Archive for November, 2007

PIRLS Before Swine?

November 30th, 2007

One of the things you do with any evaluation in order to validate it is “Triangulate.” If two tests are supposed to measure the same thing. If they don’t agree when you apply them, then you have to ask whether or not your assumptions about what they measure are valid.

Statement by Secretary Margaret Spellings on the 2006 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) Results
Although our nation’s 4th graders rank above the international average in reading performance on the PIRLS assessment, the U.S. score has not changed measurably from 2001. While we’re seeing progress under No Child Left Behind, we can do better. If we want to sustain America’s position as an economic power and innovative leader, our students must master the fundamentals.

PIRLS is not the first test that says student acheivement isn’t going up. If the US score hasn’t changed, but NCLB shows improvement, what does NCLB measure?

How effective schools are at gaming the system?

Blogging is Dead…

November 19th, 2007

Chris Lott just keeps writing what I should have been thinking. Here’s another one of the “Oh. Ya. Of course. Duh, me,” moments:

Blogging is Dead. Long Live the Blog.
Let’s forget about the dying of the blog and start paying attention to the incredible wave of lightweight, frictionless, gatekeeper free participation mechanisms that are now at our command for utterances large and small.

Smack this post up against the Mob Rules post and what do you get?

Ok, most of you are thinking, “Wow, we’re learning about how the network works and what a cool thing this is!” or something of the sort. And, ya, that’s the sort of direct lesson, but step back up to the meta-lesson. This is, afterall, a course in the principles of distance education.

The use of blogs and aggregators — and my insistance that we get out of the Bboard garden — have put us directly into the stream of authentic engagement. This is what we (the Mob, the Field, the whatever you wanna call it) are doing and thinking now. This moment. Today. Well, yesterday, or last week, but you get my point. This is not filtered through a corporate editorial board, produced by a marketing department, sold to a schoolboard, and passed through a two year adoption cycle until it’s obsolete before you ever see it in a class.

This is what Education is missing. This is where Barb Ganley goes in her classroom based writing classes. This is where your students go when they power on, link up, and turn on to learn the latest game cheats in FFXI. This is why they have no idea wtf u mn 1/2 teh tiem.

And the teacher learns…

November 19th, 2007

In a weekend full of resonating messages, some of you will have found this Barb Ganley post on your own and I wonder how many of you found THIS paragraph particularly poignant, given your experiences with this class.

bgblogging: And the teacher learns that we may be missing a huge point…
It is very very difficult to walk into a classroom like mine when everything else in students’ academic experience follows a different, and teacher-centric, model. It takes a lot of work (and determination) to help them understand that it’s okay that I will not lecture at length on the writers we read or the elements we analyze or the techniques they explore, nor will I provide them with the kind of feedback ( pen all over their papers) to which they have grown not only accustomed but on which they have become dependent. I will not tell them what they have to write about, or how. I will not respond to their posts on blog. I will not be solely responsible for their course grades. But I will question, push, explain, encourage and give them feedback one-on-one. As I often remark, students are in a bit of a freefall for the first weeks, thinking I have no idea how to be a teacher, and I have to stand by, reassuring them that this is fine, this is good, in fact.

You’re not alone, and just because the course is online, it’s not any reason to expect that you’d get anything terribly different from me if it were a classroom based course because — everybody chant:

All education is at a distance.

Mob Rules (The Law of Fives)

November 17th, 2007

Will Richardson pointed me to this.

Mob Rules (The Law of Fives)
Because you all need to earn a living. But this world we’re entering is so chaotic, so accidental and unplanned for, everything we believe to be absolutely true is about to be severely tested.

Unexpected. Unprecedented. Read it. Think about what this means in relation to the class we’re just wrapping up. Think about what it means that “The network regards heirarchy as a failure and routes around it” in the light of school as heirarchy.

Yes, people, there WILL be a final exam.

But I’m not giving it.

Research Asks Questions

November 7th, 2007

When you think of research, do you think it’s about getting answers? Me, I think it’s about asking questions. From the Dept of Better Late than Never, here’s the melon squeezing post for the day:

On Research
How do we study Distance Education? If you buy into the notion that all education is at a distance, the answer becomes at once simpler and more complex. Simpler, because it means we don’t need any special Secret Knowledge. More complex, because it means we have to create mental models of this stuff that work regardless of delivery channel.

The question is one that I wrestle with every day. In a way it forms the basis of a whole research agenda — one so broad I won’t live long enough to cover it, but which needs examination. When you commit to a philosophy of “Question Everything,” then what becomes solid enough to base future knowledge on? What constitutes a valid question?

Four Levels of Online Courses

November 5th, 2007

Sometimes my ‘gator does weird things and offers up a nugget from the past. Like this one:

Teaching and Developing Online.: March 2006 Archives
Four Levels of Online Courses (Level One)
Online courses can be divided into four different levels, which are not determined by the LMS used. They are determined by the developer’s approach. Recognition of the approach will make it easier to determine the methodology of the study.

In this class, we’re as close to a Level 4 as you’re likely to find being offered for credit through a University. One of the challenges with the Level 4 is that, if you *really* drink the kool-aid, you can’t teach a course. That’s something different.

Read it and see what you think. (Note the date!)

What Are We Doing?

November 3rd, 2007

Tracy asks this (and several other important questions) in a comment on her “Whats in a grade?” post:

“Are we trying to learn how to effectively set up on-line classes for an educational environment?”

It points out an important disconnect that may well be at the root of much of the confusion about what it is we’re doing here because, oddly, the answer to this is “no.” We WILL be doing it anyway, but that’s not really one of the goals of the class. Perhaps a quote from the syllabus:

  • Understand the concepts and history of distance education
  • Select the appropriate distance learning tools to maximize student learning
  • Analyze and discuss current practice in distance education
  • Research and identify effective distance education practice
  • Discuss learning theories and how they relate to distance education practices

For those who have been twitting me all semester about not stating the goals upfront, these *have* been posted since before the semester started. They *are* the goals established by the curriculum committee for this class and which I am bound to teach. Please pick out the goal that includes “implement.”

There isn’t one and there’s a good reason for that. This is not a class in application. It’s a class in background. When we’re done here, the idea is that you have an understanding of what distance education might be and how that varies from what you’re told, taught, and believe about education in general. You’ll be able to look at education research and begin to start taking it apart to look for flaws and fallacies. You’ll have some experience in working with the tools and with the process of tool selection. As a capstone you were *supposed* to write a research paper, but I balked at that — instead requiring a capstone project for each of you to demonstrate your understanding of the underlying content. Technically, the implementation isn’t a goal. It’s just the mechanism I’m using for evaluation because I wanted to give you some practice in performance based assessment by being subject to one.

There’s a really good reason for this.

The probability is very high that few of you will ever be allowed — and I use that term deliberately — to do much of what we’ve talked about in terms of distance education using online tools and affordances with your K-12 classes. Some of you have run into the bureaucracy already. There are a lot of good ideas for using bits and pieces. Since I believe that even your classroom based classes are “at a distance,” I think that a LOT of what we are talking about has direct application in your classrooms — something you’re pretty much all fighting me on because, as you point out, I don’t really understand classroom teaching with kids. And if there’s little direct applicability for actual implemention because of the political, social, and financial realities of your practice, then why in the wide world would we spend your time teaching it to you?

In hindsight, I should have twigged to this earlier. There’s plenty of evidence that nobody read the syllabus, and while I knew that a lot of your frustration was based in a disconnect between your expectation for the course and the experience of it, I completely missed this aspect of the disconnect. The title of the course is “Principles of Distance Education” but I missed the fact that many of you were unaware of the distinction between “principles” and “practice.” I hope this post clears that up and you can relax a bit and pay attention to what’s going on IN the course and not what you thought the course was “supposed” to be.

Hate and Discontent

November 2nd, 2007

An unnamed but much appreciated member of our class sent me this (slightly edited) email message:

I just feel that during this whole class you give the impression that you have all the answers and many times set in “judgment” of others. I think that you may be interested in knowing that I am not the only one who feels this way in this class and many of your students are setting back wondering “what is this class supposed to be doing” … I think that many of us were under the impression that we would be provided with effective tools for developing on-line teaching environments and the majority of what we have learned is how to “come up” with a bunch of blogs for the purpose of trying to receive a half-way good grade for that week which we have learned is impossible in your class!

First, let me publicly thank this Un-Named Hero for the feedback. I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from you on this course but negative feedback delivered personally is much harder to do.

Next, let me address the points raised in order:

  • I apologize for appearing to “have all the answers.” In reality I just have a lot of questions. Most people aren’t aware of how few answers there really are in education. Next week’s unit on research will be dealing with that, I hope a bit more successfully. One of the problems with answers is that an answer for me isn’t going to be, necessarily, an answer for you. Ultimately, I think that the best we can hope for is to agree on the questions and respect each other’s answers.
  • At no point did I ever intend to sit in judgement of anybody. I appreciate that intent is not always carried in text the way we’d like. It *is* my job in this little activity to help focus and guide, to serve as the bridge between all of you and the un-known and un-suspected content that’s outside your collected ZPD. For some that’s been a long walk in an unexpected direction.
  • I’m gratified to know that many of you are asking the question “what is this class supposed to be doing” because that’s the first step in resolving the puzzle that I’ve set for you. That’s not an idle statement, and I sincerely hope that it means you’re actually thinking about it and not just throwing your hands up in disgust.
  • As for “providing” anything least of all tools, I’m sorry to say that this probably my biggest problem. I don’t “provide” anything in this class. To anybody. What I do — and all I’ve ever committed to do — is to teach about the tools. I do that by modeling them. I use them in this class and you all get to see them in action. No, I don’t “teach” Breeze and I don’t play with a lot of high-end technology. We did the toolbox thing early in the semester and, while I appreciate that it’s a slim set of applications, my opinion is that if you don’t master those first, then the rest don’t matter. High end tools that require high end machines and major bandwidth are useless in the face of rural, dispersed, and poor populations. So this criticism is spot on. I don’t provide anything except expertise, perspective, and the willingness to share both.
  • As for grading, I’ve addressed this multiple times in a variety of venues, but in the interest of keeping the argument and response intact I’ll re-iterate it here. Everybody in the class has the potential for earning an A. Even now. There is nobody in the class who cannot get enough points to – not just pass – but be highly successful if you measure success by your GPA. Some of you will walk away from the course with an A and little else. Some will walk away with a lot more. My grading schema is simple, posted, and applied as fairly as I can. If you believe you’ve been denied points you should have, please contact me on IM or email and make a case. I grade this way on purpose and with an objective which I have written about extensively. It’s neither arbitrary nor capricious. It’s not something I do because it’s “easy” to give every student direct feed back on two dimensions every week. If anybody has concerns on this score, please contact me via IM or email — even phone if you feel the need — to disucss it with me. I’m always open to talk but I reserve the right to say “no” in my class — just as you do in yours.

Once again, thank you to the Unnamed Hero who emailed me and raised these important issues.