When Your Learning Space is a Loud Close Talker

Originally published Sunday, 21 April 2013 on Dusty World

Tools provided and time to practice the theory learned.  Skills are expected to be demonstrated.

A couple of weekends ago I went to Conestoga College and took my motorcycle training course.  Other than about an hour on a dirt bike a year ago I’d never ridden a motorbike, but it has been a lifelong dream to do it; I was pretty pumped.  Learning to ride was a pedagogically charged process for me, going from near zero to basic competence in a single weekend.

This weekend I’m at the Ontario Google Summit.  I’m an advanced digital technology user and I’m attending this conference to look at ways to manage technology and ease adoption for beginners.  This isn’t a learning challenging situation for me, but I love the subject area (I teach it) and I’m a trained professional in information technology.  I’m keen to see technology use improve in education.

I’m finding myself comparing the two learning experiences.  Bike course and Google Summit are both expensive in terms of time and money: both demand your time on a weekend and neither are cheap: motorbike: $18.33/hr, Summit: $17.83.hr.  This kind of time and money commitment suggests an intensive, impactful learning opportunity for motivated students.  Unmotivated students wouldn’t spend the time and money to attend these things.  With that as a foundation I couldn’t have had more different experiences at these two events.

At the motorbike course there were six expert instructors for 26 students for a better than 5 to 1 student/teacher ratio.  They moved logistical mountains to provide working technology for all students: over thirty bikes tuned, fueled and ready to use every day along with safe space to use them and a fully equipped classroom with digital media to cover theory.   Because a 1:1 student/technology ratio was guaranteed, the focus was all small group, intensive hands-on instruction with lots of one on one instructor feedback.  This was vital because the bike course had a theory and practical (road) test at the end, both clearly defined and focused on throughout the course.  If you were unable to demonstrate what you knew by Sunday afternoon you just spent over four hundred bucks without getting the license or insurance discount.  Attendance was absolutely mandatory, you got dropped for not showing (one guy got dropped Sunday morning after showing up nearly two hours late).  You had to bring your own safety kit but the most expensive technology (the bike) was provided, and it got used roughly and dropped by a number of students.  You also had to provide your own food and drink and there was time time given to consuming it (we ate during in-class sessions).  Intensive, focused and hands on with lots of expert help.  A number of of people learned that they shouldn’t be riding motorcycles by the end of the weekend and left very disappointed, but safer for it.

At the end of  the weekend you knew what you knew (or didn’t) and had demonstrated qualitative improvement (or hadn’t), resulting in the license and savings.  On a more pedantic level, you were provided with the room you needed to learn.  You had desk space in a large classroom for learning theory.  You had acres of pavement outside for developing hands-on skills in a closely watched and personally assisted learning intensive process.  It was a pedagogically credible, physically and mentally challenging process that made demands on you in order to see improvement.  My taking the course will probably save my life at some point, as well as saving me money.  I left that course having a very clear idea what I’d paid for and no question as to the value of it.

Lecture time! Sit and listen! The ‘educators’ are remarkably lazy about pedagogy. The technology doesn’t seem to be helping.

The Google conference is lecture driven (a necessity of the 100:1 student:teacher ratio).  The keynotes have been excellent and the audience response very positive.  I’ve greatly enjoyed the keynotes.  It’s fallen apart for me in the ‘learning’ sessions though; I’ve been unable to attend the sessions I’ve wanted to because the venue (a high school they presumably got access to for nothing) has classrooms designed for thirty odd students.  These rooms often had upwards of fifty people jammed into them, sitting on the floor, standing around the edges, all breathing on each other (yes, I have issues with that).  I didn’t have the space I need to be comfortable let alone to learn.  The provided internet is the best I’ve experienced at a tech-conference, so that’s in place, but the physical space, other than the auditorium I’ve been in all weekend, isn’t remotely up to the task of learning.  As I consider the lecture based, knowledge (rather than experience) learning focus of this GAFE Summit, I’m left wondering why educators do this to each other, and how we hope to improve educational technology when we continue to teach it like a poorly designed academic class instead of a set of demonstrable hard skills.

What is it about professional development that has teachers punishing other teachers in order to learn?  Ironically, we spent time talking about the Third Teacher and how the learning environment plays such a vital role in learning.  We then demonstrate how not to do it in vivid detail with overcrowded rooms and people sitting on floors in order to desperately hear a bit of knowledge out of the mouth of a sage on a stage who are part of a company that wants to radically decentralize and democratize knowledge for everyone… or just squeeze education for some certification money.

There has been a lot of opportunity for learning at this conference for me.  The back channels and keynotes have been very engaging.  Oddly, the learning sessions haven’t been where learning has happened.  Had this been the bike course, I would have spent that weekend sitting on the floor, jammed between other people, watching someone else riding a bike before I went and rode around on my own without any feed back; not the ideal way to learn is it?  You’d think teachers would know better.

 

note: this is six months later, right after the ECOO13 conference (not a summit?) not to mention EdcampHamilton.  My feelings about GAFE have only intensified.  GAFE is a money grab, designed to funnel teachers into a branding process with Google.  After speaking to others at ECOO I’m more than ever convinced that it is a teacher’s professional duty to not brand themselves and offer their students an unbiased access to any and all technology currently in use.  Anything less is a limitation to students and irresponsible on the part of the technology educator.

Ronin

Originally published on Dusty World, March, 2014.

The Google Apps for Education (GAFE) ‘Summit’ is this weekend.  I’m not there and I’m comfortable with that.  There is nothing in Google that I haven’t been able to figure out on my own and I use Google extensively, they make good products.

Last week’s Elearning Ontario Presentation

Last week I presented at elearning Ontario on how to create a diverse digital learning ecosystem.  You’d think that educators would want to get their hands on as wide a variety of tools as possible in order to not only provide the best possible digital learning support for their students but to also increase their own comfort zone in educational technology.  In the mad rush to digitize the vast majority of people want as little expertise to accompany it as possible, they would much rather find a closed ecosystem in which they can develop a false sense of mastery.

If you hyper focus on one thing you tend to get an inflated sense of your abilities.  I wouldn’t trust a mechanic who can only work on Ford brakes or a teacher who can only work out of Pearson textbooks, I’d have to assume they’ve learned by rote rather than developed mastery.  I know it’s hard work, but becoming fluent in digital tools requires some time, some curiosity and some humility and that’s ok.

A colleague showed me this last year and it has been
on my mind ever since.

The idea that you get a qualification under a single brand and have somehow become a master of digital learning is misleading.  But the limits of evangelizing a single digital learning ecosystem go well beyond questionable professional practices around branding teachers with private company logos.  There is also the question of how these technologies are mining education for profit.  

If you live within a monopolistic education technology environment you can never be sure what they are doing with the data they are managing for you ‘for free’.  That data is worth a lot of money.  Even if it’s being stripped of names, the ethics of exchanging student marketing data for a ‘free’ digital learning environment has to be questioned.  In a monopolistic situation that questioning doesn’t happen.  Only an open, fair digital learning environment allows us to demand higher standards from companies who are otherwise singularly focused on making money in any way that they can.

Wouldn’t an opensource hardware model that allows us
to teach all technology platforms be a nice idea?  The Learnbook

Some links to consider:
blogs.edweek.org/edweek/DigitalEducation/2014/04/google_amends_its_terms_on_sca.html
“Google would not answer questions about whether its data-mining practices support the creation of profiles on student users.

Google also confirmed to Education Week that its general terms of service and privacy policy apply to student users of Apps for Education, a stance contrary to the company’s earlier public statements.”


www.osapac.org/cms/sites/default/files/Memo%20-%20Contract%20Addendums.pdf

OSAPAC has worked out a deal that doesn’t sell off Ontario Students’ data, but it’s a secret,
and each board has to implement it themselves.  The mysteries of information in the information age…

twitter.com/search?q=%23gafesummit&src=typd&mode=users
Tweets on this weekend’s GAFE summit in Kitchener/Waterloo… the koolaid tastes good.

ro·nin
ˈrōnən/

noun

historical
  1. 1.
    (in feudal Japan) a wandering samurai who had no lord or master.

The Determined Luddite

They showed this at the Google Summit a couple of weeks ago:

A metaphor for users of technology?

It’s a special kind of learned helplessness, and I see it every day when trying to get people moving on their computers again.  There is nothing magical about computers, though many people like to think there is (it gives them an excuse not to engage in learning about them).  If we’re going to make digital skills a foundational skill set in the twenty first century (and we certainly seem to be moving in that direction), then we need to integrate digiracy into curriculum in the same way we integrate literacy and numeracy, and we need teachers to be able to demonstrate competence in digital skill in the same way that we expect them to display proficiency in traditional literacies; acting helpless does nothing to move this forward.

Our board is about to take steps toward a BYOD/multi-platform approach to #edtech.  This can’t happen until people get off the escalator and figure out how to open a book.

Helplessness, learned or otherwise, isn’t going to lead to the effective integration of technology in the classroom.  How we train teachers to become digitally competent is a vital piece to this puzzle.  The mini-lab approach with digital coaches assigned to their own tech-cloud is a way to encourage the tech-curious to develop better skills.  It also (through collegial interaction with peers) lets the tech-curious spread their enthusiasm and know-how to the less keen.

Build digeracy through scaffolded, objective learning with diverse technology. Opting out is no longer an option. It was an embarrassing approach ten years ago, it’s quickly becoming untenable now.

That people seem to rewind well past where you think reasonable caution may lie in trouble shooting computers is frustrating from a tech’s point of view.  If a user has a genuine issue with their computer, or something has actually broken, then we’re generally happy to be of assistance, but when a teacher says a printer is broken when it is simply unplugged, this points to a willful kind of ignorance.  When that teacher is also one of the schools computer teachers I want to move to the arctic and give up.

A minimum expectation of digital fluency should be a willingness to address basic, operational issues before evoking support.  If schools want to develop digital fluency, an expectation of honest engagement has to be where that starts.  If the internet is really becoming that important, then it becomes incumbent upon the user to make that connection as stable and effective as possible.  I’d say that 80% of the tech calls I deal with are people unplugging things they shouldn’t be touching in the first place, and then everyone else being too helpless to plug it back in again.

One of my grade 9s shared this as a video to help them out with an introduction to computers (the editing is hilarious):  Komputer Kindergarten.  MSDOS and the beige 1990s are the reason this sounds so antiquated (and funny).  That so many people twenty years down the road still don’t “do that stuff'” is getting to be equally ridiculous.  I’m not saying everyone has to be a technician, but everyone should be able to change their own tire, otherwise they shouldn’t be driving.  You can’t be expected to operate the equipment effectively if you’re determined to know nothing about it and want nothing to do with it.

Effective teaching with digital tools begins with teachers, and I find so many of them not just reluctant but downright contrary to the idea of learning even the basics of how a computer or network functions.  Some of that lies at the feet of teacher unions and school boards who have taught teachers to be helpless through locked, fear driven educational I.T. regimes.  Educators who have bypassed these restrictions and developed digital fluency in spite of their union and board’s best efforts are the ones we need to bring back in from the cold now that the school technology cold war is over.  Their fluency as digital coaches could create momentum to inflect enough colleagues to adopt a more open approach to learning technology.

The idiotic idea that technology is the realm of the young and if you want to know anything about it, just ask your students, needs to die.  Students are the rocket scientists who unplug an ethernet cable to plug into their infected laptop so they can have faster internet.  They then leave it unplugged and the next student comes along and instead of plugging the end back into the computer, plugs it into the wall, creating havoc as the network loops itself.  Then everyone complains at how slow and unreliable the internet is; it’s not the internet that is slow and unreliable.

As school systems stumble along years behind business and society, they have finally gotten the idea that being online is just a new medium of communication (not bad, only a decade after the rest of us did).   As education evolves into a more diverse, open technological environment, perhaps the hardest people to convince will be teachers who have bought into the fear and panic of their unions and employers and have been forced out of step with social expectation as a result.

Is The Digital World A Branded World?

Who Is Paying For This?

I’m at the Google Apps for Educators Summit in Kitchener on a Saturday morning.  I’m a Google fan.  I Android, I use UGcloud for school work, I use Google+.  I’m aware that all of these services require a means of income or they’ll evaporate, hence the Google ads I see on them; I’m OK with that.  In a field that can get grabby and greedy, I think Google is more balanced in how it performs its business than most.

As a teacher I’m a bit more cautious about how online tools are framed in terms of learning.  This morning’s keynote with Jim Sill asked what kind of world do we live in.  I suspect the desired answer is a giddy, Silicon Valley logo filled blurt:  I live in an Instagram world! I live in a Google world!  I live in a Facebook world!  When the question turned to how you access this magical world, it revolved around brand names for apps.  Tying brands to information offers you a unique way to infect unrelated material (and learning itself) with your logo and corporate image.  Google has done this perhaps better than anyone (though Facebook takes a pretty good run at owning friendship).

Hactivism

Is the 21st Century really an information revolution, or a branding revolution?  I watched We Are Legion: The Story of Hactivists last night and I’m feeling the dissonance this morning at a conference that is all about companies branding information and funneling it to eager teachers who want to be relevant to their students.  I’m not saying yea or nay to this kind of business, I’m just wrestling with the chaotic freedom the information revolution inspired in hactivists last night and the business of information this morning.

If the information revolution really is about a radical change in how information moves (and I think it is), then talking about apps and brands is akin to focusing on the make of hammer you purchased when you’re learning carpentry.  It would seem strange if, in learning carpentry, the master carpenter went on and on about the brand of hammer they are using.  They might mention why they like it briefly, but they wouldn’t start calling carpentry “Mastercraft hammer”, that would be odd.

Google: a great tool, but be careful not to brand
learning and information with it

People identify with brands, it gives them a sense of belonging, it offers them a ready-made identity in a field where they might not know much else. Excessive brand loyalty is usually the result of ignorance.  I’m less interested in the kind of hammer you’re selling and more focused on how the wood is being fitted together.  I happen to enjoy using my Google hammer when online, I just don’t know that I identify an important revolution in human development with their peppy logo, and I’d hope they’d be OK with that.