Of high aspirations, grading systems & group behaviour

What is it that keeps us going? Is it our self-motivation or is it peer pressure? Is it both? Is it something completely different?

High aspirations can push you forward or hold you back. They can make you do better than ever and enjoy the things you do. They can make you feel deeply desperate about a world that does not share your ambitions and work-pace. Both perceptions notably occur when working in groups is involved.

How do you know, that you are doing well? Take an individual grading based on grading scales from 1-6 or 0%-100%. The basis is provided for continuous competition. Whether this grade says anything about how much you know or how well you are doing – it is a measure and it is recorded. For group work one could implement the possibility to opt for individual and group grading (meaning that individual contribution was made visible within the group project).

Switching to a Fail-Pass-Pass-with-Distinction system has been thought-provoking for me lately. Not about grading systems but about what and who defines others as doing well and how this influences individual/group behavior. Giving the pass-fail approach – I had an interesting discussion with two of my peers. How can we distinguish transparently between those that do good and those that do better? Is it simply enough to know that ourselves (how transparent is this then)? Or is it enough that the lecturer knows it and will keep that in mind for possible future PhD applications (if so, what is the benefit if someone does not want to stay in the research environment)? This might work if everything goes the way we expected it to be. But what if there is doubt and for a pass-fail decision there is no objective comparison between „competing“ students at hand? Reflecting these questions it seems to me, that – independently of the grading system – we are focusing so much on the output of a learning process and forget the process itself.

In the business environment there seems to be a common agreement: you can only judge what you can measure. In the end you are responsible to proof what you did. And what you did not do. I tried to imagine a project evaluation by letting the project pass or fail. What would that change? Imagine there are clear expectations set but you can only pass or fail. There would be a hard separator between 49 and 51% (taking into account that these numbers would not be mentioned in the evaluation). So how would you consider one project over the other? By knowing it for oneself or believing in the project steering to keep in mind which project did better? By comparing the project records in detail? Again: this may work out well if we assume that people are (always)

  1. good and they want you to do well,
  2. objective and fair,
  3. able to memorize the way work was done and can compare different projects unbiasedly.

But to be honest, this is not how real life always treats you – and as mentioned before – we are again outcome oriented. What really happens when it comes to group work is more complex than it could be measured by comparing final results. Take the social loafing phenomena (described as the loss of motivation when working in groups compared to individual work where work results are not merged): „hiding“ in a group and not participating (because „the rest“ will to the work) could be best prevented by setting an attractive common goal, increasing group identification and making each individual visible by avoiding incognito states (as we loaf because we expect others to do the same and try to preserve equity, because we feel anonym and not to be identified and because there is a lack of performance standard). I am not talking about output; I am talking about the group working process. On the other hand, there is this phenomenon of social compensation. This basically is the opposite of social loafing. People engage even more in group work because they know/assume/fear that co-workers/peers won’t/can’t work hard enough to reach the set goals. [Hogg, Michael A.; 2011] Once more, the route roote cause is the process of work, not the result. In addition, a very simplified second conclusion is that it is the individual recognition that counts towards connecting aspirations and our motivation to stay focused and on track.

To support the individual learner and the group outcome one solution would be to detect issues in the working processes before the result is presented. Definitely, we could rely on the group members to be objective and report such issues or on the lecturer/department leader to identify and sense tensions. But is this realistic taking into account the vast amount of technology used and communication around the project that is transferred to the digital environment? You cannot just trust your eyes and ears anymore, but you must be able to analyze patterns group members follow while using technological support.

In addition I am not talking about storing (intermediate) results (as I do it in this blog here for example). I am talking about the factual analysis of user data to identify patterns, workloads and routines. In anticipation on the critiques: yes, one could argue, that this is the control/observation/tracing of people by using information technology and data analyzing features. I want to argue that because people use information technology we need data analysis to acknowledge their work in the digital space.

Which leads back to the high aspirations mentioned earlier: just because I try to be as objective and unbiased about others and their work – may I assume that others try that is well? Should I set a good example and trust in others to evaluate the work done as a whole? If I do answer yes to all of these questions, does that mean I should not try to evaluate work more objectively? And when work becomes more complex, especially the progress until we reach a certain outcome, should I not use information technology (for the good cause) to improve my objectiveness?

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Hackschooling

Sort of an abstract

I first came across the term „hackschooling“ when watching the TedxTalk „Hackschooling makes me happy“ by Logan LaPlante at TEDxUniversityofNevada from February 2013 (which has 6.1 Million views by now).

[Original source: http://tedxtalks.ted.com/video/Hackschooling-Makes-Me-Happy-Lo%5D

While doing some research on the term „hackschooling“, it struck me that there is apparently no (official) academic article published focusing on it. Is this because hackschooling fits perfectly within the unschooling/homeschooling classification or because it has not been recognized so far?

If it does fit – how does it fit? How is it related to these terms and where does it differ? How is hackschooling defined?

Due to a lack of academic resources, my attempt to answer these questions is based on grey literature such as blogs, videos and websites.

The method used: Initial Search / Browsing for resources

Since my university’s library search resulted in one source only [19], and google scholar made it to eight in total, from which I could use one [20], I turned to Wikipedia and Google.

Wikipedia does not list hackschooling. When entering this term in the search engine, it simply refers to „Homeschooling“.

Search result from wikipedia.org on 17th of September 2014 20:42
Search result from wikipedia.org on 17th of September 2014 20:42

However, entering „hackschooling“ on Google showed approximately 157.000 results. [Approx. 5.480 for „hack schooling“]

Search result from Google on 17th of September 2014 20:46
Search result from Google on 17th of September 2014 20:46

Would there be any resource available, which could offer a definition or try to put hackschooling into a broader perspective?

My prerequisites for browsing appropriate grey resources:

  • Term „hack schooling“ or „hackschooling“ in direct relation to Logan LaPlante’s Tedx Talk and
  • Hackschooling either defined and/or compared to other types of alternative education (e.g. homeschooling, unschooling etc.) [exceptions: 5+18+19; definition only]

A Definition of hackschooling

Watching the video of LaPlante already offers some starting points that have to be considered for a proper definition

  • Hackschooling is seen as the center of the four elements „Happy & Healthy / 8 TLCS*“, „Creativity/ Hacker mindset“, „Experimental classes & camps“ and „Technology & Online Resources“.
    *8 TLCs: Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes by Dr. Roger Walsh (Exercise, Diet & Nutrition, Time in Nature, Contribution & Service, Relationships, Recreation, Relaxation & Stress Management, Religious & Spiritual)
The Hackschooling Mindset, taken from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h11u3vtcpaY (min. 6:00)
The Hackschooling Mindset, taken from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h11u3vtcpaY (min. 6:00)
  • Hacking is described as innovative and as to challenge an existing system.
  • Hackschooling as mindset, not a system that can be used by anyone, even schools.
  • No particular curriculum nor approach, instead a network of people, a „re-mix or mash-up of learning„, focus on experiencing what one is learning and on hacks or shortcuts to get faster/better results

After the initial browsing, I selected 20 web sources based on the above criteria. Surprisingly, most of them only explain the term „hackschooling“ very vaguely (if at all: by citing the video) and seldom relate it to other alternative education ideas (e.g. unschooling, homeschooling) by giving detailed information on why they mention this relation. The vast majority reports on the Ted Talk, only two are giving opinions and critical approaches to think about it.

Main findings

Out of 20 resources, a connection to unschooling could be found in two sources [1, 16], a connection to homeschooling in 10 [2, 3, 4, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 13, 15] a definition only in seven [5, 6, 12, 14, 18, 19, 20] and two sources did put hackschooling in a broader context [16, 17].

As for the definition, there were some sources reaching for more than already given by LaPlante’s talk:

  • Unschooling and hackschooling as different variations of homeschooling [3], but hackschooling is not restricted to homeschooling [2]
  • A concept in which education is open to being hacked or improved (by working within the current system and outside educational establishments) [4]
  • A way of creatively challenging traditional assumptions (more from a leadership perspective) and a benevolent form of hacking which includes hacking schooling [7]
  • A fresh take on homeschooling [9]
  • A home-school with a de-emphasis on „home“ [15]
  • Hackschooling dedicated to unschooling [16]
  • “Hacking school” means something more than “adopting education technology“ [18]
  • Hack schooling focuses on small diverse teams and meaningful learning and thus enhances social learning [19]
  • Hacker are challenging and changing the system so that it works in a better way, a mindset criticizing the actual education systems, mindset as a foundation to build a civic intelligence [20]

Open questions and what’s next?

First of all it would be pretentious to say, that the resources used represent the unitary point of view on hackschooling. Rather do they represent a point of departure for future investigations. But still – these first results mentioned above are leading towards some open questions.

Just because LaPlante comes from a homeschooling family, does this mean, hackschooling fits with homeschooling definitions? The most important next step will be an analysis of the definition of homeschooling and unschooling. How do these three terms „hackschooling, unschooling and homeschooling“ relate to each other? For this more sound research on the terminology is needed. The following step will be the link to the broader perspective, which was already offered by some sources (incl. raised questions), e.g.:

  • Hugely lacking in supporting evidence, effectiveness? does the existing education system not already include/encourage creativity? arguing for something that already exists? [16]
  • Leaving open a lot of questions [17]

In conclusion, I am very surprised that no author tried to be more specific in what hackschooling is and where it can be placed within the educational environment. It might be, that this definition and classification is so obvious, that it is not worth mentioning it. It might as well be, that by leaving out lines of argument these resources miss an important point: defining hackschooling is harder than simply reporting on it as „just another form of homeschooling“.

Maybe this research was a waste of time – but this topic made me think and try to investigate something by using academic approaches. This blog post is thus more than just a post for me. It is also a way to work with the input given in the last few days of my Master’s program. I don’t know yet if this could become the foundation of my term paper. But I would appreciate feedback on my idea. 🙂


Resources

  1. [Leo, Unschoolery, 19.11.2013]
  2. [Deepa Ranganathan, Voniz, 11.09.2014]
  3. [Katie Lepie, edudemic, 02.12.2013] 
  4. [Bucky Fuller, hackschooling.net, no date]
  5. [Brenda Nicholson, Answers, AFF Pages, no date]
  6. [Goli Mohammadi, make:, 05.03.2013]
  7. [Victor Lipman, forbes, 03.7.2013]
  8. [Penelope Trunk, Penelope Trunk, 08.03.2013]
  9. [Carol Greenhouse, The Intelligent Optimist, 19.12.2013]
  10. [n.n., social consciousness, 14.03.2013]
  11. [Diane Ravitch, Diane Ravitch’s blog, 25.01.2014]
  12. [Meena Kadri, open ideo, 17.09.2013]
  13. [Joe Martino, collective evolution, 07.01.2014]
  14. [Amy Rozel Martin, Amy Rozel Martin, 08.04.2013] 
  15. [Shannan, flower patch farmgirl, 14.01.2014]
  16. [Brent Silby, The Journal of Education, 26.11.2013]
  17. [Audrey Watters, hackeducation.com, 03.03.2013] 
  18. [Audrey Watters, hackschooling] 
  19. [Martin Kesselman , (2014) „On the horizon: The 2014 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Part II“,Library Hi Tech News, Vol. 31 Iss: 4, pp.1 – 6]  review of the TransformingEDU workshop
  20. [Sara Sanz Rodríguez, Universidad de Cantabria, Citizenship education, option or necessity?, July 2014] Spanish version only

How I was educated, how I learn and how I would teach tomorrow

Summing up the first week of my Master’s programme, it was all about how we have come to the current idea of digital education and what underlying theories of learning and instructional technology paradigms relate to this development.

Taking a step back resulted in some reflections on my personal schooling history, it’s relevance for the person I am today and my concept I hold on education & learning.

 

The hardliners of behaviorism

 

Throughout school I was lucky to meet the hardliners of behaviorism (if one can say that) focusing on memorizing and recalling this memory (responding) in a particular occasion (to a stimuli). That resulted in me being able to …

  • recall all German federal states and their capitals without knowing where they actually are located,
  • being able to recite the multiplication table but struggling when working on complex math problems,
  • being able to cite Caesar’s Bellum Gallicum but not being able to translate one single Latin phrase properly.

I don’t want to say that this is solely an outcome of the way I was taught. But it becomes clear dto me how much influence schools do have on families (as they assume, that teachers know how to teach, and might copy their teaching style at home to support their children) and on the individual idea/concept of knowledge (if there has always been the one correct answer, I am likely to struggle in reality where there are mostly not one but several ways to answer).

Talking to a friend of mine about this he said „Well, but these are some facts, you could always get a good impression with.“ Or as my old Latin teacher would put it: „Reciting Caesar’s Bellum Gallicum makes you the superstart of your regular’s table.“

 

Aversive contingencies = punishment?

Browsing good old Skinner and „The Technology of Teaching“ for my Classics seminar next week, I can find the keyword of “ aversive contingencies“ or „aversive control“ (describing an „unpleasant stimulant to change undesirable behavior“ or in simpler words punishments such as extra work or detention [very happy that I missed the times of corporal punishment]) . Source

That keyword somehow describes my relation to school, as I was pretty often scared being in class. Especially when I knew that the teacher randomly assigned tasks to be solved at the blackboard (in front of the class) or presenting homework (as an impromptu speech). Whereas for other students that was a reward – for me it was hell.

What brings me to the importance of seeing students as individuals and recognizing their learning needs not only regarding content and pace, but regarding learning type and motivational aspects.

What for one student might be the most engaging activity ever, might be the scariest for another. 

 

Tracing the influences of the past

So this is how I have been taught mainly (although I have to admit, that especially during my A-Levels and my studies this schema of education vanished – and especially five years of working full-time have taught me that it is not important to know all facts, but to know where to can find them).

I can still find back some traces of this influence in my actual learning style and my assumptions of learning theories. I tend to …

  • think that there is alway this one correct answer,
  • have something done and then avoid developing it further (especially with feedback that comes too late)
  • think that I have to know it all by heart – which sometimes makes me lose track on my focus and get stuck with too many details.

 

Making the best of it for tomorrow

Knowing this enables me to develop further. But what about education and technology in general? Reading about emerging technologies and how they can support the teaching process, there was one quote that I came across often:

„It’s nothing new what we are doing only because we use technology“.

For me it is, or to put it in better words, it should be and we should emphasize this. Please do something new with technology and please do not simply transfer your classroom lessons to digital environments. This is not what we need technology for.

To close with a quote from the Innovation Unit’s „10 ideas for 21 Century Education“ report: 

„Education systems have been resistant to change because education is so important – too important, some would argue, to experiment with. There is another way to look at this: in a rapidly changing world, education is too important to be left behind.“ Source 

Starting online class activities: Our fist net-seminar

Today was the day of our first „net-seminar“. It turned out that I had completely different expectations. When hearing the term „net-seminar“ I thought of an online meeting via collaboration plattforms (e.g. Hangouts, Blackboard Collaborate) including a lecture and some relating synchronous task and/or additional tasks to discuss in forums. (I admit that this expectation result from my former participation in online courses, so I questioned my schema of net-seminars today 😉 ).

In the end we used our Facebook group as a discussion group and the input for the discussions were two readings from 1996 – one about theories of educational psychology the other about paradigms in instructional technology. Our task:

To do: Reflect and relate Koshmann to Greeno[…] et als‘ elaborations. Everyone put one reflection/elaborated question in the Facebook group – and everyone make at least two respon[d]s to fellow participants. Make sure everyone’s contribution receives feedback!

Literature: Greeno, Resnick & Collins (1996) and Koschmann (1996)

 

[Taken from the Learning Management System]

 

When discussing this task in class beforehand, there was a certain uncertainty among us as peers: When do we have to submit this task? When to we have to respond to our fellow students? Do we have to be online at a certain time? The answers to our questions implied a lot of freedom. Meaning that there was no certain time, just a day, during which the net-seminar took place. Though not everybody contributed until now (and I assume not everybode will), I am already able to draw my personal conclusion from this interesting day:

  1. The open task did not make it easy to post something – nor did the environment (Facebook), which was surely new to many of us when it comes to posting in „academic manner“. As soon as there was someone „breaking the ice“ others followed very quickly and a quite constructive discussion arose. I was particularly surprised by the various ways of dealing with the task and the progressive development of feedback. Due to the fact that we were not too many participants it was very easy to respond to one another and not lose track. [Nevertheless, up to now there is still one contribution without feedback and I cannot think of a good response to this post…] All in all I think there are better platforms to hold a net-seminar. A Facebook group can be very confusing and it mixes lecture content with organizational issues. But as a start I like the idea of linking familiar online tools with unfamiliar learning activities.
  2. It was not an attendance class and there was not specific schedule – meaning that you could work from wherever you desired, whenever you desired. [Nevertheless I met two of my peers in the library – seems still to be a very productive place to work from 😉 ] This flexibility brings some threats with it: I myself caught myself glimpsing on my mobile phone display even though I considered my task to be done. In the end I contributed more than what was expected. Flexibility means more responsibility of one’s own to determine working time and working place. Not only in terms of motivating oneself but also in terms of stopping oneself in engaging too much.
  3. Fear and/or respect. For me there is still uncertainty about how to write what, being exposed to other’s critiques and making mistakes in public. Before posting my contribution I thought that it was the worst text I have ever written. I have to learn, that social learning activities are not about being perfect from the beginning. But taking advantage of skills and knowledge of my peers and accepting their feedback to improve my initial idea.
  4. I am asking myself why the task attracted not as many peers as I expected it to do. And I try to think of ways to improve this situation. From my experience there is nothing replacing the actual doing. To participate in the activity. This is how a net-seminar comes to life. Having this awesome texts and questions from my peers made me read the texts with different eyes and even understand them better as I was trying to grasp their line of reasoning. Finding arguments for my opinion also contributed a lot to my deeper understanding of the readings and their interconnections. Participation is also an issue in attendance classes but I think it is more salient in online classes, as it is directly „trackable“. Not only in a certrain situation but also afterwards as the seminar was based on written posts.

All in all it was an insightful day for me with a lot of take-home messages to work on. My overall take-home message is that no matter how different your expectations are, there is always something to learn and take home.

Making use of what we know

Reflecting on my first session of the International Master’s programme in Information Technology and Learning at Gothenburg University ( ) there is this giant beast of information overload and the question how to organise all the material without losing the focus.

On the one hand I am thinking about how to contribute with what I already know. How do I make accessible to others what is already inside my head. We started today by doing some group activities about our educational background and interests – in „analog format“ (board, sticky notes, etc.). Our lecturer asked us how we would have organized it in a digital environment. What struck me the most was the fact that no technology can replace the actual concept of what we want our contribution to look like. It is not technology that is solving the issue of knowledge quality. Technology mainly operates as a tool of providing access to it.

On the other hand I try to figure out how I should grasp all what I learned today and will learn during the programme. I want to try different types of technology but not losing track. How can I organize all the different tools I use, the content I create and above all – how much work do I have to invest in learning how to use these technologies?

  • My first goal for this programme is to become more courageous and adventurous when it comes to using technology. What is holding me back is that feeling of revealing something – a comment, a text, a paper – that is then outside of my control.
  • It is also the fear of criticism. Creating accessable content does mean that it is open to feedback. Especially when one did put a lot of effort into something, negative feedback is not always easy to accept. As a second goal I see taking advantage of constant feedback and learning how do benefit from it and further develop my created contents.