SOPA and PIPA and random thoughts

January 16, 2012

I probably can’t — and don’t want to — change the world. The very nicest thing I’ve been told in a long time is that I influence others in a quiet way that often becomes apparent to them some time later. “Quiet” doesn’t equal high-profile world changer but it is definitely a mode of being that suits my personality. And I do want to actively participate as much as possible in the good change I see happening all around me so that’s why I’ve spent a career in education. I’m especially interested in the technology/communication advances related to social media.

I want to share
WordPress asks its 60 million users to help stop SOPA and PIPA

because I’m passionate about not losing the important freedom of expression we’ve recently acquired by being able to blog, tweet, share photos, videos, etc. We can use this responsibly without the being shackled by the harshness of proposed legislation. My childhood piano teacher (who I thank for giving me a view of education that was astonishingly progressive for a woman who was 60 years older than me) said “the freedom to swing your arm ends at the other person’s nose”. I get that we shouldn’t use the new communication tools, or any other tools, to hurt others. But let’s not tip in the opposite direction and lose all the potential for great sharing and learning.

Clay Shirky, as always, describes it very well:

And, keeping with the “what-impact-do-I-really-have” motif, here are three separate comments from the instructor evaluation in the most recent course I taught:

– She has a talent to pull student’s out of their comfort zone and to “think outside the box”. This was not a negative attribute in a Master’s level instructor and facilitator.

– I like the approach of letting us figure out things ourselves. My sense from the group is the majority don’t like that approach. The social constructivist approach to learning works for me.

– I wouldn’t let her train my Cocker Spaniel.

I guess I have the ability to make some of my students think and make others get angry. Of course I think the first student completely understood what I was trying to do and the second one I appreciate for being honest enough to let me know that he or she saw others in the group who did NOT want the opportunity to learn by doing. To that ‘Cocker Spaniel’ commenter, I just have to say that grad students shouldn’t require ‘training’. If I’m there it’s for another purpose altogether. My belief system is strongly oriented towards encouraging people to learn how to learn. That’s not generally what you do with dogs and it’s why grad school is not obedience school. I have never wanted to spoon-feed educational content to anyone.

Mynna, born, I believe, in 1895, would be close to 117 years old. She lived into her 90s.

Mynna, born, I believe, in 1895, would be close to 117 years old. She lived into her 90s.

Back to my childhood piano teacher…. she told me that the word education came from the Latin “educa” which she translated as “to draw out”. Nothing about cramming in facts! Thank you Mynna! You were a quiet influence that is still apparent to me all these years later.


Work / Life

December 10, 2011

One of the instructional skills workshop participants I’ve been working with blogged on the topic of work/life balance by saying the following:

“Do we find what we do to make money so onerous that we wish to compartmentalize it away from who we are? Is work the way to make money and life what we use the money for? Is work so strenuous that what we call our life must consist of recovery, recuperation and preparation for the next onslaught of anguish/work?”

These are compelling questions, and I think they say a lot about our workplace and our attitude. I’m not quite sure who I mean here when I say “our”– but I think it might be anyone who works in an industrialized setting.

Where do I stand on this? I’m someone who’s about to take an early retirement and by February of next year (that’s just a few weeks away) I’ll be “free”. I love education and want to continue working in the field and for me, taking the pension offers the chance to be more selective about the work I do. I hate to say it but a lot of my time right now in my instructional designer role is spent nagging because courses have start dates and things need to be in place on time. Contract work (at least the kind I have lined up) is much different.

Overall, once retired I may actually work *more* — and some of that work will be a new focus related to glass. the hobby that I’ve tried to cultivate over the past several years as part of my own “work-life balance.” So my vision is for lots of variety. That too, may be part of the real secret to work/life balance. It seems to me that the workplace benefits when workers have a range of paths and can choose to grow when they’re ready.

And I believe that through social media I’ll be able to continue growing, keeping up with and contributing to the world of education. Contract work is one thing but I will almost certainly want to explore areas that I’m not “contracted” to do. And I’ll have the opportunity. Unencumbered! Willingly!

I think the whole concept is closely related to what Clay Shirky sees when he talks about cognitive surplus.

One of my favourite quotes of Shirky’s

“We have lived in this world where little things are done for love and big things for money. Now we have Wikipedia. Suddenly big things can be done for love.”

(and my son is 19 today…. Happy Birthday to a fresh new grown-up person!)

Standardized Testing

December 6, 2011

When an adult took standardized tests forced on kids

@johnathanfields tweeted “Successful, educated adult gets crushed by standardized test for kids” when referring to this article, written by Marion Brady:

It’s about a school board member, someone with “a bachelor of science degree, two masters degrees, and 15 credit hours toward a doctorate,” who could only guess 10 out of 60 questions in the math section, and got a “D” on the reading section of a test that is used for Grade 10 students.

He is quoted as saying “I have a wide circle of friends in various professions. Since taking the test, I’ve detailed its contents as best I can to many of them, particularly the math section, which does more than its share of shoving students in our system out of school and on to the street. Not a single one of them said that the math I described was necessary in their profession.”

Horrifying to think that a hugely funded education system has its focus on something that compels a huge number of students to leave the education system feeling like failures rather than supporting them towards lifelong learning.

Another blog post about the article:

Josh Sternberg article on social Media

September 2, 2011

I found a lot to think about in this article from The Atlantic:

Social Media’s Slow Slog Into the Ivory Towers of Academia

Here’s a quote (I love the concept of an information ecosystem):

  • “In communications, business, psychology, anthropology, sociology, and information technology departments across the nation, theories of social media — and how to teach it — are becoming more prevalent. Sarah Smith-Robbins, professor and Director of Emerging Technologies at the Kelly School of Business at Indiana University, teaches a course called “Social and Digital Marketing.” “We go over the theories behind social media: why do things go viral, the social theories of how people act and how they communicate to a network, or one person at a time, and why do certain tools work they way they do for us,” she says. With an obvious slant towards the professional, these theoretical questions help students grasp the fundamentals of social media, outside of posting personal status updates on Facebook or Twitter. Instead of understanding social media as products, students are encouraged to treat status updates as part of a larger information ecosystem.”
  • Note that among other things, the article addresses whether digital natives actually exist or not, it looks at those in academia who are opposed to social media and it concludes “that teaching social media through a traditional mode will not suffice.”

    Educating the Heart and Mind

    August 25, 2011

    I wish I was in Vancouver today to hear Sir Ken Robinson again (I went to a session at UBC about two years ago and LOVED seeing him in person.)

    His topic today will be ‘Educating the Heart and Mind’. I think this article gives what is probably a pretty good outline:

    and includes a quote from Sir Ken that I like a lot:

    “…teachers have to take care of their own creativity. They have to enjoy what they do. It’s like any job – if you enjoy it, then you’ll overcome all kinds of obstacles. But if you feel it’s drudgery to start with, then you’re probably better not doing it. So my second suggestion is, are you sure you’re doing the right thing? Is this the life you want? Is this the job you want? Some people love it and some people don’t. People who don’t love it are often not terribly good at it in the long run. They’re not bad people, they’re just not good teachers. They should do something else. But if you are interested, then treat your art form seriously. Take time to study techniques of teaching, look at other teachers, be prepared to have people come and look at you, and do what people in other fields do: Be open to criticism and be open to learning and growing. If you’re a writer, you spend time reading other people’s work, you’re in the public domain, people will comment and you’ll be self-critical. It’s true if you’re a musician or a scientist. Often teachers end up living in their own world because that’s how schools work, so open yourself up to collaboration and be prepared to learn and take risks and challenges.”

    The future and a stroll down the “Network Nuggets” memory lane

    August 19, 2011

    I stumbled across this technology-of-the-future article, and having recently watched a documentary on Netflix about Ray Kurzweil, the article is a reminder of some “out there” ideas.

    For instance,
    by 2035, robots could completely replace humans in the workforce and in just three years a solar farm could be built that would meet all our current energy needs (the article doesn’t say that this solar farm *is* being built, just that it could — interesting to think about the reasons that might get in the way proceeding with a project like that.)

    And I got to thinking about my own 20-ish years working with internet technologies for education and how soooo much has changed.

    Here’s a bit of my stroll down memory lane. For about 5 years in the early 1990s, I was the ‘Network Nuggets’ lady and, off the side of my desk as  a research officer with an arms-length entity and then later an actual branch of the BC Ministry of Education, I managed a listserv for K-12 teachers to point to interesting educational resources online. There was no Google, and it was actually kind of difficult to find things online back in those days. I started by using a tool called Gopher, and later moved up to an actual search engine called Alta Vista, which (I just checked) still exists. Now the finding part is easy and it’s the filtering that is the true challenge, although I guess I was doing a bit of that back then as well because I had to be sure that the sites I pointed to were K-12 appropriate.

    To write the daily nugget, I would take teacher requests or, if there were none, I’d just think of an idea related to the curriculum that I wanted to explore. Then I’d share whatever useful resources I could find –often going with a theme-related approach: suggesting that the sites be used a a springboard to compare and contrast, evaluate particular ideas, etc. As I look at the archives, I can see that even then, I really tried to point out strategies for online activities involving collaboration , creativity and critical thinking. Also interesting is that although many of the sites the nuggets pointed to no longer exist, some (Ask Dr. Math, On-Line Writing Lab, etc.) are still going strong.
    Nugget Lady



    Oh, and this is what I looked like way back then…

    By the way, I have to mention my former colleague David Wighton in this, as he was a big part of the development of the concept and he continued the service for a time after I had moved to a different position.

    Pilchuck inspiring me beyond glass

    August 5, 2011

    I had the opportunity to have a face-to-face meeting with the class I’ll be co-teaching online in a few weeks. It’s a “Program Planning” course (LRNT 503) from the Royal Roads University MALAT cohort (MA in Learning and Technology).

    I am still bursting with ideas from Pilchuck, and although the LRNT503 course is not at all about glass I believe that my experience at Pilchuck has given me new ideas for ways to address its goals.

    At Pilchuck, Bruce Mau referred to technology and said “now we can do anything, what will we do?”

    He encouraged the Pilchuck group to consciously design our lives and our environments. A perfect thought for the MALAT students I am working with, who will be designing online educational environments. Bruce Mau, a big BIG picture designer, gave me a renewed understanding of the scale of design principles. It’s something I want to share as I teach this year.

    For instance, the intersection of arts and science can be made more explicit as an educational goal. “Massive change” for education. “The Third Teacher”  — interactions for learning. Kids interact with adults, peers and their environment — as program planners, the group I’m teaching will be making decisions about learning environments and should spend time reflecting on how these shape the learning experience.

    Also, collaborative learning is something that Royal Roads has always emphasized, and it was beautiful to see it in action at Pilchuck. In my session with the MALAT group I described Pilchuck’s environment of artistic collaboration and hopefully made it clear that the same creative energy can be applied throughout the MALAT program. Students will work together to solve problems, create a set of online resources that will stay with them long after the course is completed and, most importantly, they will begin to think about plans that can be implemented in their real life workplaces.

    I ended my discussion by considering Bruce Mau’s statement that “sacrifice won’t work”. As humans, we won’t stop loving travel, communication, playing, making art and so on, so we will continue to consume things. That means in order to be sustainable we have to make smart things more compelling than stupid things. And that’s a design problem!


    When I wrote this on the board I saw many of the class members smiling. I hope a seed has been planted!