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December 17, 2017

[liveblog] Mariia Gavriushenko on personalized learning environments

I’m at the STEAM ed Finland conference in Jyväskylä where Mariia Gavriushenko is talking about personalized learning environments.


Web-based learning systems are being more and more widely used in large part because they can be used any time, anywhere. She points to two types: Learning management systems and game-based systems. But they lack personalization that makes them suitable for particular learners in terms of learning speed, knowledge background, preferences in learning and career, goals for future life, and their differing habits. Personalized systems can provide assistance in learning and adapt their learning path. Web-based learning shouldn’t just be more convenient. It should also be better adapted to personal needs.


But this is hard. But if you can do it, it can monitor the learner’s knowledge level and automatically present the right materials. In can help teachers create suitable material and find the most relevant content and convert it into comprehensive info. It can also help students identify the best courses and programs.


She talks about two types of personalized learning systems: 1. systems that allow the user to change the system or 2. the sysytem changes itself to meet the users needs. The systems can be based on rules and context or can be algorithm driven.


Five main features of adaptive learning systems:

  • Pre-test

  • Pacing and control

  • Feedback and assessment

  • Progress tracking and reports

  • Motivation and reward


The ontological presentation of every learner keeps something like a profile for each user, enabling semantic reasoning.


She gives an example of this model: automated academic advising. It’s based on learning analytics. It’s an intelligent learning support system based on semantically-enhanced decision support, that identifies gaps, and recommends materials and courses. It can create a personal study plan. The ontology helps the system understand which topics are connected to others so that it can identify knowledge gaps.


An adaptive vocabulary learning environment provides cildren with an adaptive way to train their vocabulary, taking into account the individuality of the learner. It assumes the more similar the words, the harder they are to recognize.


Mariia believes we will make increasing use of adaptive educational tech.

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[liveblog] Maarit Rossi on teaching math that matters

I’m at the STEAM ed Finland conference in Jyväskylä. Maarit Rossi, who teaches math teaching around the world, is talking on the topic: “AI forces us to change maths education.”

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.


Finnish teachers are doing a great, great job, she says. “But we are doing it too quietly.”


Education is too similar to industrial assembly lines. Students sit passively in rows. Students find math education to be boring, meaningless, and frightening. Typically this happens sometime in 5-7th grade. Teaching math has not changed in 100 years. It is a global problem.


Meanwhile, tech is changing really quickly. (She shows a photo from 1956 of workers shoving a 5 megabyte drive onto a truck.)

1956 5mb drive loaded onto truck

These days we are talking about personalizing math education. Easily available programs solve math problems. In the USA, people say the students are “cheating.” No, they’re being educated wrong. We need to be asking if we’re teaching students 10 critical skills, including cognitive flexibility, nebotiation, coordinating with others, emotional intelligence, critical thinking, creaetivity, complex problem solving, service orientation [and a couple of others I didn’t have time to copy down].


A modern math curriculum addresses attitudes, metacognition (e.g., self-regulation), skills, concepts, and processes. Instead, we focus on the concepts (e.g., algebraic, statistical, etc.).


A classroom has to be a safe place where you can make mistakes.


There are four pillars: practice, learning by doing, social learning, and interdisciplinary math. She gives some examples. Students estimate the price of a week’s shopping for a family of four. Maaritt has students work in groups of four. After that, they go to the nearest shop to find the actual prices; the students have to divide up the task to get it done in time. (You can have them do online shopping if there isn’t nearby shop.) Students estimate and round the numbers, tasks that are usually taught separately.


For higher grades, the students deal with real data from an African refugee camp. The students have to estimate how much food is needed to keep everyone alive for two weeks. “This is meaningful to them.”


It’s important for math to have double the lesson length. If it’s only one hour, it is not enough. “The students love it when they have the opportunity to think, to discover, to find themselves.”


Re-arrange the classroom. Cluster the tables rather than rows. The students can teach one another. “It is important that the feel successful.”


“And of course we use computers. And apps. And phones.”


“Math is also interesting because it can model many things.” If they have an embodied sense of a cubic meter, for example, they learn how to convert them to other measures. Or model the size of the solar system outside.


She has students estimate collections of objects, e.g. a bowl of noodles. Then they round. Then they count. Groups come up with strategies for counting, including doing it in ways that enable the count to be interrupted and resumed.


Physical exercise makes brains work better.

Classifying is important. She asks students to take sheets of paper and make the biggest triangle they can, and another of a different shape. They put all the triangles in the middle of the room. Then she asks them to see if they can cluster them by similarities.


“Students need to use their own language” rather than only hearing the teacher talk. This is how they learn to understand.


[My notes about the last few minutes, and the questions, go cut off via brain-computer glitch. Sorry.]

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February 26, 2015

Literature and Medicine: The syllabus

The superb novelist and teacher Meredith Sue Willis, who is also my sister-in-law, is teaching a course at a local Veterans Administration hospital on literature and medicine. It’s taught to hospital staff after work in the hospital.

Here’s the syllabus, which Sue has put under a Creative Commons license (which is where all syllabi belong, amirite?). It looks like a great set of readings organized around important topics. Isn’t it awesome that we can get curated collections like these from which we can learn and explore?

In fact, it prompted me to start reading The Young Lions, which so far I’m glad I’m doing. Thanks, Sue!

(Ack. I forgot that Sue told me about this because she’s using in the course something I wrote. So I am inadvertently logrolling. But sincerely!)

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November 14, 2013

[2b2k] No more magic knowledge

I gave a talk at the EdTechTeacher iPad Summit this morning, and felt compelled to throw in an Angry Old Man slide about why iPads annoy me, especially as education devices. Here’s my List of Grievances:

  • Apple censors apps

  • iPads are designed for consumers. [This is false for these educators, however. They are using iPad apps to enable creativity.]

  • They are closed systems and thus lock users in

  • Apps generally don’t link out

That last point was the one that meant the most in the context of the talk, since I was stressing the social obligation we all have to add to the Commons of ideas, data, knowledge, arguments, discussion, etc.

I was sorry I brought the whole thing up, though. None of the points I raised is new, and this particular audience is using iPads in creative ways, to engage students, to let them explore in depth, to create, and to make learning mobile.

Nevertheless, as I was talking, I threw in one more: you can’t View Source the way you can in a browser. That is, browsers let you see the code beneath the surface. This capability means you can learn how to re-create what you like on pages you visit…although that’s true only to some extent these days. Nevertheless, the HTML code is right there for you. But not with apps.

Even though very few of us ever do peek beneath the hood — why would we? — the fact that we know there’s an openable hood changes things. It tells us that what we see on screen, no matter how slick, is the product of human hands. And that is the first lesson I’d like students to learn about knowledge: it often looks like something that’s handed to us finished and perfect, but it’s always something that we built together. And it’s all the cooler because of that.

There is no magic, just us humans as we move through history trying to make every mistake possible.

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November 6, 2013

[2b2k] Is the Net shortcutting our kids out of learning?

I was invited to give a talk yesterday afternoon to the faculty at Brookline High School where all three of our children were educated, and that graduated my wife and both of her parents. Furthermore, the event was held in the Black Box, a performance space I watched our youngest child perform in many times. (Go T-Tones!) So, it was thrilling and quite intimidating, even though the new headmaster, Deb Holman [twitter: bhsheadmaster] could not be more welcoming and open.

There were some great (= hard) questions, and a lot of skepticism about my comments, but not all that much time to carry on a conversation. After most people left, a couple of teachers stayed to talk.

One said that she thoroughly disagrees with my generally positive characterization of the Internet. In her experience, it is where children go to get quick answers. Rather than provoking them and challenging them, the Net lets them get instant gratification, and shuts down their curiosity.

We talked for a while. Her experience certainly rings true. After all, I go to the Net for quick answers also, and if I had to write an assignment on, say, The Great Gatsby, and I wanted to finish it before The Walking Dead comes on, I’d be out on the Net. And I’d get it done much faster than in the old days when I’d have to go to the library.

I’m still not sure what to make of this phenomenon. Did the old library experience of looking things up in the card catalog or in the Periodical Index made me any more thoughtful than googling does now? In fact, I’m more likely to see more ideas and opinions on the Net than in a trip to the library. On the other hand, the convenience of the Net means that I can just look up some ideas rather than having to work through them myself; the Net is letting student short-circuit the process of forming ideas. Perhaps the old difficulty of accessing materials added friction that usefully slowed down thought. I don’t know. I don’t feel that way about my own experience, but I am not a high school student, and I’m pretty self-deluding to begin with.

Anyway, that’s pretty much the issue the second teacher brought up after the talk. Keep in mind that BHS has an extraordinary set of teachers, always caring and frequently quite inspiring. She is in the School Within a School, which is more loosely structured than the rest of BHS. When she gives writing assignments, she tells her students to come up with an idea that will surprise her, and to express it in their own voice. Very cool.

Her concern is that jangle of the Net keeps students from mulling over ideas. Thought comes from a private and individual place, she believes, and students need that stillness and aloneness.

I can’t disagree with her. I want students to understand — to experience — the value of solitude and quiet, and to have internalized enough information that they can have it at hand to play with and synthesize. And yet…

..I’m not convinced that private thought is realest thought. I know that who I am when I’m alone doesn’t feel more real than when I am with others, and in many ways feels less authentic; I’ve written before about the inner narrator who accompanies me when I visit someplace new alone, making me feel more crazy than authentic. In a similar way, I’m not ready to accept that private thinking is the best thinking or the most authentic thinking. It has its place, of course, but personally (data point of one!) I think best when engaged with others, or when I’m writing while imagining my words engaging with others.

We have, it seems to me, overvalued private thinking, which is certainly not to say that it has no value. We have likewise undervalued social thinking. But now We think in public, out loud, with others. Most of our public engagements of course are not particularly deep or thoughtful in any normal use of the term. That’s why we need to be educating our children to appreciate thinking out loud with others, and teaching them how to do it. It’s in these public multi-way discussions that ideas and knowledge develop.

While there are many ways in which public thinking can go wrong, it has the advantage of revealing the mechanisms of knowledge in all their fallibility. We are still carrying over the cultural wish for black box authorities whom we can trust simply because they were the ones who said it. We need to steer our children away from that wish for inhuman knowledge, and thus toward recognizing how ideas and knowledge actually develop. Public thinking does that. At least it should. And it will do it more if our children learn to always wonder how knowledge has been brought forward. Especially when the ideas seem so obvious.

This is one reason I find the “flipped classroom” idea so interesting. (Good discussion of this yesterday on On Point.) I was asked yesterday what I’d like BHS to do if I could have it do anything. I answered rather badly, but part of it would have to be that students learn how to engage with one another socially so that they build knowledge together, and this knowledge tolerates disagreement, is assumed to be public, and is aware of itself as a product of social engagement. Of course that happens already in classrooms — and more so (presumably) in flipped classrooms — but we should be preparing our students for doing this virtually as well as in real space because the “real” discussions will increasingly be online where there is a wealth of sources to draw upon and to argue about.

But it’s hard to see how we get there so long as we continue to assign papers and reports as the primary type of knowledge artifact, isn’t it? (I’m not even going to mention standardized testing.) Doing so implicitly tells students that knowing is what you do alone: foraging sources, coming back with useful bits, and then engaging in an internal thought process that renders them into one of the conventional written forms. In that frame, the Net looks like an uncurated library, overflowing with lies, studded with occasional truths.

Instead, students could be required to explore a topic together, in public (or at least in the protected public of their class), discussing, arguing, joking, and evaluating one another’s sources. In that frame, the Net looks like a set of discussions, not an information resource at the end of the Information Highway. After all, kids don’t come into a class interested in The Great Gatsby. The teacher will help them to see what’s interesting about the novel, which is crucial and not easy to do. But primarily we get interested in things through one another. My interest steers yours, and yours amplifies mine. Our interest in The Great Gatsby is mediated and amplified by our interest in one another. We make the world interesting together. The Net does this all the time. Papers and reports rarely do.In their pursuit of demonstrating mastery, they too often drive the interest right out of the topic — less so at a wonderful school like BHS where teachers ask students to write in their own voice and come up with ideas that surprise them both.

Anyway, I came out of the session very stimulated, very thankful that so many of my relatives had the great good luck to attend that institution, and ever thankful to our teachers.

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June 15, 2013

[2b2k][eim] My Stuttgart syllabus

I’ve just finished leading two days of workshops at University of Stuttgart as part of my fellowship at the Internazionales Zentrum für Kultur- und Technikforschung. (No, I taught in English.) This was for me a wonderful experience. First of all, the students were engaged, smart, talked from diverse standpoints, and fun. Second, it reminded me how to teach. I had so much trouble trying to structure sessions, feeling totally unsure how one does so. But the eight 1.5 hour sessions reminded me why I loved teaching.

For my own memory, here are the sessions (and if any of you were there and took notes, I’d love to see them):

Friday

#1 Cyberutopianism, technodeterminism, and Internet exceptionalism defined, with JP Barlow’s Declaration of the Independent of Cyberspace as an example. Class introductions.

#2 Information Age to Age of Connected. Why Ted Nelson’s Xanadu did not succeed the way the Web did. Rough technical architecture of the Net and (perhaps) its embedded political values. Hyperlinks.

#3 Digital order. Everything is miscellaneous? From information Retrieval to search engines. Schema-based databases to tagging.

#4 Networked knowledge. What knowledge looks like once it’s been freed of paper. Four challenges to networked knowledge (with many more added by the students.)

On Saturday we talked about topics that the students decided were interesting:

#1 Mobile net. Is Facebook making us more or less social? Why do we fill up every interstice by using Facebook on mobiles? What does this say about us and the notion of the self?

#2 Downloading. Do you download music illegally? What is your justification? How might artists respond? Why is the term “intellectual property” so loaded?

#3 Education. What makes a great in-person course? What makes for a miserable one? Oddly, many of the characteristics of miserable classes are also characteristics of MOOCs. What might we do about that? How much of this is caused by the fact that MOOCs are construed as courses in the traditional sense?

#4 Internet culture. Is there such a thing? If there are many, is any particular one to be privileged? How does the Net look to a culture that is dedicated to warding off what it says as corrupting influences? End with LolCatBible and the astounding TheJohnnyCashProject

Thank you, students. This experience meant a great deal to me.

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May 5, 2011

[collabtech] Blurring classroom control

I’m at CollabTech at Case Western, and came in late on a session about blurring the lines of ontrol in classrooms.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

As I come in, Bill Deal is talking about encouraging students to tweet material related to the class. The students took to it, posting links to materials from around the Web. They averaged about 15 tweets (if I got that right). He says he’s tried other tech in classrooms, but this one really worked. In response to a question, he says that there was no interaction among twitterers outside of the class; they discussed using a hashtag, but some students wanted to keep their tweets private-ish.

Bernard Jim talks about his experience teaching 17-student seminars in which the students are expected to produce knowledge, not just consume it. He says the physical geography of the classroom puts all the tech at the front of the room, under the teacher’s control. [Surely they have laptops, though.] He begins each session by playing a song relevant to the day’s topic, and invites the students to play their music. The students initially resist this, but then take it up. The aim is for them to take possession of the tech in the classroom. He also wants them to understand that their cultural experiences are relevant to the course. (Bernard is a cultural historian.)

For example, he has them reading Burke on the sublime, who references Milton. “So, I’m teaching an 18th century philosophy who references a 17th century poet, to 21st century students who can be put off by a movie if it’s in black and white.” Burke asks what a frightening sound is: “a low tremulous intermitting sound.” So, Bernie plays a YouTube of the Halloween theme, to try to connect their experience to Burke.

Sometimes the students bring in their own references. E.g., in a class on letters discussing a letter from Abelard to Heloise (or was it vice versa), they brought in “Dramatic Reading of a Break-up Letter.”

In a different class they were talking about hypermasculinity, as in some of Michelangelo. The students responded with College Humor’s Power Thirst.

He also has a class on puzzles, which is “an extremely interactive class.” Once a week they have a puzzle challenge. On Pi Day (3/14), they took the Pi Day Challenge, up on the big screen. “You have a whole bunch of students yelling at me, which is what I like.”

Q: Do you ever get inappropriate student suggestions?
A: Yes, sometimes.
A: [bill deal] One tweet was “Great film of boobies” that turned out to be about birds.

Michael Kenney who teaches chemistry provided Kindles to 50 students. A third loved it. A third thought it was great for reading books, so they gave it to their parents [he says jokingly]. And a third sold it on ebay. Within class, it usefully kept all their texts in one place, although the lack of a file structure was a problem. But he got sued. ‘[He doesn’t say why and I didn’t find any info on a quick search.]

So, now they use the Entourage eDGe, which has a touch-sensitive Android tablet on one side and an ebook reader on the other. He’s hoping students can use these as their lab notebooks. [See Jean-Claude Bradley’s open notebook idea.] So far, he’s having the same results as with the Kindle. For one thing, the OS is underpowered and out of date. The eDGe concept “is very good, but it’s not going to replace” analog devices. His sits on a shelf, unused.

Q: [me] Have you connected with J-C Bradley.
A: Yes. Our aim is to have a cloud-based note-taking system. Bradley’s ideas are very good,.

Christine Hudak [twitter:infomatics1] , in the nursing school, has her students use twitter feeds to keep up with the ever-changing info. All the nursing students had to tweet, because social media are now being used with patients in hospitals. No personal tweets were allowed, although some students ignored that rule. They also had a private Facebook group page that they used for info sharing and communicating about projects; it was strictly student-driven. Christine didn’t see it until the end of the semester, and was very impressed. The page is being passed on to next year’s class.

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August 16, 2010

Help create shareable syllabi

Every course has a syllabus. In it are an expert’s ideas about the topics essential to the course of study and the works that explain those topics. And that’s at a bare minimum. Syllabi rock.

Yet, all that wisdom and goodness is locked in the syllabi, of use to the handful of students taking or considering taking the course. What a shame! Think of all we could do if the information in syllabi were made available for open access by humans and machines:

  • Teachers could discover new ideas for how to teach a course.

  • Students could browse among courses to see how other teachers teach them.

  • Researchers could be guided by this canon-in-practice — both to the expected works and away from works that are too expected.

  • Researchers studying disciplines would have a rich source of data to analyze.

To unlock these riches, several things have to happen.

First, the syllabi have to be collected and put into an open access repository. I’d love to see universities adopt open syllabi policies that require (ask? suggest?) that faculty submit a copy of their syllabi for each course they teach.

Then the syllabi have to be scraped so that the data within them is searchable by humans and parsable by computers.

Then the data should be put into some standard data format so that it can be more easily found, reused, and mined.

It’s this last step that I’m looking for help with. I’ve started a little project with Joseph Cohen to develop an XML schema for syllabi. (Joseph has a commecial project underway that could help with some of the other elements required to turn dead syllabi into a living beast at our command.)

If you’d like to jump in, go to the SylliXml wiki. (You have to register to edit.) We’re just at the kicking it around stage, and your contributions will be very helpful.

There are lots of questions to resolve. At the moment, we’re aiming at producing the most minimal schema we can, because syllabi are unstructured documents and trying to accommodate everything that might ever be put into one is a mug’s game. So, what is the minimum set of data and metadata that would make the information in syllabi amazingly useful?

Come play!

There is tremendous value hidden in the syllabi diaspora. Let’s unite and conquer!

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January 15, 2009

Nature Magzine sets up collaborative education space

Nature Magazine, which should be the stodgiest of the stodgiest, continues to show an admirable flexibility (stopping short of doing the full open access Monty). It’s now created Scitable, “a collaborative learning space for science undergraduates.” It’s got articles, online class tools, teacher collaborative tools, student collaborative tools, discussion areas, consultable experts… I haven’t yet gone through it all.

This initial implementation focuses on genetics. Nature is planning on expanding the topics.

On top of all that, it’s great to contemplate how blase we’ve become about the primordial value of collaborative tools. Collaboration is the new greed.

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January 10, 2009

151 changers of the game

JP Rangaswami chooses his favorite among the 151 responses to Edge’s question: “What Will Change Everything? What game-changing scientific ideas and developments do you expect to live to see?” JP chooses Chris Anderson’s essay on Web-empowered teaching. (This is the CA of TED, not the CA of Wired.) JP also recommends reading all 107,000 words of all 151 responses, which I have not done. But it’s a great pool to take a random dip in.

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