And now, a word from a luddite – Debate 8 Response

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I warned you about too much technology – Image Courtesy http://i.telegraph.co.uk/multimedia/archive/03162/ultron_3162962k.jpg

 

Let’s all take a moment to pretend to be surprised that I’m in favour of unplugging. We live our lives on screens and important, meaningful, personal connections seem to be falling by the wayside. I am, however, more ambivalent about this than you might expect.

When I lived in the UK, I found the big city to be shockingly isolating. It was hard to make new friends, and my roommates weren’t the best candidates (long story, but it involves a 3 hour argument about milk), so it was hard to form new connections. Tech did, however, serve to strengthen those long-standing connections that I had at home. Interestingly, my closest friend now wasn’t much more than an acquaintance when I moved. He, however, had a very boring job, and was on Facebook a lot. Because of the time delay, he was typically one of my only contacts online by the time that I got home from work. We would chat each day, and by the time I got home, we had become close friends. Katia echoed a similar sentiment, although I assured her that we’re totally BFF’s.

At the same time, though, tech can be shockingly isolating. Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance is deeply concerning, and shockingly accurate. He writes about how, when they were conducting their study, the focus group of people over 50 were visiting, chatting, and getting to know each other in the waiting room, while the 20-30 age group sat in silence, tapping away at their phones. Tech is definitely an excellent way for introverts to establish a quiet space in a busy room, but it is such an effective way of avoiding meeting new people, it has an isolating effect. The Forbes article echoed this as well, talking about how our socially connected lives prevent real intimacy. Instead, we resort to things like vaguebooking in an effort to get personal connections.

It’s important here to point out that, for once, I’m not advocating tech abstinence. In the class debate, I explained my class’s tech time challenge, to the shock and horror of the peanut gallery. Yes, I am a heartless monster, but there’s a greater purpose to the activity. I was seeking to make my students  understand just how big a part of their lives tech is. Interestingly, the feedback from the students is pretty consistent, that they start out hating it, but tend to wind up enjoying it. They spend more time outside, they play more board games, or just hang out with their family. They all go back to using their tech, and that’s fine, the point wasn’t to make them quit, the point was to make them aware. I put myself through the same tech-free living nightmare (with a few exceptions for work tasks which can’t be done without a computer), and I go through the same process. I re-discover hobbies. Plus, during that month, my house is spotless.

We don’t need to unplug completely , that’s swinging the pendulum too far the other way, but right now kids are over-plugged. Their tech devices are simply too compelling, and they pull them away from the real world. Kids, and people in general, are losing out on a fundamental human experience, which I firmly believe is an important part of being a complete person: being bored. There are few things in the world more creative than a bored kid, and when kids are constantly being entertained, they lose out on that. When I was a kid, my punishments were often a loss of tech, including tv and nintendo (the horror). During this time I grew a weird affinity for monotonous tasks. To this day, I still love making domino tracks. I would play with my spirograph for hours. I’d build puzzles. All of these tasks were quite mundane, but I found great peacefulness in them, and I found them because there was nothing else to do. I was bored, so my mind found things to occupy it. We need to be able to cope with boredom.

All through high school and university, I worked as a lifeguard, and one of the primary tasks was to monitor the pool. Man, oh man that job was boring. For hours at a time, staring at the pool, trying to stay sharp and focused while doing a very, very boring task. The rate of lifeguards who left the job very quickly was extremely high, and I take that as an indication that a lot of people simply aren’t able to handle the monotony. A lot of real life is pretty dull, and we need to embrace that! Be bored! Boredom is the soil out of which creativity grows.

Thanks to everyone for a great class, and great discussions. I wasn’t bored! Maybe this summer I’ll be bored. As soon as I’m done this level on Candy Crush.

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A Deal With The Devil – Debate 7 Response

Not pictured: Devil horns, goatee, pitchfork. Photo courtesy http://www.pearsoned.co.in/web/media-logos-styles.aspx

This is a debate that really resonated with me. Educational funding and finance has got to be one of the most contentious topics out there right now, and one that I feel strongly about. Not because of the so-called sanctity or purity of the classroom. Many people seem to think that the classroom is somehow a sacred place where corporate interests are not allowed, but to think that is simply unrealistic. The problem that I have with corporate interests in education is the fundamental disagreement between the goals of education, and the goals of corporations.

The goals of education are student learning and success, through a variety of means and factors. The goals of a corporation are, by definition, profit. You can have altruistic motives all you want, but companies are, by nature, for profit. Pearson’s income in 2015 was 4.4 billion GBP, which means that that money has largely come out of taxpayer pockets, worldwide. Pearson is a huge business, which is, as Jon Oliver and Glenn Beck both pointed out, is largely responsible for not only the testing, but also the bulk of educational materials sold in schools. Textbooks, curricula, and tests.

One of the fundamental principles of economics is incentivization. People, and organizations, tend to move in ways which are consistent with the incentives that are put before them. So what, then, is Pearson’s incentive?

Think of it this way: Education is, by current measures, struggling, failing or in crisis in both the United States and Canada. Pearson is able to roll in on an agenda of educational reform. We need new textbooks! New reporting systems! New curricula! New testing! New models of teaching! New teaching certifications! Each of these Pearson is more than able to provide, for a price. How, then, will we know if we were successful? Simple! Pearson will quite eagerly provide standardized testing, for a price. Once we take these Pearson tests, we find out that we are continuing to struggle. We haven’t improved. So what’s to be done to remedy this? Pearson simply has to roll out now materials, new curricula, new certifications. Then we’ll test again, and find out that we’re still struggling, and the cycle begins anew.

Now, I know this seems to have a bit of a conspiratorial bent, and it may represent a bit of an exaggeration or overstatement, but the reality is that Pearson and other companies stand to benefit the most from a failing system. If students ace their standardized tests, the odds of divisions buying new materials would, logically, go down, since there is no incentive to them to buy new materials. The status quo benefits Pearson more than any other possible outcome.

Is this to say that all companies involved in education are the devil? No, not by any stretch. There are most definitely many companies who have altruistic motives, but at the end of the day, the reason why schools are under the purview of the government is because they are simply bad business. They are expensive, and their output is not marketable. They require a motivation of learning, not profit, in order to thrive. The more that money becomes involved in schools, the more tainted they become. This is not to suggest that there is some inherent nobility to schools, but it is to suggest that when a company is created for profit, it is going to find ways to profit, and any profit that comes to the companies that are doing business in schools comes with a cost to the students.

Is this me being cynical? Probably. But I am a firm believer that our students and schools should be fiercely protected from corporate interests. The goals of schools and businesses run counter to one another. Poor education funding, however, makes for strange bedfellows. The solution does not lie in more corporate money, though. Every deal with the devil has its price, after all. Unless you watch Rick and Morty. The solution comes from more funding to our schools.

Summary of learning

I can hardly believe that it’s the end of the course already, it feels like we only just started. This class has been a very interesting one, which has probably given me more to think about than any other class I’ve taken. This is actually my first EC&I class, as all of the other classes that I’ve taken have been Ed Admin, and it’s been very interesting to have own my own pedagogical thinking challenged. I’ve also had a lot of great conversations with members of the class.

Summarizing the learning that goes on in a class like this feels nearly impossible, so my good friend Luke Braun and I decided to try to summarize the class in the way that we experienced it, in a conversational, emergent style. Because of this, we decided that the best way to share our learning was through a podcast, which is posted below.

We did run a bit over time, but at a certain point, we had to stop cutting things, and I simply couldn’t part with our social media shoutouts. I hope everyone enjoys listening as much as Luke and I enjoyed making it. This seems like a good opportunity to thank everyone for their contributions to my learning, and in particular to thank Alec and Katia for everything that they brought to the class, and for all of the interesting discussions that they facilitated.

The podcast is below. If you follow the youtube link, there are a variety of references in the show notes.

Widening the Gap – Debate 5 Response

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Facial hair goals – Image courtesy Imgur Meme Generator – imgur.com/FbCURMO

This debate was an interesting one, since the question was much broader than most. Rather than focusing specifically on education, this question focused on a broader cross-section of society, and looked at whether or not technology help to create equity.

Let me put forward a situation: It’s time for you to get a new job for whatever reason. Let’s compare two people, Bill, and Ted, and go through their excellent adventures in job hunting.

Bill is from an upper-middle class family. He uses his laptop to go online through his consistent internet access, in order to look at job listings. He finds a job that he likes, and applies online. He fills out the application form, and attaches his resume, which he has been regularly updating since it is easy and convenient to do so.

Ted, on the other hand, comes from a low-income family. They don’t have the money for internet or a computer, and so Ted needs to go to his local library in order to access the internet. Unfortunately, he lives quite a ways from the nearest library, so he needs to take the bus (anyone who uses public transit in Regina knows how long that simple task takes.) He then needs to wait for a computer to come free, search for jobs, and fill out the application. Each of these tasks is likely to be more difficult for Ted, since he wouldn’t have the day-to-day digital fluency of someone who goes online every hour, let alone every day.

This same case exists in classrooms, for students who are asked to do tech-related tasks for school. Often, students will either have digital homework and have to come up with an adapted version, or simply won’t have the means or equipment to complete the task.

I found Wallace’s blog to be very interesting in this case, discussing our focus on techno-solutionism. We are putting more and more of lives in the hands of tech, and hoping that there’s simply some magical app that will teach our kids everything they need. Vigdor, Ladd, and Martinez’ article left me absolutely stunned by their finding that universal access widens the gap. While I believe that more research needs to be done in order to reach more conclusive results, it’s certainly an interesting finding.

When my group presented, we included an optional article which explored how removing tech in classrooms affected learning, and they found that less tech actually narrowed the achievement gap, further reinforcing my thoughts on this topic.

While it would be foolish and short-sighted to simply suggest that technology is the cause of all of our ills, it is imperative that we understand that “techno-solutionism” as Wallace calls it, is a trap of easy thinking. There’s an app for that ™ seems to be the chorus that rises up for almost any problem that comes up, but what happens when someone doesn’t have access? Tech widens gaps, rather than narrowing them, and until we do more research and study into how this can be resolved, we’re simply going to continue to widen that gap at a shocking pace.

POW! Right in the childhood! – Debate 6 Response

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We’ve all been there – Image via Twitter by @TweetsByDallas_

There have been a lot of debates where I have been ambivalent about which side I support. Each time I seem to come away more and more divided on where I stand. In the debate about whether or not social media is ruining childhood, I find myself taking my firmest stance so far.

 

Social media represents a huge threat to childhood. While there is no doubt that childhood is a fairly modern social construct, I still believe that it should be protected vigorously. I often tell my students to treasure this time where their lives are simple, and not marred by the mundanities of adult life. Kids are always, however, in a hurry to grow up, and social media facilitates that more efficiently than anything that we have ever seen.

Social media is one of the primary means that kids use to communicate now, and as the forbes article that one side shared highlights, it is frought at best. Meaning is constantly missed or lost, and the depths of human emotion simply can’t be emulated by emojis. Romeo and Juliet would be far less romantic if Romeo had just texted Juliet a few eggplant emojis. The Forbes article goes on to talk about the loss of authenticity in messaging, and I couldn’t possibly agree more. Tone is often lost, and subtleties of expression, sarcasm, and other complexities of speech can’t be found.

More than anything, though, I think about how my school has banned tech in lunchrooms and at recess, and how there was a massive uproar at first. Students simply didn’t know what to do with themselves. Interestingly, they didn’t really know how to sit down and just have a conversation. It had to be modelled and demonstrated for them so that they could sit for half an hour and visit with their neighbours. When I asked how they communicated before, they told me that they were simply texting back and forth, because it was “easier” in their words.

Maybe that’s the crux of this whole problem. Social media is more superficial, less meaningful, and provides a wide range of acquiantances, but a shorter list of true friends. It is undoubtedly easier, though, and since kids thrive on instant gratification, that “ding” that goes off on their phone, or that “like” or “favourite” on their post fulfills that need. Give a mouse a button that releases dopamine, and it’ll push it until it starves to death. We’ve given our kids a device in their pocket that releases dopamine every time they touch it, and we act surprised when it consumes them. (Take a guess what my stance is on the unplugging debate. Go ahead, guess!)

On the flip side of this constant confirmation that social media provides, there is also the threat of constant abuse. The article from Huffington Post captured this nicely, and the damages go well beyond suicide. Every post that kids put up on social media is a minefield. A simple misstep can lead to huge online backlash, as we have discussed repeatedly. While some would argue that kids are unaware of these risks, I feel that they are acutely aware of these risks, and as such, there is yet another stressor in our kids’ already shockingly stressful lives.

Social media is causing severe damage to the time of our lives which is meant to be idyllic and carefree. Our kids are stressed, and we’re adding in extra stressors with social media. I’m somewhat against social media in general, but in the case of kids, I think that it is to be avoided, without a doubt.

Call in the Brigade! – Debate 4 Response

Generated with Imgur Meme Generator – http://i.imgur.com/Le4Pqk8.png

Having listened to the discussions surrounding the debates, and reading a number of blog posts, I’ve kept coming back to the idea of brigading, which I will get to shortly. In the meantime, I wanted to give my perspective on debate 4. While I definitely believe that openness is excellent, I’m of the mindset that, in the modern classroom, the price is often too high. I have had students in my class be victims of and perpetrators of all manner of online bullying. The internet is a deeply dangerous place, particularly for students, who are often still learning how to choose their words carefully. The article about reputation management was of particular interest to me. We are, as adults, able to have at least some control over our online selves, but our online selves have a starting point. For me, I didn’t get the internet until my late teens, when I was old enough to understand that I shouldn’t post just anything. In recent years, people are creating facebook pages for their children, their classrooms, their families, and many other things. We are, with our actions, modelling the belief that social media is extremely important and valuable, and forcing kids to make it even more inextricably linked with their lives. Facebook photos of children are a serious issue, and their online presence predates even their own ability to speak. We are exposing children to an unbelievably dangerous world.

I know that we are meant to be focusing on the debate, but I feel as though I cannot divorce the topic of the debate in my mind with the idea of dangers online. For reasons that are not fully clear, people online tend to be terrible to one another. Case after case of teen suicide can be traced back to bullying on social media. All it takes is one impulsive or foolish online action to potentially ruin a child’s life. I can’t help but remember the story of Justine Sacco, who posted a joke that was in poor taste before getting on a flight to South Africa. By the time that she landed, she had lost her job, had countless death threats, and had her life ruined. Whether right or wrong, when someone gets on the wrong side of the internet, things can turn ugly quickly. During the debate, I referenced this article where a journalist simply reported on a game delay and received a barrage of threats.

We are very eager to bring social media in to the classroom and I am very resistant to this for two reasons.

First, we are exposing our students to risk. No matter how cautious we are, there is always risk. While I do believe that education has to involve risks to an extent, I am still risk averse, particularly when it comes to other peoples’ kids. To expose children to the landscape of social media is a perilous activity, and one for which I feel few, if any teachers, are properly equipped. We are largely untrained in this facet of teaching, and it is only lightly brushed upon by the curriculum. Baking it into the fundamental structure of a classroom is a risky proposition.

Second, we are modelling values about social media. If social media permeates the classroom as much as it does all other facets of life, then we are sending the message that social media is extremely important. Students act based on what they see. If they see a teacher spending huge amounts of time running a classroom social media account, then they will come to believe that social media is vastly more important than it actually is. I worry about the message that we send, and I worry about how that will affect our students’ development as individuals.

In short, what I’m really trying to say is, put down the phone, put down the computer, and reinforce in students the value of real, human, face to face connection. Have them look one another in the eye and talk. Instead of sending photos of work home, send work home! Send something tactile and real, rather than another ephemeral piece of data. Instead of tweeting what’s going on in the classroom, focus on being present in the moment. How many important events in our kids’ lives are being seen through the screen of a phone as they try to take the perfect picture to Snapchat or Instagram? I’ll say to you the same thing I say to my students. Put the electronics down, and live your life.

Lessons From a Former Fat Guy – Debate 3 Response

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Pretty much – Photo credit https://xkcd.com/189/

 

Anyone who knows me or read my first post knows that health and wellness make up a huge portion of my life. Powerlifting is probably tied with teaching as my greatest passion in life. It is where I am at my best, and where I am most myself. This very healthy pursuit, however, started in a very unusual way. A tech comic that I read, XKCD, published a comic (Dirty joke warning. You’ve been warned.) which pointed me toward an app called Fitocracy. Essentially, you track exercise, and the exercise is assigned points. Get enough points, and gain a level. It’s a pretty direct integration of the principles of gamification brought forward by people like Jane McGonigal. I started out running on treadmills and doing bicep curls. Then I realized that I got way more points for squat, bench press, and deadlift. I picked up a book on powerlifting, and got addicted. Using technology vastly improved my own health and fitness. To this day, I track a wide variety of training metrics digitally. I write down all of my training on pen and paper, and then plug it into an app to put together training metrics to make sure that I am training optimally.

I have learned, through all of this, the value of tech when it comes to health. I also know the flip side, though. Like many nerds, I gained what I call “The World of Warcraft 50”, as opposed to the freshman 15. I sat in a chair for weeks at a time, eating terribly, and getting completely sucked into a virtual world. In short, technology was in no small part the reason that I got unhealthy, but it was also the reason that I got healthy.

Each of these debates thus far has, in my view, boiled down to a simple question about life, or values. In this case, it seems to me that it is asking less about ed tech, and more about motivation. The side that suggested that ed tech is making kids unhealthy focused a lot on the sedentary nature of modern childhood. Kids who are content to sit on a couch and push a little button that releases dopamine or seratonin into their brains all day every day. One of the articles from debate 2 suggested that kids are finding school boring. I have to disagree. I think the issue isn’t that school is boring. As Jane McGonigal suggests in Reality is Broken Reality is Broken , it’s not that the world is boring, it’s that it has to compete with purpose-built entertainment at every turn. Kids are being so entertained and compelled by tech that reality simply can’t compete. When your imagined worlds are real and tangible, and designed specifically to excite you, the real world can’t keep up.

Many of the health tools, such as fitbits, myfitnesspal and the like serve to make reality feel more like a game. Set a goal, reach the goal, feel a satisfying buzz on your wrist, or see the numbers on your calorie count turn green. Motivation is moving from intrinsic to extrinsic. More than just social media, we are turning our kids into confirmation addicts when it comes to their health too. I did a quick count in my class today, there were 12 wearing fitness monitors, myself included. Many of them got their trackers in boxes of cereal. That’s the world we live in now. Kids are tracking their fitness, because they’re too sedentary.

Health and technology have a complicated relationship. Depending on the article you read, tech is both the cause of and solution to all of our health concerns. At the end of the day, it is important to realize that technology is a tool, and that people are in control. When an artist makes a bad painting, they don’t blame their brush. When a carpenter builds a shoddy house, they don’t blame their hammer. So is technology making our kids unhealthy? No. But it’s having the same effect on poor health as it is on every aspect of our life. It’s making it more efficient.