January 30, 2006

Safe audio/ video hosting?

This is a request for information. I'm looking for a free online webhost that provides hosting for audio and video files behind a password / membership wall. In other words, files uploaded are not viewable/listenable by the whole world, but only by people who have signed up to join the group. I know Yahoo! Groups offers this, but the amount of space available is limited, and audio and video files take up a lot of space.

Any suggestions?

January 29, 2006

Littky revisited

After recently finding out about Dennis Littky I was not surprised to bump into him again in Horace's Hope by Theodore Sizer:
During 1983, while I was writing Horace's Compromise, I accepted a number of speaking engagements with school people to test my ideas and the directions in which they might lead me. At the conclusion of one such gathering in Massachusetts, I was confronted by a smiling, balding, red-bearded, plaid-shirt-wearing character who bluntly said, "You talk about it. We do it. You better get your butt up to my school."

He was Dennis Littky. I went to his school...

January 26, 2006

Walk Sydney Streets Photos - Home

Walk Sydney Streets Photos - Home

This is just amazing! Great photos, and good writing, by a 91-year-old. Inspires me, and could inspire others to write and blog about where they live.

January 20, 2006

EducationGuardian.co.uk | How blogs can make the link

EducationGuardian.co.uk | Advertisement feature | How blogs can make the link

Here's an article in the British newspaper The Guardian about blogging in schools. It features the remarkable blogging activities of Sandaig Primary in Glasgow, whose teacher John Johnston has a blog I've been following for some time now. Spread the word.

Politician using blogs

Nicolas Sarkozy Here's Here's an interesting tib-bit, which I found thanks to the indefatigable Bee, on the EVO Podcasting in ELT online course: Nicolas Sarkozy is a French politician, and possibly the first whose interview was podcast.

January 19, 2006

Marco Polo :: Blog

Marco Polo :: Blog
I've wanted to play around with Elgg for a while, so I've taken the opportunity presented by my participating in the EVO Online course on Drama in SLA to create a personal blog for that course here. If you are interested in that, pop on over and talk to me.

January 18, 2006

The future of news services

BEYOND NORTHERN IRAQ

The changes threatening education are also, of course, knocking on the doors of other areas of human enterprise. Here's the BBC's Stuart Hughes who, despite losing a leg in Iraq, covers top stories and travels abroad, usually with his satellite "kit", satellite-phone and cameras and wireless laptop.

Whole Earth Review: Teacher: Dennis Littky's Fight for a Better School. - book reviews

I read about Littky first on AJ's blog and did a Google search, which unearthed Whole Earth Review: Teacher: Dennis Littky's Fight for a Better School. - book reviews:
If you wont to get in trouble in o school, take your job seriously
Sounds like a quote from Gatto. But it's from a review, which you can read here, of a book about Dennis Littky's struggle to reform a local high school. Here's Littky: Kids look at coaches as people who help them get better, people who work to help make the team win. But what happens when we teach? Kids think we're against them, that we're trying to trip them up. This has got to change.
Our kids should regard teachers as coaches who'll help them learn to think critically. It'll happen because we'll make it happen. I hope you'll join me in this quest.
But Littky had opponents:
Littky was permitting "obseenities," as [Marilyn Nolan] called them, at Thayer, obscenities that were corrupting the children. "I'm tired of schools allowing kids to do things parents wouldn't permit," she said. "He's teaching them to have new values. He's destroying our children."
Oooohhh! A fight! What else could it be?

January 17, 2006

Bored to death?

news article According to this news article,

Attacks on Britain's firefighters are at an all-time high and the Fire Brigades Union says is only a matter of time before a firefighter is killed.CCTV images shown to Sky News reveal the violence fire crews face on a daily basis.The FBU says some attacks are by children as young as six and, in some cases, gas cylinders are deliberately left in blazing buildings....

Project Firefly has been set up in Oldham to bring teenagers into stations and see the dangerous job at first hand. It costs £400 per child but, since Firefly began, attacks in the area have dropped by 55%.

What are the odds that many of these attacks are because the kids are bored out of their minds? A trip to the firestation, perhaps even on hand to see some burned victims or a dead body at the morgue would bring some badly needed excitement and a dose of reality into their lives.

January 16, 2006

Blogs and podcasts (2)

Update to Autono Blogger: Blogs and podcasts - what's the difference?.

Another reason I am listening to podcasts more and reading fewer blogs is that I can save time. I can listen to podcasts while on the move, and or doing something else (tho I do have a hard time walking and chewing gum).

Wow, I'm just fizzing with startling insights today.

January 15, 2006

It's about finding meaningfulness

Aaron posts an interesting scenario, which raises the question, what are teachers really teaching? Is the purpose of Web 2.0 (or of school, of an education system) to maintain a steady stream of the corect quantity of manual workers, managers, and elites? Or is it about helping (young) people find and create meaning in their lives.

Aaron, like the presenter I observed today (more later), sees beyond the "student" to "the human being", who needs to enjoy, to express, and to be doing something meaningful.

I think much of the present discussion around Web 2.0 is less about the technology itself than it is about the aims and priorities of the people who use it. Will Web 2.0 be used in the service of mankind, for the benefit of people's deepest needs, i.e. needs which are beyond ego? Will it be used in the service of the genuine human desire for freedom? Or will it be used for motives of ego, for the benefit of created needs, manufactured needs? Used to further enslave people in ever more ingenious ways, ways which are so clever, those enslaved actually believe they are free?

First, a need for the watch was created; then they give you the watch and say, "Here! You need this." Thanks... :-(

So which will it be? Humanity's track record is, to be brutal, not good. Yet I lean towards being foolishly optimistic, while at the same time educating myself as to what the various forces are that to keep people enslaved, forces which exist both outside and inside of myself.

"Man is born free, and yet is everywhere in chains". (JJ Rousseau)

More bloggers discuss Web 2.0 over Skype and a wiki:
* Darren Kuropatwa - dkuropatwa
* Ewan McIntosh
* Miguel Guhlin - mguhlin
* Wesley Fryer - wfryer

Moving at the Speed of Creativity » Blog Archive » Podcast29: Thinking Critically About Web 2.0

Going from an update to another upperdaterMoving at the Speed of Creativity » Blog Archive » Podcast29: Thinking Critically About Web 2.0:
Is enthusiasm for web 2.0 and its potential to positively reform educational teaching methods across the globe overblown? An international audience including Darren Kuropatwa in Canada, Ewan McIntosh in Scotland, Miguel Guhlin in San Antonio, Texas, and Wesley Fryer in Lubbock, Texas, engaged in a lively discussion this evening via skype to explore these and other issues.

January 14, 2006

Is it all just hype?

Even upperer update:OK, some people get it. Here's Sean Fitzgerald in an Artichoke comment:Another way to describe this is in terms of power - there is a very different power dynamic between a teahcer and their students in a classroom (or LMS) than there is in a learning environment using social software.
You know, you really should all go and read Gatto (OK, Artichoke's already done so), then I wouldn't keep having to go on about this. Nor would Brian.

Upper date: This post by George Siemens is again on the same subject, and says Enough already with Web 2.0. George posits
We don't have a new version of learning (i.e the act of learning itself). We do, however, have a new climate in which different approaches need to be taken to foster learning. Our old systems don't work today. But the problem isn't that we need to rethink the act of learning
then asks
How can we portray that we are at a new place in regards to method of learning, but still in the same place in regards to the act of learning? How can we grow our scope, our image, our conception of learning and learning design (especially when we break from courses and classrooms)?
(And I already blogged about how George is one of the few to tackle the issue of power, which I also whined about here).


Update: Brian's comment on Borderland's blog mentions "critical literacy". I'm not familiar with the term, but it affirmed a growing feeling I have had that there is a very strong and close connection between the kinds of posts I mention below (and in Borderland's Deschooling Revolution post) on the one hand, and something I am more familiar with, critical pedagogy. The only complete book I've read on this fascinating subject is Critical Pedogogies and Language Learning

Bud the Teacher asks Is it [Web2.0] all just hype?
Aaron asks Is it really a waste of time to introduce "low level" [EFL] students to the Web 2.0?

Artichoke ponders a crowd of invisible ducks and includes a cornucopia of excellent links (as always), including a post by George Siemens on why LMS are the wrong place to start learning, in which he writes
Learning Management Systems (LMS) are often viewed as being the starting point (or critical component) of any elearning or blended learning program. This perspective is valid from a management and control standpoint, but antithetical to the way in which most people learn today
thereby being one of the few to mention the context of power that is all too often absent in these kinds of discussions.
(Compare Gatto's "Schools are not designed to teach the way people learn, but they are designed to employ people and spend money.")
And while I'm at it, here's another unequivocal quote from George
Learning itself is different - it is not a process to be managed
, a statement which, if true, at a stroke invalidates pretty much the entire education system, which according to Gatto's history was essentially designed as a utopian social management tool. And another quote from Siemens, which encapsulates much of the excellent advice that Aaron has been dispensing this past year:
The intent is to give the end user the control needed to respond effectively to personal learning goals (that extend beyond those identified by the course designer/instructor). Learners learn (at least according to constructivists) in chaotic ways based on personal interest, context, opportunities for application, etc. The learning ecology and tools utilized should permit learner control - both for the type of content explored and the manner in which it is explored (variety is the basis for most many theories of learning: brain-compatible, learning styles, multiple intelligence, etc.)
.
James Farmer quotes Stephen Downes on how LMS are already being superceded by ple's,
which leads to an interesting conversation right here, and then there's Auricle editor Derek Morrison's interview with Oleg Liber, Professor of e-Learning at the University of Bolton, UK, which touches on (but skirts around) some of the same power and control issues of ple's versus LMS's, which interview I got from a post by James Farmer.
Auricle's Derek Morrison blogs about what might be considered only a slightly different facet of the same issue, the industrial model of education and learning, and how
we are in the midst of a transformation to an industrial model of mass education, a transformation made possible, of course, through the mediation of information and communication technologies.
and the following quote could have come straight from Gatto:
But make no mistake that what lies at the core of the industrializing proponents is a belief in the need for control and management

Artichoke's previous post is on the same topic (more or less) and also chock full of references: seeming to lend weight to Brian's cynicism, Artichoke quotes Looi, Lim and Hung 2005 in proper scholarly fashion,
"Since the advent of information-communications technology (ICT) decades ago, reseach on how ICT can be used in education has been incessantly conducted. Despite "decades of funded study that have resulted in many exciting programs and advances these have not resulted in pervasive accepted, sustainable, large-scale improvements in actual classroom practice, in a critical mass of effective models for educational improvement, or in supportive interplay among researchers, schools, families, employers, and communities." (Sabelli and Dede 2001). Looi, Lim and Hung 2005.
. (Indeed, Brian made his unconvinced point of view more forcefully and compellingly in a comment to Borderland's Deschooling Revolution post, of which this one of mine is merely a reprise or pale echo). Had Stephen Downes read Brian's comment on Borderland, he might have responded differently. I would be very surprised if Stephen has not written about these issues (Downes' writing is so prolific, I'm afraid to even start digging around to find it! See!! I knew it; I just popped over to Stephen's OLDaily and right there at the top of the heap is this! Oh, wait, that disproves my point that it would be hard to find...!).

Yet Artichoke remains joyfully, perhaps foolishly, optimistic: Yet I am not disillusioned, I am helplessly addicted to potential and I still believe that the interconnectivity of the web might well be a deus ex machina for education.

Artichoke quotes Gatto (tho the link seems to be wrong):
#15. There is no reason to believe that any existing educational technology can significantly improve intellectual performance; on the contrary, to the extent that machines establish the goals and work schedules, ask the questions and monitor the performances, the already catastrophic passivity and indifference created by forced confinement schooling only increases. John Taylor Gatto

and (blogwhore warning) me, then goes on to echo Borderland in quoting Illich: As a curious edu_blogger I will affirm that many of these e learning opportunities have the potential to faithfully capture Ilich’s three purposes of education

A good educational system should have three purposes: it should provide all who want to learn with access to available resources at anytime in their lives; empower all who want to share what they know to find those who want to learn it from them; and finally, furnish all who want to present an issue to the public with the opportunity to make their challenge known. (Illich Deschooling Society)

January 13, 2006

Blogs and podcasts - what's the difference?

I often listen to Dave Warlick's Connect Learning podcast. Others I enjoy are Bud the Teacher's podcast (which somehow got deleted from my iPod, and it doesn't seem to be linked to from Bud's blog, which is irritating; that's the obvious place to look for it, isn't it?)

Dave's podcast is scripted; Bud's is more off-the-cuff, and it sounds like he often records it while he's driving and (presumably!) not reading from a script.

At first I thought Dave's (and other scripted) podcasts was superior to the unscripted ones. But then I got thinking about it one night as I was thinking about something and wanted to record my thoughts: instead of reaching for my laptop or a pad and pencil (remember those?!), I reached for my voice recorder.

Perhaps the free-form, unscripted, podcast allows for a different mode of thinking from a scripted one, which must essentially follow more closely the format and mode of writing.

Anyway, I've come to appreciate both forms.

Bloglines |Blogging from within an aggregator

Today I was surfing from a computer other than my work and home computers. I went to Bloglines and found several fascinating posts I wanted to blog.
Oh.
No "blog-this" right-clickability.
Oh.
No Performancing (coz the stoopid pooter is using IE)
Oh.
My blogging software, Blogjet, is at home, but not on this machine.
Now, it would be really useful if, in addition to bloglines' feature of blogging stuff to a BLOGLINES blog, I could blog from within Bloglines to my own blogs.
Is there an aggregator that will allow me to do this?

Bloglines | Frequently Asked Questions: "What's a Clip Blog?

Clip Blogs are a new feature that lets you easily create a blog within Bloglines, and it is the only place on the web where you'll find blog creation and sharing capabilities fully integrated with blog search and blog reading. Now everything you find in Bloglines is blog-able! "

January 12, 2006

Autono Blogger: The Inevitable Personal Learning Environment Post at incorporated subversion

Autono Blogger: The Inevitable Personal Learning Environment Post at incorporated subversion
Aaron asks
if, ultimately, technology really has that kind of transformative power, and whether or not we just kidding ourselves in our enthusiastic exploration of it?

Technology alone, of course, has no power at all; it's the people, the people who use it, the people who imagine its potential. Dave Warlick is for me someone who can see potential that I can't. He's excited about potential that he sees, and a lot of other people don't see... yet.
I'm not sure I understand fully where Brian is coming from, but I interpreted his comment as referring to the environment within which this "student-centredness" or "empowerment" is (supposed to be) taking place, in particular the power relationships and the political (in the widest sense) environment within which this conversation is taking place. This sense of context, of power context and political context, is all too often absent, and perhaps this is what Brian was referring to: that altho the technology DOES offer huge and exciting potential, the powers that be, the powers that created schools and maintain schools, the powers that HIRE teachers to do a certain job, may not share that vision of potential or the excitement, and may therefore crush, subvert or co-opt the wonderful visions of the future such as expressed by teachers in Dave Warlick's 50th podcast.

One big problem in conversations on this topic is rhetoric and undefined terms: WHOSE future are we talking about? WHOSE VISION of WHAT future are we talking about? As long as we're all bandying nice words like "education" and "future" and "potential" and "change", we can all feel good, dreaming that we share the same values and are talking about the same things. The reality is somewhat different. Unless these essential meanings are taken into account, unless terms and values are defined and identified, then I fear much of the talk, exciting tho it is, may turn out to be just so much hot air.

Auricle: e-learning industrialization. will the customers like it?

Auricle
Following the interesting comments to my previous post, I found this to be relevant. From the Auricle site, blog of the e-learning dept of Bath University, UK, which looks promising (oh, god! just what I need, more blogs to read...)
Don't have time to cut and paste here, so pop over and read it for yourself. It's germaine to the arguments.

January 11, 2006

The Inevitable Personal Learning Environment Post at incorporated subversion

Slowly ploughing thru my humongous (and growing daily) Teachers-who-blog blogroll (see rh sidebar of this blog). I'm down to the letter 'I' and hit James Farmer's incorporated subversion. The Inevitable Personal Learning Environment Post at incorporated subversion:
Seems like there's a big wave 'o people talking about PLEs in some pretty major terms.

Stephen, for example, says this:

It's just you, your community, and the web, an environment where you are the centre and where your teachers - if there are any - are your peers. It is, I believe, the future - and where, one day, the next generation of Blackboards and WebCTs and Moodles and Sakais will make their mark.

Erm, what's a ple?

OK, off we go. Follow the links in James's original post for a quick education.

Altho I'm not involved in tech-ed at all (I blog, I know no other colleagues who do; I notice that slowly more and more of my students are blogging, but only in private), I'm interested in this topic because it helps throw light on how learning environments are changing, not just tech ones.

Back at Incsub's posting, I clicked on the graphic hoping to get a larger version I could print out (and maybe even read!). Instead I got taken to a deeper page of James' domain, with a fascinating summary of some ideas on social relationships and how these are changing, especially the section on Semilattices & Trees, ‘artificial’ and ‘natural’ environments.

This is all grist to the mill for me, pondering on curriculum change. I'm following Borderland's thoughts on curriculum, and also listening again to Dave Warlick's podcast Web 2.0 at the NCETC. I'm learning a lot from this, and I like Dave's provocative questions. Of course, one of the topics that comes up (about 30minutes in) is curriculum and textbooks: if the textbook is outdated even before students open it on the first day...David asks, what if instead of buying a textbook, a teacher subscribed to various digital sources of information that helps students learn what they're supposed to be learning?

Well, the next question, obviously, is, who is deciding what students are supposed to be learning? After all, textbooks belong to the age of the teacher as authority figure - the "I know what's best for you and here it is" figure. But if the teacher is now a kind of human aggregator, helping to locate sources of information for students, and now helping them more with the task of making sense of the information, of digesting it, and re-mixing it for their own learning purposes, then that rather changes the picture.

January 10, 2006

Edublogger Community @ Upcoming.org Growing at pedersondesigns

Edublogger Community @ Upcoming.org Growing at pedersondesigns

This looks like a really neat idea.

Amazon.co.uk: Teacher Man: Books

Amazon.co.uk: Teacher Man: Books
This sounds interesting. From a link on Tim Lauer's excellent blog

edublogs: Socialising, Identity 2.0 and education

edublogs: Socialising, Identity 2.0 and education
Some interesting, thought-provoking ideas here, tho most of just re-inforces what I'd already read elsewhere.
In particular, I liked the bit about how blogging has helped people become self-employed and cut out the middle-men (scroll down to Independent Digital Lifestyles); and "Why give learners a social life?"

January 09, 2006

Connectivism Blog: Power

Connectivism Blog

Power is an underlying thread that extends through all of life. We've all heard statements that 'money is power' or 'sex is power'. I don't have a strong opinion on the accuracy of those two statements, but I do believe that the real power issues of our era center around ideologies. Our ideologies are then expressed in how we create our institutions and organizations. What we believe, and the accompanying meaning of that belief, are central to the educational process.
The following are the key ideology-driven power constructs that will shape our world over the next several decades:...

  • Corporations. Corporations have one ulterior motive: generate value for shareholders. Country lines and patriotism are secondary to achievement of corporate vision. In our developing global environments, corporations hold tremendous power.

  • Far from being an ulterior motive, this is their explicitly stated overt goal. It has been pointed out elsewhere how corporations are essentially psychopathic, so I add no comment here. 

  • Belief-based organizations (religious, atheistic). Religious structures have long held an important role in society. The attainment of "higher ideals" has shaped and driven society for centuries. The loss of public power (i.e. governing people, law and punishment) has resulted in spiritual groups developing a quiet, often behind-the-scenes, power in the lives of their adherents. This quiet power is then reflected in how members of a group function within corporations, institutions, and government.
  •  No comment, other than to point the curious reader to this link.

  • Countries/governments. I'm not sure how this power structure will fair [sic] in a global era. Already we are seeing countries sacrifice some autonomy to be a part of larger multi-country trade and currency groups (EU, NAFTA are examples...and UN is a more global example, though countries don't necessarily sacrifice autonomy to be a part of UN).
  •  If "country lines ... are secondary to achievement of corporate vision" then this would seem to suggest that countries/governments run a serious risk of becoming irrelevant. The curious reader might take a look at The Global Trap for powerful evidence that, as far as economic policy is concerned, governments basically do as they are told.

  • "The people". This power structure has gained substantial capacity to influence corporations and governments (China and Iran may not be the best examples) with the advent of internet and communication technologies. Smart mobs and the "new superpower", are examples of informal, often rapid, organization of people around promoting/preserving an ideal, or righting an injustice. While a far cry from Marxist "power to the people" approach, this power structure works within to influence other structures (instead of trying to replace or duplicate them). “The people” wield their influence based on the nature of the power structure they are trying to influence (corporations with dollars, countries with votes, churches with reputation).
  • A rather naive view of the extent to which people power can influence events, particularly in so-called democratic countries.

  • Education. Education is the odd element in this power list. Education influences each structure listed above, as it is the process by which other power systems achieve and propagate their aims. In an ideological sense, I believe education, when coupled with appropriate power structure, is the only way we are able to truly change the world (for the better). In a sense, education is the balancing, accountability, critical thinking element of power.
  • the process by which other power systems achieve and propagate their aims. Exactly. Now go and read Gatto.

    European research finds that degrees do not guarantee jobs | connect.educause.edu

    European research finds that degrees do not guarantee jobs | connect.educause.edu:
    Researchers at Finland's University of Helsinki have found that higher education does not guarantee employment.

    This finding may not surprise, but it is very interesting given Finland's position within the European context for education and career progression / workforce mobility....

    Yet a recent World Economic Forum report identified Finland as the world's most competitive economy, citing its "culture of innovation." Education, evidently, has a large role to play in maintaining this position. But is it enough?

    Lobbying for spare change or real change?

    Tough talk from Blue Skunk Doug Johnson.
    Doug Johnson's Blue Skunk Blog - Blue Skunk Blog:
    We've got a whole blogosphere who pisses and moans about the sad state of education, reactionary teachers, need for 21st century skills, etc. But are these smart, committed people DOING anything legislatively about their concerns - such as working with professional organizations who hire lobbyists. It might be easier to get these folks to join ISTE, ALA, state organizations if there were well-publicized legislative platforms in which THEY could believe. This is particularly true for our younger members. Read this (and weep) from a library science grad student's blog:
    ....
    I have little hope that most states and individual districts will seriously address the need for students to have 21st century skills (beginning with Information/Tech literacy) while completely focused on meeting the current NCLB standards. This would change if NCLB took these skills as seriously as it does reading, writing and math. We must lobby for the 4th 'R - now!

    Worldviews

    There were some interesting comments to David Warlick's post in which he quoted a comment of mine.

    We all have a worldview. This worldview creates its own blinkers. In other words, our worldview has to make sense and for it to make sense it has to exclude, filter out, facts or realities that conflict with that worldview.

    A worldview that says teachers' roles are to prepare students for the future, which says that that future is all about survival and competition, must necessarily exclude certain realities. One excluded reality is birth; another is death! To this worldview, these realities are anomalies, irrelevancies, they get in the way, they cannot be explained by the worldview, and therefore tend to be ignored. A further reality that tends to be ignored in such a worldview is, as I mentioned in my comment, handicapped people. In "survival of the fittest", handicapped people are an unfortunate anomaly, except to the extent they can be trained to become productive citizens, helping to keep the nation competitive in the world market. Eugenics is an extreme example of such a worldview.

    But let's examine this reality for a moment. Handicapped people are alive, they were born, one day they will die, and in that time in between they want to have fun, just like the rest of us. For some of them, like for my Downs Syndrome daughter, they are incapable of comprehending the worldview of survival of the fittest, of competition; my daughter has only a vague grasp of "tomorrow", and certainly cannot yet understand that if today is the 9th, then the 12th will be in 3 days' time. For her, everything future is "tomorrow". For such a person, what value a university education? Of "being a productive citizen"?

    My daughter has a blast every day. I want a world that allows her to continue to enjoy herself every day, for as long as she may live.

    A good friend of mine once told me about a documentary he saw about a completely paralyzed young girl, able to move only her eyes. Her parents had built a special machine that allowed her to "type" messages by moving her eyes. She had been in this condition since birth. My friend was just overwhelmed with the sadness of this girl's situation and that of her parents. What a life! Yet when this girl was asked, "How do you feel?" she replied, "I am very happy." The conclusion my friend drew was that even this girl had been given her share of joy, just like everyone else; the ability to enjoy, to appreciate. As far as this was concerned, there was no disability.

    Of course, I bear in mind the skills, the education, the "competition" perhaps, that was required to build the machine that allowed this girl to communicate. All I am saying is that a worldview should be as realistic as possible, and not conveniently exclude elements that don't seem to fit that view. If elements don't fit, the worldview needs to be changed, not the other way around.

    Further questions beg to be asked, such as "productive" from whose point of view? Preparing for whose future? For whose vision of the future?

    Readers of this blog are no doubt sick of hearing me quote Gatto, but I do recommend his book, particularly to those who are questioning the role of school or their own role in school. He makes a cogent argument: that if schools could be improved, to truly help prepare young people for the future, the improvements would have been made by now. School are already designed to prepare young people for the future. The difficulty or misunderstanding arises over whose or which concept of the future we are talking about. To understand this better, I think it helps to know the history of how compulsory schooling was introduced.

    January 06, 2006

    Topical Dilbert cartoon, winters of discontent, and the purpose of this blog

    Dilbert Comic Strip Archive - Dilbert.com - The Official Dilbert Website by Scott Adams - Dilbert, Dogbert and Coworkers!
    After listening to Bud's podcast for Jan 4th, and read David Warlick's post on Discontent and the various bloggers who have posted about quitting their jobs, I got this Dilbert cartoon for Jan 6th!

    When I started blogging, I was spending most of my time noting the various fascinating conversations I noticed here and there, some on blogs, others on regular websites, or in online newspapers and magazines. Slowly I began to write my own conversations, and discovered with delight how other people far away seemed to be having the same thoughts and feelings, despite the geographical distance and the quite different circumstances. As Robert Paterson puts it in Going Home: We are amazed to find others far away who can hear us and who have the same tone. [Going Home - the Cluetrain manifesto for the blog era, as soulsoup calls it]

    There are some who believe nothing is by coincidence. In which case, perhaps these blog postings are not just coincidentally related: that so many blog about life, about passion and the need to find meaning.

    When I first started this blog, it was ostensibly as a journal to log my thoughts and ideas about helping my students develop autonomous language learning. However, I soon discovered that what I was really trying to discover were two things: what is real learning, and what is truly going on in my classrooms?

    I was hired to teach English. Simple and straight forward, right? Trouble is, I find students reluctant to participate in the activities: they won't do homework, they won't prepare, they won't speak out in class, they constantly undermine the activities. A common favourite in EFL books is "Find someone who": list a number of attributes, skills, places, events, etc., and first have students create questions from these prompts (e.g. "Have you been to China? Can you speak Korean? Do you have a pet?") then they ask classmates with the purpose of finding someone who answers yes. When they've found someone, they write their name next to the question. It's a way of helping students get to know each other, as well as giving them practice in question forms.
    Guess what happens? This has happened in every class I've tried it in, and I've tried it well over 50 times, in what can only be termed perfectly unreasonable optimism: first, students ask their neighbour every question. After that they ask the person on their other side. I use the word "ask" loosely: what they do is poke their neighbour, grunt, and show him/her the paper. The neighbour wakes up, glances at the paper, points to one of the prompts (perhaps at random). The questioner grunts again, and the neighbour mumbles his/her name, which the questioner then writes on the paper, usually in Chinese characters. The questioners may (or may not) lumber to their feet to "ask" other people in the class. In other words, the whole activity can be "done" without speaking any English at all.

    So here I am, ostensibly hired to teach English, but it is apparent that few (if any) of my charges want to learn English; that few are willing to actually put the work in that is required to make any sort of real progress; that most are more concerned with passing the course, obtaining the necessary credits, and graduating from the institution, and are slightly curious to find out if this can be done without actually doing any work.

    So what is going on? So began my investigation.

    Broadband usage is a predictor of educational advancement?

    Andy Carvin’s Waste of Bandwidth blog, an interestingly eclectic mix, includes this quote which caught my attention. I wonder if it’s true, and where it came from. Any comments?

    "For Hispanics the stakes are especially significant because only one in eight are experiencing the digital fast lane known as broadband," Flores adds. "And study after study shows that broadband usage is a predictor of educational advancement and educational attainment."

    A variety of free online courses on ESL/EFL starting Jan 16th for 6 weeks

    Last year at about this time, I signed up for an online course on using Drama in ESL. Great fun. Partway thru that course I discovered a course on blogging was also being offered. I signed up for that too. Huge fun and a steep learning curve, but a great community.

    This year TESOL CALL offer another course on Collaborative Blogging in EFL/ESL

    Also there are ones on podcasting,
    becoming a webhead
    Creating WebQuests

    and more.
    If you're interested in any of these, but are not sure how to get going, or would like to "take a class" first, then I warmly recommend these courses. But beware! They are time-consuming, and depending on the number of participants there may be heavy email traffic (tho you can always get the digest version).

    The CALL Interest Section of the international TESOLprofessional association is pleased to offer theopportunity to participate in the Electronic VillageOnline (EVO) 2006 season. This is a professionaldevelopment project and virtual extension of the TESOL2006 Convention in Tampa Bay, FL. The intendedaudience for this project includes both TESOL 2006participants and those who can participate onlyvirtually.You do not need to be a TESOL member to participate ina free, six-week, wholly online session of the EVO,Jan-Feb, 2006. Please visit our Announcement Web pageto select one of a dozen sessions on a variety oftopics:http://webpages.csus.edu/~hansonsm/announce.htmlYours in TESOL,The EVO Coordination Team

    About ESL.com

    Today I got the following email. Wow, first David Warlick quotes a complete comment of mine, then this! OOojh! I'd better get some new pajamas for when the media arrive....

    I just wanted to let you know that I've created a new category at http://esl.about.com dedicated to ESL / EFL blogs and have included your site at http://esl.about.com/od/esleflblogs. I hope this can send a little traffic your way. I've been following your blog through my trusty RSS feed and find it very informative and insightful.

     If you'd like to link back to http://esl.about.com - or any of the sub-categories such as lesson plans at http://esl.about.com/od/englishlessonplans/ or teaching English at http://esl.about.com/od/teachingenglish/, I'd appreciate it.

     Best of luck with your blog and thanks for bringing your voice to the Internet.

    Best regards,

    The site apparently belongs to the New York Times...It seems pretty comprehensive, and I will be browsing around during these last few days of the New Year's holidays here in Japan (classes don't start till the 10th), and while my car is having its MOT called "sha-ken" in the vernacular (that's "sha" as in "shat", not stirred)

    January 05, 2006

    From limitation to possibility

    I don't know about you, but when it comes to life, I need all the inspiration I can get. Here's some, from National Geographic photographer Dewitt Jones, and a big, big thanks to Doug of the Borderland.

    Embracing change and other thoughts for the new year

    Some bracing New Year's thoughts, from the author of Danger Quicksand Have a Nice Day:



    You can resist change or embrace it. Nothing remains exactly as it was yesterday.


    Resisting change puts you at the effect of change. If you choose this
    path, you are always fighting vainly to put things back as they were.
    Sorry, but that is not an option. This effort to stop leads only to
    failure.


    If you wholeheartedly embrace change, your attention is on managing the
    change or on creating changes that you consider desirable. Like sailing
    against the wind by tacking, you can achieve forward motion for
    yourself even when changes occur which might seem to oppose you.


    Strive for the simplest answers. These will generally produce the best
    results. Complicated answers rise out of a lack of ability to confront
    issues.


    Strive for honest, personal, and compassionate communication in all
    that you do. It will make life easier than you can possibly imagine.


    Dishonest, impersonal, and callously indifferent communications will do
    you in sooner or later. Every disaster you have ever experienced
    probably started with one of these.


    Make 2006 the best year ever. You owe it to yourself to make changes that will make yourself happier and more productive.


    Thank you for visiting this weblog and sharing in my post-corporate
    adventures. Come back whenever you get a
    chance.

    Have a Happy New Year!


    More on critical thinking

    EFL Geek's comment points to a couple of interesting posts, tho the thread is a little different. I'm not talking here about "how to teach critical thinking in Japan/Asia to the benighted natives who just don't get it". I was just interested in the idea that there are three approaches or "logics" to instruction, and that they contain elements that contradict elements in the others. I'm not sure I agree with all this, tho. Where is the evidence, for one thing? But the idea that the teaching approach of imitation might be directly linked to the aim of socializing young children/people I find very interesting. Again, tho, I'd want more evidence, but perhaps it's all in the bibliography?

    Can critical thinking be taught?

    Having fun reading the brain-teasing posts of Artichoke,
    especially this one with a ton of interesting links. This one (RTF file) in particular is relevant to autonomy, altho the title is "critical thinking". In fact, it is one of the first articles I can remember reading which links autonomy and critical thinking; an obvious connection, but I hadn't thought about it deeply before.

    The article essentially asks, Is it possible to teach critical thinking skills? Basing himself on Lamm's "Cognitive Map of Instuction", the author Harpaz posits there are essentially 3 theories (or "logics")  of instruction, and that these logics conflict "in the realm of their practical results. The patterns of instruction neutralize one another in terms of their educational effect."

    The three logics of instruction are "a necessary product of the three components of the human condition: society, culture, and the individual." The three patterns are therefore imitation derived from the "super-goal" of socialization; molding derived from the "super-goal" of acculturation, and development derived from the "super-goal" of individuation.

    Harpaz then examines the teaching of critical thinking in the 3 patterns. Do the patterns of imitation suit the goals of teaching critical thinking skills? He basically says, No: there are too many contradictions. He therefore suggests a fourth pattern of instruction for which he borrows a term from Lamm, "the undermining didactic."

    Here are some bits I underlined:

    A more crucial contradiction appearing in instruction for critical thinking in the pattern of imitation is a result of the "hidden curriculum" of this pattern - the covert messages sent by the practice of teaching, of which the teachers and students are unaware....Anyone learning critical thinking through imitation has also learned, in addition to the skills of critical thinking, that his or her opinions and motivations are of no importance; that to know is to remember; to think is dangerous, since thinking can disrupt the precise replication of the teacher's words; authorities must be obeyed, because they know; knowledge is objective, cumulative and unequivocal; problems are well-defined; every problem has a clear-cut solution; one's worth is dependent on others' opinions of him/her; learning involves futile suffering....[my emphasis, my favourite!]  In short [someone] proficient in the skills of critical thinking...but [not] a critical thinker...

    The pattern of imitation is driven by the principle of "visible results", meaning that behaviors acquired in the pattern of imitation are public behaviors. They may therefore be easily modeled, exercised and evaluated. They also suit the school framework (which is not coincidental, for schools were originally created for the purpose of socialization, and are therefore governed by the pattern of imitation)....

    Any content, including philosophy, can be taught through the use of the three patterns of instruction. Though it is perhaps more pertinent to teach philosophy in the "commuity of inquiry", it is not obligatory to do so. Philosophy can be taught in a lecture designed to cover the "material" in order to succeed at an exam, which determines the extent of memorization of the "material" - in other words, the pattern of imitation. (In most places where philosophy has been taught, this has been the method.) The pattern of imitation is dominant in the average school, and other patterns of instruction introduced in schools tend to disappear under its shadow.

    ...in the average school... open and critical discussion will come to an end when the teacher, principal or supervisor thinks that he is not "keeping up pace" or "covering" the chapters of the "traditions of the great cultures" indluded in the curriculum. In other words, in the contexty of school learning , instruction to critical thinking tends to be ritualized...

    It is questionable whether dispositions of critical thinking can and should be molded by the pattern of molding. By its very nature, the pattern of molding cannot develop a critical attitude to the beliefs it is attempting to instil, thereby contradicting the idea of critical thinking. The essence of this idea is that no belief is protected from critical thinking, including the belief in critical thinking itself. Ultimately, it is quite possible that unexamined lives are worth living.

    Conceptions that reduce the term "critical thinking" to autonomous or authentic personality, and claim that it is possible to develop such a personality through the use of "negative education" - meaning education that avoids forcing any "extrinsic aims" upon the students (including critical thinking) - are a version of the pattern of development... No approach to critical thinking is suited to the pattern of development. This is surprising, considering the fact that critical thinking is an essential and declared goal of this pattern....Non-critical "true believers" [does this have the same overtones as the phrase used by John Gatto, I wonder?] are bound to the belief (or "meta-belief") that their beliefs are derived from some foundation in the world, that they are forced upon them. Experiencing choice through freedom undermines a person's propensity to attribute a deeper essence to the world than to  himself, in other words to be non-critical.

    Charles Silberman noted in his once popular book Crisis in the Classroom
    that the decisive mistake of teachers is that they think students learn what they teach [Silberman, 1971, p.181]. The analysis proposed here adds another decisive error: that teachers think they are teaching what they teach. Teachers teach content; but the students learn primarily from the pattern of instruction the teachers use and from the messages inherent within it.)

    A hierarchy seems to exist in the three primary categories, "skills", "dispositions" (or internalized values and principles) and "personality," which comprise the "ideal types" of education to critical thinking. The "personality" category is broader than that of "dispositions," for (autonomous or authentic) personality is likely to supervise or criticize its own dispositions; while "dispositions" precede skills, which they guide and actualize. Since we
    ["we"? Only one author is in the byline!]  claim  that education to critical thinking must adopt only one pattern of instruction, it is fitting that it employe the pattern centered upon the most basic category. This is the pattern of development, whose goal is to develop autonomous personality, recognizable by its critical relationship to its beliefs.

    [What is needed] is a process necessitating a pattern of instruction not easily plotted on Lamm's "Cognitive Map of Instruction". However, it suits a pattern of instruction described by Lamm elsewhere: the pattern of the "undermining didactic" (Lamm, 1972).

    ...pedagogical tact is always needed, especially in this undermining pattern of instruction. This educational process aims to develop the personality's flexibility, openness and autonomy. It does not educate directly to critical thinking, because it is impossible to do so.

    ...The seed of the "fourth pattern" exists in all of the approaches discussed above. Its roots lie in the Socratic dialogue, as well as in Dewey's and Piaget's concepts of thinking and learning.

    A Google search on  “Cognitive map of instruction” brought up this article which I will peruse later.

    Am back to Blogjet, as once again Firefox’s Performancing extension is letting me down. Is it a Blogger.com problem?

    January 04, 2006

    Educators cannot initiate change

    Another thoughtful post by Doug on the Borderland. This bit in particular resonated with me. I don't know what I think about it yet, I just want to let it simmer for a while:
    The time for sweeping changes may be overdue, but I don't see how
    educators are going to initiate that process. The problems we confront
    are not merely institutional, they are embedded in the relationship
    between schools and society. Sincere dialog may be the most practical
    revolutionary stance a teacher can assume at this time.

    I'm blogging this using righ-click "BlogThis" option, not via Firefox's Performancing extension, which refuses to work properly: the error message says "there was a possible error contacting the ATOM server: error type #3 [Object object]". As I haven't a clue what that means, I'll just uninstall and re-install the extension. Damn nuisance! When it works, Performancing is really so useful.

    Why the US spies on its own citizens - cartoon

    Welcome to uComics Web Site featuring Ted Rall -- The Best Comic Site In The Universe!

    I get Ted Rall's cartoons delivered by email. Recently they've been very dark, but this one for January 2nd shows a return to his caustic, fool-as-truth-teller style I read him for. It's especially funny as I've just finished reading Dan Brown's Digital Fortress, about the NSA and its ability to spy within the US borders.

    January 03, 2006

    Quit your day job

    A teacher quits. Well worth a read. With some help from Hugh MacLeod of http://gapingvoid.com
    John Pederson takes the "plunge away from conventional educational employment" (click of the mouse to Teaching Generation Z for the pointer, tho Pederson was on my blogroll, I hadn't visited for a while).

    Apart from John's story, Hugh's hilarious "business-card cartoons" are great.