Week 3 – Assignment

Dan Sawada

Q1 – How sill learning change in an age when we are always connected?

In my opinion, I think that the learning experience would evolve into a form where we would have to figure out “where and how to find the best solution to problems”, rather than figuring out “how to solve the problem itself”.

Before the era of the Internet, the learning experience was more dedicated toward acquiring the skills to solve real-world problems. However, the Internet has truly brought the grand knowledge base, which contains the solution to most of the problems, within the reach of our hands. Using our smart devices, they are easy to access than ever before regardless of time or place. Even though the Internet is overwhelmed with information, Google and other tools of its kind provide us the compass to navigate ourselves in to the great sea of information to reach the destination (or solution).

However, despite the fact that the Internet can provide us with suitable solutions (occasionally from experts), the dependent on the user themselves if they can search for, select and take in account the best possible entries. I personally feel that Google and its kind is still just a map, rather than autonomous vehicle in that sense. Therefore, I think people will still need to learn how to “look for and approach high-quality solutions” in the most efficient way. No matter how sophisticated the Internet and our devices become, users would never be able to make the best out of it without this special skill.

Week 3 homework

Q3- What does an ideal teacher do? How could just-in-time technology be used to do some of the same? How can we motivate more people to act as teachers for each other? 

Hmmm..well it’s hard to say what an ideal teacher should do because teaching and learning are so intertwined.  Also, as each learner is different with different needs, it’s hard to come up with generalized characteristics for what is a very personal experience and process for everyone. I guess based on my experiences, the characteristics of my best teachers have been those who have allowed me to develop personal relationships with them in some way. They had always made me feel that they had a vested interest in me and that they actually, truly cared about my successes, or failures.  They provided encouragement, and guidance, but were also honest.  Another characteristic was that they didn’t give me the answer, but they guided me appropriately by asking questions, listening, and generally creating an environment where I felt comfortable enough to express my doubts, concerns, and confusion without making me feel inferior.

So, I guess I would have to say that the ideal teacher would focus first on the relationship with the individual and then guide the learner through the learning process.  Obviously, people can still learn regardless of these qualities, but I feel that these qualities instill in the learner something deeper than knowledge acquisition, which allows them to then move forward more independently and with less guidance.  It also fuels those intangible qualities such as motivation and passion for something that many teachers wrestle with in their day to day interactions with students.

Because of the highly personal nature of this interaction, I’m fascinated by what form this could take in an online community and as the question above refers to, how it could be recreated in some form with just-in-time learning.  Perhaps that could in the form of the interface itself which, in its visual design, could create that environment of comfort and ease that might not be there necessarily in the physical presence of a person. It could also come in the language expressed on the site itself.  Language could be used that invite others to share, and the site or community gives feedback that leaves room for conversation and discussion rather than shutting it down. For example, I noticed that when a Scratch programmer shares something on the community, other users can show they like the creation by clicking on a heart.  The symbolic gesture of the heart, instead of thumbs up already takes on a different form in a user’s mind.  The relevance of this really hit home, when during a live feedback session with other students in my class, one of the students who really enjoyed my creation said, “Cool, I’m going to ‘love’ your program then” and proceeded to click on the heart. Just the word “love” versus “like” took on a completely different meaning, particularly when it was about something that I had just spent hours creating.

Finally, I think more people can be motivated to mentor by first setting up a solid foundation with a community-focused feel.  Again, I think the Scratch community does an excellent job of this by providing many options for people to communicate, connect, and learn whether they be external (such as discussion forums and Scratch cards) or even through the medium itself (where students are programming tutorials for other students using Scratch). Once that foundation is set, early adopters and those who have already shown an inclination to help others could be recognized and given opportunities to do more of that.  I also feel that the learning process would be deepened if these early adopters worked with those who had an actual need, so information learned would be remembered more readily, and thus could be later shared with others.

 

Week 3 – Ideal Teacher

Q3- What does an ideal teacher do? How could just-in-time technology be used to do some of the same? How can we motivate more people to act as teachers for each other? 

How did people learn before there were schools and teachers, before there were books, or even before there was writing itself?  People learned and made sense of their world through stories, songs and dance.  After all, who doesn’t like a good story! For students, a compelling story can teach them concepts, or even skills with the added advantage of holding their undivided attention. So an ideal teacher, while she/he may not necessarily need to sing and dance, should be able to tell good stories that engages students and helps them learn.

An ideal teacher also teaches by letting the students learn by doing rather than telling them.  When students ‘do’ they learn to apply their knowledge to a real world situation.  We all know that it does not make sense to learn driving by just reading books and watching videos, you actually do need to physically drive a car!

There are many other things a teacher can do for a great learning experience but the most important thing that a teacher can do is help students ask the right questions. By fostering a culture of questioning a teacher can help the student make connections across subjects and disciplines that can help them solve real problems.

Just in time technology can provide a richer and more meaningful learning experience because it allows students or learners to take ownership of their learning and become active learners. It can help them learn what they want to learn, where they want to learn it, and how they want to learn.  There is opportunity to learn from experts in the field as well as from peers and also the opportunity to teach others.   However, a learner can get overwhelmed from the plethora of information/knowledge that is available so the ability to make connections and ask the right questions will determine how much is actually learned.

 

Teaching as Helping to Learn

What does an ideal teacher do? How could just-in-time technology be used to do some of the same? How can we motivate more people to act as teachers for each other?

Eleanor Duckworth defines teaching as “helping people learn.” For that, the ideal role of a teacher can mostly be defined by recognizing the attributes of an ideal learning experience, of which I’ll mention a few.

According to the Piagetian tradition, knowledge, understanding and meaning are actively constructed in the learner’s mind: the learner make the meaning and the connections for herself. She doesn’t simply accumulate what’s provided to her as it is. Telling and explaining play a very small part in helping people learn. The teacher shouldn’t be an authoritarian source of knowledge that determines what’s right or wrong, but rather a facilitator that supports raising questions and pursuing them.

That’s why Lisa Schneier, a student of Duckworth (and one of my teachers) says the role of the teacher has to do with the “trustworthiness of the students’ minds”, which means believing that students can approach a knowledge field building on the their own experiences and ideas.

A teacher shouldn’t be telling the learners when to stop their explorations because they had enough learning, but provide them with various possible connections that allow them to expand their explorations beyond their initial intents and feed their curiosity and motivation. I usually refer to that by saying the missing role of the teacher would be making “commas” instead of “periods”. Rather than cutting the exploration of one topic to move to another, a teacher should work on making smooth transitions between fields of knowledge and keeping the exploration process continued.

Helping the learner in making connections to facilitate her experience or expand her explorations requires knowing the learner herself and her previous experiences. I needed that only a few hours ago! I had one of these crazy moments when one suddenly decides to start learning a new thing. I wanted to learn Hebrew and started with the alphabet so I could read. I started losing my motivation in less than an hour: my native language is Arabic which have a few letters whose names are similar to Hebrew (both are Semitic languages), but the order of the letters and the script were totally new to me. It felt like going back to the 1st grade. I was looking at English resources for teaching the language, but accidentally found an Arabic book which mentioned that the order of the letters in Hebrew alphabet is the same as the letters (or actually sounds) of an Arabic phrase that had all the Arabic letter in an ancient order (which many Arab kids learn by practice). I already knew that phrase, and could in 5 minutes learn the Hebrew alphabet by heart.

I’m afraid that many of the current just-in-time technologies are about informing us but not learning. Learning is a process (or a journey if you like), not a destination. When some expert is telling you how to fix your dishwasher you’re not necessarily learning how to fix dishwashers; you’re following instructions, which’s different from learning. Learning includes taking risks and receiving feedback afterwards (from a teacher, a peer, or the environment in general). To refer to some of the characteristics of an ideal teacher mentioned above, a good technology would encourage making further explorations by referring to similar learning experiences or topics that are pursued by fellow learners, i.e. in a way similar to the way Wikipedia links to related articles. Also, one’s learning process can be teaching for others. Providing learners with the tools to document and reflect in-time helps them in being more conscious of their learning experiences, and provide other learners with a valuable resource to support theirs (an example that’s still work-in-progress is Build-in-Progress).

 

Simply learning

Q: How can we inspire curiosity and passion for learning in more people, and help learners make progress towards their personal goals?  How might we use the web (or other tools) to do this? Start by asking yourself, how you developed the passion for the things you are interested in today (what are they?) and then generalize from there.

I’d like to start with Clive Thompson ‘s comment that seems rather apt here: “Now if a student is interested in basketball the teacher can let him learn and explore that deeply – the psychology of it, the economics of it, the politics of it, the statistics of it. Technology has opened up the world to a small school with limited resources.”
 
Non-linear curiosity has worked for me over the years in developing passions, interests and opportunities that I would have otherwise missed. I think curiosity by definition is non-linear, yet so often it is stifled in a formal education environment that insists on a prescribed curriculum and structure.
 
Graduate school has been an eye-opening experience for me in more ways than one. There seems to be less emphasis on structure and a more open exploration of ideas and avenues. Now, the caveat is that I completed high school and some college work in India, went to Cal State for undergrad and am now at Harvard for grad school. It could certainly be the cultural differences between each institution that guide my judgement. I have had excellent teachers and opportunities in each of those. But now I am finally deemed old and able enough to chart my own course of learning. My performance is not measured in respect to everyone else’s. My thinking does not have to be toned up or down to suit the class average. My habit of jumping between topics, trying to connect the dots, going off on tangents is not shrugged off as ADD. In those blissful moments of solitude (I’m not a social networker 🙁 ) my laptop is my best friend and never lets me down with whatever information I might need…just in time. Wikipedia is my new bible. I’m happy to let Amazon have all my business, I love a good deal!  When I moved to Boston I found a temporary crash-pad on Airbnb. I found out online about open classes at Harvard: Ruby on Rails, GIS, foreign languages, entrepreneurship. Technology has increased my access to opportunities and made the information I digest relevant for my life choices and aspirations. It has made all of my life experiences that much richer and more productive.
 
I believe one way to inspire curiosity and passion amongst learners is by emphasizing interdisciplinary learning. Maybe we underestimate young students and hold back opportunities from independent learners? Maybe we subconsciously discourage students from being mature enough to pursue their own learning interests? With devices and the internet propagating just in time learning a student can revisit missed information at any point in his/her life. But it seems so important to give students the freedom to see where their interests take them, while that unfiltered curiosity still comes naturally to them. I was sharing similar thoughts with a peer who simply defined it as making a time machine available: any time, anywhere, any subject learning, about any era. It’s incredible how so few students think about the world beyond earth, how there are so few astronomy fanatics. It’s a fact staring them in the face every time they look out the window. Yet the first reaction is to ask them to concentrate on the task at hand and “refocus”. On 14th century history ?

Tweet: “How might we propagate interdisciplinary education and information sharing?”

A Passion for Learning

Q2- How can we inspire curiosity and passion for learning in more people, and help learners make progress towards their personal goals?  How might we use the web (or other tools) to do this? Start by asking yourself, how you developed the passion for the things you are interested in today (what are they?) and then generalize from there.

I find the framework of self-determination theory to be pretty compelling. The theory holds that Autonomy, Mastery, and Relatedness are the keys to human happiness. In turn, this can allow people to feel relaxed and curious and free to pursue their goals. A great deal of the variance in educational outcomes can be explained by socio-economic factors. Children who come to school hungry or have knowledge of a murder that has occurred nearby are likely to do poorly in school, no matter how good their teachers are. Should their home lives be fraught and unstable, things get even worse. These children have no sense of their own autonomy, and even if they have a sense that they are related to their local communities, they may not feel very connected to the society around them.

Once we have accounted for acceptable levels of the three poles, I think perspective and meta-cognition are key to helping people follow their passions. Very often, human beings are bad at context switching, and even though they may have had an extraordinary time participating in an activity or working on a project, they may lack the awareness to notice that joy or that curiosity, let alone to follow up on it. For goodness sake, there’s empirical evidence that just passing through a doorway can make us forget things. To combat this, and to feed our need for relatedness, I think learners must be socially ensconced. Friends and family are great resources for helping people think through their goals and desires. The more of those people that have a capacity to be active mentors and the more that the setting of goals is valued and discussed, the more successful everyone will be.

Finally, the world must continue to reveal wonders and mysteries. This doesn’t look to abate any time soon.

As for the web, it can obviously bring these mysteries and wonders into people’s homes and live much more quickly and greater volume than ever before. It can also bring people together who may never have met in another time. Less romantically though, the web may be used to steer resources to the people who need them most. There is a great deal of evidence that, left unchecked, technology will widen the gap between haves and have-nots, but there remains hope that this is an early problem, and not a permanent one.

Learning to Love Running

How can we inspire curiosity and passion for learning in more people, and help learners make progress towards their personal goals?  How might we use the web (or other tools) to do this? Start by asking yourself, how you developed the passion for the things you are interested in today (what are they?) and then generalize from there.

I love running, but I didn’t when I started three years ago. Learning to love it required specific conditions:

  • inspiration: I was grieving and needed a release. I wanted to start running but was a terrible runner.
  • equipment: To feel comfortable running, I had to buy running shoes, clothes, and a tiny ipod that fit in my pocket.
  • easy access to the right environment: I was living a block away from Central Park. It was fall – ideal running weather.
  • a concrete goal: I decided to train for a half marathon. I paid for the registration and plane ticket.
  • encouragement: A friend convinced me running a half marathon was actually possible and helped me through the training.
  • a schedule: I had a training plan that I felt obligated to stick to. At first it was aspirational (I figured I could abandon it anytime), but after a few weeks it started to seem feasible – and I started to enjoy it and look forward to the long runs.
  • a result: It felt great finishing the race.

I believe that curiosity and passion start with an inspiration or need. A user might come to a learning platform already inspired to learn something, but a platform could also generate the inspiration to learn. Think of a site like Pinterest or Kickstarter — users browse through content without a specific notion of what they’re looking for, seeking something that inspires them as a starting point for engagement. When learning a new skill, learners must have access to certain equipment and environments to get started. The platform could have these elements built in or provide a way to access them in the real world. We begin to really enjoy doing things after we’ve already developed a basic competency and are able to see our progress and begin to explore further on our own. Getting to this point requires encouragement from a mentor or peers. Goals and schedules can also help motivate us through the early, most challenging, stages of learning. Finally, getting to showcase the results of what we’ve accomplished serves as a reward that makes learning feel more concrete and worthwhile. A learning platform should ideally enable the formation of a community that would both motivate us through the learning process and serve as an audience for the results of our learning.

What does an ideal teacher do? How can we motivate more people to act as teachers for each other?

I am not sure if I can describe an ideal teacher but to get started I’ll try to at least point out some characteristics I believe great teachers should have.

For me, a good teacher is a great instructor and a great mentor. A great instructor is somebody who can communicate the material clearly, in a way that it makes sense. Furthermore, he or she also makes an effort to spike interest in learners by using various methods, for example, by demonstrating the relevance of the material in everyday life or posing perplexing questions. This aspect is particularly important for students who are starting out with learning something new. More specifically, at an early stage of the journey, one might not be aware of the relevance of the subject matter nor has he developed effective learning strategies that are suitable the subject. Thus, sufficient guidance is vital.

However, being a great instructor does not make one necessarily a great teachers; one also needs to serve as a great mentor. A great mentor approaches students individually and finds a way to challenge every student based on their capabilities and level of knowledge. In other words, a mentor gives a student time to construct his own knowledge and provides assistance and scaffolding only when it’s necessary.

However, a mentor and an instructor do not have to be the same person. For example, instructions can be delivered by the best experts in the field through video and audio channels, which is what online learning platforms are successfully doing already. However, personalized coaching and equipping a student with tasks that are challenging enough takes in-depth knowledge of the person and his capabilities. To what extent can this be achieved outside of classroom and without communicating with the student on a regular basis? One’s learning trajectory can be established by tracking learning activity online. That is a great starting point for a mentor. However, for a mentor to succeed, he needs to have the skills and motivation for that. We all have busy schedules and often times those who are best suited for mentoring cannot find time for that and those who aren’t can. Thus, an easy approach would be financial gain. For example, in additions to a cash payment, in the start-up world, mentors often get an equity stake in the company they are mentoring. Another option is to gamify the process by allowing mentors build their level of expertise every time they mentor people. This is something that companies could take into consideration while evaluating candidates for vacancies. Also, each mentoring session could take the mentor closer to some form of recognition (e.g. a teaching certificate). Furthermore, 2 people with complementing skills can mentor each other in their respective field of expertise. Additionally, mentor and mentee can form a project-based apprenticeship relationship where the mentor teacher the mentee something new while the mentee is helping the mentor out with something else that is in accordance of his skill level – it could be a TaskRabbit type of platform where the currency is mentoring not dollars.

Q2 Importance of Variety

I tend to compartmentalize my learning. There is one path  I pursue that focuses on my career and another that focuses on my hobbies. Both have gotten a boast from resources on the internet that weren’t available when I was growing up. I believe that the biggest factor that helps people identify and make progress towards their goals is having a great deal of variety. People need to know what’s out there so they can identify what makes the most sense to them.

Children growing up today have a clear advantage if they have access to the internet and I’m not assuming everyone does. There are MOOCs that are open to people of all ages in which they can learn about almost anything. I think this diversity of choices is a great way to engage people’s imagination. Another great way to inspire creativity is to find people with similar interests. This can be as simple as looking through Linkedin to find people with similar professional interests and career paths. You can learn through the decisions and mistakes of other people and that can ultimately shape your own profession.

I am also very passionate about pursuing my hobbies. About a year ago, I became interested in learning double dutch. My desire to learn was sparked by a music video that my friend sent me. I watched it over and over many times.

Here is the video

After watching this video and thinking about double dutch constantly I decided to take action. It’s a little strange trying to pursue a children’s hobby as an adult so I wasn’t sure I would find any support. However, a simple google search brought me to meetup.com and sure enough I found a group called “Double Dutch Lovers”. They met on Friday nights in Harlem and Saturdays in Prospect Park. Everyone was extremely nice and around my age, if not older. It was beyond awesome to find a community of people who shared my interests. I’m still not very good at double dutch, but I found people who helped me work towards my personal learning goals. Also, double dutch is a great activity because it requires at least 3 people and you can’t do it online.

Humans must be crazy

I’m glad to see this question posted here.  The debate over “what do we still need to learn” vs. “what can we delegate to the hive” is something I’ve been grappling with for a long time, but have never had an excuse to sit down and really work through.  Luckily for my colleagues in this class (…and the whole world, I suppose), I will have come up with ALL the answers by the time we reconvene tomorrow at 10am.

In all seriousness, the landscape of learning is shifting beneath our feet.  I am proud to be included (albeit on the tail end) in the generation of people who can proclaim they wrote research papers using volumes of leather-bound encyclopedias and manual typewriter. I will someday hold my grandbabies on my knee and recount stories of these “dark times” when we could only receive Wi-Fi through a designated “hot spot” and Harvard students had to travel in the flesh all the way over to Kendall Square to manually submit a cross-registrant form in order to enroll in an MIT class.  I enjoy that my view of the world spans the transition into this era of unprecedented connection through technology.  It allows me to communicate rather fluidly with both my BC (Before Computers) elders as well as the youths, and empathize with arguments made by both sides regarding the “who, what, where, when, why, and how” of education in the 21st century.

However, with this great privilege comes great responsibility.  It is increasing falling on the shoulders of my generation to decide how best to prepare the children of today to be productive citizens of tomorrow.  After weighing the abstract considerations and fighting my way out of the “we’re just going to die eventually, why bother?” trap, I always return the opening monologue from the 1980 film “The gods must be crazy,” in which the narrator satires the meaning of “civilized man” and its implications on human behavior:

Only 16 miles to the south [of the Kalahari desert, in Botswana], there’s a vast city. And here you find civilized man. Civilized man refused to adapt himself to his environment. Instead he adapted his environment to suit him.  So he built cities, roads, vehicles, and machinery. And he put up power lines to run his laborsaving devices. But he didn’t know when to stop. The more he improved his surroundings to make life easier the more complicated he made it. Now his children are sentenced to 10 to 15 years of school, to learn how to survive in this complex and hazardous habitat.

 And civilized man, who refused to adapt to his surroundings now finds he has to adapt and re-adapt every hour of the day to his self-created environment. For instance, if the day is called Monday and the number 730 comes up, you have to dis-adapt from your domestic surroundings and re-adapt yourself to an entirely different environment. 800 means everybody has to look busy. 1030 says you can stop looking busy for 15 minutes…and then, you have to look busy again. Your day is chopped into pieces, and in each segment of time you adapt to new circumstances. No wonder some people go off the rails a bit.”  (Watch the clip here…you’ll be glad you did)

I find the two sentences highlighted above particularly striking:

  • Now his children are sentenced to 10 to 15 years of school to learn how to survive in this complex and hazardous habitat. This  always reminds me that the concept of school was invented to ensure that children could navigate this crazy world we have constructed. School is NOT a law of nature or even part of natural order; mammals, reptiles, algae…other living beings do organize their offspring into “schools” – except, perhaps, fish… joe binden laughing shaking his head no gif Learning, on the other hand, is a fundamental part of the human process.  We learn what we need to survive and (ideally) to thrive.  Few lament that we’ve traded our hunting and gathering gear for supermarkets…why should we not trade the hours we spend memorizing Nevada’s state capitol* for a readily accessible anthology of all the world’s capitols?**
  • Your day is chopped into pieces, and in each segment of time you adapt to new circumstances. Over the years, the notion of “school” became dissociated with the notion of “home.” Eventually they were completely divided into two discrete entities. Children did not always remove themselves from the “real world” so as to be taught about the real world; they only began to do so over the last couple of centuries.  Finally recognizing this inadvertent divergence has helped me overcome some of the barriers to my own understanding of “learning” and also serves as a very productive framework for imagining how learning could/should/will/must look in the future (e.g. continuous, ongoing, limitless).

While my tendency to “chartmentalize” (yes, this is a made-up word and yes, I’ve already requested that Merriam Webster legitimize it with their equally made-up linguistic lordship) wants to see the world nicely dissected into categories enumerating the “should-learn’s” and “not-worth-it’s,” the world is not that simple and people are not that static.  I am of the camp that we need to gut and redesign today’s school curriculum (right down to the very subjects we teach). I whole-heartedly agree with Mitch in today’s reading when he said that “for today’s children, nothing is more important than learning to think creatively – learning to come up with innovative solutions to the unexpected situations that will continually arise in their lives.”  While the ultimate goal remains “teaching kids to fish,” today’s conditions necessitate that we prepare them with a more sophisticated toolset if we want them to eat for a lifetime.  And there is a lot to be done.

Final thought: I sometimes think of education as a telescope – in our case, an outdated telescope. Because of our obsession with fixing the telescope, we have forgotten that the reason we created the telescope in the first place was to look at the stars. And while we were arguing about how to fix said telescope, the night sky shifted (well, technically, the earth rotated, but you get my metaphor). Before we can work on the telescope, we must return our gaze to the night sky and how we plan to explore the mystery that is our universe.  I’d bet that many of the supposedly “primitive” Bushmen (with whom the “civilized man” is juxtapositioned in the film) have never stopped looking up.  I think the real challenge now is how to pause long enough to have that conversation.

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Notes:

*It’s Carson City, by the way. And it may be interesting to note that I actually knew that from memory. 

**Exception: master trivia players