Fueled by adrenaline from the early-morning keynote debate, I got the enormous NECC stage to myself to make a presentation called, “Learning Adventures: Transforming Real and Virtual Learning Environments” The video of that presentation has finally appeared online and I am most grateful that ISTE filmed the session at such a high level of quality. I am enormously proud of this presentation and am thrilled that my mouth worked pretty well that morning, June 30th, 2009.

As I’ve said in other contexts, I’ve been online since 1983 and have taught online since the late 1980s. Therefore, I look upon the euphoria and controversy accorded “online learning” like a fish looks at water. It just isn’t that interesting to me that people communicate online. I expect it. I depend upon it. Everybody does it, right?

My work is driven by how adults can create the productive contexts for learning in which every human may enjoy the widest array of deep experiences that hold the potential of resulting in the construction of knowledge and a happy life.

It seems cruelly ironic that the viability of school as a “technology” is dependent on the very activities and disciplines (band, choir, drama, studio art, laboratory science, etc…) that schools cut first. Could this just be a manifestation of the phenomena Seymour Papert described in his 1990 speech, “Perestroika and Epistemological Pluralism?

This NECC spotlight session captures many of my thoughts about how online education rarely reaches its potential and my struggle to transform my own teaching online to reflect the most learner-centered, non-coercive, creative principles of face-to-face education while using what I’ve learned online to inform my real-world teaching.

I sure hope you will take the time to watch it! (and perhaps even blog a bit)

NECC 2009 Learning Adventures from Gary Stager on Vimeo.

My most sincere apologies to David Perkins for being unable to remember the correct title of his terrific new book, Making Learning Whole – How Seven Principles of Teaching Can Transform Education. I highly recommend that educators familiarize themselves of Perkins’ important work.

PS: I’ve learned that if I’m on a stage that large, I need a monitor at the front of the stage and to walk around less. 🙂

Certainty book cover

Last night, students in one of my pre-service methods courses presented a curricular lesson they designed and a paper exploring a dilemma encountered while student teaching. There was plenty of insecurity in their presentations – voices trailing off into near silence, as well as defensiveness when asked to support an argument or defend a position. Such reactions are predictable.

What struck me as significant was how future educators standing on quicksand were quite certain about their ideas, regardless of how flimsy they happened to be. When confronted with clearly obvious factual errors in the proposed lesson, more than one student teacher responded with a version, “Well, I disagree,” or “Because I said so.”

It would have been nice if these students demonstrated some humility and were eager to change their stance (and modify the lesson). Seymour Sarason often points out that schools “lack a capacity for self-correction.” In this case, it’s probably reasonable to conclude that schools are merely collections of teachers.

Certainty not only afflicts teacher wannabes. A few nights ago, a non-American blogger from a country far far away wrote a blog posting and then announced its existence to the world via Twitter. This blog quoted an online magazine’s account of a presentation by a popular purveyor of clichés and other nonsense about contemporary education. After careful deliberation I decided to ask the Twitterer/blogger about the fallacies and factual errors he/she reported in the blog post.

The blogger responded that he/she did feel a bit queasy about the validity of the information, but passed it on as the basis of policy recommendations nonetheless. Each iteration of the reporting – the article, blog post about the article and then the tweet about the blog post about the article about the presentation – FAILED to question the validity or even “truthiness” of the claims made by the original myth-maker. Each iteration leads to a greater impression that the information has been vetted and is factual.

I fear that Web 2.0 amplifies this false sense of certainty and accelerates the rate at which “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” (attributed to Mark Twain, even if I have reason to suspect otherwise given how every clever quip seems attributed to Twain)

Just in time!

Salon features an incredibly timely article*, The Certainty Epidemic, by a medical doctor named Robert Burton. Despite a reliance on neuroscience that may represent an even greater false sense of certainty where none is warranted, the article (and book it touts) raises important issues for all of us, such as:

We must learn to substitute “I believe” for “I know.”

Watch Stephen Colbert’s stunning 2006 performance at the White House Correspondents Dinner where he lampooned President George W. Bush’s reliance on his gut, rather than on his head. [Warning: There may be a juvenile commercial prior to the actual speech. It’s the best clip I found to embed in this blog. You may also watch the video, sans-commercial, here.

Watch Stephen Colbert at the 2006 White House Correspondents’ Dinner in Entertainment | View More Free Videos Online at Veoh.com

* Note: The “science” used to make Burton’s claims should be taken with a grain of salt and runs the risk of detracting from the important issue of us professing certainty when we are merely stating an opinion.

Constructing Modern Knowledge 2009 begins on Sunday, June 12th. In anticipation of this fantastic event, here is a video documenting last year’s institute, created by participant, Michael Steinberg.

On our nation’s Independence Day, I humbly offer this text for historians interested in understanding early 21st Century America (because I surely can’t).

Paul Begala reviews the text elegantly in his column.

Let’s stipulate that if there is some heretofore unknown personal, medical or family crisis, this was the right move. But Gov. Palin didn’t say anything like that. Her statement was incoherent, bizarre and juvenile. The text, as posted on Gov. Palin’s official website (here), uses 2,549 words and 18 exclamation points. Lincoln freed the slaves with 719 words and nary an exclamation; Mr. Jefferson declared our independence in 1,322 words and, again, no exclamation points. Nixon resigned the presidency in 1,796 words — still no exclamation points. Gov. Palin capitalized words at random – whole words, like “TO,” “HELP,” and “AND,” and the first letter of “Troops.”

Watch the spectacular press conference video. It’s must-see lunacy!