Monday, February 11, 2008

Can an Evolutionist and a Creationist both be part of one's personal learning network?

For myself I think there is still a disconnect in my relationship to others for whom I haven't met face to face but interact with online only. Just the same as my students this week who had difficulty being quiet when Wes Fryer was sharing his thoughts on his Ustream presentation for the ProTechT project because he wasn't a live speaker in our class. I feel a connection but also a certain distance to people I interact with on networks like Twitter, Second Life, and Ning.

I've enjoyed David Weinberger and many of his ideas on altering the hierarchical thinking of how we organize ideas and thoughts since I saw him for the first time giving the opening keynote presentation at the NECC in Philidelphia. He comes to mind because for his recent book he used the title Everything is Miscellaneous and for the most part I prefer listening to him speak of his ideas such as his presentation on the topic at places such as Google. During the New Hampshire primaries while the student Arthus was sharing his ideas on the political candidates via Ustream, the issue came up of one of my favorite edtech people being a Creationist, later on another of my favorite edtech bloggers took Arthus to task for not pressing the issue from an Evolutionist perspective and offered to take on the person in a debate. I myself don't feel a need to debate someone who believes in the Creationist philosophy and wondered if that is a justifiable passiveness on my part or a disconnect from these virtual relationships. I don't know of anyone in my circle of friends where I live as being a Creationist I do know that I have been emotional and very moved by direct messages and communication with people on Skype and Twitter that I haven't met face to face. The thought that came to mind is "if everything is miscellaneous," then is truth just another tag in the virtual universe with no more real meaning than the electrons it takes to create the text in displays? How can I as a science teacher not argue for further examination of the motivations of someone to side on one side of the argument which is in opposition to how I teach and believe in?

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Wesley Fryer said...

Derrall: I personally think it is great to have opportunities to interface with people that have diverse perspectives and ideas, and to encourage our students to as well. I think such interaction can stretch us and challenge us to think about ideas and topics in new ways and from different vantage points, encouraging our development of critical literacy and critical thinking skills.

I'm glad to hear some feedback on the Ustream preso last week, and I guess I'm not surprised to hear it-- I've heard this feedback from others sharing PD with teachers and having a presenter talk over a videoconferencing technology as well-- when the presenter isn't live, even teachers feel they have permission or it is more acceptable to talk and not pay attention, where if the person was "live" in the room their interaction would be different. Maybe video discussions like this can be more effective when they are not done with large groups, and rather one on one or one on few? I'm not sure. I think the technologies like VoiceThread which literally empower conversations involving back and forth interchanges between people need to be utilized much more fully for this very reason. It's hard to sit still and listen to someone drone on for 15 or 30 minutes, even if they are a good speaker. I think we want to encourage our students to not only consume content and ideas, but also CREATE their own and PARTICIPATE in a dialog about the ideas. To that end I think VoiceThread has much more potential than Ustream, which I view as more of an "accommodating" or level 1 technology rather than VoiceThread which can be used in transformative ways to empower qualitatively different sorts of learning interactions, not possible absent the technology.

Of course learning and study often is HARD, and we need to encourage students to work hard to learn and understand material in various forms: chapters in the textbook, videos on the web, etc. Maybe the Ustream presentations could have been more effective as asynchronous videos shared with students on video iPods, which they could watch at home or elsewhere on their own time, and then come to class ready to discuss and debate. I think that sort of blending asynchronous video content with synchronous class discussions and interactions is an area we need to explore much deeper than we have to date in most classrooms.

I've seen a few debates on atheism vs deism on YouTube previously, but not many on the creationism vs evolution debate. Again I would encourage students to participate in the discussions and debates, which certainly can (and most likely would have to) extend outside the boundaries of traditional class time. It could be great to analyze the points and positions put forward by different folks, and discuss the relative merits and support (or lack of support) for each one. With continuing dialogs in different states about evolution and ID science curriculum this is certainly still a timely topic.

I would also encourage learners to not assume that everyone involved in a debate on something like evolution fits narrowly into dichotomous camps. Einstein discussed his belief in God as a creator multiple times, but I am not sure his writings make it clear that he'd be entirely on the side of the Intelligent Design folks in debates over evolution. I think a tool like VoiceThread is ideally suited for discussions and debates like this.

The only viable way to help students develop their critical thinking skills, in my view, is to encourage them to engage in extended conversations about issues which are not clearly black and white and involve some controversy. Sometimes in school we present the curriculum as a "here are the facts" sort of proposition, but particularly in the domain of science what we need to encourage is a questioning mind and an outlook which is always critical, searching for evidence.

In terms of the idea that "if everything is miscellaneous, then is truth just another tag in the virtual universe with no more real meaning than the electrons it takes to create the text in displays," this is a question focusing on relativism and post-modern values. That is certainly a topic worthy of investigation and critical analysis too.

corrie said...

I follow Wes on Twitter, he reposted his comment here on his blog and tweeted about it; that's how I get here.

The notion of, "everything is miscellaneous" treads very close to, "there are no true statements but this one."

The evidence seems very clear that there is some Organizing Principal operating. Humans are hard-wired to seek it. Patterns exist. Order exists. We recognize it, seek it out, and create it. We mark the beginnings civilization by the construction of buildings and cities - inherently ordered entities.

Chaos exists, certainly. But how interesting it is that we are moved to analyze it, describe it, define it, set its boundaries.

samccoy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
samccoy said...

I believe that these controversial topics, such as evolution, cannot be discussed rationally by some. Therefore, I agree with E O Wilson, when he calls for people to set aside their religious/scientific arguments, or we will not be able to work together to progress into new projects.

This is a clip from an interview with a scientists who believes in evolution, yet he believes more in the dire need for people to work together for our mutual benefit. I think that is social networking;D

"His latest book, CREATION, calls on society to put disagreements between science and religion aside for the greater good of the planet. "'Science and religion are the two most powerful forces in the world. Having them at not productive.'"

You can view the entire interview here: