I’ll admit I am doing a bit of catching up here, having missed a day or two, but I’ll be back on track soon.
For day five I chose VS Ramachandran: The neurons that shaped civilization. This talk introduces the idea of “mirror neurons”, elements of the brain which trigger when observing other people’s behaviour, and goes on to imply that the existence and sophistication of this brain biology is what enabled the spread of human learning and the development of culture. As far as that goes I generally agree. Later in the talk he gets a bit metaphysical, deducing from some mirror neuron behaviour in cases of amputated or anaesthetised limbs that all people are linked.
Thinking of giving up trying because nothing seems to make a difference? Jason Yip has an interesting article about how a feeling of helplessness is easily learned, but can be overcome, even in software development.
Learned helplessness in the workplace.
Kathy’s talks are usually very good, and this one is no exception. This fit really well with a business idea I’m working on at the moment and prompted a whole new way of thinking about it.
I like to read books, and have learned a lot from reading technical books in the past. These days I somehow always feel too busy to go back and re-read anything I have already read.
Mark Needham and his commenters offer come compelling arguments that it might actually be re-reading which brings the greatest value.
Re-reading books at Mark Needham.
I was very interested to read mark Needham’s thoughts on a book “Talent is Overrated”, in particular the aspect of deliberate practice.
Talent is Overrated: Book Review at Mark Needham
For me, participation in open source projects – particularly the ones I initiate myself – serves a very useful purpose as deliberate practice. While it may not be immediately obvious, I find the psychological structure of making my work public, combined with the ability to refactor and rewrite as I need to learn more, help me to get the most from the time I spend working on such projects.
This is an interesting idea. It’s common for agile techniques to be defined by their benefits to the business, but there is often a benefit to the development of the individual people involved in the agile process, too.
InfoQ: How Agile Benefits the Individual
A while ago I wrote about th every limited way that many educators use student response “clicker” handsets. Now I read yet another article on the topic.
Classroom response systems – elearnspace
The thrust of the article is that the use of specialist handsets is limiting, and it considers alternatives such as commodity mobile phones using bluetooth, SMS and so on. But it still misses the point. Even while acknowledging that students have massive access to communication technology, its use in education is almost universally limited to answering multiple-choice quizzes.
This is “in the box” thinking. A quiz is an extremely blunt instrument for measuring student engagement and learning. The lack of a “back channel” of information flow to the teacher has been a limitation of education ever since the first students gathered at the feet of a master. This unidirectional transfer has become such a part of the educational process that it is no longer questioned. Sometimes it is even seen as a virtue, rather than an unfortunate consequence of scale. Communication from student to teacher is carefully isolated in the small bubbles of tutorials, seminars, and one-to-one chats. “Proper” education, it appears, takes place when listening to lectures and reading textbooks.
With pervasive communication technology we now have a way of breaking out of this constraint. Think of the possibilities!
- Imagine every participant gets to indicate privately whether the pace is too fast or too slow.
- Imagine every student is free to raise non-interrupting questions or misunderstandings, and others get to answer them or vote them up if they have a similar problem. Common problems can be addressed immediately, others can be dealt with individually later.
- Imagine student notes, thoughts, and problems could be shared both with the teacher and the other students during a session, as well as being recorded for later use, rather than each student having his or her own “silo” of bafflement.
- Imagine a screen with a real-time “dashboard” of student interests and concerns as the session progresses, so a teacher can adapt and drive the session with open eyes.
- Imagine students could “log in” and “log out” of sessions without disturbing other students or the teacher, and yet still be able to track what they have missed.
All of these things are technically possible. Most are possible using commodity “clicker” hardware, let alone the power of a modern mobile phone, Wi-Fi iPod, or laptop.
Before dismissing this as a pipe dream, consider that these things routinely happen at technical conferences, where it is not uncommon for a large proportion of an audience to be twittering, blogging, messaging and commenting throughout each presentation. Strangely enough, this does not seem to result in the wisdom of the presenter being swamped by mindless chatter, rather that it is amplified, distributed, and even sometimes corrected.
A pleasantly witty yet insightful post about how different processes and methodologies can suffer similar problems, and how this relates to the individual learning journeys of practitioners.
lizkeogh.com » The problem with Scrum
Apparently there is to be a push to make the UK a world leader in on-line higher education. I’d love to see this happen, but I have my doubts.
As with so many other attempts at “e-learning”, the emphasis seems overwhelmingly on “learning and teaching resources”. But this is the easy part of the problem. The hard part is institutional change; moving away from the legacy idea of classes and courses to a new model which decouples learning from teaching, and both of those from assessment.
So far I have not found any indication that educational institutions in the UK are willing to step away from the traditional, everyone in one room, everyone being taught at the same time, lecturer as source of all wisdom approach to the distributed, asynchronous, collaborative, multi-sourced model needed for real “e-learning”.
Even the Open University, despite being centred in distance education, still has synchronized course start dates and assessment deadlines, for example. This is not only inflexible for students, but also places a much heavier load on tutors at certain times of the year. As far as I can tell, this sort of practice is done solely because, well, that’s the way it has always been done.
Educational institutions, please wake up. Successful on-line study and assessment should be available to everyone wherever and whenever needed.
UK universities to lead global e-learning : JISC
An excellent and detailed review of what looks to be a very interesting book. I definitely need to up my reviewing game if I want to keep up with the likes of Mark Needham.
Pragmatic Learning and Thinking: Book Review at Mark Needham
A lot of writings about agile processes seem to assume that everyone comes with all the skills they need, but in the real world people sometimes need to gain new skills which cannot easily be learned “on the job”. Planning ahead enough to ensure team skills are available when needed, and dealing with the impact on development speed of people spending time on training or independent study rather than productive work seem like tricky problems.
Jooli Atkins has written a bit on this topic for the British Computer Society (BCS) Agile Training : Blogs : BCS
I’d be really interested to hear from anyone how they deal with this!
This is a really interesting idea. Games to help learn agile practices and get used to agile ways of working. I wonder if I can find an excuse to play any of these for work …
InfoQ: Agile Games for Learning
More indication that mobile technology is continuing to change the process of education. This time students at a university are all issued with iPhone or iPod touch handsets so they can use specific collaboration software at university and outside course times.
iPhone University: At ACU, Students Navigate College Life via Apple iPhone – CIO.com – Business Technology Leadership
I’m very interested in both mobile technology and education, particularly distance learning, so the concept of “m-learning” (mobile learning) is doubly interesting. Clark Quinn has put together a useful summary of the field.
M-Learning Devices: Performance to Go
A lot has been written about “wi-fi cities” and “wireless communities”. A variety of projects have been considered around the world, some with more success than others.
One thing which seems to have been missing from most of the proposals I have seen is the issue of content. Simply making the open internet available across a geographical area is one possibility, but that does not seem to offer as much potential pay-off for the sponsoring authorities as a more integrated approach.
Obvious choices include negotiating with local businesses, but another option is to use such a wireless plan to also enhance the skills and education of people in the area. This is a traditional role of municipal and area authorities and a good candidate for a “cheap win” deployed over a wireless area, for example the “learning communities” in this Canadian report.
Back when I was teaching, we had several attempts to improve the learning and teaching experience using student handsets which communicate back to a central system. Within their limits, such trials were generally successful; enough that the college bought several sets.
However, I always felt that the system was was woefully underused. Using such handsets in an entirely teacher-driven way for such tasks as in-lesson progress quizzes is only a fraction of the story.
Why not use them as an anonymous and continuous “backchannel” to indicate a preference that the teacher speed up, slow down, go into more detail, back off, give a concrete example, etc.?
Why bother with tedious register-taking when students can just “log in” using a remote handset?
Why not offer opportunities for learners and staff to anonymously vote on where the lesson goes next or indicate personal goals for a lesson or group exercise?
These are just a few “top of my head” ideas; there must be many more out there but they never seem to make it into practice.
Students Who Use ‘Clickers’ Score Better On Physics Tests
Nice article from Jay Fields about the difference between a head-down, crank-out-whatever-I’m-asked-for hacker and a wiser developer who thinks to ask the business about the overall value and reason for the work.
I have seen this very strongly in my work.
However, and this is one of my pet rants, a major part of the problem is the education system. I have studied with a variety of organisations and can’t recall a single situation where questioning the reason and value of a programming assignment was treated with anything but scorn.
Colleges and universities routinely stunt the minds of software developers and effectively force them either into the “hacker” mentality or out of the business. The reason that wise developers who care to question have become so valuable, is because of their rarity, and that in turn is due to a lack of supply.
Jay Fields’ Thoughts: Developers needed; Hackers need not apply
I still think that coining a new term that only differs by one letter from an existing one is asking for trouble. However, the idea that creating, sharing and discovering the context around content and discussions itself adds value is an interesting one. As a general case of such internet trends as collaborative tagging and social networking it certainly bears some study.
elearnspace: User Generated Context
I have both produced and attempted to consume a wide range of learning assessment sheets during my time. Most have missed the point.
One big problem with institutional assessment of learning is that it is easy to fall into the trap of assuming that incoming students are a blank page. From that viewpoint, phrasing goals in terms of what the students will learn, and phrasing assessment in terms of whether the student has learned seem perfectly reasonable.
However, real students arrive with a complex background of knowledge, experience and skills. In cases where a student has already achieved a particular goal before starting a course, asking whether the student has learned that topic during the course only allows one honest answer: “no”.
If teachers are themselves assessed based on the answers to student course assessment responses, this is a dangerous situation. A “no” response now conflates poor teaching/learning with previous experience. This in turn results in a variety of potentially sub-optimal behaviours, including assessment-padding (where students are “encouraged” to lie in responses and give the answer the teacher needs) and student selection (where students with prior experience are rejected as being too troublesome).
With all this in mind I was pleased to find some detailed discussion and recommendations for course assessment and evaluation from Will Thalheimer.
Will at Work Learning: New Design for My Smile Sheet
I love the idea of running training in an agile manner. Back when I was teaching I did something a bit like this. It seemed to work a lot better with evening students who had chosen to attend the course for their own benefit rather than the day students who just wanted a government handout and the quickest route to a qualification.
My approach was to list out everything remaining from the syllabus at the start of each lesson, and get the students to agree on what we should cover that session. I found that I still had to guide the learners quite a bit, though, as they found it difficult to choose between a bunch of things they knew nothing about.
I hope it works better with workplace learning – where the learners typically come to the course with some knowledge and a better understanding of what they want to gain from the study.
Agile Classroom Management (Agile Advice)