Archive for October, 2008

Fear and Humiliation

October 28th, 2008

Alex Golub is an anthropologist studying people who play World of Warcraft. He has an interesting article on the use of fear and humiliation in teaching over at Inside Higher Ed this morning.

What I learned that night was that I believe in the power of fear and humiliation as teaching methods. Obviously, I don’t think they are teaching methods that should be used often, or be at the heart of our pedagogy. But I do think that there are occasions when it is appropriate to let people know that there is no safety net. There are times — not all the time, or most of the time, but occasionally and inevitably — when you have to tell people to shut up and do their job. I’m not happy to discover that I believe this, and in some ways I wish I didn’t. But Warcraft has taught me that I there is a place for “sink or swim” methods in teaching.
Fear and Humiliation as Legitimate Teaching Methods :: Inside Higher Ed :: Higher Education’s Source for News, Views and Jobs.

Some of you commented that you believed that the first week of class was inappropriately harsh or difficult, and that it violated commonly acceptable practice. While we weren’t slaying boss-mobs, we were actually engaging in a similar activity.


iBrain Research

October 27th, 2008

In what might be the first legitimate inquiry into internet use and brain connections, this story showed up on my Reuters feed this morning:

He said a study of 24 adults as they used the Web found that experienced Internet users showed double the activity in areas of the brain that control decision-making and complex reasoning as Internet beginners.
Is surfing the Internet altering your brain? | Technology | Reuters.

There are some questions I have. The study is very small. The generalization is not clear to me. Is he seeing the increased activity because of the internet? Or is he observing the difference between expert and novice thinking? This is a significant question because it has long been established that novices and experts in any domain have different thought processing patterns.

So, is this finding relevant to internet or just another instance of somebody selling his book by tagging on some well-known snake-oil saleman?


What's Cheating?

October 24th, 2008

One of the on-going discussions about online education is a chronic debate about cheating.

What’s cheating? Sure, paying Kurt Vonnegut to write a book report on Slaughterhouse Five the way Rodney Dangerfield did in Back to School is probably beyond the edge. What about looking up the answer online? Or asking Bob? If Connectivism is a valid construct than knowing who to ask becomes an important skill. For years, education has given a wink and a nod to the notion that it’s less important to know a fact than to know where to find the fact when you need it. What’s that do for cheating? How can you cheat? If your goal is to assess how much knowledge about a subject that a learner might be able to bring to bear on a problem, then ask him/her to solve a problem. Few people can cheat a “performance” task where most people might not even realize they were cheating a “knowledge” task.
phaedrus » Blog Archive » Assessment at a Distance.

This discussion makes me tired. It’s so pointless, but it does serve the purpose of casting doubt on the validity of online learning.

What are the factors that promote “cheating?” Are they realistic? How is the perception different from the reality?


Simple Answer

October 23rd, 2008

Question: Why does the College Board need to test 8th graders?

At a briefing to unveil the program Wednesday, College Board officials said that the exam — ReadiStep — would help students, their families and their schools plan high school programs that would increase preparedness for college. The idea is that the test will be for diagnostic purposes, not for evaluating whether students get into certain programs or win scholarships. The test will be “a launchpad” that “can help teachers change the course of students’ instruction,” said Lee Jones, the College Board’s senior vice president for college readiness.
College Board Unveils Test for 8th Graders :: Inside Higher Ed.

Answer: Revenue.

As the importance of the SAT is reduced for college acceptance, they need to make up the revenue somewhere.


Another Brick in the Wall

October 21st, 2008

This piece from the prolific Michael Wesch came to me by way of D’Arcy Norman.

We don’t have to tear the walls down. We just have to stop pretending that the walls separate us from the world, and begin working with students in the pursuit of answers to real and relevant questions.

Digital Ethnography » Blog Archive » Revisiting “A Vision of Students Today”.

You’ll find some common themes in that essay. It’s worth a full read.


The Toaster Model

October 20th, 2008

Three years ago, I wrote about the idea that Education is a Toaster. In part, it was a commentary to my professional organization – the AECT – but many non-members read my blogs as well and I don’t think you can actually have a rational conversation about a professional organization dedicated to Education without periodically tying the organization back to the field. Check out the comments to see how angry one reader was.

the goal of education is to change learners in predictable ways. I don’t care if we start with whole wheat, cinnamon-raisin, or Wonder(tm) bread, the goal is to put a little toasty crust on it. Along the way, there may be some un-intended consequences but those are, for the most part, external to the dynamic. The results may not be trivial to the toast — the swelling of raisins within the body of the bread may cause some interesting side effects — but the predictable results are the ones we care about.
Education as Toaster.

There’s a follow on post on the use of metaphor as well.


But is it Art?

October 20th, 2008

The construct of Education might be construed as Art instead of Science …

Of course there are aspects of the practice that are scientific in nature. The Art world is full of examples that parallel. The math in perspective. The chemistry in pigments. The physics of sculpture. All these artistic expressions require a solid grounding in the relevant science, but the final expression — the ultimate outcome — is not something that is science. Education is the process of sharing “the beauty and splendor of the world” with our students. We use scientific principles the same way a painter uses perspective and color. We apply technical knowledge the same way that a marble sculptor wields hammer and chisel. We strive to help our students to perceive the world by combining these technologies with our own inspiration and passion.
Education as Art.

I think there may be flaws in this analogy as well.


Blinded Me with Science

October 20th, 2008

Is education an Art or a Science? Here’s what I wrote about the science question two years ago and my opinion hasn’t changed yet:

Education is probably classified as a science by most definitions. Educators generally believe that their practice is a system of knowledge attained by verifiable means. Many spend their careers engaged in the research that defines the body of knowledge which encompasses Education. My personal problem with this classification is that, too often, we try to apply the generalizability of science — the value of science to predict and be replicated — to Educational outcomes and I believe that gets us into trouble.
Education as Science.

One of the problems is defining which “Education” we’re talking about at any given moment — the business of teaching, the process of becoming learned, or the industry that’s grown up to support those.


On Learning

October 17th, 2008

The other day, Jessica asked:

“Do you agree that there are different ways of learning?”

My answer:

No. I believe the mechanism of learning is pretty well established by biology and psychology.

I want to follow up on that because I think we’ve got a fundamental disconnect on the meaning of the term “learning.” Learning is the process of assimilating knowledge domains for later use. The actual process is not well defined as yet. Brain research, cognitive research, and all the other research can’t really say what happens so that learning occurs. I subscribe to a philosophy that learning is a lot like seeing. There’s a process where light enters the eye, activates some receptors, transmits some messages into the brain, and the brain interprets the messages. The process of “seeing” is the same for everybody, but some of the more interesting questions revolve around how two people can use the identical process on identical scenes and interpret the outcomes differently.

Learning isn’t quite so straightforward, but I believe that the underlying mechanisms for learning must be as consistent as the mechanisms for seeing are. The questions we address as educators are not – strictly speaking – how we learn, but rather what can we do as teachers to stimulate the process in our students that results in learning. I might give you a book to read, or a movie to watch. I might give you a recorded interview to listen to, or show you a chart. There are lots of different kinds of sensory channels I can use to try to stimulate the learning process, but I’m ultimately working toward having my communications reach some level of process wherein the learner actually learns something. The next set of questions have to do with trying to figure out what the student may have learned and with trying to reconcile what the teacher intended to teach against what the student learned. It’s why assessment is so problematic.

Using the seeing analogy, I can give you something to look at, but what you see is dependent on a lot of things over which I have little or no control.

Going back to the initial question, however, I think that what Jessica is pointing out is that different people use different communications channels to activate their learning. This is not a trivial semantic issue. What the “learning styles” supporters contend is that an individual uses the same channel for every lesson and that any message not on that channel has a greater chance of being lost or discarded. I maintain that learners rely on a variety of channels and the use of restatement, repetition, and multiple channels is critical to triggering the learning process. Further, the efficacy of any given channel depends on the learner, the content, and the context depending on the quality of the message being transmitted.

This is not to say that any individual can subscribe to any theoretical foundation they like. Please, believe in “Learning Styles” if that helps you organize your thinking, but also be aware that what you’re doing is not supported by any credible evidence and – as such – could be (and probably should be) challenged under the Federal Guidelines for Research Based Practice under NCLB.


Frustration Outpost

October 16th, 2008

I’m seeing “I’m so frustrated I want to scream” posts on various blogs. This is unfortunate and avoidable. Here are some FAQ’s:

Q. Where are the pictures?
A. This is a text based game. It was designed for low bandwidth/low power gaming. The kinds of situations most teachers face when dealing with populations that are (1) rural, (2) poor, (3) both.

Q. How do I talk?
A. Type “say whatever it is you want to say.” Almost all commands are in the form “verb object” so “say” (the command to the game to repeat what follows to the room) and “whatever you want to say.” will be echoed. You will see the word “Ok.” and not what it is you say.

Q. How do I talk to somebody not in the room with me?
A. Type “tell whoever whatever it is you want to say.” The stipulation is that “whoever” must be logged in and visible to you at the time you “tell.” To find out who is on and visible, use the command “who” to see.

Q. Where am I?
A. Use the command “look” and read the room description. It starts with the room’s name, followed by a description of what the room looks like, a list of people and objects in the room. By using the command “exits” you can see which open doors lead out of the room.

Q. It keeps telling me I’m hungry and thirsty! What do I do?
A. Eat and drink. The MUD is going to demand that you have food and water. Water is available at the well in Town Square, but you’ll need a cup. Food is available in the General Store in the form of iron rations, altho newbies are encouraged to slay the herds in the grasslands and eat the food provided there in the form of mutton, chops, steaks, etc. Clerics can create food and water for people who get caught short.

Q. Are there other commands I should know?
A. Yes. Informational commands like “score,” “inventory,” and “equipment” are critical for keeping track of where you are in terms of score and gear. For a relatively comprehensive list of game commands, use “help” in world to get a list.

Q. I have to log off! What do I do?
A. Go to the Last Resort Inn. Go up to where the Receptionist waits. Type “rent” and take the 0 option from the following menu. This will save your equipment and log you out safely. When you come back in, you’ll start in the reception and be ready to go with everything you had when you left. People who drop link or quit to leave run the risk of coming back naked and unequipped.

The following links have articles that explain more about the environment:

  1. Tips on creating a character
  2. Some background on resources
  3. Some ideas about how the game is controlled in time
  4. Map of the town
  5. Map of the grasslands just outside the gate