“It’s not wise to upset a Wookie”

My first experience with Virtual Reality came in 1977. It wasn’t VR in the sense that we know it today, but to a 12 year old growing up in a world that included two television channels (three if you knew French) and in a house that only had a small black and white TV, the Star Wars movie at the old Mini Theatre in downtown Moose Jaw was an experience like no other. I became so totally engrossed in that galaxy from far far away that I literally forgot I was in a theatre. I didn’t kneed any awkward cardboard phone holders strapped to my head to feel like I was transported to a different world.  Everything in that movie, at that moment, was virtually real to me (don’t judge, I was 12 and for reference the best special effects I had seen in a movie up to then was in King Kong vs. Godzilla). That initial Star Wars experience was awesome for me, and I loved every second of it.

And there lies the problem with  VR, MR, and their very close cousin, augmented reality (AR) as educational tools.  These alternate reality devices and apps are super cool, fun, addictive and influential. They are loaded with potential and possibilities and they absolutely need to be part of the teachers toolkit in the future as they have the potential to take learning to entirely new levels.  What we have to do is make sure the content presented in these platforms is properly vetted. Students need to be able to determine what is real and what isn’t, and with the blending of realities, lines between what is real and what isn’t could become blurry.  Hey, I once saw a large furry creature play a magical chess like game against a robot that communicates through whistles and buzzing noises, all while travelling faster than the speed of light!

I know that’s a far fetched example, but the reality is we are now living in a post-truth world where climate change deniers win elections and creationists influence text book content.  Who is to say that content in the VR apps is always going to be accurate? Is it possible they could include deliberate misinformation? While scenarios such as these are unlikely, teachers must guard against potential incorrect influences. We don’t know if the people creating these applications have a background in pedagogy or not, and we don’t know what the underlying bias is.

Don’t get me wrong, I love that the possibilities in this area of edtech are truly unlimited, and that when used properly, it could lead to student learning at depths that are far greater than what is currently being achieved. What concerns me is the possibility that the great depth of learning leads to incorrect knowledge influenced by one political agenda or another. Critical thinking needs to be at the forefront of VR use, and not unquestioning compliance.

Your thoughts and comments are always appreciated!










































Another rambling post.

By now we all know what assistive technology is as the definitions and examples are in abundance. So now the big questions surround the “who gets what and the how do they get it”  issues of assistive technology. Allison writes perfectly in her blog that “… living in a world where everyone is not the same, it’s so important that we recognize these differences in us all and celebrate them and learn from them rather than see them as barriers or label them as “different”. Knowing ourselves and our students, identifying needs and supporting one another in which ever way we need is the best way to achieve this success.” Luke makes a great point in his blog that part of a teachers job is “to help evaluate which students are in need of which specific aids” and that “it is paramount that we keep in mind that not only should we as teachers seek to find tools but also to break down unjust barriers to enhance student success.” In a nutshell, Luke and Allison have defined the never ending pursuit of educators; we try to match each student to their ideal learning platform, whatever it may be, whatever supports they need.

I once heard that for every dollar a school spends on technology, two dollars needs to be spent on professional development.  As stated in the Edyburn article, there are not a lot of people in our profession who are trained in or who are experts in assistive technology. School Division budgets are nowhere near robust enough to support the 2:1 dollar ratio for professional development, and new technologies are emerging regularly. This is problematic, as we end up with teachers who are unaware of new supports for students, and teachers who are unsure of the best practices for their use. It isn’t ideal by any stretch of the imagination.

We like to think that schools have changed a lot since the days of the one room school house, and in many ways it has, but in many ways it hasn’t. My Aunt, Ruth Pawson,  used to share  amazing stories of teaching in a one room school in rural Saskatchewan in the 1920’s and 30’s.

This is my dear Aunt Ruth with her Saskathewan Order of Merit Medal
This is Ruth …

 I have been known to lament about the loneliness of teaching in a one room school on a Hutterite Colony.

Boys on the right, girls on the left....
Boys on the right, girls on the left….

In a way, many modern schools are just a series of one room schools that share a common hallway. (I would bet that everyone can name at least one teacher they know that teaches with the classroom door closed and who emerges only for supervision duties and staff meetings). I just bring it up to illustrate that, for the most part, we are on our own and it is up to us to figure out what works best for the kids (and the adults), and this includes incorporating assistive technology for students. Unless teachers stay up to date on their own, it can be difficult to know what is available, and challenging to figure out best practices with limited training.



The impossible task

This week we were challenged to pick a digital assessment tool we haven’t used before, use it, and report back on the blog. It is fairly well documented, but I am not allowed to use a computer in my classroom, so I am going to comment on assessment in general.

Amanda Ronan defines assessmment in Every Teachers Guide to Assessment  as “the measurement of what students are learning” and that “the information gleaned from assessments is extremely valuable.” While both of those statements are true, a big part of assessment is figuring out how how to take the data I have in front of me and turn it into a meaningful story that explains to students and parents what they have learned in school. It is an outdated expectation of the education system.

Launel points out in her post that “the politics of education are interlaced with assessment”, and I believe that to be true. Student learning does not always fit nicely into the box on the report card, but we are expected to fill it out because that’s the way we have always done it, and its what parents and the community in general expects. Assessment used to be something we did to students, and held against them if necessary. The report card evolved into a tool for student behavioral control and school marks became a currency that teachers used to influence effort. For the most part marks had little to do with our learning. Now, there are many ways for teachers to collect evidence of student learning (or lack of student learning) digitally or otherwise, but many of them do the same thing.

Our pedagogy has changed considerably in the last decade or so and the shift is toward empowering students in their own learning as opposed to their regurgitation of facts. I argue then, that if pedagogy has changed, then assessment must also change from traditional grading methods, despite the best efforts of those who remain loyal to traditional school.  As teachers encourage students take ownership of their own learning, I believe there should be an element of honest student self assessment that supplements the evidence of learning collected by the teacher.

Maybe its the fact that it is Report Card and Student Led Conference week at my school, but I have had it up the here with assessment…

The Beer Fridge 3.0

We have a novelty item at my house…its an internet connected beer fridge.

This is it…

It belongs to my son who won it at the grand opening of the Willow Park Wine and Spirits in Regina. (…and I know what you  are thinking…I really DON’T look old enough to have kids who can go into liquor stores without me!) The fridge itself really isn’t that advanced, and I can’t call it true web 3.0 device. The fridge basically counts the number of cans that are in it, and notifications are sent to his phone when a can is taken out, or to buy more when the count is less than two dozen.  The L.E.D screen can display a message from his phone, and a really loud horn goes off when the N.H.L team of his choice, the Anaheim Ducks, score a goal. So while it isn’t a true 3.0 example, it is an example of how data is becoming and will continue to be an extremely powerful influence in our consumption based society.

Basically, the fridge “knows” when the number of beer is low, and it shares that data with him so that he will fill it with more. Simple concept.  What if the fridge could share that data with other devices? What if it also counted the brand of beer in the fridge and could determine the most popular brand based on consumption and that data was shared with companies that sell beer? How would the beer companies use that data? I wouldn’t be surprised when targeted advertisement starts hitting the inbox and Twitter feed.

I tried to mention in last weeks presentation that the Google corporation rakes in over 66 Billion dollars annually in advertising revenue, all of it because they mine data provided by users like you! In fact, Google has acknowledged that it collects and data-mines for some commercial purposes a wide range of personal information on student users who log in through its popular Apps for Education service. Google has not indicated what the “commercial purposes” are, as they do not target students with advertising when they are logged into G.A.F.E., but one thing is for sure, if it isn’t potentially profitable, it wouldn’t be happening.

Philippe Modard points out in his Ted Talk that our privacy is going to be compromised in one way or another as our everyday devices start to communicate with each other using the internet. I don’t think can be understated. I once hit a facebook like for a company that sells razor blades online, and now it is common for me to get friends asking if I use the product, and whether I like them (I do). How did I become their uncompensated spokesperson? Why is that little bit of data, my opinion from three years ago, still being used to market their product as recently as last week? It used to be that nobody knew, or even cared about, what brand of anything I preferred. As we roll into this era of the internet of things and the web 3.0, our privacy will definitely be at risk as our personal preferences will be discovered and targeted in one way or another.

Jaymee Lee states in her blog that Web 3.0 allows us to individualize to meet the needs of each individual, allows them to learn about relevant information in an interactive, personalized, free manner. While I agree that individualized learning will be the ultimate goal, the power of web 3.0 is in the data. Who will decide how that data will be used? Will it be used for strength based education that directs students towards  their areas of strengths and interests? Or will it be deficit based education that attempts to address student weaknesses? Will it be both? Does it have to be the same for everyone? There are so many questions that I can’t answer. I do know that teachers are going to have to be aware that student privacy is at risk. How scary is it that Google (and other companies) will know your sons and daughters greatest academic strengths as well as their biggest weaknesses?

I have no doubt that Web 3.0 will eventually be a big part of education, but before that happens, I hope teachers, administrators, parents, and the community at large will understand how all the parts are working together.

The worst distance learning experience ever…

My guess is that most of you don’t remember the televised classes offered by the University of Regina back in the mid-1980’s. I took two of them, and it went like this:

  • a television camera was placed in a classroom at the University where a regular class was scheduled (for me it was Psychology 100, and Art History 100)
  • in classrooms around the province, (Moose Jaw, Yorkton, Estevan) students would huddle around a television to “watch” the class.
  • every one in a while, the Professor would say things like “Moose Jaw – are there any questions?” or “can someone from Yorkton comment?”  and then wait for a phone to ring.
  • if anyone had a question or comment, they would walk over to the phone on a table, phone the professor in Regina, and ask the question. The prof., who was the only one to hear the question or comment, would hopefully repeat the question and give a decent answer. Follow up questions required a second phone call.
  • someone would be there to proctor exams and take in assignments.

Lets just say that Zoom is an infinite improvement….