Archive for January 5, 2011

Education is Entertainment, Design, and Orchestration

I’ve been thinking a good bit about the McLuhan quote: “It’s misleading to suppose there’s any basic difference between education & entertainment. This distinction merely relieves people of the responsibility of looking into the matter.”  I think he’s talking about the need for both to focus on engagement, to grab the reader/viewer/student and get her to think about some issue.  Maybe he’s also talking about the common goal of transporting the reader/viewer/student to another place, where education has the explicit goal of pulling the R/V/S out of the Platonic cave. There’s a Bruner quote that speaks to the same issue: “teaching is the canny art of intellectual temptation.”

I started thinking about these kind of unusual takes on education (like McLuhan’s connection to entertainment) when I read a piece by Paola Antonelli (senior curator of architecture and design, New York MOMA) in The Economist‘s The World in 2011. She says,

“One of design’s most fundamental tasks is to help people deal with change. Designers stand between revolutions and everyday life. When the internet happened, they created interfaces with buttons and hyperlinks that enabled us all to use it. Designers make disruptive innovations manageable and approachable, so that they can be embraced and assimilated into life. And they never forget functionality and elegance. In 25 years, designers will be at the nexus of things. They will not be divvied up according to their reductive speciality (graphic, product, furniture, so 20th century!). On the contrary, like physics, design will be loosely separated between theoretical and applied.”

Antonelli talks about design in a way that I think about education. A teacher helps students find new ideas approachable.  Education has theoretical aspects as well as applied aspects.  Education is getting divvied up according to reductive specialty, which (for me) is so 21st century.

I think that both of these views on education are important, but incomplete.  What a teacher does is engage students (like McLuhan and Bruner is saying) and helps make ideas manageable (as Antonelli is saying). That feels necessary yet not sufficient.  There’s another piece, what we used to call “orchestration” in Georgia Tech’s EduTech Institute.  A teacher guides the students’ actions, sets the “score,” defines the activities that create the learning situations.  It’s what Janet Kolodner’s Learning By Design project did with their rituals.  Christ Quintana built software to do this guidance, and he called it “Symphony.”

These three different perspectives are describing education, but not learning.  What a teacher can do is to engage like in entertainment, to make approachable like good design, and to guide like a conductor.  But the learning can only come from the student, who gets engaged and whose thinking activities are guided and scaffolded.  We can create opportunities for learning through education, but the actual learning is completely out of our hands.  That perspective — that the focus is really the student’s learning, not the teacher’s doing — is a common thread in all three.  The focus of the “temptation,” the user of the design, and the the musician in the orchestra is the student.

January 5, 2011 at 10:48 pm 4 comments

The Collapse of Computing Education in English Schools

Based on the description in this report, I expect that American schools are no better, but we aren’t using such strong languages as “on the verge of collapse.”  We do say that we’re Running on Empty, but I think that the collapse analogy may be even more accurate.

Computing is on the verge of collapse in the English state-funded school system. Most English schools nowadays teach ICT (Information and Communication Technology) rather than Computing.  ICT in a great many schools consists solely of teaching how to use office productivity software such as word processors and spreadsheets, which results in students actively disliking what they mistakenly believe to be Computing.

Students are not taught how computers work and are denied the opportunity to be creative through inspiring computing activities. The March 2009 Ofsted report into ICT GCSE ‘The Importance of ICT’ states “Too many of the lessons seen during the survey emphasised the development of skills in using specific software at the expense of improving students’ ICT capability.”

via The Collapse of Computing Education in English Schools.

January 5, 2011 at 8:59 am 1 comment

Oversold and Underused, the iPad edition

Larry Cuban examined this phenomenon, of finding the greatest educational technology in history, and of missing out on the opportunity, in his book Oversold and Underused: Computers in the Classroom and more generally (remember what Edison said about motion pictures) in Teachers and Machines: The Classroom Use of Technology Since 1920.  Now, the NYTimes is telling us how we’re going to repeat the cycle with the iPad.

A growing number of schools across the nation are embracing the iPad as the latest tool to teach Kafka in multimedia, history through “Jeopardy”-like games and math with step-by-step animation of complex problems.

As part of a pilot program, Roslyn High School on Long Island handed out 47 iPads on Dec. 20 to the students and teachers in two humanities classes. The school district hopes to provide iPads eventually to all 1,100 of its students.

The iPads cost $750 apiece, and they are to be used in class and at home during the school year to replace textbooks, allow students to correspond with teachers and turn in papers and homework assignments, and preserve a record of student work in digital portfolios.

via More Schools Embrace the iPad as a Learning Tool –

Cathy Davidson of Duke University, HASTAC, and the MacArthur Foundation highlights what has to happen to use the technology effectively (which is much the same thing as what Cuban said), and why it is still unlikely to happen with iPads. (Thanks to Sarita Yardi for sending this link.)

Here is the issue:   if you change the technology but not the method of learning, then you are throwing bad money after bad practice. You’re giving kids a very fancy toy with enormous educational potential and, being kids, they will find exciting things to do with it and many of those things will be beneficial, exciting, and will help them be more adept in the 21st century world of new forms of communication and interaction.  If you leave kids to their own devices (pun intended), they will find ways to learn.   It’s what young animals of all kinds do.   So from that point of view, the iPad distribution is just fine.   The user interface on tablet computers is appealing, the multidisciplinary possibilities inventive, and the potential for downloading lots and lots of apps for just about anything–and even for designing apps yourself–is fun.  That makes the iPad a flexible, smart device.   That is the upside.

The downside is that it is not a classroom learning tool unless you restructure the classroom.   By that I mean, there is no benefit in giving kids iPads in school if you don’t change school.   You might as well send them off with babysitters to play in the corner with their iPads for eight hours a day.   Without the right pedagogy, without a significant change in learning goals and practices, the iPad’s potential is as limited (and limitless) as the child’s imagination.   That’s great on one level–but it misses the real point of education as well as the full potential of the device.  What iPad and all forms of digital learning should do is help prepare kids for this moment of interactive, complex, changing communication that is our Information Age.

via Pointed Response to NYT Article on iPads in Schools | HASTAC

January 5, 2011 at 8:58 am 4 comments

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