Moving beyond clueless

I have been reading “Clueless in Academe”. This is one of several books I have been working my way through attempting to understand issues such as why information I find so useful has so little impact on the practice of so many and why so many seem willing to discount the findings of science. I do understand that some of the issues that interest me are complex and frustrating, but it is more the anti-intellectualism that seems to be growing in acceptance that has me stumped.

“Clueless” is sometimes not easy to follow (why should it be). The author has a background in literature and literary criticism so my ability to easily relate to many of his examples is a bit of a push. I did spend my career working with college students and I do recognize that only a subgroup truly connects with content even though a much larger group understand the content.

This is not intended as a book review and I am offering only an interpretation of a couple of his ideas here. I latch on to these ideas because the ideas are very much related to my core perspective as a textbook author. Graff (Clueless author) suggests students understand argumentation and promotion of personal positions from personal experience but fail to see academics engaged in similar processes. How an academic goes about advocating for a given position and pointing out weaknesses in competing positions is what drives science and many other academic fields forward. For the academic, it is this battle for the truth or a cause that is the fun/motivation for what we do. Understanding this or becoming part of the process is either unappreciated or outside of the experience of most students.

The other issue Graff suggests is also interesting. The simple version is that students learn from isolated courses. Sometimes these courses present concepts that contradict each other. Contradictions are seldom explained in much depth. How can conflicting ideas be promoted without explanation? What the instructor wants then becomes the goal rather than building a personal knowledge structure that makes some sense. The author argues students get the message you can believe pretty what you want because you are going to encounter someone who is an advocate who believes pretty much the same thing.

I hope you can see some overlap in these two issues. Without an appreciation of the contest of ideas and how some attempt to address these controversies, it is easy to see why enthusiasm is often lacking. I find the opportunity to analyze and participate in conflicts motivating and productive. Certainly, there are likely many conflicts I can leave alone, but I am at a loss when it comes to why practitioners in a field (e.g., education) are not captivated by the issues and what is at stake.

Anyway, I said some of the ideas in “Clueless” relate to my own thinking about books I have written. I have long written a textbook that is used in courses intended to prepare preservice and practicing teachers to make effective use of technology. I have more recently written more of an advocacy book – a book with a narrow focus and an unapologetic agenda.

With the textbook, I make an attempt to identify key conflicts in the field and do the best job I can considering the research and the supposed advantages and disadvantages of what I consider the opposing positions in such conflicts. A great example of such a conflict is the direct instruction vs. experiential learning conflict (e.g., problem-based learning, project-based learning). I know there are plenty of books taking one of these positions or the other and there are plenty of speakers taking one position or the other, but without taking an honest approach to understanding the controversy what practitioners end up doing is buying into the best sales pitch and never really developing a personal understanding of the what the core controversy really is or what the strengths and weaknesses of the evidence for the competing arguments are. If you are unwilling to immersive yourself in the argument, it all pretty much becomes a surface level, fan girl or fan boy type thing.

Avoiding these complexities is not a good thing. It is why education as a field drifts about so much like a pendulum. Coding was in, then it was out, and now it is in again. We have to do better than this and part of being better is moving beyond simplistic dogmatism. One reason I am a technology advocate is that I think learning experiences must become more individualized and I see no way various forms of learning experiences can be suited to individual needs relying on the time of individual educators.

With the textbook, I make an attempt to identify key conflicts in the field and do the best job I can considering the research and the supposed advantages and disadvantages of what I consider the opposing positions in such conflicts. A great example of such a conflict is the direct instruction vs. experiential learning conflict (e.g., problem-based learning, project-based learning). I know there are plenty of books taking one of these positions or the other and there are plenty of speakers taking one position or the other. This seems very much the isolation problem Graff identified. Without taking an honest approach to understanding the controversy, what practitioners end up doing is buying into the best sales pitch and never really developing a personal understanding of what the core controversy really is or what the strengths and weaknesses of the evidence for the competing arguments are. If you are unwilling to immersive yourself in the argument, it all pretty much becomes surface level, fan girl or fan boy type thing. I always enjoy arguing with folks who I see falling into this category. I will take either side. If you are unaware of the weaknesses of your position, I can quickly identify them for you and ask for your justification. Avoiding these complexities is not a good thing. It is why education as a field drifts about so much like a pendulum. Coding was in, then it was out, and now it is in again. We have to do better than this and part of being better is moving beyond simplistic dogmatism. One reason I am a technology advocate is that I think learning experiences must become more individualized and I see no way various forms of learning experiences can be suited to individual needs relying on the time of individual educators.

If you are unwilling to immersive yourself in the argument, it all pretty much becomes a surface level, fan girl or fan boy type thing. I always enjoy arguing with folks who I see falling into this category. I will take either side. If you are unaware of the weaknesses of your position, I can quickly identify them for you and ask for your justification. Avoiding these complexities is not a good thing. It is why education as a field drifts about so much like a pendulum. Coding was in, then it was out, and now it is in again. We have to do better than this and part of being better is moving beyond simplistic dogmatism. One reason I am a technology advocate is that I think learning experiences must become more individualized and I see no way various forms of learning experiences can be suited to individual needs relying on the time of individual educators.

The advocacy book assumes learners will be asked to spend more time learning from online resources and many of these resources will not be designed purposefully for instruction. As learners outside of formal educational systems, this is pretty much what many of us do now. Were we prepared for our new reality? Are K-12 students put into similar situations being prepared?

A research area that fascinated me throughout my career has been study behavior. This is not a high-prestige research area. Teaching study skills is so often reserved for those students who struggle even though we also continue to promote the life-long skill of learning to learn as what was learned in the past has a shorter and shorter shelf life. We did things “to study” as students and we continue to do things “to learn” throughout our lives. I was never really taught to study and I think this continues to be the case with most learners. Did I take notes effectively? Did I highlight and annotate a book effectively? Did I interact with a study partner effectively? Did I evaluate my own understanding and remediate deficiencies effectively? Did I have to figure out tactics for myself or did someone help me consider tactics I might try? I think it is time to elevate the importance of learning to learn especially when it comes to online content. I think there is relevant existing research and I think there powerful tools available.

I like to consider what I do in this advocacy role as offering suggestions. In this case, I will let someone else be critical of these suggestions.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *