Thursday, 4 June 2020

A Psychological/Metaphysical One-Two Punch

I'm still working my way through The Science of Well Being, an online psychology course done by Doctor Laurie Santos out of Yale.  This week she got into some neuroscience around how our minds work.  I originally experienced this during my philosophy degree thirty years ago when I was introduced to Bertand Russell's Analysis of the Mind, which laid bare the mythology we erect around our thinking.  By the end of Russell's book I no longer believed in a consistent sense of self because such a thing is a social construct; we don't inhabit our own being in anything like a consistent, always-on way.  Most of our lives are run out of habitual reflex with little conscious direction.  We only experience moments of conscious direction before falling back into habit, some more than others.


Santos describes this in neuro-scientific terms in The Science of Well Being as a kind of default neurological network that lights up in our brains when we're not consciously doing something.  The parts of the mind that activate during these non-conscious moments are the same parts that light up when we're thinking about the past and/or future.  Amazingly, we typically spend almost half our time in this state of reverie, out of touch with the world around us.



She goes on to describe this evolutionary process that appears to be unique to our species as a cognitive achievement, but one that comes at a great emotional cost.  Research into this process has demonstrated again and again that living out of the moment makes us sad; a uniquely human melancholy that we all pay for if we want to be able to think beyond cause and effect, which has obvious benefits, though we still seem exceptionally bad at it.


Santos then explains how mediation and mindfulness can decrease the impact of that default reverie thinking process that makes us so unhappy while also providing all sorts of benefits like improved academic performance and mood.  Mindfulness brain exercises proved more effective than nutrition or even sleep in improving cognitive performance, which raises some interesting questions around how we've arranged school to be almost intentionally non-meditative.

People who haven't had a lot of experience with mindfulness and meditation often fall into the belief that mediation is just wallowing in that default thinking reverie, but it isn't that at all.  This was emphasized for me in a strange media-mix-up last week.  My son Max and I have been working our way through The Midnight Gospel on Netflix, a surrealistically animated series of podcast interviews by animator Pendleton Ward and comedian Duncan Trussell.


If you're willing to do the mental gymnastics necessary, The Midnight Gospel will introduce you to a truly meta piece of 21st Century media.  The main character, voiced by Trussell, is a "space caster" who uses a universe simulator (he sticks his head into a giant vagina to activate it) to pop in to various realities where he interviews people.  The interviews are the podcasts re-jigged to fit this new format.

We've watched episodes on everything from Buddhism and karmic rebirth to Aleister Crowley style occultism to an explanation of the bizarre nature of North American death rituals in the 20th Century, so other than a complex subject being unpacked by smart people, you don't really know what's coming at you next.  This all happens while Yellow Submarine level psychedelic animation sometimes describes and sometimes does everything it can to distract you from what's being said.  We got to the season finale of The Midnight Gospel not knowing what's coming (because it makes it clear that you can't), but looking forward to it.



The Silver Mouse is a breathtakingly personal finale where the animation suddenly clicks into gear with the story telling in the interview and amplifies it to such a degree that it left us speechless.

Duncan made this interview with his mother, Deneen Fendig, just before she passed of terminal cancer in 2013, and it describes her coming to peace with her mortality through meditation.  Duncan had always struggled with the idea of mediation, and Deneen's honest, unpretentious guided meditation practice not only worked for him in the interview, but it also resonated with me on many levels.


https://strawd0gs.blogspot.com/2017/11/suicide-how-to-steer-past-staring-into.html
The animation begins with Duncan as a young man and his mother as an older woman, but through the course of the episode she grows old and dies, only be reborn by Duncan himself so they can continue their conversation.  As she grows up, Duncan grows into an old man and dies himself; it's a beautiful representation of the circle of life, carefully crafted and delivered.  For a man who lost his mother in difficult circumstances at around the same time Duncan lost his mum, it rocked me.  I'm in tears now as I write this.  I wish I could have had this conversation with my mum before she passed, but mental illness took her away from me long before she died.

Deneen's wisdom in finding her way to a meditative awareness of not only her own being, but also to a sense of how it hangs in the firmament of the universe was told humbly, honestly and without pretense.  That she found a tangible way of escaping the non-present ruminating mind wandering we all tend to fall back into was also inspiring.  She doesn't hang a lot of superstitious nonsense around the radical sense of self awareness that she uncovers in herself.  Many people seem to cling to belief when facing the end that comes for us all, but not Deneen.  Her bravery is inspiring and underscored for me the fact that we don't have to believe in miracles and other historical fictions to realize our place in the universe and find peace in the face of death.

Between the psychology and science of The Science of Well Being course and the magical realism and stark emotional honesty of The Midnight Gospel, it has been a rich week of media empowered reflection that puts everything else that's going on in perspective.  To top it all off, Max and I got to watch a spectacular, once in a lifetime lightning storm blow over us the other day.  My life feels unexpectedly rich at the moment.


https://photos.app.goo.gl/smqSdUzvn8E2ePc49

Notes:

Science of Well Being, Mind Control:  https://www.coursera.org/learn/the-science-of-well-being/lecture/58VUO/mind-control


The Midnight Gospels:  Mouse of Silver:
original podcast:  http://www.duncantrussell.com/episodes/2016/7/18/my-mom-part-2
Netflix animated series:  https://www.netflix.com/title/80987903


Sunday, 24 May 2020

Pandemic Reflections: Surrender as a Survival Technique

I've written a couple of pandemic teaching reflections recently that I'm not going to publish because staring into that abyss isn't doing me any good.  What I have put out acknowledges the difficult situation we find ourselves in, how poorly it has been managed and what we can do to fix it, but I don't know that fixing or improving education is on anyone's radar in the Ontario government at the moment.

At best, our current government's interests seem to be driven entirely by making education as cheap as it can be.  At worst I fear the intent is to drive public education into such a state of disrepair that private charter schools will suddenly appear as a solution to this managed failure, but privatization produces a whole new set of problems and charter schools often result in poorer performance at greater cost.  I always thought Ontarians deserved better, but perhaps we don't.


Meanwhile, we stagger to the end of this absolutely terrible school year that began with the former minister of education telling us our children will learn resiliency by being abused in large classes and ended most recently with the current minister demanding the use of banned software that breaks a number of Canadian privacy laws.  In between this government has belittled and attacked my profession at every turn, and yet they still managed to lose the battle for public support, though that didn't stop them from forcing a contract on us that degrades system performance in every way during an unprecedented health emergency.

With no end in sight frustrated teachers are rightly complaining about a lack of engagement in this remote learning situation where expectations change week to week, digital divide issues remain largely unaddressed and there are no consequences for a lack of participation.  But we shouldn't be surprised, ineffective pass rates are the rule in remote elearning - making marks meaningless is the only way the system can push an entire generation of students through the system.

Ask any teacher who has done remote elearning and they'll tell you that a two-thirds credit achievement rate is about as good as it gets - and that's in a group of students who volunteered for remote learning and all have the ability to access it.  Attrition is more common in elearning than learning is, they should call it eAttrition.  This is the kind of false economy the repeated demands for mandatory elearning will give us - it'll look cheap on the surface but high drop out rates will make it more expensive in the long run.  The fact that any Ontario students are still engaged at all in remote learning is a testament to the thousands of teachers doing back-flips to try and reach them by any means available in a system that seems intent on doing it poorly.


While all that's going on, proudly trans-illiterate teachers are still sniping at the situation and blaming everything on the fact that the medium they grew up with isn't the medium literacy is delivered in half a century later.  If you can't navigate the medium, you can't fully comprehend the message - this is one of the basic foundations of media literacy, yet there are is a majority of righteous teachers intent on protecting this dated idea of what literacy is.  Instead of putting their outmoded concepts of literacy on a pedestal, perhaps it's time to learn something new and accept that the society you grew up in fifty years ago has moved on significantly.

We've always had a hate on for changes in medium, life long learning is just such hard work.  Instead of moving with the times, these Luddites will cling to their habits to the end.  That they're usually senior teachers in leadership positions with the most secure jobs and highest pay says a great deal about how well our system is able to adapt and stay relevant in a constantly evolving media-scape.

As we stagger to the end of this absurd year I'm just trying to keep my head above water.  I had a momentary sense of traction the other week when we were finally allowed into our school so we could put together some computers that we had sitting in there and get them out to teachers who desperately needed them - over 8 weeks into this remote learning crisis.  Getting out and doing something felt good, maybe too good.  It reminded me of the multi-dimensional approach to teaching I'd always adopted, doing work both in and beyond the classroom, school and even my board to help improve our practice in as many ways as I can.  After getting a taste of it for a day it was difficult to go back to the do less with less mandate of remote learning.

Instead of engaging in this simple and inexpensive solution to minimizing the digital divide on a system wide scale, I'm back at home repeatedly hearing about a digital divide that no one in management seems to want to acknowledge.  Only about one third of our staff responded to our short survey of who needed tech at home.  Even though we resolved the digital divide for those staff members, two thirds of them in our building may very well be trying to remote teach without the right tools.  In other schools across our board and across the province we could be addressing the digital divide in terms of a lack of technology access for staff.  Suddenly finding myself back to doing less isn't how I approach my profession and is a source of constant frustration that I have to let go of less it drive me mad!


Which is where I'm at on this lovely Saturday morning.  Not caring eases the anxiety and frustration, but it also means the clowns running this circus get to sell it off to their cousins who happen to be starting up charter schools.  In the process we will have sold Ontario's children to these greedy bastards and made things worse for everyone.

Even though I'm exhausted and feeling defeated by this today, I'll be back when I've had a couple of days away, because I have an important job that it's important to do well.  I may be playing dead right now (and I'm not even doing that particularly well), but I'm just waiting for an opportunity to move when we have a chance of winning Ontario education back from the hands of this circus that a minority of mis-guided people elected.

Monday, 4 May 2020

How to Pivot Ontario Education to Prepare for The Next Wave

You can find this as a downloadable PDF here:  http://mechanicalsympathy.ca/wp/index.php/2020/05/21/how-to-pivot-to-a-more-digitally-literate-and-resilient-education-system-in-ontario/



I've been participating in Learning2Pivot with doctors Bryan Sanders and Verena Roberts and many others online during this pandemic emergency.   The people in these talks make a point of trying to see the forest for the trees, which is refreshing after another week in the trenches of a diabolically delivered remote learning program.  One of the main ideas in these meetings is to try and work out a pedagogically credible way forward during pandemic emergency remote teaching, so I'm encouraged to give it a go.
I've been struggling with our response to COVID19 since it started (which is why Dusty World has been busy - it's my mechanism for reflecting my way out of the frustration and hopelessness that has accompanied it).  Leveraging our considerable resources to pivot effectively is at odds with much of what Ontario has done in this crisis, but there is still time to build capacity and create a more resilient, digitally transliterate system that would not only work more efficiently face to face, but could also handle remote learning much more effectively.


OSAPAC's broken and abandoned website
- a good metaphor for educational technology
integration in Ontario's school system
When I started thinking about the logistics of actually pivoting to an effective remote learning strategy, I was looking for a way to harness the power of the digital technology at our disposal while also acknowledging the digital divide and the skills gap that has resulted from our refusal to acknowledge that digital fluency is now an integral part of literacy; this transliteracy includes emerging mediums of digital communication.  We have to apply the same rigour to learning the digital aspects of transliteracy as we do the traditional concepts we fixate on.  If we did, we could rapidly develop a much more effective and relevant education system.

Ontario had a mechanism for integrating digital technology called OSAPAC (Ontario Software Acquisition Program Advisory Committee), but funding just got cut to that even while this same government was inventing positions at EQAO for its failed candidates.  Instead of strengthening the very thing that could have provided direction and resources and even help make elearning more of a possibility in Ontario schools, our educational mismanagement has cut that and doubled down on the Educational Quality & Accountability Office, whose only function in this crisis has been to cancel everything they were doing and provide no accountability at all.


What I'm suggesting below might even be attempted as a zero cost game by taking the money being poured into an accountability office that doesn't account for anything and spending it to recreate and expand OSAPAC into the Education Relevancy & Resiliency Office.  Their job would be to put an end to the corporate branding of educational technology in our system (every board is now a Microsoft or Google board) and restore and expand Ontario's centrally managed and vetted collection of educational technology tools, while also ensuring that the system develops the capacity to effectively use them.  ERRO's first job would be to make this happen by developing platform agnostic access to a vetted ecosystem of digital technology:



If remote learning were a software systems upgrade in
a business, Ontario Education would be getting fired.
I worked in IT for a long time before I became a teacher and was reading about current best practices around upgrading software integrated into a business.  These kinds of short term contract were my bread and butter for a while in the late nineties and early zeroes, and the do-or-die, it must work-ness of these upgrades made them a pretty edgy area of IT to work in.  When you're upgrading hundreds of machines in AstraZeneca's Mississauga facility, and millions of dollars in lost production are on the line if you mess it up, the process you follow isn't political or decided by people who have no idea what they're doing (ie: how education is being run in Ontario at the moment), it's driven entirely by need and effectiveness.

Doing this wrong could cripple a business so it tends to be run with a ruthless effectiveness.  When we were doing a JDEdwards upgrade at Ontario Store Fixtures in the mid-nineties, they brought in a retired marine colonel to oversee the update - failure is not an option, and it's about much more than just making sure the tech works.

That article highlighted five vital things you need to do if you're not going screw up a critical business infrastructure upgrade and ensure it's going to work.  We've systemically ignored all of them while rolling out remote learning in Ontario in the past six weeks.



Proper planning evidently didn't happen before schools shut down because this government needed a three week freeze on everything before they were willing to respond at all.  What eventually emerged was a poorly supported off loading of all responsibility for this onto teachers in a system that has been drained of capacity over the past year.

There continues to be little or no communication between partners in the system.  Our board is continually surprised at whatever the minister decides to roll out at his increasingly oddly timed press conferences.  Leaders weren't on board because they didn't know there was anything to board - any planning appears to have been done privately and then dumped on boards to try and make happen with little or no support.

The digital transliteracy needed to remote teach in online spaces has never been developed in staff.  The digitally fluent ones have had to develop it on their own time and with their own resources.  They've had to fight to attend events like the ECOO Conference, which had its funding stripped this year much like OSAPAC's was.  This government's systemic deconstruction of public education has resulted in an atrophied response that wasn't helped by years ignoring digital transliteracy by the previous liberal government.


Our education system has some tough, resilient educators who keep fighting to build system integrity and efficacy, but many have been beaten down by the past eight years of political games.  It's hard to innovate when you're just trying to find enough space to breathe.  All that aside, let's fix this mess and pivot to a system that has the capacity to remote learn as something other than a political stunt.  Here's how to do it:


STEP 1:


pull the plug on remote learning:  As Nam Kiwanuka suggested on TVO, it's time to stop playing cat and mouse with parents, students and educators and end this round of remote learning.  Use May to wind down remote learning, but let's not waste that time.  It can also be used to collect actionable data on the digital divide in our staff and students.



I've been collecting data on our staff this week. 24% of
our teachers are trying to remote teach on Chromebooks.
That's like trying to play hockey with a four by two.
A digital divide in staff you say?  Surely they all have digital technology at home to do this.  Well, actually they don't.  Digital transliteracy in the general population is appalling, and most teachers follow that trend.  Many don't have the tech needed to remote teach from home or the digital transliteracy to leverage it effectively.

Instead of trying to assess who has what during an emergency, why don't we keep information on access to digital technology for all?  Knowing this would go a long way to explaining why students (and staff) who struggle in school tend towards poor use of digital tools.  How can you be expected to be fluent on a device when you don't have access to it?  This is akin to being angry with a student for not learning to read and write when they don't have access to any reading or writing material.  We really have to expand our sense of literacy to include emerging communications mediums.  The printing press fundamentally changed what literacy looked like in society.  Our digital revolution is doing the same thing, we simply need to recognize this expanded idea of literacy and act on it.


While we're wrapping up remote learning 1.0, restart OSAPAC and gather all the boards together.  End the corporate branding of school boards and make a centralized agreement with all educational technology companies that gives access to vetted, secure online tools to EVERYONE.  Engage the various boards who have all specialized in different systems and bring them together to create a merged digital ecosystem of tools.  For the few who have developed best practices around video conferencing and other problematic applications, leverage that experience so we can establish a coherent, viable culture around its use in education.


STEP 2


Instead of cancelling PD make it mandatory for everyone in the education system.  June becomes digitally transliteracy training month.  Re-orientate on logistics for closing the digital divide in our staff and actually train them in accessing and effectively using a wider range of digital tools that aren't brand specific.




This isn't an optional training, it's mandatory.  Everyone is on the clock and we have their attention, time to fix years of lazy assumptions and develop digitally empowered transliteracy in all education staff - that's everyone from admin support to teaching assistants to building maintenance - everyone becomes minimally fluent in using digital tools to communicate.



For teachers this is a pedagogically driven process.  Best practices have been developed by digitally transliterate teachers for years now, and it's mostly ignored.  When digital technology is pushed into a resisting teacher's practice it's usually as a substitute (use Google docs instead of photocopies - it's cheaper!).  But digital tools don't just offer substitution, they offer a different way of doing things.  Watching teachers all struggling to gain access to video conferencing simply so they can digitally recreate the out of date lecturing they habitually deliver in school was a fine example of the S in SAMR.

Static lessons and rote student work that is easily plagiarized goes away when educators realize that they are no longer the font of information; we are living in an information rich age.  Students don't need to wait for you to pontificate on a subject, credible information on it is all around us.    By pivoting toward student centred learning where teachers are showing students how to access this freely available information rather than disseminating it means a fundamental shift in pedagogy from a rigid, 20th Century, information poor world to the world we live in now.  Over this month teachers would not only learn basic technical skills and familiarity with digital learning tools, but also consider a more viable 21st Century pedagogy.

There would be testing in this mandatory training that would be pass fail.  Educators who don't participate or cannot demonstrate understanding of basic principles in digital transliteracy would be expected to retake the course in the summer - they're not teaching in the fall without it - this is an emergency.

STEP 3

Spend the summer building capacity by working to minimize the digital divide while developing a vetted digital ecosystem for all school boards.  There are no more Microsoft boards and Google boards, everyone is both, and more.  OSAPAC is back and developing a centralized repository of digital tools.  This is an ongoing, responsive process where educators request access to emerging digital tools and OSAPAC does what it always used to do and get Ontario education access to reviewed and relevant technology at a wholesale price.

Over the summer staff would have access to an increasing pool of online learning tools as well as being delivered the technology they need to proceed with an effective remote learning program if it's needed in the fall.

July and August also gives us time to develop an integrated, grade specific curriculum that focuses students on digital transliteracy.  The goal would be to develop a two week intensive curriculum that gives students the awareness they need to proceed with digital tools in a less habitual and more mindful and coherent manner.  We'd no longer leave digital transliteracy to chance.

STEP 4

Leverage our transliterate school system.  In September, if we're face to face we still proceed with the opening digital transliteracy crash course, because we don't know if there will be a second wave and remote learning returns.  If it doesn't, we have a school system that has taken real steps towards being literate in a relevant way, which will improve our learning efficacy while face to face.  If we do end up remote learning again, we've actually laid the groundwork to do it with a degree of effectiveness we can only dream of at the moment.

STEP 4.1

Have a differentiation plan in place for students (and staff) who are unable to effectively leverage digital tools remotely.  These people are the ones that socially distanced in-school learning is prioritized for.  We don't approach this by throwing an elearning blanket over everything.  We differentiate and use our school infrastructure for staff and students who need it, while preventing COVID19 spreading vectors.  Student need comes before ease of management.

STEP 5

Continue to develop transliteracy with PD for staff that allows them to explore and share online, beyond the walls of their classrooms and schools.  Make a point of connecting educators to PLNs (professional learning networks) that have existed online for digitally fluent educators for years now.  Expect digital transliteracy in our staff, and encourage its development.  OSAPAC becomes a central repository of digital best practices and a place where educators and students can find the tools they need knowing that they are safe.  This empowered OSAPAC relevancy and resiliency in digital transliteracy also empowers other groups like ECOO, ACSE and OASBO, all of whom have the history and technical capacity to make Ontario education a world leader in digital transliteracy.  Linking up to existing programs like TVO's TeachOntario could provide online gateways to this material.

STEP 6

Continue to develop transliteracy in our students by inserting skills specific, focused transliteracy learning throughout the curriculum.  Make digital transliteracy an inherent part of literacy training in elementary schools.  Include basic technical comprehension and skills based digital media development for all students (and staff).  Create a mandatory digital literacy course in junior high school that all students must demonstrate proficiency in - better yet, integrate digital transliteracy into literacy, though expecting English teachers to shoulder that burden alone isn't fair.  We use digital tools (badly) in every aspect of schooling now.  Imagine how much better that could be if staff and students had more than a habitual grasp of them. 

STEP 7

Expand ICT networking infrastructure out of our schools by exploring emerging technologies like Google's Loon Project which can provide wide spread 3G internet connectivity for everyone.  In coordination with the federal government, make Canada's vanishing digital divide the envy of the rest of the world, and then design education systems that teach and leverage it effectively.  Continue to explore and expand Ontario's OSAPAC to include emerging technologies as they become available on a collaborative, province wide scale.



Did we hit that checklist?

Proper planning preventing poor performance 

Communication is key 

Get your leaders on board   ✔

Train the house down   

Build an innovative culture   

Yep.  This is a plan designed to build capacity and take on the challenges of remote learning, which range from technology access to digital illiteracy.  The biggest irony is that many more students (and staff) would be able to participate in elearning in order to diversify learning options for students.  Instead of demanding mandatory elearning out of nowhere, developing digital transliteracy in the system would cause it to happen anyway.

Of course, we'd have to approach this from a building-capacity-in-the-system angle to make it happen.  It looks like that's not going to happen in Ontario until after June 2, 2022, which means we've got more than two more years of misdirection and mismanagement from a government that has no interest in building capacity... unless they can just change their minds.







Thursday, 30 April 2020

A Teacher Response to Nam Kiwanuka's No more extensions: It’s time to cancel the school year

In response to: https://www.tvo.org/article/no-more-extensions-its-time-to-cancel-the-school-year

Nam Kiwanuka's opinion piece on TVO about why it's time to cancel the school year highlights many of the problems with technology integration in Ontario's education system.  As a computer engineering teacher I've been continually frustrated by Ontario's lack of focus on developing digital transliteracy in our education system.  There are no clear expectations around staff using digital tools and little to no PD around developing fluency in them.  Student digital transliteracy is at best sporadic and usually based in if they happen to luck out and get one of the minority of teachers who have personally decided to make themselves literate in 21st Century communications mediums.

Here are some of my reflexive responses to Nam's article:

"When the government announced its plans for e-learning, I was excited."

I was not excited, I was frustrated that weeks had gone by with no direction.  I was frustrated that at a ministry level we evidently had no emergency planning in place at all since it looked like it was being made up on the spot.  I was frustrated that at a board level we had no idea what digital infrastructure our staff or students had at home.  That mismanagement aside, I was worried about what was about to happen.  I've taught elearning for over a decade and I'm well aware of the challenges involved in it.  It came as no surprise that this mandatory elearning government was going to move aggressively in that direction and I knew how unprepared the vast majority of staff and students were to make that move.

"the technology that is being used is problematic. Some of the links the teacher sends work only on certain platforms. So if you’re using a Mac, surprise (!) — you need a PC to access the video. Teachers also send scanned documents that need to be printed, filled in, and then uploaded to Google classroom. So you don’t just need computers and Wi-Fi: you need printers, too."

There was little or no direction on how teachers should be rolling out remote learning.  Other than teachers themselves successfully re-framing this as emergency remote learning instead of elearning (because this is much more than just elearning), we were left in the dark.  With the vaguest of directions in terms of hours of work expected (which brutally ignores how students with special needs are supposed to address the work load) and many staff without the necessary tools let alone the skills needed to use them, the best that can be said about emergency remote learning is that it has cast a bright light on our digitally illiterate system.


There are digitally transliterate teachers and organizations who have for years advocated for a coherent development of these skills.  The platform dependent work Nam describes above is a great example of digital illiteracy, though I have to admire the teachers in question for trying.  It's like watching someone who can't read and write scrawl out chicken scratch on a page that no one else can make sense of.

Gary Stager's principles for teaching online recognizes the limitations of the medium (and the situation) and offers clear and simple steps to making online learning work, but nothing like this was shared with teachers in Ontario.  The two weeks of silence following March Break were followed by an announcement that teachers will take it from here.  What we were taking and where we were taking it never came up.

"What kids are missing during this pandemic is not homework. What they’re missing are daily interactions with their teachers and their friends."

The frustration here is that we are actually at a point where our technology could have done this for us, but we're not literate enough to use it effectively.  There are a number of reasons why we can't leverage technology in education to meet this need.

Firstly there is the digital divide in socio-economic terms.  If you fire up your video sharing and get 17 of your 28 students on there I suspect most remote learning teachers at the moment would be giddy with that participation rate, but that's only about 60% of your students.  A number of them won't have a device that can do it, the bandwidth to see it or the technical skill needed to put all those pieces together, which itself is predicated on access to technology they can't afford or haven't prioritized at home.

Let's say we level the playing field in terms of access.  School boards across the province have done back-flips (with no direction or support from the Ministry as near as I can tell) trying to get tech out into student's hands.  A number of years ago I worked with our student success teacher getting refurbished computers out to families in need, but it was a disaster.  If you hand people who can't read a pile of books it doesn't help them read any faster.  All that effort is yet another cart before the horse example of Ontario education's backwards approach to technology integration.

The second key piece in this is that we haven't developed the digital transliteracy in our system to make remote digital learning a possibility.  Complex tools like video chats require infrastructure, knowledge and familiarity to work.  Our board doesn't enable video chat in our Google apps for Education system for students, so expecting familiarity with it isn't reasonable, others evidently do and then there are pockets of tech literate teachers who are just doing it outside of the vetted, secured systems used by their school board.  This is another example of the lack of centralized administration.  The teachers trying to meet that important psychological need Nam mentions are taking huge risks, possibly to their careers, by going cowboy with this.

For those of us comfortable in digital mediums video chat seems like a no brainer, but it depends on complex digital transliteracy and if you don't have it, you can't effectively make use of it.  In that familiarity lies a hidden third layer that everyone is struggling with.  Zoom bombing is an example of digital illiteracy at work and highlights the cybersecurity and privacy considerations that most of the general population is truly oblivious to, even as we drive people into digital spaces.  Zoom was a rushed, unencrypted communications tool that used toys to hook people into using it.  A digitally transliterate user could set passwords and lock out Zoom bombing, but oblivious users didn't and a company unfocused on cybersecurity exacerbated the situation.

For all its problems, Zoom does address one glaring issue that many other video chats don't.  The backgrounds you can put into Zoom would mitigate one of the major privacy concerns highlighted so well in this blog post by Alanna King.  If a government run school system requires you to video in during remote learning what are you expected to share?  Video chats often show more detail than we'd like.  We've all seen just how unprepared adults have been to use video sharing tools when working remotely (digital transliteracy is remarkably poor in the general population - which is probably why education is so slow to develop it), but when a government requires minors to show the insides of their homes and themselves remotely it should sound a lot of alarm bells.

A tech-fluent teacher was trying to set up video with his students in the opening weeks of remote learning and wanted to post the videos on YouTube.  He was going to show student work on the video in a kind of lecture format.  Using digital communications to replicate classroom experiences is one of the biggest failures in education.  It shows just how stuck we are in our way of approaching learning, but that aside, are you, as a parent, comfortable with your child's work being published on YouTube?  Are you comfortable with Google making advertising revenue from it?  In other cases I've seen teachers record video chats with students and publish them on YouTube.  The same questions apply, but now they include, are you comfortable with your child and your home life being published on the internet without your say so or oversight?  Are you comfortable with Google making advertising revenue from that?

We have the technology to close the gap Nam's kids are feeling during this pandemic, but we haven't developed the technical skills or clarified the social expectations needed to do this effectively with adults, let alone children.  That all of this technology is trotted out by tax dodging multi-national technology corporations whose main intent is to monetize your attention is just another problem we've ignored as we make our public school boards either Google or Microsoft boards.

"While it’s the right thing to keep schools closed, learning from home is not working for all Ontario students, and that’s why the government needs to follow other jurisdictions, such as New Brunswick, and cancel the rest of the school year."

I had mixed feelings about this.  I've hurt myself trying to make this work.  My digital expertise is abused and ignored variously and inconsistently because I suspect it has never been valued by the system.  I've agitated for supports for students and staff based on this complex and evolving situation even as the system has stumbled from one inconsistency to the next.  My self-selected group of digitally transliterate students are a tiny minority who volunteer to take my optional courses (I teach less than 7% of the students in my school).  I don't have the digital transliteracy issues other teachers are battling with, but then the mental health and socio-economic problems became apparent.  Students passing out at work and clocking 50+ hour work weeks while being expected to produce hours of school work seemed cruel and inhuman. Seeing my own family bending under the stress of this ongoing crisis means I can't do my job as effectively as I usually do as well.

Nam mentions elsewhere the lack of report cards and missed days of school this year.  I can't help but feel that this remote learning caper is just the latest cat and mouse game being played by a government that is still very much intent on dismantling public education so it can sell it off to friends and family in the private sector.  Whether it's driving for elearning contracts with multi-nationals or just crippling our classrooms to the point where private schools seem like a viable option, I'm exhausted by this intentional mismanagement.  Maybe pulling the plug on the whole thing is the right way out, but if it is you can bet that Lecce isn't done playing cat and mouse with us yet.  Perhaps, as Nam suggests, this time could be better spent training and enabling our atrophied digital transliteracy instead of stressing families, but don't hold your breath. Building capacity isn't what this government is about.

"When a board’s solution to a lack of Wi-Fi access to is to advise its students to access it via a school parking lot, maybe that should be reason enough to rethink our government’s e-learning approach."

Even something as straightforward as this is a roll of the dice.  Our board looks like it has turned it off entirely.  Other boards have opened it up to the public.  Even with something as clear as connectivity we have no central direction or organization.  That sitting in a school parking lot is one of the best ways we can attempt to close the connectivity divide says a great deal about our atrophied management of technology integration.

I suggested using this emergency to close the connectivity gap by connecting with Google's Loon program and expanding connectivity using their 3g technology.  Even lighter than air broadcasting devices connected 100 metres above our schools would have the range to effectively close the connectivity gap to near zero, but this kind of system wide management isn't what we get, and individual boards don't have the resources to go about this themselves.

"We’ve also made assumptions about teachers. We assume that all teachers are tech literate and have set-ups at home to manage this work."

Which isn't remotely true.  I stumbled across this OECD computer skills survey a few years ago and was flabbergasted at how poor digital transliteracy is in our population.  Being at the top of that chart meant you could do simple things like take dates from an email and make an online calendar entry from them.  It wasn't even coding or IT know-how, just simple computer use, and most people are staggeringly ignorant of it.  Teachers follow the rest of society in this regard.

I'm currently talking to other teachers in my school who are trying to navigate remote digital learning with 80+ students on a Chromebook with a 14" screen.  My digital fluency has led me to get the tools I need to interact in digital spaces effectively, but for many others it isn't a priority and they don't have the tools let alone the digital transliteracy to make this work.  When the system was doing back-flips to get tech out to kids who don't know how to use it, few efforts  were being made to do the same for staff.

Of interest in that survey, it turns out that younger people do have marginally better computer skills, but only slightly.  One of the reasons we've done next to nothing in developing digital transliteracy in our schools is the asinine myth of the digital native - the idea that if a child is born in a time when a technology is in use they'll magically know how to use it - you know, like how we all knew how to drive because cars existed in our childhood.  This kind of nonsense has been used as an excuse to do nothing for decades now.  I teach computer technology and I can tell you that students are as habitual in their use of technology as anyone else.  They might be cocky and comfortable with laying hands on tech, but move them out of their very narrow comfort zone of familiar hardware and software use and they are as lost as any eighty year old.


This crisis has shown me things I never thought I'd see:  proudly digitally illiterate teachers participating in video staff meetings, boards actually doing something to try and address the digital divide at home, and kids performing feats of endurance for atrophied student minimum wages while being called heroes by the guy who reduced their minimum wage.

After the year we've had (and I won't even get into how our family has had to fight cancer and limp along on partial salaries for months on end waiting for anyone to help us), I think I'm ready to put it down, I only wish this government would too, but I know they won't.

I said it in response to Alex Couros on Twitter and I'll say it again, maybe the best thing that will come of this is that we'll start to recognize what literacy is in 2020 and begin to integrate technical and media digital transliteracy into our curriculum for all students and teachers in a mandatory, credible skills focused curriculum.  Given time, we could develop a system that is resilient and able to respond to a challenge like remote learning using our formidable digital technology effectively and quickly - completely unlike how this has gone down now.