Blog Archives

What’s going on at the moment

This dear ole blog seems to have taken a back seat in recent times.  Now it’s back to reality and I’m playing catch-up with the Internet news.

I’ve now got so many Firefox tabs open that the laptop is starting to slow down. Here’s a snap-shot of what’s there at the moment:

  • Ping – social networking around itunes from Apple.  A nice way of doing the who’s-zooming-who thing. Seems to be getting mixed reaction so far though
  • Axl Rose throwing a strop – tsk tsk, that band don’t like being on time
  • Blame gravity. Apparently we evolved out of nothing, no divine intervention in our being part of planet earth.
  • How to treat employees like responsible adults – now, isn’t this sensible?  Treat employees responsibly and they will actually produce the goods.  No clock watching, no regimentary day, no thou-shalt-not-take-time-off-to-rescue-your-ill-child.  As long as the work gets done, you can set your own day-to-day working conditions.  And it works.  Shows that happens when an employer trusts employees, though it is open to abuse.  Nice plug for Clay Shirkey’s new book at the end.
  • Work practice ideas from HBR – John Hagel 111 & John Seely Brown blogging in the Harvard Business Review tell us 6 interesting common-sense work rules.  The last one, in particular, speaks volumes.  Killing off employees’ passion for their work is truly disastrous.  It’s common sense but sadly all too common.
  • Value-Added Modeling – Scary that this is being taken so seriously. Assessing teachers is not easy. It’s not meant to be easy.  Hence, there is a need to use multiple methods. Sacking teachers because they rank lowly on this scheme alone is downright dangerous.  Read the article to see the holes that can be pulled in the concept.
  • Blogtalk – would love to have gone but alas………….  Good to have a highlights page though. The debate on location-based social networking looks interesting. I can’t for the life of me decide if I like the “I’m in Limerick Junction waiting for the train” type tweets or not.  Foursquare seems to be taking off, meaning that the location stuff is popular.  Social Identity construction looked like an interesting discussion too. I’m fascinated by how the internet allows alter egos to emerge without rejecting the true persona.  It’s like unleashing a part of yourself that would be otherwise hidden for various reasons.
  • Illume – Just in case you have nothing to do in the city for the next week or so, troddle along to illume in the courtyard in tcd to see some seriously high quality sports photography. I wonder why all the photographers seem to be male?
  • Alternatives to Ning – The guys at Ning went to a paid model earlier this year and promptly lost a lot of users, who went off to find free alternatives. This site gives a nice listing of what alternatives are what under various criteria of interest.   Have to ‘fess up and admit that a lot of these are new to me.
  • Enn.ie – I like the content of this site but the layout of the home page makes me want to cry. There’s just too much there, I don’t know where to start.
  • Facebook is numero uno – just in case you didn’t know already, here are the stats to support the claim.

So there.  That’s what trending in my life at the moment.

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How to reach everyone?

I find myself asking this question every year as I grade exam papers that are supposed to be the summation of students learning for the year. Some students you expect to do well and that’s exactly what they do. Some you know just wont get there (despite your best efforts throughout the year) and indeed they dont.  Some end up underachieving and you’re gutted for them. Others exceed expectations and you’re thilled for them.

However, in many cases it’s the reasons why some students do well and others dont that are most interesting. A student who chooses to spend their study hours working in McDonnells (or wherever) to earn enough money to pay for the course they then dont have enough time to devote to is just heart-breaking, but you understand where they are coming from.  Students who do badly because they cant or dont want to study are even more heart-breaking. These are the ones you need to reach the most, and you need to reach them before it’s too late. After the exam is too late.

I’m a big fan of awareness. Just how aware are our students of what they are learning and how they are learning it.  The traditional model of education looks at the product only and not so much at the process. How does an 18-year-old know what is and is not important for the professional world they are graduating into, a world they are sheltered from in their college environment? How much learning happens outside of the classroom that is invisible to the teacher? How much of this are students not given credit for?  Like how exactly do students organise themselves for project group work? How do we know that person X in the group didnt do all the work and person Y didnt do much at all? How do we know if person X was the inspiration behind person Ys contribution that caused a grade jump? There are a lot of how questions.

Answers on a virtual postcard please while I go back to marking….

Art – (un)limited by time and place

The locals have come up with an interesting one to deter the local kiddies (young ones and not so young ones) from covering the place with graffiti. Here’s a step-by-step –

  • Acquire a couple of sheets of plywood from somewhere or other
  • Affix said plywood to railings of centrally-located sports courts
  • Affix sign telling the kiddies that if they absolutely want to exercise a bit of graffiti in the local area they have to use that boarding and nothing else
  • Wait to see product of kiddies graffiti work
  • Wait a month to see product of kiddies graffiti work

Anyhow, its now working. The boarding is now covered with spray paint but here’s my question. Is it pretty? Is it art? Or is it a chaos of paint? When is art art, and when is it a mess of paint? It’s all completely subjective. In my mind the locals attempt are pretty darned nice and isnt it wonderful that they’ve got a free public canvass. Yet, if the very same art were on, say, the wall of my house….. “art” isn’t what I would be calling it. But, isn’t it the same creative expression and the same talent? Of course it is!

The point of the story; there is a wealth of talent that’s abused and ridiculed simply because it’s the wrong thing in the wrong place at the wrong time. This time of year always makes me uncomfortable and I silently apologise to my students for making them sit exams. I just know that –

  • I’ll end up reading lots of off-the-point material that the exam question didn’t ask for. The students are showing off lots of knowledge that I cant give them any credit for
  • At least one student having family problems (little son / daughter having accidents the morning of the exam and requiring a trip to A & E). Result – not mentally tuned into the exam
  • At least one student stressing out in traffic across the city. Result – not mentally tuned into the exam
  • Cramming instead of reflecting. Result – killing off the knowledge that has been built up
  • etc etc etc….

…from students who exhibit significantly more skills and capabilities at other times of the year. There’s just something not quite right going on. For too many kids the the exquisite graffiti goes on the house wall where its not appreciated and the the scribble goes on the official boarding. Result – failure and disappointment and a knock on the head for self-confidence.

graffiti girl

Pic ref: http://www.indymedia.ie/article/76605

(Un)Constructive Learning

Now, here’s an interesting guy
Some Quotes from Stephen Heppell –

“It is a stumbling block that we are still building 19th century schools for the 21st century. We have to ask the hard questions. Why do we ring a bell and expect 1000 children to be hungry all at the same time? Because it is convenient”.

and another –
We need to let go of the productivity definition of education. When we do let go, we see huge leaps in engagement and learning but acknowledges it is difficult to get people to let go. He thinks we need to find excuses to do it just now, but when people experience it working, they don’t want to go back. Agility is the key.

So there!

On the one hand, I completely agree. Couldnt agree more. We force learners into our definition of learning, we expect them to show their learning through daft outcomes such as writing essays at the e-x-a-m-i-n-a-t-i-o-n and woe betide them if they dont get the 40%. And what does it all mean anyhow? What are we measuring? What are we looking for? It’s at this time of the year that I feel guilty looking at rows and rows of students in their isolation bubbles writing essays in a very unconstructive way. How realistic is it to ask students to put away their books and computers and phones and gadgets etc, write an essay on an unseen topic with nothing but a pencil and blank paper? And then, to repeat myself – why? Are our assessment methods killing off joy of learning?

Back to Stephen Heppell – “How do you measure creativity? What is the equivalent of a 1500 word essay? Managing an online discussion for a week? Creating a 10 second video? Posting a podcast?”.