The (Other) Objective(s) of Education

The article we could read this week criticises our education system, saying it focuses on teaching instead of learning. I have to assume it is an excerpt from the book written by Dr. Ackoff and Mr. Greenberg (their book is mentioned in italics, but everywhere this article is just referenced as a “Knowledge@Wharton” document, so I hope I’m attributing the quotations below to the correct authors).

Some things I completely agree with, including the idea that students shouldn’t be segregated by age when we want them to learn things, and that one purpose of industrialized education was to develop a standard curriculum and training for all.

But that wasn’t the only purpose.

If we take the points made in the article to their logical conclusion (and logic is all the authors have here – I saw no evidence that wasn’t anecdotal), then students should not have to learn (or rather, be taught) basic mathematical calculations or factual information. They should also be able to learn (not be taught) what they’re interested in, and teach it to others.

“Why should children — or adults, for that matter — be asked to do something computers and related equipment can do much better than they can?” ask the authors.

Is that supposed to be a rhetorical question? Did these handy computers and equipment fall from the sky? No, they were invented and developed by educated individuals. Alan Turing stayed in school, although his teachers said they wished he’d become educated rather than focusing on those science things he liked so much. (I can get anecdotal too.)

We should all know how to do basic math. Computers and calculators can do it for us, but we wouldn’t know what to put into the machines nor how to use the answers if we didn’t know basic math.  My paycheck is automatically deposited at my credit union, and handled by computer. How can I check the work of that machine if I don’t know basic math?

We should all have some factual knowledge, because you cannot know what to look up if you don’t. You’ll also have trouble knowing how to research something using keywords and verbal relationships if you don’t have a good vocabulary. Yes, you could get a good vocabulary only in the areas you’re interested in, but that wouldn’t help when you do research in any other area.

To follow only ones whims, even for Alan Turing, would be to miss the larger picture. Education, to me, isn’t about either teaching or learning so much as it’s about awareness of the larger world and ones place in it.

“One might wonder,” say the authors, “how on earth learning came to be seen primarily a result of teaching.” Perhaps because it often works that way? Tribal societies show their young how to hunt or make baskets. The children learn at the side of adults, and they learn through both observation and instruction. Even the article itself presents the medieval university model as a good thing, because students chose which teachers they wanted to listen to.

But here’s where we must get back to the reasons for industrialized schooling. Yes, schools were set up to manage children and help create an industrialized workforce. But they were also, in the 19th century particularly, places to put children instead of making them work in factories. Publicly funded education was especially important in this regard, as were mandatory education laws. The purpose was not to enslave kids and turn them into automatons, but to make it possible for them to learn things in a place dedicated to learning. Many parents objected, because they wanted the children working in the family business, or in the fields, or bringing home money from a factory job. Now many parents are utterly dependent on public schools as society-funded day care.

So when the authors promote the idea that students should be able to go where they want to learn what they want and not be force-fed “content” by “teachers”, I want to remind them that for centuries any sort of education was a luxury experienced only by elites. Those supposedly self-led medieval university students weren’t there because they wanted to learn — they were sent by their elite parents to advance the family’s goals. Most of them spent too much time drinking and making trouble in the towns.

I do not want a world where the student’s wishes determine the curriculum. There are sets of facts that are important, and it’s highly instructive to everyone to continually argue over what these are. But the model I’ve seen presented — no wait, there have been no real models, only complaints from both right and left about our education system. The model being implied would mean less opportunity for our poorer children to experience any level of education, because taxpayers simply won’t fund a system that doesn’t provide an equivalent chance to all. It’s a foundation of democratic and progressive thought for 100 years that all people deserve the same opportunity for education.

I do not like being an apologist for a system I don’t agree with in so many ways. I too am sorry that the format is not everything I would like. I don’t like segregated classrooms or standardized tests used as a measure of either teacher or student achievement. Test scores don’t show education; they show training. I would like to change these things. I would like to have a choice between a “day care” style public school and one that allows more home-schooling, practical opportunities for real-world learning, and book learning for the same credit. I would be happy to support both with my taxes. I’m also not interested in instant “accountability” — I don’t think you can say much about the success of a particular educational system until the children you’re messing with have grown up, and sometimes not even then.

But I’m not willing to give up the egalitarian nature of public education to allow for a system that serves only “voluntary listeners”. Industrialized education came about because there were too many people that society wanted to educate, and their parents couldn’t do it because they had to work (lower class) or didn’t know enough (upper class). This hasn’t changed. I would prefer that societies and governments invest far more funding in making smaller, better schools with mixed ages, mixed pedagogies, and mixed curricula. We aren’t doing this — funding is so low across the board that it can no longer be used as either a guarantor or preventer of success. So let’s take what we’ve got and fix it. That doesn’t require turning everything upside down.

Posted in Reading, Responses | 6 Comments

Presentation, practice, and pedagogy

(Yeah, well, you title it, then.)

Our presentations yesterday in class featured my brave and wonderful fellow students Jamie Forrest and Angela Byrnes talking about professional development, and mentors Tania Sterling and Lyn Hilt talking about social media for teaching and administration.

I took two different kinds of notes. For Jamie and Angela’s presentation, I wanted to pick up tips for the Program for Online Teaching, my volunteer professional development group. I appreciated the shared survey especially. I should survey our faculty more often, but when I do I often discover they want things we can’t deliver, like other faculty teaching them to click here and click there. I’m hoping the idea of how-to sheets, which Jamie and Angela proposed, could make that sort of thing easier. (At our college, we have one faculty “trainer”, and her only real specialty is Blackboard, though she also knows Elluminate and Camtasia. We don’t have anyone among our computer people who likes Web 2.0 or knows that much, or if anyone does they aren’t in a position to help. I was inspired to share more tools at department and committee meetings, if I can figure out how to “sneak it in”.)

Both Tania’s and Lyn’s presentation helped me with teaching, and during Tania’s presentation I went off on a trail in my head. As they say on Monk, here’s what happened:

Tania mentioned students tweeting during a lecture. It occurred to me I haven’t done that – not that I don’t allow it, but that my students tend to only bring their laptops on lab days, except for the two or three who take notes on theirs. When I have had the chat open for lab days, they say silly things, and I see them on the screen. Once they did discuss something about the class, which was great.

Tania put this in the context of assessment and instant feedback. That made me think of Cross and Angelo’s simple and quick Classroom Assessment Techniques, which I used to use all the time but have lost track of. Then I remembered David Merrill‘s keynote at ED-MEDIA in 2009, where I watched the Twitter feed behind him on a big screen as he spoke. Quite a dispute went on there, and I thought it got kind of rude a few times, but the idea was interesting. What if I lectured and students tweeted? Behind me? That seems worse than turning your back on the class to write whole paragraphs on the board….

But…I do sometimes lecture, as often as I’ve said I wouldn’t. And I usually prepare a few visuals, Zen slides, to illustrate my points. Usually the slides are visual primary sources: examples of art, architecture, etc. But on lab day, students find their own sources and combine them for their own quick presentations, posting their visuals on the WordPress site I use for the class.

It hit me while listening to Tania. Why should I go find the visuals for my lecture? Why can’t my students do that, on the fly? During the session, someone in the chat mentioned Wallwisher. I’d never heard of it so I went to look. Oooh, a board where you don’t need to log in but can add a picture, video, or 160 characters of text! They could use that! I could lecture and they could illustrate what I was saying by adding, say, Gothic cathedral pictures, and I could then see what they had posted immediately and talk about it and we could discuss and….


Today was a lab day. So I made a wallwisher wall, despite warnings in Twitter that it might be a little dicey as a web app and Lyn Hilt herself recommending stixy.com:

(I did try stixy, but they made you upload images, and I wanted them linked since students would be quickly finding and posting).

I told students they could try the Wallwisher wall or just do their usual work on the WP blog. They started working, then Wallwisher went down during class, not once, but twice.

So my enthusiasm has dimmed since last night. But you know, it’s about the teaching, not the tools. The students easily switched back to the WP blog, even though it wasn’t as cool. No one minded trying something and having it fail. I’ll find a better tool, and I’ll use it for lecturing someday. I love the idea that they could illustrate my lecture — I have a really strong feeling that will be cool on so many levels: less work for me, more interactivity for them, and that possibility of things going in unplanned directions (which is what I love about teaching live).

It may not have been a good thing today, but it will be a good thing.

Posted in My Classes, Responses, The Class | 3 Comments

The PLN thing has gotten out of hand

As I understand it, the idea of a Personal Learning Network is actually pretty simple: you find the tools you want to use to keep up on the things you’re interested in, and think about them in an integrated way.

The idea of a Personal Learning Environment is also simple: it’s the place/way one organizes the input from the PLN. This would include tools, including social networking tools, RSS aggregation, and even things I write in a notebook.

The first major reference I can find to a PLN is dated 1998, from Dan Tobin in a business context: Building Your Personal Learning Network. Now we have articles (like this one by Miguel Guhlin Build Your PLN) and blogs and even an entire class (PLENK) based on the idea.

It begins to sound like a product, something everyone should get or have. Or a structure that we should build. And within the context of this class, many students are doing that, building a PLN using the tools that are suggested, especially Twitter.

I see PLNs as more organic, not only because they are ever-changing but because they grow over time. And sometimes a very long time. Longer than this class will last, for sure.

Vanessa writes, “developing a PLN takes time and that I have already completed a number of the necessary tasks that will help me on my way to establishing connections on Twitter such as creating an account, learning to follow, watching and listening, retweeting, tagging tweets, etc”.

Time is crucial. You can start growing your own, but throwing one together could end in disappointment and disillusionment.

This is where you get comments like “I just don’t see the point of Twitter” and Jud’s wonderfully honest and insightful post that includes “I don’t understand the appeal of using a blog, twitter or other forms of social media for much of anything”.

It isn’t about the tools, but where the people are with whom you want to connect. Many people join Facebook, not because they want to be in Facebook, but because their family or friends are already there and they want to interact. I’m in Twitter because that’s where the ed tech people are, and I enjoy the challenge of writing in 140 character spurts because I’m perverse. I read blogs because that’s where the emergent thinking is published, and books because that’s where the polished, extended thinking is published. I belong to a listserv because they have one for community college history instructors, and I want to interact with them. I use Google Reader because I prefer to scan multiple blog posts instead of going to each blog.

I’m really glad I started doing this first, before everyone started calling it a PLN. The name itself sounds technical, and therefore difficult. The fact that people are writing research articles and holding classes about it makes it seem even harder and more distant from ordinary, daily activity.

That’s a shame. Because really, it’s pretty simple.

Posted in Musings, Responses | Tagged | 7 Comments

Am I a sherpa?

Am I a sherpa?

I have been looking at Dr Couros’ “sherpa model” (developed here and revisited here) as a metaphor.

The larger issue, of course, is the role of the teacher in this “new world” of web technologies and widely available information. For history (my discipline), the information is considered to be the facts of what happened in the past. At the professional level, that means very little – even the information itself is subject to question because of calendar shifts, interpretations of the events by eyewitnesses, etc. But at the undergraduate level, we can consider the events, people and dates to be “facts”.

However, doing history at the college level has never been about learning the facts themselves. It isn’t that the facts aren’t important — they are often considered to be the building blocks on which we construct interpretations and analysis. This is the level where the past becomes significant to the present, when one recognizes the patterns of historical development and interprets ones own world based on those perceived patterns. Along the way, there are methods to be learned, methods regarding source verification, breadth of information, critical analysis — skills we need for other disciplines and to lead an examined life in general.

So when it’s said that I know the terrain here, I do, in terms of both the facts (rocks, trees, ravines) and the methods (insert venomous snakes here). I can easily guide students through the historical events terrain, using storytelling and exploration of factual content. The question is whether, in allowing them their own explorations, they will encounter enough of the skills necessary to interpret the facts.

I would need to let them fall in some holes, step in some quicksand. But when they return, will they interpret these experiences as historians? It’s fine if I only care that they be learners, but I want them to be able to do history. That is when my job is important — I’m supposed to provide the structure that helps that happen. Doesn’t that mean I’m more than a sherpa?

Thus far I think I have been working, in my online classes at least, as more of a “curator” . This is a role discussed by George Siemens. As a curator, I am the one who collects the “content” — the course materials (books, websites, documents) I want the students to work with.

I don’t just do that, though. Each week I have students bring in primary sources (usually visual, video, some textual) that they find on their own, but which were created during the era we’re studying that week. They create the collection, then I guide them (skills only here) toward making their own historical theses. I don’t know what the metaphor is for this. Geologist? Collect your own rocks and put them all together and tell me what they say? It’s more sherpa-like than curator, but I am deciding where we go look and what kinds of things we look for. Primary sources only, please. No picture of women dressed as flappers at this week’s Halloween party — we need images from the 1920s!

To be a true sherpa, would I have to construct my classes in a form similar to Michael Wesch’s anthropology class, with pages of RSS feeds and students collecting items related to the class and putting it together themselves, collaboratively? I confess to nervousness about doing this, for several reasons. First, I have too many students to make it work, at least for the first time while I’m experimenting (that may be solved when my honors class gets offered – then I’ll have 25 instead of 40).

Next, what happens to historical chronology? The order itself is important to the discipline. We might be able to collect thousands of items from all over, but how can we have any historical knowledge at all if we skip right to mashing them up without understanding their context in their own timeframes?

So the question is this: can I still be a sherpa if I care about the structures inherent in using the content?

[Image credits: Alec Couros (Sherpa Image), Martin LaBar (rocks)]

Posted in Musings, Responses | 5 Comments

Just a quick rant, I promise

How is your weekend, Lisa? How’s the technology going? How’s it going with your project in that crazy online class you’re taking?

Well, I’ll tell you.

I had this great idea to create a survey for department chairs about how they are dealing with online issues at my institution. It was one of those things where you get an idea and stay up drafting when you should be sleeping. This morning I put it into Survey Monkey (I won’t link them — I’m mad at them), and created all these complex questions when after the tenth one, it told me I can only have ten questions for a free account and would I like to upgrade?

NO. After grou.ps and drop.io and goodness knows how many other wonderful web apps are now going to paid models (no link for them either), I did not want to pay a dime. Public employee, public institution, public employees being surveyed for public purposes in the public good — forget it. Felt only a little better when Dr Couros told me:

Typed it all over again in to Google Forms (no link!), and it only saved the first two questions. Had to do it all over again. Took two hours. Thought I’d relax by working on my final project

Posterous. My tech of choice for my final project, which now, after much angst, should somehow tie together film clips into themes about people’s responses to technology, and what we’ve learned from those, in the last century (and you thought I didn’t have a direction yet).

I’ve been happily finding, converting, and uploading clips. Posterous has been happily converting them to flash, so long as I obeyed its rules. (Happy Posterous people are happily helping me when I don’t know the rules.) I’m thinking I would like to happily move some of the clips together into the same post, adding the explications to one big post instead of having them in separate posts.

Well, I can’t. Not with anything approaching ease, anyway.

So what to do now? Reupload all the previous media into its appropriate post?

I’m not going back to WordPress for this. It takes forever to get WP to learn how to center a video clip. See Jaron Lanier below? Four tries with the code <div align=center>, when <p align=center> and the html tool didn’t work. It converts nothing, making for slow, slow Quicktime loading. When it agrees to add media at all. Forget that.

So now I am not-as-happily working on my not-as-easy-as-I-thought project.

(Posterous, of course, is a blogging platform, not a presentation platform. Somewhere I have a half-written post about it being a bad idea to force technologies to do things other than the things they were intended to do. Maybe I should go back and read it.)

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming…

Posted in The Class | 5 Comments

Open Culture: Burke, Paine and Jaron Lanier

How things are envisioned is not always how they play out. We are in the middle of this internet revolution, trying to figure out how it’s going to go.

I am reminded of the French Revolution (occupational hazard, I’m afraid). In 1789 the middle class rose up, supported by some of the elite clergy and nobles. They established a republic. The following year, the pundits responded. A famous discussion ensued, in print, between Edmund Burke and Thomas Paine. Edmund Burke, in Reflections on the Revolution in France, derided the French for throwing out the baby with the bathwater. A supporter of the American Revolution on the grounds that the colonies had created their own culture over a long period, Burke felt that abandoning tradition was not a good foundation for government. In The Rights of Man, Paine responded that natural rights were more significant than tradition, that oppression must be overthrown.

What neither man understood at the time, of course, was that the revolution was far from over. As people voted, the government became more and more radical. In the next few years the world would seen the arrest and beheading of not only a king and queen, but numerous “counter-revolutionaries” under the dictatorship of Robespierre and the Committee of Public Safety. The tyranny of the common people terrified middle class intellectuals and elites alike. By 1799, middle class control was reasserted, and the result was a dictator who ruled as a king, but by the rule of law.

History didn’t end there, of course, but it speaks to people who call the game too early, or who are loathe to change their mind. The initial stage of our internet “revolution” was the web developing under unusually open circumstances, growing to allow extraordinarily democratic participation for anyone who had access, and access increasing as the price of electronics and communications lowered.

A January New York Times’ article on Jaron Lanier points out that then, in 1999, many visionaries advocated free everything. Downloading copyrighted material and using it for oneself or for creative purposes was seen as acceptable, and many argued that opening music and writing in this way would lead people to buy once they had a taste. But they didn’t buy, and now these non-customers feel entitled to deprive creators of money by using “open culture” as an excuse for stealing. Are we in a time of mob rule?

I am reading Lanier’s book, You Are Not a Gadget. I have already read similar critiques of the internet, including Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows (because I liked his other books and his Atlantic article), William Powers’ Hamlet’s Blackberry (because Dr Couros tweeted it), and Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death (because I always wanted to). But Lanier’s view connects most to what we’re doing this week, because he directly critiques “open culture” in its various manifestations. He is concerned about extreme groupthink online, the loss of individualism, and the creation of second-level mashups instead of original content.

Here’s five minutes of him on the impact of social media. It’s not as good as his book, but will serve as a snippet:

You can, oddly, find a lot of Lanier’s book on Google Books. And I got it at the library — I didn’t buy it. I feel a little guilty about that now.

I do not mean to counter Dr Couros’ enthusiasm about openness, and I do want, as I said in chat during our last class session to “teach the world”. Like Dr Couros, I am employed at an institution that is funded by the public. I have begun to feel like I’m stealing if I don’t share what I do freely and openly! And I have read many intelligent arguments against Lanier’s view, promoting the goodness of people in groups, the idea that no content is really original anyway, etc. I despair at articles about the web closing, because the big companies are taking it over. I want the web open and free, but perhaps I should consider that “free as in liberty” is more moral than “free as in beer”. My own beer, of course, I will happily give away.

Edmund Burke believed that the French Revolution could not work, indeed true democracy could not happen, because groupthink leads to tyranny, opening the door to dictators. Paine had more faith in the goodness and rationality of the crowd. I see these arguments, and many like them, playing out in these discussions of the internet revolution in general, and open culture in particular. I think that only in analyzing both sides can we get anywhere near the truth while we’re in the middle of such a transformation.

Posted in Future, Reading, Responses, The Class | 15 Comments

Sharing

Just the title of Dean Shareski’s presentation, Sharing: The Moral Imperative, was enough to change my point of view. I never thought of sharing as an obligation — I do it “just in case” someone might want to use something. Often it’s for my students (lectures posted Slideshare) or for my faculty colleagues (like a screencast on why I like Moodle). Now I feel like I have a mandate.

It’s going to bleed into other parts of my job. Six years ago I posted my sabbatical project on the web instead of submitting it as a report, in case anyone wanted to use any of the units. I am being evaluated this semester (every four years, with a two-year recertification). That’s usually a pretty confidential thing. I’m now considering whether it’s worth the upset it might cause for me to put that whole process online in the open. Seems like it would be good for the process to be more transparent. Everyone signed a confidentiality form, but the purpose was to protect my privacy. Why should I want my evaluation to be private?

All my heroes share. Alec is sharing about us, and talking about making everyone a “sharer” (see the first 8 minutes with Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach):

Sometimes sharing doesn’t get you what you want. I read Openness: From Sharing to Adoption, a post by David Wiley bemoaning everyone sharing but no one adopting the Open Educational Resources that are freely available. I think this is because the type of people creating digital resources and happily sharing them are not necessarily the type of people who will adopt someone else’s work. Instead, I think they’ll look through the free resources and get ideas to create their own work. Then share it. (I wrote a comment, but it didn’t get through moderation – maybe I was oversharing).

So here are some challenges to sharing. Putting my evaluation out in the open won’t be uncomfortable for me, but it might be for those evaluating my work. That’s a problem. Putting copyrighted material, which I use in my online lectures, out in the open causes copyright concerns. Someday a movie studio could come after me, though I guess all they could ask me to do would be remove something.

I can’t say that my institution has a culture that is not supportive to sharing – rather, I’m not sure very many people at my institution have thought about it at all. We revised the intellectual property policies several years ago to make sure faculty could retain rights to their own work even if it was online, to make sure the college didn’t get our copyright. Faculty share in our professional development workshops. But the only real online sharing I’m aware of is my colleague Julie Harland, who puts all her math tutorials online and has gained some college fame, and the Pedagogy First! blog we set up as part of the Program for Online Teaching, where sharing is required. Maybe we need a workshop on the value of sharing.

Or just the moral imperative. It feels like my responsibility now.

Posted in Reading, Responses | 1 Comment

I Hate(d) My Class Project

Ever have those times when you set stuff up and it doesn’t seem to be working? This time it wasn’t the technology — it was me.

I really did intend to create something for my final project that would be useful to my fellow faculty members at my institution. I said I’d create units intended to be for a Teaching Online class I will never get approved, but that could be used as part of the Program for Online Teaching. (POT is the volunteer professional development group I founded of faculty volunteers who volunteer their time to voluntarily help other faculty teach online — did I mention no one is paid for this? and yes, we named it POT on purpose.)

So I posted it as a proposal. After some searching and playing and trying, I decided on WordPress over Posterous and other things. I can adapt the Atahualpa theme in a different way for this blog, so I began doing that. I set things up, some tabs and stuff. I mapped it all out on pages and pages of lined paper, in pencil (that’s my way).

I checked with my network. I got approval from my professor. I bought Jing Pro. Then I started creating the tutorials. Wrote a script for the first one, did the screencast, yuck, re-did the screencast. I posted it. I looked. Here it is, with a screencast on the Help page. I was overcome with ennui. I tweeted. I was not having fun.

Why did this happen? It seemed like such a good idea, but I felt absolutely dull doing it. I wonder now whether this was because of the crisis we’re having at my college, where we’re all horribly overworked this semester catering to powers that be and just feel like hell. Or maybe it’s that I’m spending my spare time reading dystopian technology books that I really would like to spend more time analyzing.

Mind shift. I love film. When I took the CCK08 class, my final project used movie clips. Every time I watch an old movie I haven’t seen, I make connections to what’s going on now (it’s a historian thing, I guess). I have new ideas these days, things I want to express within the context of this class, about technology and communication. So I tweeted again:

He said it sounded fun and interesting, and I was much happier. I went back to the previously rejected Posterous (I like using a new technology for a new thing — maybe WP was part of the problem too). Now I’m collecting film clips and quotations and I’ll decide where it’s going as I do it. Less planning, but it will come together the more I think about it.

Now my project fits the time I have to do it, and it feels luxurious, so I can develop ideas as I go instead of starting with ideas I already had. And even if it’s not immediately and obviously useful to my job (either as history prof or POT director), I’ll learn a lot more doing this. :-)

Posted in The Class | 11 Comments

Excerpting Mr Robinson

I felt very lucky today to have been raised in a non-mashup culture as I listened to Sir Ken Robinson‘s excellent presentation on Changing Education Paradigms (no links yet — wait for it…).

I first watched the RSA Animation of his talk at YouTube. I recognized the animator’s style (I’m still trying to figure out what artist that arm represents) from a previous RSA Animation, Philip Zimbardo’s The Secret Power of Time. This time, I looked away from the screen as I took notes.

When I watched Zimbardo, I had to do it twice. I found the cartooning at first fascinating, then annoying, and ultimately distracting. The cartoonist has his/her own take on the presentation, and draws very appropriate animations, but they have their own interpretation. So this time, watching Sr Ken, I focused on my own notes, creating my own interpretation of the talk instead.

Then it stopped. At first I thought YouTube had stopped streaming, but no, it was over. I looked at my notes, and sensed something wrong. It seemed to have been cut off. So I went looking to see if I could find the whole presentation, assuming there was in fact a whole one somewhere. I found it at about the same time Dr Couros responded to my tweet.

The whole speech is here. When I viewed it, I learned a number of things:

  • The context for Mr Robinson’s remarks was a global crisis in human resources that he sees as reflecting the ecological crisis. I learned about idea of the Anthropocene age, as a new geological era dominated by manmade systems. I heard him connect the teen suicide rates to this crisis. I was able to begin to connect some dots about teen suicide, the internet, and a larger context of global change.
  • I learned that he lived in California, and sees Las Vegas as a place of pure imagination, because it has no geographic or economic reason to exist, which gave me a different perspective on cities in general.
  • At the start of his talk, he told me what the RSA was. The organization goes way back to the Enlightement and was not only the Royal Society of Arts, but of Manufacturing and Commerce as well. Manufacturing and commerce are two of my historical interests. I went to the RSA website, and discovered that they are a wonderful island of rationalism in an increasingly irrational world.
  • He mentioned Chris Woodhead, so I looked him up on Wikipedia and discovered that he was the Chief Inspector of Schools and a believer in traditional education.
  • In my (and his) generation, we used to remove people’s tonsils unnecessarily, because it was the medical fad at the time. Most people my age (and his) are tonsil-less. He connected this fact to the current trend for medicating ADHD, which has been a concern of mine for some time. I have long felt that most children given the medication should be allowed to go play instead of sit still.

The point is, I would have learned none of this if I had only watched the animation, which had excerpted certain parts of this talk. Did someone edit his talk to the parts they thought would create a good animation? was the goal to create the animation, or to create a shorter version for those with shorter attention spans? Robinson’s points were easy to follow, yet the drawing seemed designed to make it easy for us to follow them. Kind of fed into his ADHD argument, I thought.

The content of his talk was more complete within its context than excerpted from it. The animation was essentially a mashup, not a presentation by Sir Ken. It left out much of his humor, his personal environment, the global motive for challenging educational paradigms, his books, and the observation that teenagers don’t wear wristwatches. These were replaced with delightful, if distracting, cartooning.

The experience reminded me of the argument in music about dissecting albums, where some bands don’t want their albums, which are constructed so that songs are heard in a particular order, dismantled by people downloading individual songs. I see the value in both the individual song (in this case, the animation) and the whole album (his entire talk), but I don’t want them to be confused. If you’d like to see his whole talk, enjoy!

Posted in Musings, Responses | 9 Comments

So Karl Marx posted on my blog…

I posted on Michael Wesch, and within a couple of days he replied on my blog. The same with Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach. It’s exciting, and is supposed to show the power of open education. The implication is that this kind of response is what we want.

In a “regular” class, I’d be a student and Dr Couros would be the expert. I would write a paper, and he would critique it. Perhaps he’d tell me an argument I made wasn’t fair, or he’d point me to another source. Peers would review it, and give me feedback. I could do a rewrite until the product has some finish to it. I could have the same kind of certainty as when I wrote a history paper in college. I defy anyone to read my masters’ thesis on medieval and early modern woollen technology and tell me I missed something. (Indeed, I defy anyone to read it, period.)

But a 12th century fulling mill is not going to come along and comment on how I portrayed its character or ideas in my thesis.

Blogging is designed to be “draft like” — the ideas posted are supposedly understood to be unfinished. But how brave can we be posting such unfinished ideas, where those whose work we critique can critique our work immediately? Doesn’t this extreme openness restrict the “draft” nature of blogging, the feeling that it’s OK to be wrong?

It’s like writing a paper criticizing the Communist Manifesto and having Karl Marx leave a comment saying, “Well, Lisa, what I really meant by “working men” was…”

And unlike Marx, the people whose ideas I criticize are all educational technology media types. They have Google Alerts and other devices set up to track every time someone mentions them. In 2008, as part of the Connectivism class, I blogged a critique of an article by Barry Wellman, whose work I thought had moral implications. He emailed me directly, and the very few exchanges we had were not very pleasant. He’ll probably know now that I mentioned him again — oh goodie.

If someone with my experience is freaking out, what must less experienced bloggers feel? I realize that Dr Couros himself thrusts us into the limelight via Twitter. That doesn’t normally happen — I’ve been blogging for years on my own blog, announcing my own posts myself in Twitter and linking them into Facebook. Only rarely has anyone whose ideas I’ve analyzed so much as stopped by.

Oh, I realize the benefits — don’t get me wrong. A 12th century fulling mill would not be able to give me good advice, help my thinking or point be toward better resources. I know it’s helping me learn.

But this is getting pretty damn weird. Learning in the open has never been something I feared before, but now…

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