You're Going to Need a Hard Hat to Live There
Creative Commons License photo credit: Rob Shenk

Today I sat on the train between two burly construction workers. Steel-toed boots, well-worn overalls, hard hats and big lunch kits. They both had newspapers, and the stereotypical assumption might be the sports section. Not true. One was reading the business pages, and the other was working on a crossword puzzle.

What’s significant about this story? In our classrooms, we are helping our learners to discover their own learning styles and preferences. But we run the risk of then teaching to that style, rather than helping them to discover their whole mind. I hope these two young men had teachers who recognized that. Certainly as I watched them engaged in learning this morning using their linguistic rather than bodily-kinesthetic intelligence I had to believe it was true.

Creative Commons License photo credit: brendio

I was following a Twitter conversation recently between @tomwhyte1 and @injenuity about learning theory construction. I expect it had been spawned from CCK08.

Tom asked the question “If the basic core of a learning theory requires other learning theories to have happened or exist, is it an actual learning theory or tool?” I was about to enter the conversation when I realized I couldn’t explain what a learning theory was. This week I’m reading Psychology of Learning for Instruction by Driscoll and have an answer to both questions. To paraphrase, a theory is a hypotheses that has been validated through data collection. More formally, Driscoll describes a learning theory as “a set of constructs linking observed changes in performance with what is thought to bring about those changes” (p.9).

A theory isn’t a theory though until some sort of proving has occurred. Which leads to Tom‘s question. Driscoll has a perspective on that as well: “any new theory must reinterpret all the previous findings as well as account for the anomalous ones that prompted its invention in the first place” (p.7). So Tom, I think the answer is It depends. If it meets the definition of a learning theory, that is seeks to explain a phenomenom, then not only is it a theory but it must build upon or refute past theories. If it doesn’t meet the definition of a learning theory, then perhaps it is describing a single construct (in this case perhaps node).

I’m going to like this book.

Driscoll, M. P. (2005). Psychology of Learning for Instruction (Third Edition ed.). Boston: Peason Education Inc.

The new school year has started, and I’ve not quite captured a cadence. My plan has created a heavy load this term and while I’m not behind in any work I don’t yet feel in control.

This must be how our senior students feel. Coming out of summer vacation they are juggling part-time jobs, extra-curricular activities, homework, and the ever-present pressures of a teenage social life. Added to that they have life-planning stress as they make choices that could have far-reaching impact. One missed assignment could make the difference between university acceptance and a year off to try again. Do they get it?

Just as I ponder this question, there’s a news item on CNN about a new policy in Dallas schools where children can re-take tests if they fail, and that high school students don’t get graded for homework. Elementary and middle school students can use homework to raise grades but bad scores don’t count. Parents are complaining that school is too far from real life and kids will get a rude awakening when they graduate. Proponents say it will help kids stay in school and succeed – it’s about the learning. The answer won’t be known for some time as the current cohorts move through the system. The district has taken a bold step. Personally I would hope for a balance, that it’s not just about the testing regime but rather needs to be done in a context of creating a love for learning, not just removing the stress of testing.

My first assignment in my graduate research class was to write a critical review of a research article. The objectives of this assignment were to target reading educational research rather than advocacy literature and second to give us experience in writing, synthesizing and evaluating current research.

I selected the article Contestation or Collaboration? A Comparative Study of Home-School Relations by Amanda E. Lewis and Tyone A. Forman. It is directly relevant to my own investigation of parent engagement in K-12 schools.

This review deepened my learning in areas not all directly related to the subject of the article.

In my studies on parent engagement in K-12 schools, I had encountered readings relating context theory to parent engagement and recently posted about a related book. This study corroborated those other findings about the importance of context in defining and prescribing parent engagement strategies, and went a step further to include social class – of both parent and teacher – in the analysis.

In that regard, this study makes an important contribution to parent engagement research. As the authors note, the role of social class is often discounted as not important in the research. In school practice, however, it may sit as a delicate subject to be avoided. Consideration of social class and concomitant power issues helps build understanding of the phenomenon known as “helicopter parents”, the power struggles between parent and teacher, and the role of teacher professionalism as a defence mechanism that negatively impacts parent-teacher relationships.

Examining the research article with a more critical eye was also a welcome opportunity for me to learn about ethnography as a research approach and methodology. Educational ethnography, a sub-field within anthropology, seeks to understand patterns of human behaviour within a group (group culture) so that the behaviour of other group members may be predicted. Studies that compare two locales are referred to as microethnography. Macroethnography considers the impact of external forces on the group. I determined this work was a study in both micro- and macroethnography. I also learned that the researcher role in this study is an observer-participant role, where the researcher documents in detail observations but also interacts informally with the participants. These informal interactions serve both to validate the observations and develop understanding of the phenomena being observed.

This was a great assignment that achieved its objectives for me. The most difficult aspect of the assignment was keeping it to three pages!

Lewis, A. E., Forman, Tyrone A. (2002). “Contestation or Collaboration? A comparative study of home-school relations.” Anthropology and Education Quarterly 33(1): 30.

I’ve just been through the first weekend class of ERES800, the required educational research class for my Masters. The professor is great, trying to help us use the class to scaffold our way to our thesis, project or capstone course. But it was very different than courses to date, and I would like to figure out why.

The first difference was obvious. It is a face-to-face class, the first so far in my program. Thirteen students together with a professor in desks that we juggled around as we did small group work. We started last night with an icebreaker exercise, then completed three hours work. Today we worked from 9 til 4.

The second difference is the composition of the class. The course is required of all M.Ed. students, so we are from a mixture of programs. That makes our approach to this class different. Some are able to use it to scaffold, others are checking it off as something they have to do.

Finally, our interests and our research areas are different. In some cases there is little to no understanding about 21st century learning models and the role that technology plays in enabling personalized learning.

So what does it mean and does it matter?

Diversity is good. If we take all our classes with colleagues of similar interest and knowledge, will we be stretched? Will we create an understanding of the current situation in our schools? Of what supports are needed for change? Instead we may define readiness for change inappropriately.

Face to face? A big challenge for me is that I need to be in Saskatoon – a 7-hour drive from my home. Online is more convenient. However, today the small group work was about challenging each others’ research questions (in a good way, for improvement) and analyzing academic papers for reporting out. That would have been a difficult exercise online. So much so, that it would need to have been re-designed.

What I most discovered is that face to face is less personal. The classwork, timing, and instruction were determined for us. You couldn’t spend longer on a particular concept, you couldn’t post a thought for feedback – this was not about personalized learning. I came face to face (pun intended) with the challenge of the classroom teacher in pushing the required curriculum. There I sat, bored with the concepts I understood (thank you backchannel for saving me) and frustrated with the concepts I didn’t. Ouch.

In the end, I learned as much today about instructional design and personalized learning as I did about research methodology. That makes it a good day. For something completely different.

I just posted reflections on this amazing class to Alec Couros’ blog through a VoiceThread.

This course was a landmark in the field of learner-centred experiential learning. Please visit the VT link above to listen and read the thoughts of others who participated as presenters, students, or participants in the open class experience. Another benefit of the open course experience is that it still lives and is available for all to read, listen, and through your own blog, reflect.

(cross-posted to http://blog.tech4learning.ca)

Last week I posted my reflections on my learning this term, including reviewing the artifacts that I had created.

But yesterday, as I sat in a meeting with colleagues from across Canada looking at proprietary software solutions, I was reminded of the other part of my learning journey that was so powerful. I have already posted several times on this topic – open source, open access, open content.

As I explored “open”, I realized a difference between open source software and open content. In my first post, Free and Open Content, I started the dialogue about focusing on free content rather than the focus on the software. I was beginning to struggle through these concepts.

My next post Outside the OSS Club Looking In was a turning point for me. As I began to explore the open source space, I felt under attack for my use of proprietary software. It seemed that if I didn’t abandon proprietary completely that I couldn’t participate in an open source discussion. The comments I received to this post assured me there were others who saw the utility of both, that it really could be a both/and rather than an either/or world. Just as with our learning tools it is about choosing the right tool for the right purpose. A quote emerged that has since become a favourite:

If you only have a hammer you tend to see every problem as a nail.
– Abraham Maslow

Perhaps not surprising, this post has generated more comments than any other. And the dialogue that ensued helped me to know that my view was not heresy. And that was a turning point for me.

My latest post on the subject, Open Source, Open Content, Open Access, set the stage for me to explore the more important issues (at least to me) than which software is used. I described the three legs of the open stool and I believe the most contentious is not open source. Nor is it open content as I believe that will be the underpinning of knowledge today and in the future. What is contentious is open access when we are working with K-12 students. That is where I will focus my intellectual energy and welcome others to the discussion.

As I started my learning journey, I was interested in internet safety and parent engagement. I followed those interests as well, but my most powerful learning was in exploring the open world. Thanks to all who participated with me.

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