by Stephen Downes
Aug 29, 2016
As is so often the case, an answer to what appears to be a simple questions results in layers of complexity. Even the question itself bears examining (is it a marketing ploy? for example). It is essentially this: should problem-based learning employ an assessment grid to evaluate soft skills? The answer takes us through four sets of resources, each of which merits more investigation on its own:
When I saw 'essential fluencies' the first thing I thought of were my own 'critical literacies'. It reminds me that all of this thinking has been done before and though the approaches are very different I should be sure I understand what's already out there before proposing to change it. I also remarked to myself as I read through these the degree of commercial and private sector involvement in the development and marketing of these models.
Doug Peterson introduces us to a lovely application called FoxType, which I tried out this morning. Essentially, the idea is that it provides a number of services to help you understand your own writing. The most visually appealing is the parser, which will diagram your sentence as you write. But iit also assesses sentences for things like politeness and vocabulary. Some of these are very arbitrary - I, for example, would consider writing in the first person to be more polite, and less stuffy and formal. FoxType takes the opposite view. But who cares? The ultimate goal here (in the 'still to come' department) is to create a general writing scaffold. It will help you write well as you write. This is the tip of a much larger iceberg.
This post links to a new podcast from Michael Wesch (which I've already added to Ed Radio). Wesch is quoted: "we have to help them achieve all this within a bureaucratic structure that demands that we frame our goals in a few neat bullet points at the top of our syllabus in a section called: Student Learning Outcomes, often called SLOs." Here are the SLOs Wesch really wants to write:
Stripped of the adjectives, this is actually a pretty good set of outcomes: ask questions, be open to new experiences, and conquer one's fears. Fisch comments, 'I wonder why it is that we shy away from discussions around outcomes such as these, and obsess over measuring how our students do on discrete, isolated skills that very few of them will ever need to actually use."
'Tis the season to dissect the "failure" of MOOCs - or, to be specific, the rarefied Silicon Valley version of MOOCs, which is all anyone ever talks about. That narrative was that "MOOC startups Udacity, Coursera, and edX all promised that their free online courses with massive enrollment figures would 'democratize education.'" Of course that didn't happen. More interesting is what these MOOCs identified as the core value proposition. "“At the end of the day, the true value proposition of education is employment,” Thrun told Fast Company... This new narrative, according to George Siemens, one of the originators of the MOOC concept, casts education as simply skills training." But of course that's not democratization at all. The objective of education is and ought to be personal empowerment, to help people become less dependent on, say, a job, and more able to build networks, innovate, create value, and achieve purpose in life. But it takes more than just free content to support that. It takes a community, a network.
Jonathan Rees citing Alex Usher is a bit like Bernie Sanders citing Ronald Reagan. There's an incongruity there. Usher's point is that MOOCs never made money. I don't think Rees lost any sleep over that (quite the contrary; I think he would have been worried were MOOCs hauling in the cash). Rees defends the traditional approach. "Traditional education with its inefficiency derived from the close proximity between professors and their students has proved more resilient than its wannabe disruptors ever imagined." Why? "Online courses without a live crew manning them can be very lonely experiences." But the Silicon Valley MOOCs were always an outlier, despite the hype they got from the Silicon Valley press. Conviviality and sociability have been the hallmarks of online learning since the beginning, and Silicon Valley ignored that history at its own expense.
John Oliver examines the performance of charter schools in the United States and finds enough wrong with them to fill an 18 minute comedy video. As we can see from this report, while government may be less efficient, businesses are much less likely to behave responsibly or obey the law, which means the private sector cannot be trusted with high-stakes enterprises like education. Actually, as we see in this report, government is not less efficient either, with charter schools accounting for some of the worst outcomes in the school system. There are ways to promote choice, but privatizing the school system isn't among them.
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