Sunday, January 25, 2009

Huxley on Education

"Perhaps the most valuable result of all that education is the ability to make yourself do the things you have to do, when it ought to be done, whether you like it or not." Thomas Huxley, Technical Education.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Wiki University-- Maybe

Staley's interesting article in Educause on the future of the university as a "wiki-university" is based on an incomplete understanding of the history of the university and incomplete vision of the current state of higher education.

First, a bit of history. In a couple of places Staley suggests that in the 18th century, the university and science were based on amateurs who did teaching and research for the pure joy of discovery and teaching implying that we could return to this model as a basis for fostering higher education. Yes, there was some of this, but the fundamental impetuous of the founding of universities was the need by commercial interests and nation states to "educate" their citizens so that they could compete more effectively with other firms and nations states (See Ian McNeely, Reinventing Knowledge: From Alexandria to the Internet for a good overview of the development of "knowledge systems" from libraries to universities to laboratories, and so forth). Although it is true that there were amateurs who engaged in research it is worth noting that these amateurs were often either independently wealthy (e.g., Benjamin Franklin) or they had rich patrons who financed their independent research.

Second, a bit of realism about the state of higher education. Staley is certainly correct that Web 2.0 technologies offer new and interesting ways of fostering "participation" and for sharing information beyond the campus classroom, but he builds his notions of a "wiki-university" on premises that are not real. Implicit in his discussion of "participation" in knowledge creation and the sharing of knowledge is an idea that current faculty and students in higher education do not do these things. Indeed, there is the suggestion that until Web 2.0 technologies that students did not engage in developing knowledge and information independent of what they copied down in lectures. Clearly, this is wrong. Students have been sent to the library (indeed the library is open to almost anyone who has an interest in their own independent pursuit of knowledge) to engage in independent assignments, invited to lectures of visiting scholars, to participate in faculty research projects or to pursue their own guided research projects. Staley and others who write about Web 2.0 are correct that these technologies expand the range and reach of participation and provide a platform for more engaged feedback and wider distribution, but they are wrong to suggest that this future participation is not based on a history and practice of intellectual participation that has been in existence throughout the development of higher education.

Web 2.0 and wikis offer us many new opportunities, but we will only create effective new teaching and learning platforms by having a good sense of our history and a complete view of the current state of higher education. Good use of Web 2.0 "participation" will be built on our successful models of current models of participation.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Is "Convergence Education" a better term than "Open Education"?

Many educators are exploring the conceptual foundations that would build a model for "open education." The emphasis in open education is on the elements of participation and collective intelligence. I have begun to wonder if it may be useful to build on Henry Jenkin's "convergence culture" model as a basis for education. In his book, Convergence Culture (2006), Jenkins writes,

"This book is about the relationship between three concepts-- media convergence, participatory culture, and collective intelligence" (p. 2).

He places alot of emphasis on the breakdown between movies, television, books, blogs and other forms of media that have traditionally been discrete methods of transmitting culture and explores the ways in which creators have begun to merge, blend or "converge" these methods of entertainment.

He writes, "In a world of media convergence, every important story gets told, every brand gets sold, and every consumer gets courted across multiple media platforms" (p. 3).

So how does this sound--

"In a world of educational convergence, every important intellectual story gets told, every teacher/institution gets sold, and every student gets courted across multiple media platforms."

A central idea in Jenkins book is the idea the breakdown of viewing cultural products and activities as discrete entities, but beginning to view these a part of a larger, more integrated fabric. Also, Jenkins suggests that rather than seeing video vs. books, or text vs. video, or amateur vs. expert, that the future lies in the development of models that are designed across platforms.

In education there is still too much discussion of the online vs. F2F teaching, informal vs. formal learning, open vs. closed education. Rather than continues these disputes, the idea of "convergence" helps us to recognize that the future is not a mater of "either/or," but a matter of "convergence."

For education, the simple version of this convergence would be thinking in these terms-- linking formal and informal learning, linking courses across semesters, departments, institutions; linking blogs, video, lectures, study groups; and building classrooms across age, gender, social class, states, regions, and countries.

This a not a brand new idea, but it may increasingly be a point of emphasis in the ways in which we structure the development of educational enterprises.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Becoming "Tearners" -- Linking Teaching & Learning

"Tearners" is a term that Wayne Hodgins coined to capture the transformative idea that learning environments, models, tools and so forth need to be created to foster our ability to effectively engage in both teaching and learning.

In his blogpost, Hodgins asserts that we are more in need of teachers than ever before because of the continued growth of knowledge. He also notes,
"In the past 20 years, we’ve certainly seen an increase in our focus on learning. Yet if we really look at our learning effectiveness (the speed with which we can acquire new skills, knowledge, and abilities), we don’t seem to have achieved an appreciable increase, despite the addition of new tools and new technologies throughout the entire e-learning and technology-enhanced learning era."
His solution is that we all need to be both teachers and learners. In other articles I have made similar suggestions and also described models for participation in teaching and learning and suggested that learning communities can be structured to foster roles in both teaching and learning.

Hodgins contribution to this discussion is the suggestion that we need to think about how to learn how to be effective teachers and we need tools that help us find the "right" teacher at the "right" moment. For example, he asks,
"Could we have more metadata about us individually? Could we get better at itemizing what each of us knows: our skills, knowledge, abilities, experience, expertise, to enable us to find people who are just right for us at just the right time and in just the right context?"
He also suggests that we don't just need to find content related to a question when we search, but we need to find content designed at the "right" level to match our interest, knowledge and understanding. This ability is definitely needed, but will be very complex to develop.

There is much work to do here.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Youth Need Video Games and Books (or Text?)

Should I let my children play video games? What about violent video games? Does reading books still matter? Is blogging in a classroom assignment useful? Do any of these experiences in early childhood or at home or in the classroom matter to learning?

In an age in which there are so many new technological toys and games, teachers and parents often wonder how these new experiences are effecting children's development. Patricia Greenfield, Professor of Psychology, UCLA, has spent her career teasing apart this complicated story. In a recent article in the journal, Science, Greenfield provides a good summary of the evidence that tells us that children do learn useful visual skills and vocabulary skills from video games and television, but they also learn aggression from violent video games. Likewise, less reading among children is likely responsible for lower abilities at abstract reasoning and critical thinking that have been better developed through the technology of "books."

Greenfield notes that the development of visual literacy is an important ability that prepares young people to take advantage of media-rich environments for formal education and for use in many modern professions. However, she notes that the development of scientific thinking requires additional intellectual skills-- reflection, inductive analysis, critical thinking, mindful thought, and imagination. These skills she notes have been primarily developed through reading of books and are rarely incorporated into video games and television.

But here is a thought. The latest round of technologies-- email, IM, SMS, social networking, blogs, and so forth are all much more "text" dependent than video games or television and have dramatically engaged young people. Could these text-based activities develop provide the foundation for the development of these other scientific skills of reflection and analysis?

An increasing number of "technology advocates" in education have asserted that we need to use more technology tools in the classroom. Greenfield's analysis provides a direction for how technology can be used at home and in the classroom to develop children's intellectual abilities-- as a tool for reflection and analysis. To my knowledge we don't have the evidence supporting this idea. We have a lot of advocates and a case could be made that reading text online would be no different than reading text in print, but we need to know more about reading online that is often not in-depth. There are a variety of studies that show that readers are likely to "skim" information online rather than read for depth. There are many questions here that deserve a more careful look.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

STEM on the Web is still a challenge

The journal, Science, begins the year 2009 with a good series of articles, podcasts and video that address the use of technology in education.

For those interested in the challenge of creating useful internet-based platforms for education-friendly science for use in classrooms, the article, "NSF Rethinks Its Digital Library" is a important article. NSF's National Science, Mathematics, Engineering, and Technology Education Digital Library (NDSL)
"was launched in the waning days of the Clinton Administration, at the height of the dot-com boom, when expectations about the Web’s potential were sky-high...NSDL was seen as a way to ... improve student performance, heighten student interest in science, and make high-quality material readily available to parents, teachers, and students" (p. 55-56).
Today after spending $175 million,
"Its biggest advocates admit that relatively few educators and researchers have even heard of NSDL, much less visited the Web site or contributed material. It’s proven to be no match for Google as a search engine for finding good sites. And there’s no evidence to date that NSDL has improved student learning" (p. 55).
There are a variety of reasons for these difficulties-- lack of connection between what is needed in the classroom and what is available in the library, lack of coordination between curriculum objectives in schools and the structure of the libraries, lack of engagement of higher education science faculty in translating science reports into classroom-appropriate material, and more.

Despite the promise of the web as a basis for improving education, there is still much we need to learn. Despite this gloomy report there continue to be hints that we can design powerful web-based resources for use in the classroom. Tamara Summer at the University of Colorado has begun working with secondary earth science teachers to customize the school district's curriculum in an interactive fashion. She states,
“We’re creating Web 2.0 teacher guides for earth science courses,” she explains about a pilot study now under way to give Denver teachers an interactive platform to develop individualized lesson plans. It allows them to integrate information from the district’s own IT system, which teachers now use to maintain student records and track their performance on ongoing formative assessments as well as year-end standardized tests, with material tailored to address the needs of students across a range of abilities, from gifted and talented to English language learners" (p. 57).
Transforming educational practice in classrooms will require a lot of trial and error with scientists, curriculum experts and teachers working side by side to design the platforms and tools that will work. Although we have made great progress in searching the web, we have made more limited progress in learning from the web. Reflecting on our progress in developing a transformative online educational system over the past decade, Mimi Recker at Utah State notes,
"we assumed that we could build a resource bank of high quality interactive material and that change would follow. That was na├»ve. Once we started to go into the classrooms, we realized the complexity of the environment [emphasis mine]” (p. 58).
The current challenge is to learn from all these efforts and to not be discouraged from continuing to build an online informational structure that will serve the purpose of learning. Despite the failures and less than spectacular successes of these efforts, we still need scientists and teachers to be engaged in developing the models, techniques and strategies for using the web for learning. We are at the beginning of this change, not at the middle and clearly not at the end.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Education Will Change Everything?

What will change everything? What game-changing scientific ideas and developments do you expect to live and see?

So begins John Brockman's interesting way to get us thinking in 2009. There are many interesting answers offered by scientists and writers across numerous fields, but I found these observations about education the most interesting.

Chris Anderson, A Web-Empowered Revolution in Education and Haim Harari, At Last Technology Will Change Education begin by offering us the hope that education will truly be transformed by technology. Anderson suggests

"the means of spreading both knowledge and inspiration have never been greater. Five years ago, an amazing teacher or professor with the ability to truly catalyze the lives of his or her students could realistically hope to impact maybe 100 people each year. Today that same teacher can have their words spread on video to millions of eager students. There are already numerous examples of powerful talks that have spread virally to massive Internet audiences."

Both Anderson and Harari identify a number of the technological developments that will transform education. They note that "the physical cost of distributing a recorded talk or lecture anywhere in the world via the internet has fallen effectively to zero," "the speed and price of data transmission, the advances in software systems, the feasibility of remote video interactions, the price reduction of computers, fancy screens and other gadgets, finally begin to lead to the realization that special tailor-made devices for schools and education are worth designing and producing." Harari notes "the generation that grew up with a computer at home is reaching the teacher ranks. The main obstacle of most education reforms has always been the training of the teachers. This should be much easier now.

Harari though warns us about the dangers if we fail to expand education, "a technology-driven globalization is forcing us to see, to recognize and to fear the enormous knowledge gaps between different parts of the world and between segments of society within our countries. It is a major threat to everything that the world has achieved in the last 100 years, including democracy itself."

Roger Schank, in an article titled, Wisdom Reborn, has a more narrow, but still compelling way in which technology will change us. He suggests the

"days of just in time storytelling will return. The storyteller will be your computer. The computers we have today are capable of understanding your needs and finding just the right (previously archived and indexed) wise man (or woman) to tell you a story, just when you need it, that will help you think something out. Some work needs to be done to make this happen of course. No more looking for information. No more libraries. No more key words. No more search engines.

Information will find you, and just in the nick of time. And this will "change everything."

Alison Gopnik, Never Ending Childhood, suggests that developing a knowledge-based economy will depend on us continuing to learn through our lifetimes and she suggests that this will require us to foster "child-like learning" for longer periods of time. She writes,

"The world is transforming from an agricultural and manufacturing economy to an information economy. This means that people will have to learn more and more. The best way to make it happen is to extend the period when we learn the most — childhood. Our new scientific understanding of neural plasticity and gene regulation, along with the global spread of schooling, will make that increasingly possible. We may remain children forever — or at least for much longer.

Humans already have a longer period of protected immaturity — a longer childhood — than any other species. Across species, a long childhood is correlated with an evolutionary strategy that depends on flexibility, intelligence and learning. There is a developmental division of labor. Children get to learn freely about their particular environment without worrying about their own survival — caregivers look after that. Adults use what they learn as children to mate, predate, and generally succeed as grown-ups in that environment. Children are the R & D department of the human species....

These changes reflect brain changes. Young brains are more connected, more flexible and more plastic, but less efficient. As we get older, and experience more, our brains prune out the less-used connections and strengthen the connections that work. Recent developments in neuroscience show that this early plasticity can be maintained and even reopened in adulthood. And, we've already invented the most unheralded but most powerful brain-altering technology in history — school."

Stephon Alexander, On Basketball and Science Camps

Maybe the most powerful idea is suggested by Stephon Alexander who reminds us that we spend much more time nurturing and coaching athletic skills than science skills. He relates his own life-changing experience of spending a summer at science camp rather than basketball camp and the transformative results. He asks,
"What if there were a global organization of scientists and educators dedicated to identifying (or scouting) the potential Michael Jordans of science, regardless of what part of the world they are from and regardless of socioeconomic background? ...What if these students were provided the resources to reach their full potential and naturally forge a global community of scientific peers and friends? What we would have is, among many benefits, an orchestrated global effort to address the most pressing scientific problems that current and future generations must confront: the energy crisis, global warming, HIV, diplomacy to name a few. I think an initiative that markets the virtues of science on every corner of the planet, with the same urgency as the basketball scouts on corners of street ball courts, would change the world. Such a reality has long been my vision..."
Mine too!

Friday, January 02, 2009

Teaching for Understanding

By chance I happened onto a book by Stephanie Harvey (1998), titled, Nonfiction matters. In this book I don't know if she ever mentions "open education" networked learning," "elearning" or a host of other buzz words that are common these days, but she has wonderful insights about how to engage young people in what she calls "inquiry." She writes,
"Students and teachers gain understanding through inquiry. Inquiry projects born of learners' passion and curiosity encourage students to understand what they learn, rather than merely retell it. This understanding leads to insight, which occurs to kindergartners as well as Ph.D. candidates. Insight leads to new questions not possible before" (p. 2).
I especially enjoyed her chapter titled "Questions that Compel" in which she makes the case for why it is important to encourage people to ask questions. Here is a sample of some of her thinking--
"Kids have a natural sense of wonder. They wonder about all sorts of things--nothing is too trivial. And knowledge expands because what what kids wonder" (p. 23).
"Students who ask sincere questions become motivated learners who solve problems and perhaps prevent problems in the process. Traditionally, schools have focused on answers to the exclusion of questions. Sincere questions are rare in schools" (p. 26).
In this chapter as well as the rest of the book she provides specific ways for teachers to inspire children to develop questions, pursue answers, and write and present their ideas as they gain insight and understanding.

She concludes her chapter on questions noting,
"Learners are naturally curious. Teachers who invite kids to identify an interest and ask questions about it are rewarded with classrooms filled with excitement, enthusiasm, and wonder. Classrooms like these give students the courage to wonder and take risks that lead to deeper explorations, longer journeys, and more valuable insights. Teachers and schools that celebrate curiosity and value wonder provide the foundation needed for lasting learning to take place. Live the questions. Value the questions. They are the doors to understanding" p. 31).