Sunday, December 6, 2009

Instructionism versus Constructionism?

I am not a big fan of the word versus, I think perhaps I could have used the title constructionism born out of Instructionism but that does not sound so exciting. Regardless here is this weeks thinking:
Instructionisn versus Constructionism

There is a notion out there in schools that if we want better learning, we need to just do what we have been doing for the last century better, more efficiently. Just do teaching better. This notion leads us to wonder how do we know we are better? We better find a measuring stick. If we want to be more efficient then we better measure how we are more efficient. We end up in a maze circling around and around like a laboratory rat chasing after better.

Well maybe but perhaps it would be more helpful to think about this in a less linear way. Let’s take the cause and effect out of this scenario and shake this thinking on its backside. At the core of this is what do you personally believe learning to be? Do you believe in universal truths? Basically how do we view the nature of knowledge?

Constructionism does not say do not instruct, any teacher will tell you that would just be silly. Constructionism removes a layer though by keeping instruction to a minimum, so that the acts of teaching not diminish the act of discovery by the student. Seymour Papert comments, “of course this can not be achieved by reducing the quantity of teaching while leaving everything else unchanged”. We need to think differently. He reminds us that the constructionist principal parallels the African proverb if a man is hungry you can give him a fish or teach him to fish. Traditional school gives children the fish while constructionism is built on the assumption that students will do better if they find their own fish, realize what skills they need to learn to do this on their own, find friends to fish with and discover the best waters to fish in. “The kind of knowledge children most need is the knowledge that will help them get more knowledge” (Papert, 1993, p. 139).

The structure of a constructionist-learning environment is a dramatically different school culture, shifted away from transmission and acquisition towards a more active participatory place. Instead of placing importance on individual isolated knowledge it places importance on interaction and the appropriation of knowledge; its design is collaborative to allow for the sharing of ideas. It focuses on the connected nature of knowledge both personal and social. It has a more distributed view drawn from the greater surrounding culture. Rather than being linear and having students master stages of development the structure is bricoleur where the student learns to tinker with the tools at hand. Constructionism is not constructivism. “Piaget never intended his theory of knowledge development to be a theory of learning and teaching”(Kafai, 2006, p. 35). Instead of students learning through accommodation as Piaget spoke of, teachers will help learners make connections by making sense of the world as a whole that they interact with and not just objects in it. In this place learners have power to make knowledge their own. Authority then becomes distributed and not centrally located at the front of the room. The central role of constructionism is a physical one and the focus is on the people not the technology as an object. Technology potentially may become tools to think with and a place to connect knowledge. Giving each of us the potential to interact directly with a whole new world full of meanings. So what are schools doing to help teachers with this shift?

Roots of Constructionism explored with Cmap

This thinking was sparked by:

Kafai, Y. (2006). Constructionism. In R. K. Sawyer (Ed.), The Cambridge handbook of the learning sciences. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Papert, S. (1993). The children's machine: Rethinking school in the age of computer. New York, NY, USA: Basic Books, Inc.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

As a democratic society what is it we need of our schools in the 21st century?

As a democratic society what is it we need of our schools in the 21st century and has our expectation of teachers shifted? The cost of technology is socially complex and expensive compared with the traditional tools of teaching. Is this cost bringing us closer to what we need? Do we need to re-examine the assumptions that are propelling reform through technology? Is it enough in our democratic society to just educate teachers and students in how to use technology?
On one hand, we have aspects of our society craving higher standards, with a need to be efficient about collecting data that demonstrates measurable achievement. In the Alberta Guide to Education document they state, “The school’s primary responsibility is to ensure that students meet or exceed the provincial standards… that education inspires and enables students to achieve success and fulfillment as citizens in a changing world.” (2009-2010 p.2).” In my view this indicates a standards-based, accountability-oriented approach concerned with effective delivery of this program of study and the teacher is responsible for collecting this data.
Yet, at the same time looking deeper into the school curriculum teachers are being asked to make a fundamental shift in their practice away from a teacher centred delivery of content to a more generative and collaborative exploration of content. This shift requires a major adjustment of the traditional power relationship between teacher and student.
As a classroom teacher, I find myself uncomfortably squeezed between the two. Do teachers find themselves trapped in a paradoxical profession as Andy Hargreaves boldly states (2003, p. 9)? Do we as a society have a clear request of its teachers or has teaching in the 21st century become so complex we are confused? Alberta teachers are being asked to embed technology into every area of their curriculum. “As technology is best learned within the context of applications, activities, projects, and problems that replicate real-life situations, the ICT program of studies is structured as a ‘curriculum within a curriculum’, using the core subjects of English Language Arts, Math, Science and Social Studies as a base” (2003 p.1). Yet much research suggests there are barriers to teachers doing so. What might explain some teachers eagerly infusing technology and others not? Is Larry Cuban correct when he reports that computers have been over sold and under used by teachers (2001 p.195). As well, in their examination of the use of computers by teachers Dexter, Anderson, & Becker uncovered from teachers that they felt time to reflect was more of a catalysts than the technology itself for instructional change in teacher practice (1999).
If technology is not the catalyst what might be? I think it might be time to stop thinking that teachers are the obstacles to over come in school reform? Do we take seriously the experiences of teachers? If explanations contain the seeds for solutions, can I as a researcher explain or rather interpret for school reformers the teachers voice in this place? In the heart of this question I wonder, what do teachers say about of the relationship between technology and exploratory learning in constructionist classrooms today?

Cuban, L. (2001). Oversold and underused: computers in the classroom. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Dexter, S., Anderson, R. E., & Becker, H. J. (1999). Teachers' views of computers as catalysts for changes in their teaching practice. Journal of Research on Computing in Education, 31(3), 221-239.
Hargreaves, A. (2003). Teaching in the knowledge society. Teachers College Press.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

All I needed to learn I learned in my backyard

I wrote this for my father on the occasion of his funeral September 12. 2007. I publish it now to honour his memory as a WWII veteran on this Remembrance day 2009.

The lessons I learned in my backyard

My father was a kind man, a good guy. He wasn't what you would call ambitious, he wasn't driven to climb the corporate ladder. He was a good man. In today's society good has become a kind of undervalued word. But good is good, and good is a good word. He was a family man and from my perspective a top level father. It wasn't enough that he fathered us he also fathered our friends. He wasn't alone, I remember thinking the same thing about Mr. Boydell. As a child I spent a lot of time in my backyard and I'll tell you my father's presence was always there even when he wasn't. In those days our parents would open the back door after breakfast and if we were home by the time the streetlights where on all was good. At some point lunch would happen but I don't have much of a memory of that. When it was time for my mother to prepare the family meal I was not to be found in the kitchen helping her. I was out on the front step waiting for my father to come home so the we could play catch. When he wasn't there I spent hours throwing the ball against the house. I now wonder what that must have sounded like to my mother inside the house. The time I spent with my father in my backyard was sacred.

In playing catch with my father I learned about the importance of anticipation, keeping your eye on the ball and covering
up. You know just in case life throws you a bouncing ball. You have
heard the expression covering all your bases and you never know when
life will throw you a curve ball. I learned to be ready to be prepared for the
unexpected from my father.

From my father in my backyard I learned that all life has a place and an importance in creation. Life is a circle with nothing having dominion over another what ever we humans think. However as the children of Ross Grant we learned that cats have some sort of special place at least in our laps.

In my backyard I learned that trees can be your friend. You can play with them. And if you listen very carefully they will whisper your name. They will seldom let you down. We had several trees in our backyard. In one of them we made a simple tree fort
and a rope swing. Not sure I had anything to do with the construction. However in my backyard with this tree I learned the important lesson of gravity it sucks. I have a
memory of one day that rope broke while I was swinging. My hand just
melted. I also recall one day waking up in my bed with the worried
faces of my family all around. Apparently I fell out of the fort and
gave myself some sort of concussion.
In the presence of our family and friends hurts heal faster. I am sure some of you have your own memory of that tree different from my own. I also remember sparklers and burning school houses with the Boydell's very close to that tree, what where we thinking?

You have heard of March madness? I have a different take on it. Yes in March it is time for American college basketball to decide who is the best, but in my backyard it meant the changing of the seasons. My father would make a backyard rink every winter for us. You see in March it is also the time when in Canada we find out who is the best in figure skating. I would watch the championship on television and when it was done for the evening I would go out in my backyard and skate on what was left of the ring. That was madness, sometimes it was only 5 feet around. I spent time there from the time before I could walk to the time I wore high heels. From my father I learned about balance and starting with a good foundation and building on that. In my life I attempt to keep a balance not between work and home but around all life. It's all good. All of it.

My father taught me the art of quite listening and auditory discrimination. In my backyard learned to listen to the difference between bird songs. Robins have a song to sing and it is different in the morning from the evening. It's different when their young are on the ground and it's different when they say goodbye to us in the fall. All winter I wait for the return of the robin's song so that I can tell my father I heard it. It isn't spring until I do. I also learned to whistle although I have never heard a sweeter sound than my father whistling.

Now I want to talk about the focal point of our backyard. All the seasons where revered in our backyard but we all could not wait for the warmth of spring. When the earth would open up so that we could plant the peas. The first seeds of spring. All seeds have a place and an importance in creation but my family will tell you that garden peas have a special place on our tongues. I won't even talk about tomatoes but they have to wait for the warmer soil of June. My father was not a great gardener, he didn't always have straight rows and he didn't pull all the weeds. However he just was a gardener. He had such a connection to the earth and creation. He taught me that seeds, like children grow into what they are meant to be, they don't need a label to know what they are, they don't need straight rows to grow in. They just need to be planted, watered, watched and cared for. With that care they will grow into what they are meant to be.

I believe I learned about honour and duty from my father. In 1939 war was declared and he was 21 years old. That is how old my son is now. He was working at Timothy Eaton's in Hamilton when he was called up for 30 days service in the army. He did his required time and then returned to work. In the summer of 1941 there was a big crop of hay that year his sense of family called him to returned to the farm to help his father but then he also felt a call to serve his country away from his family. His sense of what was right sent him back to the armed forces and in the fall of 1941 like many young men he joined the Air force. He didn't talk about it much but he didn't go into battle, he just quietly when around the North of England making sure the radar was working. That's how he was, he just quietly went about doing good things. I have discovered that radar technicians were Canada's gift to the war effort and it was radar that ended the war.

I live far away in Calgary but even there I am close to my father. All I need to do is put my hand in the dirt to feel his presence. All I need to do is hear my son whistle to hear his voice, or cut open a tomato I have grown to understand life is a circle. When you go home today spend some time in your backyard pour a glass of something cool raise a toast to creation. Spend a few moments thinking about the lessons you have learned there. Look around and notice what is growing and living in your backyard and be filled with the sense of wonder that you should. Life is amazing, drink it in, smell it, listen to it, today all creation sings as it does everyday.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Just what is school for any way?

What is school for in the 21st century and what do we ask of its teachers? On one hand, we have aspects of our society craving higher standards, with a deep need to be more efficient about collecting data that proves growth. This side tends to seek technocratic solutions to its questions and technology is a means towards an end. Yet, at the same time school curriculum is asking teachers to make a fundamental shift in their practice from a teacher centred delivery of content to a more generative, collaborative exploration into content. This shift requires a major adjustment of the traditional power relationship between teacher and student. This side tends to seek democratic solutions to its questions; technology can be used to connect us. As a classroom teacher, I find myself uncomfortably squeezed between the two. Do teachers find themselves trapped in a paradoxical profession? Do we as a society have a clear request of its teachers or has teaching in the 21st century become so complex we are confused?
If explanations contain the seeds for solutions, can I as a researcher explain for the world the some of the complexities of the 21st century classroom, as teachers try to be responsive to all learners?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

We are all connected

Found this thanks to Stephen Downes. It must be shared.

We are all connected... The beauty of a living thing is not the atoms that go into it, but the way those atoms are put together.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A pragmatic thread

While reading Michael Crotty’s chapter on Interpretivism, he reminded me that the pragmatic world that I place myself in is one of optimistic possibility. It is a world to explore and made the most of, not a world to be subjected to radical criticism (p.74). It is true that some times the world does need to be criticized and there are aspects of human life that make interesting subjects, but on the whole human life is ripe with potential both good, bad and every thing above and below. To look at human life with a subjective view while it can be helpful it is limiting. At best it only tells us half the story. To look at the world this way we must also look at how we as humans connect to each other. We are a people connected through culture and language. To effectively participate in this culture we must see ourselves as social beings capable of a connection (some don't). This bond to our culture and thus to each other is made possible when we use our imaginations, when we put ourselves in a new place, a place that has potential, it is a place of many possibilities. The world is bountiful, teeming with possibility (p.85). What makes us human is the ability to take the role of another. We are capable of placing ourselves in someone else’s shoes and walk around a while. We can think inside our heads and wonder what it must be like over there. I see children do this rather successfully in their play. They think, believe then become like the character they want to play. This link we have with each other has been called symbolic interaction (p. 75). I have discovered that the notion of symbolic interaction while having its origin in the pragmatic movement is not unique to it. It is a thread that runs from pragmatism through ethnography, interactionism, phenomenology and right into hermeneutics, the path that I feel my research will take.

Crotty, M. (1998). The foundations of social research : meaning and perspective in the research process. London ; Thousand Oaks, Calif., Sage Publications.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Be strong, be brave

Today was an emotional day for me. My 20 year old daughter got on a plane today to leave for Michigan to go to school there. I will not see her until Christmas. This was hard for me some how. I mean we all know as parents that they will grow up and leave. It became a little unsettling when she texted me to say that she missed her plane while customs grilled her over her going early. I received the text while I was teaching my grade two class. I talked to them about my concern. One child said to me quite clearly and profoundly. "I think it will be ok. You are big and you should be brave and you should be strong." Oh, I said to myself I guess I will then since you put it that way. We as teachers need to remember that children can teach us. They can remind us of what we need to know to make everything ok. My daughter got on the next plane. She did leave and everything is going to be all right. I will miss her but I will never forget the lesson one 7 year old taught me today. Be brave and be strong and everything will be all right.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Thinking, creating, and invention?

Imagine teaching and learning as an environment or a place with rooms to play, and in this place picture the focal point being thinking, creating, and invention? Could we then think of technology as being the medium for this work?

Marshal McLuhan (1967) alerted my generation of a shift of philosophy four decades ago. “The environment as a processor of information is propaganda. Propaganda ends where dialogue begins. You must talk to the media, not the programmer” (p.142). What I gather from this wisdom is that if I want to understand what is happening in education with regard to technology I must dialogue with teachers not the system they work in.

Perhaps why we struggle with this philosophy might be because our culture and school system as deep roots the industrial model and the philosophy of technology as an instrument. With it’s focus on data driven productivity, accountability and efficiency. In this place, teachers have had little choice then to break knowledge into packages; teaching then became the supplying of this information while learning in turn became the mastering of this information. In this place, there was a need to standardize in order to measure how effective teachers were being. This sort of system appeared to be functioning when we thought of information as being in short supply. However, in today’s information rich world this is less than effective. So how do we achieve this shift of philosophy?
The first step in any solution is coming to an understanding of the place the problem lives. I wish to arrive at an understanding dialogically by engaging together with teachers as a means of thinking and reflecting on the daily complexities in the classroom and experiences in the contexts of a shared social and moral traditions. I wish to have my dialogue with teachers in a deliberate and democratic manner. In this case, I wish to put my own understanding at risk and to leave myself open to possibilities.
Jourard (1978) as a voice from the past cautions, “The crisis of our time is not shortage of food, space, and energy; it is the failure of dialogue”. This makes me think not much has really changed. He describes education as a dialogue. “It is an invitation for someone, living or dead, to engage in a process which enlarges one’s perspective”. He says it implies a capacity to imagine, or "tune in to the reality of what is being said, the phenomenological reality of the speaker’s world”. Dialogue calls us to listen and to speak a truth in response. He says this sharing is not the imposing of ones own ideas on to another as I have often seen done in many situations where teachers have been asked to infuse technology in their practice. Further, he reminds us that in education everything depends upon the educators’ beliefs about who their pupils are and who they can become. Can we not also think of teachers as learners themselves? How often do we ask who do teachers believe themselves to be? (p.47). These words inspire me. In his words, “education is concerned with discovering and calling forth those human potentialities deemed valuable for life” (p. 48). “To really listen, we need to still the chronic noise of our mind, which always labels and categorizes what the world is and what we are” (p. 50). While my research will not just be about listening to teacher’s it will be a requirement of it. He reminds us that reading is also a listening as well as a looking, tasting, feeling, and smelling. All of this is just part of hearing what the world of teaching is and what it is like.

Jourard, S. M. (1978). Education as dialogue. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 18(1), 47.

McLuhan, M., & Fiore, Q. (1967). The medium is the massage. New York: Bantam Books.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Playful Experience

I do not think it is helpful to view play through the limiting eyes of subjectivity. Gadamer (2004) frees play from traditional subjective understandings. Play is more than an entity of itself and not just a state of mind or an orientation of the one playing. It has a spirit of its own. “Play itself contains its own, even sacred, seriousness…Play fulfills its purpose only if the player loses himself in the play” (p.102). In this seriousness of play, we suspend our daily connections with world. As players, we know we are playing, but the only goal other than to just play is for the player to be “played” by the game itself. This kind of focus is required in order to make play wholly play. “Someone who doesn’t take the game seriously is a spoilsport” (p.103). In this sort of manner of play, we must not look upon the word play as if it were an object. It becomes an event. Dewey might call it the action of play. Without action, there can be no experience, and it is what gives this very ordinary everyday activity its ultimate constructive power.

(Biesta & Burbules, 2003) describe that Dewey used the word experience to refer to the transaction between living organisms and their environment. It is the very way we are connected to reality and knowledge (p. 28). “Knowledge is therefore found in the happenings of experience” (p. 44). I cannot see how one could consider them selves knowledgeable without being engaged in the playful act of learning. Gadamer speaks of two different kinds of experience. An immediate experience you might have with a tool or instrument (Erlebnis) and a different deeper or more cognitive experience you undergo the result of participating in an action (Erfahrung). While I see great value the first experience, it is the playful experience of a lived experience that I am interested in with my research. I must be present but also active in my research.

Biesta, J., & Burbules, N. (2003). Pragmatism and educational research. Toronto: Roman and Littlefield.

Gadamer, H., Weinsheimer, J., & Marshall, D. G. (2004). Truth and method (Vol. 2). London ; New York: Continuum.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

More on Playful Knowledge

I am an educational technologist. The AECT Defines educational technology as, “The study and ethical practice of facilitating learning and improving performance by creating, using and managing appropriate technological processes and resources” (Januszewski, A., Molenda, M., 2008 p.1) What that means to me is that as an elementary classroom teacher I have been able to embed my teaching and learning inside a technological framework. At times I do use technology as a tool to support instruction but I also view technology as a place for student centred exploration and construction. As the teacher I believe it is my responsibility to create and then facilitate a learning environment that my students can be interactive in. I also believe that for meaningful learning to occur they need to use technology to make connections to each other and the information that drives their curiosity. I can also say quite confidently that I now see this work through the lens of an interpretive researcher. By that I mean I view teaching and learning as deeply linked. Deep learning is personal yet socially constructed. As learners we need opportunity to dialogue with each other and what we understand as knowledge. Play is an action. We must poke, push and pull at our understanding. Interpretive work is playful work. Play is not subjective or objective but a constructed pursuit. Play is what we must do in order to make knowledge our own and not someone else’s. Interpretive research looks for culturally derived and historically situated interpretations of the social life-world (Crotty p.67). I do not wish to explain how teachers are using technology in the 21st century as much as I wish to understand it. There has already been much fine research in educational technology that explains the barriers that teachers face when trying to utilize technology in their classrooms. Yet much of this comes from a scientific tradition and has been accomplished through a natural science method focused on causality and empirical validation. While this research pool is rich with useful and interesting data, I believe it is missing something vital to help us understand the life-world of teachers today. Little is said about the complexities of today’s classroom and little is heard from the voice of the teachers who live in this complexity. For me explanations are ineffectual without being surrounded with understanding.

Crotty, M. (1998). The foundations of social research : meaning and perspective in the research process. London ; Thousand Oaks, Calif., Sage Publications.

Januszewski, A., M. Molenda, et al. (2008). Educational technology : a definition with commentary. New York, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

It feels wrong

It all feels wrong to me. I wonder why do I feel so uncomfortable when my staff is talking about gaps in our students skills? We need to identify gaps in order to build a school development plan. This should be a good thing shouldn't it? If we want to support our students to be confident participants in the world we need to know what they are doing well and what is missing from their skill set. However I was shocked when what was written on the white board was there needs to be a balance between play and academics in kindergarten. A balance? When did it become a dichotomy? Play vs School? How can we possibly pull the playfulness out of learning as if it where something unrelated? Is "play" a thing now? How can we use an Inquiry approach without playful exploration?
In this blog I have made my view of knowledge well known. I do not think that play is a form of disengaged, disinterested activity of subjectivity. Play is a very serious path to understanding. I think my discomfort indicates that my philosophical beliefs are clashing with the dominate view of the school. While I find myself almost angry my curiosity is taking over. What is the philosophical beliefs of the school? What are the roots of this thinking? How are teachers like me coping with this disconnection? My plan is to now approach this phenomenologically. Why so much emphasis on behaviour? Why so much time spent on testing that will sort our students into leveled learning? How can a scientific model of quantifiable data support inquiry? What does inquiry mean to a behaviourist? What good is inquiry if we have not invested in creating collaborative environment where curiosity and exploration are valued as a way of being in the world?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Back in the classroom

My dilemma - another rant:
So I now find myself back in the classroom after 3 years of busying my brain with doctoral thoughts. I have beliefs about the way we learn. I also have deep beliefs about the kind of schools I think we need to be in the 21st Century.
They go something like this:

"We need to stop thinking that the job of schools is to create the 21st century workforce, it's not. The job of our schools is nothing less than to help co-create the 21st-century citizen. We want our kids to be active, engaged citizens of the world. They'll be workers if they are that, too... that part will take care of itself. We want them to be able to engage in the world around them and to make it better. Nothing less than that is our task as educators."
- Chris Lehman

How ever I now have found myself back in the world of...
"the one hundred and one things I have to do every day and who do I need to please now?"
I feel the pressure to make the grade. To measure and to sort learners
into little boxes. How can we expect students to be participants of a connected world if we look at them and their abilities as disconnected little packages of stuff? Schools today are a product of the past. If schools are to become the kind of schools we need... they really need to look hard at disconnecting from the scientific approach of sorting and classifying based on cause and effect testing and reconnect to the more nebulous approach of personal need driven exploratory learning. The only assessment worth doing is self assessment for personal learning within a community of learners.

Do I know what I need to know to do what I want to do?
Well do I? As a researcher in Educational Technology I know the world the teachers live in. You can not expect a teacher to have much time to think about teaching and learning in a digital age when in fact they also live in the world of... 101 things.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Technology using teacher characteristics:

It is hoped that the work I do towards my doctorate will be a “little something” in the great and wonderful pool of work that has gone before me. It has occurred to me many times that this historical knowledge is the foundation and the firmness upon which I stand with strength. However if all of us do not take a moment to think about why we think what we think we get nowhere in our understanding about what we bring to the table of life. The world is rich and our understanding of our place on this planet is complicated by our experience with it. We need to take moments to ponder and question historical thinking.

That being said I wonder today just when did we think that a tool such as we call technology could change the way people work and think? What philosophy of technology is at the root of this thinking? Has technology become not just a tool for us to work with but also a place we live inside of?

I have noticed many school leaders and policy makers acting as if technology as a tool could be a catalyst for change in teacher practice. This action suggests that putting expensive technology in classrooms will shift the role of teachers and their students. That somehow the technology in the room will cause teachers to act more as facilitators by helping students access information, process it, and communicate their understanding. As a learning leader in the 21st century learning project that was not my experience. Placing technology at their doorstep even with professional support became more of a source for frustration for many teachers in their busy professional lives.

Literature for Technology as a catalyst for change:
Collins, A. (1991). The role of computer technology in restructuring schools. Phi Delta Kappan, 73, 28-36.
Means, B., Olson, K., & Singh, R. (1995). Beyond the classroom: Restructuring schools with technology. Phi Delta Kappan, 77, 69-72.
Mehlinger, H. (1996). School reform in the information age. Phi Delta Kappan, 77, 400-407.
Newman, D. (1992). Technology as support for school structure and school restructuring. Phi Delta Kappan, 74, 308-315.
Sheingold, K. (1991). Restructuring for learning with technology: The potential for synergy. Phi Delta Kappan, 73,17 –27.

I have seen much money, time and energy being spent on technology and professional development that seems to have adopted the philosophy, ‘build it and they will come”. So I am left to wonder when historically has a tool been a catalyst for change? As well to complicate this conversation not all teachers view technology only as a tool, and some teachers’ eagerly welcome technology into their classrooms.

I do not wish to approach my work looking at this problem dualistically but rather a succession or a non-linear continuum that I would like to think of as a field. The research on technology-using teachers characterizes different ways teachers use technology in their classrooms. Data that I have encountered so far suggest that technology-using teachers range along a continuum of instructional styles from instruction to construction.

On this continuum we find teachers who use technology only to instruct and then teachers who use technology to construct knowledge. As with continuums we find many teachers at different points employing vastly different philosophies of technology.

Instructional Classroom:
In instruction, the research tells us that teachers conduct class in a teacher-centered way. They impart facts and procedural skills to students and integrate technology as a complement to this style. They use technology mainly for drill and practice. Technology is a means to an end. I believe historically this type of teaching comes from the notion that information and knowledge is limited, sorted and easily found by a “hide-an-seek” method of presenting the curriculum. Embedded within this notion is the philosophy that the technology should make us more efficient and more productive.

Constructional Classroom:
Research also tells us that in construction or student-centered classrooms, teachers are encouraging students to use software and information technologies to make personal connections in active ways. The technology supports the active learning; it becomes a tool with which the students may construct or grow knowledge. Technology can become a place for exploration and the means and ends are endlessly connected. I believe this type of teaching comes from the notion that information and knowledge is vast and complex, that we also need to learn strategies to navigate through it. Embedded within this notion is the philosophy that technology will connect us democratically. It is these constructivist characteristics we find in the 21st century classroom.

Literature for Technology using teacher characteristics:
Becker, H.J. (1994). How exemplary computer-using teachers differ from other teachers: Implications for realizing the potential of computers in schools. Journal of Research on Computing in Education, 26, 291-321.
Hadley, M., & Sheingold, K. (1993). Commonalties and distinctive patterns in teachers’ integration of computers. American Journal of Education, 101, 261-315.
Honey, M., & Moeller, B. (1990). Teacher’s beliefs and technology integration: Different values, different understandings. CTE Technical Report Issue No. 6. [Online ] available:
Means, B., & Olson, K. (1995). Technology's role in education reform: Findings from a national study of innovating schools. Menlo Park, CA: SRI International. [Online] available:
Wiske, M. S., Zodhiates, P., Wilson, B., Gordon, M., Harvey, W., Krensky, L., Lord, B., Watt, M. & Williams, K. (1988). How technology affects teaching. Cambridge, MA: Educational Technology Center. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 296 706)

My final question at the end of this conversation today is this: If the goal is for teachers to use technology with their students in a constructionist or democratic manner should we not first explore this issue with them in the same manner? What if we used a constructivist model rather than a scientific one as has often been done for this exploration. What if we began thinking of teachers as learners and then began a dialogue? Dialogues can provide important opportunities for constructing knowledge in collaboration because they may open opportunities for professional discourse to expose scrutinize and contest deeply ingrained assumptions and philosophies about the way they use technology.

The constructivist model emphasizes that new understanding occurs when a learner seeks, acquires and organizes new information to share with others. This new learning shapes and is shaped by prior knowledge. Prior knowledge is thus shaped by the experiences and beliefs of the learner in addition to the place in which learner constructed this understanding. The literature on the constructivist model of learning along with the literature on teacher professional development and dialogue all suggests that classroom teachers, over time, construct knowledge about which instructional approaches produce the effects they want with their students.

While I call myself a constructivist I do recognize that there are many occasions in a regular teaching day that I would use technology as a stand and deliver tool. It is because of this complexity that I would call the instruction-construction continuum a field of play rather than a succession.

It is my desire to take much of this sort of historical knowledge with me in my interpretive inquiry on how teachers use technology in a 21st century classroom. The goal of this work is to come to a deeper understanding by accessing the experience of teachers. It is my hope that this understanding will provide valuable insight for those responsible for supporting the shifting of teacher practice. I recognize that this topic is temporal and that my task is interpretive but also my interpretation is connected to my own experience as a classroom teacher as I embark on the exploration of the life-world of teachers in the emergent 21st century classroom.

Literature for constructivist model in teacher professional learning:
Cole, M. (1996). Cultural psychology. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
Dexter, S., Anderson, R. E., & Becker, H. J. (1999). Teachers' views of computers as catalysts for changes in their teaching practice. Journal of Research on Computing in Education, 31(3), 221-239.
Eisner, E. W. (2002). The kind of schools we need. Phi Delta Kappan 83(8): 576-583.
Fosnot, C. T. (1996). Constructivism, theory, perspectives, and practice. New York: Teachers College Press.
Fullan, M.G. (1992). Successful school improvement. Bristol, PA: Open University Press.
Fullan, M.G., & Steigelbauer, S. (1991). The new meaning of educational change. New York: Teachers College Press.
Hargreaves, A. (1994). Changing teachers, changing times. London: Cassell.

Literature for philosophy of technology:
Feenberg, A. (1999). Questioning technology. London ; New York, Routledge.
Feenberg, A. (2003). What is Philosophy of Technology? Retrieved February 18, 2009, from
Feenberg, A. (2008). From essentialism to constructivism: philosophy of technology at the crossroads. Retrieved Febrary 21, 2008, from
Heidegger, M. (1977). The question concerning technology, and other essays. New York: Garland.
McLuhan, M. and Q. Fiore (1967). The medium is the massage. New York, Bantam Books.
Postman, N. (1992). Deus Machina. Technos Quarterly, 1(4).
Price, Y. (2008). In a mother's voice: on transformation and graduate education. Unpublished Thesis M Sc --University of Calgary 2008, University of Calgary Division of Applied Psychology, Calgary.
Seimans, G. (December 12, 2004). Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age. from

Literature on dialogue in professional development and Hermeneutics:
Freeman, M. (2006). Nurturing dialogic hermeneutics and the deliberative capacities of communities in focus groups. Qualitative Inquiry, 12(1), 81-95.
Gadamer, H.-G. (1999). Truth and method (2nd ed., J. Weinsheimer & D. G. Marshall,Trans.). New York: Continuum. (Original work published 1975)
Hargreaves, A. (1994). Changing teachers, changing times. London: Cassell.
Jourard, S. M. (1978). Education as dialogue. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 18(1), 47.
Kalliola, S., Nakari, R., & Pesonen, I. (2006). Learning to Make Changes: Democratic Dialogue in Action. Journal of Workplace Learning, 18, 464-477.
Orland-Barak, Lily. (2008). Convergent, divergent and parallel dialogues: Knowledge construction in professional conversations. Teachers and Teaching: Theory and Practice, 12(Feb 2006), 13-31.
Penlington, C. (2008). Dialogue as a catalyst for teacher change: A conceptual analysis. Teaching and Teacher Education, 24(5), 1304-1316.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The love of story

As I have said before, I feel I carry with me as I walk in the world a backpack. Within it I pack a certain view of the world I find myself in. The fabric is weaved with both my own experience and the tradition of those who came before me. The contents contain the notion that our nature of reality is fluid and socially constructed.
I also carry with me the assumption that as people we are born into the world with a need to understand our place in it. As well, to truly understand this place, we must participate democratically with in it. As a researcher I believe that I will be the primary agent for data collection and its analysis, yet if I am to truly come to an understanding I must work in collaboration with my participants to construct the data I will use. I believe that technology lends it’s self to exploration and democracy but not unless they are first valued. But why is this? I think I sit in the world this way as a result to of the mixing of the ingredients I was born with and the experiences I traveled through. As I child in the 60’s I struggled to learn to read. My parents hired a tutor to help me cope in school. The Tutor introduced me to “The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe” by C.S. Lewis (1950). I identified with Lucy she was about my age and no one seemed to believe in her. She was overlooked. (If you have not read The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe it is time you did.) We can learn from Lucy that people are much more capable than what others may think at first glance. With courage we can tell our stories. She can also teach us that there is a power in community when we join together we may produce a power capable of actually moving mountains. I have since read the story many times and shared it with my children when they where young. It of course was different through adult eyes but I am still reminded to never go out my front door with out some sense of the mystery that awaits me with the possibilities of each step.
I have discovered the transformative power in telling and listening to each other’s stories. The power lies in the possibility of growth, for both the teller and the listener. School did not come easy to me but I believe my real education in life has had nothing to do with explanations of what I know or my marks on a test. It has been more about wanting to know and diving in to find out. When I learned to read it was a Dick and Jane world. As a young child I had no love of story. It was just something we had to learn to do in order to live in the world. That tutor that introduced me to “The Lion Witch and the Wardrobe” encouraged me to crawl inside a story. To see it, smell it, and touch my way through the pages. I will never forget the magic she revealed to me by reading, drawing and talking about each character. This struggle gave to me a gift. It is the gift of story. I believe this is why I feel a need to approach my research as a listener and interpreter of story.

Monday, August 3, 2009

What do you bring to the table?

I was reminded today that we all have gifts to bring to the table. It does not matter what you bring, it is sufficient. It does not matter how much to take, what is on the table is sufficient. It also does not matter what you leave behind. What matters is that you are there. All is well... it is all good. There will be days when life's burdens will feel heavy and perhaps what you put on the table will be less than yesterday, we will adjust. The giving and the taking is a dance and often can be a joyful one. What matters is that we talk and listen to each other and that we live well together.
Happy Holiday.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Doc Talk part two

The Definition:

“The study and ethical practice of facilitating learning and improving performance by creating, using and managing appropriate technological processes and resources.” (AECT definition)

At first glance I found it somewhat difficult to align my study with the
definition because the language in this brief definition all seems rather dedicated to the value of efficiency and a scientific tradition. My worldview is one that has roots in the humanistic tradition that lives inside of a technological framework. I do not believe that cause and effect has a place in the complex study of human life. Frederick Edwords sums up humanism as, “a philosophy for those in love with life. Humanists take responsibility for their own lives and relish the adventure of being part of new discoveries, seeking new knowledge, exploring new options. Instead of finding solace in prefabricated answers to the great questions of life, Humanists enjoy the open-endedness of a quest and the freedom of discovery that this entails”(1989).
Upon deeper reflection however while reading within the text again I found something more in keeping with my philosophical perspective. The word facilitating is more about creating an environment that is suitable for exploration and the democratic use of technology not the control we once understood. I struggle with our societies desire to improve performance. My study will not measure performance. I do not believe that teaching in the 21st century is about performing better it is about living well with uncertainty. This new notion of knowledge is about going deeper and making more connections. The learning that will be revealed from my work is knowledge that is constructed and connected in the activity of shared understanding in listening to the stories of teachers.
So after all that I think my work will sit out on the edges of this framework and reside within the words study and reflective practice. “That is study refers to information gathering and analysis beyond the traditional conceptions of research”(2008, p. 1).

Edwords, Frederick. (1989). What is Humanism? Retrieved from

Januszewski, A., Molenda, M., & Association for Educational Communications and Technology. (2008). Educational technology : a definition with commentary. New York: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

The Time that is Given

I took some time this morning to go through all of my delicious bookmarks in order to sort and sift to find links for my pathfinder. What a wonderful experience. In our busy lives we do not often take the time to look through our closets to find old treasures and useless junk. I have come to a point in my life where I am reflecting on the journey so far. As Gandalf said "All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us." The time that is given to us is indeed limited. As humans we seem to forget this until something comes to remind us.
Often it is a little reminder and sometimes it is a big smack.

The journey through the bookmarks was a little one... but there were other ones yesterday. My 90 year old neighbours moved out of their house to spend the rest of what has been given to them in assisted living . I hope to get to that place also one day but when I do I really want to reflect and look back with a twinkle in my eye and remember a life well lived connected by many.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Pathfinder - The begining

I have begun to work on my pathfinder. I know that we have the date of July 31st for a peer review but I thought it might be helpful if we all kept each other informed in the different ways we may want to shape this work.
For my masters work I used dreamweaver and webdisk space provided by the university to create an e-portfolio. I had a page or more for each class I took. I found this very helpful when it came time for me to do my exit project and it served as a personal knowledge base. I think I want to do something similar here. The big difference now is interactive thinking. I now have this blog and the potential to include your voices on this journey.
For this activity I wish to mesh together constructive connectivism and use this blog and my stand alone webpage. I want to also weave into this tapestry my use of open source tools such as Youtube, Zotero reference management and delicious social bookmarking. All of these except Zotero will be connected to each other and be made public.
You can find this work in progress at my webpage

Sunday, July 19, 2009

dialogue with the problem statement

After listening and reading the responses from my previous post this is my response:

Is the current effort to shift teacher practice in the 21st century informed by the realities of the life-world of teachers?

My own sense of reality I believe is called Metaphysical, because of this I would not think it appropriate to work from the traditional scientific method. I think that the way I sit in the world shapes the kinds of questions I put upon it. Like constructivists I believe we construct our own reality based on how we live, act and move in the world. However I also believe there is a reality that is unseen and unlived by me. I believe in more than I can see. Whether you call it God or not does not matter to me. My perspective stems from a Christian tradition. Reality is big and the world I live in has edges that I cannot get at. There is so much going on in our lives that we cannot attend to everything until something makes us look. So when I say that I want to awaken the reality of a teacher’s life-world, it means I want to help them see what they may or may not be paying attention to in their classrooms, and I believe this can be done through dialogue. I wish to engage in a conversation with teachers about how they see 21st Century learning happening in their classrooms. Perhaps through dialogue, we can then come to a share understanding of reality.
I believe I must also define what I mean by dialogue. My notion of dialogue is both hermeneutic and practical. Dialogue is something that happens when we share words. It is an event for understanding. It is a form of play. Bohm, Factor, and Garrett state, “Dialogue is concerned with providing a space within which such attention can be given. It allows a display of thought and meaning that makes possible a kind of collective proprioception or immediate mirroring back of both the content of thought and the less apparent, dynamic structures that govern it” (1991 ¶ 12).
Creating a Landscape
It is my thinking that I will approach the network of teachers that I currently know to see if anyone would be willing to dialogue with me over a school year at their convenience. I would also ask them if they knew of others. I wish to speak with teachers that feel they are giving 21st century learning a go. I do not feel I need test their practice with a criterion. It is enough for me that they see themselves as trying to teach this way. The knowledge gained from this is a ‘picture’ of knowledge. My point of viewing is not so much about the ‘picture’ that represents this phenomenon but also the philosophical frame I choose to place it in.

Bohm, D., Factor, D., & Garrett, P. (1991). Dialogue - a proposal. Retrieved August 4, 2006, from

Thursday, July 16, 2009

I'm so dizzy

I was asked today to define Hermeneutic Phenomenology but not much came out of my mouth. There is much to consider before one begins such a thing. Like...where do you sit in the universe? Anyway here it goes, I'll do my best. As I know it in this moment of time, it is an extraordinary study of the ordinary from the inside. Which is partly why it is difficult to pin down. It is the study of things and happenings as they appear to us in our consciousness. We live in the world so it really is impossible to pretend we can remove ourselves from it to study something. I believe it is not really a method of generating knowledge but a way of thinking about knowledge. It is an art and a different way to classify meaning. It is often applied to the interpretation of human actions, utterances, products, and institutions. A hermeneutic interpretation requires the individual to understand and sympathize with another's point of view without ignoring your own.
A couple of key points:
  • The world is rich and complex with many causes and effects
  • Truth is a personal experience not universal
  • Knowledge does not have a subject-object relationship
  • Understanding and interpreting are essentially the same thing
  • Interpretation is a task
  • Language is the medium of all understanding
  • Language is not a tool but an activity between the speaker and the listener in order to play with understanding
  • Knowledge lives in the learner
  • Verification comes from dialogue not repetition
  • Dialogue leads to a shared understanding of personal experiences
So... a phenomenological inquiry may give me an opportunity to give voice to that which may not be easily heard over the sometimes overpowering drone of traditional research methods. Have we really listened to what teachers are saying is happening in their classrooms in the 21st Century?
Understanding comes by being in the world together. By creating forums in which people can join one another as co-participants to shape something new. It requires a connection in culture through language.
My experience with teachers is that they have such busy lives. If we are not careful we will reduce teaching to the 101 things I have to do every day to please all the people I really don’t like so much kind of job. Teachers do not need someone from outside telling them they have to change their practice, yet I do see a need for change. One day they may be trusted enough to be asked what they think and involve them in the process of change.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Taking a step outside your door...

Those of you who know me know my connection to "Lord of the Rings". There is a line in the Fellowship that the character Bilbo Baggins says that I am often fond of saying. "It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might be swept off to."
I think that is just what Bilbo was after...not the dangerous business but the adventure of what you could not see from the couch.
So I wonder is that what draws us to research, the adventure part not the danger. I think it could be exciting ending up where I did not intend to be.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The First Day of School

Today was my first day of school. Well not the first First day that was a while ago, but a first none the less. Today I began my doctoral seminar for ed Tech at UofC. This is the beginning of the end for me. I can now change my profile from a first year doctoral student to a second year. It is the last class I take before I get all my...stuff together before I approach candidacy. The first day of school and I got to bring all the colours in my crayon box to use and a whole new lot of brilliant people to play with. I am thrilled! I have gotten over the scared silly part (for the most part). In this class I get to design my own path.
I have been asked to think about a definition for an Educational Technologist. For me it is all about learning and living in a connected world. In order to do this well I will need to be good at a few things like; taking charge of my own learning(personalized learning), develop good friendships that will support this learning (Quality Networks), find ways to organize what I learn so that I and my friends can find it again(Structure), and find ways make all this fun. It just has to be fun.
What I keep in my mind all the time is that knowledge does not stand still. At one point in my recent reading I came across the term "living knowledge". For me that means a playful approach to learning. But please do not confuse play with a childish activity, I am very serious with the notion of play. It is this understanding that shapes the kind of questions I ask and the place where I look for answers.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The first day of school

Today was my first day of school. Well not the first First day that was a while ago, but a first none the less. Today I began my doctoral seminar for ed Tech at UofC. This is the beginning of the end for me. I can now change my profile from a first year doctoral student to a second year. It is the last class I take before I get all my...stuff together before I approach candidacy. The first day of school and I got to bring all the colours in my crayon box to use and a whole new lot of brilliant people to play with. I am thrilled! I have gotten over the scared silly part (for the most part). In this class I get to design my own path. Soon I will give a whole room full of grade two students a first day of school and I plan to let them also design their own path.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

I want to go to "Tinkering School"

Watch this and imagine. What if schools were really interested in need driven learning and not higher test scores. This kind of learning is deep and wide. The school focused on "doing better" is only interested in being right or wrong. Pleasing the people above and controlling those below. That seems more long and thin thinking to me. We hear a lot of talk from the people in control of education about "personalized learning" but everyone is so afraid to be wrong and make a mistake, perhaps look weak. Nothing personal is able to emerge in this environment.

I am thinking that what may be at the heart of this is the modern notion of technocracy and efficiency. In schools we still suffer from one way communication, from this only silence is able to grow. We do however see an interesting shift developing as more teachers are engaging in dialogue outside of their blocked school rooms. One example is classroom 2.0 . More voices connected to each other grows a harmony of voices. No one is as smart as everyone. This sort of communication becomes collective action within a technical sphere. Andrew Feenberg calls it democratic rationality(p. 108). We are gradually tinkering with the communication system and that challenges the power structure rooted in this notion of being efficient and a universal truth that is tied to subjugated knowledge.

It is difficult to keep this simple but I will try. I now have a new notion of truth and with that a new notion of knowledge. My notion is nebulous like the universe, not thin like a ladder. I want to go to Tinkering school because only when I am in charge and struggle with what I need to know when I need to know it will I learn what I need to learn. Technology is not the servant of my seeking it is the place I play in.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Technology and Democracy

I have made it known that I have an emerging understanding of philosophy, because of this I have been unhurriedly reading through Gadamer’s “Truth and Method” as well as Andrew Feenberg’s “Questioning Technology”. I have found myself taking many side trips in order to give myself a more knowledgeable position to take all of this in. One thing I do understand well now is that we live in the world not as independently as we might think. The voices of those who came before us hum quietly almost unheard to many. We call this tradition and if we are not mindful we are in danger of just singing the same song through time with no thought of the consequence. Feenberg points out a rather pessimistic tradition of technology (p. 75). The thinking that humans have simply become cogs in their own machinery. He highlights for me the term, Technocracy. A social system viewing technology as a neutral instrument outside of our control, leaving no room for democracy or social interaction.
I have recently spent time exploring the 20th century’s use of technology as a read only culture in the early days of my blogging (mind map ). Yes it is complicated as you can see.

Feenberg brings to light Max Weber and the theory of rationalization, a process whereby social actions and interactions became concerned with efficiency and how it can be measured quantifiably rather than how effects us as people or how we feel about it emotionally. It seems to me that in the modern world of the 20th century people with this thinking lost the connection we had to each other as humans. Gadamer also reminds us that as humans we need to find gaps in our speaking in order to listen to each other. I have spent time thinking about this last fall. You can find this work on my webpage. For me that is the notion of a read-write culture, a culture in dialogue with each other. As Feenberg puts it we need to replace this notion with a, “Democratic” rationalization. In the read only culture that Max Weber was describing we put our faith in progress. Technology is only considered social through the purpose is serves and this would depend on ones personal perception of the purpose. This deterministic view holds that if need be we adjust ourselves to the structure of technology not the other way around (p. 77). Ouch I feel the pinch!

Constructivism argues a different point. We have a choice here; we can look differently at efficiency. When we look at the toys that technology has provided for us rather than saying how can I adapt to this toy and make it work for me? Another way is to look upon this more democratically as a choice between alternatives. To look for a fit between devices and the personal interests and needs a user may have and we as users do definitely shape the design process (p.79). Look at the “I’m a Mac”, “I’m a PC” thing. Cute advertising yes but it demonstrates this point. Two different devices with different design histories shaped by different needs. Good designers respond the feedback of the users. Feenberg tells us that technological determinism ignores this social complexity by focusing in on a cross-section of objects in our life. Gadamer may say this sort of clarity is not enough for living knowledge.
This sort of view has led us to look at dilemmas in a rather simplistic dualistic manner in the form of trade offs. It’s the red vs. blue situation. If we have more of red then we have less of blue.

One altered notion is Connectivism. George Siemens describes it as: "the integration of principles explored by chaos, network, and complexity and self-organization theories. Learning is a process that occurs within nebulous environments of shifting core elements – not entirely under the control of the individual. Learning (defined as actionable knowledge) can reside outside of ourselves (within an organization or a database), is focused on connecting specialized information sets, and the connections that enable us to learn more are more important than our current state of knowing" In our connected world we now have opportunities to think in a more nebulous way.
Feenberg’s writing fills me with hope. He suggests that technology can be more than a means to an end; we can look upon it as a variety of possibilities linked together. We do have choices.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Endings make new beginnings

So I find myself on another edge. My job of Learning Leader for the Calgary Board of Education has come to an end. I was surplussed. It makes me sad. My job was going to schools and working with elementary school teachers in their classrooms on projects that involved technology. It was called the 21st Century Learning Project. Most teachers did not think they needed to shift the way they work...but some where so keen and eager, that is what made the job fun. Those of you that know me know that fun is the name of the game. Any way the job is over and it is just too soon. All I did was get into a few classrooms and show a few teachers a few little tricks. I did not get to explain the whole deep and wide of connected learning and how to create learning environments that are flexible for more ways to learn. That would take more time and more trust. I could go on but I can not see the point with the sky being so beautiful this morning and the air so fresh and clean (I'm in the mountains). The point is I feel a sense of loss with work undone. I also feel a betrayal of sorts in that the work that I did do was not widely recognized. The only feedback I received was that "it is important to build effective communication patterns to support the building of strong relationships." Since the teachers I worked with only communicated supportive messages can I assume that I do not toot the horn loud enough? That I think would be true. I carry the shy gene but I also believe deeply in the notion of dialogue. I struggle with telling people what to do or think. Communication should be a lived experience.
So that is over now what will I do with this new opportunity that has been placed before me? I need to adjust my thinking, move on and accept my new position. They have placed me in a grade two classroom at a brand new school with all the new toys to play with. It should be fun. I do not doubt that I will have fun. I just am still struggling with this sense of loss and what was wrong with me attitude. I guess I just better get out and enjoy this day that has been given to me.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Subjectivization of Beauty

Gadamer tells the tale of how in the eighteenth century beauty both in nature and in art became a subject of scrutiny. To judge and reduce the essential being of artistic beauty to its substance, qualities, attributes, or how we relate to it as a community. We are not looking at art objectively as a something perceived and named as separate outside of the culture we live in. It is a shared understanding. He states that the validity of an aesthetic judgement cannot be derived and proved from a universal principle (p. 37). Yet we are talking about absorbing a particular way of understanding within the universal. Goodness where’s the fun in that? The real joy of experiencing art for me is being able to approach it with my own individual backpack of lived experience. A common sense yes, but very, very personal at the same time. The most powerful encounters with art for me have been both pure emotional and intellectual. Something pretty that has attracted my attention and something that makes me think. I do not think of these as to different kinds of art I just think of them as two different relationships with beauty. I recall sitting quietly in awe with a Leonardo da vinci painting in the National Gallery of London. I only had three days in London so I went everyday just to spend time with it. It was indeed beautiful but the complexity of its historical importance on us a civilization was also in my thinking.
Gadamer is revealing to me this account because we live in the world build of the wisdom of the past. I do not think it is really is helpful to think of beauty and art as either subjective or objective. I think that viewing the world with this paradoxical lens is limiting but we need to take from the past this historical knowledge and add layers of our own understanding to be wise in our own time.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

An emerging question:

There are many well-researched and recognized barriers for technology integration in any given classroom today. Recently there has been an effort to diminish some of these barriers. Given my comfort and experience with technology as a teacher and learning leader I have a particular perspective and interest in this. So my foundational and ongoing emergent research question that guides this interest is,
What may be learned and then understood when teachers in technology rich classrooms are brought together within a hermeneutic dialogue to converse about how and why they use inquiry and integrate technology to support curriculum, learning and teaching in their classrooms?

A collection of other questions:
• What can we learn from classroom teachers as they integrate technology in the emergent 21st century classroom today?
• What stories can be shared and is there a potential for transformation learning?
• What is happening in a technology rich classroom environment that focuses on a playful notion of Inquiry and need based learning?
• What happens when we think of technology less like a tool and more of a place for exploration?
• What is it that these teachers feel they need in order to meet the diverse needs of their students today?
• How and where do they find the support they need to bring to their students this new technology?
• What frustrations do they have?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Shift from the Renaissance through the Age of Enlightenment into a Modern world

I gather that during the Renaissance my life would be centred around pleasing God and following a path that I had no choice to follow. I am pleased that I find myself capable and encouraged to think about these things given, that I am a woman and during this time on Earth I would not. (Kant has and interesting view of how women think.) I am to understand that the Renaissance provided the seeds that the modern world has been reseed with. It was in this period that humankind was promoted to the centre of the universe. It took much longer however for the notion of self-governing autonomy to take root. During this time the scientific method was developing but without any concept of pursuit of knowledge. The authority of the church lost some of its bite but the idea of the authority of reason had not yet replaced it.
Fast forward to about 1650 when reason and the ability to think would begin to find its voice in the world in the age of Enlightenment. Imagine a time when humans felt they had no freedom to think or act independently. The ability to think logically began to be thought of as a basis for knowledge. Today given that so few of us take the time to vote I think we have taken for granted this delicious notion to be able to critically think. I mean it’s a gift really when you look at this historically.
I began this investigation because Gadamer keeps talking about Kant as if he was a super hero and I did not have a clue why. Now I begin to see why. While I have major issues with the way so many people are caught up in paradoxical understanding of the world they live it, I do believe this scientific vision was necessary in order to gain freedom from dogma and disrupt the churches control on how we thought of knowledge and how we went about getting more and passing it around to others. But it is the 21st century -people lets move on. The world is wonderfully complex why pretend it is simple? I am convinced we need to get knowledge out of our heads and connect it to where and how we live in the world, the more connections the better. I am very grateful for those that gave to us the idea of freedom to independently thinking inside and outside our heads but the biggest set back in actually getting people to critically think with enlightenment is this peculiar objective view of a wrong and right way of living in the world. Teachers would best support their students learning if they recognized this and stopped preparing their students to live in a wrong/right world and started to prepare them to actually think critically and participate in a nebulous world.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Gadamer’s take on Judgement

So I guess I am a humanist. I mean I do believe in the unseen. I come from a Christian tradition but what I carry with me is a deep belief in the dignity and worth of all people and that we as people are autonomous. We need to be able to judge what is right and wrong without fear from that unseen. I am concerned with a common good and living well with the rest of humanity. I gather that good sense and common understanding must have some connection to the universal. Together we come to agreement in order to live well. Whether subjective or objective we bring with us a view, a place to stand from in order to judge. Gadamer tells me that the word “judgement” was introduced in the eighteenth century (p. 27 yes I am only on page 27). It was considered to be a basic intellectual virtue or a way to behave. Judgement can be seen as ability; in this case it requires a principle to guide its application. Can we teach judgement? Is it a skill that we practice? I am not sure.
I am wondering how Sensus communis or this sense in community impacts the research that I wish to be involved in. I believe it imperative that if I want to learn something new I be able to unfasten myself from subjective judgement and allow myself to take up the perspective others may have. Yet I think that is not the simplest of tasks.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Hope for the future

The Nature of Knowledge and the Philosophy of Technology

The post this week is a reflection of chapter one in 'Questioning Technology' by Andrew Feenberg. However it is deeply interwoven with the thoughts of Gadamer and my emerging notions of epistemological and ontological understanding. There is no running away from Gadamer now and there is no running away from my questions on teaching and learning. What is learning for? What is schooling for? Why do we teach? What is this nature of knowledge if we place it within a technological framework? When I say learning I mean purpose driven learning not memorization.
In this chapter Feenberg is really just sketching the main themes he intends to address in the book as a whole. However the chapter gradually brings in to focus in my mind that which was very much outside of my awareness just a short 7 months ago. I say gradually because nothing is sharply focused yet. Not long ago I remember saying out loud 'Technology has a philosophy?' Well doesn't everything that becomes real to you? So here I will attempt to lay this out on the floor to tip toe around for a minute:

I believe that philosophy is the study of the nature of knowledge, reality, and existence. What I call knowledge, reality and existence may not be what others call it.

With regards to epistemology and the nature of knowledge traditionally it has been thought of as the theory of knowledge associated with scientific-technological knowledge with regard to methods, validity, and scope. Epistemology can be thought of as an investigation that will distinguish a difference between justified belief and opinion. In this case reality leads to a single truth that maybe repeatable in order to be believed by others. For me this nature of knowledge just does not transfer to well from the lab to the complex world that I teach in. I can see how this approach works with memorization but not with the nebulous nature of purpose driven learning in the digital world?

However I have begun to understand ontology in a metaphysical way as a study of reality. My personal ontological view seems to be in line with philosophical hermeneutics as I understand it. I believe that understanding and what we believe to be reality is based on how we live and play in the world and therefore is in constant flux leading to more than one truth. So in my mind reality is a personal experience that we are capable of sharing through dialogue and language. So I wonder given this, are epistemology and ontology a dichotomy or just different windows to look through?

Historically we humans have not placed to much value in thinking about the technical. Feenberg reports that this goes back to the ancient Greeks who place a higher value on activity of the mind such as social, political and theoretical rather than activities of the hands. A view that I shared not long ago was treating technology as a neutral instrument and therefore did not require any kind of philosophical explanation or justification of its existence. In more recent times however we have a new notion of technology that is rooted in the idea of progress, freedom and happiness. Out of these two traditions form what Feenberg calls technological determinism. Technology's advance is the advance of the human species (p.2).

In opposition to this there is a tradition of protest against mechanization the most famous example is the luddites in the early nineteenth century. Feenberg refers to this as a substantive theory of technology. In this case technology may be viewed as an instrument but it is not neutral or free from values. In this case technological development transforms what it is to be human. This autonomous thinking naturally leads to fear of loss of control.
I am left to wonder what the thinking of knowledge is within a substantive or a determinist theory if technology is viewed as a tool. In fact Feenberg states that modernity is an epistemological event in which the essence of technology lives. Our drive for efficiency is linked to a rational method and a epistemological theory of understanding, as I quoted last week “Reason can be used to tear apart bad arguments and it can be used to apply universal principles to particular cases. But reason as an instrument of analysis on its own is uncreative. It is not an instrument of creativity or discovery. Reason can apply universal principles but it cannot discover them”(p.1)

Both determinism and substantivism view technology as an autonomous tool but what about those that see technology as humanly controllable? Feenberg briefly describes two other theories, instrumentalism and critical theory. I think it is on this side I think I place my hope for the future. It is on this side we find democratic control over the direction and definition of what progress is and intervention into technical affairs. It is also where we find social constructivism that lead to choices of alternative means-ends systems. I look forward to part two of his book that goes deeper into these theories.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Sensus Communis

Gadamer Sensus Communis pages 17-27 Truth and Method

Within the humanistic tradition what is to be learned from what we call knowledge, truth and understanding?

Sensus communis is yet another term I had never encountered before. In checking other sources I uncovered that Sensus Communis in rhetoric can be used to mean a whole set of unstated assumptions, prejudices, and values that an orator can take for granted when addressing an audience. 1 The term has been identified with the thought of a 'sense' we have in common or rather something we all have.

A philosopher that spoke of this sense was Giovanni Battista (Giambattista) Vico or Vigo (23 June 1668 – 23 January 1744) an Italian philosopher, rhetorician, historian, and jurist.
Gadamer says that Vico's ideas are based on old truths (p. 17). Vico's ideas are built upon the ideal of eloquentia within a classical concept of wisdom. Eloquentia is rhetoric or saying something well, not just the art of speaking but also speaking a truth that is understood by others. However while he criticizes Vico, he reminds us that we go nowhere without the wisdom of the past.

Sensus communis can also be thought of as a basic human truth that is rooted in a common way of being. I wonder does that make it a universal truth? And what happens when the way we live in the world changes? I think at this point of my understanding I believe that Gadamer wants us to build on historical thinking but to move away from a truth that is singular and towards truth that brings many possibilities.

Shaftesbury in the eighteenth century described sensus communis as a restrained, customary, and regular way of thinking. It was not a capacity given to all. Gadamer tells us Shaftesbury viewed this to be a social virtue that is tied to the moral. He says that Shaftesbury's notion of a common sense had lost it's political connection and was associated more with theoretical judgement. Friedrich Christoph Oetinger (May 2, 1702 - February 10, 1782) 2, was a German theosopher that combined this humanistic, political view with the peripatetic(Aristotle). I do not at this point understand what is Aristotle's doctrine of nous. For Oetinger this is the divine mystery of life. He believed that even if one commits an extreme sin one could find their way back to God through the grace of God. These practices exposed him to the attacks of persons who misunderstood him. He is associated with Pietism in the eighteenth century which relied on this notion of restraint and added a layer of living knowledge.

I am drawn towards this notion of living knowledge I also see that there is a constant need to renew adaptations in new situations. It seems reasonable that understandings should rely on a generative rather than demonstrative method.

To summarize I think today generally when we use the term common sense we are referring to more of a practical knowledge and not so much this living knowledge. I had not thought of this expressions diverse history before now. My thinking is that in the 21st century it would serve us better to think of this sense in more of a theoretical fashion given that we now view knowledge as vast and varied. How could a singular or a universal truth help us navigate this complexity? So knowledge in this communal sense can't be a truth that is singular. Gadamer speaks of the old Aristotelian distinction or perhaps the duality between practical (phronesis) and theoretical knowledge. The practical being knowledge that follows a rational method and is directed towards a concrete situation it must 'grasp the circumstance'. “The sensus communis is created not by logic but by original, archaic human speech which bursts forth from the human condition itself.”A rational method analyzes the case, this means to break it apart or break it down. The Verene philosophy suggests that “Reason can be used to tear apart bad arguments and it can be used to apply universal principles to particular cases. But reason as an instrument of analysis on its own is uncreative. It is not an instrument of creativity or discovery. Reason can apply universal principles but it cannot discover them”(p.1) 3 . I hear teachers talking about this sort of thing often. They say, “how can I use this tomorrow in my classroom?”. I question how this practical knowledge can even in variety be of use if it is directed towards one circumstance? Students today live and learn in a nebulous networked world full of ambiguity. How is it that we want to measure understanding and truth in such a flat way? How does this thinking help us adapt to new situations?

3. Donald Phillip Verene, Vico’s Science of Imagination (Ithaca: Cornell
University Press, 1981) Taken from Philosophy and Culture Essays in Honor of Donald Phillip Verene -Glenn Alexander Magee, Editor :

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Making sense of Questioning Technology

Making sense of Questioning Technology
by Andrew Feenberg

This book is an introduction to the philosophy of technology. While I am a novice student of philosophy I was asked to think about this in the fall of 2008 and in response I co-created a Google Group with Barb Brown. I continue to have some struggles of my own as I adjust and navigate my way through this new territory. After looking at the topic with a rather wide lens I felt it was important for me to focus more deeply on what Andrew Feenberg had to say. He gives us a brief account of the growth of interest in technology. As a culture in the 20th century we became familiar with the notion of technology having an autonomous force separate from society. Two very separate camps began to form. Some took a rather pessimistic view and became concerned that technology seemed to have a life of it's own and would somehow run out of our control. I believe this notion lead people to write to stories of caution such as “2001 a Space Odyssey” and Martin Heidegger to write his essay on the question concerning technology. (I have read this essay but will write about it later.) While at the same time there was a push in our democratic society to expand our use of technology in our homes, schools and businesses. In both camps technology has been tied to the notion of progress.
Feenberg suggests that in the past our culture has looked upon the technical and the social as separate domains but that the fate of future democracy depends on us bridging the two. And that the fate of democracy is bound up with our understanding of technology. He feels that we need to challenge a essentialist philosophy of technology. The belief that technology has a set of characteristics that make what it is and reduces it to how it functions and its raw materials. This philosophy views technology as an instrument for efficiency.
I have just begun the first chapter entitled Technology, Philosophy, Politics. He begins by mapping out the territory of the philosophy of technology. Over time we have paid little attention to technology due largely to the technical being viewed as secondary to more intellectual pursues. In addition with the neutral notion of technology being an instrument society didn't really require and explanation or justification of it.
The other side of this map indicates the promise of technology. It is rooted in this idea of efficiency and carries with it a gift from the tradition of the scientific method. It is progressivism or rather technological determinism.
In opposition to this is a substance theory of technology, a protest against mechanization. In this view technology is not neutral and its spread is fearful. Potentially technological development transforms what it is to be human.
He mentions Langdon Winner and Carl Mitcham as further explanation of this thinking.