Sunday, October 10, 2004

Paradoxes of online congregation

Actual Event Date: 20 Sept 2004 (Mon)

Spent the week thinking about why do people congregate online, and it came to my attention that there are a number of paradoxes that exists. Decide to write a ‘brief' piece on this. Below are my observations and rantings.

Paradoxes of online congregation:

  1. Looking at NEWSNET, online forums, etc. we see that informal learning is certainly a powerful and unexplained phenomenon, but yet the bulk of the world's learning is still other-directed and other-controlled (traditional colleges, certification courses, etc.)

  2. The more popular a NEWSNET discussion topic, the more information (not referring to spam) it gets via postings, and the harder it is to find relevant information.

  3. The more knowledgeable you are, the less likely you will answer questions. // e.g. veteran Slashdot users will not answer those simple questions everyone can answer, but ‘reserve' themselves for those tough ones. Hence, the smarter one gets, the less likely he/she shares information.

  4. Freire's teaching tells us that perfect knowledge will allow people to change their perspective, transcend their social environment, and break free from the oppressed cycle. // Relating back to the uncensored online forums dealing with sensitive topics ( link ), this perfect information/knowledge is technically attainable, but ironically the validity of this knowledge is weak when the contributors themselves choose to remain anonymous. Slightly related to the fight between Wiki & the Register ( link )

  5. [follow up on above point] these people who have a lot to say in the public online forums choose to stay anonymous, while those brave enough to reveal their identity practice self-censorship.

Paradoxes of learning (at USU)

Research done by Long (1989) has shown that low degrees of pedagogical control actually aids self-directed learning. Tough (1979) followed up the research by showing that less than 1 percent of all self-directed learning projects he investigated were done for credit.

Relating this to our very own inst 7150 class ( link ), we see also such a paradox in place. Previous learning teaches us to write what our instructors want to see/hear – if you want the grade. This stifles our creativity and growth. Yes, even for a course as flexible as this one! Acting adventurous (e.g. by not following syllabus) allows us to acquire new knowledge, skills and attitude. However, this action comes at the cost of the grade. And it is the grade that ultimately reflects to the masses how well one has learnt, and is rewarded by society (e.g. scholarships, jobs, etc.). Face it, I'm screwed.

Paradoxes of learning (in Singapore )

The education system during my undergrad days required me to memorize and regurgitate information. I have a B.A. in economics and statistics, but have either forgotten what I learnt or rarely used it. The degree was just a stepping stone, or an entry prerequisite for a job interview. All that counts was that piece of paper. To make matters worse, your grades reflected on it determined if the elite company even calls you up for an interview. In government sector, those grades determine how much you get paid even. What an ugly truth.

There is a point as to why I brought up this issue. This market approach to education (at least in my country) rewards this accumulation of certificates and further promotes it. I am not all against certification. I just do not like the over emphasizing on obtaining the certificates to the point that it becomes detrimental to teaching and learning.

I cannot think of a better country that now rewards this system now than my own. Singapore students have always been teased as very exam smart, but not very good workers. Employers share stories of how young graduates (new workers to the company) who were asked to do things; requested for a text book with the model solution/answers. This group I am referring to excludes the small number of people in Kaa's law ( link ).

Do you know of people who have GPA of 4.0 but know nothing? I met a few. These are people deemed ‘scholars' by the education system, and Singapore's future rest heavily upon their shoulders. Not all scholars are bad; some are incredibly intelligent and capable. But it is when the society deems all ‘scholars' as saviors, that I see a problem. Just join any of the public forums (link) (un-moderated of course) run by Singaporeans and you see the resentment the average Singaporean student has towards the scholar reward system.

But all is not lost. A nice move the Singapore education system is going towards is pushing for ‘project works' (link). I was fortunate during my stint with CEDto witness some of the bold moves towards project works from the cedar secondary girl school (K12 equivalent) in Singapore . This example ( link ) , albeit an older one, where they use project work shows how they now bring learning beyond classrooms. Their newest examples that were presented at CED, but not shown on the website were even more promising.

This departs from the traditional memorization test in high stakes assessment exams and allows the student to work on real world problems and solve them by doing real tasks that involves real skill like collaboration with others, working on a budget, time line, etc. Although this new movement is still in infancy, I think it's a step in the right direction.

But back to my main point. The more students gravitate towards such projects, the more their grades will suffer. The paradox is that lower levels of learning are rewarded, as opposed to higher levels of learning and development.

Peter Jarvis summed it up best when he said ‘This paradox (of learning) is summed up by the contradictions of living in society: there can be no freedom without constraint, no certainty without uncertainty, no truth without falsehood, no joy without sorrow, no sense of peace without the threat of war, and so on. Above all, there can be no learning without ignorance and no growth and development without learning'. (Jarvis, 1992)



“Have you talked to your best friend recently?”


Jarvis, P. (1992) Paradoxes of Learning: on becoming an individual in society. San Francisco , CA : Jossey-Bass, Inc.

Tough, A. (1979) The Adult's Learning Projects (2 nd Ed.) Toronto : Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, 18-19

Long, H.B. (1989) Self-Directed Learning: Emerging Theory and Practice. Norman : Research Center for Continuing Professional and Higher Education, University of Oklahoma , 8-10


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