Thursday, June 26, 2008

Points of Viewing Children's Thinking, Ricki Goldman

I recommend this book to all who used camcorders in their class for doing action research or ethnographic inquiries, and to all those who have read my last post on Jacques Duez, the Belgian teacher who used the video camera in his ethics lessons to record the discussions that took place in his classroom and to share it with other classes, the local community or teachers in his school.

Some quotes from this marvelous and inspiring book:

"I sense a crisis looming in front of us, a crisis of technological illiteracy that I believe we can overcome as a society if we simply listen carefully to the stories that young people tell us about their understanding. Although we introduce innovative programs in an attempt to reach students, we do little to find out about how they view their own thinking. Instead, we apply more and more antidotes and theoretical solutions from above. How many more "educational experiments" will we impose on our schools without listening to how children view their learning."

"How can we think that schools are natural settings in which to observe young people? Not only are they social constructions whose purpose is to manage and enculturate the next generation, they are places where performances of gender, class, race, and economic status are played out at every turn of the head."

"Working with analog and digital video data can shift the nature of ethnographic inquiry, redefining its boundaries by blurring the distinctions that previously separated those who are the subjects of inquiry (informants and participants), those who do the recording and interpreting (ethnographers), and those who read the texts (audiences)."

"(…) will teachers ever be able to know what children really knwo in these mediated cultures? And what happens to standards and testing when each child's learning is encouraged to be intrinsically unique? My answer to the first questions is "no". The second question I answer wiht a better question, "What else do you think could replace uniformity and conformity as the measure of learning?"

"The changing role of teachers is not to become the school technologist; it is to enter into the discours with children about what it is to know something in any given culture, even a computer culture. It is to become part epistemologist, part ethnographer, and, always, to become a learner."

"We can look at the school not only as a place that disseminates culture to those who have no choice but to partake in its rituals, but also as a place where cultures emerge and are created, layer upon layer. The school is its own culture, and it contains many subcultures, each with its own past, present, and future. The young people and adults who share the same physical and psychological space for 8 to 10 hours a day are the makers of that culture, not merely its recipients."

Today Ricki Goldman works at the New York University Steinhardt School of culture, Education, and Human Development

MERLin, the Multimedia Ethnographic Research Lab at the University of British Columbia where Ricki Goldman used to work

Jacques Duez: On listening to the children

In the last week I was very absorbed by Jacques Duez's work and busy preparing an event where I presented it to teachers. Jacques Duez has worked for more than 30 years as an ethics teacher in Mons (Belgium). In his early teaching he was very soon frustrated with giving lessons to students during which they were When he noticed that what students brought up themselves was much more interesting to them and to him, he started first tape recording and soon video recording what they said about a certain topic and to share those recordings among different classes. He became famous in Belgium at the moment where Wilbur Leguebe a director of documentary movies working for the national broadcast company RTBF and Agnès Lejeune a journalist made a series of five TV documentaries on Duez's work. One of the most interesting aspects of these documentaries was that they contacted Duez's former students to find out what memories they had of their primary school years and their ethics lessons with Jacques Duez, and to what extend it influenced their later life. The sequences showing young adults sharing their perception of themselves as children while reviewing video tapes showing them during their discussions ten or fifteen years ago are quite remarkable.

When I discovered Jacques Duez's work a few years ago (unfortunately after having left teaching) I was very much impressed by his approach, his way of talking to the children and their profound reflections. His approach is very close to that of Vivian Gussin Paley and in the best tradition of people like Françoise Dolto the famous French doctor and psychoanalyst. I was particularly impressed by a story of a boy whose difficult family situation affected his behavior in school and generated the usual difficulties in the relationship with his teachers, classmates and of course with learning. Only after viewing a video sequence on how this boy explained his situation in Jacques Duez's class his teachers realized how difficult this boy's life was, how little they knew about him and how they had kept teaching and expecting a certain behavior from him without any regard to his social background.

What I intended by showing extract of Duez's work was to sensitize teachers to the potential of children's reflecting and to the importance of considering their socio-cultural background when judging their behavior in an educational setting. I also wanted to sensitizing teachers to the fact that school development needs to be considered not only in the light of meeting new or higher standards. First and foremost, school development should aim at improving the general context for learning and for reflecting about learning, and I see listening to children and children's thinking as one of the preconditions to meet that aim.

Event announcement:
Event picture gallery (pictures by Xavier Maquil, Luc Gilbertz, Christian Schwarz)

Parents / Enseignants … La guere ouvert? Book including DVD and one documentary by Jacques Duez :

Le Temps des Enfants (printed document with DVD, edited by the Observatoire de l’Enfance, de la Jeunesse et de l’Aide à la Jeunesse:

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Rethinking Storytelling with Storied Navigation

The MIT Media Lab has published an interesting research project called "Storied Navigation". The project is based on an idea developed by Edward Yu-Te Shen. His thesis has been published under the title and subtitle Storied Navigation : Toward Media Collection-Based Storytelling.

Storied Navigation is said to be novel approach and a tool to construct narratives based on a collection of annotated media sequences like videos and audios. The system is coupled with so called commonsense reasoning technology which helps the user extend his narrative by suggesting related and indexed sequences that could be webbed into the plot.

When reading Yu-Te Shen's thesis I encountered quite a few ideas which reminded me of Ricki Goldam-Segall's work. Goldman-Segall inspired me a lot during the MIRA-Project, when I developed Multimedia Clipboard. I must say that I am a bit surprised, that neither Ricki Goldman-Segall, video ethnography, constructivism or constructionism are mentioned in the references of the thesis, nor the database system Constellations that has been designed by the Media Lab "to enable a community of researchers to catalog, describe, and meaningfully organize data they have collected and stored in digital format or data that is available on the World Wide Web." I'm also surprised because the reader of Yu-Te Shen's thesis is Glorianna Davenport with whom Goldam-Segall collaborated during her Media Lab years where researched under the guidance of Seymour Papert. But maybe it's just because of the fact that the MIT has developed so many technological projects that they stopped referencing them in every thesis.

Anyway, Storied Navigation is an interesting approach and it seems to be a powerful piece of software for educational use. I can easily imagine that it could serve to create digital learning records or conduct ethnographic inquiries to enter into discourse with others - teachers, students, parents - about learning in multiple situations and contexts. Such a tool can also help making sense of and help discover patterns in fragmented or apparently disconnected experiences by tagging and packaging multimedia sequences, descriptions and interpretations.

Of course we shouldn't underestimate that, whatever tool we use for such purposes, recording, collecting and indexing raw data is very time consuming. We also need to acknowledge the fact that meaning is something we don't discover but something that we construct and the possibility that open tools reveal the thinking of the observer as much as the thinking of the observed. Furthermore, depending on the tools we use to produce meaning and to communicate our points of view, they will be different and, valued and understood differently by others.

Website of Storied Navigation

Project abstract with link to Master Thesis
Edward Yu-Te Shen's blog
Edward Yu-Te Shen's blog in English

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Thinking Tools for Parallelism and Decentralized Systems

Is the ethanol production responsible for the rising corn prices and thus responsible for the rising of food prices or is the subprime crisis the reason for all this, and if, where is the connection? Why are the milk prices dropping in Europe, while simultaneously other food prices are increasing and while China is buying high quantities of milk on the global market - isn't there a contradiction? Is the fuel price increasing because there is shortage of oil resources or is it because of the dropping of the dollar, or is the price part of a strategy to push ethanol production? Or if we all pushed ethanol production would it force crude oil prices to drop?

Even if people tend to think so, the phenomena that can be observed are seldom the fruit of centralized control or clear intentions but of decentralized actions and interactions, parallelism, randomness and self-organization. There is no mono-directional causality, but parallel emergence of multiple situations that act simultaneously and generate effects and patterns that mostly couldn't have been anticipated.

Unfortunately, linear thinking models, coupled with memorization and regurgitation of facts are not the best ways to train people to understand complex emergent phenomena and to find creative solutions to unexpected problems like those that arose recently on a macroeconomic level.

Most of our thinking strategies, school curricula, and tools for learning are all rooted in the paper and pencil area. Even thinking tools like mind-maps which help visualizing the interconnectedness of ideas, aspects, causes and effects in a two dimensional and non-linear way are seldom used in school. And if they were, they are not suited to represent the dynamic of systems.

In order to understand the decentralized nature of social, economical or natural phenomena we need to observe and explore the functioning of decentralized systems and overcome the "centralized mindset" as Mitchel Resnick calls it. This can be achieved through the use of tools like Scratch, StarLogo and StarLogo TNG, which offer a graphical programming environment and which have been developed at the Media Lab under the direction of M. Resnick.

Whereas StarLogo, StarLogo TNG and OpenStarLogo don't seem to be very popular yet, there is a growing community creating and publishing Scratch projects, probably also due to the dedicated website, a Youtube stile sharing portal. Have a look here.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Designing Tools for Evaluation

Back in 2000-2002 during a research project called MIRA Multimedia Interface for Research and Authoring I created a tool for reflective practitioners in school called Multimedia Clipboard. Later on, most of the features of this tool have been integrated into the OLEFA IMS-CMS which offers a powerful web based environment including a database module that can be designed and personalized for multiple uses.

Multimedia Clipboard permitted the collecting and grouping of multiple types of data in order to create layered and multi-perspective descriptions and interpretations of learning situations.
With this kind of tools teachers can evaluate students learning products and processes by creating chunks of information, and include background information of situations and concepts in which these products, processes and their interpretation are embedded.

Once an item is created by importing for example a video clip, the interpretation can be broadened by adding descriptions from different perspectives (comments by students, peers, teachers, parents etc.) and deepened or "thickened" by adding layers of information and interpretation (see the concept of "thick descriptions" by Clifford Geertz and Gilbert Ryle).
This approach is a lot different from a quantitative evaluation, but also from a so called evaluation by competencies in which learning is split up into modules, key stages and key competencies and in which students learning outcomes are, in the end, always compared to normative clusters of knowledge.

The greatest difference however lies in the fact that evaluation by competencies is proclaimed to be formative but neither sets the learner nor the teacher in the focus of an inquiry but the implicit norms.

In opposition to this, a descriptive and interpretive (ethnographic) approach puts the learner and the teacher(s) in the focus because their judgments, ethical considerations and theories become part of the evaluation process. Here, teachers are not observers, but actors in a learning process, and an evaluation is created or co-constructed through collaboration and negotiation. And, students are not objects of evaluation and inquiry but co-evolving subjects. A tool like Multimedia Clipboard is as much a instrument for evaluation as a means to gain insight in the functioning of evaluation and the nature and power of the hidden theories involved - including those which gave birth to the tool itself. Furthermore, and because of the non-linearity of the tool, a small change in the tool has the potential to open a high variety of new possibilities to interconnect information. A small change in a check list of competences - which I consider to be a linear system - will never have such an impact.

By adopting open instruments and ethnographic approaches, evaluation will take the shape of a narrative based on self-organization and reflection instead of a diagnosis conforming to a given structure. We will also reach a high level of unpredictability, variety, redundancy and even messiness, while simultaneously reducing centralized control and normative comparability between individual learning outcomes. On the other hand we will open to all actors involved a space for self-reflection, creativity and double-loop learning.

As there is a growing demand for alternative forms to evaluate students learning, I think that evaluation by normative competencies cannot be but a transitional stage before adopting open tools like Multimedia Clipboard which will extend the possibilities and concepts of so called learning records and portfolios and which will at the same time force teachers in a position of self-reflection.

Some Reading Milestones

  • Towards reflexive method in archaeology : the example at Çatalhöyük (edited by Ian Hodder) 2000

  • The Book of Learning and Forgetting (Frank Smith) 1998

  • Points of Viewing Children's Thinking: A Digital Ethnographer's Journey (Ricki Goldman-Segall) 1997

  • Verstehen lehren (Martin Wagenschein) 1997

  • Computer im Schreibatelier (Gérard Gretsch) 1992

  • The Boy Who Would Be a Helicopter. Uses of Storytelling in the Classroom (Vivian Gussin Paley) 1991

  • La cause des adolescents (Françoise Dolto) 1988

  • Scuola di Barbiana. Die Schülerschule. Brief an eine Lehrerin. (Edition of 1980) / read in German 1982
    Letter to Teacher by the Schoolboys of Barbiana (1970)
    Lettre à une maîtresse de'école, par les enfants de Barbiana (1968)
    Lettera à una professoressa (Original Edition) 1967

  • Vers une pédagogie institutionnelle (Aïda Vasquez, Fernand Oury) 1967

Documentary Films on Education

  • Eine Schule, die gelingt (by Reinhard Kahl) 2008

  • Les temps des enfants (Jacques Duez) 2007

  • Klassenleben (by Bernd Friedmann und Hubertus Siegert) 2006

  • Lernen - Die Entdeckung des Selbstverständlichen
    (Ein Vortrag von Manfred Spitzer) 2006

  • Die Entdeckung der frühen Jahre
    Die Initiative "McKinsey bildet" zur frühkindlichen Bildung (by Reinhard Kahl) 2006

  • Treibhäuser der Zukunft - Wie in Deutschland Schulen gelingen (by Reinhard Kahl) 2004

  • Treibhäuser der Zukunft / Incubators of the future / Les serres de l'avenir; International Edition (by Reinhard Kahl) 2004

  • Journal de classe, 1ères audaces (1), Les échappés (2), Sexe, amour et vidéo (3), L'enfant nomade (4), Remue-méninges (5) (by Wilbur Leguebe, Jacques Duez, Agnès Lejeune) 2004

  • Spitze - Schulen am Wendekreis der Pädagogik (by Reinhard Kahl) 2003

  • Journal de classe, (by Wilbur Leguebe and Agnès Lejeune; Jacques Duez) 2002

  • Etre et Avoir (by Nicolas Philibert) 2002

  • The Stolen Eye (by Jane Elliott) 2002

  • The Angry Eye (by Jane Elliott) 2001

  • A l'école de la providence (by Gérard Preszow) 2000

  • Blue-Eyed (by Jane Elliott) 1996

  • A Class Divided (by Jane Elliott) 1984

  • Eye of The Storm (with Jane Elliott) 1970

Past quotes of the day

For every problem, there is one solution which is simple, neat and wrong. Henry Louis Mencken

Traveler, there is no path. Paths are made by walking.
Antonio Machado

The best way to predict the future is to invent it. Immanuel Kant

The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them. Albert Einstein

To paraphrase a famous quotation, all that is necessary for the triumph of damaging educational policies is that good educators keep silent. Alfie Kohn

We used to have lots of questions to which there were no answers. Now, with the computer, there are lots of answers to which we haven't thought up the questions. Peter Ustinov

I had a terrible education. I attended a school for emotionally disturbed teachers. Woody Allen

A professor is someone who talks in someone else's sleep. W. H. Auden

When I was an inspector of schools I visited one classroom and looked at a boys book. He'd written, 'Yesterday, Yesterday, Yesterday, Sorrow, Sorrow, Sorrow, Tomorrow, Tomorrow, Tomorrow, Love, Love, Love.' I said, 'That's a lovely poem.' He said, 'Those are my spelling corrections.' Gervase Phinn

Real thinking never starts until the learner fails. Roger Schank

If what is wanted is a reexamination of schooling in terms of purpose, structure and process, then testing programmes are the wrong vehicle (...) Caroline V. Gipps

Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts. Albert Einstein

Act always so as to increase the number of choices. Heinz von Foerster

Another way of avoiding teaching is by relying exclusively on a textbook, workbooks, and other commercially packaged learning materials. Teaching is reduced to administering a set curriculum without giving any thought to the substance of what the students area learning or to their particular needs. H. Kohl

The right to ignore anything that doesn't make sense is a crucial element of any child's learning - and the first right children are likely to lose when they get to the controlled learning environment of school. F. Smith

Learning is the human activity which least needs manipulation by others. Most learning is not the result of instruction. It is rather the result of unhampered participation in a meaningful activity. - Ivan Illich

Too often we give our children answers to remember rather than problems to solve. - Roger Lewin

I have never let my schooling interfere with my education. - Mark Twain