we add sound to our readings, we added movement and the ability to customize environments, being the last great step removal of buttons and keys, creating interactive displays, on tactil screen.

Millions of bits of information currently available, it is said that practically you can learn everything you want in a digital system, seriously?, well, first there will be to teach to select relevant information to resolve a question or problem from a good design process that leads to a goal. 

Where was the human brain in the middle of this?, it didn’t go anywhere, continues fulfilling its role that nature gave it, which gave all species the possibility to create specific responses to the environment, continues its process of evolution, similar  as smart devices, since its legacy is literally renew or die. 

When it says that technological age has produced changes in the brain, are right, but refuses the constant motivation to respond to the environment. Even species that depend on genes closed such as bees and birds, have shown that its survival depends on its neurowear, which is the set of neural connections. 

The human brain has managed to overcome what no other species has been able to do, not only has adapted to the environment, has adapted the environment, change it, provided shelter, uses imagination, it’s creative, all this thanks to the use of same tools created by itself, seeking always to make them better, creating new, always imagining other forms, textures and functions. Technology should be seen as an extension of the creative mind, which has no reason to curb the evolutionary legacy. The brain will continue its process of adaptation with technology  no matter what kind of.

Proof of this is that there are groups who have never seen a computer, and yet are capable of creating spaces of identity. The culture is in this sense, their  parachute to support creation of answers, as anthropological and ethological studies show it.

Are there benefits in the use of technology?, this is a constant question, and I would say that the benefit is that now our responses will employ different tools. There are currently three ways to close a door: the movement of an arm, with a button or touching a screen, but should not forget that these three methods are achieving the same goal and all depend on the response of a brain.

A problem seen in educational strategies is the forgetfulness of this capacity, with the tendency to create specific response patterns: thus made things, according to a specific algorithm, but this is going against thousands of years of evolution, brain became creative, became from an Néandertal brain to a Sapiens, but we should not forget that many other species have accompanied the human brain. There are reptiles, viruses and bacteria. How can we think that a tool can affect something that remains and will remain as a prototype?. 

Computers and learning

If it is true that affect the evolutionary process, do computers benefit learning?. If you are based on the idea that learning is part of the ability to respond to the environment, and the environment is surrounded by computers, no doubt the interaction is beneficial, the youngest brains are more easily than those who have habits that make rigid response process adopted. 

If a baby make a mistake, it is said that he or she is learning; If an adult makes a mistake, it is said that it is a failure, I think that if learning is seen from this window, education will continue slowing our creativity and our need to innovate. 

Sometimes I think that when adults can give themselves the opportunity to accept that we are not more than a prototype and that the only force capable of changing our environment is death, begin to create much more adaptive responses, being able to increase the life expectancy of the people. It is true that computers have helped us, but there is no achievement that has not started with an idea, net and absolutely human idea.

Learning at the current time, depends on the recognition of the technological environment provides that human remains as the centre of the process and that humans are able to develop this ability to solve problems, solutions, recognize the chain of events that come with clear, specific goals and above all, successful ways to react.

It is clear that learning never depended only of a tool, i.e., we do not learn only from books or teachers. Humans are the only species that creates artificial learning environments, makes tests infertile and maintains such environments for more than 20 years. For the rest of the species on Earth, behavior modeling is brief and the further consideration is to survive.

Believe that a technological tool will teach, means changing the environment of schools by another, perhaps  funnier, with greater capacity for information, but equally sterile if the apprentice is not able to create adaptive responses. While it is possible to order food online, still cannot get the nutrients in this way, we still require food to physically meet the digestion process.

While there is cybersex, is not able yet to fertilize an egg and create a new life. Humans are tied to the natural demands, for some years longer at least until virtual environments to become real environments for the brain. But if Siri is not yet able to recognize words, I think that the road is still long and windy.

In this sense, education must continue focusing efforts on the student, which has not since part of the process since  the ancient Greece, Because after its break between the Catholic Church and the Anglican education focused on the curriculum, and now more that ever students are bombarded by too much information, which causes them problems not only to understand it, but applicate it.

This is why, regardless of the technology, some believe that we must bet on the development of meta cognitive skills, which enable flexible, same thinking applies in everyday life, science and art, since they create patterns of needs analysis for design patterns of responses, choice and check of possibilities concerning specific goals using any tools available, in order to adapt to the environment, including, of course, technology.

If we think for a moment, despite the wonders that it is possible to achieve thanks to the support of computers, they wouldn't exist without a human mind which thought them, designed them and made them work, and sometimes, put them  all together. We can  marvel  the ability of Apple products, but everything is due to the genius of Steve Jobs and his team with an specific ability to imagine. That is a distinctly human quality, that you don't get when the information flows in avalanche and know that there is only one right answer, on a review of all or nothing.

Hopefully one day education understand the brain mechanisms and apply them, because when that happens, it will begin to teach brains capable of learning. 


Alty, JL., Al-Sharrah, A., & Beacham, N. (2006) When humans form media and media form humans: An experimental study examining the effects different digital media have on the learning outcomes of students who have different learning styles. Interacting with Computers. 18. 891-909.

An, H., Shin, S., & Lim, K. (2009) The effects of different instructor facilitation approaches on students’ interactions during asynchronous online discussions. Computers & Education.53 (3) 749-760.

Balaji, MS, (2010) Student interactions in online discussion fórum: Emprirical research from “Media Richness Theory” perspective. Journal of Interactive Online Learning. 9 (1) 1-22.

Baran, E. (2013) Connect, participate and learn: Transforming pedagogies in Higher Education. Bulletin of the IEEE Technical Committe on Learning Technology.  15 (1) 9-12.
Biswal, B.B., Mennes, M., Zuo, X.N., Gohel, S., Kelly, C., Smith, S., … Milham, M.P. (2010) Toward discovery science of human brain function. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. 107 (10) 4734-4740.

Blooma, MJ., Kurian, JC., Kuan Chua, AY., Lian Goh, DL., & Huong Lien, N. (2013) Social question answering: Analysing knowledge, cognitive processes and social dimension of micro-collaborations. Computers & Education.  69. 109-120.

Castañeda, L, y Adell, J. (2013) La anatomía de los PLEs. Pp. 11-28. En: L. Castañeda, y J. Adell (2013) Entornos Personales de Aprendizaje: claves para el ecosistema educativo en red. Alcoy: Marfil. España.

Dabbaghm N., & Kitsantas, A. (2013) The role of social media in self-regulated learning. International Journal of Web Based Communities. 9 (2) 256-273.

Dehaene, S., & Cohen, L. (2007) Cultural recycling of cortical maps. Neuron. 56 (2) 384-398.

Downey, V. (2010) JA Comenius and the concept of universal education. The Encyclopedia of Education. Vol. 2, 1971. Disponible en red: ttp://

Dzib Goodin, A. (2013) La arquitectura cerebral como responsable del desarrollo del proceso de aprendizaje. Revista Mexicana de Neurociencia. 14 (2) 81-85.

Dzib Goodin, A. (2013) La evolución del aprendizaje: Más allá de las redes neuronales. Revista Chilena de Neuropsicología.  8 (1) 20-25.

Edelson, DC., Werthelm, JA., Schell, EM., & The leadership Team of the Road Map for Georgraphy Education Project. (2013)  Creating a road map for the 21st century geography education: Project overview. The Geography Teacher. 10 (1) 1-5.

Goodyear, P., Carvalho, L. (2013) The analysis of complex learning environments. En H., Beetham  & R., Sharpe  Ed . (2013) Rethinking Pedagogy for a Digital Age. Routledge. New York City. USA. Pp. 49-63.

Gulati, S. (2006) Knowledge construction in online learning. Pp. 20-30. En: D. Whitelock, and S. Wheeler. (2006) Association for Learning Technology. 13th International Conference ALT-2006. 5-7 September 2006. Heriot-Watt university, Edinburgh, Scotland, UK.

Howe, C. (2013) Scaffolding in context: Peer interaction and abstract learning. Learning , Culture and Social Interaction.  2 (1) 3-10.

Iredale, A. (2006) Successful learning or falling promise? A situated evaluation of virtual learning environments. Pp. 1-10. En :D. Whitelock, and S. Wheeler. (2006) Association for Learning Technology. 13th International Conference ALT-2006. 5-7 September 2006. Heriot-Watt university, Edinburgh, Scotland, UK.

Kirschner, PA., & Van Merriënboen, JJG. (2013) Do learners really know best? Urban Legends in Education. 48 (3) 169-183.

Kwon, K., Hong, RY., & Laffey, JM.  (2013) The educational impact of metacognitive group coordination in computer-supported collaborative learning. Computers in Human Behavior. 29 (4) 1271-1281.

Lock, A., & Gers, M. (2012) The cultural evolution of written language and its effects: A Darwinian process from prehistory to the modern day. En E.L.L., Grigorenko, E., Mambrino, DD., Preis (Eds) Writing: A mosaic of new perspective. (pp.11-36). New York: Psychology Press, Taylor & Francis Group.

Lotem, A., & Hapern. J.Y. (2012) Coevolution of learning and data acquisition mechanism: A model for cognitive evolution. Philosophical Transactions the Royal Society: Biological Science. 367 (1063) 2686-2694.

Mak, S., Wiliams, R., and Mackness, J. (2010) Blogs and fórums as communication and learning tolos in a MOOC. Pp. 275-285. En: Proceedings of the 7th International Conference on Networked Learning 2010. University of Lancaster, Lancaster.

Ng. W. (2012) Can we teach digital natives digital literacy? Computers & Education.
59. 1065-1078.

Sackur, J., & Dehaene, S. (2009) The cognitive architecture for chaining of two mental operations. Cognition. 111. 187-211.

Voogt, J. Erstad, O., Dede, C & Mishra, P (2013) Challenges to learning and Schooling un the digital networked world of the 21st century.  Journal of Computer Assited Learning. 29 (5) 403-413.

Zuo, X.N., Ehmke, R., Mennes, M., Imperati, D., Castellanos, J., Sporns, O., & Milham, M. P. (2012) Network centrality in the human functional.  Cerebral Cortex. 22 (8) 1862-1875.

No comments:

Post a Comment