Tuesday, 20 May 2008
Education: Learning Languages
I have a special interest in learning Spanish as my wife is Spanish and my children have been brought up to be bilingual. I have only been to one week of language training but I can cope with listening in Spanish and I can even watch films in Spanish without getting completely lost. My spoken language is still terrible, I just cannot think fast enough in Spanish to deal with a normal conversation. Most of my learning has been by immersion. When I go to Spain I am in a part of the country where there are few English speakers and so I have to work in Spanish so there is no alternative to learning. For me this is the best way to learn any language.
Friday, 16 May 2008
Thoughts: Contextual Knowledge
Does everyone see the same thing when they look at the same image?
People should see the same thing if they look at it from the same perspective but it depends if there is also a context. I see a tree and sometimes it is a species I recognize so I can say I see an oak or a beech, but many scenes/images are more complex than that. If I see my grandma in the street then to me that is my grandma, to some she is Doris and to others she is just a little old lady.
This is the problem for education. There are those that would say that the world can be projected as an absolute totally objective truth. Then there are the rest of us who realize that this is an illusion, and that context always plays a part. In biology our models change from the clockwork of Descartes and Laplace to the computer analogy of today. Tomorrow there will be other analogies. So should we ever look for students to be convergent to the teachers? Is there ever a right answer?
Wednesday, 14 May 2008
Education: More on the OLPC
A new "OLPC rant" is available from another member of the team who resigned. The problem is not which educational ideal they want to use but rather the best way of implementing it. Should we be open source or not? So in the end we always get bogged down in turning theory into practice. Whereas if we took a more pragmatic approach we would program and be damned - we would have a less developed theory that we adapt by practice and the main theory we should have is that flexibility is essential as we cannot create a system which will suit all learners and all teachers in all educational circumstances.
Tuesday, 13 May 2008
Web 2.0: Is this how libraries should be?
The OCLS is an amazing site, but is this the future of libraries? Where is the chance to sit down quietly and read a book. Books need digestion and activity is not always the way to appreciation and understanding.
Education: Surveys, testing and evaluation
So today there have been two interesting articles about testing and evaluation. The first looks at tests and the performance of English students. A parliamentary committee decided that students are being over-tested and that they are learning how to pass tests and not the material. The second is about a London University pressurising students to talk up the university's performance in their response to the National Student Survey, which was exposed by a podcast at another London University. The National Student Survey plays an important part in the quality assurance mechanisms of UK universities by giving students an opportunity to feedback their experiences. the article title was actually that University Staff Faking Survey. they are not really faking it - they are just spinning it.
Both of these happen because people are being strategic. The lecturers are trying to be strategic in meeting the QAA requirements and and students are being strategic in trying to pass the tests. Both mean that the test/survey are no longer a valid measure of either learning or teaching quality as both have been under-mined. So we have to think harder about what we do and how we evaluate.
Monday, 12 May 2008
Web 2.0: More people have read this T-shirt than your blog
The question is who are blogs for? You can use them between a group of people to share thoughts. I use them to try and arrange the ideas that pop into my head and to link them to some sort of evidence on the web. For me they are a research tool but also a way of helping keep control of your research group. You can share the literature and hopefully students will feel that they have better supervisor input with a shared research experience.
So I would not expect almost anyone to read my blog but does that devalue it? It is part of an online community of web teachers of Biology at University level (Do not tell them I am a Chemist). So who will read this anyway!
Friday, 9 May 2008
To use them most effectively you need powerful educational software and one example of this is the RedHalo system, which provides each student with a learning space.
Thursday, 8 May 2008
Web 2.0: Yoono
Now all my bookmarks are in one list and I have imported all that list to Del.icio.us so now I can plug in from anywhere and always have my links at my fingertips.
Monday, 5 May 2008
Education: IPPR Report -Those Who Can
Now there are one or two problems with this report. Even without reading a sentence of it I can tell you that the conclusions are probably wrong. What they have done is confused correlation with causation. Just because you do some statistics and find a relationship this does not mean that one causes the other. A simple example is rich people own Mercedes. So if I buy a Mercedes then I will be rich - causation and correlation do not always follow. In this case how do you define a bad teacher? It should be someone who fails to teach the students, so that they do not learn and the only metric to assess this would be the metrics of learning - the exams. So actually this is a self-referential paradox!
Actually they use the figures relating the level of first degree performance in high performing nations as part of the measure of quality of teachers. Sorry but this is also ridiculous. I know many great academics who cannot teach. A great mind is rarely a great teacher. This assumes that teacher training actually counts for nothing and would invalidate their own findings that it should be extended.
Of course all of this could have nothing to do with the current problems for the Labour Government that used to have the mantra education, education, education and that is currently facing a teacher's strike. Given that IPPR is a Labour Party associated think-tank and that many use it as a training ground for political life.
Four more realistic causes of poor results are inadequate resources, inadequate social support for families, the number of people who are on lower incomes and a lack of parental input. These are things a socialist government might like to tackle, but after 10 years they have not managed to put the money into the real problems and have wasted it on surface fixes.
Saturday, 3 May 2008
Education: Developing Online Learning
This is impossible and so QAing a course apart from removing typographical errors is perhaps the most pointless exercise in the process. If you believe in an "active learning" pedagogy then you make an argument that the QA process is there to evaluate the student learning experience - to see what they will see and imagine what they will get from the course. I wish I could do this, that I could get into the minds of all my students and know what will work for all of them. I taught one course face-to-face to 13 students, I had 12 good reports in the student feedback for the first run and one person who simply hated it. For them it was the worst course they had ever done. That was because it did not meet their expectations, it surprised the other 12 but they accepted it.
So how can we possibly do this for online courses?
The only way to have effective QA is to run it, to experience what happens and to be able to correct it on the fly. This is the greatest weakness of VLEs. The amount of effort it takes to change the content means changing aspects mid-course is very difficult and disorientating for the students. Correcting a PowerPoint mid-lecture is so much easier.
Friday, 2 May 2008
When I am teaching one of the most common complaints is why don't you tell us the answers. Well I can to this question but that does not mean that this question will be the one you want to answer tomorrow, or that anyone will ask this sort of question in the future. The same is true of belief how can anyone tell you what to believe?
What is ironic is that the great religious and humanist thinkers emphasized this. Jesus told his disciples that the church was built from them and not the buildings and the priests. Buddha told his followers not to right down his teachings and that each person had to find his own path to Nirvana. Sadly disciple are disciples so they follow and do not understand. Even the humanists have high priests who say what to believe. Santayana had this idea at the start of the last century that humanism would prevail and that everyone would find their own beliefs and their own God. His humanist disciples want to make us all believe there is no God.
I am pragmatic if I want a God then that is my God and it is what I want for me, it is God created as I want it, if I want it. But I will not listen to priests or humanist priests who want to tell me what to believe.