Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Pedagogy of Information Abudance

David Warlick's lecture was divine, pinpointing areas of outdated thought that mar the "new information landscape" like ruinous, empty factories. My classmates have written about some of them: Racheal sketched a compelling appeal for Wikipedia and more, while Elizabeth ran through pros and cons of the "Web 2.0 Roulette." So I'll take a different route--the path less traveled on.

Warlick asked, "Information is no longer scarce... what then are the pedagogies of information abundance?" The pedagogies of information abundance seem to circle around internet-hunts, updated MLA/APA/Chicago handbooks, and online databases condemning the wider world web of wandering. Online corkboards replace on-the-wall smartboards, side-by-side with their whiteboard and blackboard predecessors. And still our students are bored. And still we wonder why.

So often, students are more tech-savvy then their teachers. We've all seen it: the professor calling on her class to "fix the dratted thing" or wasting time to phone IT. Meanwhile, we fiddle on our phones--smartphones, sometimes--clicking and texting tandems about the smartboard. We see no power in her point; when the power goes off-line, the class goes off-topic; when the room is electric, the student's are not.

But I'm ranting; technological incorporation can be great, when it works.

And when it's done right.

Today more than ever, our students need to be trained in differentiating between facts and opinions, between bias and balance, between that which is stated and that which is the state. So often, we simply instruct our students to find content, filling their papers with (we hope) reason resources. But rarely do we show them how to, say, google the author of the article and find his post at Harvard, or her dissertation on stem cell usage in Nigeria. Rarely do we instruct them in the art of analyzing thesis, antithesis, and synthesis as they are presented in a wide context of social, political, historical, cultural, and even psycho-somatic perspectives. Rarely are they taught to think, and question their thinking.

So often, we teach our students how to be taught--how to be content repositories--rather than how to teach themselves. All know how to browse the internet for information. Most know how to reproduce information. Many know how to reformat information into coherent papers. But few know how to connect data in new and innovative ways, networking with the world at large to craft new and helpful insights, programs, or projects. Few know how to be creative and correct.

As Warlick stated, our students need to have the right kind of literacy--not school-oriented, but life-oriented. In my biased opinion, they need to have a philosopher's questioning perspective, always asking "how did we come to this conclusion? Is it possible? plausible? likely? And if followed to its natural end, will this lead to a liveable lifestyle?" Current literacy standard ask for a simple reproduction of information, not for a contextual critique of information necessary in our new information landscape.

So let's convince our students and ourselves of a new, thinking pedagogy of creative critique--networking, building, and questioning to be literate in this brave new world.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Educational Collaboration

Coming together is a beginning.
Keeping together is progress.
Working together is success.
- Henry Ford

Collaboration. Not cooperation, and certainly not coercion. Collaboration is what we long for on every level--within the classroom, from teacher to teacher, with the administration, and from the all-maligned government.

Often, coercion is the rule: THUS SAITH I, says the teacher-on-high, and the unruly students disobey. Or perhaps we shall call the students "bored" or "disengaged," which certainly more charitable and maybe more near to the truth. "We can't be measured; we rule the school; we'll break your ruler in metric bits." A CENTIMETER, says the teacher-on-high, as her broken ruler is laid by. But the unruly/vexed/bored/tired students, in practicing unruly-ness, learn unruly-ness. And thus our nation is ruled: immeasurable, we're measured by foot-long stick-in-the-muds who coerce in the workplace, in the communities, in our governmental rules.

Cooperation sometimes occurs. Interactions are sometimes synchronized in some way... teachers do sometimes, principles do something, parents do something, and so do the students. The students, more often then others, do not match expected outcomes: they are creative, or at least "original in their destructivity." The "thing" they summon is not always the "something" expected. But they live in an unanticipated world, crafting an unanticipate-able future. Cooperation--mere synchronicity--isn't enough. N* Sync is totally bye bye bye, while Mindless Behavior (a mentee's favorite band) is singing about the future -- hopefully, mindless behavior isn't our future.

But collaboration... that's the rub. Pixar models it for us: they have their own corporate university to train new and existing animators, BUT everyone who works for Pixar is invited to attend. That's right--janitors, marketing managers, chefs (think Ratatouille), EVERYONE. They interact together, collaborating by connecting disparate ideas in new and innovative ways, drawing on knowledge pools ranging from a mechanic to an artist to an advertising exec. And thusly their films are fabulous.

What if our schools were the same way? What if we worked across the curriculum to incorporate internet-saavy math with English assignments--so that students designed their own assignments for themselves and for next year's class? What if students actually felt involved in and responsible for their learning--and were rulers instead of unruly? Alan November talks about the difficulty in making this transition from ruler to faciliator for teachers, and from isolated standards of measurement to cross-cultural/disciplinary/anything for the administrators.

But let's be serious here: the kids are already doing it, pilfering information from here and there to make their own truth. Let's collaborate with them to find a truer truth, and to avoid a future of mindless behavior.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Penitentiary or Plie?

Ken Robinson’s Out of Our Minds, a book exhorting the educational system not to “raise standards” that simply reinforced hierarchical notions that literacy and mathematics are the only intelligent subjects, but to reinvigorate the education model in ways that incorporate creativity—the innovative creativity necessary in our swiftly shifting, technology-riddled, global world.

Robinson (Sir Robinson, should I say) asks us to reconsider our evaluation of the arts. Why are art programs always the first to be cut? When we find music therapy to be invaluable in aiding special needs students, when visual art is so therapeutic and even advantageous in today’s advertising market, when theatre/film physically and emotionally convicts the soul, and when DANCE—yes, John Calvin’s abhorred and verboten art form—when DANCE can save the young convict’s soul.

I know a young man whose name is not Tyrell, but we’ll call him that, since Confidentially is King, and Tyrell is a darn good name. Tyrell has no electricity in his home, no food other than unpopped popcorn (due, of course, to lack of electricity), and no proper parenting. A neighbor highlighted his home as the location of the next shooting, since teens flock there like cougars in [or packing] heat. But play the right jams, and Tyrell will dance, and even sing, with a musical intelligence incredible for a 10-year-old.

Tyrell isn’t a savant, unlike Derek Paravicini—a blind, likely autistic young man who cannot tie his shoes, but plays piano with uncanny brilliancy. But Tyrell does illustrate Robinson’s point: there are many intelligences, and some of them—the artistic ones, especially—are disregarded or ostracized in school. When an artistic intelligence is explored through a disciplined medium, incredible results can follow. Robinson illustrates as follows:

Dance United is a professional contemporary dance company based in Bradford in the United Kingdom. The company provides a dance-based education program called the Academy, as an option for young offenders within the local criminal justice setting….The participants have included young people convicted of robbery, drug offenses, burglary, and assault….The aim of the Academy is not simply to help young people to avoid re-offending; but to help them to discover their real potential an their innate capacity to succeed. (Robinson 133)

Though many were skeptical of the Academy’s program, contemporary dance proved to be “the one thing where I’ve seen people make the most progress over the shortest period of time,” explains a member of Dance United. Within just the first three weeks of the twelve-week program—when the participants professionally stage their first performance—many have already achieved a sense of discipline and self-confidence to approach challenge with physical and emotional strength. Jim Brady, a professional member of Dance United, says that participant Daryll didn’t even speak when he first joined the program, but now

He’s physically transformed by it. He’s now concerned about nutrition and diet and general health. He’s articulate and he’s speaking. He carries himself very differently. He’s confident and that all happened in the space of three weeks. That’s quite a transformation. (Robinson 135)
Penitentiaries rarely succeed in reforming young people; prisons rarely achieve rehabilitation. Why don't we try a few pliƩs? And why not transform our educational system to start with--incorporating hip-hop, ballet, film production, pottery, miming, puppetry, and so much more from the onslaught? Let's get creative in solving educational difficulties, and solve our children's penal difficulties en route.