Archive for August, 2011

August 12, 2011

Holding on to the 19th century – the academic paper’s days are numbered

by t.e.d.d.y.

Continuing my rant about change in education, I found this article (Education Needs a Digital-Age Upgrade – NYTimes.com) fascinating.  It reviews a book that’s coming up by Cathy N. Davidson, “Now You See It”, which questions a few beliefs in the academic world, such as the “academic paper” as a form of assessment in university.

Education does need an upgrade to match the digital age and it needs it fast.  Methods of teaching and assessment inherited from the 19th century (and even the 20th) are not relevant any more.  There are a couple of issues here that impressed me the most and made me think that wanting change and pushing it forward isn’t such a bad thing (makes me feel less guilty about doing it) :)

One of the issues is related to using the “academic paper” as a form of assessment.  The author of the book says that she noticed her students failing to write good academic papers at the end of their university courses, but at the same time were producing excellent blogs and Wikis which were perfectly well written and attracted a huge audience of interested readers.  She noticed that her students were capable of researching a topic, relating the information to their own experience and writing about it in their blogs and Wikis in a clear, interesting, and engaging way.  However, when it came to doing the same in an academic paper, they all struggled to express themselves and most of their assignments were hardly at a publishable or even acceptable level.  So what was wrong? The author came to the conclusion that her students’ writing skills may not be the problem.  The “academic paper” as a form may be the problem.  It’s a form we inherited from the 19th century when people had to learn certain rules and sequence of writing in order to be easily assessed by their professors.

The contemporary American classroom, with its grades and deference to the clock, is an inheritance from the late 19th century. During that period of titanic change, machines suddenly needed to run on time. Individual workers needed to willingly perform discrete operations as opposed to whole jobs. The industrial-era classroom, as a training ground for future factory workers, was retooled to teach tasks, obedience, hierarchy and schedules.

Quote from: Education Needs a Digital-Age Upgrade – NYTimes.com

In this day and age, however, this form becomes irrelevant because less and less people will search for an academic paper (unless you work in academia) in order to get information or learn something.  Usually, people would look to the Internet to find what they need and that would be sufficient.  Another change from the 19th century is that professors nowadays do everything they can to limit their work with students.  Yes, I said it… it’s true.  How many professors have lost their jobs because they can’t teach?  None.  How many professors have jeopardized their jobs because they don’t publish enough research academic papers or don’t bring enough funding for their departments?  The number is quite large.  Professors have limited their direct work with students so much, that they don’t even grade student assignments any more.  They delegate the work to external “professional graders” who have never met the students and provide a “fair” grade that they think is appropriate.  Another option professors choose is computers… the matrix for grading is entered into a computer program and the program grades the assignment.

So if that’s the case, why do we have to continue writing academic papers which we don’t know how to write in the first place?  Why do we have to learn how to write them if nobody will ever be interested in reading them? (not even our professors)  Something has to change.

The second issue that the author of this book brings up is the question of whether multimedia and multitasking is as distractive to students as educators and parents think it is.  The author says that what seems as a distraction is actually the way students learn today.  I always mention this in my courses as well.  The fast that we can’t “multitask”, meaning watching TV while creating a video on the computer, while chatting with a couple of friends, browsing the Internet, and texting on our phones, does not mean that students of the new digital age can’t do it and do it efficiently.  Learning is not done during “me time” any more.  Students do not need quiet and piece behind a closed door with the TV and computer turned off in order to learn.

A classroom suited to today’s students should deemphasize solitary piecework. It should facilitate the kind of collaboration that helps individuals compensate for their blindnesses, instead of cultivating them. That classroom needs new ways of measuring progress, tailored to digital times — rather than to the industrial age or to some artsy utopia where everyone gets an Awesome for effort.

The new classroom should teach the huge array of complex skills that come under the heading of digital literacy. And it should make students accountable on the Web, where they should regularly be aiming, from grade-school on, to contribute to a wide range of wiki projects.

Quote from: Education Needs a Digital-Age Upgrade – NYTimes.com

This type of opinion and initiative gives me a lot of hope that things will soon start to turn around.  Education should enter a phase of transition not only in terms of allowing computers in the classroom… we are pass that stage… but in terms of teacher preparation, assessment, collaboration, methodology, even psychology.  I am hopeful that this will become reality sooner than later.

Read more on the topic at the Classroom as Microcosm blog.

August 9, 2011

Choosing instructional tools for: student authoring

by t.e.d.d.y.

What better way to teach students how to responsibly share information than to incorporate an authoring tool into your teaching.  Getting students to create information and place their names as authors is a great way to address a few issues:

  • copyright
  • belonging and contributing to a community
  • sharing true information for the benefits of the community
  • writing skills
  • information literacy
  • digital literacy

…the list is long.  It’s a fantastic method in or outside of the classroom which will engage your students into a collaborative environment which everyone will enjoy.

There’s benefits to the teacher as well.  you will now have more free time and won’t necessarily have to constantly send individual notes with the same information to the whole class.  Think of all the feedback that you need to provide for every class; or instructions for next class.  You can now share links and useful information that your students will be able to access with one click.

So lets explore some options on how to incorporate student authoring into your teaching.

One option that has already been explored and proven successful is setting up a website.  On it you will create content for your students to access at any time.  However, the real benefit is providing the option for your students to blog in real time from the classroom and post their notes on the website.  That way if you have someone who missed a class, they can just go to the website and find all notes and content that they missed without you having to spend time individually with that each person.

Another great way to set up a blog.  Students can access the blog and contribute to posting you or other students made.  The discussion goes on…  You can reset the blog for each class of yours, or for the school year, or make it an ongoing project without erasing any of the notes posted.

Another collaborative tool which is also widely used is a Wiki.  This is a fantastic tool which allows your students to create their own Wikipedia for the class.  The idea is that students will not be just posting on it, but they will be adding and editing pages for the purpose of improving them.  At the end you will end up with the perfect page for the perfect topic that everyone will find useful because it was created based on students’ interests and preferences.

What I have used and find really helpful is setting up a class space on a cloud platform, such as Dropbox.  This space will give you an opportunity to have all course content in a familiar environment to your students as it it similar to a folder they would see on their personal computer.  The difference is, it does not live on a computer, but on a cloud server.  This allows you to share the folder with everyone you want to contribute to it.  So every time a student (or you) adds something, everyone can see it.

Now lets take a look at some of the advantages and disadvantages of the above options.  I will start with the disadvantages because they are not that many.  For example, the first one that comes to mind is that we need to be connected to the Internet in order to access any of the tools.  Another disadvantage may be (I haven’t seen this too much) screening all posts to make sure that what students post is true and useful.  One way to solve this is to set strict rules for posting – sort of a template which everyone must follow.  If the post doesn’t follow the template, you can erase it.  Having these publishing rules will also discourage students from posting “just anything”…  One disadvantage is that students’ comments may make your website, blog or Wiki huge.  When you have people commenting on comments and posts, things can get out of hand.  One way to deal with this is to set restrictions for time and length of posts.  For example, you can close a discussion at 7pm on Friday because on Monday you will open a new topic for discussion.

These are just part of the small issues you may encounter.  However, you should focus on the advantages.  They definitely outnumber the disadvantages.  Here’s what to look forward to:

WEBSITE BLOG WIKI CLOUD
It looks like an official space for your course.  You can upload tons of your teaching materials, handouts, assignments, instructions, etc. in separate pages for your students to access and download.  It takes a bit longer to set up as you may have to use some HTML skills or make sure your template can accommodate the purpose of the website.  You don’t need to update the website that often once it’s set up. The likelihood of your students knowing how to use a blog is really high.  They probably already have their own.  You can upload materials on a blog but remember that its main purpose is to share information which provides for discussion.  Blogs are usually a bit more informal than a website.  They are dynamic and always changing and growing.  They also need to be updated regularly. One of the most favourite tools for educators.  You can share information, upload documents, spark conversation, edit and update regularly easily, your students will be able to edit and update, publish their content, constantly improve the content.  A Wiki is the perfect collaborative and sharing tool for education.  It’s dynamic and all participants are authors which increases the responsibility to share good information. This tool doesn’t take up space on your computer as it lives on a cloud.  Although it has storage limits, they are usually so big that you will never worry about going close to the limit.  Dropbox offers 2GB of space which for a course is more than enough.  This tool is the closest to what you would see on your own computer in terms of interface.  It looks exactly like a regular folder.  It’s very easy to upload materials as it’s a drag and drop function.
August 5, 2011

Education Week: N.Y. Thinks Outside Teacher Education Box

by t.e.d.d.y.

Education Week: N.Y. Thinks Outside Teacher Education Box.

This is interesting.  The article says that New York is doing everything to add variety into teacher preparation.  It think this is a really great idea.

Under a series of actions by the state board of regents over the past 1½ years, it has approved the first new graduate school of education in the state in more than half a century; cracked open the door to allow nonuniversity programs to prepare teachers at the graduate-degree level; and financed a variety of “clinically rich” pilot training programs at traditional schools of education.

What I would like to see is their plan to continue this into teachers’ professional development once they start working in schools.  Assessment and teacher certification is important, but the trend needs to continue so it has a positive effect on teacher performance long after teachers have received their certification.  I really hope this is not the case of “studying for the exam” type of thinking which is so popular in the US.

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