Author Archives: Galib Abbaszade

Researching design principles of Magoosh test preparation portal from technical and social perspectives

Course: CCTP – 820: Leading by Design: Principles of Technical and Social Systems

Instructor: Prof. Irvine Martin

From: Galib Abbaszade

Fall 2016

 

Final Paper

Subject: Researching design principles of Magoosh test preparation portal from technical and social perspectives

Abstract

Magoosh is the online test preparation portal, which helps students to pass required test exams (such as SAT, GRE, GMAT, TOEFL, etc.) and be admitted to undergraduate and graduate schools.  This research paper is an attempt to discover capacities of Magoosh test preparation portal from its designing principles viewpoints, which give to “every student access to effective, affordable and engaging test prep tools” and methods. Within this paper the teaching mechanisms provided by Magoosh are described from the angle of applying design thinking approach. To illustrate (to deblackbox) tutorial technics used by Magoosh’s instructors through the portal features, this research discusses such paradigms as the design principles, modularity of the site, abstraction methods, symbolic technologies, mathematical algorithms for assessing students learning progress, etc., applied in this portal. To demonstrate the accuracy of the research hypothesis within this paper, some evidences, such as supportive data and graphics, media and images, references and links are embedded into the text body.

Introduction

In fact, to meet Universities admission requirements, students need to obtain certain scores of test exams, such as SAT, GRE, etc. Utilizing Internet power and capability, Bhavin Parikh, CEO of the Magoosh internet based company, and three his companions launched this on-line tutorial portal in 2009, which is focused on conducting preparation for test exams.

Considering tests designed based on English language proficiency, the whole test preparation process also built on English language base. It provides equality and even condition for everyone who use Magoosh preparation services from any country, with different language and cultural background.

From Persian language Magoosh means wise, highly-learned and generous one. This interactive portal is designed based on combinatorial modularity approach and cognitive abstraction principles to provide users with certain services by using both technological features and accumulated knowledge gathered from previous tests takers and tests organizers’ experience. In general, designers of this portal did not create something new, not any single part of the whole system. Rather they wisely used already existing hard and software modules to construct the whole portal “building” from the available construction blocks, such as searching engines, communication and computational devices, commonly accepted media symbols, photo and movie appliances, etc. Once the whole portal was constructed from these “blocks”, engineers of the portal “breathed” life to its functioning by uploading it with knowledge gained from previous cognitive experience of organizations or individuals were affiliated to the test taking process. Based on this knowledge they could design this portal as an interactive application which has ability to assess the level of a test taker knowledge and propose recommendations for further preparation period. Math algorithms used by Magoosh engineers make possible to complicate or simplify assignments momentarily reacting to accuracy rate of a test taker. Also, this progressive and regressive evaluation approach for accuracy of answers helps to provide test takers with the same condition which is supposed to be at the real exam.

To increase accessibility of customers and provide them with all options provided by Magoosh portal, company engineers designed the application for smart phones in 2014. Using modularity design principles, the portal designers could adopt the complicated test preparation process for mobile devices and give students a chance to save their time by memorizing words for verbal section or math formulas for analytical section of the chosen exam at any relevant time and place they are.

If the analytical sections of the test preparation process are mostly designed based on math rules and equations, the verbal sections of the exams are designed based on different types of semantic mechanisms and programs to evaluate the grammar accuracy of test takers. The portal engineers customize various symbols and signs to help test takers perform and train quick reaction to the questions which should be answered within short time frame, usually about 50 seconds per each. Considering that all testing exams are designed to be taken through Internet interactive programs, it gives Magoosh more chances to increase the number of its clients providing them with the same approach and mechanisms for tutorial reasons and creating identical condition similar to the real exam environment.

From social perspective, it brings more equity, equality, openness and fairness to the learning process. Everyone, with different cultural and professional background, being connected to internet from any place in the World can get the same access and opportunity to preparation tools of the portal, increase her/his ability and skills to obtain required test scores.

Analyzing Magoosh design principles and features

This section discusses the main elements employed in Magoosh portal to design architecture for the whole system, such as (a) modularity, abstraction and layers as core components for designing the complex systems of the Magoosh portal; (b) cognitive artifacts and symbolic technologies; (c) media features as symbolic cognition tools for the learning process; and (d) algorithmic modules for enhancing interactions between users and portal teaching technics. At the end of this section, possible social aspects originated from functioning of this portal are also reviewed.

(a) Modularity, abstraction and layers as core components for designing the complex systems of the Magoosh portal

Magoosh portal is the best sample of employing modularity design principles to construct multi-media online portal with multiple layers and architectural hierarchy. The main page of the site introduces the general information of the portal and the symbols of test exams, which could be activated as links to open the sub-systems for each test.

Apparently, assembling existing parts in new functional system considers using combinatorial design approach to build new technologies. In the sample of this portal we observe that Magoosh engineers could combine different sophisticated abstraction layers in one functioning subsystems to provide range tutorial services.

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Evidently, the combinatorial design mechanism of the whole site is a principle approach for construction learning processes for each test preparation courses. (Further, for better visualization this paper discusses design principles based on Graduate Record Examination (GRE) test.)

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GRE is remaining the most popular test exam after TOEFL for entering higher educational programs of Universities in the United States.

test-takers-by-major gender-distribution

To provide the complete version of tutorial GRE course, constructors of the site interconnected multiple modules (or subsystems) with numerous hidden components and functions. In fact, combinatorial approach and modular design requires that components and modules of the whole system connected properly through adjusted interfaces. In addition, working system depends on employing certain standards for interoperability functions of components. On the example of Magoosh portal it is proven that combining existing technologies is effective approach to create new technology. Combinatorial design generates further modularity combinations and increases benefits and efficiency for users within test preparation period. Each segment of the whole system may be employed separately or altogether with group of other modules which provides variety of options for learning process.

(b) Cognitive artifacts and symbolic technologies

Apparently, it would be reasonable to discover now interface design of the portal, as a piece of the cognitive artifact, or how it reveals to its users. Constructors of this portal could assemble two important combinatorial design principles – having used cognitive artifacts and simplifications for easing the whole teaching process to increase its efficiency. Realizing importance of this tutorial portal its architects could satisfy users’ expectations through the site features. They made test preparation mechanisms more affordable and friendly.

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Constructors of the site could accumulate 100 million test questions and answer into one site and provide 2 million hours of video lessons. Avoiding other tutorial tactics of generalizing the learning process, Magoosh portal provides individual approach by tuning the whole education course to reflect to certain needs of each students.

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Using a range capacities of media elements, such as symbolic technics, audio and video lessons, designers of the site make possible to get multimedia cognitive artifacts serving for tutorial needs of users. On other hand, students can take an advantage to get an individual feedback to be focused more on constraints and lack of the certain skills.

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Through this approach each user of this site can obtain plenty of required information, various test samples, and her/his answers assessment results indicated in graphs and diagrams to analyze progress of the whole learning process. To ease the studying course for students, engineers of Magoosh portal apply minimalism approach and use flat design technics for portal applications, which indicates through pure-colored block and regular geometries. It helps students to focus their attention on the core required information or features and not be distracted by other characters on the site. In fact, the constructors of the site use graphics, images and other digital media tools to shape the test preparation process in more practical way. To make it more friendly, interactive and attractive, they created efficient interface and affordances tools.

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(c) Media features as symbolic cognition tools for learning process

To boost efficiency in the learning process, designers of the site immensely use different type of cognitive technologies and media features, beginning from simple recognizable images and ending with the audio and video lessons. This fair approach makes the whole education process more understandable and place everyone in the same condition to be properly prepared for the real tests. Also, it helps symbolic thought represented in Magoosh learning and software technologies to be cumulative. In fact, the portal media features influence to enhancing cognitive capacities of users and serves to improve both important learning skills – understanding and memorizing. From the technological evolution perspective media features used in Magoosh portal may be marked as outstanding “symbolic species” within development process of human cognitive learning tools. The engineers of the portal used symbolic thought instruments – such as language, analytical and verbal assignments, images, abstract technics, technical mediation, etc. – to increase abstraction and rationality skills of students. In some degree, this portal converged various types of cognitive symbolic systems, such as semiotics, languages, images and combined them through technical modules and software capacity to produce new educational platform to use for efficient learning process. This combinatorial approach opens new horizons for using technological modules interconnected each other to develop learning abilities of students. In other words, symbol systems employed in the portal, their reflexivity (capacity to represent other symbols) increase knowledge comprehension and responsiveness skills of students. Considering the test questions are derived from various academic and social fields, the symbol systems used in Magoosh portal also have collective character.

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In designing preparation test, Magoosh engineers used experience of their colleagues and partners working in the same field. In this transition, and in addition to other organizational conditions, the certain attributes of media and symbolic artefacts (such as “store and forward” capabilities) help the site constructors to present previously obtained practical knowledge to new students. Thus, the whole Magoosh portal itself emerged as a symbolic cognition system and combination of abstraction layers to boost the learning process itself. Presenting questions through conventional representations of symbolic thought (such as images and/or geometrical figures), the designers also save linkages between initial sources of previous exam data and contemporary testing systems.

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However, tests requirements are improving and changing and test preparation tutorials also should be adjusted to these changing demands. Therefore, designers of the portal utilizing the reflexive nature of symbols, which makes possible to “re-encode one set of symbols to other ones” and create new combinatorial system, where one media system (or meta-media) serves to represent other media systems.

As an important part of GRE exam, designers of the portal also pay special attention to preparation courses focused on Issue and Argument Task Examples (essays) by providing audio and video lessons with rich explanation and step by step teaching writing technics.

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(d) Algorithmic modules for enhancing interactions between users and portal teaching technics

Another important option of Magoosh portal is its ability to reflect to each individual needs for learning and preparation process. One of the main goals for Magoosh engineers is to make portal capacity and its attributes tuned properly to the specific preparation requirements of every student. To accomplish this task engineers vastly use various technology and media features, employ combinatorial modularity design principles for composing different abstraction layers and test levels. From technical perspective, the engineers of the site used special mathematical algorithms to reflect every students’ studying progress individually reacting to the accuracy rate of his/her answers to the preparation test questions. In fact, this approach is duplicating the same algorithms which are employed in conducting the real test, organized by Educational Testing Service (ETS) organization, official entity for assessing and grading test scores to be submitted to Universities.

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Also, the portal provides students with other individual approaches, such as audio, video lessons divided based on the certain topics, and an option to get in touch with a mentor through e-mails and messengers to discuss the personal learning strategy, to get an advice to improve some certain skills, or understand recommended technics, which is important for achieving required scores.

After signing in, within the toolbars a student can choose “Custom practice” option under the “Practice” button, which opens menu for her/him with new choices to tune the learning process based on her/his personal needs. Among this menu s/he can select such options like “Section” (whether it math or verbal one, and with different types of extensions), “Difficulty” (the level of complication), “Number” and “Time” for test taking, “Mode” (whether to provide explanations for correct answers), and etc. This optional page in the Magoosh portal is a sample of a separate combinatorial modular section, or meta-media system with other multiple media sub-systems embodied in this page.

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Upon completion of the probation test, student can choose “Review” option from the main toolbar and realize of her/his progress or regress within studying course. The site also provides charts and schematic images for visualization of analysis of the studying process.

Once student realized her/his weaknesses and areas to be improved s/he has a chance to return to the “Lessons” section and choose the appropriate field for additional tutorial classes and tests.

In addition to the general introduction, the “Lessons” section of the site is composed with consideration all requirements of the real test exam and indicate all possible themes and sub-sections, which may be appeared at the official test. For example, math section covers all possible variations of sub-sections such as General Math Strategies, Arithmetic and Fractions, Percentage and Rations, and etc. Right at the same page, a student can switch to Verbal lessons and sub-sections, such as multiple variation of Text Completion tests, Sentence Equivalence, Vocabulary, Reading Comprehension, and etc. In general, this page comprises all necessary tools, strategies, samples, and information, which requires to pass GRE official exam and get higher scores.

Designers of the site use different types of practical cases, games, and attributes (like flashcards for memorizing) to make the whole learning process more efficient and enjoyable.

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To increase accessibility and make it more convenient, Magoosh engineers launched in 2014 the application of their portal for smart phone devices as well. This application replicate the most important features of the main portal and adds more options for using memorizing flashcards for both main section of the test – analytical and verbal.

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Also, there is a rich source of practical information is hidden under the “Resources” button on the main toolbar. This section contains such important options as Study Plans (where a student can get plentiful recommendation of how to make the preparation strategy more efficient within the certain period), which sources are the best for defined targets, considering different level of every student, from beginner to advanced one. Also, this section has some additional tools for memorizing formulas and increase vocabular base. And, it also provides some other sources for enriching preparation course (such as Testimonials), to get acknowledged of other Magoosh students’ opinion regarding Magoosh services and opportunities, and to know more about other Magoosh products.

Social impact

From social implications points of view, this site brings more equality and equity to range of students with different backgrounds, financial opportunities, accesses to the source of knowledge. It also opens boarders for international students to compete each other, what leads to rising of the average intellectual (GPA and IQ) level of admitted students in each University. Being relatively cheap in comparing with intramural type of tutorial courses, it makes possible for enrollees with low income to get access to better international schools. Students with technical background using this tutorial site may improve their knowledge in English language grammar and those with social science background can upgrade their skills in math and fast calculation. Also, it is globalizing education process giving a chance for students from different continents and countries to interact and study at the same Universities, to know more of each other and keeping up international relations. In the certain degree, Magoosh through its professional and social activities is connecting people and preparing more educated future generations.

100-million-questions

This site does a good job by giving stage to alumni of the preparation programs to share their ideas with new enrolled students. Social aspects of the site are implemented through such link like “press”, “blog”, and can be opened from other social networking portals. It tremendously increases reliability of new students who would like to know more about sites from independent sources. It would be fair to outline that openness at the portal and providing students with tribunes for socializing are implemented impressively. The blog page on the portal resembles all features of the site and performs as media sub-system in bigger meta-media system. The blog page is composed based on all options provided by the site itself to offers students easy access to wanted information.

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Conclusion

On the bright sample of Magoosh portal, this research proves that combinatorial design principles bring together already existing technical and software modules to create new technology to be employed in different areas of public life. The number of internet users are growing daily and hourly. Having built on the internet based mechanisms and providing on-line tutorial courses, Magoosh became as a great global source for those who are eager to develop their education and career through education programs at Universities. Magoosh also can be viewed as a platform for social activities, which helps people around the world to connect and know each other.

 

Bibliography

Deacon, T. W. (1998). The Symbolic Species: The Co-evolution of Language and the Brain. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

Denning, P. J., Martell, C. H., & Cerf, V. (2015). Great Principles of Computing. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.

Latour, B. (1999). Pandora’s Hope: Essays on the Reality of Science Studies (1 edition). Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.

Manovich, L. (2013). Software Takes Command (INT edition). New York ; London: Bloomsbury Academic.

Norman, D. A. (2010). Living with Complexity. Cambridge, Mass: The MIT Press.

Norman-Cognitive-Artifacts.pdf. (n.d.). Retrieved September 27, 2016, from https://drive.google.com/file/u/1/d/0Bxfe3nz80i2GTHE1TEhNeDMzYlE/edit?usp=sharing&usp=embed_facebook

McLuhan, M., & Gordon, W. T. (2003). Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man : Critical Edition (Critical edition). Corte Madera, CA: Gingko Press.

Donald A. Norman, Living with Complexity. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2010.

Donald A. Norman, “Cognitive Artifacts” In Designing Interaction, edited by John M. Carroll, 17-38. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

Richard N. Langlois, “Modularity in Technology and Organization”. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization 49, no. 1 (September 2002)

Carliss Y. Baldwin and Kim B. Clark, Desing Rules, Vol. 1: The Powerof Modularity. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2000.

Kate Wong, The Morning of the Modern Mind: Symbolic Culture.” Scientific American 292, no. 6 (June 2005)

Michael Cole, “On Cognitive Artifacts”, From Cultural Psychology: A Once and Future Discipline. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996.

James Hollan, Edwin Hutchins, and David Kirsh. “Distributed Cognition: Toward a New Foundation for Human-computer Interaction Research”. ACM Transactions, Computer-Human Interaction 7, no. 2 (June 2000)

Regis Debray, “What is Mediology?”, Le Monde Diplomatique, Aug., 1999. Trans. Martin Irvine.

Information Transportation System

Information Transportation System —  Galib

If Internet phenomenon itself may be seen as a universe space for communication, then, the World Wide Web may be seen as a transportation system to deliver information between internet users. Emerging new internet members / companies at the beginning of internet era dictated arising new regulation and standards to exchange information between as members as well as users. It is hard to imagine our life without traffic regulation. Despite of high-speed cars we would not use our vehicles if there is no traffic regulation between users of transportation system. Every our journey would be longer, dangerous and inefficient. WWW, like DMV for information, was developed in the right time of occurring the most prominent players of internet society and has been developing altogether with them on the constant base.

traffic city night

traffic city night

Internet actors / companies continuously has been advancing their services, inspired by technology progress in hard and soft -wares. It constantly challenges information regulatory Unit, like WWW, to be ready to apply new regulatory tools and bring standards to increase efficiency and fairness within information exchanging process[i].

As in car traffic regulation for information sending-receiving process it was important to elaborate the road conditions, timing, cross-roads regulation, queue order of passing information, considering its volume and emergency, etc.

google-traffic-1024x585

It became important to define “special service” roads for government, emergency and/or security issues, to avoid information traffic jams and not miss some part(s) of transmitted information[ii].

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For users WWW-DMV regulations opened new perspectives, internet became more friendly using information tool. Echoing with development of URL, HTML, HTTP application and programs[iii], WWW gave a chance to users to get clear orients to navigate in the internet space and opportunity even to change their status and from users become active actors. It brought internet to the new stage when every user can develop its own internet page and start actively participate in internet society community. It changed (and because of its alive process, it still changes) market phenomenon, making it more global, and service providing opportunities. Each internet user-actor can introduce her/his service ability to remote users, makes deal and business with those clients who were unreachable during pre-WWW period. It also boosted education development for those users who are isolated within their information boarder. It opens more opportunity for providing health services and gives chances for those who loses their faith to recover their health conditions. Despite of some negative sides of information globalization process (security versus privacy[iv], etc.), in general Internet itself and WWW particularly serve for improvement the life standards of the World population, providing the easy approach to communication and information exchange process and making wider horizons of every internet user.

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Despite new challenges of mobile internet networking[v], it will continue to be the solid platform for providing political and social freedom. WWW helps to enhance transparency and support emerging new social networks and digital media portals which can connect millions after one simple click. It makes the global community more united, aware of each other concerns and gives a chance to everyone to be actively involved to the whole global family life.

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[i] Martin Irvine, The World Wide Web: Extensible Design Principles for Any Device and Interface”

[ii] Ron White, “How Computers Work”, 9th edition, Library of Congress Cataloging, 2008, page 369

[iii] Tim Berners-Lee with Mark Fischetti, “Weaving the Web”, Harper San-Francisco, 1999, page 35

[iv] Johnathan Zittrain, “The Future of the Internet”, Yale University Press, page 36.

[v] http://www.pewinternet.org/2012/03/23/the-future-of-apps-and-web/

Internet mind generations

Internet mind generations  — Galib

It is topic for huge volume books. Internet became part of human life replacing many other communication tools. We tend more to send a message through social sites or e-mail accounts rather than to call; we prefer to speak over internet communication portals, rather than using conventional phone lines; we like reading world news on internet, rather than watching TV news programs, etc. etc. Internet has ability to provide us with all communication options and got power to make us more dependent on it. We can compare negative and positive sides of this phenomenon in our life, but it is existence and influence to our life is growing constantly.

Nowadays, it is already impossible to imagine almost any human cognitive activity without referring to internet engines of its capacity to connect with the rest of the World and provide demanded information. Beginning from education process and ending with searching good deal for commodities we are making ourselves more dependent from the Internet options. On one hand, the continually growing volume of information itself demands additional tools for saving it and find its required part within short time. On other hand, outstanding ability of internet becomes more distractive providing numerous of additional information and various options for entertainment reasons. Eventually, it challenges us to define balance between privacy and security issues, which becomes more crucial aspects with penetration of internet to almost all areas of personal life and connecting as professional as well as social communities.

scales-security-privacy-977-411

Apparently, Internet gives a chance for those (i.e. hackers) to illegally misuse personal and professional information of others for their own sake. Despite being so contradictive factor in modern life of the World community, Internet gives more positive options and incentives for further socio-economic development and scientific progress and continue defining new ways for protecting private information of users.

Once internet became available for broader population, (being initially as ARPAnet – DoD department of Advanced Research Projects Agency)[i], it has several stages within its development process. Among them we can mention creating such technical features (software standards) to connect remote devices like Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) and Internet Protocol (IP)[ii] to make available sending-receiving information and recognize every single user (computer) of this information.

TCP-IP-model-vs-OSI-model

It also uses modularity approach for designing its layers’ capacity, utilizing “hidden information”, blackboxing some operations, encoding and decoding process[iii]. The operational functioning of internet for users may be demonstrated on The Protocol Stack Model[iv], demonstrated above. Another significant achievement for internet development was creating tools to divide big portion of information to smaller packages (packet switching)[v], deliver them to receiver and put packages in the right order for saving accuracy of sent information.

packetswitching

This technical feature gives a chance to send big files of information with relatively shorter period. In general, internet emerging boosted computer science, hardware sector growing, and technical progress itself. Information availability and its rapid exchange between remote users enhanced globalization process, which caused unprecedented socio-political-economic events. It drastically changed various of cultural aspects of internet global community and brought news values, standards and principles to apply in everyday life to be connected with the rest of the world. “The internet is really a set of standards for interconnecting networks”[vi]. At some degree it resembles the neuron centers network in the brain and reflecting the same operational mechanisms for information transmitting and receiving processes.

ANN 1

Apparently, it changes the mind, social identity and way of life of current and coming generations, and this aspect may be the most significant influence of the internet to the human being development process.

[i] Ron White, How Computer Work, 9th edition, 2008, page 310

[ii] Hal Abelson, Ken Ledeen, Harry Lewis, Your Live, Liberty, and Happiness After the Digital Explosion, Pearson Education Inc, 2008, page 304

[iii] Barbara van Schewick, Internet Architecture and Innovation, The MIT Press, 2010, page 38

[iv]  Irvine, Martin, Introducing Internet Design Principles and Architecture: Why Learn This?

[v] [v] Hal Abelson, Ken Ledeen, Harry Lewis, Your Live, Liberty, and Happiness After the Digital Explosion, Pearson Education Inc, 2008, page 304

[vi] [vi] Hal Abelson, Ken Ledeen, Harry Lewis, Your Live, Liberty, and Happiness After the Digital Explosion, Pearson Education Inc, 2008, page 304

“War and Peace” drivers for technological progress. — Galib

“War and Peace” drivers for technological progress. — Galib

Throughout the human history, we can notice that confrontation between countries and nations or individuals struggling to survive were the major sources to invent new technics to fight and be stronger to meet environmental challenges or threats from enemies. In some condition, we can outline that the most significant factors for technological process within the recent history and in the last century were wars and confrontation between empires. The speed of evolutionary process in all areas of sciences was increased in times. Discoveries in hard sciences significantly changed the way of life of the earth population and brought new challenges to deal with. To meet new and fast changing realities it has become important to learn new cognitive approach among new generation. Thus, technical revolution tremendously influences to the whole education process, studying process are being modified on yearly base to indicate revelations in sciences and prepare future society members to meet challenges of rapidly changing world. Apparently, to grow the new generations with appropriate set of mind, another phenomenon happened gradually in 20th century, when scientific discoveries and innovations became more available through commercial markets and education process. Hence, the technological progress stepped in its “Peace” stage of existing.

I remember, when I was a schoolboy I was studying MS-DOS and later Norton Commander operational systems and was amazed by features of sophisticated machines which are impossible to use in modern realities anymore.

comps of 80th

Seemingly, such driver as equalization (complementing) new software opportunities with innovations of hardware capacities, may also explain another phenomenon of rocket rapid speed of technological progress. Along with development process of hard sciences – discovering new materials, revelation in nuclear and atomic levels, cosmic space exploration, etc. – the electronic devices became possible to produce. Thus, new hardware demanded (and they sill demands) new opportunities to be employed, which resulted with occurring new software programs and operational systems. On the other hand, rapidly changing realities and competition in the commercial markets also demanded more new software programs to be invented and meet new requirements. Complimenting each other both sectors of science and economy push the whole technological progress further. Sometimes, it is hard to realize which factor is the most crucial within this process. It already became like a “chain reaction” of cause and consequences relations, where it is hard to distinguish which comes first “chicken or eggs”. Also, the massive findings within different (mostly hard) sciences became possible to employ (crossed use) them in multiple areas of science. Consequently, new interdisciplinary fields of sciences appeared, like biophysics, sociocybernetics, etc. Completing, triggering and motivating each other, all scientific areas may be considered like sources for new inventions[i]. The brightest example of interdisciplinary research may be mentioned ecology, for example.

ecology

Hence, we can notice the new trend in the scientific progress, both paradoxically contradictive and complementary each other – such as specialization[ii] and integration.

puzzle

Responding to the technical and education progress new machines needed to be more friendly use and interactive to satisfy users’ requirements. Their interfaces’ features should indicate their abilities to provide users with certain options and become for both archiving or searching information[iii]. Therefore, the computer machines became as a metamedium devices[iv] for new level of representation of the synthesis between forms and content and gates for users to the globalizing environment.

globalisationmap

As a reaction to scientific progress, the new social portal movement appeared as well and easily integrated to other sides of cognitive-computational-scientific process. Now, social sites are used in all spheres of human life in attempt to connect (or even adjust) human needs with rapidly changing realities driven by technological progress.

[i] Douglas Engelbart,”Augmenting Human Intellect”, NMR, p. 6

[ii] Vannevar, Bush. 1945. “As We May Think.” Atlantic, July, p. 5

[iii] Licklider, J. C. R. 1960. “Man-Computer Symbiosis”, NMR, p. 4

[iv] Manovich, Lev. 2013. Software Takes Command. International Texts in Critical Media Aesthetics, volume#5. New York ; London: Bloomsbury, p. 101

Softwares are rules of life

Softwares are rules of life

Galib

Software programs are everywhere

The existence of software as a piece of mind and idea we can observe everywhere in the surrounding environment. From the level of organic life in alive cells of tree leaves or human body, and up to cosmic gravitation rule in the Universe, we may be witnesses of perfectly functioning rules. For example, in micro level of alive cells, amazing complexity of mitochondria

mitochondriafigure1

functioning to produce energy or work of ribosomes to synthesis protein

ribosomesfigure1

are done based on certain software programs, which are encapsulated in DNA of each cell and being intangible pieces make physic (or tangible / material things) bodies to function / live. “DNA translation can thus be called an information process; if someone discovers a controlling algorithm, it could be also called a computation[i].” In the macro level, we can see perfectly working rules as in the Solar system, in the Milky-Way Galaxy, as well as in the whole Universe.

astrophysics-ii-app

All these rules, either in micro or macro levels, could be considered as software programs to bring materialistic bodies (and the world) in order and systematic ways to live. There is even mathematical algorithm recently discovered for Brownian (so called chaotic) motion of molecules.

Brown_motion  randomwalk

Apparently, it once again may prove an existence of software programs everywhere in the surrounding environment.

Technical artifacts designs by humans

The same approach human brain extrapolate to her/his own creations. In fact, to bring life to new inventions, it is important to have three major substances – material body, software and energy. We can try to prove this hypothesis observing how computers are designed and functioning. If material (hardware) things of a PC are sophisticated “blackboxed” devices, complex wire system, a body itself, then, math algorithms and programs, which brings electronic life to these tangible things are softwares.

simulated-computer-universe

And, finally, there is no any electronic mechanisms which can work without energy. Thus, to inbreathe a “real life” to a PC, along with installation a software, we need to plug it to electric grid system. As we see here, electronic artifacts invented by people and organic lives surrounding us have the same type of requirements and demands to live.

Personal experience and constraints

Apparently, we can feel and understand something when it becomes more crucial for us. Utilizing PC routinely usually don’t give us insights how sophisticated software programs are in this PC. Once I was inspired to design a social internet site to boost citizen journalism movement in my country, I realized how much we are dependent from such regular features like software programs.

services-web-design1

I needed to use each section of that internet page purposefully, therefore, I had to define appropriate program for each function, which indicated the certain feature of the site. I got a technical assistance to build this site and started learning myself. Later I realized how Java program works and what software functions better for slideshow. I comprehended which programs we needed to employ to provide users with capacity to upload their articles and information, how they could use searching engine, what type of hashtags and key words were important to utilize and how we could balance between esthetic forms of the site and its content. One of the most complicated issues was composing procedures[ii] of all features of the site and screen the outputs. And how to make a trade-offs between time, space, processing power and storage capacity[iii]. Later, I understood that we were following almost all “Eight Great Ideas in Computer Architecture”, such as abstraction to simplify design or making the common cases fast[iv].

[i] Peter J. Denning, The Great Principles of Computing, American Scientist magazine, page 372

[ii] David Ivans, Introduction to Computing, University of Virgina, page 54

[iii] Jeannette M. Wing, Computational Thinking, Viewpoint, 2006, page 34

[iv] David A. Patterson and John L. Hennessy, Computer Organization and Design, page 11

Syntheses of information and meaning; and how to see invisible world through communication tools.

Syntheses of information and meaning; and how to see invisible world through communication tools.

Galib

It may sound more philosophical and debatable, but in every side and aspect of life and environmental patterns we realize unification of content and form paradigms. It also may be “metaphorical description of the processes of the information technology[i]”. While one of them is always intangible (content/idea) another one needs to be made from opposite nature (tangible) to reflect idea(s) and values of the object (or subject). Like book, being tangible device made from paper and ink, represents and deliver ideas hidden behind commonly accepted symbols – letters and words. The same approach we see when we use electronic devices to transmit the information through space and time. Despite, the communication signals, like dots and dashes (electric impulse or its absence), cannot own the meaning or values of transmitted information they represent, however, without them cognitive subjects (human beings) cannot transfer their intangible ideas and values to other subjects in the surrounding environment. “Because information is always represented by physical means[ii]”, through signs and symbols our invisible (and intangible) world become visible for others to learn and exchange thoughts and emotions. (However, in the sample of human being, words and deeds may be also used not to reflect, but hide the real intentions or thoughts.) Once we encoded our ideas and values in letter/words or sounds/waves (like a source of information) to pass them to others, they will be decoded and understood (at the last destination) properly, if we accept the same standards of communication tools (languages, sings, signals, etc.)

encode-decode-model-of-communication

“Because every number corresponds to an encoded proposition of mathematics[iii]”, to maintain the important level of communication system between electronic devices we need to take care of sustainability of passed information throughout the whole line of the communication system.

Apparently, modern electronic devices help us not only to pass intangible ideas and values, they also serve to discover more hidden tangible world around us, especially if we go more in two extremes – to the world of elementary particles (atoms and molecules) or cosmic spaces of unseen remote objects. The specifically designed sound and light signals are sent to and reflected from the studied object bring substantial information about the object, even if it is hidden because of its extreme disposition from the researcher. Also, the purposely designed signals (their encoding and decoding systems and devices) help us to control man-crafted devices in huge distances.

auosb

Through the communication system and tools we can interact with different types of apparatus, receive intended information and manage their activities whether it is discovery machine locates on the Mars or it is tiny device implanted into the human body. The technical progress of the informational and electronic system gives us an opportunity to provide manmade machines with more capacity and load them with certain information to elaborate and analyze inputs and present sought results for further use. Hence, information technology era started from Morse alphabet brings us to the edge of creation of Artificial Intelligence, which may become a source of ideas and values itself (intangible phenomena) and use people as the particles in the information system. “Such a world will first gently invite us to understand it as something `a-live’ (artificially live)[iv]”.

artificial-intelligence-378x225

[i] Ronald E. Day University of Oklahoma The “Conduit Metaphor” and The Nature and Politics of Information Studies, p. 807

[ii] Peter J. Denning and Tim Bell The Information Paradox, p. 471

[iii] James Gleick, Information, A History, A Theory, A Flood, p. 19

[iv] Luciano Floridi, Information, A Very Short Introduction, p. 19

Affordances and interfaces are formatting all human life

Affordances and interfaces of electronic devices are formatting all human life.

Galib

Both of these paradigms are two sides of the same “gold medal” – human life. Despite we can easily see evidences of this phenomenon on the samples of technology progress, I would like to focus my attention mostly on social area of its amplification. For example, we can easily bring numerous of the syntheses between affordances and interfaces on the sample of an ordinary computer (like applications and their icons, memory of computer and key words to find wanted files, etc.). However, it is much harder to outline the right disposition of these two paradigms within social aspects. I would like to name few of them first for the further discussion – state regulation and individual rights; gained human experience and knowledge and education system; natural resources and one’s accessibility to use them (or to be exposed to use them). In the both types of samples – for technical devices or social paradigms – it is necessary, but not sufficient, to have match between affordances and instruments (their interfaces) to display them and provide efficient access to them.

Apparently, to maintain the process of matching between affordances and interfaces in both social and technical areas it needs obtaining certain knowledge and skills. Therefore, one of the core pillar for realizing the human gained knowledge and experience (as affordance) is education process, which may be considered as an interface (reflection of knowledge) for obtaining required knowledge and skills. Another example may be drawn from living individuals in groups / communities / societies. On one hand, for individuals living in communities gives more opportunities for life and development, but on the other hand, it limits there freedom or behavior. Hence, we need to employ special regulation (society agreement) to live together and use common opportunities (it may be considered as an affordance), but outline the rights and responsibilities of individuals (may be considered as interface; how regulation reflects in real life) to provide the fair access for everyone to common resources and life opportunities.

More samples of affordances of social life may be described like a sources of cultural / values aspects (as an cognitive affordance[i], which is provided by cultural tradition / convention) and their exposure on identity characteristics and distinguish behavior of individual(s) (as interfaces of such affordances / values). The cultural heritage of the passed generations may be reflected on next ones through individuals who are positioning themselves as descendants of past civilizations (or their values). Looking from this perspective, in general, past civilizations themselves may be considered as affordances and each next generation as their interfaces.

Another observation for social affordances may be classified them to objective and subjective ones[ii]. For example, the cultural heritage of previous civilizations may be considered as objective values for next generations, however, everyone may perceived and reflect these values from her/his own individual perspectives.

Making some comparison between technical devices and social aspects of affordances and interfaces, we can discover the certain level of relation between visual artifacts (as an icons on the touchscreen of smartphone), which by clicking[iii] we can activate and derive information “hidden” behind them.

[i] Jiajie, Zhang, and Patel Vimla L. 2006. “Distributed Cognition, Representation, and Affordance.” Pragmatics & Cognition

[ii] Victor, Kaptelinin. 2013. “Affordances.” In The Encyclopedia of Human-Computer Interaction, 2nd Ed. https://www.interaction-design.org/literature/book/the-encyclopedia-of-human-computer-interaction-2nd-ed/affordances ; chapter 44.2.1.3 The notion of affordance.

[iii] Norman, Donald A. 1999. “Affordance, Conventions, and Design.” Interactions 6 (3): 38–43.

Citizen journalism as another side of mediation and socio-technical artifacts.

Citizen journalism as another side of mediation and socio-technical artifacts.

Galib Abbaszade

Couple years ago, I launched and managed an internet site oriented to promote and enhance social journalism activity in my country. In the condition of limitation of essential freedoms, I saw this site as another attempt and chance for people to speak free. In general, this type of sites give an opportunity for all people to outline their problems and brought them to the public discussions.

There were multiple reasons, including financial, why I needed to close this site for a while. Herein, I would like to focus my attention on those problems, which were originated by content and style of articles, who mostly were written by not skillful journalists. Considering that site gradually tended to be a social portal for easy access of thousands people, each article became of peace of mediation between writer and big auditorium of readers. As a consequent, the owner of the site (in this case myself) was responsible for all misused information and biased interpretation of facts in the articles by portal users. On my personal experience I figured out that any published article, thought or even word are a part of mediation process between individuals who can use modern techniques to be heard by others.

Within few months, this portal – www.globalpublicvoice.com – became a popular technical artifacts which made me responsible from moral[i] points of view before users of this site. The site itself as a technical object could not be considered as moral or immoral tool, it could not hurt or praise others itself. However, users of this artifact could direct its options to the area of their own interests (and mostly by unfair methods) and discriminated the rights of others. I needed to find some ways to moderate this challenging obstacle professionally, which demanded involving skillful operators and allocate more financial resources. However, to manage such skillful operators, the owner should realize the content of the problem him/herself to provide resolutions for complicated situation. Therefore, I have decided to start from myself and enhance my education and expertise in the relevant areas.

Lately, I realized that I had improper approach for the site designing from its meaning points of view to users. Now, I understood that I need to clarify first how I see this site from goal translation and composition aspects and how to present them to users considering timing and space factors[ii]. Also, considering this site should be an agent connecting individuals it needs to meet all important requirement of “Inter-Agent” from both perspectives – being easy instrumentally and friendly and satisfying interactive tool for users’ needs[iii].

And, may be the last, but not the least problem I faced to mention in this short essay, it was my personal attitude or the site policy to subjects, problems, and points raised by users. I realized that the one of the hardest skill to learn is ability to save neutrality and do not use owner’s options to interrupt the communication way of others, bringing any subjectivity, biases ideology, defending some points against others.

In short, the creator and launcher of such social network portals need to meet certain professional criteria to become a communication agent or design a technical artefact to connect people.

[i] Pieter Vermaas, Peter Kroes, Ibo van de Poel, Wybo Houkes and Maarten Franssen, A Philosophy of Technology, Morgan & Claypool Publishers, 2011, page 16.

[ii] Bruno Latour, Pandora’s Hope, Harvard University Press, 1999.

[iii] Rammert, Werner, Where the action is: distributed agency between humans, machines, and programs, Article in Open Access Repository (www.ssoar.info), Berlin, 2008, page 6.

Constructor for kids (Lego) for developing cognitive thinking and learning process.

Constructor for kids (Lego) for developing cognitive thinking and learning process.

Galib Abbaszade

I think there is no simple answer to this question – “yes” or “no”. All depends on the angle of view to the examined situation / phenomenon[i]. For example: from personal view, despite new cognitive technologies make us faster, smarter, and stronger, they share with customer almost no information to understand them, the ways of their functioning and nature. The more sophisticated newly invented devices, the more they are presented like “black boxes” with almost no chance to comprehend them. In this situation “cognitive technologies” are tend to be more useful tools to accomplish some jobs. It may be the last model of Tesla, but it still just simple device for driver to move her/him from point A to point B and become helpful for a driver to change her/his task. On other hand, if we apply the third side view to the situation, then we can see the car itself and its driver in more systematic way, when a task may be accomplished by employing both parts of the system – a person-driver and a car.

As a sample of the cognitive artifact I thought to choose constructor for kids (Lego). The different parts of the whole set are different type of signs, symbols and artifacts themselves, which were invented and utilized from beginning from the ancient periods of human civilizations[ii]. As a samples of simple parts of the set, there are provided different types and colors of geometrical figures for the newly-born babies as a beginners in the sophisticated world. Their cognitive process of realizing environment resembles the whole process of inventing and understanding artifacts by the previous generations, but in significantly short period. The older kid, the more complex the parts of the set to prepare her/him for the modern life. All of them represent symbolic-cognitive artefacts and some of them resembling advanced technologies, like cars, computers, rail way system, etc. The different parts of the constructor set represents different types of symbols and represents the long history of human cognition development process.

Also, they may be used as samples of modularity, because sometimes each of them can match properly in different segments of the whole construction. They become as communication tool between real life and learning brain. Images of very basic and important things in human life become subjects of thinking way of the child, indicating and memorizing in the subconscious layer of the brain for the rest of the life. Later throughout the technology development process those images (houses, traffic signs, environment images, etc.) and symbols moved to the software programs designed both for kids and adults and completing the whole learning and developing process within the life time.

It also helps to develop distributed cognition[iii] from childhood, which indicates in obtaining collective knowledge.

 

And this instrumental learning process may initiate collective symbolic cognition from the real first days of the brain formation process[iv].

[i] From J. M. Carroll (Ed.), 1991, Designing Interaction: Phycology at the Human-Computer Interface, Cambridge University Press; Cognitive Artifacts article by Donald A. Norman, p. 19 – 21.

[ii] James Hollan, Edwin Hutchins, and David Kirsh. “Distributed Cognition: Toward a New Foundation for Human-computer Interaction Research.” ACM Transactions, Computer-Human Interaction 7, no. 2 (June 2000)

[iii] James Hollan, Edwin Hutchins, and David Kirsh. “Distributed Cognition: Toward a New Foundation for Human-computer Interaction Research.” ACM Transactions, Computer-Human Interaction 7, no. 2 (June 2000)

[iv] Terrence W. Deacon, The Symbolic Species: The Co-evolution of Language and the Brain. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, 1998

 

Does software interfaces reveal or hide modularity?

According reading materials and based on my observation software interfaces are designed to hide complexity and modularity in devices we use. I would argue that there is inverse relations between these paradigms – the more complex device by composition of its modules, the more sophisticated its software to hide all complexity and provide users with easier access and utilization of all possible operation. “The decomposition of a system into modules should involve … hidden design parameters.”[1] We also become familiar with this approach through another hypothesis which states that “Modules should be designed to hide their internal complexity and interact with other modules through simple interfaces.”[2]

Another possible method to hide complexity is applying abstraction. “The abstraction “hides” the complexity of the element…”[3] And, here, I would like to mention about socio-economic-cultural aspects of this “hiding” phenomenon. Simplicity of device utilization is very important aspect from marketing point of view. Robots, which are manufactured for everyday house holding reasons, and despite their extreme complexity, need to be very “friendly” and simple to be used easily even by non-educated customers. By 2020 the self-driving cars will be widely used predominantly in developed countries. This sophisticated machines will be operated almost only by few command words to implement their functions and they will be able to interact with customers easily through sound or visual software which are designed to hide complexity of the model. All of these modern devices are dramatically change our life, and, apparently, I slightly agree with technological determinism vision, considering how newly innovated technologies are able to change people behavior, culture and values, at some point dictating us new realities and goals to achieve.

[1] Langlois, “Modularity in Tech and Organization”, 2002, page 4.

[2] Lidwell, William, “University Principal of Design”, page 136.

[3] Baldwin, Clark, “Design Rules”, page. 73.