Dissenting Voices

The image “http://hunstem.uhd.edu/image003.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.

Dean Shareski has written an interesting post, The Honeymoon’s Over, which struck a chord with me because a lot of the criticism of the edublogosphere is that it is a full of repetitive, derivative posts (you could certainly include a number of mine in that) that recycle conversations and preach to the converted. He writes:
“I’ve noticed lately that it seems the edublogosphere is beginning to show more signs of maturing and is looking less like an echo chamber. While I have no clear data I can point to several discussions of late that engage both sides of an issue in some fairly poignant debate.”

I’ve learned so much in the past year reading people’s insights into and tips on improving learning and technology use, especially those of Clay Burrell, Jeff Utecht, Doug Belshaw, Judy Connell and Kim Cofino. Generally, the level of thinking that takes place in this “sphere” is intense, intelligent and progressive. However, there is an absence of critical thinking at times, especially about sources of information and the legitmacy of claims made, which we all promote as something that can be improved through the use of Web 2.0 tools. An example of this is Tom Hoffman’s thoughtful critique of the original Did You Know

He states: “What is particularly disturbing is that this piece has been so unquestionably picked up and promoted by people who spend a significant chunk of their time preaching about “information literacy” and such.”

“Richard” commenting on Hoffman’s post pointed out that: “I looked through a number of the citations and found a number of errors, simplified descriptions of study results, and data that cannot be verified. I find this very troubling. The presentation is authoritative and presents these data as real and concrete. Closer examination shows that they are not at all as concrete as they are presented. I think this is a disservice both to the original audience and to all those who saw the presentation on the web and unwittingly repeat all of this as if it is real.”

This viral video, has racked up 425,599 views on YouTube and 58,656 view on TeacherTube. Karl Fisch estimates that this video has been viewed more than 2 million times, whereas others put the figure at five million. This video is very persuasive and while well-intentioned, is an example of poor research. For me, the teaching “moment” here is: Check, check again and recheck your sources before you publish anything.

Another interesting aspect of writing on blogs is there is a fine line between presenting a divergent viewpoint and coming across as rude. Gary Stager, well-known for not holding back, raises this in an interesting debate on David Warlick’s post how information has changed, when he wrote:
“Here is a dilemma I have been struggling with for some time. The intimacy, folksiness and familiarity of the blogosphere makes every blogger your warm dear close personal friend. What is the proper way to express thoughtful dissent without appearing mean, crazy or uncivil? In other words, What if I totally disagree with you? What if thoughtful dissent requires more than a paragraph to express?”

Other voices of dissent I’ve enjoyed reading include Tim Holt’s deconstruction of talk 2.0 in How to become a keynote speaker. Like any good satirical piece, there is a biting and insightful critique and like most Australians I am a sucker for sarcasm. Another of Holt’s posts, Not Invited to the Buffet, discusses the issue of gender representation among ed tech leaders.

Another, more conciliatory but dissenting voice is Graham Wegner who questions the need for standardised tagging, in The Olympics Effect Theory, and raises the importance of taking an international approach to education and blogging. In a similar vein, Stephen Downes asks wasn’t the whole idea of the folksonomy that there were no standards?

The presence of diverse opinion is what makes the edublogosphere an interesting “place” and having the ability to defend your viewpoint and counter and incorporate different ideas is what reflective thinking is really about.

Cartoon: http://hunstem.uhd.edu/image003.jpg

23 thoughts on “Dissenting Voices

  1. Interestingly, I wasn’t singling out standardised tagging as an important issue as so much as I was trying to point out a wider issue that it is only really visible from outside the borders of the 50 states. I think you are right in pointing to Stephen Downes as his much shorter observation is what got me originally thinking about why the idea didn’t sit comfortably with me. The whole idea of dissent without getting others offside is an important one to me. We want people to engage in conversation and agreeing with everyone regardless is not progressive professional learning. There are some points of view that you only get from this part of the world – being a fellow Australian, you would also see the cultural grip American ideas/products/entertainment has on the Australian public. Although through the distorted lense of the media, the average Aussie knows a hell of a lot more about the USA than what the average American knows about us. Some of the “progressive ideas” bandied around in some parts of the blogosphere (project based learning, inquiry approach, thinking skills) are standard practice here in classrooms and have been for quite a while. But unless someone with a different point of view pulls up the excitable crowd every now and then, and points out that there may be other approaches or that there may be issues broader than their own system, then the echo chamber will be in full blown effect.
    Cindy, this is an excellent blog and I’m glad that we’ve crossed paths so that another intelligent Antipodean voice can join the mix. Stir up a bit of your own dissent!

  2. Hi–

    The 5 million figure that I referred to in my blog entry came from the wiki that has been set up to discuss Karl’s presentation.


    I agree that there is plenty of room for passionate dissent, logical reasoning, and most importantly questioning of authority. That extends to the statements made in the Did You Know presentation as well as its U.S.-centric focus.

    Too often some edu-bloggers come across as just a little too earnest and just a little too sure of themselves. It’s good to have others around who broaden the conversation. After all, who wants to be part of an intellectual discussion where everyone just sits around and nods their heads?


  3. This will be a hard reply to write, since the Wimbledon men’s final is on as I type.

    Okay, so quick: stir up your own dissent indeed.

    You may have noticed I’ve added a “gripes” tag to my blog labels. Topping my list are a) the edublogosphere’s refusal to walk the talk and invite the brightest student “learnerbloggers” to disrupt the echo chamber by joining the conversation. As things stand now, we rah-rah classroom bloggin out of one side of our mouths, but throw our hands up in surrender to the challenges to making classroom blogging as authentic as that among us adults; b) the fixed idea that students can only harness the power of web 2.0 within classrooms and schools, and only if teachers “get it” first (I think my Global Cooling Project is going to show what sort of learning can happen along those lines when teachers and students form communities outside the schoolhouse altogether, and engage in real-world learning voluntarily, and out of sheer interest in attractive and relevant – not “school-y” – challenges. That’s for starters.

    As for the “dissents” you listed, I followed your links and couldn’t say I found much meat in the issues being argued about.

    In my six months of experimenting, I’m less and less interested in the theorizing and latest tool of the week, and more interested in continuing to experiment in the classroom with other teachers worldwide wanting to do this stuff. I’ve always been impatient with theory, preferring to learn by experiment, direct experience, and observation. The critical stage comes afterwards, like a hangover 😉

    Changing the subject, Dana Huff just expressed her interest in joining the 1001 Tales this year. We get to turn to pedagogy, now that we’ve “built the airplane.” Hope we can find the window to include you. Any chance?

  4. Enjoyed your post. One thing that you said, however, there is an absence of critical thinking at times…really resonated with me. I would love to see the same amount of critical discourse and analysis applied to prevailing education wisdom (traditional or 20th century methods.)I see my own high school kids come home from school disillusioned, disempowered and discouraged. Where is their excitement for learning? It certainly doesn’t apply to anything they are doing that is school related!
    Currently reading The Homework Myth by Alfie Kohn which analyzes another prevailing educational method that requires challenge. As does the dilemmas of grading and the use of rubrics. So many subjects to tackle and web 2.0 tools allow us to have these international discussions that challenge our thinking in new ways. And it’s all about improving instruction that makes it real for our students.
    Continue the discourse!

  5. Loved your post – especially the cartoon. I’m honoured that I was mentioned in your post – mostly because I can contribute ‘progressive’ comments much much less often than I would like (as my workplace would not be happy for me to say some things that do need saying!). Your post and your commentators have highlighted some ideas that are important for us all. The first is getting students involved and working with students as the prime focus – they will show us what education can become, particularly if we are willing to be ‘subversive’ right alongside them. It is school organisation and school management that would seem to me to be one of the key stumbling blocks. Critical thinking means exposing ideas and sometimes challenging why things are the way they are. Not many people in leadership positions are ready to be sufficiently open to the shift that is needed to genuinely liberate the learning modes of our students. They are learning despite us – and it is only when we join their conversation style that we become effective mentors. However, I do also believe that it is not all about Web 2.0 and technology. There is still a solid depth to our knowledge society and deep learning that can operate ‘beside’ and despite Web 2.0. You don’t need technology to be a good learner!! Not yet anyway. However, lets contine working as collaborative learners in the Blogosphere to see how the future of learning can evolve and how we teachers can influence or be immeresed in this for the benefit of humanity.

  6. Graham, Karen, Kim and Judy: Thanks for taking the time to comment on my late night ramblings. Sometimes I wonder if this blog is my own micro “echochamber” and I have doubts whether my “insights” are really that meaningful – so I appreciate your feedback and ideas.
    Clay: I agree to an extent when you write that you are “less and less interested in the theorizing and latest tool of the week, and more interested in continuing to experiment in the classroom with other teachers worldwide wanting to do this stuff.”
    The technolgy itself can be seductive and it’s easy to be distracted from the real mission by flashing lights and nifty gadgets. I agree that the best opportunity to realise the potential power of the web is to facilitate global collaboration among students that breaks through the disconnect between school and the “real” world.
    But I am also interested in the theory behind using collaborative tech tools for a number of reasons. Firstly, it informs and gives me a framework for the experiments that I am keen to undertake. I worry that technology use in schools could become another example of the emporer’s new clothes. As a relatively new teacher, it also helps me answer the “why am I doing this?” and “what positive benefits will it bring to students?” – eg. am I really helping them develop “21st century” skills?
    In response to your challenge about how do we include students in authentic blogging, my pick as your best idea is : “What about inviting those articulate, gifted learner edubloggers to contribute to a group blog along the lines of Scott McLeod’s LeaderTalk? LearnerTalk. . . a panel of must-hear student voices that would be a mandatory touchstone for any conversation in the edublogosphere.”
    This is “doable”: there is a danger of wheeling students out as if they were evidence of our success whereas we need to enable them to speak for themselves. But this requires schools/teachers to relinquish control and many people are fearful to say the least of this.

  7. Hi Cindy,

    I didn’t intend to detract from the value of theory, only to admit to my own temperamental impatience with it. The effect of too many theory courses (and conversations?) in college.

    To Karen’s mention of the Kohn book, I would add Epstein’s _The Case Against Adolescence_. It’s so relevant to the causes that make our kids hate school.


  8. Hi Clay,
    Forgot to write: Re: Dana Huff just expressed her interest in joining the 1001 Tales this year. We get to turn to pedagogy, now that we’ve “built the airplane.” Hope we can find the window to include you. Any chance?

    Would love to have another crack at a global creative writing project. What do you suggest? We are returning to school in 2 weeks for term 3 and I’m starting of with poetry (around the theme of Change) with Year 11 and William Golding’s Lord of the Flies with Year 10. I am also going to begin a Genocide Unit with Year 9 elective history and Deconolisation in South East Asia with Year 11 History. The Genocide Project could be a fantastic “global studies” style project. What do you think?

  9. Hi C,

    I’m in denial about one very disturbing fact: in August, I’ll be teaching only AP Literature (2 sections), and the rest of the time be Tech Coordinator for the high school.

    I’m already starting to regret this decision, because it limits what I can do as a teacher myself.

    Anyway, let’s talk more and find a way to give things a chance.

    I just gave birth to an overdue post about the directions I’m going to take future projects that leave me ambivalent about the Flat World Tales anyway. So if you’re of a like mind about that direction, maybe we can create something new.

  10. Great post. As someone who has been questioning some of what I’ve come across the last while, I think that this discussion is timely. As an administrator, I sometime find myself in the situation where I want to tell someone “What I think” but know that it won’t have the effect that I might want. In the blogosphere, I’ve noticed a shift were there are more dissenting voices, which is great, but some are more degrading than dissenting.
    To grow we need to be challenged. But is there room for off-hand negative putdowns of other educators and their work? Do we have a responsibility to point out that people need to stay focused on the ideas? How?
    As teachers use these tools to a greater degree, it will be important to teach this to students – challenge the ideas not the person.
    Again, this is a timely topic, thanks for bringing it to the forefront.

  11. Kelly, as someone who’s read some of the degrading stuff across the edublogosphere (with some questioning your own professional capabilities) I think it is really important to work hard on respectful dissent. I have worked hard to be diplomatic and even-handed in any of my posts that question certain points of view and it is not easy – the ranting and sounding off can get personal rather quickly and is pointless if engagement with others is the goal. Again, probably the only way is to model exactly what we want all edubloggers to do and refuse to be drawn into any baiting going down. A good example of how respectful dissent can win over acceptance of a new viewpoint can be found over in the comments of a Leigh Blackall post early last year.

  12. This is a good conversation for me, and actually made me post a semi-apology clarifying my use of a well-known video title as the title to a post attempting to “respectfully dissent.”

    As for the value of dissent itself, since we’re all putting our ideas out there and are presumably “life-long learners” valuing collaboration and growth, we should not just welcome dissent, but invite it. I wish somebody would have bothered to criticize the 1001 Flat World Tales idea in January, so I wouldn’t have had to only see it’s fundamental “beeflessness” seven months later.

    This is such a good, timely discussion. Please feel free to call foul on me any time my passions get the best of me 🙂

    Further: I’m an American, but have never taught in the USA at all. Shanghai and Seoul: that’s it so far. Shanghai American School was Aussie and Kiwi-heavy when I was there, and I team-taught a lot as an ESOL specialist, so I had a front-row seat to observe the differences between national teaching styles. And I saw, in general, that “active learning,” cooperative group-work, and many other methods America is heralding as the “next big thing” were instead simply routines to the “Antipodeans.”

    Also as an American teaching abroad, I’m hyper-sensitive to the power of American cultural influence on world (Chinese and Korean, for me) cultures. What to say about that, I won’t try for now. I’ll just say that it bothers me on many levels.

    Now to check out that link Graham posted.

  13. I think some of this aversion to dissent is also an American export, and I’m going to make some grand generalizations now! I’ve traveled all over the world and met educators in many places, and have been a part of MANY spirited discussions, especially in Australia. It’s different than here.

    In the US, with few exceptions, if you raise uncomfortable issues, you often get lectures about “tone” or how your message would be better received if you weren’t so “negative”. I think we don’t just infantalize adolescents, we infantalize adults too. The mere thought of having a strong opinion and having to defend it scares Americans.

    Blogs, and the US-centric edublogger community is just a reflection of that. And hey, I live (and was born and raised) in the epicenter of banality, Los Angeles, the “we’re all just doing our own thing, man” capital of the world.

  14. As a newcomer to the blogging arena, I choose my words – and my battles – carefully. My blog functions more as a brainstorming and collaboration tool than as a vehicle for learned debate. Although I enjoy reading entries from experienced educational theorists, my sights are set more on expanding my own, and my students’, horizons. One small step at a time…

  15. Hi kwhobbes,
    Thanks for your response. I agree with your comment that: “To grow we need to be challenged”. This encapsulates the spirit of the post. Clay (above) articulates what I was thinking – that “since we’re all putting our ideas out there and are presumably “life-long learners” valuing collaboration and growth, we should not just welcome dissent, but invite it.” The significance of “respectful dissent” (thanks, Graham) is that it broadens and enlivens the educational discussion and helps to encourage innovation. If we want people to be convinced that constructivist, inquiry-based teaching using that web 2.0 tools is the way to go we have to present clear and logical reasons for doing so.
    When you ask: “But is there room for off-hand negative putdowns of other educators and their work? Do we have a responsibility to point out that people need to stay focused on the ideas? How?” – “Off-hand negative (personal) putdowns” are never very useful and are more often a reflection of the person making them than the person they are directed at. However, there is a big difference between criticising a person and critiquing their work. We should always be free, and encourage others, to be sceptical and to point out flaws in widely circulated information and research.

  16. Hi Sylvia,
    Thanks for your (witty) comment. I hope it’s true that in Australia there is room for sustained debate and a discussion of “uncomfortable issues”. The danger of being too polite or ambiguous in case you offend is that you end up saying nothing. I think defending and (when necessary) reframing your ideas is a vital part of “thinking through” new ideas.

  17. Hi Diane (dmcordell),
    I hope I am also choosing my words carefully (blogging is often a late night activity so one can never be sure).
    After months of reading different blogs (or lurking as it’s perjoratively known) I thought it was time I joined in. A colleague and I discussed blogging a few months ago and how it could be viewed as vanity publishing. There is an element of that I suppose, but I wanted to take the gamble that I had something worthwhile to add. I find that rigorous debate, even if it is between my own conflicting ideas, is a great way to expand my horizons. I also hope that writing, conversing and collaborating with other teachers (like this) will make my class a more interesting place for students

  18. Hi C, “Vanity publishing” – well-put. I think it’s fairly inevitable that the medium itself is going to put any participant through a series of psychological stages as she or he experiences it. How can it not? Millions of skilled writers around the world finally having that Marxist dream of having the “means of production,” and not having to play the publishing game. Suddenly their writing is attracting readers. It’s a heady experience.

    But like all new things, the honeymoon stage passes and new understandings replace them. (Jeez, now that I think about how much time I spend with my laptop now, the marriage metaphor is quire apt: I even have little tiffs and petty feelings about my blogging life!) I’m only seven months old in all of this, and I can already see distinct stages in my psycho-evolution. I’m sure more will come – especially through conversations like these.

    Parting thought: If those stages are inevitable, is there any reason to wait to jump in?

  19. Graham – I noticed the same difference between German and American attitudes. (I have German relatives).

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