Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Gad Fly

I understand why TEDx events are kept small. I don't blame them - there is a lot to be said for the depth of networking that can occur in small scale events. I just get annoyed at the corporate filtering and the implied exclusivity in a time when we should be opening education up. Also, despite creating "curated audiences" (yes, that is the language they use), the last one I attended still had the same dozen middle-aged white guys - there are more women and minorities involved in education. Even though I appreciate the advantages that being born male and white (that's Celtic-American to you boy-o), and being middle-aged, we can only move forward in education when we bring in a diversity of ideas, voices, and experience to the table. You can attend some of these events virtually but there is this whole application bit to attend that sticks in my craw. I came up with my own application process here.

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In with the new...

Barack Obama delivers a speech at the Universi...Image via Wikipedia

I don't think anyone, Republican or Democrat can be happy with the education system and the costs associated with it. I loved hearing Obama say "...what’s gotten overlooked amid all the hoopla, all the drama of last week, is what happened in education -- when a great battle pitting the interests of the banks and financial institutions against the interests of students finally came to an end." There are so many things that are in the way of education right now - student loans, the costs of textbooks, high unemployment, and the banking crisis - things that should not effect education as much as they do. We have an opportunity now to dismantle the old infrastructure that has long stood as a barrier to education for so many. If we are going to send manufacturing jobs over-seas, we owe it to the citizens to provide for an education. We are removing the barriers to health care and the same can happen for education. Why aren't Canadians or people from Scandinavia breaking down the doors to live in this country illegally? The strange thing is that I could take some classes from a Danish university online because they do not charge tuition for their classes. After we win the fight for health care in this country, I hope we continue on with the fight for education.

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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Open Course Library Project

This great interview with Cable Green on OERs and the Open Course Library Project was on It was on their front page for a while and I wanted to post it here to keep it out a little longer because it makes some important points about open education resources and open texts. Washington From what I know of the grant (I used to work in WA and my wife, Jacqui Cain, is working on the online dev ed module), the developers of these open resources are not only authoring the modules but they have to teach with them as well. This is a very important part of the peer review process that is missing from even commercial textbooks. The real acid test of a textbook is not the credentials of the author, but whether or not it works in a real-life classroom setting: not all textbooks do. Sometimes it is just a matter of the author's teaching style (if, in fact, your author is a real teacher and not just an ivy league name with a bunch of TA's who do the teaching). In that case, one of the real values, as a teacher, in open texts and open education resources in general is that you are able to adapt the materials to your use and for the use of your students. You never have to ask students to pay for materials, chapters, and lessons that they are not going to use.
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Friday, March 19, 2010

Open Source University

Here is the other side of the napkin on what I mean by "Open Source University." Please add (or detract) to this in the comments. I might move this to a wiki as I get rolling:

There are no professors - there are advisers, facilitators, peer tutors, and mentors who all participate in networks.

Facilitators participate because they too benefit from the network itself.

There is a rubric for milestones in your field.

There is a connectivist rubric that evaluates your network.

You are not judged on how much information you took in and regurgitated at the end of the semester but on the integrity, quality, diversity, and utility of your networks over the course of your studies.

You are assessed on your ability to share, illuminate, and participate.

Each semester, your goal is to contribute to the "textbook" in some way - to make films, interview others.

You cannot get this degree by sitting in your chair and listening to someone speak.

You assessed via a portfolio of
  • Participation
  • Collaboration
  • Creativity
You are not evaluated on the questions you answer but on the questions you ask.

Diversity in your network means that you have to have a few people in your network who think you are wrong or crazy and that you think are wrong or crazy.

The Future of Education

This is a first crack at thinking about the "Future of Education" question that George Siemens asked us. It is not a finished thesis but just little old me reading off the back of the napkin. I am pretty passionate about the future of education because the future is here now and passing a lot of community college students by. It is not from a lack of money but a lack of vision and will. As an instructional designer and educator, I see nothing "theoretical" about this discussion at all since the answers to the questions can mean real change for people - just look at what is happening in open education resources and open texts right now.

I threw in pictures that represented a history of futures and just basically played around with Garage Band.

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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A Note on Learning Styles

I want it to be clear that I do not think that I have the all the answers about learning styles theory and pedagogy. I wrote about this earlier in the year here. Learning styles theory is an extremely complex subject that covers psychology, sociology, neuroscience, epistemology, and pedagogy. Notice all the soft sciences in this list. That said, in my own practice in special education in the k-12 realm, my work as a tutor and tutor trainer, and as an English teacher has benefitted tremendously from these tools. I have seen students who were tested as auditory learners begin to use recorders in the classroom and I have watched their lives turn around, but that is not research. The learning styles theories as they stand cover too much ground and are too broad to determine (at this point in time) solid empirical testing. Many of the theories are too simplistic to cover the complexity of the human mind. The research questions in some cases have to be narrowed. Researchers have to continue to define and test the theory, and explore - there is a lot to be done. There have been numerous attempts - many, to my way of thinking, have been successful. What happens though is that contra learning styles educators simply change the definition of learning styles to dismiss the conclusions of the research or weaken the argument by narrowly define what the theory should predict.

An example of that is a video by Daniel Willingham that has gained some traction on YouTube that declares that learning styles is bunk. It is filled with lots of unsupported phrases like "that is not how the brain works" as if we had a really clear picture of how the brain works (never mind how we learn). The only thing that can be said definitively is that more research needs to be done. Another really big problem with the video is that it ignores any research that has been done and there is a lot of it out there. To say that there has not been any research that supports the idea of learning styles means that Willingham has not done a thorough review of the literature.

Willingham says that "lots of people have performed that test" as if there was one way to test learning styles. He also talks about "meaning based" as if we are meant to take it for granted that "meaning based" learning is the final obvious word in epistemology and language. That is just not the case. Willingham narrowly defines learning styles and what it "ought to predict" and then takes the theory (as if there were one) to task.

The claim, for instance, that teachers have to change how they teach is just wrong - not everyone who supports learning styles makes that claim. The idea is that yes, we can teach to a broader spectrum of learning modalities. But learning styles theory is there to help the students understand why they may not be getting it. There are good, solid criticisms of learning styles theory and this ain't it.

Learning styles is still being defined as a theory. In this sense it is a lot like string theory - there is some decent math and models in there but a lot more work needs to be done and should be done. No one is going to through the theory out because it is accurately modeling what is happening in the real world. We don't even know how many strings there are! I consider the learning styles to more of a model like string theory rather than a full blown theory yet. But we cannot just discount research that supports the theory out of hand.

Some References That Go Beyond Personal Beliefsd (even mine)

If you want to look at how complex this question is, check out this paper that is really critical of the theories and is in depth. (Notice that I don't just choose research that supports my world-view or research bias.)

2. Christy Tucker's blog has some excellent summary of the research.

6. Ability, Demography, Learning Style, and Personality Trait Correlates of Student Preference for Assessment Method
"More than 400 students from four universities in America and Britain completed measures of learning style preference, general knowledge (as a proxy for intelligence), and preference for examination method. Learning style was consistently associated with preferences..."

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Curation Science: A note on Ted Talks

Chris Anderson is the curator of the TED (Tech...Image via Wikipedia

Today I spent time listening to the TedxNyED Talks online. I really liked the event. There were a lot of great people gathered together and a lot of good ideas coming out. I recommend all of the people who presented, and I will link the videos here as soon as they are available. The people who put on the event did an outstanding job. I appreciated the fact that they streamed it live and that there was a large community of educators participating remotely.

I made discoveries today: I learned about Flexbooks which, given some of the projects I am currently working on, is very serendipitous; I heard people at the conference speak that I had never heard before, and I met new people in Twitter. I am very excited about the new connections with some very interesting people.

Because of all of the good work that went into this event, and the fact that I know that everyone came away from it with something positive (I know that I did), and that the conversations we had there were only the beginning, a planted seed - I feel free to be a pain in the ass about elitism. Some of the issues are argued here at D'arcy Norman's blog.

The event was based on the corporate Ted Talks format. I listen to the corporate Ted Talks too. These are really interesting videos and I have learned a lot from them. Like them, the New York local version "curated" the audience as well as the speakers. When they were asked why there were so few women or minorities it was "inadvertent" and because the white men said "yes" first and filled up the slots before they realized it. There was a application to be in the audience. You had to list your significant accomplishments. It seems funny that the audience was carefully curated and the speakers were "inadvertent." The irony about all this is that many at the event are promoters of open source and open education resources. One of the whole points of the corporate Ted Talks is that they need to control the audience in order to control the results of their conference. You want the right kind of people who have access to a lot of money (admission is $6000 to corporate Ted Talk). That is what curation means. It is the Disneyland approach to vacationing - god forbid you go to a real place and meet real people - who knows what could happen? This is not a great model for educators to adopt or to promote. This is like lecturing on collaborative learning or selling a book to Thompson & Wadsworth on open textbooks.

Many teach because they believe that education will make a difference in people's lives. And there are some huge problems in education and changes that need to be made. They won't be made by doing the same things over and over again. In education, there is still too much of the "sage on the stage" and everyone sitting in rows paying attention. And it is not working.

We need to hear, and act on, ideas from a broad spectrum of society and the world if we plan on making real and significant change. The world is now too small for us to be comfortable with not bringing in developing nations to the table, for instance. Someone pointed out that the majority of the teachers are women but the majority of presenters continues to be men. It is not that by having some token females on a stage that we will be magically transformed, but if we are serious about change as educators, we have to broaden our vision. We benefit and become stronger from hearing a diversity of voices. We are asking students to be more than they are - we can follow suit.

They are planning on doing a Ted Talks deal for kids. I am hoping that the audience is not curated for that event (they should at least let the parents in despite their education background right?) and that the speakers are representative of their community. As one of the speakers today put it: "How can you dare think you can transform a child if you are not willing to transform yourself?" And if you are not in education for transformation, what the hell are you doing?

There is a huge price to pay for not attending to diversity. Everything you do becomes irrelevant as the world around you changes and you are offering answers to questions that no one is asking. Again, as Lehman reminded us "The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cant learn, unlearn, and relearn." - Alvin Toffler
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Friday, March 05, 2010

Stephen Fry on Technology and Change

I have been checking out the BBC interviews on technology from the series called "The Virtual Revolution." Stephen Fry talks about how the driving force behind all the technological change isn't the technology but the inherent human will to connect. He backs this up with some interesting stories about how letter writing, the post box, and novels changed society. I have written some similar ideas here about Twitter - how the press and others miss how it works (it is not an information distribution platform but a network creation tool). Anyway, I highly recommend the series because it represents a wide variety of interesting view points on technology.

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