Monday, March 30, 2009

Adding "The Public Mind" to Teaching and Learning

In order to engage in teaching it is always important to understand student's knowledge and understanding of an issue. Indeed a fundamental aspect of excellent teaching is the ability of the instructor to bridge the student's understanding and new information.

As teaching and learning has moved online I think this process has become more complicated and also more important, especially in the case of topics that are in the public discussion. Here is an example of what I mean:

There is much discussion about the role that vaccines may play in the cause of autism. (See some my other comments on this discussion.) This is an topic that is a major issue for health educators, the medical community and for parents of young children. There is some evidence that an increasing number of parents are choosing not to have their children vaccinated as a result of the information available on this topic. (Note: See Google Trends on this topic.)

My simple insight is that in order to effectively "teach" about this topic on the web, it is important to understand the way this debate is framed online, the participants in the debate, the passions in this discussion and the challenges faced by bridging parent's views of this situation and the scientific evidence. This is what I have been referring to as "Knowing the Public Mind." I don't know if this is a good term or if others have a better term for this idea. At one level this is the same issue faced by all instructors who are trying to teach, but the web is a more complex instructional environment in the sense that at a minimum there are more voices and in particular unlike the enclosed classroom in which the teacher's voice is often respected, teachers on the web have more difficulty in establishing credibility, web credibility is often quite different that classroom credibility.

In an earlier post, I reviewed the ideas of Mishra and Koehler regarding their model of integrating content, teaching and technology. I would suggest that successful online teaching must also include this fourth dimension of "understanding the public mind."

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Trend in Searches Related to Autism-Vaccine

Integrating Content, Teaching, and Technology

There is much discussion of why teachers do not quickly adopt technology tools in their classrooms. Punya Mishra and Matthew Koehler at Michigan State wrote a very thoughtful article in the Teacher College Record in 2006 that provides a good way of understanding why teachers have such difficulty and providing a framework and strategies for addressing these issues.

Their ideas of most easily captured by this figure in which they note that teaching with technology requires that the instructor integrate knowledge about content, teaching (pedagogy) and technology.

The authors write,
"our framework (Figure 4) emphasizes the connections, interactions, affordances, and constraints between and among content, pedagogy, and technology" (p. 1025).
Later in their discussion they also write,
"The addition of a new technology is not the same as adding another module to a course. It often raises fundamental questions about content and pedagogy that can overwhelm even experienced instructors" (emphasis mine) (p. 1030).
Too often in discussions about the failure of teachers to adopt new technologies, we are failing to acknowledge the complexity of the task we are asking them to take on. This is not say that educators are excused from trying new forms of instruction and new technologies, but there is much to learn and we also need more help in learning these new tools. For more work by Mishra see his blog and other writings.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

What Do Newspapers have to do with Education?

As newspapers begin to close a number of edubloggers have been contemplating what this might mean for educational institutions. Newspaper publishers and journalists should have seen this coming for the past 10 years say many. So why are we so caught off guard as they close?

Some ask are schools and universities next? Well, certainly there are things about learning that are changing as the result of the web, but newspapers are failing because advertising has moved from paper to the web. Schools and universities are not based on advertising revenue so there are lots of differences here.

But one place in which schools and universities might be challenged is in the development of niche educational markets.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

What Would Google Do?

This is the title of a new book by Jeff Jarvis that provides a good overview of how the web has changed the ways in which companies and organizations operate. If you have ignored all the hype about the Web 2.0 and are just curious about how people are thinking about developments in search, social networking, sharing free content, engaging with the public and so forth, this would be a good book to get a thoughtful summary of this thinking.

Here are Jarvis' basic themes that define the ways in which Google and other web savvy companies and institutions will succeed in the years to come:

Customers are now in charge. He suggests that organizations will need to organize the delivery of products and information in ways that meet customer needs. Obviously, this basic idea has always been true, Jarvis asserts that the we are going to have to be even more quick to be responsive to customer demands.

People can find each other anywhere and coalesce around you-- or against you. Organizations that are good at engaging the public around their ideas, products and people are going to be more successful than those who fail at this. He provides important examples of how customers also can organize against companies that fail to respond to problems. It is no longer an idle threat to say, "I am going to tell a few million of my closest friends about how horrible your product or service is?"

The mass market is dead, replaced by the market of mass niches. Alot of commentators have made this point in the last several years (see Chris Anderson, The Long Tail). Some good examples of this idea are Amazon (lots of small book sellers and lots of obscure books) and the Huffington Post (lots of excellent writers/commentators in one place.)

Markets are conversations. This idea was first offered in The Cluetrain Manifesto and extended in Naked Conversations. There are good examples of this idea in this book, but this is still a fuzzy idea. Ok, so I get the idea of talking to customers. What do I really need to talk about? What are the important conversations? And who is really the "customer?" There are lots of customers and lots of topics. How do you find the right conversation? This is much easier said than done.

We have shifted from an economy based on scarcity to one based on abundance. This idea has a variety of implications. How do you manage too much information? How do help people manage and organize lots of ideas and options? Another question related to this situation is what value do you add when everyone can find any product, service or idea a click away?

Enabling customers to collaborate with you-- in creating, distributing, marketing and supporting products-- is what is creates a premium in today's market. This idea is an elaboration of the marketing as conversation and customers are now in charge.

The most successful enterprises today are networks and the platforms on which those networks are built. Today this means Facebook.... tomorrow this means....?

Owning pipelines, people, products, or even intellectual property is no longer the key to success. Openness is. This may be both the most important idea and the most troublesome. Note that Jarvis does not say that pipelines, products or people are "valueless," only that "openness" is the key to success. He notes however that Google does not practice this value in much of its operation. This is a complicated idea. What needs to be open? In what ways is it valuable to be open?

This book provides a good basis for an extended discussion of many important ideas that will shape business, education, media, government and much more. We are only at the beginning of understanding how to think, work and act in this world.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Is Psychology a Science?

To follow-up my previous post about the public's perception of science, this week the American Psychological Association (I am a member) posted some brief results about a survey done regarding the public's perceptions of psychology. In regards to whether psychology is a science and what type of science they wrote,
"To learn how the public perceives psychology, the consultants first tried to establish people's understanding of scientific disciplines. "What we found was most people think of biology, chemistry and physics as 'hard science,'" says Steven Breckler, PhD, APA's executive director for science. "They also view medicine as a hard science. Interestingly, they see the term 'behavioral science' as harder than the term 'psychology,' and they don't precisely equate the two."
This serves as a reminder that when we ask the public about their perceptions of scientists and science (see notes on perceptions of professions) , they may not all be thinking about the same groups of people and there may be important differences about people's trust of physicists and psychologists.

Here is an example of how people responded to a question about the relationship between science and psychology--

Q. How much do you associate the practice of psychology with scientific techniques and practices?

A great deal—22 percent
Somewhat—49 percent
Not very much—23 percent
Not at all—7 percent

It is worth noting that 71% of public in this survey thought that psychological practice was based on science. This suggests that in general people assume that psychology is more than just good common sense.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Do People Trust Scientists?

As a result of thinking about the criticism of scientists and science in regards to the autism-vaccine debate, I began to wonder how much do people trust scientists and professors.

There are a couple of recent polls that suggest despite the criticism that we often hear about scientists and science, people still trust them alot. The most recent poll I could find was conducted in 2008 in England. In these results, teachers are the 2nd most trusted profession, professors are 4th and scientists are 6th out of 16 categories of professions. In 2008, 87% of the population agreed that they would "generally trust them to tell the truth." 79% of people trusted professors and 72% of people trusted scientists.

In 2006 the Harris poll conducted a similar survey of Americans. In this case 22 professions were rated on trustworthiness. Teachers were rated 2nd with 83% saying they were trusted, scientists were rated 3rd with 77% trusting them, and professors were rated 5th with 75% trusting them. It is worth noting that between 1998 and 2006 all three groups lost a small amount of people trust-- about 2-3%.

These findings suggest that the public in England and the United States put a lot of trust in these professions. Despite the criticism that were sometimes here there appears to be considerable respect for the professionals. Those of us who practice these professions should treat this trust with care.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Autism-Vaccines: Developing Scientific Thinking

I periodically review the debate over the discussion about whether vaccines cause autism. This past week there was a major report in Newsweek on the scientific evidence that was titled, Anatomy of a Scare. Likewise, there were new full-page ad in many major newspapers that were sponsored by Generation Rescue that continues to assert that vaccines are connected to neurological disorders.

My interest is in what we can learn as scientists about communicating science to the public. Especially now that news and ideas can be spread via the web it is critical to understand how to information is spread and how to effectively communicate complicated scientific stories. Clearly, there will always be some people who will prefer to believe in conspiracies and fail to examine any reasons, but there are still others who will engage in thoughtful examination of the evidence. So how can scientists present that evidence most effectively and how do we encourage deeper scientific thinking about such issues.

First, it is important to hear what ordinary people are thinking about these issues. Some of the comments and thinking is confused, but some of it is also thoughtful. Here are posts in response to an NBC report that was generally unfavorable in regards to link between vaccines and autism.

The CDC has taken a lot of criticism by those who believe that the government is trying to cover up scientific facts. I continue to watch how they are using the web to present the evidence regarding these studies. There is a very interesting section about an ongoing Study to Explore Early Development (SEED) that provides information for the public about an investigation of early development and efforts to explore a variety of links to developmental problems such as autism. These FAQs about the study seem like a good way to engage people in understanding how the scientific study is being conducted and the likely outcomes of this study.

One positive consequence of the media attention to the autism-vaccine connection is that there may be more efforts to provide more detailed information about the research rather than just the findings. This seems like one good way of engaging people in a more effective way of thinking about science. Likewise, the CDC website includes a lot of links to new studies that are exploring issues surrounding the autism-vaccine issue so that the public can easily find the latest research. This too seems useful and important.

A missing part would seem to me to be a moderated discussion of these issues that would seek to answer questions. There are some challenges in doing this because it is likely to be overtaken by those with strong opinions, but this type of engagement with the public may be important to undertake.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Blessed Unrest: An Interesting View of Social Change

In this video you get a glimpse at Paul Hawken's efforts to show us that an increasing number of people are working towards social justice and environmental stewardship. By cataloging all the small organizations created to address social change, he helps us discover that there may be a much larger shift in power and influence, but it is hard to see because our media and attention is focused on big government and large cultural and economic organizations.

In a longer version of this talk given in San Francisco for the Long Now Foundation Hawken uses the metaphor of the "body's immune system" to describe the way in which many small organizations networked together work to heal, restore and sustain the human body. He suggests many small community organizations are achieving similar goals for society and the environment.

So what does this have to do with our interests in family life, teaching and technology? Perhaps it gives us a window in how to engage in similar work in regards to teaching and learning around other important human and intellectual activities. It suggests ways to harness people working and learning together in open, connected systems.