Light Offerings

Surfing the digital light fantastic in education

Posted by jturner56 on October 30, 2012

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Some thoughts on robots, making and schooling (as experienced through a conference).

Posted by jturner56 on November 26, 2017

There is a difference between those who find a solution and then look for problems to apply it to, against those who seek to understand the problem before seeking the best possible solution.

This offering summed up a recent conference on latest educational research and thinking I attended in Boston. The following is a summary of some of my takeaways:

Conferences tend to come with superficial parts through presenters as hyper-sellers of need for transformation based on this or that structural/process preference. Based more on personality and reputation such presenters take limited views and indulge in fallacies of composition and false cause. It appears educational discussion is awash with this.

In a similar vein some presenters get a gig on the back of a novel perception or narrow focused books.

I also felt neuroscience references did not seem to have moved forward all that significantly, and were used in too many (but not all) cases in support of reductionist agendas.

But value could be found with researchers either updating significant research/insights, or gracing the stage with new well-researched insights. As an example, one presenter provided insights into cognitive enhancement through video games. On a similar level, a compelling overview was provided into why reading trends have not been all that affected by the digital age, even though many possible effects (positive and negative) have still to be clarified (apart from contemporary eTextbooks).

Two newcomers caught my eye. Kimberley Sheridan (George Mason University) on the learning value of Studio Arts approaches to Making as learning, and Cynthia Breazeal (MIT Media Lab) on developing socio-emotional AI robots as learning buddies.

My overall main takeaway is that good schools are those who seek continuous improvement while trying to understand the complex ecosystem of school as an institution. Part of this is the potential and challenge that come with new technologies and associated processes (currently focused on robots, design, making, and AR/VR). Connecting threads of student agency and inclusion, teacher development and diversity, and leadership by example as co-designers, ran through the most impressive offerings. The importance of Co-Design approaches was stressed across many of the better presenters.

My other takeaway was a better understanding of the underlying importance of School as a social institution developing cognitive control (and delayed gratification) in students. (Cognitive Control refers to the depth/connections built between Attention, Working Memory and Goal Management). I have often wondered why schools still teach solving quadratic equations in much the same way as when I was a student. And why despite constant calls for schools to fundamentally change, core structures remain relatively intact. I can now see this in terms of school responsibility in developing directed cognitive control in students (although I still think there is a better way through computers as augmented intelligence). The challenge remains (as it has ever since digital first appeared in school curriculums) how to incorporate the opportunities and challenges that swirl around this, currently as characterised by personal technologies, and non directly measurable meta-skills such as creativity, collaboration, curiosity, adaptability. While still meeting apparently intransigent elements such as high-stakes standardised exams. Inquiry is a key part of making this possible.

 

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A Gadfly, a Gypsy, and a Gatekeeper walk into a bar

Posted by jturner56 on November 19, 2017

A Gadfly, a Gypsy, and a Gatekeeper walk into a bar,

They were there to discuss the likelihood that they might be hired as teachers.

“I would uphold the status quo; systems that have worked and in time can be improved through hierarchical endeavors,” extolled the Gatekeeper.

“That just makes you a prison guard”, rejoined the others.

“I would  teach students to question on a path of seeking a better world,” put forward the Gadfly.

“That just makes you a subversive,” agreed the others.

“I seek new to provide new opportunities as an outsider with insight” said the Gypsy

“No, you’re just a mystic looking to steal time from an overcrowded curriculum,” said the others.

But they all agreed that teaching was not an easy endeavor and that they all had a role to play.

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EdTech Adrift

Posted by jturner56 on October 22, 2017

After 30+ years working with edtech it continues to perplex me. Why should this  area continue to be so problematical?

One perspective is provided by Lee and Broadie. In Failure of School Digital Education (2017) they note such failure as a widening gap between school authoritarianism, industrial structures and discrete subject separatism, with home laissez-faire approaches as business transformation continues apace.

Perhaps edtech in schools has not benefited as much from the shamans whose self-promotion, fortunate timing, future selling and ignoring of complexity has sought to enable a pro-technology agenda by ignoring social inequities, limitation of neo-liberal capitalism, techno-giant self-interest, and the potential of school as community. With the next, newest technology just around the corner there never ceases to be a hook to hang one’s hat.

It remains to be seen if such gaps continue to widen because of the ongoing commitment to edtechs in schools.

Teaching is a complex business. Parker J Palmer in The Courage to Teach  (1997) outlines that demands of working with large and complex subjects as one adjudicates to students requiring the wisdom of Solomon. Palmer sees that “we teach who we are”. To what extent do we want technology to take over this?

As someone who has taught with digital technologies as an integral part of my teaching for over three decades I certainly concur. But I would also argue that this part of being the teacher I want to be. I have built this on seeking to use digital to build stronger connections, opportunities and understanding of learning (around a very meta-cognitive ideology). For others this takes different paths. Is this unacceptable? Or part of the rich tapestry of a school as community.

Teacher left to their own devices should well remember that it is is people and cultural who determine digital survival – not technology (2017) The importance of community building – near and beyond – is likely to become an important consideration of whether greater separation of connection carries the day.

 

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Data, Quality and Innovation

Posted by jturner56 on September 24, 2017

Some thoughts from three readings this week

Lesson I took from this included

  • the importance of community-wide understanding and acceptance of purpose (the WHY)
  • the importance of total commitment, with partial implementation a corroding approach
  • the importance of trying to understand where “child-driven” and “education/school-driven” can and should meet; how this should devolve with age (even if school too often are going in the wrong direction). We sometimes get lost between learning (personal), school (community) and education (societal) rather than working together getting drowned out by ‘simplistic ignorance (as in ignoring complexity and political realities).

As one example, regarding Digital we too often find ourselves

  • in conflict between personal and system spaces (a still confused why)
  • with a lack of alignment between school decision making and what digital has to offer
  • facing an increasing pressure from the personal/social elements of digital on systems such as school education, as evidence in more recent times by the BYOD, Online learning choices and social media.

Education and School as a system is under pressures previous unseen on their roles as

  • a pathway to employment
  • as valued communities
  • remaining relevant to advancing lifelong learning needs
  • adjusting to the fast changing demanding nature of digital
  • data becoming a stronger ‘determinant’ on decision-making

Marketing and glossy ‘initiatives’ can provide superficial justifications. But education for a Digital Age still has a way to go.

Perhaps a more useful way to look at this is provided in Mitchel Resnick’s How to Make Every Grade More Like Kindergarten which highlights the four P’s: Students making projects, around their passions, collaborating with peers, and maintaining a playful attitude. 

Academic depth is still relevant to build  deep understanding and powerful models of learning. New data structures may help or hinder this. But in conjunction with the four P’s value can be added through stronger engagement, focus and the “21C learning approaches” of collaboration, problem solving and constructive critical thinking. This may also head off being run over by the likely next digital ‘innovation’ in education, that of machine learning led data and algorithms. It just needs a winning game plan and leadership by example. Then we will have true innovation for ages.

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What should a School’s IT Department look like?

Posted by jturner56 on September 11, 2017

I ponder this question from four perspectives. First, recently, while watching a Vice-Principal teach himself to filter spreadsheet averages using an online tutorial. Thirty years ago a Mathematics teacher was appointed Head of IT for having this same said skill. Second, thinking back to 30+ years ago in the public service when the IT Department was inaccessible behind a locked door. I wonder if this is still the case in many places? Thirdly, when a Head of school had a iPad profile problem that was promptly fixed by a group of Grade 5 students. Finally, seeing app management being used to push out requested apps and updates in timely and well managed ways.

What then should an IT department look like in a school? As a separated entity? As integrated so that lines are blurred? Totally immersed and interconnected. Or somewhere else?

Perhaps the IT focus is more a product of the School’s culture and history. This would explain the several levels I have experience

  • those like the Yes Minister episode where a hospital won awards as the best run hospital in the UK. One who’s efficiency is predicated on not having any patients. In IT this equates to the integrity of the system overriding personal diversity. An equation of the fewer and less challenging the changes the greater the system integrity.
  • balkanised approaches where IT is externalised in culture and intent. Continually defending from as high a wall as possible. Boxing and labelling to the fore.
  • dynamically trying to cater from as wide a range of requests while balancing system and personal objectives.

This last has to cater for changing times. Where the interaction of personal learning spaces come up against external and systemic demands that schools have to respond to. Learning is personal. Education is systemic. It is both systemic and person. Our hope is the twain can meet.

To judge how well the IT approach in a school is one can look across spectrums that include

  • from Proactive to Reactive
  • from Leading to Defending
  • from Helpful to Hindering
  • from Connected to Boxed
  • from Developing to Vendors Rule
  • from Learning to Justifying
  • from ROI to Penny Counting
  • from Open to Closed

It’s a complex interplay where change, culture and common understanding can either run up against each other, or seek empowerment through appreciation, calculated risk and commitment to the core being of the ecosystem. Where is IT in your school?

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Digital Mindset of Teachers and Educators

Posted by jturner56 on September 11, 2017

We seem to be beset by advocacy of this or that technology for schools and teachers that is transformative, or at least inspirational. Yet in the classroom the pre-digital status quo dominates. This was brought home in the recent Larry Cuban post that talked of smartphones and the need for ‘distraction boxes’ for in-class storage. Why does this dichotomy of value endure across schools, in schools, and sometimes between one class and the next? Are we heading for a tipping point when one approach will be swept aside. As reported today, are ‘Inspirational’ robots to begin replacing teachers within 10 years?’

Some blame the debilitating culture of traditional print-based literacies holding sway over schools. Others standardised testing, ineffective pd, or plain teacher defensiveness. On the other hand, Lee (2016) points to the overriding need to normalise digital  approaches in all workplaces, including school. Are we helped or hindered by a plethora of single case examples of possibilities connected in many ways to particular vendors? Recent articles on entrepreneurial teachers with links to digital enterprises shed an interesting insight into views from outside and within.

For what Lee contends is an absolute necessity digital mindsets need to be at the fore. LearnInnovators (2016) identify such mindsets as a commitment to agility, collaboration and communication, handling ambiguity, pursing exploration and acceptance of diversity.

For teachers tending to look inwards none of this is fuel to challenge the status quo. Even if their personal digital mindset was open to this (Tour 2015), and this is debatable for some, the systemic demands of School as an institution would have to be overcome. Only by committing as educators to consider and engage with  wider contextual understanding can a positive proactive digital mindset shine through.

Leadership beyond this individual perspective is needed to unite, focus and add value, something sadly lacking in too many areas in education where defensive gatekeepers hold sway.

So we still debate even the fundamentals of the role of digital in education. Should it be used to amplify (with concomitant consideration of the dark sides)? Or is it about acceleration or transformation  without friction?

For the individual teacher perhaps its more about surfing the tidal waves that seem to wash over. For educators it may feel like a Bizarro (Superman ref) version of Plato’s Cave. Instead of trying to find true meaning in the shadows, there are now so many distracting shiny lights that meaning is just as elusive. Many who put themselves forward as light masters are merely the modern sophists. A commitment to critical thinking as more than just a buzzword for education might never have been so needed.

Perhaps a way to categorize where people are at might follow contentions like:

Level 0: Cave Dweller – leave me alone in my cave. Mindsets (Digital or otherwise) towards education are a personal choice and only that.

Level 1: Unidirectional –  here are tools and views….”if…only” you did what I contend

Level 2: Gypsy – in Plato’s Bizarro Cave, trying to make sense of the lights and their connections. Trying to look beyond.

Level 3: Ecological – Acknowledging complexity worth taking on. Understanding the Orwellian/Huxley juxtaposition of choices facing any approach to digital

Level 4: An Ethos of Learning and Action – that is both practical and worth building. Using Student Agency and Teacher Agency as bedrocks. A mindset of change is needed. Seeing educating and learning as both distinct and harmonious. Something philosophically defensible. An approach that can work through the micro-politics of school to add value beyond the personal.

Level 5: Transcendent – Developing a pathway through the cave for others to use. So few worthy of this. Perhaps Dewey. Perhaps we have not met a Digital equivalent yet, although many claim to be our John the Baptist.

I do think we are too much tied up in the western thinking of either this or that as a solution. It is our relationship with technology and what we can achieve together that should drive ideas and understanding. Within changing spaces for personal and systems. Chaotic times. But also ripe with opportunity.

 

 

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10 experience based Rules for when I’m working with digital.

Posted by jturner56 on August 25, 2017

This week I managed to interact with a range of understandings built up over many years. Here are the ten from this past week (which shows the diverse range of interactions one can have:

  1. Social Problem Solving Matters (we learn from each other)
  2. Multi-Tasking Matters (Not the one where you try and juggle multi-jobs in your head all at once. It’s the one where you have multi-jobs to get done and have to work out how best to organise time (which is always limited))
  3. What you put online can go anywhere (which is why we have a digital citizenship curriculum).
  4. GIGO – garbage in, garbage out (so think and plan before creating)
  5. File Types matter (do you know the difference between .jpg and a .psd?)
  6. Search trumps cataloging (in either case file naming is critical)
  7. Data should only have to be entered once into a digital system (to have to retype means an inefficient system. To have to relocate an often used link is inefficient).
  8. Be warned, manual data entry is a brain killing job (which is the only reason why others might try and get you to do it – run away)
  9. Digital Change affects how we learn and how we educate (Whether you’re a Digital Native or Immigrant or whatever, how you adapt and can add value defines your relationship with Digital)
  10. Being able to question (effectively) matters (without this there is no critical thinking)

Some are from the 80s, some from more current times. Some deal with data. Some with people. Some with systems. (can you date them?)

Which ones might you add?

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Response to: Do laptops help learning? Insights from Maine

Posted by jturner56 on August 20, 2017

Back for another school year, with lots to do (reviewing digital resources-processes-personnel for one thing). Still trying to keep up with the search for the holy grail of understanding how best to approach digital at school.

While I could have shared my thoughts on many related shares, from Is the email yesterday’s work communications tool? to Larry Cuban’s Fads and Fireflies: The Difficulties of Sustaining Change to the 10 Principles for Schools of Modern Learning what caught my eye to reflect on was Do Laptops Help Learning? A Look At The Only Statewide School Laptop Program.

A program started in 2000, which aimed to provide every student with their own laptop, the article charted that, while ‘research’ supported the benefits 1:1 could bring to increasing student learning in some subjects, there remains challenges in finding balances between handwriting and digital writing, addressing divides between well resources and less resourced schools, and most of all that no measurable increase in statewide standardised test scores has eventuated.

Interestingly the aim of introducing new learning empowerment opportunities that went with the original discussions was ignored (Seymour Papert was part of this). The original goal was reported as ‘to give all students access to the same digital tools.’  Assimilation has trumped new Accommodations).

Until we understand that standardised tests can only measure a part of the learning that needs to be valued if we are to move forward in school education in the Digital Age, we will be stuck in the paradox shadows.

Within such shadows we can but seek to help students move forward through using Digital to engage, enable, and empower. All the best to those committed to such a challenge.

 

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Innovation, Innovators and School

Posted by jturner56 on June 11, 2017

Have been a bit busy on in-school things and other writing so not as much blogging of late. But have finished one paper – Innovation, Innovators and School – which can be found on academia.edu. Its abstract sums up its intent:

Innovation, Transformation. Oft heard words that mean different things to different people. In this paper an analysis of what innovation means to schools draws on a range of competing ideas to identify questions and possibilities that go with an interest in developing innovators in schools. A three part interrelated approach to innovation highlights the need to consider change processes, the teaching of innovative thinking, as well as the provision of opportunities to advance students as active agents of their own learning, if students as innovators is a goal

Next year will be one of translating this into opportunities for students and teachers. In the meantime the best of summer breaks for all northern hemisphere teacher.

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Why use computers for learning in schools?

Posted by jturner56 on April 29, 2017

Have been working on some practical projects, so not much time for blogging of late. But what has become apparent is that to generate educational ideas and progress of any substance one has to work hard to better understand the beliefs and practicalities that drive teachers and schools.

When it comes to digital, Andrea di Sessa summed it up well in Knowledge in Pieces (1988):

How one intends to use computers to aid learning depends in a dramatic way on what one thinks is important in learning.”

But if one can get beyond this, what can computer technologies bring to the learning equation. From my experiences these are

  • the instantaneous cognitive feedback that computers can provide the user and in doing so promote personal learning
    – as evidence in the adaptability of handling new software to responses to “what if” in spreadsheets
  • enhanced support for reflective thinking
    – as can be seen in word processed redrafting and problem solving through coding
  • new information processing opportunities and challenges
    – which we can now access through a hyper-connected world
  • creative opportunities for personal expression
    – from coding to digital art, personal ideas and intentions can find roots
  • personal control of materials
    – be it online courses of personal inquiries

All these can link to and from digital microworlds of learning.

Yet we still are beholden to an education system that in the main not only values Instruction, Industrial Structures and Closed Knowledge above all, but also seems to think that such a systemic approach can assimilate without accommodation to digital.

As an example, perhaps that is why we are still trying to understand why, after going on 40 years, Spreadsheets (as one example) is either an add-on or option within the school education complex.

Yet school can also be environments of ideas and hope. And as the saying goes, “where there is hope….:”

disessa, Andrea A. (1988).Knowledge in Pieces. In Forman, G. and P. Pufall, eds, Constructivism in the Computer Age, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Publishers.

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