Hi there tout la gang,

We don't have much to say about research in practice at the Café right now

but we are talking policy and practice over here now: Literacy Enquirers.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

a history of the world in 100 objects

A History of the World BadgeHere is something fun ... a series of 100 short (15 minute) podcasts from the BBC that tell a history of the world through a hundred objects from the British Museum.

Telling history through things, whether it's an Egyptian mummy or a credit card, is what museums are for, and because the British Museum has collected things from all over the globe, it's not a bad place to try to tell a world history. Of course, it can only be "a" history of the world, not "the" history. When people come to the museum they choose their own objects and make their own journey round the world and through time, but I think what they will find is that their own histories quickly intersect with everybody elses, and when that happens, you no longer have a history of a particular people or nation, but a story of endless connections.

Series writer and presenter, British Museum director Neil MacGregor, speaks briefly to the issue of imperialism and why all these objects are at the British Museum instead of a in museum in the region where they were discovered but does not dwell on the politics of ownership.

You can subscribe to the podcasts or download individual episodes here: www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/ahow/

You can see the gallery of objects here: www.bbc.co.uk/ahistoryoftheworld/explorerflash/#

The website gives users the opportunity to to submit items of their own for a place in world history and offers detailed information on all the objects featured in the radio programs and links to 350 other museum collections across the United Kingdom. The podcasts will be available on the website permanently for listening or downloading. There is a game called Relic, a site for schools with activities and lesson plans, and a blog that goes with the series.

The home page is a flashy mess. All the objects float around in circles that I suppose is supposed to reflect the interconnectedness of everything but it is very difficult to navigate if you are looking for a specific objects. If you want to see the objects that go with each podcast, go to the 'Programmes' page. There you will see a 'see object' link to the far right of each episode. If you click on this link, it will take you to the specific object in the AHOW gallery.

Someone has created a Wikipedia page about the series. If you scroll down to the Objects list you can see all the objects in the order of the podcasts.

  • If you click on the blue words, you will see a wikipedia page about that place or thing.
  • If you click on the first number after the the name of the object, you will be taken to the AHOW gallery page for that object.
  • If you click on the second number after the name of the object you will be taken to the British Museum page for that object.

Warning: This series can become addictive. Also -- the listening part is only 15 minutes but that 15 minutes can easily turn into hours of clicking through the links associated with each object.

P.S. I just read Wendell's post for today and was reminded that it is Family Literacy Day. To celebrate that, listen to the podcast with someone in your family. Or a friend. Or your cat.

Monday, January 11, 2010

report cards

The news hit the pages of the Globe and Mail under this headline last Friday: Conservatives stop funding for learning organization.

The news is that the federal government will not provide further funding for the Canadian Council on Learning, an organization established in 2004 by a Liberal government with a five-year grant of $85-million to promote lifelong education.

The CCL was established because "In 2004, Canada saw that it had some catching up to do. Canadians were falling behind the rest of the world in some crucial areas. Innovation. Creativity. Skills development. Learning. There was no debate about what we had to do to stop the decline, and begin to improve. We had to figure out what works in education and learning, from early childhood to post-secondary schooling, from job training through adult literacy improvement, and we had to monitor our progress so that we were certain we were always on the right path."

I am not sure that I agree with the basic premise. I see little real world evidence that Canadians are less innovative, creative, skilled and/or learned than their counterparts around the world. In fact, the solutions to our recent economic woes seem to point to a past underuse of the innovation, creativity, skills and learning of many Canadians rather than any deficits in those areas. But the creation of the CCL intrigued me. It seemed to hold promise - perhaps we could create an education think tank that would shine a light on the innovation, creativity, skills and learning of educators in Canada and that this knowledge would inform policy.

The CCL divided its work into 5 knowledge centres: Aboriginal Learning (based in the Prairies, NWT and Nunavut); Adult Learning (based in Atlantic Canada); Early Childhood Learning (based in Quebec); Health and Learning (based in British Columbia and Yukon); and Work and Learning (based in Ontario).

I have had the most experience with the Adult Learning Knowledge Centre. In 2007 I worked on a research-in-practice project that was funded through the ALKC and, in June 2007, I went to an ALKC conference. At the conference I was impressed by the grassroots nature of some of the projects but became aware of a focus on measuring. As time went on, I realized that the CCL was less a "learning organization" and more a measuring organization.

The Globe and Mail article quotes Mr. Cappon about the loss of funding: “What Canada would lose without CCL would be like being a student without a report card of any kind. And we'd be prevented from knowing how far behind the competition we're slipping."

CCL brought us several report cards over the years.

The Composite Learning Index (CLI) measures Canada’s progress in lifelong learning based on statistical indicators that reflect the many ways Canadians learn, whether in school, in the home, at work or within the community. The CLI tells us things like this: "For the first time, Canada's overall score on the Composite Learning Index has declined, dropping two points to 75 in 2009, from 77 in 2008. The decrease is being driven by the Learning to Be pillar, even though there has been an increase on the Learning to Do pillar."

The Projections of Adult Literacy: Measuring Movement (PALMM) provides a statistical “snapshot” of Canada’s adult literacy future through 2031; calculates future adult literacy rates according to province/territory and specific population groups; and generates graphs for incorporating into planning for literacy policy and program interventions. The PALMM tells us things like this: "Although the proportion of immigrants with low literacy skills will decrease by 2031, the actual number of low-skilled immigrants will increase by 61%. However, there will also be an increase in the number of immigrants with higher literacy levels."

The July 2008 literacy educators got a CCL report card. Reading the Future: Planning to meet Canada’s future literacy uses the PALMM to assess the state of adult literacy in Canada and makes recommendations on how literacy programming should be structured and delivered. This report was well discussed on this blog (and here) and in our special bulletin. One of our concerns was that this report makes recommendations about professionalization, teaching methods and time limits that overlook "the rich and varied techniques Canadian practitioners use to teach adults successfully and share in practitioner-based research reports." Reading the Future was a signal to the literacy field that the CCL was not developing knowledge based on the innovation, creativity, skills and learning of educators but was taking a top down approach to develop policy recommendations based on survey data.

In March of last year, CCL presented the adult literacy community with their online literacy assessment tool, also well discussed on this blog. This tool allowed us to develop our own report card on our own IALSS level. CCL told us we could also use the tool to assess learner needs overlooking the fact that the IALSS is a survey tool and is not an appropriate assessment for learning

"In anticipation of renewed funding, CCL had proposed an exciting slate of projects for the coming years."

Many in the list of 10 proposed projects, not surprisingly, seem to be about collecting more data to create more measuring tools. The Literacy Self-Assessments looks to be an expansion of the above mentioned online assessment: "CCL plans to launch a series of free, online tests that will allow individual Canadians to measure their competencies in three areas: prose literacy, document literacy and numeracy. Based on the International Adult Literacy and Skills survey, these tests will also provide teachers and instructors with a convenient means of assessing strengths and weaknesses to ensure programs meet learner needs." Once again CCL is overlooking the folly of using a survey tool to assess for learning and using a standardized test for self-assessment.

That report card argument may resonate in some sectors but I am not sure what literacy workers will think about it. You can probably tell what I think :), but what about you? Do we need these report cards? How do they help us in our work? How do they help learners in their learning? How does the report card argument resonate with you?

Monday, January 4, 2010

my life as a squirrel

I have been thinking about squirrels quite a bit lately so it was nice to see how squirrel behaviour, science and adult learning all come together in this article from the New York Times.

Over the past several years, scientists have looked deeper into how brains age and confirmed that they continue to develop through and beyond middle age.

Many longheld views, including the one that 40 percent of brain cells are lost, have been overturned. What is stuffed into your head may not have vanished but has simply been squirreled away in the folds of your neurons.

This is good news for those of us that work in adult literacy. Many of the learners who come to literacy programs are in middle age as are many of us who work there. We are all familiar with this phenomenon:

Start boiling water for pasta, go answer the doorbell and — whoosh — all thoughts of boiling water disappear. Indeed, aging brains, even in the middle years, fall into what’s called the default mode, during which the mind wanders off and begin daydreaming.

There is more good news -- this dreamy default mode does not mean the internet has killed our attention spans. Even though "neural connections, which receive, process and transmit information, can weaken with disuse or age,":

The brain, as it traverses middle age, gets better at recognizing the central idea, the big picture. If kept in good shape, the brain can continue to build pathways that help its owner recognize patterns and, as a consequence, see significance and even solutions much faster than a young person can.

So what does this mean for adult learners and educators? Even more good news. Keep doing what you have always been doing:

Educators say that, for adults, one way to nudge neurons in the right direction is to challenge the very assumptions they have worked so hard to accumulate while young. With a brain already full of well-connected pathways, adult learners should “jiggle their synapses a bit” by confronting thoughts that are contrary to their own, says Dr. Taylor, who is 66.

Teaching new facts should not be the focus of adult education, she says. Instead, continued brain development and a richer form of learning may require that you “bump up against people and ideas” that are different. In a history class, that might mean reading multiple viewpoints, and then prying open brain networks by reflecting on how what was learned has changed your view of the world.

Whew! Thank you science. And thank you middle age for my squirrel brain.