Some site JavaScript tweaks


HTML, CSS and JavaScript iconsI noticed the previous article, in which I begin to elaborate on what I mean by “thick” learning “situations,” was jumping to the iFrame that contains an audio clip. I knew why right away—the JavaScript plugin that syncs the audio and images is the first jQuery plugin I ever wrote (2011), I was trying to make sure the user could press the space bar after the page loaded, and the audio would play. It works until you load it in an “inline frame,” the < iframe > tag you may have noticed if you’ve ever copy/pasted YouTube “embed” code anywhere. I’d like to rewrite the entire routine “knowing what I know now,” but the jumping was annoying me and likely confusing others, if not turning them away. So I opened the plugin source file I haven’t opened in over a year. Then I remembered another problem, so I “fixed” that too.

The plugin itself is an example of what can happen when someone who had never taken a formal computer science course or even a programming class, but is reasonably good at finding the right documentation and making some sense of it, gets an idea and digs in, for better or worse. I came up with an approach that’s, well, completely different than Mozilla’s Popcorn, for example. The fact it works as well as it does must have at least as much to do with the power of computers and browser javascript engines as with anything I did (intentionally), but I’ll talk about that another day.

When good code goes bad

I think, but haven’t tested it, that I got away with this where the iframe is on another site because scripts don’t normally run if they’re on separate domains. It seems the “focus()” command was “bubbling up the DOM,” which is a bit like SCTV doing a 3D movie skit in your browser window, if that means anything to you. [I didn’t “embed” that in an iframe because it’s more entertaining than this post, you’d watch it and I’d probably lose you. Don’t click it now… oh shoot, that probably won’t work either.] I just meant to post news of the two tweaks and get back to the next instalment on making learning situations “thicker” using mind mapping tools.

Problem 1 was the jumping focus. I searched for the function I used, which was ‘.focus()’ and thought of two ways to approach it. The good programmers at jQuery have created a function named “stopPropagation()” but that’s not as much fun for me because I don’t really know how it works, I know when to type it in non-iframe-embeded code to make specific types of problems stop happening, then I go do something else. That’s always tempting, but the deciding factor was I wanted to turn it on and off. Plugins are supposed to make that easy. It was. I added a new variable ‘jswmAutoFocus‘ set it true by default (so it doesn’t break my old stuff all over the blog) and then wrapped focus() in an IF statement, so it only happens “if jswmAutoFocus is true.” The only trick is you have to look for it as settings.jswmAutoFocus once you set it false, which you now do in the blog post, not the plugin code. (I’ll go back and experiment with stopPropagation() too, it’s probably called for here and these aren’t mutually exclusive solutions.)

 // snipped code that preceded this...
		methods = {
		init : function(options) {
			 * These styles enable you to change nearly 
			 * anything about the appearance. You can 
			 * also quite easily add your own. 
			 *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  */
			var /* The first group need to be declared before the 
			     * "defaults" object, because we use them inside it
				jswmAutoFocus = true, // New line
				jswmTitleId = "jswmTitle",  /* etc... */

The IF statement looks like this. ‘===’ means “deeply equals,” (not just the word ‘true,’ but boolean type true) (setTimeout(code_delayed_by_number_of,milliseconds) is a function that delays whatever code on the left of the comma by the number of milliseconds on the right:

if (settings.jswmAutoFocus === true)
        setTimeout("$('.jswm audio:first').focus();",250);

Problem 2 was that I used old fashioned User Agent detection, not recommended feature detection using modernizr. The thing is I wanted the old method because I knew how to “spoof” it and pretend to be something I wasn’t, and that let me test some things more quickly. Not recommended for “robust” “scalable” applications, but the only harm for me in using it was that I knew all along it was deprecated and would one day produce an error. I saw the error a few weeks ago when I updated the jQuery on my site to 1.9, I’ve since installed 1.10 so it was time to deal with it.

jQuery released a “migration” plugin that returns this feature and others. I don’t need the others right now, only this one. It’s very likely I could download the “debug” version and extract just the right bits, but this seemed like a challenge within my grasp. I know the original was a property of the global jQuery object and was itself an object. I knew from jQuery dicumentation it had 4 “keys.” I knew it returned only true, false or undefined, and the latter would be written in red text in the error console of Firebug. I know that in JavaScript you can return an object from a function, and you can assign a function to a variable name. So I knew if I could write a function, that produces an object, that returns value of true or false (and is more discreet about advertising its errors) and assign it the same name I gave the old one ($brwsr), it should work and the error should go away. With Firebug open as my scratch pad I wrote the function shown below. The dot in the old code, $brwsr = $.browser, means ‘browser’ is a property of ‘$’ (which is jQuery itself), I gave it my own name so it will come when I call it and not sneak away and pick up other properties somehow when my back is turned, and so it wouldn’t have to travel through the entire jQuery object every time I call. It just happens to begin with a ‘$’ because in 2011 that’s how I reminded myself it’s a nickname for a piece of the jQuery object.

I used this list of User Agent strings (and I don’t care about versions tonight). You make a “regular expression” in JavaScript by using ‘/‘ where you would have used “'” or ‘"‘ and you have to know the secret code. Then you can call a “method” (a function that’s already built into an object straight “out of the box”) of regular expressions, called test(), on the User Agent, which you called ‘ua’ like so: /myRegularExpressionPattern/.test(ua). I used a couple different regExp abilities just for variety and to demo, see the comments beside them.

var getBrowser = function(){
 var ua = navigator.userAgent,
     brwsrObj = {browser:"unknown"}
 if (/firefox|konqueror/i.test(ua)) // the 'i' means case-insensitive
    brwsrObj = {mozilla:true}; // key : value
 else if (/ MSIE /.test(ua)) // the MSIE is upper case between spaces
    brwsrObj = {msie:true};
 else if (/AppleWebKit/.test(ua)) // case sensitive
    brwsrObj = {webkit:true};
 else if (/Opera[\/ ]/.test(ua)) // the backslash \ prevents JS from thinking this / is the end of the regExp
    brwsrObj = {opera:true};
 return brwsrObj;
$brwsr = getBrowser(); // The old name now stores the function, which returns a similar object. 

I don’t think for a minute this is as comprehensive as what I’ll find in the migrate.js source when I eventually open it. It is what it is: a quick fix to overcome a deprecated property in an alpha version of a script I wrote 2 years ago. It just needs to hold up until I install the beta… which I just need to write first.


Oct 08

Learning situations can be thick—as in ‘Clifford Geertz’ thick.

Clifford Geertz knew how to make people understand the importance of symbols and the way they “map,” as we say, to other pieces of the human condition. “Thick” descriptions don’t stop at describing clothing, or the actions being performed in a ritual. “Thick” descriptions try to get to the meaning of the clothing and gestures within the culture and context, to convey the impact the ritual has on the life of the ritual performer.

…between what Ryle calls the “thin description” of what the rehearser… is doing (“rapidly contracting his right eyelids”) and the “thick description” of what he is doing (“practicing a burlesque of a friend taking a wink to deceive an innocent into thinking a conspiracy is in motion”) lies the object of ethnography…
—Clifford Geertz (in Denzin & Lincoln, 2003, pg. 147)

His colleague Robert Darnton recounts an example of the power of Geertz’s thick description:

…I enumerated esoteric details about the connections between cardinal directions, color symbolism, and mythological motifs. By the time I got to initiation rites, I realized that everything was falling flat. I was making a worldview sound as mechanical as the directions in a tool kit.

At that point, Cliff intervened. He described the scenario. Adolescent boys sleeping in the familiar comfort of their beds are awakened unexpectedly in the middle of the night. They are dressed in a ritual breechclout (a kind of loincloth) covered with a blanket and made to climb down a ladder into a windowless antechamber of a kiva, the deepest, most secret room in the pueblo. Then they are told to shed their blankets. A terrible thump occurs over their heads. Elders cover the ladder with a blanket; and when they remove it, there stands the chief deity in a terrifying mask. He announces that he has come from his dwelling place beneath the lake and asks the boys if they are prepared to be “finished” as men. After they agree, he flails their bare torsos with a yucca whip, striking with all his might and raising huge, red welts on their rib cages. Finally, when they are reduced to terror, he pulls off his mask, and they see the face of a relative or neighbor laughing at them.

…Like all the students, …It made me think of the child who pulls the beard off the department store Santa Claus.…

Not at all, Cliff explained. The boys had learned that uncle x was a god, not that a supposed god was only uncle x. Suddenly we were staring into strange territory.

—Robert Darnton
Princeton University

As a teacher, Geertz delivered equally thick learning experiences. He was everything one might expect from the somewhat dishevelled, “Beware! Genius Inside” look he’s said to have sported (Darnton, 2008, par. 12).

Cliff had the students dashing around the hermeneutic circle like runners stealing bases. … as a teacher, he was exhilarating. When his eyes lit up and the words poured out, he infected students with the excitement of the chase. They, too, could penetrate another world. The game was difficult, but anyone could play. And in Cliff they had an example of a hunter-gatherer who blazed his own trail through the jungle of cultures.
—Robert Darnton

“Thick” Learning Situations …enriched by technology

It’s my experience that mind-mapping software, specifically Compendium and VUE, and their promising offshoots CompendiumLD (Learning Design), CompendiumNG (Next Generation?) and designVUE (VUE with Issues Based Information System support for dialogue mapping to solve wicked problems, available in Compendium but not the original VUE) have great capacity to help those who make learning situations, make them “thicker,” in the Geertzian sense.

Which one should I use

Well, the short answer is, I still use both. I’ve gravitated towards CompendiumNG in recent days, but I’ve also seen that designVUE’s a powerful presentation tool. The designVUE site says, accurately in my opinion: “[designVUE] enables users to capture sources of inspiration, integrate supporting evidence and visualise design decisions.” When I did my major research project last spring I found Compendium’s Web export to be old-fashioned looking but rock solid, and VUE’s to be wonderfully true to the original but including some types of information, HTML code for example, broke the output. designVUE adds Compendium’s ability to nest maps in creative ways, which is a benefit to me, but I’ve noted not all keyboard shortcuts available in the parent VUE seem to be hooked up in designVUE. CompendiumLD has icons and stencils specially for Learning Design, and CNG has a sleek updated look with very mature toolbar, workspace, almost an IDE? for learning design.

I’ve written here about student mind maps as classroom exercises, here about VUE and designVUE’s amazing non-linear presentation abilities, and my preliminary exploration of CompendiumNG here. I’ve written about mind mapping in general here, here, here, and here, and I intend to write much more about all 5 of these programs as I continue to use them and apply them in my own work—planning lessons and doing storyboards are among the things I’m trying. I wish I could put together all the best features of all 5 strains of Compendium and VUE. In the meantime any of them can perform similar basic concepts, you just have to adapt slightly to each tool. Here’s a 52-second presentation showing just one novice’s approach (mine) to a project design using CompendiumLD. I hope it’s enough to intrigue you to explore further.

Some features and benefits of CompendiumLD for project design

This is an HTML5 audio player I made that synchronizes the display of images and text to audio or video. Press play. I apologize for the audio quality, I’ve been having some problems with my setup… I used Audacity to remove noise and other problems, but wasn’t able to completely “fix it in the mix.”

Please make use of my comments section and follow me on Twitter @theFooshShow



Budd, John W., (2004) Mind Maps as Classroom Exercises, The Journal of Economic Education, Vol. 35, No. 1 (Winter, 2004), pp. 35-46. [Available on line but missing accompanying graphics, retrieved 2012-12-10]

Conole, Gráinne and Fill, Karen. (2005), A learning design toolkit to create pedagogically effective learning activities, Journal of Interactive Media in Education 2005(08). [].

Conole, G. (2007-draft) Using Compendium as a tool to support the design of learning activities [PDF], retrieved 2012-11-11.

Conole, G. (2007), ‘Describing learning activities: tools and resources to guide practice’ in Rethinking pedagogy for a digital age, H. Beetham and R. Sharpe (Eds), Oxford: RoutledgeFalmer.

Conole, G. (2008), ‘Capturing practice: the role of mediating artefacts in learning design’, in L. Lockyer, S. Bennett, S. Agostinho, and B. Harper (Eds), Handbook of Research on Learning Design and Learning Objects: Issues, Applications and Technologies.

Conole, Gráinne; Brasher, Andrew; Cross, Simon; Weller, Martin; Nixon, Stewart; Clark, Paul and Petit, John (2008). A new methodology for learning design. In: Proceedings of World Conference on Educational Multimedia, Hypermedia and Telecommunications (EDMEDIA), 30 June – 4 July 2008, Vienna.

Darnton, Robert (2008) From the In Memoriam column of the February 2007 Perspectives, This essay first appeared as “Cosmology in the Classroom: Fieldnotes on Clifford Geertz,” in the New York Review of Books, January 11, 2007. It is reprinted with permission [HTML].

Denzin, Norman K. and Lincoln, Yvonna S. Eds., (2003), Turning Points in Qualitative Research — Tying Knots in a Handkerchief, Walnut Creek: AltaMira Press, 505 pages.

Oct 06

How did you learn how to learn?

Two chimps, one watching the other doing something with a stick.When we hand children “tablets” and walk away it seems they intuitively learn how to use them. But should we really be surprised, if we consider dedicated researchers in computer-human interface design poured roughly 40 years of knowledge and experimentation into their making (Baeker, Grudin, Buxton & Greenberg, 1995)? On The Agenda with Steve Paikin: The Classroom of 2030 Oct 9, 2013 (hashtag #Learning2030), video evidence of this was shown and it was said, “The absence of the teacher becomes a pedagogical tool.” But what do our observations of children’s intuition tell us about what they’ve learned, or about learning how to learn? In the preface to the 21st anniversary edition of his 1995 The Unschooled Mind: How Children Think and how Schools Should Teach (1995/2011; I cite the 20th anniversary reissue, 2005, reprinted 2011), Howard Gardner revealed that, prior to its publication in 1983, he had believed the Theory of Multiple Intelligence (MI) was a contribution to mainstream psychology. He said he wasn’t thinking about pedagogy at all (1995/2011, pg. xiii). Yet the theory, whether one believes it or not, impacted pedagogy greatly, and continues to inform the debate on education reform. This post is for everyone who joins me in respecting Gardner’s contributions, and also finds recent evidence of kids’ intuition when mastering computerized tablets remarkable and encouraging. Howard Gardner found something about children’s intuition “troublesome” (1992, pg. 5). In the Peterson Lecture he presented in Geneva in 1992, Gardner reminded all of us: as children, and perhaps even as “educated” adults, when it comes to the big things, most of our intuition is just plain wrong.

Gardner and the Arts

Piaget believed that if you studied children you had to know what they were going to become—what the end state of development is. Piaget thought it was to be a scientist; that is what Piaget was. However, …I felt that there was something wrong with a theory that only talked about the mind of the scientist as being the endall of a child’s development. So I began to explore what development would be like if one thought of participation in the arts as an artist, or a critic, or a performer or a connoisseur as being a viable end state for human development. This is not to say that human beings should develop to become artists any more than they should develop to become scientists but rather that we can develop many different kinds of human beings.

—Howard Gardner (1992, pg. 1)

By 1992 Gardner was celebrating Project Zero‘s twenty-fifth anniversary. Compared to its early years, PZ “…was much larger; more empirically oriented; extended well beyond the arts; and had a strong applied division, which worked in the schools, museums, and other educational institutions.” It was actually educators’ response to MI and the publication of the influential report, “A Nation at Risk” the same year that turned his lens, and that of his Project Zero, on education. The project was conveniently housed at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, but had been “philosophical and conceptual” in the 1970s and by the 1980s was doing “primarily psychological research funded by governmental grants” (Gardner, Perkins, Quense, Seidel, and Tishman, 2003, #3, par. 1).

For Gardner, that ‘to be a musician/artist/performer when I grow up’ is “a viable end state for human development” was a radical departure from Piaget (1992, pg. 1). By this time the seven “intelligences,” the word’s very definition and implications an area of criticism then and now (see for example, Morgan, 1992 or Willingham, 2004), was beginning to morph into five “minds,” introduced around the time of his (post-Peterson lectures) 1995 The Unschooled Mind: How Children Think and how Schools Should Teach. In the introduction to the 20th Anniversary edition he summarizes them. “The first three,” says Gardner, “can be reduced to three words: depth, breadth and stretch” (1995/2011, pg. xxiv). The fourth and fifth minds Gardner feels are “…not cognitive in the traditional sense” (1995/2011, pg. xxiv). The Respectful Mind brings tolerance and acceptance, and the Ethical Mind, while he labels it (too rigidly, I think) “outside the ken of children” (the youngest children, yes, but I think not some tweens, even pre-tweens I’ve known, as he concedes on pg. xxv). I’m inclined to assert that Howard Gardner’s divergence from Piaget has some elements of another extender of Piaget’s work, the moral theorist Lawrence Kohlberg (see Table 1).

On the ridiculous notion of replacing teachers in learning environments

Gardner rejected conflation of MI with “learning styles” (1995/2011, pg. xix), although H. Morgan (1992) points out strong parallels with “cognitive styles” (esp. pp. 4-12). He was coming to see the practical strength of apprenticeship, also uncovered by the “cognitive apprenticeshipframework posited by John Seely Brown, Allen Collins, S.E. Newman, Ann Holum et al. (Collins, Brown & Holum, 1989; Collins, Brown & Newman, 1989), and their work that stemmed from the ethnography of Jean Lave and computer science of Etienne Wenger (Lave & Enger, 1991), which as I’ve pointed out (Fouchaux, 2013) has especially promising and well-documented associations with technology-enhanced pedagogy.

In the early 90s, Gardner’s other source of excitement for the future of learning was the emergence of children’s museums like the Exploratorium in San Francisco, or Toronto’s Ontario Science Centre. Gardner developed a vision of school reform that included the expert/apprentice model: Modeling (expert performs a task, verbalizing/illustrating their knowledge and thinking) Coaching (expert observes and facilitates) Scaffolding (expert provides support(s)), Articulation (expert encourages learners to verbalize/illustrate their knowledge and thinking), Reflection (expert enables learners to compare their performance with others) and Exploration (expert invites learners to pose and solve their own problems) (Collins, Brown and Hollum, 1991, pg. 3). While he enthusiastically acknowledged these pieces of all learning situations can all be supported and enhanced by technology, Gardner seems already to have had a feeling for the importance of what is now known as “face to face” (sometimes abbreviated F2F) or “blended learning.”

Like Gardner, devotion to the study of learning and passion for its improvement drove his peers in the 1980s cognitive apprenticeship school to dig below the surface, beneath first impressions. “There are three important distinctions between traditional and cognitive apprenticeship: in traditional apprenticeship the process is easily observable; in traditional apprenticeship the tasks arise and emerge in the workplace; in traditional apprenticeship the skills to be learned are inherent in the task itself. To translate the model of traditional apprenticeship to cognitive apprenticeship, experts need to: identify the processes of the task and make them visible to students; situate abstract tasks in authentic contexts, so that students understand the relevance of the work; vary the diversity of situations and articulate the common aspects so that students can transfer what they learn” (Collins, Brown and Hollum, 1991, pg. 3).

Highly trained, highly respected, “reasonably competitively” paid professional educators

The benefits of training life-long teachers well and elevating the profession are proven and quite replicable. The idea of literally replacing teachers with prerecorded experts, virtual database curators guiding us through virtual museums and so on may sound very futuristic, but it is not one commonly held by serious trained educators who have devoted a life-time of study to understanding how the learning process really works. It’s more the realm of venture capitalists wielding “power tools,” dazzled by dollar signs, trying to take shortcuts past the wicked problem of obtaining consensus, and dismiss the roles poverty and privilege, equity and inclusion play in building a competitive, free and democratic society. Teaching and learning environments will adapt and adopt technology—I fully expect teleconferencing with experts to play a bigger role, experts who probably should have demonstrated superior communication skills and a concept of instructional design up front and/or work in tandem with the advanced preparation of those who do. I’ve seen indications and suspect recordings of live Webinars can retain enough genuine human interaction that they may have some vicarious benefit when observed after the fact. I’ve little doubt we’ll one day see self-driving cars, with speed and safety limits enforceable at the system level providing safe navigation of accident-free highways, travelling on auto-pilot. I ask, is “auto-pilot” a good model to pursue for the education of our children?

Whatever role we see for technology, we all do generally agree that schools fail because of the gap between what we expect them to do, and what we’ve actually designed them to do. Standardized testing, and moreover the purposes to which it is put, is the nemesis of authentic learning—not simply vinegar to its oil, more like a cancer in need of white corpuscles. Gardner has demonstrated the utter and complete failure of the tell and test model to build the kind of critical thinking skills required to connect the dots once we leave the classroom. No amount of technology will ever change this until we rethink and reframe schooling itself, in fact they may only entrench the problems. But to abandon the public social element of schools is to deny the essentially socially situated condition of learning itself (Apple, 2005; Reid, 2005).

What is Schooling?

…five-year-olds do one thing that is troublesome: they form intuitive conceptions or theories—theory of matter, theories of mind, theories of life. Every normal five-year-old develops these theories. And it is very good for getting along in the world. However, the theories are wrong. School is supposed to replace the erroneous theories with better theories.

—Howard Gardner (1992, pg. 5)

Gardner believed in 1992 that the role of schooling is to provide “Christopherian encounters,” perhaps similar to what others have called “threshold concepts,” (see for example Meyer & Land, 2010) in order to replace childhood misunderstandings with understanding, which he he says elsewhere is easier to demonstrate if people have more than one way of representing a skill, and use their multiple ways deftly (their repertoire or tool kit, as some might say) in response to their audience or situation (1995/2011, pg. 14).

In the case of misconceptions, in the celebratory year 1992 I recommend Christopherian encounters, named after Christopher Colombus. If you believe the world is flat, but every day or every year you travel around the world and you come back to where you started before, that tends to belie the notion that the world is flat. In a Christopherian encounter you expose your theories to disconfirmation. If your theories are consistently disconfirmed, you will slowly abandon them, and hopefully construct a better theory.
Howard Gardner (1992, pg. 10)
[Emphasis mine. Of course we know
this isn’t always what happens.
Please see his arguments, which follow.]

Why even the best students in the best schools do not understand

Most of the elements elaborated upon in his 1995 recommendations for schools were already part of his 1992 guest lecture in Geneva. Subject by subject he reveals how only experts master the subject matter, while many (most) of the the most highly “educated” fail to make the connections they’ve invested years in education presumably to be able to make. He said it affected all disciplines and documented its impact on each, developing terminology where necessary.

Pure and applied sciences: Aristotelians, Rigid Algorithms

“Most people remain five-year-olds or Aristotelians even though they studied physics,” says Gardner (1992, pg. 7), and gives examples from astronomy and other sciences, as well. 23 out of 25 Harvard astronomy graduates ignore everything they’ve just studied and regurgitated on tests to do with the earth’s seasons or axis, and state the earth is warmer in summer because it’s closer to the sun than in the winter. Students “…who have taken not one, but two or three courses in biology focusing on the topic of evolution, still do not understand the basics of evolution. They still believe that something in one generation can be passed on to the next, even if it was acquired in that generation.” What he encounters in mathematics are not so much misconceptions as “rigid algorithms,” learning to plug numbers into a formula, by rote (pg. 7).

Problems in Economics and Statistics

Economics presents a bridge area between mathematical thinking in the social arena. “College-educated subjects outperformed those without a college education, but there was little difference between those college students who had studied economics and those who had not. […] Misconceptions or stereotypes were found across both groups. […] Such primary rules seem to occupy a place similar to a rigidly applied algorithm: When in doubt, invoke the rule triggered by a word like interest or inflation” (1995/2011, pg. 181). Gardner tells of a well-known set of studies by Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman, and their colleagues asked students to answer questions calling for the use of statistical principles, and gives only 5 of their astonishing examples. In one, given a sample in which they’re told up front the ratio of engineers to lawyers is 7:3, and asked which a particular subject who just happens to be good at debate is more likely to be, trained statisticians abandon their schooling and go with the stereotype (pg. 183).

A favourite script is the restaurant script. Every four-year-old knows that if you go to a restaurant, somebody comes and seats you. You are given the menu; you order. Food comes. You eat it and then you call for the cheque, and you leave. If you go to McDonald’s you pay first but that is an exception to the script.
—Howard Gardner (1992, pg. 8)

The Arts and the Humanities: scripts, simplifications and stereotypes

The Star Wars script is one very powerful script we develop as children, it goes, “it’s good to be big; you should be big yourself; if you’re not big, align yourself with somebody who is big. If you look like that person, you will be good and people who look different will be bad.” But history majors who write papers on the complex nuances of WWII approach current events in what some might call Manichaean terms of good guys vs. bad guys (1992, pg. 8). Gardner’s unschooled mind presented quite embarrassingly in the arts in a much earlier 1920s study by literary critic and poet Ivor Armstrong Richards. He removed the poet’s names from classics by John Donne, Gerald Manley Hopkins and others and “…found that the students did not have a clue about which poems were good (according to the critics) and which were bad” (1992, pg. 8) Gardner tells us “…you have very, very good students who have studied literature, who, when the book clue is removed (namely this is by a good poet, this is by a bad poet or by a non poet), display the same kind of taste that someone with no education in literature would exhibit” (pg. 9).

Schools presumably seek to present three kinds of knowledge across disciplines: notational sophistication, concepts within the discipline, and forms of exposition and reasoning within the discipline (1995/2011, pg. 143). Gardner has ideas on how to address the failings that lead to each type of misconception, some of which I’ve outlined already.

A repertoire and toolkit for repair

As I said earlier, Gardner speaks of deftly using multiple ways to represent, practice and experience skills and knowledge. He offers “…five different “windows” into the same room.” They are 1. Narrational—basically the story mode. 2. A quantitative, logical rational way of dealing with numbers, principles, causality. 3. A foundational way, asking who? what? where? when? how? …why? 4. Aesthetic—looks, configurations, impressions. 5. Finally, hands on—“What is it actually like to be this thing, to do this thing? …what is it like to breed drosophila? If you are studying democracy, what is it like to be in a group that decides by consensus as opposed to one that decides by autocracy, oligarchy or some other political principle” (1992, pg. 12)?

John Seely Brown’s Institute for Research on Learning (IRL), a cross-disciplinary team of researchers from anthropology, education, linguistics, computer science and psychology found Seven Principles of Learning: “Learning is fundamentally social; Knowledge is integrated in the life of communities; Learning is an act of membership; Knowing depends on engagement in practice; Engagement is inseparable from empowerment; “Failure to Learn” is the normal result of exclusion from participation; We already have a society of lifelong learners” (Collins, Brown, and Holum, 1989; Collins, Brown, and Newman, 1989). This project in particular led to the cognitive apprenticeship framework, with immediate recognition of its potential enhancement by technology (Fouchaux, 2013, Appendices B, C, & D).

The social media boom, the rise of Facebook and Twitter and their inevitable entrance into discussions about teaching and learning have not created new knowledge, nor caused a spontaneous eruption of stunning new ideas. They have only increased the number of people with access to what we have been learning about education and technology since the emergence of these technologies. We have amplified and expanded a conversation we educators have been having for decades. The first Apple Graphic User Interfaces (GUIs) were disrupting the console driven mainframes and finding their ways into the homes of relatively ordinary people and their work places in the 1980s. Nearly 40 years ago they defined the study of systems usability, and they established the practice of watching users use systems, and then measuring the results with the focused aim of making the systems more usable. Children’s “intuitive” adoption and uptake is not magic (Baeker et al., 1995).

Assessment in Context: The Alternative to Standardized Testing

Gardner says “ongoing assessment” or “assessment in context” means “…assessment is taking place all the time by students and by peers as well as by the teacher” (1992, pg. 12). It may be surprising to some readers that Howard Gardner, the man at the centre of the orbit of some of the most highly-esteemed education researchers and projects at Harvard and the private sector, was in 1992 so matter-of-fact in his vehement disapproval of the types of standardized testing that still dominate, and some, especially in the USA, say should be expanded (Gardner, 1992b). It was indisputable to Gardner, just as it was to Xerox CEO John Seely Brown and the set of top-notch educationists, researchers and scholars he used his corporation’s influence to assemble (see Fouchaux 2013, Appendix A), to empower, to enable—but not to dominate nor simply to exploit—in the collaborative communities of practice that characterized experimentation in education of the 1980s and ’90s.

Diane Ravitch has now made clear that, contrary to the claims being made, public school test scores and graduation rates in the USA are the highest they’ve ever been, and dropout rates are at their lowest (Ravitch, 2013). Discourse to the contrary is a concerted effort to destroy public schools in that country, disrupting a 325 year commitment embedded in the Constitution (Dennis, 2000).

Therefor it can not be more plain that those who promote more testing have a different purpose. To say in the 20-teens that one believes eliminating fully trained and accredited professional educators, and all the “thickness” years of exposure to the ideas of men and women who like Gardner, Collins, and Brown, have devoted lifetimes to improving children’s learning bring to the learning situation, can be nothing but an attempt to wrench the helm onto another tack by fiat and coercion. Children’s intuition, as Gardner showed decades ago, isn’t good enough. “Absence” of the teacher is not the same as “removal.” We’ve agreed to dispense with the sage on the stage, but if you don’t have guides on the side who know the ropes, the waters, and the weather, you will certainly get lost. You may run aground, sink and drown, or simply drift away forever upon doldrums no different than the Ancient Mariner’s, you’ll just be taking a more expensive cruise.

Educationists from across the decades and around the world concur. We must re-design schools from the ground up to be highly inclusive public spaces, purposed to build and share learning experiences in collaborative settings. We must cultivate critical discernment and expose would-be apprentices to experts who are themselves students of pedagogy. We must understand that learning is continual and there is no single learner or teacher where 2 or more humans coexist (Collins, Brown and Newman, 1989; Gardner, 1991; Lave & Wenger, 1991; Lave, 1996; Meyer & Land, 2010; Salhlberg, 2011). We must not narrow instruction to rigid algorithms and formulaic responses in science and math, but design situations where experts and novices engage and interact in practice. We must let them create performances of their understanding that convey the internalization of the concepts, awareness of critical connections to prior learning and available information. We must find cohesion and build shared understanding to solve the wicked problem of education reform collaboratively, not authoritatively.

In short, we must learn how to learn, with, not just from, people whose passion it is to understand how learning takes place and what that looks like. We must learn to recognize and celebrate the hard work that’s gone before. Stop experimenting with disproven methods and apply the results of a century of experimentation we’ve already done. Make sure the people driving the school bus want to get the kids where they want to be… not drive certain kids to a certain part of town to park and sell them junk food, not to scrap the bus, nor to sell it for parts.


Watch: The Agenda with Steve Paikin: The Classroom of 2030

Watch: TVO on the Road: Learning 2030


Table 1: Lawrence Kohlberg’s three levels and six stages of moral reasoning.

Level Age Range Stage Nature of Moral Reasoning
Level I: Preconventional Morality Seen in preschool children, most elementary school students, some junior high school students, and a few high school students Stage 1: Punishment-avoidance and obedience People make decisions based on what is best for themselves, without regard for others’ needs or feelings. They obey rules only if established by more powerful individuals; they may disobey if they aren’t likely to get caught. “Wrong” behaviors are those that will be punished.
    Stage 2: Exchange of favors People recognize that others also have needs. They may try to satisfy others’ needs if their own needs are also met (“you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours”). They continue to define right and wrong primarily in terms of consequences to themselves.
Level II: Conventional Morality Seen in a few older elementary school students, some junior high school students, and many high school students (Stage 4 typically does not appear until the high school years) Stage 3: Good boy/girl People make decisions based on what actions will please others, especially authority figures and other individuals with high status (e.g., teachers, popular peers). They are concerned about maintaining relationships through sharing, trust, and loyalty, and they take other people’s perspectives and intentions into account when making decisions.
    Stage 4: Law and order People look to society as a whole for guidelines about right or wrong. They know rules are necessary for keeping society running smoothly and believe it is their “duty” to obey them. However, they perceive rules to be inflexible; they don’t necessarily recognize that as society’s needs change, rules should change as well.
Level II: Postconventional Morality Rarely seen before college (Stage 6 is extremely rare even in adults) Stage 5: Social contract People recognize that rules represent agreements among many individuals about appropriate behavior. Rules are seen as potentially useful mechanisms that can maintain the general social order and protect individual rights, rather than as absolute dictates that must be obeyed simply because they are “the law.” People also recognize the flexibility of rules; rules that no longer serve society’s best interests can and should be changed.
    Stage 6: Universal ethical principle Stage 6 is a hypothetical, “ideal” stage that few people ever reach. People in this stage adhere to a few abstract, universal principles (e.g., equality of all people, respect for human dignity, commitment to justice) that transcend specific norms and rules. They answer to a strong inner conscience and willingly disobey laws that violate their own ethical principles.

Sources: Colby & Kohlberg, 1984; Colby et al., 1983; Kohlberg, 1976, 1984, 1986; Reimer, Paolitto, & Hersh, 1983; Snarey, 1995.
Excerpted from Child Development and Education, by T.M McDevitt, J.E. Ormrod, 2007 edition, p. 518. in article Kohlberg’s Three Levels and Six Stages of Moral Reasoning


Apple, Michael (2005) Are markets in education democratic? Neoliberal globalism, vouchers, and the politics of choice in Apple, M. W.; Kenway, J.; & Singh, M. (Eds.). Globalizing Education: Policies, Pedagogies and Politics. (2005/2007) New York: Peter Lang.

Baeker, Ronald M.; Grudin, Jonathan; Buxton, Wiliam A. S.; Greenberg, Saul (2d. ed., 1995) Human-Computer Interaction: Toward the Year 2000, San Francisco (1st ed., 1987): Morgan Kaufmann, 950 pgs.

Colby, A., & Kohlberg, L. (Eds.). (1987). The measurement of moral judgment (Vols. 1 and 2). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Collins, A., Brown, J.S., and Newman, S.E. (1989). “Cognitive Apprenticeship: Teaching the Craft of Reading, Writing and Mathematics! In L.B. Resnick (ed.) Knowing, Learning, and Instruction: Essa in Honor of Robert Glaser Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum, and in Brown, J.S., Collins, A., and Duguid, P. (1989). “Situated Cognition and the Culture of Learning.” Educational Researcher, 18(l), 32-42.

Collins, Allan; Brown, John Seely; and Holum, Ann (1989), Cognitive Apprenticeship: Making Thinking Visible, American Educator [1991 reprint PDF].

Dennis, Russell (2000) The Role of the Federal Government In Public Education In the United States [HTML]

Fouchaux, Richard (2013), Thick Situations: Paths towards a framework for 21st-century learning design, research paper submitted to the Graduate Program in Education, York University, in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Education [PDF]

Klein, Perry D. (1997) Multiplying the Problems of Intelligence by Eight: A Critique of Gardner’s Theory, Canadian Journal of Education / Revue canadienne de l’éducation, Vol. 22, No. 4 (Autumn, 1997), pp. 377-394.

Kohlberg, Lawrence; Charles Levine, Alexandra Hewer (1983). Moral stages : a current formulation and a response to critics. Basel, NY: Karger.

Gardner, Howard (1992) The unschooled mind: why even the best students in the best schools do not understand, [PDF]

Gardner, Howard (1992b) Assessment in Context: The Alternative to Standardized Testing in Changing Assessments Alternative Views of Aptitude, Achievement and Instruction, Bernard R. Gifford,
Mary Catherine O’Connor, editors, Volume 30, 1992, pp 77-119.

Gardner, Howard (1995/2011), The Unschooled Mind: How Children Think and how Schools Should Teach, 21st Anniversary edition (2011) NY: Basic Books, 322 pages. [Read online]

Gardner, Howard; Perkins, David; Quense, Cynthia; Seidel, Steve; and Tishman, Shari (2003), Ten Years at Project Zero: A Report on 1993-2002, [HTML]

Lave, Jean (1996). Teaching, as Learning, in Practice, Mind, Culture, and Activity (3:3) pp 149-164.

Lave, Jean and Wenger, Etienne (1991). Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Meyer, Jan H. F.; Land, Ray; Baillie, Caroline eds., (2010), Threshold Concepts and Transformational Learning, Sense Publishers, Rotterdam, 2010.

Ravitch, Diane (2013) Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools

Reid, Alan (2005) Rethinking the democratic purposes of public schooling in a globalizing world in Apple, M. W.; Kenway, J.; & Singh, M. (Eds.) Globalizing Education: Policies, Pedagogies and Politics. (2005/2007) New York: Peter Lang.

Salhlberg, Pasi. (2011). “The Professional Educator: Lessons from Finland,” American Educator 35, no. 2. (PDF)

Willingham, Daniel T. (2004), Reframing the Mind: Howard Gardner and the theory of multiple intelligences, Education Next, Vol. 4, No. 3 retrieved 2012-10-10.

N.B. This post has been edited several times—to improve clarity, correct the TVO broadcast date, to fix a broken internal page anchor, and to correct grammar and spelling.

Oct 03

Where learning happens, there shall ye find teachers

It’s hard to imagine anyone arguing that the digital age, social networking, animation, other event timing software (from Adobe Captivate to Mozilla’s Popcorn & Butter) and 24/7 access won’t change—haven’t already changed—the way teaching, learning, and schooling are done in the 21st century. But I’m becoming increasingly vexed by those suggesting technology will replace teachers, that for-profit social networking platforms will replace professional development—or that either of those propositions is a good idea.Wordle including 21st Century Skills and other current terminology

What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.

Ecclesiastes 1:9

I’ll dispense with the obvious semantic argument right away: even in self-guided learning there is a teacher—we say “I taught myself!” If informal learning is truly “a spontaneous process of helping people to learn” and it really “…works through conversation, and the exploration and enlargement of experience…” if its “…purpose is to cultivate communities, associations and relationships that make for human flourishing…” then not only do I hope we all find and fill that role almost every day—I shake my head in bemusement at the eagerness with which many, perhaps even TVO’s perspicacious and typically uber-informed Steve Paikin, seem to be anticipating teaching’s impending doom.

Screenshot of Hypercard from a 1980s era Macintosh Performa

Screen shot of 1980s era Macintosh Performa and Hypercard, technology that “changed the way we learn” over 30 years ago. Source: Stanislav (2011)

Fortunately, I don’t believe the host, nor any of the panel members in this thought provoking series actually believe this rhetoric; in places like Canada where the commitment to public education is for the time being less precarious than many other places, this can still be said with tongue-in-cheek. Overall, throughout the musings of this panel the vital role played by teachers, mentors, coaches, and guides was implicit. The skills, creativity and imagination professional educators bring to the situations they design and create for the purpose of conveying the knowledge they need to share, was celebrated openly. Overall there was full recognition of the approach most strongly suggested by the literature and research—and who can be seen to have been doing the “thickest” (à la Clifford Geertz1) research for decades. [Update: yours truly on Geertz.] I was schooled in the public school system of Bethlehem, PA, USA in the 1960s. My teachers sat us in circles, let students lead reading groups while they circulated giving individualized instruction, we split into groups and did jigsaw investigations, returned and taught our classmates how to put the pieces together. Tropes and talking points, pompous assertions around “industrial” or even “agrarian” paradigms notwithstanding, throughout history educators, including teachers in the trenches, have always led the search for ways to improve and enhance the process of helping people to learn.

The Cognitive Apprenticeship framework of the 80s identified elements of the mentor/apprentice relationship (e.g., “scaffolding“) that have been essential to teaching and learning for centuries, and educators ever since have been mapping these to specific strategies and the software that supports them.

A tool such as Twitter can be a useful tool, even a powerful one in the right hands. But it’s absurd to think a platform limited to messages 140 characters, blocked by governments and firewalls, adopted thus far by a trivial percentage of teachers would be a good pick to “replace professional development,” as one person on the #Learning2030 hashtag asked Wednesday night. Leave alone the fact Twitter’s priority is making money for its shareholders, and that we don’t know what this corporation may do, or not, to protect privacy. About 80% of messaging on Twitter is self-promotion—researchers coined a new term for such Tweople, “Meformers,” in contrast to “informers” (Naaman,Boase,& Lai, 2010). While I agree teachers should try Twitter, I see Twitter being used as a hub, the water cooler in the staff room around which informal learning happens, contacts, connections and preliminary plans to make plans. Just like pencil and paper, Twitter’s the right technology for many jobs. Use it for what it does well.

Several panels have noted how kids “intuitively” adapt to new technology, but I heard none remark that human-computer interface designers have been striving to design “intuitive” interfaces since there have been computers to design interfaces for. A book written on the topic in 1987 was still in use in 2010.

It’s wonderful to be in Ontario having important and fruitful conversations with genuine reformers, so sincerely devoted to student engagement, deep learning and the new possibilities awaiting discovery by all of us. There’s no need to believe we are the first to have these conversations, nor will we be the last.


  1. For many decades, forward-thinking, innovative educators have been engrossed with the exploration of applications technology. See, among many examples, posts in my own Cognitive Apprenticeship category and the various works in their reference sections. For evidence of the extensive range technology-enhanced-learning-focused 20th century collaborations across disciplines, look no further than R. G. Segall (1989), Thick descriptions: a tool for designing ethnographic interactive videodiscs, ACM SIGCHI Bulletin, Volume 21 Issue 2, Oct. 1989 pp. 118 – 122. While doing so please remember, there’s nothing new under the sun.

Further reading

Ghefaili, Aziz (2003) Cognitive Apprenticeship, Technology, and the Contextualization of Learning Environments, Journal of Educational Computing, Design & Online learning Volume 4, Fall, 2003.

Harkinson, Josh, (September 24, 2013), Here’s How Twitter Can Track You on All of Your Devices, Mother Jones, retrieved 2013-10-03

Junco, Reynol; Elavsky, C. Michael and Heiberger, Greg (2012), Putting twitter to the test: Assessing outcomes for student collaboration, engagement and success, British Journal of Educational Technology (2012) 1-15. (Wiley Online Library)

Lave, Jean and Wenger, Etienne (1991). Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Lave, Jean (1996). Teaching, as Learning, in Practice, Mind, Culture, and Activity (3:3) pp149-164.

Lowe, Tony & Lowe, Rachael (2012) Twitter in learning and teaching – literature review (

Stanislav (2011), Why Hypercard Had to Die, blog post,

Naaman, M., Boase, J. & Lai, C. (2010) Is it really about me? Message Content in Social Awareness Streams. Proceedings of the ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work, February 6-10, 2010 in Savannah GA (PDF).

Webducate [‘’ website/blog] (2012), Twitter in learning and teaching – literature review, retrieved 2012-12-03

Wenger, E. (2006) Communities of practice, a brief introduction,, HTML retrieved 2011-11-03 or, PDF retrieved 2011-10-03.

Richard studied music as a teenager with Trevor Payne at John Abbott College and attended Berklee College of Music in Boston. He has performed across Canada with full-time rock bands since the early 80s. He’s been a teacher of rock, jazz & classical guitar, first as a sub for his own private teacher, formally at the now defunct Toronto Percussion Centre, and taught at The Arts Music Store in Newmarket, Ontario, for 6 years. He holds the degrees of Bachelor of Fine Arts Music (Special Honours), Bachelor of Education, and Master of Education from York University, plays guitar and trombone, and taught grade 6-8 band, math and computers (HTML and yes, Hypercard!) at the Toronto District School Board and North York School Board.