Friday, April 26. 2013
I reposted an article on my Tech+Learn+Tech scoop.it site asking if we should be teaching kids to write code. The few comments it received are split on the answer and I imagine that is true for the wider audience of educators.
Some people (non-coders especially) view writing code for web pages or for applications as incredibly dull and boring. On the other side are those that see it as a way to be creative.
Personally, I don't support teaching coding for the purpose of training young coders to some day do things like write iPhone apps. As much as I hated taking math classes in high school, I do recognize that there was some value in the practice because of the logic, precision and critical thinking that it required. I understand the idea of a "beautiful equation" but I never found any beauty in them.
I took COBOL and FORTRAN as an undergrad in that previous century. I had one of the first computers in my classroom in 1979 and I learned BASIC and taught it a bit. Some people thought we would need to learn to write code, but I always believed that other people would write the code (in education) and we would be the users. I can write code for web pages, but I'm falling behind in that area and don't much care to keep up.
But, as the article points out, teaching coding is not a new pedagogical idea. The original article gives 15 reasons why kids need to learn how to code. I picked some of the accompanying quotes to get your brain started. You'll notice that those quoted are clearly on the side of answering Yes to this post's questioning title.
“I think everybody in this country should learn how to program a computer because it teaches you how to think.” — STEVE JOBS, THE LOST INTERVIEW
“If you can program a computer, you can achieve your dreams. A computer doesn’t care about your family background, your gender, just that you know how to code.” Dick Costolo – CEO, Twitter“I believe technology should give us superpowers. Everyone should have the opportunity to learn to think, analyze, and create with technology.” Hilary Mason – Chief Scientist, Bitly
“Coding can unlock creativity and open doors for an entire generation of American students. We need more coders — not just in the tech industry, but in every industry.” Mark Pincus – CEO and Founder, Zynga
“Code has become the 4th literacy. Everyone needs to know how our digital world works, not just engineers.” Mark Surman – Executive Director, The Mozilla Foundation
“To prepare humanity for the next 100 years, we need more of our children to learn computer programming skills, regardless of their future profession. Along with reading and writing, the ability to program is going to define what an educated person is.” Salman Khan – Founder, Khan Academy“Programming allows you to think about thinking, and while debugging you learn learning.” Nicholas Negroponte – Founder and Chairman Emeritus of MIT’s Media Lab
“Learning to code makes kids feel empowered, creative, and confident. If we want our young women to retain these traits into adulthood, a great option is to expose them to computer programming in their youth.” Susan Wojcicki – Senior Vice President, Google
Friday, February 22. 2013
Anyone who has moved a course from face-to-face to an online environment knows that some things that worked fine in the classroom don't work as well online.
You hear about the learning theory that is labeled "constructivist" a lot these days, particularly with online learning. One popular finding from that area of learning research is that assignments that work need to focus more on process, rather than the task. But that is more challenging to design.
Identifying tasks is not only easier at the outset, but is probably going to be easier to analyze and assess. Tasks can be quantifiable and gradable. Process-based learning is much harder to evaluate because there are more variables.
I found this to be especially true in the five-year Writing Initiative at PCCC that I finished directing last fall. Although we used existing tasks such as an exit essay exam that existed before the Initiative as a quantifiable assessment tool, it was clear that this was not the best way to demonstrate the changes in the writing of the students in the wider sense.
The difficulty for us was partially that to shift the focus to process, we needed changes in what faculty valued in their grading. We introduced rubrics for writing but also for information literacy and critical thinking. We also introduced the use of ePortfolios to the college. Because we included technology into the learning environment and students used it in their writing process, the assignments evaluation and grade should also include those elements. That represents a big change for many faculty.
Designing digital assignments is often seen as something for online learning, but students are learning digitally in any classroom on or offline. Students are using computers to work on projects, do research, collaborate with their peers, and interact with resources, but are then graded on the final product. The process is not included.
To evaluate the process of research and the organization and application of found information is obviously a large part of the learning process and is certainly important to a teacher's overall objectives in giving the assignment. But if the evaluation is based solely on the final product, students realize that the process is not valued in the same way.
Some instructors successfully used multiple smaller writing tasks rather than the dreaded semester-long research paper and then segmented their writing assignments. In this way, you might grade the topic design or proposal as the first element. This can be as a simple as a title and first paragraph to establishing goals, timelines, resources, technology and other elements if appropriate.
And the final learning objects don't always have to be "the paper." Again, this is new ground for many teachers and a final product that is a website, wiki, blog, video or combination rather than a paper is really radical. But digital assignments by their very name suggest images, links to Internet sites and a much wider scope for what an assignment means for the student and the teacher.
Thursday, November 29. 2012
I was reading an article called "The Problem of 'Pedagogy' in a Web 2.0 Era" and it got me thinking about how often we throw around that term in higher education even though very few educators at that level have any formal training in it.
Higher education faculty don't get any courses on pedagogy or learning theory in their degree programs. Faculty members in four-year universities are often researchers and their focus is on their research and not on how learning occurs and perhaps not even as much on their own disciplinary knowledge as those at other colleges.
Of course, there should be faculty development efforts at all colleges and those should include workshops and presentations to increase awareness of the basic research in learning theory of the past few decades as well as what is being found currently.
All teachers learn by teaching. That in itself is a learning theory that has several names attached to it. But that learning process is made more efficient by exposing faculty to what we know about pedagogy. That doesn't mean just learning the language of constructivism or Bloom's taxonomy. It means trying out lessons and being exposed to new approaches to what is often very old content.
And if you are teaching older, non-traditional students, then you really should be aware of what has been found to work in the field of andragogy. Pedagogy literally means "leading children" and came first from studies of students in grades K-6 and then later included those in secondary school. Andragogy was a later area of study. Malcolm Knowles and others theorized that methods used to teach children are often not the most effective ways of teaching adults. I think many college professors would say that their students are often somewhere between those two -gogies. The 18 year old freshman, the 21 year old senior, and the 23 year old graduate student are very likely to sit in a classroom with a 28 year old freshman, 35 year old senior and a 50 year old graduate student.
I would love to be in a discussion with a group of interested educators about some learning theory like "situated cognition." If the topic is new to the participants, all the better. Situated cognition is the name given to the theory that knowing is inseparable from doing. It proposes that all knowledge is situated in activity which is bound to social, cultural and physical contexts.
To take this theory on means nothing less than making an epistemological shift from empiricism. To put it into action in a classroom would mean encouraging thinking on the fly rather than the typical back-and-forth of knowledge storage and retrieval. Cognition cannot be separated from the context.
If it sounds radical, it's because it is radical. And yet, students and teachers have been doing it throughout their lives - though probably not very often in a classroom setting.
Do I think this should be the new way to teach? No. But I would love to hear educators talking about it and about learning theories, pedagogy and andragogy with some of the same passion that they discuss their research, promotion and tenure, and contracts.
Monday, November 12. 2012
Benjamin Bloom's taxonomy is a classification of learning objectives from 1956 created by a committee of educators chaired by Bloom. He edited the first volume of the 3 volume handbook - Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: the classification of educational goals.
This classification of the different objectives that educators set for students (learning objectives) is an education classic. The taxonomy divides educational objectives into three "domains": Cognitive, Affective, and Psychomotor (sometimes loosely described as knowing/head, feeling/heart and doing/hands respectively). One of the important goals of Bloom's Taxonomy was to motivate educators to focus on all three domains, creating a more holistic form of education.
In 2001, a revised version of the taxonomy was created. A Taxonomy for Learning, Teaching, and Assessing: A Revision of Bloom's Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, edited by Lorin W. Anderson and David R. Krathwohl, was published.
The blog at you-can-teach-writing.com has a good list of lesser-known facts about the revision. I particularly like #10:
The authors don’t push standardized testing. Because national and state testing programs and performance scoring guides have high stakes consequences, they can have a negative impact on classrooms, the authors say. They refer to such testing programs as external assessments “because people who typically do not teach in classrooms mandate them (p. 248) [italics added]. Since such high stakes tests won’t disappear any time soon, the authors of the revised Bloom’s taxonomy say, “Teachers need to find ways of incorporating these external assessments into classroom instruction that are positive and constructive” (p. 233).
Friday, November 9. 2012
I am currently taking another massive open online course. It is the "Crash Course on Creativity" course being offered by Stanford.
I am planning to teach a MOOC in 2013. I am taking notes and rethinking the way I have taught online in the past ten years. I know that I will have to change some things about the way I offer content. I will need to think about presentation and perhaps create some video lectures. And I will really have to rethink how to assess the student work.
As a recent NY Times article pointed out, assessing these massive courses is a massive problem. Some courses use automated graders, but most have had to move to alternatives. Particularly difficult are courses that require writing and analysis.
Coursera uses peer grading and five peers should grade your submission and you need to grade five assignments. If you are a teacher and have tried peer grading in your regular classes, you know that it has lots of problems. Not every student can assess accurately or fairly. Certainly we shouldn't expect that they could just step into that role.
Some course hubs are experimenting with software to grade work and to flag students who assign very inaccurate grades much like holistic norming sessions have done for years with multiple readers.
The article points to Mitchell Duneier, a Princeton professor, who is studying the peer grading on the final exam from his summer MOOC on Coursera. But considering the diversity of MOOC learners - something that is part of the mission of the courses - you have learners of all ages, experiences, training and native languages.
“We desperately need crowdsourcing,” says Cathy N. Davidson, a Duke professor of English and interdisciplinary studies. “We need a MOOCE — massive open online course evaluation.”
Wednesday, November 7. 2012
If I use the acronym MOOC much more in posts, some readers will probably click off this blog. Yeah, in this year of the MOOC, there has been some saturation. But some of the issues connected to those courses are issues that have been relevant to online education for decades and some literacy and pedagogical concerns are important to all versions of the classroom.
One of the phrases that I heard when I first entered higher education (from the world of secondary education) was that teachers needed to shift from being the "sage on the stage" to being a "guide on the side." This pedagogical shift was from a teacher-centered classroom to a learner-centered space.
That shift did occur - to a degree - and online learning and the arrival of the Internet made it occur faster. Even in the college lecture hall of 300 students, the teacher was still the sage on the stage at the center of the learning experience. In the online class of 30 or 300, the teacher still controlled the content and, to a lesser degree, the interaction.
Remember "lifelong learning?" As with the sage and guide learning shift, lifelong learning got some traction, but didn't move as fast or as far as expected. I expect that it will again be part of the conversation. Many of the learners in these college MOOCs are lifelong learners who are seeking knowledge and not necessarily degrees.
Unlearning is harder than learning. That is not only true with bad habits, but with good ones. I have spent a number of years working with faculty to create or redesign courses to be used online. It was not always that their face-to-face course was bad and needed to be fixed. It was more often true that you simply could not do the same things you did in a classroom online and make it work. You just had to be less the sage because you had lost the stage. You have to rethink not only what you teach, but how you teach.
Now, these MOOCs are forcing us to rethink what we teach, how we teach and also why we teach. If you want to be a guide on the side, teach a course with 25,000 students. If you are a learner and want to experience sages on stages, go to YouTube.
Friday, October 26. 2012
I read that in Maryland they have decided to incorporate Universal Design for Learning into the state educational systems. Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a set of principles for curriculum development that seeks to give all individuals equal opportunities to learn. It also supports test design and instructional material selection for all learners.
Thursday, October 18. 2012
Students at all grade levels need to be forced to evaluate Web site credibility for the sources they use. What is taught or required of elementary school students and what we expect from graduate students is clearly very different. But it seems to me that too many teachers at all the higher levels (high school and above) make dangerous assumptions that students "should have learned how to do that" at the preceding level.
There are many online resources to use, but most require students to consider questions of credibility. Here are a few typical questions students need to be taught to ask when using a site as a source.
1. Who is the author(s)? What are their credentials?
2. Note the site domain (such as .com, .org or .edu) which may provide useful information. While .ac and .edu sites are regulated educational sites, that doesn't validate everything found there. For example, my own web space at NJIT http://web.njit.edu/~ronkowit/ contains my own content. That tilde ~ indicates that this is not part of the main njit.edu site. The domains .com and .biz sites are for commercial purposes and .gov sites are U.S. government sites. Is information credible because it is on a government site? Is information biased if it is on a commercial site? There is no standard answer and students need to be able to distinguish the differences. Other URL endings indicate the country of origin of the site and some are sponsored and regulated (for example, .jobs, .museum and .travel)
3. Especially when there is no "author" available by name, who is making the information available?
4. How is the site being funded? Are they trying to sell you something?
5. Does the site appear to have any social or political biases? You might find clues in an "About Us” section but you probably need to dig deeper to get an unbiased view about their bias.
6. When was the information first published? Has it been updated recently? Some pages indicate when they were created/revised but finding the equivalent of a copyright date isn't as easy as with a print publication.
(Page 1 of 11, totaling 86 entries) » next page
Original content in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons License