ICT’s: Effective Pathways to Quality Education (Presentation at the 19CCEM Youth Forum, 2015, Nassau, Bahamas)

Ever notice that parents, teachers, administrators love to talk about the “REAL WORLD”:

“Make sure you work hard so that you prepare yourself for the REAL WORLD”.

“You think you have it hard now – wait till you get into the REAL WORLD”.

“Oh yeah, you can get away with that in school, but it’s a different story in the REAL WORLD”.

Wait a minute. What is this REAL WORLD? And if it actually exists does that make the world of school or college – Imaginary?

All through my schooling – this idea of a REAL WORLD haunted me. I loved school, the learning the community, the openness to ideas; but could not, or would not allow myself to imagine a career in education. Doing that would be a cop-out – I couldn’t make it in the REAL WORLD.

Truth is education has always been my calling and after thirty rewarding years in the profession, I give thanks that fate brought me to my senses.

The problem is that we confuse schools and schooling with education and learning. We know that education improves life outcomes, so our solution is education for all, well actually schooling for all: the process where we pluck little children from their homes and communities (their REAL WORLD), put them in schools for 7 to 15 years, after which out pops an educated population ready to be plopped back into the REAL WORLD.

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Good teachers aren’t enough

I recently read with sadness the resignation letter of veteran history teacher Gerald Conti. In his letter, “My profession no longer exists“, Conti mourns the requirements of the Common Core and the Essential Learnings that “demean” the profession and rob teachers of their creativity. After a career of inspiring learners Conti realizes that the very qualities that made this possible are no longer valued or encouraged. Instead today’s teachers are expected to adhere lockstep to teaching scripts and one-size-fits-all lesson plans, helpless to halt the inexorable progression to standardised mediocrity.

He’s right. There is little room for inspired, creative teaching in the new dispensation – good teachers are squeezed out. The order of the day is adherence to prescribed curricula and national mandates.

He’s right. These reforms are an attempt to fix what may not be broken at his “superior secondary school.”

He’s right. There are good teachers who will be driven out of the professions by the new expectations, many good schools will no longer be able to do the very things that distinguish them.

But good teachers aren’t enough.

Good schools aren’t enough. Read More

Why Khan Academy videos work

A Car Crisis

A few years ago my clutch gave out as I was pulling down the on-ramp onto the highway. Fortunately I was able to pull to the side sufficiently not to get pulverized by the onrush of traffic, but needless to say I was in a bit of a pickle. The situation was particularly frustrating as I was broke having just spent a bucketload of money to get the clutch rebuilt! I was not able to afford any new repairs. I got the car towed to a friend’s house nearby (I couldn’t even afford to get it towed to my apartment). There was only one thing to be done – we would have to get the car running ourselves. I’m not a mechanic and neither is he, but we had one super tool in the tool box – google. We searched online for the car’s model and clutch problems and within not too long we found text and video help spelling out exactly what we needed to do. We followed the instructions and voilà I was good to go!

Khan Academy videos also work for a variety of reasons I’ll get into later, but most importantly they work because they are designed to satisfy an immediate need – they are examples of “just in time” (JIT) instruction, just like the videos and instructions we downloaded to fix my car. Read More

The secret to effective teaching

Once during a job interview I was asked “What does the effective teacher look like”. I paused, stumped – not because I didn’t know what an effective teacher was – that was easy – an effective teacher was a teacher who got results. No I paused because I knew that the effective teacher had many different faces. I knew effective teachers who were back-to-basics traditionalists, I knew effective teachers who were innovators, I knew effective teachers who integrated technology into every facet of their teaching, and I knew effective teachers whose most advanced technology was a transparency overhead projector.

I realized that I didn’t now much about effective teachers after all. Well that’s not entirely true – I could walk into a class and tell almost straight away if what was going on was an effective lesson, if what was going on was effective instruction. Problem was, I could not really articulate what I saw in those effective teachers.

So after a dramatic pause, I said something brilliant like “effective teaching is difficult to pin down to one or a few characteristics – but I know it when I see it”. I’m surprised I got the job!

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Why I believe in homework

The title of this post makes clear where I stand on the homework issue. I’m going to start by trying to answer each of Mark Barnes Five Reasons He Doesn’t Assign Homework.

5.  Virtually all homework involves rote memory practice, which is always a waste of time. This argues against the form of homework rather than homework itself (and makes a big assumption). If you don’t like rote memory homework don’t give it, use something better. More importantly, though, I’ll challenge that “rote memory practice” is “always a waste of time”. Read More

MOOCs again

In replying to a blogpost by Clay Shirky I questioned how disruptive MOOCx would actually turn out to be. My main concern is not for MOOCs as designed by Stanford, MIT and others. Rather it is for how we have responded to their efforts and our tendency to treat anything that comes from well branded educational institutions as received wisdom. It reminds me of the wine tasting experiment where the researcher takes one bottle of cheap wine pours it into two cups and labels one of the cups “expensive” and the other “cheap” and asks his experimental participants to participate in the dreaded taste test. Of course the majority prefer the “expensive” wine even though both glasses were poured from the same bottle!

I have no idea what the intentions are behind these new MOOCx – I welcome them myself: the more free education the better. My concern is that because we deify well branded stuff, we may automatically accept their model as the “Right” way to do MOOCs and ignore that this technology is evolving. Moreover, we run the risk of associating MOOCx model as that most appropriate for Distance Education in general.

We should welcome these developments, remembering to view them with our critical eyes wide open. Especially encouraging is Stanford’s new Class2Go project. This project uses all open content, open code and is inviting other universities, schools, NGOs to try it out and to contribute to the project development. Again, I have no idea what the intentions are, but I can only judge based on actions.

This is a huge step in the right direction.