Learning about the Internet Machine

September 8, 2011 Leave a comment

For my “Teaching and Learning with the Internet” course I read The Semantic Web by Lee, Hendler, and Lassila (2001), Wikipedia’s entry on the Internet, and Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century from the MacArthur Foundation.

Periodic Table of the Internet

I often joke about “the internet machine,” something I keep in my closet that has numerous gear systems and maybe a steam engine, but that is not really how I conceptualize it. Though it does have a physical infrastructure, it manifests itself in way that is less tangible. It reminds me of human consciousness. Without a physical brain, we would not be conscious, but consciousness is a state of being that extends beyond the physical realm. Somehow, the sum is greater than the parts. Within that space we build a web of data and continuously restructure and rewire ourselves. In much the same way, our use of the internet, or the World Wide Web more specifically, does the same thing. From what I understand, which is not much, our participatory culture or tagging, rating, and interaction with the web is establishing more sophisticated categories and networks of information. It seems we are beginning to use the web like we use our brains, prioritzing information, sorting data, searching, synthesizing, analyzing, evaluating, altering, and other verbs. Will computers be able to think through a multistep process like coordinating schedules for an appointment like the scenario described in “The Semantic Web”? I would imagine so as more applications become integrated such as your personal iCal and an online appiontment booker. This demonstrates great advances in technology, but what does it mean for education?

The MacArthur report makes a good case for teaching students “21st Century” skills focused on critical media consumption and production. Why not teach and learn with today’s tools, rather than outdated materials? In other vocations, training tries to keep up with the pace of technological advances in the field. Would you train a professional camera man to use VHS or digital? A doctor to use arthroscopic surgery techniques or more invasive tools? Should we still train students on a paper based system in an increasingly paperless society? The answers seem obvious. However, I read another article The Web 2.0 Way of learning with technologies by Rollett et al. (2007) that touched on the difficulty of translating the “openness” of web 2.0 into the classroom. Essentially, the cornerstone of Web 2.0 is that it is open for users create, modify, and add value to the content and structure of the web. It is self organizing. Education seems to be the opposite of this. It is standardized, predetermined, measured, and mostly encourages obligatory participation. For example, in two of my classes this semester I am required to blog. I am participating in the online conversation because I was asked to, not because I had an interest I wanted to develop and share with others online. I presume my readers will be the other students in my class and my instructor. How is this different than turning in a written reflection? The medium has changed, but the intention and outcome have not. Last semester I started a blog because I wanted to. I did not wait for an assignment of instructions on how to use it, or what purposes it could serve. I desperately wanted to “participate” in some form and I gained a lot from the experience. It was self directed and self organized rather than a requirement to be fulfilled. So, I think that using “the internet machine” in classrooms can be a wonderful thing, but also can take away its essence depending on how we use it.



Categories: Miscellaneous

Education in the age of information surplus

June 14, 2011 1 comment

I am not sponsored by TED, I promise. However, I really enjoy embedding videos in posts and TED makes it easy to do so. Today I typed in “education” into the TED search box and after a little browsing I found this talk about teaching.  My favorite theme of knowledge transmission versus transformation appears as Laufenberg gives us her brief family history of educational experiences and while many have responded to this shift with efforts to improve 21st century skills and put more technology in the classroom, I think the question proposed by Laufenberg hits the nail on the head.

“What do you do when the information is all around you? Why do you have kids come to school if they no longer have to come there to get the information?”

Of course, this would presuppose two things. The first being that the kids are already literate and the second is that they have consistent access to the “surplus of information.” Provided these two conditions exist, what is the reason for having kids come to school?

Is it to…

  • pass on cultural heritage?
  • babysit?
  • socialize?
  • educate?
  • stratify?
  • prepare?
  • cultivate lifelong learners?
  • promote progress?
  • maintain the status quo?

I don’t know, but I do think the new landscape of information and technology demands that we reconsider our old answers.

High Tech High: A model that works…

June 13, 2011 2 comments

Back in January, I was interested in creating a tool that would replace textbooks in the classroom and develop students’ skills of media consumption and production. Not surprisingly, I have found that this work is already being done and that the roadblock is not in designing the tool itself but in changing the “traditional” standards based model of schools. How can such a change in culture be accomplished and what examples will lead us there? I cannot say enough good things about the work of High Tech High. Particularly their efforts to link projects to the community (local and international) and their radically different approach to assessment (presentations of learning vs. end of quarter tests). Can the rest of our schools be “transformed by technology” or is there something else we must do?

Looking for innovation?

June 1, 2011 Leave a comment

This is a great talk on “new” resources for educational innovation. I am wondering how others feel about his statement that our system of education “stratifies society as much as it liberates it” and his suggestion to look to the slums for examples of creative solutions to our educational dilemma.

Competitive Disadvantage

May 13, 2011 2 comments

Watch this uplifting video promoting the Common Core State Standards. I found a link to it on the facebook page of PARCC, one of the assessment consortia working to develop tests for the CCSS.

I am struck by the propaganda in this video. One woman says we are adopting the CCSS to “make sure America maintains a competitive edge.” And here I thought it was about helping students learn!

The statistics at the beginning also say a lot about our national self-esteem. Any psychologist would tell you that constantly comparing yourself to others and trying to “measure up” is not a healthy outlook. Just because Shanghai has 5,000 high rises and we only built two in LA does not mean we are failing as a country. What does that have to do with educational standards? Maybe it is a good thing we did not build more high rises. Maybe that is not what LA needed.

Is it possible that these countries were not motivated by the need to out perform their neighbor? What it is we are competing for exactly?

I am not sure, but I do know our national self-esteem is low and as a result, we feel very threatened by other countries’ high rises and high-speed rails. Perhaps we need to follow some positive thinking advice,

“Instead of thinking about what you’re missing, try thinking about what you have that everyone else is missing.” Unknown

What do we have?

Everything is a Crisis

May 12, 2011 1 comment

The Creativity Crisis: Why American Schools Need Design – The Atlantic.

Did you know there is another educational crisis looming on the horizon? Not only are we behind in math and science, but we lack creativity as well. I think this article raises a great point, but fails to identify the root of the problem.

First of all, I do not believe we are not in a “creativity crisis.” Creativity is a natural human resource. What we have created are systems of education and professional training that do not allow or cultivate creative expression. It may seem like there is no creativity, but it is there, we just have to tap into it. Also, we have to stop adopting the deficit model for every single educational initiative. Maybe it is not that students lack these qualities, but that they lack opportunities to express them.

For example, this article referenced the frustration of some Stanford engineering, architecture, and design professors who, “realized that their best students had never taken apart a bicycle or built a model airplane.” It is not the students’ fault that they are in this position. It is the failure of our leaders and “reformers” to consider the consequences of a standards and assessment based educational system. Why does it take 12+ years to figure out that the education that was meant to prepare you for “any opportunity” is actually limiting your abilities and career potential?

What is being done? The article highlights one effort, led by RISD’s president, to change STEM into STEAM (A for the arts) presumably in line with Ralph Raimi’s suggestion that, “the first purpose of educational reform is to change the climate in the hierarchy of education so that our descendants will be able to advance a ‘true cause.'”

But I don’t think this is the answer. Adding an A to alter the hierarchy is not going to solve the crisis, because there is no crisis.

“The fact is that given the challenges we face, education doesn’t need to be reformed-it needs to be transformed. The key to transformation is not to standardize education, but to personalize it, to build achievement on discovering the individual talents of each child, to put students in an environment where they want to learn and where they can naturally discover their true passions.” Sir Ken Robinson

The resources are there in our students, maybe it is our job to think more creatively about the educational process.

Just thinking….

What would John Dewey say?

May 11, 2011 4 comments

I keep thinking about this idea as education as a means for achieving social justice and why the exercise of designing, adopting, and implementing new standards does not seem to be the answer for me. I guess I feel as though new standards put a band-aid on the problem. They are reactions to a failing system and can only treat symptoms of a deeper, fundamental problem. Our mile wide, inch deep curriculum in American schools is not the result of too many standards, but of our overall philosophy and approach to education. The goal seems to be to fill up the knowledge deficits in our students by supplying them with the information they require to be “successful” or “competitive.” Reducing the amount of information we teach without addressing the underlying assumptions and values that inform our practices is not going to be a lasting or satisfactory solution. What is missing for me, and maybe for many others too, is a guiding philosophy or set of principles that I can buy into.

So I went looking for some in the best place I could think of, in the works of John Dewey. I read, “My Pedagogic Creed,” one of his earlier essays, and found myself taking notes on almost every sentence (as per usual).

The first theme that struck me in this “creed” is the idea of education as a social process. I read about “social constructivism” as a theory of learning in a previous class, but Dewey is not sharing a theoretical framework for how people learn. He is extremely adamant that the failure to appreciate the social nature of education will result in an educative process that is “haphazard and arbitrary.” A true, social view of education realizes that the process has two sides,”one psychological and one sociological; and neither can be subordinated to the other or neglected without evil results following.”

Currently, it seems we try to deny both elements in the classroom in order to promote the study of abstract knowledge. We do so for the sake of preparing our future students. But Dewey points out, “it is impossible to prepare the child for any precise set conditions. To prepare him for the future life means to give him command of himself; it means so to train him that he will have the full and ready use of all his capacities.” And although one could stop here and argue that Dewey would agree with the new standards as a way to develop these capacities, he goes on to say that studying specific subject matter should not be the focus of school. According to Dewey, the real “progress is not in the succession of studies but in the development of new attitudes towards, and new interests in, experience.”

When progress is defined in these terms, as I believe it should be, how do our current standards and practices measure up?

Just curious…