28 October 2013

Items to Share: 27 October

Education Focus
  • On boredom. | More or Less Bunk and information overload and today's students. 'If you never give yourself time to think or reflect about yourself, then you’re certainly going to resent the fact that your professor is demanding that you reflect on the experiences of other people (be they writers, historical figures, scientists or whomever) who you don’t even know and could care less about in the first place.'
  • Teaching for Understanding | Webs of Substance A critical discussion of David Perkins' thoughts on this; unfortunately the video of his presentation on a related topic, teaching material as an object, a tool and a frame has disappeared from the web. If any reader knows where it can be found, please let me know. [Perkins D (2010) “Threshold Experience” keynote given at 3rd Biennial Threshold Concepts Symposium, UNSW, Sydney 1-2 July 2010]
  • Visible Learning and the Science of How We Learn – A Review | Webs of Substance (Hattie and Yates, 2013) 'However, there are some significant flaws in the book as a whole and, in some areas, a teacher will find it hard to figure out exactly what Hattie is proposing. Given my experience with Visible Learning for Teachers, I am going to speculate here and suggest that when Hattie sees a polarisation between ‘traditional’ and ‘progressive’ approaches, he seeks to rise above the debate and present a third option. Unfortunately, in many cases, all of the options are already covered by the traditional or progressive perspectives and there is nothing left. And ---What happens when cognitive science meets visible learning? | Pragmatic Education 'My reading [...] is that Hattie and Yates attempt a kind of super-synthesis between cognitive and affective domains. Concise instruction, deliberate practice and clear feedback are vital for building long-term memory; but relationships, trust, empathy, passion, engagement and questioning are equally vital.'  
  • And--- (update 28 Oct) here are two more substantial summary/review pieces on Hattie and Yates from Debra Kidd: Part 1 and Part 2 with more to come.
  • Don't Call Us Rock Stars - The Conversation - The Chronicle of Higher Education 'The more a MOOC is defined as an expensively staged experience supported by an army of back-stage roadies, the less risk-taking and pedagogical experimentation we’ll see. And the less we faculty members will own our teaching. I don’t mean just in the intellectual-property sense. I mean that, like many rock stars, we’ll be “the talent” out front, but not the ones controlling the creative process.' 
Other Business
  • Measure for Mismeasure by Esther Dyson - Project Syndicate 'Ranking exercises, like the things they rank, are not all the same; different approaches fit different situations. We live in a world where everything is being rated, whether you are a professional judge or an individual trying to make sense of modern life.' 
  • Why job interviews don't work - Daniel Willingham 'You do end feeling as though you have a richer impression of the person than that gleaned from the stark facts on a resume. But there's no evidence that interviews prompt better decisions (e.g., Huffcutt & Arthur, 1994).'

21 October 2013

Items to Share; 20 October

Education Focus
  • Howard Gardner: ‘Multiple intelligences’ are not ‘learning styles 'The theory became highly popular with K-12 educators around the world seeking ways to reach students who did not respond to traditional approaches, but over time, “multiple intelligences” somehow became synonymous with the concept of “learning styles.” In this important post, Gardner explains why the former is not the latter.' This is indeed a short but important post, as Gardner dissociates himself from "learning styles"--but what took him so long?
  • Gamification  --the use of competition in teaching, and Best Practice from Sam Shepherd  'Any talk of best practice is dangerous talk. For one, despite proposals to carry out clinical-type randomised control trials in education, and huge meta-analyses of research, it’s quite challenging and difficult to prove that any one intervention is inherently and universally better than another.'
  • Facets of Mastersness A Framework for Masters level study  'In considering the answers to the question, "What does it mean to be a Master’s- level student and how are they supported in making that transition?”, the Learning from International Practice project has developed a framework to help make sense of some of the different dimensions of ‘Mastersness’. My less formal take on writing at M level is here.
  • The Heritability of Intelligence: Not What You Think  'According to the traditional “investment” theory, intelligence can be classified into two main categories: fluid and crystallized. Differences in fluid intelligence are thought to reflect novel, on-the-spot reasoning, whereas differences in crystallized intelligence are thought to reflect previously acquired knowledge and skills. According to this theory, crystallized intelligence develops through the investment of fluid intelligence in a particular body of knowledge.' ...and it may well be wrong. A quite detailed discussion of contrary evidence--presupposes some background knowledge but the gist is clear.
  • The Psychology of Getting Unstuck: How to Overcome the “OK Plateau” of Performance and Personal Growth | Brain Pickings '“Any sequence of mental action which has been frequently repeated tends to perpetuate itself,” William James wrote in his influential meditation on habit, ”so that we find ourselves automatically prompted to think, feel, or do what we have been before accustomed to think, feel, or do, under like circumstances.” As we’ve seen, one of the most insidious forms of such habitual autopilot — which evolved to help lighten our cognitive load yet is a double-edged sword that can also hurt us — is our mercilessly selective everyday attention, but the phenomenon is particularly perilous when it comes to learning new skills.'... 
  • ...and, related: The practice of practising – Telegraph Blogs 'Concert pianists spend much more of their lifetimes practising than they do playing concerts. It's not just that pieces need to be kept in the memory (muscle and mind), but the very act of playing the piano is physical and athletic. It involves reflex and endurance...
  • What science teachers need to know danielwillingham. Hattie argues that feedback from students to teachers about where they (students) get things wrong is very valuable--here's some empirical work on the capacity of teachers to pick up on it.
Other Business

17 October 2013

On Hegel's mistake.

(Life's too short to reference all this stuff! And I'm sure it's not original...)

According to some accounts, Hegel's last words, to a student, were "you were the only one who understood me ... and you got it wrong." My favourite variant is, "No-one ever understood me. Even I don't understand me." Which doesn't surprise me. I have actually tried to read him (in translation, I confess); I've just picked Reason in History (1837, tr. Hartman; New York, Bobbs-Merrill, 1953) off my shelf. [Next, I confess, to Spencer L and Krauze A (1996) Hegel for Beginners Cambridge; Icon--the spine of which appears never to have been creased...] But the guy blathered so much, it's almost impossible to make any judgement of his value. Although of course Kierkegaard had a good go. And so did Marx, from a different angle...

So--having established my lack of credentials for expressing any opinion whatever; his Big Idea was the Dialectic (even if Socrates got there first). It's the fundamental principle accounting for History (leaving aside all the metaphysical accretions).

Actually, it's simples; it's even common sense. Thesis: an idea (principle, value, etc.) meets Antithesis (conflicting idea, etc.) and the outcome of the encounter is Synthesis; compromise, etc. but sometimes a new Idea which can embrace and subsume its progenitors.

Except that it doesn't work. Hegel was an Idealist, in philosophical terms. In the Real world, however, there is always detritus. In history and politics and culture, two opposing positions rarely resolve into one, but into three; residual hard-line "no surrender" thesis--fragile synthesis--residual hard-line "no surrender" antithesis.

Two begets three... Think Northern Ireland even now; think Anglicans on women priests/bishops; ... and currently think the US government.

14 October 2013

Items to Share: 13 October

Education Focus
  • Is Michael Gove Lying to Us All? To be fairer to Gove and Wilshaw and their apparatchiks, try to implement any kind of top-down "vision" through more than two layers of bureaucracy, and the filtering leaves you with mere husks of meaningless but measurable bullshit. It's not confined to education, nor is it the product of active bad faith. Let's stop ranting and acknowledge that it is a real problem which requires hard work to resolve.
  • What Sir Ken Got Wrong A real riposte (or "push-back" in the current argot) against some of the seductive vague nostrums of TED's favourite educational guru.
  • England's young people near bottom of global league table for basic skills | theguardian.com  'England is the only country in the developed world where the generation approaching retirement is more literate and numerate than the youngest adults, according to the first skills survey by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.' It's not as if we haven't been trying. At some point all our efforts seem to have become counter-productive...
Other Business
  • 'The Guardian' Opposes Zombie Rules - Lingua Franca - The Chronicle of Higher Education 'One of the saddest things about the sorry state of grammatical knowledge in the English-speaking world is that so many people are cowed by zombie rules. They worry that they don’t speak or write correctly, when in truth they mostly use their language perfectly well, and they are intimidated by what they imagine is a coherent and authoritative body of grammatical principles, when in truth a huge proportion of what is commonly believed about the grammar of English is bunk.'

11 October 2013

On two out of three

I noted at the end of this earlier post*:
I'm beginning to think of a model of trade-offs in constructing primarily informative sessions--but I'll come back to that in another post.
This is that other post, but it has grown a little.

It's really very simple--to the extent that I'm sure someone else has commented on it before much more perspicaciously than I can, and yet I've not found it. Please don't patronise too much when you point out how inept I have been in not finding it!**

So, in a primarily informative teaching setting, there are appear to be three major factors which affect the final "product".
  • I use the unfamiliar term product, because I am thinking here of the considerations of design and planning. It may well be that "no plan survives first contact with the enemy/students" (von Moltke) but there still has to be a plan, and in situations like J's, where for "enemy" or students, just read "audience", from whom there is little feedback, the plan is critical.
You can only maximise (at most) any two at the expense of the third (or the rest). This is a property of the system and independent of your excellence as a teacher. And much as policy-makers or inspectors or managers or anyone else may bluster and regulate, it will always be the case. And no, technology is not a magic solution; it may increase the overall capacity of the system--although often not as much as they hope--but it doesn't change its fundamental properties. (The whole thing can be seen as a sort of educational analogue of Ohm's law, but I'm not going to go there...)

In this case, the factors are (remember this is about planning and delivery, top-down rather than bottom-up), in no particular order, other than convenience for yet another acronym; PAD:
 Note; being at the top is not intended to privilege "accessibility"...
  • Pace; how long is it going to take to teach this stuff? Or its converse--how long have I got to teach this stuff (a.k.a. cover the syllabus)?
  • Accessibility; how much effort are we going to make to ensure that everyone understands it? Or of course, how much can we take for granted on the basis of prior knowledge?
  • Depth (or Detail); how far are we going into it? We all know the "wide and shallow" versus "narrow and deep" trade-off. That is located within the depth aspect of the system.
Apart from its suitability for an acronym, P A D points to the increasing contingency of the aspects of the system, which nevertheless influence each other...
  • Pace is largely dictated by resources--principally, of course, time.
  • Accessibility is an issue inasmuch as it relates to external variables such as selection criteria and assessment regimes and "inclusivity" provisions. (The quotes are not snarky, they just flag reservations about some of the naive and fatuous proclamations in this area by those people who don't actually have to make it work.)
  • Depth is usually what suffers as a consequence, because it is the dimension which is most directly under the control of the teacher--who is rarely powerful enough within the system to negotiate the conditions which would permit targeting the depth she wants.
Precisely this discussion came up in class a few weeks ago, when three students, all of whom work in offender [i.e. prison] education, talked about how the introduction of new "functional skills" curricula was making it very difficult for them to do anything but "teach to the test". The curricula are arranged in two-week blocks, supposedly tailored to pre-specified levels of prior achievement, and contain substantial chunks of content, all of which has to be "delivered" within the constraints. The inevitable outcome is a superficial coverage of material to enable the learners to tackle the assessments, but without time for consolidation, for making connections between items of knowledge, or proper engagement with any of their difficulties.

Education is a world of trade-offs. When is anyone apart from teachers and learners doing to recognise that, and respect the agonised debate which must follow?

    *   Incidentally, that earlier post arose from J's request that I give him some feedback, despite his years of experience. Atul Gawande makes just the point of the need for such feedback, in an admittedly rather long-winded but watchable lecture here (video). The full lecture is 80 minutes, but for nuggets about coaching teachers and doctors and basketball players and the place of coaching in the working system, watch from 54m onwards.

    ** In a different context: Ferguson (2009:302) tells of the "trilemma" identified at the Bretton Woods summit in 1944:
    '...according to which a country can choose any two out of three policy options:
    1. full freedom of cross-border capital movements;
    2. a fixed exchange rate;
    3. an independent monetary policy oriented towards domestic objectives'
    (You would have thought the architects of the Euro would have been paying more attention.)


    Ferguson N (2009) The Ascent of Money; a financial history of the world London; Penguin

    On knowing what to look up...

    A few weeks ago, Harry Webb had a piece at WebsOf Substance on the 'The myth of the myth of the myth that “you can always just look it up”'. (I didn't quite get the 'meta-myth' construction in the title.) It involved the place of factual knowledge in education in the world of Google.

    I was reminded of a rambling recent post of mine which, come to think of it, shared that meta-construction in the title--'On reflection on reflection...' But it concluded with a reference to Nietzsche, in the interests of rubbishing critical theory (Frankfurt School version). I was quite proud of it at the time, although as so often in my writing, on reflection it was tainted with academic pretension and posturing.

    What I had enjoyed about writing it, however, was an old-fashioned sense of being able to reach into memory and find the the idea and the reference--and the delight of being able to pick up the right physical book from my shelf (Walter Kaufmann's The Portable Nietzsche New York, Viking, 1954) to find the note. I knew where to look it up. There wasn't really a key-word, or a concept I could have Googled; there is a vast universe of knowledge out there that I don't know I don't know, so I would have nowhere to start, but in this case my first steps were based in memory. And that is absolutely necessary.

    I have some slightly odd ideas (see this page and its links, for an example) which fascinate me, and I am sure that they are far from original. There must be a body of scholarship about them, but somehow there does not seem to have grown up any generally recognised terminology with which to label and access them, so all efforts to set up a conversation about them are pretty well doomed. (That's leaving aside the probability that the ideas lack merit or validity--but even then one would expect them to be attacked. Unless no-one feels qualified to attack them because they don't know what else is out there...)

    It was the same with the ideas which underpinned the topic of my doctoral thesis; I found brief mentions of what I eventually called "learning as loss", they came from theology, anthropology, psychology, psychotherapy, management... (and not much from education), but none of them had "legs". They were entertained and then dropped, probably because the absence of a shared language suggested these brief florescences were outliers.

    Why? Is this a consequence of the fragmentation of disciplines into silos which do not communicate? And the impossibility of interdisciplinarity? The absence of a shared cultural base among researchers?

    I only know that despite Descartes, you can't start from knowing nothing.

    07 October 2013

    Items to Share: 6 October

    Education Focus
    • Journal series on progressive education | Chip's journey 'Progressive education is a pedagogical movement that emphasizes aspects such as learning by doing, student-centered learning, valuing diversity, integrated curriculum, problem solving, critical thinking, collaborative learning, education for social responsibility, and lifelong learning. It situates learning within social, community, and political contexts. [It is] reflected in the educational philosophy of John Dewey.'
    • McDonaldising the student soul | Dennis Hayes | spiked 'Many critics have written on the factory-like changes that occurred as the university became ‘McUniversity’. The changes are now familiar: the removal of formal examinations so that grades and pass rates improve; the obsession with league tables; the modularisation process that chopped academic programmes into easily digestible, bite-sized nuggets; [...] Any academic or student can recognise and amplify this picture of how efficiency, calculability, predictability and control are the basis on which McUniversities are now managed. 
    • Feedback (and Forth) | Sam Shepherd '[Their reaction to feedback] also says a lot about the learners, and reflects something of the calculated, point scoring mentality they bring to the classroom. For them, at the moment, receiving and responding to feedback is not a constructive and developmental process, but a series of marks against which they are being punitively measured. In a sense, they are suffering from the worst elements of performance management. What is the goal? Have you achieved that goal? Why haven’t you achieved that goal? You are not a success, and need to work harder. And so on.

    Other Business
    • Are emotions 2D? | Evolving Thoughts 'We are at the point in our researches where the neurological aspects of psychology and the behavioural and socially functional aspects are joining up, slowly. The ethical implications, however, seem not to be considered as much as I expected they would be.