September

Alan Finder (The NY Times) reports on the jump in reading and math test scores in Wake County, NC, a jump that is attributed to economic diversity accomplished by busing.

"Low-income students who have an opportunity to go to middle-class schools are surrounded by peers who have bigger dreams and who are more academically engaged," said Richard D. Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation who has written about economic integration in schools. "They are surrounded by parents who are more likely to be active in the school. And they are taught by teachers who more likely are highly qualified than the teachers in low-income schools."

Reading through the article, we can see people's values at play: white vs. black, choice vs. quality education, choice vs. busing, success measured by property values and corporate support, economic diversity as a proxy for racial diversity, and so on. We can also wonder whether those with bigger dreams are being influenced by those with "smaller" dreams. We might ask where the teachers in previously low-income schools went? Did they quit to make room for the "highly qualified"? Or, like the students, did they become influenced by the "highly qualified" to raise their "teaching" scores?

However, it's more interesting from a complexity theory perspective of clustering and diversity. Clustering often leads to segregation: people feel more comfortable with what's familiar, and that includes ethnic and racial familiarity. Diversity can lead to creativity and innovation, and as seen here, increased test scores. (It should be remembered that the top scores likely aren't increasing, but the overall scores are due to lower performers achieving more.) In some sense, the fitness of the school ecology is improving through rearranging the system's structure.

Somewhat paradoxically, a central tenet of complexity theory is self-organization with no central control. And yet in this case a central, top-down order has improved the system's fitness. Of course, we don't know how that order came about: whether initiated from the school superintendent or deriving from the input of many stakeholders. Even so, along the lines of Juarrero's enabling constraints, greater complexity results from structure. Thus, on a smaller scale, we might consider how to structure diversity and interaction among different groups in our classrooms.



Hal Varian (NY Times) reports on a study of teacher effectiveness. An unsurprising finding was that some teachers are more effective at improving student test scores than others.

What was surprising is that

easily observable characteristics like having a master's degree or a passing score on the teacher certification exam are not correlated with teacher effectiveness.

This reminds me of something I read some time ago about there being only a 2 % correlation between MBA GPAs and their success in business. More than textbook knowledge, social skills played a role in being successful. If something similar is at work here, then shouldn't education schools help their students learn what will make them effective teachers?

Varian cited the report's finding that the "most important single influence is experience," although it isn't clear whether that means that teachers learn by doing or ineffective teachers quit teaching.

Of course, it could be a combination of both. Still, these results indicate, at least to me, more apprenticeship and less theory (not none) is one approach education schools should take. The other indication, which I mention in the previous post, is one in which I'm not sure that education schools can play much of a role. That is, effective teachers are those who sincerely care for their students and have a considerable amount of patience in working with them.



I submitted my paper on the Fethuallah Gülen educational movement. The more I think about the less confident I am that the public school system will change for the better. The difference between Gülen-inspired teachers and most others (not all, of course) is sacrificial love. Other teachers "model" character, they live it. Students are not deceived, and surrounded by a culture of individualism, corporate greed, and political scandal, there's little reason for them to become any different. It's great to master content knowledge and teaching strategies, but to motivate students to want to master "school" knowledge, teachers must love them.

None of this is new. Schweitzer, Russell, Fromm,Huebner, and others have all said the same: living a life worth living requires knowledge and love. As Russell (1961) put it,

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).



Jim of the Humlab summarizes a lecture given by Erik Stolterman on "philosophical aspects of collaborative intuitive design." I generally dislike criticizing, preferring to synthesize what I find useful in others' work. And I wasn't there, so perhaps conversing face-to-face with Jim or Erik would add the context and nuance that I do not see in this summary. However, from what I do see, much of this "philosophizing" is merely oversimplification to the point of being almost useless. He gives, for example, a table contrasting design and science tools in terms of dichotomies, such as meaning-value, judgment-logic, competence-knowledge, and others. These dichotomies rely upon idealized (and false) representations of design and science. And it's difficult to know how to respond to someone who says, "The ability to make judgments distinguishes a designer from a researcher and distinguishes a good designer." Researchers don't design their experiments? They don't use judgment based upon past experience? Also, Jim records, "judgment is knowing based on knowledge that is inseparable from the knower." Is there any knowledge that is separable from the knower?

Still, this summary is instructive. Being specialists in the currency of knowledge, we can't be aware of, much less know, all the manifold disciplines that touch upon our interests, so we're likely to be "wrong" much of the time.



From my other blog ESL Writing & Technology, I reported on Matt Barton's attempt to create a Rhetoric & Composition wiki textbook, aided by his students this semester. This fits in well in complexity concepts of providing opportunity for interaction, feedback loops, and networks of learning, in effect, creating an ecology of learning.



Alan (of Learning Circuits Blog and based on Elliot Maise's Learning Trends) compares CNN to Education.

I would not suggest that higher education institutions need to operate like CNN, but I find it fascinating to read Elliot Masie's observations of how CNN dealt with the flow of content and information in the wake of Hurrican Katrina. ...

The question is, will educational institutions be one of these organizations [that assemble content]? Below I have take some of Maise's descriptions of CNN and put them besides a gross and likely over generalized observation of higher education. Yes, there are numerous exceptions and counter examples to every one of my points, but as a whole, when you read how CNN operates and put it besides how your higher education institution operates, the contrast should be rather vivid.

He compares the tools used for assembling content, the formats, recency of content creation, content repositories, and the development cycle. Of course, even in the media there are differences between Time Magazine, The New York Times, and daily TV news. Much more so when peer review scrutiny is added in for scholarly works. And there are large differences in the technical skills of students and the specialization and skills of professionals.

But I wonder what we could adapt. For instance, how would letting present classes having access to previous classes' work in addition to the occasional student examples provided change the dynamics of learning, especially when students know that their work will become part of the repository? Would there be more engagement? Interaction? New networks?



George Siemens writes well on the need to move from designing instruction to designing learning ecologies:

What does this "learning ecology" look like? First, it holds "content" in a manner similar to courses, but the content is not confined and pre-selected by the designer. Instead, the ecology fosters connections to original and knowledge sources, allowing for "currency" (up to date). The ecology fosters rich interaction between disparate fields of information, allowing growth and adaptation of ideas and concepts (i.e. "the verge"). Each participant in the ecology pursues his/her own objectives, but within the organized domain of the knowledge of a particular field (after all, some form of learner competence should emerge as a result of existing in the ecology). Nodes (content and people) and connections are the basic elements of a network. An ecology should permit these networks to develop and flourish without hindrance.

This is pretty much what I have been writing about. He focuses on electronic tools, such as RSS feeds, blogs, wikis, and so on, to foster collaboration and interaction, key processes in any living ecology. The pursuing one's own objectives within a particular domain (depending on how wide domain is meant) fits in well with the notion of enabling topdown constraints along the lines of Alicia Juarrero's position on action and intention (see my review of her book posted here on August 22, 2005).



From Science Blog (via samzenpus of Slashdot): 

Cornell University and Tel Aviv University researchers have developed a method for enabling a computer program to scan text in any of a number of languages, including English and Chinese, and autonomously and without previous information infer the underlying rules of grammar. The rules can then be used to generate new and meaningful sentences. The method also works for such data as sheet music or protein sequences.

It also has been used successfully with "parent-directed speech at 2- or 3-year olds." What this suggests is that there may be no UG (or LAD) specific to language. Rather, learning a language may occur from general cognitive processes. Just as a stem cell can develop into different cell types depending upon its environment, so, too, do general cognitive processes develop into language specific processes.