5 Fours

My blog recently “came up all fours”, reaching over 44 thousand hits.  I would like to thank anybody who has been a regular reader.  Now would be a great time to start posting again.  It has been some time since I’ve put this blog to good use.  I’ve been spending a lot of time working on other projects including my on-line art gallery and web-store [ryanflood.netfirms.com].  More to come on this tomorrow.  Thanks again for

visiting, and keeping this space alive.


Reorienting Education Toward Sustainability

The greatest dilemma that humanity faces today is an unprecedented need for large scale and rapid change.  Our situation is urgent, as the environmental and social challenges before us indicate.  We face a convergence of crises, from climate change and global warming, to the increasing number of environmental refugees and the effects of rampant consumerism.  All of which urgently call for action.  Although there is no universal solution to our vast array of problems, it is quite clear that we must change the ways by which we think, act, consume and waste, collectively.

Ultimately, many of the problems that face us today are the result of yesterday’s solutions.  We have arrived at our current situation only because we have been so successful.  Industrial and consumer outlooks have increasingly dominated our ways of thinking over the last two hundred years.  These ways of thinking have brought forth extraordinary successes beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.

This is, in part, what makes our challenge so daunting.  We are faced with the reality that our old ways of doing things will no longer serve us, and yet they have been so astonishingly successful in the past.  What needs to change is an established norm, and such changes do not come about easily.  In his book, The Necessary Revolution, Peter Senge writes that the Industrial Revolution “did not simply change the way we worked; it transformed the way we lived, the way we thought about ourselves, and the way we viewed the world.  Nothing like it had ever occurred before” (2008, p. 14).  This is the magnitude of change that is needed today.

The impacts the Industrial Revolution had on quality of life were undeniable.  As industrial expansion continued into the twentieth century, life expectancy in the industrial world roughly doubled, literacy jumped from 20 percent to over 90 percent, and benefits hitherto unimaginable sprang up in the form of products (from private cars to iPods), services (from air travel to eBay), and astounding advances in medicine, communication, education, and entertainment.  With this kind of success, it is little wonder that the side effects of the Industrial Age success story went largely ignored. (Senge, 2008, p. 15)

The dominant modes of thinking of the Industrial Age have produced astounding progress and success, but also severe side effects.  The very advances that have enabled such perceived increases in quality of life are also the causes of critical imbalances in the natural orders of things.  Advances in industrial production and consumption of goods, among other advances, have contributed to several unsustainable crisis situations, both socially and ecologically.

Although the concept of sustainability is not new, it is being discussed more frequently.  In a recent guide, the steering committee for the Saskatchewan Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) Network (2009) notes that “calls for sustainability date back to the 1970s, when the combined effects of human population growth and resource consumption started to appear at the global level” (p. 4).  As the discourse around the concept of sustainability develops, it is becoming increasingly clear that in order for significant change to take place, a shift in the role of education is necessary.  “It is also clear that sustainability is ultimately about transforming the values, beliefs, and attitudes that support, and are reinforced by Western industrialized cultures” (SaskESD Network, 2009).  Dr. Glenn Sutter, curator of the Royal Saskatchewan Museum, and chair of the Saskatchewan ESD Network has written that in order “to foster a culture of sustainability, we need to develop appropriate technologies, policies, and regulations at various scales, but these need to be supported by a fundamental shift in our thinking and actions, ostensibly through education” (2005, p. iv).

Educators of the Future

Isaac Asimov stated in the early 1930’s……….

“It is change, continuing change, inevitable change, that is the dominant factor in society today. No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is, but the world as it will be.”

Undoubtedly, our world is changing drastically and rapidly.  These changes make us question the foundations of our systems of education and schooling.  It is becoming increasingly essential that educators continue to stay current and familiar with emerging technologies and that they are comfortable integrating a variety of technologies into their educational practices.  Technological literacy has emerged as an essential literacy of equal importance to reading, writing, mathematics, scientific inquiry, and critical and creative thought.  However, it is also important to remember that technology is often the medium, and should not be confused with the message.  Educators of the future face the challenge of implementing technology in order to aid in reaching the larger goals of education; in order to create motivated life-long learners who have the skills, abilities and the willingness to educate themselves.  As the Internet and the ‘world of Education’ continue to shift progressively toward a notion of open thinking, sharing, and collaboration, the role of the teacher must also shift from sole provider of knowledge to a facilitator of learning.  As our planet and the human race face a convergence of simultaneous crisis, the implementation of web technologies will not be education’s greatest challenge.  Teachers will increasingly be faced with the challenge to create projects and learning environments that aim towards solving real world problems and sustainability.

Arts & Society Presentation is Completed!

My presentation, “Arts & Society: An Exploration of Historically Significant Communities of Artists and Their Ability to Spark Social Change,” is finally completed.  It is on-line and can be viewed below.  Patience is needed, as the file is quite massive and will take several minutes to load.  The PREZI presentation contains hundreds of images and even a few video clips.

Course Wrap-up and Reflections

In this, my last (or one of my last) blog posts for EC&I 832, I will aim to answer some fairly loaded questions:

  • What new understandings of the role of educational technology to support learning have you gained, acted on or perhaps strengthened?
  • What has had the most influence on your horizon of understanding?
  • What new questions have emerged for you?

It is no easy feat to answer such questions.  For me, a course such as this becomes so intertwined with my everyday life; it becomes a part of who I am.  It is very difficult to determine starting and ending points or to measure growth.  One of the pieces or fragments from this course that will continue to have shaping influence on my horizon of understanding is my knowledge of the LoTi Digital-Age framework. I would consider myself a ‘digital native’, and as such, integration of technology is a relatively natural part of my teaching practice.  Before this course, I would have considered myself to be rated quite highly on any scale measuring technological integration in the classroom.  However, what I have found is that regardless of my familiarity with technology, the higher level of a framework such as the LoTi levels 5 or 6 are still extremely difficult to reach.  Even though I would consider myself a digital native and a daily user of web technologies, I would still honestly rate myself somewhere slightly above average at a level 4a or 4b.  Finding ways to broaden students’ horizons and break down the barriers of physical walls; initiating opportunities to encourage students to build networks and to communicate globally; enabling collaborations that extend beyond.  These are very difficult things to do, and I suppose that this is one of the most important understandings that I will take with me.  I will continue to ask myself how do I do this?  How can I create environments in which such collaborations can exist?

From this class, I take with me the challenge to seek to answer these questions.  I embark, with excitement, down new paths of discovery and on new projects.  I continue to play with new technologies and to find ways to use these technologies to increase literacy and communication skills among my students.

Digital Storytelling

In Dean Shareski’s latest post on his blog ‘Ideas and Thoughts”, he passes on the idea [with credit to Doug Peterson, ZeFrank, Stephen Downs among others] that Google Streetview and its ever growing database is an exceptional tool for storytelling.  Dean created and shared a video about his small hometown of Morden in Manitoba, which emphasizes the point about Google’s growing database – even relatively small towns have now been ‘Streetviewed’.

Dean also shares a link to a video by Jim Groom, saying that, “Watching Jim Groom’s video, was like literally like going for a walk with him.”  It was Jim’s video that really hit me with the power of Google Streetview.  Jim tells his story about growing up in a tight-knit community in Long Island.  This is a part of the world that I know almost nothing about, and yet after watching his video,  I feel that I would ‘know my way around’ if I was to go for a walk in his neighbourhood.  I feel that I’ve learned something about the culture that is associated with the place.  Now Jim’s story is not particularly exciting or interesting, although I do feel that I have learned about that part of New York.  It is the power of this technology that I have found exciting and interesting.  If this technology was used by someone who did have an interesting story to tell, it could be quite powerful.  Google Streetview allows anyone with the right technology, and a bit of time, to create engaging videos to support a story of a place.

So I got to thinking about place, and stories of place.  What place would I love to tell a story about, and share with my students?  I first Googled my house, and switched to Street View.  I thought that it was pretty cool that my property was on Street View, although not interesting enough to share with anyone.  Then I thought about one of my favourite places on this planet… the artists’ market square in Montmartre, Paris, France.  I Googled Montmartre, and sure enough Street View was available.  I had to call upon my memory from walking the streets of Montmartre several years ago, and eventually found my way to the artists’ square.  If done right, some very interesting stories could be told with the Street View images of this heavily trafficked place.

The man in the green shirt in the center of the image below is a painter by the name of Cawian Mahmud.   When I visited this square about six years ago with my wife, we bought four paintings from Cawian to decorate our newly purchased house.  It was quite interesting to me to ‘find’ him in street view, as I have often wondered if he still worked and painted in Paris.  Cawian’s story is just one of the details that could be interwoven into a Google Street View walk through Montmartre.

I doubt that my small attempt is a great example (especially since I haven’t yet made a video of the ‘streetview walk’), never-the-less, I think the power of Street View is evident.  Whether used by teachers, or by students, Street View can be used to create interesting stories about the culture of a place.

On-line PD – I’ll Get to the Point

In order for true quality professional development to take place, I think that we need to address some of the ways around which we think about professional development as educational systems.  Yes, it is certainly true that there are hundreds of on-line tools and resources available to enhance PD, but I don’t think that it would matter if we had hundreds of thousands of excellent tools to choose from.   These tools are simply the medium through which to facilitate PD.  If there is no unified direction of message, does it really matter what tools or media are used?

Herein lies the point.  There seems to be a lack of direction as to where we need to head in education.  There seems to be a lack of direction in aiming towards best practices in education, and there is certainly a lack of direction in how we should best utilize professional learning time.  Essentially, I believe this to be an issue of control, and I think it is time to let go.  Traditionally, educational systems and their leaders have prided themselves in their abilities to create quality professional development sessions that have been intended for the masses; a great majority of teachers.  I don’t think this works anymore.  We simply have too much choice, and that is a good thing.  Let’s embrace our power of choice.

It is time for educational systems and their leaders to understand that TEACHERS ARE LIFE-LONG LEARNERS. It is time to give up the control over how PD time is to be spent.  We need to pass this control over to the individual teachers who, as dedicated life-long learners, will ultimately decide what their best possible learning path is, and how they should best go about it.  This is how true PD will take place.  Teachers must be invested in their learning in order for it to take place. A growing number of teachers are finding many current PD opportunities are simply not engaging.

Scenario A.  A PD session is implemented with mandatory attendance from all staff members.  The PD session is designed in a sort of ‘top down’ approach in which the direction was decided upon by an educational leader.  The topic is yet another of several ‘new initiatives’.  The session is well attended, and many staff members contribute to the discussion, however others are not engaged, even sowing buttons on shirts in the back of the room.

Scenario B.  A block of time is set aside for PD opportunities to take place.  Staff members were given advance notice and ample time to ‘choose their own adventure’.  Some staff members have decided to drive to other schools in the system to meet with teachers with a similar focus.  One group in particular meets to learn photography techniques from a teacher who has already set up a successful photography program.  Other teachers decide to head to their classrooms.  One teacher uses his lap-top to watch a lecture from professor Michael Wesch via Ustream.  Another spends time watching a few TED Talks videos about creativity [like Ken Robinson’s, or Elizabeth Gilbert’s].  A small group of teachers meet to discuss potential recycling and composting projects to be implemented in the school.  One of the teachers in this group logs in to Tapped In, and they meet up with a couple of other teachers in another city who have already begun similar projects.  Another teacher browses through a list of new Web 2.0 tools and begins to play with software she was not familiar with.  Several others meet in the library for a more traditional and guided PD session and discussion about literacy.

From these example scenarios, it is my opinion that the second involves a higher level of professional development.  More teachers are engaged in their learning, as they’ve had control over the design of their learning path.  In order for this to happen, we need to change our outlook about PD.  We need to understand that professional learning can take place on-line.  We need to understand that PD can be solitary, and that professional learning can take place by watching quality lectures or YouTube and TedTalk videos.  It’s time to give the control of professional learning over to the professional who is to be learning.