Fits & Fugues

Education can be so much more.

BLC08 Excerpts -Tainted by Digital Racism

Alan November‘s Building Learning Communities conference in Boston, MA started for me on Tuesday with a pre-conference session with him about leadership. As I look over my personal notes, I have almost nothing there. That’s because I happened to sit at a table that Alan assigned to manage/edit a Google Doc. If you (do or don’t) know anything about Alan’s Students as Contributors approach, he had some of us participate along those lines. It was great stuff and I actually have never been so worn out from a conference session. That’s great stuff, really. It was also an extremely effective way to model his aprroach. I think he has plans to publush the Google Doc, but If you’d like an invite, send me your email and I’ll get you one.

On Wednesday I got to hear (in person) Ewan McIntosh. He’s a challenging and thoughtful educator who actually wants us to focus on the teaching and learning -with web tools, if necessary, but not exclusively and certainly not at the exclusion of deliberate and purposeful thought. His thoughtfulness came through in his post-keynote session to his respose when asked what “effective technology use” looks like. His response was elegantly complicated: there’s no one way; it depends on what the teacher hopes to accomplish. These aren’t his exact words, but I believe the paraphrase encapsulates the thinking there.

Earlier today John Davitt delivered his keynote about everything and nothing in a sort of stream of consciousness approach. His British wit, subtle and engaging, left the gears turning. For a bit of “what if” be sure to check out his Learning Event Generator on his main page. If you have some of your own, find his contact information there and send him an email.

Later I attended a Marc Prensky session titled “The Death of the Classroom and the Rebirth of Learning in the 21st Century: How Technology Changes the Meaning of Teaching.” Especially in the past few years I’ve read Prensky, read what others have said about, but never heard him directly. Now I have. [Warning: Fit ahead in case you’ve missed the blog title above. I may have to apologize for being critical, but I can’t let some of these things go.] I’m not sure my personal opinion matters too much, but I was, on a fundamental level, offended.

I regularly use my laptop to gather some background information on a speaker and this time was no exception. I found Marc Prensky’s site and clicked on his blog link. At first I thought I was having connection troubles because no headings came up and no recent entries, but that’s how it shows up. I’m not sure if he’s changed his blog lately, but articles can only be accessed by the archive link. I couldn’t use the link at the bottom to subscribe either. Okay, we all have tech issues sometimes.

Prensky has lots of experience behind him and has received a certain amount of attention for the Digital Native/Immigrant ideas. Far too many people absolutely stuff themselves with this artificial, divisive, and damaging distinction. Several, including George Siemens, Jamie McKenzie, and Gary Stager, have been critical of the distinction and David Thornburg even apologized for using it. One of my issues here is that by setting groups against each other with this kind of language only serves to widen a divide between teachers and their kids, producing at best, adversarial relationships founded in insecurity and assumed expertise. Additionally it provides some with excuses not to change by allowing them to sit back and point at the “immigrants” and how there’s so much to know so why bother at all. Further, any kind of language which has such polarity becomes prejudicial, judgemental, and discriminatory. Immigrant/Native language smacks of racist talk and all we have to do is look to most any example from history to see categorizations have significant negative impacts for the categorized. By the way, teachers who struggle with new technologies are not new: did anyone else help out with the film projector, slide projector, opaque or ditto machines? I mean all the Web 2.0 items are projectors in themselves, right? I wonder if there are any documented cases of some student helping her teacher out with that new fangled fountain pen? Nothing new, Mr. Prensky.

He calls himself a visionary and futurist but used a PowerPoint with distracting animation, overused sounds, and far too much text which he often rushed through to plug his upcoming sessions. Has he read Garr Reynolds’ Presentation Zen? How many of us have worked with kids who discovered animation and sound effects but didn’t realize how distracting they were and counseled (taught) them they could do better? The horns and excessive buzzes were annoying and many times condescending because we ignoramuses obviously couldn’t get the point -maybe because we hadn’t finished reading the slides. I also found it ironic hypocritical that for all his proclamations of the death of the classroom and teaching -gravestone graphic included -he still found it necessary to address us, via direct lecture and 20th century PowerPoint. Revolutionary…

Despite all these things, he received quite an ovation from a very crowded room. And, as people dispersed I heard many accolades and I wondered if some had finally found the excuses they were looking for and were relieved an MBA from Harvard and MAT from Yale told them they didn’t belong in this digitally-racist world and that it was okay because the kids have all the knowledge they need.

As long as educators continue to thoughtlessly buy the immigrant/native schism, they will undermine their own credibility, impair their abilities, and destroy their capacity.

July 17, 2008 Posted by | Education | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 20 Comments

Coercion through Competition

This post started out as a comment on Wes Fryer’s Looking beyond coercion, tests and seat time post from May 19. I found myself with rather a lot to write about on the topic and didn’t think it was appropriate to post an entire blog topic in a comment. Even so, I’m not sure I said exactly what I wanted to say in the way I wanted to, but here it is for your consideration. I encourage you to read Wes’ post first.

 

Having been a high school assistant principal, I have often been accused of being a poster child for coercive education. Indeed, the coercion passes from the Compulsory Attendance Laws through the office of the assistant principal right into the laps of kids who, because we have sold out to corporate mentality of money for time, are told they have no choice in the matter. We threaten with truancy proceedings and grade jeopardy, but we simply miss the fact that we must do a better job of demonstrating to them why it’s important for them to be there. We undermine our message of importance when we engage in ridiculous “traditions” like letting seniors (not underclassmen, mind you) out a week early or penalizing students 50% or more for not writing in cursive.

 

We are coerced, ourselves, by flawed national and local educational policies that reduce educational pursuits to little more than industrial-era performance metrics, workforce preparation, and college readiness (which has of late become a euphemism for workforce preparation). This is a recurring theme for me previously on this blog here, here, and here . Plainly, we have abdicated our social-moral responsibilities in favor of power, prestige, and money.  When the specter of school finance looms over every single decision we propose or make, we have no choice but coercion so we can keep our funding dollars. The priority simply becomes the money and not the kids.

 

Wes writes that “We must move beyond our current school finance systems which pay school districts based on seat time.” I submit that movement beyond is not enough; we need the complete and utter destruction of the current methods of school finance. This means obliterating capitalistic and corporate influences and mentalities in education and that’s not going to happen in a global society where our primary indicators of success are largely economic. I’m not advocating for setting up any “ism” here (before anyone accuses me of doing so); it goes beyond that.

 

Nearly everything about education is about competition: the highest funding ratio, the best grades, the best test scores, the best colleges, the best jobs, the best schools, the best technology. As with every competition, there must be loss. It’s here that I agree with Dr. Cook,

“The purpose of education  in a free society must be to liberate the full powers of the individual toward the common good…The common good is not served by the loss of any person…No democracy has any business accepting, much less supporting, any endeavor that does not hold the good of the individual  and the good of the society to be the same…To put it another way, education must not be the means by which individuals pursue their own goals to the detriment of others…And it is not a contest to be won…it is on this point that democracy and capitalism collide” (p 129-130, Unencorporating Education).

Some will probably accuse me of being un-American right about now; that’s not my intent. I think Wes and Dr. Cook have hit upon something that goes to the core of our culture and, for all of our rhetoric (mine included), I’m not sure we have the honest will to do anything about it, if may also echo Gary Stager as well.

May 19, 2008 Posted by | Education | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Games and Greeks or Playing and Plato

So there I was reading John Milton’s Of Education (why is probably another post) from one of my college books and I read the following line that had a notation reference at the end.

“At the same time, some other hour of the day, might be taught them the rules of arithmetic, and soon after the elements of geometry, even playing, as the old manner was.”

When I looked up the reference at the back of the book it said

“Both Plato…and Quintilian recommend the use of games as pedagogical tools.”

Pedagogical tools from Plato and Quintilian? I just had to find out what in the ancient world they were talking about. And since it had been a very long time that I engaged with any of the classical authors, I consulted Google and via The Perseus Digital Libray at Tufts University, here’s what I found from Plato (emphasis added)…

What I assert is that every man who is going to be good at any pursuit must practice that special pursuit from infancy, by using all the implements of his pursuit both in his play and in his work. For example, the man who is to make a good builder must play at building toy houses, and to make a good farmer he must play at tilling land; and those who are rearing them must provide each child with toy tools modelled on real ones. Besides this, they ought to have elementary instruction in all the necessary subjects,-the carpenter, for instance, being taught in play the use of rule and measure, the soldier taught riding or some similar accomplishment. So, by means of their games, we should endeavor to turn the tastes and desires of the children in the direction of that object which forms their ultimate goal. First and foremost, education, we say, consists in that right nurture which most strongly draws the soul of the child when at play to a love for that pursuit of which, when he becomes a man, he must possess a perfect masteryPlato, Laws, Book 1, 643b-d.

And from the research of Lee Honneycutt, Associate Professor in the English Department at Iowa State University from Quintilian (emphasis added)…

There are some kinds of amusement, too, not unserviceable for sharpening the wits of boys, as when they contend with each other by proposing all sorts of questions in turn” Quintilian Institutio Oratoria Book 1, Chapter 3, line 11.

It seems that the Greeks were talking about games in education in the 340’s BC and the Romans in the 1st Century AD. We’re still talking about them today. Now they are framed within the context of video games or edugames. Both David Warlick and Gary Stager have offered their (mostly) differing opinions. The comments on David’s post have some interesting takes as well. Whether it’s Gary Stager’s ignorance arguments, or David Warlick’s thoughts about counter-pedagogies or the approaches that gaming might take in schools from the people over at The Games, Learning, and Society Group, we still have a long way to go in this gaming discussion. Just a couple of days ago, Scott McLeod wrote his latest entry about games and cited a stat about only 15% of “teachers have a more difficult time seeing how platforms generally associated with entertainment -i.e., video games, MP3 players, and cell phones -can be used as educational tools” (slide 15). Definitely a long way to go.

Just how much video games will influence (or not) our current systems of education remains to be seen. However, gaming is pushing its way in and it is having rippling effects, seen and unseen. Perhaps that’s what concerns some now just as it concerned Plato 2400-ish years ago “that those children who innovate in their games grow up into men different from their fathers; and being thus different themselves, they seek a different mode of life, and having sought this, they come to desire other institutions and lawsPlato, Laws, Book 7, 798c.

May 17, 2008 Posted by | Education, Technology | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Hope Springs Digital

The science assignment, in all its wrinkled, photocopied paperness, emerged from the depths of my 5th grader’s backpack. It contained, smacking of “parental involvement,” directions about how to display the results of the experiment on a tri-fold posterboard…due the next day.

The parental involvement I don’t mind, but when it comes to tri-fold poster displays, it becomes less about parental involvement and more about uh, parental guidance -and I don’t mean Mike Parent’s blog. (Although a blog does eventually play a part in this tale -read on, Digital Reader).

I dispise tri-fold poster displays and their inbred cousins, construction paper cut outs and foam display boards. They’re the so analog, so last-century, remnants of ancient business presentation expectations that have infiltrated our classrooms and science fairs. They’re very useful for the static displays of parental creativity and competition in gymnasiums converted to exhibition halls. Some may publicly look down their noses at the neatly arranged, heavily parent-influenced items on the tri-fold, but secretly covet the blue ribbon hanging on the corner of the board. And that’s where it starts. The pitiful tri-folds find themselves stuffed in the far less-traveled corners, assuming they even make it out of the classroom. So, in an effort to help our kids present themselves in a positive light, we parents make suggestions that turn into directives that turn into maddening scrambles and searches for mom’s special scrapbooking scissors that add some flare to this border. I wonder how many Sunday nights have ended with parents meticulously gluing display doodads while the kid is off in the other room playing video games. Nobody else? Must just be my house.

No longer, I resolved this time. (Plus, all the craft stores were closed and we were fresh out of foam board having used it all up on a quite beautiful State of Ohio display, which, by the way resides behind a door in the spare room downstairs as a monument to a maniacal frenzy of parental involvement.) It was time to take a chance with our kid’s education. Risky, I know, but I just didn’t have it in me to top the Ohio display.

About then I made a crazy Web 2.0pian decision and suggested that we put the required pieces of the assignment on a blog. Since this would be my son’s first foray into the blogosphere, I would set the blog up for him and give him a basic how-to after he had recorded all the required elements in a Word document. I wanted the initial blog experience to be more about the learning and less about the technical manipulation.

So he proceeded with his experiment, recording the materials and his hypothesis and the procedures and and the data and taking pictures as required. I set his blog up so he could copy and paste his text from the laptop. I made sure to make his blog viewable by invitation only because I knew I’d have to convince the hand-wringing, Internet fear mongers that this wasn’t a digital terrorism plot or would jeopardize his safety on the Internet. The really radical part was that we had several discussions about safe online behavior and what to include on the blog. We spoke about the type and amount of pictures he would be using and what he hoped to communicate with them. We talked about design and formatting and how each of those could help his audience understand him more clearly. We had more meaningful conversations that connected more of his past, current, and future learning to what he was doing just then. Certainly much better than the strained interactions of previous display-type projects. We’ll have more of the same conversations, I’m sure -and that’s just great.

With the entry edited and posted, I turned my attention to the science teacher and the district. This was going to be a surprise for the science teacher and I didn’t much appreciate those when I taught. I figured, more hoped, it was worth a shot. Just in case, I made a PDF of the blog post and emailed it to her after the blog invitation. She was able to see the blog from home and later on at school. She made some meaningful comments with questions and my son responded with thoughtful answers. I thought their exchanges were much better than a grade written on the back of the poster. Even more, she was very encouraging with the next assignment asking him to make another post.

For us and the teacher, it’s a dynamic resource easily accessible, not shoved in a corner or behind a door. We can look at the difference between the two entries and see the improvement -although he didn’t initially proof his spelling and mechanics on the second one, but we’ll work on that. His teacher shared it with some of his other teachers, who asked us to invite them so they could view it and we did. I was glad to see his excitement and his teacher’s. When the time came for the second assignment on the blog, he needed very little direction in the creation and organization. In fact he planned from the beginning how he was going to use the digital tools to accomplish his task. Score one for the Web 2.0pians.

April 15, 2008 Posted by | Education, Technology | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Advancing Online Learning Conference

The people at Virtual High School, Liz Pape and all, have done a great job with the Advancing Online Learning Conference including some engaging speakers and breakout sessions. Dr. Mark Milliron delivered our keynote Wednesday morning, giving his take on current learners, the future of education and its relationship to the world. At lunch Dr. Jesse Harriott, VP of Research for Monster Worldwide spoke about preparing students for competition in a global workforce. Allison Powell from NACOLand Steven Ruscito from Middletown High School in Rhode Island took part in a panel and broadly discussed among the topics above the October 2007 Blackboard report Learning in the 21st Century: A National Report on Online Learning. Sessions I attended over the two days included Online Instructional Programs & Models; New Approaches to Online Science; Non-traditional or At Risk Students in Online Learning; Current Research in Online Learning; and using Virtual Classroom Tools. 

Today’s (Thursday, 4/11) keynote featured Robert Currie from Michigan Virtual High School who discussed, among other things, Michigan’s online learning graduation requirement and the CareerForward initiative created in conjunction with Microsoft’s Partners in Learning “to help Michigan students understand how to plan their work lives and career opportunities amid the implications of the global economy.” Specifically, students ask and attempt to answer the following “challenge” questions: What am I going to do with my life? What is the world of work like? What will I need to succeed? What’s next for me? 

Those are compelling questions for sure and Mr. Currie gave his presentation in the context of 21st Century Learning Skills. However, are those questions really anything new? Do we see them afresh in the spotlight of the future? Ask Gary Stager about his take on 21st Century Learning and he’ll probably tell you something like those are nothing new. Ask Will Richardson, Dave Warlick, or Wes Fryerand they’ll paint a slightly different picture. Regardless of where you (or they) land, the spectrum seems to support a deliberate and reflective approach to purposeful, relevant, engaging, and meaningful education. Additionally, if you haven’t read Alan November, Scott McLeod, Mike Parent, Karl Fisch, George Siemens, Clay Burell, Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, Jon Becker, and others to get a flavor of the varying perspectives, you must and soon. Feel free to contribute “must reads” of your own in a comment.

April 11, 2008 Posted by | Education | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

TxDLA 2008 Conference -Wrap Up and a Crackpot

The TxDLA has wrapped up but not before Gary Stager called himself a crackpot and gave a thought provoking presentation. The crackpot reference to himself came in the context of one who proffered so-called “crazy” ideas. I don’t know about crazy, but he definitely has some serious upstream opinions. He gave us a serious drink from the Stager firehose. In fact I’m still processing some of those ideas and deciding where I land. People like Gary Stager are like that, though. One minute I’m nodding my head in complete agreement and the next I’ve got the mental brakes pressed to the floor. Regardless, he’s a passionate educator who will leave you thinking.

Here’s some ideas from his presentation as they are filtered through my processing and frenetic note-taking. I have added the categories above the bullets for reflection more than anything else.

Right On! 

  • Stager cites a quote from Daniel Hillis’ Pattern on the Stone book [extended slightly for context]: “The computer…is a device that accelerates and extends our process of thought. It is an imagination machine, which starts with the ideas we put into it and takes them farther than we could ever have taken them on our own.”
  • If your classroom questions can be answered with a Google search, then let them.
  • Learning occurs in a community of practice where expertise is distributed.
  • Eliminate self serving and schizophrenic practices and policies.
  • We shouldn’t think of education as a competition.
  • Be open to emerging technologies and decentralizing tools.
  • The tools don’t matter unless they get in the way.
  • Collaboration begins at home.
  • We have operated on the SDSU curriculum for too long (Sit Down and Shut Up).
  • He routine meets kids who have never had a meaning conversation with an adult.
  • For faculty, collect the experts you want to study with.
    • Create a community of practice.
  • We should use technology to create authentic experiences in more domains in ways never possible before.

Hold On!

  • Stager doesn’t really care for Dan Pink’s A Whole New Mind and wrote an article called The Worst Book of the 21st Century – a review.
    • It would seem to be a little incongruous for me to have a few posts ranting against the corporate influences in our school and then write so much about a business book. Essentially, I think we must look beyond the rigid structure of American education and begin the discussions that will take us there. That’s the take-away of Pink’s book for me even though Pink never intended this book for education.
  • ISTE should take a stand on how computers should work.
    • He said something like this very quickly and got a smattering of applause. I’m not sure where he was going with this, but to generally discount the efforts of ISTE leaves me cold.
  • An educational revolution will not result from web 2.0.
    • Maybe not completely, but it certainly could provide the spark. Indeed, many have suggested it already has.
    • Also, I think he may have thrown a backhanded insult at those of us who consider ourselves bloggers for education, saying we are standing outside the circle of expertise. He seemed to contradict himself when he asserted that a way to join the community of practice was to learn from our [experienced] elders and emulate their behavior and practices. I’m not sure what to do with that. Maybe I should ask Karl Fisch, Wes FryerAlan November, George Siemens, David Thornburg, Dave Warlick, or any of the other educational leaders that write on The Pulse blog.

Go on…

  • There’s nothing new about 21st Century Skills. They are simply the skills that rich people wanted their kids to have in the 20th century.
    • I would like to see a little more from him here than a simple dismissive attack.
  • Every course should be taught as liberal art.
    • He didn’t spend enough time here to give me a good picture and I’d like to know more.

More about Gary Stager so you can check it out for yourself… 

  • Stager-to-Go is the place where Gary Stager can share news & views not suited for his professional outlets.” He’s the Senior Editor for District Administration and its blog The Pulse.

March 29, 2008 Posted by | Education, Technology | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments