Nov

For those without access to academic journals, try Project Muse:

Project MUSE is a unique collaboration between libraries and publishers providing 100% full-text, affordable and user-friendly online access to over 300 high quality humanities, arts, and social sciences journals from 60 scholarly publishers.

What I really like is that I can have an RSS feed for the journals I'm interested in, which lets me know when new issues have come out (via academHacK).



The journal Reconstruction: studies in contemporary culture has published a special issue on "Theories/Practices of Blogging" (via Mathemagenic). Here's a list of the articles:



How do people develop fluency in a second language? A similar question might be, How do people develop expertise in a subject?

Last month, I posted on Philip Ross's review of The Expert Mind (Scientific American). Besides the 10-year rule on acquiring expertise (and I would add L2 fluency at native levels), the article also noted the problem of transfer:

Chess memory was thus shown to be even more specific than it had seemed, being tuned not merely to the game itself but to typical chess positions. These experiments corroborated earlier studies that had demonstrated convincingly that ability in one area tends not to transfer to another. American psychologist Edward Thorndike first noted this lack of transference over a century ago, when he showed that the study of Latin, for instance, did not improve command of English and that geometric proofs do not teach the use of logic in daily life.

Transfer is a problem. Although first-year composition is designed to prepare students for academic writing in other courses and eventually to their careers, the skills they acquire often, even usually, do not transfer in part because the concepts in FYC are not seen as relevant to other contexts. (See a few references below on the difficulty of writing transfer.) In tackling this problem, two approaches are helpful. One is making connections between class concepts and students' own societal practices. In addition to assignments that cross classroom boundaries, it is helpful for students to keep a journal in which they look for the presence of classroom concepts and practices outside the classroom.

The second approach is one of having a few concepts that are used in a variety of contexts and in interaction with one another lead to higher-level hybrid concepts. I talked about this approach in "Learning by remixing". (See also my paper "Building Blocks and Learning".) The ability to transfer skills and knowledge across domains is not automatic: Just like any other skill, it needs practice.

Some references related to problems in writing transfer:
Anson, Chris, & Forsberg, L. (1990). Moving beyond the academic community: Transitional stages in professional writing. _Written Communication_, 7, 200-231.
Carroll, Lee Ann. (2002). Rehearsing roles: how college students develop as writers. Carbondale: Southern Illinois Univ. Press.
Smit, David. (2004). _The end of composition studies_. Carbondale: Southern Illinois Univ. Press.



Will Richardson has posted on using Pageflakes as a student portal:

From a teaching standpoint, pages of this type can be pretty effective for bringing in potential content and then making decisions about what to do with that content. Not everything that shows up here will necessarily be suitable for some ages. (I have, however, created a same page for my daughter Tess about horses that I let her read at her discretion…she’s nine.) From a student standpoint, I think it’s a great way to introduce RSS, to give kids some ownership over the type of page they create (assuming you’ve had all the responsible use conversations already) and let them start working out their own processes for consuming and deciding about content in this content rich world. And the good news is that they can keep these pages private, or they can share them with groups (or teachers) so they don’t have to be as transparent as this example.

He has a great example on Darfur drawing upon news feeds, a Sudanese newspaper, flickr, Youtube, blogs, etc.



Kathy Sierra asks "Why does engineering/math/science education in the US suck?":

If you studied math, science, or engineering at a four-year college in the US, much of what you learned is useless, forgotten, or obsolete. All that money, all that time, all that wasted talent. If all we lost were a few years, no big deal. But the really scary part is that we never learned what matters most to true experts in math, science, and engineering. We never really learned how to DO math, science, and engineering. ...

What experts use to do their work are the things we don't teach. We focus almost exclusively on how to talk about the work. ...

If intuition is the heart of what true experts do, then shouldn't we be trying to teach that? Or at the least, stop stifling and dissing it? And yes, I do believe that we can teach and inspire all those fuzzy things including intuition and even curiosity. But we are running out of time.

Kathy is right: Learning "facts" is not the same as "doing". That's one advantage of teaching composition: it's always focused towards the "doing" of writing. It's still not perfect, of course. Writing in first-year comp can easily be disconnected from the writing that students will do in other classes or in their careers. On that basis, some make the argument that first-year comp should be abolished and replaced with discipline-specific writing courses. I suppose we could carry that logic a little further and claim that discipline-specific writing courses be replaced with writing-intensive internships in one's future career. But what then happens to the goal of a well-rounded university education? Is it education to become no more than intense vocational training? That's not what Creating Passionate Users is arguing, of course. However, we do need to consider, What is the purpose of writing in first-year composition? In the University? For students who are not majoring in writing. Especially for ESL/EFL students.



In "Words of discomfort", Harold Jarche questions the value of homework, noting that research supporting the effectiveness of homework for academic performance is lacking. He cites Alfie Kohn as saying,

For starters, there are no data whatsoever to show that elementary school students benefit from doing homework. None. And even in high school there’s only a modest correlation between time spent on homework and achievement - with little reason to think that the achievement was caused by doing more homework. Then there’s other evidence, including a brand-new study of TIMSS data from 50 countries, and it shows no positive effects from homework, even for older students. I wasn’t able to find any reason to believe that students would be at any sort of intellectual disadvantage if they had no homework at all.

I have to say, I think elementary school children should focus on having fun after school instead of more school work. And I'm not quite sure at what grade homework should really enter the picture. But simply to say that homework doesn't benefit older students, well, I need more than a simple correlation. I commented on his post, mentioning the research on expertise (see The Expert Mind" and learning (see Learning with Examples. It's pretty clear in just about any endeavor that the more "effective" time on task that is spent, the more one learns. As I responded concerning a lack of correlation,

The only thing that comes to my mind is that homework is busy work, is perhaps not related to learning that counts, or is not “effective time on task.” Another possibility is that the homework, being spread over a variety of subjects, means that the amount of extra time on a particular subject is not significant enough to aid achievement in that subject or overall. With just these few possibilities, it seems that we need to know more to understand the effect, or non-effect, of homework on school achievement.

Harold pointed me to Emily Bazon's review of three books on the topic, which came strongly down of the side that homework does not benefit. Much of it made sense until I came to this point:

When homework boosts achievement, it mostly boosts the achievement of affluent students. They're the ones whose parents are most likely to make them do the assignments, and who have the education to explain and help.

In other words, there is little or no correlation between homework and academic performance because the majority of students (I assume that most are not affluent) are not doing their homework or do not have enough help in doing it. So, it's not that homework does not benefit; rather, it's that not doing or understanding homework does not benefit. Would we really expect any other result?

To sum up, because there is no definitive research on this issue, more than a correlation is needed to assume a lack of cause, especially in light of the research on expertise and learning. Even so, I'm still not in favor of young children having homework and I'm not sure when homework should begin in school. After all, the burden of proof should be on those who want homework in the schools. And as Harold commented,

There is more to life than school and there is more to learning than doing homework. Six hours a day, ten months per year, over 12 years, is enough time for teaching and instruction.

I wish I had known that before I went to graduate school!



Shari Wilson ("Ignorance of the Ignorant", Inside Higher Ed) writes about students' incompetence in judging their performance level:

My undergraduate students can’t accurately predict their academic performance or skill levels. Earlier in the semester, a writing assignment on study styles revealed that 14 percent of my undergraduate English composition students considered themselves “overachievers.” Not one of those students was receiving an A in my course by midterm. Fifty percent were receiving a C, another third was receiving B’s and the remainder had earned failing grades by midterm. One student wrote, “overachievers like myself began a long time ago.” She received a 70 percent on her first paper and a low C at midterm.

...

Dozens of colleagues have told me that their undergraduates simply do not have the tools to criticize and evaluate their own work-much less predict how well they will do on assignments. What’s behind this great drop in ability to assess performance?

What are the causes? According to Wilson, they are many, including low high school standards, helicopter parenting, multi-tasking with email and the internet while studying, and so on. Note that higher ed assumes that (1) the purpose of public schools is to prepare students for college, (2) none of this is higher ed's fault, and (3) the students today aren't as good as those yesterday.

Such simple simplifying seems less than satisfying in understanding a phenomenon impacted by a variety of influences. One influence not mentioned is, I believe, the greater expectations of professors and universities over time. Biology courses, for instance, continually increase the amount of information to be learned in the same amount of time. (Just compare textbooks between today and 30 years ago for the same course.) At the University of Texas at Austin, the biology department finally woke up (in the 90s?) and changed a 3-credit microbiology course to three 2-credit courses, doubling the amount of time needed for the "same" material. The 2-credit course I took was still jam packed with information.

Being embedded in the system, professors are often unaware that they are requiring more than was required of them as undergraduates because changes increment slowly over the years. It's also likely that their memory has reconstructed their memories of when they were undergraduates in line with their own academic cultural expectations in a manner similar to Bartlett's experiment in having British citizens recount a Native American story "The War of the Ghosts":

Bartlett's readers (typically unconsciously) made the story more orderly and coherent within their own cultural framework.

I don't doubt that there are differences in student populations. My students are surprised that I expect 2-3 hours of outside study for every one hour of class time. Wilson doesn't simply bemoan the situation, however. She lays out ways to improve our instruction:

As an instructor of undergraduate core classes, however, I realize that my responsibility does not stop at content. I cannot simply list assessment as a course objective and then feign ignorance when my students show me again and again that they cannot predict their own performance. Strategies — not only for instruction, but also for exercises and assessment — are integral in setting my students on the right path for the remainder of their college careers. To accomplish this, I realize that I will need to work much, much harder to help my undergraduates understand assignments and expectations, rubrics and assessments, in-class grades and the prediction of success.

Some is already in place. Like many English composition instructors, I do instill a peer-editing component to my writing courses — not only to help students view writing as a process — but to give them some tools and much-needed experience in evaluating student work. I provide instruction in how to apply rubrics to student work and often use past student work as “models.” Some students are glad for the transparency of my courses; with a detailed 16-week course outline given out at the first class, they can start relating course objectives to specific assignments throughout the semester. Lessons scaffold one on another; assessment follows thorough instruction. Still, there is much to be done. It’s clear that I need to develop more tools to help my students learn to assess their own work and predict academic performance more accurately.

Along with the interaction of peer-editing, having much of their work online can aid in seeing, comparing, and contrasting their own work with others. In the past, I had my students use Blogger.com. This semester, I moved to Bloglines. Posting and reading posts in one place makes it easier for them to become more aware of how well they are doing. In addition, they now have access to all comments made on others' posts, unlike with Blogger, so that the amount of reading interaction has increased compared to previous semesters. One key to accurate self-assessment is being exposed to what one's peers are doing, an exposure facilitated by blogging.



Alex Reid (network authority) has clarified his notions of authority, positing an interesting view of authority as situated in networks. He writes

So authority is always a networked condition. As the network changes so do the conditions of authority. So the traditional classroom offers one type of node or portal into a network of information (through the authority of the teacher), but when the rest of the network changes...

and

So I return to the point I'm trying to make here. My professional knowledge remains valuable. My knowledge continues to authorize me. But the shift in the network changes the conditions surrounding that authority and alter its relative value. Before the pedagogic value of my authority took shape in the lectures I gave, the other activities I orchestrated in the classroom, and my evaluation of student writing and tests. Now my ability to develop pedagogic value from my authority takes form in a different context.

Definitely. Also, as we are embedded in more than one network simultaneously, and so are our students, the different nodes in our networks perceive our authority differently. In a class of mine some time ago, one student was perceived by three others as persona non grata (due to aggressively asserting his ideas), while others in the classroom valued his opinion. One student said that he had his "own ideas," which was "very important." These niches aren't fixed as the student himself felt it important to get along with all classmates, worked at that goal, and by the end of the course had been able to collaborate pleasantly with at least two of the three.

Even so, a few caveats, because it is unlikely, at least for some time into the future, that an instructor's authority changes much simply because his/her pedagogical network changes. One is that although students can turn to other professors' online materials in the "academic marketplace where others are moving on, leaving me behind," they probably won't unless those other online materials aid them in meeting the expectations of the instructor who hands out their grades. Another is that the authority embedded in networks is governed by social relational models (see Social Relations and Classroom Activity). That is, the authority of instructors is not based as much on their pedagogic methods as it is on the authority accorded to instructors by virtue of their being instructors, at least for those students in a class. For others simply wanting to learn, then the pedagogically related network authority can increase.

Despite these qualifications, the idea authority being embedded in networks is a notion I plan to keep in mind and consider how to incorporate into my own pedagogical practices.



Alex Reid at "digital digs" writes on "the threat of the network". Alex states that teachers

continue to view their profession as one that will be founded on a discrete, unchanging body of information that they will acquire before graduating. We might all deride the notion of the teacher/professor reciting the same lectures and lessons plans year after year, but somehow this does not alter this belief that a degree will certify us once and for all as authorities. Sure, all these teacher-students recognize that they will gain experience as teachers, learn helpful tips along the way, and become better practitioners. But this development of practice is separated from the acquisition of authoritative knowledge.

And this faith exists in both  K-12 and  college faculty. 

The threat of the network is the dissolution of this authority. The ongoing development of media and networks requires us to keep moving. It doesn't mean that what we've learned has no value; it means that it cannot establish us as authorities. We cannot imagine the classroom as resting upon a core body of knowledge. We are engaged in a technocultural shift that shakes the very foundations of epistemology: what began as a philosophical critique in theory now becomes a material condition (Hayles makes this argument, citing the birth of Netscape as the end of the "postmodern" era and the beginning of something new)

In many ways, I agree with all that Alex wrote, especially on the disconnect between formal education and the real world. Still, some points need to be clarified with respect to technological expertise and disciplinary expertise. Certainly, I don't consider myself as an authority on new technologies. But why should I? Technology and new media is not the goal of learning in my classes, although it is a byproduct. Rather, it supports learning certain concepts and practices of my subject of composition.

As a teacher of university composition for 14+ years, I've never thought about possessing an unchanging body of content knowledge. What I do consider not to change much over time are principles of rhetoric. For instance, when trying to communicate, especially persuasive communication, we use logic, appeal to emotions and values, and attempt to establish a credible ethos. Or coming from stasis theory, we might consider what are the facts, what are their nature, how do we evaluate them, and what should we do about them. These principles haven't changed in millenia and apply to cyberwriting as well as to print writing as well as to oral communication. So, although I do not consider myself to be an expert [perhaps I might in another 14+ years :) ], I would say that I have some "authority" in applying these principles and some "authority" in teaching the application of those principles to old and new media and networks or writing.

I accept that knowledge changes and that what we teach should change, too. But does that really mean that teachers, such as myself with many years of experience, have no more authority than our students with respect to our disciplines? I don't think that's what Alex is arguing, but in attempts to make education more relevant to students, I wonder about the hype associated with these new media and about the conflating of technological expertise with disciplinary knowledge.

Somewhat related posts:
Experts in the Learning Profession
Experts, Learning, and Networks
The Expert Mind



As Andrew Goldenkranz, Principal of Pacific Collegiate School in Santa Cruz, California, says in an interview,

NCLB has been damaging in practice, even though I think it was not a bad idea in principle.

Goldenkranz should know as this year he's losing Jefferds Huyck, a teacher who has a doctorate from Harvard in classics, 22 years of teaching experience, and 16 students who won honors in a nationwide Latin exam (Freedman). Why? Because he doesn't have a teaching certificate.

Any idea without flexibility, like the NCLB in this case, can create more problems than it solves. And teaching without flexibility can stifle learning and ability, too. I remember while in the 7th grade, my math teacher forced me to show how I solved my long division problems. I had simply been doing the operations in my mind and writing down the answers. Not believing I could do divisions involving 3-figure divisors, she had me demonstrate. Although I did demonstrate several problems for her, she decided that it was more important to follow her rules. Within a few years, that ability had evaporated. So, what rules do we enforce that we could be more flexible about?



ATPM writes on Writing Environments, Plus Two New Outliners:

This column we’ll just note the types of things I suppose should be on a list of capabilities to consider. You might call them features. We’ll list them this time, with another list of the products we’ll draw from for our examples. Then you’ll have some time to set me right, correct, and add things. Next column, we’ll redo the list, show examples, and give some discussion.

OK? It’ll be like the old ATPO days.

Where we are deviating from the ATPO model is that many of the applications we’ll look at don’t use outlining. You know, usually I’m pretty strict about what we discuss here and at drawing the line around outliners. But I’ve had many requests to address writing, and it makes such sense to. Many ATPO users are in the outliner community because they use their outliners in workflows that produce some written output. I admit I am one of those. And it just doesn’t make sense to talk about writing without starting with the actual writing process and seeing where it takes us.

This will be a good opportunity to compare and contrast various word processing, notetaking, and outlining apps. As I use Tinderbox, I'm always interested in how it compares to other applications. I'm also interested in other apps that I sometimes read (but know little) about, such as Ulysses, which its website says is "The text editor for creative writers." And I'm looking forward to seeing what features they consider useful for writing and why.



Here's an excellent list on the "Best of the Best Web 2.0 Web Sites" (via Stephen's Web).

Also, see Back to School with the Class of Web 2.0: Part I, Part II, and Part III, which is an excellent introduction to educational applications.