“Made for Listening”

This one’s from Dewey:

“Just as the biologist can take a bone or two and reconstruct the whole animal, so, if we put before the mind’s eye the ordinay classroom, with its rows of ugly desks placed in geometrical order, crowded together so that there is as little moving room as possible…and add a table, some chairs, the bare walls with possibly a few pictures, we can reconstruct the only educational activity that can possibly go on in such a place. It is all made for listening.

I couldn’t agree more. Being in Paraguay this summer drove this home in a way I have never seen before–rows of students bent silently over notebooks transcribing the constant drone of a lecturer reading from a yellowing textbook. So, if such a classroom is made for listening, what then would my problem-based, amorphous, flexible, energetic, chaotic classroom be made for?

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Ugly Constructivism

Read an article for Learning Theory the other day that explored the “many faces of constructivism” — the classic good, bad and ugly. Perhaps tellingly, it was Phillips’ “ugly” face that stuck with me. He says:

“As in all living religions, constructivism has many sects–each of which harbors some distrust of its rivals. This descent into sectarianism, and the accompanying growth in distrust of nonbelievers, is probably the fate of all large-scale movements inspired by interesting ideas.”

Wow. No one could deny that large-scale movements inspired by interesting ideas do have a striking tendency to schism; feminism…environmentalism…the civil rights movement. And each of the resulting factions arguably believes itself to be the true guardian of the interesting idea, and the others to be [to some degree or another] apostate from it.

I guess my question is; what is the alternative? Continue reading

Measuring Skulls…

In many ways, modern psychology is indistinguishable from the biology and biochemistry of the nervous system. I love learning about the intricacies of neuro-transmitters. I love demonstrations of neural plasticity. I love the connections we can draw between culture, personality, even tastes and brain chemistry. But it makes me wonder…

Scientists in former centuries [not as far back as we’d like to think] took precise measurements of skull shape and dimensions to determine the mental capacity, the relative intelligence of individuals and races. Africans, they said, had larger occipital lobes, and therefore were clearly closely related to apes. Caucasians had larger frontal lobes, indicating a highly developed sense of self and acculturation, etc. These “findings” are repugnant now, but are some of the things we “learn” from neuroscience any less so? As Ellis and Hunt point out in their Introduction to Cognitive Neuroscience; “much of contemporary research essentially has the same goal but the techniques are much more sophisticated.” Our explorations may already be over-simplified, over-generalized and over-stepping the bounds of what we can actually learn from what we measure.

Becoming Skinner

I’ve been thinking lately about the available roles in the intellectual community, and my relative capacity and inclination to fill the same. To put it more concisely, I’ve been debating whether or not I’d want to be a “Skinner.” In the short term, of course that’s exactly what you’d want to be—a leading researcher in the field, making discoveries, laying down theory, breaking ground and more than breaking even. But, though every Psychology of Learning class in every university in the country covers him, his pure mechanism approach to human behavior is all but laughed at today. So, in the long term being a Skinner looks like a decided disadvantage.

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Cognitive White-Space

I started this post several weeks ago. I didn’t have time to finish it then and I don’t really have time to finish it now, only the situation has become such that nothing else is really coherent at the moment, so if I’m going to do anything productive this afternoon, it’s going to have to be this first.

I spent a couple hours this morning “catching up” in my feed reader. Yes, I said hours. My classmates presented a dizzying array of intelligent Facebook applications, educational uses for Flikr, thoughts on the merits of video across domains from cooking to calculus, and critical commentary on the purported negative effects of social media on undergraduate intellectual life. They were thorough, sentient and clever, and I was … overwhelmed.

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Relevance, Permanence, Social Discourse and Filtering …or… “If I Were a Middle School Teacher…”

Between the curriculum project for Teach a Man to Fish in my development class, sharing and social networking discussions (so often including references to “the younger generation” which I have been a little shocked—though not wholly disappointed—to discover I am no longer a part of) in the New Media course, and launching a blog this weekend for my Mom to record her experience teaching religion to 20 high-schoolers at 6:30am every school day (Mormons call that “seminary”) I’ve been thinking a lot about teenagers. Specifically, how to teach teenagers.
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Does Data Belong in the Driver’s Seat?

I’m struggling with this one. Our web analytics class is looking at a couple months’ worth of data from BYU’s most popular independent study course, Math 110 [not sure what the definition of “popular” is in this case, by the way] and making some recommendations, both about their tracking suite and about the course itself. Clint explained, and I understand, that analytics is not meant for examining a handful of people—it’s for looking at trends, types, aggregates. But, for me, that aggregation leads to serious questions.

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The Demands of Agentive Psychology

I had to laugh. Writing the title to this post, I found myself chuckling: “And you wonder why nobody reads the blog anymore…” Somehow stories of butchering pigs and flirting with soccer players in Paraguay just have more appeal than learning theory or political positing. Go figure.

A fascinating discussion with Richard Williams in our Learning Theory class finally helped solidify what is really required to embrace agentive psychology, to make the shift from an acquisitional model of learning to a participatory model–you’ve got to speak in verbs instead of nouns.

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Why I’m Not a Programmer

The wordpress codex has a little tagline at the bottom of every page that reads, “Code is Poetry.” Apparently, I am not a poet.

I know I said a couple months ago that I was repenting. I changed my mind. The reason is fairly straightforward: programming makes me feel stupid. Now there are a lot of ways to feel stupid, some of which I have of necessity embraced and even come to appreciate in my life. There’s the kind of feeling stupid that comes because you did something oafish, but usually that also comes with making someone laugh, so I’m okay with that. There’s the kind of feeling stupid that comes because you don’t know something you should know, but there are few better motivators for finding out, so I’m okay with that too. There’s the kind of feeling stupid that comes because after a long, stubborn fight, you find out you really are wrong, and that kind of feeling stupid is very, very good for me. Continue reading

Take the Next Step

Kristen E. Cox [2008 Distinguished Alumni for the BYU School of Education] has been appointed to a national committee by President Bush, headed the Utah Department of Workforce Services and lost a gubernatorial election. She’s a vibrant, engaging woman—disarmingly confident in front of a crowd. She’s been an educator, a politician, an advocate and is currently raising both a teen and a toddler. Oh, yeah, and she’s blind.

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