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EdTech Update





BFTP: Taylorism and education

As I slowly work my way throught Carr's book The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, I ran across this passage from the chapter on Google: (reformatted slightly.)

In his 1993 book Technopoly, Neil Postman distilled the main tenets of Taylor’s scientific management.* Taylorsim, he wrote, is founded on six assumptions:

“that the primary, if not the only goal of human labor and thought is efficiency;

that technical calculation is in all respects superior to human judgment;

that, in fact, human judgment cannot be trusted, because it is plagued by laxity, ambiguity, and unnecessary complexity;

that subjectivity is an obstacle to clear thinking;

that what cannot be measured either does not exist or is of no value;

and that the affairs of citizens are best guided and conducted by experts.”

Fredrick Winslow Taylor, The Principles of Scientific Management, 1911.

Carr uses the passage to ask if Google is trying to "Taylorize" information acquisition. But what struck me is that our current national and state school improvement efforts seemed to be based on this 1911 model of productivity.

Too bad our kids aren't just little Model Ts rolling off the assembly line. (See Why Robots Make the Best Students.)

Oh, Carr's book is one of the best I've read for awhile. He gets a little bogged down relating slugs and brain research, but overall The Shallows is a thoughtful and fascinating read.

Original post January 14, 2011


Narrowing the research focus

On the AASL Forum list, Patricia writes:

...there are many different components to the research process.

I am planning on breaking things down into tiny little bits for my students and first I need to teach my students how to narrow down their research topics - topics like global warming and water pollution, which yielded thousands of results in the databases we've used.

Does anyone have a lesson plan on how to narrow down a topic? Or ideas for teaching how to narrow down a topic?

As a school librarian, "narrowing the focus" was always my opportunity to focus on making the research releveant. And by relevant, I asked students how they could make the question they were try to answer topical/timely, personal, or local.

In my column "It's Personal," I wrote:

The lesson I learned as a librarian was that it’s possible and useful to blend a student’s personal interests with academic standards. Making a subject relevant because it is personal, local, or topical was critical if I wanted a learner who did more than just go through the motions.

When it came to helping my library-using students find a book or magazine to read, I had always “personalized” the effort. “Oh, that’s right, you like science fiction, don’t you? Here’s a new one that just came in. Read it and let me know what you think.”  

Personalizing the educational experience has a number of benefits:
  • Hooking kids through personal interests increases the likelihood of them demonstrating
    other positive dispositions. Grit. Self-teaching. Curiosity. If what you are learning has
     meaning, you’re more likely to stick with it.
  • School projects that have the greatest chance of success will be those that help students
    solve personal or personally interesting problems. Learning to do an effective Internet search
     just might be worth the time and effort if the result may be locating materials that are actually
    useful or interesting.
  • Creativity is the by-product of finding solutions to personal problems. It was a person - an
     inventor, an author, a technology guru - solving personal problems in a unique way that results
    in new products.
  • Children read more and at a higher level when the material they read is something of interest.
    Ever have a child who couldn’t sound out “cat” or “dog” in the basal reader, but could read
    “differential” or “transmission” just fine in
    Hot Rod magazine?
  • Teachers will need to provide the “why is this important” link in all their lessons.We all pay more
    attention when we believe what the speaker’s topic has value to us personally. As a parent, I too
    often heard the refrain, ‘Why do we have to know this stuff anyway?” from kids. And not having a
    better answer than “It’ll be on a test you need to pass to get into college” was discouraging.

I'm not sure there is a lesson plan that can be used with an entire class that will help students make a topic more relevant. I always found one-on-one conversations to be most effective. And after a few years of being asked to think "personal" about research, it became natural.



Short short stories

If we approach the written word primarily through search-and-seizure rather than sustained encounter-and-contemplation, we risk losing a critical element of what it means to be an educated, literate society. Naomi Baron, 2005

Each day, 365 tomorrows publishes a science fiction short story. And by short, I mean really short. One can read it in just a minute or two.

Is this the future of literature? Prose and haiku somehow blending to create literary snippets for those of us who are too pressed for time to read whole short stories, let alone novels? Is this yet another symptom of literacy's death spiral?

I will confess that I have rather liked some of the 365 tomorrows offerings. I'm not giving up George RR Martin's tomes of mischief and mayhem, but these short forms are fun.

Perhaps literacy doesn't have a dark future. Only a different one.

See also Libraries for a Postliterate Society