‘Writing a letter with fountain pen‘, Peter Milosevic, Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License
As a Doctor i’m interested in preventing illness. My area of interest is Dementia and one of the really important ways to prevent Dementia is by raising awareness of the condition and letting people know how to change their lifestyle or to look out for early signs in others. So how does all of this relate to the title of this post? As usual its slightly tenuous but please bear with me. If you want to educate the public about Dementia and preventative lifestyle measures there’s a lot of work to do. A lot. To get the message out to all segments of society involves tailoring the message to those groups. With a small number of experts about dementia (relative to the size of the population) more resources are needed. New information comes out all the time. More importantly there is scope for improving the educational messages already in use. This brings me onto the subject of the title of the post. At school I remembered writing essays for most of the subjects. I learnt a lot in the process and am indebted to my teachers for the insights they gave me. However the essays themselves are now either lost or in an exercise book somewhere unlikely to be read again. The essays were a limited exercise in my own development but was there another possibility?
There is a great deal of research about having a purpose in life and it seems to be associated with significant health benefits (see Appendix). A common understanding in the literature is that purpose is about having a meaning in life which involves others. This seems to be good for all sorts of reasons. So returning to the question of students at school or university – is it possible that written assignment work can be linked into meeting some important needs in society? Consider how many essays are written around the world by students every day. Consider also how many of these will never be seen again after they have been marked. My proposal is to start with an important need in society. This might be improving on a leaflet for carers telling them about Frontotemporal Dementia for instance. This would have to start with an expert body whose members manage Frontotemporal Dementia. This body would need to provide a leaflet with a Creative Commons License (see the next section). The exercise given to students would be to improve upon the leaflet. The leaflet is a starting point and the students written language and technical skills can be assessed in the course of transforming a piece of work into something that is better. The students would be motivated by the possibility that the results of their work might be used to help people by preventing illness or detecting illness early.
The Creative Commons License
One of the core features of the Science 2.0 movement is that people are able to reuse material. While many people are familiar with copyright the Creative Commons License is perhaps less well known. The picture at the top of the page was taken by Peter Milosevic and he has very kindly given this picture a Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 unported License. The key features of this license are that another person can use this picture for their own works provided that they attribute the work to the original author. Whenever this picture is used in another person’s work it must be clear that same license is used. So for instance if a person used the original picture on the basis of that license and then made it available to someone else they would not be able to change the terms of that license. Although it can get quite complicated, the Creative Commons License has transformed the internet as a medium for both providing and transforming information. Wikimedia Commons is a good example of this. In Wikimedia Commons, media files are available under various licenses and for instance are used throughout Wikipedia. These include sound files, pictures and videos. In writing this article, I have located the picture above on Wikimedia Commons, downloaded and then uploaded it and used it in accordance with the conditions of the license. This has been relatively simple and quick and has added value to the article. The ability of the Creative Commons License to enable this expediency has been one of the core features of the Web 2.0 and related movements.
Illustrating How This Might Work in More Detail
This whole process is about Science 2.0, an offshoot of Web 2.0 and something that is written about. However Science 2.0 is not an abstract concept but an act of doing and somebody has to do it. Answering that question of who is going to do it is absolutely critical. So the proposal here is that there is an opportunity to involve students at school and university in this process of doing Science 2.0. This doesn’t have to involve real world experiments involving costly apparatus and large datasets. This can be as simple as improving on a single document that is commonly used. So i’m now going to illustrate a hypothetical scenario where everything is up and running (which would involve a lot of work and infrastructures which may not yet be in existence).
Let us take forward the earlier example of an information leaflet on Frontotemporal Dementia, a condition which typically has an earlier onset than most other forms of Dementia. Suppose that a survey shows that Frontotemporal Dementia is not being detected early enough nationally as people are not aware of the signs. Let us also suppose that the relevant expert body/bodies have produced an information leaflet on the subject which can be printed off and placed in appropriate outlets. For some reason the leaflet isn’t quite clear enough but with a little improvement the message might be more easily understood with practical benefits. The expert body decides to submit the document to a mediating body. Let us create a fictitious body for the sake of convenience – ‘The Mediating Body for Transformational Documents’ (MBTD). The MBTD would receive a large number of documents for improvement and they would be directly related to Science (there is no reason why the arguments used in this article could not be used for other subject areas). Their role would be to manage the documents – to pass them to schools and universities which would be committed to this approach and where perhaps a department’s focus is related to the document.
The receiving organisation would be a school or university. In school and universities, teachers or lecturers as part of their role must evaluate their students. Rather than selecting exercises which will enable them to better understand the subject but which will be of limited value after their completion, the teacher will be able to choose from several exercises of direct practical benefit provided by the MBTD. There are numerous variations ranging from the student improving the document and writing a supplement explaining the technical and other aspects of why these changes were made. There are also opportunities for the students to work with a team approach with assigned roles if the task is sufficiently complicated. Even when the task is to improve an information leaflet, one of the students could be assigned the task of integrating the best aspects of the other students work and be marked according to their performance in this role. The students could identify the best documents submitted through a voting system supported by the teachers assessment of each piece of work. In this way, the teacher’s role in this process is transformed into both assessing each student’s performance as well as managing a complex evaluation system. Finally the teacher submits the best piece or pieces of work or the integrated work back either to the mediating body or directly to the expert body for consideration as an improvement on the original. In this way, the involvement of the expert body in the closure of the loop ensures that the appropriate expertise is brought into the process at the right point.
Transformational Documents, Justin Marley, Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution Share-Alike License
Improving Efficiency in Society
Every day millions of students around the world are completing assignments. Whilst they need to complete these assignments in order to improve their understanding there is the possibility for connecting these exercises with the needs of society so that their efforts can contribute meaningfully to society in ways other than the direct effects on their education. In schools and universities there are already numerous projects which ensure that students contribute directly to society. However the above process is a proposal for how even the simplest of writing exercises can be used to the benefit of society long after the work has been marked and the student has finished the course or left the school or university.
Purpose in Life
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