Archive for March, 2010

Wish I’d said that …

March 30, 2010
Mark Pegrum said…
There are two main strategies students (and for that matter, the rest of us!) need to learn. One is to ask questions about the origins, authorship, history, accuracy, objectivity, completeness, currency and relevance of every digital document they come across (I know that sounds like a long list, but it eventually becomes second nature). The other is triangulation, i.e., comparing and cross-referencing each document with other sources, whether online or offline. Incidentally, I agree with Meredith that checking one other website may not be enough, especially as a lot of information is simply recycled between different websites. The amount of triangulation you need to do depends on how hard it is to answer the key questions about origins, authorship, etc.

These two strategies – asking key questions, and triangulation – together add up to ‘information literacy’ or ‘critical literacy’.

Reflection on “The world is an internet forum.”

March 29, 2010

Compare the Kitty Genovese / Bystander effect, the dilution of responsibility to act, with the article to which  Mark’s twitter linked :

Colin Horgan wrote (among other interesting comments on deplorable conduct)

But one facet of the internet’s message is that of a re-emerging tribalism. Even a “social” network like Facebook is designed to be exclusive. Everyone’s there, and yet nobody is. When one examines the traits of online forums or comment threads, there is even more fracturing of opinion; opinion, one can’t help but note, that is accepted as valid by virtue of it being there. It’s a symptom of the nature of the online world – one that is endlessly self-selective, tending more toward the validation of one’s own perceptions, rather than consideration of conflicting information.

Obviously, the internet did not cause people to be rude, or to hurl epithets; this is not the first time someone’s been called the N-word in public. What the internet has done is present communal ideas in a way that we’ve rarely, if ever, seen. When everything arrives at once, context is lost, with any and all information being regarded on a level field. That lack of hierarchical information lends unintentional weight to everything, equally.

While the message of every medium that has preceded the internet has altered human perception, never has a medium presented all previous content simultaneously, electronically, at the speed of light. And as McLuhan noted during a speech to the Empire Club of Canada in 1972, “At electric speeds, nobody makes decisions but everybody becomes participant in a complex situation for which he can take no responsibility whatever.”

So, back to the demonstrators shouting at House Democrats as they walked to hear the president speak. There’s no particular way to account for how that kind of vulgarity became commonplace online, because since we all made the decision to accept it at the same time, nobody did.

So how do we enable the children to feel strong enough to act on “If not me, who;  if not now, when?”

Is it enough to teach them about poor Kitty?

What makes the special person who stands against a bully to protect a victim?

Can we ouselves act to spread a culture of courtesy on the tubes?  I fear a world where the gentle people avoid contact with the trolls – if no one says it is trollish, how can the trolls reflect on their actions?

If the trolls see themselves as defending the victim, will they listen?  How do we establish an international multicultural courtesy standard for areas of intense and emotional disagreement?  (Personally, I love the excruciating and frosty  good manners of two academics who despise each other …)

We are playing with fire: Responsibility of a Social Constructivist teacher

March 28, 2010

We are encouraged to use a Social Constructivist approach in teaching, and to use the power of Web 2.0 in doing this.  Given what I know of Social Psychology, I agree that Web 2.0 can be a powerful platform for that approach.

Given what I know of Social Psychology, I also know how powerful an approach Social Constructivism can be.

“With great power comes great responsibility” got to be a bit repetitive in Spiderman, but it is true.  The very power of the approach makes it dangerous tool, like a psychological plasma-cutter.

Why would I say it is dangerous?  Because it relies on the forces of small group interaction. Here are some classic references; some of them I cannot find on the free-web, and comments giving links to such would be appreciated.

Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison experiment in 1971 showed the demand effect of the rôles assumed upon the behaviours of the students involved; it had to be terminated early due to the extreme behaviours elicited. Philip Zimbardo notes the similarity to what was created in Abu Ghraib: the outcome was predictable behaviour given the situation set up and his well-known work.

Kiesler, CA, & Kiesler, SB (1969). Conformity .  Boston:
AddisonWesley : conformity in behaviour and/or conformity in opinion, as affected by various factors (especially group attractiveness).

Schachter, S. (1951). Deviation, Rejection, and communication. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 46, 190-208. Stanley Schachter began the work on the ways in which groups handle “deviance” from the norm opinion, including changing patterns of communication as failed attempted conversion ends in isolation; extensions include devaluation of the dissenter’s ideas on all topics.

Solomon Asch studied the effects on behaviour of being a correctly dissenting minority of one, and of the effect of being in a small minority and then abandoned by confederates. He emphasised the frequency with which people sustained their correct responses (only 5% always complied), but other psychologists emphasised that only 25% always dissented. This is work which has been extended in depth and complexity – for example, examining the effects of an organisation’s rewards for particular decision-making approaches

Stanley Milgram, inspired by the trials of WW2 war criminals, studied the tendency of normal people to torture others to death at the command of an authority-figure. This is a recognised “classic study”; it has recently been echoed by a French documentary using a fake TV game show. According to Deutsche Welle radio, that experiment (No ethics clearance required: journalism not “research”.) found that 80% of “contestants” complied with the host and audience demand to give agonising electric shocks to a restrained victim.  (In other words, 1 in 5 were independent enough to refuse.) As usual in such experiments, participants reported feelings of “wanting to stop but not being able to”.

These are just a few of the clear findings in the area, and they involve the same forces invoked in the Social Constructivist approach.  Unfortunately, many of the key works are too old to appear on a standard web browser search, or only available by purchase – so students with access through their institutions should follow the trail before they lose access.

Students in Primary education are going through  key developmental stages, in which the emotional pressure of the group situation and the power of the authority figure combine with fragile internal world-constructs to leave the student very vulnerable.  As teachers, we have a duty to be aware of the power of these aspects of human behaviour, both for good and ill, and seek ways to make our students the minority who will argue their case – while being willing to change their minds when well-tested evidence shows they were wrong.

Don’t tell me what I need

March 23, 2010

They tell you, practically from the cradle, that Man is a social animal, loneliness is a truly terrible thing, and humans can only really be happy in the company of their fellow creatures.  Shocking, the way they’re allowed to lie to you like that.

(Tom Holt [2009] May contain traces of magic. London: Orbit)

(Incidentally, I recently suggested someone insert a “link ” to a quote from a book.   It does feel strange to cite a work correctly in a blog, which may be why I said”link”.)

Is the Social CLassroom what everone needs?

The Social Constructivists are confident in asserting that social connections are essential for deep learning,   but beyond learning social conventions (like language) I am not sure that that is completely true.

In fact, I am completely sure that is not true.

In fact, I am completely sure that, for some people, the presence of other people inhibits learning.  I am also sure that some people can inhibit others’ learning.

It’s not just the autistic spectrum I am considering here.  There are also

  • those who are too sensitive to others,  whose emotions are rubbed raw by group work;
  • those too socially distracted by others;
  • those whose internal world is so different from the average that the normal “side conversations” are painful and the explanation of their opinions in “accountable talk” is a burden;
  • those who think so deeply that the usual level of “accountable talk” leads them to feel truly alienated;
  • those who think so quickly that they see where the whole thing is going three minutes into a one-hour class, and have to mark time while the others catch up;
  • those who think so slowly that they are spending time trying to understand others’ comments on the work without yet  understanding the work;
  • those who hate the whole (usually school)  social situation and are blocked by emotion from learning what they may later learn easily.
  • Those who enjoy learning but hate having others see their learner-errors.  “My angle grinder taught me a lot about metalwork!” said  one.

For many of these, the current claim that “humans can only be truly happy in the company of their fellow creatures”  leaves a feeling that they are officially diseased, or non-human.  If we add those who struggle with making sentences in the language, understanding the language, or putting complex thoughts into words,  there are many who would detest a social constructivist monoculture, particularly if it denies (as I fear some do) that books are people too.

And yet ….

We do need to develop social skills, and test our understandings against the greater society understandings,  and have the skills to defend our positions if the greater society is wrong.

Sometimes, careful selection of groups can remove the blocks to learning.

Things like wikis can give relief from real-time interaction demands.

Conclusion: Eclectic teaching is better

I would like every teacher to remember that some students find the whole thing as irritating as a “Workplace Bonding Outdoor Challenge”.

Differentiating instruction may lead one to give them some group tasks explicitly to demonstrate group / communication skills, but allow them to pursue other topics on their own while others do group activities.

Back to Walled Gardens

March 18, 2010

I expect that all novice teachers would like help and advice  from more experienced teachers – but how do you get that as a relief teacher?

Many schools have online curriculum-linked planning tools, but what do you do when you are not a member of Staff?

SSTUWA (our School Teachers’ Union) has members’ access to “Curriculum Organiser”, which their website calls “TOPS” .  It has folders in year level with  integrated units, graphic organisers, schedule planners, assessment guides, and   individual subjects with subfolders  such as scope and sequence statements , examples of year teaching programs, rubrics  … many free to copy donations of work from other teachers. 

It includes tools for combining these and external resources to make your own resources online, and to share them with others.

That is handy.

The Union site also has members chat areas,  and the other usual interest group website facilities.  Very reassuring for an isolated new teacher.

The great part is, membership in SSTUWA is free for student teachers until the end of the year that they finish the course, so you can get to know it before you hit the schools as a novice.   On-line registration is clunky but possible, or you can print the form then post it, and there is the in-person option in their Perth office. 

I know I am a bit Left in my views, which may put you off joining the Union, but don’t let my biases stop you benefiting from free access to a useful site.

Header image: Sunlight on Lemon Gum at UWA

March 16, 2010 On Wikipedia

March 15, 2010

Wikipedian protestor

My reflection:  What are we teaching them?  How will the outside world cope with young adults who want the citations, check claims  against other sources, and engage in reasoned argument?
(It is alive!!!    Bwaahh Haaaa Haaa – They said I was mad, mad, am I?!   I’ll show them, I’ll show them all!!! ….)

Smartboards again

March 13, 2010

Whilst listening to Kate Grenville I thought:

If, as she said, remote-area Aboriginal children have a communal approach (“We went” )  as their default thinking path,  and solitary reading is therefore not culturally comfortable,   smartboard-based group use of sites may make the web learning more accessable.  The individual facing a new site is as isolated as it gets.  This tracks directly to group reading of big books or identical texts in the class, too.

Web 2.0 informing web 1.0

March 12, 2010

I followed up the toys Ms Burns was promoting at Nz/Oz conferences, Fast ForWord,  found the brandname and chased comments on it. Our dear friend Wikipedia summarised the situation nicely.

For those with Uni-level journal access, Scholar has some interesting recent research such as a randomised controlled study .  It seem that it isn’t outstanding (compared with SuccessMaker, or regular class curriculum done by teacher who knows she’s involved in a study)  .    I wonder how it’d compare with a standard teaching situation?

So, if a school has it,  worth trying it.

Web 2.0 plus Smartboard: does that fit a constructivist approach?

March 12, 2010

Blythe suggested that web 2.0 will be unlikely to be used effectively in the WA system for a while, both from lack of resources and from lack of teacher appreciation of the potential of the tools.

In many schools there is limited access both in time and in computers, but more are getting a smartboard per classroom.  I am interested in the use of smartboard plus net access to allow large groups access to the expressive aspects of the web 2.0 approach.

Especially if the teacher is unsure of the students’ grasp of nettiquette, this could be a powerful way to demonstrate the decisions a user makes ( by voicing the choices and discussing the class’s preferences), and to provide a model for appropriate behaviour (by explaining why a suggested option is not to be in the range of choices). Modelling, turn-taking, and accountable conversation are buzzwords to drop in here …

In fact, for introducing the technology to teachers or students or both at once I can see it being preferrable to having the students go onto individual computers. If the teacher is unsure and the class is cooperative, a brave teacher might accept the interesting situation of all learning together – on a “safe” site.
This sounds very social constructivist to me.

However, as a life-long learner, I would say that  the objectivist basic skills/knowledge  transfer must be integrated into the process – time is so short in school,  the lesson plan should include essential and desirable new learnings to be covered before and  during the exploration, and how the outcomes are to be assessed.    I had a good tutor who showed us how to avoid time-wasting errors, but set the activities up so that we were likely to make errors with a strong learning outcome, and I’d like to try to do that for students eventually.   (If they have  used a hammer and you want them to work with self-tapping screws, give them a screwdriver and show them its basic use: saves having screws hammered into expensive wood, they can spend their time learning the techniques of angle, grip, and pressure. )