/LectureThinking about a new course on internet, information and critical thinking, I've been tempted by the idea of doing a lecture. But of course that's wrong: standing in front of a bunch of people and attempting to impart my supposedly superior knowledge would almost contradict what I was trying to say. Inspired by what I've been reading in Jeff Jarvis' book, I think I need to find a way of using the same resources and/or media that I plan to be talking about; and maybe, just maybe involving students in the content of the course...
14 Jun 2012 12:38
A Modern Education
Jeff Jarvis (Public Parts, p. 54)
In our schools, we teach students there is one and only one right answer to every question. Then we add the questions together in tests and teach to those tests, expecting students to spit back what we feed them. We call that achievement. We should instead be encouraging experimentation, rewarding challenges to our accepted wisdom, and designing schools around learning through failure.
I couldn't agree more. If I can find a way to truly implement this idea in my teaching, I will.
04 Jun 2012 09:10
Education and technological incompetence
A couple of years back, I completed my Masters degree. It was principally concerned with open, online and distance learning; in short, educational technology in the modern learning environment. Now, while I never really expected to be able to apply all those ideas in my job, since our learning institutions are still very much based around classrooms and traditional structures, I did at least think that it would be generally accepted that, as the information age moves into the digital age, the importance of such technology would be basically unquestioned. The internet, portable computing, and constant connectivity are increasingly ubiquitous. Denying that is like Cnut trying to hold back the tide.
Some six years before that, I worked for an institution which was integrating the internet and computing into examinations. Instead of pen-and-paper exams for each separate discipline, we were beginning to do combined, networked exams. Students would begin in the morning, have a number of tasks to complete over the next few hours, had full access to computers and the internet, and took breaks when they wanted. The general idea was to make the examination as 'realistic' as possible, essentially reflecting a day at work, along with the resources and skills required to deal with it.
By no means was the procedure perfect, but it nevertheless embodied the principle that education and examinations should adapt to the actual way the world works. Educational institutes do not exist in a bubble; they should prepare students in a way which is relevant to society and the work environment into which they will be thrust upon graduation. Even if not all institutes could or should be consistently cutting edge, surely all must be informed by the realities of the world outside.
When I began teaching in the late 90's, I purchased a briefcase which ultimately broke under the weight of the stuff I had to carry around in it: textbooks, dictionaries, cassette players and so on. I quickly lightened the load by purchasing an electronic dictionary, which was soon supplemented with and ultimately replaced by a Palm handheld. Nowadays I have only a MacBook Air, a set of USB speakers, and the occasional textbook. The university has a wireless network which, even if a bit flaky, covers the whole campus. Beyond that, smart phones have expanded internet connectivity to the point that essentially all my students are online at all times. Not being able to access the internet is the exception, rather than the rule.
Textbooks are next for the chopping block, as Apple's keynote yesterday indicates. As mobile computing becomes increasingly powerful, yet also more lightweight and affordable, and as the digital publishing becomes easier, lugging heaps of textbooks to lectures will become a thing of the past. I'm not fantasizing here, nor jumping on the 'Apple will revolutionize education' bandwagon; this is just the way the world is now. This semester, for the first time, I have students using iPads to write academic papers. Between exams today, most students pulled out their smart phones and checked Facebook or whatever. In many ways the important point is that this technology is not brought into the classroom by teachers, but by the students themselves.
In this context, I would argue that it is largely anachronistic that my students today are writing an exam with pen and paper. After all, the only time in their lives that they will actually do such a thing is in an examination. But I accept, with qualifications, that our institution does not have the resources or confidence to administer the kind of networked examination that I described above.
Worse, in my view, is the professor who says, amidst sexist jokes, that universities should be the same today as they were 60 years ago.
But what I truly cannot stomach, and the reason for my post today, is the recent decision by my department to ban the use of electronic dictionaries from examinations. We only permit paper dictionaries. Let me make this clear: a year ago, electronic dictionaries were allowed. Now they are not. And I'm not talking about smart phones, or iPads, or something with an internet connection, but a technology that I would consider two generations out of date (electronic dictionaries to PDAs to smart phones). Why? Because some of my colleagues, by their own admission, are unable to tell the difference between an electronic dictionary and a smart phone, and are unable to tell whether the student using one might have an internet connection and be cheating; and because these same colleagues think that, because you can find words more quickly using an electronic dictionary, it gives the student an unfair advantage over those who don't have one.
These 'arguments' are so vacuous that I refuse to dignify them with a direct response. I do not expect everyone to be as much of a geek as I am, but people whose job it is to offer instruction to the youth of today should have a basic level of technological competence and understanding. Without that, how can you possibly stand in front of a classroom and offer your students relevant instruction in an appropriate manner?
Though it may seem harsh, I simply cannot believe that anyone with such an attitude has the right to call themselves a 'teacher'.
20 Jan 2012 12:17
You know, the question of how Creationists deal with the fossil evidence of things like dinosaurs is one of those obvious questions to which I've never given much thought. I suppose I assumed that either a Creationist would just go into denial mode (the fossils are a lie) or would attempt to come up with some fairly sophisticated explanation. I never even thought that the idea of humans strapping a saddle to a dinosaur's back would come into the equation. It makes perfect sense: the world was created for humans, dinosaurs existed, and therefore dinosaurs existed for humans. In a time before horses, they provided a mode of transportation.
Um, what? Surely that's not the best they can come up with? That's more in line with a cheesy 1950's B-movie than a seriously-held belief. Okay, I can understand that the Creationist Museum shown in the photo is serving a purpose: a place where Creationist parents can take their dinosaur-obsessed kids for a fun day out. It won't necessarily represent the cutting-edge (!) of Creationist belief. But even so: if this is so far removed from Creationist belief about dinosaurs, why not just take your kids to a standard museum and explain why it's wrong?
03 Dec 2009 09:31