Tag, you’re it. Using the Flickr model to restructure curriculum

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Bloom’s taxonomy outlined tenets of education that became a model for curriculum developers since the 1950s. Bloom divides learning into domains, then breaks those domains into tiered levels. Such division promotes learning as a hierarchy with more basic skills, such as recalling and identifying facts, acting as prerequisites for higher skills like analysis or synthesis.

This taxonomy inspires a sequential learning model. Before students read, they must learn phonics. Before students solve math word problems, they must learn the computation. In this order, a student must demonstrate mastery of a skill often outside the context that skill will be used. Every skill taught is cleaved neatly from the other and taught separately. These skills are then amalgamated into distinct subjects like algebra or literature by junior high as teachers assume students have reached mastery of them.

The cognitive skills Bloom outlines are important, but the model in some ways promotes an inherent segregation of skill sets. We spent a lot of time as educators teaching prerequisite concepts and leaving it up to the students to put together the puzzle pieces. Of course as a fourth grader I hated math, when I was told to plow through worksheet after worksheet seemingly in total isolation to my other work in school.

What if we dismantled the segregation? What if instead of courses, students worked through material that was tagged? A math problem could be tagged with #multiplication, #inference, and #evaluation just as a Sherlock Holmes novel could be tagged with #literature, #deduction, #chemistry, and #vocabulary. Such a cloud of tags could help students make associations across subject areas, helping to spark the natural deepening and maturation of their cognitive skills. This to me, seems a much more intuitive course of instruction.


The Problem with Ownership

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The core trouble with intellectual property discussed in both the documentary Rip: A Remix Manifesto and the book Information Feudalism is assumption that ideas can be owned. Intellectual property ideas must have a sole proprietor, otherwise, the profit could not be funneled so directly. As Drahos and Braithwaite suggest, “knowledge is not only power. It is also the source of profits in modern global markets.” (39) Large corporations rely on intellectual property revenue so they have lobbied aggressively for laws that respect and enforce their intellectual property. They have also launched campaigns to “reeducate” the public on the seriousness of intellectual property in the digital age. These campaigns attempt to persuade through “romantic notions of individual authorship and inventorship,” (16) but ultimately fall flat when carried to their absurd, but ultimate conclusions. For example, searching out and prosecuting a few downloaders of copyrighted material out of the millions that download things everyday.

In order for ideas to be profitable for corporations or individuals, ideas must be owned. This ownership truncates the history of inspiration that came before it. The fervor to patent ideas, lest they prove to be profitable in the future stifles innovations that could be taking place now. In his book Where Good Ideas Come From, Steven Johnson outlines the environmental conditions most suited for innovation. Not surprisingly, the easy exchange of ideas is a key factor.
By asserted that ideas, hunches, and inklings can be owned, we are creating an anemic environment for innovation. Education is (or at least should be) designed to breed innovation because new ideas are the driving force of our economy. However, intellectual property walls erect barriers rather than build bridges to new ideas. If we continue to patent hunches, we may find, as Brett Gaylor suggests in his film, the cure for cancer is hidden behind patents.

Ubiquitous Computing and the Classroom

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“Ubiquitous computing is an attempt to reform reality by making technological objects conform to human needs and wishes…” (218)

Blackboard and other platforms like it are technological systems that instead of creating a new space of interaction, mimic and conform to the previous mode of remediation. They are a literal translations of our needs into the digital. Blackboard, Elearning, RenWeb and etc. ape the older constructions of grade books and classroom. The speed and efficiency at which the information is disseminated on such virtual platforms increases, but has that remediation also brought the object to greater immediacy and transparency? Bolter and Grusin describe the ideas about ubiquitous computing that prevailed at the dawn of the digital world. For The Jetsons, daily tasks such as showering and dressing were not transformed, but rather supplanted by technology. In their world, new media reformed reality by mimicking the old. This ubiquitous computing, the authors argue, is the opposite of virtual reality. A wired classroom does not transcend the traditional classroom, but solidly ground its students in the technology used within it. The authors describe a classroom experiment (though 11 years later this “experiment” would seem to be the norm) in which the teacher’s lecture is recorded digitally, the information written and displayed in class is on a screen, and all the students communicate instantaneously with each other and the teacher through their personal computing devices.

Such ubiquitous computing is currently used in many educational setting. Online classrooms are constructed around the traditional classroom setting. Teachers write on “virtual” blackboards and interact with students via message boards in instant messaging. Card catalogs in libraries are replaced by virtual card catalogs. The belief that this shift from analog to digital would improve the quality and immediacy of education was strong at the end of the 20th century. During the 1990’s, Clinton tried to gain support for a funding initiative that would place a computer in every classroom. However, that simply the greater presence of a technology would increase that technology’s efficacy is naive.

I believe Bolter and Grusin posit that blindly remediating information systems is treacherous. They would agree with Benjamin and ask that as we remediate, we consider the impact of that new form of remediation on the media object itself. When a lecture is remediated into a podcast, what has changed? We know the immediacy of remediated educational objects has expanded their availability to those who perhaps could not attain them before, but what else? The remediated map, in the form of Google Earth, magnifies the actuality of the Grand Canyon or Victoria Falls to students but how should it be used in a Geography lesson? The trouble with ubiquitous computing is that we use technological objects as band-aids, rather then lenses to more clearly see our needs and wishes. The remediation of educational objects should focus on the usage within its learning structure and therefore, hopefully spark a remediation of the structure itself.

Courtney Hernandez

Educational Restructuring

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     Throughout her book, Eisenstein goes to great lengths to acknowledge the innumerable factors that combined to make the printing “revolution.” In educational terms, the printing press introduced a new way learners interacted with new material. She suggests the actual printing of instructional manuals for specialized trades or knowledge is perhaps the least important aspect of this educational revolution. The standardization of knowledge that was required before the type was set rewrote the way in which students learn.  

    The educational standard before the printing press was apprenticeship. Men were craftsmen of specialized trades and had no avenue of knowledge transmission other than oral and action. Learning was doing. But before the printing press could reproduce and spread copies of instructions and rules, those instructions and rules had to be codified. Standards of knowledge had to be established. For the first time in history, instruction could take place away from the site of a shop. So what for thousands of years was the standard of education, on-the-job training, had now been supplanted by comprehensive study in a classroom setting. The systematic ordering of knowledge once passed down from craftsman to craftsman “changed relationships between men of learning as well as between systems of ideas.” (49) Now, to be a learned student, a student must not only possess the practiced finesse of his craft, but also the greater theory and context to his craft. With the increased availability of knowledge, disseminated through paper, the expectation of a student increases. 

     This new standardization of knowledge created a new student. Discussion of theory could now take place without a scholar, as “the change extended to  bright undergraduates to reach beyond their their teachers’ grasps.” (38) Students were now self-impowered to research and investigate on their own. The common standard of education we maintain today, theory first, then action, began with the printing press. The modern student is also experiencing a shift in the individual-driven course of study. Instead of waiting for their teachers to reach subject in a book, they can now hop online to Wikipedia and research on their own. The movement towards student-empowerment began with the printing press. 

-Courtney Hernandez