Monday, October 31, 2011

Characteristics of a good teacher

Describing the characteristics of a good teacher is complex as teachers' work involves many different aspects. As many education reforms aim to link teacher payment to performance, it is urgent to get solid measurements of teacher quality. The Graduate School of Education at the University of California, Berkeley recently held a forum on how to assess teachers: Grading the teachers. The forum concluded that there is no reliable way to accurately measure teacher performance (not now and maybe never).

The Bill Gates foundation invests heavily in research on how to measure effective teaching (See: Measures of effective teaching factsheet).

Among other qualities, a teacher needs to have strong content knowledge ("what to teach") combined with pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) ("how to teach).

Stephen Harris (from Sydney Innovation in Education) adds another interesting point: Teachers should be authentic and do what they are in charge of "a physics teacher should research, an arts teacher should paint and an English teacher should write novels or poems."

Short video on the impact of video games

This video shows the history, importance, and art of video games.

Microsoft Vision of the Future Video (2011 edition)

This video shows Microsoft's technocratic vision of the future: Augmented reality and technology embedded in glasses, tables, and refrigerators.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Knowledge Web and Connections

How is Mozart connected to the invention of the helicopter? Or cornflakes to communism? Such and other questions will be answered by the "Knowledge Web".

The "Knowledge Web" is a project currently under development by the James Burke Institute. So far, visitors can go on "Mystery Tours". James Burke a historian, best known for his work as the author, host, and narrator of the acclaimed television series "Connections".

See all episodes of the outstanding series "Connections" online on youtube.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Does the internet make schools obsolete?

The internet makes many kinds of information available in an instant. As as result, memorising facts and figures seems to become more and more obsolete. The internet became an integral part of our distributed cognition.

The instant availability of digital information poses fundamental questions for education: What do we still need to learn in schools?

Raymond Nickerson (1996) offers the following answer:
"One might ask at this point: if information does indeed become much more accessible in the future than it is now, will learning still be necessary? If answers to questions can be obtained much more readily through new information resources, will it be so important to have knowledge in one's head? I believe the answer is unequivocally yes. I believe this is the several reasons, but it will suffice to mention one. The asking of questions, except of the most superficial kind, is a knowledge-based activity. Only someone who knows quite a bit about biology is going to ask what is new in the sequencing of bases in the DNA molecule. And even if one were able to ask the question, say because one got it from someone else already formed, without some knowledge of the subject one would not understand the answer. In general, the more one knows, the more useful a powerful information-finding resource is likely to be." (p. 258)

Nickerson, R. (1996). On the distribution of cognition: some reflections. In G. Salomon (Ed.), Distributed Cognitions: Psychological and Educational Considerations (pp. 229-262). Cambridge University Press.  

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

How do CSCL, Networked Learning, and Community of Practice differ from each other?

Researchers studying computer-based collaborative learning use several different (but related) research frameworks: "Computer-supported collaborative learning (CSCL)", "Networked learning (NL)", and "Community of Practice".

Jones and Esnault (2004) offered the following suggestion to distinguish the three different terms. Based on their paper, I created the comparison table below:


Jones, C., & Esnault, L. (2004). The metaphor of networks in learning: Communities, collaboration, and practice. Networked Learning Conference 2004.

What is the difference between a community and network?

Researchers who study how people learn and act in socio-cultural settings use the terms "community" and "network". While some researchers use the terms interchangeably, others aim to distinguish them.

Some definitions of "network":

  • Rogers (2003) suggested that networks are comprised of homophilous (strong) and heterophilous (weak) links. Homophilous links are where the exchange of ideas occurs most frequently while heterophilous links invigorate rapid diffusion of ideas.
  • Cardon and Granjon (2005) did a case study on young internet users in France. They identified three different types of networking, which they classified as specialisation, distribution, and polarisation.
  • Watts (2003) argued that networks were a type of contagion, which is driven by cascades and thresholds. A threshold can be described as the degree at which point an influence or action is triggered. A cascade occurs when others rapidly or concurrently adopt the said action. A cascade is usually the result of propagation, which the author refers to as the concept of percolation.

Some definitions of "community":

Wenger et al. define community (of practice) as “community” as "a learning partnership among people who find it useful to learn from and with each other about a particular domain". By "practice"  Brown  and  Duguid  mean “undertaking or engaging fully in a task, job, or profession” (Brown and Duguid 2001, p. 203) (also see Jones & Esnault, 2004).

Wenger et al. (2011) aim to distinguish communities and networks:
- "The network aspect refers to the set of relationships, personal interactions, and connections among participants who have personal reasons to connect. It is viewed as a set of nodes and links with affordances for learning, such as information flows, helpful linkages, joint problem solving, and knowledge creation.
-The community aspect refers to the development of a shared identity around a topic or set of challenges. It represents a collective intention - however tacit and distributed - to steward a domain of knowledge and to sustain learning about it." (p. 9).

Based on Wenger et al., I create the table below to compare networks and communities:
Communities (of practices) can be networks (and vice versa), but not necessarily.

>Brown, J.S., and Duguid, P. (2001) Knowledge and Organization: A Social-Practice Perspective. Organization Science. Vol 12 (2) pp198 - 213.
>Cardon, D., and Granjon, F. (2005) 'Social networks and cultural practices. A case study of young avid screen users in Frances' in Social Networks 27, 301- 315.

>Jones, C., & Esnault, L. (2004). The metaphor of networks in learning: Communities, collaboration, and practice. Networked Learning Conference 2004.
>Rogers, E. (2003) 'Diffusion networks' in Cross, Rob, Andrew Parker and Lisa Sasson (2003) Networks in the knowledge economy, Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 130- 179.
>Watts, D. (2003) 'Thresholds, cascades and predictability' in Six degrees:the science of a connected age, New Yok and London: W. W. Norton, pp. 220- 252.

>Wenger, E., Trayner, B., & de Laat, M. (2011). Promoting and assessing value creation in communities and networks: A conceptual framework. Ruud de Moor Centrum: Open Universiteit.

The world's most relaxing song

Researchers found in a series of experiment that the song "Weightless" by Marconi Union is the most relaxing song (see more here).

▶ MARCONI UNION - WEIGHTLESS by Just Music label:

'via Blog this'

Friday, October 7, 2011

Studio schools - A model to improve U.S. education?

Studio schools are an innovative approach to education in the UK. Studio schools focus on team-based project-based learning to prepare students for future work. First results indicate that the Studio School model is successful to motivate students, especially those at risk to drop out.

The U.S. has a high drop out rate and a weak vocational school system. Studio schools could be a promising opportunity to improve U.S. education.

The video below is a short TED talk introducing Studio Schools:

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Science and Enlightenment

[This blog post is based on a talk given by Sir Harold Koto at the University of Sydney on the 4th of October 2011]. Harold Kroto received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1996 for his work on the Buckminster Fullerene)

Before science was called "science" it was known as "natural philosophy" - referring to gaining wisdom/knowledge from observing nature. This is the defining characteristic of science: Scientific ideas are based on evidence - observations of nature.

Scientific theories are models that try to approximate nature. Science is the only method that creates knowledge with any degree of reliability. Modern science is only possible through its foundation in symbolic algebra, calculus, and statistics. The mathematical basis of science allows describing the reliability of scientific theories (how far a scientific theory is from the "truth"). [Some philosophers point out that there might not be just one "Truth" but only socially constructed "thruths".]

Many people today do not understand the nature of science - in part because science education focuses on the products of science and not the process; and because there is no mandatory course for "nature of science". Koto suggest to make "nature of science" part of every undergraduate program.

Great quote by J.F. Kennedy: "The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie - deliberate, contrived and dishonest, but the myth - persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic. Belief in myth allows the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought."

Koto highly recommends the essay "Scientists as Citizens" by Sir John Cornforth.

Koto advertised his two own projects: Vega (a collection of video presentations of scientists) and Geoset (a series of instructional science and engineering videos produced by college students). The main goal is to promote science and establish scientists as role models (to replace singers, sports stars, actors, and models).

Koto's efforts for science education go along the line of other prominent scientists, for example:
-Sally Ride (first female US astronaut): Sally Ride Science 
-Leon Lederman (Nobel Prize in Physics): Lederman Science Center
-Richard Dawkins (Evolutionary biologist): The Magic of Reality (a science book for children).

The only shortcoming of these commendable efforts is that they are driven by scientists with limited involvement of the education community. Ideally, science education researchers could provide the framework to guide these projects to make them more effective.