Access “How people learn”

I find the concept of teacher as instructional designer useful, particularly when it comes to converting online content into a learning resource. I was reviewing a blog post on this topic (Instructional Design Starter Pack) and reviewed the sources for understanding how people learn. Included was the resource by that name – How people learn – which I have read and recommend. I tried the link and it brought up a pdf. Free is good and this is a resource I recommend.

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Question Stems

I like question stems. Stems are helpful to educators as reminders of the different kinds of questions they might ask and stems can be offered to students as a way to help them generate ways to evaluate their understanding and strengthen retention. Locating collections of questions stems is easy using Google search, but I do collect collections designed for specific goals. Here is a collection focused on critical thinking.

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YouTube Capabilities to Change

Google has announced that the editor and slide show tools are being removed as of September. These are capabilities that are attractive in schools because the video tools cost nothing to use. A notice now appears when these tools are opened to make users aware of the coming changes.

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Buyer beware and aware

After a tech discussion with a Best Buy guy yesterday, Cindy decided we were being overcharged for our home access. She was told we would receive a considerably lower rate by switching from CenturyLink to Comcast. She called Centurylink today to discuss the matter and ended up with a monthly reduction from $70 something to $40 or so and no charge for the modem. This is the second time this kind of thing happened. What seems to happen is that rate or speed changes are instituted, but existing customers are not contacted. The existing higher rate or slower speed remains in effect until the customer asks for a change. This just seems like a crazy way to do business. I probably would have switched to Comcast our of frustration, but this seems to be the way it goes in this sector of the economy. It is also the reason I object to the more business-oriented policies of the FCC. Clearly customers do not come first. It is not only buyer beware, but buyer be aware.

On a related matter, I also just saw this news story regarding CenturyLink.

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Resistance to science

Once in a while, I read something I know is intended to be helpful, but I wonder whether the author’s attempts to find middle ground has really been helpful. This is the case with a recent post from the “Deans for Impact” blog concerning resistance to science.

The post uses two examples – rejection of climate change and educators believing in learning styles. The post attempts why intelligent folks can say they believe in science, but reject specific scientific findings. The explanation raised in the post for this inconsistency is “cultural cognition”. I must admit this is a new concept for me. As I understand the argument, cultural cognition involves the personal interpretation of facts and evidence using existing values. To me, this sounds like several of sources of bias social psychologists discuss. The blog authors note that self-identity (industry-defending conservatives, autonomous teacher) influences cultural cognition.

It was the self-identity threat to teacher autonomy that first caused me confusion. Again, the connection between autonomy and the rejection of science seems messy to me. As I understand the argument, teachers believe in learning styles and resent those they perceive as “outsiders” telling them learning styles are not real. The authors seem to indicate that teachers feel they are being “preached” at. Trying to follow the logic of the post, does this also then propose that conservatives are resistant to taking action on climate change because they feel they are being preached at.

The Deans for Impact post offers some suggestions. Again, I find the suggestions confusing.

learning science should borrow from the playbooks of good science teachers. These teachers do not prioritize getting students to reject their existing beliefs, but instead seek to foster new scientific knowledge in their students. They replace scientific misconceptions, rather than debunk them.

Here is an example. I think this reference is to something called “conceptual change” and the problem of what is called “inert knowledge”. However, the point of concept change instructional tactics is to confront flawed knowledge so as not to create inert knowledge. The concept of inert knowledge suggests that learners can have situational knowledge – school knowledge, real world knowledge. The situation triggers which model of how things work is activated. The point is that unless the flawed models of the world are debunked learners may continue to store both models with the unfortunate consequence being that what is learned in school has little transfer value. So, if this is what the authors are referencing they are interpreting the theory and related research incorrectly – you do need to activate and debunk flawed concepts of how the world works to influence application.

One of the tactics the authors recommend seems an effort at a compromise rather than a direct challenge. The authors propose a focus on the use of multiple-modalities and theories such as dual-coding. Perhaps this is what educators who use the phrase learning styles really mean. This has not been my experience. When a teacher says “I am a visual learner”, he or she is not proposing there is personal value in the use of multiple-modalities. I do engage students when they take this position usually trying to suggest that what they have is a personal preference.

I suppose some researchers may come off as condescending. This is regrettable. I think that the researchers are seldom the problem no matter their egos. The odds that any given teacher has interacted with a researcher who has done the trait x treatment interaction studies necessary to test for the value of a particular hypothesized learning style is very remote. As a professor working with pre- and in-service educators, I would not claim to be one of these researchers. I would guess this would also be the case for most college science profs presenting the current thinking on climate change. With the exception of a few specific areas of expertise, most of us are conveying the general consensus on specific issues. We are expected to be familiar with this information and to have read at least some of the research.

One of the issues I think is relevant here concerns the reaction learners have when learning in different content areas. After explaining naive science and the research on conceptual change, I talk about this issue. While the research on conceptual change has mostly been done with physics (I think this is a fair statement). This is because we experience things in the real world that act according to the laws of physics whether we have formal training or not. Certain misconceptions in this area are well known. The issue I propose with my students that if their misconceptions with the understanding of physics because of personal experience, wouldn’t this seem an even greater challenge for the instruction of psychology? If psychology is the “study of human behavior” and we are humans, wouldn’t we build personal explanations of such behaviors whether we have formal training or not. I suggest that part of the challenge is always addressing the personal theories that do not match the formal theories.

 

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GoOpen and other “sharing” services

When the Office of Educational Technology launched #GoOpen, representatives held an information session at ISTE. After the presentation, I spent some time with the representative expressing my concerns with the assumptions of the initiative. Among other issues I asked about MERLOT (an existing educational resource site which provides access to resource site). My questions pretty much asked why we needed another access site (when existing ones had not been that successful) and whether free resources were really the answer (If government funds were available, why not fund projects to generate resources). I wrote about this issue previously.

I understand that the GoOpen initiative has been implemented, but I still have similar concerns. How many online resource directories do we need? Who will put some money and time into the resources these sites want to vet and provide? Are the resources shared even carefully evaluated to see that the copyright assumptions of the content creators are met?

A recent report on Amazon’s effort in this category rekindled my interest in this topic. Amazon’s Inspire site is pretty much redundant with the GoOpen initiative. This and other commercial contributions can be spun in a couple of ways. First, why does the government need to be involved (at taxpayer expense), if private corporations are willing to fill this niche. Second, does the public want corporations with business interests at heart to offer free services likely to bring more attention to their more general resources and services.

The story on Amazon’s program raises some of the issues I originally considered. For example, immediately Amazon was providing access to educational resources submitted by educators that violated the copyrights of the original developers. Were those willing to provide access also willing to support the development of quality content?

I understand that educational institutions lack resources and some have been willing to sell things like naming rights and other ways to provide brand and product exposure as a way to meet these needs for revenue. I guess I see this as an issue the public gets to evaluate, but I do think greater public awareness is necessary for informed decisions. I think the notion of “free” is misunderstood and we all sell something – our attention, information, or money – for our online experiences. When we are providing such experiences to juveniles, we should be clear on which it is?

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Summer is the most unequal time

NPR has provided an interesting education story about schools that allow students to take school devices home over the summer. The opportunity is provided to address the “summer slide” – the loss of learning known to occur over the summer. The impact of this slide is not a constant across students and tends to be more acute in students from lower families. I know schools like to do maintenance on equipment in the summer, but this seems a very practical use of technology to address a known issue.

Internet access is another part of the challenge and schools cannot always provide a solution to this challenge. The NPR article tells a story of two kids sharing a coke at McDonalds so they can use the wifi. This is obviously not a universal solution and not useful at all in rural areas.

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In-group jargon

I came across this post on academic jargon while reading a higher ed blog post. The post reminded me of something I had read describing introductory texts in my own discipline (psychology). The comment was that there were more new words per page (or some unit of content) in the typical introductory psych text than in a foreign language textbook. The comparison was intended to explain why reading such material could be difficult for students. When I taught this class, I saw part of my job as explaining what such terms meant. I did give some thought to the role that jargon serves and decided that there was some value in declaring specific terminology for two reasons – a) a specific terminology (jargon) allows the assignment of meaning to words and b) a specific terminology allows efficient communication among practitioners.

The best I can do to explain what I mean by specific meaning is to offer an example. One challenge you have in teaching a content area such as psychology is that students know something about the subject matter. They interpret what is said in reference to their personal experiences which is often helpful, but they may also popularized interpretations of terms that have a specific meaning within the discipline. For example, abbreviations such as IQ are used more broadly than what the meaning of the abbreviation warrants and some common terms (e.g., reinforcement) are used imprecisely according to the formal definition.

As to my second argument, jargon is not jargon to those who use such terms as an efficient way to communicate.

Given these two issues, communication in introductory higher ed courses presents some interesting challenges. How completely should beginning learners be brought into the ways of communicating of the field? A vocabulary allowing efficient and accurate communication is certainly helpful when extended interaction is the goal, but what approach is most appropriate when some portion of the students will take no additional courses in the discipline and have no interest in vocational preparation in the field. This gets to the question of how to teach a course that is a self-contained overview of a field for some and an introduction to experiences that will follow for others. No easy answer here.

Jargon is not limited to academics in higher ed. It appears within pretty much any group. For example, K-12 educators I follow online frequently refer to their PLN or complain about how their district is pursuing PD. (PLN – personal learning network, PD – professional development). I suppose these abbreviations would be similar to my IQ example, although the issue with IQ is that there is a general use of the term that seems to have different popularized and professional meanings. It is not that the abbreviation has no meaning. I am guessing many who come across PD or PLN would have no clue as to what meaning was intended. The reference to “reflection” is another favorite annoyance. It is a word all would recognize, but the educational use is unique. If you think there is value in taking time to think about something, just say so.

I think this issue is only an issue when communicating between groups with different experiences. This is a more general version of my previous description of the challenges in teaching a course to some who will take only this course and others who will continue on to take others. Personal awareness of jargon should exist. If the intent is to develop an understanding of new terms, then use of jargon is useful if the interpretation of the terms is also included. If the intent is to communicate most efficiently with the most general audience, jargon has less of a useful role.

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RSS and Feedly

I have this sense that educators rely too heavily on Twitter to identify useful professional information. While there is some benefit to the discovery that results from the randomness of crowd experiences, I still think there is value in a more systematic approach. The systematic review of useful content sources is made far more efficient through the use of an RSS reader. I think that many gave up on RSS readers or never tried one because the original approach was complicated. The web address for the RSS feed used by the RSS reader to identify new content is not the same as the web address for the content and finding this RSS address gave many users problem. New software makes the process much easier. I created the following video to explain this and provide an example of the reader I recommend.

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Recommended summer reading – books about education

Here is the second in my recommendations for books educators might read this summer. This set focuses on books about educational practice.

Kahn – The One Room Schoolhouse – this might now be described as an oldie, but goodie. This is Sal Kahn’s explanation of the origins and emerging rationale for the Kahn Academy. I recommend the book because of the focus on mastery learning and individualization. Popularized terms such as personalization or individualization can describe many different things. I think an important issue that is largely neglected is the reality that learners make progress at very different rates and this fact within the fact of group-based instruction creates a variety of problems. Teacher efforts to deal with such differences as these differences grow with grade level cannot be optimal. I believe the use of technology is a way to address individual needs for some content areas in combination with group-based strategies (flexible teaching) offers important opportunities. I see this in some charter schools, but I would rather more traditional public schools incorporate this type of innovation. You get the flavor for some of these ideas from Kahn’s book.

Kuhn and Hemberger – Argue with Me: Argument as a Path to Developing Students’ Thinking and Writing. The word argument may put some off. This is because we tend to see the process as emotion-laden and negative. The term debate might be more palatable. Kuhn has an impressive record as an applied researcher and demonstrates the value of argumentation in critical thinking as applied in a wide variety of areas. Argumentation is at the heart of scientific research and important in evaluating all kinds of claims. What is your position and what is your evidence in support of this position? How to use reasoned disagreement as a way to move all toward positions more consistent with the evidence available or at least make clear the rationale for competing positions. I think Kuhn offers much as a way forward in addressing 21st-century literacy and thinking skills.

Wittrick – Pure genius: Building a culture of innovation. I think the notion of passion projects, 20% time, etc. have been somewhat over-hyped. I think what I describe as “hobby learning” has always existed. I also think that higher education has made such opportunities available at least since I attended college. Such options are still widely available as honors programs, special topics, etc. I agree that these flexible and individual opportunities have been slow to reach K-12. As might be obvious from other recommendations I make, I believe productive innovation in schools will come from combining tactics with different advantages rather than all or none solutions.

Bonus – I must include my most recent book in this list. Layering for learning was written for educators wanting to incorporate online content (web pages and video) in their instruction. The book takes a “teacher as instructional designer” perspectives and considers what might be done to convert information resources into instructional content by layering (adding) components such as questions, prompts, background information on existing online resources.

 

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