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What Could (Not Should) This Masters Mean To Me?

What Could (Not Should) This Masters Mean To Me?

I have stopped trying to separate the learning from EDCI 515 and EDCI 568. The learning is so deep and the conversations with guests,  colleagues and new friends so engaging that my own cognitive load is overwhelmed by trying to keep it all separated.  So from now on I will share my thoughts and hope that I can keep the thread between the two spaces together.

I was impacted most by five ideas people shared this week. Those ideas were the discussion of the use of the word should in our blogs, Dr. Pete describing the change she has seen over 40 years, what the character Malmberg from the film Kitchen Stories represents for me, our conversation with Trevor MacKenzie, and our discussion with Jeff Hopkins from PSII. These five ideas have brought what I want my Masters to be about into even more stark relief.

 

Learning is About Personal Growth

When thinking about writing and blogs, I was reminded that:

  1. Writing is a craft.
  2. I am still learning this craft.
  3. Apparently, I will not ever stop learning this craft.
  4. I, as an educator, really struggle with the idea that I’m still learning to write.
  5. Thank goodness for the rich conversations in our class, which in two short weeks have built a supportive learning community that helps each other. 

Of the many ways we discussed to improve our blog posts, three resonated with me the most. The advice to move from the passive tense to the active tense in my writing is something I have heard before. Wait! That would sound better as: I could move to the active tense when writing. Which brings me to the second piece of advice, to keep to the word limit. When I started as an undergrad way back when, I actually thought that the feedback  “Too Narrative!” on my essays was a complement. Since then, I have tried to get to the point, Interestingly, active tense helps with this too. 

The most important reminder for me is to replace should with could. I was fortunate to be introduced to the fantastic and hilarious Shelly Moore during the last school year. The phrase, “Don’t should on me!”, came from one of her conversations with staff. It started to become part of the vernacular with a few people who had attended the session, and for me, a moment of pause whenever I hear myself say the word. In fairness to the word should, there are uses that are more benign than the obligatory, corrective or critical ways it can be used in conversation. Example could include the helpful “You should avoid stepping on that banana peel.” or the somewhat affected “Should you see them, please say hello!” However, should is usually reserved for corrective language, which is needed in certain situations but can be overused. Shelly Moore can speak eloquently to the reasons why we need to reserve the word should for situations when it is truly necessary in speaking to children. As a writer, colleague and human being, substituting the word could for should offers a little hope and encouragement for a better, brighter future. 

 

How Could We Make Lasting Change Together?

Of all of the important wisdom Dr. Pete shared when speaking about de-colonizing methodologies, one idea resonated most with my own experience. Dr. Pete said that BC has had inclusion of indigenous content for 40 years with little change over that time. I was reminded of a conversation I shared with an indigenous educator who had been working with students for about the same 40 years. He told me a story about an elder who was working with the school district trying to collaborate to achieve better outcomes for indigenous students, and who had told him 30 years ago that outcomes would be improved for indigenous learners in 15 years. As we stood there speaking 15 years after that, some things have improved, but much has not. Dr. Pete challenged us see how it was going to take settlers to engage in understanding as an act of reciprocity. I have been fortunate to have shared many experiences of indigenous groups taking the first steps towards reciprocity and reconciliation, extending a hand in friendship and courageously offering to build a new future together. I am committed to being part of that change.

 

Malmberg, TIEGrad and the Four R’s

Oddly, I am most impacted by what the Malmberg character from the film Kitchen Stories represents. One reason it feels odd is because, were not for the character Grant and his behaviour, Malmberg would be the least likeable character in the film. Swedish scientists run a study on Norwegian men in an effort to first understand their patterns of behaviour in the kitchen in the hope of eventually making them more logically oriented, efficient and effective in their own homes. This research is supposedly preceded by work done to bring the same patronizing benefits to the Swedish housewives. 

For me, Malmberg is the most pivotal character because he represents the system, which is any bureaucracy that on paper looks and acts one way and functions in a completely different way. He is the antagonist who always shows up at the worst possible time to insert the should perspective. The research should be done the way I designed it. The researcher (Folke) should behave appropriately and distance himself from the researched (Isak) who should go on about their business. And I should be the one who gives the findings to the reader (Dr. Ljungberg) wants and will give it to them. The ironic twist at the end is that the actual data that had the greatest impact from the study was what actually happened and not from the results that Malmberg tried to should into reality. 

This made me wonder how these characters might contribute to our class if they joined our discussions using the lens of the 4 R’s of research. 

The Research: I think Malmberg would struggle with a more modern perspective. He best represents why we needed to move away from strictly data and numerically driven research to a more contextualized form of research. The scenes of Swedish scientists trying to force the somewhat random kitchen behaviours of scientific housewives to create the more logical data driven kitchen is one of the most subtly humorous moments of the film. The real focus of the research for Malmberg has little to do with discovery. Early in the film, he makes a point of saying that he has not yet received his PhD. From his perspective successful research meant that the project proceed as planned and without compromising the quantitative results for what actually might be novel research. If Malmberg joined us in class, I feel like his perspective might seem dated among our conversations about the methods and benefits of qualitative research.

The Researcher: If Folke joined us in class, I’m sure he would have connected with our conversation with Trevor Mackenzie supporting inquiry and social media. The arc of Folke’s growth as a character in the film represents the struggle of trying to make a past practice fit a modern context. As Folke tries to start his work, he is confronted by the difficulty of the task. The structured hierarchy that his research method and methodology represent is similar to the industrial model of education. The elevated chair in the kitchen and the lectern on a stage at the front of the class both have a strangely isolating quality and make a clear statement about the hierarchy of knowledge. Folke is like many teachers, who want to come down from the chair and change the dynamic and engage in the learning with their students. Mackenzie’s vision of a challenging, more student directed, teacher engaged classroom would have appealed to Folke.  

The Researched: If Isak joined our class, I think he would have really enjoyed meeting with Jeff Hopkins from PSII. His character represents many of the students who would benefit from the conditions for learning that exist at PSII. Like many students who appear withdrawn, Isak lives in an isolated world among others, with a hidden trauma and hidden talents. His true character and intelligence is only revealed as his curiosity is channeled into a research project about research. Hopkin’s enthusiasm for his students, and his unrelenting commitment to ensure that the environment at PSII brings out the best in his students, motivates students  like Isak in their passion for learning.

The Reader: Me. I am in class and I now see everything through the prism that all of these guests, experiences and new friendships have provided.  What I have learned about my masters is that in some way I want to tie together assessment that looks like what Shelley Moore describes, work that respectfully incorporates indigenous ways on knowing, and a topic that represents a modern view of scholarship and that incorporates the exciting vision of  inquiry based learning.

 

Possible PD about PLN with my PLC on an upcoming PD Day. Perfect!

I enjoyed meeting all of our guests this week and appreciated the perspectives that they brought to our class. First, we met Dr. Alec Couros who started us off with an interesting discussion of engaging in social spaces online. I enjoyed hearing his perspective on a social media landscape that is engaging learners in the 21st Century. He described the influence social learning is having on children as early as 8 years old, some with minimal parental oversight, all the way to students requiring Wolfram Alpha to explore university level concepts from anywhere. My closest connection with his discussion was regarding the pedagogies of isolation. I agree with his characterization of our past and present practice of assessment as little more than an attempt to rank and sort people. He did leave me feeling at least optimistic for a less isolating future of recognizing the best in all learners.

Next we met Jesse Miller, who added to the previous days discussions with a conversation about Safety, Privacy and Professionalism. His caution that once you put something on the Internet, in whatever format, it is there to stay and builds upon your digital identity. I feel like everyone should know this, but that may be because I have spent so much time working with students to help them understand the need for caution online. It was hopeful to hear that younger students are starting to act in a way that demonstrates their understanding of the dangers that the internet can pose while still being able to benefit from all the positives it offers. It is not surprising that it is adults who frequently make poor choices online that underscore how important it is to discuss digital identity. After conversations like this I find it reassuring to think about the many benefits that the connected society has provided, such as our ability to make positive changes for people and our environment, which I believe far outnumber the negatives.

Finally, we met Christine Young Husband, a professor at UNBC and Ian Landy, a principal from Powell River. They discussed the development of a Professional Learning Network (PLN). I did learn a lot about the how and why of developing a PLN, however their greatest impact on me was their collective positivity and enthusiasm for building and learning from a PLN.  Now I really want to start to build a PLN! 

I learned something from all of our presenters and also learned the impact that bringing someone in digitally, who otherwise might not have shared in our learning, can have.

Beginning at the End

Twitter Use and its Effects on Student Perception of Instructor Credibility, Jocelyn M. DeGroot , Valerie J. Young & Sarah H. VanSlette (2015).

The Effect of Twitter Posts on Students’ Perceptions of Instructor Credibility, Kirsten A. Johnson (2010).

 

I now understand why Jennifer suggested that reading articles in reverse (not actually reading the words backwards but from conclusion to abstract) can be a great strategy for assessing papers. However, if I had employed this strategy while reading the DeGroot paper I might have not read it and missed some interesting arguments because of style and structure. Overall, I found the paper interesting and appreciated the discussion about student preference for progressive teaching styles over transmissive teaching styles (lecture and exam focused) and the possible connection of that preference with Twitter use by instructors. However, beginning with the ending would have led me to question what this paper had to add. The final sentence of the paper was the most inconclusive conclusion of any paper so far. It reads:

Overall, our findings can be summarized by one student’s response: “It breaks barriers between students and professors, and that can be a good thing or a bad thing.” (DeGroot et al, 2015).

I am always willing to listen to what a person is trying to say regardless of form and style, however this concluding sentence and the preceding discussion and results sections do not do justice to an otherwise informative and practically focused article. By comparison, the paper by Johnson, which preceded this article by 5 years, states its findings clearly and definitively. It reads:

In conclusion, the results of this study confirm findings in previous studies that show sharing personal information with students can increase the perceived credibility of the instructor. This study has extended those findings to personal updates on the social networking site Twitter. This is a ripe area for further research as greater numbers of instructors choose to communicate with students outside of the classroom using social networking sites (Johnson 2010).

The preceding sections of the article, from the abstract through the tables used to highlight the statistics and right up to the conclusion, led me as the reader through the research in a more impactful way. Both articles were informative and shared a similar conclusion but the style of writing, organizational structure gave the Johnson article a stronger voice.

Educational Literature Reviews: A New Paradigm

Scholars before Researchers: On the Centrality of the Dissertation Literature Review in Research Preparation, David N. Boote and Penny Beile (2005).

“Few of us work within a subfield of education research that approaches “normal science” (T. S. Kuhn, 1970).” 

This quote used in setting the thesis of this paper resonated with me for a few reasons. I read Kuhn in university many years ago and actually remember this quote. I was not expecting it in a paper about education, but at this point in the paper the quote is well placed. For Kuhn normal science represents a shared research consensus or paradigm, based on which future research can be conducted. For Boote and Beile, the “messy, complicated nature of problems in education makes generativity in education research more difficult than other disciplines (Berliner, 2002) and demands that we develop more sophisticated literature reviews.” 

The paper argues that generations of academic research in education has failed to achieve the standard of scholarship due to a systemic lethargy regarding the quality of educational literature reviews in doctoral work. This has caused the discipline to suffer because as Boote and Beile suggest, “Researchers cannot appropriate sophisticated research methods if their understanding of the phenomena they are investigating is rudimentary and unsystematic.” As a result, educational research appears insubstantial and disconnected, offering few usable explanations and strategies in the face of a highly complex environment. 

Education is more a social science and an art than it is “normal science.” Based on a body of empirical research, scientists can debate whether or not Pluto is a planet. Boote and Beile argue that researchers in education need to begin to develop as equivalent as possible body of knowledge, and the way to begin that process is to improve how the discipline undertakes and assesses literature reviews in research.

Researching the Researcher

Women Scholars’ Experiences with Online Harassment and Abuse: Self-Protection, Resistance, Acceptance, and Self-Blame, G. Veletsianos, S. Houlden, J. Hodson, & C. Gosse (2018).

To truly measure the value and validity of research it is necessary to understand the person, or people, behind the research and the context within which that research was developed and conducted. Having had the good fortune to actually meet the lead-author of a paper and have him explain his motivation, describe his process and share the credit for the work so genuinely was both fantastic and highly illuminating. 

After simply reading the paper, with limited knowledge of Veletsianos, his previous work leading up to this paper or the context in which this research was conducted, I had some preconceptions that did not allow me to fully engage in the work. 

My first impression of the paper was that it focused on the disappointing state of modern dialog, digital or otherwise, for everyone but particularly for women scholars. After hearing Veletsianos describe his interactions with the participants, I came away feeling hopeful about the future and reassured by the power the academics in the study were able to demonstrate in the face anonymous, highly negative correspondents. 

The research question used in the paper was amazingly concise and something I would aspire to in my own work. However, it was not clear to me how the main focus of the research question (i.e. the word “cope”) also came out while the researchers were coding the data. The process of coding data involves searching through the participants responses and identifying themes and pattern upon which to base results and potentially make claims. A criticism of this process is the potential for interpreting data in a manner that suits the intended results rather than what was actually intended. The process of coding the data came back with “ways of coping” as a category which mirrored the language of the question. During his description of his process of data gathering and coding, Veletsianos described how his team reviewed the responses after coding to ensure that it was interpreted correctly and represented the respondents thoughts. His response demonstrated that this result had little to do with leading questions or misinterpreting data and was a result of well planned and implemented research based on detailed scholarship and thorough understanding of the subject.

Learning Something New, Again!

Understanding and Describing Quantitative Data (Chapter 25), C. Lewin (2011). 

Apparently I cannot relearn the essentials of statistics and analysis often enough. Every time I reflect on the connection between reliability and validity or the difference between causality and correlation, I learn something new or at the very least remember something I had learned and not considered in a while. Today I am reminded that these fundamental concepts of statistics are generalizable to the mindset of a reflective practitioner in education. 

Take the connection between reliability and validity. Validity is dependent on reliability, however the reverse is not true. A result can be reliably reproduced and yet not be valid because the work does not ask the right question or achieve the intended objective. Standardized tests and textbooks are reliable and deliver reproducible results, which often satisfies the need to make things more measurable and knowable, however as educators we need to ask ourselves if these resources are valid in a modern educational context. Static, standard and monolithic measures and resources no longer address the needs of a dynamic and vibrant world.

Causality is when one event causes another to occur, whereas correlation measures the frequency that events do or do not occur together. Many times in my career I have had to remind myself to dig deeper and find the causal link between an event and a student or with a colleague. That extra effort often helps avoid being rushing to quick judgements and imagining correlative, plausible, simplistic but likely invalid answers to complex questions.

For me, these types of statistical relationships and ideas, although not strictly scientific, have helped me in a practical way to be a better practitioner.

A Rising Tide In the Garden

Day One

There is always a part of me that needs to pause and process (like an old Windows computer on dial-up) when I take on a new learning challenge and the flood of new learning that goes with the experience. Day One of being in a new context – in a Master’s program, back on a university campus, working in a new setting (one that’s expanded beyond the walls of the room) and with new colleagues – was very exciting. At some point this will all likely become as familiar as it appeared it was for the previous TIE Grad cohort that shared their wisdom, but it is fun to enjoy the chaos and discovery of the early days. I’m sure we’ll laugh about it at graduation. Having said that, it always amazes me how cool it is to work with others in the education community and how quickly we can have highly engaging and challenging discussions about learning. This will be an awesome two years.

 

Day Two: Most Likely to Succeed : Preparing Our Kids for the Innovation Era by Tony Wagner and Ted Dintersmith

I had heard so much about this film that I thought I knew what it was about without having seen it. Many of those who described it told me about the impact that it had on them and it was fairly evident that it did based on the transformative excitement with which they shared their retelling of the story. I am glad I finally had the chance to watch the film, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. 

Viewing the film as a parent and administrator, I appreciated how its focus could help advance the conversation about a more progressive form of learning and could act as a reference to support an ongoing dialogue. It was a feel good story with a happy ending. I could see how a concerned parent would be more accepting of this new type of teaching (PBL, Inquiry, Play Based) after watching the film. 

As an educator, I appreciated that the film showed the arc of working through something as transformative as this style of teaching. Kindergarten, Grade 9, First Year university (and the first week of starting a Masters apparently) are transitional times where learning has to wait for the more mundane skills of internalizing a new process, being in a new space, collaborating with new people, as well as avoiding new ways to get distracted (that might just be me). These transition times are often challenging and I thought the film showed how committing to and persisting a new program has a long term reward for all involved.

My two main criticisms of the film are its confusing choice of antagonist, and how the film plays on the fears of the parents. IBM’s Watson is cast as the antagonist that represents how technology has forever threatened the old route to “middle class“ success. However, Google and Kahn Academy are chosen represent the new road to happiness and career success. The film’s choice of antagonist is confusing because, on the one hand, the film seems to say that technology is bad, but on the other hand it is saying that technology is good. The film is also not clear whether there is any point in trying to work for Google or Kahn Academy if soon a newer and better Watson will take your job. This plays on the existing fears of parents regarding future career opportunities for their children. 

Watson beat Kasparov at chess in 1997, and it beat Ken Jennings at Jeopardy in 2011. In those intervening 14 years, there has been a change in how people work and in living standards, however there are changes that have likely had an even greater impact. The main one is NAFTA which was introduced in 1994 and definitely improved the wealth of some while forever impacting many others whose jobs moved away. One reason this disparity happened was because promises made at the time to share the wealth of free trade and retrain and educate those who were impacted the most were not kept. I know this is an American film, but our government made similar promises. It has taken this long, and a few intervening generations for us to begin to start to keep the promise of preparing learners for a new world of work. 

Overall, I enjoyed the film but the moment I will remember most was the metaphor that Sir Ken Robinson used near the end to describe education. As I go on to my new role where we will learn together outside, I will hold on to the idea of transferring knowledge as gardening. In the garden, we are there to help all of the plants grow.

 

Day Two and Three: EDCI 515

Why Minimal Guidance During Instruction Does Not Work: An Analysis of the Failure of Constructivist, Discovery, Problem-Based, Experiential, and Inquiry-Based Teaching by Paul A. Kirschner, John Sweller and Richard E. Clark (2010)

As I was leaving class on Day Two, I saw a sign that said that UVic was established in 1963. My first thought was “thank goodness it is older than me”, and this is true but not by much. My second thought was that many of the elementary schools in BC, including the ones I am moving to and from were built in the early 1950’s. Putting those two facts on a mental timeline led me to my third thought which was why I responded the way I did to the paper by Kirschner, Sweller and Clark. The paper represents a time and a way of thinking about education that I lived through. More importantly, for me and for this course, it reminded me of why it is important to consider the 4 R’s before accepting something that someone has written, even academic papers.

I did a little research of my own and here’s what I found. 

  • Research: The content of the paper caused a strong response when it was published. It was used to support the argument for direct teaching and is cited by many other papers. However, the work of Kirschner, John Sweller and Richard E. Clark has been critiqued by other researchers, and the approach has not been universally accepted. 
  • Researcher: One major criticism of the paper is the Cognitive Load Theory, which was developed by Sweller, one of the authors. Sweller argues that noise and distractions interfere with learning by overwhelming the memory processes. In short, learning needs to happen through direct instruction in quiet, controlled environments. This is an increasingly difficult position to hold as illustrated by more recent interpretations of similar data and a more modern understanding of the role of memory and learning. 
  • Researched: Those who criticized the paper did not focus on the accuracy of the data gathered or used but suggested that the interpretation of the data is a weakness.
  • Reader: The number of citations this paper received suggests that there is support for the theory and the overall thesis.

Reading this paper had a big impact on me in that it made me reflect on the need to critically review, assess and come to your own conclusions about all papers, even peer-reviewed, academic papers. I don’t agree with the argument that the authors of this paper are trying to make, but I think it represents something more than just it’s contents for the purposes of this course. It is critical to do your own research, even with peer reviewed academic papers. Sometimes authors, and particularly Sweller, have reputations and theories to defend and an audience that wants to support their work. Reviewing the references that the paper is based upon is important too. Some of the papers cited by the authors are older than UVic. After applying the 4 R’s I finally figured out why this article impacted me in the way it did. 

I was taught in the way represented in this paper and it did work at the time. The 1950’s were a time of huge postwar growth in population and consequently educational infrastructure. By the 1960’s, more universities and colleges needed to be built to train a workforce for the plentiful jobs available at the time. As represented in Most Likely to Succeed, that style of teaching worked then. It seems old-fashioned now. It represents a time when those who were successful at learning this way were rewarded over those who could not. More modern styles of teaching offer greater equity. They represent an opportunity for more learners to achieve their goals. To modify a metaphor, a rising tide should lift all boats so that all the plants in the garden will grow.

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