Tuesday, December 15, 2009
I don't make this stuff up. Really. I don't have to.
Sunday, December 6, 2009
Part three in my ‘sins of the Web 2.0’ series
2. Pretending that all this stuff works all the time.
Monday morning. Mid-term to be written on individual computers. I block internet access to prevent cheating, but need to leave a dictionary and our LMS open. This partial block causes chaos with their internet connections. In this digital age, some of the pupils have no paper dictionary, so they need their connection. I also need the LMS open so that they can submit. Our harassed IT-guy shows up and spends ages looking at the problem.
And I’m lucky. Lots of teachers don’t even have an ‘IT-guy’ they can call. The system manager in their school is some eager teacher who gets a 25% reduction in class load or something, but then isn’t always available when problems arise, because they have to teach the other 75%.
I remember wasting tons of time when I was small as some hapless teacher struggled with the 16 mm film projector. What do my pupils get to see me struggle with?
- Pupil’s hardware (all 30)
- Pupil’s OS
- Pupils software (all of these first 3 having themselves dozens of components)
- Pupil’s internet connection
- Base station
- Local net and server
- Our line out of the building
- Problems with external resources.
…and I’m probably forgetting a few things. ‘Doing school’ in this manner means that someone has to spend a lot of time making sure all this works, or we waste hours of class. It’s a new situation, and I’m constantly amazed that in the endless discussions around digital schools, no-one seems to talk about the technical side of things. The truth is, many teachers experience technical problems much of the time and this is possibly the biggest hurdle to effective use of digital technology in the classroom.
I note that Microsoft’s ‘School of the Future’ in Philadelphia has so far been ticked off as a failure. There have been several factors in the troubles that they have had, but I note that frustration with net down-time has been an important issue. If they can’t get it right, is it any wonder that the rest of us get frustrated?
The question I'm forced to ask, though, is can we honestly expect teachers to integrate technology into their instruction when we can't guarantee that they'll have consistent access to the proper tools to do that work?
This is Bill Ferriter at the Tempered Radical, one of the many web-gurus that I still can’t manage to cross off my personal hero list. Saying teachers need to develop “digital resiliency”, he is talking mostly about other kinds of blocks than the plain technical glitches I’m mostly talking about, but Bill still goes where few go here. In conference after conference, on all the hot EduBlogs, in the latest books, where is this discussion? I’ll say it again: technical difficulties are the single greatest hurdle to effective use of digital technology in the classroom. Not lack of pedagogical vision, not unwilling teachers, not lack of funds. It can be hard to get much of this stuff to work because there is so much that has to work properly to get a class online.
Will Richardson (another web-guru I can’t quite cross off my personal list. He’s such a nice man.) wrote a post called “I Don’t Need Your Network (or Your Computer, or Your Tech Plan, or Your…)” while I was working on this one and takes an interesting angle. He asks:
Could we then start to think about...getting back to teaching?
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Overestimation of how plugged-in our pupils are. If we repeat “our pupils are digital natives” often enough, will it become true? This is part 2 of the series “Sick of gurus”
I feel left out of much of the discussion on the web (and at conferences). The party line just doesn’t match my experience in the classroom.
Our students are citizens of the 21st century. They read, communicate, collaborate, socialize, work, explore, and learn with personal technologies. They are the Millennials, who share ideas and dreams on social networking sites, follow streams of information from web page to web page, and use technology, reading, writing, and critical thinking skills in almost every aspect of their lives.
This is an extreme example, but the web is full of this ‘digital native’ stuff. I’m sorry, it just isn’t so. It seems to me like a classic case of the Bellman’s fallacy (from Carrolls’ The Hunting of the Snark’) : “What I tell you three times is true”. Cut off from the classroom, the gurus just keep repeating this kind of thing to each other until they believe it. I’m sorry, but while my pupils are literate, media-interested, highly privileged, at-least-4-computers-at-home, online 24/7 types, the large majority of them do not use social networking to learn anything or collaborate and they certainly aren’t out there using ‘critical thinking skills.’
They don’t use cloud computing, they don’t use social bookmarking, few of them blog, very few of them have ever uploaded anything to YouTube. They read Wikipedia, but don’t know what a wiki is and have never contributed to a wiki, looked at a history page or subscribed to changes. None of them know what a podcast is. They may know what RSS is, but almost none of them use it on their own. They don’t tweet. They don’t even use stuff like Digg. They just don’t use modern technology for what we would like them to and even resist adults trying to get them to approach digital and social/digital media in the ways we think are productive.
My pupils are plugged into ‘Web 2.0’ (asked if they have FaceBook accounts, they look at you strangely - it’s a bit like asking if they have noses) but they use it for social connection, not for collaboration. Their approach is fundamentally passive. Their use of things like wikis and YouTube are good examples – these things are deeply embedded in their everyday lives, but in they don’t use or approach these things the way I do (or - aha! - the way I would like them to).
For me, wikis are one of the watersheds in human history: the emergence of massively collaborative systems for organizing information. You read the Encyclopedia Brittanica, you participate in Wikipedia. My pupils read them and use them in the same way.
I am starting to love services like YouTube and its imitators and spin-offs. The ease of embedding content all over the place is another real watershed.
It’s also interesting that, while many of them know what RSS is, they don’t use it. For me, this is again a fundamental change in the way the internet fits into my life: what I am interested in comes to me. This isn’t an interesting approach, it seems, to a generation that has grown up zapping their way around.
We don’t like it, but the most popular Norwegian social networking site for teens ( I teach in Norway) is this. (Don’t click if you’re squeamish or easily depressed – it’s a site where young people upload pictures of themselves or parts of their bodies for approval from other users. Soon available in English.) I know that the ages of contributors on the first page are high, but don’t be fooled. What teenagers are doing here is indeed uploading and sharing content, but this isn’t what I think of as collaboration or useful learning. They are posing – and competing for attention and approval. They also seem to be participating in their own objectification.
My point is: if we want a generation that “shares and collaborates” on the web and that “uses critical thinking” in its interaction with media, we’re going to have to work hard to produce it. The idea that technology produces these things by itself in some magical way is so hopelessly out of touch with reality I’m amazed I’ve managed to write so much about it here…
Sunday, November 29, 2009
I’m sick of gurus.
The gurus of Web 2.0 in education seem to be en masse guilty of the Bellman’s fallacy (proof by repetition) and I actually find myself in a state of guru-fatigue lately. Attended a conference a few weeks ago and, while it’s always fun to hear big guns like Will Richardson, the whole exercise left me angry and depressed. For one thing, if I hear one more expert lecture in front of a large, passive audience to tell them that lecturing in front of a large, passive audience is a bad way of teaching, I’m going to scream.
What really gets me is how far removed the party line seems to be from the reality I experience every day in the classroom. So many of the big gurus seem to be saying the same things. What’s wrong? What is it that the gurus do that peeves me so much?
3. Confusing access to information with learning. (A related sin: confusing collaboration with learning)
4. Demanding, on a knee-jerk basis, curriculum reform.
and the big one,
5. Underplaying the conflict inherent to schools.
This became a monster post, so I’m going to divide it up and address each of these points in a post of its own in the immediate future. I’ll link forward from here as these posts are made.
What I’m talking about here is slightly different from the ‘social media guru’ debate that has raged in certain quarters of the web lately. That has been more focused on self-appointed experts in the private sector.
So, not quite on topic, but this video has been produced with technology simply overwhelming in its sheer awesomeness. You know who’ll be playing with this soon…
I found this via Jason Falls, who made this video of his own:
So, again, not quite relevant, but the "shut up and get back to work" bit we could all hang over our desks.
This debate has been about what I would call ‘experts’, not ‘gurus’. The difference? You hire an expert to fix your problem. A guru cannot be booked to fix your problem, but some of them can be contacted for advice and many of them will appear in front of the congregation to give an uplifting speech (for a price).
The private sector is also a bit different, clearly, but maybe not soooo different…
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
I’ve received the following comment on my last post, itself a follow-up post to my musings about how we place pupils in the classroom:
“Back to the Eighties”, I find that simply weird. "How structure influences human interaction". This structuralist explanation has been left behind by many of us. Interaction itself is an independent phenomenon, which in its form and content interacts with many more factors than that which physical structures bring to bear. Cognitive anthropology: has to do with thinking, and the thinking of all those thought to be part of this interaction. This structure-interaction thinking is, I believe, based on what some would call an authoritarian mindset. The material structures - what about the social structures, or what about emotional, cultural?
Bottom-up thinking could give us a lot of information about what is really going on, if we let those who have something to say come forward. Do you find this soft-hearted?
You refer to the importance of your role as leader. How much you need to work towards the students to get them to obey you and your structuring. Can all of this be understood as an attempt to gag the students in what you perceive as the more or less hedonistic development of their lives?
Are you perhaps seduced by the computer and desks and horseshoes? Take the computer away for a day and see what the students get up to. Talk to them and let them talk for a whole day. Maybe you can seduce them with more than your ability to organize desks; seduce with what you can mean to them as a person. Maybe they will turn their backs to the wall and listen to you and others in the classroom? Listen, reflect, think, go out of the classroom with new insights and a wonder that can mature and then become well-being. Disorder is not so stupid sometimes. The whole discussion about how the students sit, is for me a complete "fake". Should they also march in a row when we meet them in the hallway outside the classroom? Have we no different role for them than the leadership position we think we need to mark out in some room?
As I wrote in a comment to that post, I may have expressed myself badly. There aren’t too many these days who would argue that the furniture somehow determines interaction. The fact that physical structures influence interaction is, however, beyond doubt. But there’s more: the way we furnish a room conveys expectations, values, etc. Some of my sociology students recently suggested some messages contained in the configuration I call “the bus”:
A configuration where the pupils sit facing the centre of the room, without stuff in front of them suggests that something important might happen between pupils. When they turn and individually face their own work, there is a clear expectation that they do something. I suspect some 0f the resistance I encounter to getting rid of the bus is that some of my pupils have been well trained to a passive role and the horseshoe configurations clearly expect activity.
It’s interesting that the commenter above seems to accuse me of being authoritarian for trying to lead my classroom, but then suggests putting away the computers for a day. Wouldn’t that involve giving orders to my class? I myself find it strange that some of my colleagues get their students to stand by their desks at the beginning of class. Could it be that giving the orders we are used to just seems a natural part of our role, while different kinds of direction seem authoritarian? I can’t understand this comment in any other way, really, since this person is simultaneously encouraging me to do specific types of things with my class (which would require using my authority) and accusing me of being a little…power-mad?
Personally, I’m no natural leader, but the whole project of learning in large groups is doomed unless the adult in the room is willing to take responsibility for what happens. This isn’t quite the same as being a dictator or planning everything in advance, it’s simply being a good leader. My own experience painfully confirms the research here.
Am I seduced by computers? No, but I see their huge potential for learning. I also note that they have radically changed the world outside the classroom. Bringing them into the classroom does not automatically increase learning, however. Unless we as teachers have clear ideas about what we want to use them for, I see a serious potential for decreasing the amount of learning going on.
Is furniture that important? No – there are more important things to talk about. Still, you can’t avoid the furniture. I can’t abandon the classroom entirely (although I’d like to), so the furniture has to be arranged. The question is how. There is no ‘neutral’ arrangement. For me, the classroom is supposed to be an arena for learning, so I want to arrange it to facilitate activities for learning.
So, I want to get off the bus. I teach primarily French as a foreign language and it’s pretty clear to me that my pupils won’t get far by just listening to me talk. I love to talk (probably too much) but my background is as a climbing instructor and I see learning as something that happens when the pupils do something that they haven’t done before.
Thursday, November 12, 2009
As a student of cognitive anthropology back in the ‘80s, I should be highly aware of how physical space structures human interaction, but I’m still amazed at how this works in the classroom.
I continue to focus on my double-horseshoe, backs-to-the-centre arrangement, and the difference it makes is remarkable. It enables a clear switch between activities and thus tends to improve the quality of both individual activity and group discussion. Most importantly, it greatly improves the mobility of the teacher in the classroom.
One of the points to having the pupils sit with their backs to the centre of the room is that they need to turn towards the middle for teacher- or group-centered activity. A large number of pupils do not do so unless they are specifically instructed to do so, and then they don’t turn away again for individual work until specifically instructed to do so. It’s clear that the teacher is important as a leader and that re-arranging the furniture does not change this – indeed, the benefits of changing classroom lay-out come only when the teacher is willing to be a clear leader.
Many pupils try to modify or sabotage, as well. Re-arranging the furniture so that their screen is not visible is of course a key goal. Again, the teacher has to be willing to steer the class and to insist on having things their way. (I keep getting burned on that one…)
The picture above is from someone far more experienced than myself, but for me there are some mistakes. The desks along the walls need to be taken to the back wall.
If you leave the corner open, as in the diagram, as below:
Then what happens is this:
And, not surprisingly, the participation of the pupil sitting in this spot becomes markedly different. Of course, we are now back at the teacher as leader, since the teacher can simply order the kid to move. However, there is a pay-off in structuring things to avoid having to give orders too often. Too much conflict gets in the way of the real work of the classroom, learning.
One colleague I told about this seemed all gung-ho, but then when I walked by their classroom, they were all sitting in rows as if on a bus. I asked my colleague “What happened?” and was told “I need to get a grip on them first, establish the right working tone before I try anything new.” This person was worried that they would somehow lose control if they did anything weird. The irony is that from the back of this classroom, you get an excellent view of the laptop screens of the pupils. Facebook, solitaire, chat, games, etc. (The teacher stands at the front.)
A couple of other colleagues have tried the double horseshoe and have come back to me with glowing reports. They were particularly pleased with the clear shift of focus when moving from one activity to another and with the improvement of discussions when pupils are not hidden behind desks and screens and can see each other more easily.
Monday, October 19, 2009
Friday, September 25, 2009
I do think that teachers and schools in general would be wise to learn something from the example of what has happened over the past ten years in the music industry. Or face a similar irrelevance.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
2. The pupils find this weird. They are used to a passive role, and this classroom expects them to be doing something school-related during all class time. Many of them have become comfortable
Thursday, September 10, 2009
One pupil complains:" Why all the technology? Why can't we just talk? Why do things always have to be so complicated? I'm not a technical person and I don't like to use technical methods to communicate. I'd prefer to talk face-to-face, in front of people."
I notice that she has two (2!) different chat pages up on her computer while she is saying this. She has also downloaded Skype (among other things) to her laptop.
Not quite sure what's going on here. Does technology become invisible when you are using it for a meaningful goal, and take all your attention when the goals are external or meaningless? (the claims of this pupil to not be a 'technical person' are particularly weird - in her daily life she does more complicated things than what I was asking her to do) Has technology become an easy place to hang one's general dissatisfaction with school? Do teenagers feel invaded when we use 'their' stuff in school? Or has school suddenly become an irritating 'geeks-only' zone?
Photo credit: eBuddy CC
Monday, September 7, 2009
One pupil looks at me disdainfully. "I don't glog."
Thursday, September 3, 2009
School year has begun, enough existential angst. Now it's time for some practical, pedagogical thinking. For a while, the goal is to give this blog a practical slant by blogging about what I do and what I'm trying.
First, what is it that I already do? Who am I as a teacher? I started with the thing I have probably taught the most, the figure-8 tie-in knot for rock-climbing. I tried to video myself and learned the following things:
- Video is difficult (hence the lack of video here - maybe one day)
- I rely greatly on feedback from students - modifying as I go along.
- I rarely talk for more than a few seconds before getting the students to do something. That surprised me, actually. I thought I talked for minutes at a time. I do when I teach something I don't know so well, but in the things I really can do - I get the students going quickly.
- I don't move on until each pupil has mastered each step. The quick automatically become helpers for the slow.
- I start with the known and work to the unknown - demonstrating to the students that they already know the basics here, even if they think they don't.
- My approach takes about twice as long as the simple 'follow-me' instruction that most people seem to use to teach this knot. I do it my way because I feel I get better retention. On day 2, most people remember.
Now - how can I use this approach in, say, Sociology class?
Saturday, August 8, 2009
The basics here are of course critical thinking and source evaluation - good 19th century skills, it's just that kids have to start learning this stuff earlier nowadays and we have new tools to help us. It would be possible to lament the emergence of a world that requires these changes - wasn't it better when our main access to information was books, with their more rigourous editing process? Andrew Keen has built a whole career lamenting the disappearance of the 'gatekeeper'. He is mostly focused on news and culture, but the idea is valid everywhere: "Before", most of our media exposure was vetted by experts, so what you read in books, for example, you could mostly count on. "Now", any idiot with a modem can publish, so we all have to be our own gatekeepers about thousands of topics we are not experts on. (The Telegraph's technology blogs are a hotspot for the debate around 'gatekeepers'.)
What really got me thinking was a comment on Rheingold's post by someone called dogu4: "Questioning one's sources is useless, unless one is questioning oneself as well. Consider many of the supposedly irrefutable facts regarding human health just in the last decade or so". A seed in the back of my head suddenlty became a full-grown douglas fir. I must admit I think about Warren and Marshall a good deal. They are the two Australian scientists who in 1982 found good evidence to link stomach ulcers and h. pylori bacteria. Despite this connection first having been noticed in the 1890s, this finding went against several received truths of medicine and Warren and Marshall had trouble getting their findings accepted. It took well over a decade for the connection between bacteria and stomach ulers to be fully accepted.
Monday, August 3, 2009
I was recently reminded of a classic urban legend:
The following concerns a question in a physics degree exam at the
University of Copenhagen:
"Describe how to determine the height of a skyscraper with a barometer."
One student replied:
"You tie a long piece of string to the neck of the barometer, then lower the barometer from the roof of the skyscraper to the ground. The length of the string plus the length of the barometer will equal the height of the building."
This highly original answer so incensed the examiner that the student was failed immediately. The student appealed on the grounds that his answer was indisputably correct, and the university appointed an independent arbiter to decide the case.
The arbiter judged that the answer was indeed correct, but did not display any noticeable knowledge of physics. To resolve the problem it was decided to call the student in and allow him six minutes in which to provide a verbal answer that showed at least a minimal familiarity with the basic principles of physics.
For five minutes the student sat in silence, forehead creased in thought. The arbiter reminded him that time was running out, to which the student replied that he had several extremely relevant answers, but couldn't make up his mind which to use. On being advised to hurry up the student replied as follows:
"Firstly, you could take the barometer up to the roof of the skyscraper, drop it over the edge, and measure the time it takes to reach the ground. The height of the building can then be worked out from the formula H = 0.5g x t squared. But bad luck on the barometer."
"Or if the sun is shining you could measure the height of the barometer, then set it on end and measure the length of its shadow. Then you measure the length of the skyscraper's shadow, and thereafter it is a simple matter of proportional arithmetic to work out the height of the skyscraper."
"But if you wanted to be highly scientific about it, you could tie a short piece of string to the barometer and swing it like a pendulum, first at ground level and then on the roof of the skyscraper. The height is worked
out by the difference in the gravitational restoring force T =2 pi sqr root (l /g)."
"Or if the skyscraper has an outside emergency staircase, it would be easier to walk up it and mark off the height of the skyscraper in barometer lengths, then add them up."
"If you merely wanted to be boring and orthodox about it, of course, you could use the barometer to measure the air pressure on the roof of the skyscraper and on the ground, and convert the difference in millibars into feet to give the height of the building."
"But since we are constantly being exhorted to exercise independence of mind and apply scientific methods, undoubtedly the best way would be to knock on the janitor's door and say to him 'If you would like a nice new barometer, I will give you this one if you tell me the height of this skyscraper'."
The student was Niels Bohr, the only Dane to win the Nobel Prize for physics.
(text collected by snopes.com in '99)
There are lots of 'points' to this story, but what stands out to me is the challenge to educators here. Are our 'open' assessement questions really open, or are they multiple choice without the options being clearly presented to our students? How ready are we to accept pupils thinking way 'outside the box', particularly in formal assessment? How ready are we to accept that some of our pupils may be smarter than we are?
The story is also a good one because of the deliberately provacative attitude of the student. He must have understood from the beginning the answer the examiners wanted, yet some combination of self-importance, humour and lack of respect for formal education makes him risk his exam by giving an alternate answer. Even under the second chance he is given, he is deliberately provocative, clearly making a point of his disdain for the exam. I know many educators who would have trouble standing for this kind of disrespect coupled with 'the wrong answer'. How do we react when the next Niels Bohr appears in our classroom?
The choice of physics for this story is also telling - 'doing physics' requires questioning basic assumptions about the nature of reality, but teaching phyics easily falls into a pattern that unfortunately does not nurture the kind of thinking physicists need.
As an educator hearing this story, I am reminded that humility is one of a teacher's most important qualities.
Oh, and the story? Probably not completely true. May have happened, but no-one can prove it was Bohr. The part about him being the only Dane to win the Nobel prize for physics is also not true, but it was when this story first surfaced in the '50's.
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
A bit unstructured – but I’m going to throw this out there while it’s still a little rough.
Been listening to Erling Roland from the University of Stavanger’s Centre for behavioural research , hired in for our last PD day before summer.
Mr. Roland’s recipe for a good teacher is fairly simple: organization and an ability to see individual pupils. He claims a solid research basis for these claims. Students do better with organized teachers who notice them.
What’s my problem? Well, I’m a very disorganized person and I’m no good at seeing people. Now what? There seem to be four options:
1. Accept that I am not the right person, do the moral thing and look for another job.
2. Accept that I am not the right person and humbly try to change.
3. Ignore all this and carry on as usual.
4. Reject this ‘recipe for a good teacher’ despite its empirical basis.
Let’s look at 2. and 4. (1 and 3 just seem too wimpy). Why would I think that I have anything to offer my pupils anyway? What does an unempathic, messy person have to give? Well, I’m good at learning things, so not only do I know a lot, but I have a lot to say about how anyone else can get to know a lot as well.
So, if I can learn things, why can’t I also learn to be a good teacher? It’s true that much of one’s personality is stable as an adult, but specific behaviours can be learned. This is one of the attractive things about being a teacher, actually: the job offers almost unlimited potential for personal growth. It takes a deal of humility, of course, to think like this, but I have got to the point where I can’t imagine going into the classroom without seeing it as an arena for my learning as well as the pupils’. I have a deal with myself. When I stop thinking this way, I will start looking for another job.
What about point 4 above? Mr. Roland praised a colleague of mine who had his pupils rise and stand silently by their desks when he entered the room and again at the end of class. There is good evidence that such clear structure around the school day (and around who is in charge) helps pupils learn better. There is also some time and stress to be saved by simply insisting on a certain way of doing things.
There is a danger here, however. I remember waking up every school day when I was a teenager and feeling nauseous. Because I had to go to school. Stand, sit, ask to go to the bathroom, not use the hallway (or my locker) except during breaks, etc. etc. The whole institution seemed geared to getting us to toe the line, behave and conform. No-one was interested in us learning anything, just in us sitting in our desks and doing what we were told. It’s no wonder I didn’t learn anything there. I’m congenitally unable to learn anything while sitting down anyway, and I felt the rigid structure of our school day was fundamentally disrespectful to the pupils. Feeling constantly insulted made it hard to learn anything.
A predictable routine can help create security, and a tone of respect for the teacher and the institution is important to establish, but I’m worried about an overly formal and rigid atmosphere being inconducive to learning. The trouble with empirical evidence for learning is that learning is hard to measure. The easiest thing to measure is rote memorization, so unfortunately, much of the research on what helps learning is actually research on what helps rote memorization.
It’s easy to believe that a rigid, military-style school atmosphere is a good atmosphere for learning facts by heart. It’s harder to believe that it is a good atmosphere for nurturing things like creativity, critical thinking and personal growth – and that’s what I’m interested in.
Thursday, June 4, 2009
Why do I let this happen year after year? Well, I could always be more organised, but that’s not the only answer. I have such a backlog partly because I get talked into pushing deadlines a week, and then another week, and then two more days…and then…and then there are always a surprising number of students who have been sick or have had supplementary exams or who knows what. And then there are still gaping holes in my assessment overview. So I make deals, push deadlines some more. I send notes home and beg my administrator for permission to submit grades a few days late (oops, forgot that one this year).
Why on earth am I so soft? Because I know that if I just set a deadline and let it sit, I’ll have a ton of work that is not submitted. As a teacher, it’s my responsibility to secure a good basis for evaluation. The teacher’s traditional weapon of lowering the grade for missing work is not available, and I must admit I agree with the current fashion in education administration on that one. I could just be content to set grades based on what little I already have from work throughout the year, but such grades are often unfair and no good reflection of the pupil’s real achievement. I could refuse to give grades when pupils don’t submit everything, but this has such serious consequences for the kids that I know I would come under severe pressure to set grades anyway. I could be strict and make a note on each pupil’s disciplinary record every time they do not submit something on time. I probably should do this, I know. They don’t like this and are likely to improve with this kind of threat hanging over them. But I don’t like this. This kind of police regime in the classroom is what made me hate school so much when I was a teenager. Education through threats and negative sanctions. School becomes about doing what is demanded of you, toeing the line, instead of being about learning. My job is supposed to be about helping people learn, not about threatening them to behave. I hate what I become when I start using negative sanctions to control pupil behaviour, and I must admit I’m no good at it.
So there I am, back at the central paradox of learning in the context of an institution full of people who do not want to be there. People who have to learn what is demanded of them, not what they want to.
Luckily, I seem to find myself surrounded by colleagues who also see some of the challenges here. There was lots of good discussion yesterday about the challenges of formal assessment. It’s good to feel that I don’t have to solve all of this on my own. Collective solutions will demand that we think very differently about how we 'do school', but maybe that can be a good thing...
Friday, May 29, 2009
No long post here about the meaninglessness of Everest climbing, the bizarre Himalayan expedition industry and so on. There is a lot written about this stuff and I just don't care. Himalayan climbing has never really interested me. What has caught my attention is the outpouring of angry voices insisting that climbers and other extreme sports enthusiasts should not be rescued or at least have to pay for their rescue.
Nepal has no rescue service, so climbers on Chomolongma rescue each other. Western countries tend to have organised rescue services staffed by climbers, so again climbers rescue each other. Why is this system offensive? I listened to lots of angry callers to a radio talk show last week and many of them mentioned the risks rescuers take and the expense to society.
The boater may be taking a risk, but what they do is so ‘normal’ that this is not seen as risk-taking activity. The climber may be taking less of a risk, but what they do is seen as strange and dangerous. It’s alien and incomprehensible and therefore easy to complain about. If we started to look at the numbers, we’d have to start looking at boaters and accept that everyday activities involve risk that may endanger others. We might have to start to look at driving, heaven forbid.
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Managing students' written submissions
More detail on correcting students' work with the tablet pen
Rather ironic to note all the enthusiastic comments from around the world on his little post.
(I also note that he hasn't added his winner's badge to his blog. And since I didn't have to read his blog....does that make me a ninja?)
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
Bill Ferriter at the Tempered Radical has set up a demo VoiceThread on overcoming cultural divisions in schools. I've been checking it out and, well, things may be worse than I thought.
1. The beauty of online text conversations is largely lost. Speech is far more difficult to search through and has no title, so instead of being able to quickly hone in on what you are interested in, you have to listen through whole texts.
2. The speed of reading is lost. One is quickly reminded of how fast the average netizen can read, compared to speaking speed. It just takes so long to listen to all this stuff. Combined with point 1, this quickly makes VoiceThreads unbearable.
3. The quality of writing is lost. Most of us write far more sloppily online, but still, there is a moment of editing, at least. Modern tools make it quick for us to rearrange, edit, root out that sentence that on second thought made no sense, etc. Modern recording techniques (even just Audacity) can do the same for the spoken word, but VoiceThread seems to encourage spontaneous speech: poorly structured, wandering, low information density. The quality of the contributions on the Transforming School Culture thread, for example, is far below what one would expect on an equivalent forum or blog comment roll.
4. The power of the spoken word is lost. If speech is so slow compared to reading, why do we so often get information through speech? Well, speech is easier because it requires no medium. Formal settings like lectures can compete with reading because we like the connection to a living person. The speaker's body language, movement, presence and so on can underline the message and help impress it on us. All this is lost in VoiceThread, so we have the disadvantages of speech without the advantages.
5. VoiceThread has some real multimedia potential.
- One clue seems to be to avoid recording your voice unless there is some special reason for it, but simply writing comments. Faster for the viewer, and easier to judge relevance. The combination makes for a richer feel, also.
- Slides with writing can be fine, but don't add voice explaining it, as this feels both insulting and bores the viewer before we get started.
- Pictures and videos make excellent centrepieces and starting points for conversations.
In this particular example, Bill Ferriter has included a recording interpreting each video or quote. It's quite the turn-off as it is unnecessary (everyone could just read the quote or watch the video) and takes up space. These are always first, as well. No insult if you're reading this, Bill, it's just this sort of public trail-and-error that we need to learn from each other. Thanks.
The good thing about VoiceThread of course, is that once you have got the picture, you can simply skip Mr. Ferriter's comments and dig deeper into the conversation.
So, next year, I'm going to take three similar topics and set up one as a text-only conversation, one as text with links and pictures and one as a VoiceThread. Afterwards, I'll get the students to compare. How do content and format interact?
...and, well, you can google the rest...
Friday, May 8, 2009
"I'm not cheating, I'm on FaceBook!"
I'm not making this up.
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
Sunday, April 26, 2009
Thursday, April 23, 2009
One of the areas where she sees more challenge than solution is 1:1. The level of misuse of computers she says she sees in the classroom is far beyond what most teachers are ready to admit to. So what do we do now? 'Strolling the classroom' risks making us into a silly kind of computer-use watchdog. Demanding that pupils submit all their work also shows an unreasonable control mentality, as well as being unrealistic.
Two ways to think about this:
1. Students must have something meaningful to do. Sitting in front of their computer, they should be working. The work should lead to a product, and this product must be used for something. (Preferably, something useful or necessary for their classmates. If not, then maybe for publishing, submission for a grade, preparation for exams, etc.) Meaningful work, preferably with interaction built in.
2. 1:1 is not the problem. School is. School is experienced by many students as a) boring, b) meaningless, c) not useful and d) in conflict with central cultural values. Giving all students a small portal to the world at large has effectively undermined all pedagogical activity. Students finally have something else they can fill their time with and still avoid the problems that occur when you do not show up at school.
This is why I have said that CingT is swearing in Church. Actually, a better metaphor would be to say that "she has pointed out that our digital emperor is not as well dressed as people have said." I'm not sure if there are any good ideas for solving the problems taken up here, because I'm afraid this is not an 'educational challenge' or 'start-up difficulty', but an existential crisis for school.
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Friday, April 10, 2009
Pulling apart teacher's use of technology with students and with other teachers: Dan Meyer is particularly interesting here, because he is highly tech-savvy and uses "Web 2.0" technologies all the time, but has tons of posts in his blog sceptical to tech use in the classroom. What he is using it for is connecting teachers. Darren Draper's post wondered about teachers' apparant lack of willingness for PD.
The issue is one of willingness to talk about pedagogy or teaching rather than one of technophobia.
Around here there has been some data tossed around lately that indicate teachers are at the bottom of the heap when it comes to learning about their own job. With a weak knowledge base and lots of exciting things going on, you would think that pedagogy would be a hot topic. Instead, teachers sit in the staff room and talk about anything but.
The weak scientific basis for teaching puts us in a tricky position. We know less about what we teach than hordes of specialists in our subject areas, and teaching itself is...well...what exactly is it that we know that others don't? For the young, brave and tenured, this might make pedagogy an exciting topic, but for others, pedagogy becomes a 'no-go' zone.
1. We risk weakening our own position by exposing the fact that we have a complicated and sometimes shaky basis for doing what we do.
2. An extension of this is that discussions and experiments about what helps learning best might take us to things that look very different from traditional schooling. Scary.
3. Since there is no consensus about what learning is, how it happens or how best to facilitate it, discussions about pedagogy can turn into deep ideological debates. Many teachers sense this and at the same time feel that their jobs are filled with enough conflict already. Anything that could cause conflict or disunity with other teachers is to be avoided.
So it's hard, getting teachers to learn. That's why people like Dan Meyer are so valuable. If you don't have anyone to talk to at your workplace, then join the blogosphere! Get talking.
(If you are reading this in Norway, and haven't visited Del & Bruk, then go there right now!)
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
The point is, the media word is changing radically. My pupils don't watch CNN or read The Times. And they're most likely never going to. These things are unlikely to survive in their present form until my pupils are adults. How do we teach media studies and the media elements in social science when the ground is shifting beneath our feet?
Image stolen from Mike Wesch http://ksuanth.weebly.com/wesch.html
The comments divide roughly in half, with half saying that Internet access at school should be limited because they or others are distracted by things like FaceBook during class. Those who defend having access in class with a few exceptions did not do so by pointing to educational value. On the contrary.
- Many argue that they cannot concentrate on class for long, so that they need other things to do. A large number said that this was because the instruction was "boring". A pupil said to me directly once that he found the school day so boring that he needed social networking to get through the day.
- Many argue that, as it is their education, it is up to them whether or not they participate. If they wish to update their FaceBook profile instead of listening to the math lesson, that is entirely their affair. Many clearly thought that it was no business of the school or the teacher what they did in class. Really.
- Many said that they followed FaceBook, etc during class, but that this did not affect their concentration.
- Several pupils claimed that they needed to be logged on to FaceBook (MSN, etc) to be able to concentrate. These pupils feel that if they are not logged on, they don't know "what's happening" and become agitated. If they are logged on, they say, they feel they are in the loop and can relax.
What on Earth are we up to? School has always been a problematic arena for learning. With the modern web, are we exploding school and changing it into something new, or are we just finally helping it achieve its full potential as a complete waste of time?
Guess my answer.
Monday, March 30, 2009
This is a great video. Enjoy!
Slagsmålsklubben - Sponsored by destiny from Tomas Nilsson on Vimeo.
Sunday, March 29, 2009
If you don't believe this, let me redirect your attention to Exhibit A, Queen Rania of Jordan's YouTube award acceptance video. If you don't remember it or missed it, here it is.
Well? A couple of things pop to mind.
1. This woman is a queen. One of the only real queens left on the planet. Look at her presentation of herself here.
2. She is assuming that everyone watching recognizes the format. Letterman as a cultural universal. The mind boggles.
3. She also assumes a good knowledge of YouTube. OK thinking of her original audience, but as we know, these things move around.
3. Unable to appear in person, she makes a video. If you think YouTube is a natural form of expression solely for pimply 14 year-olds who never leave their basements, then this video is a sharp answer for you.
I hadn't intended to use this in class when I first saw it, but watching it again, I think I will use it. Tomorrow.
Friday, March 27, 2009
Didn't happen. At first, I had no idea I was going to stay, so I just did my job in a simple way and observed. I quickly became so fond of working with teenagers that I could see myself staying, however, and then strange things did begin happening in the classroom. I got lots of fantastic feedback from the kids, who (interestingly enough) often refused to consider me a teacher. Not that they didn't learn anything. They said they learned more in my classes. I was weird, I was funny, I was engaged. I knew lots of strange things. They did things in my class they hadn't done before. I took them seriously.
Now a few more years have gone by and I don't get much positive feedback, just the bored looks and low-level conflict that are so typical in school. When I look at myself, it's not hard to understand why. I've become one of those self-important, disorganised, unimaginative, impersonal, discipline-obsessed teachers that made me hate school so much in the first place. How did this happen?
Research shows that pedagogical education and teacher training have little effect on praxis. I have interviewed a few teachers (and talked to several hundred) and what amazes me is what a clear idea so many of them have of what it is they are supposed to do. I have had teachers admit to me that they haven't had time to read the curriculum for their course, or that they find the Education Act or other parts of the regulations a hindrance that they may actually ignore. So this must mean that they have a clear idea from somewhere else of what it is that they are supposed to be doing. Huh? Come again?
Well, we've all been to school and learned what school is. That script we've learned seems to be stronger than any kind of educational theory or law or curriculum. Even in my case, where I do not remember a single good teacher from my many years at school and where I have no desire to recreate the idiocy that wasted so much of my childhood, this script seems to be stronger than my own idiology.
How did I let this happen? Well, I've got three small kids and never get enough sleep. My wife works more than I do. I'm always behind and when I no longer have a burningly clear idea of what I want to acheive - whamo - I become what I hate.
Thursday, March 26, 2009
It took me a while to discover Jessica Hagy and her wonderful blog Indexed, so I had missed the video that has been made from her graphs. Here it is, although I'm so far behind the times that I'm really showing how outside the loop I am by posting it here now.