Humanities Labs

Link to: Inside Higher Ed :: We Need Humanities Labs

Over the last couple of months, I’ve been a member of a fairly large faculty committee from Arts and Sciences charged with developing a strategy for allocating space that will be made available when the School’s of Education and Business get their own buildings. The committee members are thoughtful, committed and dedicated to trying to use this opportunity to strengthen departments and programs that need more space to grow and develop.

Within such a gifted group of scholars and teachers, I’m finding myself constantly cast as the skeptic challenging whether our current teaching methods will continue to be effective a decade from now–particulalry in light of the changes already underway in computers hardware and software, the immersion in technology by high school students and in the expectations they’ll bring to the college between now and 2016. I’m not convinced by the argument, for example, that jamming the wireless on student laptops so that they have to focus their attention on the lecture is good pedagogy. I think we’d be much better served by trying to come up with ways to more fully engage students as participants in the lecture experience–an idea that didn’t meet with enthusiastic support from my colleagues on the committee.

I’ve also tried to raise questions about the future of humanities research, particularly at the undergraduate level. It seems to me that in order to “compete” with the sciences for space and funding, the humanities will have to find additional models of research that embrace the more social, collaborative practices that contribute to student learning. (In this case, both faculty and graduate student members from the humanities are the skeptics as to the degree to which scholarship in the humanities will–or should–become more communal.) This article by “dissertation coach” Gina Hiatt suggests that graduate departments might benefit from re-framing their roles:

If humanities departments were to proceed as outlined by Kunstler, they would go beyond counting their peer-reviewed publications, and move into creating lasting legacies and nurturing breakthrough thinking. Kunstler identifies the attributes of organizations likely to spawn such changes, including the following: “workers immerse themselves in others’ ideas and work, absorbing creative influences,” and “mentor relationships abound.”

I haven’t read Kunstler’s book, but from the references in this article, it seems to be very much in line with the learning ecology approach that John Seeley Brown has been developing. It will be interesting to see to what extent humanities departments do adopt some more collaborative approaches to research.

The Rise and Fall of Educational Technology.

Link to: The Rise and Fall of Educational Technology: Did We Miss the Point?

It’s taking a while to get caught up after the Thanksgiving break. Apparently, educational technology died while I was on vacation, and I missed it! There’s much in this long artlcle that I agree with–particularly reflecting on the class we’re finishing up on Educational Technology Planning.

As technology permeates every discipline to some degree or another, the field of educational technology is growing dramatically, and it’s really hard for any course to avoid being a mile wide and an inch deep. Sebastian Foti lists a half a dozen topics that we didn’t even consider or merely waved at.

For example, there is the history of computing; using the computer for things such as word processing, building databases, making movies, creating music, developing budgets, creating charts. . . doing educational “research” and becoming familiar with famous researchers; learning about laws related to computer use; understanding innovation diffusion; and much, much more.

While there were lots of topics that we didn’t get to, the group project in creating our Drupal community site gave everyone some experience in bridging the gap between theory and practice:

Thinking about hypermedia interfaces adds a dimension to the communication stream that goes beyond building convincing textual arguments. It forces one to think about the vast number of variables associated with perception. More importantly, More importantly, it challenges the notion that the author is in control.

Foti’s point is well taken in that even if constructionism accurately describes individual learning (which I believe it does), developers have to work beyond their own learning to anticipate and understand the perceptions of the users of a website or piece of software–users that they probably will never “meet.” Until someone starts making decisions about what piece of code goes where, the website is just a blank piece of paper. (Well virtual paper, maybe.) Code, not magic creates, software. Our experience was summed up perfectly by the following:

Such development empowers learners by putting them in charge of hundreds, perhaps thousands of decisions. The “product” represents the instantiation of all of those decisions and it can provide pride not granted by a mandatory, directed writing assignment

The section on how do we fix it is has some good ideas as well.

  1. Encourage the use of media.
  2. Bring academic computing back into teacher discussions.
  3. Help students develop tools for students.
  4. Don’t think about how.
  5. Expand the dialog.

OK, No More Professional Development

Link to: 2 Cents Worth » OK, No More Staff Development

David Warlick’s recent post suggests replacing the notion of a staff development plan for schools considering 1:1 computer or tablet initiatives with a more comprehensive concept of creating a staff development infrastructure. That infrastructure would include some key components of building ongoing communities of practice where teachers could support each other in managing their own learning:

  • Have the time to reflect and retool (at least three hours a day),
  • Have ready access to local and global ideas and resources that are logically and socially indexed,
  • Have the skills to research, evaluate, collaborate, remix, and implement new tools and techniques (contemporary literacy),
  • Are part of an ongoing professional conversation where the expressed purpose is to provoke change (adapt),
  • Leave the school from time to time to have their heads turned by new experiences,
  • Share what they and their students are doing with what they teach and learn — their information products and relics of learning become an explicit and irresistibly interwoven part of the school’s culture.

Back in the olden days I did lots of workshops on professional development for student affairs folks in higher education based on my dissertation research. One of the points that I made in those workshops was that professional development was more about the attitude of continually extracting and sharing meaning from the work they were doing than it was about participating in activities. David’s list is an excellent summary of how to operationalize that attitude using a set of tools that we weren’t even dreaming about back in 1991.

It would be interestsing to reframe this list to clearly articulate how we could use these tools in build that culture at William and Mary to support our 1:1 computing initiative.

Wireless in the Classroom: Where’s the Kill Button?

Link to: The Rules of Distraction – Hey, you—with the laptop! Ignore your professor and read this instead. By Avi Zenilman

This Slate story highlights an interesting dynamic going on at many universities. The academic computing and networking teams are working feverishly to bring wireless connectivity to every classroom at the same time as faculty committees are working just as feverishly to figure out how to shut it down. A Wall Street Journal story that has been widely republished by newspapers throughout the country, outlined the consternation that many faculty when they realize that all the open laptops in their lectures aren’t solely collecting lecture notes, but are more likely being used for checking eBay auctions, updating stock portfolios, reading email and keeping up with a barrage of instant messages.

Technical solutions to block the behavior have not been particularly successful; it’s hard to jam wireless in classrooms without interfering with connectivity in lounges and offices. On the surface, there seem to be at least two solutions that do work. One is decidedly low tech–the faculty member can firmly request that students close their notebooks and focus on his/her presentation either throughout the class or at selected points where concentration is most required–regardless of the effects on course evaluations. A more challenging, but potentially more valuable, approach might be to find ways to integrate the student’s natural inclination to use their laptops in class into our goals of improving rather than distracting from the class experience.

Continue reading “Wireless in the Classroom: Where’s the Kill Button?”

Blogging and the Brain

Link to: Blogging and the Brain | Messer Family

Jon has uncovered a very interesting article from the Eide Neurolearning Blog suggesting that maintaining a weblog can encourage the growth of neural paths that may:

  • improve critical and analytical ability,
  • promote creative, intuitive and associational thinking,
  • provide outstanding examples of attorney’s philosophers and academic engaged in ongoing analogical thinking,
  • combine the best of solitary reflection and social interaction.

My own blogging experience certainly provides excellent opportunities to foster my intuitive and associational pathways. The Eide’s (self-described as physcian-parents) note that:

Blogging is ideally suited to follow the plan for promoting creativity advocated by pioneering molecular biologist Max Delbruck. Delbruck’s “Principle of Limited Sloppiness” states we should be sloppy enough so that unexpected things can happen, but not so sloppy that we can’t find out that it did.

My recent explorations with associational thinking included a brief walk down memory lane to my K-12 teaching days, an encounter with the Devil Shelves at the library and a quick visit to the shadowy world of the neo-luddites. It’s a tale that has little to do with traditional models of scholarship, but which may actually be an archetype of the kind of professional development that will dominate the lives of many practitioners.

Continue reading “Blogging and the Brain”

Media Literacy and General Education: Test Podcast

Troy Davis, the new director of the Swem Media Center, and I have just finished making a test podcast which we hope will become the first in a series of conversations we’ll be having with folks in the William and Mary community who are interested in bringing the power of this tool our students. Speaking of learning, both of us still have lots to learn about this new medium, but we sure know more than we did yesterday at this time! One thing that I found is that listening to my voice saying the same thing 15 times trying to get the sound level right was only a step below screeching chalk on the blackboard on the audio torture scale.

In our discussion, Troy gives an overview of some of the tools that will be available, and we talk some about the future of media production–not just consumption–as a key goal of general education.

Here’s the link and I’ll be testing this in a series of aggregators and on varying platforms.

Screenagers Provide Internet Content

Link to: The Lives of Teenagers Now: Open Blogs, Not Locked Diaries – New York Times

Add “screenager” to the lexicon of terms to describe the current generation of K-12 students who are finding new ways to use the internet to express themselves as “content providers”.

Using the cheap digital tools that now help chronicle the comings and goings of everyday life – cellphone cameras, iPods, laptops and user-friendly Web editing software – teenagers like Melissa are pushing content onto the Internet as naturally as they view it.

The article, which appears in the business section of the New York Times, was triggered by the release of another report by by the Pew Internet and American Life Project which notes:

Teen bloggers, led by older girls, are a major part of this tech-savvy cohort. Teen bloggers are more fervent internet users than non-bloggers and have more experience with almost every online activity in the survey.

Much of the article focuses on the potential impact of the attitudes of these kids towards downloading and consuming music. (Most agree that it is easy to grab music off the internet. About half said that downloading copywrited material was wrong; an equal number didn’t care about copyright.) The article (and the Pew Report) confirm that that many members of this generation are taking a much more active relationship with their media environment.

The Pew survey shows “the mounting evidence that teens are not passive consumers of media content,” said Paulette M. Rothbauer, an assistant professor of information sciences at the University of Toronto. “They take content from media providers and transform it, reinterpret it, republish it, take ownership of it in ways that at least hold the potential for subverting it.”

“Subverting” it? Now where have I heard that word before?