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24
Jan

Deep Learning: Philosophically Speaking ;-)

I don’t often cross-post from other sources—but, I really think this is an interesting perspective on much that we are attempting to re-invent given our focus on critical thinking, inquiry, creativity, visible thinking, even thinking all by itself (once again!).  Perhaps we need to revisit what philosophy can offer for helping our students in these areas.


 

What philosophy can tell Davos about educating for a better future

Angela Hobbs, University of Sheffield

How do you create a generation that can think its way out of problems and face the challenges of a rapidly changing world? The Davos meeting this year is all about how we can cope with the immense challenges posed by the so-called “Fourth Industrial Revolution” – an era of rapid and complex technological change, where our role in the world is resting on shifting sands.

The next generation of workers will have to be properly equipped to meet these enormous challenges. I believe that, if well-taught and using high-quality materials, philosophy classes can grant children, in Britain and across the world, extraordinary benefits as that era unfolds.

I will be taking part in several panel discussions at the World Economic Forum 2016 at Davos and as part of this, I will be trying to convince the policy makers and power brokers at the Swiss ski resort that we must insert practical philosophy into the heart of schooling.

Through my roles in the British Philosophical Association and the Philosophy in Education project (PEP), I support the continuation of a philosophy A Level and the introduction of a philosophy GCSE. I would also like to see the introduction of at least a year – ideally many more – of non-examined philosophy classes for all children aged between seven and 14.

The range of ideas and arguments on offer in philosophy classes can show children that there are different ways of thinking and living than those immediately on offer in their own postcode. Philosophy is one of the main subjects which extends a child’s imaginative range of possible lives, and this is true for children from all socio-economic backgrounds.

We are not just products of our genetic inheritance and environment; reason can provide at least a partial way out – but only if reason is properly trained. The challenge is then to avoid circularity: is such a training only possible if one is lucky enough to go to a good school (or, in other words, is the development of reason in fact wholly dependent on one’s immediate environment after all)?

Opening doors.
Klearchos Kapoutsis, CC BY-SA

This is true only up to a point. There are excellent materials widely available, including online. But children do at the very least need to be aware that such materials exist, that there are doors to open.

Questions of belief

Crucially, philosophy can provide children with a superb training in how to ask questions, analyse concepts, analyse and construct both inductive and deductive arguments and, in general, consider whether there are any good reasons to believe whatever it is they are being told. It helps them to develop good habits of reasoning and thinking for themselves.

This would suggest that philosophy might give children a better chance of resisting any attempts to brainwash them, whether from political or religious extremists, advertisers, or indeed teachers. It is difficult to find hard data on this as yet, but research from Britain’s Department for Education does speak of “reported impacts”.

This idea would seem to have informed a recent British Council paper on education and extremism. The education department’s own research in 2010 also suggested a link between philosophy teaching materials available from the group Philosophy for Children (P4C) and protection against indocrination. There is currently a working party exploring whether P4C is useful for the Prevent strategy, but I am not sure whether that specific question is necessarily the right one to be asking.

Teaching a way to leave the herd.
REUTERS/Michaela Rehle

Philosophy classes pitched at the right level have the merit of being inclusive, whereas some have criticised the Prevent programme for being divisive. My point is that it is healthy for children to be encouraged to question and think for themselves – and philosophy is one of the subjects that is particularly good at this, irrespective of any particular agenda.

Rigour and flair

Philosophy hones both speaking and listening skills – and it fosters the ability to engage in robust yet respectful dialogue. It allows children to understand that you can disagree with someone without coming to blows and it encourages them to separate intellectual criticisms from personal attacks. It may therefore have a role to play in encouraging resilience and strength of character.

Both the clear, rigorous thinking and suppleness and flexibility of mind that philosophy requires and fosters will be key skills in a 21st-century workplace defined by constant innovation.

But, important though this is, philosophy does much more than train pupils for work. I believe that the activity of philosophy can in itself form one of the components of a flourishing life for children, both individually and collectively. This flourishing is not just a goal for their future adult selves, but also something that is important for them throughout their education.

Making happy grown-ups.
Henrik Sandklef, CC BY-SA

As schoolchildren mature, philosophy can help them reflect on such issues as flourishing, happiness and pleasure and how they may (or may not) interrelate. Philosophy can thus help children work out their own life goals.

Encouraging doubt

Those at Davos who are concerned about how the future of education should look in this age of uncertainty can find solace in philosophy. It can help children understand that ethical decisions have always had to be made in conditions of uncertainty and that technological advances have not changed that (though they may have deceived us into thinking that life is more predictable than it is).

Philosophy can also help children develop conceptions of flourishing which can exist in uncertain times and it can help provide them with the mental agility and adaptability that uncertain times require. It is not excess of doubt that is currently causing so many problems around the world – quite the reverse.

The Conversation

Angela Hobbs, Professor of the Public Understanding of Philosophy, University of Sheffield

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

23
Jan

‘Dignity’ – A Difficult Concept Made Easy

Global Dignity Day: making ‘dignity’ understandable for students

One of our goals as educators is to nurture students into becoming decent human beings who will make the world a better place—for themselves and for others.

This is why many teachers are engaging in global projects that are authentic and, therefore, meaningful to young people.

The Global Dignity Day initiative achieves this and it allows people to get involved with as much effort as you wish. You can do a little—or you can do a lot. This makes it very accessible to all of us and still results in deep understanding of what dignity means to people across a wide range of our global experiences.

You can see lots more detail about Global Dignity Day at the main site or at your specific country site. Canadian educators, please check Global Dignity Day Canada. It has been my privilege to serve on this committee for the past several years along with some wonderful Canadians who care deeply about our young people.

For a quick visual overview, watch this amazing video from Global Dignity Day Canada 2015. If you wish to know more, or have any questions, please check the sites or simply ask me. I’ll do my best to point you in the right direction.

It would be wonderful to have you join us this year for Global Dignity Day 2016!

28
Sep

What Do We Mean By Learning Anyway?

A Connected Educator Month 2015 Event starting on October 1st!

Join Brenda Sherry and me in a collective, month long, discussion to:Cloud Computing Small text

  • extend and deepen our understanding of the term learning
  • participate in a knowledge building approach to collaboration
  • model deep practices for our professional learning environments (colleagues and/or classrooms)

Brief Description (see full site for details)

We will spend the month exploring, unpacking, and discussing what we mean by the term learning. This will include:

  • building background knowledge through sharing and reading resources related to the topic
  • introductory Twitter Chat
  • co-creation of a slidedeck of our ideas
  • reflective Twitter chat
  • contemplative rewriting of our slides
  • culminating creation of reflection statementsVector illustration of two communicating people

We will use a knowledge-building approach to this event.

“If Knowledge building had to be described in a single sentence, it would be: ‘giving students collective responsibility for idea improvement.  In Knowledge Building, students work together as a community to build and improve explanations of problems of understanding that arise from the group itself.” (We will be the students in this project!)


So please join us! Go to What Do We Mean By Learning Anyway? for all the details to get started!

Sincerely,

Peter Skillen & Brenda Sherry with the support of OSSEMOOC

16
Sep

Headline Madness: Myths & Misrepresentation!

Actual Headline:

New approach needed to deliver on technology’s potential in schools

versus

Sample News Headline:

Computers ‘do not improve’ pupil results


Yesterday, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) released a report entitled: “Students, Computers and Learning: Making The Connection

Are there computers in the classroom? Does it matter? Students, Computers and Learning: Making the Connection examines how students’ access to and use of information and communication technology (ICT) devices has evolved in recent years, and explores how education systems and schools are integrating ICT into students’ learning experiences. Based on results from PISA 2012, the report discusses differences in access to and use of ICT – what are collectively known as the “digital divide” – that are related to students’ socio-economic status, gender, geographic location, and the school a child attends. The report highlights the importance of bolstering students’ ability to navigate through digital texts. It also examines the relationship among computer access in schools, computer use in classrooms, and performance in the PISA assessment. As the report makes clear, all students first need to be equipped with basic literacy and numeracy skills so that they can participate fully in the hyper-connected, digitised societies of the 21st century. “

OECD Headline

New approach needed to deliver on technology’s potential in schools

This headline does not bash technology. It suggests that we need to have a reasoned approach to its implementation.

Those of us who have been immersed in this field of educational technology for nearly four decades have been advocating for the approaches described in the report. So let’s not be blaming the technology or disregarding the incredible potential of technologies embedded within a rich pedagogical approach!

Other Media Headlines!

The OECD headline is a far cry from many headlines around the world which inferred a totally different set of findings! Here are some samples of the damaging misrepresentations from the international press.

Help us Out!

Come on reporters, editors and publishers!! Help us out here!

This one just ticks me off.

Empower Your Students!

And, teachers, all the more reason to empower your students to be both media and digitally literate!

Resources (Ontario/Canada)

  • 21st Century Teaching and Learning, Digital Citizenship and Digital Literacy: What Research Tells Us…

http://www.edugains.ca/resources21CL/WhatsNew/WhatResearchTellsUs-DigitalCitizenship.pdf

  • Digital Citizenship (OSAPAC)

https://osapac.ca/ccpalo/dc/

  • MediaSmarts

http://mediasmarts.ca/

5
Sep

Learning Out Loud

Screen Shot 2015-09-05 at 8.28.52 AMAn e-Book from TeachOntario

This thoughtful e-book, Learning Out Loud, is a collection of thoughts written by Ontario teachers and produced by TVOntario.

Lest you think it is all text—it isn’t! In addition to links to many relevant blog posts, there are many video clips included—it is produced by TVO after all. :-)

There are four chapters:

  1. Shifting from Teaching to Learning
  2. Who Owns Learning?
  3. What Conditions Support Learning?
  4. How Do We Share Learning with Others?

Screen Shot 2015-09-05 at 8.34.56 AMIt is not possible for me to even suggest selected snippets from this book because it would be unfair to highlight some people and not others.

You have to read it yourself!

I am proud to be an Ontario educator—and to have been part of this (r)evolution into digital age learning since the early 70s.

SEPT TeachOntario-e-Book

30
Aug

Neil Postman Had It Right—Back in the 80’s

Childhood in the Technological Era

Another blast from the past. This time from 1987.

Many of the world’s best known educators were together at the Second International Congress on Early Childhood Education held in Tel Aviv, Israel in 1987. The major theme of the congress was caution versus enthusiasm in using computer technology with children.

Speakers included:

  • Neil Postman
  • Gavriel Salomon
  • Seymour Papert
  • Hubert Dreyfuss
  • Bruno Bettleheim
  • et moi! ;-)

How fortunate I was to be presenting with such distinguished and influential thinkers and educators. In addition, Apple Canada asked me to write about the experience in their Minds in Motion journal.

FullSizeRenderApologies to those with screen readers. I do not have this converted to text—only images. However, I’ll highlight some of the points here for ease of reference. I ask you, ‘What resonates with you? What’s changed? What hasn’t changed?’

I will outline the points made by Neil Postman. Read the whole article below and the thoughts of the other speakers.

NEIL POSTMAN

Faustian Bargain

  • “All technological change is a Faustian bargain. For every advantage technology brings, there is always a disadvantage…and one may outweigh the other…New media create new centres of power and influence…the computer will provide our students new ways of thinking. Who will benefit—the children The schools? The state?”

The Technology of Marks is a Mathematical Concept of Reality

  • Embedded in every technology is a powerful idea. Some of these ideas are hidden from view. As an example, he cited the seemingly harmless practice of assigning grades to children’s work. Assigning marks is a tool or technology to judge a person’s behaviour. It is a mathematical concept of reality.

Philosophical Wars

  • “The philosophy embedded in a new technology always makes war with the philosophy embedded in an old technology.” Since the invention of the printing press, the written word (and its accompanying concepts of logic, sequence, history, and objectivity) has been the basis of our educational system. The new technologies of television and computers rely on immediacy, visual transfer of information, and subjective interpretation. Media wars are in effect in our world now. This is, of course, evident in our world now. Students who are on the wrong side of this war are the ones who are failing.

A New Medium Does not Add Something—It Changes Everything

  • “Technological change is not additive but is ecological.” Many people presume that when a new technology is introduced, it merely adds to the store of existing technologies. Postman suggests that this is not always the case. “A new medium does not add something—it changes everything.” He described Europe before the advent of the printing press and pointed out that Europe afterwards was not just Europe plus the printing press. It was, in fact, a new Europe. (Read Blue Dye plus Water? Or Blue Water? for another McLuhanist example of this concept. Also remember Seymour Papert’s words“If the role of the computer is so slight that the rest can be kept constant, it will also be too slight for much to come of it.”

Mythic Media

  • “Media tend to become mythic.” It is a common tendency to think of our own creations as God-given, part of the natural order. Because of this, our society doesn’t question the larger social, psychological ramifications even though we should. (Read It’s Not About the Tools? Really? for another view.)

Electronic Workbooks. Really?

  • “A technology is to a medium like the brain is to the mind. A technology is a tool to be used in various ways. One could, but would not, use a 747 to take commuters from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. One could, but would not, use a television to present printed words on the screen. One could, but should not, use computers as an electronic workbook.”

Soooooo I ask you again, ‘What resonates with you? What’s changed? What hasn’t changed?’

(Click on the pictures below to see larger.)

IMG_7069

FullSizeRender-1

IMG_7071

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IMG_7073

24
Aug

Students ‘Making Up’ Their Own Minds

“The principal activities of brains are making changes in themselves.”

–Marvin L. Minsky (from The Society of Mind, 1986)

Human Brain Drawing itself

I want students to be busy building their own minds.

As an educator, this is my main goal. I want students to be in charge of their own learning—to be effectively constructing their brains. We must focus our work so that they have both the opportunity, and the skills, to do so. This is the professional mission in my life.

Ethereal? No.

Although it may sound rather ethereal if we talk about students building their own minds, it is not. The reality is exactly that! Whether we take an historical view based on Jean Piaget’s work or adopt a current neuroscience perspective, the reality is the same—brain structures are being altered as we learn and we can control that both quantitatively and qualitatively—to a greater or lesser degree.

Don’t worry! I’m not going to get super technical about all that. I’ll leave that to those more expert than I.

Jean Piaget and ConstructivismPiaget

Jean Piaget was a Swiss developmental psychologist who studied learning in children. He articulated various stages of development and developed a theory of constructivism. He spoke of schemas or mental structures. If we encounter something new, we either assimilate it into a previous pattern of ideas and knowledge—our schemas—or we must accommodate it by changing what we believe, therefore adding a new schema. Or maybe we just discard the new information as irrelevant.

…we either assimilate or accommodate new information…or toss it out…

Consider, for example, a schema that a young child might hold for a fish. Fish live in water and have tails and fins with which to swim. She then sees many different kinds of fish—large, small, single coloured, multi-coloured and assimilates them all into her schemas for fish thus increasing the richness and texture of the fish schema. The first time that this child encounters a whale, she might call it a fish. Once her caregivers explain that it is a different animal called a whale and that it breathes air by coming to the surface of the water and that it is a mammal, the child will accommodate it by creating a new schema for whale. All of this is driven by the human need for sense making—for reaching a state of equilibrium or balance with no dissonance.

…the human need is for sense making—for reaching a state of equilibrium

Neuroscience

Let’s consider new learning from a perspective of neuroscience—that of brain plasticity. Neurons sprout dendrites and send and receive thousands of signals with other parts of the brain thus creating neural pathways. Any new experiences and new learnings reorder neural pathways in the brain. In the same way that a piece of film must change in reaction to an image coming through the lens, our neural structures change whenever we bring in new information or experiences. Any neural pathways that are not frequently used simply disappear and new ones are continually being created as we develop new skills and knowledge.

…our neural structures change whenever we bring in new information or experiences…

Dr. Norman Doidge defines neuroplasticity as: the property of the brain that allows it to change its structure and its function in response to thinking and acting in response to mental experience—in other words, in sensing and perceiving and what we do.

We are literally building our brains

Regardless of whether we think about this in Piagetian or in neuroscientific terms, when we are learning, we are literally building our brains.

We, as human beings of free will, have the option to build, and to mold, the structures of our brain.

I have spent a career questioning, exploring, discovering, and predicting how technologies can assist students in ‘taking charge of their own learning’. What ideas do you have?

 

6
Jul

It’s NOT about the Tools? Really?

It is very much about the tools:

and their impact—both intended and unintended.

Once again, as a result of the ISTE conference, the issue represented by statements such as, “It’s not about the tools, it’s about the pedagogy” has come to the fore. (See Stop It Already by @dougpete and Not Everyone is You by @gcouros.)

I have spoken about this before in “It’s Not About the Tool”—A Naïve Myth.” In that post I share some thoughts related to computers as cognitive partners, ‘effects of’ vs ‘effects with,’ drip effects of technology, blue dye plus water or blue water and other McLuhanist-type thoughts.

As I mentioned there, I understand the intent of these kinds of statements. I believe they arise from the focusing on the skills required to use the tool rather than on the learning at hand. So, yes, that would be an issue. I totally understand that problem. That’s why, in 2002, I presented a session at a CUE conference titled Mindstrokes—Not Keystrokes.

However, it is very much about the tools.

As described in that post, tools shape behaviours. Tools shape cognition. Tools shape societal structures in both intended, and unintended, ways.

caveman-159359_640Let’s face it, eras of humankind have historically been defined by tool creation and use (the Three Age System)! We have the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, the Iron Age. Then came the Industrial Age, and, now, the Digital Era. In fairness, these descriptors vary regionally and are constantly under revision as many cultures use reference to other types of technologies.

So to simplistically say that it isn’t about the tools, is in my opinion, digital age doodoo.

“If the role of the computer is so slight that the rest can be kept constant, it will also be too slight for much to come of it.”

Seymour Papert in Computer Criticism vs. Technocentric Thinking, 1987

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