Sunday, August 26, 2007

Learning Versus Certification

Why, anybody can have a brain. That's a very mediocre commodity. ..Back where I come from we have universities, seats of great learning -- where men go to become great thinkers. And when they come out, they think deep thoughts -- and with no more brains than you have.... But! They have one thing you haven't got! A diploma! (The Wizard of Oz)

One of most important--and troubling--insights that has come to my years of working in schools is that many, if not most, "learning organizations," (be they colleges, universities, or private companies) are not in the business of promoting learning. They are in the business of providing certification, either in the form of diplomas, degrees, or certificates of professional accreditation.

I have witnessed--and participated--in countless lectures, workshops, and half/full day seminars whose stated intention was to "promote learning". This despite the fact that in my many years of formal education, I retained very little knowledge from lecture-based teaching events--especially those which did not provide opportunities to apply and practice the knowledge I was supposed to be acquiring.

In the early days of my teacher-training, I was fortunate to study with Dr. Jeff Golub, a pioneer in the Active Learning movement. Dr. Golub often railed against the inefficiency of lecture-based education. He compared the educational establishment's dependence on lectures to a man whipping a dead horse. The horse won't move, but the man won't dismount. He just whips the horse faster.

The comparison that comes to
my mind springs from the classic British sitcom "Fawlty Towers." In one episode, the inane hotel owner Basil Fawlty has to explain to his more sensible wife Sybil why the repairman he has hired hasn't competently fixed the leaky pipes in the hotel. Basil protests that any criticism of the repairman's efforts are unfair since the repairman "really isn't a plumber." Why then, his frustrated wife retorts, did you hire him?

The answer? "Because he's cheap."

That, in a nutshell, is why schools and "training" organizations rely so heavily on lectures. The expense of throwing one "expert" into a classroom armed only with chalk, a blackboard, and a working pair of lungs is far less costly than investing in quality instructional design which might lead to classroom environments that would foster effective, longterm learning.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Learning to Program

Pursuant to my desire to move to the next level as a technologist, I am making my first, serious attempt to acquire programming skills. Currently I am studying Visual Basic. net (which was recommended as a first language) and ActionScript, the programming language for Flash--which has emerged has the major tool for interactive learning delivered via the Web.

Stay tuned...

Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Hidden Dangers of Metrosexuality

In the West, culture changes have begun to bring the worlds of men and women together in ways they never have been before. While gender equality is an unquestionable advancement, one of the unfortunate side effects is that distinctiveness of each gender is sometimes blurred, leading to a bland androgyny.

One of the key differences between men and women has been their attitudes towards sex. For men, having sex is more important than being sexy. The traditional masculine attitude is that sex appeal is a means to an end.

For women, it is the reverse. For females, having sex appeal, being sexy, is of greater importance than actually having sex. Traditionally, sex is one source of power open to women when other avenues of influence were closed.

A metrosexual is different from the traditionally well-groomed male in that the traditional male looks good in order to advance his sexual agenda. A certainly careless air surrounds the well-coiffed gentlemen, as if he hadn't noticed his own sartorial sophistication.

The metrosexual, by contrast, is acutely aware of how well his nails are pared, how well his hair is trimmed and gelied, and how pungent his cologne is.

This must stop. As the French say, "Viva La difference."

Friday, May 11, 2007

The New Learning Toolbox: Textbooks & Simulations

The most common learning tool around the world is the textbook---and why not? As a compendium of the required knowledge, the textbook revolutionized learning, giving each student a portable database

However, the "textbook only" approach to learning toolboxes is pure
ancien regime. The 21st Century approach to learning should equip students with portable databases--printed or otherwise-and simulations which enable them to have learning experiences.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Best Line of the Week

"The Persians, pioneers in the art of facial piercing, have vastly greater numbers — including ninjas, dervishes, elephants, a charging rhino and an angry bald giant — but the Spartans clearly have superior health clubs and electrolysis facilities."

from A.O. Scott's review of 300, in the NY Time