School Culture, Educating Citizens, Creating Democracy

democracy_and_educationExactly 100 years ago, John Dewey asserted that a purpose for our schools should be the creation of citizens who share the highest values of democracy. Only education can bridge the distance between our “uncivilized” nature and the skills and habits of people who have learned to exist in a thriving body politic.

American schools then perform their civic purpose by playing a powerful role in building democratic culture and educating citizens.

In progressive schools that take their democratic purpose seriously, students experience the complexity of democracy — they think critically, discuss and sometimes argue about ideas, co-create solutions to meaningful problems, and build community. A school culture that embodies civil discourse, and values conversations even when they are difficult, builds students’ capacity to act in the public world, to make good things happen. In these schools, students learn how to truly disagree in the way citizens who share a hope for common ground do, and then move toward finding that ground.

To create such a school culture, conversations about politics are essential. Because educators care about the affairs of their communities, and because they believe in the democratic process of collective decision making, educators should engage students in discussions of public affairs. To avoid what is political, because it might be difficult to discuss, would be an abandonment of the civic duty of schools. They would fail to cultivate in students the interests, skills, and habits of citizens.

Of course, educators should not use their authority to cultivate support for strictly partisan purposes. To advocate or oppose particular political parties or public political figures would be wrong. Engaging in open dialogue about public life among people with different ideas is not always easy, and requires courage. Educators can demonstrate the maturity, balance, and empathy required to listen and discuss ideas without becoming one-sided and closed to opposing viewpoints. Of course, mistakes will be part of the learning process.

Educators recognize that to engage in civil discourse, and to create a democratic and inclusive culture, students and faculty must learn to enjoy arguments and moments of discomfort. The civic duty of schools is to help students to listen and explore ideas, to co-create solutions and community, and to commit to building a world that values and protects every person.

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Sources:
Education Week, Bridging Differences Blog, Democracy in Schools: http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/Bridging-Differences/democracy-in-schools/

What to Teach is What’s Usually Missing in Ed Reform Debates

So frequently today, we read about the problems of education being about how students are taught – pedagogical theories are debated, teachers’ methods are scrutinized, and charters proliferate based on promises that they’ve found the magic strategy for teaching mastery of standards.

Unfortunately, we don’t spend enough time discussing the what of education. Generally speaking, what we teach in our schools today remains unchanged despite the host of changes the internet has ushered into this Fourth Information Age. That we are nearly 20 years into an information revolution, and schools still teach the information needed for a different age demonstrates how misguided the education reform movement is.

Curt Bonk puts it well in his latest post:

“When we can have the equivalent of the Library of Alexandria in our pockets on an inexpensive flash drive, we must begin to question exactly what should be taught and ultimately what knowledge is… The purpose of education has swiftly pivoted from knowing what something is to knowing how to find out about that thing. The basic tools of knowledge discovery are now Wikipedia and other wiki-like tools, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, TED talks, online news services, digital books, and a vast array of online learning courses and modules.”

And yet, how many standards recognize this shift? Why don’t the standards require students to demonstrate they know how to navigate Wikipedia? how to use Google’s advanced search to find a primary document? how to identify the best online services for objective information about local city council candidates?

As a history teacher, I know the national standards suggested by the NCSS, NCHS, and even the College Board (AP History) are improving somewhat by recognizing “historical thinking skills.” My question is, why don’t the standards recognize that knowledge is now digital, ubiquitous, and organized in networks? Why do we still have standards built around memory of historical periods in American History, for example? Is it really more important for students to demonstrate knowledge of colonial American culture than it is for them to demonstrate they can evaluate assertions about colonial church-municipal relations using online resources?

Many traditionalists and mainstream educators would retort that such a shift in education would make us too dependent on technology. It’s true, actually, that collectively we are more dependent on the web for memory than on our brains, according to studies by Harvard professor Daniel M. Wegner’s research team. But Wegner cautions us not to fear the “cybermind”:

“Some commentators see this as the beginning of a chilling new world in which we have uploaded everything we know quite out of our own heads, becoming fools in the bargain. Like those who feared the iron horse or the electric toothbrush, though, people with this neo-Luddite view of technology are quite likely to be left behind as the rest of us rush to keep plugged in… Each time we learn who knows something or where we can find information — without learning what the information itself might be — we are expanding our mental reach. This is the basic idea behind so-called transactive memory. In 1985, with my collaborators Toni Giuliano (who is also my wife) and Paula Hertel, I wrote a paper introducing the idea of transactive memory as a way to understand the group mind. We observed that nobody remembers everything. Instead, each of us in a couple or group remembers some things personally — and then can remember much more by knowing who else might know what we don’t. In this way, we become part of a transactive memory system… Groups of people commonly depend on one another for memory in this way — not by all knowing the same thing, but by specializing. And now we’ve added our computing devices to the network, depending for memory not just on people but also on a cloud of linked people and specialized information-filled devices.”

We need to talk more about what’s in our standards, and the curriculum choices we make, as much as how we teach. The Ed Reform movement needs to pivot on the recognition that knowledge comes from our connections, and that connected-knowledge literacy is the most important thing students should master.

Pricing eLearning and the Value of the Online Option

As I was trying to make a dent in the unread count in my Google Reader this weekend, I read a few blog reviews and watched a few highlight videos from the much ballyhooed D10 Conference last month. Of special interest to me was Wall Street Journal’s tech columnist Walt Mossberg’s interview with Stanford President John Hennessy and online learning celebrity Sal Khan.

About 11:30 into the interview (see it below), during a conversation about the skyrocketing cost of education, Khan made a provocative comment about what a particular university he’s familiar with is charging for their online program – roughly the same amount as the school charges for the full brick-and-mortar experience. I tweeted the resulting question:
[blackbirdpie id=”209477365754109952″]

Hamish Macleod, Joint Programme Director of the highly-regarded Masters in eLearning program at the University of Edinburgh responded:
[blackbirdpie id=”209541878830477313″]

Khan’s rhetorical question resonated with me, because the argument often offered for the dramatic increase in tuition in the U.S. is for the on-campus experience: luxury boarding, quality meals, world-class fitness centers, cutting-edge lab facilities, etc. So if you don’t get any of that when you take the online program, why do you pay the same price? Seems like a fair question, right?

Enter the word: value. Depending on how you define it, the value of something can be fairly subjective. A one-of-a-kind vintage Beatles t-shirt from the 1960s might be worth a couple hundred bucks to me, despite its cost of production. So I can see that the value of a Stanford degree earned online, for example, might be worth much more than the cost of production. And here, I’m assuming the cost of production for online learning is much less than the cost of the residential experience. Push back on that if I’m wrong.

To Hamish’s point, eLearning certainly has its own costs. And I’m an eLearning advocate who really values the online option – to be honest, often in my experience the quality of online can surpass the brick-and-mortar. But should I have to pay more for it than the residential experience? Aren’t the residential prices completely bloated and unreasonable?

Am I missing something?

http://s.wsj.net/media/swf/microPlayer.swf

Anytime, Anywhere, Cheap Brand-Name Professional Development

Perhaps it’s Stanford University’s proximity to Silicon Valley that gives it an innovative bent, or maybe the West Coast Ivy is hoping to capitalize on the experience some faculty have had in recent years opening their classes to a broad audience. Or maybe the school is just trying to avoid the tsunami-like impact of digital era disruption better than record and book stores have.

Stanford certificates carry brand-name appeal

Last week, Stanford announced a fully online, low-cost/high-quality Energy Innovation and Emerging Technologies certification. Courses will be taught by the field’s “preeminent researchers”, will be open to nearly anyone, will have no prerequisites, and the program’s 4 courses will cost a total of $780. Courses are offered more or less within the traditional semester format, but it appears one could complete the certificate in just a few months if the courses were taken simultaneously. This is not a completely new format for Stanford, as the university also offers an online certificate in IT Benchmarking, which can be completed in about 6 months, on average, and costs only $500.

So, here are just a few of the questions I’m pondering as I consider Stanford’s program:

1. How much longer before brand-name university programs replace conferences and local grad courses as regular professional development for educators? This summer, it will cost my school and me about $1,500 combined for me to go to ISTE in San Diego. If, for example, the Harvard School of Ed offered a go-at-my-own-pace-anytime-anywhere certificate program of focused professional development in eLearning for say $700, why would I go to a conference? From such a program I would get a verification of mastery from a widely respected institution. Yes, conferences are great for meeting new people, interacting with experts, and hearing new ideas, but modern online courses are probably just as good as conferences for this. And, yes, good online certificates in eLearning already exist, but the program at George Washington U., for example, costs almost $700 per credit hour.

2. Will we see online certifications cannibalize graduate programs? Masters in education programs are typically either expensive, difficult to attend due to scheduling, or both. And, in my experience, it’s sometimes unclear what the practical value of these programs are to the daily practice of teaching. Would it be better for teachers to instead hold certifications in specific areas like “inquiry-based learning” or “differentiated assessment”? It seems to me that a university could leverage economies of scale to offer such programs, taught by recognized experts, to a wide number of teachers for very low costs.

I’m just scratching the surface here. The nearly weekly news that high-quality programs are going online with dramatically lower barriers for participation than traditional education tells us that the tsunami is closer than most think. Kudos to Stanford for keeping their eyes open. It will be interesting to see if they’ve acted quickly enough.

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Photo courtesy of Steven Erat, http://farm1.staticflickr.com/34/124478550_72fedaa5a5_o.jpg 

 

Twitter for Education

UPDATE: See also my post “How to Make a Class Backchannel”

I know many teachers and are exploring using Twitter as a learning tool, both for themselves and for their students. Administrators are imagining ways it could be helpful for staff development and for communicating with stake-holders. Here’s a visual to help focus the thinking a bit (click through for larger version):

I ran across this Twitter Matrix about a year ago on Mark Sample’s blog and it really helped me clarify my thinking about how I wanted to use Twitter to enhance student learning. I was clear that I didn’t want to use it just to be using it – if it wasn’t going to lead to greater learning, it was just going to be more noise for students.

I’ve been getting good results using Twitter as a backchannel during class, allowing me to engage with students in new ways. Those that aren’t ready to comment out loud during class will frequently post to the backchannel, allowing me a new way to check for understanding. And because they can post questions there that I see in the last few minutes of class, I can answer them before they leave, meaning no student leaves with misunderstandings that embed in their brain before they return the next day.

If you follow the link to Mark’s blog, you’ll notice he believes Twitter acts as a “snark valve” because tweets are “unfiltered, in effect, the same comment somebody might mutter under his or her breath, uncensored, no-holds-barred opining. Yet the students know classmates are following the course hashtag and at the very least that I am listening (and contributing) as well.  The backchannel assumes a Bakhtinian double-voiced discourse — using sarcasm both to show a kind of too-cool-for-school attitude but also to demonstrate that the student is in fact earnestly engaged with the material.”

How will you use Twitter? I hope the matrix leads to creative ideas. And if they do, kindly tweet me @MikeGwaltney, or leave a more lengthy comment here on my blog.

STEM needs PTHB – ITSC ’11 Day One Wrap

Day One at ITSC ’11 closed with a Keynote by David Zach, Futurist. Keynotes are often meant to mostly be provocative, and that’s what I think Zach was up to. Among some very interesting things he suggested (and some suggestions were very good) was that we stop thinking and speaking in 140 characters, which I took as a shot across the bow of those of us who advocate for Twitter – not a popular position to take at a conference like this, and I don’t think I agree with him. However, a point Zach made STEM really resonated with me: it’s not much use to be focused on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, if you’re going to discount Philosophy, Theology, History, and Biography. “The former is not much good without the latter.” (Thanks to Zach for the image above.)

All in all, a great Day One for the conference. Day Two promises to be excellent, with some sessions led by the “who’s who” of the Ed Tech world. Peter Pappas (@edteck) and I will coordinate updates and summaries throughout. I hope you’ll come back to read the blog and follow us both on Twitter.

Here’s the ITSC11 Day 1 Prezi. Enjoy.

ITSC ’11 Mid-Day 1

First up for me at ITSC was “Digital Storytelling” with presenters Ginny Hoke and Rhiannon Kerr, two great teachers from Lane County here in Oregon.

Ginny and Rhiannon made clear from the start that digital storytelling is “not about technology, it’s about learning”. Specifically, they have found D.S. is great for building skills in:

  • communication (especially for writing and speaking),
  • vocabulary,
  • problem-solving,
  • teamwork, and

D.S. also helps students understand each other and their mutual struggles with school – its a learning and assessment tool with reflection built in! And yes, it’s also creative and fun.

It’s important to note that there’s much more to digital storytelling than giving kids the cameras and time to shoot and edit video. As with most things, the power is in the process – from brainstorming ideas in small groups, to storyboarding and scripting, to researching and working with sources, students are engaged in a challenging activity with equally rewarding results. After walking us through the steps, Ginny treated us to a sample D.S. project, her class’s “Through Our Eyes” video on Lebanon H.S. Alumni who died in the Vietnam War. Powerful stuff.

Because ITSC is a “hands-on” conference, Ginny and Rhiannon didn’t let us get away without proving we’d learned a thing or two. After introducing us to JayCut, an online (browser-based) video editing tool, they put us in groups and gave us 30 minutes to tell some stories about technology in education. Enjoy these samples, and keep in mind, we only had 30 minutes!

http://jaycut.com/sites/all/themes/jaycut/swf/player.swf