From the category archives:

Philosophy

Students using computers.

One of the beauties of a blog is I get to write about whatever I want, rather than focusing on the things I have to do.

Bill Gates has a blog too, at least his foundation (which I’m actually very fond of) has, and he occasionally puts puff pieces in. Because that’s exactly what this one from a few months ago is. Or possibly an ad for the Khan Academy, if you admire nothing else about Salman Khan he’s managed to get large amounts of money out of both Apple and the Gates Foundation.

You want to know Bill Gates’ take on technology in education? It can be summed up in one sentence – technology has the potential to make a difference in education. Seriously? That sentence is basically a fill in the blanks.

[New innovation] has the potential to make a difference in [complicated problem].

Here are a few I just made up:

  • [Drug vaccines] have the potential to make a difference in [addiction].
  • [Immobilisers attached to breathalysers] have the potential to make a difference to [drink driving recidivism].
  • [Geo-engineering] has the potential to make a difference to [climate change].
  • [Workplace flexibility] has the potential to make a difference to [sexism in the workforce].

Why don’t you try a few for yourself?

It’s basically a statement you make for public consumption when you don’t know much about something, that sounds nice and can’t really be all that wrong.  I’m certainly not going to deny Bill Gates’ expertise in technology, but if he knew anything about education I might take a little more notice of his views. Because his track record is not all that good, and it’s only because the US is stuck with their version of a plutocracy that he gets any airtime.

You see Bill Gates is an advocate for all sorts of theoretical models that he thinks ought to work in education. Experience doesn’t matter. You can easily double class sizes. Standardised testing will make sure everyone is learning what they are supposed to. Teachers will improve if they know they will be fired if the kids don’t measure up on those same tests. This is rubbish. Teacher Tom (and this is an education blog you really need to be following) has written multiple posts about it, just search for ‘Bill Gates.’

Not only that, but it’s a classic example of do as I say, not as I do. Not the technology bit, but the Gates children are not being educated in the way he advocates for others.  The Gates children travel. They visit factories and the Large Hadron Collider. They get to seek out individual and authentic learning opportunities with a rich context. Which is exactly what he is advocating taking away from others, as they prepare for their standardised tests. It’s possible he thinks technology can fix this – why experience something for yourself when you can watch a film on the internet? Be careful Bill, your Dunning-Kruger* is showing.

Ironically, in this case I actually agree with Gates. And that’s from the point of view of an educator who is working to get technology into the class, and I’ll even take out the qualifiers. It is exciting. It will have an impact. It can even help students experience a much wider world. But it needs to work together with all the other good experiences we can already do – collaborative work, exploration, real hands on, going on a tangent because it engages the kids, an emphasis on how to learn not what to learn. Bill once again mouths the right soundbite in his final paragraph, but given his other statements, I really have to wonder how much we would genuinely agree on.

At the moment his opinion of what should be happening in my class is irrelevant. I hope it stays that way.

 

*The Dunning-Kruger effect is a cognitive bias which has been described as ‘the arrogance of ignorance.’ Very simply, people who know nothing about a topic assume they know a lot more than they do and rate their abilities very highly. People who know a lot tend to rate their abilities lower, because they know how much they don’t know.

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I think this is the 9th blog I’ve started now, plus some for other people or guest posting. Most didn’t last long and that’s fine – they served their purpose. Because it seems after 3 years and over 9 blogs I like to process my thoughts and plans in a blog. Who’da thunk it. New phase, another new blog. It’s a fairly cheap hobby, other than being a timesuck, but if it helps me think that’s a good thing.

Metacognition.

So I’ve been out of formal education for a while, about 5 and a half years. I have not been out altogether, because I absolutely consider Science@home to be part of education, just not one I get paid for. The idea has always been to move back in, but not purely into a classroom. Been there, enjoy it even, but not something I want to go back to for a variety of reasons.

The plan is to find or create a position that will let me do what I want, to improve education in general for indigenous students and improve science education.

These two areas are, to be blunt, done appallingly in Australia. I’m definitely not pinning blame on anyone or anything. I know it’s a complex situation with all sorts of players and history, I’m not suggesting there is a simple solution or a single solution. What I’m saying is that there is a problem and I have some ideas for little solutions that might help.

I was concentrating on the Science side of things, because given a choice I will always pick science. Even if the alternative involves chocolate. But some things came up that were hard to ignore, one of those not-perfect-but-pretty-good opportunities. And then some science came up. I was annoyed because I was just getting into the idea of other stuff, but it’s temporary and there’s enough of a carrot to make it very attractive, especially as I think about it more. In fact the more I see of it, the better it looks.

But it means we’re suddenly a working family with only partial childcare organised and other things are going to have to go on hold (perfect time to start a new blog). And not having been in the class in so long has me stressed.

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