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.

Putting things together

I am getting to the point I am willing to make the argument that the limits of the present K12 education system have been reached. I say this considering the resources citizens of this country are willing to spend on education and an awareness of the variability along multiple dimensions that exist in classrooms. Those who promote innovation are typically focused on practices that amount to nibbling around the edges.

Here are some realities I accept:

  1. Aptitude differences are real and result in differences in the speed of learning – time allowed is for all practical purposed fixed.
  2. As a function of aptitude differences and factors both inside and outside of the classroom, the variability in what students know grows year by year.
  3. The variabilities in aptitude and background exceed what educators are capable of adddressing. This leads to frustration resulting from boredom and hopelessness. Frustration is one of several sources of motivational challenges that must be addressed.
  4. Students need both a general education and the opportunity to pursue personal interests. The role of mandatory education is to assure a common knowledge/skill base. Complete student-centered learning is also foolish as both young and old appreciate the importance of a common knowledge base and can anticipate the needs of a future world.
  5. Direct instruction and problemm-based learning opportunities each have important uses. The focus on one or the other because of turf wars miss the value of either efficient learning or learning to learn.
  6. Technology must be part of the answer. Human resources are unable to meet the individual learner needs that are present.

What do I think should happen. I think public schools should take a more aggressive role in implementing blended learning. Allowing charter schools in this area immediately leads everyone into political controversy and poor sampling that allows flawed evaluation. I would think larger districts should be able to apply blended models in elementary classrooms and alternate middle courses of core areas (math, composition). I think we should immediately focus on these levels because waiting means the damage has already been done and secondary education already allows a greater level of individualization.
I have been very busy the past view months researching and writing a book (now finished). I will take some time in the weeks ahead to expand the core ideas I h

The choice

There are a couple of things about this past election that trouble me greatly. Perhaps my greatest concern is the way short term and selfish positions were presented to the public as an acceptable position. Valid and ethical positions were presented as open to other interpretations.

With climate change, the position argued by the great majority of reputable scientists was brought into questions. How could this be the case in a well educated nation? Here is one of the first explanations that made sense to me (I do encourage you to read the full article). This is a great post on why scientific findings are disputed and why scientists seem unable to communicate what science says about important issues.

Why is this so? Why did a scientific issue like climate change become so toxic, so caught up in what we call “the culture wars”? It is because the social debate around climate change is no longer about carbon dioxide and climate models. It is about values, culture, worldviews, and ideology. As physical scientists explore the mechanics and implications of anthropogenic climate change and try to convey their results to a skeptical public, they must recognize that their work is being evaluated by a population where upwards of two-thirds do not clearly understand the scientific process and fewer are able to pass even a basic scientific literacy test

Scientist learn to write in a very conservative way. They are typically wary of going beyond their data to make clear pronouncements or recommendations. They write mostly for other scientists who are trained to be eager to criticize and attack should statements that over reach be written. Science is critical and competitive, but this is a good thing. Competition is supposed to bring out the best in science much in the way we assume it brings out the best in athletics.

I don’t know who should be responsible for communicating with voters. This is a task scientists are not well trained or rewarded for. Evidently, the agreement among scientists is not sufficient to convince the public. I cannot help thinking making this connection is what educators should be good at. I understand that taking on controversial issues tends to shut down most educators. However, the climate change issue is politically controversial, it is not scientifically controversial. So, if you signed up to teach science, I think you should teach science

Educators and political commentary

I have not added much to this blog recently. I have been writing a lot, but on other topics. The election and the selection of the American people troubled me a great deal and unlike some previous elections I have been unable to shake off the results. We seem to be headed for a very dark place.

I wonder how my commentary has been received by educators who have been followers of what I write. I have decided that addressing political topics is not dwelling on the negative, but trying to explore the direction of the country and how this direction will influence the practice of educators. I believe educators are naive if they cannot consider and discuss such issues. The head in the sand thing will not serve them or their students well.

The nomination of Betsy DeVos is my latest fascination. I have watched the nomination hearing, considered some of the questions posed by the committee, and compare what I have read from other sources (books by Diane Ravitch). Some dispute the role of the Dept. of Education as meaningful. For the long term, I see great relevance in this role. What other service prepares the population for the challenges of the future and competitors? Betsy DeVos has such limited background to take on this role. She knows so little about education issues beyond her interest in vouchers. One thing I have noticed is the political speak of the committee members. The nominee for HHS was praised for his experience as a physician. DeVos has no experience and some of the same politicians fail to recognize the inconsistency in what they believe is important to serve in such roles. It cannot be the case that anyone off the street is prepared to address the variety of issues that are involved no matter how much money they have.

I encourage my fellow educators to consider the role of political decisions that influence the profession. The right to free speech is meaningless unless you are willing to speak up.

Best of the year

This seems to be the time when many content creators offer their best of the year. You can translate this as “I am tired and this is one way to generate an easy post during the holidays”.

I admit I do not have data on my blog posts, but I can easily identify the most popular YouTube I generated. I doubt the popularity of this effort has anything to do with my production skills or the deep thoughts explained in the video. I am guessing that coding was in this year and demonstrating how Ozoblockly could be used to control an Ozobot was something educators wanted to understand. I also noticed an increase in hits this past week or so. I am guessing Santa brought some Ozobot and parents now wanted to know what to do with them.

Ozobot Blockly

Not ready for prime time

I am working on a new book that explores how tech tools can add value to existing resources. I call the approach “layering”. More about this project in a few months.

In exploring what might be coming, I have been considering what is available when it comes to augmented reality. This is adding information to what is visible in the world. The version of augmentation that offers information about a location is easy. How about adding information about unfamiliar objects.

The most basic form of information about an object would be identification. I knew that there are some services that attempt to identify images. I read that Wolfram had an advanced image identification service so I thought I would give it a try.

I admit that the following image is upside down and the image would be difficult to match to a database, but the image is not a shark.

notshark

I then tried what I thought was an iconic image from my wildlife collection.

notloon

Again, the Wolfram service was wrong, but suggested several different birds none of which were loons. It seems the Wolfram service attempts to learn from errors and it allowed me to describe the image. I hope I was helpful.

I did try the Google photo search with the loon image. It suggested it was a bird. Not that helpful.

Maybe I will have to offer examples of the futuristic stuff in the second edition.

Change platforms to improve edchats

I have been suggesting for some time that I doubted the actual value of the existing approach to edchats. Several of my issues were focused on the choice of Twitter as the microblog platform of choice for these conversations. Specifically, after viewing and sometimes participating in many of these chats, it seemed to me that the 140 character limit of Twitter severely limited what actually was being said. In general, there seemed to be a lack of real substance in conversations. I also found the public nature of what were often one-sided conversations to be annoying. If you are a Twitter user and not participating in a specific chat, what is the value of that flow of partial comments from some of the individuals you follow? This is somewhat like listening to the speaker side of several conversations going on from the self-centered types who feel it appropriate to site in a coffee shop and do business their business. This is just not necessary.

While listing issues with TwitterChats was easy, I have it found it somewhat difficult to offer an alternative that would be practical for educators in K12. I have finally found what I think is an ideal solution to the two issues I mention – the service offers a 500 character limit and it has a private conversation mode. The service is called Mastodon (evidently this is a favorite band of the developers). You can signup very easily and I would recommend moving a chat group to this service for exploration.

mastodonchat

Mastodon uses a TweetDeck-like interface. I have highlighted a longer submission (a toot) and the button for setting public or private toots. Simple to use, easy to join, and superior as a platform for conversation.