Changing Course(ra): Ahead of the Curve?

I have to admit, I’m surprised it took this long for the knives to come out and chop away at all the mythic possibilities of MOOCs (which if done right, have a lot of promise for expanding the knowledge of those who are motivated to learn). I guess the mythic properties really belong to the Udacity, Coursera, EdX model of MOOCs – the idea of enabling learners worldwide to have access to University level education to better themselves, well really doesn’t ring true. Sure they know more, can even prove they know more in many cases, but doesn’t really move the needle in getting a better job (outside a select few from Udacity who impressed the professors so much they got jobs with Google and other tech companies).

What’s really interesting about Coursera’s shift is not that they’re adjusting their strategy (as with all startups, they need to adapt strategy or else they are unlikely to succeed) but the reasoning. According to the Chronicle article with quotes from Diane Koller “most Coursera users have degrees”. Which suggests that people who don’t have degrees don’t find this idea of education an avenue of inquiry.

The shift from sole content provider to platform for content with a credit broker situation is hopeful. Most districts and institutions have shifting values of what English 101 is constituted of – California’s values are different from, say, Alberta’s or Quebec’s. If Coursera can construct a way for a student from one institution in Bangladesh transfer credits to the University of British Columbia – at a cost of $30 per course – through Coursera’s platform of course – I think the possibilities are quite good that Coursera will make a nice tidy sum. Ivy League institutions may opt out of such setups – there’s no benefit to their image when transfer credit leads to a completion without the student stepping on campus. Where the inroads can be met is when you have a second tier institution who essentially give away their courses to Coursera, and wait for the transfer credit money to roll in.

This scenario doesn’t address what Coursera’s statements are around – making sure people get their first degree. However with immigration being a huge player in Canada’s development, and external accreditation of professionals being talked about for the last twenty years, perhaps this is a gap that’s worth filling. And that is getting people their first degree (in North America).

ADED 4P91 – Week 6 “Developing a PD Workshop that Promotes Critical Reflection”

This week I read chapter 6 in bell hooks’ “Teaching to Trangress” and chapter 11 in Brookfield’s “Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher”.

hooks takes some great pains to discuss the “authority of experience” – something that many teachers use to justify bad teaching even when faced with evidence that their practice is harmful. She struggled with it in a way that I won’t be able to fully understand, but I can appreciate; she struggled with the authority of experience to make her voice heard. I’ve been thinking about the neoliberal policies of education, how education is no longer really about critical thinking but about learning a trade, getting a better job, improving your wealth, and those changes fall on the system of government that we live in – one that values neoliberal economics over people. Neoliberalism values the sort of anecdotal stories that reaffirm it’s position – things like the wealthy are job creators (when in fact most people are self employed or work for small businesses), things are too big to fail, unions are corrupt and so on and so on ad nauseum. I recognize these talking point for what they are, but I respect that they are coming from a place of inequality. Why are unions bad? Well, not everyone is part of one, so there’s a privilege that is extended to those who are in the union, and excludes those who are not. This sort of class privilege is something that isn’t really covered explicitly.  It was interesting to see hooks’ self identified growth from an academic who relied on authority of experience, to one who took the experience and internalized it, and found ways to explain it in other’s theories, research and work.

In Brookfield’s chapter he discusses the four risks of critical reflection – the imposter syndrome, cultural suicide, loss of innocence and finally recovering from a failed experiment. I don’t have much to add – except that these are all things that when developing a workshop or course that one has to consider. You will feel all these things, go through each of these risks and will be affected by your process for coping with these ideas. I suspect that in the process of developing a workshop around the idea of class in the classroom one would have to be aware of these potential feelings, adn try some strategies that Brookfield suggests would be useful to diminish the effect of these risks.

ADED 4P91 – Week 5 Reflection – “Critical Distance”

This week I read chapter 5 of both bell hooks’ “Teaching to Trangress” and Stephen Brookfield’s “Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher”. hooks delved into the idea of theoryas a liberatory practice (which seems logical to me, one needs a framework to build an identity), whereas Brookfield covered his process for teaching in a democratic classroom. The course uses the term critical distance for these two paired concepts, which to me is problematic. It’s putting a label that doesn’t fit well on an idea that is useful. The idea, as I see it, is that instructors have a position in the classroom that no matter what they do to break down those barriers, instructors still will be set apart by virtue of what they know. People will still look to them as an authority on the subject. That distance between the students and instructors can be shrunk, but never eliminated.

A lot of the ideas Brookfield talks about are just principles of good communication  – know your audience, check your assumptions about that audience, and refine your message. The transparency angle is key in that process, if people understand why they are doing something, they are much more understanding about engaging in it – even if it is unfamiliar. Of course, that’s building trust.




ADED 4P91 – Week 4 Reflection – “Introspection and Agency”

This week I read chapters 3 and 4 from bell hooks’ “Teaching to Transgress” and chapter 3 from Stephen Brookfield’s “Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher”. bell hooks dealt with multicultural teaching and a conversation with herself examining her readings of and influence by Paolo Friere. Brookfield wrote about using autobiography as a starting point for questioning your own assumptions.

Both authors used these chapters to inform me about themselves, as any good reflective process starts with. We have to know ourselves to know our limits, reasoning, purpose and shortcomings.

hooks touched on an interesting point, one that I have heard before, in that she questions herself about Friere’s use of sexist language (and moreso his staunch lack of revision in subsequent editions). She says “I never wish to see a critique of the blind spot overshadow anyone’s…capacity to learn from the insights. ” It’s an interesting position to take. The twenty year old me is outraged with the inconsistencies of such a position, but the forty year old me understands that we all are (too) human and everything has weaknesses and blind spots. It’s a bit of a difficult reconciliation, and certainly speaks to me because I missed the male pronouns in Pedagogy of the Oppressed. In my defense, I did read Pedagogy of Hope first, and returned to it more than Friere’s Oppressed. I vaguely recall from the introduction of Hope that there was some mention and explanation – which would’ve occurred after hooks would’ve published this book. Maybe I just internalized and accepted that Friere and I were speaking as one?

The sessions so far have all pointed that you need to know yourself (as much as one can know themselves at their current age), identify your potential blind spots, expose them. I guess going forward it will deal with strategies to minimize their effect on the class.

New Theories

I just finished reading this post by Steve Wheeler about learning theories for a digital age. I don’t know about whether these new theories are making older theories as anachronistic as he thinks. While connectivism and other  learning theories are enhancing our understanding of how humans learn, it’s not as if the new ideas render all that old work obsolete. In fact, I think it scaffolds our understanding of education quite nicely. If we go back a mere fifty years ago, there were only a few people interested in explaining how we learn. If we go back a hundred, there were even less. What Dewey said in the 1930’s, was amplified by others throughout the 60’s and is presently augmented to reflect our current way of thinking in the modern day. Sure, Steve’s not suggesting we forget where we came from – at least I hope he’s not – but Dewey resonates as an overarching theory as much as connectivism applies to how we learn online. Perhaps that’s because the shifting of what an “experience” exists as. An experience in 1930 is different (contextually and functionally) than an experience is today. Our perspective is broader (although our focus may be narrower).

Dewey could never have anticipated YouTube, but in a way we can watch a video on YouTube, experience it, and then attempt to practice it in our own reality. Dewey certainly thought that experiential learning was doing something and learning from it. While we can draw a parallel between watching a YouTube video and listening to a lecture in the 1930’s, I wonder if there’s enough of a difference between the two (referencing R.E. Mayer’s work with multimedia learning, Innis’ work with communication theory) that they are cognitively different. Factoring in motivation (typically YouTube videos are viewed with purpose, lectures, well, we all know about them) may have a big difference in whether or not information is retained. I think it’s incredibly valuable to return to the foundations of educational theory to ground ourselves and think about what we know.

ADED 4P91 – Week 3 Reflection “Critical Reflection and Critical Agency”

Brookfield “we discover our voice”.

I discovered my voice somewhere around 1986, when I discovered punk. I always felt outside the boundaries of what mainstream culture was offering. I felt that the world had so much more to offer than the way things were – I had (and have) hope for how we live. Education, I thought way back then was the way to make everything better. If only people knew about how good people of different races, genders, sexual orientations were, then we could all get along. Of course, looking back that kind of naivety is charming, cute and a little unbalanced.

What is totally missing is that paradigm shift that I so easily found, in finding my own voice, is the shift that ultimately impedes people. I don’t have a lot of problem with change – there are things I can fix, and things I can’t. If I can’t fix it, I can’t exactly spend time worrying about the change that is coming. Change is difficult for a lot of people. I don’t hold many absolutes, however I do hang on to a couple of ideas pretty staunchly. One of which is the transformative power of education. Personally transformative – allowing those who are smart enough to get better jobs, make a bit more money, and ultimately do better for yourself. It’s why the MOOCs are so appealing, because here’s the promise that education has laid out for years – better yourself. Except knowledge is no longer good enough. Especially in a world where knowledge is cheap or free, but accreditation is much more expensive.

bell hooks talks about having to unlearn racism, sexism and one’s own biases in the workshops she’s run. I think I’m coming to the point where I have to unlearn this given that I’ve been holding onto for years. I don’t think knowing something is good enough anymore. When we have such external financial pressures, you have to prove to someone what you know, and that, my friends, is a piece of paper that costs money. Sure education can transform your outlook, change the way you view things, but ultimately, unless you already hold power, you’re not going to be much further ahead. Education however, can’t change the economics of the world.

ADED 4P91 – Week 2 Reflections “Critical Orientation to Learning”

For those reading who are not in Brock University’s Adult Education program, I’ll be doing weekly (or almost weekly as time permits) reflections on the readings which come from Stephen Brookfield’s “Becoming a Critical Teacher” and bell hook’s “Teaching to Transgress”. If you don’t care for these, that’s fine, I’ve categorized them with the tag “ADED 4P91” so you can choose to  ignore them in your feed. I suspect I’ll try to make sense of how this, and everything else fits with education technology. Maybe it will all make sense, or maybe it will cloud the issue. The course is titled “Power and Pedagogy”, which is ultimately what I feel drove me from teaching. What right do I have to tell other people what the best way to learn something is?

Brookfield writes a lot about authenticity and the anxiety of teaching in the first chapter of his book. While I understand why one would want to stress the “authentic”, we all perform when we teach (unless we are terrible teachers), leading to what I always question as an “unauthentic experience”. We make split second choices to share, or not share, what we think is appropriate, based on what we sense, or even worse what we know. That reinforces the power structure that is explicit, and implicit in classrooms around the world. It’s also manipulative, because we as teachers are selective about how the course is run, conducted and all the other minutia we engage in. Teaching is ultimately a manipulative act, to get students, or learners, to do things that they might not do on their own.

hooks on the other hand delves into a more personal exploration about her teaching – which I empathized with. I wonder if the crux of my own personal feelings of what it means to be a teacher; which often have undertones of bettering one’s self, climbing social ladders, as a way of escaping poverty or other societal problems, collide with how hooks feels about teaching. I wonder if I have the same crisis of faith every time my assumptions are wrong – much like the incident with hooks and her student who wanted to pledge to a fraternity.

Brookfield spends a lot of time talking about assumptions as well, and breaks them down to their roots and does a great job illustrating how these assumptions set us down the wrong path. I get that assumptions about learners are short cuts we shouldn’t take, but in the way education is structured, how can we afford to spend the kind of time needed to truly understand our students?

Assumptions, when wrong can be a catalyst for change. I wonder if that’s the subtext of both chapters this week?