I’ve exhorted readers of this blog more than once to subscribe to Dan Meyer’s blog. It’s ostensibly about the teaching of mathematics, but the tangents are just fantastic.
Read the following, taken from a panel session Dan took part in (he’s now a PhD student):
I’m a grad student in my second year and I’ve never shared this with anybody here, least of all my adviser, who’s in attendance, but I don’t understand the incentive structure for what you do and what I may do someday. You write amazing things and you study amazing things and you write them compellingly in journals that are not read by practitioners very often. They affect a lot of policy, which I think is a really good, top-down approach. But then I’m over here and I can post something that’s seen by 10,000 people overnight. That’s the number of subscribers I have to my blog right now. Or any number of these things. So the incentive seems strange to me. Like I don’t understand this brass ring I’m chasing. It seems like a strange prize at the end of a finish line of grad school. So there’s the question and then there’s also the encouragement. You have so many soapboxes available to you. Find a kid like me and ask him how to do a webcast or something. You have so many — and to restrict yourself to peer review, I don’t know. There’s very little upside to me, it seems.
I feel this, and so do many others my age and with similar higher level qualifications.
So what are you (the academy) going to do about it?
Dan Meyer, an inspirational teacher I’ve mentioned plenty of times before, has as his mantra “less helpful”. You can see it on his blog and watch him explain what he means in this TEDx presentation (see especially his stuff on Clever Hans).
I’ve decided my mantra is going to be less shiny. Just as Dan helped his students (he’s currently pursuing a full-time PhD) by being less helpful and not spoon-feeding them, so I’m going to help everyone I meet by being, and by promoting the concept of being, less shiny. That’s not to say that things can’t be exquisitely well-designed (I’m typing this on a MacBook Pro) but function needs to enter the equation on an least an equal footing with form.
At this point I’d like to drop into the mix that I bought two (original, 16GB wifi) iPads today – one for my wife and son, and one for me. Together they cost the same as the wifi + 3G model I was tempted by a few months ago. They’re less shiny – and less expensive – than they were yesterday. Why? The announcement of the iPad 2.
It’s not always a question of “We can afford it, so…” As I explained when divesting in 2009, there’s a difference between recognising the appropriate use of technology and being the equivalent of a dog chasing shiny cars. The iPad’s actually useful now: you can edit Google Docs (the holy grail for me). There’s established workflows, gestures and norms that surround it. I’d say there’s definitely a case for using them in a considered and focused way within educational environments.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying that we should always hold off buying new products straight away: we should just know what to do with them. As Agnes Kukulska-Hulme pointed out when I interviewed her for the JISC Mobile & Wireless Technologies Review I undertook last year, sometimes a device comes out (in her case, e-book readers) that almost exactly solves the problem you’ve defined.
I’ve had my run-ins before with Dan Meyer when we were young(er) and (more) foolish.* But I have to give the guy credit – he can really think, write and teach. Read How Do You Turn Something Interesting Into Something Challenging? – almost the perfect template for how a teacher should reflect on their own practice. Dan goes from spark of an idea to a video showing how he taught it in practice in the space of the post. Exemplary! 😀
Once you’ve checked out that post, you might want to try these as well:
On returning to subscribing to Dan’s blog I assumed he was still teaching full-time. He’s not. First he decided to enrol to study towards a PhD (What Just Happened?) and then deferred to go and work for Google (Going Corporate). Who wouldn’t?!
It serves to demonstrate, however, something of which I’m increasingly aware: it’s extremely difficult to sustain outstanding teaching over more than a few years. I think I’m correct in saying that Dan’s been teaching five years. I’ve been teaching six (at a lower standard) and it’s taking its toll.
Perhaps guaranteed sabbaticals after 5 years are in order? (combined with the MA in Teaching & Learning?)
* Perhaps we’re too much alike. I didn’t like Paul Lewis (@aerotwist) much when I first met him. Now we get on like… a warm house. :-p