December

Antone Gonsalves of Techlearning (cited in Ray Schroeder of Educational Technology) reports that the $2 billion a year the U.S. government has spent since 1998 on creating school access to the Internet has had no effect on learning according to a University of Chicago study.

I'm not surprised. If technology is used as if one were in a traditional classroom, then why would learning change? For technology to promote learning past that of the traditional classroom, it must move past the traditional student-give-coursework-to-teacher-and-teacher-returns-to-student-the-product, in which there are no other participants. Technology, as noted in the previous post on classroom blogging, has the potential to create networks of learning within the classroom and across classroom boundaries, with classmates and others, thus creating real audiences and interactions that promote analysis, synthesis, and perhaps even engagement.

A teacher on Remote Access speaks of the need for students to acquire networks of learning:

In this era, we need to ensure that time is spent teaching kids how to evaluate and validate personal nodes and networks for academic purposes. A tool such as technorati may be a starting point to help get kids "up to speed" quickly for a certain set of concepts being worked on in a classroom. This may be a key. We need to learn how to create flexible learning networks for short periods of time. We need to learn how to teach kids the skills they need to quickly acquire a network and apprise themselves of a set of places they can look to for information. This is completely new and something teachers have not had to be concerned with in the past, but it is definitely a skills for our time. The ability to first of all locate nodes of information and second of all evaluate their usefulness and truthfulness for our needs is something for us to begin thinking about with the kids in our classrooms.



In October, I posted on academic blogging. Now, I wish to sidetrack to classroom blogging.

When looking at educational rationales for incorporating blogs into classes, we see the notions of student participation, ownership, autonomy, motivation, and learning. Participation can fit any relational model, but often it is spoken of in terms of autonomy, freeing students from teacher control, suggesting a preference for a communal sharing model instead of an authority ranking model (see Alan Fiske), although they are not exclusive. Whether the student or the academic blogospher, a constant refrain is that of "connecting." Will Richardson at weblogg-ed talks about "Connecting for life." Barbara Gannings promotes classroom blogging for "the connecting, the discussing, the collaborating it fosters" (September 24, 2005). George Siemens asserts that a new learning model of connectivism is required for a digital world, a model that promotes connections as enabling a continual flow of information rather than a master of today's content:

The pipe is more important than the content within the pipe. Our ability to learn what we need for tomorrow is more important than what we know today. A real challenge for any learning theory is to actuate known knowledge at the point of application. When knowledge, however, is needed, but not known, the ability to plug into sources to meet the requirements becomes a vital skill. As knowledge continues to grow and evolve, access to what is needed is more important than what the learner currently possesses.

Returning to academic blogging, it is not possible to keep up with the exponential increase of information. It also is not possible to keep up with the exponential increase in connections. To be continued.



Dave Munger (in Cognitive Daily, a blog reviewing psychology articles) reports on the findings of Angela Duckworth and Martin Seligman. They found that self-discipline was a better indicator of school performance for 8th graders than IQ: Self-discipline had a .67 correlation with GPA while IQ had only a .32 correlation. In addition, there was no correlation between IQ and self-discipline. This makes sense. Anderson and Schunn (2000) assert that there are no magic bullets in learning, but rather the most important factor is effective time on task. Munger wonders,

Perhaps the most important question which remains is how best to teach children self-discipline — or whether it can be taught at all.

I wonder how self-discipline is related to self-determination (i.e., autonomy, competence, and relatedness).



Returning to the theme of education, it's safe to assume that not all character education programs are successful. Lynn Revell (2002), who conductied research at 12 schools (seven elementary and five high schools), reported that high school students tended to be “cynical or sceptical about specific character traits promoted by Character Education,” especially those students in non-magnet schools who were even “hostile” (pp. 427-428), despite the similarity of programs across schools and the enthusiastic support of parents and school staff. Leming (2000) reported that a literature-based character program promoted cognitive skills among elementary students, but had “mixed results” with respect to affect and behavior. As Kohlberg (1999) states, reasoning is necessary for moral judgment, and moral judgment for moral action; however, moral reasoning and judgment are not sufficient for moral behavior. That is, one may be able to judge a situation correctly in terms of moral principles and still not take moral action, most likely because principles are not integrated into one's identity.

Deci and Ryan's Self-Determination Theory would assert that for individuals to pursue ethical values, internalize them as their own values, and integrate them into their self, their behavior must be self-determined and the environment must satisfy psychological needs for competence, autonomy, and relatedness, with autonomy referring to the volitional “experience of integration and freedom” and relatedness referring to “the desire to feel connected to others—to love and care, and to be loved and cared for” (Deci & Ryan, 2000, p. 231).

Thus, we return to the concept of love as an essential component of leading students (and ourselves) into developing character.



Carl Zimmer of the New York Times reported in an article "Children learn by monkey see, monkey do. Chimps don't" on psychological studies concluding that human beings are hard-wired to learn via imitation.

Mr. Lyons sees his results as evidence that humans are hard-wired to learn by imitation, even when that is clearly not the best way to learn. If he is right, this represents a big evolutionary change from our ape ancestors. Other primates are bad at imitation. When they watch another primate doing something, they seem to focus on what its goals are and ignore its actions.

As human ancestors began to make complicated tools, figuring out goals might not have been good enough anymore. Hominids needed a way to register automatically what other hominids did, even if they didn't understand the intentions behind them. They needed to imitate.

Not long ago, many psychologists thought that imitation was a simple, primitive action compared with figuring out the intentions of others. But that is changing. "Maybe imitation is a lot more sophisticated than people thought," Mr. Lyons said.

Much of learning theory posits that reflection is a deeper form of learning while imitation is a lower form of learning (e.g., Engeström). Yet, there is also an understanding that examples and models facilitate learning. John Anderson of ACT-R learning theory (i.e., declarative and procedural knwoledge) states that there is no real difference between self-generated learning and passive reception of knowledge (unless the former "produces multiple ways to retrieve the material"). Extrapolating to the difference between imitation and reflection, I wonder when reflection is worth the time invested and how much of a difference it really makes.



The effectiveness of character education programs, according to Lynn Revell (2002), remains unclear. Conducting research at 12 schools (seven elementary and five high schools), Revell focused on issues of citizenship and identity and reported that high school students tended to be “cynical or sceptical about specific character traits promoted by Character Education,” especially those students in non-magnet schools who were even “hostile” (pp. 427-428). Despite the similarity of programs across schools and the enthusiastic support of parents and school staff, students’ attitudes toward the programs’ tenets varied according to personal experiences in their communities.

Besides experience, it seems likely that other factors are likely at play, too. One factor is that character education is almost nonexistent in teacher preparation programs (Milson & Mehlig, 2002). Teachers and schools have little, if any, theoretical or practical experience in implementing character education. Although expertise is required to teach a “subject,” it apparently is not required to teach character. Second, and just as importantly, many proponents of character education programs focus on the students and neglect the character of school staff. (Exceptions exist, for example, Lickona and Meier.) And one wonders how schools and teachers simply acquire character if they did not already possess it. Huebner (1999) is worth citing at length on this point:

First, recent discourse about moral and spiritual values in the classroom is incorrectly focused. That discourse assumes that there is something special that can be identified as moral or spiritual. This assumption is false. Everything that is done in schools, and in preparation for school activity, is already infused with the spiritual. All activity in school has moral consequences. The very highlighting of the need to teach moral and spiritual values in schools implies a breakdown not in the spirituality and morality of the student, but a breakdown in the moral activity and spirituality of the school itself, and of the people in control of the school. Those in control of the schools cover their own complicity in the domination system by urging the teaching of moral and spiritual values. They do not urge that the moral and spiritual climate of the schools, which they control, be changed. That teachers do not feel the freedom to be critical and creative is a sign of their enslavement to other principalities and powers. The need is not to see moral and spiritual values as something outside the normal curriculum and school activity, but to probe deeper into the educational landscape to reveal how the spiritual and moral is being denied in everything. The problem in schools is not that kids are not being taught moral and spiritual values, the problem is—the schools are not places where the moral and spiritual life is lived with any kind of intentionality. (pp. 414-415)

Quite naturally, students would be cynical about programs that attempted to transform the students’ character but not the character of the school itself. Of course, the moral activity and spirituality of communities is important, too. For character education to be successful, we need to return not simply to ideals but to the intentional living out of ideals by schools and communities. And the foremost ideal is that of love.

The requirement of love for a “sane society” was emphasized by Erich Fromm (1955). With love come attitudes, such as “care, responsibility, respect and knowledge” (Fromm, 1955, p. 33). Likewise, Bertrand Russell (1961) considered love and knowledge essential for character and progress: “There is only one road to progress, in education as in other human affairs, and that is: Science wielded by love. Without science, love is powerless; without love, science is destructive” (p. 158).

Without love, any attempt to inculcate character values is driven by goals of material success, such as providing “skilled workers” and avoiding discipline problems. Such goals are not necessarily detrimental to education. However, when love is not the guiding principle, these attempts to instill values are no more than indoctrination designed to produce obedience rather than character (Kohlberg, 1999; Kohn, 1999), attempts that do not work but instead promote cynicism, skepticism, or hostility.

For the ideal of love to live in schools, there must be a shift away from the school as a factory in which teachers view students as objectives rather than human beings, a factory in which knowledge is produced and tested rather than character constructed (cf. Huebner, 1999). Instead, there must be a move toward schools and educators who not only have a mastery of their subjects but also embody character and love.