World Alamanac of Educational Technologies

Via George Siemens. I’m not sure how the 9 countries thus far included were selected, but this wiki provides an interesting look at the technologies applied in Brazil, Canada, China, Italy, Kenya, Mexico, South Korea, Turkey and the USA.

I can’t help wondering how one describes education in a country such as China in terms of a single system. I would imagine that there are parts of China where the standard of education and the technologies employed rival the most advanced in the first world, while there are also parts of the country where the standard of education and access to technology are on a par with the worst in the third world.

Halfway review

On Tuesday, we had our last taught session for this academic year. This marks the halfway point for me. In effect, I have completed 5 modules by this point:

  • Educational Research – module completed – assignment due early September
  • Reflective Professional Development – module completed, final summary due in with balance of portfolio next Tuesday
  • Learning & Teaching – module completed and passed
  • ICT in Teaching & Learning – module completed and passed
  • Thinking Skills – module completed – assignment due September
  • Independent studies module – still to be approved – anticipated for completion December 2007
  • Dissertation (triple module) – topic tentatively selected – due October 2008

Looking back over the year, my favourite bit has been thinking skills. I have been frustrated at the lack of time to put in the amount of reading needed to do each assignment justice. I am also very aware of my tendency to wide and shallow learning, and the fact that it is totally inappropriate for a dissertation. In order to do myself justice, I will need to focus on the material for my dissertation at the expense of much other material that I read, and I am having anxiety attacks at the thought of being out of the loop.

I guess I’m just going to have to bit the bullet and get it done and behind me.

Next assignment in

So I passed my ICT in Teaching and Learning module with merit. Since this has been my field for the past 20 years, this is no more than one would expect. I wrote about my journey from JIC training to JIT learning through the affordances of ICT.

I was not satisfied with the quality of the work I submitted, but with the commitments I have, I wasn’t in a position to do anything about it and had to hand it in as it was. Judging by the tone of the lecturer’s comments, he was disappointed that I didn’t earn myself a distinction. I read his feedback to my 15 year old son who summed them up beautifully by saying “You wrote a little about a lot, and you should have written a lot about a little.” That was it, in a nutshell. I tried to cover 20 years of experience and insight in 3000 words. Mistake.

One point that was made, however, was that it read like the start of a promising dissertation. Just as well, because my plan was to do a dissertation along rather similar lines, so I’m happy for the serendipitous vote of confidence!

Thinking skills – setting me thinking

I’m so enjoying the thinking skills module, but it’s giving me a professional itch my current job doesn’t scratch. It reminds me why I became a learning professional in the first place. I wanted to empower people, to enable them, to give them a leg up, to give them access to places they needed help to reach. I have almost always worked in the corporate sector, but the fact that I was in a position to teach people new skills, to support them as they grappled with new concepts, was enormously fulfilling. For the most part, I felt protected from the politics, the posturing. Sadly, I find myself in the full blast of all of that right now. Even worse, I have had no direct contact with my learners for nearly two years. I currently work in a so-called learning organisation, but there are only three of us that I know of who are passionate about learning, who romp like labrador puppies with oversized feet and daft grins through the world of new learning I tried to upload a picture, but I couldn’t get it to work, so pop over here for a look). The focus is on the commercials, and the learning must comply.

The combination of those factors is grinding me down. Quenching my fire. I didn’t realise quite how much until I watched a video of Feuerstein teaching thinking skills to disaffected children. Ah, I sighed to myself, imagine going home at the end of a day of doing that. Imagine making that much of a difference to people. Imagine knowing that someone got to a new place today because of you. Because of what you showed them, taught them, opened up to them.

Deep sigh – I seem to have lost my way.

Philosophy for children – what a pity we need it!

Last night, our thinking skills lecture slot was guest run by a woman from SAPERE. She introduced us to the concept of Philosophy for Children (P4C), starting as young as the age of 4.

There was some debate about the name, apparently, since philosophy has developed a bad rep in some quarters. But they decided to stick with it. The kids aren’t studying philosophy or becoming disciples of this or that philosopher. They are learning to philosophise: philos = love + sophos = wisdom. So…

The use some stimulus like a photo, a piece of music, a movie clip, a story book. Then they ask the children to come up with questions based on the stimulus. The children then vote on a single question to discuss during the session. We had a go at it ourselves and chose the question “Why don’t we value non-conformity?” based on a children’s picture book about a little boy who was a nonconformist. It was an interesting and valuable exercise, with many people saying they didn’t know what they thought until they starting hearing other people’s views and found themselves agreeing or disagreeing.

The initiative has not been universally welcomed, but where it has been introduced at schools, it has apparently had enormous success. It has been introduced to children of various ages, and even to adults, when the parents/grandparents of the children have developed an interest. In some schools it has become a timetabled session. In others, the requirement is for the principles to be introduced into other subjects in the curriculum. Through last night’s session, I began to recognise the ways in which at least my elder son is receiving teaching of this nature (“In the play Blood Brothers, how does class affect the relationship between the two boys?”)

Children who have been exposed to this approach have apparently almost universally shown improvement across the board.

This is all wonderful and very exciting, but it makes me want to say, “Well duh!” What makes me sad is that it is necessary for schools even to be doing this. I mean, what are families for? Where are all the lively dinner discussions? The rainy weekend debates? The discussions over board games? What ever happened to conversation, for goodness sake?

It has always been my view that parents are the primary educators, and I have stuck by that view in the face of some pretty stiff opposition from schools along the way, and part of the parental responsibility must surely include teaching children to think, to consider.

Thinking skills: Learning about myself

Last week, our thinking skills lecturer distributed some exercises. One of them was a sheet containing 16 cryptic clues to well-known phrases – this sort of thing (answers at the end of the post):

esroh riding

9ALL5

DO12″OR

The other was a series of 9 dots, laid out in a 3X3 grid, which we had to try to join up using only 4 lines and without lifting pen from paper (answer at the end of the post, as before):9 dots

I was at a table with a biology teacher and a dance teacher. The dance teacher gave it a go, but was struggling to get to grips with the objective. She found that her mind wasn’t wired in a way that made sense of the cryptic exercise, but she managed the 9 dots just fine. The biology teacher was totally disgruntled by the whole thing and, as she herself said afterwards, folded her arms and sulked until someone showed her the right answer. She found herself to be very competitive and not prepared to try if she didn’t have the tools to win.
I had no trouble with either exercise. I’m not quite sure why I didn’t have any trouble with the 9 dots exercise, perhaps it’s because I have done similar things before, and I’ve sussed out the pattern. As to the cryptic clues, I put it down to the fact that I am a sad cryptic crossword puzzle geek. But the lecturer challenged this. Why can I do cryptic crossword puzzles? And then she said the magic word: analogies!

I’ve said it before: I think in analogies and allegories. Everything I learn reminds me of something I’ve learnt before, (almost) everyone I meet reminds me of someone I have met or seen before. I have used this thought technique to enable me as a teacher/trainer all my life. Providing people with knowns to use as a springboard to conquer unknowns. This is like that in such and such a way, but it differs here and here. So and so has eyes just like George Clooney/Bush/Washington. It all fits together.

How constructivist of me!

But in every learning environment, there are people like the three of us. People for whom it just clicks and the light goes on. People for whom the knowledge that there is an answer makes for an interesting exercise – a creative approach, the willingness to make a few wrong suggestions on the journey to the right answer. People who resent being asked to complete a task without being given the tools and a workable (for them) set of instructions from the outset.

Whirling around in my head are thoughts along the lines that our K-12 curriculum no longer allows students the space to be wrong, to have a few creative stabs at finding a solution. There is the requirement to hone in on the right answer like a heat-seeking missile. Where’s the room for creativity there? Surely we are excluding all but one type of thought process from our quest for answers?

I think there is a chance I will be posting more on that point in the near future.

Okay, so here are the answers – how did you do?

horseback riding

all in a day’s work

a foot in the door

9 dots solved

A must-attend online conference

You may not be a teacher – I’m not either. You may not work in the field of formal education – I don’t either.¬† But for one reason or another, we’re all interested in education. Because we’re learners ourselves, or because we have children going through their education. Or because once, long ago, we had a teacher who scarred us for life, or empowered us beyond what we would have thought possible.

The Future of Education is an online confereence being organised by George Siemens on behalf of the University of Manitoba. The presenters are drawn from a wide range of sectors and countries, and the delegates (if the last of George’s conferences was anything to go by) will be an even more eclectic lot. The Elluminate platform absolutely rocks! The presenters are able to make use of a whiteboard for slides, and their presentation is delivered real time over the audio channel. Delegates have access to a chat facility during the presentation, any may pose questions or make observations this way, or by “raising a hand” to request the microphone. Conversations continue after the presentation via the conference Moodle. Considering the logistics involved, a remarkable sense of community is established.

Be there. No, really  Рbe there!

Research vs humanity

David Warlick has posted on this subject. His thoughts may make an interesting addition to the pot. The question of ethics comes up quite often in our class discussions, and we often conclude that a purely ethical approach would be paralysing to the future of research. At what point do the ends sufficiently justify the means to press ahead with research even though people may be negatively affected or given and unfair advantage as a consequence? Where do ethics end and political correctness begin? Lots of questions. Fewer answers.

Steven D Krause: The Process of Research Writing

Steven is part of an increasing number of peope who are publishing their text books themselves online where students and other interested parties can access them free of charge. This book is likely to prove useful to me as I come to grips with academic writing, particularly in respect of my dissertation. For those for whom the recommended texts seem pricy, it might be worth considering…