Living in an Information Rich World

The other day I had a senior high school student who has been conditioned to be helpless say, “How am I supposed to know what aperture is?  You’re supposed to teach us!”  Aside from the fact that this student has evidently won photo competitions and got an 81% in grade 11 photography, I suggested that we have this thing now called the internet that has all sorts of information on it.  I was genuinely frustrated at her unwillingness to resolve her own ignorance.

I may have been a bit curt, but this is an essential truth of our age: information is at hand.  If you think education is about imparting information you’re about to become quite redundant.  Education isn’t redundant, it’s more important than ever to prepare students for information that is no longer vetted by the forth estate for them.  Unfortunately this isn’t a focus in education where bells still signal the start of shifts, um, classes, and teachers can still be found talking the whole period long.

Digital access to information greatly emphasizes how out of touch the sage on the stage is nowadays.  The teacher who talks for an hour straight giving their students facts has failed to realize that we no longer live in an information poor world.  Instead of letting students access information pouring out of the technology that surrounds them, the sage teacher puts themselves in the middle of the class and drips information on them slowly, like water torture.

Assuming we have connectivity, something school boards aren’t very good at because they were never meant to be internet service providers (yet have taken on this task poorly), and assuming the people in the room have developed some degree of digital mastery, then information will fall to hand.  Waiting for it to drip, drip, drip out of a teacher’s mouth or out of a static, out of date textbook shows a startling lack of awareness in how the world works nowadays.

The opportunity to collaborate and support each other is continuously available and learning reverts to the self-directed and driven activity it was before we institutionalized it.  Questions of engagement quickly become irrelevant in a world where teachers aren’t vital because of facts they know.  Those sages are going to have to find other ways to pamper their egos.  If they aren’t expert learners themselves they will quickly find that they have no skill to share with students, and if you have no skills to teach you don’t serve much purpose in a world where any fact is a few keystrokes away.

There was a time when you needed a teacher to show you the way into hard to find information.  Nowadays a good high speed internet connection has that information at your fingertips, assuming you know how to use it.  Many teachers are still trying to be a font of information, even as the information revolution passes them by.  The real losers in this aren’t the teachers struggling to keep things the way they were, but the students we’re graduating who have no idea how different the world on the other side of school actually is.

Ancaster And Back Again

Elora to Ancaster and back again… about 160kms

Another weekend another good ride, this time to Ancaster and back for an edcamp.  One again the Concours impressed with its ability to cover miles with ease.

It was about 6°C when I left at 7:30 in the morning, and up in the high teens when I came back mid-afternoon.  Both ways was comfortable though behind the fairings, and the new jacket is light-years beyond the old one in terms of both warming and cooling.

I had a moment riding when I was flying through the air on the back of the bike realizing that there is nothing about doing this that I don’t enjoy.  It was a windy day, the roads post Canadian winter look like a war zone and it was cold, but even with all that I was still stringing perfect moments together as I flew down the road.  I had a moment before the big trip last week when I was wondering if I’m not taking too many risks riding with my son.  What finally put me right was realizing that driving a car can end you as well, but we do that much more often and usually while paying less attention.  I looked back one time as we were winding our way through Beaver Valley and saw Max with his arms out and eyes closed flying through the air behind me.  I would have hated myself if I’d have never given him that experience.  Riding might be dangerous, but competence and attention can go a long way in mitigating those risks, and the rewards are impossible to find in any other mode of transport.

The more I ride the Concours the better the engine seems to get. On the way home I stuck the phone behind the windshield and got the video below where you can hear the Concour’s happy noise.  

Sulphur Springs Road – a better way in is on Mineral Springs Road, the top of Sulphur Springs is rough!
Mineral Springs Road on the way back, it’s still Ontario bumpy, but it ain’t dirt and it is twisty!
Back up in Centre Wellington, the Concours takes a break where I took the first road pic of my former bike

I always thought that the Ninja was a delight to rev, but the throaty howl of the Concours in full song is hard not to fall in love with:

Flight of the Concours

… with musical accompaniment by Takeshi Terauchi & The Bunnies!

IIHTM (If I Had The Money): September in Spain & Then The Long Way Home

This is why it’s good to be friends with Austin Vince on Facebook, it makes you daydream.

What would I do if I were free of money and the time constraints it demands?  I’d be planning a month in Spain next year!

The week of the 19th to the 23rd (Monday to Friday) would be doing the Pyrenees with Austin and crew on my Triumph Tiger Explorer.

The Aragón round of MotoGP happens on the next weekend!

I’d aim to get in country with my bike in the first week of September and then have the  a couple of weeks toodling about before a week in the Pyranees with Austin Vince!  After the Austin week I’d be straight over to Aragon for the MotoGP weekend.  After a couple of days of getting organized, the long trek home would begin… the long way round!

A week riding the Pyranees with Austin Vince, and then a weekend at MotoGP Aragon!

Spain to Tokyo via Southern Europe, India, South East Asia and China, would be one hell of a ride.  A flight to L.A. would have me riding through the southern States before heading north and home in the spring.

Bike shipping to Europe?  about ~ $1000
canadamotoguide.com/2015/03/03/air-canadas-new-motorcycle-cargo-options/

www.thethinkbox.ca/2012/11/18/how-to-fly-and-store-your-motorcycle-overseas-for-touring-without-using-a-shipping-company-cheaply/

www.ridedot.com/faq/  

www.horizonsunlimited.com/get-ready/shipping-the-bike

I couldn’t find anything off-hand, but I’d guess about $2000 to fly the bike back into North America.  I could always ask Austin how he did it.


Timing of a fall Spain to Japan trip?

Southern Europe: September/October
India/South East Asia: November/December
China/Japan: January/February
Southern US:  March/April



This route is about 29,000kms with 3 air cargo bits and one hell of a ferry ride:
Toronto to Madrid
Turkey to India
Shanghai to Osaka Ferry www.shanghai-ferry.co.jp/english/unkou.htm
Tokyo to Los Angeles

2015 North American International Motorcycle Show

This was my son and I’s second go around at the big, messy NAIMS.  It feels more like a jumble sale than a bike show, but we have a good time storming around the International Centre in Mississauga.

This show’s best attribute is its timing.  Just as everyone is getting snowed in and a bit stir crazy along comes this ludicrously large motorbike extravaganza to satisfy all appetites.

We did it backwards this year, wandering around the clubs and smaller vendor hall before pushing through the big halls and finally getting to see the custom bikes (we missed Hall 5 last year).

It was nice to talk face to face with a fellow CoGer (they had a stand).  It makes me want to get out to one of their local meetings.  That they don’t dress like pirates (which seems to be a thing with many of the other clubs) ingratiates them to me even more.

Ironically, both times we’ve purchased things at this show we’ve done it from Two Wheel Motorsports, our local dealer.  One of the instructors from my motorcycle licensing course works there and he always remembers me, which is some good customer service.  This time around I stumbled upon an armoured jacket that happened to have my initials on it.  $100 for a $270 retail jacket?  Nice.  My son also got some iron man coloured leather gloves ($50 retail, twenty bucks at the show) that he was very happy with.

NAIMS is definitely good for shopping, though many of the larger retailers there didn’t seem to be offering prices much different than on their webpages.  It’s also pretty much the same gear over and over again.  If you’re looking for something a bit off the beaten path (like ROOF helmets?) then you’re outa luck.


The custom show in Hall 5 out back was full on bizarre.  Some beautiful paint on some plain ridiculous bikes, Hall 5 is where the pirates with disposable income go!

We enjoyed the show, but once again, grumpy old men selling Victory Motorcycles growled at my son when he tried to sit on one… it’s always a good idea to bring a bike to a show and not expect anyone to sit on it.  Once again, Kawasaki and Harley were the only two manufactures that showed up and provided bikes you’re expected to sit on.

The Toronto Motorcycle Show comes along in February down at the CNE.  That’s the one you want to aim at if you want to actually sit on bikes.  We’ll be there ready to sit on everything!

The Learning Expert & The Skilled Master

The other day a tech-handy colleague said over coffee, “I should get my tech qualifications in computers, what did you have to do to take the course?”  I replied that I had to provide five or more years of industry experience and recognized qualifications in order to qualify for the training; he seemed put off.

I understand his response, I battled the same one when I was applying to get qualified.  It was a kind of knee jerk reaction, a ‘how dare you ask for specific qualifications!  I’m an expert learner with years of educational experience!’  I dug up my references and certifications and went through the process after putting away that ego.

This has me thinking about the duality of my educational background.  From high school dropout I attended a year of college before dropping out.  I then apprenticed as a millwright and returned to high school to graduate.  This eventually led me to university.  After university I was once again working in the trades as a automotive technician before eventually finding my way into information technology and finally teaching.  In the trades I worked in mastery focused experiential learning situations that were intense and demanding.  Academics were also demanding, but in a different way which usually had more to do with figuring out how to feed myself.  I got paid to apprentice in a trade, you are a customer when you are working through post secondary academics.  I saw a number of people being passed through that process simply because they wouldn’t quit.  You saw less of that in the trades because if you couldn’t do it, you often got injured and/or fired.

I took English and history as my teachables because it was easier to simply toss my degree into the ring than it was to cobble together all those technology requirements.  Most teachers in a high school are academically produced, the minority get into teaching through experiential/trades learning.  Those academically produced teachers are expert students themselves, they had to be or they wouldn’t have survived the educational process.  An expert student is as much a politician as they are a learner, they’ve figured out how to survive in what is really an arbitrary social construct.

Having worked on the experiential and the academic sides of learning, I’m now trying to define the differences in the two types of learning:

Experiential versus discovery learning.  When you’re learning a stochastic (experiential, non-linear) skill, you
need an expert in that experience to guide your progress.  When you’re learning academics you need an
expert learner to show you how to self direct your learning and survive the system.

I’ll talk about fundamental learning skills in another post, but in this case I’m focusing on the secondary learner who has already developed fundamental learning skills.  That student is capable of self-directing their learning, and in an information rich world like the one appearing around us this is a vital portion of their engagement in the learning process.  Where once we expected students to sit in rows and be portioned out information, nowadays teachers should be facilitating self-directed learning.  A 21st Century teacher’s greatest ability is their own expertise in information fluency, which they provide in order to produce similarly self-directed learners.

That’s academic‘ has long meant a course of action that has no practical purpose, but academics do generally produce self-directed learners who have had to survive the vicissitudes of many education systems over the years and have become self-taught in spite of the best efforts of many of their educators.

In management and education the goals are
abstract, fabricated and ultimately political

In comparison to my academic background my experiential learning has been uncertain and demanding with no guarantee of success.  The tension between success in a fabricated situation and success in a genuine situation that allows for failure became more apparent to me as I proceeded through university.  Matt Crawford brings this up in Shop Class As Soulcraft when he refers to the magical thinking conjured up by management to justify their decisions.  Education, like business management, is a social construct and produces what Crawford describes as ‘psychedelic’ justification for its own existence.  As his quote here suggests, when you’re learning experientially in a realistic environment you don’t get to say, ‘hey! great job!’ if you’re looking at your dismembered finger laying on the floor; reality doesn’t put up with that crap.

As someone who has bounced back and forth between both sides of the education spectrum I can see the value and challenges in both.  What surprises me is how unwilling academic educators are to appreciate the advantages found in the hard-knocks school of experiential learning compared to the complex political dance of the academic classroom.

I know a lot of teachers who get angry with Shaw’s pithy little quote about a character who is upset with his writing teacher, but I know a lot of teachers who teach writing who don’t do it themselves.  I know a lot of teachers in a number of subjects that don’t practice what they teach; it’s hard not to see some truth in that statement.

Watching some teachers struggle with the surging availability of information makes me wonder what they’ll do when an algorithm is created that does everything they do (I give it ten years).  There will come a time when our learning management systems become sufficiently intuitive and make the learning expert teacher redundant (while simultaneously personalizing education in a dramatic way).

It’s a tough thing to be made irrelevant, ask many factory workers.  The teachers who will avoid being replaced by software in this inevitable future are the experiential masters who are guiding learning through doing, yet another reason why I reopened my experiential past and got tech-qualified.  It’s too bad that not everyone practices what they teach.


Sonny Barger’s Let’s Ride

I just started Sonny Barger’s Let’s Ride.  I have to admit, I’d never heard of him prior to picking up the book.  He’s evidently quite famous for uncovering the Hell’s Angels in the 1970s in the U.S..

I’m only a couple of chapters in, but he is a straight talker who doesn’t come off as weirdly particular about his motorbiking.  He’s as hard on Harleys as he is on European or Japanese bikes.  If you’re looking for an honest, knowledgeable review of motorcycling over the last half century in North America, this will do it for you.

I just got through his description of the British and North American failure to respond to the Japanese motorcycle invasion of the early 1970s.  He pulls no punches and his insight describes the sense of superiority and apathy that was rampant in non-Japanese motorcycle companies at the time.

Barger is an American patriot at heart, even if it means he had to spend three miserable decades riding under-engineered Harley Davidsons.  I sympathize with his loyalties, but don’t share them.  I appreciate how he keeps saying that my own priorities in riding may be different from his.  He offers advice without limiting your ability to express your own interests in riding.  Sonny is a big ‘merican bike fan, but he understands that people come to biking from a variety of angles.

One of my earliest motorbike memories was sitting out on this corner when I was six or seven watching a parade of old Triumphs, Royal Enfields and Vincents power through town.

Myself, I’m a complicated guy.  I’m a Brit who emigrated to Canada when he was eight years old and then paid off all his student loans by working in Japan.  I’ve been living outside of my native culture for so long I’m not even sure what it is any more.  My earliest memories are of watching old British bikes thumping down the road outside my grandparent’s house in Sheringham.  

As a teen in Canada I was a giant anime nerd and loved Japanese motorcycle culture.  My dream bike was a Honda Interceptor because it reminded me of Robotech mecha.

So how do I take Sonny’s advice?  With the realization that I’m getting into motorcycling from a very different direction than he did, and he seems OK with that.  I’m still finding his experience and explanations of biking to be very informative.

I’m enjoying the book so far, Sonny has a great writer’s voice (especially when he goes off the deep end and gets really opinionated).  If you want a book that offers you an inside look at motorcycling, Let’s Ride is an enjoyable, informative read.

Coventry Eagle

 

I was looking at the picture of Grand-dad Morris on his motorbike again this morning.  With a bit of digital wizardry I was able to get the name of the bike: A Coventry Eagle.

 

 

Fitted with a 250cc twin port villiers engine, back in 1933
 the bike cost £36.00 new. She still has her brass
 headlight & tail lights and brass horn.

I found this in a UK online classic bike sales site.  Looks like the same creature!

I wonder where Grandad’s bike went… it’s probably long gone.

Thirty six quid back in 1933 (about $3000 in modern Canadian, or what I purchased my Tiger for)!  That 247cc engine could push the bike up to sixty miles per hour.  I can imagine Bill thundering down winding Norfolk roads on that Eagle 

The West Runton Sea Road – one of my favorite places to go when I was a kid.

 

Digital Tribalism

Are we watching digital vandals sacking what’s left of Rome? It can begin with something as ephemeral as truth, and quickly turn into a guerrilla war. Wikileaks only speaks the truth, and the digital tribes believe it’s absolute. The words spoken and footage shown isn’t the truth, it’s too concrete, too certain, but the tribes need a focus, a common will.

The tribes are all around us, we are starting to identify ourselves more virtually than we do physically. We believe we have more in common with the people we associate with online than we do with our own countrymen. Democracy proves it with declining voter turnout and moldy, dysfunctional bureaucracies. People feel less and less relevant to where they are.
Your social networks linked to interests become more and more concrete in your mind. The people you game with are your comrades. It’s little wonder that these bands of virtual patriots rally behind the cry of truth overturning hypocrisy that Wikileaks is sounding. Bring down the government, bring down the corporations, bring down those things that try to limit our digital selves.
Perhaps it’s time to embrace the new, as our ancestors did with sail powered ships, printing presses and industrialization. The ships brought plague and genocide in the New World, the printing presses overturned a millennia old religious institution in Europe and industrialization is still slowly poisoning a very finite bio-sphere, but each of these things ushered in new eras of discovery and innovation; the digital era will be no different.
Why we ever thought that our brave new world would exist in happy harmony with the old world ideas of nationhood and economics is rather ludicrous; like expecting horse drawn carriages to run calmly next to a super highway. The digital truth we’re in the middle of inventing is going to demand some changes.
I wonder if people throughout history simply stumbled into obvious, overwhelming change without realizing it. In 500 years, students learning the early 21st Century will wonder at how people clung to ideas that were obviously outdated. Perhaps they’ll wonder why those nation states were so amazed that a apparently powerless little organization could unclothe them so easily. Perhaps they’ll wonder why no one stated the obvious.
But then again, maybe as Rome burned they really did fiddle, we are.
The best digital future books:
thedaemon.com/ fantastic new author
www.williamgibsonbooks.com/ fantastic veteran
www.randomhouse.ca/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9780307357519&view=print creepy and obviously true – so go by a pickup!
100milediet.org/ the future of how we feed ourselves – doesn’t seem important until you realize what is
We Are Legion: the beginnings of the end of geographical government?  The beginnings of digital nationhood?

Wearing Out Willpower: edfail!

 
So, forcing people to constantly modify their behavior wears out their willpower and causes measurable deficiencies in their mental abilities. You can expect a 10-30% decrease in mental skills if you wear people out by forcing them to waste their willpower on maintaining arbitrary social norms.
 
…. how do we design schools? What do we constantly do to children all day? Then we demand that they work at their peak mental efficiency (which is impossible because we’ve worn out their mental focus on things like not talking, standing in line, doing what they are told, sitting quietly, doing what they’re told…); it’s weakening the teachers, it’s also damaging students.
 
We’ve essentially created an education system designed to produce poor mental acuity. I’ve always said that teachers dissolve their in-class credibility with students if they are used as hall monitors and cafeteria ladies (they are in my school). It turns out that having to constantly sit on every little social deviance measurably weakens our ability to perform mental tasks in both teachers and students as well.
 
If you have a moment, give it a listen (there is a pod cast on that webpage), some great insights into how modern psychology is measuring willpower and its effects on mental ability, and how we’re completely ignoring them in education.
 

A Modest Ontario Education Proposal

The politics of teaching are on my mind lately.  Ontario has financial issues, and cutbacks seem certain.  I’ve previously talked about how good Ontario’s education system is, the frustration of being an active educator in this political climate, and, most recently, the simplicity of the salary grid.  I’ve asked hard questions about Ontario’s historical assumptions, and I think I haven’t been entirely one sided in the process.

Being active in my union, I fear that I don’t tow the line as much as I should.  Being a department head, I fear that I don’t tow my employer’s line as much as I should.  The sidey-ness of this whole thing frustrates me.  Why this is an adversarial process in which one side tries to take as much as possible from the other, to the point of hurting them if possible, in order to score political points.  It all seems very inefficient to me.  Along with the inefficiency there is the hypocrisy.  How we can expect, even demand, that students be rational, collaborative and unselfish when adults seem so intent on doing the opposite?

I’d like to make a modest proposal.  Now, this modest proposal won’t win you political points in media that cares more about emotional confrontation than truth, and it won’t inflame issues by fabricating lies; this proposal is all about fixing problems, and working collaboratively to do it.  If you want to look revolutionary, this won’t do it for you.  If you just want to hate on something ideologically then this will not suit your style.

This modest proposal is for mature, collegial people who begin with the premise that everyone involved in developing an economically sustainable education system with the highest standards of excellence isn’t going to throw these noble goals away for their own benefit at first opportunity.

This modest proposal won’t play to invented deadlines and the fictional drama that ensues.  It asks for an honest, transparent assessment of what is financially available for sustainable education in Ontario, and then it asks the parties involved to look at how they can maintain the levels of excellence currently achieved while meeting those transparent and accurate financial goals.  People playing games about the value of education need not apply.  If you think quality education isn’t important to the prosperity of Ontario, then you’re an idiot; it’s important that we do this well.

In this proposal, unions don’t protect older teachers at all costs into the largest possible retirement they can get, we consider everyone involved in the system fairly.  We have to consider that no education system is sacred and the end result is focused on fairness and excellence.  This proposal will consider what has worked world wide in terms of meaningful teacher assessment (because OCT sure isn’t it), and all parties will create a better way forward with it.

The first part of this proposal is a voluntary freeze for the next school year while the ministry, boards and unions sit down in a collaborative manner, agree on the finances, and then move to meet them.  If the union wants to offer early buyouts for expensive, senior teachers in order to free up positions for lower paid, new teachers, at great savings to the province, then this should be considered.  Putting money into the hands of people across Ontario isn’t a crime, especially if it helps them retire more independently.  If the ministry wants to restructure the grid in order to encourage excellence in teaching rather than stubbornly holding to a seniority only focus, then the union should join them in creating a grid that recognizes the many ways that teachers contribute to and improve their profession – just showing up to work shouldn’t get you within 5% of maximum salary on any reasonable grid.  If, in the process, senior teachers who do nothing other than show up and go home suddenly find themselves making $15,000 a year less, I’m ok with that, and any sane thinking person should be too.

The historical assumptions around public and semi-private religious schools that receive public funding should be removed, this isn’t 1850.  If we are really worried about the bottom line, trying to run 4 public systems is a needless waste of money.  If people want specialized schooling, private schools eagerly await their cash.  Religious expression has been welcomed in every school I’ve worked at, this isn’t a removal of religious impetus from schooling, it’s an inclusive embracing of it.  If the province is in dire straits, nothing should be sacred other than ensuring the most inclusive, best possible education we can provide.

A clear eyed, honest assessment would allow us to restructure education in Ontario in a rational, economically appropriate manner with a clear focus on excellence.  Old habits die hard, but if we can shed them, there is no reason why unions can’t do their job of protecting members without having to compulsively over protect to the point where the incompetent take advantage of the situation.  There is no reason why the ministry can’t focus on producing the best education possible instead of being a political puppet to whichever government has the reigns.  There is no reason why boards can’t facilitate the collaborative relationship between these two educational poles instead of being used as a scapegoat between them.

Step one?  Remove the panic of an artificial deadline.  All sides agree to meaningful and progressive dialogue on what needs to happen.  Strikes aren’t threatened, legislation isn’t threatened, this isn’t a threatening environment, it’s a collaborative one.  If students are expected to be collaborative and honest, why on Earth are adults acting this way?  It’s not very flattering to anyone, and it reeks of hypocrisy when administration and teachers demand it in school next year, from children.