Thursday, June 11, 2009

Shallow or Deep - Where are we headed?

Recently I commented on a story on "The Future of Education" site, titled "Is Google Keeping us Single". I just happened to have heard the story on NPR that was referenced in the story, describing the popularity of "hooking up".

This story made me think about examples of quick fixes and obsessions in our culture and it's opposite; the search for meaning that I also experience and observe. It is true that there are a growing number of examples of our tendency toward instant gratification. We are a fast moving culture and this "fast culture" is spreading over the face of the earth. But what is interesting is that alongside this is a growth in connections, in finding out who we are, settling down and settling in.

There is great potential for shallow "one night stands" in our culture. Maybe fast food is the culprit. No, seriously we have been moving horizontally for quite some time in our culture. This fast movement has it's costs and benefits. It does take practice and effort to stay on a thought, develop one's philosophy, raise a family or what have you. It is interesting that while people are moving fast and skimming the top of life, others are taking time to develop a sense of wonder and contemplation. The popularity of the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh are examples. While for some these personalities are just another quick brush with an idea, for others they represent a desire for connection and contemplation of the here and now. Interesting that the West discovered Eastern religion en masse during the 60s at the same time they discovered "free love".

Do we have the will and the stamina to rest in the peace of this moment, enjoy a novel, learn to play a musical instrument. I don't know what the research says, but my observations in my corner of the planet says that people are still doing these things. There is a desire to slow down - at times, and to escape our escapes.

I recently joined Facebook, much to the horror of my youngest daughter who does NOT want to be my "friend". Is Facebook a distraction, a way to skim the surface of my life and others? or is it a way to connect, to feel a deeper bond to the mass of humanity. I have found old friends and new. I have begun to get connected, albeit with quick waves and text, with people I have known for 20 and 30 years.

Granted Facebook could be another distraction. But it can be a place for people to begin to write their life story, to develop a deeper, not a shallow sense of themselves. Who know what all this will bring. But it seems to me that the phenomena of "social networking" is a natural outgrowth of our desire to be connected deeply not a desire to remain anonymous or have a quick "intercourse".

But twitter, that's a different story :-)

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Motivation and Learning

I wrote this entry as I worked on my application for the Google Teacher Academy. An important part of the application was a one minute video on the subject of "Motivation and Learning. 50 people were chosen for the academy. I wasn't one of them. While I am bummed that I wasn't selected, this project gave me a purpose for exploring YouTube as a medium, the tools that I needed to accomplish it, and the concept of motivation and learning - something I have thought about for many, many years.

I'm working on my application for admission to the Google Academy. They require a one minute video on "Classroom Innovation" or the topic "Motivation and Learning". To get my head around the relationship of Motivation and Learning I've been brainstorming and visualizing my message. It is quite fun to picture the message with the tools that I have at my computer. Photos, movies, audio. I am using Keynote, iPhoto, iMovie and Garage Band. I would love to attend the Academy because of the tools the Google is offering our students and the innovations they are offering in cloud computing. I expect that the people who attend the Academy will be similarly motivated and inspired to do interesting things with the tools that Google provides.

One of my methods for gathering ideas has been to brainstorm or free associate on the subject of motivation and learning. Here are some of the ideas that have sprung from this;

Motivation is the fire of learning, the wind under our wings so to speak. Motivation is exemplified in our enthusiasm for learning, for exploring, creating, and building community. Without motivation, there is no energy for learning (or any activity for that matter). As I have pondered what drives learning, the fire for motivation, I have been led to wonder what the roots of motivation are. This takes me back to consider not only motivation for a particular result but the root of our motivation for learning in general. What are the ingredients for a healthy human being to have the capacity, the fire, for learning? What does a child need to develop her curiosity, desire and ability to solve problems? If we want to nurture learning, we should consider the basic building blocks - the first 5 years of life especially.

Many images come to mind as I consider these questions. A newborn in his mothers arms, being talked to, gazing into her eyes, fed and embraced. A toddler banging around the room, knocking things off shelves, making noise with unusual devices, talking and asking for things. The early stages of language and other forms of communication, receptive and expressive, without which learning is delayed. I can picture a 2 year old testing his limits, challenging the word no, boldly going where he has never gone before. A kindergartner asking questions, telling her story, finding her place in the classroom circle. A elementary school child who loves school and learning, her teacher, her friends, and who follows the rules with religious devotion, expecting justice triumph. A middle school child who experiments with limits, stepping over, stepping back, watching adults to understand their reaction. A high school child who values independence and friends over all and who, with abstract thinking extends her experiments from the probable to the possible.

Our development never ends, unless we tragically lose our motivation. Many of us find motivation in the act of learning. Perhaps this is a key. If we have been given the care and attention we deserve, the guidance, encouragement, consequences of our choices, we will develop a sense of purpose and be motivated to extend our learning. If we have not, we will likely have difficulty finding constructive purpose. We will be motivated, but our motivation will be stuck in a infants rage or and abused reaction to our past. We may forget that we are the masters of our learning process.

Perhaps this is the hallmark for measuring motivation; the degree to which we feel in control of our learning. The baby wants to know if her cry will bring attention to her need for food, warmth, movement, etc. This dance of requests and bonding with her mother, gives her an initial and essential sense of control. As a social worker and behavior consultant, I met children who lacked this confidence and who suffered various degrees of isolation. While most children do not suffer to the degree that my clients did, too many people do suffer from some sort of neglect or ignorance in their upbringing. It is fortunate that the human spirit is as resilient as it is and as optimistic as it seems to be for learning, cooperation and being social.

If you are interested you can find my one minute presentation on YouTube:

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The 3 C's

Thought I'd summarize some of the guiding principals of educational technology - heard from the latest interviews by Steve Hargadon.

Three of the prime components of the "read/write web" are communication, collaboration and creation. Understanding these processes deeply helps me chart a path::

This is the most basic function allowed by Web2.0 (W2) tools - the ability to exchange a thought. That said, it would be easy to overlook how complex this act is, even when it is face-face. People spend a lifetime studying how a message is formulated, shared, heard, interpreted, etc. Given how foundational this skill is, it deserves great time and attention (with or without technology). We can take this concept back to the playground or the play circle in pre-school. Children need practice in communicating face to face, sharing the "stage", resolving conflict, managing themselves.

I was impressed and surprised while listening to Michael Wesch's comments on W2. When asked how someone can get started in learning about W2 he referred them to 2 books; "The Art of Loving" by Eric Fromm and "Teaching as a Subversive Activity" by Neil Postman. These are books about communication and teaching, not technology. It would be easy for us to move away from our humanity as we get enamored with technology. It's great to have people who speak for the caring aspect of it all.

Look for a way to teach technology - without the gadgets. Help your students to understand one another, understand themselves and find their voice. If we are changing the locus of control for learners (moving control closer to the learner) it makes sense to teach them to manage themselves. This concept is is fact one of the leading principals for the New Zealand initiative described by Mark Treadwell. He mentions 5 competencies for learners. The abilities to: manage self, think, communicate, collaborate and participate.

So let's say that we have taught students to manage themselves. A good next step is to teach them to collaborate with one others. Again, this skill is not the private domain of technology. We've been collaborating since the beginning of civilization. That's why they call it civilized right?

Once we get the concept of collaboration, then we can begin to use W2 tools to extend it to a larger, non-local, hopefully deeper context. Clearly there are too many tools to name to accomplish this and they are changing every day. The coolest thing I've seen lately is Diigo, a social bookmarking tool that allows a person to write notes on a web page, create a slide show of a website, and more.

Technology can make collaboration new and exciting for kids. It can take some of the interpersonal tension out of the equation by moving the collaborators a distance away from one another. I say this knowing that the degree to which any of the students are prepared and comfortable with the collaborators will be guided by the teacher. The tone, in today's classrooms anyway, is generally set by the teacher.

Remix is another word. When I went to college I learned how to write a research paper that gathered ideas from a variety of sources to create my own work. The perennial question has been when and how and to what degree one should give credit to ideas. The tools that are emerging from this hyper-connected world make it super easy to mix and remix ideas - limited only by your ability to conceive and mash them. Once again, fair use is an important basic skill that is the primary responsibility of the adults (until we achieve truely student directed learning).

Of course there is the issue of quality. So what if we can create if the "stuff" we create is hogwash. Again, this is where a good leader/teacher/guide/moderator comes in. Someone needs to guide students (of all ages) to create quality work. "Quality" is in the eyes of the beholder for sure. The idea is that there are people who have more experience and who can structure learning and provide feedback.

Helping student to communicate, collaborate, and create can be a challenging responsibility. In last night's Elluminate session,, I heard students talking about student led learning. This should be the goal of every classroom teacher; to help a class become responsible, autonomous, learners. That said, children don't come out of the box ready to get along and structure their own learning experience. I am listening to find out how teachers are structuring for autonomy. What tone, what skills, what direction can we give students that help them to communicate with one another? How are we helping them to come together, get along, and collaborate? What tools are we giving them for remixing and creating original work? I realize this is an give and take process; sometimes structured, sometimes unstructured. Sometimes in the control of the teacher and sometimes in the control of the student. I'm excited to see how more teachers accomplish this. I'm excited about doing it myself.