Monday, September 26, 2011

Where is the leading edge in education?

I came across a post from a Change11 blogger who has just graduated with a degree in cyber anthropology. Before today I'm not sure I'd have thought that cyberspace has been around long enough to warrant an anthropological approach, but I suppose given the rate of change in the technology world, that you have to count time like we do dog years. One year in cyberspace equivalent to __?__ in real world years. Is 7 enough? Is 100 too many?

Anyway in my search for a definition, I came across what was a cutting edge article in 1994 by Michael Strangelove: The Geography of Consciousness. It appeared in WAVE, "the first European newsstand magazine about digital convergence, internetworking, and the emergence of cyberspace."

Here is a quote from the final paragraph:
"If you want to see the future, ... look into cyberspace. When you have arrived there, listen to the multiplicity of voices. Watch for the appearance of those who become empowered through bypassing the gatekeepers of mass communication. ... The new technology of communication, the new geography of consciousness, the new technique of existence combine to form a linchpin on which the whole world is about to turn."
Is there such a thing as educational anthropology? Is there any urgency to look back less than 20 years because so much that is important to understanding the roots of current practice, growth, and change may be lost if we don't?

Image source: Vicki Woodward 03-14-11

Monday, September 19, 2011

Making peace with constructivism: towards a landscape of coherence

~Narratives of coherence by George Siemens (
~Teaching in Social and Technological Networks (
~Constructivist Learning Theory (

For some time I've struggled with constructivism. Surely, I've wondered, there's a lot of knowledge that's just better passed on in the old way -- taught directly by a person who understands it well. Would I want to entrust my body to a surgeon who'd completely constructed his/her own learning? Would I want to buy a house wired by a completely self-taught electrician?

Unfortunately, for some students, when their teachers implement a constructivist model, they abandon the role of instructional leader in the name of giving students responsibility for their own learning. Such teachers laud the value of peer-to-peer sharing and helping, but what they fail to see is that often the stronger students just take over the instructional role they (the teachers) have abdicated -- that of providing direct teaching to those who need it. (I suspect that in some constructivist classes, there's plenty of direct instruction going on. It just isn't emanating from the teacher.)

A few days ago, I came across the term "narrative of coherence". Aha, I thought, here's the secret that will save me| I thought it would fill in the middle ground between traditional delivery and extreme constructivism with some vision of how to infuse learning experiences with an underlying narrative that would give students' explorations coherence. But when I read the articles (top 2 above) more thoroughly, I realised the phrase was used as a sort of educational pejorative.

'Narrative of coherence', it seems, is a way to describe what traditional teachers do. They work out the setting, plot, characters, and theme and tell the whole story to their students who learn it by listening and studying it over and over until they know it by heart. Reaching the end of a lesson is like coming to the end of a chapter when a bedtime story is being read. Learners learn to wait until the next lesson to find out what happens next. The problem isn't so much that students don't learn the story (for many do and have), but that they hear only one story with an ending that always comes out the same way.

I firmly believe that well-crafted learning experiences must offer COHERENCE. I grew up as a teacher when 'discovery learning' and 'concept formation' were the progressive ways to teach. We believed back in 1974 that this was the way to put an end to the 'learn & forget' cycle (sound familiar???) because learning would become a sequence of 'aha' moments. I remember one day trying to lead a young fellow through the process of discovering how to do long division. I patiently laid out the bread crumbs that should have resulted in the magic moment of concept formation, but it just bewildered him. Finally he pleaded: "Please, miss, would you just teach me how to 'dibide'? I just want to know how to dibide!!!" So I did it the old way and after a few practice examples, he went away relieved and happy. For me it was a lesson learned.

But perhaps it was one I learned too well. Over the years I became a great educational story-teller, and my kids learned my narratives well, but for many that's where their understanding and questioning began and ended. Job well done, I thought -- but in retrospect it seems like a job only partially done.

So this morning I've been working on a new metaphor -- 'landscape of coherence'. I once read that mathematicians see a landscape of math. Like a virtual world, for them math has geography that is navigable and can be learned, enjoyed, used, enhanced, changed, and perhaps even destroyed. I think perhaps this metaphor has some power for educators as well. Perhaps the middle ground I've been seeking between narratives of coherence and radical constructivism is 'landscape of coherence'.

This landscape has important landmarks with some pathways connecting them, but the way you move around in it your way is determined sometimes by need, sometimes by signposts, and sometimes by interest. Instead of leading students down one garden path or telling them one story, teachers have to make informed decisions about what the critical landmarks are and then ensure the students understand & master those. As a complement to more traditional learning, we make the students responsible for working out their own meaningful connections, and we make time for sharing, comparing, crowd sourcing, and reflection (when we contribute our own perspectives as one of many).

When you revisit a learned landscape after a while, it's still familiar because it was extensively and intensively explored. You can revisit old landmarks and retrace old paths, but you'll also appreciate how the big picture has changed with time.

(Video Link: Rotating Earth Animation)

The key then is for the teacher not to refrain from making any decisions, but to give up on trying to teach everything to everybody in case they might needed it sometime -- because it never takes anyway. Our job is to do the much harder work of being selective -- of making better decisions about what the important landmarks are-- and to then ensure our students know how to fulfill their role in this new paradigm.
And so I think I've finally made peace with constructivism. I guess you can teach an old dog new tricks.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A super multimedia project & one cool tool

I just came across this video today. What a superb project that blends math, science, geography, and language learning with interesting videography as well !!!!!

If you do/did the Portable Video course with Frank Guttler, you'll be familiar with Photostory. it's the free Microsoft program that adds Ken Burns effects to simple slide shows.

Wow Slider enables kids to create stunning visual Java slide presentations for their blogs, wikis, or websites. The download is free for personal and educational (non-commercial use). They've added interesting transitions and the Ken Burns pan and scan effect as well.

I was able to follow the how-t0 explanation down to the part where it says how to post, but I think that after I try it a couple of times, I should be able to figure that out.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Howard Gardner interview today

This quickie post will be of special interest if you're taking or have yet to take EDIM 508. You'll be reading and blogging about Howard Gardner's Five Minds for the Future, and Gardner is being interviewed online by Steve Hargadon at 5PM Pacific time today (Sept. 13). You can find the link to the Blackboard Collaborate room in Steve's blog at Perhaps I'll see you there.

Link to video

Saturday, September 10, 2011 begins next week

MOOC stands for 'massive open online courses' and this one promises to be a doozy. At present the schedule lasts 36 weeks each of which is being 'minded' by a different speaker. There will likely be over 1500 participants (and you thought your classes were big!!).

My main concern is that trying to keep up with so much incoming information may push me out of interested learner mode into being an overloaded procrastinator and finally into just dropping out. How do you scan RSS feeds from over a thousand co-participants' blogs? and stay current with the backchannel? and process the weekly discussions? and make meaningful contributions? and find people with whom you want to develop more personal and lasting relationships? and archive interesting links, comments, resources? and not end up swamped by the sheer volume of inputs?

I have an idea that it may make sense to follow a suggestion from Steven Bell who did a session last week in the TLT Friday Live free webinar series -- that is to create a small team, divide up the task of filtering, and create a way to update and share with each other the most promising/interesting/provocative inputs, and perhaps meet on a bi-weekly basis to share new insights.

If anyone's interested in trying and forming a team to try this, please let me know either in the comments below or through the Facebook page.

Link to 'What is a MOOC?' video

Link to 'What is a MOOC?' video http://

Link to 'Success in a Mooc' video

Sunday, September 4, 2011

'm' apparently no longer stands for 'mother'

I'm helping to put together a one week, Moodle, pro-d event about mLearning -- with the 'm' now signifying 'mobile' and am in the 'search for ideas' stage. Today I came across this wonderful video I thought I'd share.

I'd love it if you'd be willing to share ideas, resources, websites, blogs, wikis, and especially student projects that I could incorporate into this project. To help me out, please leave your links below or respond on the Facebook page. THANKS!!!!!

[BTW, the event will be open to anyone who wants to join in the fun, and certificates will be available to participants who want them. It will be late in October, and I'll post the registration information here when we get a little closer.]

Late breaking FYI --

Wikispaces has added a new feature called Projects to all educational wikis. This gives you a way to coordinate small group work inside one wiki by creating teams and assigning permissions.

P.S. I'll have to explore whether this can work for Canadian students as the kids apparently must join the wiki in order to be assigned to teams. If they can do this without having to register their personal information anywhere then this is a tool we Canucks can definitely make use of as well.