Another dot in the blogosphere?

Notice from Springer.

I did not expect this email notification. It was from a publisher of a book I contributed to before I left NIE in 2014.

I tweeted this yesterday.

If memory serves me right, I submitted my share in 2013. Someone I wrote with retired and left the institute in 2014. I presume someone else had to take over what we wrote if there were edits.

If you look carefully at the screen capture, you might note the title of the book: Teacher Education in the 21st Century.

I was shaking my head (SMH in the tweet) because the publishing process took so long that whatever I wrote is probably irrelevant.

I cannot even remember what I wrote for the book. After all, it was more than three years ago.
 

 
The delicious irony made my toes laugh.

I can share a tweet instantly or ruminate on my blog drafts over a day or a week before publishing my thoughts publicly. The speed and ownership of publishing are critical to “the 21st century”.

However, sharing what we did in teacher education took years to write, vet, and publish. By the time ink was smeared on dead trees, the information was already dead or dying.

Being literate and fluent in the 21st century also means that what you share or publish does not have to be perfect. It is about being comfortable with discomfort. It is about being able to manage flux and make sense of streams of consciousness.

Books do have a place, but not on the shelf labelled “Timely Information”. They might be suitable for the shelf “Timeless Dogma”. We need more of the former in the 21st century because this is a time like no other in the past.

After reflecting on that, my toes have stopped laughing. I am SMH again.

Most educators worth their salt have heard of Sir Ken Robinson. His TED talks have made him famous.

I wonder how many have viewed the videos of Yong Zhao or read his work. To say that Yong Zhao rarely fails to provoke is to make an understatement.

I am an admirer of his and respect his work. I have referenced some key moments over the last few years.

One of the more recent articles by Yong Zhao builds on yesterday’s theme: What seems to work might be an illusion. Yong Zhao argued that what seems to work in schooling can hurt because of side effects.

His article is an introduction to a longer one published in the Journal of Educational Change. He has a link to download the full article and you will have to visit his site to get it.

Yong Zhao started with this premise:

Educational research has typically focused exclusively on the benefits, intended effects of products, programs, policies, and practices, as if there were no adverse side effects. But side effects exist the same way in education as in medicine.

He suggested that the side effects in schooling and education might occur because:

  1. Time spent on a new intervention results in time lost in something else.
  2. Resources like people power are also redirected to newer initiatives that might distract from important core tasks.
  3. The desired outcomes of schooling and education are often contradictory. You cannot have an obedient and pliable workforce and one embraces diversity and risk-taking.
  4. Different people respond differently to the same treatments. What works with one group in one context can change with the group, the context, or both.

History repeats itself. It has to, because no one ever listens. -- Steve Turner.

All these seem like common sense or obvious points to make in hindsight. Yet we make the mistakes again because we do not learn from others and recent history.

Once again, we need to pull the wool off our eyes. This time it is the wool that we put on and we have ourselves to blame for being so blind.

 
Two recent reads articulated what I sometimes struggle to put into words: What seems to work in schools is sometimes an illusion.

I elaborate on the first today, an Edsurge article, that explained how much “education” research is based on flawed designs.

One example was how interventions are compared to lectures or didactic teaching. With the baseline for comparison so low, it was (and still is) easy to show how anything else could work better.

Then there is the false dichotomy of H0 (null hypothesis) and H1 (hypothesis). The conventional wisdom is that if can prove that H0 is false, then H1 is true. This is not the case because you might be ignoring other contributing or causal agents.

Finally, if there is no significant difference (NSD) between a control and the new intervention, then the intervention is judged to be just as good. Why is it not just as bad?

This makes it easy for unscrupulous edtech vendors to sell their wares by fooling administrators and decision-makers with a numbers game.

There was something else that the article skimmed on that was just as important.

This graph was the hook of the article. If the data are correct, then the number of movies that Nicholas Cage appeared inform 1999 to 2009 eerily correlates with the number of swimming pool drownings during the same period.

No one in their right minds would say that Cage being in movies caused those drownings (or vice versa). Such a causal link is ridiculous. What we have is a correlation of unrelated phenomena.

However, just about anything can be correlated if you have many sources and large corpuses of data. So someone can find a correlation between a product use and better grades. But doing this ignores other possible causes like changes in mindsets, expectations, or behaviours of stakeholders.

So what are educators, decision-makers, and concerned researchers to do? The article recommends a three-pronged approach:

  1. Recognise that null hypothesis significance testing does not provide all the information that you need.
  2. Instead of NSD comparisons, seek work that explains the practical impacts of strategies and tools.
  3. Instead of relying on studies that obscure by “averaging”, seek those that describe how the intervention works across different students and/or contexts.

This is good advice because it saves money, invests in informed decision-making, and prevents implementation heartache.

I have seen far too many edtech ventures fail or lose steam in schools not just because the old ways accommodate and neutralise the new ones. They stutter from the start because flawed decisions are made by relying on flawed studies. Pulling the wool away from our eyes is long overdue.

 
I did not think that some people are still talking about the future of the e-book. I guess this is not surprising given how the concept and practice of e-books is still largely limited to what a book does.

Publishers and developers need to take note of this observation from the article:

“A book is the opposite of a web page,” which typically has a scattered design that relies on links to other sites, Jaffe said. With a book, “an author has thought deeply about a topic, curated everything you want to know about it, and packaged into a single publication.”

E-books that most people read on Kindles and library apps are often glorified PDFs. They are not like the Web or social media. They are certainly not like the level 2, 2.5, and 3 e-books that I suggested in 2011.

Perhaps the future of the e-book is also about getting the timing right. People were not ready for less book-like e-books then. They are less resistant now.

Pushing change to readers is one thing, changing from within is another. Publishers are slow to change their mindsets and practices.

Revisiting my thoughts on e-textbooks, I realise that the concerns are the same today. Publishers may have moved on to control access to resources via institutional or proprietary LMS [example], but the same principles are in play: Limit for profit.

So let’s not call a book an an e-book unless we can relook it through a social creator’s lens first and a publisher’s lens last.

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Ordinarily I would not share a video like the one below. There is nothing wrong with it. It is just not something I would share as a functional extrovert.


Video source

But when I linked three things I experienced from as far back as my undergraduate days to an event just last week, the purpose of sharing such a video became clear.

When I first stepped into university, I had a conversation with what some might call a flamboyant professor. Our chat strayed and he described himself as functional extrovert. That phrase was about playing a role as the context needed and has stuck with me since.

A few years ago, I detected a movement of sorts among some teachers who seemed to be resisting workshops and school initiatives that were cooperative or collaborative in nature. One of the leading concerns was whether the trend of teachers needing to work together — whether within the school walls or wide outside of them — was detrimental to “introverted” teachers. Some of these teachers were probably resistant or stubborn; a few had genuine concerns.

Last week I met with a group of educators to discuss revisions to criteria we used for evaluating novice instructors and facilitators. One category of criteria bugged me because it was worded in a manner that valued frontal teaching. The frontal criteria are important at times for lectures and public speaking, but our processes focused on facilitation which required more connective competencies. The criteria seemed to punish those that were not charismatic or lacked the gift of the gab.

The line linking these three events was an implicit assumption on what it means to be an introvert. That assumption is accompanied by others like whether introversion was inferior, if this placed introverts at a disadvantage, and if an introvert’s traits are not rewarded or recognised in good teaching.

A more fundamental question is: What is introversion? That is where the video comes in. It answers this question by highlighting five myths about being introverted. Introverts:

  1. Can make good leaders
  2. Are not necessarily smarter than extroverts
  3. Do not always want to be alone
  4. Do not hate people
  5. Are not necessarily shy

When I was in Denmark a few years ago, my host asked me what I learnt from travelling overseas. I gave my standard reply: For the important things, we are more alike than different.

This is a particularly important lesson in today because of the social climate and our membership as world citizens. So I was pleased to find this video from a Danish broadcaster.


Video source

The video starts with people being put in boxes. We then discover that people move out of those categories into new ones based on different contexts we put them in and the questions we ask of them.

While it is human to take cognitive shortcuts by categorisation, it is far more important to question and challenge those categories. I would wager that by asking more questions and issuing more challenges to ourselves, we learn more about others. Then we might discover that we struggle with the same issues because we have the same differences.

When this principle is applied in schooling and education, we might question if single curricula and standard assessments are logical for different learners.

I appreciate a good read from any source. It does not take much for such a read to help me see applications in education.

One such read was an investigative piece by the Washington Post (WaPo) broke a story that resulted in the resignation of a character in US politics.

The WaPo reinforces the important role the press plays in the current US political climate. It does not govern and it does not make laws, and it cannot uphold or police those laws. But the press can dive into research and report what it finds.

A good paper is not cynical, but critical. Its reporters and editors are not unprofessional, but hold themselves to high standards of journalistic integrity.
 

 
The same could be said about educators who are critical of schooling practices that are only rooted in the past, ignorant of today, and blind to the future.

The passions of these agents should not be based on unfounded bias, but on experience, rigorous research, and reflective practice. Like a watchdog, they are a check and measure because they monitor and they alert when they sense danger.

These critics are not whiners or complainers. They are a dissenting voice that does not deny that some things are good. However, they recognise that things could be better and they are willing to point those out.

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