Digital Footprint 2.0

SOURCES

The source(s) of this post (and a good example of the richness of thinking you can get out of an online PLN):

@MzMollyTL’s Digital Footprint discussion from ECOO last year that stirred up the new teachers in my AQ.


@melaniemcbride’s comment on the sweatshop mentality of the always on teacher:

twitter.com/melaniemcbride/status/230841214180683779

@dougpete’s blog on edublogging:
dougpete.wordpress.com/2012/08/03/this-week-in-ontario-edublogs-27/

…which led to some interesting questions about online presence:

dougpete.wordpress.com/2012/08/05/dont-hurt-yourself-with-social-media/

Phew!  That is a lot of build up!  Here I go…


DIGITAL FOOTPRINT 2.0

I think we’re ready for an evolution in what our expectations are around this.  Diana’s original presentation suggested that teachers need to familiarize themselves with online media, and that is still true.  However, since that presentation there have been political upheavals supported by social media, underground poltical movements powered by social media, and I’m currently watching the  ‘Twitter Olympics’: the first really social media powered Olympic games.  Even the forth estate is grudgingly trying to manage the tidal wave of social media.  Merely familiarizing yourself isn’t going to cut it anymore.  Ignoring it will make you irrelevant to your students with astonishing speed.

Social media is becoming mainstream and there are increasing expectations that people know how to use it.  Only in extremely staid, conservative situations (educational administration) is social media being shunned.  Even the very conservative family reunion I attended recently wanted to start making use of social media to keep in touch, and these were people who play banjos.  Social media is becoming ubiquitous, even unhooking the Ontario government’s ability to manipulate media into justifying its agenda.  This is a powerful force, not something to be trifled with or poked at tentatively.  If you’re going to do it, do it honestly, and be yourself.  You’ll find the ability to expand your interests online empowering if you don’t try and game it.

POCKET NETWORKS

The social networks we see spring up like mushrooms in the rain are being prompted by the miniaturization of computer hardware.  Smartphones are increasingly common, and since 2010, the vast majority of ‘phone’ use has been in data, not voice.  We use our mobile computers as interconnected computers, not as phones.  Our students do it, we do it, even boomers are doing it.  Like the telegraph, then the telephone after it, this is a revolution in how we communicate with each other, and almost everyone is carrying around the means in their pockets.

Our classrooms have more processing power in the pockets of students than desktop labs did ten years ago.  Their ability to communicate is unparalleled in history, and disregards geography like no other telecommunications system before it.  Just hoping that everyone considers doing something with their online presence is no longer enough, and ignoring or banning the hardware that is causing this is turning a blind eye to a profound shift in social communications.  Schools that ban smartphones should be banning other new inventions, like electricity, telephones, televisions… which very quickly starts to look backward.

GENUINE ONLINE PRESENCE

Being online offers you an opportunity to be anonymous, but this requires a great deal of work on your part.  The nature of the internet means you’re always leaving digital bread crumbs about how and where you’re communicating from.  Anti-web types will use this as an excuse to harp on privacy issues, but when have we ever been able to communicate privately?  Gossip has always been and always will, and what you say has always followed you, it just follows you in an amplified manner now.  Social media allows you to broadcast gossip.  If you were a gossip before, you’re a digitally enhanced gossip now.  It’s never been more important to be the best person you are in public; there is a record now, and I’ve seen students constantly bitten by this as their Facebook updates land them in the VP’s office.

Trying to be someone else is exhausting!

The genuine self as an online presence offers an opportunity to meet others beyond your geographic situation that share your interests.  You quickly find yourself a part of an online community that reflects your predilections and offers you a sense of collaborative discourse that might be missing in your workplace, or your immediate geography.  If you’re genuine in expressing your interests, you’ll create a genuinely satisfying social media ecosystem.  If you fabricate yourself, or limit yourself to specific identities (your teacher self comes to mind here), you won’t be exploring the actual usefulness of this new medium.

The other advantage of being genuine online is that you attract meaningful dialogue.  If you’re one dimensional, you tend to attract n00bs, marketing interests and bots (who are also one dimensional).  If you’re genuine and human in your presentation of self, you’ll attract a richer class of connection, one that offers powerful insights regardless of where you are in relation to each other on the planet.  You’re harnessing the true potential of social media when you are multi-dimensional and human in your approach to it.

Developing a digital footprint is no longer about simply participating, or creating a cardboard cutout of your professional self, it’s about honestly expressing your own views in a genuine manner.  The myriad of apps and means of communicating in a social network allow you to express yourself in simple (twitter), complex (blog) or focused interests (Google+, Facebook) ways.  Knowing how to use the tools effectively is key.

If you’re fabricating a professional appearance, well, that’s just work, and doing it all summer, 24/7 is not going to do you any real good.  Ultimately, you’re doing an awful lot of work and not exploring this new medium effectively, probably because you’re scared of it.

School Leadership 2.0

Several school administrators made comments in Doug’s blog about the need for restraint.  In a leadership role, you’re not free to fly off the handle whenever you have an opinion.  You always need to consider the working relationship you have to foster.  Having said that, George’s comment about social media being a useful tool in fostering a team based on real knowledge of each other suggests that social media can be a means of allowing people who might not otherwise to know each other better.

The tendency has been for management (union, board, ministry, and any other ed-based management you can suggest) to shy away from social media.  They fear the de-centralization of power, and see it as a threat to their dominance.  It’s nice to know some administrators are fighting this tendency, but I’ve heard of many more who don’t hire the best candidates because their online presence creates unease, and in worst cases not considering hiring a teacher at all because they are familiar with the social web that most students spend their lives in.  Why they think that hiring belligerent, intentionally irrelevant teachers is a good idea is beyond me.

What I love about social media is that it is democratizing information.  No longer do we have to succumb to the broadcast media’s idea of what is true.  Twitter told me about Bin Laden hours before broadcast media would, or could.  As a social media-ist, I’m responsible for vetting my own information feed, and broadcasting my own truth.  As both a leader, and a professional, this means not being a jackass, but being a meaningful social mediaist requires this from the get go.  If you’re going to do social media well, being a gossip, spreading untruths, will eventually turn the crowd on you.  Generating drama and controlling spin doesn’t work very well in a democratized information medium; the truth just bypasses you.

Social media is an opportunity to build a more ideal information medium, one without favoritism or fabrication, one that does not favor the status quo in order to maintain it; the crowdsourced truth is dangerously unmanageable… and free from spin.  

As a member of that tribe I try not to let invective and one-up-man-ship dictate my actions, I try to be collaboratively engaging.  This isn’t contrary to any professional or leadership role I may have; in fact, it should enhance those roles.  When you broadcast your actions, it behooves you to it well.

CONCLUSION: THE REVOLUTION IS HAPPENING, REGARDLESS

The social media revolution has harnessed mobile electronics and the internet to produce a democratized media frenzy.  Old-school, forth estate media is floundering, trying to manage their loss of broadcasting monopoly, but still seeing it as an immanent threat.  Other power structures are also frustrated by this decentralization of voice.  Where once a hierarchy could dictate the message, now social media swirls around these old-school broadcasting roadblocks.  

Unions are watching members broadcast their opinions directly, without being able to dictate a unified response.  Governments and corporations are finding that the dictatorial control they once had over traditional media is weakening, because traditional media matters less.  As social media responses bypass traditional censorship, we once again see the many assert their power.

There is no doubt that these changes will force a fundamental shift in how we work with each other.  This kind of radical, data driven transparency gives control freaks a nervous breakdown, but in the end, I can’t believe that freeing the signal from the self-involved interests of the powerful isn’t better for everyone; that it will result in fairer, transparent, more effective organizations.

As educators, we have to try and get a grip on this ourselves, and then be ready to try and (usefully) assist our students in effectively navigating this exciting, historical change.  It’s no longer enough to pay some attention to what your digital footprint is.  It’s no longer enough to do the minimum necessary.  If we’re going to teach future generations how to survive in the rough sea of democratized data we’ve made for them, we need to adapt and master the waves ourselves.

A relevant educator is recognizing the radical nature of these changes and is doing their best to create a genuine online persona, one that accurately reflects the public persona they demonstrate in their physical life.  What’s private isn’t at issue here, but our public selves are changing, and it doesn’t do anyone any good to try and game social media by making cardboard cutouts of themselves online.


Some things to consider:
Dancing in the Datasphere: a philosophical look at where we are going
The Singularity: an inside look at what Silicon Valley believes is coming

Don’t kid yourself, you’re living in the middle of a revolution!


Proliferation of Fifties

Our school is the only local high school in the area.  If students want Catholic or special education, they get on a school bus for over an hour a day of commuting down to Guelph.  I’m a big fan of choice so, while I think it mad, I don’t have much to say about a student who wants to spend over 194 hours a year (that’s over 8 full days of riding 24 hours a day) on a bus to Guelph and back for specialized education, as long as it’s a choice they’ve made.

Ontario’s high school streams seem pretty straightforward,
they are anything but in practice.

Our public board think it wise to ship our essential level students down to Guelph for special education.  This isn’t a choice, it’s a system driven process.  The Guelph school for this doesn’t fill up with locals so the surrounding community schools are expected to ship their most at-need students out of their home communities every day.  This is an ongoing pressure in our community.

At our recent heads’ meeting there seemed to be support for the idea of our school being a comprehensive, community school that serves everyone, but we struggle to run essential sections because parents resist putting their children into it, the board doesn’t section us to run smaller essential classes and many teachers in our school would rather be teaching academic students.  It’s an uphill struggle to create a comprehensive local school that supports everyone in our community.

Because we aren’t sectioned for essential classes (those smaller sections are given to the specialist school in Guelph), we end up populating applied level classes with essential students.  It is so difficult to align parent perception, board support and student ability that we place all non-academic students into the same room.  This is where the proliferation of fifties comes in.

A teacher in our school recently said, and in retrospect I agree, that we place essential students into applied classes and lower course expectations to accommodate them.  This not only does the essential students no favours, it also dilutes applied curriculum goals.

The people running the education system tend to be successful professional educationalists; very experienced with the system having spent little time outside it.  These educators see kindred spirits in academically streamed students who are successful in school and make effective use of the system.  These teachers want to teach students like themselves.  Asking them to work with students who find school a challenging environment or aren’t on the same academic trajectory they experienced is difficult for them.

The predisposition of teachers makes academic curriculum somewhat sacred, but applied classes aren’t.  Applied students should be on apprenticeship and college skilled labour tracks that demand hands on (applied?) skills.  While less theoretical in approach, applied classes are supposed to be rigorously skills focused.  When you put students who lack basic literacy and numeracy into a grade 10 applied class you make grade appropriate learning nearly impossible.

How do teachers manage this?  If you fail a student, you get called into promotion meetings at the end of the semester where the grade you’ve given becomes the starting point for an inflationary process that floats fails up to passes.  The best way to avoid this is to simply award a 50%.  What is a fifty when it’s really a 42?  At its best, a fifty means a student has not reached minimal expectations for a class.  Would you want the mechanic working on your brakes to have gotten there with fifties?

The teacher I was talking to suggested that the number of fifties being handed out has mushroomed in the past few years.  Those statistics aren’t made available to us because they would make a travesty of curriculum expectations, but I suspect he is right.  A fifty means the government gets to say graduation rates are up.  A fifty means the ride ends at graduation because no secondary program would accept a student with a D average.  A fifty means you’re not sitting in promotion meetings watching your semester of careful assessment being swept away to support policy.

The range of student skill in my classes is astonishing.  My current grade 9 classes range from students who could comfortable complete grade 11 computer engineering curriculum next to students who appear unable to read, yet I’m supposed to address that range of skills in a 50-100% range in a single course.

Perhaps we will find a way to reintegrate Ontario’s carefully designed secondary school streaming system, but considering the various pressures on it in our area, it’s going to be an uphill struggle.


NOTE

Re: school busing children…

Time isn’t the only resource being spent.  School buses get 6-8mpg, Guelph is about 15 miles away.  A (very conservative) 30 mile round trip (it’s much higher if you want to consider all the pickups and drop-offs) is a (very conservative) 15 litres per day of diesel (probably double that for your typical start/stop run), per bus, and we have a number of buses making that trip 194 days per year.

Someone better than I can calculate the overall environmental impact (how many other vehicles are also held up burning fuel while these buses grind down to and back from Guelph every day?).  Making an economic (let alone moral) argument for shipping our essential students out of their home communities seems impossible.

Tough Durable Tech

Tough tech!

This is one of my favorite bits of digital technology:  A Casio Pathfinder wrist watch.  What’s so cool about a watch you ask?  They’re SOOO 20th Century!

Well this one is also an altimeter, barometer, compass and thermometer.  It’s also a stop watch, alarm clock and just plain old watch.

But none of that is what makes it cool.

What makes this piece of tech one of my favorites is that it isn’t tethered to anything; it’s one of the few pieces of digital technology that I own that is entirely self-contained, and that’s somewhere that I want all my hardware to go.

This watch is fantastically accurate, but what makes it even better is that it picks up a signal and keeps itself atomically accurate.  It’s a watch that never has to be set.

It’s also a watch that never has to be wound or have the battery replaced.  The face is also a solar panel that recovers enough charge out of even a well lit room to recharge itself.

On top of all that, it’s virtually indestructible.  It’s encased in a rugged body that can withstand a car driving over it, it’s freeze proof to well below zero, waterproof to diving depths and probably bullet proof as well.

Fragile energy vampire!

What I’ve got here is a tough, self-reliant piece of technology that always works no matter where I am.  When I look at my choices for computers, tablets or even smartphones, I’m looking at fragile, energy vampires that are lucky to work a day in regular use without the need to draw from a socket.

Faster is nice, but I’m also looking for tough and self contained.  Until I can lay in the bath with my e-reader or turn to my phone without seeing red low battery warning lights, the digital tech isn’t nearly as tough and self contained as I need it to be.

The edtech question to ask is should we be putting fragile tech into the slippery hands of teens and children?  The repair/replacement rate of these fragile little digital flowers are going to be much higher than they are in the steadier hands of adults.

Until digital tech is as tough as the analog it’s replacing, it’s an edgy proposition to push it as the main focus in instructional tools.

In the meantime, Casio keeps evolving the tough tech.  Soon enough I’ll have a watch PC that will communicate wirelessly with peripherals and power itself (hope hope).

Casio is also heading into something other than watches!  If there’s a phone, perhaps a gshock tablet can’t be far behind!  That’d take on those slippery student fingers, and look tough while doing it!

The Mediocrity Virus

So I’m sitting there with a room full of people who have just won the bronze medal world-wide in the most recent round of ‘who’s got the best education system’. After years of diligent effort and insightful leadership, Canada is ranked third worldwide in educational performance, and is very close to toppling the two leaders. In every metric you care to apply, we are awesome.
 
We’ve applied differentiated instruction, we push technology as far as our budgets will let us, we professionally consider every angle that we can to improve student achievement, from student centred learning to expanding non-academic stream programming in order to meaningfully serve our entire student base.
 
Are there still problems? Certainly. We still have to work to get every member of our team to produce a peak performance, but this too is happening. Our professionalism, our dedication and our society’s values allow us to compete at the highest level.
 
Into our victory celebration comes a guy from a team that didn’t even make the olympics. They’ve suffered a precipitous drop in performance, dropping from the mid-teens (the highest they’ve ever been) to thirty-third over all in terms of student performance. Their teaching profession is in shambles, and their society generally views educators as over paid loafers who take summers off. Their public education system (like their prison system or their military) is being taken over by private contractors who are more focused on simplistic metrics, like their own profitability.
 
He tells us that we have to drastically simplify what we’re doing, go back to drilling students on facts, strictly limit teachers to curriculum and install discipline back into education; this is the only way we will get them all back on a college track.  He exemplified teachers who drill their students and run their classes with a simple, military efficiency. He floated odd statistics like, students who already know a lesson will learn 400% better if they are made to repeat what they already know over again, rather than differentiating and enriching their specific learning.
 
He was statistics driven and awash in his country’s educational expertise (almost exclusively driven from privatized schools). He suggested that we might be ‘a bit ahead’.
 
The coach in me suggests that if your team is performing well, you keep doing what you’re doing. Certainly you tweak it here or there, but when you turn in a world class performance, you don’t bring in a coach from a team that didn’t even make the show to give suggestions, but we did, because we’re Canadian, and the one thing we have even more than an awesome education system is a giant inferiority complex with our big cousins to the south.

Secondary Like We Mean It

We’re getting squeezed for sections this year because bankers and multi-nationals wanted to play silly buggers with the world economy.  Watching my school cut English sections down to the bone is making me question the validity of requiring mandatory English throughout high school.

Academic English is very university focused with the almighty essay as the be-all and end-all of high school writing.  I’m an English major, I love essays, but I recognize that the vast majority of our students, even the university bound ones, will never write another essay in their lives after high school.  Asking senior academic English teachers to consider reports, or labs, or articles, or any other writing output is an uphill battle.  They don’t want to water down their subject; the essay is sacred.

I get that, so perhaps it’s time to water down their population.  Instead of dragging all senior students through years of mostly irrelevant English skills development, why not separate the vital from the overly specific?  Literacy is a vital skill the general population needs to have, regardless of whether they major in English in university or work at a cash register.

prezi.com/o3bt2rpkzl5f/reconfiguring-for-21st-century-education/

One of the biggest challenges in English is facing an always packed class (never off the cap) full of an astonishing range of students.  A typical academic English class will contain barely literate non-readers whose parents don’t want them to give up academic options (and who may be more than capable in numeracy, science or technology).  Academic English bludgeons them with essays and Shakespeare.  The solution is to pare off literacy from what is really a specific skill set needed only by advanced students of the arts and humanities.

The idea for mandatory grade 9 and 10 literacy and numeracy courses comes from this logic.  The grade 10 course is a survey/review course that works to assess students literacy skills in a granular and meaningful way.  The opposite of a standardized test, these courses challenge students in order to accurately assess their skills in numeracy and literacy in detail.  The end result would be a certification in two important foundational skills.

Students who are able to demonstrate these foundational skills are able to continue in high school in which ever direction they choose with a clear idea of their strengths or weaknesses in fundamentally skills, or move beyond the building and into apprenticeships or the work place knowing that they have displayed an appropriate level of literacy and numeracy.  Their proven ability in these two vital skill sets will resolve many of the fears surrounding letting students leave school early.  Those that stay in high school are offered a plethora of courses, local, remote or a hybrid of the two, that allow them to develop interests and abilities that are flexible, encourage their strengths and change with the times.

Those interested in post-secondary can still take advanced English and mathematics courses, but these are entirely optional.  They may also be specific to future needs.  Science and technology students may take English that focuses on report writing and presenting analysis in clear and concise ways.  Arts and humanities students may focus on more traditional English, such as literature and essays.

If we’re not going to do literacy and numeracy properly by underfunding it into oblivion, perhaps it’s time to separate the vital skills from overly specialized, academic English and mathematics and reconfigure for flexibility in our curriculum.

Forming an ECOO Presentation

Originally posted on Dusty World in October, 2012

There were three key books I read in the past year that have clarified for me a direction we could head in educational technology.  Ideas from each of those books, which at first appear to be in direct odds with each other, helped form the content of my ECOO presentation this year.

After reading The Shallows, Nick Carr’s carefully constructed argument held a lot of weight – the internet and how it is being adopted by the general public is actually making people less effective as both thinkers and doers.  As educators, we should all be concerned about this result.  At a conference this year a frustrated, thirty-something CEO said of the twenty-somethings she’s tried hiring recently, “I just wish they could finish a thought!  I can’t even get them to close a sale because they are checking Facebook!”  This problem goes well beyond education (where any teacher can tell you it’s an epidemic).  Everyone involved in education should read this book, especially if they are trying to implement technology in the classroom.

From The Shallows I took a serious concern about technological illiteracy and habitual use of computers actually injuring people’s ability to think.

I read Ray Kurzweil’s The Singularlity is Near as a counterpoint to Carr’s very accurate, and very depressing Shallows.  Kurzweil’s giddy optimism in our engineering skills verges on evangelism.  He is a wonderfully interesting and eccentric character.  His belief goes well beyond merely living in a time of transformative change.  The singularity he refers to is a moment in the near future where we are able to develop a greater intelligence than a single human brain, or even a group of them.  He goes into mathletic detail about exponential growth and how this is occurring in computers.  Very soon we’ll understand things in finer and more complete detail than we’ve ever been able to before and our management of the world will take on omniscient proportions.  Technologically enhanced humans exist beyond the technological singularity – living in a world that looks as alien to us now as ours would to someone from the middle ages.

From Kurzweil I recognized how technology is evolving in increasingly personalized ways.  This is an argument Carr makes from the other side too.  From external machines, we are on a journey to technological integration.  This integration is going to well beyond smartphones, that’s just the latest step in an inevitable trend.  If education does everything it can to present technology as generic and impersonal, it is failing to notice a key direction in technology, it’s failing to produce students who will be useful in their own futures.  This is perhaps the most controversial aspect of my BYOD/differentiated technology argument, but I believe it’s a fundamental part of our technological evolution.  Computers want to become a part of us.  We’re not going to develop a Skynet or Matrix that will take over.  Our technology IS us, and it wants a more perfect union.  This probably scares the shit out of most people.  My argument to that is: if you’re going to amalgamate with other systems, make sure you the one directing them effectively.

Matt Crawford’s wonderful philosophical treatise on the value of skilled labour goes well beyond simply being handy.  He argues that skilled labour psychically protects you from consumerism and makes management doublespeak and creative economies an obvious joke.  The value he places on objective, quantifiable skills development often savages the feel-good ethos of a lot of educational theory which then sounds like management double-speak nonsense.  I read the book after taking my AQ in computer engineering, and it made me re-evaluate (and recognize) the value of my skilled labour history – something I’d walked away from in becoming a teacher.  I’m loving being a tech teacher this year and working with my hands again.

From Shop Class For Soul Craft I took a recognition of the importance of hands on, skill based learning.  It brings real rigor to learning, and should be a vital part of developing past the poor digital literacy I see around me.  One other experience kicked this up a notch.  In the summer we visited the Durnin farm and Heather talked about how her husband teaches people to use the farm equipment.  He gives them the tools, and expects them to figure it out and get it done.  It’s a high expectation, immediate result environment that puts a great deal of expectation on the student; Crawford would approve.  I tell my students, “no one ever learned how to ride a bike by watching someone else riding a bike” – it’s an experiential thing that offers real (often painful) immediate feedback… what effective learning should be.

Into that mix of big ideas of warning, optimism and rigor I also mixed in the standard PLN secret sauce.  Concerns over BYOD abound with teachers online.  The idea that BYOD should just be thrown into curriculum struck me as simply wrong.  As Andrew Campbell suggests, it’s more about stretching a divide (or Carr would argue intellectually crippling idiots) than it is about increasing digital fluencies.

Teaching competency, flexibility and self awareness on digital tools should be a primary goal of current educational practice.  We’re graduating students who are dangerously useless to employers.  The idea of a continuum of digital mastery based on objectively developed skills linked to a gradual loosening of restrictions and access to increasingly diverse tools and online content was the result.

I present on Thursday, and I’m more interested in the discussion that ensues than I am in telling anyone anything.  ECOO is a wonderful braintrust, and usually super-charges my educational technology awareness.  I’m looking forward to the brain soup we create out of this!

Diversifying Edtech: the key to a digital skills continuum

 

Copyright is sticky business

I read this which led me to this, which made me want to write this: (!)

Copyright is a sticky business. More often than not it isn’t the artist that is being protected by copyright so much as the distribution company that owns the rights. The music industry is still trying to get itself out of being a manufacturing and distribution concern, which is where the copyright habits we’ve developed with music started.

When you’ve got to justify stamping millions of CDs to make music financially viable, the focus shifts from the artist to the manufacturing/distribution system (where big infrastructure costs exist). In order to protect this distribution system, a robust, aggressive and quite jackassey legal specialization developed that has nothing whatsoever to do with the art it claims to protect.

It seems we’ve arrived at an age where an artist can be stimulated by influences and then effectively prevent anyone else from evolving ideas out of them. The Beatles, perhaps one of the biggest offenders in this, freely stole ideas and even whole pieces of music from the black R&B musicians in the US that proceeded them. Later in their careers they made art by evolving influences from Indian and other world music as well. They then aggressively locked down the rights to the art they freely took from other people.

It seems that Boomers are unique in many ways, not the least of which is their self-claimed right to take everything that came before them and own it entirely forever. US copyright has led this erosion of artistic license for many years, continually expanding and pursuing the entertainment industry’s right to own a piece of music, eventually (they hope) forever.

One of my favorite cautionary tales is Sita Sings The Blues. An artist going through a breakup creates an animated piece that integrates the 1920s music she is listening to at the time with an ancient Indian myth and her own relationship disaster. It’s very thoughtfully done. Give it a look if you’ve never seen it before. The details are on the website, but here’s the summary: when she went to get the copyright for the 1920s recordings (long out of copyright) that she wanted, she discovered a copyright law firm (one of many that buy up copyright-passed, older material) contacted her back and wanted a quarter of a million dollars for songs they didn’t own by an artist they never represented.

This is the state of copyright nowadays: a savage wasteland of corporate vultures looking to pick the bones clean of any work of artistic merit. It’s a completely unsustainable system that stifles art and kills creativity. Had Shakespeare been alive now, he would not have been able to publish any of his work (almost all of which borrowed heavily from proceeding material). Corporate vultures would have swooped in and killed Romeo & Juliet, Macbeth or Hamlet stone dead.

I make no bones about artists being able to make a living from their work, I’m an artist myself. My hope is that digitization of the workflow will free us from the vultures that have been feeding (and killing) the artistic process for the past 60 years.

Many artists are beginning to push content directly to fans. Courtney Love famously once said, “I work for tips” when she was talking about how little she made from CD sales. Doing tours made more, but even live performance requires covering a lot of hangers on.

The irony in all of this is that the music industry claims to be the protector and savior of music, yet it is the very thing stifling creativity, and it’s doing it to protect an archaic manufacturing system that barely exists any more.

Ok, so after all that? I think NerdyTeacher’s blog is a great opportunity for Taylor to step into a new era and develop fan based appreciation through Twitter and social networking. Those students, and the people who see the performance will know of her willingness to share her art. What I fear is that she isn’t the one to make this decision. A legal firm representing her music industrial complex will make that decision, and it won’t go well.

Thanks to @dougpete and @TheNerdyTeacher (and twitter) for the impetus to write!

The New Literacy

I recently became the head of Computer & Information Technology at my high school.  To many this might cause confusion, not many schools appear to have a head of digital technology.  When recently asked to join up with the other two heads of Comp/Info tech in our region I discovered that there aren’t any, I am the sole head of digi-tech in my area.

A day in the life of that rare creature: the head of info-tech

I was supposed to be meeting up with them to plan our upcoming PD day.  Being the resourceful fellow I am, I started putting together ideas for the pd on prezi.  In thinking it through, I want to go after three ideas:  how we administer computer studies, how computer studies are presented in ministry curriculum (and the problems around that), and what the future of computer studies holds.

The general response I get from teachers around digital technology is that very few know anything about it, but they’re all expected to be comfortable with it.  The other response is that the digital natives won’t learn anything from us because they already know everything.

The myth of the digital native is just that, a myth.  Student digital fluency is pretty much the same as the general population, except they spend a lot more time doing the same, limited activities in digital space.  The digital native is, in  many cases, actually the digital serf.

After working my way through thinking about computer studies and how it’s taught in my school (and board), I want to try and change the way computer studies are delivered.  The current state of curriculum is that of a still maturing discipline, hogtied to its past.  In talking to other computer teachers, they find themselves (variously) under math or business headships as a sub-department.  On top of that computer studies are divided into two sections: computer engineering (hardware) which falls within the tech department (along with carpentry and automotive repair amongst others), and computer science (programming), which tends to get swallowed by business or math.

It’s common for computer science teachers to have nothing whatsoever to do with computer engineering teachers.  This makes it tricky to develop coordinated curriculum, share resources, plan field trips or even just advocate effectively to hire the vanishingly few qualified computer teachers there are out there.

As I mention in the prezi, this is the equivalent of us teaching music by having a course on maintaining, tuning, building and repairing musical instruments, and then having a completely different course on how to read and write music; theory separated from mechanics.  In the case of music, an ancient discipline that has evolved over millenia, we recognize an obviously unified course of study.  Computers do not have the benefit of these years of evolution.  We need to start unifying these skills.

The division of the discipline results in crushingly small numbers in computer science.  When I was in computer science in the 1980s, we ran six sections of senior computer science a year… on card readers!  Last year my high school (roughly the same size as the one I attended back in the day), ran a single, mixed (academic/applied) section of computer science at the grade 12 level, and it wasn’t full.  Did computers hit a high point in the 80’s and become a less relevant part of modern life?  Why on Earth would we teach fewer people how they work now?

Computers are a part of everyday life in 2012.  We have come to expect a level of competency in our population equivalent to the universality of literacy or numeracy, but we don’t teach to this need, and it is largely unmet.  We are instead producing graduates who teach themselves bad habits on computers and then we fear their apparent familiarity; we wouldn’t dream of teaching literacy or numeracy like this.

A coherent push to unify computer studies would reduce staff technology fears, improve digital pedagogy, build digital fluency in both staff and students and actually prepare people for the digital world that is being built around them.  Failure to do this is sending our students into the future without addressing an increasingly urgent and important skillset.

Digital Tribalism

Are we watching digital vandals sacking what’s left of Rome? It can begin with something as ephemeral as truth, and quickly turn into a guerrilla war. Wikileaks only speaks the truth, and the digital tribes believe it’s absolute. The words spoken and footage shown isn’t the truth, it’s too concrete, too certain, but the tribes need a focus, a common will.

The tribes are all around us, we are starting to identify ourselves more virtually than we do physically. We believe we have more in common with the people we associate with online than we do with our own countrymen. Democracy proves it with declining voter turnout and moldy, dysfunctional bureaucracies. People feel less and less relevant to where they are.
Your social networks linked to interests become more and more concrete in your mind. The people you game with are your comrades. It’s little wonder that these bands of virtual patriots rally behind the cry of truth overturning hypocrisy that Wikileaks is sounding. Bring down the government, bring down the corporations, bring down those things that try to limit our digital selves.
Perhaps it’s time to embrace the new, as our ancestors did with sail powered ships, printing presses and industrialization. The ships brought plague and genocide in the New World, the printing presses overturned a millennia old religious institution in Europe and industrialization is still slowly poisoning a very finite bio-sphere, but each of these things ushered in new eras of discovery and innovation; the digital era will be no different.
Why we ever thought that our brave new world would exist in happy harmony with the old world ideas of nationhood and economics is rather ludicrous; like expecting horse drawn carriages to run calmly next to a super highway. The digital truth we’re in the middle of inventing is going to demand some changes.
I wonder if people throughout history simply stumbled into obvious, overwhelming change without realizing it. In 500 years, students learning the early 21st Century will wonder at how people clung to ideas that were obviously outdated. Perhaps they’ll wonder why those nation states were so amazed that a apparently powerless little organization could unclothe them so easily. Perhaps they’ll wonder why no one stated the obvious.
But then again, maybe as Rome burned they really did fiddle, we are.
The best digital future books:
thedaemon.com/ fantastic new author
www.williamgibsonbooks.com/ fantastic veteran
www.randomhouse.ca/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9780307357519&view=print creepy and obviously true – so go by a pickup!
100milediet.org/ the future of how we feed ourselves – doesn’t seem important until you realize what is
We Are Legion: the beginnings of the end of geographical government?  The beginnings of digital nationhood?

When Your Learning Space is a Loud Close Talker

Originally published Sunday, 21 April 2013 on Dusty World

Tools provided and time to practice the theory learned.  Skills are expected to be demonstrated.

A couple of weekends ago I went to Conestoga College and took my motorcycle training course.  Other than about an hour on a dirt bike a year ago I’d never ridden a motorbike, but it has been a lifelong dream to do it; I was pretty pumped.  Learning to ride was a pedagogically charged process for me, going from near zero to basic competence in a single weekend.

This weekend I’m at the Ontario Google Summit.  I’m an advanced digital technology user and I’m attending this conference to look at ways to manage technology and ease adoption for beginners.  This isn’t a learning challenging situation for me, but I love the subject area (I teach it) and I’m a trained professional in information technology.  I’m keen to see technology use improve in education.

I’m finding myself comparing the two learning experiences.  Bike course and Google Summit are both expensive in terms of time and money: both demand your time on a weekend and neither are cheap: motorbike: $18.33/hr, Summit: $17.83.hr.  This kind of time and money commitment suggests an intensive, impactful learning opportunity for motivated students.  Unmotivated students wouldn’t spend the time and money to attend these things.  With that as a foundation I couldn’t have had more different experiences at these two events.

At the motorbike course there were six expert instructors for 26 students for a better than 5 to 1 student/teacher ratio.  They moved logistical mountains to provide working technology for all students: over thirty bikes tuned, fueled and ready to use every day along with safe space to use them and a fully equipped classroom with digital media to cover theory.   Because a 1:1 student/technology ratio was guaranteed, the focus was all small group, intensive hands-on instruction with lots of one on one instructor feedback.  This was vital because the bike course had a theory and practical (road) test at the end, both clearly defined and focused on throughout the course.  If you were unable to demonstrate what you knew by Sunday afternoon you just spent over four hundred bucks without getting the license or insurance discount.  Attendance was absolutely mandatory, you got dropped for not showing (one guy got dropped Sunday morning after showing up nearly two hours late).  You had to bring your own safety kit but the most expensive technology (the bike) was provided, and it got used roughly and dropped by a number of students.  You also had to provide your own food and drink and there was time time given to consuming it (we ate during in-class sessions).  Intensive, focused and hands on with lots of expert help.  A number of of people learned that they shouldn’t be riding motorcycles by the end of the weekend and left very disappointed, but safer for it.

At the end of  the weekend you knew what you knew (or didn’t) and had demonstrated qualitative improvement (or hadn’t), resulting in the license and savings.  On a more pedantic level, you were provided with the room you needed to learn.  You had desk space in a large classroom for learning theory.  You had acres of pavement outside for developing hands-on skills in a closely watched and personally assisted learning intensive process.  It was a pedagogically credible, physically and mentally challenging process that made demands on you in order to see improvement.  My taking the course will probably save my life at some point, as well as saving me money.  I left that course having a very clear idea what I’d paid for and no question as to the value of it.

Lecture time! Sit and listen! The ‘educators’ are remarkably lazy about pedagogy. The technology doesn’t seem to be helping.

The Google conference is lecture driven (a necessity of the 100:1 student:teacher ratio).  The keynotes have been excellent and the audience response very positive.  I’ve greatly enjoyed the keynotes.  It’s fallen apart for me in the ‘learning’ sessions though; I’ve been unable to attend the sessions I’ve wanted to because the venue (a high school they presumably got access to for nothing) has classrooms designed for thirty odd students.  These rooms often had upwards of fifty people jammed into them, sitting on the floor, standing around the edges, all breathing on each other (yes, I have issues with that).  I didn’t have the space I need to be comfortable let alone to learn.  The provided internet is the best I’ve experienced at a tech-conference, so that’s in place, but the physical space, other than the auditorium I’ve been in all weekend, isn’t remotely up to the task of learning.  As I consider the lecture based, knowledge (rather than experience) learning focus of this GAFE Summit, I’m left wondering why educators do this to each other, and how we hope to improve educational technology when we continue to teach it like a poorly designed academic class instead of a set of demonstrable hard skills.

What is it about professional development that has teachers punishing other teachers in order to learn?  Ironically, we spent time talking about the Third Teacher and how the learning environment plays such a vital role in learning.  We then demonstrate how not to do it in vivid detail with overcrowded rooms and people sitting on floors in order to desperately hear a bit of knowledge out of the mouth of a sage on a stage who are part of a company that wants to radically decentralize and democratize knowledge for everyone… or just squeeze education for some certification money.

There has been a lot of opportunity for learning at this conference for me.  The back channels and keynotes have been very engaging.  Oddly, the learning sessions haven’t been where learning has happened.  Had this been the bike course, I would have spent that weekend sitting on the floor, jammed between other people, watching someone else riding a bike before I went and rode around on my own without any feed back; not the ideal way to learn is it?  You’d think teachers would know better.

 

note: this is six months later, right after the ECOO13 conference (not a summit?) not to mention EdcampHamilton.  My feelings about GAFE have only intensified.  GAFE is a money grab, designed to funnel teachers into a branding process with Google.  After speaking to others at ECOO I’m more than ever convinced that it is a teacher’s professional duty to not brand themselves and offer their students an unbiased access to any and all technology currently in use.  Anything less is a limitation to students and irresponsible on the part of the technology educator.