Monday, August 28, 2006

Paradox of Choice and Usability

Interesting Interview with Barry Schwartz, who I've been paying close attention to for his work on decision-making and the paradox of choice. He makes the point that our institutions (health care, for example) are trying to move toward offering more choice (and not always for altruistic reasons), but that in many cases, people aren't properly prepared or supported in making these new decisions. A fair bit of the article deals with design issues, and how more choices on screens/pages isn't always better either...but I was most interested in his comment about choice in post-secondary education:
"And you see this all over. In the domain I know best, the world of academic institutions, increasingly, especially in the more selective places, they essentially don’t tell students what to do. They give you this gigantic list of courses, 'Take 10 of these and you will have met our liberal arts requirement. We don’t care which 10.' Here are these 18 year olds who don’t know squat, and people who do know something aren’t willing to tell them what they ought to do."
I think this is the sort of thing that 43 Things is providing for people who are trying to figure out what learning to pursue -- advice of others who have already pursued the same kinds of things and the support of others choosing the same goals. Things like professor-rating sites also add more to the mix in helping individuals make better-informed decisions about their learning. I expect lots of growth in this area...

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Technocentric Reminiscing

Seymour Papert wrote a version of this paper in the mid-'80s -- Computer Criticism vs. Technocentric Thinking -- shortly after the first time I was plunked in front of an Apple IIe and taught how to steer a turtle around the screen with LOGO, Papert's gift to the educational world at the time. It's interesting to me as a reminder that issues surrounding technology integration in education (and problems with research in the area) haven't changed much in 20 years:
"The 'treatment' methodology leads to a danger that all experiments with computers and learning will be seen as failures: either they are trivial because very little happened, or they are 'unscientific' because something real did happen and too many factors changed at once."
Using technology to its full potential in helping people learn will always require different goals and measures of learning than the ones currently propping up the education system. Although I remember enjoying time spent on TRS-80s in the '80s, our engagement was so old-school -- the exercises were completely abstract and disconnected from anything I knew or cared about. It was fun because it was new, but like everything else we were taught at the time, we had no idea why it mattered.

Of course a few kids "got it" and computers in general became a passion for them; the kind of thing they did for fun, programming simple games and other apps in BASIC. The rest of us quickly forgot what we had been taught, and didn't bother with computers again until we had to start handing in assignments written on word processors -- the first IT tools that had a tangible point for us.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Random Thought: Heresy

A veteran educator compares student engagement in class with how they engage in outside activities, adding a (baker's) dozen observations and suggestions of his own.
"Let me give you my baker's dozen of answers why students are tuned into teams, troupes, units, fraternities, sororities, clubs, ensembles, combos; why these are a turn-on for students while they're generally turned off and tuned-out in the classroom; why the outside activities are indelibly tattooed onto their souls while the inside the classroom activities are seldom more than temporary ink:"

Monday, August 14, 2006

Paradoxes in Decision Making

I've been researching decision making in my lit review, and I'm seeing that others are poking around the topic as well:
  • Fascinating thoughts from Artichoke on educational freedom and choice in The New Zealand Curriculum Draft for consultation 2006: A scaffold for dissatisfaction and depression. It's an exploration of the paradox of choice and how the research might apply to educational reforms designed to increase the amount of choice at many levels in the system.
  • I'm not sure about Lovaglia's Law -- "the more important the outcome of a decision, the more people will resist using evidence to make it" -- but there does seem to be some research indicating a kernel of truth. I also was looking into this stuff earlier in the year, and my thought then was that better tools and learning could help us make better complex decisions, rather than just throwing up your hands and following your gut (ignoring the evidence) when there are too many variables.
  • Psychologist Daniel Gilbert is studying how people envision the effects of their decisions (affective forecasting pdf) and finding that most of us are terrible at forecasting the future impact of decisions and events in our lives (check out illuminating interviews here and here).
  • Paul Sas has studied what he has dubbed the Delmore Effect, which basically shows that "most people tend to set much more explicit goals for low priority domains than for their most important ambitions". There seems to be a common thread between his findings in goal-setting and decision-making, particularly in how we decide which goals to pursue (or learning goals, translating this to my research interest).
These few strands are all mixed up in a counterintuitive set of assumptions that seem all wrong:
  • the more important a decision is, the less likely we are to make a good (reasoned, evidence-based) decision
  • a decision with too many choices makes it so difficult to decide that the result tends to be disengagement rather than improved motivation
  • we make decisions based on our projections of the possible outcome, but those projections tend to be way off the mark, especially overestimating the impact of individual decisions
  • we tend to be better able to articulate (and probably pursue) goals that are less important to us

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Instructional Music Mashup

Brian was reflecting on his own learning a while back and I thought it was spot-on: Instructional music mash-up, and my inability to learn alone. He's learning to play the guitar, and finding no shortage of excellent resources to help him learn techniques and strategies, but he's finding that there's something missing:
"What I find myself wanting is some means of online social interaction that might begin to replicate the vastly superior learning experience of sitting down with a patient, friendly musician willing to share a few licks and tips."
As I mentioned in a comment on his post, I think this is something the 4600-ish people in 43 Things who are also learning to play guitar could benefit from too. The "network" that has formed around the learning goal there isn't so much about helping each other achieve the goal -- it seems to be more focused on helping people decide whether to pursue it in the first place, and how to get started. Once they've adopted or rejected the goal, very few return to participate in any meaningful way. It's like the assumption is that once you've started, the learning will take place in isolation (or at least elsewhere).

Update: Only obliquely related through the guitar theme, but I enjoyed this post from Bill Kerr about how offical education will be (or is being) left behind as people realize they can learn more about what they care about on their own, seeking out other people and resources as necessary. He was bouncing off of a video of a young guy playing a ripping version of Canon in D on his electric guitar, which has been viewed over 7 million times on about reach.

Thursday, August 10, 2006


Artichoke's writing is seriously mindbending stuff. Check out this wickedly smart post: Why we will struggle to enculturate the key competencies. A quote:
"As any student will tell you our schools are not about preparing students to 'live a good life in a well functioning society' through the key competencies, and the current MoE focus on introducing them is exposing this. As one student claimed this year, 'how can schools be about developing student understanding of "managing self", when all they offer us at school is the "experience of being managed by others"?'"
This isn't just a throwaway criticism of the education system, though -- as boring and irrelevant as "competencies" sound, they are a valid attempt to balance the reach of curriculum with personal goals and skill development. In the process of exploring these ideas, Artichoke invokes some classic Gatto and links to one of my favourite interviews of all time: "Truth, Beauty, and Goodness: Education for All Human Beings" with Howard Gardner. Worth digging into...

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Learning Is Messy

Brian Crosby asks: Your Child's Dream Best School Day - What Does It Look Like? What Should It Be? He's been listening to the buzz on problem/project-based learning and throwing out a challenge to see what a real day of learning in a school setting would like like.
"If you are reading this you probably have some opinions, probably strong opinions about this, but have you ever thought about or planned a whole “typical” day? Here’s your challenge. Take your thoughts and biases and ideas and opinions and learning and experience and conversations and put them all together. Make it a comment here, or make it a post on your blog."
I'm only a few weeks away from sending my oldest daughter off to Kindergarten, so I have been thinking about these things. My challenge right now is more in accepting of what is, rather than spending time and energy envisioning better ways. Overall, it sounds like Kindergarten might be a better model for schooling than the grades that follow it, which lessens my anxiety about the coming year somewhat:
  • provide an environment with different kinds of learning areas or stations in the room, with lots of rich resources
  • provide lots of time where kids can choose which stations they want to spend time at, who they want to hang out with
  • have caring grown-ups available for resources and guidance, and to help guide behaviour when necessary
  • focus on personal expression and the arts, with lots of music and drawing
  • a focus on practical life skills (tying your shoes, telling time) and interpersonal skills (playing and working in groups)
  • have the kids in class two-and-a-half days a week, not five
The parts I'd like to change:
  • ringing the bell every 45 minutes to change to some new arbitrary task
  • starting at a set time every day -- why not start arrive and commence learning when it suits?
  • age segregation -- why not have more mixing of ages and abilities?
  • lessons paced to the slowest learners -- why force a five-year-old who is already writing her own stories to sit through "today, we're learning the letter D!" lessons?
So, I guess I've diverged a bit from Brian's original challenge...but I'm enjoying thinking about this one.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Why do we go overboard?

Nancy White had a nice reflection on Blackboard, DOPA, and Control: Why do we go overboard? I was as interested in Chris Corrigan's passionate comments below it, triggered by the discussion of control in education. That reminded me that I've been saving his advice to graduates from around grad time, bouncing off of an inspirational post from Will and some collective genius:
"My advice would go something like this: forget everything school has taught you about what it means to learn. From now on you will grow and learn and acquire new skills and knowledge from the most unlikely places. Don’t look at the people at the front of the room for the answers, look at the four people sitting around you and engage them in a deep conversation. The answer lies there. Or if not the answer, the next question, and it is finding the next question that is going to keep you going for the next 70 years."

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Self-Directed Learning Terms

Any time you start studying something new, you realize pretty quickly that each area of interest has its own unique vocabulary. It's challenging to sort it all out, especially when individuals in each field seem to be intent on inventing new labels and terms for their own pet theories and ideas that aren't really that different from existing ones. In looking at self-directed learning, I found this very helpful list of Most Frequently Used Self-Directed Terms and Concepts, showing the main "Terms, Acronyms, and Concepts In All Books followed by Total Times Used" from ten years of research in the field:
  • Autodidactic (learning) 85 (2) Derivative 124
  • Autonomous learning 56 (2) Derivative 36
  • Learning projects 231 (149)
  • OCLI (Oddi Continuous Learning Inventory) 102 (15)
  • SDLR (Self-directed learning readiness) 188
  • SDLRS (Self-Directed Learning Readiness Scale) 1299 (35)
  • Self-directed learner 436 (59)a
  • Self-directed learning 2833 (502)
  • Self-direction in adult learning 104 (2)
  • Self-direction in learning 82 (24)
  • Self-education 105 (5)
  • Self-efficacy 107b
  • Self-planned learning 118 (41)
  • Self-taught adults 109 (2)

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Source and Value

David Warlick has been taking a look at the role of libraries in learning. One thread running through his posts is on the importance of a learner determining the value of information in relation to their own goals. As I'm paying close attention to the value and formation of learning goals right now, I wanted to save a bit of Libraries: Shift 2:
"As you recall, I suggested that as information continues to change, becoming more and more critical to our endeavors and, at the same time, less finely defined by its containers (or lack there of), then its consideration becomes less based on its source and more on its value, in terms of the goals we are trying to achieve."