Clark Quinn's Learnings about Learning
(The Official Quinnovation blog)

28 July 2007

Mountain Reflections, v2

Clark @ 10:18 AM

Well, we’re back from what turned out to be a fantastic trip. I’ve been backpacking in Yosemite with my colleagues the past 5 years or so, and wanted to help my kids understand the wilderness (and why Daddy keeps going back). Last summer I took them camping to Yosemite and we took a day to see the Valley, and they really seemed to notice the beauty of the place. This year I wanted something more.

We got them backpacks and arranged an easy trip where we hiked in a mile to a high-mountain lake, and camped there (with prepared meals). We spent the night in Tuolomne Meadows the night before, then hiked in in the morning. The backpack belts were too big, particularly for my daughter (just 7), so it was a strain, but we made it up there and they were thrilled when the camp was set up. We spent that day practicing casting (ostensibly fishing, but for naught).

The next day we hiked up Mt Hoffman to above timberline to get great views, and then back down and around the lake, the latter of which had some pretty adventurous moments (navigating a giant rock fall). We saw grouse and marmots, in addition to chipmunks and squirrels. We woke them up in the middle of the night after the moon had set to really see the stars. Yesterday we hiked back out.

The great thing was that the planning to make it a good experience, with elements of effort and adventure but also great natural beauty, paid off. My daughter asked if we could go again next year. They’ve seen me model how much I value the experience, and now they’ve had a taste that was positive. The people at May Lake High Sierra Camp were just great, both patrons and staff. Now we’ve got to do something next year that’s just the right amount more!

I hear that visitation is actually dropping at Yosemite, and while I’d personally appreciate less crowds, I realize that in the bigger picture we need people to understand the need to preserve wilderness. And one way is to get people out there to experience just how it’s different, and what it does for you.

24 July 2007

Off the grid, v2

Clark @ 8:02 AM

Yes, I’ll be off the grid again. A couple of weeks ago I was off with my buddies to recharge in the wilderness. This week I’m starting the family. Last year I took them camping, this year it’s their first taste of actually sleeping in bags and tents that are carried (though we’ll get meals from one of Yosemite’s High Sierra Camps).

I want my kids to learn to appreciate and enjoy nature, so I’m taking it gentle. I hope it sticks! So, look for me after the end of the week. Until then, hope you’re having a great summer!

Moments of light and dark

Clark @ 6:33 AM

On my way home from Austin yesterday, there were some great moments, and some disappointing ones. Let me explain:

Having dinner on my connection through Denver, there were two televisions I could see. One had the debate on, one a baseball game. Guess which one had the audio on, and which had the text? Naturally, the baseball game was being listened to, and a few of us were trying to read the riotously bad text transcription of the debate. I know in other countries they’d take pride in following and debating national politics.

On the other hand, on the flight from Denver home, I sat next to a very bright young man who’d worked as an aide for Senator Feinstein and then was inspired to get a master’s in education and teach history. He told me inspiring stories of how he used games and activities to make history come alive, like competitions to write the Treaty of Versailles, and World War I games of Diplomacy (with propaganda affecting the outcome). He was creating websites for his classes where students could access all the presentations he made, and was looking for ways to connect them to more resources.

Of course, he was lamenting that as a single, employed teacher he couldn’t afford to buy housing and had to rent. I reckon that our government still doesn’t get that when you look systemically at our society, good teaching is one of, if not the, best investment in the future.

It was nice to hear the candidates largely bash No Child Left Untested, er, Behind. We need more meaningful ways to make knowledge come alive and be available for use when needed, teaching knowledge application for complex problem-solving, and rote tests don’t do that. Similarly, making that knowledge meaningful makes it stick better. That’s why I like that the Center for Civic Education‘s programs (disclaimer: I’m on the board) have demonstrable increases in civic participation. Students might even want to listen to the debates!

An interesting trip, overall, and much better than the day before (when I ended up spending an unexpected night in Denver, sigh). So here’s to passion for learning, teaching, and participation!

20 July 2007

Virtual Social Learning?

Clark @ 3:30 AM

On this contrarian theme I seem to be on, I’ve been a nay-sayer on the virtual worlds phenomenon (and Tony O’Driscoll hasn’t returned my plea to give me his perspective, so while I respect his opinion and know he’s into them, I don’t have his take). I previously talked about the fundamental learning affordances I saw, including co-creation of representations and dynamic behavior. And I was afraid that the overhead in achieving the ability to do so was significant unless you could amortize the investment over a long period of time.

What I haven’t taken into account, due to my own ‘learning alone’ style, is the potential social elements. What I’ve heard is that when players can customize their character to represent themselves, accurately or not, they invest themselves more in the interaction. This social element, then, adds a layer to the situation that I hadn’t accounted for. Whether it’s Second Life, or any of the other environments, isn’t the issue.

So I’m willing to be wrong on these worlds, but I still harbor a suspicion that once the novelty wears off, we’ll cut to the fundamental learning affordances and find that we still need to bring down the barriers to co-creation of representations . Your thoughts?

19 July 2007

Digital Gibberish

Clark @ 2:58 AM

I have to admit that I’m a contrarian sometimes, and this Digital Native Digital Immigrant thing was cute for a while, even useful for some awareness raising, but at the end of the day, I think it’s false. The premise is that kids are growing up with a digital world, and that the multi-tasking nature of their lives is different leading to different expectations. The more sophisticated version of the argument is based in Vygotskian forms of psychology, where the tools you use change the way you think.

Consequently, we see calls for more use of media, games, community, etc. There’s a push for shorter, more engaging content, less verbosity and more ‘presentation’, etc. All good things, but for the wrong reasons.

This is a topic I’m willing to be wrong on, but so far I don’t see it. The extension to the Vygotskian argument is that it would have to be a whole new culture, but this sub-culture is still grounded in the prevailing mind-set of 21st century earth. So, wherever it’s flourishing, it’s still not fundamentally different.

Here’s why: we still have the same wetware, and we’re still processing the same languages and viewpoints. It’s evolutionary, not revolutionary. Yes, there are and will be changes from an environment where more people can share their viewpoint (and see the controversy over Andrew Keen’s view that the internet is destroying culture), but it’ll be gradual, and from a learning point of view what’s best is still what’s best.

The funny thing is, all the stuff they’re touting for the digital generation is really what’s best for the older generation too (ecommunity, immersive simulations, rich media). We just couldn’t do it before. So it’s a fun argument to lobby for doing what’s right, but it’s based upon a false premise and that I can’t abide.

It’s ironic that I, who’ve generally been a rebel (e.g. my views are further apart from the mainstream than either major party is from each other), am coming down with such a ‘establishment’ view, but it’s what my reason tells me. I’m happy to be wrong, so let me know where I’ve missed it.

18 July 2007

A platform for dissension

Clark @ 7:47 PM

In the mobile research report we’re doing for the eLearning Guild, we’ve been debating the relative merits of the new iPhone from Apple. I’ve already talked about it, but the discussion that’s been of interest is how the iPhone is a fundamental switch. And the point that my colleagues are making is that it’s no longer a device, it’s a platform.

The distinction is that you can change the software, and make it a different device. You can load software to do maps, stocks, weather, and there’re web apps that can deliver custom applications. It’s got a general purpose (read: touch) interface, a real operating system (OS), and a way to load new software on to it.

And I agree that a platform is a fundamental switch. It’s what the computer really is, a platform, the ultimate customizable environment. Phones with some pre-selected capabilities, rich as those capabilities may be, are not platforms. So, for instance, the Blackberry, with its limited 3rd party market, isn’t really a platform. I’ve been frustrated that the iPod, with all its ubiquity, isn’t a platform. Apple controls it too tightly, and only applications meeting their determination of appropriateness are available.

My reaction to my colleagues viewpoint is two-fold. The iPhone is not yet a platform, and there are existing platforms already.

First, the iPhone is not yet open. Apple’s not controlling it as badly as they have the iPod, but currently the only way to get third party-capability is through web applications. That’s not effective where I am now, 35K feet in the air. Steve Jobs has promised he’s working on a solution, and that will change the game if indeed they do produce a way. I understand Apple’s desire to control the quality to ensure a great customer experience, but it’s a tradeoff. As of now, however, it’s not a platform.

That’s why I’m still with another, earlier platform. The Treo not only has a general purpose interface (keyboard, jog-dial, and touchscreen), but is open to 3rd party development, allowing you to find apps to do almost anything, or create your own (ok, if you can program). Yes, the OS is old, not multi-tasking.

Windows Mobile is a platform as well, supported on another wide variety of devices, also with general-purpose interfaces, and a somewhat more modern OS (though also the inherent Windows problems…).

So, I’m eagerly awaiting my chance to get an iPhone, but it’s not time yet. We’ll see if they solve some basic capability issues, and open it up. I can always upgrade to a newer Treo…

Love that Timbuktu

Clark @ 4:46 AM

My parents have had a Mac as long as they’ve had a home computer, thanks to me, as I wanted the easiest interface possible (and somewhat to the frustration of my brother who’s closer to them but uses a PC). However, neither (now, my Mom) really understands what’s going on, and they could get into trouble.

This year I put a copy of Timbuktu on their and my computer. What Timbuktu does is allow one computer to control another, over the internet. Simple, but even I find it amazing and I’m pretty savvy about what these things can do! So now when Mom’s in a bind, she calls me, I turn on Timbuktu and her screen opens up in a window on mine and I can walk and talk her through that I’m doing to make things right. Even though we’re 400 miles apart. I also usually try to explain the underlying model so she’ll get better over time.

It’s not the only solution (and the constant nags to upgrade and auto=opening their web page is annoying), but it works reliably, is straightforward, and lets me solve problems from a distance. I think more and more of us will be in this situation, and having a good tool is a boon.

16 July 2007

Mountain Reflections

Clark @ 3:56 PM

Well, we had a great trip: 4 passes in 7 days (3 over 10K feet) through beautiful mountains. Sure, I came back sore, dirty, tired, and cut up, but also mentally recharged. Naturally, I had some learnings as well.

The main one is the necessity to be very systematic. For example, I put up my tent with the rain fly on the day we had bad weather, and in the middle of the night wanted to tighten it against the wind gusts. I’d staked it out, but there had to be a way to tighten the line. I tried doing it by feel, and then got out with a light and tried to see how to do it (forgetting my glasses). I was fortunate that I didn’t *need* to tighten it, as I didn’t figure it out that night. Following through in the morning, I saw that there was a tiny little v-shaped gap in the line holder that you could jam the line into to hold it once you’d pulled it tight. What I hadn’t done was notice it the night before when setting up.

We also came across a group of inner-city youth, girls in this case, who were being taken into the wilderness as a path to help them avoid some of the traps they might encounter in their day-to-day environment. We didn’t have much chance to discuss their program, but I recall many years ago that happening in my experience in Outward Bound. There’s something about nature that helps put life in perspective, and about challenge in helping you develop your sense of self.

Overall, I came back with even more commitment to taking the time to do it *right*, and being more patient about things in general. We do have pressures to move quickly, but we need to strike the balance to do what’s necessary, not just what’s expedient.

I hope you have a way in your life to take time off and reflect on what’s important in your life. And, ideally, a way to keep in touch with nature and the rhythms of life and the earth as well.

6 July 2007

Off the grid…

Clark @ 7:09 AM

Don’t be surprised if you don’t see any posts from me ’til after 15 July (in fact, to the contrary). I’m going off the grid on what’s becoming a regular pilgrimage to the wilderness. It’s time to reflect, take in nature’s beauty, and work my, er, backside off carrying a pack miles through the mountains of Yosemite. We have interesting conversations, and lots of time to think, dream, plan, and crack jokes (mostly bad). Lots of the latter.

This trip is with some colleagues and friends; in a couple of weeks I’ll take my family for the kids first trip to actually carry a backpack. That’ll be a learning experience! Stay tuned.

If you ping me in the interim, I’ll get back to you when I’ve returned. In the meantime, as I tell the family when I go: stay safe, be good, have fun!

3 July 2007

Teacher Skills

Clark @ 11:10 AM

On ITFORUM, someone asked: “Given the recent discussion about essential skills for the 21st century, I’m interested in what skills teachers need to be effective in the 21st century.” My response:

Oh, what a topic! They need to be facilitators, not orators nor wardens. They need to be learning problem designers, process facilitators, reflection guiders, content searchers. They need to design complex problems that spiral curriculum around the task, they need to model solving the problems, they need to provide opportunities and resources to work on those problems, they need to guide discussion post-hoc to tease out remaining issues and dynamically adapt to the individual outcomes, they need to maintain motivation and interest. They’re cheerleaders, counselors, guides, explorers, and mentors.

And they need to be paid commensurate with the complex skills required.

Of course, we’re not preparing teachers well for this sort of work, and our administrative and political bodies around teaching don’t get this at all. Sigh.

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