Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Globalization, Advocacy, and Washing Machines

I think that some EDIM students may feel that the Globalization & Advocacy course is the least "practical" in terms of creating products that can be used immediately in class. This video may give you another perspective:

For me G&A course was about giving us a new perspective on our own place in the world and how to create learning spaces which at the same time both welcome people and ideas from all over the world and also prepare local children for lives that will be controlled to some extent by global forces. It's about seeing that every issue has at least two sides and that what we may see as good practices in the short run may turn out to be just plain short-sited.

Technology is often considered 'the great leveler'. We think it has launched the world into a post-industrial era. Rosling's point is that the great majority of Earth's population is still living in PRE-industrial times. As that divide widens and deepens, there will be more and more people who want 'what we have' and who we'll see as threatening as a result. Perhaps instead of investing in expanded national security and other 'defensive' measures, we should be put washing machines where more women can get their hands on them.

Connecting children to the internet can help them learn and build their dreams, but computers don't replace the labour intensive tasks of day to day life. Dreams denied can be a powerful force for the kind of change which may not be friendly to our way of life.

[This is just one Canadian's point of view.]

Incredibox -- online or screensaver

Incredibox is the online incarnation of an artist who goes by the name of "The Incredible Polo."

Play online or download the screensaver. Slide icons from beneath the grey box onto the characters' shirts to add sounds to the performance. Click on a character to get rid of the sound and try another combination. After you have a few 'voices' going, clicking 'Shuffle Mode" will fill in the group automatically. When you insert "an instrument," a yellow bonus icon appears. Clicking that brings up an 'angelic' chorus. I found that opening the Incredibox in several windows at the same time allows you to have more than one version of the same voice going. If you screen-recorded different combinations, you could experiment with bringing various voices or groups in at selected intervals as a way of composing music.

This seems to offer some creative educational opportunities for collaborative team building, but it may just be (to paraphrase the guys on CarTalk) a great way to waste a few perfectly good minutes.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

4th Annual Getting a 2nd life: Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education Conference

I'm heading back inworld this weekend to the 4th Annual Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education Conference. Nunarya Fairlady/I'll haven't spent much time in SL lately so we/she/I?'m going to explore some of the venues today and tomorrow. I need to practise getting around without bumping into people again. Here are some links that will help you find your way in: conference gateway and schedule, main website, Tree TV portal to live media coverage. There are a number of tours to other virtual venues, but you'll need to have the software installed ahead of time and avatar chosen if you want to participate.

Salaman Khan and the Student : VHT ratio

[Drat -- my keyboard has gone glitchy and I inadvertently deleted the first part of this. I hope I can reconstruct it.]

I've been watching the Salaman Khan (of the Khan Academy) TED talk about better math learning through technology. Khan is a hedge fund manager turned math educator who has observed over his 5 years in the field that too many good students with good math teachers reach a point when for them prior achievement is no longer a predictor of future success. To a kid it can can feel like their quota of math success has been used up. From the outside it may seem that once their fund of math knowledge is longer a dependable platform for new learning, they turn into 'overnight unsuccesses'.

Khan has a great metaphor for what he (and I concur) believes is the underlying cause of this for most kids. He blames it on the holes in "the Swiss cheese" of kids' math learning that keep building throughout their foundation. Most of the kids I asked over the years said that this started happening for them in grade 5. I suspect that by then that the survival tactics (eg. finger counting) many kids develop to do arithmetic can't hold up under the demands of complex arithmetical questions. Over the next few years, a pattern of giving up on learning first one skill and then another evolves until a critical mass of failure is reached and they have a math melt down. From then on unless they get some effective intervention, they come to accept failure as the norm in math and begin to plan their lives around this deficit.

Khan wants to change math classes from being an environment characterised by an acceptable level of failure to one where the expectation is mastery. I think taken to it's logical conclusion this would mean the end of 'Remedial' or 'Essentials' or "A&W" (Apprenticeship and Workplace) courses which have, in a way, become a systematized acceptance of failure. We dress these courses up with nice names and convince ourselves and the public that they are in the best interests of the child, but they're still the system's way of saying: "You've now not learned enough math to prove that our past expectations of you were too high. Here's your ticket to the easier course. Just struggle for a couple more years and you can get out of math forever!!"

Khan's solution is to arm teachers with the data they need to know immediately when a student has become stuck and to increase what he calls the "student to valuable human time with the teacher" ratio so little sticking points don't turn into big holes in the cheese. I'm not sure if I buy his entire vision, but the fundamental shift to continuously collecting feedback to guide instructional decisions is critical. If I were the queen of teaching, I'd put an end to teachers demonstrating correct solutions on the board after quizzes and tests. Unless the students actively find out where their mis-learning has occurred and fix it, what carries forward is recall of the error or of an incompletely learned skill. I'd forgo 'scatter gun' homework assignments in favour of assigning fewer questions and looking at them more deeply to assure myself and the child that the work of learning a particular skill was done.

I think Khan's technological solutions can help, but first we need to make the fundamental shift (as he has) to believing that we are seriously underestimating people's ability to learn math. Then the work of preventive math dentistry -- of detecting and filling little learning cavities to be sure all kids leave school with a full set of math teeth -- can begin.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The best session at Educon 2.3

Attending a conference virtually can be disappointing to say the least. If the presenters cannot see their own session through the eyes of the virtual audience, at home participants can be left unable to see the media on the screen or watching endless footage of groups working together in a room. I had as many as 3 different Educon 2.3 sessions up at a time, and the best one -- What's Wrong with this Picture -- I saw was by Dean Shareski and Darren Kuropatwa.

Participants were invited to "create video and/or images that concretely demonstrate how understanding the content is informed and molded by how we consume that content and communicate visually". We were asked to tell a lie.

From Dean's blog: "Darren and I wanted to see if we could get our participants to play and explore with ideas around imagery. We were a little concerned it may not work due to time constraints, equipment and simply because it's not normally the format at the conference. We were both blown away with the quality, imagination and thinking that went into their work. ... Upon return the conversation about critical thinking, media literacy, quantity vs quality emerged. The strong takeaway for me was that a little play can lead to important conversations. " Participants were asked to create 'forced perspective' images.
These are some of the images from the workshop: including my own which was actually taken by my workshop partner, Debra, when we were playing hookie from a conference in San Jose a few years ago.

Sue Hellman's picture

Here's a collection with a similar premise from the Life Magazine Archives: Real or Fake?

It's set up like a game where the audience can vote, see how they measure up to other viewers, and find out the right answer. I guess this one gives new meaning to the phrase: 'elephant in the room'.

As I prepare for my own next conference, I find myself thinking back to this session and asking myself what made their mix 'just right'. They set the scene for learning from their own experiences, drew participants into a dialogue so the learning would be more personal, gave us enough time to create something new and interesting, kept the technology simple enough that it promoted learning rather than becoming a barrier to participation, and summarised the experience. I almost expected to be sent away with a homework assignment at the end (LOL). This session was proof of the fact that -- technology notwithstanding -- there are old school teaching skills that endure.