Tuesday, June 17, 2014

I Dodged the Question

Dodged the question.
In the previous post to this one I replied to a post by William Chamberlain who reflected on a students's question "Why do I have to learn history?" This is an important question and needs to be addressed, not dodged like I did in responding to the question as if it were "How should history be taught"? I will try again. All of us have to learn history because we live history. Each day our historical trail lengthens. That trail, that history, shapes us (and has already shaped us). I think it is important to understand how that happens (and what happened and how it happened). That, I think, is why we should learn history. But to learn that history we must reflect, ask questions, gather data, seek answers, increase our awareness to what is happening so that the questions will be more easily addressed in the future. We need to know history in order to affect the future (if we can). If we understand our ongoing history, it is possible we can shape the future history, that is our history after tomorrow (or any time frame you want to set). That is why we need to learn history. And we can substitute almost anything for our selves in this process of reflecting, asking questions, gathering data, seeking answers, and changing the future. But this probably does not really address the question asked by the fifth or sixth grader. My guess is that he really meant why do I have to learn the history you have (or the textbook has) chosen for me to study? A good question. I think we should think very hard about how to provide our students with more choice in the histories they choose to study. We should emphasize that what needs to be learned is how to effectively use the tools listed above (reflecting, asking questions, gathering data, etc.) which we use to study history. Schools instead seek a specific answer to a specific question and call that history.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Why Do I Have to Learn History?

In a recent blog post William Chamberlain, a teacher in Noel Missouri and one of the people who has most influenced how I have organized EDM310 and the person for whom the William Chamberlain Prize for EDM310 Students which is awarded annually by the University of South Alabama is named,asked this question. His post raises a very important question. Here is what he wrote:
Funny how a little question, only seven words long, can throw one for a loop. I had a student ask me that question an hour ago and I am still reeling from it. I'm reeling because I can't verbalize an answer. The first thing I did was look online for an answer. Surely somewhere there is a cogent, well reasoned and yet simple answer. If there is one, I didn't find it. Google the question yourself and see what comes up. Better yet search videos using the question, plain horrible. Honestly, I doubt anyone can answer this one for me anyway. I have always loved history, I have loved the stories that come from history. I love the connections I see between seemingly disparate events. I love recounting stories like Peale's Mastadon because of the connections between art, science, and exploration. Now I am stuck trying to justify what I teach without any cogent thoughts appearing. Why do they have to learn history?
I hope you will go to his post and read the many comments that have been left. They address Mr. Chamberlain's question in many different ways and are important for any aspiring teacher to consider. One of those comments was left by me and I am repeating it here so I can be sure all EDM310 students will read his post and my comment. At least I should be able to "be sure" but you never know. Here is my comment and two pictures I took at the time of the event that I recount in my comment.
Student reading at the grave of an American soldier in Normandy, France at the Omaha Beach American cemetery
I'll add a few thoughts. Last March I visited the American Cemetery in Normandy. Around one gravestone a fairly large group had gathered. One person was rubbing sand into the carved out portion of the gravestone so that the name could be read which is difficult to do in sunlight. I later found out the sand was from Omaha Beach which is within walking distance. Another person was reading a statement about Sgt. Grover L. Scroggins from Texas, the person who was buried there. She had obviously contacted relatives and her comments told a great deal about Sgt. Scroggins, an American soldier who had died in the Normandy Invasion seventy years ago. I was moved to tears, as were many of those gathered around. What was going on, I wondered, since it was obvious that those surrounding the grave were Americans. I inquired and found that they were students from an American university near Washington, D.C. who were studying history. Each student had been assigned an American soldier who was buried in the American cemetery at Omaha Beach. Each conducted research and prepared a statement to be read on the field trip the class took to France. The readings were recorded on video and sent to members of the soldier's family. But these students were studying history! Why were they doing this? To learn about what had happened in Normandy 70 years ago. To learn to do research. To learn to write. To learn to make a public presentation which will be shown to a lot of other people. To learn videography. To learn about how people react to the sacrifices of others. To learn the geography of one of the most important events of the last 100 years (or more). To learn to work with others (family members, other students, teachers, residents of France). History is a context for learning that goes way beyond knowing "what happened" and "when and where it happened." I find it hard to imagine a better and more powerful learning experience. History was the context, not the end objective. History should not be taught as a subject which is memorized and then burped back. Instead it should be a vehicle, a context, for active learning that has a public purpose. Just ask the students participating in this learning event. Or the family members who got the videos. Or even those who just happened to walk by and listen in as I did. I certainly learned a lot - about history and about learning! Maybe these thoughts will help us to understand how history can be a powerful context for learning. I suspect this approach would be equally powerful in any town in America.
American Cemetery, Omaha Beach, France

Thursday, December 12, 2013

My Thank You To Mrs. Martin's Students

Today I received a whole bunch of thank you letters - in a video. It is better if you click here and watch it on YouTube How wonderful! Thank you for sharing them with me.

Several of you asked questions in your letters. I will have to go back and write down the questions and then answer them. This is our final week of classes at the University so it will be next week before I do that. Come back later for my answers. I do have a few comments now, however.
1. Do I think people will ever live on the moon? Probably in your lifetime!
2. Is it important to talk with old people? Absolutely. Even if they only have "flip phones"! You will learn a lot of history that way. You will be exposed to different ideas. You will expose the people with whom you talk to new ideas. Learning will take place and that is what we want to have happen.
3. One of you said you wanted to be a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader. They are often considered to be the best cheerleaders. I am a Saints fan but I wish you good luck!
4. Many of you commented on my name: "amazing", "cool", definitely Strange! So Thanks from your old Strange friend!

Watch for more answers to your questions next week.

Here is my Thank You Video from Mrs. Martin's Baldwin County High School Classes. Thank you very much!

John Strange

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Mistakes at the Masters: 4 Over

1. Tiger did not drop in accordance with the rules on Hole #15. Whether he knew that is irrelevant but I think he did not realize it but would have known if he had stopped to think. Tiger 1 Over in Mistakes

2. The Masters Committee hurriedly looked at the drop while Tiger was on the 18th. They incorrectly determined that his drop was in "close proximity" to the original place from which he played. Committee 1 Over in Mistakes.

3. The Masters Committee looked again after Tiger had signed his scorecard and explained his drop. The Committee determined Tiger had not followed the rule on drops, acknowledged they were wrong in their original decision, and levied a 2 shot penalty for Tiger. Acknowledgement of mistake leaves the Masters Committee 1 Over in Mistakes.

4. Tiger accepted that decision. No change. Still Tiger 1 Over in Mistakes

5. The Masters Committee addressed the DQ possibility for signing an incorrect scorecard. The Committee, using a High Definition TV rule, decided that they could waive the DQ. The High Def TV rule is not applicable here. The issue is whether or not the Committee is responsible for advising players if they do not follow the rules. If so, then a rules official should be present on ALL shots. They were present with Guan. They were following Guan in person and informed him in person. They were NOT following Tiger in person. They did not communicate with Tiger on the golf course before he signed his score card. Is that their responsibility now? And is the High Def TV rule to be used to undo Committee mistakes? I do not think that is why the rule was added. Masters Committee 2 Over in Mistakes

6. Apparently Tiger will accept a wrong decision by the Committee. If so Tiger will be 2 Over in Mistakes

Total for two days: 4 Over for Mistakes (2 by the Committee, 2 by Tiger).

Correct Decisions:
1. The penalty for slow play for Guan. Masters Committee got this correct.
2. Guan accepted the penalty. 1 Correct for Guan.

Not a good day for the Masters. Not a good day for Tiger.

Friday, February 15, 2013

How the World Helps Me Teach Pre-Service Teachers

In Less Than 24 Hours!

It took less than 24 hours for the world to help me teach my pre-service teachers. That happens all the time but this time the process was especially interesting.

On January 24, nine days after the start of EDM310's Spring 2013 semester, one of my students (I will refer to the student as JJJJJJ) posted this on JJJJJJ's new blog:
JJJJJJ's Post had no Title

I have just viewed a teacher blog for the 1st part of C4T assignment it was a short post commenting on another teacher's blog or post. My thoughts are, it's all flutter and opinions and we all know what opinions are like, everyone has one. The subject was "school reform" and it's being screwed up by leading internet figures such as Gates, Zuckerberg and Jobs who are nicknamed as "big money guys".
My comment was on how does this help me be a better teacher or at the very least just a teacher. Somebody please explained to me why this class is important, because until the benefit of reading and writing these blogs are explained I'm going to have a bad taste in my mouth.
Less than 24 hours later the post had received 16 comments from some of the most influential education bloggers in the world. From New Zealand to Canada.

I didn't even know about it until I received this Tweet from my good friend and mentor in blogging and commenting on blogs William Chamberlain 45 minutes after the first comment had been left: Interesting stuff brewing on your student's post. You may want to check it out.

Who were the individuals who left comments?

Will Richardson, the author of Will Richardson's Blog
Karl Fisch, author of The Fischbowl
Dorothy Burt author of Manaiakalani who helped teach me the power of blogging more than three years ago which I have discussed in detail in Kaia and Room 10 - Why Blogs and Commenting on Blogs are So Important
And 13 others including third grade teachers, math teachers, principals, education consultants, IT directors, art teachers, regional administrators and 3 who remain a mystery to me. Residents of New Zealand, Canada and at least eight different states in the United States. Truly a world of educators who help me teach. I thank them one and all. I never cease to be amazed by the power of blogging and commenting on blogs.

So What Is This All About?

Each semester I have my pre-service teachers comment on the blogs of their classmates (every week for 16 weeks), teachers (twice every four weeks - 8 posts in all for 4 different teachers from a list of over a hundred that I have compiled since I started EDM310 in the Summer term of 2010), and on kids' blogs (for 10 weeks on blogs of first through twelfth graders in classes all over the world.

The student involved in this story (whom I am calling JJJJJJ in this account) left a comment on a teacher's blog. JJJJJJ had only written two posts at the time JJJJJJ left the comment on Will Richardson's blog post We're Getting Rolled. The comment JJJJJJ left was
Hey I'm suppose to post a comment as part of a college class assignment in Elementary Education. I was assigned to read your blog and I must say I have no freaking idea what the heck you're talking about and how your blog is useful to me as a future educator.
A few people left additional comments on the post that referred to this comment. But the most important responses were left on the JJJJJJ's post in which JJJJJJ reported the comment he had left on the blog of the teacher assigned to JJJJJJ for the first C4T. That was JJJJJJ's second post ever. The irony is that JJJJJJ was not supposed to publish the summary of the post and of the comment left for the teacher until after JJJJJJ had done both parts of the assignment. I am glad JJJJJJ did not follow my instructions however, since the incident has provided an exciting and important learning experience for me, for all of my students, and, I suspect, many of the other participants in this event.

So what has been learned (or not learned)?
1. All posts must have a title. This requirement was not followed in this case.
2. Use proper grammar. Use the correct words to convey your message. This requirement was not followed in this case.
3. Identify yourself as a student in EDM310. This requirement was not followed in this case but, as I explained in class, there are many ways you leave trails when you use the Internet. Remember, as Anthony Capps said, "You are leaving an intellectual trail and you will be Googled!"
4. Post your C4T summaries after you have completed both parts of the C4T the assignments.
5. You are part of a world wide community of learners whether you realize it or not. That community is eager to join you in learning (and to help you do it).
6. The world will help you. That is why you will be developing a PLN. In these 16 comments there were 9 very useful links. Use them!
7. If you do a bit of searching (click on the names of those leaving comments, for instance) you can find even more links to important materials. You can also find worthy candidates to follow on Twitter and/or to add to your PLN as it begins to develop and flourish.
8. Blogs are indeed powerful - and useful. For you. And they will be for your students as well.
9. Mobile County, Baldwin County and even Alabama (despite being Champions in football) are a very small part of the world. The profession of education is practiced differently throughout the world. Learn about these differences.
10. You cannot learn except by doing. If you won't try something new you should not be going into a profession which has as its central focus learning (or at least should have).
11. You must not teach the way you are taught! If you intend to do so, change professions. NOW!
12. When you get offers of help, take them. Contact those who offer help via Twitter, email, or blog comments. You will be surprised by the responses you get.
13. Although this is beyond the scope of EDM310, I would argue that everything we do is based on opinions. We debate those opinions as a part of the learning process. Remember one of the mottoes of EDM310: Questions Are More Important Than Answers.
14. Don't jump to conclusions until you have made your best effort to understand and use the tools we use in class.
15. Use Twitter. See if you can't make it into your most important source of professional development as I have and as have many of the respondents to JJJJJJ's post and comment.
16. I will quote Dorothy Burt on this one since I want to avoid patting myself on the back:
I would like to let you know that this class [EDM310] is the envy of educators around the globe...We enjoy having a number of your classmates visit our children's blogs (at Pt England School) and my own blog and are always envious when we track back and see the latest things you all are being taught...Be very very thankful.
17. We are part of a worldwide educational community as I have said often in class. If you did not believe me then, I hope these events have convinced you that I am correct in that statement.

The complete set of the comments left so far can be found in a separate post Complete Set of Comments Left for JJJJJJ.

Complete Set of Comments Left for JJJJJJ

The following comments were left for JJJJJJ. To understand their meaning and the learning derived from them see my post How the World Helps Me Teach Pre-service Teachers.

Comments Left for JJJJJJ

Will Richardson January 24, 2013 at 2:28 PM

Thanks for reading my blog and for leaving the comment. I learned a great deal about you and your class from the interaction.

You are right to wonder why blogs might be important. I doubt anything I can say about the tool itself would convince you of its worth; you'll just have to keep writing and commenting and see how things evolve. Suffice to say blogging has transformed the way I think about learning and education because it has connected me to thousands of smart, brilliant people around the world who on a daily basis help me understand kids and schools and classrooms more deeply than I could sitting in a classroom taking a required tech course that seems at first blush to have little relevance to the modern world.

The barrier is that it's clear you're expecting to teach the way you were taught. I found it really interesting that your preferred method of working with kids is "I do" "we do" "you do" (as noted on a previous blog post), a method that will probably do a great job of getting kids ready for standardized tests but will do nothing to prepare them for the real world of learning that now exists. As I parent of two teenagers, I frankly shudder at the thought.

You have a choice, JJJJJJ. You can choose to look at social technologies as a fad that seems to be a minor inconvenience in your worldview, or you can be open to the idea that education and learning are changing dramatically because of them. As an aspiring educator who I would hope would also aspire to a model learner for his students, it might be good to put some time into reading and reflecting on what's happening outside your classroom and thinking deeply about how these technologies are rewriting the realities of teaching and schooling. If you'd like some places to start that work, I'd be happy to supply some links.

Karl Fisch January 24, 2013 at 2:18 PM

Well, my first suggestion would be to read a bit more of Will's blog as opposed to just that post. I think it's tough if you're coming into the conversation in the middle, and I think it's safe to say that that post was intended more for the regular readers that are part of the on-going conversation. I think if you read a bit more you'll find some value.

And, you're right, it is all "opinions" - but opinions that are informed by experience, practice, constructive dialog, and a whole lotta thought. It's folks trying to figure out - together - what's best for their students. I think that if you join this conversation it certainly has the potential to make you a better teacher. And citizen.

RBurkett January 24, 2013 at 2:37 PM

Welcome to the conversation, JJJJJJ. I believe the ability to connect with other educators has been greatly enhanced by internet tools like Blogs, Twitter, and other social media. Should you decide to become a teacher, you will quickly learn that one of the pitfalls of the current "system" is that you can very quickly feel like you are working in isolation without the time or ability to connect with other teachers. This connection is a critical component in moving toward the goal of becoming a creative, equipped, master teacher. Ongoing conversations enable you to share your ideas about what works best in schools, what methods seem to best meet specific student needs, what technologies are available to help your students, what classroom management strategies exist to support you, how to handle disruptive or difficult students (or parents), how to assure your students are learning, and most importantly, how to grow and stay informed in your chosen profession. Blogs and other web-based forms of communication mean that teachers no longer have an excuse to remain entrenched in ineffective classroom practice because they have access to the collective wisdom, experience, data, and research of the entire educational community. While you might not have found value in this particular blog post, I would encourage you to continue to explore and to engage your colleagues in productive dialogue about your practice and what's best for students under your care. A teacher who insists on remaining isolated and uninformed is one I would simply not hire for my school, so personal and professional growth is vital to your success in the field. I wish you all the best and the richest rewards that come with the noble, yet very complex and difficult tasks found within the teaching profession.

J. Yantho January 24, 2013 at 2:38 PM

It sounds like you are surprised that a blog post contained an opinion. Education can be tricky and lots of people have lots of ideas on how to make it better. I would suggest that when you read a blog post regarding education, that you continue to research the topic until you have a "freaking idea" or at least keep an open mind.

Education reform is a hotly debated topic right now. There are many parties pulling in different directions. People that want to make money through charter schools, people who want to make money in ed-tech, people who want to make money by creating curriculum that every American student must consume - oh, and the people that want education to actually BE better. Understanding where education "may" be headed (good and/or bad) is very important to deciding how you can be a better teacher, or at least better prepared to teach in this "brave new world."

 Sometimes when we have been out of the classroom for a while it's hard to get back that spirit of curiosity and a thirst for knowledge. As a teacher, however, I think it is pretty important that we have the mentality of a student for life.

Jonathan Palles January 24, 2013 at 2:43PM

As a first year teacher, I have found Mr. Richardson's posts invaluable. Part of the problem you may be having is exactly what Mr. Fisch pointed out: you are coming in in the middle of the conversation.

When I first started learning about technology in the classroom and forming PLC's (Professional Learning Communities) I was completely lost. However, my district continued to emphasize the importance of forming a PLC. As I began doing my own research and developing a direction for my class, I started finding many teachers using methods that would help me to structure my classroom differently than a "traditional" classroom. I began following these teachers on Twitter and other online networks. I began to find lots of great FREE resources to use in my classroom. I already knew that the "traditional" classroom is no longer a viable option, but I didn't know how to break away from that model. By reading resources provided by Mr. Richardson (and many others) I have begun to develop new strategies to bring my class into the future, instead of repeating the past.

Technology is here and it's not going away. With all the resources at our fingertips, learning facts is no longer as important. What is important is learning to navigate and locate viable information for yourself. We need to teach our students how to problem solve and locate information for themselves. I don't have all the answers to help them accomplish that, so I learn from people all over the world who have developed strategies that I can use. I recommend that we all get plugged in and help each other out to navigate this extremely exciting time in education.

Niki January 24, 2013 at 2:46 PM

Maybe you need to check out some great classroom blogs to find inspiration!
Poke around some links from here to start with: Edublogs Best Class Blogs for 2012

Kristy_Vincent January 24, 2013 at 2:54 PM
Well hello there! The power of blogs and social media as a whole is the exact experience you are having now if you have read down this far.
Will shared his thoughts (or opinions) on a particular "hot button" topic in education on his personal blog. You responded (all part of that free speech deal). AND all the world saw! When you were in the K-12 classroom it may have looked something more like this:

Will read an article in the newspaper. He wrote a letter to the editor. A week letter said letter is published. You read the letter Will wrote and you respond. A week later, it gets published. By then, Will is on vacation (and won't get to your response until the week later when he returns). Conversation over!

Today, Will shared his post (as he does most of his posts) on Twitter. The 33,000+ people that follow Will on Twitter have read his post, your comment, and now your post. Your post isn't on a Post-It note in the hallway. It is on the internet. The world wide, vast-reaching, ever changing internet. Through the power of blogs and social media, people like Will and the first year teacher in the one room school house in Central Texas meet. They can talk. They can help each other. That's why we are here. We are educators. We care! As a whole group we lean on one another for inspiration, frustrations, and ideas. We band together to truly change education because we care about children. The technology of today allows us to do so at rapid fire speed. It's an amazing!

Brandon Raymo January 24, 2013 at 2:58 PM

... [A]lthough you did not find that particular blog post helpful, your comment on the blog made me think about the classroom. If you were the teacher and required your class to read and comment on a blog, would your comment be acceptable to you the teacher?

Disagreement and not understanding are all a part of learning. We can disagree and not understand in a respectable manner, assuming you would know a thing or two about respect as you were a ... for some time.

 I can also tell you that reading and commenting on blogs has been a great learning experience for me. I have learned more in the last few years as an avid blog reader and Twitter junkie than I did in 4 years of undergraduate work. The best part about the blogs and Tweets is that it causes me to think, question, and examine my own thoughts and practices.

Thank you for commenting and giving me the opportunity to reflect. Good luck in your journey.

It is interesting that now because of this question, there have been more resources shared and more advice and sharing to sort through. We as educators have an amazing opportunity in the world we live in today to also choose our learning. Even if we don't agree with what is being shared or stated it makes ask question and makes us think.

Darren Kuropatwa January 24, 2013 at 3:22 PM


I read how you hadn't come across anything that you thought might be useful to the work you'll be doing in the classroom so I thought I'd share some stuff with you:

 This is my curated list of resources on Learning.

I'm not sure what you teach but you might find these Writing Prompts or Photo Prompts useful somewhere down the line.

I'm a math teacher. You can have all my stuff. There's more here. If you go all the way back to my earliest slidedecks (saved from my SMARTboard each class every day) you can see how my teaching and use of the IWB evolved.

I hope something in all this helps you in your classroom in some small way.

Best wishes to you! This is a great time to be a teacher. ;-)


Jon January 24, 2013 at 3:40 PM
I would be interested to know which part of the experience leaves a bad taste in your mouth? Is it the difficulty learning to use technology? The work of reflecting on your own preferences? The difficulty in understanding a perspective different than your own? The task of critically analyzing the opinions of another person to determine the merits of them?

You asked for somebody to explain to you how reading and writing these blogs will help you become a teacher.

Regardless of the content of the specific blog post you read, it appears that by going through the process, you are learning some skills that are vital to becoming an effective educator. Some of these skills include self-reflection, critically analyzing information, identifying the perspective of another person, and the ability to use technology.

Specifically, this is preparing you to be a teacher in the following ways:

You have been asked to understand the perspective of another person. This is vitally important to educators so that we can understand what motivates students to take ownership of their own learning.

You are now experiencing the process of developing knowledge through an exchange of ideas between different people, as opposed to simply transferring rote knowledge to a passive receptacle. I imagine this is a growth experience for you.

You are learning how to use technology to communicate and to express your throughts. Based on your first couple posts, it appears that this is a new experience for you, and a skills set which you will need to increase significantly in order to be an effective educator.

You are learning that teachers are treated as public figures. You are working through the conflict between your desire for personal privacy and the public role of teachers.

You are being asked to reflect on your own personal biases, prejudices, world view, and preconceptions of teaching and learning. All effective educators do this continually.

Frankly, the tone of your comments makes me doubt that you will be receptive to this response. (Perhaps that just my own opinion.) However, my observation of your writing leads me to believe that your reluctance (or resistance) to learn from the knowledge and experience of others is your greatest hurdle to becoming an effective educator.

I hope you do find the value of learning as you work through these challenges. That's the nature of learning, and becoming a good learner is the first step toward becoming a good educator.

thegeometryteacher January 24, 2013 at 4:05 PM
I will mirror what many of the earlier posts are saying. Blogging is way into a conversation. It is a conversation that is rich and broad and includes TONS and TONS of experiences, backgrounds, successes and failures.

Bottom line: There is a group of people who are blogging for the purpose of becoming better educators. This is surely why I keep up my blog. I hope to offer something to the conversation and I hope to get something back that will benefit my students and my community.

That having been said, my blog isn't what it was when it started. As I've posted and commented and explored and participated and read, it continues to evolve, just as I continue to evolve as an educator.

I don't think that it is necessary to participate in the blogging community to become a good educator, but I think there is an affordable, diverse and flexible set of resources available throughout the community to take advantage of.

Roderick Vesper January 24, 2013 at 4:23 PM

JJJJJJJ - I will keep this short and simple. I teach differently now than I did earlier in my career, because I sought out passionate and engaging voices of other educators via blogs and Twitter. I began just wallowing in the quagmire of voices, and have now edited it down to a handful of voices that challenge me, and voices that affirm my current path. Sometimes the most successful things that happen in my class in a given year come from ideas that have been "borrowed" from those voices. Things I would never have thought of in the isolation of my own classroom.

One other thing that I think is important to mention: if you are not interested in the education reform conversation now, you will be, because it will invade your classroom on a daily basis.

Best of luck as you continue your studies.

Andrew Shortell January 24, 2013 at 4:27 PM
Opinions lead to investigation lead to thinking lead to research and hopefully publishing which then becomes literature which then carries credibility. So opinion is good! Sometimes it is completely wrong or completely right but mostly way in between. We need to lead by example. I am trying to implement change in my school and my classrooms, however students resist change in many cases because that is not what they are used to. They are in a comfort zone that is easy - they do not have to do much work if they stay in teh system and it stays the way it has always been - in their experience @acsbear8

Gerald AungstJanuary 24, 2013 at 6:18 PM

JJJJJJ, for me the power of a blog is not just that I can learn about the ideas and opinions of others, but that I get to engage the writer in a conversation about those opinions. If I disagree, I can challenge them and deepen my understanding (and perhaps theirs as well). Through my blog and the others I read, I've connected with people and ideas and ways of thinking about education that I would otherwise not have encountered.

Dorothy January 26, 2013 at 2:59 AM

Kia ora JJJJJJ,

In response to
"Somebody please explained to me why this class is important" I would like to let you know that this class is the envy of educators around the globe. Because you have the luxury of having this class, you can have no idea what it is like to be a preservice teacher at an institution that provides no preparation for 21st century learning and teaching environments. Last year I worked with 4 new teachers who landed in 1:1 classes for their first teaching job and they had had NO preparation during their training for this. They had been trained for a world of paper, pencil and textbooks - and that world is disappearing like the Titanic with it's bow dipping under the water.

We enjoy having a number of your classmates visit our children's blogs (at Pt England School) and my own blog and are always envious when we track back and see the latest things you all are being taught.

I am trying to think of the hashtag equivalent to #firstworldproblem for your situation, but am stumped. One of your other commentators may be able to help here :)

Be very very thankful

Auckland, New Zealand

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Competence and Accreditation

5 inch stack of documents
In the last month I have been harassed (and so has the Chairman of my department) to document that I am qualified to teach the course I invented, designed, developed and have been teaching for three years (EDM310).

Why the harassment? Well, the University is getting ready for a SACS (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools - the regional accrediting body) visit this spring. Someone must have discovered that the University was supposed to document the qualifications of faculty to teach what they have been assigned to teach. Not a bad idea on the face of it.

But... the policy was adopted by SACS in January 2007 (six years ago) and updated in January 2011 (two years ago). And only now has the University of South Alabama gotten excited about doing the documentation required by SACS.

So they notified my chairman in early December and she notified me on December 3 that I had to generate the necessary supporting documents for the University within one week as fall term ends and Christmas break begins.

I find it somewhat ironic, and very inappropriate, that I have to do this 25 years after I was hired to teach the kind of courses that I have been teaching since I came to the University of South Alabama in January 1988 and that I have exactly one week to do it.

Nevertheless, I tried to help. I gathered materials that I thought would meet the requirements of SACS inspectors (should they deem to look). Our local consultant on how to prepare for SACS rejected my material because it summarized activities and lacked specifics such as dates and places of speeches, etc.

After several rounds of rewriting and revising materials, I obtained a copy of the the SACS requirements myself and prepared a document specifying exactly what SACS wants (in my opinion) that was organized using SACS’s headings for supporting documentation. The document I prepared is 13 pages long, contains 4,261 words, and is highly specific (listing dates and places but omitting moon phases). It also has links to a large number of documents that can be accessed online, movies and other video material that I have created for the course and otherwise, a series of podcasts I that I have done with my students and others, and numerous blogs including the EDM310 Class Blog.

This too was rejected and now I (and others) have stacked over 2,000 pages of printed material (most of which is accessible in electronic form) into a very tall stack of paper which will be put somewhere by the University secretaries for potential examination by SACS visitors.

An Update The powers that be have now certified that I am qualified to teach EDM310 Class Blog.. The 5 1/2 inch stack of paper has satisfied them. I had insisted (but lost) that since EDM310 has a policy of "No Paper In - No paper Out" that all of the material be in electronic form. I even generated a blog post with links to all of the printed material in .pdf form plus links to numerous videos, podcasts and blogs that constitute my course, my professional publications and other activities. Only five printed book chapters and journal articles remained in print form. That would not do. I had to submit everything in print. So I printed and printed and printed. I even bought my own ink for my color printer since printed copies of the EDM310 Class Blog are much better than black and white versions. Success. On Thursday January 31 I was approved to teach EDM310, the course, as I said earlier, I invented, designed, developed and have been teaching for three years . But the story does not end there. On Monday February 4, two working days after approval was granted, my Chair was told that everything in print form had to be converted to .pdf documents. I did not hear of that until after three secretaries had spent several hours each running the printed material through our laser printer converters. From .pdf to print to .pdf. Nietzsche was correct when he wrote "Insanity in individuals is something rare - but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule." Just add university bureaucracies and you have it!

It may sound like I am complaining, and I am. But there are many serious issues that these events raise which should be discussed.

First, I contend that SACS places the burden on the University, not the individual, to gather, organize, and make available when requested the documentation SACS requires. Here is SACS statement: ”For all cases, the institution is responsible for justifying and documenting the qualifications of its faculty.” I think institution means the University and not me. I expect you will agree with that conclusion.

Second, I would suggest that December 3 before the SACS visit in the spring is rather late to begin collecting this material, especially since the SACS policy requiring such materials was adopted six years ago (or maybe even before). It is also interesting to note that I taught first taught EDM310 (the course in question) in the Summer 2001 term (two years before the last SACS visit). I must note, however, that even though it has the same name it was a very different course at that time. I began developing the new version of EDM310 in the Spring of 2009 and I implemented it in its current form in the Summer 2010 term.

Third, the University consultant helping prepare for the SACS visit still contends that I have not provided the material “they need” and that the material must be gathered in print form. My response was that I have provided what SACS needs but I will never be able to provide what “they” (whomever they refers to) want. I meant to suggest they look in the dictionary to find the difference between need and want. Perhaps in our next bureaucratic exchange I will do just that. I also contend that the provision of links to all of the material that I have now printed is not only sufficient but a much more intelligent way of gathering and storing information. We are talking about a course which teaches aspiring teachers to use technology and then we prohibit the use of such technology in making available material for SACS? Absurd. Maybe insane would be a better word. EDM310 in its current incarnation has always been green ("No paper in and no paper out") and we have to print the materials that are easily available online?

Fourth, it seems rather odd that I could continue to teach the same types of courses for 25 years and not have been deemed competent (or incompetent) to do so. Of course during that time I have also conducted numerous training activities (John: you can’t say this - list dates and times) for faculty, developed training blogs (they are available, dated, and used by other institutions in fact), received two major grants totaling $135,000 to further the work in technology that I have been doing, and have been the recipient of one national and two local awards for outstanding teaching and lifelong learning. This does not include 5 other institutional awards and one national award for teaching excellence received before I joined the University of South Alabama faculty. I might note that SACS states that one way to document the qualifications of faculty is to provide evidence of “Continuous Documented Excellence in Teaching.

Fifth, and most importantly, it is clear from the SACS policy that it is sufficient to cite the degree as sufficient evidence where the degree is “in the teaching discipline.” So that means that my Ph.D degree from Princeton (awarded in 1966) would be sufficient evidence to demonstrate that I am qualified to teach politics (Princeton calls the discipline Politics) and perhaps Political Science (the term used by many other graduate schools). How absurd. Yes, there are aspects of politics that affect all areas of our life. And we are witnessing a bureaucratic example in the events described in this post. I am absolutely qualified to teach what I teach but I would have to work very hard to prepare to teach politics since it has been 40 years since I taught a course “in the discipline” in which I received my degree.

Shall we start a discussion about competence to teach? Competence is far more than having a degree in a specific discipline, despite the policies of SACS (and I suspect all of the regional accrediting societies).

Leave you comments to get the discussion going!