April 21st, 2004

pinhole camera

no child left behind

The official starting point of Porter's Sciart is his Sciart manifesto (variously dated 1939-1948, revised in Japan 1954, published in Tasmania 1959), which begins:
Finite worlds of infinite reality and beauty revealed by the tools and discoveries of Science are ripe for aesthetic development.

Today I took the silver cyborg paint off my toenails and painted them Big Apple Red. I put on my silk capris and my oriental brocade vest and strappy sandals. Anna treated me to a lovely Tex-Mex lunch and then I wrote to the search committee team at the desert job. The committee member who was a professor of Educational Psychology asked me a very juicy question about the state of public education in the era of the No Child Left Behind act. I didn't think I answered that question very completely so I wrote the following follow up:

Dear Professor W:

I am writing to thank you for coming to my presentation and for your challenging question in the interview. I’ve been thinking about your question about No Child Left Behind. I believe teachers’ expertise is the key to understanding how to effectively integrate technology into the classroom in an organic way to best support teaching objectives and best contribute to student learning. I read on your web page that you used to teach at UT Austin and have written on qualitative research. I’ll try to do another brief reflection on your question.

Teacher Simon Hole, in his 2003 critique "No Child Left Behind Or Leave the Thinking to Us," (http://teachers.net/gazette/MAR03/hole.html) observes that No Child Left Behind sets some honorable but unrealistic goals based on the premise that schools and teachers hold all the keys to improving academic performance. In reality, teachers know that home and school partnerships must support learning, a community's social problems are part of the learning equation, and the diverse segments of society must value learning as part of their definition of success. Hole explains how teachers try to build a learning environment in which students learn to listen to each other and to build on each other's thoughts, to ask probing questions, and to consider alternative ideas. To master these skills of discourse, students need to feel safe, to know that all thinking will be honored, that answers need not be 'right' in order to carry the conversation to interesting places. Students need to feel they are capable of uncovering meaning and discovering new ideas, as well as critique each other's thoughts.

In contrast, the No Child Left Behind Act defines success as doing well on tests with emphasis on accountability. The pressure on teachers is to make sure that every possible question is answered correctly. One of the benefits of technology is that some assessment of student work can be automated such as catching and delivering quick feedback on spelling and grammatical mistakes in student writing by word processing programs. In this case in language arts, technology enables teachers to concentrate on developing other writing skills such as how to research topics and how to develop narrative structures. Another quality of technology is that accessible design of web-based curriculum can provide user-customizable delivery for students with some kinds of disabilities.

No Child Left Behind also wants to "bring solid, research-based programs to schools throughout the nation." (http://www.ed.gov/nclb/methods/whatworks/whatworks.html) The research component is one part of the NCLB system in which researchers and teachers can work together to help to define "what works" by collaborating in the context of the preferred methodology defined by the act. Although grounded theory research is qualitative, quantitative data can be used as part of the mix of data analysis to create a hybrid research that includes non-countable data as well as quantitative data. Researchers can creatively combine qualitative observations with quantitative measures recommended by the NCLB with teachers informing topics of inquiry. By using hybrid research methods in a K-12 initiative, desert U can contribute important new information that can be disseminated by the NCLB What Works system for distributing effective teaching techniques.

My main interest is in transdisciplinary education at the undergraduate and graduate level, especially interdisciplinary studies, so I am very attracted to the desert U's proposed hybrid Ph.D. program and the education of the next generation of art technology hybrids like me. I believe that art in the digital communications culture has a unique chance to embed aesthetics and renaissance exploration into contemporary technology-driven culture. As physicist-poet, Bern Porter observed in his SciArt Manifesto in 1939 (http://www.phys.psu.edu/~endwar/porter2.html), "Finite worlds of infinite reality and beauty revealed by the tools and discoveries of Science are ripe for aesthetic development." It would be fascinating to participate in the evolution that results by combining the disciplines of art and engineering in a university setting. My experience in the transdisciplinary Advanced Communications Technology Laboratory at UT taught me that anything can happen in interdisciplinary courses, and often does. I hope to participate in desert U’s sciart developments.

Thanks again for your questions,
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