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?

Power Structure in MOOCs

I’ve thought about power in it’s relationship to students a lot. When I taught I was always uncomfortable with the idea of telling someone something, and having no one question it because I stood at the  front of the room. It’s the biggest reason I left “teaching”. In the greatest irony, now I run training… anyways, it seems like that power structure is nigh impossible to subvert. I had hopes when MOOCs started to appear because it seems like the self-empowerment idea on steroids – but in most instances the students are guided/forced to learn things. At the end (and there’s always a start and end to these things), the instructor via the marking of the computer, puts a stamp on your booklet, and you’ve completed the course. These kinds of MOOCs do very little to disrupt the notion of power in a “classroom”, in fact they reinforce the existing power structure entirely. I reckon it’s because we replicate the environments we know online, we have a “semester” or course start and end dates, we have teacher telling us what to do, and in what order to do them in. We follow lockstep, because that’s the role we expect to be in.

There’s the more connectivist MOOCs, and these seem a little more freeform. I know that in the Connectivist and Connective Knowledge and DS106 models, there’s more empowerment. Still, there’s George and Stephen, or Jim, Alan and Martha at the heads of those MOOCs. Those mentioned will really balk at my idea of them being at the head of those courses and will point to the many others that make them happen (in front of the proverbial curtain and behind), and my statement isn’t intended as a slight against them. The personalities of those contributors are key in driving people to those ideas within those courses/events/happenings.  Within that structure, people will look to those who champion the idea to guide how they experience it. How does one break that implicit power structure?

I think the next step in breaking the power structure is to set up an open course on a loose subject and have people set their own objectives. Guidance should be given on how to set good objectives, and other’s objectives should be ranked/rated using the Coursera peer marking strategy (except up the number of people marking to 5 or 6 to improve the reliability of the results). So if you set up a too easy, or too difficult to manage objective, the crowd can give you feedback on how to challenge yourself or how to manage your expectations. Scalable is important… then students use the tools they have to to find and aggregate content. Using the DS106 model, they can design their own assignments and periodically submit them for peer marking.  Pull in Howard Rheingold’s work with information reliability on the Internet. Really, the whole thing becomes crowd sourced, content, marking, assessment, how to assess your own learning, setting your own goals, creating your submissions.. everything.

Of course, all this pipe dreaming is predicated on the open web staying open. As copyright lawyers seem intent on locking down information behind paywalls, this approach may not be possible. Hell, it may not be possible now…