Wild Goose Chase

I've been struggling to find a suitable slab of time for thoughtful blogging as the term has started off in a flurry of impending deadlines and planning for near future events. My aggregator is starting to fill with unread posts and even some that I have read were hastily skimmed. But anything that directly or indirectly references some of the ideas I've been working on will catch my attention and start brewing in a less mushy sector of my brain.

Bill Kerr wrote one of those attention grabbing posts recently that attracted responses from either side of the fence. "Don't Be Too Proud of Web 2.0" pointed to some examples that Bill had identified as evidence that Web 2.0 isn't going to be the revolutionary influence on education many edubloggers are predicting. While I could get where Bill is coming from, I disagreed with some of his examples - specifically when his second one that came straight from my CEGSA presentation that featured my interview with Chris Harbeck. Well, it's partly because no-one wants to be highlighted as part of what's wrong and because it felt like an indirect criticism of Chris' methodologies, that I felt defensive and compelled to air my thoughts in Bill's comments section. As usual, though, I carefully constructed a respectful response so that I wasn't just doing a knee-jerk reaction. Bill's point of view is that language based mathematics (where Chris' work with wikis and unprojects comes in) is being held up as "state of the art" while ideas like logo which blends computer science with mathematical concepts have been ignored or forgotten. Now I haven't touched logo since my Year 10 computing classes in 1981 (although I did see and briefly play with a version of Star  Logo on a Commodore 64 in my beginning years as a teacher) so I have no way to dispute his view of what constitutes state of the art. But I do see high level of engagement in Chris' blend of web tools and mathematics, I do see his kids considering audience and using language and multimedia to demonstrate their comprehension and mastery of the concepts their teacher is mandated to cover. I see mathematics converging with other elements of the curriculum (sure, language) in their work so that mathematics is not just an isolated discipline, learnt in a manner cut off from connections to the rest of the school timetable. I do view that as a massive step forward from the conventional, middle school approach of ability streamed groups, using a text book to cover proscribed content. So, I am a big fan of the Chris Harbeck approach and I see it as a progression that I personally can aspire to. And I don't see his use of Web 2.0 tools as gratuitous.

I did have a GMail chat with Bill that clarified some of the meaning behind his words and I certainly felt that Bill's idea that it would be better exploring his ideas in more depth in a longer, more in depth post was the way to go. He agreed and wrote that post on Friday. He highlights a number of key points that I need to spend time exploring and thinking about - I am an admitted shallow skimmer of information at the moment - here's a sample of where Bill sees the issue of expertise in relation to education:

However, the notion of using “web2.0″ tools to expand expertise (certainly possible) is different from the notion of bloggers already being experts. The internet has certainly blurred the lines between expert and amateur. But as well as some amateurs displaying expert knowledge there are also lots of amateurs pretending to be experts when they are not. For me the important question is not web 2.0 as such but how do we work out who an expert is? Expertise is special IMO and ought to be valued. I’m critical of theories that just emphasise the importance of connection without saying much else.

What is the value of connection to me? I tried to make that point in a comment:

For me, as a primary school educator, never before have I had the opportunity to look over the virtual shoulder of teachers who I consider to be exceptional and have them explain in words what they were doing and what their intent with their students was. That has helped me to reconsider what I do in my classroom - sometimes, it has been confirming of what I already did or their ideas have given me new paths to follow. If "expertise" is what I bring daily to my job working with kids and teachers in terms of skills, initiatives, directions etc., then yes, Web 2.0 has enhanced and improved that expertise.

I have personally become a better teacher through learning from classroom teachers like Chris - it's exactly why I couldn't let Bill's original dot point slide into unacknowledged oblivion - and I am still disappointed that hardly any unconnected teachers were at my presentation.  Bill was at my presentation - he too, is making me a better educator by redirecting me to important developments from the past, present and possible future. I don't think Web 2.0 is a wild goose chase for educators - but yes, the connection has to have purpose.

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8 thoughts on “Wild Goose Chase

  1. Bill Kerr

    hi graham,

    I was just trying to get some discussion started about different ways of using computers to teach maths. I didn’t provide any specific criticism or links on that particular dot point (in contrast to the other dot points) simply because I’m not familiar with the detail of how Chris teachers maths. I’m making a more general point in this instance, that web 2.0 teaching is mainly language based. Of course that’s valuable and very important. But, as you point out, there are other ways of teaching maths with computers (eg. logo) and they have fallen out of favour. It’s more that what you said in your presentation led me into making a general point about web 2.0 versus logo maths type teaching in the context of what I see as general web 2.0 hype. Another related issue here is the history of computer use in education. Why is it that logo, hypercard, starlogo, smalltalk are now seen mainly as historical (or not even known about) when new programs are now around (etoys, scratch) that brilliantly incorporate all of this software. Why aren’t these programs the subject of educational computer conference keynotes?

  2. Kevin Sandridge

    Graham – I appreciated this post greatly in light of something I’ve been trying to has out as a new Web 2.0 user/educator – namely: the issue of making sure that pedagogy doesn’t get lost in shuffle of one’s excitement with the tools of Web 2.0.

    If I caught it right, re: LOGO, we use it with LEGO programming for our system control events in TSA (http://www.tsaweb.org). Though I have a feeling that Scratch will enter into the picture soon re: a teaching programming tool. Again, will have to let the ‘teaching’ dictate the tools! 🙂 Enjoyed the post. Thanks!

    Kevin Sandridge
    Winter Haven, FL

  3. mrsdurff

    Gentlemen! The whole point of the global conversation is that one doesn’t need to identify experts and novices. The larger our networks (and mine includes both of you) the more expertise we have. We do not need to hold that expertise within ourselves nor is it ever necessary to receive credit. Those are totally moot points, gentlemen! The point is the conversation, and hence collective knowledge, IS global, encompassing both novice and expert and everyone in between. No identification is thus required. Those wrinkles are pushing us up against each other!

  4. Graham Wegner

    Bill, I appreciate that you were being careful and general in your reference – I’m the one who chose to specify its origin. I suppose I’m trying to find the bridge from where your thinking is to where the regular “classroom Joe/Jo” can make a start with leveraging technologies for learning. I do think that Kevin’s point is pretty good in that pedagogy needs to lead the way – no matter how flash the tool, if it doesn’t enable learning in a useful way, then it may as well be left out of the classroom.
    “Why aren’t these programs the subject of educational computer conference keynotes?”
    Do we have talented keynoters with enough background knowledge of this nature to do the ideas justice? Although lack of effective knowledge of online learning and new ideas doesn’t preclude some keynotes from presenting ham-fisted Web 2.0 perspectives!
    “Don’t believe the hype.”
    Public Enemy, 1988.

  5. Tracy

    Great conversation starting here!

    Yesterday I posted about the need to combine ways of thinking, the need to use our whole brain and not only the right hemisphere (which is what I believe a lot of web 2.0 promotes…). I called it a whole brain model for education reform –> http://leadingfromtheheart.edublogs.org/2007/07/30/creating-a-whole-brain-model/
    It seems to me that a conversation around incorporating analytical processes, like those involved in logo, with processes that focus on synthesis, like those involved in much of web 2.0, can be a start towards a whole-brain model for math education reform.

    This is something I began to think of last year, when working on my masters project around the learning organization. In short, I used new developments in brain research about how we learn to extend the metaphor of the organization as a brain. I postulated that an organization can learn much in the same way as a brain can – that learning happens in different areas simultaneously, using different parts to support others and that new learning can happen as long as it is consistent and purposeful.

    I think that for our work within educational organizations to make sense to those people who make up the organization – the students and educators – we need to focus on learning that combines left and right hemisphere processes.

    Definitely a fascinating conversation here that I will continue to follow – thanks!

  6. Kevin Sandridge


    I really enjoyed your comment re: organizations working as a brain by pulling in knowledge from varied ‘inputs’ and pooling it together. Did I get that right? If so, it’s the same way I look at the social/professional networks we build for ourselves as educators using Web 2.0. I am continuously amazed at the power these networks have to string together varying thoughts and opinions on a given subject in an effort to create a new tapestry or picture of understanding.

  7. Chris Harbeck

    As a math teacher I struggled with having kids express there ideas and understanding of math concepts. They would do worksheets and textbook work till the cows came home but the students were not interested in doing much of anything else. Enter the computer. Initially my use of the computer was a program called TLE-8 which is a computer based interactive textbook. Then I was able to introduce NLVM or the National Library of Virtual Manipulative’s. Both of these tools used school time and did not accomplish what 2.0 applications do.

    My use of 2.0 is mostly done at home. Students are doing “homework” now and completing the “math projects” that they weren’t when they were a paper and pen. I am by no means an expert but I think my students enjoy learning math in different ways. I offer them the complete buffet table. From worksheets to wiki’s.

    Thanks for your interest and the conversation is great.

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