Tag: culture

You’re doing it wrong.

Image CC BY-NC-SA nzbuu

I grew up and have returned to live on the edge of a very deprived area. What caused its deprivation? Going from once being the largest mining village in the world to having no coal mines in the area. We’re talking (at least) third generation unemployment for many people.

But I’m surrounded by wonderfully different and independent people, proud of their mining heritage. Which is why it makes me sad when those in a position to make things better conflate two different forms of ‘culture’.

On the one hand, we’ve got a dialect (‘Pitmatic’) audibly distinct from ‘Geordie’ (that of Newcastle-upon-Tyne), along with different traditions, customs and even artwork that’s a product of the areas mining heritage.

On the other, there’s the drugs, graffiti and crime ‘culture’ that’s been a result of the decline of coal mining.

So when schools and local organizations remind young people of their area’s past, they’re doing them a favour. I was part of a local history project in Doncaster that aimed to do just that. We disseminated video interviews of people involved in the coal mining industry – leading to some wonderful learning conversations and realisations.

But when schools and local organizations allow (or even encourage) young people to graffiti, make drugs references and reward them with gift vouchers that they know will end up being spent on cigarettes and alcohol, they’re doing them a massive disservice. That’s got nothing to do with culture and everything to do with crime and social disadvantage.

We need some clear thinking and action on this. I doubt my area’s any different from others in anything other than specifics.

There’s a difference between meeting young people half-way with cultural references and capitulating to the criminal underworld.

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Why I no longer wear a watch.

CC BY-NC spengy

I remember fondly my first ‘proper’ watch: a digital Casio black-and-blue affair with a stopwatch. It was awesome. When I got older and a bit more style-conscious I requested a Seiko Kinetic for my 18th birthday. The Kinetic range had just come out and seduced me into thinking I’d never need to replace the battery in it. They were right, I didn’t. Instead, within two years the whole drive mechanism needed changing at a price not far away from the original purchase price of the whole watch. You never buy version one of anything, trust me. For my 21st birthday I received (at my request) another Seiko that looked very similar but used a good old battery. That’s the one I’ve still got but, as of January 1st, 2010, no longer wear.

I was at university when I got that watch, in my third and final year. During that year I had a lecturer for one of my Philosophy modules who would whip out his Sony Ericsson T68i every so often to look at the screen whilst he was lecturing. At the time I thought this was incredibly rude: how dare he be checking to see if he had any text messages whilst lecturing?! 😮

Later I became the proud owner of a T68i. It dawned on me that my lecturer didn’t wear a watch and, because the phone has the time in big, bold numbers as a screensaver, he had been merely checking what time it was so he didn’t run over. I forgave him post-hoc. 😉

I’m always a bit worried about getting RSI, and so began to take my watch off automatically upon sitting down at my Macbook Pro after I noticing that taking my watch off whilst using it made my right wrist ache less.* But then I started to think… When I’m using my Macbook the time is displayed at the top-right of the screen; when I’ve got my iPhone on me (pretty much always) it displays the time on the lockscreen. Why am I wearing a watch at all?

The nail in the coffin for my watch, now cutting a forlorn figure on the kitchen table, was an article in WIRED magazine (to which I now subscribe). It too laughed at watches as an anachronism. Why on earth, it asked, when the time is all around us – including on personal devices that we carry everywhere – do we insist on wearing something that can only single-task? That was it, I decided I’d be watch-less in 2010.

Since then, I’ve found how liberating not knowing exactly what time it is can be. Yes, it’s necessary sometimes (when teaching, for example) but when in and around the house it certainly leads to more Flow experiences. And that’s a good thing. 😀

How about you? What else do we do or wear that could be considered anachronistic in this day-and-age?

* Yes, I (used to) wear my watch on my right wrist. No, I’m not left-handed. And no, I don’t know why I (used to) do this. I just always have done. :-s

On the importance of ‘real-world learning’

Hot air balloon above clouds

Image BY-NC ms4jah @ Flickr

As with many things I write about on this blog, three things have come together recently to make me think about an issue in more detail. Briefly, these are:

  1. Discovering Courtenay Bird’s blog (via @Stammy) where she posts links to interesting and useful infographics.
  2. Reading @mortenoddvik‘s blog mortempo – and in particular his post Didactical Project: Cultural or Intercultural Competence?
  3. Revisiting Dan Meyer’s excellent work at dy/dan – especially posts like Graphing Stories (from a couple of years ago)

I don’t know when or how it happened (I suspect high-stakes testing had something to do with it) but we’ve managed to completely disconnect teaching and learning from real-world experience. There’s a few pockets of good practice and glimmers of light, obviously, but behind a lot of what happens in classrooms is “you’re doing this because it’s on the test.”

Thankfully, the three examples above point to something different. Here’s how:

1. Infographics

I came across Courtenay Bird’s blog just before I intended to head off to bed one evening this week. Courtenay’s interests lie in sales, marketing, project management and technology. Hence her interest in infographics. Here’s an example:

No more fish in the sea.

It got me thinking about project-based learning and how fantastic creating an infographic would be as a learning experience for students. By their very nature infographics demand a level of expertise by the person who creates them. Look at the research David McCandless at Information is Beautiful carries out before producing one of his masterpieces!

Infographics have to reflect real-world issues and do things with data that interests people. They have to be relevant and meaningful. That’s why I think they’re great for what I would called ‘real-world learning’.

There’s more wonderful infographics below:

2. Cultural references

I’ve only just come across Morten Oddvik’s work. Morten is an innovative Norwegian educator who focuses on learning outcomes rather than activities. A recent blog post of his – Didactical Project: Cultural or Intercultural Competence? – caught my eye because he’s doing something very difficult: using media-focused cultural references to enhance students’ learning about important (and quite high-level) concepts.

Take a look at this:

As you can see, Morten hasn’t simply taken the rap-music-is-a-form-of-poetry route. Instead he’s done something infinitely more valuable; he’s using something students are already interested in to help them learn about a range of concepts. This is another example of project-based learning. Morten’s focused on learning outcomes and using the content as a scaffold towards that. Great stuff! 😀

3. Real-world problem solving

Finally, I’ve revisited the work of Dan Meyer recently. Dan blogs at dy/dan and is well known within the edublogosphere for his high work rate and high-quality resources. As my Dad’s recently gone to the UAE as a consultant Maths teacher, I’ve been showing him some of the stuff Dan’s been up to.

I think one of my favourite posts by Dan is one from 2007 entitled Graphing Stories. In it, Dan chronicles not only a formidable amount of work on his part as if it were nothing, but how his high-quality resources and use of human interest led to huge learning gains by his students:

Elevation v. Time

I’ve seen some really bad, disconnected-from-reality lessons during my teaching career thus far. And it has to be said the worst one I ever saw was a Maths lesson. Dan shows on his blog how even the most abstract of concepts can be taught visually, kinaesthetically, and engagingly. That, to me, is what it’s all about!

You should definitely check out his series What Can I Do With This? where Dan takes images and uses them to teach mathematical concepts. Inspiring! :-p

Conclusion

The above shows that if educators focus on learning outcomes rather than activities to take up lesson time (and the high-stakes examinations at the end of a course) then real progress can be made by students. As a subject specialist it paints me to say it, but I think it’s time to move to a project-based curriculum where skills and competencies are focused on rather than simply ‘knowledge’.

Tracey Rosen has a new blog called Teaching is a Verb which focuses on collective action to improve teaching and learning. I’ll leave you with a post she shares in a post entitled Teaching 101:

If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea. (Antoine de Saint-Exupéry)

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Four ways to make your organization live long and prosper.

Warp Field

Image by Trekky0623 (Wikimedia Commons)

I’ve been reading Arie de Geus’ The Living Company: habits for survival in a turbulent business environment. It’s somewhat tangential to my role at the Academy, but nevertheless contains some great metaphors and insights.

Arie de Geus spent most of his career working for Shell, the oil company. During his time there, Shell commissioned a study about what makes a long-lived and prosperous organization. They found the following were true of the longest-lived organizations:

  1. Sensitivity to the environment – this represents an organization’s ability to learn and adapt.
  2. Cohesion and identity – aspects of a organizations innate ability to build a community and persona for itself.
  3. Tolerance – de Geus’ term, but actually as much to do with decentralization. Both are symptoms of a company’s awareness of its ecology and its ability to constructive relationships with other entities (within and outside itself)
  4. Conservative financing – this enables an organization to govern its own growth and evolution effectively

To sum this up, de Geus talks about organizations being ‘living organisms’:

Like all organisms, the living company exists primarily for its own survival and improvement: to fulfil its potential and to become as great as it can be. (p.11)

In terms of the relationship of the above to educational institutions, although they are all (theoretically) applicable, the one most applicable to my mind is cohesion and identity. It’s really important for educational institutions to build a culture of inclusion and achievement as this helps towards both implicit and explicit reasons for their existence.

What would you add to the above list? Would you take anything away? 🙂

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Digital Literacy and the ‘Digital Society’

watching_tv

Sometimes you come across a passage in a book or article that puts into words what you’ve been thinking for a while. Today, whilst studying for my Ed.D. that’s exactly what happened. I’m working my way through Lankshear & Knobel (eds.) Digital Literacies: concepts, policies and practices at the moment and am up to Allan Martin’s excellent article entitled Digital Literacy and the “Digital Society” (hence the title of this post).

In it, Martin hits a nail firmly on the head when he talks about the crumbling of existing structures that give meaning such as family units, church and, to some extent, the state. In the place of these, he quite rightly asserts, individuals tend to define themselves by what they consume – usually in the way of media. It’s a lengthy quotation that I’m going to share, but definitely worth it!

Society is being transformed by the passage from the “solid” to the “liquid” phases of modernity, in which all social forms melt faster than new ones can be cast. They are not given enough time to solidify and cannot serve as the frame of reference for human actions and long-term life-strategies because their allegedly short life expectation undermines efforts to develop a strategy that would require the consistent fulfillment of a “life-project.” (Bauman, 205, p.303)

For those who do not belong to the global elite, life has become an individual struggle for meaning and livelihood in a world that has lost its predictability… Consumption has become the only reality, the main topic of TV and of conversation, and the focus of leisure activity. The modes of consumption become badges of order, so that to wear a football strip of a certain team (themselves now multinational concerns) or a logo of a multinational company become temporary guarantors of safety and normality.

In this society, the construction of individual identity has become the fundamental social act. The taken-for-granted structures of modern (i.e., industrial) society – the nation state, institutionalized religion, social class – have become weaker and fuzzier as providers of meaning and, to that extent, of predictability. Even the family has become more atomized and short term. Under such conditions individual identity becomes the major life-project. You have to choose the pieces (from those available to you) rather than having them (largely) chosen for you. In this context, awareness of the self assumes new importance, reflexivity is a condition of life; a life that needs to be constantly active and constantly re-created. And care is needed, because each individual is responsible for their own biography. Risk and uncertainty have become endemic features of the personal biography, and individual risk-management action is thus an essential element of social action (Beck, 1992, 2001). The community can be no longer regarded as a given that confers aspects of identity, and the building of involvement in communities has become a conscious action-forming part of the construction of individual identity. Individualization has positive as well as negative aspects: the freedom to make one’s own biography has never been greater, a theme frequently repeated in the media. But the structures of society continue to distribute the choices available very unequally, and the price of failure is greater since social support is now offered only equivocally.

This certainly resonates with my experience, especially of teenagers. I believe, as Martin later argues, that it’s our job as teachers to instil in youngsters the digital literacy/competence/fluency (whatever you want to call it!) to be able to critically and reflectively deal with media and the digital world.

Does this resonate with YOU too? 😀

(image credit: mesmerised by Joe Thorne & Flickr)

‘Literacy’

As I’ve neither the time nor the amount of energy needed to get published in an academic journal for the first time, this blog will continue to serve as a repository for slightly more formal blog posts (or less formal journal articles, however you want to think of them…) 😉

I’m aiming to investigate the concept of ‘digital literacy’ and issues surrounding it in my Ed.D. thesis. You can read my proposal at digitalliteracies.edublogs.org.

Everybody knows what literacy is. It’s the ability ‘read and write.’ But read and write what, and to what standard, and for what purpose? An even more important question might be ‘to read and write with which technology? For, as Tuman (1992:2) notes, notions of ‘reading and ‘writing’ are unstable as meanings shift along with technological change. We can no longer take it for granted that someone’s remark that they ‘read’ something means that they had to hand physical paper marked in a decipherable way by ink. By ‘writing’ we can no longer assume authorship using a pen or pencil. The digital world has turned literacy on it’s head.

Although people do write for an audience of only themselves in diaries, journals and suchlike, the usual purpose of writing is to communicate something – an idea or an emotion, for example. As new methods of communication become available, so new sub-literacies come into being surrounding them. As Kellner (2002:163 – my emphasis) puts it:

As technological convergence develops apace, individuals need to combine the skills of critical media literacy with traditional print literacy and new forms of multiple literacies to access and navigate the new multimedia environments. Literacy in this conception involves the abilities to engage effectively in socially constructed forms of communication and representation. Reading and interpreting print was the appropriate mode of literacy for books, while critical media literacy entails reading and interpreting discourse, images, spectacle, narratives, and the forms and genres of media culture.

Literacy, as alluded to above, it always reading and writing for a purpose. We would hesitate to call someone ‘literate’ who could read words and write them, but could not meaningfully communicate in written form with other people. Literacy is a ‘set of socially organised practices’ (Rodríguez Illera, 2002:51) or a ‘social technology’ (Tuman, 1992:vii) and, as such.

…involves gaining the skills and knowledge to read and interpret the text of the world and to successfully navigate and negotiate its challenges, conflicts, and crises. Literacy is thus a necessary condition to equip people to participate in the local, national and global economy, culture, and polity. (Kellner, 2002:157)

Without culture and society, there is no literacy. It is the practical application of historically-situated (Barton & Hamilton, 2000:13) sets of codes and signifiers that allow meaningful discourse within domains of various sizes. The activities within these domains are neither accidental nor random and are structured by these literate practices. (Barton & Hamilton, 2000:11-12) ‘Literacy’ has traditionally been pointed towards ‘high culture’ – which is actually a minority culture. (Beavis, 1998:240) The democratization of literate practices through technologies such as the Internet and the blog upon which I write this serve to illustrate this. Niche groups, with literate practices of their own, flourish. Take l33t, for example.

Schools, institutions that are perhaps the most conservative and preservative of the status quo in a society, perpetuate this link between literacy and ‘high culture’. As Alan Luke (2003) puts it,

Literate practice is situated, constructed, and intrapsychologically negotiated through an (artificial) social field called school, with rules of exchange denoted in scaffolded social activities around particular selected texts. (Eyman, no date:20)

Whilst there need to be some ‘rules to the game’ for there to be meaningful discourse, it would appear that schools are the enemy of evolving literate practices. Teachers have, almost necessarily, been successful at ‘working’ the existing system. They are at least reasonably successful within the bounds of traditional literate practices. There is therefore, somewhat understandably, a fear by some teachers that new technologies and literacies may somehow supplant those which they hold dear. As Illayna Snyder comments, however, such a sharp demarcation and transition is unlikely to occur:

New introduction of a new technology of writing does not automatically render older ones obsolete. For example, even though printing completely replaced handwriting in book production, it did not spell the end for handwriting. Rather, the boundaries between the two writing technologies blurred… The future of writing is not a linear progression in which new technologies usurp earlier ones. A more likely scenario is that a number of technologies will continue to co-exist, interact, even complement each other.

So just as we have both printed and online versions of newspapers, printed and electronic scholarly journals, and a variety of ways of accessing information we need for our day-to-day lives, so literacies can co-exist. Realising this, we need to embrace new technologies rather than fear them, finding ways to transform our world, and responding to the challenges we face by discovering new literacies (Kellner, 2002:154). 

Ultimately, decisions about literate practices are not ones we can avoid as educators by ‘sitting on the fence’. As William James put it, ‘…our thoughts determine our acts, and our actions redetermine the previous nature of the world.’ (Bredo, 2006:21). For us to be able to act, and interact, with others in a meaningful way given the nature of the technologies that surround us, we must develop new literacies, new pedagogies and new stories.

References

  • Barton, D. & Hamilton, M. (2000) ‘Literacy Practices’ (in Barton, D., Hamilton, M. & Ivanic, R. (eds.), Situated Literacies: reading and writing in context
  • Beavis, C. (1998) ‘Computer games, culture and curriculum’ (in I. Snyder, Page to Screen)
  • Bredo, E. (2006) ‘Philosophies of Educational Research’ (in Green, J.L., et al, Handbook of Complementary Methods of Education Research)
  • Eyman, D. (no date) ‘Digital Literac(ies), Digital Discourses, and Communities of Practice: Literacy Practices in Virtual Environments’ (Cultural Practices of Literacy Study, Working Paper #12)
  • Kellner, D.M., (2002) ‘Technological Revolution, Multiple Literacies, and the Restructuring of Education’ (in I. Snyder (ed.), Silicon Literacies: communication, innovation and education in the electronic age)
  • Rodríguez Illera, J.L. (2004) ‘Digital Literacies’ (Interactive Educational Multimedia, number 9, pp. 48-62)
  • Tuman, M. (1992) Word Perfect: literacy in the computer age
(image adapted from an original by Pink Sherbert Photography @ Flickr)

Are you an ‘Edupunk’? I’m not.

Apparently, “the concept of Edupunk has totally caught wind, spreading through the blogosphere like wildfire” according to Stephen Downes. I must have been too busy with Twitter and FriendFeed to notice.*

This may show my ignorance, but I’ve never heard of Jim Groom. Please forgive me if I’ve committed a heinous crime by saying that, but in four years of reading (lots and lots) of posts in the edublogosphere, I can’t remember him being mentioned once. Which is not to say that he’s not to be listened to or that he doesn’t have good ideas – of course not! He’s probably never heard of me. I’m just sayin’… 😉

Here’s what Jim has to say about the concept of ‘edupunk’. His context is Blackboard‘s aims to try and trademark and sue everyone else out of existence:

I don’t believe in technology, I believe in people. And that’s why I don’t think our struggle is over the future of technology, it is over the struggle for the future of our culture that is assailed from all corners by the vultures of capital. Corporations are selling us back our ideas, innovations, and visions for an exorbitant price. I want them all back, and I want them now!

Enter stage left: EDUPUNK!

My next series of posts will be about what I think EDUPUNK is and the necessity for a communal vision of EdTech to fight capital’s will to power at the expense of community. I hope others will join me.

Sorry Jim, I’m not going to be joining you. Despite the fact that I’ve set out my stall saying that the edublogosphere is (in some ways) changing for the worse, an ‘Edupunk’ movement is not the answer. Why?

  1. It’s a group, not a network – i.e. 1.0 not 2.0 (OK, so I know you reject labels…)
  2. It harks back to a time when either I wasn’t born or was very, very young. I have no meaningful connection with the metaphor you’re trying to use.
  3. It makes any members of the movement sound vaguely violent. 😮
  4. It seems to have the assumption behind it that we (either individually or collectively) have the answers, when actually we’re learners like everyone else.
  5. Most Web 2.0 apps are free, and I’m at liberty to pick and choose them at will and use them how I want.

I’m all for being counter-cultural, anti-capitalist and bold towards authority, but I don’t think the right essence has been captured with ‘Edupunk’. Sorry. Perhaps I’m not ‘of a certain age’… 🙁

Further reading:

*That’s not a flippant comment, by the way; it’s almost impossible to keep up with the number of decent-quality blogs in the edublogosphere these days, so I prefer ‘almost’ real-time interactions to get at what people are currently thinking. Blogs are still great. :-p

Why ‘high culture’ for pupils is highly wrong-headed

BalletBBC News reports that the Children’s Secretary Ed Balls and Culture Secretary Andy Burnham will today launch an initiative that promises access to ‘high-quality cultural activities’. It proposes visits to theatre shows, museums and galleries and the opportunity to learn how to act and play musical instruments. “Great!!” one would think. I disagree.

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