Archive for the ‘Learning’ Category

More rants on education and teaching

December 2, 2008

As I read about Michelle A. Rhee, the chancellor of the Washington D.C. city schools, I was impressed on a variety of levels. I am excited and happy to see someone actually taking action in school reform, especially after reading (again) about the problems besetting the L.A. city schools and the push to remove the superintendent, a well-meaning man with little or no experience at all with city schools. At first reading, Rhee comes across like the proverbial breath of fresh air, blowing across the garbage of public education. But the more that I reflected about her and her methods, the more concerned I become. I do believe that a merit based pay system is a good idea, as is removing the semi-instant tenure programs for keeping teachers in their jobs. I also believe in the need to push students to excellence. But I am concerned that her focus is only on teaching and not on educating. Teaching is important- it gives students foundations for all topics. Need to do any type of math? Well, you need to learn the multiplication table by heart. Want to write like Faulkner? Then, you need to learn grammar and punctuation. Want to draw or paint like Pollack or Picasso? Then learn to draw like a draughtsman. Basic skills are acquired through teaching, but the ability to see the spaces in between disciplines and create meaning happens through education.

I am worried that Ms. Rhee may be focusing on teaching at the expense of educating. She also downplays the importance of creativity. She says  “I’m like, ‘You know what? I don’t give a crap.’ Don’t get me wrong. Creativity is good and whatever. But if the children don’t know how to read, I don’t care how creative you are. You’re not doing your job.” I agree that part of the job of a teacher is to teach a child to read. But it is also important to teach the child to understand and crate connections to enable them to understand if what they are actually reading is crap (or not).

The article in Time magazine describes her as curt, direct and more able to speak with children than with adults. This last trait is incredibly important in the education process- to be able to speak with a person on their level of understanding without a condescending attitude. Yet, when affecting major change, it is also important to be able to communicate with all parties involved (often a more difficult path). In the end, I am impressed with the work that Ms. Rhee is doing- it extremely important to create actual change and not remain in the realm of theory. She is on the right track with teacher merits. But I do think that she needs to begin to encourage crativity and not remain in the realm of theory. She is on the right track with merit-based salaries and new ways of defining tenure. But I do think that she needs to begin to encourage creativity as an important element of a true education. The future truly requires multidisciplinary, cross-thinking and collaboration and the schools are good place to begin.

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Bye Bye Studs

October 31, 2008

I am saddened by the news of the death of Studs Terkel, one of my favorite authors. He was populist and FDR liberal who never gave up the good fight. I listened to him on the radio and read, enjoyed and learned from his books. “The Great War” introduced me to stories of people on the front lines of WWII- men, women, soldiers and civilians. Vastly engaging.

One of my favorite interviews, one that I first heard and then read was transforming. He spoke with a man from the deep south who had been filled with hate and anger. This man had been a leader in the klu klux klan- he was vicious, racist, anti-semitic, anti-union, but through a series of events found himself on a school board, partnered with an African-American woman. They worked together, learned from each other and became life-long friends. The white man eventually finished his high school diploma and ran for a political office and won- partly from the support of the local African-American community. They were able to recognize that person can change and can redeem their past. Eventually this man died, suffering from alzheimer’s disease. But I remember seeing a photograph of this old man, sitting in a wheel chair holding the hand of the African-American woman who helped him learn dignity and respect.

My brain does not hurt.

July 31, 2008

Sitting in the closing plenary of the Academic Technology conference and the main thing that comes to mind is that my mind does not hurt. I have not really be challenged or inspired by the conference. For the most part, the information has not been about innovation, speakers have been more about talking heads and real dialogue has not been happening and much of the information presented has not been new to me. Topics and information is what we have been talking about and acting upon over the past year. The ITAs have presented on the digital natives , and I have added terms for others- the digital tourists, (may not be mine), digital naturalized citizens and those who have not even seen the brochure.

I am not sure why this is. Perhaps the institution of academia is more entrenched than the museum world (although I know of some museums that are really entrenched). Perhaps it is staff. Perhaps I am spoiled by my work in the museum community, but after attending the Museums on the Web conferences, I find that my head really hurts because of the quantity of high quality and dense information that is presented in a short time. Sessions and dialogues start in the evening, continue throughout the day with few breaks and inevitably continue on into evening at the different events and receptions. 

Battery is tired, so time to post.

Learning, the future and YouTube

June 20, 2008

An interesting video about kids, stats, global learning, collaboration and the future has been making it’s way around the internet. It is worth looking at here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pMcfrLYDm2U&featur

The question once again comes up- what are we doing about it?

Back to collaborate and cooperate

June 18, 2008

Driving in to work this morning, I was again ruminating on the meanings of collaborate and cooperate. It seems to me that cooperate infers people meeting together so share resources to further their own specific projects or shared goals that are similar, whereas with collaboration, people join together to create something that is completely new and often out of the direct realm of influence or expertise. The sum of the project is really more than the individual parts. This is probably a pretty esoteric distinction, because in the end, it is really about individuals abilities to join forces and expertises.
I also thought a bit about the process of collaboration again and forgot one of the most important components of successful collaborations- a sense of humor.

Apollo 13 and creative solutions

June 6, 2008

In the movie “Apollo 13” there is a great scene that really illustrates creative collaboration and even a project-based learning scenario.  The scientists on the ground have just learned about the problems aboard the space capsule and are given the emergency assignment of finding a solution.  So the scientists are ossed in a room with a whole bunch of objects that are found in the Apollo spacecraft: tape, ducts, pipes and tubes, whatever. There they are- engineers, stuff, a problem and a time frame. Their creativity and ability to cooperate on finding a solution let to their success in bringing back the astronauts alive. Very cool. 

Definitions

June 5, 2008

I just looked up the definition of “collaborate” on dictionary.com and was surprised on how many negative connotations are associated with the word, such as “to cooperate, usually willingly, with an enemy nation, esp. with an enemy occupying one’s country”, “collude”, “To cooperate treasonably, as with an enemy occupation force in one’s country”. Although there are several more positive meanings such as “to work, one with another; cooperate, as on a literary work” and the etymology states that “collaborator (1802), from Fr. collaborateur, from L. collaboratus, pp. of collaborare “work with,” from com- “with” + labore “to work.”, WWII has left an imprint of  the word as “traitorous cooperation with the enemy,” dates from 1940, originally in reference to the Vichy Government of France.”

What an unfortunate chain of events for such a fine concept. It is time to rehab the meaning so that it leaves it’s destructive past and joins the ranks of it’s more positive and successful cousin “cooperate” , whose primary meanings are :

  1. to work or act together or jointly for a common purpose or benefit.
  2. to work or act with another or other persons willingly and agreeably.
  3. to practice economic cooperation.

How to rise up horizontally

June 5, 2008

I heard an interesting story on NPR this morning about an woman architect in Karachi by the name of Parveen Rehman. She works for the Orangi Pilot Project which helps poor people to build their own homes and even utilities systems. She also works to enhance the status of women in a male-dominated society by teaching architecture in a local school to women.

She said some pretty remarkable things. About “the project’s male founder, who spoke of the power of women. He compared himself to a grandmother — “not your grandfather, because your grandmother gives love … and through love she’s able to encourage and make people grow.”

And of particular interesting to me and my research about the nature of collaboration:
“I feel sometimes — not with men and women — with any group, if you come just upfront and try to be … the person taking credit for everything, that’s where things start going wrong,” she says. Once you rise up horizontally, you take everybody with you. But if you want to rise vertically, you will rise, but then nobody will be there for you.”

Building Collaborations

June 5, 2008

I have been reading a lot about successful collaborations in many different environments, such as businesses, academic, technology, building and more. Most of the articles and books provide examples that are very good arguments for why cooperative projects work. Wikinomics by Don Tapscott begins the book with a great example about a Canadian gold mining company turned around its loosing operation after the president attended a workshop on open source technology. He applied the lessons learned and opened up much of the companied proprietary data about some of its under-performing properties. He realized that the company itself did not posses the human resources to really expand, so he offered a prize for best ideas. His solution worked and he was able to able to increase the value of the company from $100 million to $9 billion. The winning ideas came from a wide range of disciplines.

In his 2005 TED talk (http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/view/id/216), Howard Rheingold speaks about how humankind has followed a couple different paths. One has been about destruction, the other is about cooperation. He provides many examples how human society is really more of a cooperative endeavor (although I think that sometimes it is hard to see). Nothing that exists today really came out of a vacuum of an individual, but rather out a web of individuals working together. One story that I often think of is about a party that I attended several years ago. It was held at a really cool remodeled Victorian house in N. California. The friend who I went with told me that the owner had done the work. At the time I was working as a carpenter and after looking at the details of the work, I went to congratulate the owner on his fine work. I was not really surprised when he told me that he did not do any of the work, but rather paid a crew to work. I completely understood his (and my friend’s view), yet I could not help but to think that it would have been more interesting to me if he had described it as a collaborative project. This would have celebrated the talents and skills involved in producing such fine work.
Perhaps I made something bigger then it was, but I am always impressed about how individuals with individual strengths and talents can come together to make something that is larger than the sum of their individual work.

Reflecting on these and other examples of successful collaboration (open source software, farming, movie making, just about everything), I wonder about the basic building blocks necessary to make cooperation work. I think that one of the most important components is for individuals to check their egos at the door when working on a cooperative endeavor. This does not mean that I feel that there is no room for individual creativity. I think that each person has a place to really shine in what they do. But more often then not, one person cannot do everything at the same level.

When I began working in new media in 1990, it was called interactive multi-media. There was no web (Internet-yes, web- no) and one talented person could do just about everything. But as the technology developed (as well as user expectations), specialties also developed for video, audio, data base, graphics, content development, subject matter experts, and more. Each task and discipline has its own tools, process and language. It really is like a huge jigsaw puzzle- it really does take a lot of pieces to make it complete.

As individuals understand this, they can begin to see how their strengths are all necessary and vital to a project. They can possibly begin to learn to trust the other experts and professionals to do their parts and that the complete project and process only benefit from this cooperation.

Creativity, Collaboration and Learning- 1

April 29, 2008

My approach to creativity is pretty broad. It is funny, during the passover seder there is a reading about the four sons and their approach to asking about Passover. The last son is described as the one who does not know how to ask the question. For several months now I have been reflecting on my interests and trying to understand the question. It is only in the past month or so that it has become more clear. I am really interested in the relationship between creativity, collaboration and learning. Although I have been thinking about all of this for awhile, it is only recently that I am putting the three together in some sort of pre-coherent way.

I am not completely sure that creativity is something that can be taught- especially in post-secondary education. It may actually be too late. Learners can be guided and encouraged but it seems to me that there is a certain ability to step out of one’s comfort zone when being truly creative. Sometimes I think that it is not so much as a comfort zone, but that the comfort zone of a natural creative person is much broader than a person whose style may be more circumspect. My own heuristic research has showed me that truly creative people are more willing to try things- to mix things up. They (we) learn formal theories and practice and then ask “why” and “what about” or “what if” in very broad terms. Of course there may be (and probably are) psychological explanations for this, but I’d rather look at it possessing an insatiable curiosity of things. Richard Feynman wrote a book of essays called “The Pleasure of Finding Things out”, a title that I love. Seymour Papert has also written about his love of learning.

This is connected to my interest in collaboration. It also seems to me that creative people are always collaborating- with styles and ideas and with people. There are different types of collaborations, which I think is good. But many collaborations are within the same discipline and style of thinking. This creates many types of advances in that particular discipline, which is good.  For example, different types of psychologists or historians who share research topics.

My interest lies in broader types of disciplines- where different styles of thinking (or as Gardner would say, different types of intelligence) are used. The arts and science and engineering are really of interest to me. I am working on projects involving dance and computer engineering, and biology and history now. In the former, I have found that engineering students are really good at what they do, but they get bored designing light circuits and dancers want to use their movement to trigger projectors and lights and sounds. Bringing together the two groups creates some very interesting learning adventures where each group can learn from the other about things they would not know about and can only make their own work a richer experience. In Biology and history, a team can examine a period such as the Black Death and gain a greater understanding of the social, and historical consequences surrounding  the biology and pathology of the disease.

Learning adventures are what ties the two previous ideas together. Though collaborations (internal and external) ideas and concepts are born when exploring the similarities between stuff (technical word). In periods described as “classical” there has always been fewer boundaries between disciplines and ways of thinking. Plastic arts, sciences, music, crafts have always been components of a “complete” education and learning (even though there have been other restrictions placed, such as religion). DaVinci studied arts mechanics; Kandinski wrote about painting and music; Feynman the physicist was also an expert in Tuvan throat singing (of Mongolia); The Talking Heads were art students; Mick Jagger was a student at the London School of Economics.

So my reading is a bit eclectic. Some of the books that I read over the past year include: a couple  by Oliver Sacks -“Uncle Tungstan” and  “Musicopheloa”(brilliant at brining together disciplines and interests), “Thinking in Jazz” (a wonderful ethnomusicological study on jazz improvisation  and how the process can be interpreted and reapplied to other disciplines); The Children’s Machine by Papert; The Playful World: How Technology is Transforming Our Imagination: by Mark Presce; “Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World”; “Out of Our Minds” by Ken Robinson. I am beginning to think that  that the underlying theme is applied change and creativity. I also have read some fun things by Christopher Moore, a comtemporary novalist whose work includes “Bloodsucking fiends” and “You Suck” (both about vampires in San Francisco, and “Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal”. His books are fun, funny, irreverent, sexy and do contain little morsels of clarity. For example, in  “A Dirty Job” Moore writes: “Jazz wasn’t something you planned. It was something you did. You practiced, you played scales, you learned your chops, then you brought all your knowledge, your conditioning to the moment…Like the archer, the poet and the painter –it’s all right there- no future, no past just that moment and how you deal with it. Art happens.”