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Dead On

Karen Head, on her “First-Year Composition 2.0″ MOOC:

Too often we found our pedagogical choices hindered by the course-delivery platform we were required to use, when we felt that the platform should serve the pedagogical requirements. Too many decisions about platform functionality seem to be arbitrary, or made by people who may be excellent programmers but, I suspect, have never been teachers.

Related: What Silicon Valley Gets Wrong About Math Education Again And Again

[via Jonathan Rees]

2013 Sep 18. Karen Head comments:

Just to remind everyone of the context of my statement. We asked that certain parameters in the coding be changed (like the one governing how much we could penalize students for not doing an assignment) and were given the answer that the penalty number was “hard coded” into the program. The tech support person couldn’t understand why it was a big deal to us. To be fair, I couldn’t be made to understand why it was a big deal to change the parameter from a fixed number of 20 to a range of 0-100, but I seem to remember from my basic undergrad programming class that it isn’t a big deal to do this. Of course, in the end, I’m just an English teacher. :-)

8 Responses to “Dead On”

  1. on 11 Sep 2013 at 4:48 amAlicia B

    I totally agree with this statement and it is even worse in college developmental math courses. I was just complaining last night about the fact that I am forced to teach in ways that go against what is best based on research and my experience because the computer program that I am forced to use (by the college) does not approach the math in the same way. It is very frustrating that I am required to perpetuate the same philosophy that put these students in this cycle in the first place.

  2. on 11 Sep 2013 at 10:44 amDave

    To be fair, we also have a good amount of bad technology chosen by excellent former teachers who have never been technologists — both fields are complex. It’s all about finding the people who can mentally put themselves in someone else’s shoes and balance both concerns.

    For an interesting additional perspective, a corner of the web dev world is kind of talking about this problem from the other side right now:
    http://www.zeldman.com/2013/09/07/the-lords-of-vendorbation/

    Bridging the gap effectively is a big part of why your collaborations with Dave Major are pretty ground-breaking.

  3. on 11 Sep 2013 at 1:30 pmDan Meyer

    Dave:

    To be fair, we also have a good amount of bad technology chosen by excellent former teachers who have never been technologists — both fields are complex.

    I don’t understand the hypothetical, or the consequences. Teachers choose bad software sometimes, the effects of which are limited to 100 students. From the other direction, lousy software seems to inflict itself on millions. I must be misunderstanding something here.

  4. on 11 Sep 2013 at 8:22 pmFawn Nguyen

    I want to believe that we (teachers specifically and software consumers generally) are not required to use and perpetuate anything if we give direct feedback to the producers/endorsers that the stuff is crap and pedagogically ill.

    Our tolerance to work through the bad product or platform gives an unintended endorsement that product is fine and dandy. Money is limited, students are precious. Lousy software can only inflict its ills if we let it.

  5. on 12 Sep 2013 at 2:39 amDan Meyer

    There are a lot of situations where teachers and professors don’t have that kind of autonomy, though. See: Alicia B above.

  6. on 12 Sep 2013 at 6:58 amFawn Nguyen

    I understand that we need to earn that course credit, keep our job, abide by contract. I also can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard teachers speak of their disappointment and frustration about a course or situation that they’re in, yet when I ask if they’d let anyone know how they felt, the answer is almost always a no.

    I’m a loyal subscriber to Julian Weissglass’s definition of leadership — taking responsibility for what matters to us. Otherwise I don’t know what we’re doing here. Students look to their teachers and administrators to make the right decisions for them. We do have classroom autonomy. And we can exercise that autonomy outside of our walls when our decisions directly affect children.

    Thank you, Dan.

  7. on 14 Sep 2013 at 12:53 pmJosh

    This has always been a huge problem. As someone who has a degree in educational technology, has taught (at college level), and works as a programmer, this issue has been very important to me. There are lots of reason that this disconnect exists. First, while there are many similarities between teaching a class and software development, they haven’t been emphasized. Most software development happens very differently from teaching.

    Secondly, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a large scale collaboration between educators and technologists that has been successful on a large scale, especially (and obviously) when it comes to Course Management Systems. I would love to participate in something like this, but I’m not sure how it would start, as it would take *a lot* of resources to do well.

    Too many times these things start as a single programmer working on something on their own (cough cough), and there isn’t the collaboration needed to correct errors and issue early on, and by the time collaboration happens, it’s way too late to do meaningful corrections, so the educators learn to live with it.

  8. on 16 Sep 2013 at 6:07 pmKaren Head

    Just to remind everyone of the context of my statement. We asked that certain parameters in the coding be changed (like the one governing how much we could penalize students for not doing an assignment) and were given the answer that the penalty number was “hard coded” into the program. The tech support person couldn’t understand why it was a big deal to us. To be fair, I couldn’t be made to understand why it was a big deal to change the parameter from a fixed number of 20 to a range of 0-100, but I seem to remember from my basic undergrad programming class that it isn’t a big deal to do this. Of course, in the end, I’m just an English teacher. :-)

    Sorry to blog-bomb your discussion, but it popped up on my feed alert. Thanks for reading and commenting on my article. I’m always pleased when people who care about teaching are interested.