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MSPnet Blog: “Some blogs to pay attention to”

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posted July 24, 2018 – by Brian Drayton

I’d like to draw your attention to three blogs that I have started checking recently, which you may find informative or otherwise useful.
1. Nature Partner Journals “Science of Learning” (here is the link).  This is really an aggregation site, bringing together contributions from around the Web.   The home page advertizes 5 article strands.  “Behind the paper” collects short accounts by authors of recent papers in the journal, providing some background on the origin and significance of the research reported.   The format of these pieces asks each researcher to describe the main aim of their work, and why it was undertaken; what the key findings were; how teachers will be able to apply the findings;  the “bigger picture” of the findings; and how these findings relate to the future of the field.  For example, the piece on “How to leverage prior knowledge to enhance learning” by M.T. R. van Kesteren, comments on an article by herself and colleagues:

There is a big future for the cognitive (neuro) science of (long-term) memory to inform educational practice. The question about how to best store memories spans all school subjects but a lot of what we know about how memory works is not yet optimally practiced in educational situations. We are learning new things everyday, and I am very excited to be involved in applying this to real-world situations

The other article strands on the website include: Findings from the field;  For Researchers; For Teachers; and News, Views, and Events in learning sciences research and practice around the world.  As with all cutting edge research, the immediate implications for  the classroom are not always clear (and the excited claims of the researchers need to be seasoned with salt), but the articles are wide-ranging and provocative, and the different strands encourage reflection and further reading.  I found my way to the site because I was following a link to a Yong Zhao story on side effects of education policy, “What works can hurt” (in two parts so far),  which I recommend.  Enjoy!

2. Peter Greene at Forbes.  Find it here.  You may know Peter Greene’s lively and indefatigable blogging at Curmudgucation, which gives a veteran high school teacher’s view of a wide range of topics, from classroom life to fads in education policy.  When I recently discovered that he has been running a parallel series of posts for the on-line version of Forbes Magazine, I was curious to see how this liberal and independent voice might be shaped by writing for a publication focused on issues of wealth and finance.  Would he cover different topics?  Adopt a different tone of voice? Pull punches?  I think the answers are, Hard to tell;  No; and No.   I found this site because I was following a link to Greene’s post, “Five rules for edtech entrepreneurs,” and its sequel, “When does ed tech become snake oil?”  I am glad to see a classroom perspective taking its place alongside free-market and digital-tech boosterism, which can very often seize on a new idea or widget as The Solution for the Education Problem, without understanding what education is, what teachers do, how kids learn, and other relevant factors.   In this case, Greene points out that

K-12 education is susceptible to this problem because purchasing authority so rarely rests in the hands of the end users. That means the sales pitch has to be tuned for an administrator and not an actual classroom teacher. This may take the form of a pitch that says, “Hey, Superintendent McBossface! With this software you’ll be able to get an exact report of how effective your teachers are in the domains laid out by state standards.” The end result may be software that actually makes more work for classroom teachers (“All you have to do is enter all these data into these fields– just a few more hours work every week”) while providing no actionable classroom data (“Look! Spreadsheets that tell me what I already learned by paying attention to my students in real time”) and in the worst cases, provide the added bonus of sending administrators inaccurate reports about teacher effectiveness.

3. My third recommended blog is one you probably have been aware of for a while — but just in case:  Rick Hess’s “Straight Up,” one of the EdWeek blogs.  Hess is a long-time scholar of education reform and related topics, and he writes from a position that would be called “conservative,” with a lot of sympathy for market-based reforms, broadening of school choice, and similar positions which I do not hold.  He is good to follow, though, because he cares about data, about good research even when it contradicts ideas he has advocated before.    So even if you disagree with many of his positions, his is a good voice to check in with sometimes.  Despite my respect for him, I have not been as regular in reading his blog as I probably should be, but I was drawn back to it by “How education philanthropy can accidentally promote groupthink and bandwagonism.”   This is a post occasioned by the recently published RAND study of the Gates Foundation’s Effective Teacher Initiative (a subject for another post here).  The short version is that, despite all the millions that Gates put into the initiative, and the many more millions that states and districts invested, the results were not at all as predicted.  Hess recalls a time when he himself brought bad news about an initiative he’d hoped would succeed, and reflects on some of the dilemmas of mission–driven philanthropy for researchers and education at large.

This brought back memories from a couple decades ago, when I was …studying how school systems in Milwaukee, Cleveland, and Edgewood, Texas, responded to school vouchers…a foundation generously provided funds to cover air travel, rental cars, motel rooms, loads of fast food, transcription, and research assistants. Given my generally positive view of school choice, the foundation’s staff hoped and expected that I’d find that choice was driving systemic improvement.

After two years of analysis and hundreds of interviews, I wrote a book concluding that the story was much more complicated than that…. they judged the work a disappointment, with the less said about it the better.

I eventually learned that foundations operate a lot like Santa Claus, with goodies to give away and an attentive eye as to who’s been naughty and who’s been nice. I wound up on the naughty list, I fear, and never heard from that foundation again. On one level, that’s no big deal. It’s their money and they have every right to fund whomever and whatever they like. On another level, though, it illustrates how well-meaning philanthropy can encourage groupthink and faddish bandwagonism—even when nobody intends it to.

Worth reading the whole thing, and then browsing around his other posts.

NOTE:  Opinions expressed on this blog are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of MSPnet, TERC, or the National Science Foundation.



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Media Form

posted by: Betsy Stefany on 7/31/2018 9:26 am

Thanks for this timely resource. Discussion this summer continues to consider how media is adjusting to online form and use. The blog media structure has been a first step from editorials and interesting to examine this process of change through your sharing.
The privacy wave from Europe rocked us online this May, sending vibes into the systems and interest in finding out more about the basis of what we read and where the content has as its platform mission. This concern for student privacy has been a product of the building structure and is currently a further part of the process to offer programs that extend beyond that traditional physically secure system. Our written and resource system also explores new media with the same care.
The benefit of creating the concept of a Community of Practice is that the understanding that individuals have opinions in traditional communities and that experience flows into members' acceptance and value within a CoP. In the last few weeks David Brooks' columns have pointed out the examples of local community building collaboration for supporting local change.
Exploring change through media design and watching as we "adults" model that we are all learning constantly ..and sharing what we discover is a positive benefit of the digital age. Thanks for your links to further resources.