Archive for July, 2011

My books are all paper weights

With the advent of Kindles and Apps, the single function, single license, awkward book seems outdated and obsolete. I know a lot of people are lamenting the closing of libraries across North America (especially in Toronto over the last couple of days), but I think we can safely dismiss their views as valueless nostalgia. Books, like the papyrus scroll are obsolete. They are unsearchable – even when designed for that purpose, like a dictionary, it takes a long time to find your entry. Text-to-voice software isn’t comparable with them. They are not scalable; they can only be shared to one person at a time. They are hard to digitize or transfer to another file type. They don’t cut and paste easily. If you are referring to one, you have to type in the text you are quoting. They’re heavy. They aren’t sleek or slick. They are hard to brand.  And if you think lectures are boring, just wait until you try to read an entire book…

Yes, the book seems to have been a historical accident. We don’t really like them; however, for so long they were our only real option – luckily that is no longer the case.

Our biggest problem now is what do we do with them? They have filled huge rooms or even whole buildings; some libraries are literally sinking under the weight.

I suggest that we burn them. Not merely for some cathartic release / burning away with the past (to light the way to the future…); I suggest that we burn them to to generate electricity to power our current technology obsession (safely of course…we wouldn’t want to hurt anyone’s future). At about 20 calories a page, that’s a lot of Twitter and Facebook posts we’re sitting on. Maybe some schools will have enough power to sell to the grid that they can afford 1-to-1 ratio Ipods for kindergarten students. Wouldn’t that be great…a class of kindergarten students sitting in a big empty space where we used to store books with Ipods entertaining…I mean “engaging” them – of course, we’d have to buy wall hangings to suppress the echo…

I think this is an idea worth considering…we should probably burn “Fahrenheit 451” and “Brave New World” last….maybe we’d even find a way to harvest Huxley’s and Postman’s tears….

Or am I wrong….do books have value?

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Even boring work benefits students – all teaching/learing strategies have value

With so many different learning styles and learning needs – with so many different ways for students to grow, it has always seemed strange to me that advocates for one style of learning don’t just extol its virtues, but need to advocate so strongly, that it seems they are presenting their preferred teaching/learning style as the only legitimate one. I have always wondered if this was because of the necessities of the market or other such concern. It is a cycle that can never be won; with so many different concerns and issues, there is always grounds for criticism of a style because there is always another option or way of doing things. If you are doing X then you are not doing Y – if Y then not Z. It is a stressful cycle that serves no one’s best interest except perhaps the market or professionals trying to build their personal brand. I would have thought that educators would be better aggregators of pedagogy and be able to incorporate many techniques in a growing bag of strategies, but it seems that many are content to change styles rather then construct a more diverse tool kit as new techniques are discovered.

It seems to me that there can be no 1 style to successfully teach/learn in all/most/the majority of situations (I know that this is not a new thought); that the vast majority of approaches have value and it is the job and mark of distinction of a professional teacher to know when to use a strategy and with whom. I have always disliked the hyperbolic debate that seems to be created by teaching/learning style advocates. Even boredom has value.

One of my professors at the Faculty or Ed. used to tell us to be ready. At some point, a student is going to say X or Y…it isn’t a hypothetical…it is going to happen. To him, it was our job as professionals to be ready when it happened. To know, ahead of time, how we would respond. One example he used was a student saying, “this is boring.” It is going to happen – what will you say?

Though not my goal, when a student says that, I respond to the effect, “Good! Take out your “boring work” skills – practice them and get this done Boring work skills are very important. Your first job isn’t going to be exciting (likely) but you still need to mop the floor or you get fired. Driving for 4 hours is boring, but you still need to pay attention or you hit a tree….”

The skill of applying yourself to boring work is very important in life; it’s a skill they can develop in school. It will help with taxes, driving, watching a movie or TV show that your partner likes, cleaning, painting, etc. If even something we try to avoid has value to our students, shouldn’t we allow for many different teaching practices; shouldn’t we end the pointlessly stressful hyperbolic promotion style that requires “new” techniques to be sold at the expense of “older” ones?

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