Thursday, April 23, 2009

Betty Gilgoff, an educator, gives her impression of a Tod Maffin speech


So the inspiration which has pushed me to do this today is Tod Maffin, the end-of-the-day-keynote at the VSS conference. The first time I heard Tod Maffin was on CBC radio early one morning when I woke up to him being interviewed about why he had just deleted his Facebook account; yes, he deleted his Facebook account! His friends were all, rightly so, immediately concerned about his well being. Tod is funny, articulate and provocative. Thinking back to that, I shouldn’t have been caught off guard when he spoke, but I was. While I don’t have today’s speech but if you haven’t heard him speak before, its worth watching one of his YouTube videos to get a sense of who he is:

Appealing to the Facebook generation isn’t particularly contentious, nor really was today’s talk. Early on he asked who believed in multi-tasking. A good portion of the audience raised hands, me included. This was bold on my part given some of my previous thinking on the subject such as one of my earlier blog posts on LIveJournal in 2007 Flow vs Multi-Tasking. But understand that since I wrote that post I’ve been immersed in teaching with technology. I’ve become a real blogger AND a microblogger on twitter. I now have my own ipod touch and I’m learning spanish partly through long walks with little white wires dangling from my ears. So while I do still find it rude and I would agree 100% that one cannot totally be at one’s best when multi-tasking, I would not agree that learning and multi-tasking are incompatible. But I guess one has to start this discussion with actually defining learning and that may be wherein lies the real meat of the argument. Tod Maffin didn’t go there.

His talk though based on his opinions was, he said, well backed up with research or at least reading he has done. Certainly there is lots of research coming out about brain plasticity and how digital media and imagery is changing the way brains are developing. We both agree that children’s brains are developing differently. Children who spend a lot of time using digital media scan a page of text differently. They process images differently. He spoke to the over identification of learning disabled students in a world that might really be about learning disabled teaching environments. I applauded that point as well as when he started to look at what an amazing creative, critical thinking generation of students we are beginning to see emerge from this digital, imagery driven world. Then he took a turn back to three ways to help these digital student learn better, presumably in our text based world without really ever bringing up the question of what learning really is. His example, two university classes one in which the students kept their tech toys while the in other students were asked to leave them at the door, may have demonstrated that the students paid attention to his words differently, but says nothing at all about the learning, the critical thinking, the retention, the risk taking or creative thinking that may have come from what was presented in either group. This is of particular interest to me as I consider with my colleagues in our self study the question of what learning really is. What do we except as evidence of learning?

So while I do agree that we do want to be attentive to helping our students to monitor the learning space (consider the tech toys, rethink multi-tasking), by informing the habits (get enough sleep, have a good breakfast) and by informing the balance (be mindful, keep perspective) I’m not yet ready to buy in to believing that learning just happens if we set up the right environment. Learning needs active participation on the part of the learner that I still believe might be enhanced by keeping the tools in the learners hands. All good food for thought though. Thank you Tod for an inspiring, stimulating talk.

[Editor's note: this post inspired by "quiltily" watching and contributing to the #VSS2009 twitter conversation during the Tod Maffin talk while also note taking. So I ask you, what do you consider to be evidence of learning?]

My Response ...

I'm going to ask you to think seriously and look closely at what Tod Maffin is saying.
I ask as well that you look at his qualifications for giving a talk like this, as say compared to you giving a talk like this.
What claims does Tod Maffin make about himself?

But yes, let's deal with the content of his speech regardless of who gave it.
How was that defined?
As juggling and playing the accordion at the same time?
Or as going to school full time and being a single mother?
Unless you have a clear definition, then what's the point of asking people to put up their hands?

As an educator, I think it is vital that you question the information you are given, and examine it closely.
I was looking for a more complete, almost a transcript of Tod's remarks when I got to this page, but it's alright that you simply share "impressions".
However, I think a careful reading of his remarks will lead most anyone to agree that what Tod presents is indeed "walking the fine line between science, opinion, and entertainment".

The YouTube clip is one I'm familiar with.
I will ask you if you really think you hold the cards when going into a job interview - ANY job interview.
What is Tod trying to say to these employers?
The candidate holds all the cards? Since when?
Even Tod doesn't hold all the cards for ANY job.
The CBC doesn't need him. Does he still work there?

I won't belabour the point other than to say, you need to realize that you are just as smart and capable as any Tod Maffin, and would likely give a more responsible and factually based presentation if it were you up there, which it easily could be.

Thanks for this chance to contribute here, Betty.


Thanks Allan for contributing here. I think you make an important point in acknowledging my comment that refers to the fact that Tod is presenting as an entertainer and so mixes opinion and fact to make it all palatable. Please let me be clear though. I did thoroughly enjoy his talk. While I don't agree wholeheartedly with everything he says I certainly don't go through life expecting nor wanting to only listen to those with whom I agree. You're right that each of us needs to learn to think critically about what we hear. I welcome opportunities such as the one Tod provided where I am challenged to think and question. I enjoy the light hearted humorous approach Tod takes. I would certainly enjoy further opportunities to hear him speak.

I've had a look at your Tod blog and shuttered a bit to find my writing reproduced there as I certainly don't want to be represented as being anti-Tod Maffin. I will add a comment on your site as well to clarify my position. At the same time I do really like that blogging allows for dissenting ideas and opinions to come together in debate. All this helps to push each and every one of us to think for ourselves.

As to the content, indeed we need to clarify what multi-tasking means. Tod did do that to some extent in that he talked about the synapses in the brain switching from one task to another. (Again, I was tweeting and notetaking and so probably missed the exact words, perhaps someone who was simply listening will remember it all verbatim). As Claire mentions, we should likely consider very different levels of multi-tasking. My other concern with multi-tasking would be that even though it may cause distraction and prevent reaching a state of what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi refers to as being in "flow" in some cases, such as with notetaking or other activities which might help with retention of information, various kinds of multi-tasking might help with some kinds of learning.

[Today Wikipedia defines "flow" as "the mental state of operation in which the person is fully immersed in what he or she is doing by a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity"]

Thanks again for commenting and contributing to the conversation.

No comments:

What's your problem?

Tod Maffin's version of absolute power.
I wrote a comment at a famous blog.
Tod didn't like it, and took the intial steps of legal action to have it removed.
He was successful.

It made me an unhappy camper.
And I happen to really like it here.