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Posts Tagged ‘theory

I heard a few questions from new faculty at a recent pre-semester meeting. The questions revealed how much I take for granted and how much the new folk need to level up.
 

 
One person confused academic integrity with general integrity. Academic integrity is normally about how one writes essays and reports research. We want individuals who are models of overall integrity, of course. But when we focus on assignments and reports, we zoom in on specific aspects of academic integrity like citing, attributing, and not plagiarising.

Another person brought up how students might be confused as to why they had to cooperate in class activities (e.g., co-editing Google Docs) but could not do the same with most summative assignments. While such students bring up a valid argument, we should counter that with accountability. We focus on group accountability with shared documents, but we determine individual accountability with end-of-course essays.

I was glad to hear how a few faculty had started using mobile apps to quiz their students. However, I was dismayed that they focused on the bells and whistles instead of the praxis of feedback or assessment. Such application of educational theory could be the need to monitor learning and/or to provide formative feedback. It should not be about a timer counting down or background music adding tension.

All three examples bring up the importance of being an academic who is literate in pedagogical theory and research. Being a good instructor and facilitator is not just about knowing what works. It is also about knowing why it works.

I like watching clips of QI because what the panel discusses often straddles the line of entertainment and education. The clip below was an example of game theory.


Video source

If you were in a “truel” — a duel with a total three people, each with a gun loaded with one bullet — which person would you shoot first? The conditions were that you had a 10% chance of hitting your target, the second person was good shot with a 60% chance, and the third person was an excellent shot with 90%.

If you followed the numbers, you might play by the rules and take your chance. Even if you hit either one successfully by slim chance, the remaining shooter is even more likely gun you down.

The seemingly illogical option would be to miss on purpose and make it obvious. You would likely be ignored because you are not perceived as a threat and the other two would take each other out. You remain alive as a result.

It can be tempting to follow the numbers and the rules that seem to accompany it. However, the numbers should only guide what should be logical and forward thinking.

Such game theory not only applies in the truel scenario, it could apply in policymaking in schooling and education. Administrators and policymakers cite numbers, build walls with them, and enact plans. But if they rise above those numbers and think about the people — the students and the teachers — that are create those numbers, they might build bridges instead.

This is my second updated image quote for the week.

Theory without practice is sterile. Practice without theory is blind.

My original image quotable quote was:
Practice without theory is blind. Theory without practice is sterile.

Some might say that the quote is about maintaining a balance between theory and practice. I would go one step further and point out that it is about praxis — the art of putting theory into practice and in doing so possibly generating more useful theory.

Steven Anderson described five reasons why educational research is not commonly used in schools. He then suggested four things teachers could consider about reading, applying, or conducting research.

I could not agree more. In fact, I am guiding and mentoring a group of teachers as they write research papers about their shared experiences. I enjoy the clinic-like sessions as we write, reflect, and revise our work.

But back to the importance of practice-based research. I sum it up with this image quote I made in 2015.

Practice without theory is blind. Theory without practice is sterile.

 
Earlier this month, @tucksoon tweeted this CNA article about fake news.

I turn the question on teachers and rephrase it slightly. Do teachers know how to spot bad theory and practice?

Do they know why they should question:

  • Learning styles?
  • Homework?
  • Assessment practices?
  • Digital distinctions?

If not, I share what I have written and curated on:

 
I get worried every time I hear that phrase right before a non-educator goes on to tell others why he or she is right.

I have heard this more often than I like, but two examples stand out.

One was at a conference where a university administrator misappropriated Bloom’s Taxonomy. That person started with “I am not a lecturer or professor, but…” and continued with “I found out about Bloom’s Taxonomy and think that all of them should use it to…”.

What was alarming was not that BT could be used as a scaffold — it is great as a guide — but that it become a procedural and step-like crutch.

Another was at a seminar where a professor started with “I do not have a teaching background nor am I aware of education research, but…” and then tried to convince the audience that the strategy worked.

What was alarming in that case was not whether the strategy was viable. It was not being able to explain why beyond metrics like improved participation.

Even more alarming was the attempt to play to the audience who were mostly from non-education backgrounds. The professor discounted the importance of theory by celebrating the low-hanging fruit of “what works” instead of raising the standards and expectations of teaching faculty.

The problem with “what works” in one context is that it does not necessarily transfer to another. That particular example was extreme because the professor had the expertise to custom-create a specific LMS-like environment around his content and preferences.

Drawing on larger learning theory, be it a form of problem-based learning or flipped learning, builds on or provides questions for that theory. It strengthens practice by providing theory as structure for critical reflection and improvement.

Those of us in the educational arena can learn a lot from those who operate outside it. There might be legitimate statements that follow “I’m not an educator, but…”. However, there are few that have not raised my eyebrows or heckles. After all, would you get medical or legal advice from someone who said, “I’m not a doctor/lawyer, but…”?

I took both these individuals to task as nicely and politely as I could. I did this even though I might come across as being negative. My rationale was simple: If no one was going to be the watchdog, then anyone could walk through the gate. I was not going to sit idly by.

So beware if you show me your “but”. I might just bite it.
 


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