A friend’s daughter came by last night because she was interested in The Ninja.  I’m rabidly interested in riding as many different bikes as I can, so when they asked if I wanted to follow along on the Honda Firestorm she’d ridden over I quickly grabbed my gear.  With aftermarket everything on it, the Honda backfired loudly and took off like a scalded rabbit.  The steering geometry on it is very vertical and the grips small, making the bike turn in very quickly even though it feels heavier than the Ninja.  It was definitely a young man’s bike, riding it for more than an hour would be agony, but I totally get it, it was a blast!

The test ride ended up not fitting the rider (she found the Ninja tall and the riding position too upright), but the possibility of Bike2.0 got me thinking…

They have a nicely-looked-after ’06 Concours at Two Wheel Motorsport.  It’s an athletic mile eater that easily 2-ups and is in its element as a long distance tourer.  This particular one is low kilometres (~50k) and well maintained, it would run for ever with no problems.

I’m pretty weight fixated after riding the Ninja and doing a lot of thinking about bike dynamics, and the Concours isn’t light even if it is light on its feet for a big guy.  I was wandering Kijiji yesterday after suddenly facing the prospect of maybe being bike-less and came across another interesting choice.  I’ve been doing a lot of reading on the new VFR800f Interceptor.  This is another athletic mile eater that is at home in the twisties, and at over 150lbs lighter than the portly Concours it plays to my sense of what athletic means in a bike.  I’ve always been a Honda fan, I had a picture of one on my wall when I was a kid, it’d be cool to own one.

The VFR on Kijiji is an ’02, almost half the miles of the Concours for sale and ‘meticulously maintained’.  Not to be an English snob or anything, but the add is nicely written too:

Mint condition, meticulously cared for, very low mileage (28000 km) VFR 800 VTEC with ABS. The VFR 800 has the distinctive single sided swingarm, ABS and the legendary Honda Interceptor V4 engine that is famous for producing one of the most intoxicating exhaust notes of any motorcycle powerplant… it’s music. This bike is just as comfortable eating up corners in the twisties as it is taking you on multi day trips in comfort. It comes with 2 seats, the stock one and a Sargent seat, 2 windshields, stock and a tinted Zero Gravity windshield, solo seat cover, PDF Honda VFR800 Service Manual and a set of frame sliders still in the box. Also installed are the 2006 VFR clear tail light and smoke front turn signal light lenses. $5700 or best offer.

There is something about a rider who knows spelling and grammar that gives an air of competence.  When this guy says it has been meticulously maintained I believe him because he knows the word meticulous (and how to spell it).

I’ve got such an itch for this bike that I’m tempted to give him a call and ride down to Hamilton to give it a go.  I only wish I had the money aside to snap it up if I liked it as much as I think I might.  The process of selling the Ninja means that the VFR might be long gone by the time I’m ready to pull the trigger.

That was quick.  I’m glad he sold it, but sad too…


No Heroes & Distractions

Originally published on Dusty World in June of 2014

I suspect the general public thinks that teaching is easy.  I’m not talking about classroom management, that everyone agrees is difficult, but teaching, the process of enabling learning, is generally seen as easy.  Anyone can tell someone else what to think, right?  Pretty much everyone has been through school, so they all know what it is and how it works.

I’ve talked about the terrifyingly vast concept of pedagogy before, but most lay-people have never heard the term and so don’t know or care about its complexities.  Strangely, few teachers or administrators seem to want to talk about it either, but that’s for another post.  The process of creating a rich learning environment is subtle, ever changing and very difficult; reflection is a good teacher’s best defence against this challenge.  By constantly reflecting on our teaching, we hope to cull bad habits and maximize the learning environment around us.  Honest reflection isn’t something that seems to come up much in PD either.

Normally pedagogy would be my focus, one of the joys of my job is how intellectually challenging it is.  I use this blog mainly to try and tackle the challenges of pedagogy in a rapidly changing technological situation, but for the past month I and many teachers I know in Ontario have been distracted by politics.  We have to be because the circus that is modern politics oversees our profession, and we are one of their favourite whipping boys.

Unlike heroic police officers, firefighters and doctors, teachers don’t get a halo.  If the internet doesn’t convince you of the banality of teaching turn on the TV.  How many heroic teacher shows do you see on there?  Emergency services are protected by their halo, and since we’re all public servants it’s pretty obvious who is going to get thrown under the austerity bus.  Whenever the political class decides to vilify public servants to collect some vapid public support we know it’ll be us, hence the distraction.

The public perception is that teachers are overpaid, under-worked and largely clerical in what we do.  Unlike those men (and women, but let’s face it, the hero professions have a male face to them) of action, teachers are presented publicly as female, supportive and administrative rather than as action heroes.  Any time a government wants to take a swipe at public servants teachers make an easy target, like last year when teachers across the province had their wages and benefits illegally stripped even as the OPP enjoyed big year on year raises; it’s a financial emergency, but not for everybody.

In a climate like this our unions urged us to carefully consider our votes in strategic terms because the Ontario Progressive (sic) Conservative party had adopted tea-party American ideologies and was prepared to cut Ontario to pieces while following Michigan and the rust belt down the rabbit hole.  That urge to strategically vote worked very well encouraging many public servants to participate in this election, it also unified and focused non-conservative votes.  The result deposited the morally bankrupt Liberal party into a four year majority.  This was the same party that stripped contracts and forced work conditions through illegal legislation.  It’s also the same party that will do what Hudak and the PCs promised, they just won’t do it on an election year.

It begs the question, is it better to be stabbed in the front or in the back?

Teachers seem to be relieved by the Liberal win, but our profession with its poor public perception will be the first (again) to be thrown under the bus by Wynne and the Liberals.  It’s ironic that the meritocratic Liberals are going to throw a world-class education system under the bus because of optics.  If we do our difficult job well it won’t matter because ignorant people think we’re lazy and poll chasing politicians can use that.  The social and political environment we’ve been draped in for the past two years makes basic positivity difficult, let alone cultivating an attitude of improvement, and improvement is where we have to be if we want to maintain our excellence and keep up with the technological revolution happening all around us.

There are a lot of ways we could make education more efficient in Ontario rather than just cutting people’s wages and benefits and worsening their work environment.  When I first started teaching there was a guy who ran the Simpsons in his class and then sat in the English office eating his lunch at 10am.  He later got suspended for over a year while they reviewed claims that he’d slept with a grade 11 student.  They are a small minority in the system, but there are teachers who are incompetent or simply unsuited for the profession, and the system as it stands makes it almost impossible to remove them.  As a Liberal (that’s a large L Liberal who believes in the values of liberalism rather than blindly voting for a political party) I’d be all for making the removal of incompetent teachers easier, though not if it’s done by administrators who haven’t been teaching for years or pencil pushers who have never taught a class in their lives.  Peer review by a group of experienced, working teachers would be a fair way of doing this, but if it ever does happen it’ll be forced on us, probably by illegal legislation that punishes us for political advantage.  It would be nice to work in a system focused on excellence instead of political gain.

Then there is the whole weird duality of the Ontario public school system, but no one will touch that… the optics are bad, and you’ll never pry a publicly funded private religious system out of the hands of a majority, even if the UN does object.  It’s hard to consider hack and slash politics like Bill 115 fair when the system protects incompetent teachers and encourages very one sided religious favouritism.

There is a storm ahead for educators in Ontario and it’s going to be hard to focus on the complexities of pedagogy, the challenges of technological change and all that social work that we do as people with little or no understanding of education make decisions based on optics rather than reason or fact. 

Doctors and nurses won’t be expected to justify their profession, police officers and firefighters will continue to produce heroic television, and I’ll be painted as a lazy clerical worker doing a job that anyone could do.  While all that’s going on I’ll do everything I can to prepare my students to hack a technocratic neo-liberal future that makes it harder and harder for young people to find good work and become independent.  The same thing stepping on our profession is stepping on our students.


“You Never Teach Us Anything”

Originally published on Dusty World in May of 2014:


I had an interesting chat with a student yesterday.  He’s yellow, I’m green:

“You never teach us anything.”
“By teaching do you mean do it for you?”
“Um, yes?”
“I don’t do everything for you because unless you figure it out for yourself, you haven’t figured out anything at all.”
“… but you never help.”
“I don’t think that’s true, I offer suggestions, and give you a framework to develop ideas in, I’ve provided you with thousands of dollars of free equipment and access to professional level learning resources.  Have I never helped?”

“Ok, so you’ve helped, but you don’t teach.”
“What do you think teaching is?”
“When someone tells you what you should know…”

“Do you think that’s what a lesson is?  When someone gives you information?”
“Yeah, isn’t it?”

Good question that, isn’t a lesson when you tell people what they should know?  Isn’t teaching when you do everything for the student so they can be passive receptacles?

That a strong student who has ‘figured out’ the education system has such a poor view of our profession is worrying.  I wonder how many lessons it took before he came to see pedagogy as little more than a fill in the blank exercise.

I wonder what it will take now to have him take possession of his own learning.  I don’t imagine that will happen before post secondary, and when it does it will be a shock.

Child, Parent or Zen Master?

This one went into my edu-blog too, but it’s as much about motorbiking as it is about learning…

An editorial piece I read in Bike Magazine a while back has stayed with me.  In it the author (a veteran motorcycle trainer) was describing how a rider’s emotional response to high stress situations limits their ability to learn from them.  It struck me because I still catch myself falling into both of the archetypal mind traps he describes.  I now struggle to get beyond them and adopt the clinical approach of a master learner that he suggests.

In a high-stakes, emotional environment like riding you can’t be throwing tantrums or assigning blame (though many do), you need to be calm and aware in order to both assess a situation as it’s happening and accurately recall and learn from it later.  Emotion is a natural response to high stress situations, but it often gets in the way of attaining mastery.

The author of the piece suggests that people fall into archetypal behaviors when they are stressed and emotional. These behaviours prevent you from making coherent decisions in the moment as well as preventing progress by hiding memory details behind ego and emotion.  The two archetypes we fall back into are child and parent.  Since we’re all familiar with these roles it only makes sense that we’d revert to them when we are under pressure.

The child throws tantrums and reacts selfishly, aggressively and emotionally.  People falling into this mind-set shout and cry at the circumstances and focus on blaming others.   The child is emotional and blind to just about everything around them except the perceived slight.  This approach tends to be dangerously over-reactive.  Have you ever seen a student blow up in an asymmetrical way over a minor issue?  They have fallen into the child archetype emotional trap.

The parent mind-set seems like an improvement but it is just as effective at blocking learning.  The parent shakes their head disapprovingly and focuses on passing judgement.  You’ll see someone in this mind-set tutting and rolling their eyes at people.  The parent is focused on passing judgement loudly and publicly.  You can probably see how easy it is for teachers to fall into this one.

The child is selfish, emotional and immediate.  The parent wraps themselves in a false sense of superiority that makes the user feel empowered when they might otherwise feel helpless.  Both archetypes attempt to mitigate frustration and ineffectiveness behind emotion and ego.

I’ve seen students stressed out by exams or other high-stakes learning situations fall into these traps but it took that motorbike instructor to clarify how students can lose their ability to internalize learning by falling into these archetypes.  He describes riders who shout and yell at someone cutting them off.  They are responding to their own poor judgement and lack of attention with the emotional outburst.  Suddenly finding themselves in danger, they lash out emotionally in order to cover up their own inadequacies.

The parent adopts that judgmental stance.  Last summer I had a senior student who rides a motorcycle get involved in an accident.  He had bad road rash and was bruised all over.  He went with the parent approach.  The woman who hit him was panicked and frightened because she hadn’t seen him.  Her own mother had been hurt in a similar motorcycle accident and she felt a lot of guilt over being the cause of this one.  The student said ‘she came out of no-where’.  I said, ‘that’s odd, cars weight thousands of pounds.  I’ve never seen one appear out of nowhere before.’  Rather than review his own actions and perhaps learn to develop better 360° awareness, the student was happy to piggy-back on the driver’s emotional response and pass judgement.  He never felt any responsibility for that accident and still believes that cars can come out of nowhere.

I enjoy riding because it is a difficult, dangerous craft that it is very important to do well.  In pressurized learning situations you need an alert, open mind.  I’ve never once seen this the focus of consideration in school (except perhaps in extracurricular sports).  What we do instead is try and remove any pressure and cater to emotionality rather than teaching students to master it.


Other Links:
Comparing Teacher PD to Motorcycle Training
Training Fear and Ignorance out of Bikecraft
Archetypal Pedagogy

Leatherup.ca order up!

I made that order for Leatherup.ca even though I couldn’t get a clear answer out of them about sizing on the jacket.  I was told by their ‘live’ support that the jacket measurements were the outside of the jacket – which I’ve never heard of before.  Why would I want to know what the outside dimensions of a jacket are?  It’s the inside dimensions that would fit me, why would I possibly care about the outside dimensions?

Anyway, based on the weird sizing I should be a small (I’m 6’3″, 220lbs, a 46 chest and a 40 waist).  My current jacket is an XL and the idea that I’d be a small seemed absurd.  I tried looking around for alternate size descriptions and found another on ebay.  That chart suggested I should be in a large, which still isn’t where I usually look for a jacket but isn’t as out of whack as a small or medium.

Inevitably, the large was too small.  I could get into it, and I think it would have fit without the liner but it ain’t no 42″ waist.  I’ve since sent it back for an XL safe in the knowledge that Leatherup.ca is very proud of their return policy.  Having said that, it cost me $22 to return it, so this jacket is already getting more expensive.

The good news is that the jacket was a quality piece with excellent stitching, heavy duty zippers and a nicely finished liner and details; it felt like a quality garment.  The helmet and gloves I got were both excellent.  The gloves have solid build quality with nice leather and stitching, and the helmet has also exceeded my expectations being light, comfortable and offering a lot of options for venting.  Both (gloves XL, helmet XXL) are perfect fits and follow normal sizing.

I’ll let you know how the return process goes with the jacket, I’m hoping it’s as effortless as they claim.  If you want to save some headaches in trying to figure out their strange jacket sizings just go with what you’d normally go with.  I get an XL jacket normally, I should have just trusted in that rather than the weird sizing charts.

update:  I’m a week into the exchange and Leatherup.ca has been completely radio silent – no ‘we’ve received your exchange’ email, no, ‘your exchange is in process email’, no, ‘your new jacket is on its way’ email.  After requesting information (twice), I’ve gotten no replies either.  Everything may be proceeding, but it’s like I sent that jacket back into a blackhole.  Between that and the lack of information on sizing that got me into an exchange situation in the first place, I’d have to say that Leatherup.ca isn’t very good at communicating.  Well priced quality gear?  Yep.  A smooth, customer orientated ordering process?  Not so much.

update again!  Leatherup suddenly woke up on Saturday.  I found a $600 motorcycle jacket at a garage sale for fifty bucks so I asked for a refund rather than an exchange on the returned cafe racer jacket and within ten minutes they’d ok’d the refund.

I’m happy with the kit I got, quality stuff at a good price, but their communications aren’t great.  I do a lot of ordering through work and the good companies (Amazon, Tigerdirect to name two) are constantly updating statuses and letting me know where they are in process.  This can be automated, so I hope Leatherup goes that route.  Having said all that, I’ll order from them again.

Following Rivers

I just took a quick ride today along the Grand River.  In Ontario, where all the roads are painfully straight, you have to think geographically to find a road with some kinks in it.  Following the river offered something other than driving the Ontario grid.

Riding the banks of The Grand River

I got to the covered bridge at the end of the route and stopped for a photo.  I noticed that there was some drippage underneath the bike so I looked it over.  I’d just lubricated the chain before leaving so I thought maybe I’d put a bit too much chain oil on, but what was coming off looked runnier than chain lube.  A quick look under the fuel tank showed a gas leak.  

I got the bike home and took off the tank.  I hadn’t been happy with how the fuel line had gone back on, it never seemed to sit right.  After futzing around with it for a few minutes it suddenly popped right on properly and locked.  No more leak.

It was nice to get out for a short (45 minutes or so) ride even with a headache on a cold, windy day.  It’s been raining for days so I couldn’t turn down a chance to get out, even for a little while.  Diagnosing and fixing a leak that quickly afterwards was just as satisfying.

I’d really like to find a junker that I can break down and rebuild as a learning exercise, but finding an old bike in Ontario isn’t easy.  

Moving the Needle


There were a number of incisive and critical reviews of both the U.S. education system and the role education technology plays in it at this year’s ASU/GSV Summit in Phoenix.  Constance Steinkuehler mentioned data exhaust, which I’ve already mulled over.  At a later discussion another speaker by the name of Brandon Busteed stunned the audience with this:

“Educational technology has failed to move the needle on either cost effectiveness or student success in the past ten years…” Brandon Busteed, Gallup Education

This is an astonishing thing to say at an education technology conference, but he went on to back up his statement with a boat load of facts that fit so well with the anecdotal experiences of the teachers in the room that many were nodding along with him.

With the magic ipad, Google Apps and wifi for everyone we must surely be personalizing education away from that industrialized factory model we all find so abhorrent. In this digital renaissance we are using our newly found access to information to individualize learning and cater to the needs of each child, right? Surely we aren’t using it to create data from standardized testing. That would be like getting one of those new-fangled automobiles and then hooking your horse up to it so you could tow it into town and show it off.

The chart on the left is completely fictitious. After reading Busteed’s quote from my notes I went looking for data that would prove him wrong; I couldn’t find any. What I did find was that in longitudinal analysis PISA results aren’t particularly flattering to an increasingly digitized learning environment.  

Pick your country, from strong performers like Finland and Canada to poorer countries struggling to reach the average, it appears Brandon is right, education technology isn’t moving the needle, in fact it may be hurting more than it helps. That PISA numbers are at best inconsistent and at worse show a decline (especially in digitally focused countries) in the past eleven years should suggest that educational technology might not be as revolutionary as we suspect, or that we’re doing it wrong.

There are a number of influences pushing down student scores. Ironically, many of them are also under the influence of the information revolution. Income disparity is increasing in large part because the world is recovering from an economic crisis inflicted on it by Wall Street quants who harnessed newly available digital technology to play an economic shell game on a global scale. Workers displaced in both economic and workplace digital disruption are not able to raise their children in the same socio-economic environment that they were raised in. The middle-class itself is evaporating as the wealthy harness digital connectivity to push wealth beyond the reach of governments; technology is amoral and caters to the needs of those who can afford it without consideration for right action. Socio-economic factors are one of the key indicators in student success and the vast majority of people in the world are poorer today than they were a decade ago.


That digital disruption seems to feed economic disparity on a systemic basis should be a cause of concern for everyone, but especially people in an egalitarian social project like education. Is digitization a tool of income disparity? I’m not sure that we’ve answered that question yet, though I’d argue that if we are creating consumers rather than hackers then yes, it is. Passive acceptance and integration of digitization is a recipe for a newly efficient kind of serfdom.

This could as easily be the promise of edtech

The way digital technology disrupts existing industry is very exciting to the people who sell it. They have been so successful in presenting the idea of freedom from industrialization that digital disruption has become a desired expectation, especially for younger people. Expectation becomes inevitability but the results are producing efficiencies where we aren’t looking for them. Instead of individualizing education (like all the digital education tools promise) we are using digital technology to propagate the worst aspects of the industrial system we’re still clothed in, such as standardized testing and data collection. Instead of freeing us from systemic, cookie-cutter thinking, education technology is supporting a political push to re-institute data driven learning on such a wide scale that no one will be spared. The promise of easily manipulable data thrills educational management because it lends an air of credibility to what has always been a difficult to analyze process.

Instead of complexifying and diversifying our understanding of pedagogy, educational technology is supporting a political push to drastically simplify it, and it’s doing it under an onslaught of data and statistics. Had other examples of digital disruption led to that promised land of personalization, self expression and equality for everyone I might have hope, but as it stands, if you’re just using it you’re also just feeding its assumptions.


The art of our times…

When we put technology into the hands of students without expecting them to understand it we’re asking them to internalize and accept all the compromises and assumptions inherent in that technology, and make no mistake, all that complex hardware, software and networking are full of compromises.

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, unless we teach students how this technology we expect them to use works, we are laying the foundation for a new generation of systemic thinkers that will make factory formatted graduates look like an egalitarian dream. There was still space to be individual among the gears of the old regime, there is no space between the ones and zeroes of the new one.


I came across this term today while looking up gear.  It was funny to see it tied to a major manufacturer of motorcycle gear at the top of a Google search.  Being a keen new motorcyclist I looked it up.  You can’t look like you know anything about bikes if you don’t know the lingo.  Fortunately Urban Dictionary had a thorough explanation.

One of the things that knocked me off getting a motorcycle was a ‘squid’ killing himself outside my work one day.  He was late and he threw his GSX-R through a just-turned-red light at better than twice the speed limit.  He went over the hood of a car turning left onto the road in front of him and died on impact with the road.  His helmet wasn’t done up and flew off on first impact leaving him to skid down the road helmetless in a tshirt for sixty feet.  Seeing this all happen first hand put me off riding for a long time.

When I think now about motorcycling I think of it as a meditative and conscious activity. The people I’ve met doing it are the antithesis of squids.  Many seem to have a poet’s soul and a technician’s considered approach to their riding.  In many ways I feel like I’ve found my tribe when I talk to other motorcyclists.  That a squid did something that stupid twenty years ago and robbed me of what I’m enjoying now so much is a source of irritation.  These idiots have a disproportionate effect on how non-riders see motorcyclists.

That the internet gives this idiotic motorcycle subculture such a hard time makes me happy…

“Squid Shopping”

Dogmatic Digitization

Digital technology thrives on a covenant of radical democracy that promises information for all.  The giants of technology market themselves on this egalitarian ideal.  From Google’s corporate counter culture to Apple’s fixation on design to empower the user, technology companies are founded and thrive on the idea of a future of individual empowerment.  People love them for it and self identify with digital technology companies in a personal way that is quite foreign to other consumer relationships.

Social norms have changed over the past five years.  Where once pulling out a smartphone demonstrated your importance and wealth, it is now a common gesture for pretty much everyone in North America.  We’ve passed a tipping point, the majority of people are on a computer connected to the internet all the time.  If you don’t believe me go for a walk in any public place and see how many people are operating handheld computing devices.

As the majority adopts digital platforms I’ve seen a consistent dumbing down of digital tools and content in order to reach as wide an audience as possible.  This is probably a complaint form many early adopters, but when I see simplicity and limitation rather than functionality and access begin to infect how we use technology in education I have to question the pedagogical value of our educational technology.

In order to cater to as many people as possible educational technology has created systems that hide much of what happens behind simplistic interfaces.  Can the promise of radical democratization of information survive when most people want to be spoon fed in the most limited manner possible?  Free access to material doesn’t matter when most people only want to use the internet in the same, simplistic way.

Digital technology still presents itself with those early ideals of democratic information access and transparency, but like everything else as it matures it begins to develop a more pragmatic approach.  My feeling now is that these egalitarian, transparent technology companies are actually anything but.  No one that wealthy feels the need to be transparent, or to educate others.  When you are worth billions your goal becomes market share and monopoly.

Educational technology, as an offspring of the digital technology giants, suffers from this dogmatic stiffening of its intent.  Rather than focusing on individual empowerment and the promise of de-industrializing the education system they are happy to embrace dehumanizing, data-driven testing, especially if it offers ease of implementation.  If education technology isn’t interested in offering users diverse, personally nuanced, highly adaptive, open ended digital learning tools in a transparent and universal access to information, then what hope have the rest of us in a consumer driven digital world?  We’re preparing the next generation of drones.

Tweets from the ASU/GSV Summit in Phoenix

We’re in a position as educators and educational technologists to try and direct digitization away from closed systems with limited access to tools and information but the money infects our good intent.  Rather than focusing on diversity and acclimatizing students to the radical openness of the internet (something that, like the Wild West, may soon disappear), we preach walled gardens and monopolistic access.  We teach students to value limited access in order to train them for a future internet controlled by the rich and we do it because it’s easier, not because it’s better.

For some new tools empower,
but for far too many they create
habitually driven repetiton

That this is all done under the guise of freer information for all is laughable.  How can education claim to support the ideals of the early information revolution if it is in bed with pragmatic companies pushing for tiered access to information based on wealth?  If the information revolution was ever about ideals it has long since been replaced by moneyed interest.

Between datamining users to support wrong headed standardized testing policies to simply fleecing student data to generate sellable marketing information, the flipside to education technology is complex and not particularly flattering.  As a teacher of technology I hope to empower my students with knowledge of how information technology works in order for them to remain independent entities in the brave new world we’re creating.  For the other 95% who take no computer studies and yet live on this technology all day every day, I see a future every bit as dogmatic and limited as the industrial one we are now shedding.  In fact, it may be much worse because, unlike the punch card factory worker of the Twentieth Century who was reduced to a number for eight hours a day, dogmatic, digitized information demands your undying attention and submission 24/7/365.

If you can’t hack it, it owns you.

Who Owns Your Data?

Tweets from the #edinnovation Summit
There was much hand-wringing over privacy and data ownership at the recent ASU/GSV conference.  Serious people in designer suits explained that security is expensive, must be shrouded in secrecy and is never full-proof.  Sounds like a great fear-sell for cash infused education systems (sic).  Fortunately you can’t really oversee it either because that would be a breach of security; it’s a brilliant piece of hard-salesmanship with minimal oversight.

Listening to the urgency and paranoia in these discussions had me thinking about how privacy and data ownership are framed in digital environments.  I’m the first to suggest we be cautious with how student data is shared, but the idea that anything digital can somehow be locked down and owned is ridiculous.  I’ve heard ed-tech ‘experts’ go on about walled gardens at length.  You can leap over any of those walled gardens with a simple screen capture or text grab, and then it can go viral on the wild internet.  Trying to keep data in check is like trying to hold back Niagara Falls with a door, digital data is incredibly fluid, that’s why we can do so much with it.

The second tweet at the top sheds some light on how we are misframing data as an ownable entity.  Like your appearance or your reputation, the data you give off is information you emit socially; you can’t own your data any more than you can own your appearance or your reputation.  In all three cases you can, of course, influence the social outputs you’re giving, but you can’t own them.  Realizing this would stop us from trying to control the uncontrollable and instead let us begin teaching students (and everyone else for that matter) best practices for creating desirable data emissions (there has to be a better word for that, digital reputation? digirep? virtual scent?  vBO?).

If we begin to see digital data emissions as a natural byproduct of online interaction (and make no mistake, they are), then the idea that if we throw enough money at it we can make everyone safe gets questioned.  You’re never going to hear education technology companies that market based on security suggesting this mindset, there’s no money in it.

The other side of this is privacy.  The idea that we can suddenly have privacy now when we’ve never had it before is baffling to me.  Before we became industrialized we were mostly geographically locked to where we were born.  Without the ease of fossil fuel powered vehicles most of us never travelled more than a dozen miles from where we were born.  Do you think anyone had privacy in those circumstances?  You were a well established element in a fairly static society.  The idea that you could shield your actions from the public eye only really began in the twentieth century.  Industrialized anonymity was as much curse as it was something desirable.  It was only in the conformity forced on us by industrialization that the illusion of privacy existed.

If the NSA and CIA can’t stop it, do you think that edtech companies can?

We are emerging from that drab, industrial anonymity caused by cookie cutter conformity.  The digital world doesn’t expect us to be passive eyeballs counted as ratings in front of a TV screen, it demands interaction and individuality and it restores our voices.  As we emerge into an individually empowered, digitally driven world of shared information, expecting privacy is a wish for a poisonous illusion that never really existed.

Privacy isn’t dead, it never existed.  Prior to industrialization we had no social privacy at all and during industrialization we were dehumanized into bricks in the wall and given the illusion of privacy because we barely mattered as individuals.

When you’re online nothing you do is private, nothing you do is owned by you.  Just as you can influence your appearance by good hygiene or your reputation by performing right action, you can affect your data-appearance by presenting yourself well, but ultimately any data you give off is out there and can spread easily, just like gossip.

The nascent study of digital citizenship addresses a lot of this, but like other digital skills it is an afterthought, never integrated into core curriculum.  No wonder men in expensive suits can make lots of money preaching fear and convincing educators to spend their budgets on myth and innuendo.  Perhaps one day educators will take the job of understanding and teaching digital skills seriously and ignore the snake oil.