24 February 2013

Items to Share: 24 February

Education Focus
  • Freakonomics » How to Game a Grading Curve (The professor) grades exams on a curve — the highest grade in the class, whatever it may be, becomes 100 percent, and “everybody else gets a percentage relative to it.” So students collectively planned a boycott:...
Other Business

21 February 2013

On the spirit and the letter...

I've just received a rather dispiriting email from a really good student about her anxieties about the work she is drafting. Specifically, she is referring to Brookfield's "lenses" for curriculum evaluation, as I discussed them here (see slide 5 in particular for my point). Her concern is whether she is using the labels correctly. Is she getting it right?

It's dispiriting because she has missed the point, particularly in treating the lenses--the ideas--as objects to be learned about (rather as historical "facts" are) rather than as tools* to be used as appropriate, but otherwise to be set aside.
  • The task is what matters. What tool do I need to do this? 
  • Rather than; I've got this tool. What can I do with it?
(I admit that the perspective switch is not always clear, and sometimes the second question is important.)

But it is my fault that she has walked away with this misapprehension, and that is what is dispiriting. What we (those of us brought up as academics in particular) teach, defaults to being an object. Whereas in many cases it should be a tool. 

And it is our academic context which has forced this distortion. We insist on accurate regurgitation of stuff out of context, and don't ask about its utility and how it can be used **.  And (how ironic it is!) as teacher trainers in vocational education, in particular, our approach devalues that utilitarian/instrumental perspective which comes quite naturally to many of our students, and insists on "privileging" our "academic discourse".

All that is a bit heavy to put into an email response to an innocent enquiry. So what I wrote was (redacted):
Don't worry! As I understand Brookfield he holds no particular brief for the specific "lenses" he identified--still less for the labels he gives them. All he wants is for us to look at our work in several different ways, or put ourselves in the shoes of different "stakeholders" and see how it looks from their point of view--there is no definitive list of whose perspective/lens matters or (still less) is "best".  Each lens has something different to offer, and they are all valuable. Sad to say, there are links to the pervasive discourse of ... er, discourse....

He's arguing for what is now sometimes referred to as 360 degree evaluation/ appraisal/ feedback, although he goes beyond that in entertaining conflicting views.
  • The most obvious is probably the "dumbing-down" argument--the popularising lens/perspective/value base wants ideas to be accessible to all, while the scholarly lens protests that they are being distorted and over-simplified. Or the employers' perspective --"I couldn't care less what they understand about what they are doing, as long as they do it right"-- versus the educationalists' --"they need to know what they are doing".
  • There's a great argument rumbling at the moment, from Atul Gawande's piece on the Cheesecake Factory. He is arguing that medicine and surgery has a lot to learn from the fast food industry! Totally different traditions and lenses, but what a potentially fruitful argument.
The notion of frame of reference is a variation on "lens".
...but does this kind of argument help a student make the shift*** between the forms of knowledge?

* I'm using the terms "object", "tool" and "frame", here. Perkins (2010: video) uses "concept", "instrument" and "action" to mean something very similar--I'm presumptuous enough to think that my labels are clearer for someone coming to the ideas for the first time, but his much more thorough and learned exploration is well worth watching.

**It is not that one is better than the other, as a moment's thought will demonstrate. It is that we should have access to both (and more) perspectives, and be able to deploy and value them appropriately.

*** It is of course an epistemological shift; but I now hear that, and ontological, bandied about so much and so vaguely, that I am backing off from using the terms unless there is no alternative.

17 February 2013

Items to Share: 17 February

Education Focus
Other Business

11 February 2013

Items to Share; 10 February 13

Education Focus

  • Proudly Fraudulent: An Interview With MoMA’s First Poet Laureate, Kenneth Goldsmith (The Awl) "The students that take my class know how to write. I can hone their skills further but instead I choose to challenge them to think in new and different ways. Many of them know how to plagiarize but they always do it on the sly, hoping not to get caught. In my class, they must plagiarize or they will be penalized. They are not allowed to be original or creative. So it becomes a very different game, one in which they're forced to defend choices that they are making about what they're plagiarizing and why. And when you start to dig down, you'll find that those choices are as original and as unique as when they express themselves in more traditional types of writing, but they've never been trained to think about it in this way." 

Other Business
  • I Predict A Riot | Neurobonkers (Big Think) "Psychology is historically a field in which replications are rare. Sought after journals with a high impact factor typically refuse to publish replications and until recently, there has been little to no incentive for researchers to conduct research which will not further their careers and likely would not even ever get read. Thus negative findings have vanished from existence while positive findings - which may be the exception rather than the rule, receive all the attention..." 
  • Lift (The Morning News) Why, when you’re waiting for a lift (having already pressed the “call lift” button), does someone always arrive after you and insist on re-pressing the button? 
  • Stephen T Asma – The evolution of emotion (Aeon magazine) Thoughtful piece on animals and emotion: "The more we learn about the emotions shared by all mammals, the more we must rethink our own human intelligence"

03 February 2013

On unmasking Socrates

I was delighted today to come across this post from Mary Beard which--as an aside--takes on the reality behind the much-vaunted "Socratic method" of teaching:
"The Crito is, as you probably know, set in 399 BC in the prison in Athens where Socrates is to die, and the question that sparks off the discussion is whether Socrates should try to escape (as his friend Crito advocates, and would clearly be possible) or whether he should sit and face death as sentenced; but this leads on to wider considerations of a citizen's obligation to obey the law.
"We see Socrates bulldozing the unfortunate Crito with his usual assassination style of dialogue, and his usual off-puelititting sm, which Crito never punctures. "If we are an athlete," Socrates says at one point, "we don't listen to the views of the many about our training, but the views of a specialist trainer; so equally when it comes to morals/ethics and the soul, we should not listen to the views of the many but those of the expert." "Hang on," we want Crito to say, "may be morals are not comparable to athletic training . . . " But the poor man never does.
I tried to make a similar point a couple of years ago, but with great trepidation. After all, I had just a passing acquaintance with Plato* in translation, and there's a vast body of commentary on his work out there, dating back centuries. Who was I to contest the "Socratic method"?

An (informed) outsider, that's who. Outside the groupthink of received wisdom. I didn't need the vindication, but I shall enjoy it.

* Socrates wrote nothing. He disapproved of writing. So although there is independent testimony of his life and teaching, most of what we think we know about him comes from his "disciple", Plato, who had his own ideas and may therefore not be a reliable witness.

Items to Share: 3 February

Education Focus
  • University 2060: the brave new world of higher education 'Tutorials have been replaced by Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) with the wisdom of the crowd sourcing all answers from the students themselves. Algorithms update the online course content in response to the question’s popularity – after all, “the customer is always right”.' 
  • Who wants to be a superprofessor? (More or Less Bunk) "...Think about it: If I want to change what history I cover, all I have to do is edit my online syllabus and talk about something different that day. Z... probably needs to get Coursera to change the website for him, as well as a camera crew. It would be like trying to do a three-point turn with an ocean liner." 
  • Humor in the Classroom: 40 Years of Research (Faculty Focus)  "...starts with definitions, functions, and theories of humor. It identifies a wide range of different types of humor. It reviews empirical findings, including the all-important question of whether using humor helps students learn. [...] It’s one of those articles that belong in even modest instructional libraries—imagine having to track down the better-than-100 references in the bibliography." 
Other Business
  • Language That Is Person-First (Neuroskeptic) "Person-first language [...] is the nice idea that rather than calling someone, say, "blind", we should call them "a person who is blind", so as to remind everyone that they're not defined by their blindness but are a person first... clever, eh? No."
  • Beyond the asylum: looking back on mental health (Wellcome Trust)  "Professor Barbara Taylor [...] is best known for her work on the history of feminism. But in her new book, she looks back on her time as an inpatient at Friern Hospital, then one of the largest mental health institutions in Europe, and the demise of mental asylums in Britain. [Indulge me: I was much involved with mental health services at just this time, and a former colleague came to work with us from this institution.] 
  • Speak, Memory by Oliver Sacks (The New York Review of Books) "I accepted that I must have forgotten or lost a great deal, but assumed that the memories I did have—especially those that were very vivid, concrete, and circumstantial—were essentially valid and reliable; and it was a shock to me when I found that some of them were not." Maria Popova (of Brain Pickings) glosses on the article here.

01 February 2013

On losing search (for a while)

Once again, Google seems to have changed its features without telling us (or me, at any rate). For years, I have had a very effective site search facility across my sites--and it has now disappeared, without notification. It's still there in the footer to every page, of course, but it is no longer functional.

Apologies. I'll get it back as soon as I can. In the meantime, use the search box at the top of these blog pages, or use a standard search engine, adding "doceo" or "learningandteaching.info" to the search terms.

Update 15 February--I've finally managed to get it back, although I can't get the background colour to merge with the footer box.