Monday, February 17, 2014

Pinpricks through the bubble

This week we started from the assumption that digital tools and information can help us engage in meaningful inquiry and action, such as described by John Paul Gee and Henry Jenkins. You can watch this video of Henry Jenkins discussing his own thoughts and see my previous post, (or even better, Gee’s book, The Anti-Education Era) for more details about Gee's ideas. We also were informed that the Internet, while providing us potential access to a huge variety of information, is actually being mediated and filtered by algorithms that, coupled with our affinity for information that confirms our world view (see Gee, 2013 for more on this “myside bias”), is creating personalized information bubbles, our own “web of one” as described by Eli Pariser (in this TED talk). We were asked to examine and expand our digital information diet related to our profession, and reflect on how the changes influenced our perspectives. I faced three major challenges in this:
1. identifying what kind of information challenges my perspectives,
2. identifying sources that provide this information,
3. noticing any meaningful impact within a few days.

Figuring out what kind of information challenges my professional assumptions was my first task. In political terms, it would be easy, and I can quickly identify some regular posters in my Facebook and Twitter networks who challenge my perspectives. However, in professional terms it is a bit harder to sort out what my personal biases are since I tend to be surrounded by a lot of practitioners who share the same perspectives. Upon reflection I did come up with a short list of perspectives I don’t agree with; that the grammar-translation method of language education is good, that “no child left behind” policies improve educational outcomes and accountability, and just generally the policies of the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT).

The next challenge was finding sources of information that I could add to my information feed. My regular digital information diet related to my professional life tends to be from mail lists and groups, individual mail, and, in the last few months, Facebook. So, I stepped outside the assignment a bit and choose Facebook as I use that more consistently than Twitter and I don’t use an RSS feed. MEXT has an offical page in Japanese, which I added to my feed. However, my reading in Japanese is limited. I did also look at some of their reports in English, such as this one on directions in English education. For No Child Left Behind, I found this page, which, while displaying a government logo, seems to actually be individuals dedicated to discussing these issues. I doubted it would challenge my perspectives, but did connect to it because it has the potential to inform them. I found a number of pages clearly in opposition to NCLB, but in terms of official government information I was left looking at reports on a web page. For grammar-translation method, I found an interest page, but no active support page.

Sadly, I don’t feel like the third challenge has really been met. The document on the future of English education has led me to think a bit less negatively about all MEXT directives and think they might actually be heading in a good direction with it. I have been inspired to try to get more information about it moving forward. Nothing has popped up in Facebook yet related to NCLB, but I am looking forward to getting more informed about how those policies actually are shaping education in the USA.

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