|From the latest attempt to encourage Ontario|
Educators to integrate cybersecurity into their
practice, especially if they're putting children
on hackable online devices.
Sunday, 29 November 2020
Sunday, 22 November 2020
I'm currently finishing Matt Crawford's third book, Why We Drive. His first book, Shop Class As Soulcraft arrived just when I was transitioning out of years of academic classrooms into technology teaching and it helped me reframe my understanding of my manual skills that are generally seen as less-than by the education system I work in.
Google isn't the only target in this book. Tesla's misleading manipulation of crash data in self driving cars and Uber's manipulation of markets using its capitalization to dismantle existing industries that were providing a service within market forces are also targets. Uber and Tesla's goals align with feeding the Google engine more human experience (that's where the money is), though this is often hidden behind marketing around safety, ease of use and efficiency closely tied to unarguable issues like climate change . The quote above describes the difference between a London cabbie who has to commit to years of 'deep cognitive accomplishment' in order to become a driver in the city. Uber's thinly veiled attack on an otherwise viable career by using untrained, underpaid and ultimately disposable drivers to break that livelihood before replacing them with automation is damning. What 'tech' companies say seldom aligns with what they do.
|'Free' means something different in surveillance|
capitalism. Note the accessibility and simplicity,
a common idea in edtech marketing, because
learning digital tools doesn't mean understanding
them, it means learning to consume on them.
And how do you automate people? Get them in the system as soon as possible and make it familiar. Forcing children to learn corporation specific tools instead of offering them platform agnostic access to educational technology is a good starting point.
Towards the end of the book Crawford leans heavily on Shoshana Zuboff's (Harvard Business School Professor Emeritus in case you're questioning the validity of this research) Surveillance Capitalism, which came out in 2019. Zuboff makes multiple appearances in Netflix's The Social Dilemma, which explains how surveillance capitalism has developed as a cancer immune to society's protective processes because it goes after something that has no legal protections: our digital/cloud based data. As an economic weapon, a US law from the late nineties that absolved social media companies from responsibility for what appears on their sites under the name of 'internet freedom' has done untold damage around the world.
I've long been raging against the corporate invasion of educational technology:
Saturday, 21 November 2020
|Top to bottom in education. There's a|
workplace stream 'beneath' vocational,
but that isn't worth mentioning?
I'm in the same boat in terms of information technology skills. I spent years of my life and my own money becoming qualified as a technician. I can fix pretty much anything, but that's not what I'm being paid for when I'm at school. I've opened up access to in-school IT support because it gives my students an opportunity to develop genuine, experientially driven skills that widen the scope of their learning. Last year, in spite of my making numerous suggestions that would have kept computer science alive in the building (it's since been cancelled on-site) as well as keeping a senior computer engineering class available in each semester to provide needed in-school IT support, one of my senior sections got cancelled. This hasn't stopped the expectation that I provide IT support in the school even when I'm being double doubled by an absurd schedule. I'm able to help and the last thing I want to see is a colleague in distress because their tech isn't working, but asking for that effort to be recognized is a step too far.
Now that I'm out of that cruel always on in two places at once schedule I asked if my hours of extra support work (I was the only teacher in the building still doing their usual extra duties) be acknowledged and was told they wouldn't - I get to do the same make-work as all the academics, just like our auto-teacher who is here for hours doing work for the school 'community' of which we are clearly not equal members. The logic for this is that my extra duty work is equal to another teacher standing in the cafeteria watching teenagers eat lunch (what most teachers do as extra duty). What I'm doing took years of training and numerous professional qualifications, what they're doing requires a pulse - except they aren't even doing that because no one is eating lunch in school at the moment, though everyone has doubled down on tech use and the support it requires. Why is this the outcome? Because in the minds of graduate degree educational management manual skills are treated as next to worthless. This is a value theory decision. Ignoring the value of expertise means you can treat it as a free expectation.
This happens to many technology teachers. They get paid less because teacher pay is wrapped around academic/university achievement that the vast majority of the people running the system are products of. My own experience in trying to apply my vocational experience even while already an academic teacher demonstrated this prejudice in startling clarity. The College of Teachers can understand a degree with little effort, but show them a decade of industry qualification and experience and you can expect it to be dismissed out of hand. Tech teachers make less but are expected give away the skills that make them qualified to do what they do in a way that other teachers simply aren't. We go so far as to invent meaningless make-work extra duties (like cafeteria duty) so the academics can top up their time with minimal effort (and no chance of getting their hands dirty).
A few weeks ago my IT qualifications got dismissed by another administrator who equated years of training, experience and multiple industry certifications with watching a few hours of video and writing a multiple choice test. Academic prejudice is real and everywhere.
I fired a Statistics Canada research piece on Canada's poor handling of women in STEM and particularly in engineering and computer science to our SHSM, guidance and administration, which prompted a good talk with our local SHSM head. My argument was that academically focused girls are directed out of engineering and technology pathways toward more 'gender appropropriate' pathways (that are also usually far less lucrative) by peer pressure. My experience at last year's CAN-CWiC Conference repeatedly told the story of women who regretted not pursuing technology related pathways in high school and having to expensively pivot later in life. Sexism, under the guise of peer pressure and student choice, play a big part in this, but it also reflects a lack of appreciation for alternative pathways inherent to our academically prejudiced education system.
A teacher who got straight A's in high school, went straight to university and got straight A's there too and then went straight into teacher's college (straight A's again) before being deposited into yet another classroom for the next twenty-five years of their lives are going to carry academic prejudices with them because they know of no other experience. Any student not on that straight and narrow path of 'excellence' is less than.
I frequently see the system make aggressive resource grabs to ensure academic courses run. University bound sciences will run at less than 50% capacity while workplace and applied courses are frequently bundled together or cancelled and non-academic students are just dropped into academic sections because they are all that's available. An example of academic protectionism are french immersion courses where academic students are protected in classes that are often a fraction of what they should load to because those students are special. Everyone else has less to ensure system resources are focused on the academic streams even though these students are frequently the ones most capable of doing more with less. My own school sports a higher than 50% graduation into the workplace statistic while spending the vast majority of its resources protecting university pathways.
Our SHSM head said a colleague of hers once described the route that students not on the straight and narrow academic route take as the 'crooked path'. I've walked this path, unlike the majority of teachers. I dropped out of grade 13, worked in an apprenticeship as a millwright, attended college then dropped out and then went back into summer school and high school in my early twenties to graduate before going on to attend university. I then worked in the world for over a decade before becoming a classroom teacher - a job I never thought I'd be doing after my own negative experiences as a student in the same system.
That crooked path is seen as less-than by academics. Students who would benefit from my M (college/university - essential doesn't run because it would mean reducing the number of students they can stuff into my shop) technology program are told not to 'waste their time' taking tech when they could take three sciences they don't need because they are more credible when applying to university. That's backed up by backwards universities demanding irrelevant but 'difficult' courses to access their STEM program, ignoring TE even when it's a TE program! Academic prejudices learned in universities trickle down.
Tactile skills training has always had trouble fitting into academic education. The extra costs and safety concerns make rows of
robots, I mean students, doing 'academic' (white collar office) work much cheaper - it's also cheaper to apply digital technology too as our recent school decision to buy nothing but Chromebooks even as board IT and I suggested differentiating our technology to meet specific needs (again - we've bought nothing but Chromebooks for years). Whether you want to look at resource allocation, guidance direction or even just how teacher duties are assigned, the prejudice against hands-on skills is systemic.
Tuesday, 10 November 2020
Course duration has always been set in Ontario at 110 hours, but instructional time has been systemically devalued by waiving expectations for remote learning and dropping unqualified teachers into make-work support roles instead of using them for what they should be in schools for.
In a pandemic where everyone is stressed, a schedule that is uneven and cruel has put unnecessary pressure on both staff and students. Let's take a step back and see if I can't spitball a better solution. I ain't no senator's son sitting in an office deciding these things, I'm just one of the people who is being waterboarded by them, but I'll take a swing at that difficult job anyhow.
THE SITUATION WE'RE IN NOW
A teacher typically teaches three classes of 20-31 students per semester. Let's say that's 75-80 students you're responsible for (some semesters I've had 90+). If we made all classes capped at 20 students (a single cohort), each teacher would be responsible for 80 students (I'll explain why it's x4 instead of x3 in a minute), which is where most of us normally are.
We have way fewer students in schools right now because many have opted for fully remote learning, so there are empty classrooms all about not being used.
We have a shortage of specialist teachers and can't provide qualified coverage for them.
We cling to the idea that we need to keep prep periods in our schedule and then fill them with meaningless, un-pedagogically sound busy work while causing always on quadmesters where your prep isn't happening even as you're being asked to rejig a curriculum to a schedule no one has ever seen before.
Students with special needs are swamped by the machine gun like efficiency of quadmestering.
Students without special needs are overwhelmed by the drink from the firehose curriculum of quadmestering.
A CRUELTY FREE SOLUTION TO PANDEMIC RESPONSE TEACHING
- in semester 2 return to semestered schedules
- each week is one class with a three-day weekend to de-COVID the place
- make every Friday an independent review and catch up day for students to give them time to make sense of the hectic influx of material
- Friday without students in the building means we have a 72 hour break between classes which Canada Health defines as the maximum time it takes for COVID on surfaces to die off, so extra cleaning wouldn't be necessary
- on those Fridays staff are given time to mark the week's work, contact students with updates and concerns and prep for the next week's influx of material (a day at COVID speed equals just over 4 normal instructional days so marking comes thick and fast)
- each month/4 weeks is a complete tumble of the schedule
- teachers don't have prep 'periods' (that turned into weeks under quadmestering). Instead they have Fridays and smaller classes to manage
- teachers all provide their own remote learning support so a qualified person is teaching students they are familiar with providing a much higher rate of qualified teacher to student instructional hours than currently being delivered
- leverage the empty classes generated by fully remote learning to spread out cohorts and cover the bump in classes running
- leverage the teachers currently brought in at teacher salaries to babysit to actually teach classes
- each day is a three hour face to face morning session (12 hours of instructional f2f time per four day week)
- each class has a 2 hour remote/online expectation for review and consolidation of learning WITH THE SAME QUALIFIED TEACHER
- teachers can leverage their relationships with students to engage them in online work
- at five hours per day of instructional time, and 16 weeks of class (4 tumbles through the schedule), students would experience 48 hours of face to face instruction and 32 hours of guided online instruction with a qualified teacher familiar with them from face to face learning. They would also have 5 hours of Friday consolidation of learning time each week for a total of 20 hours in the semester. That adds up to one hundred hours of learning at a pedagogical effectiveness we can only dream of right now
- even with the Fridays removed, we'd still be at 80 hours of combined instruction which is significantly better than the 52.5 hours of face to face instruction happening now
- remote/elearning would be credible instead of incredible because that instructional time would be provided by a qualified and personally acquainted teacher
- add in an exam/culminating presentation day per class at the end of the year and you'd be at 103 hours of instruction with credible culminating grades generated (exams are cancelled currently)
- students cannot opt out of remote learning and every effort will be made to ensure they have connectivity and technology at home with which to do it (this is happening now anyway - not the opting out part, evidently parents can opt out of remote learning which means students are earning credits at less than 50% usual attendance)
THE BENEFITS OF THIS APPROACH?
- smaller cohorts to reduce the chance of COVID transmission
- no classrooms shared by multiple cohorts in the same day (reducing transmission)
- more classes running so students can access more courses without conflicts
- a qualified instructor who knows students providing remote learning
- a much higher quality of remote learning
- a 30%+ increase in actual instructional time compared to cohorted quadmesters
- a teacher not expected to be online and in class simultaneously
- time given for meaningful one on one feedback both face to face and remotely
- time given for redesigning an entirely new curriculum schedule on the fly
- time given to recognize the cognitive load on students trying to cover a month of material each week during a crisis
- time given for pedagogically sound learning by spacing things out and providing meaningful online support
- time given for students to review their learning and consolidate it
- students with special needs would have extra time come to terms with their learning (all spec-ed support is currently cancelled - Fridays could be spec-ed support remote check in days too)
- a more reasonable schedule that is evenly distributed and isn't running people into the ground with unrelenting stress during a pandemic (there's a sentence I never thought I'd have to write)
- restore credibility to online/remote learning after a year of the Minister and now boards suggesting it's optional and doesn't matter by cancelling assessment in the spring and now ignoring class duration requirements by faking remote learning
Sunday, 8 November 2020
|No, it isn't. Prepare to get maytagged by quadmesters for the foreseeable future|
I'm staggering to the end of this absurd quadmester. When it started I wondered if less was all we could manage, and it turns out that it is. From administration dismissing concerns about masks that don't fit (or really matter when you can catch COVID through your eyes) and are so far beyond of Health Canada and local health unit expectations that they end up being more restrictive than needed and not at all designed for all-day use (especially while performing instruction), to a schedule that seems explicitly designed to download an abusive amount of work on classroom teachers with the highest class caps, this quadmester has been a disaster.
The lack of focus on what we're supposed to be doing (providing effective and differentiated instruction that maximizes student learning, remember?) suggests that these things never really mattered in the first place. Got special learning needs? Too bad, special education support is cancelled. Find keeping up with school difficult? Too bad, we're going to fire you through courses at record pace even though everyone is reeling from a pandemic. Don't worry though, it doesn't really matter if you keep up or not because you're getting credits regardless.
I'm able to provide interactive, relevant online learning opportunities for my students and even I still struggled with between 20-40% disengagement in remote learning this quadmester. I've heard of other classes that just did nothing online. If you talk to admin about it they'd rather pretend it's happening than do anything to ensure it is with anything like quality in mind. I had a class drop down to twenty students which means it could have become a single cohort and I could be their online instructor, but making a change for pedagogical effectiveness that would have alleviated a staff member's medically supported issues with the provided face masks wasn't something anyone had any time for.I recently learned that students can opt out of remote learning entirely if they want. This has resulted in kids who have attended less than fifty hours of instruction earning Ontario high school credits this quadmester (Ontario high school courses are supposed to be 110 hours of instruction). Remote learning with a teacher unqualified or even knowledgeable about the subject (as was my case with both of my online support teachers) can't be called instructional time anyway. 'Quadmester' should be changed to 'freemester' or 'fakemester'.
As I wrap things up from my double cohort/teaching continuously all day/double class/teaching continuously every week quadmester one I'm struck with how this drink-from-the-firehose schedule that doesn't remotely meet Ontario standards not only injures already traumatized students and staff but also removes the most challenging work I do in class.
We got to the culminating projects (exams are cancelled - as is all safety paperwork because why not) and I found that my grade 9s have not had the opportunity to develop a rigorous and resilient engineering process in the way that they would in any other year, though considering the class is half as long as it should be I shouldn't be surprised. I've been able to cover the basic material, though the speed at which that came at students was overwhelming even to the stronger ones. Neurologically speaking, you need time to reflect and internalize new learning, but best pedagogical practices have long since been flushed down the toilet.
I keep hoping that we'll make adjustments toward making Ontario education more equitable and fair to everyone as this slow burn pandemic grinds on, but the powers that be appear to believe that they are finished and are ready to fire us through quadmester after quadmester rather than responding in a best practices-continuous evolution. I've suggested previously that the week-on week-off is already problematic, so why not just go back to week on week off semesters? If we did that with a Friday fully remote review day we could also give teachers and students the headspace they need to consume new learning, but the new normal is too waterboard everyone with a pedagogically bankrupt schedule that only has the appearance of credibility.
As we lurch into quadmester two with no quadmester ending in sight I'm looking forward to not being waterboarded any more, but I've still been handed another technology course with two cohorts and a teacher who has no background in my speciality 'covering' the remote part of the course, so I can expect another poorly engineered schedule designed to hand out cheap credits. I got handed the same thing (a course I'm not qualified to teach) to provide remote support in even while I'm still providing technical support to people across the school and beyond. There is evidently no way to differentiate teacher schedules to give them time to provide system support either.
I'll do what I can to mitigate this poor scheduling (again), but since the system has downloaded all guidance and special education expectations on me as well I'll be stretched (once again) to the breaking point trying to protect students from a schedule designed by people who don't seem to care for their personal circumstances and well being... while struggling through a pandemic with my own health concerns.
Even evidence that the system think types are evolving this in the right direction would be helpful, but communications are nearly non-existent and there is no sense of vision or even an acknowledgement that what we're doing isn't kind, let alone working. The new normal is a cruel, undifferentiated and ultimately meaningless place. With a complete lack of leadership from the Ministry or Minister, we're likely to see Ontario plunge in years of darkness as a result of this overwhelming and cruel schedule.
Sunday, 1 November 2020
The following is relevant to what's happening in my board, but since there appears to be no central plan from a 'ministry' of education, every board is doing their own thing, so this might not apply to you. In my world the double-double is now an overwhelming truth that combines all the difficulties of remote learning with the challenges of providing face to face instruction in a medical emergency simultaneously all day every day. I have two classes like that so I'm prepping for two different lessons and instructing in two places at once (online and f2f) all day every day every week, no breaks.
I have some ideas on how to fix that:
I'm able to cover the basic hands on and theory learning in my face to face technology classes, but the more pedagogically complex work like developing an adaptive and agile engineering process by working out how to solve problems in non-linear, failure heavy learning situations simply isn't happening in our drink-from-the-firehose quadmestered schedule. There is no time or the space you need in order to iterate past problems and internalize this deeper learning, and there is no time as a teacher to generate this prodigious amount of material. How could we make moves to fix that?
TIMETABLING SUGGESTION #1: NO MORE QUADMESTERS! A good old fashioned semester with one class each week has its own problems (like 3 weeks between each subject), but would also mean no more double/doubling because we'd never have an always on quadmester.
A weekend break between crossovers between subjects along with our current cleaning regimens (which seem to do a better job at stopping COVID19 than the general public) suggest that we could return to a semestered system safely. Rather than waiting months to take a breath, teachers would have a rotating prep each month where they could plan for the next onslaught. Senior students would have a breath too if they have a spare.
Double cohorts of simultaneous face to face and remote students mean teachers are producing learning content at high speed (a week of intensive class equals almost a month of regular class) while also having to produce online and face to face lessons. The marking obviously comes at an accelerated rate too. This is absurd. I wish we had a union. Breaking up the quadmester system back into semesters means everyone would cycle through all their classes every four weeks, and while there will be retention problems, there are anyway. At the very least getting semesters back would mean that students with spares would get to experience them and teachers would actually be given time to prep what they're teaching. It also means that we're not dragging kids through rapid fire quadmesters and they would have time to digest what's coming at them. Best of all it means we'd never have to use the term 'quadmester' again.
The remote part is happening simultaneously and I'm supposed to be designing and running that too... while I'm teaching f2f at the same time. Parents are wondering why I'm not responding to questions online in a timely fashion while I'm teaching the other cohort in the classroom. In the meantime I've given a 'remote learning support teacher' to help me with that, except they've yet to be able to provide anyone who has the faintest clue what we're doing in computer engineering.
I'm seeing make-work for teachers instead of them focusing on teaching, let's stop that.
TIMETABLING SUGGESTION #2: CAP ALL SPECIALTY CLASSES THAT YOU CAN'T FIND A QUALIFIED TEACHER TO REMOTELY SUPPORT AT 20 AND MAKE THEM SINGLE COHORT CLASSES.
Rather than inventing make-work that has people making teacher salaries to babysit students online (no marking or any other responsibilities), let's let subject specialists remotely support their own classes.
The myth is that we're providing 2.5 hours of face to face instruction and 2.5 hours of remote instruction each day adding up to enough instructional time to equal a credit, but if we can't provide a qualified, knowledgeable teacher to manage the learning then we're not providing the instruction time the Ministry of Education claims is required to earn a credit. A split f2f/remote cohorted system does good things in reducing face to face class sizes (though when students are coming off buses with 38+ students on them you have to wonder how effective it is), but f2f/remote quadmesters are a shell game when it comes to actual instructional time.
I've got 15-20% of my grade 9s (the ones with IEPs who need support - but that's been cancelled in school) not doing any remote learning at all. Since the remote learning support teachers aren't qualified to speak to the material and don't have any clearly defined responsibilities anyway, these kids are falling through the cracks. This academically driven rapid-fire quadmestered system is predicated on privilege and aimed at student success for the successful. Kids who struggle in the system are being run over by it (as usual).
We've been given 'remote support teachers' who are supposed to oversee the elearning half, but they've yet to provide me with one who is qualified in my subject area and both have said that they have no idea what we're doing in class. I'm unable to put them as teachers in the Cisco Netacademy LMS because they aren't qualified to teach it, which is kinda the point. Guess who gets all the content question emails? Except I'm kinda face to face all day too.
This could be fixed at next to no cost. Tech classes have smaller caps anyway, so setting them to the cohort limit (or changing the cohort limit to tech caps) wouldn't change class sizes or displace students at all while ensuring that qualified teachers are teaching specialist subjects. Tech numbers have remained strong because they are hands-on classes that don't translate to a remote learning platform well. In the spring we were told students can't do any tech work at home even if they had the tools at home for liability reasons, so there is another reason to protect this specialized learning in face to face situations. Any class that focuses on tactile hands on learning should be prioritized in face to face classes. Those classes (tech, art, etc) shouldn't be lumped in with academic classes that work online.
We're frequently told this situation is flexing, but there doesn't seem to be a lot of flexibility in planning once it's in place. I only hope the people responsible for arranging the deck chairs on our ship aren't nailing them into place, because they're placed poorly.
I'm watching my grade 9s struggling to wrap up this overwhelming rapid fire quadmester now. I'm crawling to the end of the damned thing wondering how things have gone so wrong. In the first couple of weeks I didn't know how I'd get to the end. It turns out the answer is: do less less well, which I'm not satisfied with. I'm not sure that the people running things who haven't been in a classroom in the 21st Century are as frustrated by that as I am though.
The nines struggle to adapt to a semestered system when they end in January in normal scheduling. In this pandemic scheduled school year they are getting buried even while being overwhelmed emotionally by the limitations inflicted upon us by this virus. There was a lot of talk about mental health and care before we launched this waterboarding schedule. It'd be nice if that focus returned when people were thinking about how the second semester might go down in February.
If not a weekly/semestered schedule, how about a four day week with one day as a fully remote working day where teachers who are teaching their students rather than babysitting them could interact meaningfully with them in that online environment in real time (hard to do when face to face at the same time)? Doing that instead of inventing make-work 'remote support teachers' would be a much more functional use of time. If prep times were integrated into that remote learning day we'd also be able to cut the dozens of 'teachers' who are covering (or not if they aren't qualified) teachers in order to provide them with prep time. I haven't had any prep time since this quadmester started because they've yet to be able to provide me with a tech qualified teacher to cover my class, and I'm not going to pull my students out of hands-on work even if I desperately need the prep time because the whole point of face to face classes it to restore tactile hands-on learning that was lost in remote teaching in the spring.
We could even vary classes based on what they are instead of lock-stepping everyone through the same always on quad-mestered system, but locking all classes to academically focused approaches is the education system's knee jerk response to everything. Wouldn't it be something if this pandemic emergency actually produced better pedagogy through creative and differentiated scheduling rather than overwhelming everyone with the same, simplistic and unsustainable quadmestered plan?