Posts Tagged ‘Web 2.0’

The changing face of education

September 8, 2010

This video from the New Brunswick (Canada) Department of Education indicates why education has to adapt to the rapid pace of change in our world.

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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.

Critical Literacy and Critical Pedagogy

May 10, 2010

As teachers, we are encouraged to instil in our students a critical attitude towards the text (in the multi-modal sense, including television, film, web pages, music, art and other forms of expression). This attitude is covered by the term Critical Literacy. Such a critical approach is what we expect of all functioning members of a democratic society, which is why we want our young people to imbibe it. By the same token, therefore, we teachers should adopt a critical attitude to our own profession and our working practices. Unsurprisingly, there is already a body of literature devoted to this topic, which is referred to as Critical Pedagogy.

Critical Pedagogy reminds us that all institutions are marked by relations of power: this applies to education as much as to government, industry, the military and the media. Indeed, it could be argued that education plays a special role in the transmission of power relations to future generations, given the immaturity and malleability of the minds in question. The power that teachers exercise over their students is easily recognised, but there are also power relations between junior and senior teachers, between teachers and the principal, between the principal and the school council or board, and between the individual school and the system to which it belongs. This is not to say that power is bad in itself, just that we need to take a critical attitude towards its exercise, whether by ourselves or by others.

I was reminded of this by a recent Classroom 2.0 email about an interview with John Taylor Gatto. Gatto spent thirty years teaching in the New York public schooling system, and was named New York City Teacher of the year in 1989, 1990, and 1991, and New York State Teacher of the Year in 1991. Gatto is critical of compulsory schooling, defends homeschooling and unschooling, and has published books with titles like Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling (1992), The Underground History of American Education (2001), and Weapons of Mass Instruction: A Schoolteacher’s Journey through the Dark World of Compulsory Schooling (2008). A basic summary of his ideas, in his own words, can be found here.

John Taylor Gatto

John Taylor Gatto (1935-): American author, former school teacher, and social critic

This in turn brought to mind a book I read when I was studying philosophy in Dublin twenty years ago. Ivan Illich first published Deschooling Society forty years ago this year. The book still sits in my bookcase, but the Wikipedia article reminds me that Chapter 6 is entitled ‘Learning Webs’ and suggests the use of computer technology to support independent learning:

The operation of a peer-matching network would be simple. The user would identify himself by name and address and describe the activity for which he sought a peer. A computer would send him back the names and addresses of all those who had inserted the same description. It is amazing that such a simple utility has never been used on a broad scale for publicly valued activity.

A good educational system should have three purposes: it should provide all who want to learn with access to available resources at any time in their lives; empower all who want to share what they know to find those who want to learn it from them; and, finally, furnish all who want to present an issue to the public with the opportunity to make their challenge known.

Ivan Illich

Ivan Illich (1926-2002): Austrian philosopher, Roman Catholic priest, and social critic

Illich died in 2002, and so survived long enough to witness the development of the Internet, but a quick search fails to find any specific comments by him on it. One blog post opts for a negative verdict, while a 4 May comment on the Facebook page devoted to Illich, suggests a more positive interpretation – Leigh Blackall asks:

Tell me Illicheans.. what would he say about social media and networked learning through such popular internet? On the one hand I see him as dismissing it as false, but on the other, in particular chapter 6 of Deschooling, he would surely embrace it?

And Christian St responds:

This came to my mind instantly when reading Deschooling society. Illich proposes computer-aided peer matching based on the common interest to discuss a certain book, article, film etc… In my opinion, this has Web2.0 written all over it. The next step after peer matching is to arrange a face-to-face educational meeting. I wonder if providing the possibility to “meet” via chat or videoconference is somehow contrary to Illich’s vision. Surely face-to-face communication is ideal, but it severely limits the choice of potential peers.

Classroom Management in the Web 2.0 Era

March 29, 2010

This product was advertised on another website, and I thought that it put an interesting spin on the whole idea of classroom management, not to mention the socially networked classroom:

NetSupport School is a class leading training software solution, providing Teachers with the ability to instruct, monitor and interact with their Students either individually, as a pre-defined group or to the overall class.

Combining advanced classroom PC monitoring, real-time Presentation and Annotation tools, with an innovative customised Testing suite, Internet and Application control, real-time audio monitoring, automated Lesson Plans, Printer Management, Instant Messenger control, Content Monitoring and Desktop Security, this latest version of NetSupport School rises to the challenge and requirements of today’s modern classroom.

Wikis and Collective Intelligence

March 22, 2010

Wikis are a preeminent example of Web 2.0 technology, as well as of the underlying social constructivist pedagogy. Named after a Hawaiian word for ‘fast’, a wiki is a website that allows the posting and editing of content by multiple users. Wikis can be for personal use, but they come into their own as collaborative project-based sites. The best known example is Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, by now one of the most popular websites on the Internet.

Wikipedia is an interesting case, because its exponential growth and popularity have raised all sorts of issues, including reliability and libel. In order to deal with these issues, Wikipedia has evolved complex protocols governing editing procedures (such as No Original Research and Neutral Point of View), a caste of administrators (Admins), and an Arbitration Committee (Arbcom), which is the closest thing to a ruling body.

Wikipedia is perhaps the closest humanity has come to fulfilling the dreams of the 18th century French Encyclopédistes, who aspired to a universal compendium of knowledge.

But what are we to make of the notion of ‘collective intelligence’? Does the term make any sense at all? Intelligence is normally something we ascribe to a person, although we may also describe someone’s actions as intelligent, just as we do the material or institutional products of human endeavour. In other words, something can embody intelligence, or exemplify it. We may, therefore, describe a website as embodying collective intelligence, in the sense that it contains information that has been gathered and organised in a collaborative and intelligent manner.

There are several advantages and disadvantages to such ‘collective intelligence’, and we find all of them in the case of Wikipedia. Among the advantages are the sheer volume of information, the rapidity and frequency with which it can be updated, and the constant checking of facts.

The primary disadvantage is a lack of editorial control, making it difficult to rely on the 100% accuracy of articles. Vandalism is an issue, as is libel in the case of biographies of living persons (BLPs). Although many topics are non-controversial, where controversy exists there is a tendency for edit-warring to occur, as opposite camps jostle to ensure the representation of their views. The protocols have evolved to deal with such issues, as have the Admins who are supposed to ensure adherence to them. The result is that everything is ideally arrived at by consensus, although the ideal is not always actualised.

One particular problem with the system is the culture of anonymity that is endemic in Wikipedia. Anonymous editing is not compulsory. There are sometimes good reasons for it, however, for example where privacy is essential. The problem with its widespread use is that it effectively removes any real accountability for one’s writing or editing. Traditional writers (novelists, academics and journalists) put their name to what they write – they stand by it and take responsibility for it. Anyone with an online computer can edit Wikipedia, whether or not they create a Wikipedia account. Even when they have an account, the chances are that they will use a pseudonym. They can also create multiple accounts, and fall foul of the Sockpuppet protocol. (For an extended treatment of my own experience of problems with Wikipedia, see Wikipedia and Kevin R. D. Shepherd.)

Having said that, research has shown Wikipedia to be about as reliable an encyclopedia as Britannica, which is no mean feat given its vast extent. It ought perhaps to be seen as an ongoing social experiment, or perhaps a continuation of the revolution initiated by the introduction of print in the 15th century. Debate within the loose-knitted Wikipedia community continues, as exemplified by a recent discussion on the Talk Page of an experienced editor and Admin.

I believe there is unquestionably a role for wikis in education. In the primary school, they could be used by the teacher to gather online resources before beginning a project. Students could then be given access to the wiki, to make use of the resources, communicate questions and ideas to one another and the teacher, share further resources that they discover, and begin to formulate solutions to problems. Not only could this be highly engaging, students could access it from anywhere with an internet connection. Those unable to attend school for any reason could avoid getting behind in their work. Students in remote locations would be another obvious group to benefit. Most significant of all, however, is that the work is collaborative, allowing collective learning, and it is also more likely to reflect the world of work or higher education that 21st-century children will enter on completion of their schooling.

Thanks to Matthew Outred for the following: