Archive for November, 2008

Hole in the Wall

November 18th, 2008

Brian Lamb has a new post up that was inspired by meeting Dr Sugata Mitra. For those who’ve not heard of Dr Mitra’s “Hole in the Wall” project, Brian has the best links (including the TED Talk on the subject).

This is the interesting point for me:

Dr. Mitra is convinced that these methods cannot work for adults. Based on my own instinct and experience, I have to reluctantly agree with him. Why not? And what would adults need to unlearn in order to learn the way these kids do? I again find myself thinking that the teaching of skills is less important than changing attitudes – but I have no idea how best to do so.
Abject Learning: The hole in the wall: the holes in my thinking and my life.

I think this does work for adults, but perhaps we don’t recognize it. If there’s a difference between kids and adults, it’s the driver. A kid sees something new and says “Ooo, what’s this? Can I play with it?” An adult says, “Oh, great. Can I avoid this for the moment while I deal with the urgent problems of the day?”

The difference is that a kid will see how this new thing — whether it’s an idea, a device, or a process — can be adopted, adapted, or otherwise integrated into his or her life. They’ll poke at it a little bit to see if there’s anything interesting there and then make a decision. An adult will have to be shown that it’s useful before they’re willing to invest the time to learn about it. For many adults (and I’m not sure that maybe it’s “most” adults), the demands on time and attention are so overwhelming that they just can’t add another thing without dropping something. Yet, when they need to know something new, they need to know it in a hurry. How to buy a car? How to finance a house? What are the employment regulations in my new state? How can I cut calories, reduce fat, get the doctor off my case, and not want to lay down in traffic?

I’m not sure that Brian isn’t right about the dichotomy between skills and attitudes, but I also wonder if the issue is that we’re so tied up in teaching “core competencies” and “required knowledge” that we forget to teach people how to learn and how important it is to be constantly scanning the horizon for new things to learn about.

Internet Identity

November 13th, 2008

Students and teachers are constantly exhorted to evaluate content for credibility. Here’s an interesting case:

Martin Eisenstadt doesn’t exist. His blog does, but it’s a put-on. The think tank where he is a senior fellow — the Harding Institute for Freedom and Democracy — is just a Web site. The TV clips of him on YouTube are fakes.
A Fake Expert Named Martin Eisenstadt and a Phony Think Tank Fool Bloggers and the Mainstream News Media –

I’ve known for months that Eisenstadt is a hoax. I’m a little shocked at the degree to which mainstream media was taken in.

One of the ongoing issues for everybody in these early days of the 21st Century is how to know what’s real, what’s true. It’s made more difficult by the ease with which deception can be promoted. It’s always been a problem, by the way. Micheal Eisenstadt is part of a long tradition that goes back at least to Martinus Scriblerus in the early 1700s.

As the field considers assessing 21st Century skills, it might be wise to keep this in mind.

Except, of course, it's not…

November 11th, 2008

It seems hard to believe I’ve known Dr. David Wiley for years now. I just got to visit with him again last week in Orlando. He’s one of the people who really convinced me to give this blogging thing a try. He has a new post up this morning about differentiating instruction:

Champions of personalized instruction tend to fall back on the assumption that one-on-one tutoring is the most effective instructional approach but is not scalable (implicit in Bloom’s two sigma problem), and since “we all know” that group instruction is poor, we’ve no choice but to personalize using an automated computer system as our best and most effective path forward.
Lying about Personalized Learning at iterating toward openness.

There’s a lot of food for thought in that post, but for me, the interesting idea in this post is that “champions of personalized instruction” are forced to using “an automated computer system” as the “best and most effective path forward.”

As a disclaimer, I don’t run in the same circles of technovation that David does. He probably sees more of this than I do. Or maybe pays more attention.

In truth, I’m not really interested in personalized instruction as much as I am in personalized learning. My goals are not to make my lessons different for everybody but to teach them how to learn what they need in any circumstance. As a result, my approach to “personalizing instruction” has more to do with helping students find the people to talk with who will be most instrumental in helping them learn.

Personal learning environments aren’t just about what tools you plug into them, but who you point them at as well. It’s all well and good to blog and aggregate, but if you only write to your classmates (or the teacher) and only aggregate the echo chamber, then you’re not going to learn much. Which, if I read it correctly, is what David’s saying.

If what we’re doing to “personalize learning” is making a computer talk differently to a person, then we’re missing the boat. “[U]sing an automated computer system as our best and most effective path forward” … ? Um. Not so much.

Life in the MUD

November 3rd, 2008

Time flies when you’re having fun. Some of you have noticed that I’ve been in-world at Last Outpost for the last couple of weeks. Teaching in a multiuser environment — especially one so foreign — is a challenge. In this case, literally teaching in the (virtual) town square.

Playing in the MUD requires much more skill and attention than might be guessed from the initial simple introduction. Because it’s text based, there are several advantages to the environment.

First, it’s accessible to almost anybody with a computer and a connection. Even people who are blind or visually impaired can play. People on dialup can play. People with really old, slow computers can play. The barriers to entry are very low and for an educational environment, that’s key. Not just important. Key.

Second, it’s interactive. What you do has an effect in the game. Whether it’s picking up a weapon, donning your armor, learning a spell, or saving your companions, it’s reflected in the game. This is real interaction, not the pseudo-interaction “click here to advance” or “pick the answer that most closely agrees” level of question response. From the time you first stand in Town Square, everything you do has an effect on your character in the game.

Third, it’s multiuser. You are not there alone. One of the earliest computer games was “Adventure in the Colossal Cave” which is actually the antecedent of all modern MUDs. In that, the adventurer solved puzzles, slayed monsters, and explored the cave. From “Adventure” a whole series of single player games called Zork came on the scene and evolved in the early days of personal computers. Dialup networks gave access to similar single player “bbs games” and finally the MUD-engines were developed to provide a full multiuser, persistent game space.

Fourth, all the characteristics of an educational game are in play, except – perhaps – core content. Personally, I maintain that this is an artificial contrivance to make educators feel better about using games but that it cripples their ability to use them effectively — Grendler, notwithstanding. While many things that happen in the game are generated by random number selection, the reality is that the actual game play is almost entirely within the player’s control. If you make a mistake, the game will punish you. If you play well, the game rewards you. The occasional dispute between players — and the occasional interference from ‘pkillers’ who delight in messing up the game play of others — is certainly not random, any more than a fistfight in the back of the playground is random.

Fifth, it’s horribly time consuming. Going through the same instructions for everybody take time as each new player comes up to speed in their own way. Other players in the game are excellent sources of information and more advanced students regularly help those just starting out.

Lessons learned so far:
It doesn’t matter how much instruction, how many resources, or how well the ground is prepared, students don’t pay any attention to it. Several people have asked for more instructions on how to play the game, only to find out that the instructions existed already and they’d ignored them.

A corollary to that is that the game is, in fact, an instantiation of “exploratory learning.” You’re supposed to learn to play the game by playing the game.

One piece of instruction was missing. When following another, the screen goes into a “compact/brief” mode to cut down on the amount of information flowing. This is not necessarily a good thing for somebody trying to learn their way around. It’s easily reversed by typing “compact” to turn it off, and “brief” to reestablish the view.

The reflection papers from 688 were due last night, but the rubric wasn’t available until the evening. I’m looking forward to reading them.