Face Your Fear! Maths Trauma & Inequity in STEM Education

In January the president of the Ontario Association for Mathematics Educators (OAME) sent me an email after seeing our online activity around game development and coding and asked if I might present at their conference in May.   If you’d have told high school me that I’d one day present at a maths conference I would have thought you’re having me on.  For me, maths and science were the hammers that the education system used to teach me that I wasn’t good enough, but I’m rethinking that egotistical framing.


One of my co-presenters also didn’t have a positive maths experience in high school and we were both worried that it would be like being back in class again.  That’s where the teacher would single you out and make sure everyone in the room knew that you didn’t know what you were doing, then they’d fail you, usually with a caustic remark about how ‘this isn’t for you’.  I’d internalized the idea that maths (and science) went out of their way to make me feel stupid, but after doing our presentation (everyone was lovely, of course), I’m reconsidering my failures in maths and science from another angle.
We immigrated to Canada when I was eight years old.  A lack of research had us moving to Montreal right after Bill 101 came in, which wasn’t great for a little kid from rural England.  By 1980 we’d moved to Streetsville on the edge of Mississauga and that’s where I grew up.  Various calamities happened both financially and emotionally while I was in high school.  I didn’t play school sports because I worked every day after school from the age of 12 on.  School sports, like maths and science, are for those privileged children of leisure who have the time and money to participate – that’s why we shape entire school cultures around them.
In senior high school my dad was in a near fatal car accident that had him hospitalized for months.  During that time I was working as well as doing all the home things that he usually did.  This meant that the hours of homework meted out by maths and science teachers didn’t get the attention it demanded.  The tedious and repetitive/rote nature of S&M homework didn’t help either.  Before grade 11 science I was daydreaming of becoming an astronomer.  After I failed it, not so much.  High school accommodated my lack of socio-economic clout by guidancing me to go find a job that Canadians don’t like doing – like a good immigrant should.
I dropped out of grade 13, worked as a night security guard (full time) while trying to attend Sheridan College for visual arts.  I dropped out of Sheridan when I couldn’t get to class after not sleeping every night before class.  Eventually I  found my way into a millwright apprenticeship which offered me the economic stability I needed to finish high school, which I did at the age of 22.  I eventually left millwrighting and went to university, finally settling on English and philosophy degrees, but even there my maths trauma haunted me.
A requirement for my philosophy degree was to take the symbolic logic course.  My first time through it was run by a computer science prof who didn’t like how big the class was so he used every rotten maths trick in the book (surprise tests, undifferentiated instruction, sudden changes in direction, etc) to shake out the ‘arts’ students who needed it for their degree.  That course could also be used as an ‘arts’ credit for the STEM types who took it as a bird course.  That prof succeeded in chasing out all the philosophy students from that philosophy course.  The next semester I tried again, this time with a philosophy prof.  I told her of my fear of maths and she went out of her way to differentiate both instruction and assessment.  I ended up getting an ‘A’ on the mandatory course I thought I’d never finish.  I can do maths and complex logic, just not when it’s weaponized against me.
As a millwright I never had a problem tackling applied maths when I needed it.  When I transitioned into information technology, again no issues using applied maths as I needed it to do my job.  It appeared that I wasn’t as bad as maths as the education system had repeatedly told me I was, though I still carried that luggage with me.
My anxiety was high as I got ready for this presentation.  Alanna made a comment that resonated though.  If you work in a secondary classroom you’ve probably heard teens talking about how this or that teacher ‘hates’ them.  Alanna reminded me that this is a great example of everything-is-about-me teenage egotism.  My maths and science teachers didn’t hate me and weren’t vindictively attacking me for my failures; no student matters that much.  Having done this teaching thing for over two decades now, I can assure you that ‘hate’ isn’t something most teachers feel.  To be honest, when we’re not at work even the most difficult students aren’t on our minds.  For the teachers who do feel hate for students, you need to find another career.
Looking past the teen-egoism of my own mathematical inferiority complex, I got along with my STEM teachers pretty well.  I certainly wasn’t a classroom management headache.  In retrospect, what happened to me in class wasn’t vindictive on their part, it was a result of my lowly socio-economic status.  Had I been a stable, well off, multi-generational settler whose ancestors were given whole swarths of Canada for free, I’m sure we’d have gotten along just fine.  Were I not in the middle of family trauma, perhaps I would have stuck it out.  Had I been a student of a less creative nature who thrived in structure and repetition, I imagine I’d have found a place in STEM even without the financial means – I did eventually embrace my technical skills despite the system’s best efforts to alienate me from myself.
Last week one of our maths teachers emailed the entire building asking how she could punish students who are skipping tests in order to give themselves more time to prepare for them.  Our principal emailed all reminding everyone of Growing Success, but this didn’t stop a science teacher from jumping in with our written-in-the-1950s student handbook which still contains escalating penalties (including handing out zeroes) for late or missing work, even if that is directly contrary to Ministry direction.
In my last round of IT testing for my grade 10s I left each chapter test available for three tries, and students could take it open book if they wished.  When you finished the test it would even review it for you and tell you what the correct answers were and why, if you could be bothered to do that.  Ample class time was provided to review the material both on screen and hands-on.  You could not design a more equitable and differentiated approach to learning computer technology.  Our class average on these three tries/open book tests/wildly-differentiated and in-class supported tests?  11.07/20 – that’s a 55% class average.  Even when you differentiate and build in equity to support assessment in COVID-world classes, many students won’t bother doing any of it anyway, and this is in an optional subject they chose to take!  I turned down the weight of those results, not because I think my subject doesn’t matter, but because the COVID malaise on students is real  (it’s real on staff too, not that anyone cares) and holding them to pre-pandemic standards is neither compassionate nor pedagogically correct.

If someone wants to skip a period to get more study time in, let ’em.  What would be even better is having open and honest communications with your students to the point where they can simply ask for extra time rather than feeling like they have to skip because they know you won’t give give it to them   They probably won’t use their extra time anyway and the result will be what it is.  Clinging to schedules and testing that only examines rote memorization (another issue in STEM that produces A+ students who don’t know how to apply what they know), is the kind of undifferentiated and tedious ‘learning’ that made me despise maths and science in high school.


After COVID swept through our family recently, my son returned to class only to get no lunches for days on end (while still recovering from the virus) as he took test after missed maths test.  When he didn’t do well on them we had to intervene and ask for some compassion.  Why do S&M subject teachers believe that curriculum comes before differentiation based on circumstances (especially IEPs!), or even basic wellness?  We’re all in exceptional circumstances.  I suspect these teachers believe that this ‘rigour’ makes them a credible and serious discipline of study.  I’m not sure how you change that rigid culture founded on privilege, conformity and exclusion.
My maths trauma in high school sent me on a crooked path before I was finally able to come to terms with my intelligence and abilities; it made me doubt myself and misaim my expectations.  I’d hope public education would do the opposite of that, but it still doesn’t.  We’ve got too many classes still predicating success on hours of homework using undifferentiated and repetitive rote learning under the assumption that everyone has the time and inclination to find success in that.  It’s even worse now two years into a pandemic.  During quadmesters it was particularly acute with students in S&M heavy quads telling me they were expected to do 4+ hours of homework EVERY DAY – even as the working ones were forced to take on extra hours as ‘heroic’ front line workers.
In my classroom I aim to find every students’ talents and help them find digital pathways that will support them in our technology driven economy.  My senior classes are supposed to be ‘M’ level post-secondary bound students (which is why they cap me at 31 like an academic calculus class), but in actuality the majority of my students do not attend university and good percentage go straight into the workplace.  We also frequently have essential level and special needs students finding their way in our program because we differentiate even when the system holds us all back with an inequitable distribution of resources.  My stuffed classes serving all pathways help make grade 12 academic physics classes with a dozen students in them happen because those very special kids need that credit for university.
In order to find student strengths I focus on foundational skills like practicing an effective engineering design process, which is more about organization and self-direction than it is about technical details.  I could drill them on tests about technical specifics and fail the ones who skip rote memorizing reams of facts for a variety of reasons (they can’t afford the time, their IEP doesn’t allow them learn like that, etc), but then I’d be doing exactly what was done to me in high school.  That’d be a jerk move.
“You! Yes, you! Stand still laddy!”
When we grew up and went to school
There were certain teachers who would
Hurt the children any way they could
By pouring their derision
Upon anything we did
And exposing every weakness
However carefully hidden by the kids”
We don’t need no education, but we all need direction to help find our strengths… especially in STEM.


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via IFTTT May, 2022

A Letter to Candidates: Is Anyone Interested In Changing Public Education For Student Needs?

I’ve been assisting with the Ontario Literacy test this week at school.  Watching students have to put phones away in a system that allows full access all the time is like watching a long distance runner getting a foot amputated before having to run a marathon.  Students didn’t understand the instructions and many ignored them and had to be individually assisted in unplugging themselves from their devices.  They then looked disorientated and confused, and then we hit ’em with a high stakes literacy test!

The threats and fear generated by the test are also part of this wonderful experience.  “You can’t graduate without this” is the most common refrain.  I’ve been wondering why it’s all stick and no carrot with the literacy test, and then I got one of those ‘support education’ emails that’ll send the email an organization wrote in your name to your members of parliament.

We have a provincial election approaching and the stakes are high.  My problem is that no one has any vision for Ontario’s public education system that would actually improve it or make it sustainable into an uncertain future.  Liberals are entirely invested in keeping things as they are (they’re also the main reason why things are the way they are), and the conservatives aren’t interested in improving it at all as they collect supporters intent on privatizing it.

Rather than send off someone else’s words to my representatives, I sent a suggestion for a leaner, diversity-of-pathways honouring system that might also be greener, but no one in Ontario politics has a vision for public education beyond either keeping it as it is or selling it of to their donors.  Ontario students deserve better…


Dear Candidates,

I’m going to cut out the form letter and speak frankly.  After years of Liberal stewardship, the public education system in Ontario wasn’t in the best shape and needed an overhaul.

As a teacher in the system, I believe the entrenched political entities (councils, unions, colleges etc) have become more fixated on their own continued status quo than they have in an education system focused on student needs.

I had hoped that the current government would go about the serious business of fixing it, but they seem entirely focused on dismantling it for private benefit, which isn’t going to help anyone.

Ontario’s education system was broken by the 2006 learning to 18 amendment to the education act.  There are many pathways and learning should be a lifelong commitment; schools do not own the concept of learning.  Forcing students to stay in public schools until 18 has done irreparable harm to students and the system itself, though none of the many groups with a vested interest in a bloated public system will want you to address this.

A lean and individually responsive education system (that is also more fiscally responsible) could be achieved if we shelved this legislation and opened up pathways by allowing students who have demonstrated sufficient literacy and numeracy skills to move on if they wish.  In this way our high-stakes and expensive OSSLT would offer an opportunity rather than being a purely punitive experience.  If students were able to graduate at the end of grade 10 with a basic Ontario diploma which would allow them to pursue pathways directly into the workplace or into alternate learning situations like apprenticeships, our senior classrooms would no long be daycare centres for students who don’t want to be there.  The students in senior high school would be there with intent and the system would be able to align their limited resources to serve students who are learning with the intent to continue on into post-secondary.

This change would drastically reduce our overages on building maintenance by reducing the number of buildings needed.  It might also offer an opportunity where schools can amalgamate beyond the rigid elementary/secondary system we run now, offering hyper local schooling that drastically reduces busing costs.  In a world where fuel prices are skyrocketing and supply chains are stretched to breaking, this seems like an inevitability.  Moving towards a digitally enhanced, hyper-local future now would mean it doesn’t come as a violent upheaval later.

With strong digital/remote skills and effective leverage of emerging technologies, we could create a leaner, greener and more individually responsive public school system in Ontario.  Academic teaching in classrooms works for students who understand that they need what’s being taught in order to prepare for post-secondary, but for many Ontario students who aren’t on that pathway, these final years are torture for them and for front line education staff trying to deal with them with ever shrinking resources.

No one will consider options like this because there are far too many organizations committed to the way things are for their own benefit.  Conservatives won’t do it because their private school friends won’t like them taking away customers.  The Liberals are so entwined with unions and other educational groups that they too won’t touch this.  I hope someone can see the light here and make moves to create a more student responsive, less bloated and more environmentally responsible education system.  In such an Ontario, redundancies like multiple education systems serving the same region would also end, but no political party will touch that either for fear of upsetting status quo religious privilege

Our public education system wasn’t in great shape before the last four years beat it to a pulp.  If Doug doesn’t win again this June, whoever does will give us half of what was stripped away back and we’ll be told by the various colleges/unions/councils they’re aligned with that we should thank them for it.  I don’t want things to go back to the way they were, I want them to respect the many pathways students choose and honour those choices by not forcing students to remain in classrooms that aren’t aligned with their learning needs until they are eighteen.  Does anyone in Ontario politics have anything like this kind of vision?


Tim King
Classroom Teacher
Elora, ON.

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BYOD: yet another edtech failure

Four years ago I was advocating for BYOD.

I was a big fan of the bring your own device (BYOD) approach to educational technology.  I’d hoped that it would diversify the technology we were using in class that looked like it was evolving toward a Google owned Chromebook driven internet and would allow the students who wanted to differentiate their digital access to do so.  It should also have left more money free to ensure that all students have some kind of digital access, therefore addressing equity of access worries.  It turns out that offering free data to students means there isn’t a lot of money left for anything and has been detrimental to teaching digital fluency.

Our school board went in early and built out wireless infrastructure and developed a BYOD network that was open to anyone entering one of our schools.  In the years since this happened the number of students bringing in their own devices hasn’t changed (most do), but the type of device they bring and fill up the network with also hasn’t changed.  Laptops and other more creation focused devices are a non-entity on our BYOD network – it is packed full of smartphones focused on personal use.  You can make an argument for these devices as creation tools, but their function is built around consumerism and the data collection that monetizes the modern internet.  The vast majority of smartphone users are consumers by design, not creators in anything other than a selfie sense.

The vast majority of those smartphones are not used for school work and are often directly opposed to it.  Our administration is now trying to manage cyberbullying that is happening in class across the entire school on networks students shouldn’t even have access to.  The problems caused aren’t just lack of student focus in class, these devices cause systemic problems as well.

No one does edtech for free.

If a smartphone is used for anything class related it is a minuscule percent of its daily use.  Many of our teachers have issues with managing off task smartphone use in class.  Earnest #edtech types (usually with corporate backing) tell us this is because we’re not doing it right and we should buy into their system.  As someone who was doing it right before your Google/Apple/Whatever certification existed, I’m here to tell you that this is nonsense.  Smartphones aren’t creative tools, they aren’t designed to be, they’re designed by data collection companies to collect data.  Trying to build your classroom around a device like that is like trying to set up a roofless tent in a rainstorm to stay dry.

Our school  board has made numerous attempts to focus network data use on learning, but students are willing to open themselves up to phishing and other hacks by installing policy banned VPN networks to bypass website filters.  Even in our carefully moderated network environment we’ve got students sharing their data through unknown off shore servers just so they can Snapchat while in class.  They do all this without a clue about what they’ve done to their data integrity.

I’m not sure at what point school boards in Ontario decided that they should be providing free internet to students, but it isn’t cheap.  Our board has struggled to stay ahead of the data tsunami caused by all these vampire smartphones clamping on to our BYOD network each day.  Apps that constantly update and stream data are the new normal and the current round of digital natives expect to be able to drink from the tap all the time in whatever manner they see fit.  This is costing tens of thousands of dollars a month at a time when department budgets are tightening up and I’m not even given enough to cover the basic costs of consumables like wiring and electrical components in my technology classroom.

I would love to see BYOD being used for its intended purpose, but instead of valuing the network they’ve been given, students see it as an expectation, like running water or electricity.  They make minimal efforts to moderate their use of it and become incensed if it’s adjusted to try and focus them on using it for school related work while in the classroom.  If it was taken away at this point I think there would be much gnashing of teeth and agonized screaming by students who think that free internet access is some kind of constitutional right.  In the meantime we’re all paying millions of dollars a  month across the province to provide these students with bandwidth that feeds their habitual technology use and is more often a detriment to learning.

I’m as frustrated as anyone, but simply offering internet for everything doesn’t seem to be working.  Once again, I come back to the lack of a digital fluency continuum of learning in Ontario.  If students aren’t shown how to use technology effectively, offering them unbridled access to it isn’t going get us anywhere.

Our implicit enabling of habitual technology use makes for whole generations of digital narcissists.

It’s been five years now and Ontario still has no mandatory digital skills continuum even though digital technology is pretty much everywhere now.  We expect students to learn foundational skills in other aspects that are curriculum wide (literacy, numeracy), but we magically expect them to understand and make effective use of digital technology.  The BYOD failure is just another symptom of this disease.

All we have to do to do it, is do it:

I don’t care whose skills development process we use, but can we start teaching technology if we’re going to use it in everything?  Digital technology is prompting systemic change in how we share information, create media and collaborate on learning.  Can we start to treat it like the fundamental skill it is?  Please?!?

I roughed out an idea a few years ago – in it I suggested limiting access to technology to fluency and slowly opening up that access as technical skills improved.  BYOD is a great idea for digitally fluent students who know what it is and how to use it effectively.  
In literacy terms this would be like slowly increasing reading difficulty as vocabulary and reading fluency improves.  What we do with digital technology is nothing at all until a student brings in their own copy of War and Peace, which they then use to prop open doors and doodle in it.

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You Didn’t Prepare Me for Post-Secondary

Over the past several years I’ve been contacted by graduates or their parents with a similar complaint:  why didn’t you prepare me/my child for post secondary math?

A few years ago it was a college bound student with learning challenges.  His mom was… outspoken (that’s being very charitable) while he was in school, but I was able to work well with him and he eventually went into information technology at a local college.  He dropped out in his first semester with failing maths grades.  Mom emailed me in a rage blaming me for this.  I pointed out that I teach computer technology and asked how he was doing in those classes (he was getting 90s).  That ended that particular interaction, but it wasn’t the first and it won’t be the last.

I’ve also had students who I worked closely with both in class and on school teams, students who know me well enough to be straight up, get in touch while in post-secondary to say that they too are struggling with maths.  It’s a familiar refrain; a student who got high 90s in high school maths suddenly finds themselves dysfunctional in post secondary.  A recent multi-award winning graduate put it well: “when we’re given a problem, other students apply their maths skills like taking tools out of a toolbox.  They assess the problem and then apply the right mathematical approach to solve it.  I feel like we spent all our time learning mechanics on worksheets but spent no time contextualizing what we were doing.”  This would be like trying to learn how to play hockey by drilling yourself independently on stick handling, skating and shooting, but never contextualizing those skills as a whole in a game.

When some of our most academically decorated students come back to me with this kind of feedback, I’m left wondering how to address it.  I don’t think it’s fair that the blame falls entirely on teachers.  Thanks to our community’s everyone-can-go-to-university-if-they-want-to sense of privilege, many of our academic classes are populated by students without the background or interest in using what we’re trying to teach them.  This means teachers have to simplify and compartmentalize their content to such a degree that the students who actually need it aren’t getting it.  I frequently see students with weeks of absences who are still expected to earn a credit (you got auto-dropped at 10 absences when I was in high school).  When you’ve got students who barely attend, compartmentalizing the learning becomes a survival technique.  It also makes it nearly impossible to contextualize learning beyond single period lessons.

Last year my son was told, “don’t worry, everyone fails that unit” in his grade eleven maths class.  If I had a unit that everyone failed, my first assumption would be that I’m teaching it wrong and I’d change my approach, but one of the ways we appear to drag students to the end of the Ontario maths curriculum is to just keep pushing through it, regardless of comprehension, context or mastery of previous concepts.  This isn’t a new phenomenon, it happened to me in the 1980s too.

I’d quote statistics to you about how successful our graduates are once they leave the building, but no one in Ontario public education keeps those statistics.  Instead of quoting EQAO scores, what we should be doing is collecting data on the success rates of our graduates in post-secondary.  If we all claim to be about backward design, this kind of data would make that possible on a meta-level, but it’s better to fly blind, then we don’t have to take responsibility for those failures or change anything.

There is a lot of talk around destreaming as a cure-all to systemic prejudice, but the people framing it that way are usually the ones happy to see larger class sizes for everyone at a lower cost.  Streaming wasn’t designed to denigrate anyone, it was instituted to let classes focus on learner needs with higher needs students having smaller classes and students aiming at advanced post-secondary programs working in a room where everyone is driving for the same goals.  The unfortunate truth is the destreaming has already occurred thanks in large part to parents and guidance ignoring it.  When I last taught university level classes I found that less than half the class was university bound and a number of those directionless students were put into university stream to ‘keep their options open’.  In keeping their options open these students were knocking others out of contention.  In curriculums like English and mathematics, where skills development is vital in order for students to operate at the senior end of the program, this kind of watering down of intent hurts many of our graduates.

Even in my technology courses I see this.  My ‘M’ level courses are supposed to be for post-secondary bound students but I typically see 10-20% of the class coming out of credit poor essential and applied situations who have no intention of going into post-secondary.  I then spend an inordinate amount of my time catering to these high-needs children instead of helping the students who selected the right stream get to where they want to go.

I’m not sure why, with the pressure to reduce costs, we’re not offering alternate pathways that allow the students who don’t need senior classes to take alternate pathways.  An early graduation workplace/apprenticeship pathways option for students should be available for anyone who has passed the literacy and maths testing in grades 9 and 10.  If those students who would rather be out working were, we could refocus our classrooms on preparing the students in them for post-secondary success instead of watering everything down in order to babysit those who don’t want to be there.  Instead we’re all handcuffed by Ontario’s learning until eighteen law.  If we’re all really advocates for life-long learning, then it should be obvious that this doesn’t just happen in schools.  There would be many benefits to stepping away from this mandatory restriction and refocusing our classrooms on developing rich, contextualized learning opportunities for students who show up and want to be there in order to go on and tackle post-secondary specialities.

This issue goes well beyond maths, but the structured development of skills over many years in mathematics exacerbates the problem in ways that make it much more visible.

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Consumerist Edtech has us all living in Hotel California

If you work in education and leverage technology (so that’ll be anyone in any classroom these days), give this a read and see if it doesn’t make you a bit uncomfortable.

Perhaps you’re thinking that your particular edtech provider isn’t like that, but they’re all coming at it from the same angle:

Apple is into it.

Google is into it.

Microsoft is into it.

And what angle is that?  Marketing for the attention economy, of course.  Big tech’s focus on a ‘total service environment’ is there to make sure you never leave:  whether it’s #tech or #edtech, we’re all living in Hotel California;  you can check out any time you like but you can never leave.

Platform agnosticism has been a recurring theme on Dusty World since it began.  I’ve been barking at the moon about this for years because we don’t leverage educational technology to teach how technology works, we just let it insinuate itself into all our learning while being illiterate in terms of how it influences us through media and medium.  We predicate technology use in education on media illiteracy.

Dreaming of ‘free range’ open source
technology access
in 2013.

If we taught digital fluency, anyone who became digitally skilled in our education system would be much better at identifying fake news and managing their digital presence.  If we taught digital fluency instead of depending on consumerism to do it for us we’d be platform agnostic both in hardware and software in every classroom so students understood how things work and influence their thinking instead of producing blinkered consumers for corporate consumption.

Imagine if our language and social studies teachers got certifications by certain book publishers and then only taught from that publisher’s collection in the way that their particular publisher provided; that’s what we’ve done in educational technology over the past two decades.

“In a social-science class last year, the students each grabbed a Google-powered laptop. They opened Google Classroom, an app where teachers make assignments. Then they clicked on Google Docs, a writing program, & began composing essays.”


We use edtech to indoctrinate students in closed digital ecosystems designed to monetize their attention.  It doesn’t matter which multinational edtech ‘solution’ your board uses, they’re all the same, and they’re all playing the #metaverse marketing game: “marketing spin on Big Tech’s increasing reach and power. It’ll be Big Tech—just as problem-riddled as now—but bigger.”

Wouldn’t it be something if we required and taught platform agnostic access to all technology in our classrooms instead of acting as a marketing arm for rich, tax dodging corporations?  These organizations are parasitic, our kids deserve better.

The ‘drink from the firehose’ approach to edtech doesn’t end when we’re told what we have to teach with.  Many teachers then brand their practice with corporate logos.

The point of that article is that a true metaverse (a shared, non-partisan online space) hasn’t existed since the dawn of the internet.  Once the attention merchants got a hold of it they subverted democracies around the world and created a privacy and security nightmare, including in education.

Perhaps the saving grace in this might be that if any of them could get past their greed, educational technology would be the place to make this non-partisan metaverse happen.  Instead of demanding control of the technology narrative to generate users, wouldn’t it be something if the technology giants and school systems around the world worked together to create an educational metaverse that was platform agnostic and open to all?

Even Hollywood can only envision a corporate owned future mind-space.

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A Canadian Student Bill of Rights

2020 was an unprecedented year in Ontario public education.  After two years of a hostileincompetent government hacking away at the system in order to replace it with inferior, for-profit options conveniently supplied by their party donors, we rolled into a world wide pandemic that only amplified the lack of competence in our political leadership.

Education is too important to be derailed by political demagogues intent on dismantling public services for their friends’ profit.  If the past three years have shown us anything, it’s that Canada needs a student charter of rights in order to prevent corrosive political interests from abusing this vulnerable population.

With Canada’s history of systemic abuse in education you’d think protecting students from misguided political interests would be an obvious step forward, but no politician likes to enact laws that limit them from doing whatever they like while grasping for another election win.

I’m not sure how to pry education out of the hands of self-serving and manipulative provincial politicians, but something needs to be done federally to ensure that Canadians who are members of vulnerable communities (like k-12 students who have no vote or say in how our society operates) have protections enshrined in law.
You’d hope their parents would act in their children’s best interests but that clearly hasn’t been the case in Ontario or other Canadian jurisdictions.  It’ll take someone with principles and fortitude at the federal level to see this through.  A Canadian Student Charter of Rights would mean Machiavellian interests can’t run roughshod over the rights of every child in Canada to access a safe and rationally administered learning environment focused on enabling them to become their best selves.

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Gasping For Breath: the lost art of pedagogy in Ontario schools

Written Feb, 2022:

Horses usually get put down when they break a leg.  They get euthanized because a three legged horse can’t stand on its own and ends up developing consequent health problems.  Keeping a lame horse alive is simply extending its misery.  These days, Dusty World feels like a lame horse.  I started this blog in 2010 after having attended my first ECOO conference and found it a valuable way to share my own ABL (always be learning) approach to teaching and learning effectively while navigating an information revolution.

Dancing in the Datasphere: thoughts on digital pedagogy from way back in 2011.

I’m sitting here looking at a dozen posts I haven’t published on Dusty World in the past year because I think there is no point.  It has been years since we focused on pedagogical best practices in Ontario education.  My reflections on this blog have always been focused on that slippery and often ignored concept.  Even at the best of times getting our education system to focus on pedagogical best practices has proven problematic, and we’re very far away from the best of times here in early 2022.

I’ve used pedagogical best practices to direct my teaching throughout my career, even when it made me unpopular with management, my union and even colleagues and students (many are happy to do less – learning is hard work).  In my mind, pedagogy means I’m focusing on maximizing student learning to the exclusion of all else.  The past two years have made so many educational workers (and students, and parents) disinterested in pedagogy to the point where I may be one of the only people left who gives it any thought.  Many weren’t into it in the first place, others have bailed for their own survival, and some have even actively attacked the idea of learning as a focus in schools, usually for their own political ends.

Pedagogy in Ontario public education has been set back decades since 2018.  These days we’re reduced to focussing on student wellness (usually while being driven to destroy our own) rather than teaching, but good pedagogy leads to student success which also brings with it meaningful (rather than proscriptive) wellness, though that is much more difficult to do than simply tossing learning out the window in favour of proscriptive wellness.  I didn’t became a teacher to provide daycare or be an emotional councillor, I got into teaching to teach.  In an attempt to survive this ongoing disaster, Ontario education has given up on teaching and learning and has fallen back to wellness as a last raison d’être.

Pedagogical best practices have always struggled to survive in our educational bureaucracy.  I’d honestly hoped that a change in government in Ontario would create efficiencies and opportunities in a system too long under single party control, but the new guys are just as (if not more) duplicitous and manipulative as the old guys, and obviously not focused on pedagogy.  This loss of faith in our provincial education system is what had me daydreaming about a student bill of rights for all Canadian students.  Unfortunately, Canada’s colonial history tends to systemically abuse disenfranchised people (like students under 18), leaving me worried for the safety and efficacy of learning for our children.

For me, the point of Dusty World is to allow me to transparently reflect on my teaching practice in order to improve it.  I have always done this publicly in the hopes that other people might find it useful, but the unpublished posts I’m looking at feel more like hopelessness than they do constructive reflective practice.  Every time I post something I get blowback from exhausted people who are trying to make nonsensical system-think work in practice.  The best thing I seem able to do as one of the few people left in the system actually interested in effective teaching and learning is to not publish reflections on it, which breaks my heart.  We seem to have lost the plot entirely.


Systemic Pedagogical Failures Continue…

Not posting anything doesn’t mean there are still major problems in our system.  So far this year I’ve had graduates tell me they are in real trouble in post-secondary maths classes.  How an A+ high school student can suddenly find themselves failing in post secondary raises very concerning questions about how we are teaching and learning.  Other students are able to use their maths like a toolbox to solve problems, but our grads struggle with rote learning that renders them ineffective.  My son had a senior maths class last year where the entire class failed unit 5.  The teacher said it’s ok, everyone fails unit 5.  If we were focusing on pedagogy we’d be trying to solve this.

This past year I had prominent STEM educators tell me that only academic/white collar courses matter.  When I suggested we create content for non-academic technology courses I was told that they don’t matter because barely any schools teach them.  This STEM is more just S & M thinking is ongoing and obviously inequitable.  This is one of those things I’d hoped a change in government might address, but blue collar subjects (and students) are still an afterthought in our degree fixated system.  Were we considering pedagogy on a systemic level, this kind of thing wouldn’t come up in conversation.

I’m currently teaching over 70 students in grades 10-12 in computer technology and engineering, four of them are girls and there are no girls in my senior class.  Sexism and genderism is still a major problem in our system.  My partner had one of our local students in elearning last quadmester and she told the story of how, when she expressed concern about her course selections she was told, “you’re so pretty, you don’t need to worry about that kind of thing.”  I want to have trouble believing that this was said, but then I look at how genderized our course selections continue to be and wonder how this kind of systemic genderism can happen.

I’m one of the few that has tried to keep extracurriculars alive in our aimless wander through COVID and have had many difficult experiences and observations about how student performance is affected by long term trauma, but that too can’t be publicly reflected on because it doesn’t matter anymore, and doing so only seems to aggravate the situation.  Having an opportunity to reflect, share and talk to other professional educators about my practice has been a valuable ‘breathing’ process for my teaching, but like trying to teach through a mask every day, I’m left gasping for breath.

My current situation (massive classes while trying to teach hands-on engineering skills without the space needed to do it) has always been an issue where I teach, but nothing changes because I’m expected to hurt myself making it work every year, at least until there is an injury then it’ll be my fault.  I recently had a student in my post-secondary bound senior computer engineering class (capped at 31, like an advanced calculus class) who is credit poor, essential level/DD and has a history of violence.  When I asked guidance why this student was directed into our class I was told that he had selected my course, which begs the question: who is being guided?  We have resources set aside for students like this, but when we don’t guide them into those programs we reduce the efficacy of everyone else’s learning.

Speaking as a parent as well as a teacher, I’d like our education system to focus on teaching and learning best practices, which should include gender unprejudiced and level appropriate guidance.  I suspect the dearth of maths skills in our grads is also a result of the ‘pick-what-you-like’ (unless you’re female) approach.  It’s hard to cover pathway appropriate curriculum when a significant portion of every class has neither the inclination nor background to engage with it.  If pedagogy mattered, we’d be resolving these problems instead of ignoring them.

The world has many problems and I feel that pedagogically focused public education is the answer to many of them, but because of politics and circumstance, schools in Ontario aren’t focused on being schools anymore.

Meanwhile, the digital information revolution is, if anything, accelerating, and we’ve thrown hundreds of thousands of staff and students into the digital divide in an attempt to weather the pandemic, all with no time or training to tackle any of it with pedagogy in mind.  I’m rejigging my entire curriculum again for the 3rd major change in scheduling in the past 18 months (with no time given).  It’s like trying to build a plane while it’s in the air… again.

Inconsistencies have poked so many holes in the fiction that is our public education system that many people are now questioning it in ways they wouldn’t have before.  The one-two punch of a vindictive, populist government and this never-ending pandemic has left our schools angry and confused.  That loss of faith is hard to recover from.  Trying to honestly reflect on pedagogical best practices in this void only seems to aggravate the situation.  It might be time to send Dusty World on sabbatical for a while and focus on something where I can give it 100% without other people constantly telling me to do less.  I didn’t get into teaching to do it at low intensity, the kids deserve more, but that’s where we’re at.

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Music, millenials and the lost art of curation

The other day I asked my senior class how millennials listen to music when they get their first car.  They seemed confused by the question.  I’ve noticed that young people don’t like to manage files any more (many grade 9s don’t know how to find files on a desktop), and since music turned into file management around the turn of the millennium, it’s all about file management these days, isn’t it?  It turns out it isn’t.

When I started driving near the end of the 80s the couple of cassettes in my pocket turned into a briefcase of tapes.  That briefcase contained whole albums by artists, both what they released and B side stuff.  When you went to a concert you’d hear the released stuff, but you’d also hear the unreleased songs, and the majority of people in the audience were very familiar with it; they were fans of the artist who had spent a lot of time in a long form medium (the album).

That process continued into the 90s as my tape collection evolved into compact disks.  The smaller form factor resulted in flip books of disks.  The plastic box with the album art on it got left behind, but I was still listening to whole albums and collecting the works of specific artists in a detailed, long form, album based manner.  I was introduced to mixed tapes in the mid-90s by my hot, new girlfriend, so the idea of designing your own playlists have been around for a long time, but albums were the main point.  We spent a lot of time curating our collections.  You’d discover new artists in friends’ collections, you’d hear unreleased music while in their car.  At a concert you knew the words to every song, even the unreleased stuff.  What happens at concerts nowadays?  They play their released songs only and then do popular covers so everyone can sing along?

I went digital early.  From Napster to modern mp3 distribution, I kept cultivating a locally based, artist focused collection of music, but that isn’t the way that the industry has gone.  Nor is it the way that teens today relate to music.  The gigs of music I’ve curated aren’t the future, it’s me using modern tools to imitate my past relationship with less fluid, physical mediums, but is that a bad thing?  I’d argue that my relationship with an artist’s music was deeper and more intimate because of the limitations of our mediums.  When you have the collected works of Dire Straits (six original albums plus four live ones) on hand, you are diving deep into what they did.  Surely deeper familiarity breeds a more loyal fan.

Kids are still into music, but the digitization of the medium has resulted in a much more fluid relationship with it.  I frequently watch students randomize YouTube videos as background music and then click through a song in the first ten seconds if it isn’t grabbing them.  Their’s is a high input low attention threshold relationship with the artist.  You can hardly blame modern artists for producing shallow, catching songs – the cloud based medium that has descended upon us pre-selects that kind of music for success in a fluid, digital landscape.

Laying on a bunk at air cadet camp in Trenton on a hot, un-air conditioned summer night in 1985 and getting lost in Brothers in Arms on a walkman isn’t something millennials consider doing with music, is it?   We started doing the skip a song thing on CDs in the 1990s, but it was such a pain on tape that you’d just listen to the song.  In doing so you sometimes came around to liking something that didn’t grab your attention in the first ten seconds.  At the very least you’re experiencing an artist’s thoughts and music in a more detailed fashion.

When I asked my students what they do when they get a car for the first time they were confused.  Spotify was the answer (it turns out Spotify is the millennial answer to any music related question).  I get it if you’re swimming in wifi at home or at school all the time.  Sure, it’s bandwidth and data ain’t free, but it is if you’re a kid in 2017 for the most part.  But what do you do when you’re going for a ride in your first car and have no locally curated music to take with you?  I figured they’d all have MP3s on their phones, but they don’t.  Spotify premium was the answer.  That’s ten bucks a month to listen to whatever you want, and you can evidently save it locally if you’re on the road, but do they?  If you’ve never had to manage a local music collection before I suspect it wouldn’t even occur to you to do it this late in the game, it’d feel too much like work.

So the young driver’s solution to the problem of never having cultivated a personal collection of music is to pay for a monthly cloud based service and then now begin cultivating a local music collection?  You could just hope your phone is willing and able to bring down all that data in a continuous way, but that’s an expensive prospect in Canada.  With some of the highest mobility costs in the world and lots of long car trips in store, Canada isn’t a comfortable place to be cloud dependant for your tunes.  If you end up not being able to pay the ten bucks a month for the pro version of Spotify, you lose all your local music.  Just when you thought the digital native’s relationship with their tunes couldn’t get any more ephemeral, it gets more so.  When you live in the cloud you don’t really own your data, do you?

Another problem with cloud-based digital music natives is the interactivity.  When you’re used to constantly inputting changes to infinite cloud based music it’s second nature to go looking for whatever strikes your fancy, or skip through the play list looking for whatever drifted into your mind as a must-listen-to song in the moment.  How long are your eyes off the road while you’re doing that?  If that’s your relationship with music then you’ve trained yourself over many years to surf through your fluid, digital music with frequent inputs.  I wonder how this is reflected in statistics…
Digital distraction for the win.
  • MADD stats on young drivers.
  • Young Driver stats on distracted driving
  • Transport Canada on distracted driving: “the highest proportion of distracted drivers involved in fatal crashes was in the under-20 age group (16%) followed by those aged 20 to 29 (13%)”
  • NHTSA on distracted driving
  • It’s a world wide issue, here is Australia
The texting culture is generally blamed for the problem of distracted driving, but I suspect this learned, constant input approach to music has a part to play in it as well, especially with younger drivers.

The long and the short of all this is that the music culture of young people is completely foreign to anyone over thirty.  For people who got into music before it got very cloudy in the twenty-teens, curating your own local music means you can jump into a car or go on a trip and never once wonder about access; you own your music.  Because of that effort you’ve probably also got a closer relationship with the artists you call your own.  For the cloud dependent millennial that move to vehicular mobility produces a number of expensive problems.  Of course, since you never really got into any one musician when you were younger because listening to more than one third of a song is boring, maybe you don’t care.

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Finding a Patch of Sun

As the sun rose on the shortest day of the year our little dog managed to find a fleeting patch of it and opened his solar collector ears to get as much as possible.  In a matter of minutes it was gone to be replaced by days of grey fog over Christmas; there was something in that moment.

If you get to fifty without any scars you’re not doing it right, and I have my fair share of scars.  I found myself struggling through another Christmas season feeling like the weight of the world was on my shoulders.  With a couple of weeks away from the emotional deficit that is Ontario education these days, I got some perspective and decided to try and make a conscious decision to find that patch of sunlight rather than dwell on the darkness.

The return to school started well enough, but you’re not just battling your own negativity, you’re also facing it in your students and colleagues.  With the end of the semester approaching and the system under attack from the elected representatives sworn to look after it, everyone is terse, but I was finding that my bonhomie was working.  I was able to calm and direct students, and when a colleague was rather unprofessional with my wife, I was able to help her through that too.

Yesterday was an epic shit show though. I got to school only to have my cell – which I’d forgotten in my classroom in a rush to get to the information picket the afternoon before – ringing off the hook.  It was my wife saying a snow plow had backed into her.  I rushed home to find the back window of the car blown out, glass all over the road and the ‘C’ pillar bashed in.  The plow had not only hit her, it had then pushed the car two feet sideways before stopping.

Alanna was ok but the kid driving the plow didn’t say a word.  His supervisor showed up and then the OPP.  It was all very amiable, but in retrospect this was them trying to manage an obviously at-fault accident.  The OPP officer (who never gave us his name) gave us an incident report number and that was that.  The township guys shovelled up the glass and  I followed Alanna over to the repair centre in Fergus to discover we were already $500 in the hole for a deductible.  They then said it might be a week before they even start working on it, and we only have 7 days of rental car coverage.  Nice to know our second most expensive car insurance in Canada rates don’t begin to pay for an accident that was in no way our fault.

Even with all that we were getting our sense of humour back as I drove Alanna to school.  As we approached the last traffic light before school I was in no rush and doing about 50kmh/hr.  I must have seen something in my peripheral vision because I suddenly found myself standing on the brake without knowing why as a mid-sized sedan blew through the red-light perpendicular to us.  I think we missed it by about fifteen feet.  At 50km/hr we were moving at about 13.9 metres per second.  Had I been moving at only a couple of kilometres per hour faster we would have been t-boned by that big, V6 sedan in our small hatchback and our son would have been an orphan.

None of this registered in the moment.  We were both already pretty shaken up by the morning and this was simply more nonsense piled on top.  We went to school and I got there about half an hour before my first class.  I spent most of that time sitting with my wife listening to the discussion with insurance.

With no breaks for the rest of the day I found myself unable to engage with my students effectively.  I told my seniors what happened and they went about their culminating projects and tried to give me some space.  I didn’t tell my junior classes, but our head of student support dropped by and when I told her what happened she offered to cover my class so I could get some head space.  It was nice to hear someone acknowledge how traumatic a morning like the one I had was.  I didn’t take her up on it and didn’t pursue leaving.  I’m anxious about asking for compassionate leave because I don’t have the greatest history when it comes to getting support while in crisis.

The next day I apologized to my junior students for being so short with them and found my way back onto the beam again.  After a weekend of biblical rain the sun rose on Sunday morning and the world had the colour turned up to eleven.  I just have to keep working on getting back to that small patch of sun, even when the world seems full of ineptitude and chaos.

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The DIGITAL LENS: How Education Has Ignored A Third Foundational Fluency During The Information Revolution

I’ve been battling against digital illiteracy in Ontario’s public education system for going on a decade now and I’m frustrated at the slow rate of change.  I’ve applied for multiple positions at the board and ministry levels and watched as future administrators get moved into these positions and fail to move the needle before they evaporate off into management.  Perhaps my mistake is that I want to take on a curriculum enhancement role not to escape the classroom or to get myself into an office but to actually improve system response to an ongoing crisis that everyone else seems to want to sweep under the rug.

Considering Ontario’s current state of affairs, I’ll probably have to wait until after June 2nd for us to get a government interested in doing anything other than torturing our exceptional public education system into submission in order to hand a charter system for their donors.  When Ontario comes to its senses (if it doesn’t, I think we’re moving), I’d really like to see us address digital illiteracy, but not just for the societal benefits it would provide – my actual interest is in developing a cyber-awareness curriculum that improves Canada’s ability to survive in a networked world while also clarifying this hidden pathway for students capable and interested in pursuing it.

Unfortunately, cyber and information security aren’t foundational digital abilities, they are advanced, complex skillsets that are developed on top of more simple fluencies.  An academic comparison would be writing a complex essay of a challenging piece of writing in English class.  In order to tackle the dreaded Hamlet essay, a student would need advanced reading skills with the ability to tackle complex vocabulary and grammar that includes an understanding of both poetic syntax and the chronological difficulties inherent in reading something over four hundred years old.  This contextual challenge alone would stress most people’s language skills.  On top of all that, the writing itself is a complex set of skills developed on top of simpler abilities.  Students would need to understand spelling and grammar, and sentence construction and paragraph construction and argumentative theme development across the entire paper – it’s a staggeringly complex ask that we can only attempt in high school because we’ve placed literacy as a foundational skillset in our education system.

That was in 2010 – over a decade later Schmidt is still
trying to get people to understand the digital
that is happening around them.

With that perspective in mind, I thought I’d try and take a run at infographicking how our
analogue education system has digitized over the past twenty years.  This digitization of education has ramped up dramatically in the past decade – much of what I’ve written in Dusty World has orbited around this sea-change in digital teaching and learning.

The suddenness of this change has left many people behind.  There are administrators and ‘curriculum experts’ in our system who have never used the cloud-based learning systems we’re now required to use in every lesson.  I’m up the pointy end of digitally fluent educators in the province.  I applied for a system IT support role last year and didn’t get it – I suspect mainly because the system is incapable of understanding and appreciating digital fluency on anything but a puerile level; it’s a case of illiterate people failing to value and understand what literacy looks like; I’d really like to change that.

If we consider the education system I grew up in 1980s in Ontario, it was a very analogue place.  Teachers hand wrote notes on the board, which we copied by hand onto paper (which many students promptly lost, assuming they made the notes in the first place).  I can remember vindictive teachers doing a whole 76 minute period of note taking to ‘ready us for university’.  Nothing prepares you for university like claw hand!  These ‘lessons’ weren’t about how to take quality notes, they were about how to copy everything that was on the board as exactly and quickly as possible.  In retrospect they did nothing to prepare me for university, but they were and example of the entrenched lessons we all experienced about creating analogue content; we never had a problem with teaching analogue skills because they hadn’t changed for generations.  In the past two decades we’ve revolutionized information recording and access but we’ve also all but ignored learning best practices in these new mediums for teachers and students.

Analogue learning materials, analogue formative learning note taking leading to analogue communication of learning – and we drilled students on how to do each of these analogue exercises in order to create these skillsets.  We assume the same skills in digital spaces rather than teaching them.

My generation has been described as ‘digital immigrants’ as we arrived at the current state of affairs from a time that would seem completely alien to anyone currently under forty years old.  Along with the framing of us as digital immigrants comes the absurd framing of kids who have grown up in digital abundance as ‘digital natives‘.  If you’re read Dusty World before you know what I think of this concept (it’s absurd – just because I grew up in a time with cars didn’t mean I magically knew how to drive!).  What this lazy observation did was absolve education of the responsibility for teaching digital communications as a foundational skill, even as it became the basis for how we teach and learn.  When I tried to replicate the 20th Century Teaching & Learning above with how 21st Century Teaching & Learning has become digitized, it quickly becomes apparent that digital skills aren’t just needed to communicate your learning (it’s even how we run the literacy test now!), they are also inherent in the learning materials you receive and the formative learning you are documenting.  Many parents struggle with the new digital means of communications from their schools (online reporting and such) because of their own digital illiteracy.  If you aren’t digitally fluent, you aren’t capable of learning in an Ontario classroom in 2022.  You aren’t capable of teaching in one either, though that’s the new expectation in our on again off again emergency remote classrooms.

Learning materials are now almost entirely digital.  Even if a textbook is used it’s often digitized first so that the information in it can be shared more fluidly in digital spaces.  Staff and students need to know how to research and find information online (including curating their own which many can’t or don’t do). Formative learning is documented (when it’s documented at all) on digital notes taken in cloud based documents, though more often than not it doesn’t happen at all because we’ve lost note taking as a skill during the digital devolution revolution.  Communicating learning is now also digital with most students incapable of writing by hand legibly (part of what has killed off formative note taking).  We’ve replaced all those lessons about analogue skills with INFORMATION, because information is so readily available to us (though apparently only a minority can critically assess its value).

That digital lens is now between everything we do in education, including the traditional foundational skills of literacy and numeracy.  If you require digital fluency to teach and learn literacy and numeracy in a 2022 classroom, doesn’t that make digital fluency itself a foundational skill?  Perhaps you’re curious as to how many mandatory digital fluency programs Ontario teachers have to take?  None.  Know how many mandatory digital fluency classes there are in Ontario high schools?  None.  Know how many classes you need digital fluency in to best teach and learn?  All of them.  That is how messed up things are as 2021 ends in an ongoing pandemic that has pushed us into fully digital learning for months at a time.  Fluency is but one part of this equation.  The digital divide also includes equity issues around bandwidth and devices, but we only talk about equity when it doesn’t cost us anything.  Our ignoring of digital fluency has been a socio-economic/equity issue from the start (kids with access to tech and connectivity are obviously going to be more comfortable with it).  You might say that our lack of movement on digital fluency is simply a way to hide inequity behind something complex and difficult to deal with while still spouting about how equitable we have become.
I’m live in hope that our education system is put back on the rails and a we stop our oblivious approach to digital skills development in both teaching and learning.  If we’re going to use networked digital tools like we are, it is incumbent on every teacher to become fluent enough with it to teach best practices to their students.  Our blind leading the blind approach isn’t viable or safe and never should have happened in the first place.  Had we been working on this like we should have in the decade leading up to the pandemic, the desperate lunge into emergency remote learning could have been much more equitable and functional and done a lot to reduce the strain on families being mulched by the pandemic.
When that hope is realized I want to go after the hardest part of this in-the-land-of-the-blind skillset: cybersecurity skills.  This skillset assumes advanced ICT (information & communication technology) hardware and software skills and then, like that Hamlet essay, goes after complex, esoteric skills far beyond where most people will operate.  I want Ontario to develop a cyber-awareness curriculum that brings all users of networked technology (that’s pretty much everyone in the province) up to a point where their digital illiteracy is no longer a detriment to the province.  Illiterate users are still the biggest threat in cybersecurity and I’d like to get everyone to the point where they aren’t oblivious to how the digital world they’re living their lives in works so that they can not only learn and teach more effectively in our digital systems but also better protect their data privacy and online presence.
I’d also like to clear away the obstructions our digitally illiterate education system has placed in front of the most digitally adept students and clear pathways into jobs in critical ICT infrastructure, most especially in cybersecurity.  If we don’t take steps to secure our digital infrastructure, everything else fails (electricity, water & gas all depend on IT).
We should be producing graduates with the digital fluency needed to confidently make their way in our brave new world while also clarifying pathways for those students willing and able to protect everyone else from an increasingly threatening threatscape.



Over the past couple of years I’ve done a fair bit of writing for various provincial and national agencies around cyber-education.  In every case they seemed to be looking for an in-and-out, short duration of work online course they could post that teachers and students would magically flock to.  Having presented on cybersecurity education in the classroom both face to face pre-pandemic and online once it kicked off, I became aware of just how fearful most staff are in engaging with this subject that jumps up and down on their digital doubts while also threatening them with horrible outcomes that they don’t understand.  Throwing up an online course isn’t going to bridge this fear/illiteracy gap.

Having worked with CyberTitan and Field Effect (an Ottawa based cybersecurity provider) on a joint federal government/private enterprise/public education presentation at the NICE K-12 Cybersecurity Education Conference this past December, we presented on how with industry expertise, federal vision and provincial public education community outreach we could make cyber-pathways available to all pathways interested students while also offering immersive and meaningful cloud-based simulations that are equitably available to all.

ICTC did an ICT Teacher Champion Day pre-COVID where they provided interested and engaged teachers with resources and support.  I think this approach is how you bypass the fear and get staff and students to engage with scary-cyber on a basic fluency level.  It would also present competition opportunities that clarify pathways for the most cyber-interested.  By finding local champions who are willing/able to engage others in cyber-skills development, we could connect and walk people through some of that dormant online material and actually produce a change in how we’re doing things.  This requires boots on the ground and a longer term commitment than throwing together an online course.
As digital fluency becomes a mandatory part of our public school experience and we begin producing more digitally fluent teachers and students, we can up our game in advanced digital areas like cybersecurity and emerging technologies like machine learning and 3d modelling and create digitally skilled graduates who aren’t self-taught and potentially dangerous young adults who put our economy and communities at risk.
There is much to do.  I’m looking forward to being part of an Ontario that is ready to take on this challenging future even as it hatches around us.

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