However good they are, web 2.0 technologies are still immature. Watch the editors of Opening Up Education, John Seely Brown, Toru Iiyoshi and Vijay Kumar, speak about the impact and implications of emerging technologies and you’ll see what I mean.

Part 2

Part 3

Now, if as it appears, the model of education is changing from one of pedagogy-as-knowledge-transfer to socially constructed knowledge, then it seems to me certain social skills–storytelling and critical discourse–are more important than ever. Otherwise, the opportunity to get together with people from all over the globe is wasted. Recently we’ve begun experimenting with web 2.0 technologies such as wikis, IM, Google Apps at my school. The students quickly master the technologies. They can learn to edit a wiki page without being taught. But they see these things as toys. Teaching them how to use the technology is easy–and will get easier as the technology develops. Teaching them how to think and how to tell a compelling story is, as it ever was and ever will be, immensely more challenging–and immensely more fun.

I can’t think of any more practical tool for the job than philosophy. (It may be a few years away yet, but I think we’ll soon realized what a mistake it was to drop it from the general curriculum so long ago. For a savage critique of Canadian education, read Hilda Neatby’s So Little for the Mind: An Indictment of Canadian Education. Written in 1953 is still largely holds true today.) We’ve been teaching practical reasoning and philosophy to middle school students at Island Pacific School for 14 years. The syllabus covers some formal logic, the structure of argument and fallacies, ethics and a survey of Western philosophy. But we’re an independent school and have more flexibility than any public school.

But the program needs work. I need a better look at non-Western philosophies, among other things. And I need to connect it to storytelling.  I do not mean to novel structure, or those zig-zagging plot diagrams. I’m interested in how you teach what a story is, what it does and in why we have stories at all. “Storytelling is one of the few human traits that are truly universal across culture and through all of known history,” says Scientific American has a rather cold account of campfire tales. Richard Rorty says the best answers to our philosophical questions will be found in stories. Interestingly, when I ask my students to tell me their stories, they can’t. “How I spent my summer holidays” just doesn’t cut it. At best that would make a chapter. Even so, but they never write their adventures as if they were chapters. Students often write pedantically, not because they can’t write well, but because they can’t tell stories well. They have no sense of their own lives being part of a narrative, much less any sense of humanity having a narrative. Granted, there is probably something developmental involved here; I think you need meta-cognition before you can write your own story. But I don’t see in any curricula anywhere trying to coax real storytelling out of students at any age. Neither do I see any requiring students to memorize and tell stories. The best place to learn how this will be in something else we tossed out long ago, to our shame: Canadian First Nations culture. Their’s is a living model of socially constructed knowledge passed on through storytelling.

I’m glad to see web technologies develop. But I’d like to see concurrent development of philosophy and of storytelling in language/literature curricula in grade school curricula. Without those two, Learning 2.0 just doesn’t add up.


More Tools of Learning

September 26, 2008

I don’t mind new technology, so long as we remain the ones driving it. Alan Kay, a pioneer of the GUI, said he wouldn’t let anyone within 15 yards of a computer unless he was sure it was a kind of bike for them. This may be a reference to a comment by a much younger looking Steve Jobs:

Still, as Dorothy Sayers suggests in the Lost Tools of Learning (below), we’re going to need to get a feel for the tools we have before we can judge their worth. Some of the best commentary and links I’ve read on Web 2.0 for education, or Learning 2.0, are coming from Georgio Bertini over on Twine, a semantic web project I’m just beginning to explore. Twine is still in beta-invite, but should be open soon, so they say.

One to start, with permission from George:

Too busy to learn? An introduction to collaborative leadership learning.pdf

The handbook is organised into four sections:

1 The Challenge of Collaborative Learning
Readings and resources to help establish or revisit how learning is central to leadership and to explore how leaders learning together can help improve and transform schools.

2 Exploring the Territory
Five case studies of headteacher groups in England and Wales exploring, in practical ways, how groups form, develop and sustain their work.

3 Development and Review
Review materials to help groups take stock of how they work together, surface expectations and launch, affirm or redirect the work of the group.

4 New Directions
A summary of learning frames, a template for recording action points, references and other general information.

(from the handbook’s TOC)

Lost Tools of Learning 2.0

September 8, 2008

While I love what Web 2.0 is doing for Learning 2.0, I don’t think it’s all that revolutionary–contrary to all the buzz I read on Twitter, Twine and a dozen RSS feeds. Recently, I commented on Stowe Boyd’s /Message, saying that we’ve been twittering for generations, only we once called it campfire chat or idle gossip. Not too long ago I was in New York giving a paper at conference on the humanities Columbia University. In one of the keynote talks, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Avalon Foundation Professor in the Humanities at Columbia University, said that there are no ruptures, just repetitions. For example, globalization was described as an unprecedented challenge of the modern world. Really, she says, it was another repetition of eternal attempts to take in the world in a single theory. Likewise, as exciting and technologically marvelous as Google is, it is just a repetition of library research; nothing is fundamentally different. Calling out “rupture” or revolution is a failure to recognize another repetition.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m very glad Web 2.0 (can I use that as shorthand, please) is here–I recently rolled out Google Apps at my school and we’re setting up a WikiEducation project next month–but I sometimes worry that the sort of collaborative learning that is all the buzz around Things 2.0, will be the next flavour of the month, like constructivism or the International Baccalaureate Middle years Program, and we’ll lose sight of the fundamental ends of education. We’ll start giving lessons in order to teach collaboration instead of teaching collaboration in order to give lessons and then we’ll have the whole thing upside-down.

I’d say it’s time to read again Dorothy Sayers’ excellent essay, “The Lost Tools of Learning” presented at Oxford in 1947, in which she proposes a modified version of medieval scholastic curriculum!

The Sound of Silence

August 25, 2008

This story, How Do you Teach Kids to Pay Attention, appeared in Pajamas recently.

For two years now, I’ve scheduled so-called Silent School mornings, several times a year. After our morning announcements, the whole school goes quiet. No one speaks a word and the doors to the office are closed so the students and staff aren’t interrupted by phone calls. All teaching is done silently–usually this means the students are working on projects and other works in progress. But I once had my grade 6 math class construct a huge 3′ x 5′ times table wall chart out of a hundred or so bits of coloured paper without anyone saying a word.

The first time we ran this was an odd experience in a school full of 11- to 14-year olds. Part way through the morning it started to snow and I thought all was lost. You could feel the students vibrate with excitement. But no one said a thing. At lunch they all walked down to our meeting room, quiet as monks and nuns, and waited for me to speak again.

The students loved the exercise: most said they could concentrate better and that they finished far more work than they usually do. I found they asked better questions because they had to think first before going to the trouble to write down their problem. Indeed, a significant number of students wanted a weekly Silent School day. We haven’t gone that far. Not yet.