Saturday, 23 March 2013

Stay On Target

Stay on target... stay on target!
You want to talk about extracurriculars?  About how teachers should do them for the love of their job?  How they should sacrifice their own family lives so that they can 'save the children!' The politics around this are thick, and they do a great job of hiding the real problem.

Education isn't about extracurriculars, extracurriculars are about education.  Royan Lee, the education ninja, asked the question that got right to this during TVO's The Agenda, last week.  He then blogged about it, which might help all those people so tied up in the politics that they've lost the plot.

We're not in education to enrich those students wealthy enough to enjoy extracurriculars.  I didn't do a lot of extracurriculars in school - I had to go to work every day after school from the age of 10 onwards.  If you think you're saving the kids by coaching basketball after school, you're only saving the ones that can afford it.  The fact that extracurriculars usually cost money (bus costs, equipment, etc) many families can't manage further underlines this unfairness.

Education should offer everyone equal opportunity.  It should be the most liberal of social exercises; opportunity for all, regardless of socio-economic status.  There is an inherent classism in extracurriculars, but I'm sure all those passionate teachers who are rushing to pick up ECs again don't want to think about that, they just want to win a few games and demonstrate their 'passion'.

The teacher as evangelist isn't helpful in any of this. The martyr teacher only wants to emotionally show how much they care.  As a parent, this isn't what I want from my son's teachers.  Passion is great, but if that's all you've got, then quite frankly, you're creepy, and ineffective.  I'm looking for my son's teachers to be professionals who are always looking to improve their practice.  If they are so thick as to believe that doing extracurriculars doesn't impact their ability to maximize classroom learning then they have already demonstrated a lack of understanding around the use of limited resources in a time sensitive environment.  Zoe mentioned this in the Agenda show, but was quickly shot down by edu-babble around 'best practices'.  There are no 'best practices'.  Teaching is a constant development of a very complicated process.  When I see teachers throwing out edu-babble to simplify our work and support political motives, it strikes me as a professional failure.

The Spicy Learning Blog
Royan's blog post raises the question of what is so special about ECs.  If the list to the left are what make ECs so valuable to students, why aren't these things happening in classrooms?  The target of education should be learning.  If ECs offer advantages, why aren't they being integrated everywhere?

As I said in the comments of his great post, the education ship is rusty and running poorly.  It's covered in barnacles like extracurriculars, standardized testing, reduced professional development, government and union politics, social opinion, poor teacher standards and weak administrative development.  While Royan is asking why we don't fix the ship, the other teachers on the show instead go on at length about how important the barnacles are.

Extra curriculars shouldn't be extra.  We shouldn't be waiting until after school to offer this enriched learning environment to the few students who can or will take advantage of it.  We need to fix the damn boat, not get wrapped up in the union/government politics.

If that Agenda episode showed me anything, it's that teachers are just as caught up in the politics of distraction as the media, government and public are.  Stop crying about what the rich kids are missing out on and integrate what makes extracurriculars so fantastic into a public school system everyone can benefit from.

Thank goodness Royan Skywalker got his proton torpedoes on target.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Digital House of Mirrors

The digital house of mirrors we all live in.
It's early days, ECOO isn't until next October, and I'm reticent to say what I'm going to present on months ahead of time.  The digital learning landscape can change quite significantly in eight months.

My previous ECOO presentations have followed an interesting arc, from philosophy to specific action.  My first go with Dancing in the Datasphere talked about fundamental changes happening to us as we transition to a data driven world.  The mini-lab followed a year later, the idea there being that we diversify technology in order to develop true digital fluency in students.  Last year the final step was to work toward a digital skills continuum.  Only by integrating a developing skill set into curriculum will we begin producing students who have the technical skills necessary to survive and thrive in the digital age.

That trajectory, no doubt pushed by my transition to computer studies from English, had me looking at developing greater student familiarity with computing tools because I see a great deal of ignorance in the 'digital natives' I'm teaching every day, but that focus was technically biased.

For those of us who have lived as adults through the last twenty years of technological revolution, we sometimes forget where we've come from because we're so engrossed with where we are.  For ECOO this time round I'm thinking about what technology is demanding of us as people. Our selves are being stretched and amplified in ways they never have before.  Nick Carr's The Shallows puts us on a pretty stark trajectory towards idiocy with what is happening to us.  The digitization of the self stretches us flat, making continuity of thought impossible and turning us all into distracted, simplistic cogs in a consumerist machine designed to turn us all into the lowest common denominator; none of us any smarter than our smartphones.

With the advent of social media we suddenly find ourselves existing in multiple places at once.  Our self is no longer geographically focused.  Our influence spreads across the internet. We are able to affect change in people and places formerly unconnected to us.  The people we communicate with (albeit in a minimalist way) are far flung and many.  The people we spend deep, attentive time with are fewer and diminished.  

Our digital selves are perceived in many different ways.  The aforementioned digital native tends to not differentiate between online and real world action.  They often consider social media as just another conversation they are having, and are then shocked when something said publicly is responded to by the public.  The generation of kids (our students) growing up in this ongoing social experiment never look at privacy settings, have little idea of the differences between social networks and tend to broadcast online what is on their minds in much the same way they would while hanging out with friends.  The veil between the physical and the digital, between public and private is all but non existent to them.  

Digital Footprints & Always On Teacher Faces
A more professional approach to managing the online self is to adopt marketing theory and develop your online brand.  Companies and celebrities approach social media in this manner, often using marketing firms to manage and run their social media presence.  I can't help but think that this lack of genuine presence games the system and ultimately fails.  It's exhausting to maintain if  you can't hire marketing monkeys to run it for you, and ultimately, it's fake.  I'd much rather read my favourite author's tweets from his own fingers than follow what someone trying to sell me something thinks I should be seeing.  Many teachers fall into this trap when tentatively stepping into online presences.  Spending your weeknights and weekends being mister or missus Teacher is nothing more than working all the time, forever.

The Cult of Done
If there is a positive future to a digitally enhanced self I'd hope it is through a genuine sense of self expression.  We should be aware of what the tools are and how they work, and then we should use them to empower our access to information, our ability to mine deeply into details, to collaborate and develop community, to share our own creativity, interests and sense of discovery.  The technology should not only allow us to do these things, it should be pushing us to maximize our effectiveness as thinkers and doers.  Any technology that produces distracted idiots will doom the people using it.  Evolution should still be eliminating the irrelevant, even in the digital realm.

It's early days in this sea change of how we deal with a digitally enhanced self.  In the future the hybrid intelligence of a digitized human will evolve toward a higher order of effectiveness.  Those made useless by digital tools will, much like those weakened by an inability to read, become marginalized.  Those able to harness information literacy will enjoy those advantages.  Those who ignore it will find themselves increasingly unable to compete.

What that effective digital self looks like in students, in teachers, in people in general is where I'm currently thinking about pushing my research this year. How we adapt to these changes now will establish effective habits as the technology rapidly spins out of its infancy and into maturity.  There is no better time to consider what a digitally enhanced human being should look like than now, when we're in the process of inventing the very idea.

The idea of Web3.0, or intelligent/self organizing information suggests that the future of digitized humanity will inherently push toward greater effectiveness.  The opportunity to be passive or stupid in a digital context will actually work against what the data wants to do for you; you'll learn in spite of yourself, you'll know what you need to know when you need to know it - the data itself will ensure this.  It would be interesting to show the evolution of digital humanity over the past three decades, and where it might be going in the next twenty years.

The era of stupid/passive information is ending. The people that it has created will have to adapt to technology that demands more of them, or risk being made irrelevant by it.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Higher Ground

AMPA: redemocratizing OSSTF
I shouldn't write about politics. As a field of human endeavor it demonstrates some of our most unflattering qualities, but AMPA approaches and I can't pass up another opportunity to seek a higher standard of conduct from my union.

We were fooled once in District 18 by what might be described kindly as a disorganized vote, but what I fear was a Machiavellian attempt to withhold information in order to secure the desired 'yes' outcome.  In seeking to redress this wrong we tried contacting Provincial Executive only to have our concerns fall on deaf ears.  We attempted to make an AMPA resolution only to have it gutted.  

Since then we've begun an OLRB complaint that is now moving into a review phase.  Throughout this process OSSTF has lawyered up (a profoundly satisfying use of our dues), and has been completely unwilling to even talk about the obvious problems around the ratification of our contract.  The fact that we had to go to the OLRB, and the fact that it's gone this far is both sad and distressing.  Wouldn't it be nice if our union had internal oversight?  Wouldn't it be nice if our union actually addressed member's concerns (and not by the people who caused the concerns in the first place).

It's cold outside, but it's warm in bed with the OLP
Many of the Provincial Executive who were the architects of our vote, people who tossed out our own constitutional codes of conduct either through sheer incompetence or malicious intent, are now running for positions at AMPA.  When I read their advertising, how they claim to support the grass roots membership, how they stand for the highest ideals of OSSTF, I wonder when they had the change of heart.  Was it after misleading and withholding information from D18 members prior to our constitutionally invalid vote?  Was it after deciding to donate money to the Ontario Liberal Party even while encouraging members to demonstrate out front of the leadership convention?  Was it after deciding to throw out what little political action we'd been able to muster around extracurriculars based on nothing whatsoever from the new Premier?

I desperately hope AMPA delegates remember these things when considering what direction our union should go from here.  OSSTF is the membership.  Apathy and an overly friendly relationship with this government have resulted in some embarrassing, un-OSSTF like behavior from the very people who are supposed to be the face of our organization.  Here is hoping that AMPA restores some much needed credibility, transparency and humility to our union.