Friday, 30 January 2009

This course; PLNs; Clarence et al

  • Your thoughts on Personal Learning Networks
  • Finding information online: How do we address truth and bias in the classroom?
What I hope to get out of this course:
I need to be pushed into implementing 'connectivity' where I think it's going to fit best. And, part of this is determining when, where and what I want to implement. So, what I hope to find out is the 'when,' 'where' and 'what.' I'm never keen being a beginner at something, so the other goal is becoming 'fluent' to some extent with some of the basics like blogs, wikis and RSS feeds.

PLNs+ Clarence
I see a huge pendulum swing happening here. We educators by nature endlessly seek the 'best yet' approach for SL (student learning). Now we're coming to understand the extent to which young people interact in the virtual world, beyond game playing and other self-interest activities online (although, philosophically, everything we do is out of self-interest). It's intuitive that those fluent with IT tools within PLNs can find anything they want on the Internet, they just have to have some kind guide (maybe the teacher!) to give them a few guideposts along the way, e.g. iGoogle, Delicious, so they can expedite the process. We're the ones who seem to be charged with finding these tools and of course figuring out how to use them ourselves first. But once we 'give it to 'em' then they (HS students that is) are generally willing to take the necessary risks. Some personalities are more reticent, but given their peers' (which we don't want to refer to as 'peer pressure') interest, they do become involved.

Clarence is willing to take the risks to get himself & his students fluent. Of course, we know we have to be willing to do this, too. To let things be messy and be willing to make mistakes, or not to have things go according to plan. I do not subscribe to the 'student centered' approach, however. A couple of years ago, a friend recommended a book entitled: The Courage to Teach by Parker Palmer. There Parker describes the 'subject-centered' approach, whereby all are involved in the learning once the subjec to explore is put center stage. By virtue of doing this, we collectively interact with the subject as well as with one another involved. I have adopted this approach in my teaching and have discovered a way to give up the control I was used to. I was willing to admit that we're all 'researchers' here and that we all have to listen to one another in order to get to the 'truth.'

Thanks, Clarence, for the wealth of info/ links you shared in your talk!

Back to 'truth' and 'bias.' It's interesting that all of the readings we've had for the course so far have been biased toward undertaking PLNs for the sake of not losing students to boredom or leaving them behind in this age of info if we maintain a strictly traditional approach with textbooks and stand and deliver. Connotative words like 'enrage' suggest that an an emotional level, some of our students might be seething when they want into such traditional classrooms. Back to the pendulum swing here. Let's not go overboard and throw out the baby with the bathwater. I happen to like hard copies and books for certain purposes, despite environmental issues. Sorry, Kerry. I happen to like talking to students f2f in my class and having them do the same. We are lucky to be in this international setting and have students that are very gloabally aware, little ethnocentrism is evident. We can use these resources. I want to keep these as long as I'm a teacher.

Having said this, I do value what can be done on PLNs. I've already worked with colleagues (Andrew Cohen and Karen Rosenbaum) to successfully implement a Ning for our ESL classes last semester. We witnessed the increased motivation, excitement and risk-taking that accompanies this type of PLN, and of course the important by-product we were after was improved proficiency in speaking and writing. Given that the assignments we posted were leveled and comprehensible, the amount of input they were exposed to and that they wanted to do automatically increased their proficiency, accoring to research in the field. But the limitations have to be acknowledged: problems with the network, difficulties with getting elaboration in speaking (again the need for f2f) and those personalities that just didn't like it.

So, back to 'truth' and 'bias.' Exposure to mulitple sources seems to be the only way to break this down. That and having people develop their critical thinking abilities to scutinize everything they're exposed to. We can teach these skills, and we can encourage students AND ourselves to move outside the 'bubble' of confirmation bias that we naturally find ourselves. Somehow we need to assure ourselves that we must be right about our own beliefs.

I'm using something called the 3s Guide to Evaluating Knowledge Claims and will attach it. I'm using it right now, but I love the bit where students have to ask themselves about their own beliefs, biases and attitudes regarding the topic—this is the self-referral I'm after that I believe will develop the critical thinking they will continue to need in this rapidly changing word.

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