Credit where credit’s due

I was on the train on my way to Teachmeet yesterday when the news came through that our Scholarly Book Reviews had been marked and would soon be ready for collection. As I read Judy’s “examiner’s report” on the work of the cohort I started to worry that perhaps I hadn’t done as well as I thought. It was a nerve-racking few minutes battling intermittent connectivity (damn those tunnels) and navigating the not yet familiar EASTS facility before I found my result.

One of the things that has impressed me with this course is how well scaffolded and supported we are in preparing for and submitting assessment items. The rubric for the scholarly book review made things very clear and I don’t think anyone who read it carefully would be surprised at their result. Reading my essay with careful reference to the rubric I had decided that, as much as I might like a distinction, I would be happy with a credit.

But strangely, or not, I was (briefly) disappointed when I got what I knew I deserved. Guess I’m only human!

Today Bec Spink has posted her essay on her blog. As soon as I started reading it I understood why her work earned a distinction, the difference was obvious.

In recent years at my previous school there has been a strong focus on improving VCE results. The practices of teachers who consistently achieve results above expectation have been analysed and all VCE teachers have been trained and supported to change their practice, with some outstanding results. One of the strategies is to provide examples of excellent work for all assessment tasks. So perhaps the only thing we INF530 students lack for is predecessors who have shared their work like Bec has done. It’s the downside of being the first cohort in a new degree I guess.

So, if you want to see what a distinction looks like read Bec’s post. If you want to see what a credit looks like you can read mine. I’d love it if someone with a High Distinction would share theirs – is that you?

Stigmergy, deep reading, and John “Pigsarse” Elliott

Over the past week or so of all-consuming work on my scholarly book review a few interesting thoughts and ideas came up that did not fit into the framework of such a writing task (or the word limit) but I thought I’d like to share them here.

My book was Mind amplifier: Can our digital tools make us smarter by Howard Rheingold. As part of background research I came across Wolf’s article (2010) where she poses the question “Will we lose the deep reading brain in a digital culture?” ALL the reading I did for the book review was online, mostly on PC or iPad but occasionally on my phone too. I don’t think I’ve read so deeply or thoughtfully in years. I found the highlighting, note-taking and search capacities in Kindle and Evernote enormously helpful for constructing and consolidating my thinking about the text. In fact, I suspect I would have found the task significantly more difficult without the affordances of of my digital tools. It was something of a relief to find that Wolf has now found it is possible to train the brain for deep reading of both digital and print texts, something she calls “bi-literacy”  Serious reading takes a hit from online scanning and skimming, researchers say. Even more interesting for me at the time was that I was alerted to this article by a series of tweets from Rheingold himself:

 

 

As it happens I have been following “my author” for nearly as long as I’ve been on Twitter (over five years), it was one of the reasons I was drawn to his book. When I had a question that no amount of search seemed to be able to answer (who first called Rheingold “The first citizen of the internet” as the Amazon blurb for an earlier work proclaims?) the obvious next step was to tweet and ask him. Which I did and got an answer straight away!

 

A further tweet revealed the source: The Citizen.

Stigmergy is my new favourite word! Referring to a process where intelligence resides in group but not the individual (think about how ants find their way to a food source by leaving a trail of pheremones that other ants then follow) or where something is created without a central control. Mark Elliott (from Melbourne!) wrote his doctoral thesis about Stigmergic collaboration, specifically in wikis like Wikipedia. Reading about this reminded me of the Emergency 2.0 wiki which I learned about as part of the work I did with Red Cross last year; which then led me to some other emergency services related content that was relevant to my book. I never expected that to happen! And as an aside I edited Howard Rheingold’s Wikipedia entry to add Mind amplifier to his publications list.

John Elliott has more relevance than I thought. In my previous post I pondered on John Elliott’s attitude to the internet – “It’s secretary’s work”. Mind amplifier explains how important it is for the individual to be able to use a given tool so that he is enabled with the mind expanding abilities it provides. The power of word processing is in its ability to allow the writer room to think instead of having to type and re-type drafts (or have his secretary do so) – thus to fully take advantage the writer must have the capacity to use the tool, not just direct someone else to do so. Just in case you don’t know who John Elliott is:

Finally, the support and encouragement of others in the cohort, most notably Simon @aus_teach and Bec @MissB6_2, is outstanding. Simon and I read and commented on each others book reviews via Google docs, just one example of what is so good about this course, knowledge networks, digital technology…the whole thing! I had a fantastic catch-up with Simon at the State Library (most appropriately) on Thursday. It was terrific to have the chance to talk face to face and mull over some of the issues and ideas we’ve been learning about. I’ve begun to realise that I’m very interested in computational thinking, we found links to stigmergy in what Simon is doing in another subject, we agreed on how wrong we think exams are as useful assessment tools and wondered how on earth something like the book review could be done under exam conditions. The whole “everybody has to be treated identically” attitude drives me bonkers in lots of contexts but the idea that a three hour exam is the only fair way to assess a year’s learning is the worst. And of course it’s only natural that a certain amount of “teaching to the test” ends up going on… All too big for one coffee session but fantastic to have the opportunity for the discussion in real life.

Simon, Bec and I will be speaking about our experiences, so far, of doing this course at the next Melbourne TeachMeet on May 10 – if you’re in the area you might like to come along. Sign up here, including for the subsequent TeachEats if you can.

References

Rheingold, H. (2012a). Mind amplifier: Can our digital tools make us smarter? New York, NY: TED Books.

WOLF, M. (2010). Our ‘Deep Reading’ Brain: Its Digital Evolution Poses Questions. Nieman Reports64(2), 7-8.

Meanderings

Heartbleed. Retrieved from http://www.crikey.com.au/2014/04/09/heartbleed-reveals-a-big-hole-in-australias-cybersecurity-strategy/

As I’ve sat here today trying to get into my scholarly book review my mind has been meandering over a few topics of interest (sadly, not all related to the task at hand)…

1. Why do I find it so difficult to sound even vaguely intelligent when I summarise the main points of my book? Why do I struggle to put into words what I’m thinking in my head? Trying desperately not to simply copy I find I’m using the same tired words over and over. I know that using lots of quotes is not encouraged for a task like this but I’m conflicted about the value of badly-worded summation compared to a well-selected quote.

2. Pondering on the way technology has altered the brain thus allowing us to create new technologies and ways of doing I’m reminded of John Elliott on The Agony of Modern Manners last week when in response to a question about using the internet he said it was “secretary’s work” so he didn’t use it! I wonder how it is possible that any modern (ok a bit of a stretch regarding Mr Elliott who also has never cleaned a bathroom because it is “menial work”) businessman could possibly be keeping up without some form of online engagement. It reminds me too of a conversation I had with a mature teacher a couple of weeks ago. She knows that our early years teachers will soon have a bank of iPads available to use and has been sent into a spin because someone has told her she’ll have to use them. She hasn’t the first idea about what is possible with an iPad, hasn’t even touched one before. She can’t understand why we’d want preps and grade ones to use iPads when they can’t even write yet. I try to explain that the possibilities offered by the iPad don’t depend on being able to write, that that is one of their virtues but it falls on deaf ears. She’s looking for an easy answer but seems unwilling to make any personal changes or commitment to do so. She even says something along the lines of “we went to teacher’s college to learn how to teach, not to use technology”. I’m gobsmacked that someone only a few years older than me seemingly gave up on learning in her 20’s and don’t really know how to help. I can see that she’s scared and almost want to tell her not to bother, she’ll be retiring soon… but I don’t. I know that working with the middle ground, with teachers who CAN see the possibilities but just need some support to get there will reap the most rewards. Perhaps some of their successes will inspire her to try. I hope so.

3. Reports of the Heartbleed security threat, which potentially affects anyone who has used the internet in the last two years, are a little worrying (hmmm, maybe John Elliott isn’t so silly). I’ve been considering doing something with my passwords for a while. Yes, they are mostly different – a couple of site-specific identifying letters added to the same memorable word in most cases – but they are all made up of real words with numbers which apparently isn’t good enough. Just last Saturday a software-engineer friend was telling us that even pass-phrases aren’t strong enough, that the best passwords are gibberish. So with today’s news I’ve made a start and changed my IFTTT (the only website I’ve actually been contacted by) Twitter and Google passwords to randomly generated ones from Lastpass but gee, if you have a few devices (two iPads, and iPhone and a desktop PC) it ain’t that quick or easy to do. Great time-waster when you’re supposed to be studying though!