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Opportunities to respond (gone, but not forgotten)

Timeline (Manovich & Douglass, 2010)

Timeline (Manovich & Douglass, 2010)

It occurred to me that I had initially agreed to provide a provocation to Manovich’s last week, and I do apologize for not constructing a post in response to the readings and visualizations that were assigned.  While it doesn’t seem fair to detract from the current week’s readings, I would like to pose a very simple question. If one assumes that common knowledge is reproducible, yet creativity  and other forms of nontangible and cultural knowledge are unique sources of information, does the sum of all nontangible knowledge ever approach a mass store of common knowledge? In an era when we can quantify cultural knowledge through advanced data science, are we harming the generativity of knowledge? or are we simply pushing the boundaries of knowledge and creativity by reproducing and re-representing information in unique forms?

“Education and Experience” or balancing social and individual knowledge

In “Experience and Education,” John Dewey describes a balance between the personal nature of learning and importance of acquiring knowledge in an organized manner. According to Dewey, this problem requires “a well thought-out philosophy of the social factors that operate in he constitution of individual experience” (p. 7). In many ways, his philosophy is much more theoretically pragmatic than it is applied readily into practice. This can make Dewey seem unapproachable to some, while very profound to others.

Dewey describes the significance of organizing material and experience in a way that progressively builds upon itself. The structure of an authority that does not facilitate learning and experience in such a manner is thus in question. While reading, I considered the arrangement of more traditional classrooms that entailed a dyadic, teacher-student, and did not necessarily account for the dynamic nature of the construction of knowledge within the dynamic classroom between and direct and vicarious interactions of teachers-students, students-students, as well as these interactions between teachers and students with others outside of the classroom. This traditional classroom dynamic seems to have arisen out of the Common Schools Movement, for which Horace Mann is famous, that sought to equalize education for everyone. At the time Dewey was writing, an education that was considered equal was likely one in which a teacher, serving as an authority, had control over the learning experience the students within the classroom.

In some ways, Dewey’s ideas seem like a philosophical reversion to more organic forms of learning like that of an apprenticeship or mentorship. In a model of education that can be both progressive by maximizing the personal aspects of learning and experience while also providing a social structure of knowledge, Dewey describes three steps that are essential for creating knowledge through observation and judgment. The firs phase involves observation of certain conditions, the second phase involves a recollection of the past, and the third phase involves a judgment that puts together what has been observed and what is recalled and how these two experiences relate.

Provocation:

  1. What roles does a teacher have in terms of facilitating the phases of observation and judgment-formation described by Dewey in chapter 6, The Meaning of Purpose? How does the definition of purpose in this chapter relate to these phases of knowledge construction? Who should assume the primary role of shaping the purpose of learning?
  2. To what extent should the teacher be responsible for transmitting cultural knowledge? In chapter 7, Progressive Organization of Subject Matter, Dewey appears to grapple with this issue in the last paragraph on page 33. Though he suggests that adequate knowledge of how systems have arisen can be used to counter their problems, he appears to be impartial to the teaching of histories of social systems. He writes,

“On the one hand, there [will] be reactionaries that claim that the main, if not the sole, business of education is transmission of the cultural heritage. On the other hand, there will be those who hold that we should ignore the past and deal only with the present and future.”

What role does knowledge of history play in our systems of education? Which side do you support: transmit or ignore? Is it possible to reconcile the two?

Reference

Dewey, J. (1998). Experience and Education. Kappa Delta Pi.

Thinking through technology & learning: Bass’s Engines of Inquiry

The imaginary/conceptual “game of perfect information” holds that, with the right setup computers can satisfy all our informational needs. When the language of this game enters into the conversation about technology and education, the conversation goes awry. According to Bass, when attempting to discern the impact of technology on learning we must consider: (a) how teaching/learning is a complex process that occurs and builds knowledge over time and (b) how learning contexts must be analyzed ecologically with the understanding that learning does not happen in one place, one way, via one device or method.

Before considering technology, instructors may need to take a step back and ask basic questions about their own teaching. From these considerations, we can ask: “what aspects of good teaching, and contexts of good learning, do particular technologies serve well?” Rather than engaging with technology as an add-on to our pedagogy, technology can act as a medium for our own pedagogical goals and aspirations. According to Bass, as scholars, our questions drive our desire to learn and this also holds true for students who often engage and learn the most when they are driven by questions that interest them. Questioning our motivations to learn and our pedagogy allows us to better assess the role that technology can play in facilitating and energizing our students’ engines of inquiry.

According to Bass, technology can help facilitate 6 aspects of quality learning: distributive learning, authentic tasks, dialogic learning, public accountability, and reflective and critical thinking. With increased access to information, responsibility for knowledge creation can be distributed. Students are able to deeply engage with rich, diverse, and expansive resources via tech platforms and digital mediums. Technologies can open up lines of communication, leveling discussion and participation, making it less high stakes and more democratic. Digital spaces allow for small group interaction, collaborative writing, and active reading where students can go at their own pace and draw their own connections (which they could later share with others in the space). Often some or all of these spaces are public; students can be held accountable and often take their work more seriously. And often, if instructors desire that their students begin to think reflectively and critically, they must begin by reflecting and considering their own teaching structures and habits.

Integrating technology into a course may reshape overall course structure, requiring a reconsideration of location, course architecture, and assessment possibilities. Courses have always had multiple learning spaces; in the past these have typically been defined as the classroom and elsewhere. Thoughtfully integrating technology into pedagogy requires a re-imagining and deeper conceptualization of ‘elsewhere’. Technologies can allow instructors to choose and define these new engagement spaces and promote quality learning in these spaces. Technology can coherently and easily connect these spaces and foster deeper engagement and communication. Connecting these spaces may provide students with a better understanding of how different aspect of the course come together and technologies can help connect concepts, integrate new viewpoints and resources, and allow students to develop their own constructive projects connected to the course.

Reimagining the course structure rests on the assumption that the “course” should be an independent unit with specific goals. But if reimagining the structure and practice of courses, why stop there? Course, disciplinary, and institutional boundaries often divide people, ideas, and applicable skills. When re-thinking pedagogy and how technology can support our teaching, it might be fruitful to use the intersection between tech and pedagogy to rethink how higher education functions to produce a well-rounded, proficient graduate.

Which begs the question, in 2015, how do we define the well-rounded, proficient graduate? A person who can get a job? A person who has transferable skills? A digitally literate person? Someone who has found a passion? Fights for a cause? Our answers to these questions are both ideological and pedagogical. If our main goal in teaching is to help our students get a job, do we only reinforce the capitalistic structures that often oppress and dominate the very students we teach? Can certain pedagogies allow us to prepare our students for the workforce while also providing them with the vision and tools to resist oppressive and dominant forces?

Reading Bass, at some points I wondered if his view of technology was too utopian. For example, yes, technology can help level communication and open up dialogue. But, I have also encountered students who resist any type of online discussion or engagement. And, yes, public accountability can be beneficial but it also can put students at risk if they hold radical views or feel pressured to conform to the status quo. However, in the end, I think this is where Bass’s question regarding how technologies can serve good teaching becomes most salient. How do we choose the technologies that best support our pedagogy? What questions can we ask ourselves to be sure that the technology works with our pedagogical needs and goals? And, if attempting to break down arbitrary disciplinary and institutional boundaries, what types of knowledge and skills would we our students to develop in order to have coherent experiences across various courses?

James Gee, What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy?

In 2003, the year that “What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy?” was published, the prevailing sentiment about video games (at least in the culture of mainstream education) was that they were a waste of time at best, malicious influences, at worst. Most games were narrowly targeted to young, white, middle-class male players, and created overwhelmingly by designers fitting the same profile (they still are, but today to a lesser extent). The gaming habits of the perpetrators of the Columbine school shooting, which occurred just a few short years prior, were well-analyzed in the media. The games, supposedly, made the perpetrators “aggressive” and “anti-social” and allowed them to practice fantasies they would later enact in real life. This idea has certainly had its detractors over the years — with scores of think-pieces published about the tenuousness of the causal link between games and violence. I agree — these are the wrong questions to ask about violence and games in society.

But Gee’s work does locate “the theory of human learning built into good video games.” He draws connections between the kind of learning which happens through engagement in the semiotic domain of video game play, and the latest research on how people learn from situated cognition, New Literacy Studies, and connectionism. He extrapolates dozens of principles from games that promote learning.

First provocation, inspired by a talk I heard by Scott Price, now of BrainPOP: If we accept that games are powerful tools for active and critical learning, does that mean we accept that games can teach violence? What are the implications of that?

For Gee, active learning is when we learn to experience the world in a new way, gain the potential to join a new social group, and gain resources that prepare us for future learning and problem solving within the semiotic domain we are entering (video games, biology, etc), and related domains. Critical learning for Gee is active learning PLUS the idea that the learner comes to innovate within the semiotic domain in novel and unpredictable ways.

His argument is that games promote both active learning AND critical learning. The caveat — and it’s a big one from my perspective — is that when he says “games promote…” he means, well-designed games played in specific ways, and within communities that promote active and critical learning.

Second provocation: When are games NOT promoting active and critical learning? Think about the Bogost piece. Should we worry about half-baked principles from games based learning, and poorly designed “edu-tainment” games encroaching on education spaces?

Last year, I ran a game design club at a high school in the South Bronx. I would classify the students who selected into the club as the “hard core” gamer kids of the school. In reflecting on their gaming habits, it’s become very clear to me that they were active learners in the semiotic domain of video games, maybe even, as Gee writes “on their way” to being critical learners in that domain. They were passionately vested, had encyclopedic knowledge of the in-game worlds, they could explain status hierarchies in their gaming communities, they were taking part in online forums of players and fans, creating and watching their own game walkthroughs on YouTube, diving into texts well-beyond their “reading levels” so they might mod their own Minecraft worlds. A lot of learning was taking place.

But their arguments about why they liked their favorite games lacked reasoning, evidence, and formal vocabulary. It was difficult to see how they’d parlay the problem-solving they’d cultivated through gaming into problem-solving in other domains. They needed opportunities to make the connection between domains. That’s where we as facilitators came in. We taught vocabulary like mechanics, pace, components, and personality traits of gamers like “killers,” “socializers” and “explorers” and then guided them as they wrote and filmed their own video game reviews. It was clear that their knowledge gained from hours of play and engagement outside of school was crucial to their success on the assignment, but I do believe the facilitation work we did in the academic domain pushed them to a next level. The students needed all kinds of experiences in order to become active and critical learners: play experiences, social experiences (in and outside of games), AND academic experiences. That’s connected learning!

Third provocation: Can one be a critical learner solely through play, self-guided tutorials, socializing, and peer-to-peer exchanges within a semiotic domain? To what extent does critical learning require intentional facilitation, and to what extent does it happen in the juncture BETWEEN semiotic domains, rather than in one or another?

Finally, the high school students I worked with were all from the South Bronx, most of them Latino and/or Black, and low-income. Only one was female. Gee touches a little bit on the identity of the learner as an important factor in determining the extent to which one feels comfortable learning in a new semiotic domain, ie: the example of the African-American student who feels that learning science is “acting white.” He writes about how one can “repair” (and I don’t like that deficit based term, but I’m going with his words here), a students’ identity as a learner through “good teaching in socially and culturally diverse classrooms.” I welcome thoughts on Gee’s notions there, but I also want to know:

Fourth provocation: Teachers can work to control, to some extent, students’ introduction to semiotic domains like science, math, English, and Social Studies. But if we are using gaming as a model for learning principles, how do we reconcile the fact that the semiotic domain of video games, which students are engaging in on their own time, can be overtly sexist and racist spaces? (Just Google gamergate)

A lot going on for me this week in reading Gee — looking forward to the conversation!