Thursday, April 23, 2009

What's your earliest memory?

During a break in yesterday's workshop, a group of us were talking about memory.

I would love to engage Dror one-to-one in discussion about the role of memory in learning, but we don't occupy any of the same spaces. My own view is that he overplays its significance in the light of the tools we now have at our disposal to do our remembering for us. I'm more persuaded of the Siemens/Downes connectivism view that learning is about making connections. Dror appears to use memory tests as an assessment of learning during his research. I'm not so sure about this.

Look at this conversation on my FB status last night and this morning.

As a quick aside, I want to highlight the lovely mix of responses and the fact that social and shared-interest friends are engaging with me and - by extension - each other.

In case it isn't clear, Sharon Clark (who is a social friend with whom I do not ordinarily discuss learning - although this might change!) says:

Knowledge is now defined as knowing where to find information not knowing information. Personally I don't think that is a bad thing. It is impossible to know everything about everything, but if you know where to find what you need to know does it really matter that the information is stored on a server somewhere rather than in your head?

The big problem with the younger generation is that they aren't being taught how to discriminate between dodgy sources of information and good sources.
I could have written those words myself. In fact I have written very similar words on more than one occasion.

But going back to the subject of early memory. Over the years, I have come to realise that my earliest memories go back far further than most. I'm sure we all remember a lot more than we realise and, as Dror would tell us, the problem is not memory, it's retrieval.

I have related some of my early memories to my mother. Situations and conversations I remember with absolute clarity, only to discover that I couldn't even have been three years old at the time.

The common thread for me is senses. One memory involves drinking orange squash out of plastic (Hart, for other South Africans of similar vintage) cups with little handles on the side. I remember that we were standing in the kitchen at the time: my Mom, my Dad and me. The layout of the kitchen is very clear in my mind, as is our relative positions. I asked my mother why her drink was a different colour from mine. I remember her explaining that it just seemed so because the light came through the different coloured cups. I have several other memories of the same period. Not just snapshots, but whole scenes. Every single one centres on a sensory experience. Sight. Sound. Touch. But above all, taste and smell. I remember the smell of creosote on my skin in one situation, the taste of raw sweet potatoes in another, the taste of condensed milk and the smell of the medicine it was disguising when I was being treated for tick-bite fever.

Have I been sub(un?)consciously meta-tagging my experiences all my life with sensory labels? If, as I suspect, I am synaesthetic, this would make perfect sense. Certain sensory experiences bring memories flooding back to me with such clarity that I might as well be back in that moment.

A certain smell always takes me back to being 15 years old and watching Jesus of Nazareth for the first time. I won't go into detail (it's quite gross), but the full intensity of my emotional response to the movie is just an inhalation away - even though my opinion of the movie and my reactions to it have changed dramatically since then.

I'm fairly confident that the role of memory in learning - and life - has laready changed and will continue to change. I wonder if this, in turn, will change the way we remember.


Janet Clarey said...

Memory...fascinating to read about. I think my early memories are triggered by photos and stories.

I agree with Sharon that there is a problem with 'discriminating between dodgy sources of information and good sources.'

But I think that analyzing/synthesizing/verifying
are new digital literacy skills that anyone relying on retrieving information online needs. (regardless of age)

Growing up without the world at your fingertips meant you relied on information that was given to you by teachers and we assumed back then (presumably) that it was reliable.

I would think that it would be an advantage to grow up assuming that none of the information you found (digitally) was reliable.

So I guess I'm saying that we all need to learn to discriminate dodgy from good when information is retrieved.

The upsycho said...

@Janet "So I guess I'm saying that we all need to learn to discriminate dodgy from good when information is retrieved."

Because, as we know, and as Itiel amply demonstrated yesterday, even when we retrieve it from our own memories it can be highly dodgy!