Monthly Archives: March 2010

Using Haidt’s dimensions to examine the morality behind our ‘9 Values’ framework

Reading 'The National Framework for Values Education in Australian Schools', I was intrigued by the list of nine values deemed universal enough to be taught in schools across this wide brown land. For those not familiar, the values are (in alphabetical order);

  1. Care and Compassion
  2. Doing Your Best
  3. Fair Go
  4. Freedom
  5. Honesty and Trustworthiness
  6. Integrity
  7. Respect
  8. Responsibility
  9. Understanding, Tolerance and Inclusion

Now I must say, I can't find too much fault with any of these (or the list in general). While thinking about it, I recalled the work that Jonathan Haidt did on identifying fundamental moral dimensions (check out his wonderful TED talk on the topic). To recap, the dimensions he identified as being universal across cultures (through held in various levels of regard by different individuals – hence 'dimensions') are;

  1. Harm/care
  2. Fairness/reciprocity
  3. Ingroup/loyalty
  4. Authority/respect
  5. Purity/sanctity

How, I wondered, did our 9 values match up against Haidt's 5 dimensions? Let's have a look…

  • Harm/care : Care and Compassion
  • Fairness/reciprocity : Fair Go | Freedom | Honesty and Trustworthiness | Understanding, Tolerance and Inclusion
  • Ingroup/loyalty : Responsibility | Doing Your Best
  • Authority/respect : Respect
  • Purity/sanctity : Integrity

 I must admit I was surprised by this outcome. Haidt identifies Fairness as the value most highly regarded by liberals and Loyalty, Respect and Purity being highly valued by conservatives (Care is universally regarded as important). Given this, it must be acknowledged that the values outlined by the national framework are quite liberal in their skew. If I were a conservative I would perhaps like to see more of a focus on the acknowledgement of authority, and a little dose of righteous sanctity. I am sure that the additional layer of values provided by a nice Catholic school would probably sate that need.


Having written the above, we trekked out to Berala Public School and observed for a day. Suffice to say that my concern for distraught conservatives wringing their hands over the overly-liberal framework. Basically, three things struck me;

a) the school (and apparently other schools are similar) has created a simpler value set that it communicates very actively as the code of conduct for students which rests on four value. Two of these values are not drawn from the framework, they are more practical given the age of students and the school environment – safety and positivity. Positivity is interesting actually, not really present in our overly morbid and flagellant nine values. The two values that are drawn from the framework are respect and responsibility – two of the conservative values, at the expense of all those namby pamby Kumbaya values.

b) between the school song, school prayer and school mission that we enjoyed during an assembly, the school is finding other places to introduce the values they wish to inculcate (yes, that was a school prayer, read aloud during assembly as a school that makes Benetton ads look like Aryan propaganda)

c) the very nature of the school environment (the uniforms, the routine, the teacher/student power dichotomy) all reinforce key conservative values of traditional institutions – conformity, authority etc.

In short, I was surprised at the contrast between what the ideals that the values framework sets out, and the reality of everyday life in first class.

Eyes to the front – policing behaviour in a laptop-based classroom

Amongst many sensible things they bring up in their 'Discussing New Literacies', Michele Knobel and Colin Lankshear relate an anecdote about 'multitasking' in the classroom. They tell the story of Zoe, a digitally empowered student who, while her teacher is managing a class reading and discussion of a poem by Robert Frost, is surreptitiously reading other people's (unrelated) blogs, and writing blog posts of her own. While the 'formal classroom' frowns upon Zoe's behaviour, Knobel and Lankshear applaud her 'multitasking'. They suggest that the workplace values this ability, and that there is no 'disrespect' in Zoe's behaviour as "she was able to provide at least as much attention to the tasks specifically associated with the official learning of the classroom to perform them adequately." (p. 83) 

This all seems like a bit of a utopian, rose-tinted view of things. For one thing, many would argue that multitasking, simply, 'isn't'. As David Weinberger suggests in 'The Cluetrain Manifesto' (a text I hope would be progressive enough for Knobel and Lankshear);

"Humans can't multitask – we can't pay attention to two things simultaneously. You can multitask? Fine. Then read a book and write one at the same time. No, multitasking is really just rapid attention-switching. And that'd be a useful skill, except it takes us a second or two to engage in the new situation we've graced with our focus. So, the sum total of attention is actually decreased as we multitask. Slicing your attention is less like slicing potatoes than like slicing plums: you always lose some of the juice." (p.50)

Beyond this, its worth looking at their suggestion that multi-tasking is valued in the commercial sphere. Without doubt, the ability to successfully manage (or 'juggle') a variety of tasks can be a boon in the workplace. In terms of 'multi-tasking' however, it is more relevant to ask what the reaction is when one takes a Blackberry into a meeting, or continues to write an email while conversing with a colleague. As in other areas, the general belief is that attending to multiple tasks simultaneously is achieved by diminishing the quality of attention to each task.

Looking at Zoe's situation, if we assume that this is time set aside for her education, then even a die-hard anti-establishment liberal like myself would suggest that her focus be split (if it is to be split) between tasks related to her schoolwork. This feels less like a flaw in her teacher's understanding of her capacity to manage multiple tasks, and more like a flaw in their ability to inspire interest and enthusiasm around the topic at hand. If Zoe were more engaged by the material, she would perhaps still be 'multi-tasking', but would be pulling up imagery, analysis, and so on, around the Frost poem in question.

The situation does raise the question of how best to police behaviour in a laptop-based classroom. On the one hand, I believe there should be (at least at certain times) significant freedom to choose different applications, resources, destinations etc. to achieve the objectives of a learning exercise. On the other hand, it is perhaps unrealistic to assume that a class will operate without a degree of oversight. The solution that springs most readily to mind would be a capacity by which the teacher could view the screens of the students in the class at will. While this has some echoes of the Panopticon about it, it really strays no farther toward 1984 than the teacher who wanders up behind you in class while you are carefully sketching what your girlfriend would look like without skin.   

Technology as a force for better or worse

In his short paper ‘The Paradoxical Future of Digital Learning‘, Mark Warschauer highlights three areas where the implications of digital technology on education are not as straightforward as many have assumed. Essentially;

  • new (multimedia) literacy seems to be making traditional literacies obsolete, BUT traditional literacies seem to be necessary to be ‘scaffolded’ by new literacies
  • technology gives us the ability to learn autonomously, BUT we learn to do so best within a supportive face-to-face environment
  • life-long self-managed learning outside of the classroom holds great social promise, BUT the impact of formal education on our lives is increasing not decreasing

Warschauer distinguishes two perspectives on digital technology, drawing on Andrew Feenberg’s book ‘Critical Theory of Technology‘;

  • technological determinism – technology itself will inherently bring about change
  • technological instrumentalism – technologies are tools with which we can bring about change

To these he adds a critical view, which sees technology as (yet another) contested site for “struggle between social forces” (p.47). His aim appears to be to encourage us not to take digital technology (and its impact) for granted, but to realise that this is part of a broader, complex process of becoming which we can shape – but only if we appreciate the many forces at work.

This view of technology seems to echo Felix Guattari, in ‘Chaosmosis‘, when he suggested that the impact of technology on society “can work for the better or the worse” (p.5);

“It’s impossible to judge such machinic evolution either positively or negatively; everything depends on its articulation within collective assemblages of enunciation [in short, ‘what we do with it’]. At best there is creation, or invention, of new Universes of reference; at worst there is the deadening influence of the mass media to which millions of individuals are currently condemned.”

Guattari has a fairly negative view of (mass) media (he is writing in the early 1990s here), but a clear desire for how media can be a force for good;

“Technological developments together with social experimentation in these new domains [in short: the new possibilities opened up by technological evolution] are perhaps capable of leading us out of the current period of oppression and into a post-media era characterised by the reappropriation and resingularisation of the use of media.”

If we are to embrace Guattari’s vision of a more individual and empowered relationship with media, is gives us some direction as to the way that it must be incorporated into educational environments. This would suggest a much more critical approach to media, and one that depositions media as something for students to ‘consume’, instead empowering them with the means of media production (for an interesting take on what this might look like, check out etoy.CORPORATION’s e-toy.DAY-CARE project).

Gosh, I came over all pseudo-Marxist there. Well that’s Felix for you.

Blasts from the academic past

It occurred to me the other day that there were quite a few pieces of writing I did during my truncated PhD candidature at UNSW that weren't that bad. More particularly, as I get back into study this year I find myself trying to remember a quote or source, and having to dig back through archived files. So I thought it would be easier if I made a handful of PDFs and published them here – for posterity as it were… and for my own self-plagiaristic purposes.

Stay tuned…

‘Bloom’s Taxonomy’ – not just a Bronte novel

Bloom's taxonomy was mentioned in class today, and if I remember rightly may have been alluded to in our readings, so I figured I better look it up. It's a nice model of the different forms of knowledge (or engagement with knowledge – my epistemology is getting shaky here) that students can have. The idea is that knowledge is built on a foundation where each level is required before the next can be obtained. 

  • Evaluation
  • Synthesis
  • Analysis
  • Application
  • Comprehension
  • Knowledge

Like Maslow's hierarchy of needs it looks like one of those very accessible, portable psychological models that can probably be abused, but so far I kind of like it.

Explicitly teaching processes and frameworks vs. implicitly using them

So this week we met 'the inquiry method'. As presented within the NSW curriculum (page 12), this is a very flexible step-by-step framework to guide students through the process of examining and exploring a particular topic. The approach is very student-centric, responding to the knowledge and interests of the class. If you have looked at a topical issue or contemporary field of study in primary school in the last 10-20 years, you may well have used the inquiry method. In short, using this framework, a teacher will work with students through the following stages;

  • define the purpose of your investigation, pose questions
  • select sources and gather information
  • organise and analyse information
  • synthesise information to produce learnings
  • explore implications of learnings
  • plan and implement actions
  • introspectively reflect on learnings

This process is a core part of the HSIE teaching methodology. It is an approach suitable for any students from Kindergarten onwards – though obviously the stages are approached differently for different ages. My question is a simple one;

While we may USE the Inquiry Method from an early age, at what point (if ever) is it appropriate to TEACH the Inquiry Method? In other words, should we explicitly teach the framework to make students reflexively aware of the meta-process that they are engaged in?

On the one hand, trying the educate Kindergarten kids on the importance of introspection doesn't seem like a reasonable expectation. But on the other hand, by Year 6 it feels like an explicit understanding of the stages and flow of the process would be a valuable tool in guiding their own learning (and something useful to take forward).

This question is not specifically restricted to the Inquiry Method. It  does start to raise broader issues about when and whether to explicitly teach some of the models that sit behind our teaching – both to improve the students introspective capacity, and to provide tools for them to use. Perhaps we should actually teach them Bloom's Taxonomy? Doing group-work – why not give them an overview of Tuckman's group development model? And sooner or later, some of Bertalanffy's & co's systems theory terminology will come in handy?

What is it they say? Teach the non-gender-specific individual to fish and you feed them for life?

Another good reason to move to the Northern Beaches

In a presentation by Sue Beveridge today on the Connected Classrooms Project, she espoused the enthusiasm which NSW public schools have for adopting innovation (like the interactive whiteboard and video conferencing), and mentioned that one NSW primary school was trialling the use of Microsoft Surface. When I asked her after the lecture which school it was, she explained that North Curl Curl primary apparently has a focus on integrating technology into their pedagogy (as opposed to being a bunch of gadget freaks).

Their principal Penny Verdich writes that…

Central to all teaching programs is a commitment to developing students with the skills and abilities to embrace the challenges of the 21st Century. Our reputation as a leader in the integration of interactive technology into teaching practice and our focus on environmental sustainability produces students who will create and take responsibility for their futures.

To date, 'technological leadership' in the classroom seems to have centered around interactive whiteboards and video conferencing. In addition to technology programs, the school also focuses on identifying and catering to 'gifted and talented children' including chess, music, public speaking and debating programs (K-6, remember).

Sounds like an interesting campus, worth a visit at some point. Would love to see what they are doing with their surface!

The Digital Education Revolution

Over the next six years, the federal government will inject $2.2B into theĀ Digital Education Revolution (DER)program.

  • provide senior high school students (year 9-12) with laptops
  • provide schools with broadband ($100M)
  • provide online education resources ($32.6M)
  • train teachers in utilising ICT
  • support parents through learning and access

Of these initiatives, the vast majority of the funds ($2.1B) will be spent on the National Secondary School Computer Fund (aka laptops for students). The aim is to achieve one laptop per child by 2012. The actual implementation of the program has been deferred to state governments.

The NSW DET has provided a resource for ‘head teachers’ to assist with the transitions relating to the DER.

Over the next four years, the NSW government will inject $158M into the Connected Classrooms Program (CCP).

On a side note, these sites (specifically the NSW DET resource were absolutely appalling. Both in terms of high and low level information design, this site is one of the worst I have seen in quite a while. The mix of video segments and basic hypertext documents is interesting, but feels clunky and confusing.

One week down…

It has been an interesting week. Having survived a few lectures and tutorials, I think I have a much better grasp of what its all about (and where Sydney Uni hides its various lecture spaces and seminar closets).

What has impressed me the most has been the passion that my fellow students have for the course. Many of them have given up nice corporate jobs to make a significant life change in order to become a teacher; others have completed their undergrad in economics or analytical chemistry and decided immediately (or after a couple of years in the field) that they made a terrible mistake. I think you could count on one hand the people in my tutorials who are not sure why they are doing the course. So many of the stories that have led people to the course share common themes: ‘my parents are teachers and I rebelled but now I know its what I really want to do’, ‘I took a holiday in Mexico and spent two months teaching kids to speak English, and that’s when I realised’. For many it seems somewhere between following a calling and coming out.

My usual antisocial behaviour is being well supported by my ‘reduced load’ status meaning that I have to rush off after each class to get back to work… but I have a feeling that even I will end up getting to know some of these very interesting teachers-to-be.