SITE Conference

I recently attended the SITE Conference in San Diego, California.  SITE stands for the Society for the Information Technology and Teacher Education and it is one of the biggest conferences in this field.  Chip Bruce and I had submitted a paper based on the Digital Literacy in Primary Schools (DLIPS) project.I attended many other sessions and it was very useful to catch up with developments across the field.  One thing that struck me is the use (perhaps overuse) of short abbreviations to describe areas of interest.  Thus a session might be described as dealing with TPAC for SET in K-12 – decoded this means Mhisra and Koehler’s (2006) Technological, Pedagogical And Content Knowledge (TPACK – worth a future blog!) for Science Engineering and Technology (SET) subjects in primary and secondary schools (K-12).The presentation associated with our paper is posted below.  The basic idea is an exploration of the connection between learning as inquiry and new digital media.  Essentially we argue for a new approach to pedagogy based on the Inquiry Cycle and making the most of digital media capabilities to initiate,  sustain and enhance that cycle. It’s not so much that the vision of learning as inquiry is new – it Read More …

“Grade Inflation” Getting Everything Wrong

This is a really important issue for Ireland and for everyone in the education sector.  It is vital that get a clear understanding of what the problem is and what we need to do to rectify it. First of all, the problem we need to solve is not “Grade Inflation” and it would be a huge mistake if we were all to get in a muddle comparing the numbers of first class honours’ degrees or 600 point Leaving Certs in the past few years. Just like all measures based on our social circumstances, such as the spending power of the average weekly wage or the average life-expectancy, over time we should expect to see a gradual improvement in similar measures of quality and achievement in our education system. Today, we are educating more people to a higher standard than ever before and I will be surprised if the emperical evidence from the soon-to-be released study will not show this to be the case. But I do not believe we should be congratulating ourselves – there is a problem and a new challenge and we need to get to the heart of it. Let me use one source Dr Craig Barrett, Read More …

Learning and Motivation

Motivation is used as a catchall term to describe how people are moved to act in a certain manner or direction.  In everyday use there is a tendency to conceptualise motivation as mono-dimensional we often seek the motive for why a person acted in a particular way.    Single explanations for people’s actions or goals are often inadequate and misleading.  People tend to justify past-behaviour and will report a retrospective rationale.  However, models of motivation, if they are to be of use, need to provide predictions of future behaviour. The term motivation is used in many different contexts and can mean different things in everyday language. Motivation is often used to describe a level of commitment even energy such as during half time at a football match where a manager gives a team a motivational talk to ‘lift’ the team for the second half.  In such uses of the term motivation is likened to a psychic booster; one could imagine an internal M meter reading either high or low. This meaning of motivation is not limited to physical activity – people might say “coming up to the exam I became really motivated and studied for five hours every day”. It’s Read More …

The School

The recent 3-part RTE series “The School” broke new ground in terms of education and television.What takes place in schools is both familiar and mysterious to most adult viewers. Our school experiences resonate throughout the entire span of our lives and, for many, learning identity forged during teenage, years remains fixed and unchallenged long after our initial schooling is complete. Every society looks to young people to reproduce and reinvent itself for the future.  Put simply, organised societies that are good at education will survive and outlast societies that fail to do so.  Schools and education are our biggest investment apart from health systems. Strangely, unless you are currently an active participant in the school system, there is little visibility of what’s going on.  We seldom get an opportunity to compare schools today with the schools of our childhood.  This issue is more important that a simple need to satisfy our curiosity: we need to know about how much has changed, the improvements, new ways of teaching, a new understanding of learning, and new thinking on what should take place in schools. Since we left school we have grown and developed into who we are today – few of use Read More …

Problem Based Learning: The Apprentice?

Those that know me will know that I am a fan of Problem-Based Learning, usually referred to as PBL.Ireland’s version of “The Apprentice” is being aired on TV3 and watched by many including our household. The idea is that contestants are fighting it out to get a big job as apprentice to Bill Cullen (Ireland’s best known, self-made entrepreneur). For each episode the contestants are asked to complete authentic tasks usually with a sales or design element.We get to see them work in groups, select a project manager, set goals, solve problems and think and act creatively. As television it’s quite absorbing and informative and there is plenty of learning taking place, for the contestants and vicariously, for the the viewers. When I first watched these sequences I was impressed to see a good instructional approach transferred to television. However, all this is let down by the final sequences of each programme. These scenes take place in the boardroom where groups are asked to report on the process.Bill is naturally a good teacher and in fairness, he tries to balance his negative criticism with supportive comments. But the show’s structure calls for an inevitable reduction by one contestant (you’re fired!) Read More …

Problem Based Learning

     Students from the Post Graduate Diploma and Masters in Learning and Teaching participating in a Problem Based Learning Workshop in the Centre for Research and Innovation in Learning and Teaching at National College of Ireland This year we are running a new course at National College of Ireland – the Post-Graduate Diploma and MA in Learning and Teaching.  I am course director for this course and I present a module on Theories of Learning and Cognition. We have a core of sixteen students with some additional attendees from the PhD course and faculty development.  The students come from a wide variety of backgrounds with one thing in common – a passion and commitment for learning and education. We used an instructional approach know as Problem-Based Learning (PBL) as a means of integrating the three semester one modules on Theories of Learning, Research Methods and Philosophy of Education. PBL was structured around a series of workshops on Tuesday evenings and Saturdays.  My colleague Rachel Doherty from the School of Business organised the students in groups to complete a series of authentic tasks. In the first exercise the group tasks were to compose and present a series of student induction presentations Read More …

Carl Wieman Lecture

I attended a lecture in DIT Bolton Street by Dr Carl Wieman titled “Science Education in the 21st Century; using the methods of science to teach science” .This was of great interest to me as in the distant past I studied science and, like many others, I believe that we need to do more to stimulate effective practices in science eduction. Many science teachers at school and college level are passionate about their work and are often willing to explore new pedagogic methods to stimulate student engagement. Wieman focused on teaching methods and as his title suggests he uses analytical methods to assess different approaches and strategies. He contrasts two educational models:Model 1Teacher encounters a new problem or conceptTeacher figures it out Teacher explains to studentsStudents demonstrate that either (a) they know or (b) they don’t know the concept or problemIf outcome (a) – student learning is effectiveIf outcome (b) – student not making sufficient effort (lazy student!) Model 2Teacher encounters a new problem or conceptTeacher figures it out Teacher establishes learning goalsTeacher guides student activities (the design of these activites is the practice of teaching and is informed by research and expeience)Teacher measures learning outcomes(a) students solve relevant problems(b) Read More …

The Meaning of Work – Aronowitz on Schooling in a Time of Crisis

On Tuesday I had the good fortune to attend a seminar (in NUIM) by Stanley Aronowitz – he is Professor of Sociology at City University in New York and has written extensively on many topics to do with knowledge, education and economy. His ideas are radical and challenging and yet timely. He presented his analysis of this “first truly global crisis” based on his experience (in the US steel industry) and many years as an author and teacher. Aronowitz posed critical questions that challenged our conception of labour in developed economies. He pointed to the structural changes in industry evident since the seventies when high numbers of workers were employed in big industries such as steel production. Faced with the challenge of a militant, frequently striking (US!) workforce and a troublesome trade union movement, the response by industry was to reduce labour through mechanisation and to move labour by a process of outsourcing and financialisation (build now pay later). Aronowitz sees our current predicament as the inevitable outcome of US economic policy and the globalisation of the industrial model for developed economies. His outlook is gloomy – there will always be a struggle – they will always want more (government Read More …

The Skillful Teacher

I came across this quotation from Confucius many months agoand I have been waiting for an opportune time to include it in my blog.Please forgive Confucius for his use of the term ‘man’ only in his descriptionof the skillful teacher. The most skillful teachers I know are women. When a superior man knows the causes which make instruction successful, and those which make it of no effect, he can be a teacher of others. Thus in his teaching, he leads and does not drag; he strengthens and does not discourage; he opens the way but does not conduct to the endwithout the learner’s own efforts. Leading and not dragging produces harmony. Strengthening and not discouraging makes attainment easy. Opening the way and not conducting to the end makes the learner thoughtful. He who produces harmony, easy attainment, and thoughtfulness may be pronounced a skillful teacher.– Confucius,Book XVI – HSIO KI (Record on the Subject of Education)Isn’t it remarkable how Confucius seems to capture all that we would nowcall best practice in teaching others.She leads but does not dragMost learning practitioners would agree with this – for adults the mantrais adults learn what they want to learn and what they find Read More …

An Organic Approach to Teaching and How Digital Media Make it Possible

In recent years the trend in digital media design has been toward extending the natural reach of human capacities.Digital cameras for example are not just getting smaller and lighter but they are becoming easier to use. Background technologies now compensate for low light levels, camera shake, poor composition and other errors. All the user needs to do is point and click.The irony is that increasingly complex technology often gives rise to simpler and more natural functionality. Give a camera to a six year old and watch what happens.The same trend can be seen in other designs -technologies such as the wii controller, voice recognition and intuitive Internet interfaces are helping to hide technology and foreground functionality. Ironically, these advanced digital technologies are becoming more transparent and users take them for granted. These designs give rise to new possibilities in teaching and learning.Traditionally, we’ve organised much of school teaching around the development of essential skills the so-called 3r’s -reading, writing and arithmetic. There are few who would deny the importance of these skills for the modern world and because they are important we can’t wait to get our children up to speed as early as possible. The progress of children in Read More …