Okay, so, I actually liked Jakob Nielsen’s Participation Inequality article, unlike some of my fellow classmates (see Laura’s Blog and Jenny’s comment on Laura’s Blog, among others). See my comment on Laura’s Blog to check out the whole reason, but it is mainly because of his awesome stats and the love he gives Amazon’s “people who bought this book, bought these other books” recommendations. I love that feature about Amazon and it has helped me out a lot (especially since many of the books I am looking for have only been bought by fellow historians or scholars, so I know they are reputable…I have not been steered wrong yet!). Nielsen calls them “a side effect of people buying books. You don’t have to do anything special to have your book preferences entered into the system.” You just buy the book and that’s it!

As for Prof. Gee, I take some definite issue with some of his contentions about school and learning, but first what I agree with: I do think that learning in a community setting where you contribute a little of knowledge, as does the next person, as does the next, is the best way to learn – it’s, in fact, what we do the most of in our graduate classes (and personally, it is why I am sad after this Fall, I will only have one or two “actual classes” left to take…but then, I guess, it is conferences and the like where we would also get this community-driven learning, along with scholar’s blogs et al). So right there, it seems he is missing this important feature in grad school as he condemns all school-based learning.

But, I know, he is probably not talking about grad school, his main focus seems to be middle school and high school, and he also mentions a freshman physics class, which is the point I shall attack directly given that I took 2 freshman physics classes en route to my physics degree.

He claims that 1st-year physics student learn to “write down Newton’s laws of motion” and thus pass the class “with good grades” (p. 22). Now, I did go to a good undergraduate school, but I feel my experience was not more or less than average because, while my school was in the upper third of colleges, it was a liberal arts school and thus, did not focus its attention on the sciences (except the chemists! they got all kinds of money, it always rankled my feathers, but that’s neither here nor there). And NEVER did any of my tests consist of “writing down Newton’s laws”!!! If anything, we were usually allowed to take a “cheat sheet” with all the formulas we thought we would need on a notecard or piece of paper. It was not about memorizing formula and regurgitating it, like Gee seems to think, rather it was about using those formula in the proper situations and using them correctly. I liken it to the fact that we tell our undergrad history students not to focus too much on a lot of dates, rather just get the chronology down with some very important dates thrown in, but concentrate more on analyzing sources and backing up their own arguments.

In the end, I don’t disagree with most of Gee’s rules, I just think he has a very narrow view of school learning (and I suppose most of us like school and went to pretty good ones so we are somewhat biased in that regard). And I do see his point that, early on in grammar and middle school, kids need more exposure to “real-life” situations that you cannot learn from just reading a textbook or taking standardized tests (and in his condemnation of those, he has my whole-hearted support). But again, while studying for those tests is distracting and would probably do better at a different time of the year than in the middle of a term (if they were retained at all), they do not represent the whole of the learning experience.

My comments on other people’s blogs: