Learning from Doctorow’s ‘With a Little Help’

Claude AlmansiBy Claude Almansi
Editor, Accessibility Issues

This story is from Cory Doctorow’s new collection, “With a Little Help”. Visit craphound.com/walh to buy the whole audio book on CD, a paperback copy in one of 4 covers, or a super-limited hard cover.
This story, and the whole text of “With a Little Help”, are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution, Share Alike, Non Commercial license.
Copy it, share it, remix it. As Woody Guthrie said: “This song is copyrighted in the US under a seal of copyright number 154085 for a period of 28 years, and anyone caught singing it without our permission will be a mighty good friend of ourn, because we don’t give a dern. Publish it, write it, sing it, swing to it, yodel it. We wrote it , that’s all we wanted to do.” (From the intro to all the recorded readings of the stories collected in Cory Doctorow’s  “With a Little Help,” 2010)

Dandelion business model

Dandelions growing at the edge of a sidewalk

From C. Doctorow: "Think Like a Dandelion". BoingBoing. Under a BY-NC Creative Commons License

Since 2003, Cory Doctorow has been both traditionally selling  his fiction works in print and releasing them online under the Creative Commons Attribution, Share Alike, Non Commercial license indicated in the quote above. And making a living of it. Continue reading

Hybrid Education: The Interactive Class of Today and Tomorrow

Judith McDanielBy Judith McDaniel
Editor, Web-based Course Design

I’m learning several new things in the classroom these days, thanks to the opportunity and necessity of online teaching. At the university, every class is assigned a learning management system course site. It is used for all course reserve materials, and as a teacher, I have gradually expanded to using automatically graded quizzes, posting class news and information, and now requiring online discussions. Hybrid classes are those that go beyond using the course site as a bulletin board. Hybrid classes incorporate a significant amount of online learning and interaction along with the face-to-face component of the class.

I teach face-to-face classes at a large public university and I usually have about 100 students in a class. It’s easy for a student to hide in that setting. I don’t know all the names, and even with a seating chart, it is hard for me to call on the right student with the right name! They also don’t know each other, for the most part. A shy student could go through the entire class without ever making a public comment, saying hello to a fellow student, or interacting with me beyond submitting papers and taking an exam.
a group of people discussing; picture artistically blurred
That’s changed now. Every student in my class is part of a small online discussion forum of eight or nine. Each student is required to post in response to regular prompts from me. At least twice during the semester I schedule time for these discussion groups to meet face-to-face. So students not only know that Brad posted an opinion that contradicted or supported their opinions, but they know who Brad is when they sit next to him in class or pass him on campus.

For the most part, students love this kind of interaction. Out of perhaps 1000 students I have engaged this way, I can remember only two comments from students who did not want to be required to express and support an opinion that could be identified as theirs.

Two Steps Forward . . . Several Back

Judith SotirBy Judith Sotir

I absolutely agree with Judith McDaniel (What Students Want and How to Design for It: A Reflection on Online Teaching, posted on July 19, 2009) that online learning of any sort requires a different dynamic than traditional teaching techniques. Although technology has moved from an interesting idea in the latter part of the last century to a defining role in this century, I don’t see schools necessarily following suit.

A good example is a recent workshop I did for staff from a local school district. The instructors specifically requested a workshop on “Using Blogs and Wikis in the Classroom” and were willing to give up some summer sun hours to attend. The tech coordinator (or facilitator, since the position of technology coordinator was eliminated and a principal stepped in to fill the gap) was more than willing to set up the workshop. However, when I got to the school (and remember, the TOPIC was blogs and wikis), I found that the firewalls blocked all access to any form of social websites, including blogs and wikis. I spent a good amount of time with the IT department getting access to a limited number of blogs and had to verify the content of those (even my own, by the way) I was given access to.

laptop with the words The Internet crossed out by a red St Andrew's Cross

Even after gaining access, throughout the workshop, that access was spotty, as links were sometimes allowed and sometimes blocked. From the instructor viewpoint, wanting to bring these tools into the classroom was questionable, given that experience. While filtering websites is important to schools, better dialogue is needed to allow instructors the access they need to teaching tools while still maintaining control of questionable content.

As a former school board member, I recall similar issues in the late’ 80s and ’90s with the IT department, administrators, and even board colleagues regarding having access to the Internet itself from the classrooms. While they saw the value of administrators and staff using the Internet, they balked at allowing the same access in the classrooms. I understand well the frustration of instructors who want to use these tools with their students but run into brick walls when they try.

While not identical, limiting access to Internet resources strikes me as similar to banning books. Instead of allowing instructors to develop educational content as needed, a concern from a limited group blocks all access to these sites. A better dialogue needs to be developed, including perhaps even a faculty liaison committee to bring these concerns to the proper channels. Simply assuming that teaching with computers is the same as traditional teaching keeps students from the tools they need to succeed in the real world.

Creating the Need to Know

Judith_McDaniel2_80By Judith McDaniel
Editor, Web-based Course Design

What motivates someone to learn?

On another website, I wrote about how online learning can function to break down some serious fear-based barriers to learning. So let me say up front, I believe there are at least two steps to creating motivation to learn. The first is to address these fear barriers; and online learning, if done well, has the ability to help with this. Some of the most common fears and a happy response from an online student:

Fear 1. I’m not quick off the mark when a teacher asks a question.
Online student: No one can watch me try to think!

Fear 2. I don’t always manage to say what I mean.
Online student: I can try my words out in private before I post them.

Fear 3. My ideas are complicated and I’m afraid of being misunderstood.
Online student: I can try out new ideas in a safe place.

Fear 4. When I respond in class I sometimes end up feeling like I needed a dress rehearsal!
Online student: I can practice alone in front of my mirror.

Fear 5. I hate how people seem to expect me to respond in a certain way because of how I look or how they see “people like me.”
Online student: I get to choose how much I let people know about me, so I don’t feel “prejudged.”

The second factor, given that learners have overcome the first hurdle, is whether the learner feels a strong need to know something. Educators have argued for years about student “motivation” and I would broaden that to actually talk about the human motivation to learn. We are all students, all the time. We put young people and adults who want professional skills in the category of students and we send them to something called a school. Whether they are studying the alphabet or electrical wiring or legal procedure, they are in school. Progressive educators would argue that older studentsfreire175 who have chosen to acquire professional skills have an edge over younger students because they are motivated to learn information and they have sought an appropriate environment in which to learn it.

Paolo Freiere, the Brazilian educator, said that there exist two primary forms of education: the banking model and the problem-posing model. The banking model is the traditional school process. Students are “given” information by an instructor, which they then memorize or “bank” in their brains for future use. Maybe. John Dewey’s addition to this model was that students then also needed an “experience” that would allow them to use what they had banked, incorporate it into their experiential worlds. Dewey knew (in the words of a professor of mine during the sixties as he observedjohn_dewey2we-students-who-would-try-anything) “There are some experiences that are not worth having.” Dewey said it differently: in order for an experience to be educational, it had to be carefully planned with that goal in mind.

The problem-posing model relies on the student’s motivation. I must (or I want to) do something and I don’t know how, so I will find resources and learn how to solve this problem. In this model the student is the initiator, the instructor, the learner, and the evaluator. Is there room for a guide or instructor in this model of education? Surely, but it is not the role of a traditional teacher. In this model, students are the creators of knowledge as well as the consumers of knowledge and their satisfaction with what they have learned is the outcome measurement. The teacher can help frame the problem, suggest areas for research, suggest resources, and ask questions.

My suggestion that online learning has an edge in creating problem-posing models of education for learners is not new or original. On the issue of technology as a tool learners can use themselves, there is an impressive literature that has already developed and a number of websites. One blog this week (May 19) asked, “Are your e-learning courses pushed or pulled?” In other words, are the courses you design pushing information out to “learners” or are you offering an interactive design that will encourage learners to pull the content they need out of the resources you have provided. Another e-learning site offers the image of technology as a toolbox, a set of tools with which people can build and manage their own learning.

push01

But how does this help create motivation? How can technology create a “need to know” in learners?

At the most basic level, we have technologies that engage learners, that draw them into a dialogue, a relationship, a community (or a tribe, as Seth Godin would put it). But those technologies don’t function by themselves. They are part of a package. Course design is the key. What questions will matter to the people who are coming into your course?

One of my students in an online college program was trying to create a literature study for herself. She lives in Texas and has two small children. At some point in our early interaction, she mentioned how fascinated she had been by the story of the Texas woman who had killed her five children. And how appalled she was at her own fascination. That was her question—why would a woman kill her children? Couldn’t she study that issue in a traditional classroom? Sure, and I would assign Euripides’ Medea and Toni Morrison’s Beloved and George Eliot’s Adam Bede, all great literature in which a woman kills at least one of her own children. What does the web offer that the classroom does not?

Look back at my first paragraph in this article. Not sure how to say it? Not sure how it will be received? Maybe a classroom in a small town in Texas would not be the place to explore this topic in front of friends and neighbors?

So there is the protection of a certain amount of anonymity in looking for answers to this difficult kind of question. But there is more. I have not searched this topic, but I am sure there are websites, chat rooms, historical archives, legal briefs from the cases themselves. Do we want to know more about Margaret Garner who was the historical figure Toni Morrison drew on? The Ohio historical society has an entry that will be useful. The Kentucky Archaeological Society has devoted part of a website to the farm in Kentucky that Garner escaped from with her children as a slave seeking freedom. Photographs of her slave hut, interior and exterior, are available. For the student, there is the allure of the search for accurate details, for motivation. The question belongs to my student. I am not her teacher. I am her guide, pointing her in the right direction occasionally, suggesting ways in which she can determine whether a website is credible and sound or biased and not useful.

And then she returns to her study cohort, all of whom have been asking their own questions, and she needs to describe her journey. She does, creating timelines and a history that starts with the Greeks of Euripides’ time and comes forward to a Texas murder trial in the twenty-first century. She has worked with these other students for several months now, and they are important community to her—she is motivated by the relationship that has grown among them.

What I am struck by over and over as I teach students online is the level of possibility. Would Paolo Freire have found the internet a companion or a burden?  I can only wonder. But for many, it has opened worlds beyond the ones they were born into.

All Learning Is Hybrid Learning: The Idea of ‘The Organizing Technology’

By Steve Eskow
Editor, Hybrid vs. Virtual Issues

Our vocabularies conceal as well as reveal, our conceptual tools often build walls where we need windows.

Consider the instruction on college campuses prior to the arrival of the Internet: a hybrid made up of various forms of reading, writing, listening, making — learning technologies all. And the forms of those learning technologies were, and are, varied and blended: “listening” and “speaking” include forms as diverse as the mass lecture, the small group discussion, the individual tutorial.  “Reading”: in the library, that old great technology, or on the lawn, or in one’s dorm room. And the hands-on lab. And bulletin boards. And of course, more recently, the media technologies that could bring in distant lecturers or music or drama via radio, television, film, 35mm slides . . .

uh_manoaThe campus has always been the scene of blended learning.

However, the master technology — what I’ll call “the organizing technology” — is the one that is usually unremarked and unnoticed, yet it sets the terms and conditions for all the others. And that technology is, of course, the “campus” itself: a piece of real estate in a particular geography; and a set of buildings whose shape and environment allowed or disallowed what sorts of instructional activities could go on within them.

And, of course, the master limitation of the campus was its setting in a particular space: only those who were invited to that space, and whose life conditions allowed them to accept the offer, could study at the college, could benefit from all the other technologies of instruction and learning that it housed.

International education and service-learning  support the case, not refute it. If you wanted to learn in a workplace, or a community agency, or another country, you had to leave the campus for that kind of “blended” learning. Such forms of experiential learning do not “blend” with the campus, but require leaving it. And, of course, such episodes away from “campus” had to “blend” with the rhythms and routines set by the master technology, the campus: fitted into a “semester,” or a spring or summer break.

acer_manoaThe search for ways to avoid the restraints and limitations of the “campus” are almost as old as the campus itself: the search for a university without walls includes university extension and its various forms: circuit-riding teachers; correspondence study; instruction by radio and television.

Distance learning is the negation of place-bound learning.

So what is being called “hybrid” or “blended” learning is the addition of Internet-based learning to the other learning technologies available to the campus-based student. The organizing technology, the master technology, of such hybrids is the campus, and students must live with the limitations as well as the benefits imposed by a particular piece of geography and the buildings erected upon it.

The discussion, then — the argument — is not between the champions of “blended” learning and those who propose all-online learning.

The struggle is between learning defined and organized by one technology — the “campus” — and another — call it “cyberspace” or “Internet” for now — that wants to exploit the possibilities of a technology that frees instruction and learning from the traditional constraints of space, place, and time.

And “blended” learning continues the hegemony of the campus: it does not end it.

How Is the Recession Affecting Online Higher Education?

John SenerBy John Sener

It’s been a long time since I’ve watched the 11 o’clock news on television. My recollection is that it consists of an endless series of deaths, accidents, and other disasters, relieved only by the commercials and an occasional human interest story. Ray Schroeder’s blog “New Realities in Higher Education” is the 11 o’clock news for higher education — except without the heartwarming human interest stories or commercials. The stories are pretty much one hair-raising signal of impending doom after another — make sure you’re in a reasonably good mood before tackling this one.

Once the train wreck/auto crash voyeuristic feeling wears off, inevitably when reading New Realities I find myself wondering: Is the recession helping speed the adoption of online higher education, or slowing it down, or some of both? On the one hand, many community colleges are reporting the increases in enrollment demand that economic downturns typically bring, North Carolina being one example. On the other hand, many (often the same) community colleges are also reporting budget cuts which force them to cancel classes and otherwise reduce offerings, North Carolina also being one example.

One school of thought is that the recession will drive adoption of online learning as a cost-saving measure or as a way to provide access to education for cost-conscious students. A counter-argument is that initial implementation of online education requires investment in infrastructure, faculty development, culture change, etc. and that such funds are not available, hence online education adoption is being slowed down.

So far, I haven’t been able to find anything other than speculation about this topic. By contrast, one of Ray Schroeder’s previous blog efforts, Fueling Online Learning, showed pretty clearly that last year’s astronomical gasoline prices had a strong correlation with increased enrollments in online higher education. (The causal connection is less clear, but a case can be made that there was one.)

Anyone have any concrete evidence on the recession’s effect on online education?

Needed – A Professional Approach to Teaching

adsit80By John Adsit
Staff Writer

I approach the subject of Rhee and the reactions of the teaching “profession” with a sadness bordering on despair for I enter a battlefield on which I have often fought. My few small victories pale in comparison with my many painful defeats.

I put “profession” in quotations because I am not sure teaching can be called a profession. In what other profession can its members practice with no training whatsoever, as happens frequently at the college level? In what other profession can its members start with basic training and learn nothing new over a 40 year career, as frequently happens at the K-12 level? If a doctor were to start bleeding patients rather than use the results of the latest medical research, he or she would be hauled before a medical tribunal, but in education ignoring research results is the norm.

adsitdec1508Nearly 20 years ago I was a highly regarded teacher. Although I was somewhat innovative, I used a largely traditional approach, imitating the best of those who had in turn taught me. All my graduate work was in my content area so I had little education training beyond my initial certification. One day I was sent to a workshop introducing a very different educational approach. Most of what I heard sounded perfectly wrong, and I was close to dismissing it.

I was intrigued by some points, though, that made me fear some of my practices might be harmful to student learning. I took some of the more interesting ideas back to my classroom and gave them a go. I first completely changed some of my favorite lessons into authentic learning projects, and I started experimenting with a mastery learning assessment process at the same time. (For more on the “mastery learning assessment process,” see my earlier article, “Old School Thinking Blocks Quality Online Science Classes.” In upcoming articles, I’ll delve deeper into these approaches.) The level of immediate success was shocking. I implemented one change after another and watched student achievement soar beyond my wildest dreams until I was a complete convert.

One year I had more students get top scores (5) on the AP exam than all the other AP teachers in the school combined had students pass (3). I also taught a remedial writing class, and its average score on the district writing assessment was higher than most of the regular classes. Despite objective measures of success, my colleagues angrily accused me of lowering standards because so many of my students were getting A’s and B’s! I was not teaching the right way, the way teaching had always been done.

When I was brought into the central administration to help teach these methodologies, I became an education literature junkie, learning many things that the general education community evidently does not wish to know. Longitudinal studies, for example, have shown that some teachers have significantly superior student achievement than their colleagues in the same school, year after year, and some teachers have consistently poorer student achievement, year after year. If an elementary student is blessed with three consecutive years of good teaching, his or her achievement scores will be about 50 percentile points higher than a student cursed by three consecutive years of poor teaching. The most effective and least effective methods of instruction have been identified. Processes by which whole schools can be turned from failure to success are known.

adsitdec1508bNone of this is a secret. All of the nation’s top theorists are largely in agreement. Outline the main concepts before a meeting of district curriculum leaders, and they, too, will nod in agreement.

But talk about it in a meeting at the school level, and you’ll be lucky to get out alive.

Only a few weeks ago I watched a school leader outline the steps her school would take to improve its miserable failure rate, and I saw the same failed ideas that have been used for decades. I asked if they were planning to investigate the latest research on successful schools, and she said no, they were sticking with “tried and true” methods.  I was reminded of how George Washington’s doctors bled about half of the total blood volume from the choking ex-president  (the tried and true cure) and refused to allow another doctor to perform a new procedure, the tracheotomy that might have saved his life[1].

Change can happen. Individual teachers can change instructional methods and vastly improve student achievement. Schools can adopt processes that have been proven successful. This will not happen, though, as long as the majority of educators stick with the “tried and true” methods that have brought us to where we are today. This will not happen until education becomes a true profession, with members who view the educational process as worthy of study in and of itself.