29 January 2009

On course details

I know how you feel!

Thanks to the Marginal Revolution blog for the pointer.

On-line learning (1)

My apologies for the heading! I somehow fell into the pattern of prefacing all the post titles with "on" from the very start...

I posted a link a week ago about a Canadian professor of tourism about to embark on his his first e-learning course as an instructor. Well, I'm doing the same thing as a student; I have previously designed, written and run two quite different blended learning modules through several iterations, but I have never before been at the "receiving" (if that is the right metaphor) end of such a course.

The heading links to the course description, and since one of the requirements is to keep a reflective journal or blog (surprise!), I thought a bit about whether to create a blog solely for the purpose or to use this existing one. There is of course the danger that I will simply bore stiff those of you who for whatever reason read this in the real world, and those of you kind enough to sunscribe via RSS may well not be pleased to have esoteric ramblings pushed at you... On the other hand, the knowledge that I am not writing purely for myself or to be read only by "insiders" should impose some constraint on my self-indulgent ramblings. I promise not to post too frequently.

On the other hand... This blog's "manifesto" (pardon the grandiosity) is about modelling reflection, or at least producing samples of it for illustration or critique, so I have to share my thoughts to live up to that.

For those of you less interested in this, I'll keep to the same heading for related posts with updated index numbers and possibly sub-heads.

27 January 2009

On obedience, nowadays

See also here

So! A researcher has reproduced (almost) the irreproducible!

Stanley Milgram's 1970s experiments on obedience to authority are some of the most famous in the history of psychology, but (as the linked article notes) they also deceived the participants to the extent of inducing persistent psychological disturbance; hence the discipline's attention to ethical clearance nowadays. It had been assumed that this self-imposed barrier would prevent the replication of the experiments, but (as in the case of Zimbardo's simulated prison experiment) it was possible simply to ignore those constraints by not pretending to be subject to academic control.

The linked post (as some of the comments note) simplifies greatly a complex experiment, but the results 35 years on were...

You'll have to read them for yourself to find out!

26 January 2009

On my son's career

What do you do with a joint honours in philosophy and sociology? Go into fitting floors, in his case. It's a fascinating study, of course;
  • All the political rhetoric about promoting social mobility fails to recognise (unlike Michael Young in 1958), that in a finite system, if some elements go up a corresponding number need to go down.
  • It seems to be a trade without regulation or qualifications (they may exist but they exercise little influence), so my son is a sort of "apprentice", but without the safeguards implied by that. He is simply being inducted into a community of practice.
  • But that confers enormous power on his employer. While my son is learning, he is a self-employed labourer. His employer has no obligations towards him, and if he has no work for him, he is simply laid off. His employer does not like paying him (or his other workers), but since my son is not yet acknowledged as a full-fledged fitter, he can't move on in reaction to delayed payment. The tax deadline is looming at the end of this week; the employer shows no inclination to provide the required paperwork to evidence tax deducted at source. Marx and Robert Tressell would love this!
  • My son has just done his first free-lance job in his own right. It was a simple laminate flooring job, but it took him twice as long as he expected, and so he only got half the rate he thought he was charging.
  • It took so long because he had no-one to ask about problems he was encountering, and had to work them all out for himself. On reflection he thinks this was a good thing, because the lessons will stick. Well, yes; but did he learn the best techniques? He learned to survive, but is that enough? Will his mere survival actually hold him back?
  • One thing he did learn was a variant of the Pareto principle (a.k.a. [roughly] as the 80/20 rule) He hadn't heard of this (he has a sociology degree? But it's more economics and not fashionable nowadays) but recognised it instantly. You get 80% of the job done in 20% of the time, then spend the remaining 80% fiddling with the remaining 20%--and that's not time-wasting, it is built into the nature of the system...
Of course, he wanted to do something practical... he'd had enough of theory!

24 January 2009

On negative capability (a.k.a. "I don't know")

After some discussion with colleagues about how to "do reflection", it occurs to me that it might be interesting to devote occasional posts to "tools to reflect with". The first is the sine qua non;

(drafted Friday)

I spent over three hours in the car today, as ever listening to news and comment about the recession and the incessant question, "how long will it last?" Only the bravest pundits were prepared to say, "I have no idea."

Being not only prepared to admit that, but also to defend it against both explicit and insidious pressure until it is no longer true, is the prerequisite of reflection. John Keats coined the phrase:
Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts without any irritable reaching after fact & reason.
[Letter to George and Thomas Keats (21 Dec 1817).
in H. E. Rollins (ed.), (1958) Letters of John Keats, Vol. 1, 193]
This more than merely not "jumping to conclusions"; it is an active—and sometimes tense—determination to stick with ambiguities and uncertainties, lest their richness be lost in coming down on one side or the other. Most conclusions are reached "on balance"; like an election won with 51% of the vote, where the 49% of the losing side may well count for nothing, it is important not to lose the possibilities inherent in the alternative accounts of what may have been going on.

In the days when I taught residential social work, I had a simple exercise to illustrate this;
  • A 12-year-old child* comes to you at breakfast time and complains that she has a pain in her tummy.
  • On the basis solely of this information, what might that mean?
All the answers would be written up on a flip-chart—and I would not be inclined to let a small group off the hook until I had at least a dozen accounts. Only then might we proceed to eliminate some of them on the basis of more precise information and look at the potential consequences of acting on any of them. It is perhaps worth noting that field social workers, who rarely acted precipitately or without lengthy consultation, found it much easier than residential social workers, for whom there was no premium in dithering. For them, it was more important to act, even if they acted wrongly.

* You can tell how long ago this was, by the presence of a twelve-year-old in a children's home.

23 January 2009

On an old dog reflecting on new tricks

The heading is precise; this is a reflective blog from a Canadian professor offering a course on-line for the first time. I look forward to following his experience. I'll put the link in the "shared" section of the side-bar so you can keep track, too.

22 January 2009

On hiccups

Very little to do with learning and teaching, but a possible answer to a fascinating question, and another example of what evolutionary theory can do (in this Darwin bi-centenary year). I had always believed that hiccups were totally inexplicable, there being no way in which they could contribute to the fitness of any animal; but it appears they make sense if you are a tadpole. And presumably, annoying though they are, having arrived through conferring an advantage only on this transitional phase of an amphibian's life-cycle, they have not conferred sufficient disadvantage to have been bred out of the population, even as far down as ourselves.

Thanks to Mindblog for finding it.

19 January 2009

On 45 years on

I'm an outsider (British, if you haven't noticed), and political comment is not the business of this blog, but today is Martin Luther King Jr. day in the USA, and tomorrow is arguably the most tangible fulfilment of his dream of 28 August 1963. There is a synergy here which cannot be ignored;

16 January 2009

On the possibility that they are right after all...

The other night, I was watching the immediate aftermath of the New York crash landing on the news channel. Apart from being amazed and gratified that everyone--everyone!--survived, I was challenged at a personal level. I've watched those videos and witnessed those choreographed demonstrations so many times (including a micro-teaching exercise about training cabin crew to do it...) and always thought it was simply a benign euphemistic mythology which no-one believed.

I suspect that the airlines and the authorities thought the same. There's a common joke about the assuming the crash position which concludes, "...and kiss your a*** goodbye!" It was well advised but never tested.

I heard some expert on the radio being interviewed about it and his reaction to seeing the plane floating. Was he surprised? No, not really--that was that it was supposed to do--but he was pleased, because to his knowledge none of the manufacturers had ever tested it in practice (it would be prohibitively expensive).

So perhaps I should not be so sceptical? Perhaps.Hey, it is difficult to re-learn trust...

10 January 2009

On self-indulgent nostalgia

Why not? It's my blog!

Actually it is a little more complicated than that. This blog is (largely) about reflection, and the point at which reflection tips into self-indulgent or self-justifying wallowing is not clear.

Just something to contemplate while you listen to Les Paul and Mary Ford's "Meet Mr Callaghan" (c.1957?) There was a feature about Les Paul on BBC4 this evening, and this was the theme I chose (no doubt with total disregard of copyright) for the first film I ever "directed" courtesy of the film society at school, around 1961. The only bit which had any merit at all was the initial titles sequence of a girl (Sandra Whitehead, should you ever google yourself under your maiden name; I directed you in awe, as callow youths did/do at 17...) cycling through the town...

That may be legitimate reminiscence (for me), but it is not in itself "reflection". What is the added value of "reflection"?

Incidentally, the tv remained on as I wrote the above and I looked up to see a tribute to Oliver Postgate. I have enormous affection and respect for his work, and I'm delighted to find an excuse to post a link to him. But that is not reflection, is it? What would need to be added to make it so?

06 January 2009

On "brain-based" education

Not only is this a beautifully clear exposition and an exemplary simple video, it is also an important corrective to a lot of rubbish!

And, of course, see this one about "learning styles" (which just happens to coincide with my own view here!) Willingham's site also has a lot of material well worth reading.