Sunday, September 30, 2007

This is Your Brain on Music

I'm reading this fascinating book called "This is Your Brain On Music." by Daniel Levitin. In his introduction, Dr. Levitin says some very profound things about the nature of sound. What I found particularly intriguing was his notion the scientists and artists are very much alike. They both engage in work that begins with a brainstorming or creative stage, followed by testing and refining in ways that involve the application of set procedures. Artists' studios and scientists' laboratories are also similar, with many projects on the go, using specialized tools and skills, and the final product is subject to interpretation. Both work in the pursuit of truth, but a truth is often contextual and changeable. Levitin posits that "today's truths become tomorrow's disproven hypotheses or forgotten objets d'art". He goes on to reference Piaget, Freud and Skinner as researchers whose theories have been overturned or re-evaluated and he talks about the goal of conveying "truth for now." This sounds similar to what I've been reading in my Instructional Design course, in particular, the information about situative and cognitive epistemologies of learning. Sounds like "eclectic constructivism" to me!

(Check out the book's website!)

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Knowing as Distributed in the World.

Just finished reading the latest handout "Cognition and Learning", by Greeno, Collins and Resnick. Phew! Quite dense.

One section that resonated for me appeared earlier in the article, under title "Knowing as Distributed in the World." (For another interesting article on this idea, read this. [pdf])

I think "distributed knowledge" has ramifications for how we see groups or teams working and learning together. If intelligence and knowledge is situationally located, this may explain why some groups of students (or workers, in a business context) work extremely well together, and may be more productive than another similarly constituted group. The consequences of "mixing up" a group, or changing the membership randomly (and/or often) might be poor team and individual performances. A Distributed Knowledge perspective might give us some insight into why this might happen.

Reading this section also makes me think of how we often structure both learning environments and assessment practices, particularly in high school. We used to seat students in rows, ask them to take individual notes, and discourage "chit-chat". Recently, we have been moving towards encouraging "think-pair-share", studying with a partner, and working in cooperative learning groups. Ironic that we still test students as individuals, without access to any of the tools, artifacts or books, or the communities and practices that surrounded them in their learning environment. Hmmm.

In the "real" world (teachers always say this, what does it really mean?) individuals often access the knowledge that is distributed across an office setting, asking co-workers or consulting various information sources (manuals, web, notes) without having to hold "the sum of all knowledge" in his/her head.


(For another article, read this. [pdf])
Interesting mention of "situated learning" on a New York School District webpage.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

New Technologies, Old style Teaching

What do we do with all the new technology that students have access to? This may be one of the key areas that Instructional Designers may be overlooking. Teachers and other instructors have a tendency to believe that new technologies simply offer a "new" way to do "the same old thing". (Larry Cuban comes to this conclusion after interviewing many secondary and post-secondary instructors for his book "Oversold and Underused".) When I think of my experience interacting with students at the high school level, (I am a high school teacher librarian) I see that technology and the students' adoption of social networking applications and their embracing of digital content and authoring has placed them in a different reality than that of most of their teachers. Designing learning environments for these students that do not factor in this new reality will fall short of the students' expectations. (This thinking is a reflection of the "Digital Native/ Digital Immigrant"[pdf download] (Prensky 2001) paradigm that is much discussed in K-12 circles these days.) For more on this, read a recent article by Prensky on the ASCD site.

Lots more by Marc here.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Larry Cuban and Personal Response Systems

Last evening, I mentioned that I was reading Larry Cuban's book "Oversold and Underused" to a colleague. We began talking about all the innovations that never made it to the mainstream, and in the course of our conversation, I mentioned the clickers that Stanford had installed in lecture halls. (Cuban maintained that they were poorly used and are now just a curiousity.) Imagine my surprise when my colleague told me that UBC is currently using them in lecture halls. He said he was speaking to a former high school student who complained about having to buy a PRS (about $50) so she could use it in class to respond to questions and participate in mini-polls. I did a little googling, and lo and behold, it's true! Click here for more on this.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Foundations of Instructional Design

Reading chapter two in the text after the Reiser and Dempsey article, I was struck by a few other thoughts. I found that the 3 principles of Individual Constructivism resonated very strongly, and I agreed with some of the tenets of Social Constructivism as well. I like the collaboration element suggested by the authors (and in particular, the example of the reader collaborating with the writer to negotiate the final meaning of a novel.) Also, the idea of "truth for now" dealt with some of my questions from the article. (Perhaps I should consider myself as more of a "Pragmatist" according to Smith and Ragan's definition.) Contextualism clicked for me with the concepts of "authentic learning" in both in instruction and assessment.

The assumptions underlying ID (p22-23) made perfect sense to me, especially the 6th point (criterion based assessment, not norm referenced).

My sense is that Behaviourism works well when applied to learning actions that are meant to be automatic. Cognitive learning theories are more appropriate for more complex learning. (I think about learning the guitar in this context. You need to drill and memorize chord shapes, but you need to "understand" the music, and the theory behind it in order to be a virtuoso.) More to come....

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Epistemology and Constructivism in LD

I just finished reading chapter 6 of "Epistemology and the Design of Learning Environments" by Reiser and Dempsey. I experienced a bit of cognitive dissonance as I was reading along. The chapter deals with the differences between what is called the positivist (or objectivist) view of knowledge and learning versus the relativist (also called constructivist) view. I must admit in some ways, I am very much a positivist. I do believe that certain things are true (regardless of the learner or observer) and that in some areas, we can point to absolute truths. (ie. acceleration of gravity on the planet Earth, the speed of sound, the weight of hydrogen, etc.) However, I also believe that in most learning situations, truth is understood in a contextual way, and that knowledge must be constructed, or it has no personal meaning for the learner. I do subscribe to the notion that we negotiate meaning. As for assessment, I am partial to the objectivist stand that we are looking for specific skills and knowledge (otherwise, how do we know we have been successful?) But again, it must have personal meaning for the learner, and different learners can even use different artifacts or tasks to demonstrate learning. The end of the article referred me to Lebow, Rieber, Winn and Young with the suggestion that these two approaches may be different mindsets, or at the very least, more items for the toolkit of the learning designer.

The article suggests readers check out the WWild Team (which I did) and subsequently found an interesting article on Learning Design on Reiber's website. I like what Reiber has to say on this site about his own "philosophy" so I'll quote it below. (Go to the site for the full picture.)

Learning and Design Philosophy

We characterize our learning philosophy as constructivist, but we are not radical constructivists. We do not believe that "anything goes." Ultimate truth may be unattainable, but we feel certain ideas are more usable and consistent with accepted theory (this is akin to von Glasersfeld's 1993 concept of viability). Even if our universe turns out to be a game cartridge in some alien's Nintendo video system, some ideas are more consistent with its programming than others. Physics is a perfect example of this. Newton's laws of motion are still viable because they have practical uses even though they are no longer considered "true" by physicists. Likewise, we feel that there are times that instruction is reasonable, needed, and expected. We describe ourselves as "eclectic constructivists" to show our interest in all good ideas for promoting learning regardless of their philosophical roots. [...] We take the position that teachers and students have certain roles, responsibilities, and expectations. However, we accept the epistemology of constructivism that meaning is an individual construction, though usually in a social context. Probably the best way to describe our design philosophy is "look for ways to trigger serious play."

Oversold and Underused

I'm about 3/4 of the way through the Larry Cuban book "Oversold and Underused" and it's very interesting. In many ways, I feel a lot of sympathy for his premise: that computers are not making any appreciable difference in instruction, and that they are sucking a tremendous amount of resources away from other worthwhile projects. Personally, I'm of the mind that the technology can still make a difference, if only the teachers are sufficiently inserviced to know what to do!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Wide-ranging Discussions

My EDUC 891 class met for the second time. After being introduced to FirstClass (for our discussion posts), we dove into a discussion of the readings. We talked a bit about "affordances" of various technologies. There was also some discussion about the historical background of ID (Instructional Design). In particular, Bloom (with his taxonomy) and the question of "formative assessment" (Scriven) and "criterion referenced assessment" (Glaser) made an impact on the way ID developed.

I also borrowed a copy of "Oversold and Underused" by Larry Cuban. Sounds like a great read! I'll let you know what I think.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Instructional Design

This has been a very busy week! I've completed the first two sections of the Library Admin course I'm rewriting. Only 10 more sections to go!

Now that my Grad program has started, I've had a chance to dig into the "Instructional Design" text by Smith and Ragan. I'm not sure what my thinking will be. I'm still wrestling with the idea that "design" can be "teacher-proof". I was excited by the 3 principles of the instructional design process: 1) Where are we going? 2) How will we get there? 3) How will we know we arrived? I see connections here with J. Wilhelm's "Essential Questions" (he's one of the many proponents) and the "backwards design" movement. The text also provides some additional "web based" material (which I found very helpful.) I also came across this site which lays out the steps in designing on-line instruction in the K-12 environment.

We were assigned a chapter from a book by Reiser and Dempsy on the History of Instructional Design. I found it interesting to see the cycle of introduction, hype and disappointment that seemed to accompany each new technology (ie. radio, film, TV, etc. ) As a librarian, it's ironic to see that each technology saw itself as a replacement for books. Also, the problems that faced educational TV ... a) teacher resistance, b) the expense of the systems, c) the inability of the medium to work in all situations, ... are the problems that bedevil adoption of the new technologies today. Some of the encouraging references I found: criterion-referenced assessment, formative evaluation, constructivism, authentic learning tasks.