Wednesday, June 27, 2007

POT 2.0. fear,and long arms of schools

Taken from story by Marsha Rosenbaum Alternet - The long-awaited sequel to the notorious 1936 film, Reefer Madness has arrived. It's called The Purple Brain, and just like its unintentionally campy predecessor, its purpose is to frighten. And we, the millions of parents who may have, without incident, experimented with marijuana in the 1970s, are the target.

The plot is as follows: Sure, the pot you and your 40-something peers once enjoyed may have been innocuous, but that's only because it bears no resemblance to the super-potent weed of today -- strains with such foreboding names as "Train wreck," "AK-47," and "The Purple." As proclaimed by Drug Czar John Walters recently, "[W]e are no longer talking about the drug of the 1960s and 1970s -- this is [in computer parlance] Pot 2.0."

To top off this frightening message, unsubstantiated claims of "brain damage" resulting from the use of this super-pot are new buzzwords in today's Prevention circles. Yes, marijuana is an intoxicant that should be avoided until and unless an individual has reached an age of mental and physical maturity, and this might be well into his or her twenties.

But exaggerated campaigns like "The Purple Brain" do little more than create skepticism about anything adults say about drugs, not to mention fueling their natural curiosity.

And let's add to this fearmongering our puritanical, political attack on student rights - Supreme Court Rules Against Student in Bong Hits 4 Jesus Case -
In the first major Supreme Court decision on student free speech in almost a generation, the Court ruled against a student who was suspended for displaying a banner with drug-related messaging just off the school campus. What does the ruling mean for students punished for online activities that take place off-campus? Andy Carvin analyzes the verdict, observing that:
"a 'school sanctioned' website might in the future be ruled to be like 'being in school' and thus subject to school rules. Can student online activities from home be deemed “school-sanctioned”? The irony is that the answer might be yes - for those schools that decide to use social networking sites in the classroom. Many schools, of course, filter out social networks, deeming them uneducational and inappropriate for classroom access. For those students attending schools where social networks are filtered, they could probably argue in an ensuing legal case that their online activities, even if drug-related, can’t be considered school sanctioned, since the school refuses to condone social network access on campus. On the other hand, if a school allows access to certain social networks and a student hypothetically posted drug-related content on his or her personal online profile, the school might argue that using the social network is indeed school-sanctioned and thus open to disciplinary action, even if the content is posted off-campus."

So schools beware of over extending your boundaries - students be aware of your rights and prepare to respond to those who would attack free speech - and educators, respect students, teach them their rights, advise them when they step out of bounds and make sure everyone learns from these experiences rather than suffers from them.

Plumber $90, child care worker $10. Wha?!!

Why Do We Pay Our Plumbers More Than Our Caregivers?

Surely leaky pipes aren't more important than our children? Author Riane Eisler shows how our economic system, rooted in gender inequality, is failing us.

"Professions that don't involve caring, like plumbing or engineering, are uniformly higher paid in the market than professions that do involve caring, like child care or elementary school teaching -- both highly skilled, highly important professions. We have this bizarre situation where people pay $50 to $90 to the plumber, to whom we entrust our pipes. But according to the U.S. Department of Labor, the child care worker, to whom we entrust our children, averages $10 an hour, no benefits.

And, of course, we insist the plumber be trained. How could we entrust our pipes to somebody who isn't? But we don't insist all child care workers be trained. This is not logical, it's pathological. And we have to look at why we have such a distorted system of values driving our economic system?"
Facebook v MySpace - a class divide?

The media has latched onto Danah Boyd's preliminary conjectures about a possible class divide between Facebook and MySpace users...
" Ms Boyd said typical Facebook users "tend to come from families who emphasise education and going to college. They are primarily white, but not exclusively". MySpace, meanwhile, "is still home for Latino and Hispanic teens, immigrant teens" as well as "other kids who didn't play into the dominant high school popularity paradigm".
Ms Boyd also conjectures that the US military's recent decision to ban personnel from using sites including MySpace is evidence of social fissures in the armed forces. "A month ago, the military banned MySpace but not Facebook. This was a very interesting move because there's a division, even in the military. Soldiers are on MySpace; officers are on Facebook." (Now that is interesting - is this to say the military fears that less educated soldiers are more subversive than more educated officers? that officers can be controlled?).

MySpace, owned by Rupert Murdoch, has enjoyed massive success - particularly among young music fans - and recently became the most visited site on the web. But Facebook, started by Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg, has been gaining ground. Until last year membership was limited to university students and individuals with an email address from an academic institution. This, said Ms Boyd, has given the site higher value among aspirational teens. ( network envy is a short lived experience)

There is always movement between different social networking tools, and certain groups using one tool and a different group using the other. is this a reflection og the toolset, how people use the tool, or a flash mob phenomena (me too!) And there always has been and always will be age divides, generational divides, social divides, social groupings, which change and grow, are inclusive to some, and exclusive to others. (I'm waiting for the upper crust version of Second Life - I know there will be some virtual island that just won't let me set foot in it!)

While a holistic approach to online communities and communication is something I would like to see, there will be those who want the "us and them" divide. It'll be interesting to see if legal action is taken against a social network that makes it a policy (or creates an environment designed for exclusion - can that happen?* ) to exclude certain types of people. * maybe demoinstrated by the fact that I can't buy the "best" virtual clothes for my avatar in Second Life and thereby exclude myself from communication with other, better dressed avatars?

EduSite: Scott Wilson: Using student-owned technologies in educational ict

Who owns my learning space? Me!

I should be the one in control of my learning, of the space where I document and experience that learning, and I should be free to roam as my interest takes me ensconced with my learning environment.

In this article on PLEs Scott Wilson touches on concerns I have encountered just this week. (Also quoted in tallblogs on JISC based Isthmus project). I have been pushing the use of Elgg in course work, seeking to expand it to a cohort community, then a course/cohort/alumnae community - in essence to become the learning space of the learner - and to extend the life of institutional learning and connections into a student's future above and beyond the course/institution/formal learning environment. In this pursuit I am being conflicted - by students and administration. Administration doesn't say no to Elgg, but they are already licenesed tight with Blackboard and are pushing the new virtues of Vista 4 - blogging, eportfolio (like putting incomplete doors and windows on a time based walled garden). Alas, the students, discouraged by the slowness of our initial Elgg install, encamped to Facebook, their social network of choice (ignoring the fact that facebook owns their content, may not be around in the future, and that security of personal data is a big unknown). What to do? I think students would be better served by the university, or some hands off entity, offering a learning space service for student/alumnae artefacts - to escape the confines of licensing and the insecurities and vagaries of commercial social networks (like facebook) - as Scot expounds:

“On a more basic level, the use of commercial third-party services has risks, such as a change in charging, or even services disappearing completely, and so there could be a role for universities in offering a free secure archiving service to that students would never lose access to things they have published. It is also increasingly on the agenda of universities to make access to basic administrative processes and information available through multiple channels and devices, such as using mobile phones, iPod, and RSS feeds.”

I've proposed in the past that if jurisdictions are serious about lifelong learning, then we need tools, in control of non-profit educational entities, that support such activity. For example Elgg, sponsored and maintained by such an entity is made available to a learner throughout their life, allowing them to dip in and out of informal, nonformal and formal learning experiences and to maintain connections to the communities they encounter and associate with diverse communities. Elgg's recent modifications - OpenID and Explode (allowing a user to link to friends in other social networked communities) bode well for this being a central space.
Out with the old school

Graham Atwell has posted about a school system - Knowsley Council in Merseyside, England - that has abolished the use of the word school to describe secondary education. It will close all of its eleven existing secondary schools by 2009 and reopen as seven state-of-the-art, round-the-clock, learning centres with the aid of Microsoft (technology directing learning?).

The new centres will open from 7am until 10pm in both term-time and what used to be known as the school holidays. At weekends, they will open from 9am to 8pm.
No formal classes, no rigid timetable; the 21,000 students will work online at their own speeds on programmes that are tailor-made to match their interests - including subjects like haircare, beauty therapy, leisure and tourism, and engineering as well as the more traditional academic subjects.
They will be given their day's assignments in groups of 120 in the morning before dispersing to internet cafe-style zones in the learning centres to carry them out; will also be able to access their learning programmes from home.
Students may find themselves working beside adults - possibly even their parents - who can enlist for courses to update their skills.
Knowsley has acknowledged the need for private sector involvement in the running of schools - with Microsoft, RM (a supplier of information and communications technology to schools) and Jaguar (the local car plant) all backing the scheme.

Why are they doing this?
"Let's stop right now building new old schools," said Nick Page, who is in charge of transforming children's services in Knowsley. "We're building for the next 25 to 50 years and 25 years is a hell of a long period if we get it wrong."
Only 19 per cent of youngsters in Knowsley obtained five A* to C grade passes at GCSE in 1995 compared with 43 per cent in the rest of the country. The figure went up to up to 48 per cent last year but that is still 10 per centage points behind the national average.
"The lack of progress, catastrophically high levels of pupil absenteeism, stubbornly high levels of youth unemployment and the rapidly changing nature of the labour market drew a political response both locally and nationally," says a council document outlining the reasons for the changes.

What's the problem with this approach?
As usual it has to do with how it is done, who's involved/not involved and the blame game -

Mr. Read - a teacher and blogger with more in depth knowledge of this situation critiques:
at the heart of the ‘Knowsley Experiment’ is an over-reliance on computers and ICT.
Knowsley have been keen to jump into bed with Microsoft, the organisation that has made a fortune from education. The danger is that schools have become techno-junkies, reliant on the next fix from Microsoft. There are much cheaper alternatives like Open Source.
Poverty cannot be ignored as having an impact on student progress; some children have complex educational and social needs. You can’t always replicate a school with well-motivated children and supportive parents in another setting.
The ‘Knowsley Experiment’ is an example of how not to do it. First of all you start with the blame game. There’s that marvellous sentence, “Too many in secondary schooling expected little or nothing of local children and this had to be addressed.” Great you dedicate your life to teaching, struggling away with difficult classes, but you are the problem. Secondly, you give all the teachers P45s and make them re-apply for their own jobs. One of the council officials actually said that ‘insecurity and risk’ was an essential part of change. Lastly, when you do try to sell your programme to teachers organise ‘lectures’ where time for questions is limited and any dissenters are belittled as a Luddites or heretics.

Mr. Read goes on to make suggestions as to how it should be done:
  • Work with teachers and the community instead of imposing change by outside consultants with minimal knowledge of the local context
  • Integrate social services in schools, so nurses, youth workers and social services can work with children· Improve children’s basic skills through early intervention programmes like Reading Recovery
  • Invest in well-funded nursery education with qualified staff
  • Train teachers with professional development courses that treat them as pedagogues rather than ignorant technicians
  • Put in more funding streams like Excellence in Cities

While it is great to see a different approach to learning and a recognition that the industrial model doesn't cut it, is this approach doomed? Is this experiment doomed because it doesn't have teacher buy in and a larger social scope in its approach? Is it being directed and informed by ICT? Should private enterprise - like Microsoft -have such involvement? Is it just to teach for employment (Jaguar factory)? How will student progress be assessed? Will accredited schools accept graduates from this initiative?

Time will tell if this is seen as just another unfortunate blip in learning design or a harbinger of things to come.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Going Mobile? Take out a mortgage

Want wireless broadband internet access without thew need for a hotspot? Insert an EVDO card into your laptop and you are your own hotspot. EVDO (Evolution data Only/Evolution data Optimized) - currently avail in most U.S. cities via Verizon and Sprint - hmm what would it cost in Canada?

Bell Canada’s rates for EVDO wireless data transfer? EVDO has a maximum advertised speed of 700kbs (downstream). Per ThomasPurves..."this is 700bits/8bits perByte, 1024kBytes/MB or 0.0854 MB/s. and there are 3600seconds in an hour. So bell “recommends” that you get the 100/month plan with EVDO. What you get for $100/month? Say you want to download a large file (gasp) or (god forbid) watch some streaming video or something. At maximum speed your 250MB monthly allowance would last you exactly less than 49 minutes*. And after that, at 3/MB, Bell will let you surf the Internet for the low low incremental price of only $923/hour (or $15/minute).

So what's the cost of mobile access?
Thomas Purves suggests that Canada is a 3rd world country when it comes to Mobile ICT, except you can clearly see from this chart that even *Rwanda* has orders of magnitude better Mobile Data service than Canada. Point taken.

Friday, June 22, 2007

University of Alberta

University of Alberta
Originally uploaded by mastermaq

Always under construction - the University of Alberta, in Edmonton, continues to grow - as does our need to seek alternative means of designing and delivering learning. The University sees itself as primariliy a research institute, and to differentiate from the University of Athabasca just north of here - (Canada's "open univerisity" - don't get me started on the definition of that moniker!) - the U of A likes to see itself as a proponent of "blended" learning, not distance learning.

I suggest that we could also see ourselves as the "lifelong learning" institute, where research informs learning, and learning is activity based, flexible and open. And we build "learning and research communities" rather than cohorts, and establish learning connections that link into and out of public life, worklife and distant academia.

This is my reason to push the agenda on social software - a lonely calling at times.

Just completing my spotty attendance at the Canadian E-Learning Conference here in Edmonton. I gave a pre-conference workshop on Creating Virtual Communities and Connections using the Elgg environment. Aside from 30 minutes of network crash time the event went very well. I rather wished I had opened the floor up for more discussion, but my nerves and enthusiasm got in the way. Good grist for a reveiew of my presentation style. But I do believe the reception was positive, and may have actually generated some work for our unit from the Family Medical service here at the University. There is definite interest in creating and maintaining online communities - having a space like Elgg where those who are geographically dispersed can gather and connect.

Speaking of connecting this conference was also fertile for the face to face connections I made. I met Brian Lamb from BC, D'Arcy Norman from Calgary, and Peter Tittenberger from U of Manitoba. (Aside from Saskatchewan we had the Western provinces tippling at the same table) Thanks to Peter, who hired George Siemens as a Research Associate, we now have George steadily employed and able to get his message out to the worldwide audience. Peter and George have also brought us some excellent virtual conferences on ed tech.

Brian and D'Arcy entertained the conference with a compilation of video clips that generated guffaws, groans and laughter from the crowd. See D'Arcy's post on the presentation (and his visible appreciation of the WesteEd mall). Highlight of the movie entrails was the mash up of the nature documentary on spiders/crack spiders, the drift of Pooh into Apocalypse Now and the Sir Ken Robinson's TED talk that so pleasantly speared us for our continued dismissal and destruction of the innate desire in all children to be creative. His talk is particularly pertinent to us today because we have the tools through social software to bring creativity and connectiveness back to the forefront of learning. Maybe. At least Brian and D"Arcy brought some moments of creativity to the conference.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

One Week Job

One Week Job

Sean Aiken has taken his own path - a path with many stops - on his way not to finding a job, or a career, but something to do that he is passionate about.

His website states his mission - "My name is Sean Aiken, and like many others in my generation, I can't tell you what it is that I want to do with my life. Help me figure it out by offering me a 'One Week Job.' I am traveling week to week throughout the country working different jobs offered to me with all my wages donated to the Make Poverty History campaign."

Sean's journey is one that we should all be able to take - through formal and informal means, explore the world a bit at a time and revel in the moment as we experience it. Instead we stay with one position, or a similar series of, waiting for an upward move when so much movement is lateral or down. And we suffer, often faslling into depression or erupting in anger. I remember my father judging his worth by the job he held and how he broke when the company he was with for 24 years laid him off. None of us should see a job as an answer, a career as an affirmation of self, even a hobby or sport as a statement of our worth. We need to enjoy life, and hopefully find those things that make life enjoyable for us. I commend Sean in his serach and welcome the opportunity that the web affords him to document his experiences and take us along with him - close to real time, as it happens.
U.S Military wants high school student data

Student rights continue to be eroded - now in support of military action - In 2001 the federal No Child Left Behind law passed - it requires school districts to hand over personal contact information for all juniors and seniors to military recruiters. The law also allows students to opt out.

Berkeley High remains the only high school in the nation that has failed to comply with the military's request for students' data, a Department of Defense spokesman said.

The Berkeley Unified School District board has a strict policy against releasing students' personal information. Instead of adopting an opt out policy, it used an "opt in" procedure in which students and parents could sign a form only if they wanted their information released to the military. A month ago, the school - under pressure from the government to release the data or lose funding - changed its policy that blocked the release of students' personal information. The new policy allows students and parents who do not wish to be contacted by military recruiters to opt out by signing a form.

But the school did not immediately release the data to the government. Instead, a group of parents have been on a campaign to ask each and every student whether they want to opt out.
Thus far, 90 percent of the students at Berkeley High have refused to have their names released to miliary recruiters. Berkeley High risked losing $10 million in federal funding, and possibly faced legal action, if it did not change its policy regarding military recruitment.

Time will only tell when Canada's actions in Afghanistan start to breed similar erosions of civil rights here in Canada.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Be irrepressible
"Chat rooms monitored. Blogs deleted. Websites blocked. Search engines restricted. People imprisoned for simply posting and sharing information. The Internet is a new frontier in the struggle for human rights. Governments – with the help of some of the biggest IT companies in the world – are cracking down on freedom of expression ...get your own feed and post to your blog"

Monday, June 11, 2007

School to Prison Pipeline

The U.S schools system is becoming a fast track to prison. Can ours be fra behind? What happens in the U.S. often insidiously finds it's way into our system at some point. It's all a reaction to the fear that has been pervading our atmosphers since 9/11. Everything is a risk, everyone is suspect. And the fist of punishment precedes the hand of help.

But this is beyond the pale - student behavior that in my time would have resulted in a trip to the principal's office is now resulting in a trip to the police station.

Exhibit A.: a 6-year-old girl in Florida who was handcuffed by the police and taken off to the county jail after she threw a tantrum in her kindergarten class.

Exhibit B: Police in Brooklyn recently arrested more than 30 young people, ages 13 to 22, as they walked toward a subway station, on their way to a wake for a teenage friend who had been murdered. No evidence of misbehaviour, no drugs or weapons. They were accused of gathering unlawfully and of disorderly conduct.

Exhibit C: Police in Baltimore handcuffed a 7-year-old boy and took him into custody for riding a dirt bike on the sidewalk.

Exhibit D: a middle school student in Palm Beach County who was caught throwing rocks at a soda can was arrested and charged with a felony - hurling a "deadly missile."

Exhibit E: a 14-year-old high school freshman in Paris, Tex. was arrested for shoving a hall monitor, convicted of "assault on a public servant" and sentenced to 7 year prison term.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Future of Education Conference 07

George Siemens and his compatriots at the U of Mnitoba are doing an excellent job in running another virtual conference - The Future of Education includes a number of insightful presenters (via elluminate) and the ongoing discussion among the attendees on the sessions Moodle site and a link to all resources through a Pageflakes Portal I've missed most of the live sessions but have been taking part in much of the discussions (because the presentations are available via the podcast feed I can bone up pretty fast) . George has done a great job.... some thoughts: suggestions:

1. You would think that on-line conferences can be more easily accessed than face to face BUT only if you allot your time and close your door (if you have one) otherwise work demands seep in...
2. interesting how the text dialogue in Elluminate sometimes takes a different series of routes than the actual presentation being made. Listening in and taking part in the text chat is a great study in multiple modalities - more of the continuous partial attention
3. Moodle is a nice tool, but it is an LMS - I'd like to see Elgg used
4. Elluminate recordings - force you on a path through the whole recorded presentation - I like to speed up, slow down, pick a slide - no can do. Give me the freedom...

Commenst aside this was another great educational experience - another opportunity to share perceptions and experience and move towards change...

Pageflakes - Get it Together

Pageflakes - Get it Together

Get it together? My life is like a locust storm and here comes the opportunity to minimize the chaos. Instead of jumping all over the web I can feed all my favourite areas into one personal web page - bringing it all to me rather than me to the all - I can see this becoming a very big thing - or err set of things -anyway pageflakes is your personalized startpage on the Internet. Your address book, local weather information, to-do-list, news, blogs and much more – all on one page that you can access from anywhere.

Dave Cormier demonstrated this aggergator use at the Future of Education Conference sponsored by the U of Manitoba. Dave suggests that this is something we will be integrating into education 5 years from now - whicch of course with the pace of change could be 3 (or 10yrs) - I can see many savvy educators now teaching through blogs turning to this as a "learning spaces aggregator". Now if a pageflake base can be built but students/users can then modify as desired and dock with formal learning tools as required and Elgg gets tied in as the community tool - the learning ecologies we could envision...

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Gary Stager : What's the Difference Between School and Prison?

Gary Stager : What's the Difference Between School and Prison?

In addition to that previous posting on the cvonfiscation of ipods and cellphones in new York, Gary has done such a good job just pulling items out of headlines that make schools look a lot like prison - here are a few - follow link for more (these are the U.S. but most ring true for Canada too):

Criminalizing the Classrom: The Over-policing of the New York City Schools, raise serious concerns whose consequences are "significant and consequential damage to the learning environment."

Students remain grouped by age while increasingly segregated by race (here and here) and gender in single-sex classes (more here).

Student speech rights and press freedom continue to decline. (resources from the ACLU & Rutherford Institute )

We have long accepted the practice of seeking permission to use a toilet in school.

School security costs are through the roof.

A school banned conversation between boys and girls.

The Supreme Court of the United States is actually entertaining the notion that a principal may punish a student at any time for what they do outside of school or school events. The issue at stake is if a school principal may do any action that "disrupts its mission."

School officials continue to assert jurisdiction over what students do with their home computers despite constant rulings on behalf of students.

This school and others are requiring students to remain silent during lunch. Another school claims that the silent lunches they deny exist are for "safety purposes."

This school requires "silent transitions" between classes. If students talk between classes, they must attend "silent lunch."

Special paint is being purchased by schools to jam cell phone use. This continues the desire to treat cell phone use or possession as a crime.

Art, music, foreign languages and even physical education (social studies and science too) are being eliminated from school days as a response to calls for academic accountability.

Collective punishment (prohibited by the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949) is a hallmark of NCLB with all teachers and students held "accountable" for the test results of a few.

A Santa Fe elementary school student was duct-taped to his chair by a teaching intern. Here is a similar story from Oregon. Here's one from California. Even the Aussies are doing it!

Drop that Ipod, kid! Now!

What an incredibly ridiculous, stupid, inadequate, repulsive, expletive response to the evolution of learning and personal communication. As reported by Will Richardson New York city police and school administrators set up metal detectors at a middle school on the Upper West Side of New York City and confiscated “404 cellphones, 69 iPods, 23 other electronic devices, two knives and one imitation gun”.

"Out of 900 plus students, 404 cell phones were “confiscated” from the kids, some of whom were put to tears over the incident. About 70 iPods and a couple dozen other assorted devices were nabbed as well, all causing some parents to threaten lawsuits and the building principal to avoid questions at the end of the day."

What are we teaching these kids? Is it okay for us to have cell phones and Ipods but that they can't have them? Why not? Maybe we just don't trust them. This isn't about safety, it's about control. And fear that they will misuse the technology. Odd, the appropriate response might be to teach them how to use these tools, incorporate them into their learning, empower them! Instead there'll be a them against us ethos established, and the walls will go up - the walls the school builds to control the kids and the walls the kids will put up to block access to their facebook accounts where they will network and smolder about yet another time when they were made to feel disenfranchised, disempowered and just plain angry.

If this continued we won't have made us of the information revolution, and students will not trust institutions and suspect every attempt we make to integrate web2.0 tools and methodologies into our learning environment.

It's not the technology!

2 Cents Worth: David Warlick is always intriguing and provocative. I like that in a person, or even a thing. And in one of his musing moments (he has lots of those) he ponders what the NES standards coming from the ISTE might look like in the classroom. He is so right when he contends that "for quite some time, have been complaining about an over emphasis with the technology, that it’s actually the information revolution that we should be focused on." This is a page out of my book as well - and we can never tire from focussing people on this distinction. But, the kicker is, “What does this look like in the classroom?” “What are students and teachers doing that affects the outcomes of: creativity and innovation, communications and collaboration, research and information fluency, critical thinking, problems-solving, and decision-making, digital citizenship, and technology operations and concepts.”

David has created a slide show to demonstrate the ideas roiling around in his mind - and it is a good set of ideas - and a beginning to how we should be making use of technology and teaching our kids how to effectively integrate into their academic and personal and eventually professional worlds - see his Slideshare presentation where he walks through the process of his thoughts...