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by Stephen Downes
January 29, 2007

A Smarter Mind Than Mine Takes On NCLB

There was a child went forth every day;
And the first object he look'd upon, that object he became;
And that object became part of him for the day, or a certain part of the day, or
for many years, or stretching cycles of years.

I don't like the title of this post - people should not regard other people as "smarter" but rather as people who had more opportunities - but the content is worth reading, consisting mostly of the text of a talk given to the School Law Institute by Thomas Sobol on the subject of the No Child Left Behind act. It is worth reading not because of the political position it takes - who cares, really? - but because it grasps, where so few grasp, the subtlty of what we are trying to accomplish with an educational system.

"Schools are places where children come together to learn, and it turns out that the coming together is as important as the learning. Or rather, the coming together enables learning of a different kind - establishing an identity among peers, taking responsibility for one's actions, learning to tolerate and maybe appreciate diversity, balancing one's own interests and desires with a sense of the common good. A good education helps children become competent, wise, and just. Competence alone is not enough."

It does link together, you know. Crime in the street, hooliganism during the national celebrations, incompetence in the professions, criminal intent in the boardrooms - all of that tracks back to learning. And learning is not just school and our children are not just products, not just recipients of "competence". And, as they say, smarter people than me should know that. Right? Chris Lehman, Practical Theory January 29, 2007 [Link] [Comment]

State of Learning in Canada: No Time for Complacency
OK, I'll give them their concerns about literacy - I've seen enough evidence myself to believe the assertion that literacy rates are not what they should be in Canada (and probably elsewhere). Sure, people can read, but - as the announcement says - literacy is not an on-off switch. People need to be able to read more than a McDonald's advertisement. But this assertion puzzles me: "One in four children enters kindergarten with a learning or behavioural problem." How can this be? Are they all malnourished? We need to look at the full report (hint to CLC: if you're going to distribute 4.3 megabyte PDF files, your website needs to support better than dial-up speeds).

OK, they get this bit right (and it's really important, and a lot of people don't get this): "Human development is not a matter of nature versus nurture, but of nature and nurture working together. In response to stimuli from the environment, the nerve cells of the brain form physical connections and pathways. This brain wiring process, which begins before birth and continues through life, is most intensive during the first three years of development." yep. I'm rewiring my brain as I read.

Anyhow, to the children. The report basically points to four things: birth weights, motor skills tests, the "Who am I" copying and writings tasks tests, and the Peabody Picture Vocabulary tests. Looking at this, I would say that the 21 percent figure is pretty irrelevant (being based on sentences like, "88% of four- and five-year-olds were considered to have average or above-average fine motor skills," which is itself meaningless). But two things stand out clearly: first, the rates are steadily improving over time, which is good to see. And second, the risk of developmental delay is far greater for children of economically disadvantaged parents. According to the report, such children are less likely to be read to daily and to have less interaction generally. Additionally, "low birth weight is associated with poor nutrition, smoking, and alcohol and drug use," which are also associated with socio-economic status.

The question I have is: are we politically ready to give to our poor children the advantages the children of richer parents have? Are we ready to make sure that children between 0 and 6 are properly fed, are kept away from toxic substances, are read to daily, and are otherwise granted the higher level of stimuli we know children need for cognitive development? Or are we going to continue to say that their poverty is their fault, and that if they had a better attitude they could lift themselves out of it? This report, which places the onus on parents, (p. 122) doesn't offer that hope. Unattributed, Canadian Council on Learning January 29, 2007 [Link] [Comment]

Innovating E-Learning Conference 2006
JISC announced, on Friday, that "The proceedings of all three themes of the 2006 JISC Online Conference Innovating e-Learning 2006: Transforming Learning Experiences are now available as downloadable e-books." The books are mixtures of presentations and summaries, with links to multimedia (such as Flash video of the presentations). The three themes are: "Designing for Learning, Learner Experiences of e-Learning and Innovating e-Learning Practice."

I read through the Learner Experiences text and found the discussion frustrating. There is much talk of the need for greater learner control, and much reluctance to give them any. A lot of this is a matter of perspective. The discussion starts by acknowledging that the learner's voice is drowned by all the special interests, and so this book will give a voice to... the teachers. Then in Chapter 3 we see the students' words being asterisked out. And then there's the obligatory description of lack of motivation - why those self-managing students are doing their mandatory work instead of the student-led stuff (am I the only one who sees how absurd this is?). Then we get conflicting views of the wiki - teachers love it, students, less so. "These observations beg the question who is the better judge of effective learning strategies, the student or the lecturer?" Notice the subtle shift in the question - we're not about making choices any more, we're talking about who the best qualified judges are. As if it matters.

My compliments to JISC for effective and accessible coverage. Now, if they could only get away from the idea that PDF is a screen-reading format. Give us HTML to read on screen, and leave the PDFs for the I-print-my-email set. Various Authors, JISC January 29, 2007 [Link] [Comment]

Buying Vista? Get a Guarantee
Microsoft Vista comes out tomorrow but I would certainly not recommend that you run out and buy it. And not simply because of the very dodgy licensing, as outlined by Michael Geist (including "extensive provisions granting Microsoft the right to regularly check the legitimacy of the software and holds the prospect of deleting certain programs without the user's knowledge"). No, because you can't even know it will run on your computer. "Cherry recommends against modifications and says consumers should instead purchase a new machine." And that's the thing, isn't it. You just can't buy a new computer without buying Vista. All that talk, all those court cases, and you still can't buy a computer without buying Vista. And our anti-trust laws? Waste paper. (p.s. yes, you could buy a Mac, if you have a lot of extra money - and I guess a lot of people will, in exchange for a computer they actually get to own (though Mac's record on this isn't exactly worth crowing about, as all those people with locked-in iPod music are learning, the hard way)). Candace Lombardi, ZDNet January 29, 2007 [Link] [Comment]


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Copyright 2007 Stephen Downes

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