by Stephen Downes
May 27, 2016
I'm writing this post on a three-year old laptop even though I could be using a tablet. Why? The screen is larger, so I don't need to squint to read. The keyboard is hefty and responsive. It's really light (the carbon fibre construction is actually lighter than my iPad). It has HDMI and USB and earbud ports. It's more powerful than a tablet, and runs productivity software as well development environments. but it cost less. It doesn't require special 'apps'. Donald Clark points to all this in his post. Of course, my laptop is an ideaPad, which means it can become a tablet if I want. It has six hours of battery life, which makes it OK for airplane use (my next laptop will have more). The touch-sensitive screen means I can draw on it (I need to learn how, though). So the point here isn't that tablets are bad - it's that the way they were designed and marketed was bad. Apple could have designed a teriffic tool, but it had other priorities.
Algebra has once again come under challenge and in response there have been the usual defenses, such as this article on why we need algebra. To me (as I do things like measure the amount of paint required to cover a four bedroom house) the answer is pretty clear. But people like Andrew Hacker argue it should be dropped from the curriculum because it's a leading cause of dropouts. In my own education, the concept of abstraction confounded me; I didn't really get it until graduate school. That's because it was always based on memorization, which renders it pointless and abstruse. But it doesn't have to be this way. What if we taught it differently, experientially, by making people the variables. Imagine, for example, this wonderful technique employed by Alfred Thompson where students form the variables. He intends it for basic computing algorithms, but there's no reason students couldn't be challenged to create more and more involved and complex 'human machines'. The possibilities are endless. (p.s. have them communicate by email instead of by voice and you've also invented rudimentary people-based service-oriented architecture).
Several studies have just come out describing the uneasy reality of gender non-parity in social networks:
This link points to a British initiative, Reclaim the Internet. "Here you'll find questions, discussion, personal testimony and ideas on how we can take a stand against online abuse." I'll make one comment: this is not unique to the internet. Visit any pub or locker room or barracks and you'll find the same. This sort of behaviour is currently socially acceptable; that's why we see it. It shouldn't be. Reports via MediaSmarts.
In 2015 there were roughly 20 million students in the United States. Why is this significant? According to this release from Lumen Learning, which is similar to others I've seen, the use of open educational resources - specifically, open textbooks - saved 4,825 students some $535,000 in that same year. That's more than $1,000 per student, which means that this program alone, if applied nationally in the U.S. would save students $20 billion - with a B. Now this number is probably high - the average student spends only $900 on textbooks, and the entire market size is only $14 billion, so we're not going to hit $20 billion. But no matter what, the numbers are staggering. Which begs the question: why is this not happening?
At a certain point of overuse a word loses its meaning. "Transform" is one such word, according to Larry Cuban. "When it comes to school reform, as the quotes above indicate, the word 'transform' hits the jackpot of overhyped words in reformers’ vocabulary.... Yes, I have gotten allergic to the word 'transform' when it is applied to schooling. That allergy has prompted me to ask any policymaker, researcher, practitioner, high-tech entrepreneur, venture capitalist, or parent using the word, certain questions about what he or she means." What follows is a lost of questions that should be asked of people promoting transformation. What does it mean? What problems are being solved? What exactly is transformed? What does it become? How fast? Why is it better? But, of course, these questions could be asked against any of our buzzwords today - analytics, reform, open, online, whatever. And they should be asked. Slogans aren't plans.
MediaSmarts (which once upon a time had a much better name, the Media Awareness Network) has released the final installment of Use, Understand & Create: A Digital Literacy Framework for Canadian Schools. The framework "includes over 50 lessons and interactive games, organized by grade level from kindergarten to grade 12, that are aligned with seven aspects of digital literacy: finding and verifying; ethics and empathy; privacy and security; digital health; consumer awareness; community engagement; and making and remixing." View the framework here. For the theoretical background, see this "mapping of the features and focal points of digital literacy and digital citizenship from across the country": 75 page PDF.
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