Posts Tagged “philosophy”

[note: this was originally posted April 30, 2008 -- back when I apparently used to blog more often. I'm resuscitating it as part of a #edublogBT meme begun by Jon Becker]

All this talk about writing, grade books, and “the unthinking habits of grading” has given me so much to think about. My mind is swimming.

The thing is, I think about this stuff all the time. It is only recently, after reading hoards of comments and postings (and all the bits in between) that I begin to understand my naivety. Or is it ignorance? (Hint: not everyone thinks about this stuff all the time.)

First, a bit of background, for the sake of context

I grew up in Calgary, Alberta, Canada and attended Catholic, publicly funded schools. The teachers I had, with two notable exceptions1, all used criterion-referenced assessment to grade my work. I always (other than with the two notable exceptions) knew how I was being graded, even if they did average my scores and turn them into percentages. I graduated from an unusual work-at-your-own-pace high school in 1992.2

After completing an English Lit degree on the West coast, I entered Education. I did not realize at the time (1997) that the program I was in was progressive compared to most Ed programs out there. Thinking, ignorantly, that what I learned was what all teachers-to-be learned, I eagerly entered the world of K-12 education, armed with what I thought was Everything A Beginning Teacher Should Know.

One Epiphany (of many)

Fast-forward to 2001: I entered the realm of international education, working at an MYP school. Before this moment, what I knew about MYP could have filled an ant’s mouth. Sitting in an MYP training session, my then-mentor flashed the subject-specific criteria for Language A (MYP’s equivalent to English Language Arts) on a projector screen.

Thought #1: “Hey, that’s cool! That’s the same criteria my grade 7 teacher used to grade my writing, and it’s the same criteria I have always used to assess student work.”

[insert hmms and haws of other training participants here, as they ponder the criteria on the screen]

Thought #2: “Wait… doesn’t everyone use this?”

It wasn’t long after Thought #2 occurred that I learned the answer: No, not everyone is using this. Plenty of conversation and interaction with my then-colleagues (from various backgrounds in education, as expected in an international setting) taught me that what I had taken for granted my entire (short) life was indeed not “the norm.”

The Interim and a Confession

Over the past 7 years, plenty more colleagues, students, and their parents have shown me that other ways of assessing are indeed rife and plentiful. Just yesterday I engaged in three different conversations with three different families about this very topic (parent conferences were timely). Witness a verbatim quote from one of those discussions:

“Wow, this is so different from what we’re used to. You mean you want your students to come show you their work before they finish? You won’t take points off?”

[I won't even get into the connotations implied by the use of the words "want", "before", and "points."]

Don’t get me wrong — I do not think the same way about this issue as I did 10 or even 3 years ago. I have learned more than I can express on this small page about how to assess meaningfully. I have spent many, many teacher days fantasizing about not assessing at all, and like Dana Huff, I still have those days. I am guilty, in past years, of assigning my students the most boring five-paragraph essay you’ve ever read, just so I could be bored to death reading it and they could be bored to death writing it.

A Question … and Answers?

I have offered some of my thoughts about assessment before — indeed, the reason I initially began this blog was to reflect on what I was learning in an IBO PD course on MYP Objectives and Assessment. Now, having learned so much, I feel my philosophy of assessment is still evolving, and I do think long and hard about why I assess my students’ work and how I do it.

(And, please know that I mention MYP only because I feel it is one of the best educational systems out there for student learning. Is it the only one? No. Are there others that do the same? Yes. Is it just about best practice? Yes.)

So here’s the thing: I know there are other methods of assessment. I know about them well enough because I took the required courses in university, and I have seen them used in classrooms. But here’s what I still don’t understand — and please don’t mistake this for a rhetorical question:

Why are we still using them? (Do they facilitate learning?)

I’m starting, today, with just this question about criterion-referenced assessment, but know that I’m not limiting my thoughts to only this aspect of assessment. I anticipate that those thoughts — and more questions — will follow as my assessment philosophy further evolves.


So far, here is what I believe. Assessment is…

  • primarily for learning; the assessment of learning is secondary.
  • real and not “fabricated” just to put a number on a paper or in a box.
  • goal-focused, and those goals should be based on where the students are at in their learning.
  • varied, with a wide variety of opportunities given for students to reach their goals.
  • frequent and woven into every aspect of what we do, while we are learning. (I am uncomfortable with the thought of students being either too excited or filled with dread at the mention of assessment; I want my students to see assessment as something we do all the time.)
  • part of the natural learning process, not something tacked onto the end.
  • not driven by reporting terms, boxes that need to be filled, administrative software, or any other nonsense that has nothing to do with the learner.
  • applied when needed for learning, and not at calendar dates specified a year in advance.

1Okay, so really it was three notable exceptions. And they were notable because they were exceptionally bad teachers. I’m not naming names, it’s water under the bridge, yadda-yadda-yadda — and the truth is I learned many life lessons from these poor teachers.

2The dates are important, because I refuse to believe that the concept of criterion-referenced assessment is “new” and “progressive“. The dates, although applicable only to my personal experience and not bodies of research, further give credence to my personal belief that education is painfully, mind-bogglingly slow to change.

Photo Credits: Nice Hat by cwalkatron; Question mark by Leo Reynolds

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From Clark and Salomon (1986):

General media comparisons and studies pertaining to their overall instructional impact have yielded little that warrants optimism. Even in the few cases where dramatic changes in achievement or ability were found to result from the introduction of a medium such as television, . . .  it was not the medium per se that caused the change, but rather the curricular reform that its introduction enabled.

I am Here for the Learning Revolution by Wesley Fryer
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This is why, in my opinion, the state of education is so sucky today. Our (educators’) use of technology for learning is hampered by the glass ceiling of curriculum. Only when the curriculum changes will dramatic changes in learning occur. Currently, too many schools are trying to fit square pegs into round holes; that is, teachers are using fabulous technology (IWBs, Tablet PCs, iPod Touch, VoiceThread, and more) to teach curriculum that is still content-based.

These technologies should be reforming curriculum. Why aren’t they?

How can we move this forward? How can we change curricula so that it allows teachers and students “dramatic change”? What is standing in the way, and how can we overcome this obstacle?

Clark, R.E., & Salomon, G. (1986). Media in teaching. In M. Wittrock (Ed.), Handbook of Research on Teaching (3rd ed., pp.464-478). New York: Macmillan.

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From Clark and Salomon (1986):

General media comparisons and studies pertaining to their overall instructional impact have yielded little that warrants optimism. Even in the few cases where dramatic changes in achievement or ability were found to result from the introduction of a medium such as television, . . .  it was not the medium per se that caused the change, but rather the curricular reform that its introduction enabled.

I am Here for the Learning Revolution by Wesley Fryer
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This is why, in my opinion, the state of education is so sucky today. Our (educators’) use of technology for learning is hampered by the glass ceiling of curriculum. Only when the curriculum changes will dramatic changes in learning occur. Currently, too many schools are trying to fit square pegs into round holes; that is, teachers are using fabulous technology (IWBs, Tablet PCs, iPod Touch, VoiceThread, and more) to teach curriculum that is still content-based.

These technologies should be reforming curriculum. Why aren’t they?

How can we move this forward? How can we change curricula so that it allows teachers and students “dramatic change”? What is standing in the way, and how can we overcome this obstacle?

Clark, R.E., & Salomon, G. (1986). Media in teaching. In M. Wittrock (Ed.), Handbook of Research on Teaching (3rd ed., pp.464-478). New York: Macmillan.

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I was reading a recent post on Bridging Differences about assessment, and in particular, testing. I respect Deborah Meier and Diane Ravitch greatly, and will take a short minute first to say that if you’re an educator and you don’t follow their epistolary-style blog, you really should.  Anyway, the post is about testing and the need for data in schools.  Deborah talks about how to address the “data problem” and how teachers can (and should) avoid turning their classrooms into testing settings. 

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I always read posts like these with only half-interest, I must admit. Why? Because I am philsophically opposed to standardized testing, particularly as it is used in American schools. Where I am from (Canada), standardized tests are linked directly to curriculum and used in an entirely different manner. I had no idea what US-style standardized tests were about until I moved overseas and began having conversations with my American colleagues. They later took on a whole new meaning for me when I had to write one myself: the GRE was required for applying to my top choice graduate schools. Ugh! I learned very quickly in my preparation that these kinds of standardized tests have nothing whatsoever to do with teaching and learning.

I’ve been lucky, I guess, that I’ve also never had to teach in a school where standardized testing has been emphasized. In Canada, my students wrote mandatory government exams in grades 3, 6, 9, and 12 (or 4, 7, and 10, and 12 in B.C.) — but again, these are always connected to the provincial curriculum. And my students wrote the Canadian Achievement Tests in grade 7, but schools never used this to “pin” teachers. In fact, such tests (in my experience) were never about the teachers at all. Schools I taught in used the CAT to help identify students who might need learning support, or a gifted & talented program. And such is the way international schools I have worked in have used standardized tests like the ITBS and the ISA.

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Internationally, I have only ever taught at MYP schools. And this comment, left on the Bridging Differences post I mention above, is one of the reasons why:

To get the kind of reliabillity that a multiple choice test delivers, the kids would have to spend a week to answer all the open-ended response questions, rather than the hour or two that the multiple choice test takes.

The writer of this comment, ceolaf (who leaves no URL with his/her comment), wrote a lengthy explanation as to why we need, whether we like them or not, some kind of standardized test because of the reliability issue. He further states: 

The failure of THOSE tests that we hate does not in any way prove the superiority of our assessments. Our assessments have their own flaws.

I have two things to say in response to these two bits:

  1. I beg to differ.  And, 
  2. This is why I love MYP.
MYP assessment, while certainly not perfect, is doing exactly what the ceolaf’s first comment implies: they are project-based, for the most part, and so they DO have that kind of reliability. Our students are taking a week (if not longer) to “answer” (I prefer the word “respond to”) oodles of open-ended questions. Further, they are criterion-referenced, with specific descriptors for each criterion and each task so that the student knows exactly where s/he fits on the achievement level. And, as if that’s not enough — in MYP, no single assessment is an indicator of a student’s achievement! As teachers, we must see multiple pieces of evidence before we can report on a student’s achievement.

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Lest you start thinking, “Wait a minute. So the teachers are doing everything? Doesn’t that make it unreliable?” allow me to go on. In MYP, although teachers are adapting given criteria (set out in each subject guide) to be grade-specific and task-specific, we are not left to our own devices, so to speak, to assess our students randomly or unchecked. About two-thirds of the way through each school year, we send our Grade 10 work (Grade 10 is the last year of MYP, year 5 of MYP) to be moderated by a complete stranger, also an educator, somewhere else in the world. The moderator’s job: to make sure that the assessments we are doing, as teachers, is in-line with the standards set by the IBO world-wide.


Of course, all of what I’ve said above is really the nutshell version. It’s slightly more complicated than what I’ve described here (yes, there is paperwork and there are discussions, and more), but this is the quick-and-dirty explanation that basically emphasizes one of the many reasons I love MYP: We assess for learning, and of learning, and in ways that *are* reliable but don’t rely on tests!  And that is completely in-line with my philosophy.

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My mind is fresh from a weekend of intense PD with Jeff Utecht, who fervently shared his philosophy and expertise with me and my colleagues at UNIS Hanoi.  It was, in all, a fast-paced but much needed weekend full of tips, tools, and tidbits to think about and implement. I am sure all of who attended Jeff’s sessions had some big take-aways from the weekend; one of the big ones for me was the concept of the community in the 21st century.

What role does the community play in education this century?

The answer, I think, is complicated.  Jeff talked about how the community has to be built first, and how sometimes we as educators don’t get to choose where that community is — whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, SecondLife, or ClubPenguin.  But I wonder: Don’t we as educators have a responsibility to create that community?  Of course we should tap into communities already in place.  But when it comes to the “New Learning Landscape“, I think teachers do have an embedded and non-negotiable responsibility to build the community with our students.

One of the challenges we face at UNIS is that our digital, online community is currently quite closed. While I have argued before that this is not always a bad thing, that the walled garden can be a great place to learn tools and play with ideas, I do think that there comes a time (particularly at the HS level) when the community must branch out.  The fact that our students in grades 10 and 11 all have tablets (the first stage in our 1:1 roll-out) means that their community instantly was widened when they received their tablets.  Having that tablet in their hands means they can reach out all the way across the world if they wish — they are connected. And why should we stop them?  Not only does this new technology broaden their contact base and therefore extend their community, most of our students are third-culture kids who have lived in 4 other countries and are already part of an extended community outside our school doors.

If we are going to commit to the new literacies of the 21st century, we should enable our students to reach out to those communities, to find their authentic audience, and create their own learning environment.  To deny them of this is irresponsible.

I’m grateful for Jeff’s ideas this past weekend and I think it is a great start for the journey with our students down the intertwined road of communities and literacy.  Jeff got us thinking in the right direction, and armed with our wikis, blogs, Twitter accounts, and Nings, I daresay that our teachers and students are well on their way to embracing communities both within and beyond our doors.

And speaking of the community’s role in education, I happened across The KnowledgeWorks Foundation (courtesy of Lindsea, a member of my PLN and a contact of one of the KnowledgeWorks founders).  The KWF is an educational philanthropic organization with some philosophical golden nuggets that make it stand out as an organization.  The trademarked motto of KWF is “Empowering communities to improve education.”  How fab is that?  And if that’s not enough to get you browsing around their site, check out their Mission, Vision, and my favorite, their Values Statement:

Fanatical belief that all students have a right to a great education

Wow!  Finding the KWF was a great way to end my weekend, and I look forward to seeing what their community initiatives in education will bring to education in the USA and elsewhere.  You can also follow them on their Future of Ed blog.

All this excitement about communities, Web2.0, and literacy has made me very excited, but I’ve been so busy that the engagement has also made me rather ill — I have been fighting a nasty cold for about a week now.  So as I sign off this post, tea in hand, I hope that my community of learners and colleagues will understand if I’m “below the fold” for the next little while, laying low while I recover.

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I simply cannot believe I have not posted since June.  June!  In case you hadn’t guessed, things have been rather nutty over in my neck of the Educational Woods.

Where I’ve been

Briefly — for those 3 “regular” readers who may have assumed that I’d “taken off, eh” in my true Canadian form — this is what I’ve been up to:

  • A wonderful summer of laughter, love, travel, family, and yoga.  Blissful vacation in my home province of Alberta, Canada, and my partner’s home state of California.
  • In June (shortly after my last post) I received a request to run an MYP Language A level 1 workshop in Hong Kong — my very first MYP workshop ever!  Of course I accepted, not quite realizing how much work would be involved.  The workshop dates: Sept 13-15, 2008.
  • Also in June, I began studying for my GRE (Graduate Record of Examination), as preliminary application prep for grad school in the fall of 2009.  My exam date:  Sept 26, 2008.

  • Photo by Dr Craig
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  • It then occurred to me that both preparing for my MYP workshop and studying for my exam were going to have to happen simultaneously.  No problem, right?
  • Wrong.
  • Back-to-school in mid-August.  Mayhem ensued.

You’ve probably already guessed that the MYP workshop prep took priority over my GRE study.  When I look back at the past two months, I still can’t quite believe I did all of this AND taught 4 different grade levels full time, coherently (OK, OK, semi-coherently).  So, you might say I’ve been insanely busy.

How it went

MYP workshop in Hong Kong: Wonderfully!  Far better than I had expected, and with plenty of positive feedback to boot.  It was well worth the two weeks of Hardly Any Sleep (yes, that deserves capital letters), and 3 nights of mediocre room service meals in my hotel room.

GRE: In a word — notsogood. Without going into too much detail, it sucked.  I hate standardized tests. Hate them.  Really, really hate them.  They have so very little educational value, and the very core of my Teacher Being wants to rebel and take a stand!  But dangit – some of the best technology / literacy / education programs in the USA require me to take them just to get my foot in the door.  So I have relented, and scheduled another exam at the end of November.  I promise this time I’ll study for the math section, though I might need some help.  Hey, if nothing else, it’s an excuse to go to Bangkok for another weekend, just in time to do some Christmas shopping.

What’s next: Affirmations

I’ve spent the past three weeks simply trying to catch up and get into a routine.  And now, suddenly, it’s Autumn Break!  What a great time for pause and reflection.

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My goals this year (even though we’re a quarter through already) involve even more focus on the integration of technology into my English classes to best reflect MYP philosophy.

I admit it: I am MYP FanGirl #1.  That doesn’t mean I don’t think the programme has its drawbacks and weaknesses — it most certainly does.  But I believe so strongly in it because it reflects much of what I know to be true as a teacher and learner that I unabashedly put my support behind it.  I definitely see myself growing even more within this educational framework, and I’ve been with it already for 7+ years.  I do not see my MYPness (yes, I said it ;-) ) waning any time soon.

I also will admit that technology has its drawbacks and weaknesses.  But it, too, is something that I believe strongly in because I recognize that our world is changing before us, and our students need to think differently than we did.  Like Einstein said, “We cannot solve problems using the same thinking we used when we created them.”  And so, at the heart of it all, I still believe that it’s not about the technology.  It’s about thinking and learning in different ways to make sense of the ever-changing world, and technology is a big part of the thinking, the learning, and certainly the change.

Where I’m going: Aspirations

So what’s down the road?

The more often I speak to other like-minded educators, the more often I am struck with this realization: the “making sense” part of our job is the same in every “schooly” subject area, and it almost always comes down to communication.

An abridged defintion of “communicate“:*

–verb (used with object)

1. to impart knowledge of; make known: to communicate information; to communicate one’s happiness.
2. to give to another; impart; transmit: to communicate a disease.

–verb (used without object)

5. to give or interchange thoughts, feelings, information, or the like, by writing, speaking, etc.: They communicate with each other every day.
6. to express thoughts, feelings, or information easily or effectively.
7. to be joined or connected: The rooms communicated by means of a hallway.

Interestingly, the origin of this word is from the Latin, commūnicātus, ptp. of commūnicāre to impart, make common.

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What I’m dreaming of is this: a place where the finest, most important skills of communication — that is, those that involve the imparting of ideas and interchange of thoughts and feelings — are not only taught and fostered in an English (or Communications) course, but across every aspect of learning at every age, in every subject area.  (Will there even be a need for subject areas?  The world is so interconnected now; the idea of separating them feels so outdated to me.)

And that’s about as concrete as I can get at the moment.  It all starts with a vision, right?  I have no clear idea what this scenario would look like, sound like, or feel like, but I’m confident that if I continue down the path I’m currently on, the tangible will eventually accompany what is currently visceral.

I envision a time in the not-so-distant future where my current job (English teacher — that is, teacher of both English language and literature) is obsolete.  Instead, I see the language, literature, and tools of communication being delicate, abundant, and essential threads across learning of all kinds.

Where does it all leave me?

I’m just not sure yet!


*I’ve left out some definitions here that refer to archaic uses or the partaking of the Eucharist.

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It’s a term, and nothing more. Here is what I think is most important: IT IS NOTHING NEW.

“edupunk is student-centered, resourceful, teacher- or community-created rather than corporate-sourced, and underwritten by a progressive political stance. . . . Edupunk, it seems, takes old-school Progressive educational tactics–hands-on learning that starts with the learner’s interests–and makes them relevant to today’s digital age, sometimes by forgoing digital technologies entirely.”

-definition provided by Stephen Downes

I have seen it discussed in flurries on Twitter. I have read Jim Groom’s original post, where he coined the term. I have followed some of my favorite bloggers’ posts about the term, and found some new ones, too. I saw a student‘s take on it (insightful, as usual) and I have seen the much discussed stub on Wikipedia. I’ve done my research. I was even invited to share all the best “edupunk” ideas I use regularly (though I had to respectfully decline). I’ve seen all the hype and I just can’t shake the feeling that we have seen this all before.

With all respect to Andy Rush — I know, I know, maybe I shouldn’t take it all so seriously. After all, Jim Groom just seems like a crazy dude with a love for technology and learning. But here’s the thing: lots of other educators (and students) out there ARE taking it seriously. And it’s turning into a bunch of hoopla.

Good educators have been creating “student-centered, resourceful, teacher- or community-created rather than corporate-sourced” learning experiences for centuries. It is JUST GOOD PRACTICE. Let’s assume we are all well-read, well-versed educators who have studied the theory as well as had the experience. We have all read Piaget, Skinner, Postman, and Montessori. We have been teaching our students (maybe even through trial and error? God forbid!) and we have learned what works best. We know that “hands-on learning that starts with the learner’s interests–and makes them relevant” is the best — whether that includes digital technologies or not. So why do we need to label it something other than what it is already? It is already GOOD PRACTICE. To paraphrase Tina Turner (who definitely was not punk): What’s punk got to do with it?

I agree with Warlick when he says:

The term is important . . . because it associates with people’s images of themselves and what they do. . .

Edupunk as Portal comments, in reply to Stephen Downes

And although Warlick thinks it’s a good term because it gets people’s attention, we have to recognize that perhaps “punk” is not how all educators see themselves and what they do. This is, I think, what Mrs. Durff was getting at in her comment about it being a “distasteful” term. If I do all the things that are considered “edupunk,” why do I have to be called this? Can’t I just be called a creative teacher? I don’t feel “punk” and I don’t really want to be “punk,” for that matter. I just want to be a good (if not great) educator who does what’s best for her students and their learning.

Like Gardner Campbell, I am skeptical of this term. I agree with him when he says,

There was DIY long before punk, and long after.

Yes, it has sparked some interesting discussion, but will it change anything? David Gran thinks all this debate is furthering our understanding of eduators’ relationships to the global community via technology. I can’t agree with that. I think my understanding of relationships to and within the global community will continue to be fostered and developed without this misnomer. I fear this new term will be the measuring stick for our future educational endeavors. Will we be asking ourselves at every new lesson, assessment task, or faculty meeting, “Are we edupunk enough?” Do we really want this?

I can understand and take into consideration the true spirit that the term embodies, and I can see the creative vibes that it originated out of. That’s all fine and good — and perhaps Jim Groom never intended it to go this far. But I’ve already decided that I don’t really want the term “edupunk” to be how I am described as an educator, for reasons I’ve outlined above. Nevertheless, I do have a few genuine questions:

Insightful Question #1:

I have to wonder if the reason why this term gained such ground in the post-secondary edublogosphere is because post-secondary institutions traditionally have not been hotbeds of ultra-progressive, uber-hip, pedagogically sound teaching and learning. (FLASHBACK: I can count on one hand the number of professors I had who actually were good teachers. I distinctly recall one professor who gave entire lectures standing in one spot, reading from the textbook, pausing between pages to look at the ceiling — we all wondered if he was signalling to the mothership.)

This situation, that is the lack of effective teaching in universities, is of course changing. Many university professors are now actually (gasp!) certified teachers with B.Ed.s and the like. But I wonder how many university professors (outside of the Faculty of Education) have spent time in a kindergarten classroom? That’s where the REAL D.I.Y., hands-on, teaching and learning happens, ladies and gentlemen — we all have MUCH to learn from these very talented KG teachers, and I daresay more high school and university educators would benefit by spending some time in their classrooms.

Insightful Question #2:

If “edupunk” is anti-establishment and anti-corporation, does that mean a true Edupunk does not use any tools provided by large-scale companies? So does that mean no Google? no Flickr? no QuickTime? Alas – these are all tools provided by corporations. Does my using them mean I am succumbing to corporate interests? What about my association with and work for the IBO? They are a non-profit organization but still a recognized “brand.” Yet they are an organization that I believe represents learning needs and goals of students around the world, in the most open-minded way possible.

Image credits:

[This post has been cross-posted at Pockets Of Change.]

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Some of you already know that this week I submitted my Google Teacher Academy application for this June’s session on the 25th in Mountain View, CA. I was pretty excited, as this is the first time that Google is accepting applications from outside of the immediate area of the GTA, and indeed, outside of the U.S.A. Woo hoo! (I heard about this Google news via the Infinite Thinking Machine Blog, btw. If that blog isn’t in your reader, get on it!)

What an experience for me just to put together the 1 minute required video. Fun, but definitely challenging. For my reflection and for your enjoyment (or perhaps mockery!), here are a few things I learned:

  1. It is impossible for me to put my entire teaching philosophy about Classroom Innovation into 1 minute. Impossible! Perhaps I have too much to say…?
  2. I can definitely type faster than I can write. The screen vids of me inking those memorable quotes across the screen of my tablet didn’t make the cut because I can’t ink three words in less than 9 seconds. But I can type three words in 4 seconds! (Thanks to my university days as a temp, I tell you!)
  3. I have an incredibly talented partner who knows more about making music than I do, even on a computer. ;) And I promise next time I will not ask him to do the music edits at 11 p.m. on a school night.
  4. I have a lot to learn about using video software, though I have discovered that it doesn’t get much easier than iMovie.
  5. The end of May is not a good time for me to be making movies (exams, report cards, people leaving, etc.). Mental note taken, stored, and written in cyberstone here. Amen. I think this vid would have been much better if I had not had 2398989712 things going on.
  6. The difference in quality from my raw mp4 file (pretty good) to the Google Video / YouTube upload is REMARKABLE. My exported mp4 (using iMovie’s “Expert settings”) looks great — super sharp and clear. Upload to Google Vid / YouTube looks grainy and all around sucky. Anyone have tips on this? (Note that I am new to this kind of thing; most of my contributions to the digital world have happened via written text and photo. Video is a whole new (fun) ballgame.) Sadly, what this means is that the Google Earth portions of my video are not viewable in the way I intended. Wah.
  7. I do not know enough about recording screen shots on video. Need to learn more about this.

And for those who are interested, the software / hardware I used:

  • CamStudio – on the Vista Fujitsu Tablet
  • Inspiration v.8 – also on the Vista Tablet (hat tipping to UNIS)
  • Google Earth – on the Vista Tablet, my iBook G4, and partner’s MacBook Pro
  • iMovie HD v.5 on my iBook, and then later v.6 on MacBook Pro
  • GarageBand on MacBook Pro

Lastly, for those who are interested, here is the vid itself:

Photo credit: Jan 24, 2008 “Reflection” by shannonpatrick17

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I find this article from the New York Times slightly disturbing.

If you haven’t read it, please do — it is long, enlightening, and profiles one family in particular from Beijing who was able to send their daughter to university in Ohio. But if you don’t have time to read it, here are the basics:

  1. Student overseas wants to go to American, Australian, Canadian, or UK university.
  2. American, Australian, Canadian, and UK universities want students from overseas because
    • they pay way more tuition, and
    • it diversifies their school culture, and
    • they pay way more tuition, and… wait, I already said that.
  3. So, Student pays X amount of USD to Agent to find him an appropriate university in the western world, and
  4. American, Australian, Canadian, and UK universities pay Y amount of USD to same Agent to find them Z number of international students because
    • they pay way more tuition, and
    • it diversifies their school culture, and
    • did I mention that they pay way more tuition?
  5. Agent finds appropriate fit, Student applies to University recommended by Agent, and is admitted.
  6. Student happy (found tertiary educational direction), University happy ($$$ + cultural diversity = better learning?).
  7. Agent happiest, because X + Y = BINGO.

The article states,

. . . [M]any agents collect hefty fees from both sides — the students they advise, and the universities they contract with — leaving some to question whose interest is being served . . .

To be fair, the next sentence implies that some people are working towards changing this perception:

Even some advocates of recruiting agents see a need for an ethics code.

And further,

“We should be doing this, but we should be doing it right,” said Mitch Leventhal, vice provost of international affairs at the University of Cincinnati, which has contracts with agents. “And I don’t think it’s right for students to have to pay a lot if the agent is also getting paid by the university. I don’t think it’s ethical.”

Umm, but you’re still doing it, aren’t you? Did the University of Cincinnati cut their contracts with the agents because Mr. Leventhal said it was unethical to pay them? (Note that the sentence above does not say if the University of Cincinnati pays the agents they have contracts with.)

At least one university representative thinks it is unethical and does not pay agents they have contracts with:

Throughout Asia and to a lesser extent other parts of the world, thousands of agents offer help to students seeking admission to an English-speaking university, charging them fees that may be a few hundred dollars, or far more. “Some agents charge as much as $30,000,” said John Robert Cryan of the University of Toledo, which works with agents, but pays no commissions. “There’s a lot of gouging going on.”

[emphasis mine]

Apparently, Mr. Leventhal (of the U of C, above) is an advocate of ethics in this field, but get this:

Mr. Leventhal is also advocating a code of ethics, modeled on Australian practice, under which American universities would pay agents a 10 percent commission, if the agents agreed to charge students only a nominal fee.

This is ethical? Am I missing something? Maybe an Aussie can explain it to me, as apparently this is Australian practice. To my mind, none of this is ethical. For students AND universities to pay for placement at “the right” university? Where does that leave the international (or local, for that matter) student who wants and rightly deserves a place in a university? Well, apparently, unless he has between $500 and $5000 US to spend — that leaves him nowhere.

On the last page of the article, Philip G. Altbach, director of the Center for International Higher Education at Boston College, is quoted as saying:

“In a globalized world, where some people need a lot of guidance to get here, there may be a legitimate place for responsible middlemen,” he said, then added, “although I really hate it.”

And I agree — perhaps there is a need for a middleman. But, but, but… here are my buts:

  • Universities should NOT be paying them — what if instead they were simply “regular” university employees, out and about recruiting for their university as normal?
  • Students should not have to pay them very much (like, less than $50), or even better nothing at all

Basically, I think that universities perhaps need to beef up their own recruitment practices, and aim to recruit international students the old-fashioned way — by making their university look like the best place to go, rather than by paying a middleman thousands of dollars.

Does anyone else think this is unethical? Or am I being too old-fashioned and curmudgeonly?

Whatever happened to open and honest application procedures? Whatever happened to applications requiring that the person with the best fit (based on grades, SAT scores, and whatever else the university deems necessary) gets in on his/ her own merit, rather than simply because he/she is from China and has thousands of dollars to spend?

Should people be making money from international students’ desire to go to university in the Western world?

Photo credit: Here. There. And Nowhere. by drp

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So, I’ve been reading a few things about blogging. And I’ve been reading a few things about writing. And I’ve been reading a few things about both blogging and writing, and I’m starting to think I’m missing something. Or need clarification, at the very least.

I’m going to keep this philosophical, much like my assessment post a while back.

First, a question:

If (text-based)1 blogging is a kind of writing, then aren’t all bloggers writers?

And now, the statements:

  1. I (foolishly, perhaps) believe that all my students can become good writers2 of some kind.
  2. I therefore believe that all my students should try their hand at blogging, just as I believe all my students should try writing poetry, maybe a short story, a personal narrative, an e-mail, and oodles of other writing types.
  3. I do not believe a great writing teacher needs to be a great writer; he / she simply needs to “know the ropes” and be great teacher, period.
  4. I therefore believe a great blogging teacher does not need to be a “master blogger”, but that he / she just needs to know how it works, and be a great teacher, period.

And finally, more questions:

  • Those of you out there who use blogs with your students, how do you use them?
  • Do you assess them? If so, how?
  • And if you don’t use blogs with your students, why not?

The background

I am changing (quite drastically) the way I use blogs with my students for the remainder of this school year, and next. And so, I’m looking for ideas and anecdotal feedback… errr.. feed-forward… from those who have walked this path before me. :)

1Of course, the visual-types of blogs aren’t really writing, but a different kind of communication

2I define the term “good writer” as one who creates “good writing.” And for the definition of “good writing,” I turn to one of my most influential mentors in both teaching and writing, Carl Leggo, who once stated, “Good writing gets the job done. It works.” I should also note that I have different definitions of “great writing” and other comparative terms.

Photo credits: You can almost see the grass grow by aussiegall; How to Grow a Blog by teachandlearn (licensed under CC 2.0 Generic)

Comments 7 Comments »