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Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Teaching for Tomorrow ~ Political Edition

Today's reading talked about how we are constantly bombarded with media messages through a number of sources online and in social media and many of those messages are political.  A problem is that often this can be one of the main ways that people engage with politics.  A recent article spoke about how a high percentage of Americans received their political news from The Daily Show and The Colbert Report which are not actually news shows.

The problem is not only that we are becoming a more and more ill-informed electorate, but that we think we are informed.  The only source of information and political discourse for many is filtered by others, some of whom are equally ill-informed.  This can be seen in the comments sections on sites about political news and in social media feeds everywhere.

This is not good.

In order for our society to work, we need to be able to talk and think intelligently about what is going on.  If political discourse is limited to memes and one liners. People in power can manipulate us that much easier.

An answer (again) is that we need to instill in our students some element of media literacy and civic literacy.  These are some of the lesser known 21st century skills that education experts are talking about.  If our students leave our classrooms empowered to effect change simply through intelligent voting, we will have had a significant measure of success.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Education for Tomorrow

At work today a few of us were talking about what life would be like when the robots took over.  While this sounds pretty sci-fiey this is actually a reality.  Specifically, what will we all do when pretty much all jobs are taken over by automation. The theory is that when automation takes over almost all jobs capitalism will need a major revamping or it will be dead. While this proved good conversational fodder for a while, eventually we moved to what will the curriculum be if students don't actually have to go to work when they grow up.  This led to a talk about how our curriculum is largely dictated by what the business world wants and has been so since the dawn of curriculum. 

In our reading, we looked at how video games are changing the landscape in a number of ways.  First off, narratives are being written for games that are remarkably sophisticated and engaging and are becoming more literary all the time.  If it has not happened already, eventually a great literary writer will sit down and write the great Canadian Video Game.  There is a good argument that a narrative created in a video game could be more impactful due to the interactivity of the medium. 

With all of these changes happening, what should we be teaching our students? In the past, we have been teaching them the "core curriculum" with a few other things as well but what was determining the "core curriculum"?  Actually, maybe the real question should be what should school look like?  do students simply study anything they want?  Who would they study with?  Anyone they wanted on the web?  Teachers? 

In our discussion at work (over a cafeteria pulled pork sandwich) I posited that one system could be people would study what they want with who they wanted.  Teachers would work online in their specific discipline and people would choose to study or not to study with them.  In this model there would be no core curriculum as people would only study what the wanted.  The thinking was that Society might actually benefit as people would go deep into the area of expertise they are interested in and this could result in exciting findings.  However, on an individual level, we would be losing out on the discovery of connections between disciplines and the general knowledge of the world.  Essentially, Society smarter; individual dumber. 

All this doesn't answer the question, "What does the curriculum look like for the future?"  A problem is that I think that a good chunk of us are basing our decisions on what we should teach on the same question that we have been using since the Industrial Revolution, " What will they need to get ahead in the working world."  I think we need to stop this thinking.  I think we need to begin to design the required curriculum around what students need to become good persons.  The obvious problem is that we have different ideas on what that means.  Fortunately, I have an answer to that.  I know.  Listen to me.  I will tell you what that means and we should all teach my curriculum and it involves how to make the best nachos.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Living Together Online

This week we talked about avatar aesthetics and self-representation.  I actually enjoyed the reading as it raised a couple of questions for me.  In my media class we examine this issue through viewing and discussing Douglas Rushkoff's work in Digital Nation.  In it he mentions that people spend a lot of time on their avatars in the business world because it may actually be to their advantage in a business negotiation.  The idea of choosing appropriate business attire for your avatar to attend a business meeting in Second Life while physically staying in your pajamas is a little weird.  Not only that, but the advantage that your avatar gives you in Second Life can apparently extend into real life if you were to meet in a "real world" business negotiation.   The reading also caused me to think about the fact that their research seemed to say that even though we could create game avatars that can be anything, most often we simply create a version of ourselves but we improve it slightly in whatever manner we feel we are deficient.  The implications of this are interesting from a sociological identity standpoint. 

Another thing that came up was the shocking behaviour of the misogynistic cretins who plague the gamer community.  Frankly, it sickened me.  While this could have something to do with the November Blues that seem to be plaguing teachers and students right now when the stress of the classroom and the crazy antics of students who seem to suddenly have decided to rebel against pretty much everything boils over into stupid, destructive behaviour, hearing about this actually caused me to wonder what the world is coming to. Thinking something like this makes me feel old.  I don't understand the depth of hate that these people must be immersed in.  What are we to do about it?

I don't know if there is a short game to be done.  I don't know enough about tracking posts and so on but if possible we should be prosecuting the people responsible under severe legislation.  (As most of it is probably from the US, and it is pretty much terrorism, can't they do something about it?)   The Long Game is to continue teaching from a standpoint of tolerance; of listening to other's views with openness; of working to make the world better instead of adding to the hate that plagues our reality.  This needs to happen in the schools.  Unfortunately, I am pretty sure that character is not part of the standardized test.  I am not sure that character is part of what the largely industrialized model of education that we are a part of  wants.

This needs to be something that we work for.  This needs to be something that is part of our classrooms.  This needs to be taught and fostered at every stage of education to ensure that we have adults who care.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Hey! I Invented a new word! Plagiarism!

This week we talked a lot about remix culture and copyright.  I really found the video series interesting.  I had heard about this sort of thing but was not aware of the extent of remix culture and the video itself was extremely well done. 

It is difficult to find what I think on this topic.  On the one hand, I think that copyright laws can definitely hamper creativity especially when presented with the extent of it in the videos.  I thought it was neat to see what artists and filmmakers were able to create when inspired by what they had seen.  On the other hand, I do think that an artist or a company deserves the right to make money off of what they have created.  If I had an ounce of artistic talent and was able to create something that people might actually purchase, I would like the chance to make a little money off my work.  With this in mind, I can't really blame people who pursue copyright infringers.  Obviously this has gone too far as well as can be seen by the copyright trolls or the ridiculousness of the smartphone lawsuits.  ("we invented slide and unlock" Seriously!) 

I think we can agree that the system is broken but what is the solution?  I am unconvinced that some sort of "everyone creates for the good of the world thing" would work.  Artists, writers, inventors and other creators can't work for free and I think we can agree that voluntary support donations are not going to work either.   Somehow, they need to be able to monetize their work without locking up all the ideas from the rest of us until they are useless as inspiration.  I was intrigued by Joseph Gordon-Levitt's movement from last week but this model does not allow for varying degrees of talent as far as I know.  Would an unknown artist who provides some images deserve the same amount as Steven Spielberg who lends his name and film making talent to the project?

Perhaps what we really need is intelligent jurisprudence.  When a lawsuit is brought in front of a judge, reasonable limits on copyright need to be set which consider the fact that future discoveries will need inspiration from the item under review.  Similarly, when a copyright challenge is brought into a courtroom, reasonable thought needs to win out.  An artist can't lock in a three beat bass line forever and thought must be given to the fact that future songwriters will need to become inspired from past music. 

Also, perhaps permissions and credit should be given a little more readily.  If someone wants to sample your track, the right thing would be to allow it. (especially as it could probably be suggested that you yourself have sampled in the past).  Similarly, artists will need to be a little more open to crediting their inspirations and sampling sources which perhaps may lead to actual profit sharing. A problem here, of course, is that at its essence, capitalism is largely based on greed which does not work well with sharing. 

Perhaps what we need to do is be more creative.  More creative with profit sharing, more creative in monetizing work, more creative in creating and more creative in ways to live cooperatively together.  Perhaps we simply need to remember what the immortal Bill and Ted taught us "Be Excellent to each other!"

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

DIY Education


This week we learned about the various ways that maker culture and activism can be used in the classroom to inspire learning.  I have to say that I love the idea of tinker education where students work to solve a problem through tinkering.  This has to be some of the most effective learning.  Students would easily see how their learning is relative to life.  In activist learning, student can work to develop projects or ideas to make the world better.  These are exciting opportunities for our students.  If our children are our future, this is probably a good way to educate them.  

Except,

When I hear about the opportunities these kids have to tinker and figure out things and work collaboratively, I am excited but I notice that they are always working to create a product.  They are making a “something”.  In all the excitement of “making” I do wonder where the time is given for these kids to contemplate, to take quiet time to think about the effects of what they are doing.  I worry a little that in the rush to create a product that accomplishes a task, there is less focus placed on thinking and determining an opinion in the rush to make something.  While I am sure that educators would say that those things are important, with all the emphasis placed on making and creating, and the excitement that those things bring, I worry that there will be less emphasis placed on things that are more contemplative.  Will time still be given to things like poetry without a 3d printing component?  Will there still be depth given to assignments or will it remain as a project that is totally cool and hits a number of curricular targets in the tech and science areas but does not allow for a contemplative component that requires more time without sexy arduino programming things.  

I think it is important for a school to not forget the important things that contemplative thinking can bring to a community and to emphasize these things as well.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Klingon Teaching

This week we learned about how teaching Klingon could actually help our students learn English better as well.  From the readings, I have a few comments. Firstly, I am not sure I am as convinced of the necessity of teaching Klingon to teach English. According to the article,by studying the custom designed language of Klingon, (in which interest had spiked when the article was written but has dropped of late) students will learn linguistic structures and patterns that are common to all languages. While I am sure that this is true, it seems to me that the student might be better served by learning a language that is actually in use outside of trekker conventions and Big Bang Theory

The problem, of course, is that learning Klingon is the hook by which the teacher is trying to interest students in the study of their own language. However, as all the benefits of learning of language structures and patterns gained from studying Klingon could also be gained from having the students studying an actual language in use by non-trekkers, it seems, the students would be better served by having the educational staff working to spike interest in a different language. 

Another takeaway for me from the readings was that I think the success of these teachers depends as much on the fact that the teacher is incorporating their own passions into the classroom. I am operating under the assumption that anyone who has devoted time and energy into learning Klingon is enamoured with the language and Star Trek. I think teaching with passion like this has two major effects. Firstly, teachers are more likely to spend large amounts of time on developing lessons and pedagogies for their teaching if they are filled with passion for not only the subject matter ( which we will assume) but also for the methods of instruction. This will result in extremely well planned lessons and plans which could result in better run classes and better results. Secondly, I believe that when teachers teach with great passion, this passion is contagious which results in greater student involvement and greater interest which also fosters greater results. 

So, teaching with Klingon, Yea or nay? I think I would have to fall on the side of nay simply because I am only a passive Star Trek fan. I don't speak Klingon and it is not my passion. I also think it is not the hook it was back in the early 2000s. However, I do think that if it were my passion, I think it could make a good pedagogy. 


Monday, October 12, 2015

Science Fiction and you

In schools, literary analysis in languages classes is sometimes a little predictable.  Many schools teach a number of Shakespeare's plays, To Kill a Mockingbird and maybe a similar novel but it is relatively rare for a school to embrace the teaching of a science fiction masterpiece. 
As  a genre, science fiction has a bit of a bad rep.  The nature of the beast is that the plots tend to be a little further from the norm and, if fantasy is included in the discussion (as it often is) sometimes the plots get way out there. 
What educators need to remember is that one of the main goals of an artist (which includes novelists) is to look at the world and interpret what they see back to us.  In this way they hold a mirror up to society and we can see our humanity in what they write. 
In the movies (until the advent of believable CGI) for an screenwriter to go into the realm of the fantastical where anything s/he can dream up can happen, they would need to turn to animation where the physical boundaries of our world and the physics that rule it are immaterial.  In fiction, science fiction and fantasy fulfill this role.  If a writer wants to explore racism and how humans are often inhumane to each other in a way that drives home the inhumanity perhaps it would be better to cast the ostracized as aliens as in District 9.  If someone wants to look at humanity's perseverance and how they function when threatened with a global problem, perhaps a zombie apocalypse is in order.  The ability of a writer to set their message in any setting from any time or any space allows them the freedom to showcase almost anything. 
This freedom, coupled with the often undervalued writing skills of many science fiction and fantasy writers, should be enough to ensure these novels begin to possess a premium place on the booklists of our schools.