Connectivism & Unlearning

Via @mscofino, who is leading one of the distant Coetail cohorts (of which I am a part in Zurich), here are some thoughts synthesized by Alex Guenther, perhaps another Coetrail participant in Japan, from a George Siemens piece on Connectivism. I must say that I take issue with the third point, that rules of communication are unimportant in a connected world; I’d argue they are more important. When more words are being used, some bounds have to exist for shared understanding and for personal efficacy. But, of course, rules change. For my student who included three emoticons in a narrative essay, I say use descriptive and figurative language instead. Then, when you have mastered language-craft, use emoticons and everyone will think you’ve invented a new form, that your abstraction is transgressive, exciting, and creative. Of course, in order to unlearn, one must have learned first. In fact, that’s a perfect model for mastery – learn and then unlearn. Mastery!

And for any teachers on the fence about blogging, here’s why I do it and why you should, too! That’s another via @mscofino. The PLN delivers.

On Game Based Learning

Of course, anytime Bill Gates decides to shower money on public education, it’s news. And, while it is hardly surprising that the manufacturer of the X-Box supports “game based learning,” I find it surprising that anyone takes this as a sign of the efficacy of game based learning.

So often, as games are touted as educational wonders, one hears tales of flight simulators, battle simulations, biohazard and terrorism response simulations, and Myst. Myst. Seriously. Students narrate their fantasy world of Myst and explain their problem solving along the way, and that’s a great language arts lesson. Perhaps I’m a Pollyanna, but I believe that students have real, analog lives worthy of narration – real or imagined (remember imagination?). Surely young people are solving problems in life, maybe even in our classrooms, in more compelling ways than choosing which door to walk through or decoding digital runes in a make-believe land with gentle background music. So, while spinning up student interest in writing about reality may take real, concrete instructional steps including instructor modeling (What? Me, write?), and involve a fair amount of non-sexy time in which students work together, talk, share, laugh, play, get off task, come back to the task, and ultimately write, I can’t help but wonder how electronic game play beats life?

Answer: Because stuff blows up engagingly in video games. Let’s keep in mind the overwhelmingly martial usages of game-style simulators, which have become most authentic these days via Predator drone attacks currently being flown remotely from southwest American desert bases in far off countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya to name only the most obvious and least classified. In the case of Predator piloting, I totally see the logical link between game play and actual authentic tasks. I can also see a time in which students play “Operation: Baby Pig” on their iPad app instead of doing actual dissections, which has no authentic benefit over the real thing. Martial simulations are acceptable substitutes to combat because nobody gets hurt in video games, and we can always get Elf food and drink or locate a cache of extra lives and ammunition under a stairwell. Academia should be a simulation of sorts as it is, an opportunity to explore, to try, to succeed, to fail and try again with a new approach. Adding an additional, electronic layer of simulation to a simulation that is already becoming wildly divorced from that which it is meant to replicate, at least in some ways, seems silly at best.

The benefit quietly touted is cost savings, using resources as best we can – and those resources are always financial. Would Bill Gates go to a doctor who had done his cadaver work on his PC? Done residency with a team through “Scrubs for X-Box?” Probably, but probably not a physician who worked on iDissect; count me out for both. When the dust settles, game based learning is likely to mean that every kid gets to fly a simulated plane, but no feet will ever leave the ground. Every kid gets to be a Guitar Hero, but the orchestra pit is vacant. Every kid gets to write about her Second Life, while the first atrophies from a paucity of attention. I believe everybody wins when “FIFA 2011” is turned off and a game commences in the backyard, and I believe our kids should be making actual products and messages with their technological tools, rather than wallowing in the virtual ether, unaware of what they are missing.

Truth & The Examined Life by Cornell West

The way to truth, sustaining the journey to truth – deducing from evidence, drawing reliable conclusions, surrendering one’s arrogance and pride – “ways of acknowledging our finitude and fallibility,” with Dr. Cornell West, Class of 1943 Professor at Princeton University, “a blues man in the life of the mind, I’m a jazz man in the world of ideas.” Dr. West blends philosophy with the “funk of life,” music, poetry, examination. Why do we read, write, view, struggle? To understand ourselves and the world! I love what he has to say about reading and intensity – “to throw [books] against the wall,” which happens, the overwhelming by truth and reality. Anyway – here is one of Earth’s smartest men talking honestly. Check it out – it’s seven minutes well spent.


On “Modern Status”

Living in a time when 20% of all American children live in poverty, David Brooks is on a search for Jane Austen’s America. Seriously. Brooks has his eyes on the ball in “Modern Status” when he notes that there is little difference between the mannerisms and noticeable intelligence of students from Arizona State versus Harvard, but he loses any sense of critical analysis when he notes that “employers aren’t looking for genius as much as energy and clubbability” without a hint of irony. Certainly, the club that Harvard students are game to join is that which “attribute(s) superior intellectual, moral and cultural qualities to people who can get into those places.”


Brooks goes on to observe that “The message, which one does detect on elite campuses, is that the actual academic content to be found in these places is secondary.” I looked around, but can’t find any numbers indicating how many freshmen admitted to Harvard went to test-drilling charter schools or failing schools where all arts, music, and extra curricular activities have been restricted or cut completely, but I bet 100% of those students haven’t spent much time on their sculling stroke. The message is academics first! and they don’t even cover academics. They cover testing, because if they don’t, teachers get fired. The problem, however, goes beyond vilified teachers and students who may not fit in easily to Harvard’s secret clubs.

This argument by Brooks is exactly why money has to be invested in all public schools, and why non “core” classes must be restored with vigor and respect: the culture that these kids lose when they spend all day on math multiple choice strategies goes beyond the critical thinking, beyond even the culture of not hating boring, awful school lessons, and right to class culture. Elites value those who know how to learn and how to live. Those who know pay attention to life beyond the walls of the school, and for the most vulnerable students, that world must be brought into the schools or they’ll miss it. Underpinning Brooks’s argument is a sad reality: modern status is the status quo, reinforced, and girded by taxpayer dollars flowing into banks and out of schools.