Education R & D – The Need To Move Forward


creative commons licensed ( BY-SA ) flickr photo shared by Gustavo da Cunha Pimenta

(This is part of the work I am doing for my Masters course “Conceptualizing the Learning Sciences” at the University of Calgary as part of my Design Learning program. I am planning on posting my work here, as well as on the site that my course is based on. This may not interest anyone beyond me, but when it comes to reflections, I like to post mine on my blog regardless of whether they are simply for me, for my PLN, or for another purpose like my Masters coursework.)

Advances in educational know-how are likely to remain slow and uncertain until educational institutions follow suit and devote funds to supporting their role in the production of educational PPK (Principled Practical Knowledge).” (Bereiter, 2014)

16 months ago, I was lucky to take part in a trip down to Cupertino, California with my school division to meet with Apple at their headquarters. One of the presenters was a key individual from their financial department, and a key point of his presentation that stuck out for me was when he mentioned the immense amount of their budget dedicated to Research and Development (R&D). I leaned over and asked a member of our division’s senior executive and asked her what portion of our budget was dedicated to R&D?

This quote above from Carl Bereiter suggests to me the need for our field to have research and development happening. At what level? People will point to universities and say that it is these institutions that should be handling that. My thought was that this should occur at the division level, and whatever departments we currently have should include one that is either renamed or created as “Research and Development”. My professor Dr. Sharon Friesen suggested that in fact this should be happening in the schools. I think maybe a hybrid of the two might be the answer.

I think too often we spend our time thinking about how we can apply what others have applied, or bring canned programs in from other people and places, but what do we do to foster new ideas in our organizations? Doesn’t the idea of “Best Practice” in itself strictly refer to what has been done? And what better way to ensure we bring research in to our practice then to have a department that focuses on what research is telling us?

I also think there is power in the title itself – “Research and Development”. If I was working in a department that was called something like “Learning Services” or even “Curriculum”, and suddenly we changed to something along the lines of R&D, it would change the way I thought about the work I did, and the goals I had for myself and my work. Maybe changing existing departments is too much to ask, and maybe a division could start with a small R&D department or even a person who’s job it was to bring that type of thinking to the division or schools. I would love that job.

We are in a time of change for education, no doubt, so if we are changing how we teach, how we assess and how we learn, maybe we should also look to change how we move our profession and our practice forward. What do you think? Does your division or school have some way to bring this type of thinking and ideation into the organization?

Resources:

Bereiter, C. (2014).  Principled practical knowledge: Not a bridge but a ladder.  The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 23(1), 4-17.

 

 

I Was Angry – Audience, Research and the Learning Sciences


creative commons licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Denis Dervisevic

(This is part of the work I am doing for my Masters course “Conceptualizing the Learning Sciences” at the University of Calgary as part of my Design Learning program. I am planning on posting my work here, as well as on the site that my course is based on. This may not interest anyone beyond me, but when it comes to reflections, I like to post mine on my blog regardless of whether they are simply for me, for my PLN, or for another purpose like my Masters coursework.)

I was hot. And I don’t mean temperature, although my emotional response seemed to cause my temperature to rise as well. The readings I had for my class included one, that no doubt had profound and powerful ideas to put forth, but involved some pretty dismissive language towards current practices in schools. (Our class discussion today helped me understand how a lot of this had to with how I took the article and probably not the intent of the author) I found myself getting angry and defensive as I read, thinking of how the language was putting down my teaching, and more importantly, of the work the teachers in our school had done. As I worked through the paper, which I did finish, I found my ability to take in what the article said very limited.

I was really upset. This learning I am undertaking is important to me, I see it as a method to help teachers improve their teaching, and help our school improve student learning. When I read these articles, I read them from perspectives of “how can I bring this to our teachers?” and “how can this improve the learning for our students?”. I found the language in this particular paper turned me off, and I would imagine could turn off others. I am in a program to explore the learning sciences because I believe in research guiding practice, and I want to help bridge the research to the practitioners. I feel like my position, as an assistant principal, puts me in the perfect spot to be a bridge for the research connecting with our teachers. So then why would someone write in a way that would have such a negative effect on a person who could help spread the impact of their research?

After discussing  with the class, and with some very gentle assistance from my professors Michele Jacobsen and Sharon Friesen, I was helped to a place where I could see that the researcher was not writing to offend, but rather to challenge and improve practice. The conversation helped me better understand the valuable information from the article and I was at a place to move forward. I even saw a post on twitter about The 12 cognitive biases that prevent you from being rational  that suggested that I was letting my connection with the staff of my school cloud my judgement:

Ultimately, the ingroup bias causes us to overestimate the abilities and value of our immediate group at the expense of people we don’t really know.

In the end, I am glad I experienced this with the reading, as it will be something to be prepared for in future readings and will help me take a less subjective stance when I read.

BUT…

Is there not something to be said for the importance of audience when academic writing takes place? I understand that the writing has a much broader audience than just practicing educators, but we do make up a component of that audience. Can the academic writing of the Learning Sciences purposely take that into account to help teachers utilize their research, and maybe consider them in their writing? Maybe I am asking too much, but I know that as my learning causes me to get excited about the potential the Learning Sciences has for improving our practice, I struggle with how I am going to help others see this potential. I would hate for anything to get in the way, even something like the emotional response that reading can have on the learner.

 

Sources:

The 12 cognitive biases that prevent you from being rational. (n.d.). io9. Retrieved July 15, 2014, from http://io9.com/5974468/the-most-common-cognitive-biases-that-prevent-you-from-being-rational?utm_content=buffera0e2c&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

Authenticity, Motivation, and Adolescents


creative commons licensed ( BY-NC ) flickr photo shared by Mr. Physics

(This is part of the work I am doing for my Masters course “Conceptualizing the Learning Sciences” at the University of Calgary as part of my Design Learning program. I am planning on posting my work here, as well as on the site that my course is based on. This may not interest anyone beyond me, but when it comes to reflections, I like to post mine on my blog regardless of whether they are simply for me, for my PLN, or for another purpose like my Masters coursework.)

So the readings from Contemporary Theories of Learning: Learning Theorists…In Their Own Words by Illeris along with a reading required for my morning course Design Based Learning from Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out: Kids Living and Learning with New Media by Ito have come together to form a thought for me that was cemented by a discussion my table group had with our professor Dr. Sharon Friesen.

First here is the relevant quotes from the Illeris text:

The incentive dimension provides and directs the mental energy that is necessary for the learning process to take place. It comprises such elements as feelings, emotions, motivation and volition. Its ultimate function is to secure the continuous mental balance of the learner and thereby it simultaneously develops a personal sensitivity.

However, the incentive function is also still crucial, i.e. how the situation is experienced, what sort of feelings and motivations are involved, and thus the nature and the strength of the mental energy that is mobilised. The value and durability of the learning result is closely related to the incentive dimension of the learning process.

And the quotes from Ito:

These difficulties in translating recreational media engagement into school-based forms point to persistent tensions between peer-based learning dynamics and genres and those embedded in formal education.

Simply mimicking genre or sharing an assessment dynamic is not sufficient to promote the forms of learning that youth are developing when they are given authority over their own learning and literacy in these domains.

So the Illeris quotes speak to what he calls the incentive dimension of learning, and he talks about how learning involves three dimensions – the content dimension, which refers to “knowledge and skills as well as opinions, insight, meaning, attitudes, values, ways of behaviour, methods, strategies etc”., the incentive dimension, comprised of “feelings, emotions, motivation and volition”, and the interaction dimension, which “provides the impulses that initiate the learning process… and may take place as perception, transmission, experience, activity, participation etc.”. The incentive dimension is where the content is considered from the scope of what is at stake, and what is driving the learning, what is motivating the learning.

This is an area of interest for me, as I very often try to look at whatever learning experience we are trying to bring to our students from the perspective of “why will they be engaged?” and “why should they care?”. This learning theory from Illeris dedicates one third of his triangle of dimensions to this idea, and so I can connect with it easily.

When we were discussing the readings with the table group I was reminded of Ito’s quotes that seemed to speak to authenticity, at least that’s how I took them. She talks about how the informal learning that was going on in the online communities was difficult to recreate in a formal school setting and that mimicking the learning wasn’t successful. I believe that this speaks to our students not seeing the mimicry as authentic, and that the learning that occurs in online communities outside of school is meaningful to them because the participants are motivated to seek out their interests and passions and that is difficult to force in a formal setting.

My final inspiration for this post, as I said was from my professor, who was talking to us about how adolescent brain development made for some very specific conditions that need to be accounted for. She spoke about how they crave a connection, they are prone to emotional outbursts (similar to two year-olds) and that they need a personal link to the learning or they will check out quickly. She said that the teenage brain is “full speed, no steering” (the inspiration for the photo choice above).

So with the ideas of motivation being an integral component of learning (Illeris), and authenticity being key to personal learning (Ito) and finally the characteristics of the adolescent brain that we need to account for (Friesen), I find a great deal of validation for focusing on student connection to the learning. Whether it is connecting to student interests or passions, connecting to their lives in a meaningful way, or providing them an audience that for them brings authenticity, these resources have helped bring a confidence for me that we are probably right to keep making this a priority in our teaching and our students’ learning.

Resources

Illeris, K. (Ed.). (2008). Contemporary Theories of Learning: Learning Theorists…In Their Own Words. Florence, KY, USA: Routledge. 

Ito, M. (2009). Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out: Kids Living and Learning with New Media. Cambridge, MA, USA: MIT Press.