Archive for the ‘barriers’ Category

Resiliency and self-regulation are two learning skills that have recently taken the spotlight in education circles. Questions have arisen as to whether schools provide too much of a safety net for kids and whether this extended safety net is actually proving detrimental to the personal and academic growth of kids.

I just recently finished reading Malcolm Gladwell’s “David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants”. The major premise of his book is that there is an inverted U-shaped curve when it comes to the benefits of interventions or advantages. Certain traits or interventions bring benefits but there is a limit to those benefits. When there is too much of a certain trait or intervention, those interventions can actually begin to undo the benefits that they are intended to bring. One education-related example Gladwell uses concerns class sizes. Smaller class sizes are advantageous to student learning when class sizes are reduced from 40 to 25. This intervention allows the teacher to spend more time with each individual student to support individual student learning needs. However, if classes are too small, the intervention of reducing class sizes actually makes the learning environment worse off as there isn’t enough diversity of thought or diversity of student connections and relationships.

Is that what is happening with resilience and self-regulation? Have we as a system provided our kids with too much intervention to the point where they are too dependant on the safety nets put in place for them? Take a look at this experiment taking place at one school in New Zealand. The school is experimenting with removing some of the standard rules used during recess time – the intent is to add more risk to student play. According to this news article, kids are becoming more creative and inventive in their play. The news article also states that students are more focused when returning back into the classroom after recess. The premise presented is that by reintroducing the element of risk during recess play, kids learn to be more self-reliant while at the same time, allowing them free reign on their creativity of play.

Another plea to add more academic risk in learning can be found in this interview with inventor James Dyson . The interview focuses on the need for schools to let kids fail. Valuable lessons are learned when kids make mistakes and by not allowing kids to make those mistakes, we do not allow them to learn this important skill of how to learn from failure.

When in conversation about the state of the school system, I often hear people share their opinions on what school was like “in the olden days”, how “we turned out alright” and how “the pendulum has swung too far the other way and we need to find a middle ground between how things were and how things are”. Maybe that is what this focus on resiliency and self-regulation is all about. The difficulty, in my view, is that so much has been invested in providing a wide reaching safety net for kids that it may be difficult to restrain the scope of that safety net. The other difficulty has to do with societal norms and beliefs. The prevailing opinion is that it is the responsibility of schools to improve student achievement. While I am in agreement, in maintaining that view, we often forget about the role the child has to play in taking responsibility in improving their own achievement.

The old adage of ‘you can bring a horse to water but you can’t make it drink’ applies here. School systems must continue to do whatever possible to support student achievement but part of that support is to give kids the appropriate level of responsibility to improve their own achievement. In the case of the school in New Zealand, supporting student achievement means removing some of the interventions to allow kids to experiment by adding some risk to their play. In the case of the argument made by James Dyson, supporting student achievement means shrinking the academic safety net and allow kids to fail so that we also allow them to develop the important skill of learning from their mistakes.

If Malcolm Gladwell is correct and too many interventions can actually reduce the effectiveness of the intervention, then adding an intervention to support resiliency and self-regulation may make kids less resilient and less able to self-regulate. Again, if Malcolm Gladwell is correct, then perhaps shrinking the academic safety net and allow for more academic risk will help to push students to achieve new academic highs.

It will be interesting to watch this issue develop.

I am a fan of the HowStuffWorks podcast “Stuff You Should Know”. Recently, I listened to the episode titled, “What’s The Future of the Internet” and the discussion on net neutrality and the walled garden of devices got me thinking about how device and OS manufacturers are restricting our experience of the Internet and the implication this could have to learning in general and mobile learning in particular.

Let me provide a little context. When it comes to mobile devices, there are currently a handful of manufacturers that produce devices that mainly run one of two mobile operating systems. There’s Apple and their iOS platform and there are the other devices that use Android. While there are other mobile operating systems out there, I think it’s safe to say that as of this writing, iOS and Android dominate. What these platforms do is refine the experience of Internet for users in a way that makes it simpler for users to access the Internet. However, in doing so, they also confines the experience of the Internet to what the platform delivers. Ultimately, we don’t experience the full open Internet when using these devices – only what is offered through the platform of the device one is using.

One way of looking at this, and one that was mentioned in the podcast, is accessing apps. If you don’t use one of the two major platforms, it’s unlikely developers will spend the time and resources to build an app. Every tried to access iMessage though Android? How about Flash on iOS? How about BBM on either Android or iOS? The point here is that more and more, access to the Internet is being provided through a mobile device and these devices are using platforms that do not provide free and open access to the entire Internet. The podcast makes the point that Adobe Flash, once a standard for viewing animation and video, is becoming obsolete mainly because Apple decided not to support Flash on its mobile devices.

This had some pretty important implications for mobile learning. Many of the instructional ideas around mobile learning revolve around mobile devices allowing teachers and students to access the vast learning library of the Internet and to use that access to improve teaching and learning. The assumption is free and open access to the Internet. If access to the Internet is restricted to what private companies decide to allow for it’s users, then mobile devices become less effective at improving teaching practice and student learning. In fact, without free access to the Internet, mobile devices may actually reduce the quality of teaching and learning. Imagine one day Google decides to block access to Wikipedia on Android devices? Imagine one day Apple decides to block all Google products (i.e. Google Docs, Google Reader, etc.)? Scarier still, what if either platform begin charging websites for access to their platform and their users so that only those who can afford to pay will have their content available on certain devices? That would definitely lead to a world were small websites and blogs such as this one, not to mention student blogs and websites created as part of their learning, would definitely lose it’s audience forever and content would be provided by a small group of rich organizations bending content to their own needs.

A closed and restricted Internet is not necessarily an inevitability but neither is free and open access to the Internet.  We will have to see where the debate on net neutrality goes and only hope that, for the sake of learning and social development, that access to the Internet, what some call the new ‘global brain’, remains free and open.

What If?

Posted: May 24, 2009 in barriers, edushifts, reflections
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What If?Back in April, 2009,  The Ontario Public School Board Association released their technology policy document titled: “What If? Technology in the 21st Century“.  In short, this document outlines what OPSBA believes to be the future direction in academic technology integration in Ontario public schools.

In reflecting on this document, I admit that it is exciting to see an important stakeholder in the education system in Ontario finally making a clear statement on the importance of integrating technology in classrooms to help students learn.  For far too long, while individuals connected to the Ontario education system have called for more academic technology in classrooms, major stakeholders have generally shied away from making clear statements about the need to incorporate 21st century skills in today’s teaching and learning using 21st century technologies.  Lip service is notwithstanding.

I’ve heard it said that one can tell where one’s priorities are not through the statements one makes but where one spends their money.  If we take this version of “actions speak louder than words” to be true, then while this policy document is an important step, then the problem of the lack of suitable technology and professional development around the use of academic technology in schools remains.  In fact, to help fight the provincial deficit, the provincial government has actually reduced the amount of money spent on academic technology for school.  This puts more pressure on school boards to find ways to fund new equipment and infrastructure who, inevitably, passes this responsibility to individual schools.  This negative trickle down policy simply results in less investment in areas where it is needed most while existing infrastructure continues to age.

The intent of this blog post is not to be all gloom and doom.  Instead it is to point out that while the ideas presented in the policy document are important, it is equally important that we as a system take the next step and allocate resources in a significant way to improve the state of academic technology in schools and professional development for educators.  The well-funded literacy and numeracy initiatives, and the improvement in EQAO scores that have resulted, have shown that with proper direction in both ideas and in resources, we can bring our education systems up to speed and evolue our practice to incorporate more authentic learning environemnts using academic technologies.

What is telling is the stereotypical, yet very typical, responses of the adults and authority figures to the “out of the box” thinking of this young lady in this exaggerated ad about mobile phones.  The barriers we encounter are often within our own minds.

It has been one week since the ECOO 2008 conference and I have had some time to reflect upon my learning.  I’ve used some of this time to consider how effective I thought the conference was and the effectiveness of my presentation on mobile learning.  Here are 5 conclusions I have made:


  1. In the teaching profession, we still have a long way to go with regards to technology adoption.  This ECOO conference was in its 29th year and still I met many who were extreme novices when it came to technology use in their teaching.  After 29 years, the majority of the conference delegates were likely not teachers when ECOO began it’s mission to be a voice for technology integration in education.  These teachers would have heard the message of the importance of using technology over the years but still many are not.  It also says a lot about the general state of technology integration when many at a technology conference are not regular users of technology in their own daily lives beyond using a cell phone to make voice calls.
  2. Interesting messages are being passed on by those who are using technology with their students. I will not mention the names of presenters or presentations but I will mention that there were a couple of breakout sessions that I attended that left me puzzled.  In one session, one of the conference presenters kept saying that they were “low tech” and “preferred traditional teaching models” but was only using technology because “the students like it”.  In another presentation, by a university professor, the PowerPoint slide show being used had so much tiny text that it was impossible to read while at the same time the presenter stated that PowerPoint “needs to be used judiciously if it is to be used effectively”.
  3. It’s unclear what teachers are really looking for with technology. In my presentation, I had a number of audience members who were giving me mixed messages.  On the one hand, it appeared that the audience was looking for practical examples of using mobile technology in classrooms but on the other hand, they seemed very dismissive of the examples that I was giving as impractical despite the fact that they were examples from real classrooms with real teachers and real students.  You can take a look a my examples by looking at my presentation slide show.
  4. I’m not sure that I got a sense of what they next steps are. It’s great to have a conference that talks about possibilities and celebrates successes but I’m not sure I the delegates know what their next steps are.  What will they do to take their learning back to their classroom?  Perhaps I’m a bit guilty of this as well as my presentation focused more on possibilities and was skimpy on the discussion of next steps but in all fairness, my presentation topic is so highly controversial in today’s K-12 school environment that I think I need to convince people first of the viability of using mobile devices to help students learn.  What can we do to provide teachers with next steps to help them use technology with their students?
  5. We are resource rich but weak in skillfully finding and utilizing these digital resources. Today’s reality sort of takes the traditional view of the scarcity of resources and turns it on it’s head.  With the wide variety of multimedia resources and creation tools available on the Internet, the wide variety of hardware that is available in our schools (both school property and property brought to school by the students themselves) and many of these resources available to teachers and students for free, the argument that we need more resources is a weak one in my mind.  However, what I notice is that, generally speaking, teachers don’t know that these resources exist and don’t know how to access them.  One piece of evidence for this is statements that I heard such as “I didn’t know that existed” or “I wish someone would have told me about that site”.  Another piece of evidence is the fact that the session presented by a representative from CBC archives who essentially provided only a demo of the site was better subscribed than other presentations that were more about using technology in pedagogically appropriate ways.

Please do not interpret my conclusions as a critique of the ECOO conference itself because I find this conference a very useful vehicle in providing a voice for technology integration in today’s K-12 classroom.  In addition, please do not interpret my conclusions as a critique of all teachers because I know that there are many teachers who are doing innovating things with the technology tools that they have available.  My conclusions are more an observation of the general willingness and attitudes of K-12 teachers in Ontario in integrating technology in their classrooms based on my experience of this sampling of teachers that attended this particular conference.  Let this be a wake-up call to everyone – technology can really help to differentiate instruction and the students in front of us have embraced it but it appears that many of the teachers that are in charge of the learning of these students have not embraced the use of technology on a wide scale.

I had a conversation in Twitter about the high costs of photocopying and how these costs consume so much of a school budget.  The waste is so high that it reduces a school’s ability to invest in technology.

Let’s take a look at some rough numbers*. Let’s peg the cost of one photocopy at $0.10 CAD.  This cost includes the cost of toner and photocopier maintenance.  Let’s also say that a school can purchase a laptop for a school for $1000 CAD.  To be fair, there are infrastructure costs to consider such as network costs, switches, cables, etc. Let’s say that infrastructure costs bump up the cost of that laptop to $1500. Using these rough numbers, 15,000 photocopies = one laptop. In a school of 500 students, that works out to 30 copies per child per year!  That’s right.  If in the course of one year 30 copies per student were eliminated, the savings would allow a school to purchase one laptop for it’s students!

If we take this line of thinking a little further, an 8GB iPod touch currently retails at $319 CAD (as of August 29th, 2008). If we increase the cost of each iPod Touch to $400 CAD to include the cost of infrastructure, then eliminating 30 copies per student per year would save enough money to purchase about 4 iPod Touch units.  When I think back, I can easily identify places where I could quite easily save one sheet per student per day.  Multiply that by 195 teaching days for a class of 28 students and that’s 5460 copies or over 1/3 of the cost of one laptop.  That’s just one sheet per student everyday saved by one teacher.  If a school had 20 teachers with similar class ratios saving one sheet per student per day, the savings would allow a school to buy 7 laptops or 27 iPod Touch units (coincidentally, one class set).  Incredible!

So my question is this: Why are we not taking advantage of this opportunity to invest in technology at the local school level?  Why are we consuming all this paper which, inevitably, ends up in the recycling bin.  It appears to me that schools really do have enough resources to make modest investments in technology.  The problem is with how that money is spent.

The sacrifices are minor but the payoffs are quite large.  At the very least, we can make the argument that we are reducing our consumption of paper to reduce energy usage for the good of the environment.  At best, we can make the argument that we are reducing our consumption of paper to give us the flexibility to invest in our schools and in our students.

* Disclaimer – while these numbers are not exact, they help us gauge how photocopying is reducing a school’s ability to invest in technology.

Fresh from my trip back from Italy, I want to use this opportunity to share my little experiment in cell phone mobility.  My experiences can be summed up in this way: Don’t be fooled by the advertising -your cell phone is not as mobile as you think!

My experiment began about two months before I left for my trip.  I currently own a Blackberry Pearl and have GSM service through Rogers Communications in Canada.  While Rogers continually advertises that the phone will work seamlessly overseas, I balked at the $2.00/minute charges to make a phone call from Italy back to Canada and 20ish cents per kb of data downloads with my Rogers connected phone.  Strike one: enormous high cost to communicate out of local country.

To avoid this high cost, I decided that I would simply buy a SIM card from a local cell phone provider and stick it into my Blackberry.  Good intentions but there was a problem – my Blackberry was locked!  Rogers is trying to keep me from using anyone else’s service on the smart phone they sold me.  When I called them to get them to unlock my phone, they refused.  I’m not really sure why they lock the phones anyway because Rogers is the only Canadian provider that maintains a GSM network.  I couldn’t switch over to another provider with my Blackberry even if I wanted to.  Then again, that’s the case with local service but there are plenty of international GSM providers.  I guess Rogers locks their phones so that they can continue to overcharge their customers $2.00/minutes if they make calls outside of North America. The Rogers representative told me that I could try using a third-party to unlock my phone but if I did that, my warranty would be voided.  Fortunately for me, I have my old quad-band Motorola that I don’t use any longer sitting in a drawer just waiting to be utilized once again.  I got that phone unlocked for $20. Strike two: Providers trying to maintain control of and limit access to, a product that their consumer purchased and owns.

With my Motorola unlocked and ready to be used, I went onto the websites of the three major cell phone providers in Italy: Vodaphone, TIM and Wind.  As far as I could tell, none allow the purchase of a SIM Card from their website so I had to wait until I actually arrived in Italy to get a SIM card.  I chose to purchase service on the Wind network.  I bought the SIM card, set up a prepaid long distance plan and topped up my credit.  At this point, I would be paying 35 Euro cents, about 45-50 Canadian cents, per minute to call back to Canada instead of the $2.00 per minute I would be paying with Rogers.  However, all I could do was talk as SMS and data required a separate setup.  Did I mention that they would not set me up unless they had a photocopy of my passport? Apparently, it’s a requirement under Italian anti-terrorism legislation. Strike three: even international providers minimize access and maximize control.

All was well while I was in Italy, making calls at a quarter of the price I would have paid if I didn’t jump through all the above hoops. That is, while I was in Italy.  Now that I am back in Canada, Wind will not allow me to use my phone with their SIM card here.  When I try to make a call with my Motorola that contains the Wind SIM card, I get a message from Rogers (the local provider) that states, “You provider has not authorized us to provide service.  Please contact your service provider”.  Back to the same story again, but this time in the reverse.  While previously, when wanted to use my Rogers phone internationally, I had to pay extremely high rates, now, if I want to use my Wind service in Canada, I am restricted. Strike four: service providers don’t play nice with each other to the detriment of their customers.

In this current world of tight restrictions and high costs, how mobile are mobile devices? I guess that depends on what mobility means.  If mobility meams access in a constricted and predefined area such as a city, province or country, then our current model of mobility seems to work just fine.  However if, as I believe, mobility means global accessibility, then we certainty have a very long way to go.  My experience has shown me that so long as one is playing within the playing field of a particular provider, then all is well.  Once one moves beyond that playing field and tries to coss into the realm of another provider, accessibility begins to collapse and costs begin to soar. Current technology makes true mobility possible – it’s the human institutions that are resticting mobility for their own selfish ends.