Tuesday, October 24, 2006

From the 2006 ICLS

Major talks from the 2006 International Conference of the Learning Sciences are available online.

Some highlights and quotes from "The Learning Sciences and the Future of Education:"

from Allan Collins: "Education is seeping out of schools"-- we're moving from "just in case" education to "just in time" education.

from Jere Confrey: "It's not just knowing but letting know."

from Janet Kolodner: "Learning is not just about content: it needs to focus on 'becoming'—helping people to grow in capabilities and awareness and disposition (which includes learing content)."

from Marlene Scardamalia: "What would an education look like where we actually thought about innovation from the beginning with learning as a by-product of continual and creative work with ideas?"

How would we define a discipline- a physics class, say- if the content is a by-product of engagement with ideas? Would it have to focus on discipline-specific ways of asking and answering rather than the topic of investigation?

Following their talks, some ideas in the following conversations:

Allan Collins: "The Learning Sciences and NSF have spent a lot of money to invest in developing curricula and learning environments. At the same time we’ve seen this huge increase on accountability, and the testing methodology is tied to every kid learning the same things at the same time and it’s fundamentally incompatible with the kinds of power that the learning environments we’ve been developing enable. We want kids to pursue things deeply that they care about. And the technologies make that possible- you can break the lock-step schooling with these powerful technology environments. But if the tests we’re using to evaluate kids depend on a lock-step system, then all the technology we build is going to go nowhere.

The second thing I want to say is: that’s one deep incompatibility between what real school as we understand it is and what technology empowers. Technology empowers kids taking control of their education. It empowers learning what you’re most- I mean, this personalization this customization it lets kids learn what’s important to them. And if we ignore the imparities (?) of technology as we design education systems, we’re not going to go anywhere. So I think we’re going to need to understand what technology does well and understand that that’s incompatible with the ways that people understand what schools do. And because of that incompatibility a lot of education is going to be taking place outside of schools. And so we need to begin to think about how we can use the affordances of technology and the changing environment to make our educational systems work in new venues."

It seems to me that this goes far beyond technology. Authentic scientific discourse, inquiry, discovery teaching-- all empower these same things that Collins claims to be a strength of technology. I'd rather see schools change to match our understanding of what education can be than see our educational technologies and experiences taken out of schools.

This resonates with findings from a RAND study on the effectiveness of reform science instruction: "It is also important to note the influence of high-stakes accountability testing on teaching practices. Teachers reported that the testing environment influenced their use of reform-oriented practices despite the training they had received. In particular, many teachers believed that the reform-oriented practices were likely to be less effective than other kinds of practices for promoting high scores on state accountability tests. Future research on the effectiveness of reform-oriented instruction needs to recognize that instructional reforms are not carried out in a vacuum, and it should examine the broader contextual factors as well as the specific elements of the intervention." (p. xviii - xix)

It also suggests that having specific content goals in a classroom is necessarily inconsistent with reform instruction.

From Jere Confrey, in response to a question on diagnostic, as opposed to traditional high stakes testing:

"Three things that go into courts- and I read a number of the court cases- the three things that they talk about in testing are: reliability, validity, fairness. The only thing that ends up (practically) in the courtroom is reliability because it has a formula attached therefore it can be disputed....We don’t debate in the courts issues of validity and we have very poor understanding how to talk about fairness with regard to legal and court practices. Sure let’s have these other methods [low-stakes/diagnostic tests]. But the high stakes tests have got to be a target for us because it’s driving so much of what’s happening in the schools and we have to go after- from the perspective of our field- what it means to define and measure and take to the court-level issues of validity and issues of fairness in a way that will drive the system in directions we’re comfortable with."

A question is asked about the structure of the discipline being lost in "just in time" education.

Allan Collins: "My general argument is: I am not an advocate for what is happening. I’m not saying we’re moving towards a halcyon environment with this revolution. Downsides also relate to equity, citizenship, and you make one I hadn’t thought about previously. That’s a serious problem. Now it is the case that as you learn in a workplace or an adult education center, you may in fact go deeply into some subject area, such as the history of the American nation. And you may get an understanding of the structure of that discipline. But as we’re designing an environment we need to think about this issue of the structure of knowledge and we need to understand that those environments...we need to be thinking how to make this transition because it’s happening. We need to think seriously from a broad educational system point of view how to make that transition."

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