Edtechtalk – a brush with two very decent people

Had a great show today with Will Richardson and Stephen Downes on Edtechtalk. They were very interesting, brought up some great points, and really quite a coup for us to have them on the show today. The thing that struck me the most was how nice they were. This is something that I have found consistently inside the blogging community (so far), everyone is willing to listen. They are willing to let people make mistakes. In talking about the software they like, and don’t like, they are always respectful of the work that people have done, whether it’s by Microsoft or billy joe rubberboot from down the street.

The other thing that struck me (and i mean in terms of personalities, they said lots of tech and ed things that struck me, but I’m going to need more time to process that) was their talk of the roles that they fill inside the community. Stephen as researcher and philosopher and Will as teacher and practitioner. I didn’t explain it very well during the show but I can’t help but think that these two groups NEED to come together to produce ‘official’ material that can trickle down to the public that isn’t ‘wired in’. An invitation with the authority of the academic and the wisdom of the practitioner…

Education and postmodernism – a toolkit of plenty – or how i learned to stop worrying and love the postmodern

I once hated postmodernism… at a real, visceral level. I didn’t like the word, I didn’t like the smug looks on the faces of people who used it, I didn’t like the way they used the word ‘text’. “Well, this painting makes a very interesting text blah blah la la (insert snooty tone).” That was ten years ago. In the interim, I’ve studied a little, and thought a little, and become alot less confrontational and have found myself quite liking this new thing (it’s at least over 40 years old) that I’ve discovered. The problem is, by the very nature of what it is, you can’t say ‘postmodernism is this’. It isn’t one thing. Not everyone even agrees on what it isn’t. It’s very different in architecture, for instance, than for educational theory. A more useful way of thinking about it, I’ve found, is not asking “what is it?” but rather “what can it do for me?” Over the next few months I’ll be delving occasionally into this uncertain word to talk about my understanding of this ‘toolkit’ that is postmodernity, no doubt incurring the boredom of some readers, and the scorn of others. But it does make sense to me somehow, and that’s what I’ll try to work out here. First some quick thoughts and then a layout of the plan for the short term.

My concern, and indeed my fear, of postmodernism is that it does away with any clear, definable truth. Truths are dependant on context, and power structures and hierarchies PoMo tells us, the Truth that you believe in (sometimes ‘common sense’) is usually one of a group of dominant narratives of a society at a given time and therefore not really True in the sense that there aren’t other ways to do it, but more true from a certain point of view. Take the idea that ‘history is written by the victors’ and expand it to society as a whole, so “The truths in society, is what is true for the people with the most power.(that is not necessarily a single group, but the more powerful for a given situation)” Trickle down economics is a great example of this. According to wikipedia Trickle-down or Reaganomics are “is the view that to benefit the wealthy is to benefit the middle classes and even the poor. These benefits then trickle down.” The benefit to the wealthy is easily measured, the rest, well, is more a matter of opinion. But there are many people who still consider this to be ‘True’ even though “Reagan’s Economic Advisor later characterized supply side economics and trickle down economics as rhetoric.” (both quotes from here. Why, you might ask would people continue to believe in it? It is a dominant discourse. It is a narrative that is equated with power. To agree with it, is to agree with ‘common sense,’ a common sense that one of the people who created it calls ‘rhetoric’.

In the past fifty years we done away with many of these dominant narratives in the classrooms. They are things, for good or bad, that aren’t true for us anymore.

  • corporal punishment
  • the military classroom model (desk rows)
  • transmission style teaching
  • The Three Rs (although this little nugget seems to have staying power)

all once thought true and right, and now things of the past. We can all recognize them now, we can see them for what they are. Some of the changes of the dominant way things are done (often dominant ways, the powerful do not always agree, nor is there only one layer of hierarchies) we may not agree with, but, like it or not, they aren’t ‘the way things are done.’

The next question then is, “how can we judge the things we are doing now?” How can we look at our practice and decide which things we do are good, and which are not good. RESEARCH is the most obvious answer. Get some experts to test it. Problem is, we don’t really believe in experts anymore. When a doctor says “take this medicine”, we now say “what is it?” If someone tells us 300 students were tested and we found that those who scored high in Math scored low on the ‘english aptitude test’. We ask “what was on the test?” There are always variables, and always contexts that can affect a given study (not to metnion out and out bias) that affects the ‘truth-value’ of any research.

Enter the toolkit version 0.1
Jacques Derrida is solely responsible for some of the best sleeps I’ve ever had. There’s nothing like an incredibly dense bit of material writing in response to something that you haven’t read. He was deconstructing ‘modern’ narratives. This idea of deconstructing a ‘text’. I wont do Derrida the disservice of trying to shorten the tool to a short description…

Jean Beaudrillard is still alive and kicking. His take on the term simulacrum gives us another tool to interpret our world. A simulacrum is a copy of a copy etc… of something until the copy no longer represents the original, but represents something entirely new. Think of the ‘mainstreet’ in Disneyland where everyone is happy, there is no crime or poverty. This is meant to resemble the ‘good old days,’ which, if you talk to someone who grew up in the depression, weren’t really all that good. These similacra own central places in many dominant narratives.

action research
In reality, that’s not how we do most of our adaptation anyway. If the person at the workshop says “wow, i tried this new trick on my students and it really worked.” we listen, we ask questions, we tune in. Action research is designed like this. A researcher, usually a classroom practitioner, follows their way through a project, using their PoMo toolkit, and talks about how things go. Are they making truth… no. Nor do they need to.

oh… even in writing them, i feel like I’m on shaky ground. But I feel like there is an honesty to writing this way. cheers for making it this far!

Project updates

We interrupt your regular scheduled programming to bring you this Dave’s Ed update…

Saturday morning of a very solid week. Worldbridges New Media Offer has attracted another pretty interesting project. Student language and culture exchange between Oberlin College in Ohio and an all women’s College in Jedda Saudi Arabia. Have had some great chats with some cool people and for this Sunday it looks like Will Richardson at 10am EST and Stephen Downes at 11EST live on the show.

The New Media Program that I’ve been working in and around over the last several months seems like it will make is to its alpha run, which is good. Jevon MacDonald, Rob Paterson and Tim Carroll were kind enough to invite me to sit around their table in their planning sessions for this course. The details are still not nailed down, indeed, keeping them in the air and letting them develop naturally is part of the plan. Essentially it is a course, designed to bring people together to learn to use new media by working on projects together. The idea is to keep the tech itself as transparent as possible and have the collaborators develop new media literacies ‘as they need them’. Unofficial start date is November 2nd. They’ll be regular posts for anyone interested.

The first entry in my ‘blog novel’ is posted on my personal site. I kinda like the idea of trying to do it in this medium. I’m also hoping for some comments along the way, and am interested to see how comments would affect the direction of the novel… there is a plan, but i’m not committed to it.

Teaching is great. I like blogging. Most other things are still ‘in the fire’… back to your regular scheduled programming.

Cheating, intellectual property, privacy and the read/write classroom

Tuesday, October 11th, 2005 (cut off in the great server crash of ’06)

I’m sitting at an old computer, in a windowless room at the university where I teach ESL students. It reminds me of my old university days in the rat warren, otherwise known as the ‘Life’ Science Centre at Dalhousie University in Halifax. Legend has it that the architect committed suicide after building that coffin. I’d […]

Who is powering the publication?

Monday, October 10th, 2005 (cut off in the great server crash of ’06)

A nice weekend away from the computer, chilled out a bit, and refocused myself for the coming weeks. We’ve got a bunch of stuff we’re doing, including the moodle moot some curriculum development not to mention my classes and the shows. But i’m looking forward to it all, which i suppose is a good sign.
I’ve […]

Patience in Podcasting

Friday, October 7th, 2005 (cut off in the great server crash of ’06)

Got brought up short tonight on the show by Jeff Flynn(gently as always, what a great guy)… I was ribbing him about podcasting in his new moodle installation, and about just doing his podcast with a microphone from his laptop. He says, “then it’s going to be about the technology, the kids are going […]

Microsoft supporting Linux development

Thursday, October 6th, 2005 (cut off in the great server crash of ’06)

Not technically education, but i found this while searching for educational stuff… so close enough. I was checking out the ‘mono-project’ which is the backend that I needed to get ‘epresence’ working and found another project called race to linux which offers a new xbox to people who can write the code […]

Sports and the death of Web 2.0

Thursday, October 6th, 2005 (cut off in the great server crash of ’06)

Web 2.0 is dead. shitty. I was just starting to get my mind around what it wasn’t… But maybe if I say it’s dead, it’ll be cool again. Are we marketers or are we just running to stand still (shameless U2 theft)
Among my many addictions is a very odd love of the sportscaster. I smile […]

Living the game – modelling in ed-tech

A lovely Tuesday afternoon to all, October continues to confound here in PEI, acting more like summer than our summer did. It’s good for the tan if not for the sanity. I like a tricky October i think, one day cold and blustery, so that i wonder about the wisdom of not putting stakes around the new trees planted outback, and then warm and still, so that people wearing t-shirts can give you that look of half pity/half disgust at your wearing a thick turtle-neck sweater. And in the midst of this confusion, we come to the idea of modelling your ed-tech.

I was reading my sort-of daily dose of George Siemens and connected to the Tim O’reilley post in his blog. I felt kinda funny reading it. Not haha funny, more of a I’m wondering why my seat feels wet kinda funny. It’s a fantastic explanation of all the subtleties of Web 2.0. Well layed out, researched, nice charts and graphs… all and all the very model of a static, web 1.0 webpage. Now to be fair, the article says it was first published somewhere else where it could very well have been a super bloggish-wiki-flickerific folksonotastic of interactivity, but this one wasn’t. It left me wondering about the viability of web 2.0 once it hits the mainstream and also, more importantly for my practice (which involves teaching, teacher training and ed-tech consulting) that one of the things that’s going to make it difficult for people to ‘buy in’ is this sense of unreality. One is left wondering, if web 2.0 was so darned good, why isn’t he using it now?

But on to practice. Blogging as lecture is something that we’ve covered here already, in terms of feedbooks, and wikis are great for project management. But what about the course itself. I know people right now that are teaching courses that guide themselves, like certain business courses, that have the freedom of having to cover general ideas, developing literacies that can be learned in almost any context. The students sort of take off with different ideas and develop plans along with things they are finding in the news or in their local context. Like, to flog a word for the 4th time in two days, project management. Wether you’re planning the irrigation of your playground in the springtime through the clever use of dams and streams, or following a rigid project management curriculum in business 305 you’re developing the same skill-set. But what about the kind of definition/description made by Mr. O’reilly? Is there room here for a wiki? If we give up on this kind of static page, what happens to our experts, both teacher and consultant? But at the same time, how can we try to convert people to a new process by using the old one?

Aside from the ‘there are different tools for different jobs’ response, which i hear so often (and agree with) I’m not sure how to answer these questions… I do think that when introducing these ideas, web 2.0 etc… there needs to be an honesty to the way we deliver it. We need to be risking ourselves, professionally and emotionally, in that way, that only way, that the ‘wisdom of crowds’ works. We need to give our introducees the room to criticize and comment and even take over the direction of our introduction…