curator role

Integrating OERs

Right now, I’m not teaching courses, but my final project for Open Educational Resources at the University of Manitoba will also be something that I will use for a series of training workshops I’ve been asked to set up. Thus I’ve already been thinking about integrating my aggregation of OERs within the context of 2-hour workshops over a series of several weeks, but our readings this week help me organize my thoughts a bit:

Our text describes eight steps to OER integrating OER in teaching and learning.

  1. Assess the validity and reliability of the OER.
  2. Determine placement within the curriculum, if not already done. Note that some OER integration may be abandoned at this point if the OER relates poorly to the rest of the curriculum.
  3. Check for license compatibility. (See License Incompatibility in Licensing for more details).
  4. Eliminate extraneous content within the OER (assuming the license permits derivatives).
  5. Identify areas of localization (see Adapt OER).
  6. Remix with other educational materials, if applicable (see Adapt OER).
  7. Determine the logistics of using the OER within the lesson. For example, you may need to print handouts for learners. In other cases special software may be needed.
  8. Devise a method of evaluation or whether the currently planned evaluation needs adjustment (see Evaluation for more details).

What do these steps mean to you and your context? What additional step would you include? Blog on!

Because I am verbose and think too much (see all prior posts), I can’t hope to address all eight of these points, but they have helped me ponder a few things. These steps are for embedding an existing OER into a class or a course; in my case, I am creating an OER for a particular training I will deliver.

Cross-platform issues should be pretty easy to tackle–I’m using DokuWiki (here’s my first steps), and it is all text-based for ease of movement between devices. It renders perfectly when I access it on my Droid and, except for any videos I may include, the materials should be easy to download and print, if necessary, or store offline. I’ve just started learning and using this tool, so one thing I need to do is figure out whether there is an easy way to include, say, a button that allows a learner to save a particular file. I think the issue a learner would have, though, is that I try to fit the content onto one screen-sized “page” so there is not too much scrolling. That would mean more numerous but smaller files. I’ve seen wiki-based resources that do have a lot of scrolling, so I will need to figure out what my balance is between ease of reading on screen and ease of saving offline. I will have to investigate whether these DokuWiki text files could be “bundled” for download into subject groupings.

The target audience for this OER is very specific at the moment: I’ve been asked to create a writing curriculum for researchers who already have to write reports as part of their job, but reports that get disseminated to clients, partners, and the general public (in many cases). Their positions in this organization require the skills that they learned in graduate school (regarding data analysis and so forth) but also require them to communicate their findings to a wider audience than just their sociology professors. Newer associates, especially, have trouble with overuse of passive language and with burying the lead of their data “story.” They sometimes use phrases like “variables include student name…,” which mean very little to the public audience they are trying to reach. I have some mandates from the executive director that I must include, so there is an outside evaluator looking at these materials, too. Thus this OER is quite localized, which may or may not make it useful to a wider audience. However, the materials I want to incorporate may serve anyone who has to write public reports about what they do for a living.

I’m hoping that with the help of plug-ins in the DokuWiki software I may be able to incorporate some writing and revision interactive opportunities into the OER. That may or may not work, and I have a backup plan of Google Docs just in case. But I think what would be interesting is that learner engagement and interaction both inside and outside the system. I am thinking that we will do some writing in the workshops that may be incorporated into the wiki. Likewise, I will encourage them to go to the wiki and add/update/question things—that’s the beauty of wikis, after all.

In this project, there’s a tricky balance between a detailed academic approach (that is, in your writing, you need to be quite accurate about the data you are reporting) and a marketing/public relations/journalism approach (meaning that you want to make your prose accessible because you are hoping to enlighten/inform your audience about a situation in the community, for example). That means that in assessing materials to aggregate, I will have to pay attention not only to the quality of other materials I find but also to their approach and tone. A “how to” paper for an aggressive marketing campaign is not appropriate to include in my OER, for instance. These folks aren’t writing to sell anything; they’re writing to increase the knowledge of the community. Thus a few resources may be journalism sources, too.

COBRA…

Your source for official open educational resources

Recently I’ve started a project for (gasp!) a traditional educational textbook publisher, writing most of a new student edition for a middle school textbook. Within pages and pages of instructions (and revised instructions) for the inclusion of sidebar material, questions, lesson reviews, primary sources, and so on, there is this:

Wikipedia, an encyclopedia that people can change to make accurate or more up-to-date, is also available online. It is a useful reference, but should never be used as a single source and should not be cited. However, there are footnotes and links that go with the articles that can be helpful in tracking down scholarly information on the topic you are researching. 

I’ve been curious about the undertones of this short cautionary note. Clearly the words are mostly positive: people change Wikipedia entries to make them “accurate” and “more up-to-date.” Wikipedia is “useful” and “helpful,” too. Its footnotes and links direct you to “scholarly information.”  However, Wikipedia should “not be cited” and “never be used as a single source.” Like many so-called scholarly resources, Wikipedia is peer reviewed. Literally, sometimes, thousands of people have agreed that the information contained about Thing X is accurate. That’s way more people than a scholarly journal relies upon when it vets articles for inclusion (perhaps three outside volunteer reviewers, with luck). What “scholarship” has that Wikipedia does not is an institutionalized history, external forces propping it up (think “publish or perish”), and sometimes a profit motive behind it (think of those conferences). Scholarly journals are officially sanctioned because…well, because we all sanction them.

My professor in my University of Manitoba “Open Educational Resources” course wondered whether the future of OERs would include “official” OERs. By that, I am assuming he means given the old okey-dokey by teachers, scholars, researchers, practitioners…or perhaps there will arise some sort of Council of Officially Blessed Resources for the Academy  (COBRA)? More acronyms and bureaucracy always lead to order and civil society. With officialism we can sleep more soundly knowing that an organization is  looking out for us. The squirrelier part of me wants to add “COBRA” to the Wikipedia page that lists all possible cobras as acronyms or snakes. I could perform an experiment to see how long it might take someone to stumble across the page and question the entry. To foment the illusion, I could also create a fake COBRA website complete with downloadable forms that ask respondents to “submit your Educational Resource with the accompanying 12-page form” and wait six weeks for “a decision from the committee of scholars in your subject area.” Using the web, I could insert photos of people in suits hovering over the round tables that hotels use when you tell them your meeting is “interactive.” Then I could get on Twitter and complain that COBRA rejected my educational resource, directing people to my anti-COBRA Facebook page where my friends would log in and demand that COBRA identify its rationale for acceptance of some OERs and not others.

With all this evidence, would anyone know it’s a mirage?

Last semester when I taught first-year composition, my students were surprised that I encouraged them to use Wikipedia; evidently, none of their other professors found it acceptable. But as I explained to them, using Wikipedia actually requires a little bit more of them as researchers and readers than does an article they find in a scholarly journal. They must actively verify whether the information on Wikipedia is worthwhile. How they accomplish that intellectual task is another opportunity to further their education and develop the skills they need to be actively engaged, questioning beings.

I suspect there may be some COBRA-type organizations springing up now or later, but it’s all rather silly. The only good reason I can think of for a body to sanction OERs is as a result of collectively organizing against those whose interest is vested in deminishing any online information source (say, for instance, textbook publishers) or those who want only their own version of what “education” means (say, Bill Gates, the Khan Academy, and so on). But a reactive position is never a strong one. The stronger position invites more and more people to create, redefine, criticize, question, and use OERs.

CCK11: Wrapping up; the long and short of it

I feel like I’ve just gotten started; how can CCK2011 be ending? I’m going to argue two contradictory perspectives on timing here because I keep waffling between them; then I’m going to finish up by promoting the idea that George and Stephen shouldn’t facilitate CCK next time but instead form a granny cloud of well-wishers.

Why CCK2012 should be longer

The next iteration of CCK should last for 18 weeks. With the lengthened time comes more opportunity to engage at a deeper, ongoing level with the materials that we have been given and that we’re finding on our own. The reading list may end up being filled with the same content, but some of that content—perhaps most especially the readings at the beginning that are quite dense and set up the course—could be spread out a bit to give us time to digest.

In graduate school, courses were 3-4 hours long each week, with intense discussions of what we were reading; that gave me the opportunity to carve out time to talk about the materials and really shake down what I thought about them and how I could use them. The hourlong discussions on Elluminate do not grant us a lot of time (although I hear the FaceBook group has online discussions that go deeper than what we’re able to achieve on Elluminate) and at least a third of them are about listening to guest speakers. Don’t misread me: I love those. But I would have enjoyed, say, another hour after Cable Green’s presentation to talk about all the information he gave us about the work he’s doing. And blogging, which I’ve tried for the first time for this course, doesn’t give the same sustained conversation as real life can.

And because this is not graduate school, which some of us may be used to, having a longer course may allow us to settle into the format before the course starts winding down. I know that just a couple weeks ago was the start of feeling like I had a rhythm to my work for the course: after reading the materials over the weekend, I check the Daily, go to the CCK site to navigate the blog posts and pull out what interests me, read it, click links in it, click around looking for new stuff, etc., on Tuesdays in preparation for Wednesday’s online session. On Thursday or Friday I might start a blog post about it (some of which have never been posted for general consumption).

In addition, a longer course would have allowed a few lulls along the way. Perhaps the Week 4 dropoff in participation could be planned for and accommodated; that is, at Week 5 we take a break to chew over things a bit so that at Week 6 we’re reenergized and raring to go. At Week 10 or 12, same thing. At that point, too, we could have a break to start thinking of our final projects and what we want to create as our artifact for the course. Right now I want more mulling time to think about my project, but I’m running out of days.

Why CCK2012 should be shorter

The next iteration of CCK should last for six weeks and should cull down the weekly readings into two at the most. This gives participants, most of whom are working adults, the time to use those limited readings to jump into their own explorations of content. Exploring on one’s own, making those connections to what you find, is an important part of the experience of a distributed course. Shorter, intense bursts of energy and activity are the way that some people approach a new learning opportunity. I have seen adult learners obsess about a topic, say kabuki theater or bonsai (I’m using my husband as an example here), and gorge on every piece of information they can find…and then move on to a new intensity.

A shorter CCK would also allow a more intense focus for the time we do share. The fourth week dropoff in participation has been mentioned in writings about MOOCs, and I think that with a finish line more closely in sight at six weeks, people may be more likely to pull up their big girl panties and keep up the intensity. For instance, these last 3 weeks or so, my life has been crowding in on any time I can dedicate to this experience. Many people’s initial enthusiasm cools a bit, not because they’re not interested but because the experience is now more “known” than it was before.

In addition, I think a shorter course would help the facilitators manage their time and efforts, too. They could give it more attention knowing that there is a shorter range of time that it will take and could arrange it to happen during part of a year that is for them not as busy with other commitments. A longer break between courses also allows them to help find/foment new content that they could bring back to the learning experience.

Lighten the load

I think I could also write about Why CCK2012 Should Be Taught by a Different Team. Not because George and Stephen didn’t do a good job, but because in that way not only is the course content and participation distributed but also the teaching is distributed. That’s not really a radical model; we did that a lot in graduate school, where each week a student was responsible for leading the discussion about whatever we were doing. They’ve done the course; they’ve collaborated to make it work three times now. Perhaps a cohort of former students could take on its next design and delivery? We could scope for new materials, especially out of the artifacts of prior courses, or create what we think we might need. Six or seven people could take different microtopics and continually develop them.

That way, Stephen and George could swoop in periodically and give us all a cheer. I’ve written about granny clouds before, and Stephen and George could visit our blogs as benign mentors just to say “Hi. I stopped by to see that you’re writing about really interesting things. Keep it up, and best wishes!” They could see the course morph into something they hadn’t expected, perhaps. Alternatively, they could lurk under assumed identities and stir things up a bit by disagreeing with everything.

CCK11: Educational and other despair

Diane RavitchI just started reading Diane Ravitch‘s new book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Undermine Education. Ravitch has been very influential throughout the last few decades in shaping educational policy in the United States. A former supporter of the No Child Left Behind Act (the No Child Left Untested Racket), Ravitch has since decided that she was, in fact, wrong about NCLB and school choice. In her first chapter, as a response to readers wondering why she has switched her position, she quotes John Maynard Keynes: “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?” She has always been a firm proponent of liberal arts, so she states, “Doubt and skepticism are signs of rationality.  …It is doubt that shows we are still thinking, still willing to reexamine hardened beliefs when confronted with new facts and new evidence.” (See her interview with Jon Stewart. Funny!)

While I have not always agreed with her, I have always respected her willingness to attend to what’s actually going on in the real world as opposed to the ideological one. This book is no different; she amasses a great deal of evidence from real school systems, studded with historical insights and examples, to tell readers what those of us who are parents, citizens, and educators already know: modeling education on business principles does not work for anyone. Top-down decisionmaking, strong arm staffing, rewards based on spurious indicators (student assessment scores? really??), and “competition” among schools (i.e., “school choice,” charter schools) has resulted in…well, nothing. A lackluster educational system with overtested, underchallenged students and teachers constrained from exercising their professional knowledge by having to teach to the test.

I’m only halfway through the book now, but I’m hoping she connects the school system to the larger cultural system to talk about poverty and the income gap, declining neighborhoods, and weird sense of entitlement on the part of parents who want schools to do everything for their child but do not want to pay for it. I’m also hoping she clarifies how schools have changed since, for instance, I attended them. Inclusion policies, whereby a child is placed in the least restrictive environment, strain schools’ and districts’ budgets. Low-performing students with IEPs (individual education plans) are monitored by two teachers devoted just to that paperwork, for example, rather than being in a classroom. SBH (severe behavioral handicap) students are attended to all day, every day; in-school suspension runs all day, every day, supported again by one staff member dedicated to just that…. It’s actually quite startling the myriad of things that schools have to deal with. And now the budget in a rural school 5 miles from me is so strained that they’re doing away with art, music, physical education, recess, and lunch periods as well as laying off teachers and other staff (not administrators though).

Given the situation in my state, where today it’s likely that the legislature will decimate public unions and then accept a state budget that creates havoc for local districts…maybe connected, online learning is the answer. At least for adults. But my excitement about the potential of some of these online networks and tools is increasingly overshadowed by my despair about the direction of my state and country. Yes, it will directly affect me and my family, given that my husband is a well educated teacher with a dozen years’ experience in a very challenging district (after his stint as an Army Ranger in his younger years…yes, we’ve done everything the “right” way: education and hard work). But how can we seriously expect that the increasing gap between the rich and the poor makes for a stable society for anyone? The question of access to these amazing new learning tools isn’t one we can continue to brush aside if we are really interested in learning, unless we’re interested in learning only for those who can afford it—as my husband’s recent protest sign pointed out, under Governor Kkkasich, some pigs are more equal than others—while we leave behind the growing population of those who cannot.

Addendum

Who’s Bashing Teachers and Public Schools and What Can We Do About It?

 http://www.rethinkingschools.org/archive/25_03/25_03_karp.shtml

By Stan Karp

The short answer to this question is that far too many people are bashing teachers and public schools, and we need to give them more homework, because very few of them know what they’re talking about. And a few need some serious detention.

 Some information from Mother Jones about U.S. distribution of wealth and income gaps:

CCK11: Openness and sustainability

A small caveat: it’s been a rough couple of weeks, so I haven’t blogged for our course much, nor have I commented on other folks’ posts as I try to do regularly. My apologies. Between a large increase in my freelance work and the additional time I’ve spent in crowds of teachers, firefighers, police officers, public health workers, prison guards, etc., who are trying to keep their jobs…I’m exhausted.

As I mentioned in my last post, which was my submission of Assignment #2, lately I’ve been chewing on an idea to provide low-cost computer tutoring flashcourses to the kids in my local school district who aren’t getting those skills in school. The trick is to provide these opportunities at extremely low cost but at a cost that is a decent trade for my time. I’m looking at this as a potential Day Job instead of the one I have…it could potentially give me an income that along with all the freelance I do would sustain me and my family. I’m not opposed to making it a nonprofit company—in fact, I have a lot of experience and knowledge about nonprofit organizational setup due to some past employment—but I would need to cover the expenses of the computers, the server, the space, and the equipment as well.

It’s a good time to be reading and discussing openness, then. I need to ask myself some hard questions about the reasons I’m thinking about this project and how it could be both open and sustainable.

For instance, if I create a website with the schedule of courses and so on, that website could also hold any materials I create for a particular course. A standard way of doing this would be to allow those who are taking a course to log in to the site for a specific amount of time after their course ends. An alternative way would be to allow anyone to use those materials, regardless of whether they log in or register for a course. Those materials would be created by me and I would be likely to create them to be used in conjunction with the course. That means that they might not be as helpful on their own. A third alternative would be to set up courses in the way that CCK2011 is set up—that is, the materials are simply links to material freely available already on the web. Anyone could get to them, use them, because they are already there on the web. The value of taking the course is that I’m there to help navigate.

These are kids I’m thinking about, ages 8 and above. Maybe a few even younger. Maybe some adults, too. A person’s reasons for taking a “live” course as opposed to just surfing around looking for stuff is the hands-on, instant help that a navigator/educurator can provide. Parents may enroll their children because they don’t feel comfortable themselves with technology. So it seems as though a combination of alternatives two and three would be ideal. The course materials are online for anyone who wants them. They make sense with or without going through the course. What I would be banking on, literally, is the desire for the hands-on help I can provide. This approach circumvents what George Siemens calls the scarcity approach to information.

However, I also have another layer of concern: how do learners take charge of their learning? On the one hand, this is about the actual flashcourse itself: what happens in the space, how I set up a schedule that allows for play and wandering, what learners learn from each other and how I can make that happen, etc. This is a classroom management approach issue that I feel confident handling. On the other hand, this is about these open materials: how could learners add what they find on their own to the official reading list? How could I manage that so that it does not get out of control—for instance, (illogically) assuming an explosion of interest, perhaps 100 different participants could add 200 different links to other materials, and then exponentially that list increases to 400, to 800…and then by doing so a lot of repetition in what they find and add needs to be cleaned up…which adds enormously to the time I’m putting in…. (Maybe that is why CCK2011 participants can link to other things on our blogs and send them to each other but cannot add to the official [cck11.mooc.ca] list?)

Here, you reader, you: help me out: Is it “openness versus sustainability” or is it “openness with sustainability”? Can a person like me do both?

CCK11: Educurator?

To fulfill Assignment 2 of the Connectivism & Connected Knowledge course

Connecting Curation and Education: Emerging Needs, New Model, Changing a Traditional Role

Teaching and learning are changing; as students in traditional schools engage in social media online, they leave some of their teachers far behind. Frankly, many teachers are resistant to using the technological tools that are available. But I agree with Dean Shareski that “to ignore or deem [Web 2.0 technology] superfluous is nearing educational malpractice” (2010). So here I wish to outline how I could apply some of the most helpful insights of connectivism in a real (potential) teaching space, a nontraditional learning experience in an Ohio town (USA). Children and their parents will understand the more-traditional descriptions of my role (teacher/tutor) and the offered learning opportunity (course/class) in response to an emerging need (computer knowledge) that the school system is unable to offer: In advertising, I will ask, “Is your child learning enough about technology?”1 But how I approach the experiences will, I hope, reformulate some of the traditional expectations and results. Also, it will be affordable to people who would normally believe “tutoring” is beyond their family’s budget.

Hence, Ohio Computer Tutor is gestating with connectivism in mind.2

As a teacher/tutor, I will

create the space where learning can happen. Literally, I need a physical space that will hold approximately 5–6 computer workstations and other equipment (like this). Figuratively, the space must be warm, open, welcoming, diverse, and not dismissive of learners’ experiences or backgrounds/identity (McPherson, 2008, p. 18: “Nodes are often easier to see for those doing empirical work, but these approaches can also miss larger systemic issues”). In addition, parents are welcomed into it as learners/teachers/cheerleaders.

create conditions that highlight know-how and “know-where.” Quick hit, short targeted flashcourses; one piece of one task is modeled. We emphasize how to find the skills you want to use (Siemens, 2005) and how to validate what you find (Cormier, 2008). I share and model my thinking so the search and evaluate process is transparent (and replicable). No learning opportunity is scheduled for more than one hour. If the learners stay for two hours, they are teaching each other while I am present (see below).

welcome learner interests. This may include actually making the following offer: if you find at least six kids who want to know this (skill, thing, technique), I’ll create a new learning opportunity for that group and any other learners who want to join. Or we’ll do it now.

curate materials that learners may not know. Many children in this area lack basic computer skills on traditional platforms and software, even as they text incessantly on smartphones. To start, I gather materials (traditional text, videos, modeling, blogs) that help us think about the task or that model some possible outcomes.3

model and demonstrate particular skills or approaches (Downes, 2006). As a skills-based learning experiment, the approach has elements of demonstration, but like a workshop approach only demonstrates briefly to get learners started on their own projects.

enable learners to reflect and practice those skills or approaches (Downes, 2006). Provide an enormous amount of time in the schedule when I am not talking but am wandering around looking at what the learners are up to.

allow learners to teach each other (and me). Following Sugata Mitra, I do not supply each child with one computer; instead, they pair and triple to learn together (or pair with a parent), pushing and nudging to make space (Mitra, 2010).

am extremely busy being present.  Most important to me: My role does not end at model and demonstrate. Teachers connect again and again. From a welcoming acceptance of learners’ experiments (like Sugata Mitra’s “granny cloud,” to an exploratory question at the right moment, to staying one step ahead of the chaos, an attentiveness to the network itself is part and parcel of the new educator. As Stephen Downes offers, “[B]e the sort of person you want your students to become” (2006, printed page 13). If I want students to become engaged, inquiring, and really smart, then that’s what I have to be, too. At the end of the day, the teacher in a networked, connected, distributed somewhat chaotic new learning environment should be exhausted.

Accomplishing this vision for Ohio Computer Tutor could mean producing slight ripples in the local system of education: I imagine things like schoolchildren wandering over to work together on a worksheet (gasp), helping teachers learn about interesting and useful tools such as Prezi and GoAnimate, offering ideas for how they could use the tools for assignments and homework, teaching each other informally…and dozens more scenarios than I can imagine.


References

Bouchard, P. (2011). Network promises and their implications. The impact of social networks on teaching and learning; Revista de Universidad y Sociedad del Conocimiento (RUSC), 8(1), 288–302.

Cormier, D. (2008). Rhizomatic education: Community as curriculum. Innovate, 4(5), article 550. Retrieved January 30, 2011, at http://www.innovateonline.info/index.php?view=article&id=550

Downes, S. (2006). Learning networks and connective knowledge. IT Forum. Athens, GA: University of Georgia. Retrieved January 30, 2011, at http://it.coe.uga.edu/itforum/paper92/paper92.html

Downes, S. (2006). That group feeling. Half an Hour blog. Accessed January 31, 2011, at http://halfanhour.blogspot.com/2006/10/that-group-feeling.html.

Downes, S. (2007). What connectivism is. Half an Hour blog. Accessed January 19, 2011, at http://halfanhour.blogspot.com/2007/02/what-connectivism-is.html

McPherson, T. (2008). In T. McPherson (ed.), A rule set for the future. Digital youth, innovation, and the unexpected. The John D. and Catherine T MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1–26.

Mitra, S. (2010). The child-driven education. TED talks. Retrieved October 11, 2010, at http://www.ted.com/talks/sugata_mitra_the_child_driven_education.html

Shareski, D. (2010). Sharing: The moral imperative. Preconference keynote at K12online 2010 Conference, Saskatchewan, Canada. Retrieved March 3, 2011, at http://k12onlineconference.org/?p=610

Siemens, G. (2005). Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age. International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning, 2(1). Accessed January 18, 2011, at http://www.itdl.org/journal/jan_05/article01.htm


Notes

1 I need to leave aside for the moment the huge question of student motivation. Given that my spouse is an eighth grade (i.e., 13-year-olds) science teacher, I know a lot about the lack of student motivation in urban middle schools. However, I will also say that he has made some progress by introducing his better students to cool tools they can use (e.g., Prezi, GoAnimate) for their projects.

2 Per Downes: “The objective of a theory of learning networks is to describe the manner in which resources and services are organized in order to offer learning opportunities in a network environment” (2006, printed page 9). The characteristics of a helpful network are diversity, autonomy, connectedness, and openness.

3 I also need to leave aside the needs assessment that I am actually developing right now. In it, I identify a few basics of computer use and knowledge that many children do not know. Because I know quite a bit about the classrooms in the elementary schools in the area, I already have some data gathered that demonstrate the lack of skills among both children and their parents.

CCK11: Room for benign mentors in connectivism?

I listend to a National Public Radio last week in which authors of a new book, Academically Adrift, report that “many [college] students are only minimally improving their skills in critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing during their journeys through higher education.” (listen here http://www.npr.org/2011/02/09/133310978/in-college-a-lack-of-rigor-leaves-students-adrift)

The Granny Cloud

I downloaded the Kindle version and have started reading the book, but already it has made me think again about the role of teachers—and to think about teachers in the context of  the theory of connectivism.

One thing I know is that the best teachers (from kindergarten to graduate school) challenged me. They knew I could do better and they didn’t settle for less than my best try. Sometimes I failed them and myself. As I got older, though, I loved the professors who I knew were smarter than I was, who blew me away with their ability to see and to communicate what they saw (practically all of the Comparative Literature, Women’s Studies, and English professors at Washington University, for instance).

The other thing I know is that Sugata Mitra found greater gains when he asked for volunteer “grandmothers” to bolster students’ independent learning. These folks were not subject matter experts but rather emphathetic, enthusiastic “grannies” whose job it was to say/type encouragement to their learners—things such as “Wow, I couldn’t have found all that” and “I’m so proud of you.” Self-organized groups of young children actually requested these grannies to read them fairy stories over Skype, and the idea grew from there. It has involved to include non-grandmotherly types as well (see here).

The thing is, I know I never liked autocratic, my-way-or-the-highway kinds of teachers. But I’m also struggling with the extreme hands-off stance of the CCK2011 facilitators. It worries me a bit that at the end of the week I will submit my thoughts on connectivism and be evaluated (I am taking this for credit). I have no idea what that might entail because I have had no communication from the facilitators. I have not gotten a comment or reply to a blog post yet. And it makes me a little grumpy, frankly.

It also gives me an opportunity to wonder about myself (thank you, Buddha). What is this desire to get some acknowledgment from the “authorities”? Why do I need any feedback? What kind of feedback am I really looking for? Are “grades” the only thing that make sense to me? And then I wonder about the theory: Does connectivism mean teachers have no responsibility? No ongoing helpful role? Does connectivism make lazy teachers? Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

I don’t think I want a traditional setting where my ideas are judged and found lacking, especially when the discourse is sometimes so insular that I can’t penetrate it (like offhand references to names of people that stand in for the whole of a complicated theoretical school; now I’m remembering what was tiresome about academia). But at the same time, I would really enjoy a granny. A benign mentor who says, “Hey, that’s a cool thing; thanks for sharing.” Someone who even just reads some remark I made and says, “I’m glad you made it.”

Maybe instead of one Professor I get 800+ potential grannies in my CCK2011 loose network. Maybe instead of wondering what I can do to meet my needs, I should try to be a granny to everyone else. What can I do for you?

CCK11: Teachers who matter

I can remember all of my primary school teachers (but I’ll keep their names private here). My second grade teacher, frustrated that I completed work quickly and promptly got bored and fussy, found a speed reading machine and set me to that task. In third grade, again acting out, I was sent to kindergarten twice a week to help tutor the itty-bitties. My fifth grade teacher told us about seeing Jimmy Carter on the campaign trail and how his eyes seem to meet the eyes of each person in the audience so you felt he was really talking to you.  These adults were crucial contributors to my small, northern Indiana community.

I love the work of Sugata Mitra and the experiments he conducts with “hole in the wall” computers in rural areas of India not served by traditional education—children create self-organizing systems in which they learn from each other (turned around, they teach each other) with no adult telling them they’re wrong or right. I don’t think children should be simply the passive recipients of adult knowledge until they magically (where? college?) start to contribute back to the network/community. I believe we get in their way sometimes, and the systems we create can sometimes stifle creativity. Schools can be, like all institutions, vile and oppressive and political and undemocratic.

And still…they can also be profoundly important. In all the schools in my life there were teachers who mattered a great deal. They provided the diversity of opinions and pragmatic resources that my family could not. They helped me negotiate relationships with children I hadn’t known until I sat beside them in class. They showed me the number system and the fluid squirminess of water drops under a microscope. They told me what college was and why I might like to go. Not to mention, they helped me learn to read and write! The greatest gifts ever! 

The theory of connectivism as it explains what knowledge is and what qualities of networks support learning makes sense to me. But I would like to see more room for teachers in these networks we’re positing. Teachers—even in schools dripping with technology resources—still matter. I think they matter especially to new learners of any age. On one hand, their experience and knowledge puts them in a curator role, where they can gather and create materials for their learners. On the other hand, they can also, as Stephen says, “model and demonstrate” active ways of knowing and learning.

And on the third hand, they can be trusted touchpoints. Ideally, if No Child Left Untested were revoked, national testing standards went away, and formal schooling was optional, I’d still want caring adults in positions where they could help children who aren’t their own grow and develop. I’d want those adults to be familiar with all the tools and theories many other adults don’t have the time or inclination to think about. I’d want these identified teachers to have the time to find all the greatest resources, so they’re ready when kids ask and want to know about anything.

Even without formal/physical institutions that they are legally required to attend, people seek out good teachers (Buddha is a good example) that help them learn and discover what they want to know. I know that public education in the U.S. (maybe elsewhere; can’t speak to that) will—must—look very different in 20 years. I’m excited about those possibilities. And I still think there’s room for that teacherly role in networks of learning.

Pre Week 1

CCK11: Week Pre-1

Focusing and Foreword/Forward

To be successful in my own mind for this learning experience in the Connectivism and Connected Knowledge course, I must round back again and again to a central focus. For me, it might be what “instructional materials” will become in the new classrooms and schools that must result from the explosion of information that the internet provides. If teachers and schools are no longer the only sources of knowledge and information, then both the profession and the institution have to change—and so what happens to textbooks? My Day Job revolves around the production of these enormously expensive and, frankly, fairly ineffective materials.

Unless you’re in this business, you might not understand that the content of (preK-12) textbooks is created by teams of people rather than by the author whose name appears on the cover. This happens in what are known as “development houses,” that in the service of the publishing company that hired them, farm out the work to various freelancers—some of whom do not have any background in the subject matter but who are simply decent writers. The original publisher defines the parameters of, for example, the lessons. Those parameters include not only the content but also the metacontent: for instance, they must identify appropriate images or illustrations, link produced content to the learning goals and the state-mandated academic content, and identify and track such things as the proportion of people of color to white people in text and images. Increasingly, this development work is shipped to countries outside the United States because it’s cheaper.

Most K-12 teachers see textbooks as the necessary evil of their job. Textbooks do help them track their teaching in relation to state standards and indicators that they must prove they have covered (with the idea that “coverage” means students are able to pass a test on them). But as you can see from the explosion of teacher-created resources and lesson plans on the web, many teachers are unhappily aware that their textbooks are lacking.

In response, some publishers have jumped on the “e” bandwagon with electronic teacher editions and student  books that are interactive to greater or lesser degrees. My own Day Job (herein, DJ) recently launched an iPad app. Whee! But it’s not asking itself how “textbook publishing” will survive the ability of students and teachers to find their own content. At the same time, I’m not seeing teachers and parents asking tougher about the free open educational resources found on the internet. I suspect that they can be manipulated (maliciously or otherwise) just as some Wikipedia entries have been. Thus it seems to me that there’s some role in this for a curator, to use an expression I found in the PLENK2010 materials. That role is what textbooks should morph into, perhaps. However, I see little indication that the educational publishing industry is ready for such a role.