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[image source, used under CC licence]

Chris Dawson recounts a conversation at the Education Worldwide Summit where two students, one 15 years-old and the other 17, shared their thoughts on social media in education.

Most schools (ours included), frown upon teachers “friending” students. Unfortunately, that has ended badly in enough cases to just make it a generally unwise practice. However, as Miss Smith [one of the students] pointed out in our discussion, there are already mechanisms within Facebook (pages, discussion boards, and other messaging applications) that support communication around a given topic (say a class or a club) without requiring a friend relationship in Facebook.

When I mentioned Ning and the other social media tools that educators often try to leverage to provide social functions without the worries and stigma of Facebook, both students were clear: it’s been tried before and it won’t be successful because students are on Facebook anyway. The utter ubiquity of Facebook certainly makes it a compelling platform for continued learning beyond the classroom. Students have no motivation to check yet another social site; they can barely be bothered with Twitter, let alone 4 Nings for their classes. One more page on Facebook, though? This makes sense.

He goes on to mention how the students weren’t particularly interested in using Facebook in class, but saw it instead as another way to communicate and collaborate when they were out of the confines of the school.

He also makes a good observation that working Facebook-style is reflective of today’s working world. I think that it will also reflect the social lives of these students when they join the workforce.

So if school is meant to prepare our students for work and society, then why aren’t we finding ways to integrate social tools like Facebook into everyday teaching?

Is another man’s treasure.

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A new centre in Cambridge is to study computer games and comics as forms of literature consumed by learners.

The short BBC report reveals why:

“If what we regard as trash is popular with young people, we need to know why and whether, as researchers and teachers, we can offer them something that addresses the same needs but also deals with these themes in a critical and ethical way.”

She [Professor Maria Nikolajeva, director of the centre] added many trainee teachers did not understand the significance of the latest children’s books or films when they went into the classroom.

This is something I must definitely keep tabs on!

Here is an interesting article from The Chronicle: Matching Teaching Style to Learning Style May Not Help Students.

The recommendation of the study is:

for instructors… [to] not waste any time or energy trying to determine the composition of learning styles in their classrooms… Instead, teachers should worry about matching their instruction to the content they are teaching. Some concepts are best taught through hands-on work, some are best taught through lectures, and some are best taught through group discussions.

So we are we talking about content styles then? I hope not.

I think that teachers need to be learning experts first (something the article alludes to). If they can figure out how people learn, they can figure out how best to teach (or not teach) a topic. This then requires deep knowledge and skillful application of teaching styles, learning styles and content styles.

But all this is practically moot if you read deep in between the lines. By this I mean understanding what the researchers are arguing about, i.e., study design and drawing conclusions from them.

Studies in education have largely been designed along experiments. Real classrooms are not laboratories and the participants are not rats. You cannot control all except one variable in social studies. This is why we now have design experiments.

The content nearer the end of the article resembles a mud-slinging match more than academic discourse. But being an insider, I don’t see much difference between mud slinging and academic discourse!

Ever wonder why education evolves so slowly? Here’s one good reason!

When I read the BBC news article Great writers ‘fail’ online test, I was not surprised. Why? Two reasons.

First, one of the writing samples was actually a speech. Writing for a speech is not the same as writing for print. Yes, you are writing a speech, but not for someone to read like a book. The words don’t leap out of the medium the same way when they are delivered by the speaker.

Second, technology cannot (yet) replace complex human judgment, emotion and subjective interpretation. While this might have been a case of pushing the limits of technology, I also thought that this was using technology when it did not fit the situation.

Do educators make the same mistake when pushing the envelope with technology? Sure we do. But the harm is not in trying. The harm is in providing fuel for the naysayers to say “I told you so!”

But to the naysayers I reply:

Those who say it cannot be done shouldn't interrupt the people doing it

Or as James Arthur Baldwin originally put it: Those who say it can’t be done are usually interrupted by others doing it.

Scientific American has an article titled Getting It Wrong: Surprising Tips on How to Learn. They might be surprised, but I am not. Educational gamers might refer to this as productive failure or safe failure.

The elements mentioned in the article are what gamers experience all the time. Challenging tests, trial and error, learning and strategizing from error, experiencing/trying before reading texts/manuals, etc.

The article describes word-pair experiments that, while well-established, lack context. Gamers have context: The game scenarios. So whether you are playing games or using gaming strategies, you might just get your students to get it wrong in order to get it right!

Jon Bower of eSchool News believes that “netbooks are all the rage, but they don’t really meet the needs of today’s students”. He goes on to say that netbooks are 1) not that cheap, 2) too small, and 3) not powerful enough. He could not be more misinformed or misleading.

Bower gives an example of a more powerful laptop that can be bought, after a rebate, for US$50 more than a typical netbook. But he failed to mention that few laptops have rebates and that rebates are not guaranteed. In the USA, rebates are a scheme to get people to buy on impulse. But if buyers do not complete the rebate forms in a timely or proper manner, they do not get their rebates. Even if customers play their part, things might get “lost” in the mail. The bottom line is that netbooks are cheaper than laptops and within most school or family budgets.

The issue of netbooks being too small is relative. To an adult with large hands, a netbook’s keyboard is cramped. But to a child, it might be just right. Also consider how most new netbooks are larger than when they first made their appearance about two years ago. Their keyboards are now large enough to touchtype.

Netbooks are meant to be light, lean and longlasting (in terms of battery life). Their power lies in what they allow students to do online, not just what they can do locally using the lightweight processing power CPUs of netbooks. This “limitation” of netbooks is actually a strength: Paired with well-designed curricula, netbooks allow students to develop 21st century skills like communicating, collaborating and creating with people outside the confines of the classroom, being a responsible netizen and having empathy for others.

Ultimately, netbooks are just one element in a suite of powerful tools for learning. To dismiss them as not meeting the needs of students is to miss the larger picture and to ignore a learner’s point of view. The smallish screen and keyboard of netbooks opens the world to learners and this in turn provides learning opportunities that can help them the rest of their lives. If we can do this at a lower cost, I don’t see why not.

Straits Times online featured this article on gaming:


I guess only negative or sensationalistic headlines grab eyeballs. Youth are “stuck” (as in addicted or immobile) and this “raises fears”. This isn’t news, it’s olds. The layperson already has this perception and ST is telling them what they want to read or hear.

If ST really wanted to report the news, report it when the results have been properly analyzed. Or link it to opportunities such as Singapore’s game development, participation in cyber competitions or educational gaming. These highlight Singapore’s reputation and savvy as well as the educational ground we can break in this area.

ST highlights fears but I am already aware of them. Folks at this forum are livid about the article. I see opportunities and pursue them instead. The layperson might see 27 hours a week wasted on gaming. I see 27 hours of informal and meaningful learning initiated by the learner!

BTW, I only have access to the digital copy above and don’t have the full article. I neither subscribe to ST online (cough, ripoff, cough) nor a paper copy (a waste of resources). The NIE library has “lost” yesterday’s newspaper too. I’d appreciate a copy of the full article if anyone has it.

It’s been said that we should never ASSUME because doing that makes an ASS of U and ME.

The folks behind Teaching and Developing Online(TADO have proposed that it is time to quit assuming what, how and why students learn. Here’s a snippet:

The information age came and a society that valued education changed, yet the education system failed to keep up with the change (Hiltz & Turoff, 2005)… Fulton (1989) states that “classrooms of today resemble their ancestors of 50 and 100 years ago much more closely than do today’s hospital operating rooms, business offices, manufacturing plants, or scientific labs” (p.12). Molebash (1999) further clarifies by stating “If you put a doctor of 100 years ago in today’s operating room, she would be lost, yet if you placed a teacher of 100 years ago into one of today’s classrooms she wouldn’t skip a beat” (p.7).

TADO ends with this: “The one stakeholder of the educational system that has not been asked is the students”. This is probably why they are now asking students to answer survey questions.

I can’t wait to hear what they (the students) have to say. Neither should you!

Thanks to a Tuck Soon, I discovered a my paper article yesterday on how some North Vista Primary School students were using netbooks.

primary-school-netbooksClick the image above to see a larger version.

I am glad and mad for a couple of reasons. First, the reasons why I am glad.

I have written about netbooks before, the earliest almost a year ago. I am glad that people are taking this concrete action of putting netbooks in the hands of learners.

Of course, technology alone is not going to help students learn more or better even though it is an enabling factor. Case in point: The journalist chose to highlight how the boy said that YouTube was his source of information. I am glad that the boy was able to find and defend his answer, but I hope that his teachers model and teach information literacies.

I do not like the numbers games that people play. The netbooks were reported at originally costing S$1,000 each. After an educational discount, each cost S$600. Who are they kidding? You can buy a decent netbook without the discount for S$600-700, even less if you go for Linux driven ones!

I’m hoping that there was some really good software was included in the bundle, e.g., computer management software and an automated system of installing updates. But what they would need beyond Web 2.0 applications like Google Apps (which all Singapore schools will get by default by the end of this year) is beyond me. These are netbooks for crying out loud!

Though the cost of netbook ownership is not exhorbitant, there will invariably be some who cannot afford it. I wish schools took suggestions like mine or come up with more schemes to leave no child without a netbook at home or at school. See what Oz is doing with netbooks or what this school in the UK is doing with the iPod Touch.

The other number that presents more questions than answers is the 32 out of 40 class periods a week in which the netbooks are used. A number like that might make administrators happy. But what exactly are they doing with the netbooks. Yes, the newspaper article mentioned a show-and-tell and taking photos in the schools ecogarden. But you can do this without netbooks.

Video source

I hope that the students of North Vista get to do things like digital storytelling (link opens a YouTube video). Or that they go beyond the basic searching for information and actually create and collaborate, something Alan November mentioned.

I realise that I am an outsider and do not have deep knowledge of what is going on in the school. What the reporter saw was but a subjective snapshot. But these principles still hold true: 1) Without powerful and relevant pedagogies, the technology is used but not integrated, 2) the medium can change but the teaching and learning do not. I hope that the school skilfully blends content, pedagogy and technology so that its students benefit in the long run.

I thought that the “e-Learning sucks” slideshow I highlighted earlier today was timely. This article in THE Journal, 5 Ways We’re Diminishing Learning by Assuming Face-to-Face Instruction Is Best, is just as timely!

It starts:

It’s interesting that face-to-face instruction is still the measure by which all other forms of instruction are evaluated. As the standard model of instruction for decades, it’s often assumed to be the proven method, while other methods have yet to prove themselves. This assumption is not only misleading, but it might also be helping to diminish potential opportunities of better learning for our students.

It concludes:

Making any kind of assumptions about learning is, of course, dangerous and diminishes the possibilities for students precisely because what we think we know influences ongoing decisions and planning. New technology provides us with new possibilities; however, we are still facing a very old challenge of actually measuring the learning that is taking place regardless of delivery mode. What is particularly disheartening, however, is assuming we have already proved something we have not and basing ongoing decisions and practices on that assumption. It means that not only will we be slow to change, but students will lose out on what could happen if they were given the opportunity.

It’s got pretty good stuff in between too. Read it!


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