Saturday, September 16, 2017

The Challenge of Aurality/Orality

I am an avid podcast listener. I listen to fiction podcasts such as Fictional, the Moth. I listen to a whole host of non-fiction podcasts including the History of Byzantium, History of Rome and Tides of History among others. At the same time I see the rise of Audible and Amazon audible books.

I love spoken audio. I actually prefer it to music most of the time. What I cannot figure out yet is what that means for literacy. Literacy development has been determined by print, its limitations and power. Storytelling from memory was replaced by reading from the page (still out loud) to finally being replaced by silent reading and prolific writing. Radio brought back listening to stories and reports. The rise of the internet has made all of us potential authors. Now the ability to deliver audio has opened a new opening for orality.

The question that I would like to pose is how will the proliferation of orality impact literacy and by extension schools. Do we need to teach more listening skills? How do we add oral creation to our composition classes?

One area to use as a bridge is poetry. Poetry even when written, always pushes toward the performative, the audible. Poetry out loud, spoken word competitions, and raps can help see orality and text as part of the same yarn.

That said I am still wondering about the relative value of orally consumed text. Does it stick in memory as well? What strategies help comprehension and recall? No answers, mostly questions.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Dashboarding and Self Regulation

I have two new devices in my life. The first is my iWatch bought last weekend in LA and the second is my Ford C-Max hybrid. I love both devices (and yes my car is a devices).  They both speak to my other devices and operate as part of my digital life.
Both have dashboard that are aimed at improving my behavior. the iWatch has an activity monitor that uses a very simple design to see if I am reaching my daily movement goals (exercise, standing, and walking). It is easily accessible through one tap on the face of the watch.

My hybrid has a dashboard that informs me how green is my my driving. It provides feedback on energy storing, breaking behavior and overall effective energy consumption. This has changed my behavior, at least in the short run. I am driving more cautiously and I am keenly aware of accelartaion and sudden stops.

I always knew that movement is good for me or that driving in a more even way would reduce fuel consumption. At the same time there quite a gap between knowing and acting on the knowledge. This is where the dashboards come to our rescue. Dashboards tell us how we do and give us formative feedback so we evaluate our performance in situ and even take corrective action. What I am less sure of is how long this effect will last. But if the dashboards create a lasting effect then it is worth thinking about the potential leverage in critical points in education.

I do not think that we can dashboard our whole life- it is simply too much to take in on a regular basis. But if we can identify critical practices that would be supported by a dashboard then we should at least attempt to that.

My idea is to start with device use for students. I can easily imagine an app that shows device use across 3-4 categories: Reading, Games, Social Media, Learning. A dashboard like that can easily show students how much of the time they are using different modes. This is especially important as we consider what might be a productive learning use of devices provided by schools.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Three reasons ed researchers should create digitally

I have a large digital footprint with hundreds of blog posts and video series with over 100,000 views. In addition I put everything I publish online without pay walls the second I am allowed to. I have profiles on, LinkedIn, Google Scholar and Researchgate. If you are an educational researcher you are most likely to have less of an online  presence. Many researchers do not have any. Here are three reasons to have a meaningful online presence:

1. You gain readership. Let's face it, most professionals and amateurs start learning about any topic using a simple google search. If you want to find your audience and your audience to find you, you MUST be online where they can find you. Once they find you (through a piece you wrote, a blog post etc.), they can follow up on anything else you published on that or any other topics. They might even register to follow any updates you make. This is a great way to connect and have an impact. Because:
2. Educational research is highly contextualized. As a result it has limited shelf life. That means that you need to reach your audience quickly. In a few decades (or even less) contexts changes enough to render many of our conclusion invalid. If no one consumes (read, watch, listen) to ideas, and results now they may be obsolete by the time people find them. Which brings me to my last point:
3. We need to talk to a wide constituency. It includes students, teachers, administrators, policy makes and the public. Writing for a wide audience is much more effective through digital channels that give everyone free immediate access to research findings and thinking.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

South Africa- The promise and Challenge of Education

My last day in South Africa I had lunch with faculty from the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban. I had an enlightening conversation with Vusi Msiza a lecturer and current PhD student. The conversation was focused on what I prefer to call the South African miracle- the fact that South Africa was able to emerge from Apartheid with a bloody civil war.  Vusi helped me see how close South Africa came to a civil war and how the combination of luck and leadership prevented a downward spiral. We then turned to the recursive relationship between poverty and educational attainment. I made my argument that for South Africa to succeed in its lofty educational goals it needs a different approach. What I saw around the country was mostly a striving to reach 20th century panaceas. At the same time we both recognized the impact of economics on potential outcomes for kids as can be seen in the figure below.
On the flight back I continued thinking about this as a design problem and came up with a few interesting ideas that emerged from my observations of education in South Africa.
1. Elementary schools should be bilingual immersion program that include a local non-English language (say isiZulu) and English. Right now some school are monolingual in k-3 and then switch to English. The research literature really supports bilingual immersion programs and they can offer many cognitive benefits. They also offer identity benefits as home language can be supported longer. Finally it prevents hard transition when language of instruction switches to English.
2. An effort like will need an emphasis on teacher training for teaching in bilingual environments- a job for leading university. Another need would be to create enough curriculum in all 11 languages so a vision like that could come to pass.
3. Use out of school time to encourage entrepreneurship and technology use. The current school system is not equipped to provide these development tools quickly and it may be easier to do outside the traditional systems with their established matric goals.
4. Realize that change in education has to come with community development and job opportunities. Without those any effort will die because those participating will lose hope and may eventually become a radical element.

There is much more that needs doing but these are my ten cents and my frustration. I dislike not being able to do anything about it!

Sunday, July 23, 2017


Yesterday we visited the Langa township and took a walking tour. One of the things that struck me as we walked around was the ingenuity of the inhabitants in reusing materials to build what ever was needed.
We saw a little girl play with a colorful push toy similar to the Fisher Price one. It was ingeniously built, rotated nicely and I have a feeling worked better than a real one would given the conditions.

A second example is the radio transistor for sale (in the picture). The cretors have emptied a transistor radio and then used recycled materials (bottle caps, wire, cans to create a beautiful pop art product. Even more ingenious is the fact that the creators found ways to mass manufacture the device.

It made me  think about the potential of the same minds if we dropped a "Do Space" in the middle of camp. I suspect that with minimal guidance kids, young and older adults could create products in 3D pronter , learn from computers and CODE like demons. I know I have sometimes naive ideas and that they may not work. What I know for sure is that the other, standard ways, are not really setting up the kids of that area for success.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Neads, Wants, and Tech

In the las two days Jennifer Davidson and I have been discussing needs vs. wants. Which led me to ask myself a few questions. The first is what are needs in 21st century education. I would argue those are access, connectivity, internet, caring teachers, mixed with hope and actual opportunity to enact your hopes.

Yes there are more basic needs (air, shelter, health,, nutrition) without which educational needs matter less BUT in the 21st century the internet and person to person connectivity are items that must be available. Without them distributed equally, gaps within and between nations will continue to grow.

What are your tech needs vs. wants?

Thursday, July 20, 2017

South Africa, Tech, and the Future of Education

I am in South Africa with a vibrant group of educators. It is my second visit to South Africa. We are on the dawn of our second day in Cape Town.

The visit to one of the leading countries in modern Africa poses real educational questions and concerns. From my previous visit it is fairly clear that there is great concern with "catching up". My sense is that this game of catch up will never succeed. Nor should it. I think that the potential of the new economies and the innovator nations is in finding alternatives. In redefining.

My mind keeps coming back to Mitra's presentation in his 2013 TED Award presentation. He claimed that our current education system was designed to feed the human computer system in the Age of Empire. This argument rings true, it combines many claims by others about the industrial nature of modern education with a much more practical aspect of it.  But the most powerful statement is the one I think can guide schools in a nation like South Africa just like it can in a nation like the US. Education is NOT broken. It is obsolete!

If it is so, then South Africa (or any developing country) is on equal footing with any developing nation. Technology and new ideas can serve the foundation to a whole new approach that is alternative to the Imperial Machine. Somewhat appropriate if it grows in post colonial countries. I doubt this happens until someone decides that chasing 19th and 20th century goals.

It is akin to the revolutionary effect of cell phones in developing countries- hurdling over multiple development phases and landing in the present. I do not agree with all of Mitra's points (it is hinted at in this article) but he presents a compelling rationale for change.

I have embedded Mitra's presentation below.