"O Deep Thought computer, we want you to tell us ... The Answer," ask philosophical technicians Fook and Lunkwill in Douglas Adams' epic space satire The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
"The Answer?" queries Deep Thought, their ultimate creation, a truly thinking computer that puts Siri to shame. "The Answer to what?"
"Life!" urges Fook.
"The Universe!" says Lunkwill.
"Everything!" they yell in chorus.
And after 7.5 million years of ceaseless computation, Deep Thought finally arrives at The Answer, delivering it hesitantly to Fook and Lunkwill's distant ancestors, warning them that, well, "You're not going to like it."
The Answer to The Great Question of Life, the Universe and Everything is ...
For American public schools, colleges and universities, Deep Thought's absurd answer might be exactly the same to the Great Question of Education Reform - at least according to our richest technicians, such as Bill Gates, who are absolutely sure they've got the problem solved.
"[American children are] not being educated for the - for technology society," Melinda Gates explained to the PBS NewsHour, clearly stating the problem. And since Melinda is married to a billionaire technician, and since their foundation has funded the NewsHour, she too believes she has exclusive access to The Answer for fixing our "fundamentally broken" school system. This Answer is that our school system needs to be updated to a market-based, competitive, technologically oriented system, much like the rest of the 21st century industries. This means more charter schools, more testing, more technology but fewer humans, less job security and no unions to organize the remaining human workers (like the rest of the economy).
Of this, Melinda has no doubt. But Deep Thought might.
The Gates Paradox
For the Gateses and their Silicon Valley disciples who have also invested millions in The Answer - Amazon's Jeff Bezos, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and Netflix's Reed Hastings - our public school system is really just a large operating system. It is not a messy, social, human enterprise but, rather, a technical problem, one that can be solved through quantification, effective programming and, most of all, through data, data, data - and numerical data, at that, which should be analyzed, evaluated and synthesized by ceaseless computation, preferably by Deep Thought.
These Tech Titans have no doubt about The Answer, no lapse in faith as to its certainty - but no check on their power, no accountability if it turns out to be wrong.
CHEYENNE -- Some local principals have a new report card and way of grading their teachers.
Laramie County School District 1 is involved in a national study on teacher and leader evaluations. It examines the link between teacher and principal evaluations and student learning and growth, assistant superintendent of human resources John Lyttle said.
The two-year Teacher and Leader Evaluation Systems study is through the American Institutes for Research.
“Many states are mandating that a certain portion of a teacher’s evaluation be based on student performance, but there really hasn’t been any comprehensive research connecting good quality teacher evaluations to student performance. That’s never occurred, and that’s basically what this study does,” Lyttle said at Monday’s Board of Trustees meeting.
The project, now in its second year, involved training principals in 11 elementary schools and one junior high in a more rigorous teacher evaluation style, he said.
The evaluations also are looking at some data from the Measures of Academic Progress tests to give teachers a sense of how much students are improving.
The elementary schools include Alta Vista, Baggs, Bain, Davis, Freedom, Gilchrist, Goins, Henderson, Hobbs, Rossman and Saddle Ridge. Cheyenne’s Carey Junior High also is taking part.
Twelve other schools are acting as control schools where no practices are being changed, he said in a follow-up interview.
“When principals first went through it, they thought it was pretty arduous, and I think they felt frustrated at first,” he said. “But after it was all said and done, I’ve had more than one say it was very helpful to give evaluations that were more evidence-based.”
Rossman Principal Maurice Darnell said the goal of the project has been to help teachers improve.
“For the most part, it’s been very, very positive. They see it as a way to grow,” he said.
It has also helped him improve as an evaluator, he said.
“It will be nice to see what the results are,” he said. “If what we’re doing causes teachers to become better and positively impact student achievement, then we got what we wanted.”
Many teachers have been positive about the work, Lyttle said. But there have been some who had a harder time with the project.
“I’ve had some say it’s more meaningful, but I’ve had some say, ‘I’m not getting perfect scores anymore.’ We had to work through some of that.”
Teachers also got three reviews from outside observers, he said.
“When you’re getting feedback from more than one person, it validates that feedback,” he said. “It makes the feedback more real.”
Those outside reviews caused some concern for teachers at Rossman, Darnell said. But they understand that the goal is to help them improve their work in the classroom, he said.
“It’s about an observation to help you grow as a teacher,” he said. “On my staff, I think, everyone is OK with it now.”
The study focuses on teachers in areas like language arts and math at the elementary and junior high level, Lyttle said. Some science teachers also are involved.
But other teachers in the participating buildings likely will see some results from the new evaluation style.
“At the elementary level, other teachers are getting the feedback, but they don’t necessarily have the (other) data,” Lyttle said. “But you don’t tell the principal to evaluate them differently.”
Trustees had several questions about the project, including how teachers had responded and how it would tie into the state’s work on an accountability system.
“Do you think we’ll be able to incorporate lessons learned from this into the new evaluation?” asked Trustees Chairman Brian Farmer.
The work for the study likely will link into work the state is doing on accountability, Lyttle said in response.
The project has given the district a more objective way to look at tying the ideas together, he said.
“We’re excited to be part of it, but it will be key as we develop our own evaluation system,” he said. “We want a formative evaluation system that helps develop the teacher along the way.”
What is close reading? As I said in my previous blog post, whatever it is, it differs from a personal response to the text. But let’s now read a bit more closely on close reading to determine what it is.
Here is what the Common Core ELA Standards say:
Students who meet the Standards readily undertake the close, attentive reading that is at the heart of understanding and enjoying complex works of literature. (p. 3)
Here is Anchor Standard 1:
Key Ideas and Details
1. Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text. (p. 10)
Here is how Nancy Boyles in an excellent Educational Leadership article defines it: “Essentially, close reading means reading to uncover layers of meaning that lead to deep comprehension.”
Thus, what “close reading” really means in practice is disciplined re-reading of inherently complex and worthy texts. As Tim Shanahan puts it in his helpful blog entry, “Because challenging texts do not give up their meanings easily, it is essential that readers re-read such texts,” while noting that “not all texts are worth close reading.”
The close = re-read + worthy assumption here is critical: we assume that a rich text simply cannot be understood and appreciated by a single read, no matter how skilled and motivated the reader.
The next five ELA anchor standards make this clearer: we could not possibly analyze these varied aspects of the text simultaneously:
2. Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.3. Analyze how and why individuals, events, and ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.4. Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.5. Analyze the structure of texts, including how specific sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text (e.g., a section, chapter, scene, or stanza) relate to each other and the whole.6. Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.
College readiness and close reading. Since a key rationale for the Common Core Standards is college readiness, let’s have a look at how college professors define it. Here is what Penn State professor Sophia McClennen says at the start of her extremely helpful resource with tips on close reading:
“Reading closely” means developing a deep understanding and a precise interpretation of a literary passage that is based first and foremost on the words themselves. But a close reading does not stop there; rather, it embraces larger themes and ideas evoked and/or implied by the passage itself.
Here is how the Harvard Writing Center defines it:
When you close read, you observe facts and details about the text. You may focus on a particular passage, or on the text as a whole. Your aim may be to notice all striking features of the text, including rhetorical features, structural elements, cultural references; or, your aim may be to notice only selected features of the text—for instance, oppositions and correspondences, or particular historical references. Either way, making these observations constitutes the first step in the process of close reading.
The second step is interpreting your observations. What we’re basically talking about here is inductive reasoning: moving from the observation of particular facts and details to a conclusion, or interpretation, based on those observations. And, as with inductive reasoning, close reading requires careful gathering of data (your observations) and careful thinking about what these data add up to.
There is no one better positioned than the late Edward Said to offer advice on the conduct of intellectual life. At the time of his death in September, 2003 he was perhaps the best known intellectual in the world with millions of readers who saw him variously as a renowned professor of comparative literature, a cultural theorist, a musician, music critic, and (with maestro Daniel Barenboim) musical activist, and, with growing urgency over the last thirty-five years, the most passionate, eloquent, and clear-eyed advocate for the rights of the Palestinian people. Idolized and despised, venerated and denounced, Said was impossible to ignore. The scope of his interests, the depth of his ambitions, the energy and effort invested in every project was vast, and yet each somehow informed and was influenced by the others, and each was animated by his understanding of humanism as universal, inclusive, communitarian, and democratic. Daniel Barenboim (2005) insists that Said had a “musician’s soul” and he traces Said’s fierce antispecialization, his sense of interconnectedness and inclusion, his distinction between power and force, volume and intensity—all insights of a musician—from his work in music to other fields. Said’s great work on Orientatism—which spawned the field of postcolonial studies, a field Said would go on to criticize and question as it developed its own lazy habits and received wisdom—was written and published after 1967, when Said was brought into Palestinian politics for the first time. Linkages abound around issues of conflicting narratives, visibility, and human rights. As an advocate for Palestinian rights Said was unparalleled and yet he was not a spokesman in any conventional sense, for he held no office whatsoever, nor was he ever a mouth-piece for power. Indeed his criticisms of the official Palestinian leadership were both withering and relentless, keeping with his consistent injunction to oppose all orthodoxy, especially the lazy reductiveness or corruption or failures of those with whom one shares an affinity. Said in regard to Palestine was a powerful public example of someone with a mind of his own, arguing with himself without ever losing sight of the larger contexts of suffering and oppression.
In this chapter I examine whether and how the relationship between family socioeconomic characteristics and academic achievement has changed during the last fifty years. In particular, I investigate the extent to which the rising income inequality of the last four decades has been paralleled by a similar increase in the income achievement gradient. As the income gap between high- and low-income families has widened, has the achievement gap between children in high- and low-income families also widened?
The answer, in brief, is yes. The achievement gap between children from high- and low-income families is roughly 30 to 40 percent larger among children born in 2001 than among those born twenty-five years earlier. In fact, it appears that the income achievement gap has been growing for at least fifty years, though the data are less certain for cohorts of children born before 1970. In this chapter, I describe and discuss these trends in some detail. In addition to the key finding that the income achievement gap appears to have widened substantially, there are a number of other important findings.
First, the income achievement gap (defined here as the income difference between a child from a family at the 90th percentile of the family income distribution and a child from a family at the 10th percentile) is now nearly twice as large as the black-white achievement gap. Fifty years ago, in contrast, the black-white gap was one and a half to two times as large as the income gap. Second, as Greg Duncan and Katherine Magnuson note in chapter 3 of this volume, the income achievement gap is large when children enter kindergarten and does not appear to grow (or narrow) appreciably as children progress through school. Third, although rising income inequality may play a role in the growing income achievement gap, it does not appear to be the dominant factor. The gap appears to have grown at least partly because of an increase in the association between family income and children’s academic achievement for families above the median income level: a given difference in family incomes now corresponds to a 30 to 60 percent larger difference in achievement than it did for children born in the 1970s. Moreover, evidence from other studies suggests that this may be in part a result of increasing parental investment in children’s cognitive development. Finally, the growing income achievement gap does not appear to be a result of a growing achievement gap between children with highly and less-educated parents. Indeed, the relationship between parental education and children’s achievement has remained relatively stable during the last fifty years, whereas the relationship between income and achievement has grown sharply. Family income is now nearly as strong as parental education in predicting children’s achievement.
Download Download appendixResearch Areas:Educational EquitySocietal ContextStudent SuccessAPA Citation Reardon, S.F. (2011). The widening academic achievement gap between the rich and the poor: New evidence and possible explanations. In R. Murnane & G. Duncan (Eds.), Whither Opportunity? Rising Inequality and the Uncertain Life Chances of Low-Income Children. New York: Russell Sage Foundation Press. Media MentionsAugust 28, 2012. Stanford School of Education. End of the American Dream?July 31, 2012. RH Reality Check. Back to School: How Educational Economics is Leading to a Wider Gap Between Rich and PoorJune 01, 2012. Boston Review. No Middle Ground - America’s Growing Income SegregationMay 30, 2012. NBC Bay Area. The Gap Between Rich and Poor GrowsMay 07, 2012. Minnesota Public Radio. So should schools focus their resources on the racial achievement gap or the income gap?April 25, 2012. The Huffington Post. A New Take on 'No Excuses' - Tackling Poverty to Provide Meaningful OpportunityFebruary 10, 2012. The New York Times. Education Gap Grows Between Rich and Poor, Studies Say- See more at: http://cepa.stanford.edu/content/widening-academic-achievement-gap-between-rich-and-poor-new-evidence-and-possible#sthash.qYiIGz7z.dpuf
It's important for people to tell you what side they are on and why, and whether they might be biased. A declaration of members' interests, of a sort. So, I am going to be talking to you about reading. I'm going to tell you that libraries are important. I'm going to suggest that reading fiction, that reading for pleasure, is one of the most important things one can do. I'm going to make an impassioned plea for people to understand what libraries and librarians are, and to preserve both of these things.
And I am biased, obviously and enormously: I'm an author, often an author of fiction. I write for children and for adults. For about 30 years I have been earning my living though my words, mostly by making things up and writing them down. It is obviously in my interest for people to read, for them to read fiction, for libraries and librarians to exist and help foster a love of reading and places in which reading can occur.
So I'm biased as a writer. But I am much, much more biased as a reader. And I am even more biased as a British citizen.
And I'm here giving this talk tonight, under the auspices of the Reading Agency: a charity whose mission is to give everyone an equal chance in life by helping people become confident and enthusiastic readers. Which supports literacy programs, and libraries and individuals and nakedly and wantonly encourages the act of reading. Because, they tell us, everything changes when we read.
And it's that change, and that act of reading that I'm here to talk about tonight. I want to talk about what reading does. What it's good for.
I was once in New York, and I listened to a talk about the building of private prisons – a huge growth industry in America. The prison industry needs to plan its future growth – how many cells are they going to need? How many prisoners are there going to be, 15 years from now? And they found they could predict it very easily, using a pretty simple algorithm, based on asking what percentage of 10 and 11-year-olds couldn't read. And certainly couldn't read for pleasure.
It's not one to one: you can't say that a literate society has no criminality. But there are very real correlations.
And I think some of those correlations, the simplest, come from something very simple. Literate people read fiction.
Fiction has two uses. Firstly, it's a gateway drug to reading. The drive to know what happens next, to want to turn the page, the need to keep going, even if it's hard, because someone's in trouble and you have to know how it's all going to end … that's a very real drive. And it forces you to learn new words, to think new thoughts, to keep going. To discover that reading per se is pleasurable. Once you learn that, you're on the road to reading everything. And reading is key. There were noises made briefly, a few years ago, about the idea that we were living in a post-literate world, in which the ability to make sense out of written words was somehow redundant, but those days are gone: words are more important than they ever were: we navigate the world with words, and as the world slips onto the web, we need to follow, to communicate and to comprehend what we are reading. People who cannot understand each other cannot exchange ideas, cannot communicate, and translation programs only go so far.
How much can we learn from each other’s experiences? A lot, but there are reasons to be cautious. Sometimes what’s been learned from an experience, or set of experiences, is wrong. That’s true whether the learning is about teaching or life.
Pedagogical scholarship has been criticized for its focus on experience. A faculty member has an issue with students (say they aren’t doing the reading), implements a solution (some sort of quizzing mechanism), and decides it works because the quiz scores are high. Thanks to the scholarship of teaching movement, these kinds of reports are pretty much gone from the literature. The goal has been to replace them with research—various forms of systematic inquiry.
Now, if you read this blog, you know that I’m a big fan of research. We’ve learned a lot about teaching and learning from research, both that done by professionals in the field of education (and its related subfields) and by discipline-based faculty who now systematically “study” their practice. Teaching can and should be evidence-based. We need research scholarship that advances what we know and confirms how we practice.
But I think we’ve gone too far in our preference for scholarly work on teaching and learning that is research based. Responding to an analysis of work on teaching and learning being done in the fields of theology and religion (other disciplines have also done reviews like this), Stephen Brookfield, noted author and advocate of reflective critical thinking, challenges these fields (and the rest of us) to consider “scholarly personal narratives.” These are critical, reflective, introspective analyses of teaching experiences. As Brookfield acknowledges, they are accounts of what happened to one teacher, sometimes in one class, during one semester. But what that one teacher experienced may have happened to many of us and that teacher’s incisive critique of how he or she responded to an unfolding situation, the analysis prompted by the experience, what was learned from it, and the change and growth that resulted—that type of account becomes a learning ladder that readers ascend right along with the author.
I recently came across one of the most compelling personal narratives I’ve read in a long time (and when you have a monthly newsletter to fill and a blog to post every week, you read a lot). It’s the story of one teacher’s journey to a new kind of teaching. The author, Joseph Gonzalez, starts with an admission. The students in his classes don’t want to be there. He describes his role in those courses as “pedagogic dentistry, with me the puller of teeth.”
He decides to try a different approach, but as he implements new activities he makes mistakes, which he names and describes. The journey was neither short nor painless. His brutal honesty is refreshing. You forget you’re reading an article as he recounts what happened. The descriptions are vivid. There’s action, conflict, and a real plot in this story. But even though it’s an enjoyable read, it is not anything like mindless entertainment. This is a learning journey made scholarly by the depth of his insights and by an awesome command of the literature. He doesn’t list references because articles are expected to have them. He tells you what he learned from the literature and follows that with how he applied what he learned.
I highlight more of the article’s content in the November issue of The Teaching Professor newsletter. But I really hope you’ll track it down so you can read it in its entirety (see reference below). It vividly shows that there are ways to think and write about experiences that are scholarly and provide readers with rich learning experiences. We shouldn’t underestimate what can be learned from our own experiences and those of others. And we shouldn’t imagine for a moment that is always an easy, second class kind of learning. The learning that results from experience can profoundly impact those who write and those who read. When it does, it merits a place in the scholarship of teaching.
One of the fascinating aspects of the recent Festival of Education at Wellington College was the exceptionally wide range of speakers and the breadth and diversity of opinions on offer. Ultimately, however, they divided into two camps.
In the ‘traditionalist’ camp were all those who believe that the main aim of education has always been, still is, and always will be, the attainment of high scores in time-limited, high-stakes tests and exams. These people also believe that through various efforts to ‘drive up’ exam scores we can measure students, teachers and schools.
The major exponents of ‘traditionalism’ were present in force at Wellington – Michael Gove, Sir Michael Wilshaw, Lord Adonis, and their various acolytes. Their sessions were extremely well attended, though not by me. Instead of going to Wilshaw’s session I preferred to listen to the head of Eton, Tony Little, who is clearly a man who sees the need to develop the whole of each individual, and not simply cram for tests and exams. In fact Mr Little has stated publicly elsewhere that he sees no need at all for 16+ exams.
Both Eton and Wellington recognise the need for the holistic and all-round development of individuals – which of course includes development of the intellect and the achievement of academic success – though it’s not entirely clear whether the broader range of achievements would be sacrificed by either school if academic success wasn’t forthcoming.
The Great Education Wars are now a worldwide phenomenon, and reminiscent of the continuing wars between the two schools of economics which have been raging since the 1960s. In the fields of finance and economics you’re either a Keynesian or a Friedmanite/monetarist. In education you’re either in the camp that says “attainment” is the only thing that really matters, or you’re in the camp that says the holistic development of individual children and young people across all of their aptitudes and intelligences is what’s truly important.
Some of us have known about these wars taking place over several decades, whereas some just echo Leonard Cohen – “I didn’t even know there was a war”.*
Well it’s time to get real. There IS a war, and it’s not going to go away. No amount of words from the likes of Michael Gove are going to change the minds of those who say children have a fundamental right to the kinds of personalised learning that value their individuality and enable them to succeed across all of their intelligences – personal, social, emotional, spiritual, practical, creative, etc. Just as those on the child-centred side are never going to change the minds of those who are adamant that academic success is the be-all and end-all (whilst paying lip service to other areas of learning and personal development).
The attainment-at-all-costs brigade has been christened GERM by Pasi Sahlberg** – the Global Educational ‘Reform’ Movement. The leading GERM nations are the USA, the UK and South Korea.
The nations that have moved away from didacticism and high-stakes testing to embrace pupil-centredness and the ‘new learning revolution’ are Finland, Singapore and more recently Shanghai/China. The success of the learning/teaching revolution in Shanghai is now spreading to the rest of China, which has learned its “Finnish Lessons” very well. The GERM supporters ought to be aware that China is not known for undertaking massive social and economic changes without some very solid reasons – or evidence, if you prefer.
Genetic factors may exert a tiny influence on how much schooling a person ends up with, a new study suggests.
But the main lesson of the research, experts say, should be that attributing cultural and socioeconomic traits to genes is a dicey enterprise.
“If there is a policy implication, it’s that there’s even more reason to be skeptical of genetic determinism,” says sociologist Jeremy Freese of Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.
Published May 30 in Science by a group of more than 200 researchers, the study does mark the first time genetic factors have been reproducibly associated with a social trait, says Richard Ebstein, a behavioral geneticist at the National University of Singapore. “It announces to social scientists that some things they’ve been studying that make a difference to health and life success do have a base in genetics.”
But even if it does survive further inspection — and many similar links between genes and social characteristics have not — the study accounts for no more than 2 percent of whatever it is that makes one person continue school while someone in similar circumstances chooses to move on to something else.
Previous studies comparing twins and family members have suggested that not-yet-identified genetic factors can explain 40 percent of people’s educational attainment; factors such as social groups, economic status and access to education would explain the other 60 percent. That percentage attributed to genetics is similar to the heritability of physical and medical characteristics such as weight and risk of heart disease.That makes a hunt for the genetic factors underlying educational attainment an attractive prospect.
Researchers from the Social Science Genetic Association Consortium set up an experiment that searched 2 million variable locations known as SNPs in the DNA of 101,069 people for variants that appeared to be linked to educational attainment. They found only one that was associated with years of education. Two more SNPs were associated with whether a person had finished college. The researchers then replicated the findings by doing the same sort of analysis on another 25,490 people’s DNA and finding that the same SNPs popped up.
Considering the apparent effect of all 2 million SNPs, the analysis can account for only about 2 percent of the difference between those with the highest and lowest levels of education. The single SNP with the strongest effect explains just 0.022 percent of the variation in educational attainment in the people sampled. The SNP most strongly associated with finishing college gives people about a 1.8 percentage point difference in the odds of completing a degree.
It’s common for genetic variants to have only weak influences on whether someone will develop a particular trait: Variants associated with height, for instance, exert about a 0.4 percent influence. But even scientists used to tiny effects have expressed disappointment at the small contribution of these variants. “It’s not even like a cup half full,” says Robert Plomin, a behavioral geneticist at Kings College London. “It’s a cup that is less than 1 percent full.”
Critics of the study don’t quibble with the way it was done. Their concern — one the authors share — is that there is no gene “for” going to college. The scientists used educational attainment because data on it are available for large numbers of people. But it is a proxy for something else — perhaps differences in the way peoples’ brains work or in personality traits like perseverance that could help people get through school. That means it is impossible to know what the researchers are really measuring.
The researchers caution that they have not identified specific genes, but merely found variants implicating some regions of the genome in educational attainment. Even if they had pinpointed a particular gene, “it doesn’t tell you the mechanism by which the gene is having a relationship with education,” says study coauthor Daniel Benjamin, an economist at Cornell University.
At best, the study may set an upper limit of effects scientists can expect to find in genetic studies of social traits, says Anna Need, a neuropsychiatric geneticist at Imperial College London. If a study of so many people can find only marginal genetic associations, smaller studies claiming to have uncovered genes strongly linked to political views or other social values are probably nonsense, she says. She fears that people will interpret the study to mean that genes determine education levels.
It is a fear shared by Duke University geneticist David Goldstein. “This tiny, tiny, tiny signal is completely pointless and will be misinterpreted,” he says. “Now we’re beating the poor methodology to a point that it will confess to pretty darn near anything.”
The study barely clears a widely accepted statistical hurdle for ruling out apparent associations that actually occur by chance. Some studies that skim that hurdle turn out not to be true when later repeated, especially when the trait is not clearly genetic. “This is literally right on the border,” Goldstein says, and “has a real good chance of being wrong.”
ost of our abbreviations for units of measurements are pretty straightforward. They are made up of of letters from the words they stand for. So how do we get lb for "pound" and oz for "ounce"?
Lb is an abbreviation of the Latin word libra. The primary meaning of libra was balance or scales (as in the astrological sign), but it also stood for the ancient Roman unit of measure libra pondo, meaning "a pound by weight." We got the word "pound" in English from the pondo part of the libra pondo but our abbreviation comes from the libra. The libra is also why the symbol for the British pound is £ — an L with a line through it. The Italian lira also used that symbol (with two lines through it), the word "lira" itself being a shortened version of libra.
"Ounce" is related to the Latin uncia, the name for both the Roman ounce and inch units of measurement. The word came into English from Anglo-Norman French, where it was unce or ounce, but the abbreviation was borrowed from Medieval Italian, where the word was onza. These days the Italian word is oncia, and the area once covered by the Roman Empire has long since switched to the metric system.
I am, ostensibly, on vacation. But if I don’t get this thought out of my brain it will continue to torment my cross-country driving.
What exactly is most unique / special about MOOCs? Let’s unpack the acronym back to front:
- Courses. Well, we’ve had these for a few hundred years. At least. Many of these are not MOOCs.
- Online courses. Well, we’ve had these for decades. At least. Many of these are not MOOCs.
- Open online courses. Well, we’ve had these for several years now, too. Many of these are not MOOCs.
- Massive. Hmm. This seems new. Ish.
I think in our ever-stumbling hurry to do what we’ve always done with new technology, we’re missing a genuine opportunity to see something new in the “massive” part of MOOCs. Back in 2004 I wrote:
“Is there a form of teaching which is indigenous to the online environment?”
“Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs) provide an interesting opportunity to research this question. These games frequently include Guilds and other organizations which allow players to group and cooperate. One of the primary functions of these groups is to train new players, including enculturation, how to slay certain types of beasts, operate certain types of weapons or spacecraft, etc. In informal conversations, it has been my experience that people playing these games have never belonged to guilds in the “real” world, never killed dragons in the “real” world, never flown an X-Wing in the “real” world, etc. They were taught these skills and continue to teach these skills to newcomers online. They have never taught these skills to another person in the “real” world, they have learned to teach these skills online. I would argue, therefore, that the type of teaching and learning occurring in MMORPG guilds is one example of the type of native online teaching we want to find.”
Relatedly, I’ve also thought for some time (but frustratingly can’t find it quickly in my archives): Our traditional pedagogies scale poorly beyond 30 or so people because they were developed in the context of teaching 30 or so people. I think it’s safe to assume that, in the same way that our pedagogies-for-30-people degrade as the number of students goes up, pedagogies-for-1000s-of-people degrade as the number of students goes down. Pedagogies for 1000s of people probably function so poorly in the context of 30 people that we’ve never even really tried them before. In other words, we’ve never taught 100,000 people at a time before, and consequently we’ve never developed pedagogies for teaching this many people at once – the last few years just show us trying to shoe-horn pedagogies-for-30 into MOOCs and then publishing articles about the astonishing drop rates.
MOOCs provide an extremely rare opportunity to completely rethink pedagogy, from the ground up, for a completely new context and configuration. However, until someone gets serious about this line of thinking and looks for legitimate inspiration outside of classroom-based pedagogies-for-30, it’s going to be hard times.
This seems to be an appropriate time to say, “we have to think outside the box.”