The purpose of education – power, shaping and control

I jumped (uninvited) into the “what is the purpose of education?” discussion by creating a Saturday slot for myself. I care a great deal about this topic, but I sometimes feel like the tone deaf cellist in a high school band… wandering off into my own key. In this case… a minor key.

The bookends questions from the first and last blog posts leading into mine are:

What is your vision for the good society?

What kinds of adults do we want our children to become?

I have two children, and those are two questions that start and end most of my days. Where will society be when that little face leaves my house to make a life of her own? What kind of an adult do I want her to be? What can i do to help her contribute to a world that I’d like to see her live in?

Those questions are paramount in the minds of most parents I know. As long as the education we are talking about is restricted to the kids that are my responsibility and under my control, the choice of shaping belongs to me and to @bonstewart. (their mother)

The shaping we are talking about, however, is far more wide ranging. We are discussing the control we want to exert over an entire population of a grade, a school, a city, a province a country or a world.

Education, in the public sense, has mostly been about control. It was developed to allow people the skills they needed to live in the factories, to show up on time, to do disconnected tasks associated with the industrial revolution. The power to offer this was certainly there at the time, and the need to shape manifest. We have, in many cases, washed away some of the legacy of this kind of shaping, but the ‘purpose’ of education has remained.

The choices are political in more ways than the obvious ones we’ve seen recently in american school districts in their fights over history and evolution. Contentment, building good character, participation, creating a Better Life, cultivation of wisdom. (to carve out a few) are deeply steeped in cultural and political frameworks, the manifestations of which would be dramatically different for people of different religions, ilks or idioms.

Education, it seems, is the method by which we attempt to make the world come out the way we want it to. It is about using our power to shape and control the world to come so that it comes into line with our own hopes and dreams. In any way we move it, even towards chaos and anarchy, we are still using our power to shape and control the future.

If there ever was a ‘we’ to agree on education it doesn’t exist anymore. If we are ever to move forward with the debate, we will need to find first principles that we can all agree on wishing to shape into our futures.

Their futures.

Slacker’s guide – week 4 TOOLS!

There is nothing, i think, that leaves me feeling more frustrated than ‘tools’ that are supposed to be easy to use. I think in the rush to explain to people that a tool is useful, the teller often forgets that they struggled with inferior tools before they found this New Awesome Tool. They forget that they already understood exactly what it was they were looking for and then found this New Awesome Tool and figured out what it was for. I am not this person. I have come to learning analytics with a simple desire to be able to track what happens in an open course without having to shove people in a black box. I want to track people in the wilds of the internet. I’m not exactly sure how i want that done yet… and so we look at the tools.

Slacker’s run through content
Two tools this week… Gapminder. If there was any tool that you should spend five minutes downloading to your computer… this is it. This is the plug and play impress your coworkers with your amazing mooc learning kapow tool. It’s an adobe air application on your desktop… really, no excuse here. A slacker’s delight. How useful is it? well… if you study population dynamics… or social studies or something maybe. But who cares… i looks AWESOME!

and needlebase. This is a bit more of a serious tool. I’ve included the introductory video from the website here as its better than any tour i would do. You’ll be wanting to set aside 4 or 5 hours to take a serious run at this baby. It really will scrape content from a bunch of website and pull it into a database… i just didn’t find it ‘quite’ as slick as this video suggests. I didn’t get into trying to mix and match data… which is the real power in this application but i did build this little database by scraping a pile of content off the site. A person with more energy could do something very cool with this system. It also gives you great sympathy for people who complain about data that isn’t clean… grr…

Facilitated session – Why exactly would we want to do analytics in learning?
The recording of this week’s friday discussion will be hearty food for skeptics. We took a run at talking about what can be measured, why we would want to measure it and brainstormed some ideas about how one might use these new tools to change the way that we look at structuring education. I really enjoyed this chat…

On tools
There are some incredibly powerful data tools out there right now, and as long as you can scrape the data in an organized way, there are few limitations to what you could produce. The big question remains: what do i ask? I think moving forward in this field is going to require people to start asking new kinds of questions from the data. This was certainly one of the central themes from the Friday discussion and is likely going to be the challenge confronting many the first time they look at the tools. Yeah… it’s cool… but what do i do with it? Many of the people currently touting the tools are coming from years of struggle working with inferior technology… for most of us, its a bit more of a challenge. Good luck, and please post any results somewhere i can find them 🙂

Week 3 LAK11 – Slackers report

Ah… the semantic web. The saviour of the internet, and the evil empire enforcing its evil standardization upon my freedom. I’ve always been a little suspicious of this particular topic. Not that I’m opposed to any kind of stardardization, railroads and the lack of standardizations with bank cards at grocery stores come to mind (grrr…) But the semantic web and how data is ‘linked’ is pretty important to analytics. time to dive in.

Skim of the week
This might seem like an odd choice for a week three skim, but I don’t think we can really pass by the classic Tim Berners Lee World Wide Web proposal. In it he suggested that ‘links’ and ‘hypertext’ could be a really awesome way to collect information. If you watch closely, you’ll notice that he doesn’t like things like ‘keywords’ because you can’t trust keywords to be put in the same way by two different people. As a possible replacement, he suggests that keywords are provided and have an existence of their own ‘nodes’ that could reflect what people mean by those words. When people say ‘they meant to have the semantic web in the beginning’ this is the kind of thing they were talking about. Skim it. Claim to have read it.

Other resources

  • The web 3.0 video… to which i will use ‘hypertext‘ to send you to another place on my blog where i talked about it. Thanks Tim!
  • Semantic Web: An Introduction: a ‘real’ introduction to the Semantic Web. I simply CANNOT force myself to read this page. You might like it 🙂
  • Hilary Mason: Machine Learning. A really cool presentation… if you ‘play with computers’ ’cause that’s who she claimed was her audience. I really enjoyed this.

Dragan’s presentation – Semantic Technologies in learning environments
I would call this a medium level presentation. If you don’t really understand how the web works and you’ve never considered how messy it currently is… you might find this challenging. If you are that person and you’re willing to put the time in searching out what people mean by things like RDF and ontologies this could be a nice introduction to why some people are so excited about the semantic web. Short version? Our systems don’t talk to each other. Facebook and moodle… no talkee. Semantic web is not opposite to social web. rules and structures vs. ecological approach.

Kimberly Arnold – Purdue Signals Project
How does learning analytics work in an institutional context? The first part of this session talks about who is doing analytics and why exactly educational institutions might want to do this in the first place. This is a lighter talk than Dragan’s… more of a narrative of what has been happening at purdue. Much more about how the inside of a university works and less about how the internet works. A nice balance really compared to the other presentation.

Sorry this came up a bit late… and is a bit short. see you in a couple of days.

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