Monthly Archives: November 2014

My journey as a self-directed learner

At age 6 I learned to read. I read about dinosaurs from a set of children’s science and nature books. A small story about T-Rex was the first one I read all by myself. After that a steady flow of childhood interests varying from dinosaurs and astronomy to Egyptology ended up on my dedicated notebooks with drawings and notes.waldorfwork

Waldorf -high school really catered to any self directed learner in all classes and also in the final projects, that students could organize based on their interests. The projects can vary from building a rowboat,  to writing and printing a collection of poems. My final project ended up being a small study on literature on inheritable diseases and a mapping of the potential inheritable diseases in my family tree. During undergraduate studies self-directed learning as a habit was helpful as lectures were not always the most informative.

My development into a self directed learner was supported by my parents. They provided trips to museums once it became clear that amusement parks did not entice me or my brother. My dad even brought me a mummified field mouse he found and allowed me to study fox sperm under microscope at the fox farm. Taking into account student’s own interests and providing support for those interests in Waldorf -school really cultivated self-directed learning.

During Connected Courses -seminars the importance of mentors and modeling co-learning to students comes up often. To me this is the value higher education can give today and in the future. It is not about knowing the right people and being in the right place. It should be about being in a place that is right for you and with people who can support you, be it live or online. Educators will be balancing with giving the students support but also avoiding being the “camp counselors”.  The question now is, how do I support students, who have not had the support to become self directed, but have had all the encouragement to fit in a box labeled “admission to college”?

 

Gender equality in science

Originally from http://xkcd.com/385/

Science is evaluated by it’s quality. At least that is the ideal. In reality, there are a lot of biases and inequalities in play. While exploring the topic in Connected Courses I stumbled upon a recent report on women in academic science. This report by Stephen Ceci and Wendy Williams highlights the early educational experiences for girls in mathematical subjects as a cause for smaller number of women ending up in math intensive careers. Their researched showed very little or no bias in academic career paths like getting tenure between male and female applicants. And this prompted other scientists to critique their research methods. Ceci’s and Williams’ conclusions were questioned and the use of observational correlation data critiqued as it opposed other data collected in controlled experiments and cannot directly point to causes.

According to Ceci and Williams it seems that the skewing of academic workforce in mathematical fields starts very early. And according to other research, the attitudes towards women and girls in these fields has not been as supportive as it could be. This can be seen clearly in the case of Ben Barres. After his sex change, others attitudes changed drastically.

http://ai.eecs.umich.edu/people/conway/TSsuccesses/FtM/BenBarres.html

“By far,” Barres wrote, “the main difference I have noticed is that people who don’t know I am transgendered treat me with much more respect” than when he was a woman. “I can even complete a whole sentence without being interrupted by a man.” (Washington Post, 2006)

Should women still work a little bit harder against the public opinion and social pressures to become engineers or mathematicians, if they so desire? I think not. While Ceci’s and Williams’ research show some decrease in discrimination based on sex in academia, I think they are quite right to point towards the earlier experiences as an opportunity for improvement. Together with improving working conditions and satisfaction of women at their math intense jobs, the general opinion of women’s abilities and suitability to these careers can become more welcoming.

 

 

 

 

 

Tools matter – daily drawing challenge

DC_ball I took part in doodling my way through the Connected Courses: Daily Connect art challenge. I chose power point as my tool and noted that it really affected what I chose to draw. I tended to use much more repetition than in physical drawing, but also explored the colors more. Despite the tools of the program including shapes, I actually used the free drawing tool the most. It seems to me, that use of computer chained me artistically.

NervesMaybe using drawing tablets with pen control are the way to go, to improve the creativity and range of artistry in my case. Still there is something to be said about having a physical product to hang on a wall after all your trouble. Maybe that is why my own appreciation of the doodles I made is not very high. I probably would have cared more about the art if it was in a physical form. When classes and projects move towards digitization and online products, we should keep in mind the importance of physical objects we create. It is a proof that we were there, we made something, and it takes space in the universe in a more solid way than a blog post, or a picture on line.

 

 

 

Do I really need a smart phone?

My phone is not smart. It is entirely functional. It is small and has the battery lasts for a week at a time. I can call, text, and take photos intermediate quality.

Hailing from Finland, the 90’s Nokia phones are the standard I compare all my phones. And I am not alone in this. While the drawbacks like short battery life, breakable screen, and high cost still deter me from investing in a smartphone, I am starting to feel that I should get one. Just to get by in the society.

Ability to constantly check work e-mails, take photos for your insurance claim, record video for a class project, and to fact check claims on-line would make life a bit more convenient. It would make the web more accessible to my every day life. While reading snippets from “War on Learning” by Liz Losh, I was relieved to see the third guideline for developing pedagogy in the digital world. Not forgetting the old technologies like paper and pen, glue, and markers as valuable and sometimes vital tools is an idea I like. I really cannot afford to buy a smartphone.

This dilemma with my finances in connection to smartphones always makes me think about the assumed privileges of the students. Can we really assume they all have fast internet access when they are at home? Does everyone have a smartphone? Does everyone have their own computer to install programs on? Are they comfortable or allowed to use the family data plan to research controversial issues?

The economic divide can wreak havoc on a student’s class performance. Even if there are ways to work around the lack of a smartphone, the advantage gained by having one can be tremendous. Setting students in unequal positions from the start is harmful for the whole learning community. If I was required to use a smartphone in one of my classes, I would drop it. No matter how interesting it could have been. Loss of students from a class this way limits diversity effectively. And this concept illustrates to me how discrimination, even the subtle kind, has huge effect on any class from the start.

 

Inclusiveness statements on organizations websites always seem so philosophical and poetic. Like a interior decorators plan designed to look pretty. Today’s inclusiveness and diversity statements should be something more serious. They should be more than just a standard slapped on a website.  Everyone should be able to take part in higher education despite not having the same privileges some of us have. Or indeed – smartphones.