Unit 1 Readings–Use Your Voice!
Joseph Ugoretz | February 5, 2010 | 11:29 am | Introduction and Foundations | No comments

Here’s a chance for you to try using a tool called Voicethread, which I think has a lot of other uses.  You can find more information about it, and use it yourself, at the site.

For now, I’m giving you a chance to listen to me, and make your own voices heard, specifically about the readings for this unit and how they relate to your experiences and our discussions.

Voicethread allows you to add comments (just click the “comment” button) using your voice (you can use the microphone in your computer, or even your telephone–just click the telephone button, and enter your phone number), or even your voice and video using your webcam, or just text if you prefer (click “type”).  There’s even a pen tool to draw right on the images I’ve posted, in case you want to draw attention to a specific point or otherwise annotate them.

You will need to register before you can comment, but that’s quick, easy, and free.

Technically, it’s all pretty easy–but if you need help, you can visit the Voicethread help pages (I had a problem initially where it wasn’t recognizing my Mac’s camera so the window for the video was just black.  Apparently this is pretty common, and the solution is simple, and it’s explained on those help pages).

So view this…and add comments in whatever form makes the most sense to you (you’ll see a comment or two already there from a previous class, to get you going). And we can think, too, about how this kind of tool affects (if it does) teaching and learning.

School 1.0
Joseph Ugoretz | January 25, 2010 | 4:45 pm | Introduction and Foundations | No comments

I was sitting in a meeting last year, and an administrator (from another school) said “you know, classrooms are just about the only place in this country where you could take a person from 150 years ago, drop him down in that place, and everything would be totally familiar to him.  Classrooms have not changed for centuries.”  He said this as if it was a good thing. At the time I didn’t think it was a good thing…and I also didn’t think it was true.

If we’re going to be talking in this course (and we are) about “School 2.0” (or 2.5? Or 3.0? Or 124c 41+? Or ∞?), we should probably start with School 1.0.  What was that vision of 150 years ago? You’ll see one such vision in the excerpt from Tom Sawyer in this unit’s readings.  And I’m sure you have many others from TV, movies, literature, and your own memories.  But I wonder if those visions, tinged with nostalgia as they necessarily are, have any accuracy.

You’re writing some reflections about your own educational history in this unit, and while you’re writing that, you can remember the idea of “rose-colored glasses.” Or maybe “mud-colored glasses.”  When we remember the past, we’re really creating the past.  It’s not the past itself that we’re describing, it’s our memory of the past.  And memory, I would maintain, is a creative act.  We select what we remember, and we view our past through the lens of the present.  So in many cases, in literature and in life, when we recall or report School 1.0, we’re really reporting something we want to say about the way things are today. (“When I was young, we walked to school.  In the snow.  Uphill.  Both ways.  And we liked it!”–that’s really not anything true or meaningful about the past school days…it’s a message about how the grumpy old man feels about kids today.)

But I think there are some things we can say that have changed, whether in your lifetimes or my lifetime.  Or a longer span.  One description of the change has been that we have moved from a model of a “sage on a stage” to a “guide on the side.”  Classrooms have become less authoritarian, more student-centered, with more emphasis on engagement and activity rather than obedience and control.  The old rule when I started teaching was “never let them see you smile until October.”  And children were “seen and not heard.”  And kids memorized.  Multiplication tables, poems, passages from history books, the periodic table of the elements.  All memorized and repeated and recited exactly.  And there were big difference in exactly who was there in the classroom–and what they got to study.  Girls and boys, people of different races and ethnic groups or national origins–in School 1.0, it was well-established that they had different things to learn, different ways to learn, and different ceilings beyond which they could not rise.  Writing was meant to be correct and grammatical, not expressive or creative.

But even in those “old days,” some of those techniques, or some parts of them, did work, did help, and did acknowledge and meet real needs.  Kids did learn.  This is why some of the reports about School 1.0 are so negative about schools today.  Some people think we’ve lost a certain shared cultural vocabulary, and that standards are lower than they’ve ever been, and they blame the changes in schools for those changes.  But if you look at some of the dialogues of Plato, you’ll see that the Socratic method (hence the name) is not a recent invention at all.  And much of what we think of as being new and modern and exciting and changing just today was really described by John Dewey almost a century ago.

It might be that the core moments of learning (or the long-term process of learning) is not something that is really connected to School 1.0 or 2.0 or anything point anything.  In that one-room schoolhouse, people did learn, and in the high-tech “smart” classroom, people do learn.  And in both of those places they sometimes don’t learn. So as we look towards the future of education, as we imagine that, let’s also focus on the core values that we remember and that we know–and look at how those are changing and predict where those are going.

What’s a Mini-Lecture?
Joseph Ugoretz | January 25, 2010 | 4:19 pm | Introduction and Foundations, Mini-Lectures | No comments

This is the section for the “content” of the course. But it’s also an opportunity for you to think about just what course content really is and what it should be. When you take a face-to-face class, where does the “material,” the “stuff,” the “content” come from? Some of it, maybe most of it, comes from texts that you read.

LecturerA lot of it comes in the form of lectures.  What is a lecture?  Parents lecture kids, usually before grounding them.  Bosses might lecture employees, although it’s not really the best management technique, most people would agree.  If you clicked the link on the word lecture, and saw the definition, you’ll see that it’s originally from the word for the act of reading.  A lecture was originally a reading for an audience–where one person is reading (reciting?) and the other person are sitting and listening.

Of course there are other kinds of lecture.  I’m a student and fan of oral performance art, particularly the art of the carnival talker–and I’ve got some experience with that kind of performance myself.  I’ve studied these “lectures” enough to know that no oral performance is really ever a unidirectional communication.  Even if that professor (or medicine show “lecturer”) is talking the whole time, there is still communication happening–not just from the audience to the performer, but among the audience members.  How does that happen online?

What are your lectures like in college?  Some of them may be just like the traditional model–a whole big classroom sitting and taking notes (maybe) while one person stands and talks.  Maybe he takes a few questions.  Maybe at the end.  That’s a kind of performance, and one kind of learning can happen there, but I have to wonder if it’s always the best.

Lots of learning goes on when people talk and think and write–and talk and think and write to each other.  Listening can be a way to learn, but it’s not the only way.

In this course, we don’t have the opportunity for the traditional kind of “lecture.”  I don’t have you all in front of me, I don’t have the option of making you sit and listen to me (but I remember how many lectures I sat in while I was a college student, and I remember how many I listened to.  Those two numbers–how many I sat in and how many I listened to–are not equal numbers.  We do have many opportunities for you to talk and think and write–especially to each other.  That’s the main heart of the course–what you say and understand for yourselves and to each other.

I do, though, still have things I want to say to you! So for want of a better term, these “Mini-Lectures” are where I will say those things to you.  And I do expect you to read what I say.  And to respond to them.  You can add comments to any of these mini-lectures (and guests can do that, too).  And you can refer to them and respond to them in your reflections and your forum posts (guests can not do that).

Science Fiction and Other Visions
Joseph Ugoretz | January 22, 2010 | 4:44 pm | Introduction and Foundations | No comments

As I said in the previous mini-lecture, there are many ways in which visions of the education of the past (School 1.0) are actually comments on the present. The same is true for visions of the education of the future (or on alien planets, other galaxies, alternate dimensions). To a large extent, all of science fiction (like all of all literature) is about the critical concerns (the fears, the desires, the joy, the mysteries) of its own time and place.

We’ll be looking at some science fiction visions throughout the course. Let’s start with one vision of a “school” of the 24th century on the planet Vulcan.

(this one is a one-minute click, and it’s on a password-protected page.  Just for our class.  You’ll need the password in order to view it.  I’ll give you the password.  When you’ve got it and you’re ready to watch, click here, and then come back to this post.)

Watched it?  What did you see?  Isolation. Absorbing content (and repeating it back, it seems). Vulcan is an advanced planet and the Vulcans are an advanced race (you can tell by the spooky lighting and the holograms and the pointed ears). And how they learn is something that we would call…advanced? What do you think? (And notice that one thing that doesn’t change, as the end of the clip demonstrates, is the learning that happens when kids bring each other insults and aggression. More about that in another unit to come!)

Then let’s take a look at a humorous idea of how education can work (not sure whether Father Guido Sarducci means this to be past or present or future.  You decide.)