Punishing a Child Is Effective If Done Correctly

The title of this post is the title of the paper, and very much not a statement of my opinion. The paper explains how. The questions that immediately spring to mind are ‘effective for what?’ and ‘compared with what?’ The answers from the paper are that it is effective (ish) for making children behave the way you want them to behave, if done in the recommended manner for a limited subset of contexts and people, compared with explaining to kids why their behaviour is unacceptable. Sigh.

Behaviourist approaches do often work as a way of producing the desired behaviour – that is their appeal and that is their point. They do not work at all well when compared with alternatives (explaining is only one of thousands of alternatives, the choice of which depends entirely on context), and they almost always have extremely undesirable side-effects. There are many subsidiary lessons that punishment teaches, including that you should obey those with more power, that you are less worthy than those with more power, that forcible manipulation is an acceptable thing to do to other people, etc. The same applies to rewards.

When I was young, untutored, and overwhelmed with the hassles of parenthood I did sometimes use punishment for my kids in much the same way that this research recommends as well as, occasionally, in anger. I am not proud of that. I think it is entirely understandable but it is a thing to be ashamed of, not to be celebrated. It is a lazy, short-termist short cut that has far more unpleasant side-effects than the benefits it brings. There is always an alternative and, though it may take longer, may be uncomfortable and it may take more patience, that alternative is almost always better in the long run. If we treat children like dogs (and behaviourist methods aren’t even that great for dogs) they will likely grow up obedient – unless they react against it, which is a strong possibility – and, like dogs, if we let the leash slip or they spot a way to avoid punishment while doing something bad, they are likely to take it. Even if they don’t, if the only reason they don’t do the bad thing is habitual fear, the world will be a much sadder place.

Address of the bookmark: http://apa.org/news/press/releases/2015/08/punishing-child.aspx

elearnspace › White House: Innovation in Higher Education

Brilliant piece by our own George Siemens on his thoughts on visiting the White House for a special meeting on higher education. There’s a strong US-centric focus to George’s report, understandably enough, but many of the issues he speaks of resonate internationally. Things are changing, and the change is coming soon, and George is very good at pinning down the implications of that. A worthwhile read for anyone with an interest in the future of higher education.

Address of the bookmark: http://www.elearnspace.org/blog/2015/08/03/white-house-innovation-in-higher-education/

Education software company Blackboard is looking to sell for $3 billion

Blackboard logoUnwanted gift: a few careless owners, many botched repair jobs, not firing on all cylinders, tarnished reputation, some wheels missing, but only slightly used.

A bargain for anyone with a 19th Century attitude to education, seeking thousands of locked-in, resentful customers who will continue to complainingly pay through the nose for any old rubbish because it is too difficult and expensive to move to a different platform. Get it before they all go!

Address of the bookmark: http://www.businessinsider.com/education-software-company-blackboard-is-looking-to-sell-for-3-billion-2015-7

Interview with Kinshuk (part II) in AUSU's Voice Magazine

The second part of AUSU’s Voice Magazine’s interview with Kinshuk (first part here) in which he talks about some of his rich ideas around smart learning, the interplay between digital technologies and pedagogies, fine-grained accreditation, and the value of social interaction in learning. Excellent insights into the thinking of one of AU’s finest profs, who also happens to be one of the smartest (and most prolific) edtech researchers on the planet. His bubbly personality and deeply humanistic, caring perspective on such things comes across very well in this interview.

Address of the bookmark: http://www.voicemagazine.org/articles/featuredisplay.php?ART=10648

Expertise and the Illusion of Knowledge

A post about the Dunning-Kruger effect, which basically claims (and, in a series of studies) demonstrates that ignorance is often typified not the absence of knowledge but by the illusion of it. People think they know more than they do and, at least in many cases, the less they know, the more they think they know. People as in us.

For teachers, this is one of the trickiest things to overcome when we want to give learners control: how do learners distinguish between ignorance and knowledge? If you do not know that you need to know more, you do not have the power nor motivation to take the steps to change that. The role of a teacher (whether an appointed individual or not) to challenge misconceptions and highlight ignorance is a crucial one.  But it should not be about proving or, worse still, telling someone less able than yourself that they are wrong: that’s just a power trip. Ideally, learners should develop ways to uncover their own ignorance – to be surprised or confounded, to see their own mistakes – rather than have someone do it for them.  I think that this means that teachers, amongst other things, should create conditions for surprise to occur, opportunities to safely fail (without judgement), opportunities to reflect, and support for those seeking to uncover the cause of their new-found ignorance.

Address of the bookmark: http://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/expertise-and-the-illusion-of-knowledge/

History of the LMS | LearnDash

Justin Ferriman provides commentary on a Synotive infographic on the history of the LMS, noting a couple of omissions. I think there are dozens if not hundreds of omissions, though nice to see a couple of shout-outs to Athabasca University and our own Rory McGreal. Did Rory really design a DOS-based LMS? You learn something new every day, even about old friends! Not to mention about operating systems: I know that it was possible to network DOS computers – I did it quite a lot – but I’m not sure it would be fair to describe anything built on the back of that as an LMS.

For me, the big missing chunks are mostly in the 1990s, which was an extremely prolific time for things like VLEs, MLEs and LMSs, with most of the major commercial players like Blackboard, WebCT, Lotus LearningSpace, Desire2Learn creating products back then, not to mention a huge range of concurrent and prior things like (say) FirstClass, Bodington, WOLF, CECIL, Web-Course-in-a-Box, and many many more. Even I helped to write an LMS in the 90s – everyone was doing it back then. Then there are all those interesting open source projects like ILIAS and DOKEOS, and somehow the infographic manages to include Sakai but not OKI (that Sakai’s component LMSs all used and that made it easy to bring them together). And where did all those MOOs go? Hard to miss what was then a big movement. And of course the wealth of standards that go unmentioned (where is IMS in this?), things like PLEs, beyond-LMS systems like Elgg, etc. etc. And there’s a chunk between 2007 and 2013 that includes the odd ‘minor’ event like Instructure Canvas or EdX. I could go on. Looks to me like they have no idea about the real history of it at all. Infographics are seductive things, making poorly researched weakly linked randomly chosen events culled from Wikipedia look like a believable story.

Address of the bookmark: http://www.learndash.com/history-of-the-lms/

Cheerful to a Fault: “Positive” Practices with Negative Implications – Alfie Kohn

One in a long series of excellent posts from Alfie Kohn, this time examining the problem of praise. The problem with praise and related things mostly only arises when you praise the person, not what they do. All too often it is a rather unpleasant means of asserting authority, and thus it causes a focus on meeting extrinsic goals, to the detriment of the intrinsic pleasure of doing something. We all need feedback, and it is great to know how we are doing through someone else’s eyes, but it’s much too easy for helpful reactions to turn into extremely unhelpful judgement, much too simple for that to reinforce or establish unhealthy power relationships, and absurdly easy for that to become the reason for doing something.

The post covers other issues too, notably the risks of too much focus on happiness and cheerfulness (neither of which are always appropriate responses to circumstances). I particularly like his translation of “Only Positive Attitudes Allowed Beyond This Point.”  as meaning “My Mental Health Is So Precarious That I Need All of You to Pretend You’re Happy.”

Address of the bookmark: http://www.alfiekohn.org/blogs/cheerful

Learning Theorists

Donald Clark’s collected critical introductions to a wide range of theorists that have some connection with learning. They are not all learning theorists as such, despite the title, though all relate to things that matter in learning and/or teaching and/or education. It’s an eclectic mix that covers far more than those we normally consider to be learning theorists: the likes of Jesus and Marx are not normally grouped with the likes of Dewey and Gagne, for example.

Donald positively relishes the demolition of holy cows and many of his critiques – e.g. of social constructivistm or learning styles or Sugata Mitra  – challenge orthodoxy and commonly-held-but-mistaken beliefs in a very refreshing way. He’s not always right, but he is always well-informed, thought-provoking and interesting. And, if you do disagree with anything he says, he’s normally willing to engage in a reasoned debate about it on his blog – this is a million miles away from a static textbook.

For anyone wanting to get a quick, informative introduction to learning/teaching/education theories and some incisive commentary on them, as well as some excellent references to further reading, this is a brilliant learning resource.

Address of the bookmark: http://planblearning.com/articles/learning-theorists/

From Representation to Emergence: Complexity's challenge to the epistemology of schooling – Osberg – 2008 – Educational Philosophy and Theory – Wiley Online Library

This is my second post for today on the subject of boundaries and complex systems (yes, I am writing a paper!), this time pointing to a paper by Osberg, Biesta and Cilliers from 2008 that applies the concepts to knowledge and education. It’s a fascinating paper, drawing a theory of knowledge out of complex systems that the authors rather deftly fit with Dewey’s transactional realism and (far less compellingly) a bit of deconstructionism.

I think this sits very firmly within the connectivist family of theories (Stephen Downes may disagree!) albeit from a slightly different perspective. The context is the realm of complex (mostly complex adaptive) systems but the notion of knowledge as an emergent and shifting phenomenon born of engagement – a process, not a product – and the significance of the connected whole in both enabling and embodying it all is firmly in the connectivist tradition. It’s a slightly different perspective but one that is well-grounded in theory and comes to quite a similar conclusion, aptly put:

education (becoming educated) is no longer about understanding a finished  universe, or even about participating in a finished and stable universe. It is the result, rather, of participating in the creation of an unfinished universe.

The authors begin by defining what they describe as a ‘representational’ or ‘spatial’ epistemology that underpins most education. This is not quite as simplistic as it sounds – they include models and theories in this, at least. Their point is that education takes people out of ‘real life’ and therefore must rely on a means to represent ‘real life’ to do its job properly. I think this is pushing it a bit: yes, that is true of a fair amount of intentional teaching but there is a lot that goes on in education systems that is unintentional, or emerges as a by-product of interaction, or that happens in playgrounds, cafes, or common rooms, that is very different and is not just an incidental to the process but quite critical to it. To pretend that educational systems are nothing but the explicit things we intentionally do to people is, I think deliberately, creating a bit of a straw man. They make much the same point: I guess it is done to distinguish this from their solution, which is an ’emergentist’ epistemology.

The really interesting stuff for me comes from Cillier’s contribution (I’m guessing) on boundaries, which makes the simple and obvious point that complex systems (as opposed to complicated ones) are inherently incompressible, so any model we make of them is inaccurate: in leaving out the tiniest thing we make it impossible to make deterministic predictions, save in that we can create boundaries to focus on particular aspects we might care about and come up with probabalistic inferences (e.g. predicting the weather). Those boundaries are thus, of necessity, created (or, more accurately, negotiated), not discovered. They are value-laden. Thus:

“…models and theories that reduce the world to a system of rules or laws cannot be understood as pure representations of a universe that exists independently, but should rather be understood as valuable but provisional and temporary tools by means of which we constantly re-negotiate our understanding of and being in the world

They go on…

We need boundaries around our regularities before we can model or theorise them, before we can find their rules of operation, because rules make sense only in terms of boundaries. The point is that the setting of the boundary creates the condition of possibility for a rule or a law to exist. When a boundary is not naturally given, as is the case with natural complex systems, the rules that we ‘discover’ also cannot be understood as naturally given. Rules and ‘laws’ are not ‘real’ features of the systems we theorise about. Theories that attempt to reduce complexity to a system of rules or laws, like our models which do precisely this, therefore cannot be understood as pictures of reality.

So, the rules that we find are pragmatic ones – they are tools, rather than pictures of reality, that help us to renegotiate our world and the meaning we make in and of it:

From this perspective, knowledge is not about ‘the world’ as such, it is not about truth; rather, it is about what we can do in the world, how we can change it.One could say ‘acquiring’ knowledge does not ‘solve’ problems for us: it creates problems for us to solve.”

At this point they come round to Dewey, whose transactional model is not about finding out about the world but leads to a constantly emerging and ever renegotiated state of being.

“…in acting, we create knowledge, and in creating knowledge, we learn to act in different ways and in acting in different ways we bring about new knowledge which changes our world, which causes us to act differently, and so on, unendingly. There is no final truth of the matter, only increasingly diverse ways of interacting in a world that is becoming increasingly complex.

One of the more significant aspects of this, that is not dwelt on anything like enough in this paper but that forms a consistent subtext, is that this is a fundamentally social pursuit. This is a complex system not just of individuals negotiating an active relationship with the world, but of people doing it together, as part of a complex system that drives its own adaptation, at every scale and within every (overlapping, interpenetrating) boundary.

They continue with an, I think, unsuccessful attempt to align this perspective with postmodernist/poststructuralist/deconstructionist theory, claiming that Dillon’s differentiation between the radical relationality of complexity and poststructuralist theorists is illusory, because a complex system is always in a state of becoming without being, so it is much the same kind of thing. Whether or not this is true, I don’t think it adds anything significant to the arguments.

The paper rushes to a rather unsatisfactory conclusion – at last hitting the promised topic of the title – about the role of this emergentist epistemology in schooling:

Acquisition is no longer the name of the game …. This means questions about what to present in the curriculum and whether these things should be directly presented or should be represented (such that children may acquire knowledge of these things most efficiently or effectively) are no longer relevant as curricular questions. While content is important, the curriculum is less concerned with what content is presented and how, and more with the idea that content is engaged with and responded to …. Here the content that is engaged is not pre-given, but emerges from the educative situation itself. With this conception of knowledge and the world, the curriculum becomes a tool for the emergence of new worlds rather than a tool for stabilisation and replication

This follows quite naturally and makes sense, but it diminishes the significance of a pretty obvious elephant in the room, which is that the educational institution itself is one of those boundaried systems that plays a huge role in and of itself, not to mention with other boundaried systems, regardless of the processes enacted within its boundaries. I think this is symptomatic of a big gap that the paper very much implies but barely attempts to address, which is that all of these complex systems involved processes, structures, rules, tools, objects, content (whatever that is!), media, and a host of other things are part of those complex systems. Knowledge is indeed a dynamic process, a state of becoming or of being, but it incorporates really a lot of things, only a limited number of which are in the minds of individuals. It’s not about people learning – it’s about that whole, massive, complex adaptive system itself.

Address of the bookmark: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1469-5812.2007.00407.x/abstract;jsessionid=901674561113DC6F72BDE8756B165030.f04t03?systemMessage=Wiley+Online+Library+will+be+disrupted+on+11th+July+2015+at+10%3A00-16%3A00+BST+%2F+05%3A00-11%3A00+EDT+%2F+17%3A00-23%3A00++SGT++for+essential+maintenance.++Apologies+for+the+inconvenience&userIsAuthenticated=false&deniedAccessCustomisedMessage=