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Conundrums of Motivation

March 31, 2015 1 comment

You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink. The idiom is classic and its accuracy profound. By what method can one make another do an action? For what purpose does one choose to activate the mind? As an instructor, this challenge of motivation remains the ever-impossible problem to solve. Can the motivational riddle be solved?

Many have tried: incentives such as food and cash have been attempted with diminishing returns. Are external motivators more powerful? The avoidance of the threat certainly works for students whose parents directly influence their performance in school. But are these techniques effective in developing life long learners?

Unfortunately the problem of motivation (seemingly its deficiency and not its excess) has existed forever. For what purpose should I do this thing? The “I” remains the factor. Only when it matters does the individual act. Is it culture that determines the value of an action? Fear might play a part and likewise motivations and the avoidance of punishment. And yet for educators around the world what legitimate action can be taken to inspire another to act. One can only do so much and ultimately the student and his or her cognition remain the single driving force between inaction and the action.

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Bullets and Brains: The Educational Complex

January 17, 2011 Leave a comment

In his farewell address, Dwight D. Eisenhower voiced his concerns about a network of entities with the ability to self-sustain via broad outreach and inherent power. The military-industrial complex was, and continues to be, a powerful testament to “net effects” or the power that results from membership in a popular group. It is not unique though, and it is easy to recognize educational complexes that maintain power and draw significant amounts of funding by virtue of membership. Education, like the military, is seen as a social good whose dynamic levels of support (financial, social, etc…) are considered essential to the health of society.

Unlike some areas of government funding, for example parks and recreation, one would risk irreparable harm if funding for social goods was reduced. Slash funding for education or the military and a vulnerability is born. Fears of this weakness help to keep funding constant and serves as the well-spring of power for the “complexes.”

Should we fear an “educational complex”? Certainly a struggling economy and a political system interested in budget cuts will look to educational funding as an area of consideration. When this assessment takes place what will serve as the evidence of the investment? In the military-industrial complex we can see the hangers of tanks and aircraft, the boxes of ammunition and the raw data on soldiers. These are concrete examples of the investment. Education does not have these concrete examples.

The educational complex functions to create abstract items. The ideas and points of learning that the complex creates occur at variable rate and may or may not have real-world application. Who is to say when learning is applied? Without raw data we have little to offer in terms of evidence. “Where’s the proof?” the funders ask and seeking out a source of evidence turn to test scores. Herein lies the data: numbers and levels, progressions and comparisons: the food for interpretation.

Education suffers as an industry of abstract products. Unlike industries that produce “concrete” examples of efficiency, the education industry can only prove its value in data.

The Impossibility of Assessment

January 16, 2011 Leave a comment

What is learning? In my mind one has learned something when new information has been gathered. Learning is a process involving interaction with new information and a process of meshing this new information with material previously learned. My early training formed me according to this “constructivist” technique and developed notions in me that best educational policy focused on creating events in the classroom that assisted students in the process of meshing new info with old info.

If this is learning defined, how do we understand that learning has occurred? As a personal process we rely solely on the individual learner to prove that learning has occurred. Traditionally, the student’s performance on an assessment provides this proof. This secondary task, removed and yet related from the process of learning, is recognized as the only real form that a student can prove that learning has occurred. At play are two major ideas: “evidence” and “accountability”. Both connect to the two players in the learning process: the learner or beneficiary of the education and the institution or educator functioning for the institution who functions as the provider of information and activities designed to assist in the learning process.

Consider the process of education a game. In this game we have two players, the learner and the teacher, striving to a common goal of expanding the knowledge of the learner. Ideally, both players are working towards the benefit of the learner player. Of course complications factor in here: student resistance to learning and other learner-related complications can make this game of education a far more complicated task. Education is not simple, but in this game model both players utilize evidence and accountability to determine success. If a student provides evidence of learning the institution is determined to have met the expectation of accountability: the student has learned new knowledge and the institution’s goals have been met.

Throughout history this game model of education has been the underlying function of institutions and the students functioning within in. This game has not changed through history. Though the details have changed, evidence and accountability are the common points of focus. We obsesses still over the provision of evidence and the market of education has developed devices to make this pursuit more efficient: now we have the field of learning analytics and a focus of technology on learning management systems that gather certain points of data that the institution can used to prove learning and establish accountability. The game remains the same but the tools of the trade have changed; while accountability and evidence have always existed as major points of focus it is data-driven tech that has adjusted the game of education.

With learning analytics the institution has a window into student performance in a class. Moving beyond the performance on an assessment, an institution can observe rates of engagement, forms of communication and other points of data which serve as points of comparison with a peer group. The LMS provides an institution with behavioral data on each student- there remains no proof of learning because, as I mentioned earlier, learning as an inherently personal process which remains beyond all outside forms of assessment: only a student knows when learning has occurred.

Data garnered from an LMS and considered under the process of learning analytics provides powerful abilities to an institution. In service to the need for evidence to establish accountability, these tidbits of information are powerful tools to track and assist students. Responses stemming from considerations of this data can set in motion the process of assisting students with signs of difficulty. A student who displays behaviors trending to students who perform poorly can be re-assigned a greater amount of focus and steered towards behaviors more in line with students who succeed. Here again the dependence on behavior data to drive a student to learning.

Learning is an inherently personal task. Educators and institutions tasked with preparing a new generation of citizens faces the challenge of assessing one task (learning) through the use of assessments that consider other factors. Assessments provide data on test performance, testing skill or the communication skills of the student. Assessments focused on learning material do have value and will assess an amount of learning but I argue that there are limitations here and it is impossible to truly assess a student’s learning. The perfect assessment is an oxymoron and no device exists that proves 100% accurate evidence that learning has occured.

If the perfect assessment does not exist how do we assess learning? If our evidence is not truly reflective of reality how can we base accountability on this information? A better system of accountability focuses less on the raw data of education (gathered via faulted assessments) are more on a broadly based consideration of student growth within the classroom. Our students are better served by this system as institutions tasked with preparing the future generation will benefit from a system that more closely recognizes the process of education and inherent limitations of assessment.

work on this assignment. Your answers are correct, but I would like to see more depth and detail in your responses. For additional points, go back and expand your responses or increase the clarity of your response. 

Mr. Woollams
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