iTDi Interview Follow-up

Last Tuesday Steven Herder, of the International Teacher Development Institute, or iTDi (itdi.pro, YouTube, Facebook) was nice enough to include me on the list of people interviewed for their Teacher’s Room series. Steven interviewed me online using Zoom conferencing software. It ran almost exactly an hour and was really exhilarating. I started to realize I may just have some things that are worth telling people.

I went on far too long about my own history of language learning and teaching, how I discovered at 11 years old in Mexico that there were some people who did not speak English. I didn’t get to tell the story of watching Batman in Spanish, and how two little bilingual kids about half my 10 years of age could translate the dialog on the fly, all the while giggling. I wanted to do that. So you can go through my notes if you don’t want to watch the first 30 minutes.

More interesting was the last half where we talked about teaching and learning languages, along with tech (I am a tech guy). We did a few minutes at the beginning on RSS feeds and (one of many readers) Feedly software and how to use that to collect (aggregate) blog posts from across the world. I didn’t have time to note that after 20 minutes of Facebook, I am angry, and after 20 minutes of RSS (Feedly) I am enlightened. (Facebook is like porn, which, as Bruce Springsteen notes, “Just makes me mean,” because the enticement is there, but no real interaction.)

But after my history of junior year abroad in Barcelona, returning to teach English, studying for DELTA (in those days RSA Dip) and working my way into the field, my move back to Chicago for an MA (under Elliott Judd, great mentor), then to the TESOL meat market to get a job in Tokyo, meeting my wife at work, China for a year then daughter and university job 3 days apart 34 years ago, we finally got to the real discussion.

We talked about influences like JALT as a professional development network, but I did not talk about the Tokyo PC Users Group where I learned how to learn with other people and without a textbook (there were no guides to PC use in the early 90’s, things were moving too fast). The thrill of arguing about the best way to improve speed on the BBS software (a precursor to the Internet) to avoid high telephone bills when using a modem at 300 “baud” was eye opening in that we could create our own knowledge and help each other as a group. Following the Hacker Ethic has guided my teaching too. (Look it up. Hackers were good before some went to the dark side.)

Now a list of links because I was too excited and talked too fast about too many things, so you can follow up here. MIT Conference on Connected Learning netted a new tool for Augmented Reality software (for iOS) and Interactive Storytelling ARIS. We talked about Stephen Downes and his contributions to MOOCs and Connectionism. Do note that right now, he has just started a new MOOC taking it to the next step, E-Learning 3.0. Do take a look. The future of learning with tech. We talked about the JALT CALL SIG and how that paralleled my experiences of the TokyoPC in that we were (and still are) creating new knowledge, this time about teaching languages with tech.

We talked about frameworks for teaching. Steven liked that we had come up with similar ideas about having a variety of approaches to vocabulary learning, some with tech, others not. Developing a set of tools is something the learner has to do on their own, with support of course. I talked about using small groups and having students teach each other. Here are slides from a presentation I made last year on the topic. I didn’t get to talk about Socratic Circles (pdf) where you ask questions in the SIR order (Summary, Issues, Relevance) and SOLE (Self Organized Learning Environments of Sugata Mitra) to develop learner autonomy.

Language learning is 90% motivation, 10% autonomy. If I am doing my job correctly, students will not see most of my work, which is developing and fostering an environment conducive to learning (languages).

More in upcoming posts.

Moving to Medium

mediumlogoThere is a new blogging platform, one that I think is better than WordPress, and I am moving there for future posts. I will add pointers here, but the content will be there.

Why am I releasing total control over my feed here, with my own domain name and wordpress installation? Two factors, curation and convenience.

Medium was developed by one of the co-founders of Twitter. Understanding social media and applying it to content, Evan Williams put together a platform that allows any user to blog, limits the format options to make the content the draw, and allows for readers to decide easily what should be highlighted and promoted each day. Add to that paid authors of note, like Steven Levy on Crypto War Redux, to draw the public.

There are other alternatives to Medium, outlined at Lifehacker, but they don’t put the author at the center, supported by the readers, in a symbiotic relationship that is an evolution from what publishers used to do. Medium acts as a medium, but is, in its current state, almost invisible. Something I like.

As an occasional blogger in the days of fading RSS use, I cannot expect people to come to my domain to read what I have to say; it gets lost in the shuffle of a million other blogs. With Medium, I have a chance that they may get linked or looked at more often. As well as the convenience of web-based posting. Find me at https://www.medium.com/@tokyokevin

UPDATE: about a year later. Medium is going through some changes. I am back here. Sorry about the leave.

Teachers: Now a Working Class Profession

magister“From the Sage on the Stage to the Guide on the Side” is now about 20 years old. A little shopworn, but still a…how shall I put it….goal, of some teachers and how they adapt to technology. It is the gist of an Atlantic article by Michael Godsey, a K-12 teacher witnessing the “progress” right before his eyes. Another (and earlier!) way to look at it is John Higgins’ differentiation of teacher as Magister, the German cloak-clad lecturer, and the pedagogue, a poor wise man following around the son of a rich client to explain things to him. Find this in articles from 1983 and 1984, but also in his book from 1988.

pedagogueI have been in meetings all day, discussing the curriculum for next year. One area of contention is control of the part-time teachers (adjunct staff). I felt a palpable want, almost a need, to put restraints on behavior to standardize content among students and classes. And I think that is just because we can. Some adjunct staff even prefer to come in, teach the text, and leave. Labor rules here in Japan now promote this system of itinerant labor by capping any part-time contract at 5 years, requiring the university to make them full time, or let them go. So now we have churn.

But the attitude toward teachers (no, not adjunct staff), even though most are highly qualified to deliver a quality course, even when asked to provide their own materials. And yet…that desire to make sure they are doing not just anything they want is still there.

Which brings me to an article at one of my favorite websites, Hybrid Pedagogy. John Rees asks How long will your class remain yours? Here is the first paragraph.

The late labor historian David Montgomery wrote famously about workers’ control in America during the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. “At times the story involved little more than silent and opaque resistance to the demands and innovations of employers,” he suggested in 1979. “At other times, workers in skilled crafts adopted and fought to enforce collective work rules through which they regulated human relations on the job and wrestled with the chronic menace of unemployment.” When I first read those words, I was in graduate school. I never thought they’d actually apply to me. Now, I believe that the working class in academia at all levels of employment are beginning to move from the first set of times that Montgomery described to the second.

He goes on to paint a very dark picture, but does leave the doorway open a crack with the following: “However, the key takeaway here should be that every professor should adopt only those tools that best fit their style of teaching (perhaps including parts of the LMS if they meet a particular need).”

The problem is, that most teachers today don’t know how to use many tech tools for teaching and thus will be at the mercy of those who do, the programmers and instructional designers. So if you don’t start putting some online tools in your toolbox, and learn how to use them in a class, or even outside a class, online, you will have to learn tools assigned to you.

I had my last graduate school class of the academic year (we start in April, end in February), and my student was worried after we went through the Atlantic article (link above). She was worried that she would be out of a job. I told her first, not in Japan. The horizon of change you can see in the US, but here, not even a hint. She is still trying to get a projector and laptop for her high school classroom, all she has now is a blackboard. Second, language learning is like learning a sport, or a musical instrument. Really difficult to put online. So we are safe, as long as we learn how to adapt the tech to us, before the admins try to make us adapt to the tech.

The Graduation Thesis: Insufficient and Outmoded

This the title of a recent article I wrote for my university research journal (Gakuen). In it, I advocate for subsuming the Graduation Thesis, common here in Japan among undergraduates, among a collection of other possible ways for demonstrating ability to work in a field. Notice how I don’t use the word “mastery”, as that is not really possible in a foreign language at the undergraduate level (I work in the English Department).

This collection of what I call Graduation Projects (sometimes called Capstone Projects) could entail a variety of different ways to demonstrate that one can use tools (not understand a field), as tools and skills are what will be needed in this world with the entire sum of human knowledge is constantly at our fingertips (OK, I exaggerate, but not by much). Knowing stuff is no longer as important as being able to learn new stuff by yourself.

Read more about it in the article which I have attached here. Another thing I argue for is that all students should learn programming, or at least enough to be able to understand the thinking behind programming. Authoring is no longer just about writing words, and the people who program are creating a world that the rest of humanity has to live in (or will have to live in, soon). So if you want to control your creative production, you have to learn how to program.

Since the article came out, a number of new events have reinforced the points I made. The most popular major among women at Stanford is Computer Science, along with the most popular course at Harvard, Computer Science. A recent article is going viral about how virtual classes can be better than real ones. Another thing I advocate is for Open Source Publishing, or Open Education Resources, and now the entire staff from a linguistics journal has quit Elsevier in protest over the policies that make huge profits selling things produced at universities back to the faculties.

Lots more issues, but no time here. Let me attach my article, maybe we can get a discussion going.

Ryan Gakuen Oct 2015 Grad Thesis Outmoded

Connected Courses

This looks at first blush like a MOOC about how to make a MOOC, without ever mentioning MOOC. The line-up is stellar and the format looks very well thought out. Sign me up! As a member of CCK08, the first Connectivist MOOC in 2008, followed by many others, I am looking forward to this new course as a redefinition of shared courses online. Sign up now for Connected Courses.

CC2014

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Categorized as MOOC