our teachers, teacher professional development, children, learning, future – some notes

17/06/2017

I think, at my university – we recently had a very interesting discussion-thread about ‘education’ and so have collated my notes and responses to my notes and then my response – in this post (with some links thrown in + typos to boot) – in a chronological order. (the  idea is to make some of our harebrained thoughts public, in exchange for brickbats, mainly!). Thanks! (R1->R4 are various respondents in the thread)

Warning: This is 1700+ words loooong. Go away if you can help it.  nahi nahi rakshati twitterkarane; or facebookmarane.

  1. My friends and learned folks – Amit Dhakulkar and Rafikh Rashid Shaikh – have published a very readable essay in TeacherPlus (2Jun2017): A slate for every child: rethinking education in the age of computers – please read this interesting and informed essay first. (of course, yours truly is also a great fan of that legendary Seymour Papert – though he should be correctly called Seymour Digitalt, yeah!)
  2. R1 said: Amit and (Rafikh), I liked your article , it makes a very strong case for OLPC and the need for more computers in the classroom. However, in my opinion, it misses one important point – pedagogy. Like the pencil and blackboard , the computer too can be used to write ‘A 500 times’ , with the famous cut & paste option. Even if every child has a computer , it is thinking through the pedagogy (distinct for each subject) that will ensure that the learner is using it for LEARNING. Otherwise, if we imagine today that by magic every child gets a laptop in every GHS, I am quite sure in a few years from now the laptop will be just like the pencil & blackboard are today. ANY technology pencil or computer is only a tool, it is the pedagogy that makes it personal, meaningful for learning and iteractive and communicative.
  3. R2 said: R1, you have made an important point, which we have to convey to not only teachers but the whole education system. The focus till now has been to improve infrastructure which is necessary but not sufficient to bring improvement in learning of students. The classic case of “Benny” is an example of what happens when the role of teacher and pedagogy is not considered as important in the design of educational technology. For pedagogy to be effective, teachers need to work with students’ thinking and computers can help teachers to do that to only some extent.
  4. R2 also said: That said, I totally agree with Amir’s idea of providing these tools to learners to augment their learning. I have seen my child struggling hard with “decipherable writing” . He does not understand it’s relevance when he sees adults around him hardly using pencil and paper and mostly texting on phones and laptop. This does made me wonder if it is right for us to insist on pencil and paper in classroom. However, there is an equity issue here as we know how elite schools are rapidly adapting to use technology while government school system is still struggling to provide blackboard, chalk, pencil and paper.
  5. To which R1 responded: Yes R2, the question still remains , what comes first , good access or ways and means of meaningfully leveraging a technology. The answer is not easy.
  6. R3 responded: I do not want to suspend the answer that way. Let me elaborate.If you have performing people around, and there is access to the medium, something certainly will happen. I will not say automatically, but due to inherent curiosity each individual is endowed with, and a social context that incentivises the use of the medium. If there are no people around and the medium is accessible, then I agree. Nothing will happen. But that is a hypothetical situation. The reality is that there are people around with different levels of skills.The role of a teacher is to act as a catalyst, given access to the medium. I am deberately avoiding the term technology, and using the term medium for a very imporant reason. My argument is generic. It works with paper and pencil as medium as well as chalk, slate/blackboard, or even a verbal access. People learnt by listening to stories, didn’t they. We just need people to tell stories. We need to acces to experts who tell stories, using whichever medium that enables it.Therefore, access to medium is zeroeth requirement, only then comes good pedagogy. Good pedagogy catalyses the process, in the absence of it, process does happen when the medium exists, but slowly. Since we want good quality as well as scale, we do need effective pedagogical strategies. So, your point taken. The latter’s existence is unrealized in the absence of medium.
  7. R4 responded to R3:  I had been going to respond with a brief what use ways and means, if no access.
    You, however, explained it all so well.
  8. I responded: Continuing from Amit+Rafiq’s takeoff from Papert, I want to go on to another QWERTY phenomenon. (some pro-vocative, vocal thoughts – so handle with (s)care) ;-)

    Please do not get me wrong – am a ‘teacher’ too and have been one for a while. Have trained and bussed teachers and also have shipped a few – oh what a racket. Also, I would like to hallucinate that, I have made some great contribs towards the happiness of my children. May be, I am generalizing based on a data size of one or even less! However.

    Are teachers overrated and over-focused upon in the context of classrooms?

    Would we be eventually moving towards an ultimate slow demise or scoping out of the current teacher mediated environments? Are we looking at the past & current vexatious problems and are assuming that the same problems will continue in the future – say with similar *current* environmental factors?

    Is there a likelihood that, what we see as enervating problems today (say, in quality of teachers et al) can all more or less cease to exist? Are we trying to research/solve an incorrect problem for the future?

    Are we open to the possibility that many tech trends may come together – such as…

    1) widely prevalent and el cheapo Internet access networks

    2) el cheapo access devices

    3) Auto curated stellar interactive content – personalized/mapped/tailored to individual learner’s requirement

    4) serendipitous and for-the-purpose discovery of shared interests and individuals

    5) fluid self-learning, self-healing, sharing communities of practice

    6) adhoc / runtime learnability of concepts/skills adapted to current requirements & learning levels

    7) ability to leverage the market space by all the learners, even in super-specializations because match-making of supply and demand happens to be intermediated by tech

    8) evolution of certification and acceptable rating methods as collaterals

    9) accent on self-reliance rather than self-sufficiency via the use of tools

    10) auto-didactism becomes the norm, ably aided by the tools and exposure to relevant knowledge and upgrade paths

    11) New ways of digital story telling etc etc;

    …there could be many such axes but this is not exactly a goldilocks condition of many improbable factors coming together – I hasten to add!

    Will the coming-together nullify all our pedagogic approaches, say even in the medium run? I mean – aren’t we intending to use the middle layer of teachers? upgrading them? Bringing them kicking & screaming to our ‘teacher professional development’ tpd sessions? Should our focus be on tech intermediated learning in the long run? About creating a burgeoning tribe of autodidacts?

    I would say that there will still be a great need for real gurus. With the exponential branchification of knowledge realms and specializations, there would be more & more gurus. But the knowledge propagation/transmission to learners may happen to be increasingly mediated by technology. Also this tech intermediation will be multimodal – more often than not, it would be remotely tooled; tech can always handle longtail phenomena, and thereby hangs a tail too! ;-)

    There will not be ‘one size fits all’ in the future. So, whither TPD?

    As an ActionResearch setup – shouldn’t we have some of the above also as our possible research angles? Afterall, we have to imagine solutions to the future problems too, yeah?

    Should we develop a ‘capability maturity’ model for TPD at the end of which, teachers will not be required to intermediate between the medium and the learners? Should we look at how to make teachers obsolete? (at least one of the research questions could be this?)

    Of course, we are talking about some emerging trends, and our takes on them, but then unless we take cognizance of them thingies, I think we will be doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past and comfortably live in echo chambers. We definitely do not want to be working for doomed university efforts, yeah?

    Another boggling thing (at least for me!): Is the Tech that I am talking about, also a QWERTY phenomenon or what? Or, as R3 says so eloquently above – should I stick to the word Medium instead? :-)

    As MarshalMcLuhan said – the medium is the message, yeah! :-)

  9. R1 responded to me: A short reply Ram ;-) Again in my opinion, there will never be a day when the ‘Human Teacher’ will cease to exist. We won’t get to that level of Artificial Intellegence ever ! However I am willing to engage in the possibility that the classroom teacher may not be the central ‘Human Teacher’ as it is imagined currently, but a larger group of teachers, experts, peers etc… Isn’t that where we are going with connected learning?
  10. I responded to R1: I did not talk about AI, R1; also, I had factored in gurus – meaning talented folks in their realms who can communicate/propagate their wisdom/skills. I was only talking about classrooms, teacher centered intermediation and all that… :-)
    Having said that, AI will forge ahead because of another set of axes; however I would restrict myself to edu, tpd only, in this context please!
  11. R2 responded to me with some emoticonnish thingie that I did not understand.
  12. I responded: what does this mean? was trying to figure out… simple non-alphanumeric emotiCONs are enough to chase me out/exorcise me, okay R2? :-)
  13. R5 responded: Maybe out of context… pardon me for that… considering the only teaching background I have is with my kids :-). But teachers /gurus will never be redundant. It’s going as far as the relationship between Ekalavya and Dronacharya. Where he was training himself but still needed a medium (guru) albeit in the form of statue …and nothing has changed with the advent of technology et al even today in fact it has increased the scope of creating teachers to teach technology …
  14. END (of your travails / exasperation, dear hapless reader of this blog; thanks!)

roughcut ideas, opinions & notes on education

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2 Responses to “our teachers, teacher professional development, children, learning, future – some notes”

  1. Sivakumar Viswanathan Says:

    Hello Ram

    The article A slate for every child (Thanks for referring) I believe reflect a thought process concurring with a higher Utopian education model. The premise for the article seems to be originating from a straight vector deduction that reads, education = knowledge.

    Did he conclude (I am not sure that the article has a bi-lane, hence could not understand differently. Help me if I am wrong) that the purpose of a slate, chalk, notebook and pencil are confined to learning how to write alphabets and numbers, thus imparting knowledge through an efficient system!

    Learning through writing is a fundamental aspect of developing and training motor skills, fine tuning dexterity, combining visual and tactile information etc. There are many papers that prove beyond misgivings that handwriting (or writing by hand) does not just stop at the full stop.

    Each letter a child writes has its own geometry that the brain feels, understands and translates through motor functions into decipherable, meaningful lines. A key stroke does not offer such brain training exercises… May be AI is a paradoxical reversal of our efforts to train a machine to learn through a pencil

    An interesting passage from an article on this subject

    “The benefits to brain development are similar to what you get with learning to play a musical instrument. Not everybody can afford music lessons, but everybody has access to pencil and paper. Not everybody can afford a computer for their kids—but maybe such kids are not as deprived as we would think”

    As we progress as a technologically advanced society, scenes from Wall E may become a reality. (The exaggerated form of human sedentary)

    Or did I understand the whole thing in a completely different perspective?

    PS – I had two images to go with this – but found that it is not possible to post in comments section


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