Friday, April 13, 2012

Thoughts on Pragmatism

“For Plato, the life of Socrates did not make sense unless there was something like the idea of the Good at the end of the dialectic road.  For Dewey, the life of Socrates made sense as a symbol of a life of openness and curiosity.  It was an experimental life - the sort of life that is encouraged, and in turn encourages, the American democratic experiment.”  - Richard Rorty
It could be argued that many of the pragmatists associate with Aristotle’s philosophy.  As Nieman explains, rather than finding Truth in metaphysics, pragmatists, like Aristotle, look to the world around them to discover many truths based on perspectives.  Like Socrates, they seek the attainment of irony; continually questioning their conventions.
“(...)each is able to recognize the radical contingency of his own beliefs without engaging in the quest for certainty”  - Alven Nieman
It is becoming increasingly evident, that in order to become meaningful again, education must move away from a Platonic quest for the absolute and rather shift to a seemingly more pragmatic Aristotelian approach.  There are many perspectives, one needs only look to the world (wide web?) around them.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Computers in the Classroom: Caveat Emptor

So we are now in the 21st century; someone should inform the schoolboards.  What is challenging about moving forward with education is the continual paradigm which places the teacher at the centre of the learning experience.  Students continually externalise learning processes, not because it is natural, but because the educational system asks them to. Teachers remain the all knowing leaders of the classroom who, through a masterful art, transfer their knowledge to the students.  The main problematic with this traditional view of the classroom is that it is content oriented.  Firstly, knowledge can only be built, not transferred.  Secondly, this model has not changed since the one classroom school.
Now let's bring in the technologies. In the last 10 years many technological advancements have taken place in the pedagogical world.  Teachers now have interactive whiteboards instead of chalkboards, and students have e-readers instead of books.  Surely this is a monumental leap forward in terms of progress.  Think again; the technological tools that are predominately used in the classrooms simply reinforce a traditional teaching model.  Such a model is so far disconnected from the students reality that it is bound to fail. Of course student engagement may go up for a brief period, but this is not a sustainable effect, since students will eventually get board with the new gizmos, and since there is no change in pedagogy student interest will fizzle away. 
If placing technology in the classroom can be done (without any clear effect on learning) why not try placing the classroom in technology.  What I mean by this is: instead of adapting current technologies to an age old model; why not try to reinvent the model in light of new technologies.  If teachers do not attempt to restructure learning in a significant way either by project based learning, partnering,  or creative approaches to problem solving, another window of opportunity will have been missed to reconsider the classroom and further exploit how and why we learn. Computers in the classroom can be interesting venture, but buyer beware; it is important to know what it is you are buying.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Computational Thinking: A Digital Age Skill for Everyone

Why Teach?

     When I was 9, I remember seeing an interview on Much Music (back in the day when music videos still existed).  The VJ was interviewing Slash from Guns and Roses, and when asked if he considered himself a rockstar Slash simply answered "Hell yeah".  In a single instant, the musician was able to not only demonstrate a rebellious attitude, but also define coolness as I knew it. Effective teachers are able to emulate these same emotions in their students.  Do we not all remember one teacher in our lives that was able to reach out to us in one way or another? Last week I attended a conference on techno-pedagogy and I kept asking myself, can technology really fix the paradigm of education?  Unfortunately, before technology can become meaningful in the classroom, teachers must first reinvent themselves and their teaching methods in order to shift the emphasis from curriculum content to students' passions.
      The problem in education is that we are looking for the BEST practices, when, as Mark Prensky puts it, we should be continually looking for better practices.  Socratic irony needs to find its way into the lives of teachers in order for them to continually re-evaluate their teaching practices and goals.  For this to happen, teachers must deny their claim to be the beholders of all knowledge and accept their imperfections.  What better way to create an ideal learning environment than to continually question one's self. Once this is accomplished, the shift from content to process can happen, and then and only then can technology be introduced in a pedagogical manner.  Students should know and be taught different processes such as the creative process, the writing process, the research process.  Through these processes student and teachers can effectively question, evaluate, and create different contents in a variety of mediums.  For learning to take place, teachers must become real models and believe in their students and their passions.
     In one instant long ago, a musician was able to define a whole attitude for me in a few simple words.  For others it may have been an athlete, an actor, or even a relative.  Technology can get students closer to these individuals and moments, but if an educational shift from teacher to student doesn't take place I fear technology will be misapplied, and an opportunity to effectively revaluate our practices will have been lost.  Essentially it starts in the classroom, where every teacher can become a rock star, an athlete, or an actor for their students; all they have to do is question themselves and their practice.  In the end, is that why I became a teacher? Hell yeah –