Sunday, August 11, 2013

three concepts-- just copying them here.

 This is actually a convergence-- I am struck by how useful the three "old" theories are to creating online courses. Each one gave me the idea for a type of instruction and related assignment/learner activity. (I guess that was the point of assignments 2 and 3. :) So the first concept is the adaptation of traditional learning theories to DE-- they can each be used to support and deepen a type of learning in the online environment.
2. Also I found important the constructivist notion of the essentiality of knowing first the goal of the course or program within the organization's purpose, and also within the potential learner's journey.  I'm realizing that we shouldn't even start to design a course without defining the goal first, and then deriving objectives from it. This could be quite important with writing courses. The first course, for example, might introduce students to essay structure and get them comfortable with stating a point and supporting that with evidence. That would mean there's no need to teach particular modes-- they can start writing about their own lives or experiences, as long as they get the idea of analysis: Point and support. 
Defining each course's goal can help differentiate, so that students aren't doing the same basic assignments over and over regardless of level.
3. Lifelong learning is aided by the ability to join and contribute to communities of practice, especially in the learner's profession or avocation. These have been important since, oh, the guilds of the 14th century, but are becoming even more important and accessible with Web 2.0. Designing and supporting online communities of practice can be a way for universities to stay relevant in the lives of learners after they leave school.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Constructivism in museum

Went to a thing at the art museum, a discussion of a Hopper painting, and he did a lot of "landscapes" in the 30s which kind of present man-made elements (like a railroad track) as part of the natural environment, and that kind of fit in here... we don't think of an old steel mill as "wilderness," but that's what we'd call a stretch of nature that was let go. So urban wilderness, not wasteland, I guess? In England, they of course do this better-- but then, they have tin mines the Romans abandoned in 300 AD, and yes, they look pretty cool now. Maybe Detroit will look that great in 2300.
Anyway, the husband afterwards said he enjoyed it but would have liked more "lecture," and I realized that the instructor (one of the curators) was engaging in "constructivism". 

Woolfolk (1993) defines thus: "The key idea is that students actively construct their own knowledge: the mind of the  student mediates input from the outside world to determine what the student will learn.
Learning is active mental work, not passive reception of teaching."

The curator said that they were trying this "closer look" model out, following the Frick example, where they led a discussion of a single painting. There was a cognitive element too, that is, we were being led to the skill of art analysis, to figuring out (especially) compositional elements. But it was mostly constructivist, with the curator asking questions, like "What strikes you most about the colors here?"

I say it's constructivist rather than, say, collaborationist, because there was, in that grim new term, a SME (subject matter expert) in the curator, who led the discussion. In fact, she said afterwards, if anyone had mentioned, say, how this resembled Wyeth's painting Christina's World, she would have led into a discussion of influences, but "the topic didn't come up." I found that interesting, because she would direct us to observations and questions and then answer them, or discuss them, but she wouldn't start a topic.

So the husband (we met at a university that prided itself on great lecturers, and we both love a good lecture) said he felt like we were learning how to "read a painting," but not really much about this painting itself, and "I don't really want to hear what the other students think because what do they know."

I mentioned that it wasn't really "the blind leading the blind," as I used to term that pedagogical trend in the 90s that forced the instructor into the role of another student (and a rather silent one at that), while the students fumbled their way to understanding something, which might be okay with a poem, but was pretty useless when it came to comma usage rules (they never did seem to find their way to the rules). At least now, the instructor was leading the discussion and answering the questions, not just prompting students to do the work.

Anyway, it was interesting to see this in action, and I did think it was constructivism really, as the learners did work together to get a comprehensive understanding, and shaping the learning, but with the subtle and expert facilitation by the curator.

New York, New Haven and Hartford
The painting in question. I noticed that the "shelf talker" or whatever they call the description/bio/title card on the wall next to the painting gave far more explicit "lecture-type" information, and so does the page on the website:
"This painting, named after an East Coast railroad line, was created during the Depression and depicts a landscape and desolate house. The prominent track evokes Hopper’s recurring themes of transience and the loneliness of the traveler."

The frontal view and the broad horizontal line of the railroad suggest a stage, underlining the separation between the viewer and the scene.
The crisp lines and sharp angles of the house are softened by the rounded, natural shapes of the trees, and the dark green balances the bright sky. Hopper’s compositions are often based on oppositions like this that unite to form a harmonic whole.
Which is a "better" pedagogy? Neither, I suspect, is "better," but the curator's discussion was probably better at teaching us to understand painting, and the information "lecture" was better at teaching us about THIS painting. Both work together, but maybe they have to be in different environments? Like the website is the "lecture," and the "classroom" is more discussion-oriented?

As a novelist and a fiction-writing teacher, I labor under the illusion that everyone else is fascinated by our creative choices, you know, why did you choose to hide the secret for 11 chapters and reveal it by accident rather than protagonist decision, or why did you choose that title? (Like the painting above is named for the railroad line that owned the tracks in front of the house... did Hopper want to call attention then to the railroad tracks particularly?) So I think one effective path of this constructivist approach could be learners asking questions and speculating about creative choices

Saturday, August 3, 2013

A question of tone

For the paper-- A friend suggested that I interview Ellie.
So I was writing that "you don't know me, but we have a mutual friend in Jenny". I typed after that, "Would you mind answering some questions?"
And that just sounded sort of more like a demand than a request, so I changed it to "Would you mind if I asked you a few questions?" 
I'm trying to keep track of "tone changes" and the change from negative construction to positive in sentences for an eventual paper. Eventually. :) Send examples if you come across them?

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Ethics and all that

I was struck, reading Kop and Hill and esp. Downes, of their subtext of the need to respect learners, and how many questions that raises. What does it mean to respect students? I think about the teachers' lounge (or blog equivalent) and the utterly necessary freedom there to say what drives us nuts about students. Even as I engage in that, it feels disrespectful-- like gossip. But maybe it's also constructive somehow. I don't know. I feel like I learn a lot from interacting with students, and I don't know if I'd learn as much if I were really idealistic about them. So still thinking about ethics of describing writing/learning communities, but how do you avoid it? Using the people who confide in you? Students, colleagues, clients? I don't know what it means to respect their privacy, or whether I'm violating that privacy when I discuss their work or their behavior. I try to mask the identity and usually revise whatever the question or issue is so that even they wouldn't recognize it. 

I have always TRIED to come up with my own "teachable moments", but I don't have a great imagination, and a client or student or friend will have a writing or editing issue-- like a sentence even-- that is so perfect, I want to talk or write about it. I always try to change the wording or something so it's not traceable. But sometimes--

Once I got an email from -- (you get to recognize this sort of subterfuge after awhile... that really annoying commenter on my editing blog who disagrees with everything I say about commas? That was a woman using a male name, and I only know that because my co-blogger traced the IP address, and really, that should prove I am not the nibby one in our partnership :)-- a man who was trying to sell a romance novel and so wrote under a woman's name (ask Nicholas Sparks... a man writing a romance novel is cool! Keep the male name, fella!). Anyway, this guy obviously-- again, you get to notice this sort of thing-- loves loves loves flashbacks, or anyway incorporated one in a scene and wanted to justify it, and wrote to me asking for my thoughts about flashbacks. Well, I knew she/he just wanted to hear that "flashbacks are awesome," but I actually think flashbacks are lousy plotting, and wrote a long honest answer, and when she/he wrote back and said that surely there were good reasons for flashbacks, and I wrote another achingly earnest reply about how flashbacks disturb the chronology and everything in the book ought to contribute to the character change and flashbacks (which, like dreams, don't actually happen), and of course I referenced Oedipus the King (aka The World's Greatest Plot Evuh), and he/she wrote back a response dripping with contempt (because, after all, after 30 years analyzing fiction, I don't know as much as he/she who just started writing, which makes me wonder why he/she decided to ask me anyway), "Well, that is all well and good for Sophocles, but that was a long time ago, and I'm not Greek, so who cares."

This was SO PERFECT. I mean, really, how totally new-novelist (again, have encountered many) to sneer that Sophocles is outre (only they wouldn't know the term :) and who cares, and "I'm not Greek."

You know, because only GREEK NOVELISTS can learn anything from Sophocles.

So I couldn't help myself! When I gave workshops about plotting, and someone asked about flashbacks, I'd say, "Well, let me tell you about someone who loves flashbacks, and told me, when I explained about how Sophocles used a flashback, 'I'm not Greek, so who cares!'"

It was like, you know, the perfect comment from the scornful sort of writer who refuses to learn from other writers, like, you know, SOPHOCLES.

So once I was saying this line and everyone was laughing-- because it's that sort of awful arrogance we have only when we're just starting to write fiction-- and I noticed that one guy wasn't laughing. And afterwards he came up to me and said, "That wasn't what I meant. I meant just that what you were saying didn't apply to me." IT WAS HIM!

(Well, it did apply to him, but I recognize that most writers have to insulate themselves from influence in order to find their voice, and that very few are like me-- trained in literary analysis and never actually freed from the need to analyze. So he couldn't see that Sophocles's use of doubled roles and revelations-in-flashback really did illuminate his own situation, and anyway, duh, he asked me about flashbacks.)

But instead of snapping back that he should learn more about his craft, and that western lit was based on 3000 years starting with those Greeks he scorned, I ducked my head and apologized for using his very funny line.


But, you know, ethics? I don't know.

It sure is easier to do research about EA Poe than to write about actual writers I encounter in my life.

(BTW, I just proofed the galleys of my mystery book coming out supposedly in two weeks, and IT HAS A FLASHBACK! On page 3! I can't believe it! Are we sure I wrote this book?)