Closer To Genius

I just spent a brain busting three days wandering around Amsterdam.  It was my first time there, and like all travel to new places it pushed my thinking in a number of ways.

Mastery is hard work

The Van Gogh Museum is one of those must visit places while in Amsterdam.  The main thrust of the current display is his development as an artist.  This has strong undercurrents for anyone in education, teacher or learner.

Like all original thinkers, Van Gogh didn’t suddenly wake up one morning full of genius.  Genius is often presented to us as an unattainable brilliance, something normals can look at with wonder and awe.  There is a hidden assumption of a magic, genetic advantage in this presentation of genius, but it isn’t true.

Vincent’s early career was full of formal and informal learning opportunities that he took and walked away from.  His early work is rough, even poor, but he improved with practice. Van Gogh learned what he needed to learn and then moved on, usually completely out of sync with whatever the curriculum or his classmates were doing – it was a self directed curriculum.  I imagine he was a failure in every way on his report cards.  However formal education helped or hindered him Vincent moved on, a self-directed learner voracious for an opportunity to learn more about his craft.

Self directed learning is a key aspect of mastery.  Walter Gretzky once responded to a reporter who described Wayne as a natural born talent.  He said this was nonsense.  Before school every day, rain or shine, Wayne would be out with a hockey stick in hand.  Every day after school until it got dark he’d be out with a stick in hand; mastery is never a gift.

Any talent you’re born with isn’t mastery, it’s probably something simple, like being ambidextrous.  Real craft mastery is only earned through the old adage: blood, sweat and tears.

The only thing that people like Van Gogh, Gretzky or Einstein bring to their mastery naturally is a fascination, an inborn love of their area of study.  That atypical fixation allows (forces?) them to ignore just about everything else in order to hone their craft in a way that the typical, disinterested, distracted, minimally engaged human being never will.

It’s vogue these days to assume that everyone is a genius is some way, they just have to find out what it is.  After visiting Vincent’s museum and immersing myself in his work for a few hours I couldn’t help but think that true genius is something well beyond what most people are capable of.  Most people don’t have the will power or focus to master simple skills (driving, reading, writing) let alone the relentless drive to open up new areas of human endeavor.  Real genius also leads to emotional crisis and a ghettoization of the person struck by it; others find your obsessive fixation frightening.  That so many geniuses suffer the fate that Vincent did isn’t a surprise.  That we admire genius from a safe distance isn’t a surprise.

What I did take from Vincent’s development as an artist is that his mastery was a function of an unyielding and constant development of his skill.  If you want to develop mastery in anything, anything at all, a genuine relationship with your craft is what you want to cultivate.  If you’re able to nurture and maintain that intimacy with your craft you’ll find mastery.

The trick, if you’re not a natural obsessive, is not to fall out of love with what you’re learning.

In a classroom, demonstrating a genuine affection for the material you’re teaching and encouraging this in students might be the closest many of us ever come to genius.  It’s a shame that education doesn’t recognize a love of a subject in learners and teachers alike.  We make gestures towards the lifelong learner but do nothing to acknowledge its presence in students or teachers.  A living fascination with your learning is the surest path to the most effective, most enthralling kind of education (and life) you could hope for, and, as Vincent will tell you, the only road to mastery.

Note:
I was in Amsterdam after returning my Mum’s ashes home.  Her suicide was on my mind as I wandered through Vincent’s work.  She too was an artist, a talented one, and her work often consumed her.  I’m still not sure whether to take Van Gogh’s meandering trip into madness as a warning or a comfort.  In the end we all die, it would be nice to think that our fixations, though they may eventually claim us, would also allow us to create some beauty to be left behind in the world.

One Lap of Japan

7940kms… according to Google Maps

Another dream trip.

I’ve done most of the north end of the main island in a car, and traveled as far south as Kyoto by train, but the motorbike offers a new way to see the archipelago.

Google maps suggests that this can be done in 6 days and 16 hours, that’s at a continuous average of 50kms/hr 24 hours a day.  Assuming we’d want to sleep and eat, the old two to three tanks a day might be the way to go.

At two tanks a day (about 600kms depending on the bike), we’d be back to Narita in just over thirteen days.  Call it two weeks of steady riding.

Being what it is (a volcanic island chain), there aren’t many straight roads in Japan, especially if we want to stick to the coast.

When you’re riding around volcanoes,
the roads get creative

The epic ferry ride to Okinawa in the south is almost a day in itself.  The riding would never be boring, and it would be miles away from interstate mile making.  Japan is a crowded but super organized kind of place, you can get places as long as you avoid the major urban centers.

Late summer would avoid the tsuyu (rainy season), so landing in Narita in the last week of August, then head north, do Hokkaido, then down the Japan sea coast to the south end of Honshu, a long ferry ride across the East China Sea to Okinawa, two days circumnavigating the island before taking a slow boat back to Honshu.  The last leg would be up the Pacific side of Honshu, through Kyoto and Tokyo and back to Narita.

It’d be nice to do the trip while riding the Japanese bike industry.  Split into four sections, we could ride Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki and Yamaha for a quarter of the trip each.  That way we could meet up with various clubs and groups without being manufacturer specific.  Riding all four big Japanese manufacturers also lets us experience the fantastic bikes Japan makes.

Two weeks, some serious mileage, from a tropical 26 degrees above the equator in Okinawa (roughly in line with central India) to a northern 45.5 degrees at the top of Hokkaido (right next door to Russia),  we’ll experience everything from palm trees to snow.  It is entirely possible to climb five thousand feet if we’re working our way through mountainous areas and wind up at sea level again by night fall.

Two weeks would be intense, but that’s kind of the point.  The route picked out avoids any repeated tarmac other than driving on and off one ferry.  Every mile would be new as we circumnavigate these beautiful islands.

13 days

July 2-18th I was commuting on the bike every day from Elora to Milton.  The ride took me on country highways, country backroads, down the escarpment, on a 13 km blast down the 401 to James Snow Parkway, then 5 kms of urban riding in Milton.

At 70 kms a day each way of riding, I piled up over 1820 kms on the bike in three weeks.  I’d fill it up every 3rd day, costing about $16 and change and it would take me 190 or so miles (305kms) before the fuel warning light came on (it’s a 15 litre tank).  I never tested the reserve too much, I think, conservatively, I can get 220 miles to a tank before things get frantic.  Based on the amount I was putting in and the miles on the odometer, I was getting about 58mpg, which is impressive because it’s hard not to wind this bike up, it likes to go.  58mpg when I’m spending an inordinate amount of time in the top half of the rev range is impressive.
The coldest morning had the air temperature at 12° Celsius (53°F), the hotest ride home had me at 37°C (99°F).  On those cold, rainy mornings I had the long gloves on and ended up stopping to put the rain jacket on just to warm up.  On the hottest day (today), I road home in shorts and the jacket open.
Daily riding has made my shifting smoother, and I don’t think twice about riding in urban or highway settings.  My first couple of goes on the 401 were tentative, by the end of the week I was getting on the highway the same way I do in a car – looking for the left hand lane.  The Ninja goes from almost nothing to two miles a minute in an astonishingly short time.
This morning I rode out into ground fog, with the tops of trees and old, stone farmhouses peaking out of the mist.  You can smell a river and you cross it.   You can smell hot brakes on the 401 from trucks before you see brake lights.  Riding is such a sensual experience.  I think the quiet time without radio or music, just the sound of the wind and the distant thrum of the Kawasaki twin was centering.  I got to class (computer engineering) every day oxygenated and ready to go.  I came home tired but clear minded.
1820 kms, 1131 miles… after doing this I think a couple of tanks a day would be a good way to measure a long trip.  At just over 300 kms each tank, 600 kms a day and I’d be ready to put my boots up and relax, having been through the places instead of driving through them.
The daily commute demystified the experience of riding for me.  I found ways to stretch (stretching my legs out on the frame sliders is a nice way to get a breeze up your pant leg), and standing up on the footpegs every once in a while cools off your seat and thighs.
With familiarity I’ve found that the Ninja is a very forgiving, but very capable bike.  I’ve no regrets that it’s my first bike.  A more relaxed (ie: upright, proper, not cruiser) riding position would be nice, but I found that I fit the Ninja better and better as the commute went on.  I always looked forward to throwing a leg over it, and when the weather was bad (almost zero visibility rain one morning), I had no regrets from riding it down.  Every day was an adventure.

The Stable

My dream garage always had to be kind of huge to fit all the cars I wanted in it.  With the new bike
infatuation I get to dream of a more condensed (and plausible) dream garage.  It’s still got room for the necessary evil (I live in Canada, some days a bike just won’t do it), so I took the two car garage and doubled it to make a workshop in the back.

The car garage is separated by a dividing wall with a single garage door in it to allow larger vehicle access into the workshop.  There is a half size roll up door on the side for direct bike access.  The garage is wired in, but also has a turbine and solar collection.  In the winter this runs the high efficiency heater in the workshop.  In the summer is pushes a small, high efficiency air conditioner into the workshop.  The goal is to keep the workshop above freezing in the winter and below 25 degrees in the summer.

The battery packs and computer controls for the wind turbine and solar inputs are upstairs, as are the heating and cooling units, both of which feed into the workshop directly.  There is also room for storage upstairs.  Access is made through a pull down staircase in the back of the car garage.

The workshop has space for 5-6 bikes, though I think I’d keep 3 working bikes on hand, and one project bike.  I’d also keep a shed at the side for a couple of dirt bikes.

As for what I’d fill the workshop with, at the moment I’m all about the British bike.  A Triumph Street Triple, a Royal Enfield Classic with a sidecar and a Triumph Tiger 800XC would be what I’d have on had to regularly ride.  The other side of the shop has the half car/half bike Morgan3 Trike.

Royal Enfield Classic with sidecar
Triumph Tiger 800XC

The Tiger is a great all rounder that can get you anywhere.  A nimble adventure bike that also loves to carve up roads, this’d be my go to for long rides.

The Royal Enfield Classic with sidecar is a classic with modern technology.  It would let me share the open road with my son in a way he’d truly dig.

Morgan 3 Wheeler

The Triumph Street Triple is a naked bike built for the road.  It’s fast, responsive and sounds wonderful.  This would be my dedicated road bike.

What I don’t show in the plan is the project bike.  This would change quite frequently, depending on how much work the bike needs.  At the moment I think I’d like to bring an ’80s Honda Interceptor back from the dead.

Honda VFR 750 Interceptor

The idea behind the dream garage is to have a workshop for bike maintenance and restoration.  I’ve really enjoyed restoring the 650r Ninja I’ve got now, and I’d like to keep doing that kind of work.  To that end I think I’d include a bike sized bench style spray booth, as well as a compressor in the workshop.  I enjoy both mechanical as well as body work, and it would be nice to have the space and tools to do both well.

10k

I looked at the odometer today as I pulled into the parking lot after my forth straight day of commuting and realized my ’07 Ninja has finally hit the 10k mile mark.  The commute got her there, it’s about 70kms each way with the first two thirds a country ride through the Niagara Escarpment, then an 11 km blast down the 401 before it slows down going into the GTA, then another couple of kms in Milton.  It’s a nice ride.  Less so when it’s pouring buckets of rain out of the sky, as it has for the last two days, but those were memorable rides too, even if uncomfortable, and a bit treacherous.

This weekend the Ninja gets round two of its spa treatment, a coolant flush and change and a cleanup after all that wet riding.

I was at Two Wheel Motorsport the other day getting oil filter and gaskets and the older guy behind the counter was talking about how it isn’t about how you do the miles, but about getting the miles in.  I’m beginning to see his point.  Wheelies and high speed corners are all well and good, but there is something to be said about being the saddle and putting miles behind you while you’re out in the world.

It’s Sunday afternoon and I’m taking a movie break with the family before coming back and finishing putting the bike back together again.  I got the coolant flush done (though what came out was about as perfect as I’ve ever seen used coolant), cleaned the engine while I had the fairings off, and stripped the black off the tank.  The goal is to get the bike roadworthy for another week of commuting to Milton… that’ll be another 700kms behind me.

Coding Is A Hands-on Skill

Originally published on Dusty World in July, 2013 – WIRED caught up to me in 2017 with The Next Big Blue Collar Job Is Coding.

I’m frustrated at how computer science seems to own coding.  In Ontario it is now an orphaned subject unto itself.  There is no way someone without a degree in computer science can teach coding, though coding isn’t computer science any more than auto mechanics is theoretical physics.

This reminds me of the Big Bang Theory when Leonard’s car breaks down.  He asks, “does anyone here know how internal combustion engines work?” and all the the scientists in the car laugh and nod.  He then asks, “can anyone here fix a car?” And all the heads go down and they say no.

Computer science is the theoretical end of a spectrum of coding that goes from hands-on hacking through professional coding and into academic research.  That only math quants who were looking for a second teachable pretty much like their first can teach it greatly limits its appeal to the general population.

Code.org agrees with me, as does Steve Jobs, as does Codeacademy, Khan Academy and many other online groups.  These organizations are proliferating because we are not offering our students meaningful access to computer programming.

If we’re going to treat coding (as a part of digital fluency in general) like other basic skills (literacy, numeracy), then we need to free up coding from the bizarre limitations placed upon it by the Ministry of Education and computer scientists.

Can you imagine if all the autoshop teachers had to be theoretical physicists or engineers before they could apply that knowledge to repairing vehicles?  It’s a ridiculous idea, yet that is precisely what we are doing with coding in Ontario schools.  There are many ways a teacher could approach computer programming, limiting it to an extreme, theoretical end of the spectrum doesn’t respect the variety of people who get into coding, and it doesn’t offer students that variety in the classroom.  Coding isn’t a theoretically biased branch of knowledge, in fact I’d argue that coding has much more in common with stochastic technical skills.

We are killing a vital 21st Century fluency stone dead with arbitrary limitations.  Coding should be a technology course, it should be hands on, and it should work hand in hand with engineering (because that is what it is and what it does).  That it is artificially separated into a null space between mathematics and computer studies helps no one other than old school computer scientists, and there aren’t many of them.  The irony is that many of the math teachers with comp-sci as a teachable don’t want to teach it because they never kept up with it other than as a theoretical/academic course of study in university; they don’t love coding, it was simply an easy way to extend their mathematical degree work.

Computer science, like theoretical physics, is a vital subject, but it’s highly specialized and how we teach it should recognize that.  Coding is a skill anyone can learn, and should.

Thunder bolts & Lightning

I was up early, getting ready for my 3rd day of commuting to Milton on the Ninja.  The sky was heavy, the roads patchy but still mostly dry.  In the 20 minutes it took me to get ready the weather moved in, rain bucketing down, the sky so dark the street lights came back on.

I’m standing there on my porch looking at the bike which I’ve got started, sitting in the driveway with rain tearing off it.  I’ve gotten into the safety gear, then the rain gear.  I’m hot and dry, but I won’t be for long.  The car is sitting there, an easy, comfortable option.

I’m looking for experiences.  I could have stripped down and taken the easy way down, but I wouldn’t have felt the rain, or smelled the world as it opened up under it.  I wouldn’t have been out in the world as mist rose from the ground and trees emerged from the fog.

I was worried about the 401 but I need’t have.  With the rain it was barely moving.  By the time I got to Milton I was crawling along at walking speed behind a transport truck.  I arrived at the school after an hour in the wet.  The worst was in Elora, then I drove out of it and it was only drizzle, but by then I was hosed.

I only lost the back end once while downshifting and a quick hand on the clutch got that back in line.  I stopped downshifting after that while in the deep water.

It’s 2pm now.  Most of my gear is dry after some time under hand dryers and sitting on a warm lamp stand.  In retrospect, today would have been a good day to wear my big cool weather boots – I think they’re waterproof too, unlike the AlpineStar summer boots I had on.   I now know my gloves aren’t remotely waterproof.  The rain gear did a good job of keeping me warm and mostly dry.  The only wet spot on my body was on my stomach.  It probably got in under the jacket.  I’ll tighten that up next time.

It would have been easier to jump in the car, it would have been more comfortable, but it wouldn’t have left me with an idea of what riding in driving rain feels like; lessons learned.

It’s 6pm now, and trying to dry out wet gear in an air conditioned lab is all but impossible… there is nothing better than some good old sunlight on a hot deck:

Changing My Mind About PD

OISE’s Senior Computer Tech AQ

I’m about to head into the senior part of my computer technology AQ with the University of Toronto.  My instructor is an outstanding fellow, we’re in a new school with a fantastic lab and if it’s anything like last year I’ll expand my knowledge in a subject I really enjoy both professionally and personally.

I’ve found myself at times falling in to the negativity that many teachers feel around PD, but it’s easy to get excited about this course.  I could get all long in the face about how much it’s costing me, how many weeks of my summer I’ve got to spend doing it, why I have to take an AQ in this subject when I see so many other teachers with no background or qualifications in the subjects they teach not doing it.  I could wallow in the negativity, but I won’t because I don’t want it to spoil the learning opportunity.  Learning dynamics are so closely tied to the emotional approach of the student that I’m making a conscious choice not to.  This has left me wondering at all those teachers who hate on PD.

I work with a number of teachers who don’t do the AQ thing.  They think it’s a waste of time and money, they think it’s just a money grab with no real value.  These teachers often end up teaching subjects they have no background in.  Over time they learn how to teach the subject because they are smart, capable people who want to do the job well, but they consider teacher training to be beneath them.

I first came across this attitude in educators in teacher’s college and I found it demoralizing and unhelpful.  I didn’t sign up for teacher’s college to go through the motions just to get an empty qualification.  As I began teaching I found that cynical negativity surrounding professional development.  PD was treated by a surprising number of teachers as a waste of their time, something beneath them.

Teaching is one of those jobs that demands a degree of arrogance in order to survive.  If you’re timid or unsure you’ll get eaten up by a difficult class.  Confidence, even over-confidence, is an important survival tool.  The spill-over into our own learning is distressing though.  Teaching is a challenging discipline, if anyone thinks they’ve got it all figured out they are kidding themselves.  By turning that self-defensive cockiness on our own learning we effectively limit our ability to perform our work well.

I’m not a fan of mindless optimism.  An accurate assessment of what is going on is more important than mindless positivity.  I see a lot of management types who do this and it drives me nuts.  The easiest way to lose me as a team member is to ignore facts in favor blind positivity, but that doesn’t mean blind cynicism is any better, in fact it’s worse.

A teacher who won’t be taught is about as useful as a mechanic who can’t drive or a doctor who ignores health; in both cases these are people are can’t make use of what they claim to be experts in.  A negative approach to learning affects a teacher’s ability to teach.  Beyond the professional problems, teachers who are bad students are hypocrites; they berate a student in class for doing what they themselves do at PD.  Unless you’re able to model productive learning you aren’t showing your students what you’d like them to do, and you probably don’t have a good grasp on what it is you’re supposed to be doing in a classroom.

Those teachers who don’t make productive use of professional development, including taking AQs, do themselves and their profession a disservice.  Those administrators that trivialize teaching by ignoring qualifications aren’t the kind of educators I enjoy working with.  There is something to be said for objectively taught professional designations.  They certainly have more credence than someone simply giving a teacher a class because they like them or think them capable.

So, tomorrow I begin a two hour daily commute and eight hours a day in class for three weeks to study a subject I worked  in professionally for years before I became a teacher.  I could turn my nose up at it, trivialize the experience, make it less than it could be, or I could approach it the way I’d like a student to approach my own class, with curiosity, humility, positivity and integrity.

Next time you find yourself dismissing professional development, consider how changing your mind might make you a better learner and teacher.  And if you’re avoiding an AQ because you think it beneath you, perhaps you shouldn’t be teaching that subject in the first place.  It’s hard to argue for teaching as a profession if it doesn’t have credible, valuable training that is a requirement for the job.  It’s even harder to understand a teacher who refuses to be taught anything.

Stretching My Legs

It’s the first day of summer holidays, so I’m going to push the envelope and hit the road on my longest ride yet.  Elora to just past Bobcaygeon.  It’s all paved except for the last couple of miles on gravel.  I’ll be passing through villages, towns and a couple of cities en route.  236kms.

The Cottage Run

The weather is cooperating and the rain has dried up.  I’m going to have to break my iron man habit of doing long drives in single marathon runs.  Stopping along the way is going to be prudent.

The bike has new oil and filter and is half blue, so I’m in good mechanical shape and looking like a fine arts project.  The partially stripped black paint looks like it got pulled off by going too fast.

I’m not worried about it mechanically, it’s super solid, the weakest link on this trip is the n00b rider.  As long as I can remember that and pace myself, it’ll be a great step forward in riding.

The most exciting bit should be the logging road at the end of the trip.  It drives like a rally stage, but I’m going to be riding it with a light touch.  The Ninja isn’t built for this kind of work, so it’ll be a gentle last leg on the best roads.  I’ll save the rally driving for the ATVs once we’re at the

The Cottage Road

cottage.  Though now I’m wishing I had a little 250cc dirt bike up there to get muddy on.

The map doesn’t do the cottage road justice.  It’s been straightened out, graded and widened in recent years, it used to be even madder.  The road weaves around stone outcroppings in the Canadian Shield and includes a lot of elevation drops you don’t see on the map.  The tight corners come up on you suddenly because you can’t see over the hill you’re on to what’s next.

It’s roads like this that make me wish I had something more dual purpose.

The Triumph Tiger 800xc would snort and stomp down that road.  The new KTM Supermoto would make that cottage road a tail wagging good time, though that’s a much bigger bike.  I think I’d prefer the Triumph.  It’s lithe, and agile where the KTM is a monster.

In the meantime, I’m going to gingerly nurse the Ninja to the cottage after a beautiful Saturday afternoon ride across rural Southern Ontario.  Pictures to follow.

ECOO BIT18: Reductionism and Ignorance in Educational Technology

I’ve been ruminating over the latest ECOO conference for a couple of days now.  Strangely, this technology conference began and ended for me with others suggesting that digital technology is a dangerous waste of time and that we should step away from it in our classrooms.  Looking at my ECOO reflections over the past eight years I’m seeing a clear shift from optimism that we will get a handle on the digital revolution to caution and now a determined luddite push to walk away from it entirely.  The now obviously deleterious effects of the attention economy seem to have produced an unprecedented negativity around educational digital technology in 2018, and ECOO book-ended it for me.

These aren’t toys, they’re tools!
Calling them toys says a lot
about how YOU use them.

I opened the conference bringing armfuls of emerging technology to Minds on Media.  I’ve long tried to avoid the ‘here’s-a-turnkey-tech-tool’ presentation because it usually comes with corporate compromises.  That split focus in a lot of ‘edtech’ means much of it isn’t really so much about learning as it is about data collection or closed ecosystems that drive profitability.  Besides, I’ve long advocated for teachers who push technology to actually understand the technology they are requiring students to use.  That kind of technical fluency means you don’t get sucked into absurd situations like giving away student data for a ‘free’ service or driving students into expensive, proprietary, closed technology designed to make a profit when it inevitably breaks.

As in previous ECOO MoM demonstrations, I brought a variety of tech from different manufacturers and simply encouraged educators to become aware of an emerging new medium, in this case virtual reality.  I have no agenda and nothing to sell.  I get nothing for showing the technology and don’t benefit from anyone buying one thing or another.  This platform agnosticism means I can talk about the tech without prejudice or hidden agenda.  I was happy to be attending another MoM day and looking forward to showing people this emerging medium.

At least I was until Peter went around the room having the stations introduce themselves.  It all went well until we got stuck on one station that repeatedly described what everyone else was doing in the room as ‘playing with toys’ while describing their own noble pursuit as being ‘real’ and technology free (though without ICT infrastructure they couldn’t have done what they were doing at all).  This attitude isn’t new.  A surprising number of educators refuse to leverage digital tools to make their teaching more effective, but to hear someone shit can what everyone else is doing at this edtech conference was shocking.  There was no opportunity to call her out on it then, but I can now:

Too bad we don’t teach it like it matters.  Critical InfrastructureJobs in ICT.

This Minds on Media presenter monopolized the microphone to suggest anything digital was essentially meaningless (a toy) and that when people were ready to stop playing with their toys here she was ready to show them something real.  As a technician who trains engineers and technicians to run the world we live in, this made me angry, especially considering it was done at an educational technology conference that should be advocating for technical fluency across our education system in order to understand and effectively participate in the world we live in.  This didn’t put me in a great frame of mind to start the conference, but I soldiered on.

Cybersecurity in our classrooms.

I did two other presentations during the conference.  Both were presenting on platform agnostic technology opportunities that would teach students and teachers about a critical infrastructure (cybersecurity) and addressing our collective ignorance of 3d media.  In both cases I was advocating for not-for-profit digitally powerful learning opportunities that would enable Ontario educators and students to leverage the digital TOOLS at their disposal.  This is the opposite of the reductive and now recessive thinking I kept experiencing.

3d media in marketing & learning

There is now a two pronged attack on digital technology in the classroom.  The corrosive ra-ra edtech crowd seems increasingly determined to brand themselves behind proprietary corporate systems designed to deliver technology with no understanding required (and with lots of hidden profit centres), while the increasingly loud anti-tech crowd rises up against them, advocating that we receded from technology because it’s a distraction and a waste of time.  Both sides seem determined to ignore a simple fact: we’re supposed to be TEACHING students how this all works, not branding them or hiding them in a cave.  What edtech there is seems determined to follow consumerism into the most simplistic and ignorant relationship with digital tools possible.  In 2018 you can get branded or abstain from tech entirely and then feel mighty righteous about it.  Is anyone left just, ya know, teaching it any more?

There are technicians and engineers all around the world who provide digital infrastructure that we all depend on.  These people understand this technology and are much less likely to act like the sheeple who stare slack-jawed at their phones for hours on end.  To digitally literate people this technology is a powerful tool that is enabling us to do everything from gene editing diseases and linking disparate areas of study to creating more efficient critical utility systems.  Digital technology has become a vital part of the infrastructure around us, yet the vast majority of us, including many teachers, are completely ignorant of it.


For some baffling reason we seem intent on ignoring the actual teaching and understanding of these powerful digital technologies in favour of using them with the same perverse ignorance, and now fear, as the general public.  What is our role as educators in terms of technology if we aren’t producing technically competent graduates who can successfully navigate and participate in the digital world around them?  By the way, our ignorance of digital technologies is staggeringly bad. If you haven’t followed any of the supporting links in this so far, follow that one.

 

The closing keynote ended the conference by banging the same drum as that ‘when you’re done playing with these toys come and do something real’ comment that kicked it off.  This time one of the engineers of the attention economy that is causing so much damage earnestly suggested that we need to recede from digital activity in order to preserve not just learning but our very humanity!  Rather than acknowledge the potential for digital technology to enhance learning, his entire talk was aimed at retreating from it.

This particular group of Silicon Valley architects now wants to save the consumers they got wealthy commodifying.  I get the impulse.  If I had a bank account full of blood money like that I’d feel bad about it too, but as a means of resolving this technological adolescence we’re all living in, it won’t work – they can’t see past the mess they’ve made and they certainly aren’t approaching it from an educator’s mindset – but then neither are the educators.

There was not a single example of how digital technology might amplify or improve learning outcomes – a decidedly odd way to wrap up an edtech conference.  Our speaker went on to encourage the removal of personal technology from the hands of students and get back to a pre-digital time when everything was better.  As a digital immigrant I know that there was no such time.  If you think students weren’t distracted in class in the 1980s you weren’t a student in the 1980s.  These Silicon Valley wolves can’t see people as anything other than the consumer sheep they used to prey on.  I’d hope that teachers see much more potential in their students than these attention peddlars do, but I’m starting to think that vapid consumerism is the only relationship we’ll ever have with digital technology.

Invent a crisis and then offer a solution
to it. American business in action.

From an educational perspective digital technology offers a powerful tool for learning, but it doesn’t work if the teachers, administrators and government driving it are ignorant of how it works.  If the teachers and parents can’t manage the tech, then we can hardly expect students to.  I’d hope that ECOO and other curriculum support organizations would understand that and advocate for understanding and the development of broader technical fluency rather than encouraging willful ignorance.


Hiding digital tools and telling people to ignore the way the world works is a poor way to run an educational system, unless your goal is to produce ignorant consumers.  Instead of running away from the digital revolution that is driving innovation and increasingly managing the infrastructure around us, we should be teaching self regulation of personal technology and comprehension of how it all works in order to generate a genuine understanding the world we’re creating.  Teaching effective digital fluency means we’re less likely to be taken by the consumerist wolves and are able to effectively use digital tools rather than being used by them.


I’m all for being challenged in my thinking and often go out of my way to try on difficult ideas just to see how they fit.  I’ve weathered Nick Carr’s The Shallows and watched society wobbling under the weight of the robber barons of the attention economy.  Now I’ve attended an educational technology conference that began and ended with an ignorant and frankly dangerous dismissal of digital technology as a toy for idiots that should just be taken away.  Meanwhile digital infrastructure made that very event happen.  It fed the people who attended it and provided them with the resources they needed to travel to it, yet it isn’t worthy of teaching in our schools?  And teaching it is precisely the problem.  We pick up edtech and apply it without teaching it to staff or students, and now we’re shocked that it isn’t working well?  Sometimes I wonder how educationally aware our education system is.


I’ve been banging my head against this call for technology fluency for so long that I can’t help but feel like this dismissal of technology both by participants and the conference itself in that closing keynote is a betrayal of what I thought were shared values.


I first attended ECOO in 2010.  I joined Twitter, began meeting other technology interested teachers, started blogging and became part of a vibrant online PLN as a result of attendingOver the years ECOO has given me ideas and offered me a platform to present my own.  What I’d always hoped was an evolution towards greater understanding of the digital revolution we are all living through has faltered now.  We don’t want to learn how the world we’ve built works.  Pro-edtech educators want to keep the curtain firmly in place and leave the understanding and management of technology to others while the increasingly noisy anti-tech crowd are advocating receding from it entirely.  Our only contact with digital technology is through the lens of vapid consumerism and the only response we can have to that other than participating is to run and hide.


I’m frustrated, tired and losing hope in our ability to manage an understanding of the digital revolution that surrounds us.  Education seems particularly incapable of seeing their way out of this digital hole we’ve dug for ourselves.  The answer has always been to teach technological fluency, but ironically, I’m finding it harder and harder to find anyone who wants to.

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