Thursday, September 18, 2008

No dewd left behind (bars)

Today was Sandra's graduation from her postgraduate diploma. I won't go into much gossip about the speeches, but one of them opened with a comment about a team wining a rugby match last weekend... didn't he realize it was a graduation ceremony, not a pub conversation amongst kiwi blokes? Anyway, he mentioned a video on YouTube regarding new paradigms in education. You know I'm very skeptic about recent education policies. My reason? Well, despite growing numbers of graduates around the world, and so many praise about using new technologies in education, and student centered learning, etc... the reality is, that many of those students are not well prepared.

The new generation may be (somehow) technologically literate. They can send text messages faster than meets the eye, and they spend thousands of hours on the internet... but that does not mean they can spell or write using correct grammar. Policies like "no child left behind" only mean what Varela used to say: "if they don't die, they'll graduate". Those policies when implemented, only serve to push up "the numbers" but deteriorate the quality of the education, and that's a mathematical rule called "minimum common denominator". We can't cheat the minimum common denominator rule, and the only ones affected are average to top students, who will now get an education to the level of the lowest common denominator.

Don't get me wrong. I am not against using technology or computers in the classroom (if they are for working and studying, not for gaming and watching funny videos). I asked my students to put a portfolio of their work on html and burn it into a CD more than 10 years ago! But we shouldn't fool ourselves, a lot of students from younger generations are not learning the appropriate skills and knowledge, they are just "having fun" by (pseudo)-learning, and we are responsible for letting them get away like that.

Again, don't get me wrong: Yes, learning is not about being boring, but it's not about learning how to type SMS text messages faster either! or researching a school paper solely on information found on google (google's algorithm will show the most popular results first, not necessarily the most relevant or the most trustful data). Having 200 people "collaborating" on a wiki discussion about education is not education... is just a discussion! Let's not fool ourselves... those kind of demands are not about raising the standards in education, they're about bringing "so much entertainment" to the classroom (they're saying that). And what does "schools nowadays have so many restrictions" mean???! Those kids have absolutely no idea about restrictions and discipline... Excuse me, but those are the 2 basic items which many students are not learning nowadays! Again, we are letting them get away with it.

In old analog times, people would meet on a coffee shop, restaurant or "music cafe" to discuss about art, politics, gossip, and many other subjects. It's the equivalent of today's myspace, discussion groups, social networking, etc. I don't recall that our old schools included "coffee shop" skills in their curricula. Although, in Monterrey I used to take my students to the cafeteria and have some of our design discussions there. The reason was that the traditional classrooms with big heavy drawing tables are ment for individual work, and it was quite difficult to get students involved in a group discussion (not to mention how difficult it was to move 50kg tables around the classroom) we moved those heavy tables a couple of times to make a big circle, but it was much easier to sit on the cafeteria on a big table. I asked the dean for classrooms with meeting tables, I even designed some modular tables for that, but I had no luck convincing the director to get appropriate furniture. So one day I decided to just take my students to the cafeteria and our furniture problem was solved. However, cafeterias are not an appropriate learning environment. What I mean, is that web 2.0 social networking may be a tool for some kind of collaborative work in schools, but let's not move our students from a classroom to a coffee shop all day where they get distracted by shinny objects and the smell of coffee and brownies! Although some starbucks addicts may be happier that way.

I don't think that students will actually learn better by getting their lectures on a Blackberry 3G phone. I don't think they will actually watch a full 50 min video of a lecture on advanced calculus... If there's not someone hit in the groin during the first 20 seconds of the "advanced calculus lecture" video, they will probably get bored and start searching on youtube for the video of Galilea Montijo naked, and girls would probably search for Fernando del Solar or something. It's just funny how this ITESM promotional is responding to the "shift happens" video "we are prepared for problems that we haven't imagined, for technology that hasn't been invented yet, and solving problems that we don't know are problems yet" You see my point? We are falling for that kind of nonsense!

Let's put it in a simple way using a similar rationale as "shift happens". Back in the age when people was amazed with brand new TV sets in their homes, telecommunication was changing our world. From doing whatever they were doing before having a TV (probably listening to the radio), people sarted to spend more and more time watching the tube. If "people watching the telly" were a country, it would be the largest country on earth... even larger than fakebook! Back then, there were millions of "RSS like" subscribers to radio and TV programs like Cri-cri or La Tremenda Corte de Trespatines... but it didn't mean that TV entertainment should be brought to the classrooms. Yes, TV and video media have been a helpful tool in education, but let's not use the "millions of views record" as rationale to implement that technology in education. It would be as silly as saying: "millions of people around the globe watched the olympic games, the super bowl and the futball world cup on TV, let's bring TV's into our classrooms bacause of that".

My parent's house phone number used to have 5 digits not so many years ago, now it's 8 digits! Residential phone lines grew exponentially since the 50's... it is still an indicator of "developed countries". Millions of "normal" phone calls are made every day... probably more than the 2.7 billion google searches each month. But that doesn't mean we have to provide a phone line to every school-desk... not even every classroom. To elevate Google to a divine level using "B.G" (before Google) is a bit frightening. Making virtual divine idols of technology gods doesn't seem like a good idea, sounds to me more like idolatry of false ideals.

There are 5 times more words and phrases in the english language than in times of Shakespeare: Dewd/Dudette, gigabucks, Frack!, Gr7, iPhoney, etc... and those are used more than 27/4! WT@!

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