The Third Way

I was at Skills Canada’s National Competition in New Brunswick last weekend and had a rainy Sunday morning in Moncton to listen to Michael Enright on the Sunday Edition on CBC radio.  His piece on bicycles versus cars stressed the enormous gap between coddled, cocky cagers and the noble, spiritually empowered bicyclist.

As someone who doesn’t live only a bicycle ride away from everything I need (because I live in the country), I felt somewhat excluded from this urban (urbane?) discussion.  As someone who stays out of cars whenever possible and doesn’t ride a bicycle, how can I possible survive?  I’ve found a third way ignored by both cagers and the messianic bicyclist.

What is this magical third way?  It’s the motorcycle of course.  You enjoy that feeling of flying that the bicyclist on the radio refers to, but you do it without forcing a third lane of traffic everywhere you’re going.  Motorcycles actually reduce congestion and improve traffic flow and do so without demanding bike lanes in already overcrowded urban centres.  You don’t see motorcyclists riding into opening car doors like you see bicyclists.  Though they thrive in that environment, motorbikes aren’t only suitable for urban use.  People in suburbs and rural areas can still use them to cover useful distances quickly.  You don’t produce the spontaneous righteous indignation that bicyclists seem to be able to generate at will, but you also don’t show up to work smelling like sweat and spandex.

For less than the price of an economy car
you can buy a Yamaha R1 that accelerates
faster than anything you’re ever likely to
meet and still gets better than 40 mpg.
Cutting edge Italian style can be yours in a
Vespa that costs about what a fancy road
bicycle does but can run at highway speeds
while getting 100 miles to the gallon. 

You aren’t suffering for choice when it comes to two-wheeled motorized transportation.  Want to buy a Canadian built, Canadian owned company’s bike?  The Can-Am Spyder offers older riders a stable, efficient platform to enjoy being out in the world.  Love Italian exotica?  Italy has more than a dozen current manufacturers of motorcycles producing everything from race ready Ducatis to stylish Vespas.  The Japanese produce an astounding range of bikes from the ground-breaking super-charged Kawasaki H2r to the futuristic Honda NV4 which manages to look like the off-spring of the batmobile and a stealth fighter while still getting better than 60mpg.

If you like the traditional look you can find modernized classic Triumphs and evolutionary Harley Davidsons that all use fuel injection, have anti-lock brakes and are both dependable and efficient ways of getting there in style.  There is a motorbike for every taste from subtle to gross.

The third way means you are paying road taxes to help build and maintain the roads you’re using (bicyclists don’t), and you’re not asking for your own lanes because you have no trouble flowing with normal traffic.  You never see a motorcyclist take to the sidewalk and abuse pedestrian space like you will with bicyclists because motorcyclists consider themselves road going vehicles all the time and not just when it suits them.  That kind of responsibility happens when you’re paying for the infrastructure you’re using.

The police officer redirecting traffic just told me to pull into
the full parking lot – you can fit bikes in without needing new
infrastructure to fit them.  All those unused triangles suddenly

have a function.

The third way means that, like bicyclists, you have to share the road with distracted, idiotic cagers who barely pay attention to what happens beyond the air conditioned box they find themselves in, all while they burn copious amounts of gasoline moving themselves, four empty seats and a couple of tonnes of vehicle around with them.  It’s a dangerous business sharing space with these vain-glorious, self obsessed tools.

What do you get in return for that vulnerability?  You are present in the places you pass through, alive in the world.  You smell every smell, feel the sun on your back and arrive feeling like to you travelled through the world to get there instead of feeling isolated, superior and more than a little clueless.  The first time you lean into a series of corners and feel like you and your bike are one is a magical experience.  You can’t take on the spandex righteousness of bicyclists, but you can take comfort in knowing that you’re using way less of everything to get where the cars are going, and you’re doing it with a much bigger smile on your face.

The kind of defensive riding you learn on a motorbike (who is at fault doesn’t matter, you need to be responsible for the ineptitude of those around you) can’t help but make you a better car driver.  I’ve been unable to squeeze the statistics out of the Ontario MoT, but I’ll bet you a coffee and donut that if you compare any age group with G class car licenses and G and M (car+motorcycle) licenses, you’ll see a significant drop in collisions when they drive four wheelers.  You can’t help but internalize that kind of defensive mindset if you’re going to ride motorbikes for any length of time.  Bicycling isn’t a parallel to driving a car because you aren’t held firm by the same traffic flow and right of way issues, so bicyclist paranoia doesn’t translate to driving like motorcycle paranoia does.

For most who can’t afford the excess
that is the automobile, the motorcycle
offers real mobility.


You’d be hard pressed to find a more democratic vehicle than the motorcycle.  As a means of economic, efficient transportation, there is nothing better.  If you don’t believe me, look at any developing country.  The motorcycle is what allows many people who can’t luxuriate in the first world isolationism of the automobile a chance at mobility in the modern sense.

While urban cyclists find god and battle the soulless commuting automobilists on The Sunday Edition, I’ll enjoy my third way.  I only wish it was a consideration in the misery that is most urban commutes.  Rather than chasing utopian dreams of bicycle lanes in a car free city, why not consider a compromise that lets us immediately reduce gridlock?  Ontario could start by following the examples of more motorcycle friendly jurisdictions by allowing filtering, reducing insurance, offering more parking (easily done in unused areas of parking lots designed for three ton SUVs) and easing access into motorized two wheeling by supporting and encouraging training.  We’d see an immediate uptick in the efficiency of the roads we have now.

LINKS
Commuting by Motorbike is Better for Everyone
Mega-Mileage Scooters

 

Motorcycle Media: Ride with Norman Reedus

A well made piece of motorcycle documentary!

I’ve been watching Ride With Norman Reedus on AMC over the past few weeks.  What you have here is an incredibly approachable celebrity who is obviously a giant bike nerd doing all the rides in the continental U.S. that he’s never gotten around to doing.

This isn’t some Harley-or-nuthin kind of biker exercise either, Norman throws his leg over everything from a Rolands Sands BMW R9T Special to a Zero electric bike, and that’s just in the first episode!  By the end of the season you’ve seen over a dozen machines from half a dozen different manufacturers.  Norman obviously loves his bikes and he isn’t particular about the flavour.

He likes his customs, but you’ll also find him riding
everything from state of the art Ducatis to 1950s
BMWs, often in the same episode.

Another nice touch is that this isn’t a boy’s own/Charlie & Ewan masculine and manly bike trip.  Norman goes out of his way to find motorcycle subcultures when he’s riding, and that often includes female riding groups and partners.  You don’t notice what a change this is from the usual testosterone charged motorcycle media until you see it done this differently.

The production values are excellent.  With aerial establishing shots and a wide variety of atmospheric images used throughout the ride, it doesn’t feel like you’re following a map so much as actually being where the ride is (much like you would on a bike).  Norman himself has directed film and published a book of photography, and he’s frequently stopping to take photos of his own or bragging on the nice little SLR he’s using.  A camera geek after my own heart!

In stark contrast to the hard man he plays in Walking Dead, Norman has an easy going Californian vibe that makes him both approachable and a joy to watch.  When a woman at Deal’s Gap says he looks like Darryl from Walking Dead he shoots right back, “yep, that’s me!” with a big smile on his face.

This show is going to get a lot of people interested in trying out motorcycling.  I hope to goodness AMC is already planning for another season (though calling five episodes a season is a bit much).  This show can’t cost that much to produce and it has a ready and expanding audience.  Ducati and Triumph should both get a nod for obviously ponying up new bikes for use in this, but it was money well spent.  The others should be lining up to provide bikes for the next round.  A surprise riding partner or two (Valentino Rossi?) would be most excellent.  Having Vale show Norman around Tavullia would be epic.

In case it isn’t clear, I’d highly recommend this if you enjoy travel documentaries.  If you’re into motorcycles at all you’ll love it.  Norman in Europe?  Norman in Japan?  With so many motorcycle subcultures to explore, this could easily become a world wide phenomenon.




How To Plan and Shoot 360 Photography & Video

Originally posted on Dusty World.

This week I brought some 360° cameras to the 2017 ECOO Conference to show how (kind of) easy it is to make immersive media for virtual reality viewers like Google Cardboard.  I brought along my favourite 360 camera, the Ricoh Theta (physical controls, good shape, very intuitive to use, easy to manage and produce files), and some others:

  • Samsung Gear360 4k camera (harder to access physical controls buried in menus, awkward shape, files that are such a pain to use in the Samsung software that it will take you days to turn out content)
  • 360Fly 4k not-quiet 360° camera (awkward wireless controls over smartphone, doesn’t stitch together 2 180° images into a full view, water/cold proof and tough, easy to manage files, useful time lapse functions built in)
  • at the last minute I brought along the Instapro 360 8k professional camera, but it demands a special type of SD memory card so I couldn’t make use of it.  The software and hardware is also very difficult to manage – it’s going to take a while to figure this camera out.

360° cameras offer a unique opportunity to capture a moment in a way that hasn’t been possible before.  When combined with immersive VR viewers like Google Cardboard, full systems like HTC’s Vive or upcoming Google Daydream platforms, 360 video and photography allow the viewer to inhabit the media, looking out into it as a part of it rather thank peering at it through a framed window as we’ve always done before.

This is our presentation from our Minds on Media VR & 360 Media Station from #BIT17
This lack of perspective, framing or directional intent makes 360 video and photography a very different medium to work in.  The tyranny of the director’s eye is gone, leaving the viewer to interact with the media as they see fit.  This is both good and bad.  If you’re watching a film through Steven Spielberg’s director’s eye you’re seeing it better than you probably could yourself; you benefit from that framing of a narrative.  If you’re looking at an Ansel Adam’s photograph you’re experiencing what he saw and benefiting from his genius in the process.  That eye and the ability to effectively use a medium to demonstrate it is what makes a good film director or photographer, but 360 media tosses all that out.

.

The irony in all of this is that being a good 360 director has more to do with setting a scene and getting out of the way than it does with framing everything just so.  It also means that if your viewer has a trained eye they can find moments in your media that you might not even have intended.  It also means that if the viewer of your 360 media is technically incompetent or has the visual standards of an amoeba they won’t find anything of value in it at all.  Suddenly the audience has a lot of control over how effective your media is when you’re shooting in 360.

The examples above show just how 360 images can be directed like former ‘windowed’ media or left open and viewer directed.

When the media maker directs your view (these are screen grabs of the 360 image below the windowed photos), you see what they want you to see:

 

Or you can produce 360 media that the viewer controls that maybe tells the whole story.

Teaching visual intelligence will become much more important in the future if 360 media and immersive virtual media viewing become the new norm.  If your audience is too visually ignorant to make effective use of your media they won’t recognize the value in it.  I wonder if you won’t see directed views of 360 media done by people who can still provide the majority of people who aren’t interested in building up visual media fluency the chance to enjoy media at its maximum effectiveness.

Beyond the director/audience change in power there are also a number of challenges in producing effective 360 media.  The biggest problem is that the camera sees everything, so you can’t have a crew out of sight behind the lens because there is no out of sight.  We’ve gone to ridiculous lengths in producing 360 video for our virtual school walk through in order to try and let the viewer feel like they are immersed in the media without drawing their attention to the apparatus that is being used to create the media.

Tools like GiimbalGuru’s 360 friendly gimbal that minimizes wobbles that are much queasier in immersive VR viewers than on screen help the process.  This gimbal is 360 friendly because, unlike other camera gimbals that block views to the sides and back, the GimbalGuru 360 is vertically balanced and so stays out of the shot.  One of the issues with the Samsung Gear is that the short handle means you have a lot of hand in any photo.  The shape of the Ricoh Theta minimizes that problem.  A good 360 camera should be stick shaped to minimize hand in the shot.

The last piece on 360 media making concerns the audience.  At the ECOO Conference keynote the ever aware Colin Jagoe asked the obvious question, did you get everyone to sign waivers?  It’s a question you see on lots of people’s faces when they see you take a 360 photo or video.  The answer to this runs back to the idea of a director or photographer directing the viewer’s vision.

If I take a photo or video of a person I’m pointing the camera at them and they are the subject of it.  As the subject of a piece of media it’s fair to ask if that subject should have a say over whether or not I can make them the focus of my media making.  However, since the 360 camera isn’t taking a picture of them (it’s taking a picture of everything), they aren’t the focused subject of my media.

The assumption they are working under is one that has been drilled into us subconsciously by the directed, ‘windowed’ media we’ve had up until now.  If someone points a camera at you it is about you, at least mostly.  If someone takes a 360 image in the same moment you are just one of many possible focuses in that image.  If I had any advice for those pursed lips I see whenever I take a 360 media image it would be, ‘chill out, it’s not all about you.’

The law around this is fairly straightforward:  “when people are in a public space, they’ve already forfeited some of their right to privacy… Generally, as long as the images of people aren’t offensive, defamatory or unreasonably invade their privacy, you don’t have to get every person in the crowd to sign a release.”

360 media, because of its lack of point of view, is even less likely to invade anyone’s rights to privacy, especially if you’re taking an image in a public space with many people in it.  It’s going to take a while for people to realize that 360 media isn’t all about them just because they happened to be in the vicinity when it occurred.  The short answer to Colin’s question on Twitter is easy, “I don’t have to get a waiver from you dude!”

There are a number of production and social issues around 360/immersive media and I’m sure we’ll be working them out for years to come.  Spielberg is currently working on the VR futurist movie adaption of Ready Player One, coming out in the spring.  He is developing a lot of VR/immersive/360 content for that film – it may be the first big budget picture to really embrace immersive 360 media.  I imagine he’s working through a lot of these problems in post production (green screening out the crew in 360 shots?).

I haven’t even gotten into the technical requirements of 360 media production.  If you think hi-def ‘windowed’ video makes a lot of data, 4k 360 video will knock you flat on your back.  The 8k camera I’ve yet to get going requires such a strange, high performance SD card that I’ve had to special order it.  The camera is going to use tens of gigs of data to make even short videos and post-processing on even a decent desktop computer will take 15 minutes for every minute of footage.  Working in high def 360 footage is very storage and processor heavy work.

All of this will get sorted out in time and the benefits of immersive 360 media are obvious to anyone who has tried it.  We discovered that Google Street View is now available in Google Earth VR while we were demonstrating it at the conference.  It rocked people to suddenly find themselves standing on a street in Rome in 3D high definition detail.

In the meantime I got to experiment with this emerging medium at #BIT17 and really enjoyed both my time catching moments with it and swearing at how awkward it was to get working.  My next goal is to exercise my new UAV pilot qualifications and explore 360 media from an aerial perspective.  Hey, if it was easy everyone would experiment with emerging digital mediums.

Here is some of our 360° media from the ECOO 2017 Conference in Niagara Falls:

Using the time lapse function (one image every 10 seconds) on the 360Fly camera, here’s a morning of VR demonstrations at Minds on Media on the Wednesday of #BIT17

 

My 13 year old son Max takes you on a virtual tour of Minds on Media on Wednesday morning using the Samsung Gear360 camera and the GimbalGuru mount to steady it.

Pushing the limits of the GuruGimbal and Samsung 360Gear – a motorcycle ride around Elora.  If you’ve got the patience for how long it takes to process in the Samsung  Action Director software it produces some nice, high definition footage.

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Finding Parts & Service in a Pandemic

They ain’t kidding, but setting up online ordering without
actually setting up online ordering isn’t great business.

Trying to get parts in is never easy in Canada where no one likes to get their hands dirty.  It’s even harder during a pandemic.  The worst I’ve seen so far is Canadian Tire, who are a complete wreck.  Their web-page barely works and their online ordering system is in shambles.  It turns out aiming for the lowest prices on the cheapest Chinese made goods in the stingiest way possible doesn’t make for a resilient response in an emergency situation.  I’ve yet to pass by the local store without a massive row of annoyed customers standing in line out front of it (I’ve yet to bother going in), and the one attempt at ordering a simple, in-stock item has resulted in weeks waiting.  Don’t go to Canadian tire virtually or in person, they can’t handle it.


Amazon was also a mess early on in this with orders sometimes taking up to three weeks to arrive.  They seemed to improve recently when I actually got an order the same week I made it, but they still aren’t anything like as efficient as they once were.  I just ordered some spark plugs for the Triumph on Amazon (once you’ve got the tank off you want to do all the servicing because it’s a bit of a faff to get in there).  Canadian Tire didn’t have them or won’t let me in to find them.  That Amazon order sat there unresponsive for 3 days before it shifted to ‘shipping’, but in the 24 hours since there are no shipping updates and the shipment is still untrackable.


So, trying to get parts during this slow-burn pandemic sucks right?  Not always!  The other day the trusty Triumph Tiger actually stalled on me at a light.  I looked over every I’ve done on it (which is a lot) and realized I’ve never done the fuel filter, and I’ve put over 25k on it since I’ve had it.  If the Tiger is idling low and stalling on idle fuel starvation from a way-past-due fuel filter is a likely culprit.  But oh no, it’s a pandemic, I’ll never find parts!


The trickiest part was actually finding the fuel filter.  After searching around fuel lines under the tank I ended up looking in the Haynes manual only to discover that the fuel filter on a 955i Tiger is *in* the fuel tank.  This fully submerged fuel filter sits behind a panel on the side of the gas tank.

Finding a fuel filter for a 17 year old European motorcycle during a pandemic should have been a nightmare, but it turned out to be the easiest thing I’ve done parts wise, maybe ever.


Inglis Cycle in London is 140kms away, but they’re still my local Triumph dealer, so I fired them an email asking if they had what I was looking for.  For over ten years from the late ’90s to the mid zeroes Triumph used the 955i engine in the majority of their models, and they all used the submerged fuel filter in the gas tank, so they aren’t uncommon.


Within a couple of hours Ken at Inglis had emailed me back.  After removing the filter assembly from the tank I discovered a pretty beaten up gasket with multiple rips, so I asked if they could add that in with the filter.  Ken had both the filter and gasket in stock and said he could ship it out to me for $15.  Considering it’s a 280km round trip that would have taken me most of a day, fifteen bucks didn’t seem bad.  I thought that meant postal service and a week long wait.  The box showed up the next morning via a courier.  If you’re looking for quick, capable service during a pandemic, Inglis Cycle has their act together.




So the fancy gasket and new filter all went in flawlessly within 24 hours of ordering the parts, but I’m still stuck without a bike because I can’t seem to find anyone to safety the Honda and the spark-plugs I’d ordered from Amazon two days before I even began emailing Inglis are still in the ether.  The moral of this is I should have just ordered the spark plugs from them too and cancelled Amazon and their inconsistent service.  The other lesson learned is that once you find dependable service during a social distancing slow down, make sure you reward it with your spending power.

The trusty Tiger is in pieces instead of putting on miles thanks to Amazon’s hit and miss service.

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Finessing the Ride

I’ve been on the bike every chance I’ve been able to get the past few days.  My longest ride was an hour and ten minute look over to where I used to live and back again.  Yesterday, making use of our last warm, rain free day before the temperature drops and frozen mud returns, I was out and about north of town.  I’ve been trying to get my shifts smoother.  When I’m gearing up I’m finding the bike plunging going up gears because the revs are so high and the engine drops off revs so quickly.  You need to give it a touch of throttle between bringing the clutch in and engaging it again to match engine revs to road speed.  It’s tricky.

I’ve gotten out of the habit of dropping the clutch in the middle of a corner, making those much smoother, and I’m remembering to turn off the signals much more.  Only once or twice did I forget and have to do it after the fact (usually after tearing up a road after a good turn).  The roads are cleaner and less sand covered, so I’m less worried about washing out in corners.  I’m still startled by how much power the bike has.  You have to hang on tight if you wind it out.
On my way back home the gas light finally came on.  162 miles on that tank (261kms?).  It took $16 to fill it with the highest grade gas I could find.  After I’ve done the plugs and cleaned the fuel system, I think I can get that over 300kms to a tank.
The real excitement came when I pulled into the gas station for my first fill up.  The premium pump was empty so I went to pull in.  Just then a woman in an old Taurus started backing into the same lane, so I stopped quickly.  So far so good, except her angle is all wrong and she’s driving right for the curb the gas pump is on.  She starts to pull forward so I assume (wrongly) that she is doing a 3 point turn and leaving.  Instead, she starts backing up again.  I haul on the brakes hard.  This time I can’t get my legs down in time and drop the bike, still running, my hand locked on the front brake and clutch.  Rather than hit the kill switch (and because I’m in embarrassed shock), I try to dead lift a 400lb Ninja back onto its feet.  I didn’t do it the first time, the adrenaline did it for me the second time (I’m a big guy).  I got her back on her wheels, still with the front brake and clutch in.  The woman in the Taurus has since backed up again because she went up on the curb and is trying to back into the slot again, except she goes over the curb a third time, then a forth time.  She finally backs it up into the slot back from the one I was trying to pull into.

The guy filling his truck makes eye contact with me and shakes his head.

I walk the bike up to the pump only to discover it doesn’t work.  Excellent.  I end up walking it over to the next lane and the other premium pump and finally get to fill up my new bike for the first time.  The ride home had me second guessing everything I was doing.  After a nice ride I was shaky.  Later that night my right arm feels tight, I think I pulled something deadlifting a 400lb Ninja out of the way of the most incompetent driver I encountered on that ride.  On the upside, at least she didn’t kill me driving down the road, and I can now say I’ve dropped my bike, picked it up and gone on.  Thank goodness the guy before me put frame sliders on it, no damage done (other than to my pride).

Beautiful Sunset Ride

T’was a lovely evening and everyone was napping or having quiet time, so I pulled the Tiger out and went for a cool, sunset ride up and down the Grand River.  Almost no traffic at the end of the day, but lots of bugs on my visor when I got back.

Here are some photos of the ride.  If you’re curious about how I’m doing this, I’m getting an article on it published in Adventure Bike Rider, but in the meantime you can find the how-to on my photography blog here.


All photos taken on a Ricoh Theta clamped to the wing mirror.  Screen grabs were post-processed in Adobe Lightroom.  The ‘little planet’ photos were uploaded through the Theta software to the Theta website and then it’s a one button click to get the tiny planet look:


Post from RICOH THETA. – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA



Post from RICOH THETA. – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA




Triumph Tiger sunset ride – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA




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How to Resolve Poor Technical Fluency in Ontario Education

Originally published on Dusty World in April of 2018, two years before the COVID19 Pandemic:  temkblog.blogspot.com/2018/04/how-to-resolve-poor-technical-fluency.html

I’m revising my Computer Technology (TEJ) course offerings to encourage students of all technical skill levels to become more fluent with the digital tools used in pretty much every job these days. This has happened, in part, because of an article I read a few months ago about the atrocious technical skills human beings in general, and our graduates in particular, have.

Teaching computer technology has a number problems associated with it at a systemic level in Ontario education, but this is my local attempt to resolve some of those problems in terms of accessibility and functionality.

 

The presentation above describes how even a least a basic understanding of computer technology has become a useful skill in pretty much every pathway a student can take.  From straight into the workplace, through apprenticeships and college to PhDs, being able to make functional use of computers will assist you in many aspects of your Twenty-First Century workplace.


I was recently talking to a dairy farmer who was telling me about the computer network they use for milk capture and assessment.  This wireless system allows them to keep track of individual cow health and has produced a significant bump in the quantity and quality of their produce; he also thought it made for happier cows.  Last summer we gave a ride to a French PhD student from the University of Guelph who got stuck on a bicycle in a thunderstorm, he was a doctor of genetic engineering.  When I asked him if he wished he’d studied anything else he immediately said, ‘computer programming.’  When I asked why he said that all of the gene sequencing they are doing is taking place in computer simulations and not being able to program meant he couldn’t do it as well as he wanted to.  From farmers to gene sequencers – technical fluency in computer technology is influencing and redefining the work they are doing.

Individualized technology training for students at all
levels of experience and skill.

My previous approach in M-level (post secondary bound) TEJ (computer technology) courses was to focus on students looking to make a career in the field.  This intensity frightened away a lot of students who were just looking to increase their technical fluency.  I’d initially thought this might have been resolved by offering essential level computer tech courses, but the poor handling of students in this high school stream made for an expensive and frustrating semester dealing with several students who have been groomed by the system to expect zero consequences for bad behaviour.  My goal now is to make M level courses more accessible and engaging for all students, regardless of technical experience.  I’m hoping that this also brings in more female students as they are vanishingly few in our conservative, genderized school where digital technology isn’t considered an appropriate course of study for a girl.

 
I’ve changed my grading and assessment from an absolute skills analysis to a vectored improvement approach.  I don’t measure what students know, I measure how much their knowledge and skills have improved, and grade them based on that improvement.  In this way a student with no background in computers can still improve their fluency and get grades that don’t drive them away from the course.  Post secondary focused students tend to be marks focused, so holding them to hard standards when they don’t have the background means chasing people out of computer tech, but if I treat it like a form of literacy rather than a specialty, students of all experience levels can improve their technical fluency without worrying about grades.  


Research indicates that the general technical fluency of Canada’s population is abysmal.  Holding students to an absolute standard isn’t a way to induce them into voluntarily (unlike geography, history, phys-ed and art, ICT isn’t a required course in any Ontario classroom) improving this deficit.  If we believe the simple fact that information and communication technical fluency will help you in pretty much every job these days, then this approach focused on accessibility and empowerment should be the norm, not the exception.

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The Value of Losing

Originally published October, 2013 on Dusty World.

I’m currently teaching two grade nine classes of introduction to computers and coaching the senior boys soccer team.  In both situations I’m trying to understand and develop their response to failure.  This is something we’re singularly bad at in education.  Instead of developing resilience around failure we try to mitigate failure entirely.

The soccer team has shown such a lack of resilience that they are essentially in tatters.  When given opportunities to recover from failure they have responded with dishonesty, poor sportsmanship and a lack of character.  Continually trying to coax them into right action has been exhausting and ultimately a failure on my part as a coach which I find very distressing.  There is a culture on this team that I’m finding impossible to overcome.

The grade nines, while tackling Arduino for the first time, are also running into failure though they are handling it much better than the soccer team.  When they realize that they won’t be made to suffer for failure (this involves overcoming years of training by our education system), they begin to play with the material in a meaningful and constructive way.  Removing fear of failure from the equation has been successful in both classes and the confidence that results is based on real, hands-on, experiential learning.

www.wired.com/wired/archive/14.04/genX.html

So much of what we do in a classroom is artificial.  Artificial challenges in an artificial environment producing artificial assessments while working on artificial timelines.  The same can be said of those epic wins players think they own in video games.

This brought me back to an article I read in WIRED a long time ago called Generation Xbox wherein they talked about the culture of gaming in such a forthright way that it stuck with me.  Anyone who has been teaching kids in the last ten years will see a lot of truth in these observations.

One of the reasons gamification has connected with education so comfortably is that the two things deal in artificialities.  Both focus on engagement and subvert realism in order to ensure continued attention.  Being in a classroom is much like being in a game complete with rules to follow and points to be scored.  We grade students in much the same way that a game gives out points – we award players for willingly submitting themselves to the rules of the game; submission is a prerequisite for victory and victory is given rather than taken.

When you win in a video game or in a classroom you aren’t experiencing success in a real way.  It is an artificial environment designed to breed success, you are in a place designed by committee to appeal to the widest range of people.  The attention and engagement of the student/player is the goal, everything else is in support of it.  Yet people develop very real senses of themselves around these false victories.  Our self image is molded around what we think we’re good at and many digital natives consider themselves masters of the universe because they have played games successfully.  Many academics believe that they are masters of the universe because they were able to submit to education successfully.

If social constructs like games or education or economics are designed to focus entirely on inclusive engagement then the result is a population with no ability to think outside of these social constructs.  They don’t develop meaningful meta-cognition or resiliency.  When you’ve been beaten badly it shows you something about yourself.  When you’ve been beaten badly it knocks you out of habitual response and into a new and potentially more successful means of overcoming your failure.  In that scenario even a less painful loss could be seen as an improvement, but we are doing all we can to remove pain from everything.

One of the reasons gamers migrate to multi-player versus games is because you can test your ability against someone who isn’t a benign agent of the game’s mediocrity engine.  As in sports you are able to test yourself against your peers.  You can bet that the human being on the other side won’t bell-curve their play to suit your level.  That’s how you end up with 9-1 soccer games, or getting pwned online.  It’s in these extremes that gamer culture and sports seem most alien to educators.  It’s in these extremes that my soccer players have nothing in their vocabulary to respond honestly and constructively to failure.

When starting the circuit building unit in computer studies the grade nines were overwhelmed by something completely new to them.  I gave them detailed instruction and support but would not do it for them.  I did stress that if they weren’t paying attention to what they were doing they would find this impossible and when one would ask for help while simultaneously looking at their smartphone or with an error I’d already helped them with once I’d walk away.  Circuit building wouldn’t bell-curve for the class, it wouldn’t simplify things to make it easier if students didn’t get it.  They had to respond to reality and reality wasn’t interested in making it easier.

At one point a colleague from the English department wandered in and watched them working on their circuit building for a few minutes.  He said, “it’s nice to be in a classroom where the students are actually doing something.”  then, after a pause he added, “you really don’t have to worry about engaging them do you?  They’re all right into it…”  Reality can do that to people, it’s a genuine challenge.  My job as a teacher is to give them the time and materials to figure it out for themselves.

If you’re excited about gamification then you’re excited about what is simply a new layer of artificiality around an already artificial situation.  Not everyone should see success in every endeavor.  It’s good for you to fail every once in a while, it makes you more compassionate, humble, creative and self aware; all areas I see the digital native struggle with because their virtual wins have more to do with entertainment than they do with reality.

If you’ve seen success in a system designed to provide it you’ve got to question the value of that success.  If you want to earn success look for a challenge that wasn’t designed by committee mainly to keep you engaged.  Whenever what you’re doing has engagement at its heart you’ll find the victory to be false because it was designed to ensure it for you in order to keep you playing.

Ontario Education’s Neglected Computer Technology Curriculum

The primary function of Dusty World is for me to reflect on my teaching practice in order to resolve problems.  This one’s going to sound like a lot of complaining, but it leads directly to the following posts that suggests outlets and ways to manage this overwhelming curriculum.


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I’ve long had difficulty managing the byzantine history and fractured approach to computer technology in Ontario high school classrooms.  Our subject council email is clogged with desperate pleas for qualified teachers to fill absences that, if not filled, will result in the closure of programs; most of them don’t get filled.  Meanwhile, existing computer-tech programs are treated as an afterthought, often overloading teachers and students with multi-stacked classrooms.

A colleague recently noted that less than 30% of Ontario high schools even offer the computer technology course of study.  In 2018, being able to make effective use of computers is a fundamental skill that will assist students across the entire spectrum of employment and post-secondary training, yet few students enjoy access to this vital Twenty-First Century skillset.  If you can get a computer to work for you, you immediately have a socio-economic advantage; fluency in computer technology is foundational skill in the Twenty-First Century, but only 30% of students in Ontario can access it?

Ontario technology curriculum is based around absolute skills arranged in a hierarchy, so as courses progress they become less and less accessible to students with no previous experience.  This is at odds with the TEJ3M curriculum that describes the course as having no pre-requisite, yet the technical expectations of TEJ3M are complex and wide ranging (starting on page 76 – give them a read, they’re astonishing).  In post-secondary programs and industry, any one of the strands in this curriculum would be its own course of study and most are degree programs, but in Ontario high schools they are all lumped together in a course with no previous experience required.


Many students, even those who have taken the optional junior TEJ course, struggle to grasp the wide range of knowledge and build the experience required to cover the 3M curriculum.  Senior TEJ M-level courses are the equivalent of asking a student to walk into senior advanced science with no previous experience and then study biology, chemistry, environmental science, space science and physics simultaneously.  All of this highlights Ontario education’s poor handling of computer technology.  Yet fluency with information and communication technology is becoming a fundamental requirement in pretty much every pathway a student can choose in 2018, while specialists in the field enjoy clear advantages in the workplace.  I feel I’m well within my professional scope to revise and make these poorly formulated requirements more accessible for my students.  In the process I hope to address, in a small way, the digital illiteracy that plagues Canada’s (and the world’s) population while also supporting my digitally focused experts.


The fractured computer technology curriculum is one of many reasons why there are a dearth of educators qualified to teach computer tech (less than 30% of Ontario high schools even offer the subject).  Our subject group frequently gets emails saying programs from ICT to robotics will be shut down unless a qualified teacher can be found, but there are none available.  This seems at odds with how many computer tech programs are treated in the few places they exist.  In our own board we have schools closing down irreplaceable computer tech labs in order to support subjects more designed to entertain than employ.


The few teachers willing and able to take on digital technologies are overwhelmed by the expansive curriculum they are expected to attempt.  My technical background was as a millwright and then a computer technician.  I am professionally competent in information technology and networking and have a considerable (though not equal) amount of experience in electrical work.  My experience in electronics is passing at best, but I make do.  My coding background, which I’m also supposed to be an expert in, is mostly self-taught (Ontario has been failing to provide an applied technical education for computer focused students for decades).  Finding a teacher who can teach the Ontario computer technology curriculum is the equivalent of finding someone who isn’t just qualified academically in multiple fields, but is also has working experience across multiple industries; if they do exist they are polymaths making millions.  We accept science teachers who have never worked a day in the private sector, but computer technology teachers are required to show years of industry experience in addition to academic qualifications.


Then there is cost of teaching tech.  I used to take home about $920 a week as a millwright in 1991, and that was with a full pension and benefits package.  As a senior teacher with 13 years of experience, 5 years of expensive university training and three additional qualifications including an honour’s specialist I had to spend months and thousands of dollars on, I bring home about $250 more a week in 2018.  I often wonder why I’m teaching when I could have been making a lot more doing what I’m teaching, and with a lot less political nonsense.

The vast majority of Ontario Education is
designed to feed that 10% unemployment
rate
 in the Canadian youth job market.

Then there is the split focus of Ontario education with digital technologies falling somewhere in between.  If you teach in academic classrooms you’re what the whole system is designed around.  If you’re teaching a hard tech like transportation, carpentry or metal shop at least you fall into another category, albeit one that is often treated like more like a necessary evil than a valid pathway for millions of people.  However, digital technologies get the worst of both worlds.  Hard techs have reasonable course caps of 21 students in order to ensure safety.  Academic courses in standard classrooms get capped at 31, but digital techs have no specific Ministry size limits and are capped at whatever local admin wants.  At my school that’s a class cap of 31 students, the same as a senior academic English class, which is absurd.  31 students might work (barely) when you’re working out of texts in rows, but trying to teach 31 students soldering with guns running over 400 degrees, or working inside computers with power supplies powerful enough to knock someone unconscious?  


Safety is a constant stress in the computer tech lab.  We’re expected to maintain all the same safety standards and testing as hard techs, but with a third more students.  On top of that, since my classes are capped at 31, if 20 students sign up for it (which would run as a section in any hard tech), my courses are dropped or combined into stacked nightmares of assessment, management and differentiation.  Classes that only load to 60% are usually cut.  Last semester I had five preps, four of them in one period.  If you think the breadth of computer technology curriculum is already too much, try teaching it in a stacked class with four (4!) different sections at once.  The majority of computer tech teachers experience this joy every semester.  Taking all of this into account, it’s no wonder there aren’t more computer technology courses running in the province.


With little hope of the curriculum getting sorted or computer technology being treated as anything more than an afterthought, I’m still working to try and make my courses as applied, effective and accessible to as many students as I can, because it’s important that young people understand the technology that so influences their lives.  If more people knew how it all worked, we’d have less abuse of it.


I spent time on March Break getting my heart tested because I’ve been having trouble sleeping and have been getting a jittery feeling in my chest.  My doctor tells me I’m strong and healthy physically, the nerves and jittery feeling are a result of stress.  I can’t imagine where that comes from.  He suggests I take steps to reduce it, but I told him it’s not in me to mail in what I’m doing.  I find teaching to be a challenging and rewarding profession and I believe my technical background is an important field of study.  I tend to dig my heels in when I believe that something is important, even more so when there is systemic prejudice against it.  I intend to keep fighting for what I believe is important learning for my students, but this is one of those times when swimming against the tide of indifference feels overwhelming.

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