ADED 4P91- Week 9 “Critical Reflection & Ecstasy”

Both the hooks and Brookfield readings looked at how critical reflection changes teaching and learning practices. I don’t know if anything I’ve read this past week changes much for me – I have always been hypercritical of my own work (sometimes to my own detriment). I recognize that being hypercritical and reflecting critically are two different things though.

If we look at Friere’s work, and his dialogue between objectivity and subjectivity (within the first chapter in Pedagogy of the Oppressed) – as teachers we should strive for that middle ground. I think the only vehicle that gets us into that middle ground is the ability to reflect and think about other perspectives. The subjectivity of experience and the objectivity of best practices make us the best we can be. I have often played devil’s advocate, mainly in an attempt to think about potential arguments against my position. In essence this is negotiating that middle ground between objectivity and subjectivity. The mere act of thinking about how one could do something better is critical (unless of course you’re so full of hubris that you think you couldn’t do it better).


ADED 4P91- Week 8 “Critical Reflection in Education and Institutional Contexts”

This week we read chapter 13 in bell hooks “Teaching to Transgress” and chapter 8 in Brookfield’s “Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher”.

There wasn’t a ton of new ideas in hooks chapter, not for me anyways. I was always drawn to passion. That fire, the heat of someone else’s excitement… always a great moment to engage in. hooks is entirely correct in that passion in the classroom (for a subject) is rarely recognized, and almost never sanctioned. Of course they want to have engaged students, but don’t want to loosen the morals that were set in stone at the educational institution’s formation some hundred years ago. Perhaps that’s why I feel an affinity for online spaces – where the tradition is a little less formal, and a little more conversational.

The portion of the chapter that dealt with the eros of teaching strikes me as something that could be dug into far further – does the power structure between teacher and student make the relationship between the two manipulative in either direction?

Brookfield’s chapter dealt more with listening – it seems like good listening and facilitation skills can help people learn and discover their own way.

ADED 4P91 – Week 7 “Critical Conversations and Class”

This week we read chapter 7 in bell hooks “Teaching to Transgress” and chapter 12 in Brookfield’s “Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher”.

I felt, for once, that hooks’ book was tougher to get through than Brookfield’s – maybe it was because we’re in the middle of testing some changes to undergraduate education at my institution; one of which is the start of a learning portfolio program. This program really values critical reflection, which aligns perfectly with what Brookfield is talking about in his chapter. The sorts of strategies – well considered – are intriguing to examine and imagine how that might take place in my institution. It was also interesting to read Brookfield write about the Devil’s Advocate approach to critical thinking – which is something I do quite often in workshops that I deliver. Often I off-handedly mention the downside to some technology. I know some people I have worked with don’t like my approach – in fact I question it sometimes too – but I feel it would be intellectually dishonest for me not to mention the potential problems.

I often struggle because I deliver training that is very guided, and I often wonder if it stifles creativity, askance views of commonly used technology, dictates a way of thinking around technology’s role in the classroom… lots of questions. I don’t really have time, or to be honest, energy to break down what I do to really investigate these things. It would be too much, because there’s too many ways for it to go wrong. Without having me as a knowledge expert, I sabotage much of what I do because I speak from authority. How can someone call me with confidence and ask me how to fix something if they don’t trust that I know more about the system than they do?

These crises of faith (an odd statement when dealing primarily with technology) come far too frequently. Maybe it’s time to do something else? I guess I’ll continue to struggle.

Brookfield provides some guidance, and I recognize that the answers to my questions will only come from within. It’s useful to know that others struggle with this – some constantly, some persistently. And those struggles ultimately come from the responsibility that we take on ourselves, the roles we assume and feel we need to play. In some senses, it seems like an easy out to say that the system forces us into these roles.

Technology Changes Everything (or How I Stopped Worrying About MOOCs)

Carleton University’s president Roseann O’Reilly Runte wrote an article today on the technological changes higher education face in the Globe and Mail (which may be behind a paywall for some of you). I’ve provided some out of context quotes to pick apart her argument.

“Technology brings additional information on learning styles and helps assess rapidly what has been retained, allowing lectures to be adapted to students’ needs and to be made more meaningful.”

While it can bring additional information – it takes some presumptive leaps to determine learning styles (if those even exist) based on how many times a person logs into an LMS or how long they spend on a piece of content. Also, assessing what has been retained, is well self-explanatory. Shouldn’t we be testing whether the knowledge gained is applied in a logical manner? Who cares if the student knows who the King of France is in 1560, shouldn’t we care about what is important about that person in a historical context? It’s useful to know if a student has basic knowledge, but with google, bing and wikipedia at our easy access, shouldn’t we care more about access to those tools and using that knowledge rather than the base fact that a student knows something?

And don’t get me started on making lectures able to be adapted to a student’s need… a lecture appeals to certain students – whether that’s in class, online or on Khan’s Academy or YouTube.

“Classes can combine Internet connections, Skyped conversation, video-teleconference and satellite hookups with videos and segments of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) produced around the world. Students can benefit from international online discussion groups. All of this enriches the learning experience and represents considerable up-front investment with intensive labour commitments from faculty and technical support.”

Actually, very few instructors do this because each University is stuck in their own silo, based on the last fifty years of in-fighting and competition for enrollments. Why collaborate with your enemy when they will take your students while you repackage their lectures? Yes, these things can be done, but often are not because of a myriad of factors – competition with other institutions (rather than collaboration), ego, discipline specific content, unique selling propositions of individual institutions, technical know how, and cost. Those costs don’t magically disappear after introducing the innovation – it takes continued effort and improvement, which is a continued cost. MOOCs (as EdX, Udacity, Coursera and the like) are used by many institutions as a loss-leader – a way to build a brand and maybe it serves the community (maybe it just serves itself as Coursera has found).

“MOOCs will soon conquer the mechanical glitches which have been highly publicized. Some have already solved the evaluation and accreditation issues. When this becomes the normal process, students across the world will have the option of taking a history class at 8:00 am on Friday or the Ivy League professor’s MOOC any time. Students will then ask for transfer credits.”

Oh, of course, evaluation is solved… well not really. Sure in math there’s a right and wrong way to do things – so a multiple choice, or fill in the blank can assess that (assuming the student has actually entered the answer and done the work). Other disciplines that require interpretation could crowd source the evaluation like Coursera does. Which is fine, but not exactly impartial or valuable (in many people’s experience). I guess my snide commentary is that it mimicks really well the higher education evaluations used. Honestly though, transfer credits are difficult enough to ascertain based on current standards in Ontario (I’ve tried to get my Athabasca University credits recognized at another institution for a prerequisite and was told I had to take it locally to get credit for it) – again this is a problem the system has to address, and not something that technology will particularly solve.

“How can this lead to cost reductions? The savings can accrue rapidly if the course is massively enrolled and subsections are taught by less well-paid individuals; or if the course lasts several years and the designers and lead professor may be paid over time.”

Clearly this is the crux of the cost-reduction argument. Reduce the pay of the experts creating these courses, and teaching these courses to massive numbers. Increase enrollment in first year and if they don’t succeed they can come back next year and try again in the same environment. The average sessional at my University is already making peanuts (on top of having paid out a lot for their PhD) – lets cut their pay too. If I were at Carelton, and a faculty member, I’d underline this and make sure it was front and centre at the next negotiation.

I’ve been fairly critical of the statements about technology being a panacea for all that ills higher education; it’s not and it never will be. To create a quality e-learning piece, it takes often 10 times the amount of time, and usually the same amount of cost to produce. So logically, you’ll have to use that item at least 10 times before it makes a return on your investment. If it’s a lecture that’s been professionally captured, captioned (as required by law in 2014), audio tweaked and perfected, slides intercut with video, title cards for the beginning and end, and you deliver that lecture once a year, you’ll have to wait 11 years for that to make any return. Think your video format will be out of date? How about the content itself?