Engaging Discourse Facilitates Learning ICT #edchat #edtech

Engaging Discourse Facilitates Learning ICT #edchat #edtech

Thinking about how educational uses of ICT can transform cognitive and social cultures of learning continues to challenge educators at all grade levels, including higher education. Learning ICT must be seen as learning with, learning about, learning how, and learning why ICT needs to be an essential topic, subject and method in professional educators’ practice. Engaging ICT discourse requires facilitation to broaden perspectives and deepen understanding.

Engaging learning through discourse can be understood as:

1) attracting and holding by influence or power (ie. syllabus requirements, assessment methods);

2) interlocking with, to cause (ie. engage learner’s attention);

3) providing occupation for (ie. engage in a new project);

4) arranging to obtain the use of (ie. engage services of an educator);

5) holding attention of (ie. learners engaged in meaningful work);

6) inducing to participate (ie. engage teachers to discuss ICT in education);

7) beginning and carrying out an enterprise or activity (ie. engaged in ICT education over many years);

8) doing or taking part in something (ie. engage in ICT learning activities, engage in productive ICT practices in education);

9) coming together and interlocking (ie. educators engaging through the use of Twitter to transform educational practice in relation to ICT).

Engaging learning through discourse can be seen as fostering social, active and imaginative conversational encounters that continue over an extended period of time:

1) developing the capacity for orderly thought or procedure as intrinsic to interpersonal encounters;

2) verbal interchange of ideas, especially in the form of conversation (face to face, online, hybrid social media);

3) formal and orderly extended expression of thought on a subject connected with speech and/or writing;

4) linguistic activity larger than a sentence, may exist as visual, aural, verbal, kinesthetic, textual, artful expression;

5) modes of organizing knowledge, ideas and/or experiences rooted in language and its institutional contexts (ie. educational, political, economic, cultural, scientific, etc.).

Engaging discourse to facilitate learning ICT through social encounters fosters cognitive connectivity and cultural transformation. Learning is a transformative, even subversive activity. Learning with, about, how, and why we use ICT can foster social connectivity and cultural change, each encounter amplified through sharing. Engaging facilitated discourse allows for broader conversations that can deepen understanding over time. These broadened perspectives and deeper understandings will transform social, cultural and technological norms. For the good of all concerned.

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Defining Engage: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/engage

Defining Discourse: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/discourse

Getting back into teaching

After offerings dried up from the university I stopped looking for teaching opportunities. The truth of the matter was that I was not well-suited for teaching formal courses that involved grading learning and instituting a reward/punishment system for individual development and growth. I love learning and I love facilitating learning. I just don’t want to assess the work of learning and award grades for it. I would rather celebrate the distance we travel and discuss our lessons learned.

My university training is not going to waste. I am in active process of developing a course I am calling Homeowner 101. The course is designed to prepare homeowners for residential renovations on their own properties.

I have been working on the concept for the last year and I continue to see how it could help homeowners. Residential renovations are extremely difficult. Even the simplest modification to fit a new dishwasher in an apartment can lead to carpenter, electrical, and plumbing tasks and complications. At present a homeowner can watch unrealistic renovation shows on television, read a million pages of websites, follow the dictates of simplistic ‘rules’, and even take a 3 hour seminar on preparing to build a house. The fact is that none of the activities is actually going to adequately prepare a homeowner for the rigours of their own residential renovation.

That is what my course is designed to do. It is a course that shows homeowners how to apply project management best practices to their own renovation project. The course is specifically geared toward applying project management best practices to residential renovations, designed for non-construction professionals.

Education for Micro-Economies #homebasedhighered

I am launching a new series of learning opportunities aligned with my evolving values centred on the idea of micro-economies and neighbourhood sustainability. I consider our modern society is suffering from a profound lack of intellectual and creative vigour. I see this condition as a result of segregating learning and creativity into industrial models – the factory setting of learning in educational institutions.

This model has led to a widespread conception of learning that is only valued if it has gone through a formal accreditation process. Unfortunately, these formal accreditation processes have been dictated by socio-economic privilege, political pandering, and a system of governance that has corrupted the flow of resources away from learning and into exorbitant executive pay packets.

What has been missing, and is also most keenly apparent, is the deficit of real intellectual and creative vigour in post-industrial societies. The very social learning systems of informal knowledge generation were all but undone by the factory model of education. Inter-generational learning, collaborative problem-solving, and participatory learning cultures were replaced with institutional standards transmitted to age-grouped learners in bulk packages of curriculum. An unexpected outcome of the digital age is the possibility of forming new learning networks, networks that are not conceived, managed and controlled by educational institutions whose primary interest is self-centered: to perpetuate the existence of the educational institution.

My concept of home-based higher ed is my response to the moribund paralysis I see in the field of education. I find it reprehensible that the youth, creativity, and curiosity of our young citizens is warehoused in classrooms where even the teachers struggle for meaning, much less the students. I find it alarming that the push to standardize education in the interests of corporatizing learning deeply disturbing and a betrayal of the real public good that education should be contributing to local communities. Even the idea that education should be full time, fragmented from the day to day realities of earning a living is problematic.

I am launching four offerings in this first season of home-based higher ed:

1. Art, music and creative writing for young children (ages 5 – 7 years)
2. Creative inquiry for working adults
3. Dogs in our midst: educating for canine well-being
4. Kids and digital technologies: how much is enough (for parents)

I will be putting up more detailed series information soon! Check back for more information and share widely if you are interested in this project.

Who needs educational research? #edchat

I just read Diane Ravitch’s article, titled, “The Biggest Fallacy of the Common Core Standards“. She makes a very good case for questioning and rejecting the monolith of propaganda being promulgated about the value of common core standards in the US education system.

What stood out for me was the use of power and influence to push an educational agenda that is going to have a significant impact on an entire generation of learners based solely on unfounded statements and unwarranted claims. This situation reminds me of the way digital technologies were brought into education. There were no studies, no research, and certainly no consideration of what it really means to use digital technologies in educational settings. There were those who had an interest in selling digital technologies to schools, and those who were sold a line of patter about how digital technologies were going to make teaching easier, learning more efficient, and improve academic success. All these expectations were freighted onto digital technological devices, software applications and network infrastructure. It was assumed that the presence of digital technologies in schools, by their very existence and proximity, were going to have a magical effect on teaching and learning.

Of course, none of this patter was true and many billions of dollars have been invested in educational digital infrastructure and it has been used at a rate of 1/4 of what might be possible. This problem continues, with different vendors marketing their wares to politicians and administrators that make significant purchasing decisions without any supporting research or warrants to back the claims of the purveyors of digital technologies. The result has been an influx of digital technologies into schools and entire generations of teachers unprepared to make sense of their use, nor take advantage of their presence. We can certainly demonstrate that our uses of digital technologies amplify our abilities to communicate, access information, and change societal understandings of perplexing problems toward generating innovative solutions. However, without significant investments in learning about learning, learning about digital technologies, learning about our social relations with, through, and about digital technologies, there isn’t going to be a significant change in the education system just because the technologies are there.

There is a similar problem with the idea of testing and standards in education. Tests have been used in education as a way to measure what learning has taken place. Historically the educational mission was to convey information from a textbook into the memory of a learner. The teacher’s job was to design the method of conveyance in such a way that the learner could acquire the knowledge from the textbook, at least long enough to re-write that knowledge onto a test and achieve academic success. We are seeing the destructive consequences of this educational system in the current multiple crisis of human existence on this planet: environmental, political, economic, social, cultural, health, housing, financial, etc. Our education systems, at least in the western world, have proven wholly inadequate to prepare citizens for sustainable, equitable, reasonable, moral, empathic, healthy, sound, etc. systems of living. In a sense, there never was a test of the test. How was the acquisition of textbook knowledge ever shown to be of benefit to sustainable human development?

Now we have boosters of Common Core national standards in the United States. We are also facing the same pressure in Canada. For example, although the BC Ministry of Education is implementing a new education plan that is supposed to prepare citizens for knowledge era society, the entire plan is based on ancient notions of assessment, standards, and common core knowledge. In Ravitch’s article she shows how boosters of the Common Core make claims about the efficacy of Common Core Standards as if this efficacy were self-evident – these claims are unwarranted because the Common Core Standards are only being implemented this year. There is no research knowledge to support any claims about the efficacy of the Common Core Standards, thus any claims are warrantless.

However, this lack of supporting evidence does not stop the Obama administration from allocating $4.35 billion in educational funding tied to implementing the Common Core Standards. Promoters of the Common Core Standards have correlated college readiness, career readiness, and even national security to implementing the Common Core Standards. But, as Ravitch points out, there is no provision for actually preparing the education system to implement the Common Core Standards in a coherent way, and there is certainly no provision for accounting for diverse learning needs to be able to successfully learn the Common Core Standards. One has to ask, what model of ideal student learning was used to imagine the learner who is going to successfully acquire the Common Core Standards and demonstrate that learning on a standardized test? Once again, the promoters of an economic agenda to profit from educational expenditures are driving significant educational decision-making, selling their vision of education through the power of media and an uncritical consumer.

I argue we all need educational research. We need research carried out through publicly-funded institutions whose purpose is to support the development of society for the good of all concerned, not those invested with the wealth and power to further enrich their corporate entities through promulgating educational policies and practices that actually disenfranchise citizens. I continue to be amazed at the lack of cogent educational argument in the public sphere.

Just because we have the digital technology to enable, enrich and enhance learning does not mean that is how the digital technology is used in education. Just because we have the technology to implement more tests than we ever could before does not mean tests are going to improve learning. What we need is a coherent response to corporate pressure that seeks to profit from education at the expense of real learning. What we need is a response that is as powerfully persuasive as corporate lobbying and media buy. We have this response at our fingertips, if we can comprehend the power of our communicative abilities and the need for parents, teachers, students, administrators, and politicians to take ownership of our educational system for the good of all concerned, not the powerful few.

We have an opportunity for a collective voice about education as never before. We have ample educational research to support the formation of cogent educational philosophy, creative curriculum, and innovative pedagogy. We actually have everything we need right in front of us. We need educational research to inform the formation of educational policy, significant curriculum focus and new pedagogic practices in our learning relationships. We can do this.

The juggernaut of corporate profiteering in the name of our democracy’s most important asset, the minds of our new citizens, need not defeat us. But we are going to have to become active in our understanding of the issues, and proactive in our forming learning networks to formulate an education system that actually serves its constituents rather than corporate interests divorced from the micro-economies of our communities.

Sourcing Data Online is not “Googling”

A great article on building knowledge about searching for information online by Beth Holland on Edutopia. One of the topics that came up in a course I recently taught with teacher librarians on media and technology in school library programs was the issue of age appropriate online information for different grade levels. We discussed the role school libraries, and school librarians, can play in fostering digital literacy, media literacy and information literacy.

I would argue that understanding different approaches to searching for information online is not only a problem for students, but should also be an essential part of every teacher education program, and a regular curriculum for periodic in-service teacher education.

First, we need educate ourselves about the implications of the search terms we use online when certain words or phrases are being routinely scanned by surveillance systems. This speaks to the fact that our uses of digital technologies may feel ‘private’ because they are done in a one to one relationship with a technological device, but they are actually public forms of communication because once we input our words and phrases online we don’t have any control over how, or where, that content is going to be used.

Second, we need to educate ourselves to be astute interpreters of the information we find online. I am referring to the development of a sophisticated knowledge of discourse analysis. Information in the knowledge age is a commodity. It is being used to influence public opinion, sell ideas and products, and structure cultures of consumption (in a consumerist society). For decades we have been exposed to the use of text and images to manipulate cognitive, cultural, and technological dispositions. Previously, these efforts were primarily in the service of constructing states of desire for certain consumables. Now, we are being exposed to text and images that manipulate cognitive, cultural and technological dispositions of whole value systems, beliefs, and behaviours. These efforts are now in the service of promoting social, cultural, political, and economic agendas. In the ‘good old days’ the promotion of particular social, cultural, political, and economic agendas was embedded in textbooks. Even my early reader, Dick and Jane, as constructing my notions of gender, race, power, and ability. Today we all have a responsibility to critically examine the information we encounter, and analyze it for normative discourses that shape individual perceptions while limiting collective possibilities.

Third, there is a very real need to ensure our social access to diverse sources of digitized information represent the full breadth and depth of human thought and research, not a delimited view determined by certain political, corporate, religious, or academic views, at the exclusion of others. This item refers to the idea of developing world libraries, networks of collections accessible through institutional affiliations. Educators of all age and grade levels, including higher education, have an immediate responsibility to ensure access to information of good quality is available to all citizens. Since I started my graduate research in 2005, I have noticed a disturbing trend in accessing academic research and journals. More and more frequently I find myself facing a paywall to access a journal article. There is a movement for Open Educational Resources (OER) and Open Access academic publishing. As a global community, all educators at all levels need to organize and ensure our human intellectual future is not locked behind a screen demanding anywhere from $10 to $40 to be able to read a journal article reporting research that was funded, in some part, by public funds.

Fourth, and last for this short piece, there are many different routes to take to find information and construct an interpretation of those findings. There are redundancies built into the Internet, and part of the process of finding information is developing an understanding of how information is organized through search terms, linkages, and repositories. In the course I recently taught, I had devoted time for part of our inquiry to focus on developing search terms, phrases, and key words. I was surprised to learn that I had to actually teach the concept of developing search terms, phrases and key words to this group of professional educators. This topic addresses the multiple meanings of any particular word or phrase in the English language. Sometimes, when we are looking for information on a particular topic or issue, we don’t realize there are associated terms and phrases that will bring up rich deposits of information that we wouldn’t have otherwise found.

It is gratifying to see educators beginning to migrate into digital environs to support teaching and learning. However, it is not enough to shelve the Webster’s Dictionary in exchange for the online version. I have a problem compartmentalizing the complex phenomena of learning, digital technologies, and the profession of education into forms of literacy, but that is the norm, so I use those words to build a connection with my readers. What I would prefer, though, is to discuss our human involvements with technological phenomena, including digital technologies, and work toward truly transitioning from an industrial era education system that has structure educational processes in terms of efficiencies and production to a knowledge era learning network, where we are all finding our way, teaching each other, and developing new societal norms in the process.

Working smarter

Tech pro-d for learning organizations. For too long the education system has been conducted as teaching organizations. The purpose of these organizations has been to deliver curriculum as efficiently as possible. Of late, there has been a nod to the interests of students, and efforts to at least make the curriculum deliver more engaging and meaningful for students. However, if one central problem in knowledge era educational systems is discerning what is worth teaching (because our society is changing and evolving so rapidly it is debatable what knowledge is actually worth knowing) a larger problem facing education is what is worth learning, and how to go about learning it. This problem speaks to the issue of transforming educational institutions from teaching organizations to learning organizations.

There is no doubt that educational systems need to change and adapt to new cognitive, cultural, and technological dimensions emerging in global human societies. What is less clear is how to go about implementing these changes. The fact is, that no matter what changes are implemented at this stage, they are only going to be partially relevant to the future of education. That is because we don’t know what we don’t know, and we won’t know what we don’t know until it is made clear to us through educational research and hindsight.

Human societal relationships and norms are changing as we come to terms with the ways digital technologies amplify our capacities and capabilities. Whatever we are considering ‘best practices’ or exemplary models for teaching now, are bound to be outdated or irrelevant next year. Critiquing the notion of ‘best practices’ as a generalizable educational model in the first place aside, there are complex factors that work against simplistic or reductionist educational solutions for preparing future citizens. These complex factors include the changing composition of classroom students (ESL, autism spectrum, gifted, behavioural, literacy, etc), the changing situation of classroom and online teaching (access to digital resources and infrastructure), the interests of parents (poverty, socio-economic conditions, helicopter, ESL, immigrant, etc.), administration (politics, budgets, accountability, infrastructure), school boards (politics, budgets, priorities), and government (politics, policy-makers, ideology). Add to these complex relationships and communicative phenomena, the teachers. How have teachers been positioned in teaching organizations in the past, and how might they position themselves in learning organizations in the future?

Teachers’ Stories About Teaching

I have been thinking about this idea for some time. The only way to bring ideas to fruition is to give them time to take shape. They take shape by being put into words. From words come action, and through action those artful word shapes take tangible form in the world. Here is my idea, brought to life by words.

I have been bothered by the ways teaching, and teachers, are represented in the media. Too often the only time teachers and teaching make the news is in relation to threatened job action, confrontations or protests to government education policy or funding, or stories that posit the jobs of teachers against using technology in education. What I find missing in public discourse is actual stories about teachers teaching and the day to day life of schools. I was talking to a 20+ year veteran of the elementary school system. She is counting the years to her retirement even though she has been an exceptional, inspired, passionate teacher. In fact, I had one of her former students in one of my undergraduate teacher education classes. He talked about the influence she had on his success in school, and how he was inspired to do the same with his own teaching career. She told me about her teaching conditions this year, and how exhausted she was from the stress and pressure of the job.

I don’t think her situation is unusual. She was reluctant to talk about the difficulties she faced on a daily basis, a class of 30 pre-teen kids, 6 of whom were designated with some form of learning exceptionality, and at least 1 or 2 more students who would probably qualify as exceptional if they had been tested. She talked about the generally low literacy level of the grade group, and how hard it is to teach when your students are still challenged to learn to read, much less read to learn. She talked about how the only way to teach your students is to love your students, even when they are not presenting as the most loveable characters at every instant of the day. She talked about how she had to love learning, and love what she was doing, to persevere day after day.

I have to face it, I am an anomaly in the field of education. I have not come up through the traditional ranks of the teaching profession to achieve post-graduate research and teaching. I come to the field with an outsider view and a love of learning and a belief in the significance of our public education system for social justice, democracy, and an equitable society. When I meet teachers face to face, when we talk about their challenges, when we brainstorm ideas and they design and implement solutions, I do not see the one dimensional cardboard cutouts frequently represented in the media. In fact, it is very difficult to put the image of confrontational teacher complaints in the same person as these caring professionals struggling to ensure every single student has an opportunity to excel in an educational system that is designed to privilege those of certain social class.

My idea is to put together a series of podcast interviews with teachers. The theme would be teachers stories about teaching. The format would be a long interview format, designed to provide opportunities for in-depth discussions about the profession, the motivation, the challenges, and the triumphs. These would be one to one interviews, providing an opportunity for listeners to fully appreciate who teachers are, why they do what they do, the conditions they work in, and the students they teach. The mission of the podcasts would be to broaden listener’s perspectives about teaching, learning, and the education system in Canada, as well as deepen their understanding of the human stories of education, that is, our education system as a network of relationships based on loyalty, character development, trust, inspiration, and social responsibility.

For too long our education system has been conceived as a factory of knowledge widgets being conveyed from textbook to student brain through the curricular techniques of teaching. We are in the knowledge era, and our learning relationships are our greatest form of social, cultural, economic, and technological capital. We can draw strength, inspiration, motivation and creative sustainable solutions from each other through our teaching and learning relationships. Teachers need to be part of the story, not a footnote or budget line on an accounting sheet.

It is time to hear stories of teachers talking about teaching, and their hopes for the future of education, and the future of our knowledge era society.