Tag Archives: teachers

Nicholas Carr at The Wheeler Centre: We’re drowning in the shallows

Last night I attended a talk by Nicholas Carr at The Wheeler Centre.

One of the world’s most ground-breaking and thought-provoking writers on technology and its impacts talks to Gideon Haigh. The celebrated journalist and author of The Shallows, presents his arguments about how the internet’s pervasive influence is fostering ignorance.

Nicholas Carr has a point: the internet is addictive; there’s so much to investigate and dip into, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to move from A to Z without darting off into various directions along the way, and you may not even get there at all.

The pioneering neuroscientist Michael Merzenich believes our brains are being ”massively remodelled” by our ever-intensifying use of the web and related media.

I’m not even going to go into the topic of brain rewiring, but I think that if our neural pathways can change depending on the nature of our activity, then we are still not doomed as long as we don’t turn into robots.

It is possible, though, that we might be at risk of losing our ability to focus on any one thing in a deep way, what with so much clamouring for our attention and our focus being diffused  through a myriad of hyperlinks.  And this is worth thinking about especially in the context of school education.

However, during Nicholas’ talk and subsequent question time, I realized that the culprit for the loss of deep concentration, defined loosely as either ‘the internet’ or technology,  was being bandied about in a disconcerting way, and that it is important to define exactly which activities on the internet we are talking about when we start blaming ‘the internet’ for rewiring of neural pathways and even ignorance.

Nicholas Carr referred repeatedly to online activites such as those on Facebook, Twitter and instant messaging/chat, when he spoke of distractions which prevented us from deeper concentration and understanding. He was using a broad brush to paint a picture of what the internet has to offer,  focusing on the more superficial exchanges as if this was all there was to the internet. Gideon Haigh, the presenter, jumped on the bandwagon and made a disparaging remark about Web 2.0 in education, saying that Facebook and Twitter were hardly learning – and he got an applause for that remark. It was obvious that the audience were not all on the same page. How is it that ‘the internet’ is limited to the more superficial social media? And please, inform yourselves before you judge technology as the cause of lower academic performance. Technology and the internet are only as good as the people who use them, and that is always about educated and intelligent teaching.

From  my own experience, it’s clear to me that the introduction of new technologies requires support, not only how to use these technologies, but also the thinking behind pedagogy – how to use these technologies  to enhance learning, not to tick off boxes for technology use. Obviously technology without the support is going to mean a backwards movement.

If the internet –  and Nicholas Carr also mentioned ebooks with the distractions of hyperlinks and commenting, online research, and multimedia –  if all these things are responsible for the loss of deep concentration, then why don’t we blame television for distracting us from serious novel reading, and why not blame popular music (and the radio) for taking away generations from an appreciation of more serious music and the ability to listen to a long ‘classical’ music performance? Even years ago how could we compete with Sesame Street when teaching young children in the traditional way?

If Nicholas laments the quietness which, he claims, is conducive to deeper thought and concentration, solitude even, then we should really retire to a convent and possibly an Amish community, so that there is no electricity to enable all these distractions.

I know that’s a little extreme but really – aren’t we being a little purist? Who are the people who focus deeply on reading? Are we talking about a scholarly article or book, because then we are talking about academics, not those of us who prefer to sit in front of the television for light entertainment after a long day.

As one of the guys in our computer centre said to me recently – by encouraging teachers to use the internet, aren’t you leading them along the path to addiction, and what will happen to stillness?

I think ‘stillness’ disappeared long ago even with the advent of radio and television. Yes, modern technologies are more mobile, more interactive, more engaging, but aren’t we in control of our online behavior? And if not, we should be. Pick out the wheat from the chaff, or teach yourself to do it. And if you want stillness, perhaps you should consider monasticism.

So Nicholas, before you say that what we need is money going into good teachers instead of into technology in education, please do your homework. Why should the two be mutually exclusive? We have always needed good teachers but we also need teachers who prepare kids for their world. And like it or not, that world is connected. More than ever we need to understand what engages young people and how they learn and socialize, so that we realize the power of social learning. Not because we think Facebook is the answer but because we think Skyping a class from the other side of the world and engaging in authentic conversation is more engaging and informative than reading from a textbook. Because we think that choice and hands-on creativity is more productive than passive learning. Because we find experts all over the world, and not just in the teacher who happens to be standing in front of the class.

I was amused that Carr quoted a 6th century bishop, Isaac of Syria, when he said that our furtive internet behavior was responsible for the permanent loss of the capacity for dream-like concentration:

“With prolonging of this silence,” wrote Isaac, “the turmoil of memories is stilled in my heart, ceaseless waves of joy are sent me by inner thoughts, beyond expectation suddenly arising to delight my heart.”

Bishop Isaac of Syria was a monk, an ascetic. The silence he speaks of is no doubt the silence that comes with private prayer and monastic isolation. Should we then go back to eating in silence while we listen to the readings of the lives of saints?

Finally, Carr discovers shocking statistics about multi-taskers. New research shows that multi-tasking results in poor comprehension. I say there is a difference between multitasking well and dividing your attention between too many things and not doing any of them well. Definitions, people! Let’s not be sloppy with our definitions, let’s be specific when we judge an activity such as multitasking, or something like ‘the internet’.  It’s just as easy to blame the internet as it is to blame society. As Alison Croggon says

The internet is whatever we make it. It isn’t an abstraction: it’s the collective creation of millions of individual human beings.

To conclude, if Nicholas Carr has decided to take a break from being connected 24/7, then rejoined online life after discerning what was valuable and what wasn’t, then isn’t this just part of the evaluative process we should all be going through? Aren’t we doing that already? As teachers, isn’t that part of our job in forming critical thinkers?

I am reminded of the episode about ‘the Internet’ on the IT Crowd. Seems appropriate for today’s post.

Nicholas Carr’s latest book, The Shallows,  is worth reading – or skimming…

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Filed under debate, internet, network literacy, Social media, teachers, teaching, technology, Web 2.0

Are schooling and learning synonymous?

I’m adding a post about a post added by Will Richardson who added a post after he read a tweet by Alec Couros.

Yeah.

Will starts out like this:

Yesterday, Alec Couros went “Back to School” to “Meet the Teacher” of his first grade daughter. Here is what he saw:

Photo by Alec Couros (from Weblogg-ed)

Both Will and Alec have children in school or about to start and feel pretty much the same way about schools which seem so traditional that they have been left behind in the Industrial Age (my interpretation).

Will’s post nails the problem for some parents (are most of these teachers themselves?) when school isn’t the ideal place to educate their kids. What do you do then?

Will has captured the Twitter responses to Alec’s initial tweets and they are definitely an interesting read.

I agree with you, Will – this tweet expresses my own view of my sons’ schooling:

“We’ve always considered public school ed our kids receive as supplemental to the ed we provide at home so we don’t go crazy about it.”

I’m writing from the perspective of a parent who has been though a few hells and come back to review school education many times. My boys are now in second year uni and year 10. I’ve never expected school to be responsible for all the learning or to contain the most important learning for my boys. Or did I understand that gradually? Did I expect more and come to accept less? Yes, I think so.

I am not about to criticise all schools, all teachers. I’m a teacher and far from perfect. I would not like to be a principal. So when I say that schools have been less than what they could have been, I just think that the talent and dedication which many educators display every day could be better directed with an informed view of the kind of learning which truly prepares our kids for living and working in their world. We are not preparing our kids adequately for their future because we are not projecting our goals into their future – we are clinging to our old perception of what we need to teach them.

A few things that spring to mind throughout the years my boys were at school:

  • My older (tested as highly gifted at the age of 5 – not because I wanted to bask in this, but because I wanted to cater for his needs and understand him) came into mainstream Grade 2 from Montessori. When he was given a list of spelling words to learn which he’d known since the age of 3, and I discussed this with his teacher, his teacher said, ‘We can’t have Sasha doing his own work and the rest of the class doing their work…’  My question at the time: Why not? which I didn’t voice because I still respected that the teacher knew best and the parent should comply.
  • When I asked subsequent teachers for support in keeping my son interested at school, they either

1) gave him extra work which he didn’t want to do, and then told me he wasn’t cooperating

2) devoted all further discussions to pointing out that he wasn’t like other children, and that he should concentrate on fitting in

3) placed all importance on social skills (his apparent failure to be like everyone else) and ignored the academic aspect. (Let me say that pointing out to a child that he is different and that this difference is somehow a handicap, is not going to help his social skills. Telling him to dumb down, as the school psychologist did, is also not going to help)

I just want to say that I also have many excellent memories balancing out these not so positive ones, and these centre on wonderful teachers. I’m not painting an entirely black picture but still, if I had to estimate how much of school I thought was truly valuable, I would have to say that there is so much I would have done without, so much I would have done differently, so much wasted time. But it’s worse than wasted time, it’s the turning away from a natural love of learning. Sometimes I think that my children, my students, are successful despite their schooling, not because of it.

My younger son absolutely lives for music and wants to be a comp0ser. He is happy this year in his new school, The Victorian College of the Arts Secondary School, in year 10, where he follows the same academic curriculum as in other schools but also benefits from expert tuition and performance experience in music.

How do I remember most of his schooling before this? Apart from his two final years in primary school when he had fantastic teachers who did wonders for his love of learning and self esteem, the first 3 years of secondary school were times where he had to put away his burning desire to compose and play music because he spent almost every waking moment completing homework tasks. Granted, some students would have either done the same more quickly or not been as conscientious, but the hardest part was seeing him develop an aversion to learning and a low opinion of himself as a learner. That’s difficult for a parent.

In retrospect, I would perhaps do some things differently. I like the way Will and his wife communicate with the teachers:

We write an e-mail (or a letter) to each teacher introducing our kids and ourselves, letting them know what our hopes are, what we’d love to see our kids doing, and what we’ll do to support the classroom. We also introduce ourselves, and talk a little bit about what our worldview of education looks like. Finally, we offer to continue that conversation and help make it a reality in the classroom in whatever way we can. And we cc the principal and headmaster (since Tess is in private school.)

I think you have to work hard to develop a positive relationship with teachers and principals. I gave up too easily in situations when a teacher responded in a defensive manner, particularly when it meant resenting my child. In this case I withdrew, fearing the repercussions for my child, but now I might hold my ground a little longer and try not to take the whole thing personally. The parent/teacher relationship can be delicate.

Certainly I have always taken a very active role in my children’s education, and I’m not referring to basic literacy and numeracy skills, but to opening up their minds to bigger picture questions, providing them with resources and activities within their interest areas.

I wonder how differently teachers would teach without the sometimes crippling restrictions of curriculum, if there was time to discuss what they thought was most important and without the looming university entrance scores.

Despite all this, I think that, if I had the chance to do this again, I would still not choose homeschooling – which is not to say that I think it doesn’t work. My husband and I always felt that being part of a school community was important for our sons, and finding your place was also important.

Katie Hellerman was also inspired to write a post after reading Will Richardson’s, and it’s a good read.

I would love to hear from you about the topic of schooling and learning. Do you think schooling prepares young people adequately, well? If not, how would you reconfigure schooling?

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Filed under Education

Top 100 best of everything

Photo courtesy of Beverly_&_Pack on Flickr

A while ago I was surprised to discover that my blog was included in a list of 100 most inspiring and innovative blogs for education published by Online University Reviews.

At the time I just skimmed the extensive lists, but this evening I have been poring over lists in different categories, and I must say, they’re definitely worth looking at.

Not one for business or gossip, here are some of the lists which caught my eye:

50 best blogs for grammar geeks

10 important writers who went to jail for their work

100 best scholarly art blogs divided into the categories of best art news, best art critic, best art communities, best artists’ blogs, best artist inspirational blogs, best children’s art, best art photography and best art resources

(also including Art forum Australia)

50 free games for teaching literacy online

100 useful tutorials for the twittering librarian including for the beginner, best blogs for Twitter, best way to find other twittering librarians, best timesavers for Twitter, best ways to promote your library using Twitter, best tools for Twitter, best games for Twitter, best add-ons for Twitter, best image tools for Twitter, best video tools for Twitter, best books for Twitter and best librarians to follow on Twitter.

50 best websites for modern Shakespearean scholars

50 incredible books every educator should read

100 famous writers you can follow on Twitter

100 most inspiring and innovative blogs for educators – these are divided into the categories: general teaching blogs, specialty subject blogs, best podcasts for teachers, best video blogs for teachers.

top 100 poetry blogs

100 open courses to take your writing to the next level

top 100 liberal arts professor blogs – these are divided into art, economics, education, english, history, maths, media/technology, music, philosophy, psychology, political science, science, sociology and theology

50 best blogs for literacy teachers including ESL/EFL, grammar, literary criticism and reading promotion

I hope you have an enormous amount of time on you hands because you’ll need a small lifetime to investigate all these links. I’ve been madly saving some of these to my Diigo library. Although I doubt that these lists even cover most of the best of the best – obviously other bests exist elsewhere – it’s definitely a list where you can find something for everyone.

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Filed under 21st century learning, blogging, Education, Teacher librarians, teachers

Who needs to learn first?

Amanda Marrinan shared this video on Facebook today – Kevin Honeycutt’s song I need my teacher to learn 3.0.

Yes, I think the learning needs to start with us. Thanks, Kevin, you’re amazing – doing so much to make real learning happen and sharing it with all of us. Not sure how he manages to find enough hours in the day. And thanks, Amanda, for finding the video.

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Filed under 21st century learning, film, learning, teachers

Wisdom from the periphery

As always, I’m amazed by the wisdom of the people who form my online network. My last post was written out of the frustration I was feeling when I was temporarily overwhelmed by a sense of isolation – it seemed to me that I was speaking a foreign language amongst many of those around me. It wasn’t long before I started to receive comments from other educators – intelligent, diverse and encouraging comments. My sense of isolation was short-lived. These people have become colleagues regardless of their geographical location. They have become valuable friends and colleagues, sharing their views based on experience and reflection. I feel inspired and supported by these people; thankyou to all of you.

I would recommend you read all the comments, and I’d like to take the opportunity to feature the last comment I’ve received so far, because it would be a shame to leave it buried. I admire Paul Stewart’s deep thinking, and I think he eloquently expresses what many of us can relate to:

A wonderful post. It’s a reminder that we’re not all on the same page. Teachers are an eclectic bunch, and this should be a good thing – I abhor homogeneity, as do kids – but I can appreciate your frustration that our differences result in division. Ironically, it is our diversity that should unite us – it’s what makes us interesting to our students.

That said, I find it difficult to understand how educators – people charged with the responsibility of extending our youth, could be so reluctant to understand the context in which today’s youth develop. These teachers often see school as separate to the world outside, rather than an essential part of it.

Now I don’t buy into the whole digital natives nonsense (now there’s a flawed concept that has got more mileage than it deserved) but I do believe it is the role of any educator to constantly seek out new ways to engage, stimulate and challenge their students. Educators should be provocative. They should be unsettling (but in a good way).

And students? Well, students should be constantly shedding their skin in a classroom. They should be pushed to embrace change by experiencing it.

Now of course, you don’t need to use technology every minute of a lesson to achieve such outcomes, but it puzzles me that some teachers can so easily dismiss the opportunities that lie in technology: the chance to produce rather than consume, the chance to collaborate across time and space, the chance to make a mark upon society without using a spray can. Technology gives students so many tools to analyse, design, produce and investigate and these should not be denied to kids simply because a teacher is unfamilar with such tools.

I added dumplings to a chicken curry I made the other day and one of my progeny stuck out his bottom lip and refused to eat. After much coaxing, he tried one, then two… Ten minutes later he stuck out his bowl for seconds. I was pleased but I wish it didn’t have to be so hard. It’s sometimes like that with teachers (and they do not have the defence of youth to excuse their reactions to new experiences).

Your post really made me think of how different people are. As I get older, I am increasingly aware that I am approaching a time when there will be fewer days in front of me than there are behind me, and that makes me want to pack in as many new experiences as possible. The thought of doing something the same way twice kind of depresses me. The thought of teaching the same lesson that I taught five years ago, ignoring all the incredible changes that have happened in the world, now that would lead to ennui so crippling, I wouldn’t get out of bed.

I don’t think you’re alone in getting frustrated in having to justify your position, but that’s the lot of innovative people. By pushing the boundaries, you (by definition) place yourself on the periphery. There will always be a need to supply justifications to employers (they have a right to ask) but I hope we can move to a place in education where the innovative and bold are not subject to the sort of scepticism you allude to in your post.

Thankyou for taking the time to reply so thoughtfully, Paul. This line made me sit up and take notice:

These teachers often see school as separate to the world outside, rather than an essential part of it.

How many of us have thought about whether what we do at school has anything to do with the outside world? That would make an interesting survey, don’t you think?

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Filed under 21st century learning, Education, networking, teachers, teaching, technology

Learning is a waste of time?

A day of conversations.

Good to record these and then reflect and analyse.

Firstly, a conversation with a Year 7 student who was ‘unable’ to do any work during English class because his laptop wasn’t working (note: he managed to remain undetected for most of the writing session before we realised, and then his visit to the computer centre was uneventful because he forgot to take the obligatory note, and the second visit left him without a computer until the end of the day). During our conversation, I told him that he should put the session down to valuable life lessons – taking the initiative to solve the problems instead of sitting aimlessly and wasting time, etc. – and he said these lessons were irrelevant because he was going to change schools the following year anyway. (My eyebrows raised involuntarily). He continued: the new school didn’t have a laptop program until the senior  years, and all his problems would be gone. What problems? You know, internet not working, things disappearing. He would get more work done. So, after a respectful pause, I asked him what he thought his future life of work would be like, wouldn’t it include functioning with technology? With all its glitches? And he would have to continue to problem-solve because there would always be problems? Yes, he agreed, but in the meantime he’d get more work done at school without the technology. It would all be in the book; easy to find and keep. (Has he heard of the technicality of losing the book?)

Hmm…

Get more work done…

Funny he should say that. Later in the day we had a meeting of the teachers involved in the Year 8 immersive project (mentioned in previous posts). I was late to the meeting, and I came in at the point where  groups of teachers were doing a post mortem on the project. The group I veered towards was engaged in passionate discourse, expressing negative views. There were too many points to remember them all, but the gist of it was that the big picture week-long, student-driven project didn’t work and was a waste of time. A waste of time because it took time away from the real work that had to be taught.  If it weren’t for the project, they would have ‘got more work done’. Work that was valuable.

Hmmm…

I ventured to say (I never learn, do I?) that all the problems and difficulties expressed were part of the teachers’ learning process, and that a collective discussion of these would result in a very different project next time – properly scaffolded, rubric based not on theory but on specific skills and capabilities demonstrated (or not) during the course of the project. The need to provide consistency throughout the different classes, the need to maintain seamless transfer between teachers, to deconstruct the questions at the beginning, to check for understanding, to get feedback from students on each day’s progress, etc. – all these observations I thought were valuable reflections, driving the discussion towards collective analysis and future improvement. But what I viewed as positive, some viewed as evidence that the project was a waste of time. The project took valuable time away from real work.

Interesting….

Not entirely surprising, though. I think you have to expect the initial digging in of heels, the panic and confusion when things are not spelled out, when teachers are just as much learners as the students, when stepping out onto unchartered territory. I can’t say that I”m not uncomfortable in new situations – of course I am. But if at least half of the teachers see the positive elements of the project, the rationale behind passion-based, student-driven, enquiry-based learning, then I hope that the scales will tip in favour of trying this out a second time. View this as a first draft, and collaborate towards an improved second draft.

Hopefully…

And please, consider the definition of ‘work’. Think about what it means to ‘get something done’. Or maybe you’d rather refocus on ‘learning process’ and navigate your learning  instead of getting it done.

Any thoughts?

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Filed under 21st century learning, debate, Education, learning, research, teachers, teaching

9 great reasons why teachers should use Twitter

twitterforteachers

 

Laura Walker posted 9 great reasons why teachers should use Twitter.

Twitter is often represented as a facile activity for people who have nothing better to do than given minute by minute reports on what they had for breakfast or what TV show they were watching. In fact, that’s missing the point that many other people are getting.  Take the time and effort to build a Twitter community of people who share your interests, as well as people who push your boundaries for good debate, and you’ve got a forum for life.

The nine reasons that Laura Walker gives for why teachers should use Twitter are:

  1.  Together we’re better
  2.  Global or local
  3. Self-awareness or reflective practice
  4. Ideas workshop and sounding board
  5. Newsroom and innovation showcase
  6. Professional development and critical friends
  7. Quality-assured searching
  8. Communicate, communicate, communicate
  9. Getting with the times has never been so easy!

Go past the points and look into the meat of Laura’s reasons. Don’t be  put off by all the negative press; find out for yourself.

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Filed under 21st century learning, networking, teachers, Web 2.0