Book Review – The Anti-Education Era: Creating Smarter Students Through Digital Learning

Book Review - The Anti-Education Era: Creating Smarter Students through Digital Learning

Title: The Anti-Education Era: Creating Smarter Students Through Digital Learning

Author: James Paul Gee

Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan (January 8, 2013)

The Anti-Education Era: Creative Smarter Students Through Digital Learning by James Paul Gee

Before we can be convinced of the need to get smart through digital learning, we need to be convinced of our own stupidity.

The title implies that the book will explain how digital leaning will create smarter students in an era the author terms ‘anti-education’. While Gee does explain that and does it well without much reference to buzzwords in educational technology, what the title (as well as the blurb) does not warn us is that there will be a confrontation of the state of the human being and an uncovering of the failings that we are oblivious to. In fact, Part I of the book, which comprises 15 chapters, is plainly titled ‘How To Be Stupid’, while Part II, titled ‘How To Get Smart Before It Gets Too Late’,  has just six chapters.

In other words, before we can be convinced of the need to get smart through digital learning, we need to be convinced of our own stupidity – and Gee does that by exposing mental comfort stories, the dangerous lack of agency or purpose among members of a community (or citizens of a country), and the damaging consequences of our stupidity, e.g. self-deception, inequality and hopelessness.

Unapologetic and deeply convinced for a smarter and more moral world, Gee writes simply and candidly to question our assumptions about education, the economy and society, and calls us to action: to connect, collaborate and create collective intelligence.

I touch on a few of Gee’s arguments that have struck a chord with me.

First, the bad news

HOW SCHOOLS MAKE US STUPID

Humans have the capacity to be reflective and thereafter embark on good actions. Gee calls this the Circuit of Human Reflective Action. The conditions for smart actions to take place are:

1) Initial mentorship so we can learn from people and experience in specific areas/domains;

2) Lots of prior experience;

3) Clear goals;

4) The actions and goals must matter to us emotionally;

5) There is an opportunity to act in a way that elicits a meaningful response from our community (local/global).

Unfortunately, much of formal schooling is highly passive with students imbibing knowledge without much opportunity to take meaningful action based on what they have learned. The lack of a compelling or meaningful goal of studying and attending school is exacerbated by the focus on testing and gate-keeping examinations. Furthermore, some students have initial mentoring (in the form of parents, out-of-school experiences, etc.) and some have not; nonetheless, “we pretend they are on a level-playing field” (p. 16-17).

WHEN STATUS AND SOLIDARITY DIVIDE US

Status and solidarity are powerful cultural forces that shape our identity and influence our everyday actions. We seek status in terms of respect from others. We also seek solidarity with other in order to have a sense of belonging and being accepted.  Such forces, however, may dull our senses and better judgment when status and solidarity become the only end goals of a meaningful life.

As a consequence, we accept and perpetuate particular world views and actions contrary to empirical evidence and facts, common sense and moral standards. For example, aspiring to own a club membership like your peers when your income cannot support it; indulging in bullying tactics along with your buddies when you know the bullied is distressed. These examples may appear trivial but they scratch the surface of a world beset with social ills and inequalities.

In our limited world of people who we want to like us, and people we want to be like, we disregard more rational thought and action, and more sadly, disregard other humans who fall below our flawed standards of human existence.

Now, for some good news

AFFINITY SPACES FOR ALL

In order to engage our students in more critical and reflective thinking, we need to lead them to an affinity space where a community of learners who share common passions and goals. They may come from a variety of backgrounds and have varying levels of experience and expertise, but by exchanging ideas, opinions and thoughts with one another, the group solution to the challenge is going to be superior to an individual’s effort. “[H]umans think and act better when we do so by getting the help of others and giving help to them” (p. 174).

Such affinity spaces would look like discussion boards and interest groups related to the simulation video game The Sims where players find ways to create objects of their desire such as building their dream house and accessories, as well as the various user-generated communities where players interact with one another.

I do believe that affinity spaces are not limited to an online environment and it is important to have real-life face-to-face connections in any affinity space to encourage authentic relationships among learners.

Exactly how affinity spaces are to be constructed is not the focus in Part II of the book but the end is really the beginning of our conversation of how to make use of our 21st century tools to enhance our student’s thinking, reflecting and doing while creating purposeful goals for them in a diverse and global community.

 

Using Google Hangouts on Air for a Research Presentation

Using Google Hangouts on Air for a Research Presentation

Although Google Hangouts on Air launched in May 2012, I only recently discovered it when I chanced upon a colleague’s live lecture while scanning my Google+ feed. And what I saw, I liked. Google Hangouts on Air (or HOA for short) broadcasts what happens in a Google Hangout session. In that session, you can choose to have a conversation with people you invite, work on Google docs, or what I thought was the most promising, conduct a presentation via screenshare. The live session is streamed via YouTube and that live stream is automatically saved as a video whenthe broadcast ends.

Google Hangouts on Air

Google Hangouts on Air

Practice Makes Perfect

While the process sounds simple, I had to practise going through the process of setting up a HOA, broadcasting it and checking if the recording of the session matched what I imagined it to be – five times to be exact – before I was convinced I was sure of what to do at the actual presentation. Through the practice sessions, here are some of the pitfalls I encountered:

  • Entering a name for your HOA generates a YouTube link for the live session in standby mode. Hitting the broadcast button makes the video ‘live’. However, if you open the page for the YouTube live session and record at the same time, you will get two sets of audio being recorded. So after checking that the YouTube link has been created, close the browser or tab.
  • There are several options for screenshare – desktop and the various windows that are open. Although it may seem obvious to screenshare the particular application you are using for your presentation, that did not work for me – the slides did not appear to move as I clicked through them in presentation mode. What was more reliable was screensharing the desktop and then activating whichever application I wanted.
  • A mic is necessary for the best sound input. Otherwise the sound quality in the video sounds muffled.

HOA For Real This Time

The use of HOA at my presentation (of my research paper Understanding the Identity of One ELL in Singaporewent fairly smoothly but it was only after the whole process was completed did I realise the finer details of implementation. A few realisations as I watched the playback of my presentation:

  • The screenshare (using desktop) of my powerpoint presentation was exactly what I had on my desktop (presenter mode), but not on the projector screen (full screen mode). Using Microsoft Powerpoint 2013 meant that once the application detects a projector, it goes into presenter mode with the notes of the current slide and a preview of the subsequent slide show at the side of the screen. I didn’t like it but others thought it was cool. Note for future HOA: change the default presenter mode to full screen presentation.
  •  The mic I used was an arm attached to headphones and had a long wire so that I could move around with ease but stay connected to the laptop. While the long wire was helpful for movement, the awkward shape of an arm mic dangling from my neck resulted in inconsistent volume in the recording.
  • I recorded both the presentation and the Q&A which meant a 58 min recording. 58 min is an overwhelming duration for a YouTube video clip. In fact, some friends gave feedback that the video would stall halfway through. Not sure if it’s because the recording is too long or it’s a technical glitch. Either way, I intend to edit the video to include just the presentation portion which would last about 30 min.

More Tech Won’t Hurt

HOA aside, I was also experimenting with the use of Padlet during the presentation for audience members to post their questions, comments, etc. As it was a live audience, I guess few were inclined to post anything since there was going to be a Q&A session immediately after the presentation. A friend who was keen to try out Padlet did a little more than post comments. He posted a related link as well as uploaded a few photos of my presentation to my Padlet wall. I wasn’t expecting photos but this turned out to be a neat way of capturing moments of an event.

Using Padlet during a presentation

Using Padlet during a presentation

Conclusion

The best outcome of my presentation experiment was that the entire event was captured and archived. The YouTube video serves as a reference for me to reflect on how I could conduct a presentation more effectively, on how I could refine my thought process, and provides another avenue for me to share my research ideas with a broader audience. As long as HOA remains free, it will probably become the tool of choice among tech novices like myself to create (and archive) live presentations.