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2018

These are the big 3 that are somehow branding

entire school boards, but the education

software sector is a 10+ billion dollar industry

beyond even them.  Happy to make money

from education, not so happy to pay taxes

to provide that education in the first place.

I attended a panel discussion yesterday a #BIT17 between educators and education IT support that jumped up and down on a number of hot button issues.  One thing that's always struck me about attending a conference like ECOO is the point of view of the support people in education; they don't seem to get the support piece.  Our function is to educate.  Not provide PD for teachers, or build an IT network.  Those things are there only to support the main function of what we do: educate children.


In the course of this discussion it was suggested by curriculum support people and board IT professionals that teachers should be spending an inordinate amount of their time closely reviewing the legal documentation around software applications and vetting software.  I thought we had people for that.  Having a teacher do that is akin to pulling all your commandos off the front line in a war and having them do paperwork.


Once I got past everyone who doesn't work in a classroom earnestly telling me I should be doing their job for them (odd that teachers never suggest that of other education employees), we continued to pursue the topic of heightened responsibility - the term that was used to shut down my suggestion of using your online PD community to source new technology ideas for your classroom.  From my point of view, if a number of educators I know personally suggest trying a new app or other piece of educational technology, that's a fantastic resource.  I was told by a panel member that this stifles innovation.  I always thought it was a source of innovation.  Perhaps this was a misunderstanding in terminology.  I used the term crowdsource to describe my process of vetting a new piece of software.  To the CIO and curriculum experts on the panel this meant trusting strangers on the internet.  That isn't my experience with online learning communities at all, it's anything but dealing with unsubstantiated strangers.  Maybe that's how they tentatively work online though.  Let's call that one lost in translation.


Michelle Solomon from the Association of Media Literacy was on the panel and created an awkward moment when she suggested that using even board/ministry sanctioned software like Turnitin.com (a private, for profit company that uses student data to make its money) was morally ambivalent.  The CIOs and curriculum experts were quickly able to compartmentalize that truth and function again within their fiction, but it knocked the floor out of what we were talking about for me.


When describing themselves and their school boards, the IT people in the room said, "we're a Google board" and "we're a Microsoft board" as a means of stating their, what, affiliation?  Their purpose?  You're public school boards here to promote and deliver public education; what you aren't is an affiliate of a multi-national media company that undermines democracy and avoids paying taxes.


The 'stop loading malware onto our networks/teachers should be happy with less choice and spend more time pouring over software legalize' angle was designed to create a locked down, heavy drag system where innovation and moving with trends in data management would be years behind what everyone else is doing.  I have to wonder just how bad the teachers-installing-malware issue is, because I haven't heard anything about it.  This invented and absurdly low threshold for software access (watch out, everything might be infected!) then had the blanket of heightened responsibility thrown over it all.  Of course, you know what the answer to all these technically incompetent teachers installing malware is?  Get a corporate system!  Become a Gooplesoft board!


Except, of course, those earnest, well meaning multi-nationals, from their totalitarian labour to expert accountants, aren't in it for education, they're in it for money.  You want to talk about malware?  It's all malware!  Google promises not to advertise to your students while they are in Google Apps for Education, but they can't stop mining data on what students do in GAFE because Google is a data mining advertising company, it's how they make their money.  They always serve themselves first.


I left this talk with my head spinning.  I feel like we were talking in circles about a fiction that doesn't exist.  We could have a self-built, non-corporate technology foundation for Ontario Education, but it would be hard work and would require technical talent to achieve.  Why do that when we can give in to the hype and Vegas-like allure of the educational technology juggernaut?  Pick your poison, but if you're going to use educational technology none of it is blameless, it's all built on shifting grounds undermined by hidden revenue streams.

 

At one point it was suggested that we need to build media literacy in order to battle this situation.  It needs to start with the educators and technologists working in the industry.  If we're too busy drinking the koolaid to recognize just how twisted this all is, then there is little hope of graduating students who anything more than consumers.

 

Originally published as ECOO 2017: building your Edtech house on shifting ground on Dusty World, Nov, 2017

The other day I asked my senior class how millennials listen to music when they get their first car.  They seemed confused by the question.  I've noticed that young people don't like to manage files any more (many grade 9s don't know how to find files on a desktop), and since music turned into file management around the turn of the millennium, it's all about file management these days, isn't it?  It turns out it isn't.

 

When I started driving near the end of the 80s the couple of cassettes in my pocket turned into a briefcase of tapes.  That briefcase contained whole albums by artists, both what they released and B side stuff.  When you went to a concert you'd hear the released stuff, but you'd also hear the unreleased songs, and the majority of people in the audience were very familiar with it; they were fans of the artist who had spent a lot of time in a long form medium (the album).

 

That process continued into the 90s as my tape collection evolved into compact disks.  The smaller form factor resulted in flip books of disks.  The plastic box with the album art on it got left behind, but I was still listening to whole albums and collecting the works of specific artists in a detailed, long form, album based manner.  I was introduced to mixed tapes in the mid-90s by my hot, new girlfriend, so the idea of designing your own playlists have been around for a long time, but albums were the main point.  We spent a lot of time curating our collections.  You'd discover new artists in friends' collections, you'd hear unreleased music while in their car.  At a concert you knew the words to every song, even the unreleased stuff.  What happens at concerts nowadays?  They play their released songs only and then do popular covers so everyone can sing along?

 

I went digital early.  From Napster to modern mp3 distribution, I kept cultivating a locally based, artist focused collection of music, but that isn't the way that the industry has gone.  Nor is it the way that teens today relate to music.  The gigs of music I've curated aren't the future, it's me using modern tools to imitate my past relationship with less fluid, physical mediums, but is that a bad thing?  I'd argue that my relationship with an artist's music was deeper and more intimate because of the limitations of our mediums.  When you have the collected works of Dire Straits (six original albums plus four live ones) on hand, you are diving deep into what they did.  Surely deeper familiarity breeds a more loyal fan.

 

Kids are still into music, but the digitization of the medium has resulted in a much more fluid relationship with it.  I frequently watch students randomize YouTube videos as background music and then click through a song in the first ten seconds if it isn't grabbing them.  Their's is a high input low attention threshold relationship with the artist.  You can hardly blame modern artists for producing shallow, catching songs - the cloud based medium that has descended upon us pre-selects that kind of music for success in a fluid, digital landscape.

 

Laying on a bunk at air cadet camp in Trenton on a hot, un-air conditioned summer night in 1985 and getting lost inBrothers in Arms on a walkman isn't something millennials consider doing with music, is it?   We started doing the skip a song thing on CDs in the 1990s, but it was such a pain on tape that you'd just listen to the song.  In doing so you sometimes came around to liking something that didn't grab your attention in the first ten seconds.  At the very least you're experiencing an artist's thoughts and music in a more detailed fashion.

 

When I asked my students what they do when they get a car for the first time they were confused.  Spotify was the answer (it turns out Spotify is the millennial answer to any music related question).  I get it if you're swimming in wifi at home or at school all the time.  Sure, it's bandwidth and data ain't free, but it is if you're a kid in 2017 for the most part.  But what do you do when you're going for a ride in your first car and have no locally curated music to take with you?  I figured they'd all have MP3s on their phones, but they don't.  Spotify premium was the answer.  That's ten bucks a month to listen to whatever you want, and you can evidently save it locally if you're on the road, but do they?  If you've never had to manage a local music collection before I suspect it wouldn't even occur to you to do it this late in the game, it'd feel too much like work.

 

So the young driver's solution to the problem of never having cultivated a personal collection of music is to pay for a monthly cloud based service and then now begin cultivating a local music collection?  You could just hope your phone is willing and able to bring down all that data in a continuous way, but that's an expensive prospect in Canada.  With some of the highest mobility costs in the world and lots of long car trips in store, Canada isn't a comfortable place to be cloud dependant for your tunes.  If you end up not being able to pay the ten bucks a month for the pro version of Spotify, you lose all your local music.  Just when you thought the digital native's relationship with their tunes couldn't get any more ephemeral, it gets more so.  When you live in the cloud you don't really own your data, do you?

 

Another problem with cloud-based digital music natives is the interactivity.  When you're used to constantly inputting changes to infinite cloud based music it's second nature to go looking for whatever strikes your fancy, or skip through the play list looking for whatever drifted into your mind as a must-listen-to song in the moment.  How long are your eyes off the road while you're doing that?  If that's your relationship with music then you've trained yourself over many years to surf through your fluid, digital music with frequent inputs.

 

I wonder how this is reflected in statistics...

  • MADD stats on young drivers.
  • Young Driver stats on distracted driving
  • Transport Canada on distracted driving: "the highest proportion of distracted drivers involved in fatal crashes was in the under-20 age group (16%) followed by those aged 20 to 29 (13%)"
  • NHTSA on distracted driving
  • It's a world wide issue, here is Australia

 

The texting culture is generally blamed for the problem of distracted driving, but I suspect this learned, constant input approach to music has a part to play in it as well, especially with younger drivers.

 

The long and the short of all this is that the music culture of young people is completely foreign to anyone over thirty.  For people who got into music before it got very cloudy in the twenty-teens, curating your own local music means you can jump into a car or go on a trip and never once wonder about access; you own your music.  Because of that effort you've probably also got a closer relationship with the artists you call your own.  For the cloud dependent millennial that move to vehicular mobility produces a number of expensive problems.  Of course, since you never really got into any one musician when you were younger because listening to more than one third of a song is boring, maybe you don't care.

 

Originally post on Dusty World, October, 2017.

The idea of computer technical proficiency has come up many times over the years on Dusty World.  Whether you want to call it digital literacy, digital fluency,  or twenty-first Century skills, there is obviously a problem with the computer user skills we're graduating people with.  This isn't a new thing, I've been benefiting from this lack of fluency in the general public for decades.


After dropping out of high school in the late '80s I started apprenticing as a millwright.  At our warehouse the new building control systems were becoming computerized and all of the very skilled welders and mechanics in our department were leery of them, so guess who got to take that on?  The new guy who had been working with computers since he was ten.


A summer job I got while going to university in the early 1990s involved converting an engineering shop over to computerized ordering (they'd hand written all parts orders and completed shipments prior to that, ironically while producing telephony computer electronics).  I got Lotus1-2-3 (which I'd never used before) working with the formatting so we could print out orders using our existing forms.  This took a bit of trial and error, but I wouldn't have described it as particularly difficult, it just took a willingness to make effective use of digital technology in problem solving.


After graduating from uni I continually found myself moved into technology implementation simply because of this fluency I seemed to have that many people didn't.  This eventually led to me getting IT qualifications as a technician.  It even followed me into teacher's college where I found myself teaching other students software, and my technical fluency has been a mainstay of my teaching career.


This week I came across a recent study that sheds light on all of this anecdotal experience.  The Distribution of Computer User Skills research across wealthy OECD countries point to some rather astonishing facts:



"Overall, people with strong technology skills make up a 5–8% sliver of their country’s population, and this is true across all wealthy OECD countries.  What’s important to remember is that 95% of the general population in North America cannot make effective use of computers in resolving even simple problems or overcoming unexpected outcomes."


Computer use isn't just poor, it's astonishingly bad.  Over a third of Canadians aged 16-65 can't do anything other than simple, rote, habitual work in a digital environment.  If asked to do tasks that I would consider straightforward and that require no particular digital expertise, they are unable.  Keep in mind, this is only looking at the skills of work-aged people.  It's not even considering seniors who generally have much weaker computer skills - so the actual computer skill level in the whole population is even lower than this implies.


You're probably doubting your ability to be considered an advanced user in this study, but you shouldn't.  None of these tests involved programming or having to do anything engineering wise with a computer, it's all user focused work using simple software.  To be considered a strong (level 3) computer user you had to be able to "schedule a meeting room in a scheduling application, using information contained in several email messages."  If you've ever had a group of people email and work out a date for a meeting and then you've put that meeting in Google Calendar, you're considered a high end user.  If you're reading this online blog on TeachOntario you're probably considered a proficient, level 3, high-skills user.


The article that started this leads on to another on the digital divide, but rather than hang it all on economic factors it also considers psychological and skills based limitations.  A few years ago I attempted to provide local households that said they couldn't afford one with a computer.  It was a complete failure - like giving books to illiterate people then wondering why they weren't illiterate any more; there is a lot more to the digital divide than economic barriers, though they no doubt play a part in it.  The fast evolving nature of technology means relatively recent computers are available often for free to people who otherwise can't afford them, but the problem isn't just access to technology, it's the inability of our education system to build sufficient digital fluency in our population to make use of them.  There is no point in handing out technology to people who can't make use of it.


With all of this in mind, who are we aiming at when we introduce digital technology into the classroom?  What are we doing when we pitch elearning at a general public who have this distressingly low level of digital fluency?  The vast majority of our students (fictitious digital native prejudices aside) are functionally illiterate when using digital technologies in even simple, user focused ways.  We seem to think we are graduating students who are able to make effective use of computers - except we aren't.  Many educators dwell in that level 0 to 1 poor user category themselves.

 

I've been advocating for it for over five years - nothing changes.

If our digital fluency were seen in terms of literacy, we're handing out the complete works of Shakespeare to illiterates and then wondering why it isn't working and why it's being vandalized.  At some point we'll stop dumping the latest multi-national prompted tech fad (ipads, chromebooks, whatever) into classrooms and start teaching a K to 12 digital skills continuum so people can actually make use of the technology we provide.


Last week one of my essential students intentionally punched and broke a Chromebook in my classroom.  This made me quite angry because I saw a useful and expensive digital tool being broken.  After reading this report I can't help but wonder if he was just breaking a thing that he can't do anything useful with that frustrates him.

 


“Educational technology has failed to move the needle on either cost effectiveness or student success in the past ten years…”  - Brandon Busteed, Gallup Education (they were talking about this in Phoenix in 2014)

 

OECD (2016), Skills Matter: Further Results from the Survey of Adult Skills, OECD Skills Studies, OECD Publishing, Paris, France.

 

Originally published on Dusty World, December, 2017.