OLDaily, by Stephen Downes

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November 4, 2010

The Trouble With National Standards
Deborah Meier, Bridging Differences, November 4, 2010.

Good short statement of why teaching to 'the standard' is a bad idea. "Settling on THE history of the Civil War (my specialty) undermines good intellectual work rather than elevating it. A good course in history-yes, starting in kindergarten-is consistent and not in contradiction with what the highest standards of history are about. The coursework may be "simpler" in one sense, but it should not treat 5-year-olds to a false view of history. Even little children are aware of how witnesses retell the playground fight from different viewpoints."

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Constructivist Pedagogy Is Superior – It Is a Matter of Definition
Keith S. Taber, ADL Newsletter, November 4, 2010.

The October edition of the ADL newsletter contains a fascinating account in defense of constructivism by Keith Taber. The version of constructivism Taber supports comes out sounding a lot like instructivism, though - "guiding students towards accepted knowledge in ways that take into account their starting points and personal ways of making sense of teaching." So it's no surprise to see John Sweller, a well known instructivist, welcoming this account. He writes, "If there is no longer an objection to explicit instruction then, as far as I am concerned, we have a consensus."

They are both not only quite happy to agree that "Open-ended, minimally guided, discovery learning is not a modern constructivist approach" but also to jump on instruction as the only alternative. After all, groups of students can't learn on their own - "most youngsters have problems setting up combinations of conditions to test variables, so why would anyone think that group-work not supported by strong teacher input was likely to be an effective basis for pedagogy?" But are only teachers capable of informing groups? There is a very big difference between the small group of classmates 19th century schoolchildren might experience and the open-ended social network of today. But my purpose here is not to defend "Open-ended, minimally guided, discovery learning," only to identify it as the straw man it truly is.

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How Neuromarketers Tapped The Vote Button In Your Brain to Help The GOP Win The House
Kevin Randall, Fast Company, November 4, 2010.

Why is the Republican Party now represented by red, when conservative parties in all other places - and even the U.S., in the past - were represented with blue? Ben Zimmer suggests (via) "Democrats may have wanted to appropriate the positive connotations of blue (as in true-blue)" but I wonder whether it isn't deeper than that. Because I recall over the years studies saying that teams that wear red win more frequently.

That's speculation, but the association between political advertising and psychological preference is not. Today's Fast Company carried an article on the use of what they call "political neuromarketing" during the campaign. It's not really neuro marketing as it has nothing to do with neural connections. Rather, they "measure everything including the storyline, level of the language, images, music. Using critical point analysis, [they] identify specifics that may drive voters away or attract them. The techniques are non-invasive, and include measuring muscle, skin and pupil response."

The success of such techniques obviously has its implications in political theory, but is also relevant in learning theory. The general principle that "the brain reveals more than spoken answers to questions" tells us that knowledge, beliefs, and other mental states are much more fine-grained than our more traditional analyses suggest. Understanding that learning - and persuasion - is not simply "words in - words out" is the first step toward developing a more comprehensive theory of cognition.

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Wow! Have you seen the NWP's new Digital Is?
Paul Allison, New Journalism, November 4, 2010.

The National Writing Project's new web site launched yesterday. The US-based website describes itself as "is a teaching-focused knowledge base exploring the art and craft of writing, the teaching and learning of writing, along with provocations that push us to think in new ways about culture and education in the digital age." You might also be interested in NWP Radio. There's also a reference to an Ed Tech Talk segment in this post, but the archive of Wednesday's program doesn't appear to be available yet.

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Web 2.0's Foundation of Sand
Trent Batson, Campus Technology, November 4, 2010.

Interesting post that outlines what many perceive to be a major weakness of Web 2.0 - the free, online social services it offers often cease to be free, social or even online. The world of Web 2.0 is "highly transient with Web apps coming and going, metamorphizing, being bought, or not staying current." Well, OK. But the other nickel drops on the third page: "Business, or any major undertaking, depends on stability and predictability." And my first thought was, so much the worse for business. People who today depend on stability and predictability need to learn to manage unexpected change. Web 2.0 is a part of that.

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Copyright 2010 Stephen Downes Contact: stephen@downes.ca

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