The role of AV in the greater context of education

Although I do remember watching Sesame Street as a young child, I find it difficult to evaluate the impact it had on my relationship with the world of learning and school.  From my perspective as a parent and a teacher, watching Sesame Street with my kids has given me a totally new viewpoint related to media and education.  When evaluating the Postman quote : …We now know that “Sesame Street” encourages children to love school only if school is like “Sesame Street.””, what immediately comes to mind is the term: control.

When watching polished media presentations like an episode of Sesame Street or any well produced educational content show for that matter, I can’t help but think how things would be different given certain elements of control were removed from the equation.

Control over content and delivery:  As a teacher in a publicly funded public education system, my obligation is to teach my courses based on curriculum established by the Ministry of Education of Saskatchewan.  I must make sure that my students achieve the outcomes set by the curriculum I have been assigned to teach.  (For those who work with older curricula that has yet to be renewed using the new framework, I’m referring to learning objectives.)  Although some teachers have the privilege of teaching curriculum that has been developed by themselves under the structure of a locally developed class, most teachers in my circles do not have that opportunity.  I can only imagine the experience I could offer my students if I could teach any outcome I desired at my own whim.

An educational television show like Sesame Street has the luxury or deciding what content it will be integrating into their narrative.  As the show is planned and produced, there are no restrictions on what can be added or removed from the final version of the show.  The final product is effectively a version of entertainment for kids in an educational context.  They do not have the restriction of needing to teach specific outcomes and making SURE their audience has demonstrated a sufficiently good understanding of that outcome to be successful.

On the front of content delivery, this is where teachers have the ability to make a difference in children’s lives. This is where the flexibility of a teachers shines, there are very little restrictions on how content can be delivered. A variety of frameworks can be used to involve students in their education.  Here are a few suggested in a blog post by Kelly Walsh

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The majority of these types of learning tools and approaches could never be utilized in a televised or video format.

I would akin a show like Sesame Street to a form of linear programming suggested by B.F. Skinner in p.40 of Education Technology Historical Developments.  The lack of reciprocal interaction between the learner and the “teacher” in this case represents a large weakness that must be overcome with how the content is delivered within the restrictions of the medium.  Compared to other educational television shows, Sesame Street seems to maximize the medium and makes it the class of the field in that particular type of programming. This might be a hint of what Postman is trying to convey.

Control over audience:  I don’t pick my students and my students don’t pick me.  The teacher must make the best of the situation and do their very best to make sure EVERY student makes progress and makes positive strides in the right direction.  A television show has much more control over their audience.  Although they might want to, they don’t need to reach every child in every socio-economic background.  Television shows mold their programming to reach large groups in hopes of maximizing their viewership.  There is no need to worry about those kids that will fall between the cracks that inevitably appear in society and in many school systems.  If I had the freedom to teach to only the students that were interested in my content, my life as a teacher would be quite different.

Control over resources:  If I had the time, the financial resources, the technological resources and the human resources that are invested in making television programming, I can only dream of how amazing my classes would be!  Unfortunately, we as teachers have to live in a world of limitations, as much as I would love to use the latest and greatest the world of educational technology has to offer, schools have limited budgets and limited resources.  My school has 40 computers for 150 students, time is often lost trying to login to the machines that experience network problems and sometimes the internet is so slow that it becomes unusable.  As a result, I must weigh the pros and the cons of technology use and always do what is best with the resources that are at my disposal.  Reading the required articles: The pros of AV, The importance of audio visual technology in educationand Can you AV it at all?, I developed a sense of resentment and jealousy in that in these articles, ideal situations are presented that I will never be able to achieve in the context of a severely underfunded educational system where I’m always asked to do more with less.  I really hope that someday I will be asked to do more with more.

Control over expectations:  Television production companies don’t have to contend with the pressure of making sure that every student needs to achieve certain learning outcomes.  Production companies aren’t judged when Johnny Student is not achieving his potential.  They don’t have to contend with kids that have severe learning disabilities.  They don’t have to contend with students that have lived traumatic backgrounds that need emotional and psychological support.  The don’t have to contend with children that arrive in a new country and have to adapt and learn a whole new language and a vastly different culture.  All of these expectations that are placed on a formal educational system adds a whole new dimension to teaching concepts that are but a side thought when making a show like Sesame Street.

Control over the human connection: In the end, it doesn’t matter to which learning theory one adheres, one common factor in all theories of learning is the importance of teachers and the human connection they have the ability to cultivate over time.  Learning theories are useless without humans to facilitate them.

To me, the undermining of traditional schooling with the advent of AV technologies that have become ubiquitous such as smartphones, computers, YouTube and Apps is nothing but an evolutionary step in refocusing the place and the role traditional schooling has in our society.  Referring to Postman’s quote, with regards to Sesame Street, when looking uniquely at Sesame Street and the effectiveness of its methods related to the medium it exploits, the results are excellent.  However, we must always be aware that looking at specific technologies or educational practices by themselves does not make for success in education.  A larger perspective must be taken and a broader view of what is accomplished by these technologies must be analyzed to truly comprehend its place in the larger context of educational technologies and learning theories.

We cannot put all of our eggs in one basket when it comes to education, the world of education, like the world of technology is in constant evolution.  Continual adjustment, evaluation and the creation of new methods is a must to assure that we give learners what they need to contribute positively to society.

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Turtle Power! From fd 100 to logic

As I dove into the world of Logo, I asked myself where this was when I was a young person learning about computers.  I had many flashbacks of the days when I spent hours upon hours demystifying the world of BASIC on my old Pentium 100 PC.  The instant gratification of modifying code and seeing the result or my work kept me engaged and wanting to try the next challenge, exercise after exercise.  This cycle of learning simple concepts and instantly applying them to real world situations is akin to the same cycle I try to use in my science classes.  Upon the mastery of one concept, another is explored, and the loop continues.  This continuous pattern of stacking bits of knowledge one by one into a larger bank of knowledge though first-hand experience and practice is exactly how the learning philosophy of constructionism is intended to work.

Proposed by Seymour Papert, constructionism is:

“The word constructionism is a mnemonic for two aspects of the theory os science education underlying this project. From constructivist theories of psychology we take a view of learning as a reconstruction rather than as a transmission of knowledge. Then we extend the idea of manipulative materials to the idea that learning is most effective when part of an activity the learner experiences as constructing a meaningful product.”

To me, the use of the Logo programming language is an excellent framework for learning “how to think” in the world of problem solving. Although the applications to the world of science and mathematics is quite evident, I would affirm that there acquired skills could translate quite well to other aspects of childhood d development.  With the world of media constantly bombarding the minds of the youth of today, their minds are carefully molded in very linear ways though various media like movies, youtube videos and videogames.  A large portion of videogames released today guide kids though a journey that is set by a storyline provided by the game developer. The chance for developing creativity and letting kids explore their potential is quite limited in the context of these types of media.

However, there seems to be a renewed interest over the past few years in developing new media opportunities for kids to explore a more creative side while also stimulating their minds.  Here are a few examples that I find provide the same type of experience that we see in the Logo programming language:

  • Minecraft: A virtual world released in 2011 by Mojang, this game provides kids a virtual world where almost anything is possible.  Being that there are no specific goals, it allows the players to decide how to play the game.  With millions of players around the world in almost unlimited game modes, amazing things have been accomplished with this game.
  • Lego Mindstorms: Given the direct link with Seymour Papert, it’s not surprising Lego Mindstorms resemble Logo.  The use of these programable building brick with the traditional Lego building platform, kids and adults can build and test new ideas in the concrete world.

As of the past few years in Saskatchewan, there has been a big push for including some aspect of coding in our classrooms.  I welcome these initiatives as I find it fills a big hole in childhood development.  As a species, we have always been striving to develop tools to improve our live with what we have around us.  By allowing kids to play in a world where they can develop their own tools and their own knowledge using creativity and play, we are ensuring the flourishment of a generation that is adept at problem solving.

In addition to the aspect of coding, I would argue we must allow our students to also more openly explore the world of arts and making though the maker movement.  Interfacing with the real world is as important as interfacing with the virtual world.  I cannot thank my parents enough for allowing me to take apart and experiment with toys, electronics and everyday items.  It opened up in me a whole new world and a whole new way of thinking that has proven quite fruitful in my profession and my passions that are my hobbies.  Thanks Seymour!

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Learning Theories and Me

Evaluating my own teaching philosophy is one of the exercises I undertake every few years.  Prompted by this past EC&I 833 class and the required readings from Ertmer, Siemens and ACRLog, I embarked, once again, in a state of deep reflection on my craft as a teacher and the approaches I use to help my students progress in their academic work.

I feel very much in line with Adam’s descriptionof how his teaching incorporates elements from each of the main theories explored in the previous readings:

“As an educator, I see value in a number of different aspects of each of these theories. My teaching philosophy has some qualities of each of these four theories, which would make my theory of learning a bit of a mutt, I suppose. Each theory has a quality that speaks to the diverse population of learners that are in our education system. To say that one is better than the other for me would be hypocritical as I utilize pieces of each theory in my practice at some point throughout the year.”

Despite having difficulty associating with a specific teaching philosophy such as Behaviourism, Cognitivisim, Constructivisim or Connectivisim, I must say I associate more closely with Constructivism. The following idea by Ertmer and Newby resonates with me as it parallels in my mind the world of building knowledge using the scientific method:

“Constructivists do not deny the existence of the real world but contend that what we know of the world stems from our own interpretations of our experiences. Humans create meaning as opposed to acquiring it. Since there are many possible meanings to glean from any experience, we cannot achieve a predetermined, “correct” meaning.”

Our minds are in constant evolution and as we gain experience with life, we gather more data that we use to interpret the world around us.  Even with many people having similar datasets established by similar life experiences, I find it is often the case that conflict can arise as different people build their meaning in different ways.

At the beginning of my teaching career, I was extremely preoccupied with making sure subject matter was retained by my students. I would try to transfer knowledge any which way I could without giving much thought on how I was accomplishing the task or even evaluating the possible effectiveness of my pedagogy. Recently, I worry much less on content and subject matter and more on helping my students develop skills that will allow them to “build” better interpretations of the world.  Logic, curiousness, critical thinking, work ethic and openness to new ideas are all characteristics that I try to convey to my students.  I believe that by having these tools, it doesn’t matter what my students retain as information in their mind, they will be able to build whatever knowledge they need given the variety of situations in life they will meet in the world beyond their school years.  This way of thinking is perhaps more appropriate for mature high school students.  I cannot say if it would translate well to early childhood learning as all of my teaching experience is with high school students.  This is a subject I would love to discuss further with my classmates.

One aspect I find lacking in the many theories of learning I explored this week is teacher-student compatibility.  Teachers are individuals and students are also individuals all of which have their own personalities and character traits.  As much as I would love to believe that as a teacher, I can impact every student in profound and productive ways, I must acknowledge that some students are just not as compatible with my teaching style and my character traits as others.  Even if I try my very best with every student I have the privilege to teach, I must acknowledge that some students perform better in my classroom than others.  I have observed, over many years, students with which I don’t have a strong constructive relationship do very well with other teachers that simply have more compatible character traits.  As in life, not everyone that we encounter become our best friends. Certain pairs of people share special compatibilities that are very difficult to explain while others seem to be at constant odds.  This is not to say that work cannot be done to improve the functioning of incompatible student-teacher relationships, however, this could require the investment of a great deal of time and energy from all parties.  As my time and energy is becoming increasingly restrained in the current context if public education, I find myself unable properly and completely adapt to all my student’s needs.  It breaks my heart that I cannot give them all 100%, alas, we must teach in the world of reality and not in the world of theories.

The idea of Connectivism sparked much interest due to its context with educational technology.  As I’m progressing as a teacher in the years to come, I speculate that the idea of Connectivism will garner progressively a larger part of my practice.  With the quantity of knowledge always expanding and access to knowledge almost becoming ubiquitous due to technologies like the internet, our world is becoming smaller and cultivating the links within this world will become extremely important.

This week’s reflections were extremely difficult for me and I still don’t really know where I stand with regards to learning theories. This one really sent me in numerous directions and I still feel lost.  I hope my classmates will help me find the way this week.  I look forward to reading all your blogposts.