Tag Archives: Education

Surrounded by Community

I spent most of yesterday online with educators, exploring the meaning of community.  Several hours were spent in Elluminate as part of Powerful Learning Practice‘s ongoing professional development program.  From there, I moved to Second Life for VSTE’s weekly meeting where we explored educational groups.  We ended the evening with a snowball fight and, as you can see from the picture below, I dressed for the occasion.  (Always wanted to have wings!)


I just felt energized the whole day, having access to all these fellow travelers without having to leave my house!  We shared both professional and personally; we learned; we had fun. It was the kind of experience I would wish for learners of all ages.

Besides being reminded of the power of online community, I learned some specific content.  I was introduced to Google notebook, a tool I had not explored before.  I installed it and was eager to try it out this morning.  So, I logged into Twitter, knowing that someone would have a link to a good article to read.  Twitter has increasingly become a big part of my virtual learning community in a way that I could not have imagined when I first joined.  I was not disappointed this morning as Will Richardson had posted a link to a New Yorker article on teacher quality from Malcolm Gladwell.   My primary job right now is working with pre-service teachers and identifying good teachers is always a concern.

I read the article and, as Will suggested, skimmed the football stuff.  When I got to the first paragraph that was really about education, I discovered that it had already been highlighted by someone else, using Diigo.  I moused over to read the comment and discovered it had been made by Michael Scott, who I had just seen last week in Roanoke and who is a member of the VSTE Ning.  I took a break from reading to add Michael as a friend in Diigo.  The next highlight and comment came from Clay Burrell, a fellow Twitterer whose blog, Beyond School, is always thought provoking.  All I could think of is what a small world it was since, according to the Internet World Stats, there are nearly 1.5 billion people online these days.

I think the lesson here is that online is a real community, as real as the face to face community I enjoyed at last week’s conference in Roanoke.  It’s something my non-networked friends just don’t understand.  And it isn’t something that happened overnight either.  But it is part of my life now, and as I sit at my desk working alone from home on a rainy day, I feel the presence of that community.  Thanks to you all!

Living With Cognitive Dissonance

Right now, the following items are open in side by side tabs in my browser:

The webpage for educon21, described as more of a conversation than a conference, committed to discussing the future of schools.   According to the page, there are five axioms underlying the conference that are guiding principals:

  1. Our schools must be inquiry-driven, thoughtful and empowering for all members
  2. Our schools must be about co-creating — together with our students — the 21st Century Citizen
  3. Technology must serve pedagogy, not the other way around.
  4. Technology must enable students to research, create, communicate and collaborate
  5. Learning can — and must — be networked.

It will be held at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia from January 23 to 25.  The conversations very much meet these axioms, concerned with reforming schools in ways that focus on creating networked, collaborative learning spaces.  The conference itself focuses on facilitating discussions rather than providing presentations.  It sounds like a wonderful place to do some visioning with like-minded people, many of whom are at least in my extended professional learning network.

In the next two tabs are two stories related to using technology to teach math.  eSchool News describes how colleges are meeting the challenge of math remediation by providing access to self-paced online math instruction.  Basically, schools subscribe to an online tutoring program that takes students through learning module and saves lots of money by not having to provide access to full-time faculty.  (An interesting aside about this article.  The data related to the cost of remediation comes from a study by Pearson.  And, guess what, Pearson has an online math tutorial subscription site!)

In an article from Washington Monthly, Kevin Carey speculates about why it is that, despite saving lots of money using technology, college tuition is going up.  He features Virginia Tech’s Math Emporium, a 700-computer-lab that run math tutorial modules complete with quizzes and tests.  Students progress at their own pace: “Instead of marking progress by timethe number of hours spent in proximity to a lecturer—Emporium courses measure advancement by evidence of learning.”  And while that seems like a worthwhile reform, it was implemented mostly due to budget and space problems rather than a concern for the learner.  Tech is an engineering bastion and all those engineers have to take linear algebra.  There just wasn’t enough class space or money for full-time professors so setting up 700 computers in a local mall and hiring grad students was the cheapest alternative.

I’m experiencing cognitive dissonance.  It’s like there are two parallel conversations about education and technology going on right now, and I’m involved in both of them.  One is about how technology can support changing the way we do education and the other is about how technology can offer solutions to current problems without making any real change in education.  The latter conversation offers efficiency as its goal and does put the student at the center of learning but not quite in the way that the educon21 folks have in mind.  It’s more about delivering content than it is about student learning.  And, in a world of high-stakes tests, content and product seem to trump pedagogy and process every time.

Both conversations can and will continue to go on at the same time for at least the foreseeable future.  I worry that if we spend too much time figuring out how to use technology to solve budget and space problems and deliver content efficiently then we’re distracted from considering how technology can be part of the transformation.  But then I interview teachers faced with mile-wide, inch-deep standardized curriculum that has to be covered before the test, and I’m not sure if the system is ready for the kind of transformation that is being discussed at educon21.

And, I find myself struggling to identify what my responsibility is to my pre-service teachers.  I’m trying to model a more student-centered collaborative learning experience that includes an emphasis on tapping into the network.  But I’m preparing them for a very different kind of classroom where they will face often overwhelming demands on their time, energy and passion.  How do I lessen the cognitive dissonance for them and help them find some middle ground?  Or is is that there isn’t middle ground?  Is it time to break the cycle of tinkering toward utopia as Tyack and Cuban suggest has happened throughout the long history of education by making a clean break and giving up everything the way Mike Bogle suggests we should do in his eloquent rant against the establishment:

We must forget everything we think we know; and approach learning as though we’ve never done it before; never been taught, and never taught others.

Certainly in an environment where “the test” is overshadowing everything else, such a break would be refreshing, wouldn’t it?

Random Friday Round Up

A gloomy day here.  The rain brought down the leaves and it is starting to look like winter.  The dogs are sprawled around me, snoozing, and I can’t muster the energy for a thoughtful blog post.  But, I do have a few sites to share on several different topics so here’s the random Friday round up:

Miami Book Fair Celebrates 25 Years:  I heard this story on NPR yesterday as I drove back and forth across the state.  The founder of the fair is an independent book store owner in Miami and he reflects on how things have changed since 1983.  When asked about the challenge of selling analog books in an increasingly digital age, he comments that he is “selling the past.”

Guest Blogger on Eduwonk:  I credit Andrew Rotherman (aka Eduwonk) with helping me pass my comprehensive exams at William and Mary.  Today, his guest blogger is none other than Margaret Spellings, soon-to-be former Secretary of Education.  She writes about a new report from the Department of Education that details five areas in which federal, state and local goverments can collaborate to support the use of technology in education.

I Think I’m Musing My Mind:  I’m sorry that I can’t remember who steered me to this piece by Roger Ebert but I’ve read and re-read it several times since.  I found myself highlighting several of his key ideas that resonated with me in this thoughtful reflection on his writing:

The Muse visits during the process of creation, not before.

Of course I don’t think only about writing. I spend time with my wife, family and friends. I read a lot, watch a lot of politics on TV. But prose is beavering along beneath, writing itself. When it comes time to type it is an expression, not a process. My mind has improved so much at this that it’s become clearly apparent to me. The words, as e. e. cummings wrote, come out like a ribbon and lie flat on the brush. He wasn’t writing about toothpaste. In my fancy, I like to think he could have been writing about prose.

Collaborating with Diigo:  From jdtravers, an excellent video with practical tips for using Diigo to comment on student work.  My own experience with Diigo expanded this week.  I blogged about the Bauerlein article and then used the highlights from Ruben Van Havermaet to explore more about new media, including spending a few hours reading Andrew Plotkin’s interactive fiction game Shade.   And, Jeremy Douglass’s website made me think about what it means to be an English major in the 21st century as I approach the 25th anniversary of my own graduation.

Cross Post: Check Out Our Voice Threads

I posted this in the VSTE Ning site where my undegraduates are sharing their learning this semester.  But, I thought it might be of interest to a wider audience.

This semester, I added Voice Thread to my course and I’m glad I did. They are all tied to the Standards of Learning, Virginia’s standards. Most of my students are planning to use them as part of their student teaching experience.

Here’s the list with the links:

Simple and Compound Machines: http://voicethread.com/share/207443/

Weather Instruments: http://voicethread.com/share/207433/

Who Eats What: http://voicethread.com/#q.b207433.i1089152<

Magnets: http://voicethread.com/share/213467/

By the way, here’s the one I created for them. It reviews the different tools we have studied and asks them to think about how they can be integrated into the classroom. Please feel free to add your comments:

I’ll end with a thank you to my Twitter buddies who had excellent ideas for how the students can easily allow their students to comment on their threads. I am reminded of the power of my professional learning network and I hope my students are coming to see its power as well.

A Little Freedom and Personal Space, Is That So Bad?

I finally got a free minute to look at my “unread” list in Diigo and found this article from a 9th grade teacher in which she describes experimenting with allowing her students to listen to their PEDs* during independent work time. I’ll admit to some qualms about it as I imagined each kid in her own little world, pacified by music, while she works.  But, the writer made a good argument for how it helped some of her students focus in a way they had trouble with otherwise.  She was also using it as an incentive for the students and has developed some classroom management rules around the practice:

Only one ear bud allowed, during independent work only, as a privilege that could easily be revoked if I decided a student wasn’t working diligently enough. I thought it would be a one-time incidence of rule tweaking, but it worked so effectively that it became a Friday ritual that we all looked forward to. I appreciated the tranquil environment and productivity of my students during a time that could easily be lost to early weekend syndrome; my students simply enjoyed listening to their music.

Of course, you can probably  guess the end of the story.  When she went to a veteran teacher for advice about her Friday experiment, she was told that it was against the rules, mostly out of concern about what they might be listening to.  So, she stopped the practice and lost something in her classroom:

The death of iPod Fridays saddens me. I’ve had to return to the old management standbys: cajoling and threatening. I’ve tried other rewards (granola bar, anyone?), but none hold the same allure that just thirty minutes of the freedom to listen to the music of one’s choice did. And ironically, without this music, Fridays haven’t been as quiet since.

It was her comment about the allure of the thirty minutes of freedom that really hit home for me.  This was a simple way to give kids some personal space and allow them to make some choices about how they learn best.  She did not require that they listen to PEDs but allowed them to if they wished.

The comments to the piece are interesting.  They range from supportive to dismissive. One commenter provides links to research related to using music.  Another describes using PEDs successfully in an alternative setting.  Yet another gets at my original qualms, calling PEDs “pacifiers.”  Finally, another makes what I think is an essential comment:  “Unfortunately the administration felt it more important to enforce the ‘no electronic device’ policy rather than encourage success in the classroom.”  While I know that it’s hard to make any definitive statements about education, it seems to me that we are coming to recognize that everyone works and learn differently. So, zero tolerance policies, especially about something that might impact instruction, just don’t make any sense to me.    If I reflect on my own use of media, I know that I enjoy listening to music when I am working but not always.  Sometimes, especially when I am doing academic writing, I like the silence. But when I’m doing flash programming, I prefer watching videos as they seem to entertain some part of my brain that otherwise might distract me.  Being able to choose is important to me and it seems an easy compromise to make with our students as well.

A little freedom and personal space, is that so bad?

*Personal Electronic Devices