Cheating (?) with Audiobooks

Saw a post by an editor at Digital Book World, “Audiobooks Make Me Feel Like I’m Cheating.” The premise of the post is that when we listen to books, we aren’t really “reading” — we’re cheating. His main argument is that when he listens to books, he’s always doing something else. When he’s reading a book, it’s the only thing he’s doing and his focus is just on the book.

Whoa. Seriously? I’m gonna just call it like I see it –  pretentious and elitist.

This guy is a word person. He learns through words. Fair enough, and I don’t discount this. For him, this may very be true.

HOWEVER – this is not true for everyone. There are many people – perhaps they have a form of a reading disability, or a audio learners, or are visual thinkers or have ADHD – who actually concentrate better on an audio book than a print book. Perhaps the letters jump around in a print book, perhaps their mind wanders when trying really hard to focus on text. Some people might be able to concentrate better when they are doing something like, like exercising, knitting, doing a puzzle, drawing. Just because the author doesn’t learn this way, doesn’t mean he can say that listening to audio books is cheating.

Audio books provide these learners – finally – with a mainstream way of reading — yes, reading. It’s no less valid. It’s not cheating. It’s reading.

The author argues that when he listens to audio books, he’s always doing something else: commuting, exercising, etc. I don’t know about you, but I see plenty of people reading books while commuting on public transportation or while on the treadmill at the gym. Does that mean they, too, are cheating? or are they really reading?

A few weeks ago, I was meeting with a digital game developer. This guy is amazingly intelligent, academic, creative, intense, and pushes boundaries in how to engage students in learning. He has a PhD. He is deeply immersed in the research around learning theory and game theory. During the middle of our discussion, he brought up a few books he’d recently read – all academic level books about his field. He talked about how he’d recently read them, and that they were all available on Audible.com. It was clear that he’d listened to them – and was surprised when someone else in the room said they had read the physical book. He just assumed that everyone would listen to the books. I’m guessing he listens to most of the many books he reads. I don’t think you could ever accuse him of “cheating” on his reading. I was so impressed and pleased to learn that he listens to books. I’m guessing he is one of those people who learns differently — but that does not  make him any less intelligent. In fact, it’s what allows him to push boundaries and think outside the traditional academic box and create new things. It’s impressive.

Listening to audio books is not not cheating. It’s reading.

 

Loving Reading

I love to read. As a kid, I read all the time. My cousins would hide my books so I would come out and play. I always, always, had a book with me in school so I could read if (when) school was boring and I finished the assignment.

I just thought my kids would love reading, too. We read all the time. We read to them starting as newborns. We did everything to encourage reading. However, my kids do not like to read. I admit I did not handle this well. I pushed, I cajoled, I panicked. My daughter felt stupid. We fought. Tests showed some minor reading disabilities, but never ever enough to get any help. Reading just was never enjoyable, so she doesn’t do it. Still doesn’t – yet has successfully finished her first year of college. My son doesn’t have an reading disabilities, but he, too, does not enjoy reading. What did I do wrong?

I don’t know, and I’ve given up asking. My kids don’t read. Guess what – I am now grateful for this.

I’m grateful because this taught me that there are many ways to learn. This taught me that there are many ways to express oneself, to absorb and demonstrate knowledge. This taught me to recognize the value in different learning styles. My children both are visual thinkers. They see the world in pictures. I see the world in words. Neither one is better – they both have value and are essential. My kids solve problems differently than I do. They see the world through a different lens. This means they don’t necessarily succeed in traditional academic settings with the highest grades – but that’s going to be just fine. I do wish school valued different types of learning styles more.

This post was triggered by a post by Pernille Ripp (“A Parent’s Role in Protecting the Love of Reading“) about her daughter’s journey learning to read. As she describes her daughter’s hard work becoming a reader, it hits me hard – I’ve been there. I celebrate with her that her daughter is now reading at grade level. Yet, without devaluing reading, I also  want to encourage the embrace of whatever might be her daughter’s preferred learning style. If she’ll never be a strong reader, or one who loves reading, it is likely her skills/learning style will be something different. Instead of focusing on her perceived deficits (“reading at grade level” is a school based value), focus on her strengths. Maybe she is a strong visual thinker and the words get in the way of her thoughts. Maybe she’s a kinesthetic learner that needs to move in order to learn. It doesn’t matter – but what does matter is that her strengths are valued and honored.

Ripp’s post gives parents permission to do many of the things I did: lied about reading logs, bought audio books to help her finish assignments, read out loud for homework and for fun. I thank her for her understanding and support. I love this quote:

As parents, we have a right and a responsibility to protect our child, we must never forget that.

We do. And if our kids don’t love reading and learn differently, we have the right and responsibility to our child to honor  and develop those strengths without criticism or making them feel less.

ISTE 2016

Back from #iste2016. Once again, I return inspired, motivated, energized — and exhausted!

Themes

From my perspective as a museum educator, there were some clear themes we saw this year:

  • Google, and Google Classroom in particular. Classroom had an strong presence with at least 10 sessions. Many of the sessions were full. I was relieved to find out that I’ve learned the tool well, as the ones I did get into were mostly things I already knew. I’m watching Classroom to keep growing and improving, especially after Google sees all the teacher use. Google Cast has huge potential, even though it really doesn’t impact me.
  • 3D printing/scanning, AR and VR were huge. I mean really huge. One presenter said there were 46 sessions about the AR/VR/3D modeling.  It feels like it’s becoming mainstream. Teachers are using it frequently in the classroom and companies are out with all sorts of things. My favorite sessions were about Paleoteach.org and one from @stemnation about a fantastic project getting kids to print 3D versions of printing “press” typefaces.  There were more 3D printers in the exhibit hall than you could count.
  • Free. Again, free is a common thread at ISTE. I heard complaints about software that used to be free now charging. I heard questions at my session asking about if a resource is free. If not, teachers won’t even look at it. It is essential that publishers and content providers keep this in mind.
  • Inclusion and UDL: I was happy to see quite a presence of accessibility and inclusion sessions. I attended a Playground about UDL and learned a few new tips/tricks. I sadly couldn’t make a couple of the sessions, but have downloaded the handouts. Hoping I can glean info from them.

The “disruptive” theme continues. ISTE attendees tend, as a group, to not like standardized tests and such. As a group, they lean towards empowering students and less about the top down. I’m not always sure what this has to do with technology, but I love it, and I love how the tools of technology are seen as a means to an end of empowerment and learning, rather than as the ultimate goal. I felt there were fewer “use this app” sessions, and more sessions about tools for learning.

Networking

This year was a networking year for me, which was so fun.

The Smithsonian’s Learning Lab officially launched at ISTE with a big splash. Having watched the Learning Lab from afar for a few years, it is really exciting to see it officially go live. I enjoyed talking about it at my poster session and was pleased to hear that many folks from my poster stopped at the Learning Lab’s table!

IMG_3543I also met a blogger icon, Glenn Wiebe of historytech. I was beyond giddy! We always read Glenn’s blog – he does fabulous work keeping an eye on the combination of social studies and technology. I fully admit we “borrow” (with credit of course) ideas from Glenn. It made my conference complete to connect Glenn and Darren Milligan (Smithsonian) about the Learning Lab. Glenn also published a far-too flattering post about my session. THANK YOU, Glenn! I look forward to working with Glenn in the future.

I was able to connect with the team at Georgia Public Broadcasting who publish the 8th grade Georgia history textbook and virtual field trips.  GPB uses the same digital publishing software that we use, so it was extremely helpful to connect with them and share our successes and frustrations.

The now-annual Minnesota Tweetup was also a fantastic place to reconnect with old friends and make new connections. These are often folks I see on Twitter or at conferences, so it’s a great chance to actually talk.

Sessions with iconic bloggers always makes ISTE fun. I saw Chris Lehmann, Will Richardson and Pernille Ripp around the conference. Why all three were scheduled at 4 p.m on Tuesday is beyond me. Why, ISTE????

Talking to strangers also makes ISTE fun. For example, I met @im_alastair and @mpickens813 on the train to the airport. Lively conversation made the long ride much more fun!

SessionScreen Shot 2016-07-01 at 4.21.52 PM

I did another poster session, although this one was on my own! Once again, it was about digital primary sources, “Reading Primary Source Images like a Book.” It was a busy two hours of sharing about primary source analysis and resources.

On to 2017 in San Antonio!

Elephants

Will Richardson is one of my favorite bloggers. Awesome post about the Elephants in the Classroom

In summary (in my words, not his), his elephants are:

  • We forget the specific content we are taught
  • Students are not connecting to school – the content isn’t relevant to them
  • Traditional schools don’t foster learning the way real world learning happens.
  • The stuff on tests doesn’t really matter
  • Grades are valued more than learning
  • “Curriculum” is random (can you say calculus and no statistics? stupid)
  • School is the only place subjects are taught in silos. In reality , subjects aren’t separate.

Just read Will’s post.

5 Minute University

Saw this on Twitter…. too funny. Things haven’t changed much in the 30-odd years since Father Guido Sarducci blessed us with his wisdom.

Best quote:

It don’t matter how long you can remember anything as long as you can parrot it back for the test

The Straight “A” Leader

Doug Johnson is always a source of excellent blog posts. However, this one about straight-A students is particularly spectacular.

Academia rewards the straight-A student. They are those that get the scholarships, the Latin honors, the Ivy League colleges. I’m not taking away from their achievements – they’ve worked hard.

Johnson asks — are these students learning to question and to be original thinkers? Or are they really good at the establishment of education? (Of course, this is not to downplay anyone’s achievement.) The ultimate question: ”

what happens when our straight-A students become educational leaders – principals, directors, even superintendents?

Are the kids who succeeded at an established structure the ones who can be rethinking how students learn? Can they think outside the box and create an educational system that meets the needs of the 21st century when we’re not creating factory workers?

I can relate. I was one of those straight-A students. I’m not proud of it. I was really good at school – but not sure I was good at all at asking questions. I was good at learning and spitting back on a test. To this day, I bet I could take a standardized test about just about anything and do ok. Learning how to take a test is not a life skill. When I was teaching, the system at which I excelled was the one I wanted to recreate. It wasn’t a good fit for the kids I was teaching. It was a reflection of a different era and didn’t necessarily meet the kids where they were.

It took raising two kids who are not traditional straight-A students to be able to peek outside my box. Why is testing the most valued assessment? Why is the 5-paragraph essay the goal?

Johnson says it best:

Or perhaps we should start giving A’s for something other than good test performance. What a concept.

Theater Major: An Excellent Choice

Interesting article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, “Why Theater Majors are Vital in the Digital Age.

I wholeheartedly agree…  but perhaps for additional reasons.

The author puts for this argument:

Solving a STEM equation is important, but discoveries in the sciences will occur only when people know how to be alone with their thoughts. Who is teaching that?

In acting classes, students grapple with the effects of technology on their brains, bodies, and social selves. Cellphones must be turned off and put away. The goal is to disconnect with technology and to connect with one another and themselves.

….From 2011 to 2014, the Johnson O’Connor Research Foundation worked with theater artistsin Chicago through an online survey and a battery of aptitude tests to determine whether there are innate skills shared among theater workers. The aptitude called “foresight,” which is the talent to envision many possible outcomes or possibilities, was present in all theater workers (playwrights, directors, designers, actors). When actors try out various line readings or interpretations of a scene, when they improvise or create backstory, they are using foresight.

But foresight would be impossible without empathy. The actor’s ability to envision multiple outcomes or motivations in a play must be based on the character’s circumstances, not the actor’s. That requires a kind of stepping into another person’s shoes that social scientists say is dwindling among college-age students.

I love these arguments. Theater makes one more away of the human centered skills. Theater is a true cross disciplinary subject, as well. Theater teaches the soft skills that are hard to measure. In this world of STEM focus, these soft skills from theater are also as important.

Theater majors work in English (script analysis), history (theater history), sociology/diversity (theater from different communities), communications (writing and oral skills), business (marketing, sales), project management (schedules, building), art (design). I’d hire a theater major any day!