Archive for the ‘education’ Category

could this be what Doug’s looking for?

December 13, 2010

Doug Johnson is thinking about specs and Tom Hoffman tweaks that a bit. Given Doug’s ongoing cloud computing inquiry, I bet 2011 is the year he starts recommending schools think about devices based on Cr-48.

Dan Pink’s “true fact” of incentives

April 10, 2010

The following is a reflection on “Dan Pink on the surprising science of motivation“.

I’ve never been a fan of offering students rewards to incentivize their study. Whether it be stickers, bonus points or fast food, rewards are likely to work against the broader goal of developing a deeper interest in learning. Up to a certain point, learning does require simple memorization. But to do anything worthwhile with what’s memorized, higher-order thinking is required.

Given that certain activities require an amount of cognitive gymnastics, it’s really not so “surprising” that offering well-intentioned goodies can often sabotage the goal. The reason I’d argue, is that to critically think, create, and produce innovative results requires a clear mind in order to maximize results. But as soon as a carrot is dangled, the purpose of the reward must occupy a part of the incentivized mind (if it doesn’t, then what is its purpose?). This occupation however, requires mental energy that could otherwise be invested toward the goal. The occupation therefore, fragments thought and wastes resources.

Of course, a degree of desire must be present to achieve anything. A clear but unintentional mind won’t get very far. But as Pink notes, the best motivation for certain tasks comes from within. That is, the motivation must be intrinsic. Intrinsic motivation actually supports tasks requiring rudimentary thinking and beyond. So why doesn’t intrinsic motivation waste energy like its extrinsic counterpart? I think one key attribute of intrinsic motivation is that the motivator itself is naturally forgotten (or integrated) with the task at hand. For instance, it doesn’t take energy to deal with one’s joy or a a sense of purpose. In fact, there’s no need as such motivation comes without contradiction. That is, the motive goes hand-in-hand with the activity. The thought of a bag of candy or bonus on one’s pay-check however, must be suppressed while trying to accomplish the goal those very rewards were created for. That suppression is the saboteur.

So what have I learned? Honestly, my bias has always shunned the extrinsic approach. In fact, probably to the extreme. As Pink points out, there are tasks where reward systems help improve performance. What I need to do is properly identify those instances and remind myself that sometimes it’s OK (and maybe even desirable) to take a more robotic approach.

how Free software supports schools

January 29, 2010

I wrote the following list of advantages schools get by procuring Free software. I did it for the school I currently teach at though I hope others may find this useful. Any suggestions for additions or changes are welcome.

Civics and Ethics in Action: From an early age, we wish to teach students to share, cooperate, and engage their curiosity. Typically, proprietary software licensing restricts users from modifying their software or making copies to share with others. By contrast, teaching students the civics of community and the ethic of sharing is harmonious with Free software licensing and core educational goals. That is, we can promote these values and concurrently encourage students to respect the law. This is essential to an education that values global citizenship and civic responsibility.

Local Community Building: The freedom to share copies of GNU/Linux and other Free software means students and teachers can install this software on their computers at home. By contrast, proprietary software forbids this. Many teachers, students, and parents will want to have copies of the software used at school on their personal machines. When a school uses proprietary software, it compels community members to acquire their own restricted copies if they wish to compute using the same technology. By using Free software, a school does not pressure community members to purchase (or illegally acquire) equivalent software. Free software puts no limits upon the community.*

Global Community Building: Any money or effort spent by the school on the development of Free software can go directly toward improvements that other schools and organizations are free to benefit from. Those investments are sustainable as no developer can unilaterally choose to discontinue distribution. Additionally, simply by using Free software schools add to its economic value (via the network effect) and receive the benefits of source code peer-review from a global community. Using Free software is to participate in a cooperating community with no borders.

Depth of Learning Opportunities: Software is fundamentally a set of mathematical and logical instructions expressed in something called source code. Typically, the source code for proprietary software is kept a trade secret. Without source code, knowledge of software is kept shallow and the ability to modify (i.e. experiment with) it is impossible. Because Free software makes its source code available, the science behind such software can be studied by students. A Free software system is especially fitting for educational environments as any level of curiosity can be satisfied. Tools that are open for students to tinker with broadens learning opportunities and fosters community when those same tools are used by the students’ peers and teachers.

Security: Free software programs are adept at warding off viruses. Successfully planting a back-door in a popular Free software program is virtually impossible due to public scrutiny of the source code. Public peer review acts as an effective defense against the dangers of worms and trojan horses. The security a Free software program offers is a positive in terms of the productivity of users and a school’s technical staff.

Constructive Spending: Typically, using Free software instead of proprietary software releases funds that can be spent on developing desired software features or other school-related needs (e.g. professional development, facilities, books, etc). By contrast, using proprietary software means funds are directed toward perpetual licensing fees and upgrades – some of which are compelling whether or not the school sees a need.

Performance On Hardware and Hardware Life
: While not an inherent property of Free software, GNU/Linux is known as a lightweight and customizable system that performs well on older hardware and new hardware with low specifications (e.g. netbooks). This can translate into savings and waste reduction by extending hardware life.

Data Ownership and Vendor Choice: Free software is closely coupled to open standards for file formats. Students and teachers using Free software are ensured their information is stored indefinitely in universally accessible formats. Vendor lock-in through proprietary formats is never an issue when using Free software applications. Schools that adopt Free software are free to seek support and services from businesses of their choice.

* Some Free software does put a limit on individual community members (or companies) distributing copies. Sometimes, conveyed (i.e. distributed) Free software must carry with it the complete corresponding source code and the license the conveyor received with her or his own copy. This is known as copylefted Free software. Non-copylefted Free software is permissive, as it can be re-distributed as proprietary software.

Creative Commons licensing for Utah educators

January 2, 2010

Tom got me thinking about this here and here. Some great progress in Utah public schools comes in the form of Rule R277-111. In short, teachers have the right to share their lessons under Creative Commons licenses.

Of course, teachers should have the freedom to share the resources they author. Denying this freedom runs counter to progressive practice. It is good to see this right explicitly stated. Hopefully this will catch fire.

Via Luke and David Wiley.

taking the arts out of language arts

October 1, 2009

Tom Hoffman has an insightful but disturbing post regarding the push for adoption of the Common Standards in US schools. His comparison of other documents to the Common Standards makes it clear they’re designed not to improve Language Arts, but to satisfy the parties heavily invested in standardized testing results.

If you’re a stakeholder, it’s well worth your time essential to give Tom’s words a read. At the end of the post, he includes a link for commenting on the currently proposed draft.

school trek

September 7, 2009

It’s true folks, they’re “beaming him in”. Using a transporter operated by Montgomery Scott, Obama will arrive to deliver his promotional death panel speech and lay the groundwork for the upcoming “federal takeover” of all US schools. Americans should man their battle stations, “speak out with one voice”, and ask the president to disengage immediately.

evolution is not religion

August 31, 2009

Brad Pollitt, a Missouri high school assistant superintendent, makes a bad call having band members turn in promotional t-shirts utilizing the theme of evolution. Mr. Pollitt caved to fear from parent complaints as evidenced by this faulty reasoning:

Pollitt said the district is required by law to remain neutral where religion is concerned.

The problem here is that evolution has nothing to do with religion. It’s science. While some religious cranks perceive science as a threat to their beliefs, that doesn’t make science anything other than science. Pollitt goes on to say,

If the shirts had said ‘Brass Resurrections’ and had a picture of Jesus on the cross, we would have done the same thing

Here Pollitt properly uses a religious example but his analogy fails in that evolution is not religious commentary. Hopefully Pollitt will wake up and apologize for letting the fundamentalists bully him to censorship.

wacky whacking

August 11, 2009

Behaviorism taken too far in education. “Teachers” using such methods are confused themselves, so the disproportionate figures are of no surprise. If you view students as animals, you’re bound to treat the more challenging ones like beasts.

school privacy and “cloud computing”

January 16, 2009

I’m noticing a growing trend in international schools to shift as much of the institution’s computing as possible to 3rd-party servers. The most popular seems to be Google servers – for example, GMail and Google Docs. My school director forwarded yet another instance of a school in South America doing this and below is my response:

Using a 3rd-party’s online services to do your computing is often referred to as Cloud Computing.

What is often not considered is that when an organization or individual uses such services, the user’s data goes into the hands of the party providing the service. This means that privacy is forfeited in exchange for the convenience of the service. In some cases this may not be a problem at all (e.g. a blog, microblog, or bookmarks are often a public venture and not a matter of privacy) but in other cases it can be irresponsible. What a school needs to decide is what information they consider private and what information is OK for outsiders to have a copy of.

I would always suggest that staff email be kept as local as possible. I would also suggest that most documents be kept as local as possible. And in regard to online classwork and assessments, that too I would suggest a school keep as local as possible. I don’t see “FREE” and the convenience of these services as incentive enough to put copies of our staff email, school documents, and student work in the hands of a 3rd party. Frankly, I think staff/student email, documents, grades/transcripts, and class work are generally a private matter and schools using Cloud Computing to do such work should reconsider that choice.

Any thoughts?

ubuntu FUD masquerading as journalism

January 15, 2009

An ABC News affiliate in Madison Wisconsin pretends to play watchdog for consumers while spreading FUD about buying machines with GNU/Linux preinstalled. The article claims on behalf of the consumer:

Her Verizon High-Speed Internet CD won’t load, so she can’t access the internet.

Her Verizon High-Speed Internet CD isn’t needed to access the Internet. Like any Internet contract, she would have been given her user details and can easily enter them without the CD. To claim that “she can’t access the Internet” leads readers to a false conclusion. The article goes on:

She also can’t install Microsoft Word, which she says is a requirement for MATC’s online classes.

That simply can’t be true. OpenOffice Writer on Ubuntu will open any of the institution’s .doc files and if (for some absurd reason) the school requires uploaded files to be in .doc format, OpenOffice can do that too. To the credit of the journalist, he apparently contacted the school and they affirmed that she could do her online classes without Microsoft Windows.

Besides the impression that you can’t go to school or access the Internet with Ubuntu, a portion of the “featured video” left me scratching my head. The footage clearly shows this lady working with Ubuntu 7.10. Ubuntu 8.04 has been shipping on new Dells since last summer. Exactly when was this January 2009 article written?