Viktor Frankl: Man’s Quest for Meaning

If ever you think your life is miserable and you start to get downhearted then I have a book I recommend you read “Man’s Quest for Meaning” by Victor Frankl. Frankl was born in Vienna in 1905 and even before the outbreak of World War 2 was an accomplished academic and psychotherapist.  He was also a Jew and, along with his entire family, was imprisoned in a concentration camp. Man’s Quest for Meaning documents his personal experiences of Auschwitz and other camps.  Only he and his sister survived everyone else who mattered to him: his wife, parents, siblings and friends were killed.  A good summary of his life and work is provided by Dr. C. George Boeree here. After the war, Frankl reestablished his career and produced this remarkable book which soon gained a substantial  readership and acclaim. I remember my reluctance to read the book – I was afraid I would find it depressing, after all, life in a concentration camp what could be uplifting about that?  The opposite was the case, I was genuinely uplifted and this  is is precisely the point that comes through in the text.  If, even in the most forlorn circumstances, in the depths Read More …

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 …

Why We Blog

Yes! With some help from the marketing department of the best college in Ireland (click here to find out). I can proudly report that Leo’s Learning Blog has been nominated for the Irish Blog Awards in the category of Best Specialist Blog. Well, surely this is something to blog about! Yes! but before I get too carried away I note that there are many excellent blogs in this category including Eugene’s Blog, Deryk Thormy’s Blog and Jimmy Hill’s Blog. So what’s going on with blogging?  What are we all doing and more importantly why do people blog? As you might expect I have a learning theory that might explain, in part, what may be happening.   I refer you the work of John Dewey (1859 – 1952) the American educationalist and philosopher and the further insights of Professor Chip Bruce a “master blogger” of many years, a great scholar and a friend of mine.Chip and others have developed the notion of an Inquiry Cycle model of learning based on 4 basic human impulses identified by John Dewey (for a fuller treatment I recommend you read Chips Bruce’s work here). The basic idea is that we all have a tendency to learn through a cyclical 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 …

Course Entry Requirements – Recognising Learning from Experience

If you are thinking about taking a course, for example any of the NCI courses in the prospectus, you may see in the entry requirements that it is necessary for students to have a specific level of degree (e.g. honours degree) or a certificate or diploma to gain entry. These conditions are necessary so that all students are able to participate effectively and teaching staff can make certain assumptions about the level of prior knowledge people will have. However, there is a down side to this in that sometimes very good potential students miss out because on paper they are not deemed to meet the entry level requirements.We’ve all come across examples in our work where people with significant experience and competence in a particular field are not necessarily the most qualified in the formal academic sense. Not many people know this but there is a mechanism whereby anyone can obtain a formal academic credit (yes I mean a degree, diploma or certificate) by means of providing evidence that they have achieved the learning outcomes equivalent to a recognised qualification.No this is not some e-mail scam to give people cheap meaningless degrees from a little known US private college – 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 …

Dachau

This is Dachau – the first concentrati on campt built by the Nazis. Be careful not to become smug when you visit this place – we are all convinced that such a place could never exist again and that there is no way that ‘normal’ people would be convinced to co-operate if it was attempted. I spent some time in Munich when I was in my twenties (circa 1980) – I had a fantastic time and made many good friends. Although I knew about Dachau I never went to visit. My wife, Maire gave me a wonderful present of a trip back to Munich for the May weekend and this is how I came to take the picture of the square in Dachau KZ. Look closely and you will see that it is pelting rain. There was a great crack of thunder and lightening – it struck quite close and left a strong lingering smell of ozone – all of this served to magnify the sense of unease at visiting this place. Much has been said about these places – I feel that everyone should take time to reflect on how evil can come about and be sustained. Dachau is Read More …