Getting what you need

You can’t always get what you want

But if you try sometime you find

You can get what you need

Words from the Rolling Stones.

When I was an administrator, I did some things that were probably weird for reasoning with Ph.D.s. I would quote lyrics from popular songs in some of the presentations I made. I used the Rolling Stones “You can’t always get what you want” because it was suited to the reality of the under-resourcing of higher education in North Dakota.

The lines from the famous hook popped into my head again, but for a different situation. Just what was the message and to what circumstances does it apply? I guess it can mean whatever you want it to mean, but I read in the wikipedia analysis that the lyric can be translated as life involves us in optimism, followed by disillusionment, followed by pragmatism.

I somehow connected “what you want and need” with the world at this time as given to us by the Internet and social media. With the Internet, the wisdom of the Stones from the late ‘60s may have changed. Maybe, more and more, the Internet gives us what we want rather than what we need. Search has been tweeked over time so that our personal history is taken into account in responding to our queries. Our wants end up prioritized over our needs. We can adjust our Facebook feed and others can target what appears in our feed based on what is known about our preferences and interests. We do see what we want to see.

Maybe it is time to rethink getting what we want.

You can always get what you want

You can always get what want

But if you try sometime (and read more widely)

You can get what you need

 

What is required for real innovation?

I was in college during the late 1960s and then as now it was a time of unrest and reexamination. These characteristics extended to our thinking about education. I have never been a student of history and it is probably too late to start now. How  ideas come and then go does intrigue me.  Innovation is often not that innovative.

I remember reading a couple of books during this time that proposed learner independence and self-direction. The one I remember was A. S. Neill’s Summmerhill.

According to Wikipedia, Summerhill continues to exist, but I remember the logic of the experiment as being largely discredited. Young learners were mostly not capable of making productive decisions when it came to guiding and motivating their own education. Fascination with these ideas faded.

These ideas are experiencing a Phoenix moment. Are the ideas now appropriate because of new opportunities or new demands? This is not for me to say. There are certainly new circumstances. Work opportunities, if preparation for these is a primary goal of K-12 education, are certainly changing. It seems there will be fewer “good” jobs, but these jobs will be far more lucrative. Perhaps revisiting Summerhill is a way to avoid educator responsibility – you will face far more difficult circumstances so students play your hand as you want and see what happens.

Perhaps general anxiety associated with a changed future have led to a focus on vocation and an abandonment of other educational goals. The time devoted to personal interests must be subtracted from something else. Will it be history, social sciences, arts, and/or government that are sacrificed for STEM,  entrepreneurship and explore your own passions?

Back to Summerhill. What might be proposed as a way to avoid another failed fantasy? My recommendation would be a combination of individualization through technology and mentorship. I recommend individualization with technology because I see no other way the general public will pay for a system allowing sufficient adult encouragement and oversight of individual student needs and interests without a way to free teachers from some present responsibilities. This combination will not be ideal for all students, but too many forget that many students do well with the present system. No system regarded as financially practical is ideal for all.

You see little of this type of thing in public schools, but major donors have been investing large amounts of money to explore this possibility. Mother Jones (I admit a surprising source) provides a lengthy and deep analysis of the big money folks investing in these ideas. The motives of these individuals have been quested because their ideas encourage a large role for technology and for-profit resources. Of course, paying for curriculum content is pretty much the way education gets done.

I keep hoping more public schools will involve themselves in truly innovative approaches to education, but I fear most decision makers see the personal risk as too great.

 

Annotation as a solution to fake news

I have generated multiple posts focused on the potential of layering – adding elements of information on top of existing web pages or video authored by others (use the tag layer to view). The most common type of layered elements involves highlights and annotations. My focus has been on the educational potential of layering, but others see the potential in other ways.

Jon Udell suggests that annotation offers a way of contesting fake news. As you might expect, this opportunity has raised concerns and direct commenting on articles labeled as fake news will generate similar reactions. I admit to having less sympathy for news organizations than I might for individuals.

BTW – this Udell link gets a little geeky and explains how annotation works. The post specifically mentions Hypothes.is one of the tools I have described in an educational context.

Meaningful innovation will require substitution

Some described as tonight leaders make the case that education is broken and new models are needed. From my perspective, if they want to take this position they should expand their view of what education actually involves. Focusing on the existing curriculum and instructional/learning tactics are likely far too narrow. Reality requires that one not just argue what is wrong and what should be added, but what the additions should replace. Replacement is the difficult challenge. Do you drop world history, calculus, or the final course in language arts? Even if you propose that changes should exist within courses you must make similar decisions. Do you eliminate the focus on classic literature or persuasive writing?

In the promotion of change, there are some sacred cows that are seldom, if ever, considered. Examine the following list. I would argue that each has strong advocates, but all involve considerable allocation of time and resources.

  • Athletics,
  • Music and creative arts,
  • Advanced placement courses,
  • and work.

These activities do develop skills, most allow or require individual choice, but most also require considerable time and most resources taken from the school budget. I don’t see administrators having the fortitude to suggest that any of these opportunities is less important than say an entrepreneurship course. If you need the resources and time within the curriculum for new courses – drop AP courses. Promote this to parents by arguing that saving money on college is less important than having the opportunity to find personal interests before getting there. Suggest that unless finances are really a basic problem for families, allowing adolescents to work in order to afford a car or the newest athletics shoes is less important to developing life skills within a safe and supportive environment.

Innovation is partly about examining the values within education, but also the values within communities and families. I have read many recommendations suggesting what are radical departures from traditional education models, but I have yet to read any administrator promote any of the changes I have suggested be considered.

Embedded formative evaluation = mastery learning

One of the ways in which I presently see technology improving learning experiences and success involves methods of individualization that allow individuals to move forward at a rate suited to their individual aptitudes and past experiences. My thinking about this opportunity has been shaped by my previous exposure to the theory and research of mastery learning. This perspective, which I associate with Bloom, Keller and other researchers of the late 1960’s and 1970s, provides the rationale for present practice. Many ideas that were great and well-substantiated ideas at that time were difficult to implement. One way I often look at technology now is as a way to take advantage of great ideas in ways that are now practical. The use of history to claim “we tried that and it did not work” needs reexamination. It is important to ask the why question? Sometimes the why is known and ignored. This is the situation in which interesting ideas reemerge in some form based on a similar interesting past ideas, but are a waste of time and energy because the conditions of why have not been acknowledged and/or changed. For me, the argument that learning to code will develop critical thinking falls into this category. Then, there are examples in which the why should encourage a second look if the conditions of the why have changed. I see this as the case with mastery learning.

I had my class this semester read a review by Shute and Rahimi (see citation at the conclusion of this post). This article focused on recent technology-supported instruction that offered data on the importance of competence and feedback. No mention was made of mastery learning. The article used a different vocabulary which I remember as “embedded formative evaluation”. So formative evaluation is likely a familiar concept (Bloom did see his group-based mastery learning as involving formative evaluation). The idea is that technology-enabled systems can incorporate formative evaluation as a mechanism to provide feedback and determine when individuals should progress. If these new words appeal to you, I think this is great and perhaps this appeal may encourage attempts at application. What I think is unfortunate is that a vast collection of work is out there and may allow new innovators to avoid tactics that were unproductive once and will likely be so again unless the circumstances of application are changed.

Shute, V.J. & Rahimi, S. (2017).  Review of computer-based assessment for learning in elementary and secondary education. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 33, 1-19.

All things retrieval practice

Researchers have a reputation of spending their time on specific topics far beyond the point at which this focus yields useful information. This was my first reaction when I learned that Pooja Agarwal had developed a website specifically devoted to retrieval practice. Retrieval practice is the concept that making the effort to retrieve something from memory increases the probability that the targeted memory will be recalled in the future. Awarwal is one of the individuals I associate with this finding.

To me, retrieval practice is not a new idea. I have been interested in the benefits of responding to questions since the 1970s. I even have a notion of why this idea has had a resurgence albeit with a different name. I think that improving recall is associated with memorization and educators seem to move through historical phases in which memorization is considered a bad thing. For example, you might note some refer to testing recall as regurgitation. Of course, this perspective kind of misses the point. If learned information is unavailable, application is impossible.

Agarwal and others emphasize retrieval practice as a study skill and explore variations that may appeal teachers and students with different learning needs.

I do have one suggestion to add. I have been writing lately about the benefits of using technology tools that allow the layering of educator or learner prompts on online resources (web pages, video). Retrieval prompts of various types would be a way to encourage retrieval practice. So, if learners were asked to review a video or a web page as instructional content, questions could be added to this material so that when the content was opened in the future learners can practice the retrieval of the targeted information. If the effort to retrieve is unsuccessful, the page or video can be quickly reviewed.

The Agarwal site includes research citations and ideas for application.

Noun Project for educators

There are so many situations in which content created by educators might benefit from graphics – handouts, bulletin boards, web lessons, etc. I have read recommendations that suggest bloggers should always include an image in their posts. I do include some screen captures and some photographs, but my personal artistic skills are insufficient to create images in other ways. The Noun Project offers images that are perfect for such situations. 
For $20 a year, educators can access a nearly unlimited database of icons appropriate for nearly any imaginable situation. The images are scalable (see Maple leaf in a fall color). You establish your credentials as an educator and respond to indicate how you intend to use the images to acquire the $20 fee (the fee for others is $40). Images can be searched using a browser or software (at least for the Mac).

 

Mac Noun Project application