Saturday, October 29, 2005

For Math Phobics & Math Teachers

Courtesy of WWWTools for Education

'Aesthetic computing' turns algebra into art by ZDNet's Roland Piquepaille -- The concept of aesthetic computing can be used to teach algebra by encouraging students to express equations as pictures or stories. This approach aims to make abstract ideas or algebraic formulas look 'real' through drawings, sculptures or computer graphics.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Scanning & Gisting - Reading on the Web

We scan through information and catch the gist. Then, if necessary and/or interested, we can slow down and read a particular piece, or in a particular area, more deeply. Deep and/or close reading and scanning & gisting are separate, though connected skills that can be learned and practiced. The Web and the Information Age requires a broader set of reading skills, in my opinion.

George Siemen's post, "The Joys of Shallow Thinking" in his Connectivism Blog describes it well:

What happens when we change how we interact with information? We "ramp up" our processing habits. Instead of reading, we skim. Instead of exploring and responding to each item, we try and link it to existing understanding. We move (in regards to most information we encounter) from specific to general thinking…from deep to shallow thinking. Shallow thinking, in this sense, isn’t as negative as its connotations. Shallow thinking (perhaps I need a better phrase) involves exploring many different sources of information without focusing too heavily on one source. Aggregating at this level helps us to stay informed across broad disciplines. So much of education intends to provide “deep learning”. Often, however, “shallow learning is desired” (i.e. we want to know of a concept, but we don’t have time or interest to explore it deeply). All we need at this stage is simply the understanding (awareness?) that it exists. Often, learning is simply about opening a door…

And Bloglines, or other aggregators, facilitate the process.


Thursday, October 27, 2005

"Participation Engenders Competence"

For an inspiring description of the impact of students writing on blogs, see Konrad Glogowski's post in his Blog of Proximal Development.

He says -

When I think of blogs, I think primarily of what this technology enables my students to accomplish. When I look forward to reading their entries and comments I am really looking forward to thoughts made visible.

And so, when they write, I don’t want the journey to end with me as it inevitably does when the teacher is the audience. I want to be part of the collective journey. I want to lurk and see how my students develop their ideas. I want to see how conversations grow. I want to hear their voices booming through their entries. You can’t have that when you’re busy correcting spelling and fixing sentence structure.

My approach to marking has become more holistic. I’ve discovered that students who participate in communities of learners begin to care about their writerly voice. Gradually, what emerges is greater awareness of how to make that voice heard and how to effectively communicate one’s ideas. The most valuable part of this community is that this awareness emerges as a result of online interactions, of hundreds of entries, comments, and connections made online as part of a collective journey. It comes from within because the students need it to emerge. It is a practical skill that they need to keep contributing as members of the community. It is not imposed by my rubrics.

Check out the whole post.


Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Implications of the Web for Post Secondary Institutions

From the Toronto Star, October 25, 2005

You know a diploma is worth less and less. Soon it's going to be worth nothing at all.

If you've just completed an undergraduate degree you might not want to hear what Mississauga-based futurist Jim Carroll has to say.

"For young people I think one of the things they will need to understand is the skill of `just-in-time' knowledge," says Carroll, who advises companies across North America.

He explains that "just-in-time" knowledge is the skill of learning information during quickly advancing periods of change. The information learned is entirely — and possibly only — relevant at a specific time. Learning it will require people to immediately dump previous information that is no longer relevant at the same time.

"The concept of going to school for knowledge is kind of quaint," says Carroll, who foresees a future when longer degree programs will become almost obsolete. "What is the relevance of a three or four or five-year degree program when half of what kids learn in their first year will be obsolete by the time they graduate?"

Carroll says the majority of knowledge needed in the workplace of the future will be gained from collaborative social networks, online sources and independent learning.

As far as formal education goes, he doesn't think many degree programs will be longer than about nine months.

"A survey I saw a couple weeks ago said young people now think self-employment is more secure than a corporate job.

"As young people continue to completely reject the concept of the traditional workplace they will also move to educational models that suit their relationship with a changing work world."

In many ways the educational system has avoided the Web and left young people to make their own way through it. Most of them have discovered peer-to-peer file sharing for music, and some of them have discovered porn. Few know much about how to evaluate the trustworthiness of sites, or understand either the law or how easy it is to see what they're doing on the Web.

We need to teach ourselves and all our students
  • how to apply critical thinking to what we find on the Web
  • how to research effectively on the Web
  • how to use library databases
  • how to use the Web as a learning tool/medium

My observations lead me to believe that we educators are abandonning many young people to discover the Web on their own, without our guidance, in the communication space they increasingly inhabit. Jim Carroll's prediction will come true for sure, if we don't join these digital natives, and share what they need to learn, while learning what they can share with us.


Monday, October 17, 2005

Are Blogs a Genre, or, Are there Genres of Blogs?

What do readers of blogs expect? Do they expect a certain kind of prose? Do they expect images? Is (Are) there (a) distinct genre(s) visible in blogs?

An interesting site - Introduction to Genre Theory - although it's chiefly about the audience construction of T.V. genres has this to say:

Constructing the audience

Genres can be seen as involved in the construction of their readers. John Fiske sees genre as 'a means of constructing both the audience and the reading subject' (Fiske 1987, 114). Christine Gledhill argues that different genres 'produce different positionings of the subject... Genre specification can therefore be traced in the different functions of subjectivity each produces, and in their different modes of addressing the spectator' (Gledhill 1985, 64). And Steve Neale argues in relation to cinema that genre contributes to the regulation of desire, memory and expectation (Neale 1980, 55).

When I post to my blog here, or my personal blog in ELGG, I try to ensure that my tone is casual and I don't use too much theoretical terminology. (Today is an exception, or a new trend. I haven't decided yet;->) I do, however try to keep my spelling and grammar correct and carefully gauge how much personal information I include. I might get a bit more theoretical in the ELGG Pedagogical Impact blog and a little more impersonal. All these writing behaviors have emerged for me from reading other educationally-oriented blogs.

However, when I lurk in MySpace I see a very different blogging style and tone. It's much more casual about correctness, and much more revealing of personal information and narratives. Interestingly, it's also professional in its own way, as bloggers post information about performances and other things they wish to find an audience for. I see it as a different genre of blogging, a more social and youth oriented one.

So my current take on blogging is that it's a collection of related but distinct genres, evolving and taking firmer shape as more people read and write blogs and enact their expectations.

Friday, October 14, 2005

A Screencast on Educational Blogging

Wow! This screen cast really covers what you need to know to engage in educational blogging. Courtesy of Stephen Downes. Uses a big bandwidth and Quicktime - a free download, with Quicktime for Windows on the bottom left.

Check out Brian Lamb's Beyond Blogging screencast if you're thinking about using blogs educationally. He shows you what is possible and what is needed.


Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The Lingering Impact of Old Technologies


Which looks better, the underlined heading or the bolded and increased-size heading?

I insist my students use MS Word's Styles to set their headings. I further insist that they not underline their headings. When one student spoke up and complained that she had been taught to underline headings all the way through high school and she thought it looked better that way, I found myself explaining my reasons.
  • Graphic designers generally agree that underlining doesn't look good or increase readability.
  • Most people now associate underlining with linking on the web, not with headings.

And most importantly
  • Underlining titles is a remnant of an antique technology - typewriters - where the only way you could signify that something was a heading was to move the paper backwards and add underlining to the words of the heading. You couldn't bold or increase the size; you could only underline.

So my student had had her eye trained to accept underlining as signifying a heading, and what she is actually signalling is that she isn't effectively using the flexibility of the new technology of word-processing to communicate visually. And people read this kind of information at a close to subconscious level, so she, and others, are actually signalling the lingering impact of typewriters and their resistance to learning the new technology of word-processing.


Saturday, October 01, 2005

U of T versus Google

In the fall 2005 issue of University of Toronto Magazine, Devin Crawley (MISt 2004) writes an article called The Infinite Library in which he looks at the changes in academic libraries, in particular, U of T's. What I found fascinating was his decription of how Google is influencing universities' digital collections, and how access to those collections is changing.

Google Scholar has been, he says, a wake-up call.
Google Scholar, a service started late last year that's still in its testing phase, is the company's first foray into academic research. It allows users to search collections of proprietary electronic journals and a variety of online repositories of scholarly papers. A Google Scholar search on "exosolar planets," for example, returns 54 academic essays on the subject, ranked roughly in order of the number of times they've been cited. Within just a few months, Google Scholar has established itself as a rival to powerful multinational companies such as Thomson and Elsevier that offer huge (and, for libraries, hugely expensive) databases of scholarly material. Some librarians say that Google underperforms its rivals in the currency and quantity of its search results, while others declare that its simplicity is a huge advantage. "Google Scholar works. And it works in a way that presents very few of the hoops that we make students jump through to use our library databases," writes T.J. Sondermann, an academic librarian and prominent blogger on library issues in the U.S.

The web makes information infinitely easier to find and store. Some librarians quoted by Crawley think the generalist search role should be ceded to Google; some see Google's for-profit status as compromising it as an academic research tool. In any case, the impact on students' research behavior of the sheer ease of searching with Google has led to all of Ontario's universities working together to develop
the Ontario Scholars Portal, a single-box search engine that covers 7,300 electronic journals and 65 electronic indexes. ... the library is about six months away from its ultimate goal of tying its print catalogue, databases and catalogued Web resources to a single search. He admits that Google is innovating quickly, but says that libraries – and the electronic database vendors whose products they buy – are beginning to catch up.

It is an exciting time to do research, as more and more kinds of information become accessible and as research skills and tactics change so rapidly!