ready, and paying attention…

John pointed me to a posting at think:lab and asked what I thought. Here’s what I told him, lightly edited:

There’s no question technology can assist educational purposes. Technology has been used that way since the first person used a stick to draw on a wall to explain something. The difference today is technologies are more elaborate and sophisticated. The questions to ask are,

  • is it appropriate? what makes it appropriate?
  • what are the costs & benefits?
  • what are the other choices?

More pointedly: what do we gain, what are we willing to lose, what are we trying to achieve?
Some quotes from the video and some responses:

Today’s children and teens spend 2.75 hours a week using home computers.

‘Children and teens’ covers a vast and varied demographic range. One number covering that range is pretty meaningless. Also, what are they doing for that 2.75 hours? Listening to music, playing games, talking to friends, writing stories, drawing pictures, reading widely, …?

70% of our nations’ 4-6 year-olds have used a computer.

I’m surprised the number is so low. Computers are in most electronic toys, remote controls, microwave ovens, phones…
4-6 is pretty narrow slice, I think we’re missing some significant context.

In any given day, 68% of children under two will use a screen media, for an average of just over two hours (2:05).

The term ‘screen media’ conflates TV, computer, gameboy, game console and probably others. But what is the significance of this? Their parents are using the TV as a babysitter? This seems to have more relevance to the breakdown of the family unit.

How much richness does your curriculum provide?

How much is appropriate? Is the TV rich? is Shakespeare rich? what is “richness”?

Do your students… Remember, Understand, Apply, Analyze, Evaluate, and Create?

More importantly, do they care? Does what they are being asked to do matter to them? If they care, if what they are doing is important to them, the list of actions will fall out as a natural consequence.

These teens were born into a digital world where they expect to be able to create consume, remix, and share material with each other.

‘These teens’? which teens? The “world” is as analogue as it ever was. Teens are still learning about what’s possible and acceptable by finding the limits and sharing what they learn with each other. What is new is the ability to obtain and share the means, methods and results with greater ease and speed than ever before. What’s new is the old rules governing scarcity don’t fit very well in a realm of zero, or near zero cost. The financial and resource limitations that historically have limited what can be done have been removed. What’s different is the adults used to know what was possible and acceptable, now we’re having to figure it out at the same time as the teens. Trouble is, we have the weight of full-time jobs and families to support. They have fewer constraints on what they can do.

We have learned to play school. We study the right facts the night before the test so we achieve a passing grade and thus become a successful student.

This is nothing new, students have been doing this as long as there have been exams. But it points to a fundamental flaw in the system. School is modeled on the industrial production line system. Raw materials go in, are processed, and finished goods come out the other end. We do tests along the way for quality assurance purposes. If all you care about are the results of the tests and not the person writing the tests you’re going to see this.

It’s not attention deficit–I’m just not listening!

Do they have a reason, that matters to them, to care?

One researcher claims that, on average, students in class only get to ask a question once… every 10 hours.

Supplying students with some kind of technology will address that how? The problem is the mass production industrial model. Teachers are charged with covering a certain amount of curriculum in a certain amount of time. As my grade 10 physics teacher told the class, he was going to cover the material by the end of the term, whether we did or not. If questions inhibit the teacher’s progress they will be ignored. They have a job to do after all. Ah, what is their job again?

Did you know that there are over 2.7 billion searches performed on Google each month?

2.7 billion divided by how many million internet users? Not all of whom are students. How many? no one knows.
This is a big number, but a meaningless statistic.

To whom were these questions addressed before Google?

Ask Jeeves, Excite, Altavista, Yahoo, Northern Light, domain specific search….
Before them: a dictionary, encyclopedia, the library, call person or company and ask, buy a map, …
I also suspect that the vast majority of the questions simply never came up.

Why not use the technology that our students love to create/reach/engage/teach more effectively?

That might work if they’re creating something they care about. Not everything can, or should be created in the digital realm. What is the context/subject matter?

I could go on deconstructing this piece, I’ll just note that there seems to be a great deal of emphasis on quantity over quality.

Historically, computers were used to process, manipulate and analyze data. While that is still an important use, computers have also been widely adopted as communication enablers. We are very early into a cultural transition as a result. There is much we don’t know and are only going to learn by making mistakes. Many of these mistakes will be caused by focussing on the ‘frothy’ changes that occur and disappear rapidly. Long term change is driven by a change of values. What do we want to hold on to, what are we willing to let go to obtain something else?

Computers, like any other tool, are shaped by and in turn shape the culture that uses them. The significant thing is that they do not decide how they are used. The people of the culture do that. People design and build tools to solve problems and create new possibilities. What is the education problem we want computers to solve, what new possibilities do we want to create? What are we willing to give up to obtain these?

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Name that Guitarist

This is a fun quiz. I managed to name 16 of them: BB King, Bob Dylan, Brian May, Carlos Santana, Chuck Berry, Eric Clapton, Frank Zappa, George Thorogood, Jeff Beck, Jimi Hendrix, Joe Satriani, Johnny Winter, Keith Richards, Mark Knopfler, Muddy Waters, and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Some I would like to have seen included: Alex Lifeson, Bruce Cockburn, Colin James, Elvis Presley, Gerry Garcia, Johnny Cash, Robert Cray and Tom Petty. I’m sure I’m forgetting a few. Hmmm, I wonder what these lists say about me…

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posting code of conduct

Tim O’Reilly has issued a Call for a Blogger’s Code of Conduct. The way I read it, it sounds like a framework for a posting license agreement. There are many blogs that already explicitly state their posting guidelines. Posting to them is subject to their terms. Anyone can offer a posting, but it must meet the guidelines or it will be sent to the bit-bucket. Pretty straight forward. But where it gets interesting is for the blog authors. What are the T&Cs for being a blog author? Currently, there are none. Anyone can start a blog on any topic and say anything, or nothing. That’s great and immensely powerful. But, with great power comes great responsibility. Uncle Ben had it right, and that’s why even though one can say anything, there are some things that are better left unsaid. It’s the responsible thing to do. It takes a certain amount of maturity to see that and exercise the necessary restraint.

So, what should be done? Require a maturity test prior being given a blogging permit? It’s tempting, but unworkable. So is every other type of restriction. The ease of publishing is both the strength and weakness of the blogging milieu. It seems it’s one we are going to have to live with. Will blogs die like usenet did, under the weight of spam and abuse? I don’t think so. The primary difference is a blog has an owner, someone responsible for its content. The vase majority of usenet groups did not. With no one accountable, few were inclined to step up and enforce a posting standard where none had been before. Coordinated feedback mechanisms were subject to the same problem as the usenet groups. With blogs it’s different. There are many blogs where discussions can be held. Those that create a supportive environment for discussion will thrive on the discussion. Those that don’t I expect will vanish under the weight of their own conflict.

But the real reason I think we (collectively) will succeed is because we have come this far. We have built societies on shared values that endure. Those values are now being defended and expected on the web. The more blogs promote them and defend them, the more normal they will appear and the more they will be expected. We can no more eliminate undesirable behaviour on blogs, or the internet in general, than we can in real life. After all, the internet is comprised of people and as such is going to be a reflection of the people who use it. For good or ill. Large communities, like towns and cities reflect their occupants too. So I expect it will be with the internet.
I mentioned above that some blogs already have posting guidelines. This isn’t one of them, yet. I will be adding some soon.

update: there are now posting guidelines.

sign post on the way to a more civilized web

Over on Creating Passionate Users there is an intense discussion taking place. Kathy, CPU’s maintainer, received a particularly noxious series of notes and images. Calling them depraved is being charitable. No one should be subjected to that kind of abuse. Fortunately, a great many people agree with that sentiment. Unfortunately, there are some who just don’t get it. It’s amazing to me that some people make it out of elementary school and don’t understand, or don’t care, about the damage words and images can do.

You need training and a license to drive a car unsupervised because they are dangerous and you could hurt yourself, or someone else. So how far away are we from requiring a courtesy test to obtain a license before being allowed to use the internet? People are getting hurt.

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SFU Educational Review published its first issue

The SFU Educational Review is a project I’ve been working on with Johanne Provençal and Susan Barber. Johanne is the project director, Susan is the editor and I’m the web developer/designer. We have just published the first issue. The intent is that this journal will be published annually featuring the work of the SFU’s education graduate students. The big hope is that it will become a model that other departments will follow.
Our thanks to Dean Shaker, Director of Graduate Programs Tom O’Shea, the EGSA and the other project sponsors and supporters for making this possible.

Papers & Presentations

Here are some papers I’ve written and presentations I’ve given. This will provide some orientation on what I’ve been thinking and doing.

Usability Testing Virtual Margins, poster
I presented this poster at the Education Department’s open house as part of SFU’s 40th anniversary in June 2006.
Usability Testing Virtual Margins, Thesis Proposal
When I started the Education and Technology Masters program, I didn’t intend to do a thesis. But as they say, I identified a gap in the literature where I think I can contribute. This paper outlines my starting point.
Usability Testing Virtual Margins
I presented this paper at IKIT in Toronto in August 2005.
Reflective Portfolio Essay
This is an essay describing my changes in understanding concerning Functions and Methods of Research on Learning, Roles of Technology in Education, Nature of Teaching and Learning, and my ability to Design and Evaluate Curricula, Tools, Systems or Practices That Incorporate Technology. It was used as an exemplar for subsequent cohorts.
Reflective Portfolio Presentation
In conjunction with the portfolio essay, we had to do a 15 minute presentation. Instead of a monologue, I initiated a series of dialogs based on a set of quotations. During the program we used a couple of different web based communications forums. I made it a habit to end my postings with a relevant quotation. It seemed fitting to end my coursework with a selection of those quotations and have the group interpret them.
Designing a 3rd Generation Knowledge Building Tool
I wrote this paper for EDUC 853. It was here that I came up with the virtual margin idea.
The Educational Tradition of Anchored Instruction
The first major paper I wrote in my program. It was used as an exemplar for subsequent cohorts.

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slashdot redesign

Slashdot, one of the oldest news sites, is having a contest to redesign their site. Here is my entry for the contest. First a couple of notes about it:

  • XHTML 1.0 Strict validates cleanly,
  • retains the top left curve and Coliseo font
  • new presentation, yet echos the original design (still looks like Slashdot)
  • header & logo are echoed in the article intro presentations
  • renders properly in Firefox, Safari, Opera, Camino (IE, probably not so much)
  • the # mark in the logo: it can refer to the unix root prompt, C#, music or telephony, all nerd interests
  • narrower columns are easier to scan than wider ones
  • sixteen articles in two columns of eight, nerd numbers if ever there were any
  • topic icons light up on mouse over
  • poll choice can be made by clicking the text next to the desired radio button (Fitt’s Law)
  • the expanding/contracting menu on the right requires JavaScript to work
  • the toggle JS routine has a commented out call to update the user’s profile, the idea is that when a user is logged in, each time a slashbox is opened or closed, the change of state would be sent back to the server and recorded in the person’s profile. Next time the page is requested, it would render the way the person last saw it. for example the login box (see next point)
  • note that the login box is closed, this is done simply by having it inherit from two classes: content and closed, and having the title box’s class assigned appropriately, this should be easy to add on the server side
  • no tables were harmed in making this layout
  • enjoy

My redesign can be seen here: if you’re using IE and it the redesign looks messed up, it is supposed to look like this.

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Lunch with the philosophers

Yesterday I had lunch seminar at the Diamond Alumni Centre at SFU. The occasion was Douglas Todd was speaking on “Raising Tough Spiritual and Ethical Issues in the Classroom.” He covered a broad range of issues centred around what he called the moral collapse of the university. A couple of introductory points he touched on were disintegrating rationaliztion, training for technique based jobs, no opportunity to ask the deeper questions and so losing the “heart” of interdisciplinary education. He posits that students should be taught values and meaning so they develop moral reasoning and ethical maturity. What students are learning is “errant objectivity”. Pure objectivity is impossible, so he suggests pragmatic objectivity instead. Pragmatic objectivity is characterized by fair, accurate and balanced assessment. Which sounds fine, but who decides what is fair, how is fair decided? The accuracy of statements in an ethical conflict can be hard to pin down. Who can argue with balanced, but who calibrates the scale?

Douglass offered three suggestions for handling ethical conflicts:

  1. focus on people in their situation, respect their humanity and avoid generalizations
  2. avoid sweeping conclusions based on few events, back up statements with data
  3. let people speak in their own voice, dissenters are worth talking to

One point he made, that he attributed to someone named Taylor, was that everyone is a member of one minority group or another. That’s an interesting thought. I’m not sure what to make of it.

A point he made that I readily agree with is that stereotypes silence dialog. One of his objectives is to keep people at the table of dialog. That’s certainly a worthy goal. He believes that everyone is worthy of respect but no one is above criticism. He coined the term ethical imperfectionism to convey the idea that all of us are imperfect, yet we should keep on trying.

After Douglas’ talk two education faculty members spoke for about 5 minutes each in response. This was followed by a question and answer period. Near the end of the discussion someone (I regret I didn’t catch who) said “the ultimate expression of humanity is spirituality.” I’d turn that around and say that the manifestation of one’s spirituality is in one’s humanity. Marela Dichupa asked the question “Do we assume at the end of the day we will have consensus?” Douglas’ response was no, we shouldn’t assume that. I found that answer frustrating. I can see his point, but progress and relationships are built on concensus. I asked the question “If we don’t expect concensus, then what’s the point?” I think my frustration was showing a little bit. My sense of his response is that we should enter into discussions with the intent of concensus, but we shouldn’t expect that we will achieve it.

After the discussion, Paul Shaker, Dean of Education, spoke for about 10 minutes. I was very impressed with how easily and eloquently he described what was on his heart and mind concerning ethics in education. If I could speak half as well as he, I’d be pleased.

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on learning and kangaroos

I recall that when I was in my early teens I went on a trip with my brothers and my mom to a large outdoor garden, probably in the Vancouver, BC area. The garden, which I’m sure was beautiful, wasn’t what had the biggest impact on me. What had the biggest impact was the comedian who was performing there. At the start of his act he described how to catch a kangaroo. Kangaroos, as you know, he said, are very unique creatures and can be quite tricky. You must be very clever to catch a kangaroo. But, he assured us, it can be done. The way you catch a kangaroo is unique up on it. (for the non-native english speakers, that’s a play on ‘you sneak’ up on it.)

What does that have to do with education? Well, creating a stimulating learning environment is like catching kangaroos. It’s kinda tricky and you can’t be obvious about what you’re doing. If you try to approach it in a straight forward obvious way, the stimulating learning environment just seems to wander off and find something else to do. The way to create a stimulating learning environment is unique up on it. It has to be custom tailed for the content, context and learners. All three, you don’t get to pick two  and call it good.

The context is the hardest of these to get right. You don’t usually get to choose who the learners are, and the content is generally prescribed too. So, context is what you have to work with. My particular interest is in computer supported learning environments. In my graduate studies I’ve used a few web based learning environments and played a  variety of educational games with my kids. It seems to me that the designers of these environments haven’t been catching many kangaroos. It’s a tough problem. One I want to understand better and make a contribution toward. I have some ideas I’ll share in future postings.

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the zone of what?

The Zone of Proximal Development…? What kind of bafflegab is that? The phrase embodies the idea that learning is a social process. In particular, it refers to the difference between what one can learn on one’s own as compared to what one can learn in conjunction with one’s peers or someone more experienced. This idea orginated with Lev Vygotsky. It was the subject of much discussion during my studies. You can find a short discription of it in the Wikipedia. For me, it provides a lucidly simple description of intellectual growth while at the same time having a depth of nuance that makes it useful beyond the naive interpretation.

So, that’s the context of my purpose here. By contributing my thoughts here, I’m helping others (I hope) and at the same time I am stretching the limits of my own development.

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