Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Teaching Strategies in Virtual Education

I know, I know that I said that the last post would be it until the beginning of 2014 but I could not help myself on this one!
Lately, I have been in a debate of sorts with another colleague who has a similar level of experience in teaching but not as many years of teaching in the virtual education setting as I have who believes that the Socratic method (ie: "the lecture") should be the only method that should be used in virtual education. If you remember from the previous post, I had stated that we have a responsibility to meet students where they are at and to use our imaginations in writing online courses that will inspire students to love learning, to inspire them to dream of what could be possible and help them to develop self confidence in building a future that we all can live with.
His point of view stems from the multitude of politically motivated education initiatives that he claims have very little scientific support as to their value to promote student learning. He contends that the Socratic method is the only method that has a proven track record in student learning.
To be fair to his point of view it is true that there have been many politically motivated education initiatives in many countries that have been failures and educators and their students have suffered the foolishness of Educrats.. He points to the results of international tests in Math and Science in a cross comparison of many countries that show a lack in student achievement when particular education initiatives have been in force.
In my view, I think that he is naive in his point of view because he ignores the world that students live in, both the online and the physical world. Our students are at home in the online world because they are digital natives from birth but also that they have mastered many of the skills needed to manoeuvre in this environment and have seen first hand what technology and the Internet can provide them. As a result, their expectations in online education are higher when it comes to how they should be taught. They expect that the teacher will be well versed in all the skills and technology of the online world and will apply them in making their educational experience an enriching and relevant one. Although it is true that some students respond to the Socratic method, there are many who sought alternatives to the brick and mortar classroom to escape from this single minded form of pedagogy.
We live in an infinite universe that is brimming with infinite diversity. Why should we expect anything less than to reflect this fact in the way we educate students. I do believe that it is the educator's responsibility to critically evaluate every educational initiative that ministeries of education pass by edict to the education institutions and then ask themselves whether or not that this works in an online environment to the benefit of the majority of students.
I would want a student who takes a course from me to experience a feeling of "wow" and be stimulated to think about how what he/she is learning could impact the present and future.
My colleague suggested that I read a book that he just read as it proves his point, so I intend to do that with a critical eye.
More in 2014......

Friday, December 13, 2013

Reflections of a Virtual Educator

As we approach the end of another year, it is worthwhile to take the time to be introspective about not only what has happened this year but also how our goals in online education have changed or need adding to. I don't believe in making New Years resolutions because that have become a tired clichee.

As an online educator, I owe it to my students to review my goals in dealing with them and their education in the coming year. So year are some of my goals for online education:
  1. My students deserve an online experience that is exciting, challenging, relevant to their lives in the world they live in and inspirational. I believe that in this present age in countries in Europe, the Middle East, Asia, North America, South America, & Africa, we are engaged in a battle for the hearts and minds of young people. There are many forces in this world that are trying to shape the future. Some of these forces are beneficial and others if possessing the power lead to slavery. Young people are the focus of these efforts. As an online educator who teaches students in many countries, I need to be always aware of the cultural background and voice that my students bring to their studies. I will not teach them what to think but I will teach them how to think in ways that allows them to strive for the common good for the respective nations that they are citizens of. Sounds like a lofty and high sounding ideal doesn't it? Yet, look around at what is happening in the world today. Do we really want students who have a cynical and self-defeating view of the future that they are going to live in or do we want students who have the courage and confidence to build the future?
  2. I have found that recognizing where students are in their lives, in other words, what is important to them and how they interact with each other, has been a helpful context in reaching out to them. My sense of humour in being able to laugh with my students and not at them has been a good buffer between us and the world. I can relate to my students on a one to one basis if we can laugh together. I want to maintain that as a goal.
  3. In dealing with students I want to maintain an affirmation that what they experience as problems in their lives are real and painful to them. When there is a delay in receiving their work or the quality of their work suddenly deteriorates or drastically improves, I care enough to ask why.
  4. I want to continue to explore the idea of creating embedded virtual worlds in my world history course so that the events of world history become a living entity to them in which they participate. In the personal profile that my students see, I sort of blow away any stereotypes they may have about me as a result of my age. What they learn is that I am an avid gamer and play X-Box live games(I NEVER give out my gamer tag to my students but I constantly remind them that I can beat them anytime I choose;)), I have been involved in teaching students robotics as it relates to NASA projects which I do, to teach students that they can take a relevant and active role in real projects and I always challenge students to defend positions they take in discussions. I do believe that gaming theory does have alot to say about enhancing the virtual education experience. There are some adults who would look at my activities and suggest that I am acting childish but I think that it doesn't hurt for each of us to be able to access the child that is still part of who we are.
  5. I want to promote more discussion and dialogue in this blog. I think that this is the way that we all can grow in our understanding and experience of virtual education. There are times when I am not sure if many people actually read what is written here. However, as an explorer, it is important to take calculated risks.
  6. Lastly, I want to encourage my students to take time and turn off their computers and stop and enjoy the world in all its splendor. I think that students often have their heads so buried in social media that they truly fail to see the beauty that the world has to offer. Many great men and women have gained the inspiration to do magnificent things for the common good from taking the time to do this. This is time well spent!
Enjoy the holidays in which ever way you choose to celebrate them.
More in the new year............

Monday, December 9, 2013

Challenges in Virtual Education: Teachers


One of the linchpins to the success of a virtual education enterprise are the educators that become stakeholders in it. This would seem to be an obvious statement and yet in our societies there are many people who believe that the quality of educational life of a teacher has no connection with the quality of the educational experience for students. Peter Senge in his book, "The Fifth Discipline"(1990), posed a very intriguing question which asked:"How can we create powerful learning experiences and environments for students if they do not first exist for educators?" Although this source is dated the question is still relevant today. Any virtual education system must consider what it provides as a learning environment for its staff first before it does so for its students. Learning environments for educators should break away from the traditional mold of institutional professional development and be willing to make full use of what the Internet has to offer. We can build engaging, inspiring and challenging environments if we are willing to accept the premise that there is a logical connection between the learning conditions of teachers and students.

With regards to challenges faced by educators in creating a learning environment for their students, I have previously introduced a phrase that describes an expectation that should be important to the online education experience. The phrase is "thoughtful engagement". In evaluation for learning and of learning, is there evidence of thoughtful engagement of the student with his/her subject matter? Why is this important in an online environment? Some students across a wide range of curriculum areas have associated the cutting and pasting of source information from the Internet as a fulfillment of the requirements of a given assignment. Since these students are in fact digital natives, performing such actions have become second nature to them and in reality does not require any thoughtful engagement in the subject matter at all. Part of the problem has been the belief by educators that it is expedient to just transpose assignment matter that worked in the brick and mortar classroom into an online environment. Mark this up to expediency or professional laziness but the truth of the matter, it lacks the imagination required to work in the online education environment. A more thoughtful approach to designing learning tasks in the online environment is needed with the focus on engaging the heart first and then the mind of the student. Engaging the heart means that as a course designer you have taken into account where the student is in life, how he/she interacts with his/her environment and that you have taken the time to sample the hopes and dreams that students have for their future. It means that you have equipped yourself with the necessary tools that become extensions of your imagination. Sadly the case is too often that students' dreams and hopes wither in the high school environment because of a systemic cynicism about the future that seems to be pervasive in brick and mortar schools. They are flooded with media reports from all over the globe that impress on them that it is hopeless to consider a positive and fulfilling future given the tragedy of humanity as it unfolds before their eyes instantly thanks to the media's obsessional greed in defining what news should be proclaimed. This needs to change and although online education will not solve this, it can contribute to helping to  counteract its effects on the hearts and minds of young people. It starts with courageous educators willing to challenge this cancerous mindset.

More later....

Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Challenges for Virtual Education: Administrators

In an earlier post I gave one example of a virtual education system that has learned from experience how to enable an enriching educational experience for students. I would like to emphasize that this is just one example of a number of developing virtual education systems around the globe. One thing that should be pointed out is that a number of established brick and mortar school systems are experimenting with virtual education but their focus is on keeping students in the physical school and allowing some courses to be taken online. This is the blended model and these systems have met with varying degrees of success. There is also quite a difference between privately owned education systems and those that are funded by taxpayers in a variety of countries.

Having said that there are challenges in developing an online school that need to be met. One important challenge is to make sure that those who are stakeholders in an online education venture, public or private, have a clear understanding of the vision, mission and guiding principles that such a system will have. This is an important challenge for those who will function as administrators of such a system. As I have stated before not every administrator who is successful in the brick and mortar system will necessarily be successful in the virtual education realm. It is of prime importance that administrators with very specific qualities be in place in order for the system to start off on the right foot. Such qualities as being a risk taker, eclectic, creative, critical thinking, technology savvy, collaboration leader, decisive...etc. are not necessarily primary qualities we usually associate with the typical administrator. However, in the fast moving environment of the Internet and technology, these are qualities that will bear fruit at crucial junctures.
With respect to building the system, a decision needs to be made as to what LMS the system will utilize. One that I have already mentioned is D2L which provides essentially a turn-key solution to this requirement. A less expensive route that could be used is Moodle. Moodle continues to develop and add tools to enhance the LMS. The primary requirements for the LMS choice that is made is that it should be:
  1. User friendly for staff, students and administration.
  2. Should present an immersive, interactive experience. With respect to students, the desktop that they would see should have more than one method of communication (ie:e-mail, chat) and access links to Facebook, Twitter IM...etc. The reason for this is that this is the world that students feel most comfortable operating in. This means a lower learning curve technologically speaking.
  3. Should have an established Help Desk that staff and students would have access to. The purpose is that we understand that technology is not perfect and neither are the technology skills that staff and students bring to the virtual environment. Teachers should NOT be responsible for solving technology issues!
  4. Should have an area that would serve as a repository for technology tutorials for both staff and students. As technology advances, there should be a area that students can go to upgrade their skills. For example, if a students wants to use Prezi as an alternative presentation tool to PowerPoint, there should be an area where the student can go to take a self-guiding tutorial. This builds a sense of confidence in the system and also allows for the development of a sense of community.
  5. There should be an area similar to the locker in the brick and mortar school where students can download and store everything from You Tube videos to slide presentations for future reference.
  6. Ability to be personalized by staff and students. In order for students and staff to take ownership in this enterprise, the system should be flexible enough for students and staff to personalize their work area. For example being able to add widgets such as To-Do-List, Contacts, Calendar, Time, RSS feeds that they want to track...etc changes the desktop from a sterile mass produced entity to something that is unique to the individual. It becomes something that they call their own.
  7. The system must have a high level of security to protect the privacy of those who are stakeholders in it. As I mentioned in an earlier post, we are moving from master password systems to more biometric security as it becomes more and more sophisticated.
More later.......

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

A Virtual Education Example: D2L and the Virtual High School of Ontario(Canada)

In discussing the ideas surrounding virtual education, it is always wise to show such ideas in action. Having been associated with D2L(Desire2Learn) from its inception, I have seen this company grow and evolve into being one of the largest and most effective online education providers in North America. Rather than me go on about its merits, I am providing a couple of YouTube videos:
  1. The first one is an interview with Mr. John Baker who is CEO of D2L.
  2. The second one is an example of an online high school that has its roots in D2L and makes use of the LMS that D2L provides.
The first video was conducted with ABC News Australia(to state the obvious;))

The above video gives you an idea of the vision of D2L in regards to online learning.
The next video is an interview with Mr. Stephen Baker, Principal of Virtual High School of Ontario(Canada).

So what is it that makes this virtual education system successful? There are a number of factors:
  1. The application of the D2L LMS is completely online. All courses are completely optimized for the virtual environment. There are no books that students have to buy in order to work in this environment 
  2. The unique problems that arise in the online virtual environment have been thought through and addressed effectively. For example, how does one deal with the problem of plagiarism by students and even staff in an online environment? A three level plagiarism policy was adopted to meet this challenge head on. How does one administer a final exam and be assured of the integrity of the results in an online environment? How can unit tests be conducted effectively? All these questions have been addressed in a thoughtful way.
  3. Staff are completely comfortable working in such an environment and constantly upgrade their skills as new virtual education tools are introduced.
  4. Teachers are explorers, innovators and are willing to step out of their comfort zone.
  5. Students have constant and timely communication or feedback on their efforts. Teachers act not only as instructors but also as mentors with the goal of encouraging life-long learning.
I am not saying that D2L is the only Virtual Education LMS in the online education system. What I am saying is that what they do they do well and their results speak for themselves.
If you have suggestions of other online education providers, please feel free to comment.......

Next, the challenges of the virtual education environment....

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Blended Virtual Education: Permanent Entity or Transition Point

One of the ongoing debates in virtual education is whether or not blended virtual education is here to stay or whether it is just a transition point to where we are really going, that being students totally integrated into online education. Depending who you speak to, there are a number of objections to the idea of students being totally integrated into online education. Like most hot topics, you need to carefully examine the motives behind the positions that people subscribe to in the education establishment. Here are some potential objections to the total online education integration and a translation what they are really saying:
  1. Students need the social contact with other students that they can only get in a brick and mortar school. This objection has been around for awhile and is often raised in many developed countries. This objection flies in the face of the reality that exists in 21st century teen relationships. If you were to add up the number of hours that students spend playing online games, using Facebook, using IM, Twitter, and other social media, you would come to the conclusion that students have re-defined the type of contact they seek with their peers. So, why do people keep bringing up this objection? Part may be due to a lingering nostalgia parents and the general public still have for their own school days. Part of the reason is political. The truth is that as enrollment figures for students in brick and mortar schools continue to decrease in many countries, money allotted to these institutions is starting to dry up, resulting in the closure of low enrolment schools in order to preserve a dwindling tax base. This has a domino effect within the education systems. What is interesting is that as enrolment figures have been falling in the brick and mortar schools, the enrolment figures for online schools have been more than doubling each year. What does that tell us?
  2. Students do not have the self-discipline or maturity to handle online learning. This depends upon what age groups we are talking about. It is true that in the primary and junior grades that students are not mature enough but their level of technological competence is advancing at these levels every year. The skills that they need to be independent learners must be modelled and taught to the same degree in the online school as it would be in the brick and mortar school. An interesting development in some online schools is that they are now offering online education to students as low as grade 4. It is still in the refining stage but it is progressing.
  3. Students get involved in online education because they can receive higher evaluations of their work that they would never get in the brick and mortar schools. In other words it is easier to get an A in an online system than in the regular schools. Ignoring for the moment how insulting this statement is to the professionalism of online teachers, it should be pointed out that ministries of education that oversee education both in the online environment and the brick and mortar schools are more demanding and stringent in regards to standards for online schools than brick and mortar schools. Teachers in online schools need to have command of not only the environment that they work in but also the checking of the integrity of the assignments that are submitted to them. Given the nature of the Internet, this is an absolute necessity! The motive behind this objection is political because it affects very powerful teacher organizations and education administrators who have a vested interest in protecting their turf.
So what about it? Is blending learning a lasting viable alternative to the total integrated online education experience and total brick and mortar school experience or is blended learning a transition point that will disappear as technology advances in the virtual education environment.

Next----Some examples and videos of virtual education schools that are successfully engaging the imaginations of students, teachers and parents. If you have some suggestions, you know where I live;)

Friday, November 22, 2013

Global Virtual Education: A Challenge to Google, Apple, Microsoft & Cisco: Part II

In my last post, I issued a challenge to the technology sector to step up and broaden their vision in regards to online education. Instead of using generalities, in this post I would like to get down to specifics on what the technology sector could do if given the right incentives.
My first suggestion is that these companies need to change their mission statements to include:"to re-invest in human capital". The rationale behind using this statement is this: if we are to inspire students to be architects of the future that we are all compelled to live in, they need to aspire to something that they value as integral to their future. A number of years ago if you asked students what they would like to do in the future, you would hear statements like I would like to be a doctor or I would like to be a lawyer or a scientist and a number of other esteemed professions. When we ask students the same question today you hear fewer responses like the above and more responses such as I don't know. We are starting to hear responses from students such as I don't care because I don't see anything worth aspiring to that hasn't been compromised or corrupted by human failings so what's the use! So what does this mean other than an indictment of our societies?

What we see more and more is a disengagement of students from the norms of our societies because they are not engaged as active stakeholders in the unfolding future. This situation can only change if we establish things in our society that are future oriented to re-engage our students. When students would rather spend a majority of their time engrossed in keeping up their Facebook page or keeping up with the tweets on Twitter than engaging in furthering and enriching their education, we are losing great intellectual potential that could have great benefits for our societies.

This brings me back to the technology giants. The relationship that they have with global education needs to change, especially as more and more students join the virtual education systems. The technology companies have the means and power to create future oriented structures that will inspire students. We already know that the present offerings of technology companies have influenced students as young as five years old by introducing them to hardware and software tools that would have been unheard of years ago. What they need to do in a new relationship is to be come partners in furthering "real world project based learning" with online educators. This type of enhanced learning would allow students to experience that their efforts have real effects that are valued by our societies. Ask yourself this question: "Why do students enjoy playing virtual world games so much?" Besides the fact that such games stimulate all the senses, students also experience immediate feedback that because of their actions the future is changing.
When I was an educator in the brick and mortar school I involved students in collaborative projects involving NASA and also projects involving robotics. The goal of such projects and understanding was that student actions had a real effect on what was happening in the real world.
Here are some specific suggestions for the technology companies to think about:
  1. The creation of virtual online worlds tied to online education is something that the technology companies could support and have the means to do so. These virtual online worlds could be made available to students as a means of exploring new concepts in the courses that they are involved in. These virtual online worlds could be integrated into mentoring matrices where students enter the world and are able to interact with people on the leading edge of the disciplines related to their course and indulge in what if.. scenarios that would help them clarify their thinking.
  2. Due to the extensive world contacts that the technology companies have, they could identify real world projects that would match up students with the project hosts to tackle the envisioned project. Much along the same line as I was able to do with matching students up with NASA projects. The experience for the student would be inspirational and exciting. The possibilities could touch on everything from Nanotechnology to medical robotics.
  3. Technology companies could host conferences devoted to students much in the same way as they host conferences for educators. The one difference would be that such conferences for students should not only serve to introduce them to new technology but should also involve them in real world project based learning as demonstrations at the conference.
  4. Another possibility is for the technology companies to establish higher learning institutes to foster the develop of new paths for student learning. This has been started in Japan with institutions established to promote online gaming development.
  5. Another idea is to fully develop accessibility to the online world. In remote areas such as in villages in India, some satellite Internet access has been developed in remote villages for the purposes of education. This idea needs to be pursued on a global scale.
One of the problems with doing such things in the past has been national borders and national loyalties. In the past, technology companies have offered special offerings to students within their national borders to the exclusion of those outside national borders. Given the nature of the Internet, this is an archaic concept and needs to change. In the past when I spoke to conferences, there was a continuum of reactions from the audience that progressed from shock to curiosity and excitement.

So, this is my challenge to the technology sector. YOU NEED TO CHANGE!  As for the return on the investment for your investors, fully engaging our students in the creation of the future will have benefits for all. Remember! The future belongs to those who have the courage to build it.
Tweet this message to the tech companies! 
More later...

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Global Virtual Education: A Challenge to Google, Apple, Microsoft & Cisco :Part I

In an earlier post I suggested that global online education is in need of a revolution on many fronts. Students need to be able to be part of something greater than themselves and it is in the best interests of all global societies that students see that they are valuable and have a relevant role in the formation of the future. If we have any hope for the future development of global societies, it will rest on how well we inspire our students to aspire to a goal greater than themselves. The alternative is to continue to have students use social media in which they lose themselves in daily self-absorption and never really become stakeholders in the formation of a viable and exciting future.

This brings me to make this challenge. I would like to throw down the gauntlet before Google, Apple, Microsoft, Cisco and other technology giants to have a greater vision of what virtual education could be if they could truly commit to a greater vision. I know what these companies will say. They will say that we already do a great deal for education. Google will say that we have created Google Apps for Education, Apple & Microsoft will say that they have provided their hardware and software to education institutions at great reductions and Cisco will say that they have provided the networking technology to connect education institutions with the rest of the world. This is all very true! The questions that need to be asked are:
  1. What is there guiding vision with regards to their products and services?
  2. What are their motives in dealing with education sector?
  3. Do they subscribe to the "industrial model" of education or do they subscribe to a model that is more fitting for the 21st century and beyond? In other words, do they see students as consumers or as creators of new knowledge and skills?
  4. Are they willing to step up and offer something radical that will inspire students to see themselves as architects of the future?
The question that you might be wondering about is why would we expect the technology sector to take on a greater role in virtual education. I would suggest to you that if the technology sector focuses on self-serving goals then our students who subscribe to the technology will never see beyond the present. The technology sector has woven its products into the very fabric of life for us and our students and if our students are to become inspired explorers, creators and devoted to a better future for society, the technology sector needs to have a greater vision of the future of education.

So, what are some of the things that these great technology leaders could be doing to inspire students to greater achievements?

More in the next post

Virtual Education: Security Issues or Just Paranoia?: Part II

It should be obvious to educators who spend a great deal of time online that they need to be constantly up to date when it comes to online protection. Just recently Adobe was hacked and at risk were all of their customer records. We should not take too much solace in that we have security software installed to protect our technology. The real problem is not the software but human nature. Some questions for introspection would be the following:
  1. Do I keep my security software up to date? This should be a "no brainer" but the frightening stats tell a different story. There many people online who do not have a clue whether their protection is up to date or not. They just assume that the software they purchased a couple of years ago is keeping everything in check.
  2. Is the security software provider keeping up to date with the growing malware threats everyday? Surprisingly enough, some very big name providers of security software are not as adept as their advertising would have you believe. It is important to check out what "security experts" have to say about the security software companies. Be sure to also check their affiliations to make sure that you don't have a cheer-leader for a company that has a vested interest in promoting that company. I know that sounds a little cynical but it is wise not to underestimate what lengths these companies will go to in order to hold onto market share.
  3. The use of passwords are a real problem because people have a dilemma that many have not resolved. That is they make up passwords that are easy to remember but are also easy to decipher using the right utility. Again as I have mentioned before, it would be worth your while to start to investigate the the advances made in biometric access. When people hear the word biometric they think of fingerprint readers but biometrics have advanced beyond that. One program you might want to investigate as a preliminary step is called:"Fast Access Anywhere" which have versions for tablets as well.
  4. The last thing to consider is the use of 256 DES encryption software for any documents you consider to be personal or sensitive. These programs convert documents into a form that looks like gibberish before they are sent over the Internet so that if anyone was to intercept the document before it reached the person you are sending it to, it would not make sense and it would take a lot of computing power to try to decipher what you had sent. However, nothing dealing with technology stands still and at the writing of this post, the 256 DES software may not be safe enough.
So, what does all this have to do with online education?? More than you realize! If you are going to have students from all over the world logging in to your virtual school, you have a legal obligation to protect their identities, their work and their official scholastic records from tampering or destruction. A great deal of careful, critical thinking needs to go into the design of a LMS with security as an important priority.

Next---- A Challenge to Google, Apple, Microsoft, Cisco!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Virtual Education: Security Issues or Just Paranoia?-Part I

In the last post, I hinted that if we are to proceed fully into an immersive, online education environment, we need to consider the question of security because when dealing with the personal records and lives of our students, we have an obligation to protect them not only from themselves but also from those who live on the Internet to cause chaos in the lives of others. The Internet has a been called "the wild west" in the past because any attempts to control it or regulate it in any way has been strongly resisted by those who feel that all information should be free and that personal expression should not have limits on it. This is an understandable point of view when you consider how regulated every hour and minute of our lives are in the real world. However, it does present us with a paradox that needs to be resolved. The Internet is great for the vast amount of information and useful contacts that it provides for those in education. However, it is also a dangerous place because of its very nature. The perceived anonymous nature of our presence on the Internet is really a mirage for those who do not have the skill to keep their identity and the details of their lives known only to those they choose to share with. A simple analogy is if you are in high school and you tell a few friends that you are going to have a small party, what are the chances that through social media the news of that party is going to bring many more people to your house than you expected?
Unfortunately, there are those who live on the Internet who have virtually made their identities unknown or invisible but they do so because they wish to prey on naive people who populate the Internet for their own gain and purposes.

So, how does this have anything to do with online education? Don't online schools have computer people who are network savvy who know how to construct VPN's, firewalls and other security measures? Let me answer that with a story. " A number of years ago I had the task of being a computer site administrator for an education institution. All of our computers were connected to a central server with the appropriate firewalls and even a proxy server in place. We had just designed and posted our first home page for our institution complete with the principal's opening message and a picture of him. Over a weekend a student who attended the school downloaded the necessary code from the Internet to defeat the firewall, delete the picture of the principal and replace that picture with a picture of "Chucky the Killer Doll". He then proceeded to obtain information from the server. He left a message on the start up screen:"Catch us if you can, ha,ha". Although this student knew where to find information for the task that he wanted to do, he really did not know all the details on how networks operate. He didn't realize that a service provider for the school might have backups of activity to the server and the recorded ip addresses of the activity. On the Monday morning, we went into the students class, went up to his desk and said we got your message. He was escorted to the principal and the police were called. As the site administrator I had all the necessary protocols in place that should have made the server secure. Everybody received an education that day! The point is this: If this can happen in a brick and mortar school, would an online school be any more secure?

So what are some possible suggestions for an online environment?
  1. First, any online education institution should take a close look at the security of the LMS that they are using. Are there holes that could be exploited through the use of DoS exploits, bots or even social engineering? In my dealing with students, I have come across brilliant students who understand programming languages, network protocols and forensic computer testing. these students were students who were what we might term "ethical hackers". These are the types that an online education system should hire to keep their systems secure.
  2. Secondly, it would be interesting to take a look at the developing science of Biometrics. The use of the term "private passwords" really is an oxymoron. Passwords are rarely private or kept private because of the advance of password sniffer utilities and other stealth apps that are available on the Internet. What is needed is a single sign-on access that is unique to the biometrics of the person using the online education system. Either the online institution or the student should provide the necessary technology and no access should be granted unless there is biometric verification. One school in California, U.S.A. uses biometrics to enable students to login and write exams. The biometric chosen should be as unique as possible to the individual.
I know this has been a little technical but we all need to truly comprehend how intricately woven our lives have become with the technology we use and its advance. A useful question to consider is: Does technology serve us or do we serve technology? You can see the answer every time a cell phone tower goes down or when we receive a text from someone..

More later ....

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Administrator Skills in a Virtual Education Environment: Part II

One of the everyday tasks of the brick and mortar school administrator is that he or she must set the moral tone for the school. He or she must also make sure that they have developed strategies for dealing with lapses in moral judgement that occur in the relationships among students, relationships among staff and relationships between staff and students. This, of course, assumes that the administrator has sound moral judgment himself/herself. In 21st century societies, given the vast continuum of moral action or inaction, this is not something that can be taken for granted. Creeping moral relativism has clouded how we measure right from wrong behaviour.

What about the virtual education realm? We know from research on the environment of the brick and mortar school that the Internet has provided students with great potential for doing great things but it has also given us a window into the dark side of  how the Internet can be used to manipulate and even destroy the reputations of others. The use of IM, Facebook, Twitter has shown how these can be used to hurt others in many ways people in the past had never thought possible. Bullying, slander and discrimination now takes on global proportions and has had such tragic results as students taking their own lives. How can an online administrator get a handle on such things? The first thing to recognize is the nature of what students can do on an online environment without supervision. Students have never known a day when they weren't connected to the Internet while many adults, parents and teachers, are still playing catch up. Students know a great deal about the Internet but they don't know everything. One of the areas that does not appeal to a majority of them is networks and how they function. For many, the first introduction they have had to networks was through online gaming systems. It is in this area that an administrator needs to demonstrate his or her strength and when dealing with online students there needs to be a demonstration of that power. Use of such powerful network software such as "Net Support" gives teachers or administrators a tool that they can use to demonstrate "who is in control". There are a minority of student "crackers" often referred to as "script kiddies" who do have the power to thwart such a plan but not for long. Online administrators need to be security aware and have solutions to demonstrate their power.
Much of this depends on the LMS platform and what is built into it to maintain and keep power from the dark side.

More later on security.......

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Administrator Skills in an Virtual Education Environment--Part I

Over many years as a student and as an educator I have had the privilege of working under the leadership of truly gifted administrators in education. At the present time I have the privilege of working with some very gifted administrators, in an advisory capacity, who are excited about the potential that online education has for students now and in the future.
Reflecting on the qualities that online administrators should have has led me to suggest the following assessment:

  1. Online administrators should be totally in synch with the vision of where virtual education should be taking us. If they are in synch, then they should be totally comfortable working within such an environment. There is a caveat here in the realization that the skill set that administrators possess in the brick and mortar school may not be totally transferable or even relevant to the online environment. What this means is that the online administrator must be prepared to step out of his or her comfort zone and adapt to a new set of skill requirements. Just as virtual education is not for all students, it is not for all administrators. The determination for this rests on a number of factors such as level of adaptability to changing technology, personal career ambitions and leadership style. It requires administrators to be brutally honest with themselves.
  2. Online administrators should be online leaders. They should be willing to help co- develop professional online communities that will serve as vital link for their staff to other professional teachers on a global level. They should encourage their staff to participate in collaborative projects as hosts or to participate with hosts based in other countries. They should demonstrate how to channel the use of social media into productive areas that enhance education for staff and students.
  3. Online administrators, like teachers, should be explorers. They should be willing to explore developing technologies, such as the creating of immersive virtual worlds , that can be embedded into various curriculum courses.
  4. Online administrators should be aware of standards of assessment. With online education that is global in nature, there is a great opportunity of being able to measure your assessment standards with those in other countries around the world and ask the question:"How do we measure up?" Is it possible to come up with hybrid assessment standards that are more closely synched to international standards? Is it possible to incorporate the use of professionals on the leading edge of the world disciplines as co-assessors on student projects across the curriculum?
  5. Are online administrators able to "kick the habit"? Are they willing and able to divest the online education system of the "industrial model" of education and work towards developing a model of online education that will focus on students producing new knowledge and skills that will enrich societies? Are they willing to help put "life-long learning" into perspective by promoting the mentoring of communities in online forums? Are they willing to help spearhead accessibility to online education as partners with other agencies in parts of the world where this is a problem?
Yes, I know. These are big questions but the truth is, based upon my experience with administrators, I believe that there are collaborative administrator groups out there that need to engage in discussion of these very questions. They will most certainly be the kernel of administrators who will help pave the way forward in online education.

Just as a side note, I am still upgrading this blog and yes, I am adaptable;)

Friday, November 8, 2013

Teacher Skills in a Virtual Education Environment: Part II

Following up from the last post, the skills that teachers must possess are similar to those found in the brick and mortar schools except for one difference that is peculiar to the online education  environment. In the brick and mortar school teachers must work within the constraints of the school's time and organization. Within the online education environment, time is not crushed into the dutiful eight hour segments in order to fulfill the teaching mandate that you have been given. I do know that educators often put in more hours daily than what is required but even within those extra hours the constraints exist. Teachers in the online environment have a greater freedom in organizing how they use their time than that possessed by the brick and mortar school teacher.
As a result of this freedom, teachers need to have refined the skill of time management as it applies on a global scale.
Here is a question for teachers in the brick and mortar environment: How much time do you spend daily on innovation and refinement of the lessons you teach? How much time daily do you devote to upgrading your skills? Teachers in an online environment must have the skills to pursue these two goals daily because of the changing nature of the online environment.
To that end, teachers in online education should belong to "online communities". Google makes available such communities to educators. Discerning which of the myriad communities you should belong to the real test of your skills. Belonging to such communities enables you to daily share ideas and receive ideas from educators all over the world. One of the important points that should be made concerning such communities is that you should always be wary of how much time such communities are devoted to the social aspects of dealing with people that you have things in common with.
Teachers in an online education environment should be able to develop networks with other groups of interest. 

More later....

Monday, November 4, 2013

Teacher Skills in a Virtual Education Environment: Part I

The first thing I would like to state is that I am by no means a perfect teacher. I am a teacher who is constantly humbled by the skills and wisdom of others and my sincerest desire is that I will continue to be inspired by others and continue to learn so that I can innovate and design lessons that are powerful and meaningful to students. Students today are desperately in need of adults who can inspire them. Too often what they face are adults in positions of power who are not willing to give the effort needed to truly inspire students to do great things. Students need to feel and experience hope for their future; that they have a chance to be the architects of that future. What many students experience when dealing with adults is cold cynicism about the political system they live under, the demands of daily life and the morality of how people relate to others. These are damning statements that some may take issue with and they are within their rights to do so. However, if they agree they are then in position where they have a moral imperative to do something about the issue for the sake of all young people who are being educated.

The teacher is the one person who is in the position to truly make a difference in the life of a student. The skills and experience that he or she brings to the art of teaching have an impact if used in a way with the vision of where we want education to take us in the future. An important fact that we need to keep in mind is that the student's future is also our future. If students grow to be citizens who have a cynical point of view of life and do not feel a connection to the adults who came before, then we are setting ourselves up for a future of despair.
Given the online environment, there are certain skills and attitudes that a teacher should have in order to help students succeed:
  1. Innovator and Co-Learner: Given the nature of the environment, a teacher should be an innovator of new teaching practices and should be able to adapt quickly to the changes that technology brings to the art of teaching. He or she needs to put his or her ego away and admit that like students, they are constantly learning. It is o.k. to admit to your students that you do not know everything there is to know about this new environment; that you with the student are willing to learn.
  2. Explorer: Teachers need to be explorers. Exploration always involves risks. Therefore, teachers need to be able to be risk takers if in doing so the education of their students is enriched.
  3. Inter-Disciplinary Collaborators: Teachers need to be strong enough to go beyond their area of expertise and rely on the expertise of those in other disciplines. One of the most effective tools used in early online education was a volunteer program called:"Ask the Expert". This was a program where people on the forefront of various disciplines offered their time to interact with students to engage them to think about life from the point of view of their discipline. Students NEED to be exposed to an interdisciplinary approach to solving problems. I know that the education systems give "lip service" suggesting that they provide this but I am sorry but from my experience, it isn't good enough.
  4. Challengers: Students need teachers who are not afraid to challenge students and their thinking. Too many teachers are willing to allow students to back away from statements that they have made without forcing them to confront the flaws in their reasoning. The intent is not to depress the student or cause them to lose hope. The intent is to get them to examine their thinking critically from more than one point of view. They need to be able to clarify and refine if necessary. They need to be taught that when they take a position on an issue that they defend that position using verifiable evidence. The beauty of online education is that if this approach is taken, students from countries all over the world now see an issue from many points of view. these points of view allow them to see cultural, regional and in fact global biases that they couldn't experience in a brick and mortar school. A course in logical reasoning should be a mandatory first course in an online education system for teachers and students.
  5. Eclectic: In order for a teacher to be an innovator, he or she should be able to draw on thinking from many levels. This requires a  mind that can free itself from the mundane things of life.
If you wish to offer comments on these posts, please feel free....
More later....

Friday, November 1, 2013

Student Skills in a Virtual Education Environment: Part II

In regards to student skills in a virtual education environment, we come to one that is problematic but essential to getting the most out of what a virtual education environment has to offer.

Collaboration and leadership among students all focused on a specific task has been seen in varying degrees of effectiveness in the brick and mortar schools. However, in an online environment where students may be spread across the globe, the asynchronous nature of the environment presents a problem when you want to have students gather to be involved in a moderated debate or discussion. So what is a possible solution or "work around" to this problem?

One possibility is that when a student registers, a notice is presented on their desktop environment that on a certain date, at a certain time, they are expected to login to the discussion area and be prepared to contribute in a collaborative and leadership capacity. To make this possible, we take some guidance from gaming theory and what is observed. In large open online game environments, young people login and take on specific roles or characters who then interact with each other and the environment that they are a part of. Their decisions affect how the story progresses and also the potential outcome. In interacting with other young people who also have roles to play, they learn how to collaborate and problem solve on a level that is above what normally happens in the classroom. The potential of gaming theory as it applies to online education is exciting. Given the great advances in HD graphics and the sophistication of gaming engines, we have the tools to change online education in tangible and motivating ways.
Consider this scenario: You login to the online education interface and specifically your world history course. You are studying the race to develop the atomic bomb during World War II. You enter a virtual world portal where you have a choice: become a Nazi scientist who has been asked to develop an atomic weapon to further the goals of the Third Reich or become an American scientist assigned to work on the Manhattan Project in the U.S. Which ever character you choose, you will make decisions individually and in collaboration with others that determine the outcome of the project. In preparation, you access biographies, scientific reports, ..etc. As a result of the decisions of others, events happen that cause you to re-think your approach and plans. The central concept of History, "cause and effect", is played out throughout the project. This just a simple rendition of the potential of gaming theory for online education. You can probably think of many other possibilities that apply to other courses.
The point is that collaborative and leadership skills are honed in virtual simulations. Consider the popularity of an online world such as "Second Life". I have not accessed this simulation in awhile so I don't know if it is still popular but it does demonstrate some of the possibilities.
Imagination is the key to developing online education to where it should be and it does spell the demise of the idea of taking exactly what you do in the classroom and transferring it to an online environment. Learning should not only enrich the student's education experience but it should also be exciting to the student.

More later....

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Student Skills in A Virtual Education Environment: Part I

Up to this point I have indicated to you that what is needed is a revolution in education that will fit with the online education environment. I have implied, directly and indirectly, that transposing the present system found in "brick and mortar" schools won't cut it. What we need is a defining vision and mission that will capitalize on the potential opportunities of educating students from a global perspective. Such a position demands a re-examination of the skills that students, teachers and administrators will need in order to make the experience of education enriching not only for the stakeholders in education but ultimately for the future of our societies.

Based upon my experience as an online educator for teens, the following skills that I identify below are essential and do not come naturally to students, even though, they are digital natives:

  1. Self-Discipline: Unlike the programmed school day that dictates where a student needs to be and when, the online environment gives students a level of autonomy that they have never known. Time management is an essential skill mainly because the teacher or administrator is not going to constantly prod the student to access and labour at his/her chosen course of study. Many online schools do have a time limit in which to complete a course of study but it is still up to the student to organize his/her time around other aspects of their daily life. The fact that many online schools operate 24/7 for 365 days of the year allows for a customized, individualized plan but the planning still lies with the student. Having said that, it should be pointed out that online education is not for every student. Careful and honest introspection is necessary before making the decision to embark on virtual education. For example, students have to ask themselves whether or not they can maintain the necessary focus without being sidetracked to Facebook, Twitter or IM which become the same distractions found in the brick and mortar school. The difference is that there is not going to be a well meaning adult, other than parents, who will get you back on track.
  2. Discerning Judgement: The Internet is a world that is ever expanding and the amount of information on a myriad of topics is growing exponentially. Not everything that is posted to the Internet has value, not everything has truth value and most is posted from a particular worldview that very often reflects a bias that appeals to specific global groups. The student needs to be able to judge what is verifiable and valued information and what information is in reality disinformation posted to persuade people to accept a particular point of view uncritically . In broader strokes students should have the skill of being able to judge which websites are valid and useful and which ones are not. There does exist checklists for judging the intrinsic value of websites that can be found on the Internet. Other skills that are implied here are being able to judge facts from opinions, to be able to judge arguments from non-arguments, to be able to evaluate evidence offered in support of arguments made and to be able to construct effective arguments.
  3. Emotional Reasoning vs Logical Reasoning: One of the problems that students have is that they can easily be manipulated by emotional presentations that are designed to elicit affirmation of a viewpoint without taking the time to examine all points of view and the evidential support of all sides in the issue. What should be the case is that after examining all sides and the evidence, a decision is made in support of a particular point of view and then a passionate presentation is reasonable and valid. Too often students receive an emotional presentation on an issue and are then manipulated to accept the point of view before closely examining the presentation for bias, evidence that is verifiable from a reputable source and false statements.
More later.....

Monday, October 28, 2013

Virtual Education: Re-Create the Wheel or Throw It Out?

This past week I attended a technology conference in Niagara Falls Canada. During the three days that I attended, there were a number of things that I observed that I think are pertinent to a discussion of virtual education.
There were three main and familiar groups represented: Google, Microsoft and the Social Media camps. One of the observations that I arrived at was that we still can not overcome the idea of  promoting the consumer complex when it comes to education. In all the sessions, including the keynote sessions, the theme was the same. You must get and use this app or that app. There were elaborate presentations using a multitude of online tools but the underlying message was the same:"Be good consumers and we will do everything else for you."
In my opinion, this is a death sentence for the advancement of the present generation and the next . For once, it would be nice for a conference to have the theme that in this conference we are going to have you collaborate to create new knowledge. You will need to consider present barriers that exist to advancing our societies and cultures and develop a prototype solution. In working together, you will need to set up times so that you may draw in the voices of expertise from other areas of the planet.
At the end, your collaborative group will share and defend the vision that this effort is based on.

Young people who are digital natives to the online world need something to aspire to. Being consumed in the social media environment may satisfy an internal need to belong but it is time that the will never get back. It is time that they could devote to exciting explorations into the creation of new ideas and new knowledge that will help build a viable future; a future of amazing possibilities.

Teachers in online education need to be innovators of new techniques of teaching and true mentors on which students can pose exciting ideas. Teachers need to dissect and dispose of the industrial model of education. In one of my sessions which was hosted by a University of Toronto professor, he postulated that the industrial model of education will never disappear. He then proceeded to use a PowerPoint presentation and gave us a Socratic lecture all the while complaining about the faults of the technology he was using. Ironically, the title of his lecture was :"Surviving the Coming Online Education Age..." What is wrong with this picture? Is this typical of post secondary teaching? If so is it any wonder that many students in the lecture hall are on Facebook and Twitter??

The advancing technology is making possible things that we have never dreamed about in the past. However, in order to benefit from these advances we need to be part of the new knowledge and skills exploration and production. We need to use our imagination and inspire others to explore this new frontier and to break the addiction that makes others a profit but does not inspire others to use new skills.

More later....

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Virtual Education: A Question of Vision

One of the great experiences that I had in education was the opportunity to teach Russian history to teens.It was even more interesting to me because I was not teaching from an American or Canadian world view but from the viewpoint of the Russian people. One of more useful resources to get a feel for the history of these proud people was a book by Sergei Alekseyev titled: "Russian History in Tales"(Progress Publishers, 1975) . A primary lesson that I learned from this resource was there was a very good reason why people such as Catherine the Great and Peter the Great were in fact called "great". These were Russian leaders who had an understanding of where their people were at and even more important a credible vision as to where their people should be in the unfolding future of the world.
One problem that we have in education is the lack of a defining vision for what education should do for society.
Two points of view are: (1) Education should reflect society and seek to support its direction, and (2) Education should be an instigator of change in society for the better. If you consider the first view point then your efforts as educators may be reduced to "navel staring" and you could becomes slaves to other forces that have a different agenda in society. If you consider the second point of view then it becomes clear that a defining vision of where we would like society to go is absolutely fundamental for moving forward.

With the arrival of virtual education, we now have access to a mosaic of visions that are defined by a multitude of cultures. Never before have we had so much access to global points of view on where the planet should proceed in the future. The real trick is in judging which visions are viable for global citizens and which are equally sustainable.
Where are the men and women of great vision in our societies? Going back to Russian history, not all visions were visions that were good for humanity. We think of people such as Stalin and Lenin  as examples of people who had vision but theirs was not a vision that was a benefit to humanity or for their own people as hindsight has demonstrated.
In virtual education, who will be the "great" visionaries of online education? Will they be the ones who hold the first point of view that education should reflect society or the second view that education should be a stimulant to bring about change in society? In order to see this worked out, we need to give up our addiction at being consumers of knowledge which serves only one point of view and become producers of new knowledge that is to the benefit of all people in moving a society forward.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Innovation in Global Education-Part III

In the last segment, I suggested that there is needed and is coming, a revolution in a number of facets of education. The online virtual education school will spearhead the need for these changes. The reason is that we can no longer do things the way we have always done them. With each generation of student, the interconnectedness they have, via the Internet, to people on the planet requires new skill sets that allows these prospective citizens to function in an online world.

A revolution in the organisation of teachers and administrators for the online world will undoubtedly be met with much resistance from the status quo but has this not always been true with revolutions? What I am going to suggest in this segment may result in some having temper tantrums because they find it threatening and certainly not within their comfort zone!

First, lets look at the concept of public education over the last century. The noble goal of public education was to make education available to anyone without regard to the parents' socio-economic status in life. This has enabled generations of young people to excel and become contributing members of the societies that they lived in. In the developed countries, and notice very carefully my choice of words, I said "developed countries", this has led to advancement in many areas of life for certain segments of the population. However, if examined in the light of the 21st century, we see constant complaints from the general public, which are then taken up by the politicians who based upon little or no scholarly evidence, pass legislation that has an impact on all stakeholders in education. Add to the this mix the power and influence of teacher's federations, unions, organizations or what ever name is in vogue in your country, you have to ask the question:" Has this form of public education outlived its usefulness for the advancement of  our society?" Should public education be totally privatized in much the same way that Medicine, Law, and other professions have been established? Yes, I do know that we have families who live in poverty in many developed countries but they still have access to a doctor or a lawyer if they need one despite how these professions are organized.
With regards to how teachers are organized, what would a possible organization look like? During this century, one of the mantras found on ministries of education web-sites was the concept of "life-long learning". However, despite educational structures such "night school", life-long learning has been difficult to obtain for adults because of work schedules. If as societies we say that life-long learning is important to our societies then it should be important for all age groups within our societies. That is precisely why the way that  teachers are organized much change.
A few years ago, I suggested that with the rise of online learning it was time to talk about "mentoring communities" rather than the just the children of communities. To do this, I suggested that teachers needed to be re-organized into structures that I termed "Master Teacher Guilds". If you remember your lessons from world history, a "guild" was a organization of craftsmen in medieval times whose primary pursuit was to refine their craft to such a high degree that the general public sought them out because of the integrity and care they exercised in perfecting their craft. In teaching you have some who think, much like scientists, that if you use a particular formula to address something that is desirable for students to develop, you will always get what is expected. If you don't obtain the expected results the fault lies with the practitioner, lets call him/her a teacher, and therefore re-training is required. However, there are some who don't agree that developing skills in students just requires the administration, in the prescribed ways, the collected best practices. Some have the audacity to suggest that teaching is also an art form and in the right combination with best practices, not only are the expected results obtained but there is room for innovation. This leads to the rise of what we may call "master teachers".
A "Master Teachers Guild" would mentor communities via the online environment and it would be a private organization of teachers and administrators.
Well, coming back to the present, watch carefully the growing tide of online schools but judge carefully their vision. Two interesting but dated books to take a look at is: "The Organization of the Future" (Drucker Foundation, 1997) and "The Ingenuity Gap"(Thomas Homer-Dixon, 2001).
More in the next segment....

Friday, October 11, 2013

Innovation in Global Virtual Education---Part II

My last post may have seemed to some to be a rather harsh treatment of the brick n mortar school systems but what they still haven't learned is that the industrial model of education is a dead concept in this age and the ages to come. Young people are not widgets on the education conveyor belt any longer. The rock group, Pink Floyd, probably expressed it well in their protest lyrics "all in all, you're  just another brick in the wall".
With the rise of a new generation of young people, called Generation Y who were successors to Generation X, came the rise of the concept of the virtual school. As a side note, the fact that we would label generations of young people this way and even referring to some as a "lost generation" speaks to the sense of betrayal that young people felt. After they had gone through the system, did what was required only to discover that the skills that they had acquired did not result in gainful employment and the "good life" that they had been promised, led to disillusionment about their future. However, with the growth of the Internet, technology and the virtual world of education, the new "digital natives" have renewed hope about the future.

What we are seeing is the beginning of a new revolution in education on many fronts. Consider the fact that with an online school, state, provincial and national borders no longer have a high priority if at all. Students now can attend school by logging in from anywhere in the world where there is Internet access. The revolution that is happening will happen on a number of educational fronts:
  1. Revolution in the vision and purpose of education.
  2. Revolution in what is offered to students
  3. Revolution in the organization of teachers and administration
  4. Revolution in assessment standards
With respect to a vision of education, we need to ask ourselves where do we want the journey to take us. In the past, visionaries in education had a "rock star" persona, complete with "groupies" and various other minions who while in a state of idol worship, would do anything that the visionary proclaimed as necessary to the survival of education in the land. I remember one in particular who I  will only mention by the initials M.F. because I have a serious dislike for being sued for libel, that people would stand in long lines to hear. They were mesmerised by every word that he/she proclaimed and yet, failed to ask the question: where has his/her vision taken us?
The combination of vision and purpose must be matched by commitment that our young people will be the builders of a better society, that society for the good of the people will survive. In order for this to come about the vision of education must inspire young people; it must be about great ideas that will shape the future.
As an example, I once had the privilege of teaching robotics to young people in a school setting. What happened truly amazed me! I have never experienced such dedication to learning, such zeal for working as a team, such a readiness to help each other acquire concepts and such remorse that their study couldn't continue into the summer. I had to ask myself what happened. My conclusion was that the appeal was that we were dealing with a great idea in their future.

This of course brings me to the revolution of what can be offered to students in a global virtual education environment. Consider the following great ideas of the future but also consider the secondary ideas that also have great potential and appeal to young people:
  1. A virtual field trip that takes you inside the pyramids of Egypt. As a result of streamed video, you are led by an Archaeologist  who shows you the ancient writings on the walls. At any time on your virtual tour, you can stop the Archaeologist to ask questions even though you are thousands of miles away. Another possibility, is that as a high school student you are interested in going into Medicine. You take a virtual field trip to the operating room of a large teaching hospital where you watch cardiac surgery being performed. As the surgeon works he explains what he is doing and why. When the patient heads to the ICU, you get to ask the surgeon questions.
  2. Robotics and Nanotechnology--You sit in a virtual presentation given by a leader in Bioengineering as he/she explains how Nanotechnology will enable the miniaturization of robots to the point where they can be injected into the bloodstream. Then based upon their programming you could witness the destruction of a cancer tumour.
  3. As a student you gather with other students from other countries in the virtual environment to work on the design of engineering projects under the mentorship of a well known scientist in the field. The scientist along with your sponsoring teachers them do an assessment of your final product.
With a virtual environment, many of the barriers to creativity and exploration that existed in the past, are now gone.
Now the obvious question that has to be asked is how does this change the nature and organization of teaching. I will leave you with one thought that is a question that Peter Senge asked in his book titled:"The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization"(1990). "How can we hope to create an effective learning environment for students without first having created one for teachers?"
Wait until the next post for that.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Innovation in Global Virtual Education-Part I

It was once a well repeated mantra that was drilled into the heads of bright newly minted teachers at faculties or school of education that: "If you teach the way you always teach year after year, you will get what you have always gotten". I have found that there is a great deal of truth to that mantra but there is always a corollary to that which implies that: "If you innovate in teaching year after year, what you will get will be students who are intrigued, delighted, engaged and shocked." Why shocked?? When students start their education, they are inquisitive, creative and eager to learn more and more. However, as they progress through the "SYSTEM", they learn not to expect more than their prescribed programming. By the time students reach junior high, they are jaded, disappointed, stressed out young people who quickly learn that the system has built them a prison which they can not leave until they demonstrate that they can repeat back all that the those invisible people in the Ministry of Education say must be regurgitated.

If this seems cynical and a cold condemnation of school systems, try seeing it day after day from the students who are trapped in the system which systematically deletes anything that does not fit the mold. Should students lose heart and just go through the motions?

No, enter the cyber world of education. The important thing is not to re-create the system that exists in the brick and mortar schools! With the virtual world and the tools that are available to young people, the creativity that they had when they started school can once again be re-kindled and grow to the benefit of all society. How you ask with noted incredulity?? Stay tuned for Part II.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Rise of Global Education--Virtual Education

You are not going to like my message if you are a teacher who thinks that brick and mortar schools, assemblies, recess and the Socratic method of teaching are always going to be needed by the families of this age and the next.
The walls that education has built over hundreds of years are coming down as surely as the Berlin Wall had to come down. The Berlin Wall had to come down because it was a remnant of an age of tyranny where freedoms of the population were strictly controlled and limited. This is true of education today. The walls need to come down in order for a new age of freedom in education to begin to blossom.
The education system has tried to resist this change. It thought that by introducing the latest technology into the classroom that this would satisfy those who thought that education was not turning out citizens ready for the future that they would live in. The problem with what they did is that it was merely a disguise in which they continued to do what they had always done in education. They called these by the term "best practices" but one quality that these best practices had was that they were intolerant of practices that were completely unique and alien to the practices of the past. For example, the Smartboard was just a way to continue to give students notes, bland assignments and assign research papers. Where is the innovation or creativity in that? We still have not broken away from the industrial model of education! We are still instructed to turn out good, law abiding, consumers. It is the economic powers within society which pressure governments in real and substantial ways that do not want those walls to come down. Why would they? They have been too profitable!

In response to an unresponsive education system, a new, virtual education system has come about as a result of advances in technology. There are some who say that even in this new environment, the old pedagogical practices must be used. The reach of this new system is no longer bound by national borders but instead has a reach that is global, touching on many of the cultures on the planet. The potential for an education that is enriching and able to provide skills for the citizens of the next century and beyond is enormous. What is needed are new innovative practices that are totally alien to the practices of the past and yet fully in synch with the new education environment. INNOVATION is what is needed from educators not "more of the same". Students need to be producers of new knowledge instead of being trained to be good, unproductive consumers. A new assignment for students might be something like this: Using the tools of the Internet, create a fully interactive virtual tour through the Pyramids of Giza. Use a real archeologist as a mentor in its design and include interdisciplinary tools that students can use to interpret ancient writings that they will see on the walls as they proceed through your virtual tour.
Notice that in the above example that the student is being asked to consider the world as a source for his assignment. In line with such innovation, there must also be innovation in methods of assessment. A new paradigm outlining benchmarks is needed.
Some "virtual schools" are better than others. Some have given away the freedom that such a system could have in favour of conformity to the directives of old men and women in ministries of education who only look forward to their retirement and not to new innovative approaches.

Well, by this time, some teachers who may have stumbled onto this blog have walked away content with their assessment that I am a crack pot! That's okay because this blog is not for them. It is for those who want to see an education system where the dreams of young people can experience freedom to think & create.In the present systems of education, the dreams of young people go there to die.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Social Media: Education Enrichment or Digital Opium for the Masses?

It is interesting how school boards are dealing with the ever advancing infiltration of social media into the classrooms of our schools. Some schools have taken the stance that use of social media in the classroom will be okay if we teach students how to use the media as a resource to further their studies. The question here is whether or not this is a realistic stance. It never ceases to amaze me that prospective teachers in the education faculties are constantly taught that they need to understand the mindset of 12 yr olds all the way up to 19 yr olds when it comes to the classroom and then they throw all that out the window when dealing with the issue of the use of social media in the classroom.

Here is a quiz: If you asked a 14 yr old which he/she would rather do, access Facebook or IM to connect with friends and hang out digitally or use IM or Facebook to do school work, how do you think a majority would respond? Second Question: If your teacher said that you had their permission to use social media in class providing it was to do school work only, how many of you would ditch the school work at the first opportunity and IM your friends about other things going on in your life?
This is a reality about typical adolescent behaviour that every teacher as a student has been taught. So the noble gesture of teaching students to use social media in a productive educational manner flies in the face of the reality of adolescence.

Then there are schools who have tried to block cell phone access in the school by putting up signal blockers. This was tried by a principal in a Montreal high school and also by one in Vancouver. Of interest is the fact that major wireless providers such as Bell & Rogers have forced legislators to enact laws that makes it illegal to try to block cell phone signals within an education setting. The rationale is that we are interfering in the providers attempt to fulfill their service responsibilities to their customers. These big companies don't really care if it interferes with the teacher's effort to maintain the focus of the students on what he or she is teaching. Parents have sided with these companies, giving the rationale that their children need to have access to a cell phone in case of an emergency. This argument is absurd because before the arrival of cell phones, students could have the school call home in case of an emergency. Schools still have that ability.

Social media allows youth to keep track of their friends activities when they can't be with them but it does not create true personal connections with others. In fact I would suggest that it actually isolates and makes it difficult for young people to form long lasting personal relationships. The greatest danger is easily seen everyday on the streets of any city. Young people are so entranced with the social media around them that they fail to see what is really going on around them which places them in grave situations.
We use to say that we could tell if a person was hooked on a drug by their eyes and their behaviour in public. Take a look around at those who are entranced by their devices at traffic lights, in shopping line ups or in line at a coffee shop. Nothing else is real except what is happening on their facebook page or in their IM strands. Has social media become the new digital social addiction? If so, who will say something. Remember the story of "The Emperors New Clothes"!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Critical Thinking:Does the Ministry of Education Really Want Students to Excel in This?

The title of this post may seem like an odd question. After all, the Ministry of Education websites all state that students should develop this great skill but the nature of "RealPolitic" suggests a different message.

If students were really to excel in the the use of logic, gathering and evaluation of evidence, the evaluation of issues based upon the evidence and effective argumentation, what would be the impact for our lives as citizens?
Consider first the processes of democracy. How could elections of people to government change? I would suggest that young people of voting age and effective critical thinking skills would see through the superficial glitz of election campaigns and ask real questions that affect the lives of people and demand real answers. They would be able to see the agendas held by different parties and decide based on real  and verifiable evidence whether or not what is being proposed in policy platforms is achievable in a realistic sense and good for the common good of citizens of the country. They would be able to detect deceptive presentations and candidates and take them to task by surgically taking apart what is being offered and make an effective counter case to their peers.

Do politicians really want this type of thoughtful engagement? I would submit to you that they do not. If confronted with such an effective skill reflected in students, they will go into survival mode to protect the status quo. They will try to downplay or discredit the very skill that previously they stated was an important skill for all students to have. It is all about the question of who wins and who loses in this scenario.

I believe that students could make a real difference in the future that they are destined to live in but are governments prepared to give up the status quo and really serve the needs of the people that elect them?

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Dark Zone Education: What is it?

Dark Zone Education is not a soap opera where actors portray the sad realities of people's relationships. However, it is about tragedy that we see unfolding daily in the lives of young people who are striving to understand the validity and substance of the education that they are receiving in school systems that still base education on an industrial model. The students are like widgets on an assembly line that moves into their future and all along this assembly line, stand workers whose simple task is to impart what they have been told to impart to the student. Upon the fulfillment of each task, quality control takes over and  assessment is done. Those who don't become "just another brick in the wall" as Pink Floyd described so eloquently are re-routed to the retrofit department to receive remediation.

If this sounds like a very cynical view of education today it may be due to the fact that it too often represents the reality in young people's lives today. Dark Zone Education as a blog will be suggesting the following:
  1. The goal of education should be to break free of this industrial model of education and propose a paradigm that includes all stakeholders in our society and not just the corporate elite. It should be a paradigm that is imaginative, inspiring to young people, relevant to achieving the common good for society and one that challenges young people to be creators of new knowledge instead of consumers of knowledge.
  2. It is important that young people be challenged by teaching them how to think effectively instead of teaching them what to think. Teach them how to use logic and sound reasoning before asking them to tackle social issues. Perhaps Howard Gardiner's views on intelligence are instructive but his list of intelligences is not necessary in order of priority for the well being of society as it is in the here and now.
  3. There is a strong drive in school systems to be social engineers of the young people in their care. Many of the ills of society can be traced back to the growing instability of the family unit within society. The responsibility of parenting has shifted more away from parents and more to the school system. The school systems were never meant to be the parents of the students in their care. They were meant to be a support to what the parents are doing with their children. However what happens when parents are not fulfilling their responsibility as parents? The school systems become the parents.
I for one believe that there is a better way than the path that education systems are presently on and there are many like me who feel the same way. If you would like an analogy, consider the story: "The Emperor's New Clothes". The situation that exists in education is similar to that described in this story and all that is needed is that one little boy or girl to say: "No, this is not right.".