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As a fourth year doctoral candidate, in addition to having completed comprehensive examinations and prospectus and working on the dissertation, my thoughts are also turning towards the job market and securing that first academic position. This purpose of this blog is to chronicle the trials and tribulations of completing my Ph.D. and finding that first job.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

From the ?huh? file...

Earlier this month, I found the following entry at Slashdot...
Study Finds Value in Email Spam

By Zonk on better-than-the-porky-kind-anyway

Ant writes "According to a LiveScience story, a steady diet of email spam can be good for you. From the article: 'Researchers split a group of more than 2,100 Canadians into two groups. One group got e-mails that promoted healthy lifestyles, the other got none. "These were informative and motivational messages sent weekly for 12 weeks," explained study leader Ron Plotnikoff of the University of Alberta. The e-mails promoted the benefits of a good diet and physical activity. Those who were effectively spammed, as a group, saw their mean body mass index (BMI) go down, meaning it improved. BMI is a measure of body fat based on height and weight. Overall BMI rose for the control group, which did not get the emails.'"
Interesting what that little bit of inconvenience that we face everyday (some 20-30 message each day for me personally) may be doing for us in terms of benefits. Makes you wonder...


Wednesday, July 27, 2005

More brain research

Just a quick entry today, this came to me from elearnspace... An entry entitled What Other People Say May Change What You See which describes a New York Times article (What Other People Say May Change What You See).

In that article it "explains how people's perception is actually altered based on the input from others - as if there is a perceived cost of going against group/other's standing views." It continues by saying "tightly linked to this type of brain-based research is a growing understanding of how people collaborate and behave in cooperative environments."

On another blog, Learning Redefined, another entry appeared titled "The Battle of the Brains" which detailed the two sides of the brain, their functions and how tobe competitive in today's world both sides of the brain need to be developed (or need to flourish, as they say in the entry).

Like I said in my previous post (see Brain Research), there is so much that we don't know about the brain yet, but as we begin the process of uncovering some of these mysteries, how do these new relevations affect teaching in the classroom?

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Saturday, July 23, 2005

Television - Good and bad?!?

To borrow a line from Monty Python again... And now for something completely different...

At the beginning of the month, there were a number of blog entries about television being good and bad for children (see TV Viewing Good & Bad For Kids, Seattle Study Says, From the "really?" department - TV is good and bad for tots). This trend continued into the month with entries like TV Cuts Chances of Getting a Degree from The Committed Sardine Blog.

The interesting thing (or at least what managed to really catch my attention) was that about the same time, joannejacobs.com posted an entry at her blog entitled TV junkies. The entry stated that "students with a TV in the bedroom score lower on standardized tests; those with a home computer score higher.... [with] significant [differences]."

Yet, a day or two later the Blogging Baby posted an entry Proof that too much TV hurts kids that stated
Three recent studies offer scientific proof of the anecdotal evidence that too much TV can screw up kids’ brains. One of these studies has shown that merely having a TV in a child’s room is linked to poor academic skills. In another, researchers tracked over 1,000 kids for almost 30 years and found that those who watched the most television between the ages of 5 and 15 did the worst in school, and were least likely to graduate high school and college by age 26. The third study found that very young kids who watch the most TV have the lowest reading comprehension at ages 6 and 7.
Which is actually kind of funny, because two days earlier they posted an entry New verdict on TV: good for 3-5 year-olds, bad for younger kids. Go figure?

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Tuesday, July 19, 2005

What does your first grader need to know?

Sticking with my social science education theme, a few weeks ago the Blogging Baby had a post on Cultural literacy: who decides what we need to know? The basis of this entry was to discuss the “What Every First Grader Needs to Know?” books by E. D. Hirsch, Jr.

It is interesting that the authors of this entry list Hirsch goals as including:

  • “In an anthropological perspective (the name which Hirsch chooses for the Cultural Literacy point of view), the basic goal of education is acculturation, the transmission to our children of the specific information shared by the adults of the group or polis.”
  • “... literate culture has become the common currency for social and economic exchange in our democracy, and is the only available ticket to full citizenship…. Membership is automatic if one learns the background information and the linguistic conventions that are needed to read, write, and speak effectively.”
  • “Cultural literacy constitutes the only sure avenue of opportunity for disadvantaged children.”
  • “The achievement of high universal literacy is the key to all other fundamental improvements in American education.”
  • “Mature literacy alone enables the tower to be built, the business to be well managed, and the airplane to fly without crashing

The problem with this slanted view of the world is the number of people who actually buy into it. Take a look at the listing for this particular Hirsch book at Amazon.com (see http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0385319878/qid=1120609467/sr=1-1/ref=sr_1_1/102-7436103-6026511?v=glance&s=books ). In particular, look at the customer reviews. Poor, misguided fools...

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Saturday, July 16, 2005

Testing and what American students know

Joannejacob.com had a couple of interesting entries at her blog the beginning of this month. The first was an entry titled "If you test it, they will learn," where she described in "the most recent NAEP history test in 2001 showed that 'just 10 percent of high school seniors had an adequate grasp of important people, events, and concepts in American history, such as identifying America's allies and enemies during World War II. One-third of fourth- and eighth-graders and nearly two-thirds of high school seniors did not meet a basic threshold of knowledge.'"

The problem with most standards is that they represent one group's view of the curriculum, at the exclusion of other groups. This is one of the reasons why white folks have historically done so well on the SAT (I'm reminded of a line from the television show Sping City, when after the bumbling, know-nothing mayor takes a standardized exam intended for grade eight students and is asked how he did so well, "The section on yachting really put me over the top!"). As an example of this assertation, take a look at the World History course for the new Georgia Performance Standards (go to http://www.georgiastandards.org/socialstudies.asp and click on "World History Social Studies"). Where is the world in these standards? Literally 75% of these standards are based upon Western Civilization. Might as well named the course "Western Civilization Social Studies"!

The second was an entry titled "NEA vs. achievement gap." According to the entry, the NEA President in a speech stated

leaders of minority communities are "being courted by those who want to destroy public education, and, unfortunately, some are being persuaded" to support, for example, charter schools and vouchers. He blamed what he views as the foes' success, in part, on lagging achievement among black and Hispanic students compared with their white counterparts.
The third was an entry titled "The rich get poorer," which stated something that I find pretty obvious (but it seems that those who are in favour of testing and punishing those who don't do well on the test don't get), "schools with a lot of poor students have a much harder time educating them than schools with a few poor students."

Now, you may be asking what these three entries have in common or what theme am I going to use to tied this entry together... I wonder why the American public are yearning for a past in education that never existed and trying to achieve that mythical past by hurting those in education who need the most help? Answer that for me and not only will you ensure a Democratic victory across the board next time, but you may even have a chance to do something about America's school system.

The larger problem for education, as I see it, is the title of a fourth entry by Joannejacob.com (see "Evaluating teachers") . This larger problem is that we aren't that far off (assuming we aren't already there yet) of evaluating teachers base upon how their students perform on flawed evaluations of biased standards. I'm again reminded of the stories written a couple of years about the dentist and standards (see http://teachers.net/gazette/DEC02/marshall.html). Is this what we are coming to in K-12 education?

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Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Theory of interaction?

I've posted this to a couple of listserves and haven't received any response, so I figured I'd try here to see if anyone had an opinion to share...

I have a question about Moore (1989), which is the editorial where he describes the three types of interaction. My reading of this piece, and subsequent pieces that have built on it (i.e., Hillman, Willis, Gunawerdena, 1994 and Sutton, 2001), is that these types of interaction are intended as a descriptive piece and can best be described as a model. I believe this to be supported by pieces that I have seen which use it as part of their literature review or research methodology.

I would even speculate that this interaction model may be an extention of the dialogue piece of Moore's theory of transactional distance.

The reason I write this message to this group is to get opinions on what they would classify Moore (1989) as,
largely because I came across this a few weeks back (see http://www.elearning-reviews.org/topics/pedagogy/educational-principles/theory/1989-moore-three-types-interaction/ ) that
claims that this editorial is describing a theory of interaction (Moore's "seminal contribution to distance
education theory" if the author is to be believed).

Now I realize that e-learning reviews are just people like you and I reviewing other's work and that the original authors are not involved at all. However, this was the first time that I had seen these types of interaction classified as a theory and I wanted to see if others felt as Mr. Ramanau does.

So, what is Moore (1989)? Is it simply a description? A model? A theory? Or something else altogether?

To give you some context, as I have mentioned before I am currently engaged in writing my comprehensive examinations and the theory question that I have been asked is:

"The purpose of this question is for you to examine the role and influence of theory in distance education research.

In 2000, Randy Garrison questioned “whether distance education possesses the theoretical foundation and commitment to take it into the 21st century” (Garrison, 2000, p. 2). That same year, Farhad Saba observed that few researchers had conducted rigorous studies in distance education that were based on theoretical foundations of the field or theories of fields closely related to distance education (Saba, 2000). In his dissertation this past year, Nathan Lowell points out “the field [of distance education] remains one based on practice and not on theory” (Lowell, 2004, p. 1).

You have stated that the American Journal of Distance Education and the Journal of Distance Education are considered among the top scholarly journals in the distance education field. Therefore, review at least the last 10 years of each journal and summarize and critique the major theoretical perspectives that have emerged or have been discussed by researchers in support of the foundations of distance education. Track the frequency that theory is used to support the practice of distance education in these journals. Of the research that is theory-based, what are the dominant theories and how influential have these dominant theories actually been?

Your response should take the form of an article for a refereed publication such as the American Journal of Distance Education or the Journal of Distance Education. It should be around 12-15 pages in length (3,000 to 5,000 words) and should be able to be read by academics in the fields of distance education and instructional technology.


Garrison, R. (2000). Theoretical challenges for distance education in the 21st century: A shift from structural to transactional issues. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 1(1), 1-17. Retrieved on September 7, 2004 from http://www.irrodl.org/content/v1.1/randy.pdf

Lowell, N.O. (2004a). An investigation of factors contributing to perceived transactional distance in an online setting. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Northern Colorado, Greeley.

Saba, F. (2000). Research in distance education: A status report. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 1(1). Retrieved on October 10, 2004 from http://www.irrodl.org/content/v1.1/farhad.pdf"

Now I think that this a great question and I have enjoyed my first go through with both journals, but obviously if Moore (1989) is a theory - which I don't personal think it is - the results of this review will be drastically different.

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Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Dr. Colby Nolan, the cat

Well, not quite Dr... Apparently this cat was only able to get his Master's degree. Take a look at this piece titled "Class Dismissed" from Inside Higher Ed (and thanks to Distance-Educator.com's Daily News for putting me on to this piece, and for the smile that it brought the other morning).

See, I knew doc school was too tough for four legged critters... ;)

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Standards, accountability and expectations

I was reading a post over at Number 2 Pencil that was entitled "American expectations in public education." In the post, Kimberly Swygert quotes some statistics from ETS's recent bipartisan survey on American opinions about high schools. The ones that really caught my attention were:
  • Most (55%) Americans say that all students, teachers, and schools should be held to the same performance standard even if many students come from disadvantaged backgrounds; once more, endorsing a fundamental precept of NCLB. Only one-quarter (26%) of teachers agree.
  • Instead, 60% of teachers say that students enter school with different backgrounds and levels of academic preparation, and we should not expect teachers working with disadvantaged students to have their students reach the same performance level as teachers working in more affluent schools.

A I read these, I started to think about an e-mail I received a couple of years ago about what would happen if we held dentists to the same standards as we do with the accountability for teachers. A quick Google search (yes, I'm still using Google, even after the post I made at The Program - see Big Brother Google) and I found Promoting Learning... Accountability in Schools by Dr. Marvin Marshall. This short article contains both the original e-mail that I received (the first story titled "Absolutely the Best Dentists" by John Taylor) and a follow-up that I had never read before (the second story titled "Forget the Children - My Dentist Now Gets A Top Rating" by John Taylor). If you haven't read them before, take some time to read them now.

Anyway, I am just on the heels of taking a course ESOC9000: Research in Social Studies in Education - Powerful Social Studies Teaching and Learning and Georgia's Social Studies Performance Standards. In this course, we spend a great deal of time talking about "the big test" and how the public essentially has a mistrust of teachers and their professional abilities. This mistrust is represented in standards and tests of those standards, in labelling schools as failing because of larger issues such as race and socio-economic status (which play a larger role in whether a student is likely to pass "the big test" than the teacher or school), and in the accountability measure of legislation like No Child Left Behind.

As best I can tell, this mistrust has come about because of a conservative agenda that has used politicians (particularly at the local level), think tanks and the media to scare the public into thinking that students today are not doing as well as students of yesteryear. As we have examined many of these reports and "crisises" that this political agenda has put forth, we have discovered that in many instances the students of today are doing just as well or even better than students of yerteryear.

I have found it interesting that it seems that education is more of a political issue in the United States than it is in other places that I have live (i.e., Canada and to a lesser extent the United Kingdom). Because it is a political issue, politicians (most of which have little or no knowledge of education other than their own schooling) tell Americans what is wrong with their education system and Americans, by in large, believe it. This mistrust extends to the fact that teachers and administrators will tell the American public that the measures that the politicians are taking won't make any difference, will maintain the status quo, or will make matters worst.

In my home province of Newfoundland, the largest group of individuals to be elected to public office at the province or federal level as a profession are teachers. While the numbers aren't quite as high in other provinces, teachers still make up a good percentage of provincial politicians in particular. Maybe this is why education is less of a political issue in most Canadian provinces than it is in the United States, because we actually elect teachers and trust them to make good decisions when it comes to education.

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Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Brain research

Last week sometime, one of the daily editions of eSchool News that I get in my inbox had an article in that entitled Your brain: Search engine, or calculator?. I found this an interesting piece because I have written in the past, on my other blog (i.e., Virtual High School Meanderings), about some of these brain research issues (see Do Today's Students Think Differently? and Students with Neomillennial Learning Styles and Virtual High Schools).

This line of brain research fascinates me. For example, Ian Jukes over at The Committed Sardine Blog posts about this often (see his Brain/Mind category entries). In looking through those entries, you find all sorts of interesting facts about brain research:

  • We know from recent research on adolescent brain patterns that teens are the most alert after 10:00AM in the morning and can work late into the evening. (from Late to Bed, Early to Rise...)
  • Teens depend on virtual world to communicate and explore their identities. Blogging and webcams may create generation of narcissists. At the height of adolescent awkwardness, the 15-year-old boy knows where he can always go to feel confident and at ease. He finds empowerment at the computer keyboard. (Cyberspace Shapes Children's Attitudes, Social Interactions)
  • "If we ask them to read a sentence we can actually look at them processing a single sentence. In other words we can look at the footprint of a single thought," Professor Keith Thulborn, from Chicago's Centre for Magnetic Resonance Imaging, said. (Scientists Track Footprints of Thoughts)
  • Brain scans show that the brains of people who are lying look very different from those of people who are telling the truth, U.S. researchers said on Monday. (Truth, Lies Differ in Brain Scans)
  • Aodccrnig to rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dnsoe't rllaey mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are squeneced, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. (The Amazing Human Mind)

When I look at some of these facts, I'm fascinated with how the brain works and how little wereally know about the one variable that is most important in a child's learning experience. As these relevations come to light, what does that means for our classroom practice.

For example, the news.com article stated:

"Interestingly, the whole field of artificial intelligence has moved from a Boolean model, in which systems guide themselves through a series of embedded rules, to a Bayesian model, in which machines guide themselves by studying past experiences. Bayesian probability also underlies search engines."

What does that mean for how I would teach a student in my post-secondary classroom or how a secod school teacher would change their instuction for an adoloscent learner? It must have some impact on what we should do, but I haven't seen anything yet that suggests what that something is.

For those who are following along, are you aware of any practical pieces that have come from any of this brain research that has been so popular as of late? In addition, if our brain is more of a search engine as opposed to a calculator, what does that means for how I engage in my classroom practice?

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Monday, July 04, 2005

Beginning comprehensive examinations

Well, today I begin another milestone towards obtaining my doctorate: my comprehensive examinations. This means that I will probably be less active on this blog over the next six weeks than I have been over the past few months.

I have some entries that I have written to provide some content for the first couple of weeks... I will also be posting each of my questions as I begin to work on them to the blog, largely for your feedback and ideas on how to tackle them (as two heads are always better than one and while I have some ideas on how to go about these questions, I'm always open to suggestions). I will also probably use this blog as a place to tease out opinions, ideas, and arguments that I am trying to make as I respond to these questions. Feel free to tell me when the opinion, idea or arguments could be strengthened, has holes, or makes no sense at all.

And thanks in advance for any feedback and guidance along the way...

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