One Man Caravan: Motorcycle Travel History

You can pick up a reprinted copy of One Man Caravan on Amazon for about sixty bucks, but I did a bit better. For ten bucks I discovered an original 1936 edition in a used book jumble when we went to Pelee Island over Canadian Thanksgiving. The spine is cracked and the pages are stained with almost a century of smoke, coffee and whiskey – intrigued yet?

When you take on a read like this it drags you out of your own context and into a world substantially different from the one we live in, Many people have trouble navigating this time culture shift (they like to bring their current values and fixations with them – it’s a kind of temporal colonialism), but not me, I like the dissonance.

One Man Caravan is the story of Robert Fulton, an American student living in Europe who shoots his mouth off at a dinner party, saying he’s planning to ride a motorbike around the world. (Un?) Fortunately for Robert, one of the people at the party owned the Douglas Motorcycle Factory and offered him a free bike to do it on. It reminded me of Charley Boorman shooting his mouth off about doing the Dakar… and then having to do it.

Another familiarity with moto-travel history is similarities to Ted Simon’s Jupiter’s Travels. Fullerton describes his decision to go with a motorbike: “I had considered the matter from various angles, only to arrive at the conclusion that there must be some better method of seeing that world than by the standard processes. On foot and carrying a knapsack? That would be too slow. By motor car? Too expensive. A bicycle? Too much work. A motorcycle?”  Simon says something similar in Jupiter’s Travels when he talks about what it takes to ride around the world.

The world Fullerton navigates feels like another planet to most modern readers. No digital anything, nothing like today’s transport infrastructure, and industry has yet to force everyone into similar lifestyles. We often forget how much industry defines our lives, but Fullerton comes face to face with that in 1932. The other oddity for the modern reader is just how different the immutable facts of life (like countries) change over time. The world was a very different place in 1932…

The emerging chancellor in Germany was taking it into the future (Fullerton talks about how well ordered and future facing Germany is – unnerving, right?) ! I had to look up Waziristan (modern day Pakistan).

Robert blitzes across continental Europe before pressing on into Greece and finding his way to the ‘edge of civilization’ in Turkey.


You’ll come across a very colonial view of the world because that’s how it operated in 1932, but if you can get past your temporal prejudices, this old book does a fantastic job of bringing that lost world to life. Robert finds himself in kinship with Bedouin camel train drivers who live their lives on the road (at least when he isn’t being thrown in jail – the preferred way to house an itinerant motorcyclist passing through in the 1930s). He has frequent altercations with local law enforcement and the various ‘agents of empire’ he comes across, though his American citizenship gives him a useful separation (and a healthy irreverence) for those government interests.

Like many around-the-world stories, the trip itself changes Robert as he travels. His early, furtive forays in Europe are accompanied by a rueful, self-mocking tone, but once he gets into the grind, especially as he’s navigating Middle Eastern deserts without roads or even a clear idea of where he’s going, you start to get a  sense of how much of a grafter this guy is – he certainly isn’t afraid of hard work.


By the time Robert has navigated to India he is in the zone, pushing on into Afghanistan even though every possible barrier is thrown up against him. It’s in these places beyond the comforts of civilization where his fixation on trying to capture these disappearing cultures really comes into focus. Robert is very aware of how the industrial revolution is shrinking the world and remaking it in a single image. His observations about being offered tiger cubs for two dollars in Indo-China (a motorbike isn’t the best place for a tiger cub) speak to the process of ‘civilizing’ these places.

Another quality that comes across as Robert’s confidence (and writing voice) improve is his sense of humour. He starts off having a healthy respect for the status quo, but by the time he is navigating his way out of China to Singapore with no money, he is fast and loose with how things should work and much more likely to absorb the lessons the road is delivering to him.

His description of how the Chinese measure distance (in terms of ease of travel vs. distance) is particularly funny and insightful and shows you how far he’d come in terms of simply listening to the world rather than judging it:

“…the Chinese method possesses one distinct advantage over all others. It does not deal in distances but rather in ‘going conditions.’ For example the distance from Kaifeng to Tungkwan might be two hundred li, while from Tungkwan to Kaifeng measures only a hundred and fifty. The reason? Simple enough. It’s down-hill coming back.”

If you want a feeling of this lost world buried in the history of the past 90 years, the photos in the book will take you there…
 
Riding the streets of Shanghai in 1932…


Robert’s mechanical inclinations kept him in motion (he went on to invent the skyhook system you see in James Bond and Batman films!)


In Saigon, the ‘Little Paris of the East’


Whether you’re a motorcyclist, a historian or a lover of travel, finding a copy of One Man Caravan is a wonderful opportunity. If you can find a survivor like I did for a song, then good for you. Right now, the only hard cover original edition available is going for $934USD (eek!).

The best follow-on is that all that film that Robert lugged around the world (and got into all sorts of trouble trying to develop along they way) is out there somewhere as Twice Upon a Caravan. I’ll have to do some digging to see if I can find the complete package, it’d be something to see.



The fascinating life of Robert Fullerton:

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Digital Disruption, The Collapsing 4th Estate and Foreign Inference in Canadian Media

Toronto’s traffic misery means I don’t fight my
way into The Six as often as I might, glad I
did on this occasion though.

We battled our way into The Six last night to attend TVO Today Live’s: Can Democracy
Survive the Collapse of Media
? The documentary is the story of the Toronto Star as it struggles to survive in our diverse mediascape. Digital disruption came to newspapers at the same time the change from broadcast to the individualized, 2-way media access (aka, the internet) unhinged other traditional media giants. Many newspapers are hanging on by their fingernails as they struggle to develop a business model that would allow them to survive in the 21st Century.

The documentary raised difficult questions around the importance of an independent press as a means of holding government and business to account. It follows The Star as reporters exposed the many failures by the Ontario government during the COVID pandemic. By the end of the documentary it was hard to argue against the importance of an independent press as a pillar of democracy, though how they operate can no longer assume that they are the ‘information celebrities’ they were in the broadcast age.

The premier took place on the
UofT Campus, just south of
Yorkville, which is surreal at
the best of times.

There was a lot of blame in both the documentary and the round table discussion afterwards aimed at ‘tech’ companies like Google and Facebook. While those companies depend on new digital media delivery systems, they seldom engineer their own tech. Google and Facebook aren’t tech companies, they are advertising companies who have exploited digital disruption in order to eat traditional media company’s lunches.

The fall-back position of the Fourth Estate (professional journalism) is that they provide an important balance in any country claiming to adhere to democratic principles. Transparency isn’t something that comes easily to people when they gain money and power, which tend to get used to gain more privilege and power. This is a difficult truth to dispute, though how the professional press operated in the time of broadcast media when profit margins were huge and they were the only voice to be heard came with its own problems.

I found the documentary interesting in terms of tracking our dance into the datasphere two decades into our information technology/media revolution. The problems from clinging to an out of date business model (predicated on privilege and a lock on the media people see), were clearly defined, but what prompted me to get up and ask a question in front of Toronto’s intelligentsia was the ignoring of foreign influence in this imbalance.

Next week I’m attending KnowledgeFlow & NATO Association of Canada’s DEFUSE project focused on how to battle disinformation in Canada’s fractured mediascape, and I’ve spent the last month attending cybersecurity conferences that made Canada lack of cyber-resilience when facing foreign cyber-powers terrifyingly apparent. Listening to reporters blaming advertising companies for how unfair it is that they share their journalism without any economic support pales in comparison to this more clear and present danger. 

We live in an increasingly interconnected world, much of which does not place any value in the balancing act of a functioning democracy. I’d go so far as to say many of these unfriendly governments see Canada’s unregulated approach to online media as an opportunity to spread disinformation and fracture political cohesion. These unfriendly powers tend to focus on developing massive military cyber operations, some of which are larger than the entire Canadian military.

What finally got this introvert on his feet was Senator Pamela Wallin’s repeated statements that the Canadian government has no place in supporting an independent press. The question that sprang into my head was, why is the Canadian government so worried about staying out of influencing media when so many unfriendly foreign governments are actively engaged in spreading disinformation in Canada?

The Senator’s feelings are understandable as she used to work as a professional journalist and deeply believes in keeping government influence out of an independent press, but that ignores all those other governments who are already spreading misinformation in our country. Canadian professional journalists have to adhere to legal codes of conduct that anonymous, foreign backed social media ‘influencers’ and the new-media advertising ‘tech’ companies who deliver them to every Canadian blithely ignore.

There are a couple of ways the Canadian government could protect professional journalism, assuming the battered fourth estate can get past its own privileged past and focus on journalistic best practices rather than chasing the same advertising that the tech giants are. Funding with no editorial influence for news outlets that are providing fact-based, Canadian information is a good place to start. That funding should come directly from the new-digital advertising delivery services (Google, Facebook and the rest) who distribute professional journalism without supporting it in any way. By requiring the online advertisers to pay Canadian content creators for their journalism, this could be an influence free source of stability for the fourth estate. It would also help Canada moderate foreign influence in social media by enabling more transparent, Canadian made, fact-checked information online.

Bolstering fact-based Canadian journalism means Canadians are more likely to be seeing vetted information rather than foreign backed disinformation, but we also need to aggressively pursue anonymous sources of funding. The fourth estate could help there to. Transparency of online information funding should be another priority. By providing data on social media funding, the federal government would be publicizing data on information transparency that would assist academic and journalistic research into foreign influence in Canada.

In response to my question, the Senator emphasized the importance of understanding and preventing foreign influence, making specific reference to China’s worldwide disinformation campaign. She wrapped it up by noting that education is the key, which makes me happy as a cyber-educator, but it isn’t enough. We need intelligence apparatus that is providing much needed transparency into how social media is twisting our national conversation, otherwise we’re at the mercy of well funded, organized unfriendly foreign governments who are already neck deep in twisting our national media.

https://freedomhouse.org/report/special-report/2020/beijings-global-megaphone
Canada is up against giants, and our unregulated online media makes for easy access to  Canadian politics by governments who happily leverage our lack of awareness for their own ends. Canadian journalists can’t get paid for producing fact-checked local content, but the lunatic fringe gets paid by enemy states to flood Canadian screens with disinformation. There is clearly a role for the federal government in Canada’s media engagement.

Tax this and then use the funds to support fact-based, Canadian journalism.

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The Week That Usually Isn’t: Riding in November in Canada

We don’t usually get a lot of two wheel time in November.  We often get years where the snows start at Hallowe’en and don’t let go, but not this year.  Temps in the teens had me out exercising both bikes with their new winter-oil change in before they hibernate.

Photos taken with a Theta 360 camera on a flexible tripod attached to various parts of the bke.

Once the snows fall and the long wait starts, the Bonneville project calls…

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2022 TMC7 Research Symposium: Table Talks and Future Skills

We just returned from Treasure Mountain Canada, the 7th iteration of the Canadian School Libraries national research conference.  Like the best professional development, this was self-directed and therefore relevant and meaningful to the people in attendance.  Library learning commons have been under a lot of pressure despite the fact that these centres for information management are key to getting us though the maelstrom that is our information revolution.  Listening to people on the front lines talking about the challenges and opportunities was enlightening.

Round table discussions based on the many papers submitted for the symposium happened throughout the day.  The first I sat in on was by Lila ArmstrongShe talked about the ‘hub and spoke model’ as a way to standardize digital skills development in the absence of a comprehensive digital literacy curriculum (Ontario isn’t the only province who continues to lag behind in this regard).  Lila is a bit of a unicorn because she has recently moved between elementary and secondary panels, something few teachers do in their careers.  Equity and inclusion play a central role in Lila’s research and had me thinking (once again) about how fractured Canada’s education landscape is in terms of making its students future ready.

The next table talk was with Melanie Mulcaster, who is now seconded to TVO where she is working on digital content development and curation.  The pandemic chaos highlighted for Melanie how behind many LLCs were in terms of curating online content.  Through rolling lockdowns the lack of credible resources that were easy to navigate became a central issue in library management.  Mel’s honest assessment  of our slapdash attempts to make digital content work, and then her choice to engage with building these missing tools, was brutally honest and insightful.

Ontario used to have a comprehensive online set of vetted digital tools and resources called OSAPAC, but a lack of foresight in any recent provincial government (not just the current one), has left Ontario scrambling for online resources on a board by board basis.  This is incredibly inefficient as boards repeat the same work instead of working from a centralized resource; it’s a massive failure of vision and leadership.  It also speaks back to Lila’s paper on equity in terms of access to coherent digital skills development.  Students fortunate enough to be in a school with a well developed digital skills program were at an advantage, those that weren’t are even further behind.

I’ve struggled with the willy-nilly nature of the educational ‘maker space’ fad since it was all the buzz at the ECOO conference way back in 2015.  I next sat with Marc Compton, who teaches at a private school in B.C. and has successfully implemented maker spaces into his LLC.  Marc also manages a STEM program so has a better understanding of the engineering design process in terms of creating viable engineering opportunities for his students.  Marc’s common sense approach to getting tools that work and then using them is contrary to the usual typical maker-space buy in (get whatever kit was hyped up at that conference you went to and then wonder why it’s gather dust in your ‘maker space’).  It’s amazing what a bit of common sense can do in terms of providing viable hands-on learning opportunities for your students.

Just when I thought we were wrapping things up, Carol Koechlin noted that the ideas document we were all working on isn’t just about catching up to current best practices, but also a pathway to future digital literacies we haven’t considered yet.  This got me thinking about all the emerging technologies we ignore because we still haven’t caught up with established digital skills in education.  Here’s a quick list off the top of my head:


EMERGING DIGITAL LITERACIES THAT WE DON’T TEACH BUT ARE ALREADY HERE:

Understanding 3d Digital Media

If you can’t do this don’t know how 3d modelling
and animation work, you probably shouldn’t be
teaching media arts in 2022.

I’ve been banging the drum about 3d media literacy for years.  Our game development
program
prepares students for an industry significantly larger than the ailing traditional media industries that most high school media arts programs still cling to.  After attending the FITC conference in 2018, I realized that 3d media awareness goes well beyond creation; being unable to comprehend what computer generated imaging can do makes you susceptible to misinformation in advertising.  Understanding 3d CGI is a vital media fluency in 2022, yet almost no one is teaching it

Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning: human-machine collaboration

We got involved with IBM in 2019 in order to access their IBM Watson AI core.  Watson is the AI learning system that beat the reigning Jeopardy champ, but in our case we got access to a cloud based chatbot program and this gave students their first taste of AI supported coding.  Accessing the Watson core allowed students to create criteria rather than specific values for variables.  Instead of having to list every possible name that a user might enter, using AI, students were able to train the system on the concept of names and then it would automatically assign any name given to that variable.  It’s a small step, but understanding how AI and machine learning works allowed students to interact with it more effectively.

At the same time our game development class was getting a handle on more advanced enemy AI in the games we were developing.  The introduction to Watson in the junior classes quickly amped up our game based intelligence development in senior classes.

The as yet untaught emerging skillset here is human-machine collaboration.  After we got
going with Watson, one of my seniors co-oped with me in the lab and she went after developing a machine learning algorithm that would learn from its mistakes and draw useful data out of massive datasets.  This past spring, when I became aware of Github’s Co-Pilot, rather than banning it as many teachers have, I encouraged using it along with assessing its strengths and problems.  One of our seniors took it on for his grade 12 final project, his conclusion?  It helps but if you don’t know how to code it often loses the plot.

Familiarity with machine learning is going to become a vital skillset for our grads, but almost no one is teaching it.  In the meantime it’s what many students are using to answer poorly designed lessons that many teachers still haven’t bothered to update.  None of these AI generated papers will light up a plagiarism checker because it’s all original work.  We’re so technology-illiterate in education that we don’t even know what we don’t know.

CODING is not DIGITAL LITERACY

… any more than grammar is all there is to language literacy.  Of course it’s a part of it, but just a small part.  The technology stack we’re living in starts with basic electronics and works its way up through information technology and networking through IoT and robotics to cloud computing and emergent artificial intelligence.  In that hardware structure there are numerous software offshoots, all of which are viable and important components of a comprehensive digital literacy strategy.  If you think coding is digital literacy then you’re probably looking for an easy way out.  What I’ve discovered about people looking for an easy way out of difficult work is that they’ll usually find one.

Cybersecurity

I’ve saved the scariest for last.  I’ve been banging the drum for better (or any) cybersecurity education for years.  When I show up at a conference to present on it, educators can’t run away fast enough, yet they depend on it everyday to make their networked educational technology enabled lessons happen, and they expose themselves and their students to potential harm when using this connected tech with such willful ignorance.

It seems pretty obvious to me that, if we’re going to use networked educational technology in every classroom, it is incumbent upon us to teach cybersafety and privacy to our students from the moment we make them vulnerable.  The idea that cybersecurity is someone else’s problem is both naïve and selfish, yet that has been education’s approach.

I first got involved with cybersecurity through CyberTitan, Canada’s national student cybersecurity competition, which runs in conjunction with CyberPatriot, run by the U.S. Air Force Association in America.  CyberPatriot is now in its fifteenth season and has tens of thousands of students in many countries all learning hands-on defensive I.T. skills and deep cybersafety awareness that will assist them in any future career.  As you may expect, Canada has far too few of them.

There are many industry and government organizations that want to bolster cyber-education.  A more cyber-educated society makes for a more protected Canada in an interconnected global economy that isn’t exactly stable, yet the reflex in education is to think of this as someone else’s problem, even as we become increasingly dependent on networked ed-tech.  Ontario is now requiring mandatory elearning for high school students, but has nothing in place to teach safe use of that mandatory, network dependent technology; we couldn’t put the cart any further ahead of the horse if we tried.

In my new role we just ran National CyberDay, which reached over 2000 students nationally – there are almost seven million students in Canada, meaning less than 0.0003% of students participated (in the middle of cybersecurity awareness month), yet almost all of them will be on networked educational technology everyday this week.

Cybersecurity education may be the toughest nut to crack, but my recent experiences at conferences on the subject have only intensified my desire to climb this mountain.  Digitally skilled librarians would be a great place to begin this change towards a more secure and digitally literate Canada.  LLCs running CyberDay activities and engaging reluctant classroom teachers in cybersafety and privacy awareness is a great first step.  As awareness builds, librarians taking on CyberTitan coaching roles could introduce emerging cyber-skills to middle and high school students, opening up pathways into a desperately under-served industry in Canada.



There are so many emerging digital mediums.  I haven’t touched on the metaverse and how virtual and augmented reality are going to change human interaction in the next decade, or how wearable technology will revolutionize the smartphone yet again, but these are all emerging elements of digital literacy that we will need to address.

There is much work to do, but events like Treasure Mountain Canada are exactly how we’re going to escape our silos and develop a cohesive national approach that is both equitable and scalable.  Nothing else is going to solve the depth and breadth of the digital literacy problems that we face.


The hackneyed approach to digital skills development in education in Canada (and elsewhere) has produced a scarcity of much needed digitally literate graduates. Emergent skillsets such as in cybersecurity are particularly absent.  There is much to do.


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2022 Treasure Mountain 7 Research Symposium & Thinktank: MediaSmarts Keynote & Digital Tools and Expertise for Resilient Learning


The seventh iteration of the Canadian School Libraries Treasure Mountain Canada Research Symposium just wrapped up in Vancouver, BC.  Canada is one of the only countries in the world without a national education strategy, though weirdly we have an international education strategy – just not one for Canadians in Canada.  That is strange, right?

TMC is an opportunity for teacher librarians to escape Canada’s provincial education silos and share common challenges (which are very similar).  By sharing these problems and brainstorming solutions, best practices and future-ready strategies emerge. Wouldn’t it be efficient if the whole country were engaged in this powerful professional practice instead of repeating the work over and over (if at all)? Yet many provinces were not not in attendance. I’m still struck by how there is no such thing as “Canadian Education”, which has lasting implications for equity in our country.  Some provinces have cut teacher librarians entirely from their schools, preventing any of their students or staff from benefitting from these information literacy specialists – and these cuts happened during an information technology revolution when a guiding hand would have been most helpful.

We’re in the middle of an information
revolution and your school system
wants to remove all the information
specialists
?  What an odd choice.

I’m not a librarian, but I’m married to an awesome one.  Last time we flew out for a Treasure Mountain conference in BC my son and I went for a long ride up the empty coast of Vancouver Island while the librarians gathered, but this time I was in the room as the paper Alanna and I co-authored was featured in the event.

Treasure Mountain attracts librarians who are working to put school library learning commons squarely in the role of digital literacy development. This event was full of energetic thinkers who were digitally literate and well aware of the ongoing digital skills crisis happening across Canada.

Our presentation was about how using industry standard project management tools and organizational strategies not only prepares students for life after graduation, but also provides them with the organizational tools they need to be both resilient and successful, even when our school systems stagger under the weight of multiple pandemic shut-downs.

Being able select the right tools and move between digital and real-world information allows students to attend class, stay organized and continue to author their own student-led projects no matter how much chaos surrounds their learning.  Digital skills development and knowledge of a swiss-army knife of readily available digital tools could make our education systems pandemic-proof, if only we’d do it.


We shared examples of successes that demonstrated equity and inclusion as well as providing other examples of student-centred empowerment in learning through effective project management.  The tool we used was Trello, based on the academic research Alanna was doing at Royal Roads University in the spring of 2020 when things fell apart.  The project management theory her post-graduate class was studying was applied directly in my game-development class, saving both student-led projects from almost certain disaster; it’s a great example of a cross-pollination of ideas and shows how having a masters-TL in the room can help even a veteran teacher find effective learning tools.


***

Treasure Mountain is very much a hands-on experience with everyone participating and collaborating on developing ideas.  Those ideas are brought forward by the participants.  This year there were 27 (!) papers submitted on subjects ranging from how to audit your book collection to enhance diversity and how to keep an LLC operational during a pandemic, to how to embrace emerging digital literacies.  In my new role at ICTC I am especially interested in that digital literacy development.

Another example of the many cracks in
Canada’s siloed education approach.

The morning keynote by Matthew Johnston, the educational director of MediaSmarts, an organization dedicated to improving media literacy in our students, focused on explaining how things had changed since pre-internet broadcast media.  The multi-directional web of media we now find ourselves in implicitly demands digital fluency, yet we still fail to engage these digital literacies by systemically teaching them.


This isn’t just a Canadian problem, as code.org states, most schools don’t have a computer science program (ours got locally cancelled during the pandemic).  Even though there has been a recent push to put coding into Ontario elementary curriculum, it’s being delivered by teachers with little or no technology fluency themselves, and coding is only a tiny part of a much larger and more complex digital/media literacy framework.

Library learning commons are an ideal place to begin this work as (when they’re well run) they act as a shared space for engaging with emerging digital/media fluencies.  Librarians have always been information management specialists – the mediums may change, but the fundamentals of rigorous inquiry and source assessment don’t.  A digitally fluent librarian makes the LLC central in 21st Century learning models that effectively leverage digital tools.

Before the Friday night awards ceremony, Alanna and I did an interview with Dr. David Loertscher, one of the conceptual founders of the learning commons model.  David was curious as to how digital tools could be used to amplify and organize student-directed/inquiry based learning models, and our talk gave us a chance to clarify our own understandings too.  It’ll eventually be available on Dr. Loertscher’s ALiVE Virtual Library.  It’s collaborative opportunities like these that help pave a pathway into the future that will not only make library learning commons relevant to student experience, but will also provide the framework for much needed digital skills system building capacity.

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The 2022 BCTLA Conference

 


The BCTLA conference prior to Treasure Mountain Canada 2022 (where Alanna I were presenting) was challenging in all the right ways.  David Robertson’s opening keynote cajoled the audience with humour and deeply personal insights around why it’s so important to give indigenous authors (ideally through an indigenous press) control of their own stories as a vital part of reconciliation. As a writer myself I’ll go out of my way not to write indigenous characters in, no matter how well intentioned, because that has been happening for far too long.

David’s talk was full of humour and hope. He wrapped it up by pointing out how far Canada has come in the past two decades. There is still much to do, but librarians making sure books by indigenous authors about indigenous lives are on the shelves is a big step toward helping Canada wake up from its troubled and often hidden colonial past.

Ivan Coyote’s closing keynote was equally powerful. I’ve learned that it isn’t a BCTLA keynote unless you cry. Ivan has a magical ability to move between poetry and accessible, colloquial prose that is both jarring and profoundly honest. I’ve long struggled with my own gender and don’t feel comfortable with my pronouns, but I am what I am and, also being autistic, don’t have the social energy or expertise to fight that battle.

The stories of non-cis kids leaving small towns even as those same small towns complain about a lack of doctors and other professionals was both funny and sad, and rang true with my experiences trying to provide safe spaces for ‘atypicals’ in my own small town school where gendered sports teams based on cisgendered norms drive school community in almost every sense.  Ivan’s honesty made me more vocal about my own differences during our presentation and might let me get a bit closer to what I am when I’m not pouring myself into the mould that everyone expects when I’m in the public eye.  That’s a powerful influence from a conference keynote!


In between the keynotes I attended a great engineering design process seminar with UBC’s GeeringUP engineering outreach students.  UBC’s GeeringUP program offers many online STEM resources for students and educators.  Are Ontario colleges and universities doing this kind of k-12 engagement?  If not, why not?  Fortunately, UBC isn’t stingy about sharing its engineering resources.

When I wasn’t in keynotes or seminars I was getting the broken school wifi to work so I could support rookie CyberTitan coaches five time zones away as they took their students through the first round of CyberPatriot.  That a major school system in one of the biggest urban centres in the country struggles to provide basic connectivity says something profound about the digital divide Canada is facing.  There are many components to developing effective digital learning, starting with connectivity and technology access.  If we have trouble making the fundamentals work in a place where there are really no excuses, how are the millions of rural educators and students (including the vast majority of indigenous educators and students) across Canada feeling everyday?  You can’t even begin to address digital illiteracy when there is no connectivity.  There is much work to do.

We wrapped up the BCTLA conference in a state of emotional exhaustion, but with minds brimming with possibilities.  To see librarians taking on these national equity initiatives through ensuring access to books and media by and for the persecuted, often with unclear support from their own school systems (there was much talk about hate-filled attempts to co-opt trustee positions), was both inspiring and frustrating.  Just when you think Canada might wake up from its shadowy, hate-filled colonial history and take a step into a brighter more inclusive future, that darkness reappears as twisted jingoism.

The BCTLA Conference was powerful in many ways, and after only a couple of hours to catch our breaths we were back at it for the Treasure Mountain opening dinner.

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More Motorcycle Photography from the end of the season…

Winter’s never an easy season for a motorcyclist, and even less so in Canada where riding in it is a near impossibility.  Soon enough we’ll be buried in snow and minus double digit temperatures, but I’m not feeling the weight of it like I normally do.  A positive change in my working life, an old-bike project in the workshop and a good year of riding have me in a positive place as this riding season draws to a close.  I saw a bit of prose by Milne recently that hit the target:

“Yes, I can face the winter with calm.
I suppose I had forgotten what it was really like
I had been thinking of the winter as a horrid wet, dreary time.
Now I can see other things—crisp and sparkling days, long pleasant evenings, cheery fires.
Good work shall be done this winter.
Life shall be lived well.
The end of the summer is not the end of the world.”

A.A. Milne

I got a lot of miles in on both bikes this year, but the Tiger takes it for a couple of reasons.  FIrst of all, after some satisfying maintenance over the winter, it’s better than it’s ever been with new sprockets getting me close to 60mpg and the ultrasonically cleaned fuel injectors that have completely resolved the stalling issues from last year.  When the Concours got a flat just before the biggest ride of the summer, the Tiger stepped up and took on that cross province trip without missing a beat.  Love that bike!

This is why the Tiger still adorns the header on the blog even though several bikes have come and gone in the meantime.

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Creating A Canadian Cybersecurity Ecosystem

Last week I attended my first conferences in a long time. Someone will have to explain to me why classroom teachers have no access to professional development like this. On Wednesday and Thursday morning I was at SecTor in Toronto, making many new contacts in industry and realizing that the vast majority of companies on the front lines of cyber-defence in Canada are eager to help both the public and public education get a handle on cybersafety and digital hygiene. On Thursday afternoon and Friday I was at the University of Waterloo for their Privacy & Cybersecurity Conference. These were two very different conferences with SecTor clearly focused on industry and sales and Waterloo’s CPI on academic research and strategic thinking, but you’d be amazed how well the two fit together. I really wish they’d arrange things so people could do one and then the other instead of overlapping them, but that failure to look after each other symbiotically is emblematic of a larger problem in Canada.

I had a great chat with a colleague at ICTC a few weeks ago where he described his approach as ‘serving the ecosystem’, which I intend to emulate.  He sees ICTC’s role as helping everyone working in Canada’s digital skills development space to meet the council’s mission, which is to strengthen Canada’s digital advantage in an ever more connected and volatile global economy.  This sounds like a big ask but I believe in the goal, and that belief gives me the energy to take on this seemingly insurmountable task.
One of my favourite moments from the Waterloo CPI conference was when one of the audience, after listening to how five universities are connecting to each other, interrupted with a clear and present warning.  He guaranteed that in the next five years Canadians are going to be sitting in the dark after a cyber-attack from a well developed foreign aggressor.  When we’re all sitting there in the cold and dark with no electricity, gas or communications, will we think we’ve done enough?  Intense, right?
Early in the talk that question came up in, the head of TMU’s CyberSecure Catalyst was talking about how he headed to Israel to see how they created a world-class cybersecure ecosystem in the most challenging of circumstances.  His takeaway?  The Israeli system is predicated on familiarity, trust and connectivity.  After only a month and a bit observing Canada’s approach, it seems we’re doing the opposite.  I’ve stumbled across excellent resources in both government academia and industry, but each one is working from its own funding formula and entirely focused on meeting the targets in that formula.  Even our connectivity is fractured with numerous ‘networks’ forming independently of each other, all with the idea of uniting us.  It’d be funny if it weren’t so absurd.  Here are a few of them:
They’re all doing good work, but they’re doing it in silos and in many cases repeating material found in other programs.  It’s neither efficient nor is it anything like the Israeli approach of centralized trust, familiarity and cooperative development.  I’m not surprised that, after announcing yet another Canadian network that’ll cure our cyber-skills shortage (which is so bad that the government says we need to bring in talent to fill the gap), that guy in the audience lost his patience.
“The siloed approach we know doesn’t work anymore. We think it should change and this budget didn’t give us the warm fuzzies.”
Christyn is exactly right, Canada’s initial approach of jumpstarting as many programs as it could to try and cover the cybersecurity shortfall doesn’t scale well now that cybersafety is a part of everyone’s lives from individuals and small businesses all the way along to multi-national corporations and federal governments.  COVID only accelerated our dependence on digital connectivity yet we continue to lag behind in terms of cyber capacity, especially in education.
At the conference, Ontario’s Ministry of Economic Development representative kept describing Ontario’s many cyber-focused companies and educational organizations as an ecosystem, but a lot of potted plants all sitting in the same area are not an ecosystem, which is exactly Canada’s problem.
How Canada is approaching cybersecurity capacity development.

 

How Israel does it – with trust, interconnectivity and familiarity – no silos, and everyone looking after each other.

 

Canada needs to work together to create a national focus on cybersecurity skills development starting in elementary school with integrated digital hygiene and cybersafety learning that leads to middle school access to programs like CyberTitan that introduce students to hands on I.T. skills that demystify the subject and open up pathways.  In high school everyone should be learning essential digital skills (which are atrociously poor – more than 80% of successful cyber-attacks are the result of user ignorance) as a mandatory course. Students interested in pursuing cybersecurity should have early access to coop and STEM programs that will set them on the right track for post-secondary – no adult upskilling required.  This is also where we need to address how our high schools genderize pathways, knocking many girls out of these opportunities.
If we can demystify cyber in k-12 we will be able to graduate cyber-safe students who are able to operate in our interconnected digital economy in every pathway.  Digital fluency and access to cyber-opportunities is, of course, also an equity and inclusion issue; these opportunities aren’t just for wealthy, urban boys, though they continue to dominate the industry.  Emerging digital careers tend to be more future proof and higher paying, and everyone deserves a crack at them.
Canada is the only major federation and one of few countries in the world without a national education standard, leaving our minors open to wildly differing political influences and support in our schools; there is no such thing as ‘Canadian Education‘.  Rather than start with central administration, I think Canada should start with a canadian student bill of rights to protect minors from these changeable winds, but I digress.  Canada’s fractured approach to education (like its fractured approach to cyber) means that we need to reach a critical mass with government and industry partners in order to break into the siloed world of canadian public education.  But with no central authority to get onside, a win in Ontario does not mean a win in Quebec, or anywhere else in the country.
Canada’s patchwork approach to governance along with its challenging geography means we’re facing barriers that Israel and other world leaders in cyber have never had to contend with, which is precisely why we need to pool our resources, grow an interconnected ecosystem of pubic and private cyberskills supporters and then take on this seemingly insurmountable task.
Cybersecurity might sound like an esoteric reason for this big of a challenge, but cyber lives at the pointy end of a pyramid of digital infrastructure needs that Canada is still sorely in need of developing.  Focusing on cyber means we’re also focusing on equity and inclusion by connecting everyone, including remote northern communities, new Canadians and people who can’t afford Canada’s monopolistic telecom infrastructure, to the digital economy.  To get to cyber we need to get through device accessibility, network connectivity and digital skills development, which is why it’s a worthy strategic goal.
The trick is going to be getting all these disparate interests to unite in order to tackle Canada’s unique and challenging geography and history – otherwise we’re all going to be sitting in the cold dark in a few years wondering why we didn’t do more when we could have.

The 4th Industrial Revolution

 

An early 20th Century office – you don’t have to think too hard to see what classrooms were modelled on. Teaching tech in one isn’t any fun, especially when you’re buried in massive classes.

If you’re in education you’re probably still teaching ‘the’ industrial revolution.  Our subjects are still siloed and scheduled that way.  There is little different in school organization and planning from how an early 20th Century office operated… and we’re still focused on producing graduates for that non-existent office.  It’s probably just a habit.  Public education was formed in the first industrial revolution and copied many of the forms from that time.  What’s frustrating is that these systems are unable or unwilling to change now.

When I became a technology teacher I quickly learned that there is ‘hard’ tech and ‘soft’ tech.  I found those descriptions amusing because the hard techs often had low expectations and my ‘soft’ techs had more demanding expectations, to the point where my principal told me I had to make them easier.  I preferred using traditional tech and future tech, which turns out is how most of the world sees them.

In traditional tech you’re doing wood and metal working and auto mechanics following Industry 2.0 processes (hands on fabrication).  Having come from millwrighting and spending a significant proportion of my free time working on mechanics, I have a love of working in these traditional skills, but if we’re aiming students at skilled trades we’re decades out of date.

Yep, there are four industrial revolutions, and most of the world is at about 3.2 on their way to 4.0.  In education we’re still rocking Industry 2.0 in most tech classes.

 

There are inherent dangers with traditional techs.  Industrial machines can cut and burn you if you aren’t careful, especially if you’re going to teach these skills in an Industry 2.0 hands-on way.  As a result, these classes are capped at 21 students and often run with significantly fewer.  My ‘soft’ tech classes, even though we were operating soldering irons and power tools and working with live electricity that could kill, were capped at 31 and ran in a classroom rather than a dedicated technology space.  The icing on the cake was when, during COVID scheduling, all my colleagues went home at lunch to ignore eLearning in the afternoon (because you can’t teach ‘real’ tech like that) while I was teaching my second cohort of students in-class while simultaneously juggling eLearning because there were no other qualified teachers to do it.  This might sound like a lot of moaning but it demonstrates in a systematic way how education is mis-labelling in-demand skills and unevenly distributing limited resources to teach what is actually needed.  It turns out what we were covering in ‘soft’ tech has more to do with manufacturing than most of what was happening in ‘hard’ tech classes.

The rest of the world has already experienced three industrial revolutions and is now deeply immersed in an emerging forth one.  If you’re going to be teaching skilled trade technologies you need to be focusing on robotics and IT automated systems, and that’s if you’re aiming at the last Industry 3.0 targets.  If you’re aiming to make students ready for the world of work they’re going to enter, you should be teaching machine learning, IoT (internet of things – ie: smart devices with networked sensors) and even AI (also things we cover in computer technology, except it’s all applicable to manufacturing).

Cloud based computing?  Cybersecurity?  Autonomous robotics?  Big data analytics?  IoT?  Augmented reality?  Every single one of these things we covered in my computer technology class.  If education wasn’t stuck in a when-it-was-formed mindset, we’d be able to prepare students for the world they’re going to graduate into.

The nomenclature matters because it’s used to direct funding.  The current government in Ontario is very focused on skilled trades, which is a good thing because our academically run education system isn’t kind to non-academic students, but the definitions it operates with aren’t accurate.  My son just started working at the factory around the corner.  They’re in an Industry 3.0 strance with non-machine learning (programmed) robots doing repetitive work (including welding which is still taught by hand in manufacturing classes like it’s 1960).  They need humans to do the in-between work, but the new factory going in next door will be fully automated and will leverage Industry 4.0 to the point where there will be few manual labourers but many more IT and robotics technicians (if they can find them) along with a plethora of support services such as cybersecurity and cloud services to make this highly efficient process hum.

Guess where all those manufacturing job skills are happening?  In poorly resourced/treated as a second thought computer technology classes.  Ontario needs to wake up and revise its technology curriculums to align with the technology students will be expected to know when they leave the make-believe world of education.

I was talking to the dad of a former student a couple of weeks ago.  His son got into robotics in my program about 5 years ago.  He graduated, went to college for a robotics technician qualification and has never been unemployed since.  He currently works for Toyota Canada and is being sent down to the States to learn the new welding processes their robots will use.  Those are the same robots my son is working with around the corner.  This is pretty thrilling for me as a teacher from a manufacturing pipeline perspective.  I have a former student coding the robots that recent grads are using in their work… in manufacturing.

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