Thursday, July 28, 2005

Aaron's Questions

Stitching Toward Integration
Aaron had this great post months ago -- this shows how far behind I am on posting things I've saved in Bloglines. Some of his excellent big-picture thinking about education (again), that is certainly related to my earlier rambling about quality of life:
"How many students out there feel as if they are in imprisoned? Would an educational institution encourage the pursuit of a particular activity if it led to integration, fulfillment, and a sense of freedom? Where is the space for such pursuits in educational institutions? Why do we shut people out of these experiences through rigid curricula and imposed educational goals? Who creates standardized learning criteria and why do we place such a premium on their achievement at the expense of happiness, wholeness, freedom, personal growth, and creative and emotional expression? What kind of society are our institutions contributing toward?"

Education and Quality of Life

I found a goldmine today in the reports from the Quality of Life Research Center, headed up by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. I've been exploring ideas related to quality of life for my thesis, and occasionally I've been astounded how little K-12 education does to address this concept, both in the curriculum (why are kids not learning about choices and ways of living that are likely to lead to better quality of life, or at least exploring differences in quality of life in other cultures?) and in a lack of attention to ensuring a high quality of life for students (through autonomy, challenge, nurturing, etc.) throughout their school years. This research center tackles some of these questions:

Student Engagement in High School Classrooms from the Perspective of Flow Theory
"However, students do not experience alienation and disconnection during all encounters with learning. Certain conditions may promote excitement, stimulation, and engagement in the learning process. In this article, we focus on student engagement within the framework of flow theory (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990). This study focuses on how students spend their time in high school classrooms, and the conditions under which they become more engaged in learning."
Happiness in Everyday Life: The Uses of Experience Sampling
"Happiness will increase to the extent that individuals are provided with the means to learn skills that can be deployed to meet reasonable challenges; that they are given freedom to express themselves within bounds of responsibility; that they are allowed to experience the joy of interaction with peers of one’s choice and with adults that care for their well-being. These requirements for happiness presumably operate at every level of societal complexity, from the macro-level of the economy and political structure to the meso- and micro-levels of community, school, and family. There are clear trends in contemporary life that militate against such conditions. It is difficult for a young person to be happy when living in a sterile suburb that lacks opportunities for action, forced to attend schools where there is little chance to express oneself except in abstract intellectual terms, surrounded by a small nuclear family that is seldom together and relaxed enough to interact freely."

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Thesis Update

A few readers and colleagues have expressed interest in my thesis project, so you all get a quick update.

Last summer I started a blogging project to collect ideas about the conflict between our values and our lifestyle choices, how decisions in one area of our lives affect other areas, and specifically how young people learn about and envision their future options. I borrowed the term lifestylism as the title of the project, as a way of unifying those concepts.

So now I've got a year's worth of research, reading and writing represented in the blog and I officially start working on the thesis in September. I still need an advisor, and I'm hoping to finish early next year. I've narrowed my topic a lot since my initial pondering and a bit more since my recent focusing efforts.

I plan to explore the aspirations of teenagers (educational, career, relionships, family, lifestyle) in education and outside of school, figure out how successful they've been in achieving those goals in the past decade or two, then create a proposal outlining how to use the web to help teens build engaging, holistic (lifestyle-oriented, rather than just career/college planning) reprentations of possible futures as a way to get them on the path to achieving their goals (or at least taking steps to pursue interesting things that will land them somewhere they didn't expect).

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Mentoring Online

I've been seeing a few articles lately about mentoring -- online learning networks seem to provide a type of informal mentoring, but I wonder if there will be increased interest in using social software tools to facilitate some of these mentoring programs? Why not have one mentor helping four or five students through the same kinds of issues like college planning, perhaps through a system like Elgg?

Friday, July 15, 2005

Students' Needs?

Not surprisingly, kids don't like high school. What interests me about these kinds of articles is the lack of vision for what might work better -- usually the only idea is to raise standards and test more aggressively, but when are people going to realize that it's not working?
"A lot of business people and politicians have been saying that the high schools are not meeting the needs of kids," said Barbara Kapinus, a senior policy analyst for the National Education Association. "It's interesting that kids are saying it, too."

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

43 Places

I was really excited about 43Things when it came out and defended it during the ridiculous controversy over their funding from Amazon. I still think it has great potential to facilitate informal online learning and shows the potential power of a social network that is actually about something important -- not just to connect people. My one reservation is that I almost never go back in there, even though I spent a fair bit of time logging my goals. I love it, but I'm not sure why it hasn't sustained my interest.

I think the reason is that the scope of 43 Things is so enormous -- goals can be anything, in any domain. It's great to learn a little bit about a lot of interesting things, but when I'm really trying to learn something about a specific topic, I'll go to a more specific source. One of the best uses of 43 Things seemed to be in helping people figure out potential travel destinations, which had a more focused feel. So the creators have built a flavour called 43 Places to focus on that task. It's pretty cool -- I want to go to PEI. I love this kind of learning, and it's very cool how they've integrated Flickr feeds based on tags. It's a richer experience than the text-heavy pages in 43Things. (Thanks to Will)

I've also been saving Scott's post about plans and portfolios, extending a short discussion we had earlier this year on 43Things. I like his distinction between plans and goals, and I think this is going to be an important part of how individuals guide their personal learning:
"Sometimes people get the two concepts - plan and goal - and treat them as if they were the same thing. However, a goal is a state you want to achieve; a plan is a strategy for achieving it."