postheadericon Is value-free knowledge such a bad thing?

I get what Parker Palmer means when he argues we in education need to “uproot the myth of value-free knowledge.” Palmer argues cold, calculated, emotionally divorced students become cold, calculated, emotionally divorced graduates, emotionally divorced citizens, professionals, etc., and he argues this is not a good thing. Vulcans, Spock, logic over emotion, “needs of the many,” all that. Not taking into consideration the effects of knowledge, or the seeking of knowledge, on society, on humans, on others, carries with it the potential to marginalize humanity, to head down a pretty dark road, he argues. Palmer invokes Hitler and Nazi scientists – then again, what Internet argument doesn’t, eventually? Godwin’s Law – as an, or THE, example of objective, cold, detached researchers, educated individuals whose educations should have influenced them to take a stand against, or at least not willingly participate in, unethical (to say the least) scientific and medical experiments on humans tantamount to torture and summary execution. Education, and the responsibility to understand, well, the responsibility that comes with, again, well, responsibility, should have prevented that particular ethical supernova from collapsing in on itself into a black hole.

Essentially his point boils down to this: “If higher education is to serve humane purposes, we who educate must insist that knowing is not enough, that we are not fully human until we recognize what we know and take responsibility for it.”



Hard sells….

Good luck cutting through this one, people. Skim and comment, probably for the best. Sort of have the focus of a late-nite, caffeine-deprived grad student, straddling a saddle-bred pineapple, waving a bourbon bottle and shouting maddeningly into the midnight November rain. Somehow that made sense in my head, and I refuse to delete it.

As a journalist, as a social science researcher, as a seeker of knowledge, I am conditioned for objectivity, or, at least, to present the facade of objectivity, in my work. Objectivity and emotional detachment – points Palmer decries. Attaching personal values to a story or piece of research negatively perceived, those in the field argue personal bias taints, skews, misrepresents, does all kinds of undesirable things to study results and findings, or interviews and story sourcing, whether the ultimate results be a news story or feature, or a piece of social science research on violent rhetoric and hate speech spewed through a wireless microphone into the virtual world of a massive multiplayer online first-person shooter aimed at denigrating another player perceived to be from a different ethnic, cultural, educational, or religious background. Objectivity is an ideal, an ideal many like to claim, and an ideal that many who claim it fail horribly, inexorably. The reality is we are emotional, value-laden individuals, and complete, sociopathic emotional exorcism on the Nazi medical and scientific level is kind of a rare thing. Palmer’s got a point, but he’s using extreme examples to make it.

Following the Nazi example, Palmer delves into the medical field, arguing doctors frequently practice on the line, or blur the line, between ethical practice and Hippocratic violation.  He points to a case study where a patient, a healthy male that donated part of his liver to his ailing brother, died as a result of poor post-op care. The report commissioned on the death placed blame on an overburdened system and, according to Palmer, did not point fingers or place blame on any responsible party. The report on the organ donor’s death was just as impersonal and detached as the post-op care that killed him.

After a brief explanation of “woulda, coulda, shoulda,” Palmer argues large, complex corporations and organizations are increasingly dispassionate toward people and unresponsive to external social pressure. He also argues for educational professionals that do not embody this dispassionate, unresponsive attitude.

While this is certainly a valid argument, it is also an ideal. While using education responsibly and being emotionally, socially aware of those we affect through our actions as educated professionals is contextually important, being aware of everybody’s emotional needs at any given time in any given context and acting upon that awareness at all given times and contexts is unrealistic, debilitating, impractical. This goes back to an earlier argument put forth in a previous reading (I do not remember which, exactly) on the state of education and inclusive learning, and the notion that teachers, educators, need be acutely aware of each student’s individual needs at all times and cater each lesson to those needs in order to facilitate learning. In the case of the underexperienced, overworked, undersupervised medical resident responsible for the death of the organ donor, the ideal that may have prevented the organ donor’s death may be the hiring of more medical residents with overlapping schedules, aware of each patient’s individual needs and given the time and resources to care for those needs, and enough experienced supervisors aware of each resident’s strengths and weaknesses to provide the care and attention they need as well. While I do agree this is ideal, especially in the medical field, it is, at times, unpredictable, unobtainable. One can never accurately predict when an ICU or ER or inpatient roster will be flush or lean, or when a trained medical resident will become overwhelmed and unable to adequately perform the duties required by the job. People get hurt, people get sick, hospitals fill up, and not always at the most conveniently scheduled times. Perhaps in this, Palmer and I agree – if the system is not adequate to perform the function for which it was created, it needs to be altered, reworked, or even scrapped. But whatever system that replaces the inadequate system must be able to function “on the real,” and not just on the ideal. Perhaps my own opinion and perspective is itself systemic of the problem Palmer addresses – I am indeed a product of American public education and was, as I discussed in the above paragraph on idyllic objectivity. Perhaps this recognition of my own systemic limitation may allow an awareness of emotionally responsible education to take place when I am in the classroom, either as teacher or student. I guess we’ll see.

postheadericon Distractify.

Aptly named.

The readings this week are in line with arguments I have with myself and others fairly regularly.

I’ve already put a lot of this in comments on other posts, so instead of rehashing I’ll summarize.

I’m not an early adopter. I do not want/need the shiny new tech toy the moment it comes out. In the intro to the Thompson article, chess grand master Kasparov’s bout with IBM’s Deep Blue and his comments afterward are not new to me, but have always resonated. “I lost my fighting spirit.” Human intuition, critical thinking, experience, be damned, a blunt object bluntly blunting its way through millions and millions of preprogrammed scenarios leaves anticipatory analysis on the cutting room floor.

Then, Kasparov creatively collaborates with the machine, with interesting results. Chess amateurs with strong computer skills beat grand masters with middling computer skills. Ultimately, Kasparov and the author decide that skillful human/machine collaboration is better than the two elements on their own, in the context of chess. But Kasparov, before he collaborated with the machine, had a lifetime of critical thinking, masterful control of logic and analysis, and experience. The two “amateurs” still had significant (in the world of amateurs, at least) chess ratings on their own, and presumably some sort of critical thinking background. That was 17 years ago. Now everyone with an Internet connection can collaborate with machines, at any age, with any cognitive ability.

Ultimately, the author concludes this collaboration isn’t good or bad, it’s just different. That evolved different is something to which we must all adjust, or be left behind by the ones that do. I do not see machinery itself as good or bad, or Google unuseful in education or any other context. I teach a class where a piece of Googled information will do them no good. I see students collaborating with their devices with the supposition that said collaboration will provide the answer for receiving a good grade. When they use that information in class with negative results, they are dumbfounded, and that, I suppose, is what bothers me.


Oh, and there’s this:

Not the primary source, of course, but a news story on research out of Stanford and University of Washington that discovered online classes do not stack up against traditional classes performance-wise. Clarity: I have not pored through the data, just thought the story interesting/relevant. Take it for what it is.

postheadericon Sectarian.

In Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Freire identifies sectarian on both right and left of the spectrum as individuals so consumed by their own perceptions of Truth feel “threatened if that truth is questioned. Thus, each considers anything that is not ‘his’ truth a lie.” They … suffer, he quotes, from a deplorable absence of doubt. Now, while this immediately brings into view religious and political zealots (and no, the two are not mutually exclusive), it can also be applied to education. How often have we observed, been made aware of, or have taken classes with teachers, instructors, professors, so set in their ways or so sold on a theory or academic/research standpoint that anything that challenges, disagrees with, or suggests alternatives to their ways of doing things, that progress or learning is inhibited, relegated to the handful of students that agree with or adhere to that person’s line of thinking?

Students as oppressed, teachers as oppressors, forcing students to align with their way of thinking in order to succeed in the classroom. While a level of control and authority is necessary, complete authoritarianism and refusal to accept/tolerate/foster constructive criticism in a dialogic classroom environment is not conducive to a positive learning experience. It does, as others in this class have previously pointed out, invoke images of assembly line education, industrial conveyor belts of children passing through the system, illustrated brilliantly by Pink Floyd.

This is not a long blog post, I don’t have a lot to write on this particular subject that has not already been addressed in some form or other by other students’ blog posts in this class. it was, however, where my mind went as I looked over Freire’s Oppressed, and seemed worth mentioning.

postheadericon Seeking a voice for the end of the world.

Catchy title, right?

Before I started teaching classes, instructor-of-record here at VT, I had never thought about teaching. Never gave it serious consideration, never gave thought to a teaching philosophy, making connections with students, creating an environment conducive to learning. As I stumbled through my first semester, I figured it might just be a good idea to do so. One of the reasons I wanted to take a pedagogy course was to do just that.

Over the last year and, well, however long into this year we are, I find myself making, or attempting to make, more productive connections with my students than when I began. When students began meeting with me during office hours, hanging after class to ask questions on the material or an assignment, I found those interactions improved those students’ understanding of the material and their perceptions of the class itself. During those interactions I allowed my personality to come through, allowed for humor, was able to build on their understanding of a concept or assignment by responding, creating a dialogue, offered suggestions based on those students’ individual interests. This was something I had been trying to foster in the classroom – to decrease the number of blank stares during class and replace them with attentive, involved students.

Seeing how students reacted to that sort of thing, I began peppering in-class lectures and activities wit similar interactions. I began revealing elements of my personality to the class, integrated humor, sarcasm, had a little fun with the material, fun with the students – at least, the ones that actually involve themselves in class. That helped alleviate some of the tension in the room – since then my experience (and hopefully theirs) has significantly improved.

I began thinking of teachers I’ve had throughout my education – in public school, the ones I remember and remember positively were those I connected with on an individual level, ones I interacted with on that individual level – even if those interactions weren’t pleasant.

I don’t know everything about the subject I am teaching. When I began teaching, it was important to me to exude competence, to be perceived by my students as someone that knows a thing or two, someone they fell they can learn from.



The further in I went, however, the more I realized that did not matter. I did not have to be the expert. Infallible. It was very much as much a learning experience for me as it was them, and that was an illuminating realization.

Discovering what went wrong, discovering what, exactly, I don’t like, don’t want to do, isn’t exactly finding an authentic voice through which to teach. But it is a starting point.

Have I found a teaching voice?


But I am certainly invested in looking.

postheadericon The game.

The idea of teaching history, actively involving students in a game that fosters interest, excitement, active participation inside and outside the classroom is pretty rad.

I readMark Carnes’ ‘Setting students’ minds on fire’, found here:

Carnes points out the average graduation rate for students that enroll in higher education is just below 50 percent, although he does not disclose where he came up with that particular statistic. He also points out while finance is certainly an issue for potential and enrolled higher education students, the dropout statistics bridge socioeconomic class. He argues low motivation, low interest in the classes being offered, is at the issue’s root.

Inspiration may be able to help, he states, and that inspiration came in the form of a month(s)-long, heavy involvement learning game.

As I started reading it, I was looking for an outline of the game, what was involved, how it was played, who developed the rules, how they were developed, the game’s purpose.

Beyond that, how were the students assessed for the course? Was any level of participation enough to pass the course?

These things aside, I am certainly interested in learning more about this concept.

I can see how playing a game based on historical events/actors can be useful in learning about those historical actors and events. I can also see how active learning challenges of similar nature could help students understand, say, how to construct a stone-covered arch walkway bridge correctly the first time around, engineering. Puzzles and challenges that involve investing time into a concept, into an area of study, into a group of people with whom you are playing, is something I’d be interested in taking part in, learning about through participation, and ultimately, depending on the situation, run such a game.

I have never participated in such a learning environment, and wouldn’t be against the idea. We could develop one for, say, a graduate pedagogy course. Any takers?

Further, James Paul Gee writes about connectionism – human beings as pattern-recognizers. It argues humans don’t work best when reasoning via logic and general abstract experiences, but without the presence of experience. I could agree with that – learning abstract principles without the opportunity for application is much of what our discussions in class end up heading toward (testing aside). Active learning, getting students involved, fostering a stake in their own educations, piquing their interests in a class. Video games, much like the active learning role-playing game described by Carnes, attempt to bridge that gap, giving students, through games (real or virtual), that chance to apply those principles, gain that experience. I’d be interested to check out more research on this concept, perhaps design an experiment around it, measure its results, effects on cognitive development, engagement.


postheadericon Defying behavioral physics – the carrot and the stick?

I am sure any number of individuals in this class will tackle the testing, the GPA, the grading – I much prefer to watch that particular battle play out among those more committed to a side than I. I will sneak in with my commentary and cry havoc, Sith style, and slip away undetected.

In the video lecture “Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us,” the speaker points out a compelling, and counterintuitive, set of repeatable experiment/research results that indicate the metaphoric carrot at the end of the stick, the reward for the completion of a task, the incentive for doing a job, is only effective in jobs, tasks, sticks, that do not require high levels of thought.

Incentives (carrots) work, he states, as long as whatever task that leads to the acquisition of the carrot only requires mechanical skill, or low levels of cognition. The surprising part, at least, to me (and likely others, as I have never heard of these experiments or results and tend to think, however erroneously, I have my finger close to the pulse of such things) is that the more one has to think about a task or job, the more cognitive skill required for its completion, the incentive or carrot actually detracts from performance level.

Mechanical skill + financial incentive = better performance.

Cognitive skill + financial incentive = decreased performance.

The speaker rightly says these results defy laws of behavioral physics. Doesn’t make sense on the surface. But then I began to think about all the examples of products, items, programs, things I integrate into my everyday life, that I readily identify with, that people create because they can and not for the sake of an incentive. An example: Open-source software. VLC. Linux. Tons of little applications created, hacked open, released on the Internet for anyone and everyone to integrate, use, exploit. I personally never learned Linux, but know programmers that swear by it, and its numerous modifications from users that just want to make a decent, free access workable operating system that doesn’t require corporate backing. I do not use Linux, but I do, however, regularly utilize a plethora of fantastic open-source programs for a variety of tasks. I’d always questioned the motivations behind creating and maintaining those programs – they are not simple constructs, and are constantly updated to remain useful, secure. Why do these people create these things for free and give them away? Are they motivated solely by the satisfaction of knowing their products are in use? There is no carrot here.

The speaker suggests taking the carrot out of the equation altogether. In terms of corporate or technological innovation, pay idea people, innovators, everyone capable and willing to employ high cognitive skill to solve a problem, take on a research project, seek definitive answers, enough money to where the money itself is not a factor. Offer these individuals the autonomy to direct their own lives, seek satisfaction not in carrots but in cognitive engagement.

The mastery of cognitive engagement and control for the sake of personal satisfaction. I think that’s a stellar idea.

Non sequitur observation addendum – what’s with this trend in videos we watch and the disembodied hand drawing pictures relative to the narrator?

postheadericon Mindfulness? Teaching and learning? What is our role?

How does one learn? How do we all learn? In an exercise in class, we were instructed to come up with six words to indicate how we feel we best learn. “Learn” is not a simple prospect, and each group of six words, while exhibiting patterns or trends, were different. One student may not learn in the same manner as others in a class.

(Inapplicable side note) Standardized testing, SOLs, SATs, GREs, whatever the acronym, represent a measurable base-level of concept understanding and (in some cases) application. But do they measure learning? Learning material, or learning how to take a standardized test? If standardized testing is an example of “teaching to the test,” what does that mean for students that fail those tests? Do they not understand the subject matter? Do they not understand the test? I’m sure we can all rant on this one for some time. Math, hard science, medicine, engineering – fact-based subjects, where either you know or understand it or you don’t, can be more easily measured through testing than, say, an understanding of poetry, or a presidential State of the Union address. Yet they are each subject to similar measurements and held to similar standards in public education… I do look forward to this ideological and pedagogical argument in class (end inapplicable side note).

As an instructor of any subject or any type at any level, one wants one’s students to have the best chance of taking whatever it is they’re hearing, seeing, and hopefully learning about and coming away with the knowledge and the ability to apply that learning in meaningful ways. But as we all know, that does not always happen. Instead, we have a handful of earnest students that fulfill that ideal, and the rest fall short somewhere along the way. Why is this? Is it a shortcoming on our parts as instructors? Is it a shortcoming or lack of effort on the part of the student? Are they staring at you vacantly during class because they’re bored? Unengaged? Unentertained? Apathetic? Overwhelmed? Is it the established system? A lot of different fingers point in a lot of different directions.

Are we broadcasters? Are we educators? Are we connected-learning moderators? What is our role, how should that role evolve with technological trends? Should education be trendy? Should we snapchat notes to students instead of using hi-def screens, or PowerPoint slides?

Educator vs moderator according to Merriam-Webster:

Educator: : a person (such as a teacher or a school administrator) who works in the field of education; one skilled in teaching; a :  a student of the theory and practice of education.

Moderator: someone who leads a discussion in a group and tells each person when to speak : someone who moderates a meeting or discussion

Where do we stand?




postheadericon Connected learning …?

I do not have extensive teaching experience, I am not an active user of social media beyond Facebook, and have a negative view of blogs.

I do not agree with the notion that if you throw enough technology at something, whatever problems or issues one experiences magically go away. Your baby’s crying? Give it a smartphone. Your community’s not politically engaged? Set up a government-sponsored message board that costs millions of tax dollars to create and maintain. Your kid’s failing third grade? Give it an iPad and force its teacher to dress up as Iron Man and sing multiplication tables backward while said kid trolls YouTube for video game advice. It’s a teacher’s job to entertain its students, right? Right?!?

Connected learning – the video we watched in class with the stick-figured students, comes with the assumption that technology is inherently good, and that integrating technology into the learning process is also inherently good. Techno-optimistic. Who needs a teacher when you have Wikipedia? Who needs human contact when you have twitter or instagram? A photo of a person and the written equivalent of a sound byte is a suitable surrogate.  Why bother going to class when you can post all your questions to an online forum, and expect whomever’s on the other end to thoroughly research the answer before crafting a careful and calculated, enthusiastically optimistic response?

Connecting students to material through technology is useful, I will not argue against that. Integrating technology and alternative methods to the traditional “sage/stage” learning environment may enhance the learning experience for some students. However, replacing an interactive, specialized classroom with a knowledgeable instructor and students that act as co-learners and support with a blog and a message board does not seem adequate to me. Turning education into Facebook is not a good idea.


postheadericon Hello world – take 3?

So … I am not sure if my first “welcome” post went through – I posted it the first night of class, but did not have my site linked to the main site. I do now, so just in case, I am posting this thing again.


postheadericon And it begins ….. again.

I had thought the horror that was mandatory blogging was behind me.

It is not.

So here we are, another Welcome to the World, another introductory blog post.


– A