Posts Tagged ‘Social Constructivism’

The significance of TED

August 12, 2010

I’ve embedded a few videos from TED in blog posts. After all, why try to explain the content of a talk given by someone when I can simply relay the talk itself? I’ve just come across this online article (How TED Connects the Idea-Hungry Elite) that explains the background and significance of TED. Unlike YouTube, TED organizes its own annual conference, and then makes the presentations freely available online. The Open Translation Project has further extended the reach of these cutting-edge ideas. The significance of this for education need hardly be spelled out. Here’s a key extract from the article:

if you were starting a top university today, what would it look like? You would start by gathering the very best minds from around the world, from every discipline. Since we’re living in an age of abundant, not scarce, information, you’d curate the lectures carefully, with a focus on the new and original, rather than offer a course on every possible topic. You’d create a sustainable economic model by focusing on technological rather than physical infrastructure, and by getting people of means to pay for a specialized experience. You’d also construct a robust network so people could access resources whenever and from wherever they like, and you’d give them the tools to collaborate beyond the lecture hall. Why not fulfill the university’s millennium-old mission by sharing ideas as freely and as widely as possible?

If you did all that, well, you’d have TED.

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Reflections on Blogging in Education

May 29, 2010

I created this blog at the end of last year, since I intended to enter the blogging world before it became a course requirement! I hadn’t got around to using it, however, and the assessment imperative was just the incentive I needed to get going. Having made a start, I really took to the medium. Perhaps it’s the ‘blarney’ factor in my background – I certainly seem to have a lot to say. I think Meredith hits the nail on the head in her recent post, when she says that she ‘would have found it more valuable to have had direct experiences to blog about and used literature and research to inform these reflections’. There has to be some motive, and it has to be a creative one, whether one’s blog is serious and academic, or lighthearted and humorous, or artistic, and so on.

I have found blogging a very useful practice for a number of reasons. The blog is a place to:

  • formulate thoughts and reflect on texts of all kinds (i.e. develop a ‘voice’)
  • receive feedback from others
  • store resources for future reference
  • present a public face to the world (including development of a professional portfolio)
  • It is very gratifying to see that I have had so many visitors to the blog – over 800 since March, at the time of writing. And the diverse geographical distribution of the visitors is intriguing. Doubtless some of these are accidental, and the total number of visitors has been inflated by compulsory visits from classmates! But even so …

    I also like the fact that blog posts can be augmented and refined through ongoing editing. In this way, the writing can be polished and perhaps even evolve into publishable material one day. Ideas here are in the public domain, open to comment by others, and can be reworked in the light of such feedback. Jenkins puts the point well, in Learning in a Participatory Culture: A Conversation About New Media and Education (Part One):

    In a networked society, literacy is a social skill not simply an individual competency. Understanding how information circulates becomes as important as knowing how to put your ideas into words, sounds, or images. Creation is iterative: we reshape what we’ve created in response to critical feedback from others in an ongoing process of innovation and refinement.

    I haven’t found it difficult to establish a public voice online. I feel that I am just being myself, and not trying to present a face that doesn’t come naturally. To some extent this voice emerges from the subject matter of my blog, which tends towards the academic. I reserve my more lighthearted comments for Facebook!

    Neither has there been any problem with the technology. Being a semi-nerd probably helped! But the thoroughbred boffins have done an excellent job of making the technology very intuitive. As the constructivists would point out, it is usually a case of relating the new and unfamiliar to that which is already known. As long as one is operating within one’s Zone of Proximal Development, there is no great obstacle.

    The relationship between my blog and the course is an interesting one. As the blog took off, I realised that I wanted it to be a genuine project, rather than simply an onerous task for assessment purposes. It is also clear to me that this goes right to the heart of something fundamental to my beliefs about education – the best way to learn is to engage in real-world activities in which one has a vested interest. This is the social-constructivist position, and it is a point that has been made repeatedly by thinkers whose ideas I have referred to in several recent posts – people like Sir Ken Robinson and John Taylor Gatto. It could perhaps be summed up in the motto: if one doesn’t love it, one shouldn’t do it. The best learning happens when one is inspired by the subject, and can relate it to one’s previous experience (the constructivist position again).

    I’ve noticed that I have tended to move away from simply reflecting on course content, in favour of looking at some ‘big ideas’ in education. Often, of course, the two have overlapped, or intertwined, which is all the better. But I would rather post something that I am passionate about, that seems important, than post on every item of course content just for the sake of it, even if it costs me in assessment terms! There was much of genuine interest in the course, and it has been a great complement to my personal teaching philosophy. I have learnt many new things, and refined others with which I was already familiar. The e-language wiki is a great resource, and one that I’m certain to mine for years. But I haven’t felt the need to comment on every item here in this forum. I think it’s fair to say that my blog has been true to the spirit of the course, if not always the letter.

    Similarly with engaging with my peers in their blogs. While I can understand the need for knowledge to be demonstrated in the context of a university course, once this has been achieved there is a risk in commenting just for the sake of it. The latter is onerous and empty, and usually obvious to the reader. I think my intuitive distaste for this is behind my sometimes subversive humour! Genuine feedback, by contrast, is always welcome. This is the ideal of the Socratic dialogue.

    As is obvious from the foregoing, I have found the blogging experience to be overwhelmingly positive. Conceived in the heady days of the summer holiday, its birth was induced by course requirements, and it has finally emerged as an organic extension of my own philosophical and pedagogical tendencies, able to stand on its own two feet. I’ve no intention of neglecting it. The conclusion of the course is irrelevant to the ongoing existence of the blog – truly the baby has outgrown the incubator! That is surely the greatest compliment to the course co-ordinator, since it is the goal of the genuine teacher to make his students independent of him. I sincerely hope that I will be able to pass on this enthusiasm to students in the primary-school classes of my future. When it comes to applying the technology in the school context, I will bear in mind my own experiences as a blogger, as well as my educational philosophy, and encourage my students to blog about the things that inspire them. I think that probably has the greatest chance of success.

    Technological Acculturation

    May 21, 2010

    Here’s an excellent post from the ‘teacherstream’ blog on WordPress. The video is well worth watching. Here’s the opening paragraph:

    The benefits of technology for enhanced student engagement and student achievement are endless and without boundary. I truly believe that we can use technology as a key tool to differentiate our teaching / learning process and to meet the individual needs of students within any diverse classroom. Not only can we better serve the multiple intelligences of students, but we can serve them within the world they are so familiar. As excited as I am about the digital revolution and its role in education, I have found that there are equally as many that are skeptical, and some that are just downright intimidated or afraid.

    Much as I enjoyed this post, the grammatical error in the first paragraph (second clause of the third sentence) was a bit jarring. Ironically, perhaps, it points to the need for attention to traditional literacy alongside digital literacy. At least it will be easy to correct the error, given that this is not a print medium. By commenting on the blog, I’ve also provided an instance of Social Constructivism (Collective Intelligence) in action. Perhaps by the time others read my words here, the original will have been updated!

    The video makes its point about digital text in a very graphic way, but it is slightly misleading in a historical sense. It implies that the separation of form and content associated with XML (the eXtensible Markup Language) is something that postdated HTML (HyperText Markup Language). While it is true that HTML was first specified by Tim Berners-Lee in 1990, and the first specification of XML dates to 1998, XML is actually a subset of SGML (the Standard Generalized Markup Language), which has its origins in the 1960s. XML and SGML are different to HTML in a very important respect, but in order to explain this I need to take a short historical detour.

    The term ‘markup’ comes from publishing. Traditionally a manuscript was ‘marked up’ in order to indicate to a typesetter what typeface, size, etc. was to be used for printing. With the arrival of digital documents, it became necessary to devise a computer-readable code that would allow the sharing of documents between computers. Documents produced with an application on one computer might need to be interpreted by a different application on another computer. SGML was designed to make this possible, and it was based entirely on the separation of form and content, all the way back in the 1960s, long before HTML and XML.

    SGML is not so much a language as a metalanguage: it allows the user to create any number of markup languages. The creation of a markup language involves the definition of ‘elements’ (or tags) that describe content. For example, I could create an SGML language for use in medical publishing. I might create a tag for a ‘unit of content’ (such as a traditional chapter), and a tag for specialist medical terminology. Once the tags are defined (and stored in a separate document), the content can be marked up and processed by any computer for ‘rendering’ into print.

    HTML is basically an application of SGML. It is a markup language rather than a metalanguage. Its tags were created in order to make possible the rendering of content by any computer (using the browser software designed for the purpose). It is not very flexible because its tags have all been defined (by the W3C), and they mostly relate to visual presentation (i.e. form).

    XML, on the other hand, is a metalanguage. It is in fact a subset of SGML, designed for ease of use on the Internet. Like SGML, XML allows the creation of limitless markup languages. As long as the tags are defined somewhere, then software can be devised to interpret them. It does postdate HTML, but the principles on which it is based (separation of form and content) pre-date HTML by a couple of decades, in the form of its parent metalanguage, SGML.