Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Final Verdict - Ends and Beginnings

Has the internet changed what it means to to be educated..?

     Yes, in a word in which we are able to access any amount of information, from almost any source, one realistically, any topic, the world of education has become fundamentally different. What is the importance of school based learning when we no longer need to master, nor can we master everything there is to know. This has not been the case since the 17th century, but more to the point, we can no longer rely on schools to prepare us for the complexities of life. It is true that we must rely on it to some extent for guidance and social experience, but there is no conceivable way for the institution to prepare us adaquitly based on the pool of information available.
     In response to this, i would argue for an apprentishship based system. An institution that models individuals who are suited for certain roles (doctors, lawyers, engineers) into valuable and critical thinking students. Apprentiship in this context would be highly competitive and selective, thereby creating a generation of highly skilled individuals who are qualified in every respect for the task. The down side to this, of course, are those left behind. We would need a system in place to train those who do not move into apprentiship programs for their future careers: what ever they may be.
    Lastly, on the integration of modern conventions, i believe that our efforts as of late are working towards a better system. We can only move forward by accepting the conventions open to us: ie. social media and technology to further our education and personal learning goals.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Thoughts on Ghost in the Machine: Seymour Papert

For the full article:

Written in the 1990's, the author makes several predictions of the future of computing in the household and in the family. Firstly, that as technology permeates the home, the parents will need to adapt and keep up with it so they they can "know what they need to know" in an effort to help their children grow and learn. The second was that as computers infiltrate the schools a dramatic reform will take place leading to the end of the blocked scheduled and daily subject based classes. Of course, at the end he notes how that, by the 80's the education system had effectively diffused computers and kept their regimented structures, but his first prediction has come to pass. Adults, older adults, and parents have had to adapt and become exposed to learning how to use new technologies effectively; not so much because they felt it necessary for themselves, but rather, because it was necessary to aid their children education and safety.

On cell phones, my own family began with the box phone, the archaic version of communicating that predates our own smart phone technology. It was brought about out of the need to be connected over distances and in case of emergencies. The same impetus brought about the cellphones students in high school and ultimately elementary school now posses. The parents had to learn to use them eventually, so much so that my own parents are proficient at using phone based calenders, testing software, mail clients, etc.

Again, with computers, they were needed for school, and the parents had to learn to install software for students, and find solutions to problems that the students couldn't fix (prior to the WWW). This led to a generation of adults who had moderate exposure to technology, students who could expound on this, and ultimately (like english language learners) teach their parents new tricks and tools for efficient computing.

To close, while his predictions did not come to fruition completely, they do point the way to a feasible future.

The Future - 404 ERROR?

In an article by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, two differing arguments for the future of the human condition were presented.

For the full article: 

     "The argument was essentially a survey of what people perceived the long term affects of hyper-    connected lives will be on the populace by 2020. The outcome was 55:42 in favor of the positive .

 "brains of multitasking teens and young adults are "wired" differently from those over age 35 and overall it yields helpful results. They do not suffer notable cognitive shortcomings as they multitask and cycle quickly through personal- and work- related tasks."

The latter: 

"They do not retain information; they spend most of their energy sharing short social messages, being entertained, and being distracted away from deep engagement with people and knowledge. They lack deep-thinking capabilities; they lack face-to-face social skills; they depend in unhealthy ways on the internet and mobile devices to function."

So where do I Stand on this?

Granting that the article itself mentions the bias in that there was no middle ground choice and that i am bound by this convention. I will side with the positive. Am i concerned fro the negative outcomes, yes, but i believe that humanity has enough neural plasticity to combat the ever changing world. I believe that we will adapt, largely for the better, to this trend of media integration.

We do not fully comprehend the nature of sentience, but the fact remains that being able to access a sea of information and form a rational judgement on its validity, form an opinion, and choose a response we will continue to grow as a people.

"Young people accustomed to a diet of quick-fix information nuggets will be less likely to
undertake deep, critical analysis of issues and challenging information. Shallow choices,
an expectation of instant gratification, and a lack of patience are likely to be common
results, especially for those who do not have the motivation or training that will help
them master this new environment."

Clearly this is happening, but the fact is we are just now beginning to adapt to our new multimedia conventions. The world has become a candy store of information and treats, just like when the telegraph first connected the world. It will only be after the shock of the sugar rush, and it becoming an ingrained norm, that these tools will become applicable to their fullest appreciation. This only further supports the need for IT training and internet skills training in the classroom.  

Will there be problems... yes, will they last forever.... no. We will transition out of them. The couch potato was created by the TV, but even with #D smart TV's with web integration, the world has, in my opinion, moved past this stage because of the health revolution. It will be something similar, a trend (perhaps specific training, or a job field) that will do the same for the internet. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Brain and Google - Changing Times

The gist of this weeks article focused on two main points; 1. Our brains are malleable and the instant access nature of the Net is degrading both our attention spans and the way we're wired. 2. Google is trying to create the perfect search engine... an AI that can understand what you want --- and give you exactly what you need. "I'm sorry Dave. I can't do that Dave" Yes, i went there; and so did the authors, but i digress. To the first point, it appears that the way our brains wire themselves is changing. Where we used to be able to focus and weave elaborate mental pictures while reading books, we are moving towards a day when books will be out-modded by 1-2 paragraph articles that we simply power skim. I know for at least myself that I have lost the capacity to focus on a scientific journal long enough to read through a page without tangenting to some other task for a minute. Even reading the article for this, a paper of several pages, i had to take breaks and found myself losing focus even when i was actually trying to get it done. Literacy is a skill of civilization. Could it be that we are moving towards that future when the time machine stops and the great libraries of the world hold nothing but crumbling dust? The second point was the the scary prospect of our brains being replaced with a newer, faster, better processor. Google's future AI substitute for a search engine that will cater to our every question. What will become of invention, of synthesis, and experimentation when the answers to our questions can be implanted directly into our brains, as Rod Sirling once showed us in his series, The Twilight Zone. Or even more simply to use a Marvel reference, the Kree empire, a race of soldiers, all the same in purpose, to carry out the will of the supreme intelligence... Supremo, the biological computer. Will our own intellects be subjugated and altered by the Media Revolution? The Answer is yes. To what extent is left to be determined. End of Line...

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Marc Prensky - Article Review

The following is based on observations of a) 

And b)'t_Technology_Good_At-(Part%202)-EDTECH-Nov-Dec-1012.pdf

Article 1 - Skills

Both articles express interest in the continued development of today education, however were as the first focuses the transition of content, the latter looks towards the use of lenses and individualized learning to excite student motivation. Looking at the first article, it is clear that the author has hit on a key point in todays' schooling; the needs of today are different than the needs of yesterday. It is true that essay writing is largely not used in todays market place, neither is writing letters, or reports.

However, all the these are necessary skills.

True, we do not write letters. the author made it clear that we now write emails, but are they all that different. They still need an address, a format, and a signature. Essays? without those skills how will we produce the next generations authors. If the sum of a persons skill set allows them to write a two page short story; will there ever be a novel? As to reports, yes we use ppt and other media these days, but the sciences still need those basic skills to be successful. Business managers and researchers still need to be able to produce concise written material.

On to blog posts... As is evident here and elsewhere, formatting is choppy. Yes, they are nice to look at, but the informal nature of them can be taxing. They end up being more like personal journals or logs than acceptable material. Are they useful... yes. Do i see a blog replacing the lab report. No. blogs to me are by their very nature supplementary.

Article 2 - Passion

Motivation is the achilles heel of today's teaching styles and there really isn't anything i can fault in this article save his call for individualized material. While i applaud his vision i cannot realistically expect a subject to be recorded every which way. It would be nice, but i feel that material is already stylized to the point that anyone can find a learning niche to work with and be successful. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Khan Academy - Pro's and Con's (Part 2)

Well, I'm back after a trip down memory lane with organic chemistry and the Khan Academy. I decided to choose a field that i had some competency in and chose three videos as random (the first three i noticed in the side pane to be exact. Sn2 reactions, Sn1 reactions, and the Markonikov Rule. Below i've embedded the first of the three as an example.

Sn2 Reactions: Sn2 Reactions

My initial reaction was that he certainly sounds well informed and competent. I would otherwise guess that he was a chemistry teacher with more than a few classes under his belt. The second was the color coding, which aside from being highly interesting aids in identifying the reaction's constituents and in seeing stereo chemistry. Thirdly, i found his style to be somewhat slow, which i grant is due to the fact he doesn't know where his students are in relation to the material. In my own classes leaving groups and constituent names would be givens and only mentioned verbally once where as here they are constantly reiterated. This is not necessarily a bad thing, and overall i found his teaching style highly informative and easy to follow.

Where do i see this going in terms of flipped classrooms? I could see lessons like this replacing the basic instruction. In this respect students can learn, as we have said repeatedly in class and in other forms, at their own paces, rewinding the teacher as needed. The classroom instructor then is freed to help students with focused instruction on areas that the video may be lacking, to correct misnomers/mistakes in the lecture, or thirdly, to simply guide the students on what material to access and watch.

The flipped classroom is a fascinating idea... now if only we could somehow incorporate tablets into the desks themselves...   

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Khan Academy - Pro's and Con's (Part I)

The scientist in my is always concerned with bias, and to that end i have divided this critique into two parts. Having just read this critique on the Khan Academy.

It seemed only fair that i recap my own reactions before i watch a random sample of his videos. This article hits a point that has been lurking in the back of my mind from the time i was introduced to it... credibility. I myself have used youtube lessons (in college) to get supplemental aid in classes where i have had trouble; notable organic chemistry and physics, and that at the time i took those lessons at face value with no thought to check for their credentials. This being said, finding out that the Khan Academy's status quo is to search google before lessons, and that it doesn't take criticism to better itself, is frankly worrying.

That being said, i do commend it for finding a niche where students can get help and enjoy the process. It may not be a novel idea but it certainly is working. Flaws aside, his program is a stepping stone to a better curriculum; one where lessons are created, tested, recorded, and viewed as part of a SDL system.

To be continued - Post Video Survey

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

An 8th Grade Test - Historical

The following commentary is based on the a historical test given by the state of West Virginia in 1931.

(Disclaimer: If you have never come across this blog i would recommend opening and scanning the article.)

The question, which was posed to me earlier, was to critique it based on current practices.


The test is broken down (much the way we still do) into 10 subsections:
     English Grammar
     Physiology and Hygiene
     Civil Government
     U.S. and (State Specific) History

Note the sections here. The questions are, for the most part, critical thinking questions (short answer) to test your own understanding and knowledge on the topics above. No where do you see multiple choice. there is one matching section, and one correct the sentence, but there are no multiple guess scenarios. 

Furthermore, the content is broad, i myself would not have passed this test with an acceptable grade. where as our tests focus on content, it is apparent that the questions here apply, to a much greater extent, to context. This is not so much a preparatory test, but a skill check. Is the student prepared for the workforce, does he or she understand the context of the state, its history, government? Can he or she relate this ( Orth. Pen.Gram.) and work out difficult tasks with others? It appears to be a well rounded exam. 

Our current tests seem ghost-like in comparison. The student sits down after a night of cramming to work on a page of multiple choice questions, a page of fill-ins (with word bank), a math section of non-contextual numbers, and maybe two essays (choose one). 

I cannot speak to 8th grade tests for certain, as they are not in my field, but this is what i remember. Irrelevant questions, whose answers i knew for the hour and left me quickly there after. There were certainly no sections on civil gov. or penmanship, and state history... that would have been at the very least, interesting, but no. 

Could it be used now? I believe it would take time to prepare the students for such a test, but yes. It is clear to me that this type of testing is rooted firmly in a meaningful context and that is always preferable to irrelevant trivia.        

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Storify Intro --- Debate 2012

Reflection - 10/25/12 - Technology in Education

It would seem that we find ourselves at the end... but where then should I begin? So far, Collins has discussed the evolution of technology both in the classroom and out, the development of the information age, and the transition that the current, historically rooted, educational systems are working through. However, I have felt somewhat strongly that his arguments thus far have been aimed more at congnition than application. This was to change in his final few chapters.

His initial thoughts, beginning where we left off (p.104), offer us a bilateral argument about technology. The simple fact is that as we spend more time socializing virtually, we are slowely losing our interpersonal, real life, social skills. It is by far a simpler way to text message someone, than to call them, or even to meet in person. We can even now work collaboratively, via the internet, on any number of projects, across any length of distance. Is the trade off worth it? Possibly. Human beings have a psychological need for company, but we need to moderate the physical with the virtual or we become isolated. Even a virtual community can become a lonely and desolate place to exist. Even the skills we may aquire (time management, marketing, prpbability, group dynamics...), as he points out, from utylizing the gaming industry can lead to such places. MMOS and forums can only take us so far.

The next point that really stood out for me was his throry about the acquisition of credentials to build our experiences. It reminded me of the educational system found in Lois Lowry's, The Giver. Although a distopian novel, the schooling was based in first observations of the youth's apparent interests and strengths, followed by matriculation into a graded system of specialization, culminating in an apprenticeship and a career. I remarked, while discussing the book, that it sounded like it could work and I second that upon hearing Collin's ideas. The main concern is how to transition into such a system when even now we have no alternative routs for students, save high school.

Lastly, cultivating a culture of life long learners is a noble endeavor. I believe that such a system, as described by Collins, could very well bring about the future he paints, but it will be a hard pill to swallow for many families. Even if we manage to get individual laptops fro every child, and provide adaptive software, individualized learning programs, and career councilors, until we have a multi generational understanding of comprehension and learning, it won't succeed to the extent that we so desire. We need a comprehension generation to grow up and instill what they've learned to their children,. I feel that such a generation could easily adapt to changing media and create a homogeneous culture of competent, critically thinking, individuals.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Reflection "Learning, Innovation, and Digital Literacy Skills"

Knowing where to begin, when writing, is most often the hard part for the students I work with. This being said, I've fallen into the same trap. The article, broken into two consecutive chapters, is focused on the 4 c's of learning; critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity.

 Furthermore, it identifies the previously held conception of learning ("knowledge --> comprehension --> application --> synthesis --> evolution") and offers the modern taxonomic equivalent, "remember, understand, apply, analyze, evaluate, and create."

It then goes into a practical explanation of both via a group competition from ThinkQuest 2003


Personally, i found the project, which crosses time-zones and continents to be fascinating. To effectively work together, the students had to utilize numerous live applications (not specified) to create a well informed and effective teaching tool in order to educate readers about Sever Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS)

It also included an explanation of what it called the 21st Century Skills Rainbow (seen below). I've also included a link to their website for further reading.  


The second chapter focused on digital literacy and began with a brief narrative about what happens when revolutionary ideas come before their time... ie. disaster in the form of, from the story, riots) the warning was clear and it made sense to me in many ways. Information overload can lead to any number of possible troubling situations. there are times in a foreign language class when ive heard the teacher exclaim, "why did i tell them that?" in response to, of course, mentioning off handed, a word or phrase that was not  appropriate. But can we expect the populace not to do very much the same thing with the internet. In a few seconds you can find the means to making bombs or your first souffle. Being able to manage and be responsible for your actions in the age of digital technologies is a key skill... Digital literacy is more important than ever and students need to be able to network, sort through, analyze, and relate what they find.  

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Learning like Spock - A Teaching Perspective

The main argument, as i see it in the reading (Collins, 94-104), is for a system of education based more in apprentisship than mass schooling. The fact is that it works, i cannot deny that a system of close observation by an expert on a small group of individuals works well. It is the very reason why small workshop classes tend to learn well even if the class only meet once. the visceral experience combined with a guided practice is a good formula. Like the section said, we can keep the students on task, in this scenario, by keeping the level of difficulty above boring and before frustration... but does such a principle work as an alternative to our current system?

The shift from such tactics to mass schooling was because of population size. we recognized that such methods become problematic as the class size increases so today it is largely part of OJT. we simply don't have the kind of early specificity we used to. The blacksmith trained the next blacksmith from youth, but how many such fields do we have today? How many pharmacy techs do we need? And furthermore, how are we supposed to apply this to high-schoolers?

Yes, the author gives us ideas, using distance learning, networking, and virtual aids, but how long before we run into the social problem. The very nature of apprentiship is the isolation. Small group to one on one training leads to social withdrawal. I'll close with a link (since the embed code is disabled) to a clip from Star Trek 2009. Do we really want to become Vulcans?


Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Connected Learning Response

Connected Learning

In Response to the INTERESTS Section Above:

The link between a student's interest and their ultimate learning is clear. If a student has a genuine interest in the subject her or she is learning about then they will more likely than not apply themselves in locating interesting and unique information to augment their own. This interest leads to immersion and, if powerful enough ( a favorite past time or subject for example) the individual can enter the desired flow state of learning. The clearest example is my own, presently, on the topic of the game Weiqi. Given the tools of twitter, blogspot, google, and evernote, i have, with little need for guidance, found more information, and unique commentary than i had previously thought possible. The process was quick and enjoyable and i have little doubt a similar researching method could be used in a classroom setting. the caveat here being the legitimacy of the authors, who for the most part we must take on their own word for their expertise.  

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Google Form: Nitrogen Cycle (Self Check)

--- The Daunting Truth ---

Reflection #3: What Do You Think?

"[Instant] access to 2 billion potential teachers - and the sum of human knowledge - in their pockets."

Do I agree... yes, and the prospect of rethinking and creating a new system of education from scratch is daunting. The problem, as I see it, rests with determining what makes it into the new regime and how we transition effectively? The gathering of students in school once fostered our social skills from pre-school through to our post graduate lives, but now social media has largely taken up that mantle. Where the classical  novels and field day activities once fostered our imagination and team building skills; we now have 3-D movies, youtube, and complex MMO environments. But that still leaves us with the problem of what to teach , and how to do it? 

Reading, writing, and arithmetic have been the foundation stones of education for over a century, but now we can use computers to answer problems few of us could answer manually. Do we phase out the pen altogether in favor of typing and e-signatures, committing ourselves to a, tablet based, paperless future? The only thing I can say for certain is that what ever it's going to be, we'll be making a leap of faith. We're headed for, uncharted, stormy waters, but then again I've always enjoyed the lightning.  

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Reflection #2: Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology (Chapters 2,3)

Here, we are presented with both sides of the technology in education argument; the proponents in chapter two and the skeptics in chapter three. The main argument, as I understand it from those in favor of the technology revolution is as follows. We live in a time when the sum total of knowledge, and the societal norms that under pin it, have changed the way it has become necessary to learn. We must embrace technology and the freedom of specialization that computers can provide, thusly, improving our own learning and enhancing the skills we already possess. The world has become a global marketplace of ready to access information and, where as once we needed to learn all we could in the classroom under the expertise of a trained teacher, we can now quite readily access training tools on the web. We can, in this context, call up a video to explain a difficult process, web chat with other students, and even take classes we would otherwise not be able to reach physically.

Furthermore, we can use interactive media to access the “flow” state of learning, where in the pupil becomes absorbed into the context of games and open to higher levels of critical thinking and problem solving in a non-stress environment. The goal is evident in that should we need to know something, we can now simply look it up and use it practically. He goes on to argue that the modern classroom is outmoded by our current capabilities and benefits from incorporating new technology.

The counter, as found in chapter three, felt somewhat weak in comparison. Granting that the tone felt biased, it did not seem logical. Just because some educational reforms in the past hav had minimal effect on learning does not mean to discount technology. Yes, moving from wax tablets to disposable pens made little difference save convenience, but smart boards and interactive labs (i.e.FlyLab) capture students attention in ways that have no precedent.

Yes, the cost analysis is valid, but with the direction the world is going I don't foresee a problem. Smart phones are as popular as ever and students are loading flash card apps and taking notes directly in them. We can even blog and tweet from them. I can't even imagine that classroom activities possible with this kind of connectivity.

Lastly, Niel Postman (p. 40) argues that the skills we need to learn most cannot be taught by computers. Truth be told he is partly right, however, that also makes him partly wrong. While true that there are many social skills and interpersonal skills we cannot learn from technology, social media has begun building a new set of skills – cyber life lessons. You learn the ropes of web life forums and communities, learn about privacy protection and banking, you even use critical thinking and team building skills in MMOs.

The arguments beg one final question: where do I hang my hat? I am a bit between the two sides here, but I will always lean towards computers. The thing is that I can see the down side of technology as well. Collins speaks about our educational systems working in a kind of internal balance and this shift will alter them. My concern is where the scales will calibrate themselves and what will we be trading away for more interactive technologies. I will admit here that I learned more about efficiency, chance, adaptability, and problem solving from logic puzzles than the classroom.  

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Reflection on the Book / Video

If one thing is perfectly clear, it is this; the technological world is evolving at a greater rate than our society, and it is the duty of our educators to bridge the gap, preparing the youth of the age for a better future. To this we will discuss the beginnings of the book, Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology and the brief talk given by Scot McLeod to the teachers union.

McLeod's argument hinged on a socio-economic pitch, arguing that the reasoning behind our educational system in the U.S. has in large part, been rendered obsolete. The trade jobs that fueled our industry are being outsourced to countries where employees will work for lower wadges and the remaining jobs are becoming ultra competitive. The qualifications that once made one a desirable candidate for employment are no longer. The Bachelor's degree is now largely a stepping stone to a Masters, and even then the job outlook is only moderate.

But why is this..?

Never in the past have we had access to information at the speeds that we do and we are not teaching our students to handle this. We can video chat with other countries instantly, blog entire novels as serials, watch films online, and download an novel, music file, and image in seconds. Is this so bad? Our lives are no longer private for some because of what can be posted on any or all social media sites.  There numerous distractions around us and the sense of emediate gratification is everywhere -- can u wonder why our educational system is floundering?

The solution is rethinking the system to guide the development of the skills we now need. For the previous generation is was industry and now its a matter of refining technological skills. Incorporating practical knowledge and global awareness into the classroom. Customizing the learning process in such as way as to foster a growing society of critical thinkers. We can only do this by exposing students to varying media and applications of virtual society in a responsible context.       

I would argue that we should use the media and distractions of today to our advantage and connect to the students. Using games based on building higher order thinking skills, incorporating innovative presentation formats, and playing to the social strengths of today's youth we can, perhaps, gain some ground in the ange of technology and reclaim the minds of students everywhere.