Infographic on Social Media and Productivity

Another infographic I was asked to share, this time on social media and its impacts on productivity. Although I personally believe that social media does often severely impact productivity (hence my recent quitting of Facebook), I don’t feel this infographic does a good job of making such a point. (eg. the time people are now spending on social media… …did it used to be allocated to studying? Or other things?) But perhaps I’m wrong. What do you think?

Social Media At Work
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Edcamp Leadership BC

This is my (late) follow-up from the recent Edcamp Leadership BC conference I attended with Khanh, Humaira, Aaron, and several others. Khanh already blogged about the conference, as did Aaron, so hopefully my (train-of-thought) post offers something different.

Edcamp Leadership BC took place on Saturday, November 17, 2012 at my high school (Delta Secondary School) in Ladner. Much like the last Edcamp I attended, Edcamp Leadership BC was an unconference with a focus on education.

The first session I attended was called “Change Management”. It was a workshop focusing on how to implement institutional and societal changes, with a focus on educational changes. For example, how to convince parents or schools that there are benefits to not giving letter grades on every assignment and test. The workshop looked through several of the big theories behind change management such as Roger’s Innovation Adoption Curve, which can lead to the suggestion that when trying to disperse new ideas it is better to target innovators and early adopters first. However, I didn’t find there to be anything particularly new that I haven’t seen before. I also wasn’t convinced that methods such as targeting innovators and early adopters first would subsequently lead to a following. Collaborative notes can be found here.

The second session I attended was called “Passion Based Learning (Genius Hour)” which was run by Gallit, who I met at the conference. From my understanding and recollection, in Gallit’s classroom, she offers something called the “Genius Hour”, which is an hour a week that students can work on any project they want to work on. She has students making movies, fixing computers, and building pinhole cameras. These students evaluate themselves and their peers, and give feedback on where to improve. When things don’t work, students explore reasons why they methods didn’t work and look for alternates. I like the idea of genius hour, and giving students the freedom to study and explore something entirely of their choosing. I also like that the projects weren’t assigned a letter grade (at least, not from what I recall), which I feel could decrease the interest students have in their own interests. However, a concern I raised at the session was because the students are being given so much freedom, how can one prevent them from gaming the system? Collaborative notes can be found here.

The third session I attended was called “Facilitating Student Choice, Flexibility and Collaboration”. I was especially intrigued by the title of this session since, having recently read Drive, I thought it would be interesting to see if giving students more autonomy, and perhaps a greater sense of purpose in their education, would give them more motivation to actively engage in their learning. As the session turned out, it was very specifically targeting a specific, unique high school in Vancouver. This school is Thomas Haney Secondary School (THSS), a school which encourages self-directed learning by giving students freedom on when and how fast they study their courses, amongst other differences that make the school unique. The session was examining the introduction of one block per day where students would have significantly more freedom in what and where they studied. Although the session wasn’t the broad topic I had hoped it to be, I thought it was interesting to learn about THSS and its practices in Vancouver. However, similarly to the genius hour session, I voiced concern about how to address the potential for students gaming the system as a result of their freedom during this block. Collaborative notes can be found here.

The last session I attended was called “Things That Suck”. A unique session, here the facilitator took a large open area in the library and asked the ~100 participants to stand in one of three areas of the room (one area representing “I support”, another representing “I’m against”, and the middle area representing “I’m undecided”) with respect to some topic. Afterwards, each side was to present their reasons for being on that particular side, and then people were given an opportunity to switch sides should they have been persuaded out of their current position. Topics included “Grades”, “Schools (the physical buildings)”, “BYOD (Bring Your Own Device”, and “iPads”, though there were many other different topics presented. I thought this session was a neat, interactive way of starting dialogue on various topics. However, I felt that the prompts were unclear and vague, which was evident in the defenses of each side as often it was found that people were separated not by differing opinions but instead by differing interpretations of the prompt. I also felt that the discussions were extremely shallow, and the fast rotating through topics did not allow for true discussion or debate. Collaborative notes can be found here.

Overall, I had a good time at Edcamp Leadership BC. I enjoyed the company present at the conference, the opinions of so many different individuals, and the presence of so many people interested in education. Suggestions I have for future Edcamps (or related unconferences):

  • When presenting topics during the voting period, a paragraph or so description describing the intended content of that session would be great. Otherwise, titles alone are often too vague to determine whether there is true interest in the topic at hand.
  • In introducing the unconference, I think it would be a good idea to explain to people the nature of the unconference (in that people vote for workshops that anyone can propose to lead, popular workshops are assigned rooms in the school, and then people can split up to go to classrooms where smaller group discussions and presentations can take place). At the beginning, I had several people asking me what was happening as it was their first Edcamp and they didn’t really understand how everything worked.
  • To encourage conversations of depth instead of often simply breadth, I might suggest setting aside a couple of rooms for the whole day. Then each of these rooms, each with a specific topic of great interest (eg. Do letter grades belong in schools?), could perhaps have a presentation in the first session slot bringing people up to date on current research and ideas on that specific prompts, and then have the remaining session slots for the rest of the day dedicated to a Think Tank style sessions to research what has been demonstrated about the prompt, and determining a concrete action plan for how to address conclusions whether it be in the education community or the political infrastructure governing schools.
  • I think that one of the benefits of this event is the presented capacity to meet new people. As it stands, however, I feel many people ease into their comfort zone and socialize mostly with people they’re already familiar with. Perhaps it would be beneficial to try, during lunch time, to have a brief announcement every 15 minutes, reminding people that this is a great opportunity to make new connections and explore new ideas. Not everyone will move to a different table, but I feel the prompt might provide the opportunity or push for some people to make a few extra connections that day.
  • As was often emphasized at Edcamp Leadership BC, everyone present were members of “The Converted” (how’s that for a cult-like group title? Fortunately, it was the only real cult-like reference I experienced at Edcamp ;D). I feel that presented issues were often one-sided, and that the other side of the issue was often un(der)represented. Additionally, I felt that it was “The Un-Converted” that would truly benefit from an event such as Edcamp Leadership BC. I think an effort to encourage “The Un-Converted” to attend Edcamp would greatly benefit the event.

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On Education

I found this quote via Alisha Hackinen’s TEDxTerry talk a few days ago :)

The complexity of our present trouble suggests as never before that we need to change our present concept of education. Education is not properly an industry, and its proper use is not to serve industries, either by job-training or by industry-subsidized research. It’s proper use is to enable citizens to live lives that are economically, politically, socially, and culturally responsible. This cannot be done by gathering or “accessing” what we now call “information” – which is to say facts without context and therefore without priority. A proper education enables young people to put their lives in order, which means knowing what things are more important than other things; it means putting first things first.

–Wendell Berry

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Perception and Science

Now, if perception is grounded in our history, it means that we’re only ever responding according to what we’ve done before. But that creates a tremendous problem because how can we ever see differently?

–Beau Lotto

I thought this was a super interesting talk on science and the nature of perception. If you recall that bee study published a while ago where most of the authors were children, two of the authors are giving this talk.

On Affirmative Action

In response to a recent post on the Thought Catalog, I personally believe, at least currently, that affirmative action is detrimental. I think that admission to a school should be merit based. If your grades and extra-curricular activities are good enough to admit you to a school, I don’t think you should have to cross your fingers that your place at that university may be taken away by someone who is getting in for a reason that is unrelated to academics.

I understand that this is a controversial topic. I understand that people’s circumstances can put them in positions that are unbelievably unfavorable with respect to getting admitted to some schools. I understand that affirmative action intends to help relieve some people from these unfortunate circumstances.

However, I do not think that affirmative action is the best response to these circumstances. Not only does affirmative action take a seat away from a deserving student, but it is also a statement to the affirmed individual that there is a backdoor in life. Admission to school may not be the only difficult encounter they experience in life; showing them an easier alternative to hard work and persistence may not be the best option for the long run since the hard road will likely be the most likely road at some point in the future.

Different circumstances will often make certain things for some people to obtain. But we do not give out an extra 10% to students who cannot afford private tutoring. We do not give grocery discounts to people who are in lower income brackets. We do not choose to hire younger workers who have yet to build up valuable and relevant experience when a more senior, experienced worker is available.

This does not mean that the student who cannot afford private tutoring is unable to get higher marks than the student who can. This does not mean that people in lower income brackets are unable to purchase groceries. This does not mean younger, inexperienced workers are doomed to a lifetime of unemployment.

What this means is that some people have to work harder to achieve what others struggle less to achieve. Some people have to work longer to achieve what others can achieve in less time. Some people have to have more motivation and drive simply to keep up with the regular states of others.

But we’ve never before questioned this. Life has never been fair, and probably never will be fair. But we’ve always dealt with it up until now.

In conclusion, at least as I currently see it, affirmative action neither fixes a problem nor betters the system. I don’t think it is a beneficial strategy to implement or keep.

What do you guys think?

Lectures vs Discussions

Hack College recently attempted to start a discussion over whether lectures or discussions are a better model for effective education. Ironically, the discussion never really took off (similar to many discussions that take place in a classroom setting). However, I thought it would be an interesting conversation to have, so I am looking to your input.

Although I agree with the fact that lectures are not an effective way of educating students (lecturing is passive and often disengages students), I am not yet convinced (at least for university classrooms) that discussions are a better alternative. With class sizes often well above 100 students, often limited with only 1 instructor, I feel that a discussion doesn’t do much more than a lecture at engaging students (in fact, it would strike me as being very similar to the current lecture style where most students are hesitant to engage the professor in conversation, ask questions, or answer questions). The limitations of authoritative figures in the class seems, to me, to be a limiting factor in splitting the class into smaller discussions; I feel that discussions would rarely really take off without a figure to guide the discussion. In the case that discussions do take off, as they sometimes do, I fear that those discussions would likely quickly stray from the purpose of the conversation at hand. If there is a goal to spending that time together as a group, I feel that a lecture offers much more control over that as opposed to a discussion.

In pointing out these points, however, I’m simply playing the devil’s advocate. I do not feel there is a clear winner in the university ring between lectures and discussions. I personally find discussions to be more educational, but the lack of structure often makes the educational density sparse.

What do you guys think? Do you think that lectures or discussions are a better educational tool? Can you think of a better alternative?

The Motivation to Complete a MOOC

Previously, I mentioned several websites that offer free courses such as Coursera. A recent article in The Conversation examines MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) and their reputations for having high drop-out rates. (I found this article through Rosie’s blog as she works on designing her MOOC.) Honestly, I never completed any of the MOOCs I enrolled in. My excuse for dropping out was simply that I never found a clear outline of what work needed to be completed when, of what quizzes were due when, etc. As a result, I often found myself behind in the lectures and readings, as well as missing quiz/assignment deadlines because they were never really communicated well. I can see what the article talks about, though–the lack of accountability doesn’t help stir up any motivation to complete a course. I can see how it would be especially difficult for somebody who isn’t already a student (especially someone who hasn’t been a student in a long time) to find motivation within themselves to keep up with the course demands.

If there’s one change I’d personally like to see in future MOOCs, it would be a syllabus released at the start of the course with a list of videos, readings, etc. that need to be completed by date X. This would have allowed me to plan sufficiently to keep up with the demands of the course. I’m glad to see several courses have added weekly time commitment estimates, but I still think a completed syllabus at the beginning would be especially useful.

For students who are having problems finding the motivation to keep up with the course material, I would suggest getting a group of friends together who are interested in doing a course (or meet people via the forums who live in the same area who would be interested in collaborative learning) and meet on a weekly basis (or bi-weekly, or whatever sounds best to the group) to discuss assignments, lecture material, etc. This would force group members to have gone through the material ahead of time, and I think could be a useful (albeit not flawless) source of accountability for people.

What do you guys think about MOOCs? Have you experienced any motivational problems in completing a course?