<![CDATA[Philip McRae, Ph.D. - Blog]]>Mon, 27 Mar 2017 17:45:07 -0600Weebly<![CDATA[Growing Up Digital (GUD) Alberta]]>Fri, 12 Feb 2016 19:02:04 GMThttp://philmcrae.com/blog/growing-up-digital-gud-alberta
Growing Tired, Anxious & Distracted - Be Balanced, Be Mindful, Be Present
Preliminary 2015 Research Findings
Full Infographic Available on the ATA Website
As co-principal investigator on this longitudinal research project it is my great fortune to be working with world-renowned colleagues from Harvard Medical School and School of Public Health (Dr. Michael Rich), the University of Alberta (Dr. Stanley Varhagen and Dr. Jason Daniels), and Boston Children’s Hospital (Dr. David Bickham).  This collaborative initiative has been named Growing Up Digital (GUD) Alberta, and is attempting to to better understand the scope of physical, mental and social consequences of digital technologies in areas such as exercise, homework, identity formation, distraction, cognition, learning, nutrition, and sleep quality and quantity. 
Growing Up Digital (GUD) Alberta - Teacher/Principal Survey (2015)
In December 2015, a stratified random sample of 3,600 teachers and principals from across Alberta were invited to participate in a GUD survey.  This request resulted in over 2, 200 participants and generated a
sample that is highly representative of Alberta’s teaching population and corresponds closely to the profession’s demographics.
 
The purpose of this initial survey was to identify baseline issues and essential research questions from teachers, principals and system leaders from across the Alberta education system.  To explore the correlations between the health outcomes as reported in this survey, and technology use in students’ lives, will be the manifest work of the GUD project over time. For example, to what extent is there a correlation between students coming to school tired or anxious/depressed and (nocturnal) screen-time?
Key Findings
The data from this survey clearly shows that teachers in Alberta hold strong perspectives around the impact of digital technologies on children and youth’s health, development and learning.
 
Overall, teachers report that digital technologies enhance their teaching and learning activities, with inquiry-based learning (71%) being the area of greatest enrichment. The most common instructional uses of digital technologies on a weekly basis are to provide access to a variety of learning resources (79%), to enable communication with parents (79%), and to differentiate resources and materials to support students who have a variety of learning needs (69%).
In terms of media use, 43% of teachers “frequently” and 33% “very frequently” observe students multitasking with digital technologies. Of particular note is that a majority (67%) of teachers from this stratified random sample believe that digital technologies are a growing distraction in the learning environment.  Those who believe students are negatively distracted by technology state the degree as “very many” (48%) and “almost all” (11%) students. Further, when asked to reflect on their personal use of digital technologies, 62% of teachers feel that they themselves are also “somewhat” (75%) or to a “great extent” (14%) negatively distracted. 
 
Research around digital technologies and media use taking time away from human relationships is an active field of inquiry within the health and social sciences. Of particular interest is emerging research relating to fragmented attention (or unpredictable care) during sensitive developmental periods and the resulting impact on brain development that may lead to emotional problems later in life.
Generally teachers and principals perceive that Alberta students’ readiness to learn has been in steady decline. There is a strong sense among a majority of teaching professionals within this sample that over the past 3-5 years students across all grades are increasingly having a more difficult time focusing on educational tasks (76%), are coming to school tired (66%), and are less able to bounce back from adversity (ie lacking resilience) (62%). Concurrent to this, 44% of teachers note a decrease in student empathy, and over half of the sample (56%), reported an increase in the number of students who have discussed with them incidents of online harassment and/or cyberbullying.
When surveyed on issues related to health and well-being outcomes, Alberta teachers indicated that there has been a dramatic change in their student populations over the past 3 to 5 years.  Of particular note is the “somewhat” and “significant” increase in the number of students who demonstrate the following exceptionalities: emotional challenges (90%), social challenges (86%), behaviour support (85%) and cognitive challenges (77%). This data clearly illustrates a dramatic change in the complexity of the student population in Alberta.

When asked how the number of students with “diagnosed” health issues has changed in their classrooms, the following three conditions were reported by a majority of teachers to have increased: anxiety disorders (85%), Attention Deficit Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (75%), and mood disorders such as depression (73%).

While many complex forces will be shaping these student health outcomes, the extent to which technology is one of them is of significant interest to the survey participants.  Below are some representative samples of the several thousand questions and comments submitted to this survey.
 
 “Is technology having a negative effect on life balance for students? Is time that should be spent socializing, in activity, reading, sleeping etc. reduced as students increase screen time? Is there a relationship between screen time and student social capacity?”
 
“Is brain activity and cognitive functioning enhanced, decreased or neutral when digital technology is used? And does this vary by the age of the child?”
 
“In my role as a high school admin [principal], I see how many kids are ‘ruled’ by their use of technology. I also see how technology is used for bullying purposes regularly. If this is our reality, then why is the push for technology in schools increasing? How do we adequately support kids who are addicted to technology to the point where it rules their lives?”
 
“Are digital technologies contributing to students' inability to focus for long periods of time?”
 
“Do you believe that using technology is addictive?”
 
“Do children have more difficulty playing and interacting than they did before?”
 
“To what extent are parents monitoring student use of technology? At what age did students begin using technology in the home?”

“Is a student's increasing online presence decreasing real world satisfaction and positive peer-to peer interaction?”
 
“I am concerned about children's growing deficits in understanding non-verbal communication cues during in-person conversations.”
 
 “Do personal electronic devices prevent normal development of social skills (including resiliency)?”

CTV News - Growing Up Digital (GUD) Alberta: Preliminary Data Discussion

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CTV News Growing Up Digital (GUD) Alberta Research (2016)


Dr. Michael Rich
Dr. Phil McRae

CBC Radio Interview 2016
GUD Alberta

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<![CDATA[The Power and Importance of (Free) Play]]>Tue, 17 Nov 2015 22:48:09 GMThttp://philmcrae.com/blog/the-power-and-importance-of-free-play
“Play is the highest form of research” ~ Albert Einstein
As editor of The Learning Team (a publication that goes out to 25 000 Alberta parents), I have focused the next edition exclusively on the importance and benefits of “play”. 

The articles in this new collection have been drawn together to explore the relationship between play (both free and guided) and learning, and indeed how we can encourage more outdoor play or create welcoming indoor play spaces for children.

Other articles in this November 2015 edition represent unique contributions on play from world renowned Harvard scholars that have just completed a major research study for Hasbro on the topic of play.

To frame this entire collection, below are some of my own perspectives on how “free play” can powerfully (re)shape our considerations of human learning and development.
Free Play is Fun

Close your eyes and think back to a time when you were engaged in some kind of playful activity.  When I do this, what first comes to mind is how much fun it was to be fully immersed in the often spontaneous moments.  Play at its essence is really about having fun. It is also truly ‘free’ when there are no parents or guardians hovering alongside, coaches intervening, umpires adjudicating, teachers directing or rule books guiding the activity.

Dr. Rachel White (2012) outlined six distinct characteristics of play for children in her research summary “The Power of Play”, and in doing so provides some deeper insights to what defines play:

1.       Play is Pleasurable. Children must enjoy the activity or it is not play.

2.       Play is Intrinsically Motivated. Children engage in play simply for the satisfaction the behavior itself brings.

3.       Play is Process Oriented.  When children play, the means are more important than the ends.

4.       Play is Freely Chosen.  It is spontaneous and voluntary.  If a child is pressured [she/he] will likely not think of the activity as play.

5.       Play is Actively Engaged.  Players must be physically and/or mentally involved in the activity.

6.       Play is Non-Literal.  It involves make-believe.

According to White (2012), these six characteristics of play are to be found on a continuum.  The more of the above six conditions of (free) play that can be met, the more playful (and fun) the activity becomes for the child.

The lesson here is that as parents and guardians we need to remember that the manner in which children play may not be as we envision it should be; however, as the research would suggest, adults should let play be freely chosen, intrinsically motivated, actively engaged and often make-believe if we want it to be truly pleasurable for children.

Free Play is Learning

Play is learning. Many of life’s lessons are acquired through play, like problem solving strategies, getting along with others through negotiation, cooperation and compromise, or even the early sparks of creativity when a sock becomes a puppet or a stick becomes a magic wand recreating the world with whatever the mind can imagine. Play especially helps to nurture creativity in children and youth, so that they can meet the world inside and outside of school with their own unique curiosities and imagination.

White’s (2012) research summary also supports the notion that play is learning: “In the short and long term, play benefits cognitive, social, emotional, and physical development…When play is fun and child-directed, children are motivated to engage in opportunities to learn”. Whether you are a child, youth or adult, we learn how to be more resilient, flexible, persistent, and independent through play.  As Alberta Einstein identified, play is indeed the highest form of research. 

Some scientists even suggest that play builds better brains. Dr. Sergio Pellis, a researcher at the University of Lethbridge claims that the "experience of play changes the connections of the neurons at the front end of your brain…And without play experience, those neurons aren't changed” (NPR, 2014).

Yet, despite this knowledge of the impact of play on learning, far too seldom are the conversations in K-12 education about play and its ability to foster creativity, the arts, talent diversity, or interpersonal communicative competencies for children and youth. Unfortunately, as Sahlberg (2014) would suggest, the trajectory of education reform has for too long been sacrificing play for increased standardization, more frequent testing, competition, and an increasingly obsessive focus on the disciplines of science, technology and math.

Free Play is Under Siege

While we are aware of the clear benefits that develop from play, time for free play has been markedly reduced over the last three decades. Since the late 1970s, children have lost 12 hours per week of free time, including a 25% decrease in play and a 50% decrease in unstructured outdoor activities. (Juster et al., 2004). Albertans are working longer hours and families are spending less time with their children (Parkland Institute, 2012). Digital technologies, often sold as virtual tutors, have sadly becoming convenient digital baby rattles, and this has resulted in some dramatic consequences for childhood.

As Carl Honore (2008) says, “It is not just kids who are under pressure now; it’s parents too. We feel we have to push, polish and protect our offspring with superhuman zeal - or else we’re somehow falling down on the job. We start from the noble and natural instinct to do the best for our kids but end up going too far. Social and cultural pressure drives a lot of this”.  Hyper-parents are investing more time, money and energy in their offspring than in previous generations, and reducing time for play in order to focus on academics or skill development at younger ages may be seen as one more strategy to give offspring a competitive edge over the pack.

Early learning researchers are now asking if kindergarten is in fact becoming the new first grade as parents and policymakers look to start formal education at increasingly younger and younger ages. A 2015 working paper entitled “Is Kindergarten the New First Grade” illustrates the concerns of a shift in early learning experiences to more academic pursuits at the expense of play. As stated in this paper: “accountability pressures have trickled down into the early elementary grades and that kindergarten today is characterized by a heightened focus on academic skills and a reduction in opportunities for play.” (Bassok, Latham, and Rorem, 2015, p. 1)

For parents, the reduction in play is also being reflected in the growth in the out of school tutoring movement and the intensification of childhood. It is estimated that one third of Alberta parents now pay for private tutors (Alberta Teachers’ Association, 2014). As the Canadian Council on Learning (2007) found in their national survey, “most parents who hire tutors (73%) estimate that their children's overall academic performance is in the A or B range”. This is a global obsession, and in 2010 74% of all South Korean students were engaged in some form of private after-school instruction, at an average cost of $2,600 per student for the year (Ripley, 2011).

Free Play is Essential

The Council of Ministers of Education Canada (CMEC), which represents all of the provincial Education Ministers, does not intend to separate play from learning but in fact has endorsed brining it together with learning to promote creativity in our future generations of children and youth. As CMEC reminds us in their statement on play within this November edition, “it is considered to be so essential to healthy development that the United Nations has recognized it as a specific right for all children”.

Let’s pause in our increasingly distracted, full and busy lives and consider for a moment the power and importance of (free) play for our children and youth. Remember that play should be fun, it unquestionably contributes to learning, is increasingly being put under siege and will need collective attention if we want it to be universally recognized (and practiced) as an essential part of human development and learning. I hope you will have an opportunity to enjoy (and find useful) this November 2015 edition of The Learning Team.

References

Alberta Teachers’ Association (2014). Changing Landscapes: Shaping Our Preferred Future. Edmonton, AB: Barnett House. Retrieved from: http://www.teachers.ab.ca/SiteCollectionDocuments/ATA/Publications/Albertas-Education-System/ChangingLandscapes_Reader_Web%20Nov%202013.pdf

Bassok, D., Latham, S. and Rorem, A. (2015). Working paper: Is kindergarten the new first grade? EdPolicyWorks, University of Virginia. VA: Charlottesville

Canadian Council on Learning (2007). Survey of Canadian Attitudes toward Learning: Canadian attitudes toward tutoring. Vancouver, BC: Canadian Council on Learning. Retrieved from: http://www.ccl-cca.ca/ccl/Reports/SCAL/2007Archive/SCALStructuredTutoring.html  

Juster, F.T., Ono, H., & Stafford, F. (2004). Changing times of American youth: 1981-2003. Ann Arbor, MI: Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan. Retrieved from: http://www.umich.edu/news/Releases/2004/Nov04/teen_time_report.pdf

NPR (2014). Scientists say child’s play builds better a brain. National Public Radio (NPR). Retrieved from: http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2014/08/06/336361277/scientists-say-childs-play-helps-build-a-better-brain

Parkland Institute (2012). Family day on the treadmill: Alberta families at risk of too much stress. Edmonton, AB: Retrieved from: http://parklandinstitute.ca/research/summary/family_day_on_the_treadmill

Ripley, A. (2011 September 25). Teacher, leave those kids alone. Time Magazine. New York, NY: Time Inc. Retrieved from: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2094427,00.html

White, R. E. (2012). The power of play: A research summary on play and learning. Minnesota Children’s Museum. Retrieved from: https://www.mcm.org/uploads/MCMResearchSummary.pdf

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<![CDATA[MYTH: Blended Learning is the Next Ed Tech Revolution - Hype, Harm and Hope]]>Mon, 25 May 2015 22:05:56 GMThttp://philmcrae.com/blog/blended-learning-is-not-the-next-ed-tech-revolution-hype-harm-and-hope
“The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie — deliberate, contrived, and dishonest — but the myth — persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic."
~ John F. Kennedy
Blended learning, where students’ face-to-face education is blended with Internet resources or online courses, has been gaining considerable attention in education reform circles. It has become entangled with the ambiguous notion of personalized learning and is being positioned as the new way to individualize learning in competency-based education systems.

Michael Horn, co-founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation, and a key proponent of blended learning, claims that it is the “new model that is student-centric, highly personalized for each learner, and more productive, as it delivers dramatically better results at the same or lower cost” (Horn and Staker 2011, 13).

To what extent is this a new model of learning in a digital age? How are private corporations employing old rhetoric to advance new avenues into public education? Most importantly, is blended learning becoming yet another overhyped myth on the crowded road of technology-as-education-reform panacea?

ORIGINS OF A MYTH
Students blending the use of technology with face-to-face instruction as a means of collaborating and extending their learning experiences is not unusual, revolutionary or foreign to the average Canadian classroom. As a concept, blended learning is now almost two decades old, having been imported into K–12 education in the late 1990s from corporate education, business training firms and the post-secondary education sector. Although the precise origin is unclear, it has been suggested that an Atlanta-based computer training business coined the term in 1999 (Friesen 2012), as it announced the release of a new generation of online courses for adults that were to be blended with live instruction.

Many blended learning practices already fit well with a vast array of hybrid face-to-face and digital experiences that students encounter in K–12 schools, including distributed learning, distance learning, or e-learning. Dr. Norm Friesen, a key academic in this area, suggests that blended learning “designates the range of possibilities presented by combining Internet and digital media with established classroom forms that require the physical co-presence of teacher and students” (Friesen 2012). As this broad definition illustrates, it would be difficult to find any use of technology in education that does not easily fit into this boundary.

Despite this fluidity of meaning, different models of blended learning have taken shape. In particular, Staker and Horn (2012) have attempted to classify blended learning environments into four models: rotation, flex, self-blend and enriched virtual. These four combinations range from those that are more connected to people and brick-and-mortar buildings (rotation, flex) to contexts in which the students are primarily self-directed through online courses or platforms that “deliver” the curriculum (self-blend and enriched virtual). In the more self-directed models, teachers or non-certificated facilitators are conditional and only scheduled for support as deemed necessary.

Although many models have been implemented over the last 20 years, there is scant evidence of the success of blended learning. Out of 46 robust research studies conducted between 1996 and 2008, only five have focused on results for students in K–12 settings (Murphy et al. 2014). As a recent article in Education Week illustrates, when looking for strong evidence of success around this strategy for K–12 students, very little “definitive evidence” or few significant results can be directly attributed to blended learning (Sparks 2015).

HYPE
The current hype around blended learning models, especially in the United States, is that they bring to life personalized learning for each and every child. Personalized learning, as promoted under a new canopy of blended learning, is neither a pedagogic theory nor a coherent set of learning approaches, regardless of the proposed models. In fact, personalized learning is an idea struggling for an identity (McRae 2014, 2010). A description of personalization that’s tightly linked to technology-mediated individualization “anywhere, anytime” is premised on archaic ideas of teaching machines imagined early in the 20th century (McRae 2013).

Some blended learning rhetoric suggests that personalization is to be achieved through individualized self-paced computer programs (known as adaptive learning systems), combined with small-group instruction for students who have the most pressing academic needs. For those looking to specifically advance blended learning in times of severe economic constraints, a certificated teacher is optional.

Software companies selling their adaptive learning products boldly state that the “best personalized learning programs will give students millions of potential pathways to follow through curricula and end up with the desired result — true comprehension” (Green 2013). This is part of the myth of blended learning and is marketed using superficial math and reading software programs (adaptive learning systems) that make dubious claims of driving up scores on high-stakes tests. Corporate attempts to “standardize personalization” in this way are both ironic and absurd.

These adaptive learning systems (the new teaching machines) do not build more resilient, creative, entrepreneurial or empathetic citizens through their individualized, standardized, linear and mechanical software algorithms. On the contrary, they diminish the many opportunities for human relationships to flourish, which is a hallmark of high-quality learning environments.

One of the blended learning examples that has received perhaps the greatest attention is the “flipped classroom.” It is so named because it inverts classroom instruction during the day, so that students watch online video of lectures at home at their own pace, perhaps communicating with peers and teachers via online discussions in the evening, and spend their days doing homework in the classroom. Think of the popular media hype and mythical cure for math challenges sold to the public by the Khan Academy. There is nothing revolutionary or deeply engaging about pure lecture as a pedagogy, yet apparently adding hours of digitally distributed video each evening to a child’s life makes it so. In fact, research suggests that the use of this type of lecture recorded technology, as a primary approach to learning, can result in students falling behind in the curriculum (Gosper et al. 2008).

Many myths, when viewed up close, provide deep reflections of ourselves and society. Technologies in particular have amplified our North American desires for choice, flexibility and individualization, so it’s easy to be seduced by a vision of blended learning environments delivering only what we want, when and how we want it customized.

The marketing mantra from corporations as diverse as media conglomerates to banks is that of services at any time, in any place or at any pace. Many governments have in turn adopted this in an eagerness to reduce costs with businesslike customization and streamlined workforce productivity, all with the expectation that a flexible and blended education system will be more efficient and (cost) effective.

In the mythical space of blended learning, class sizes apparently no longer matter and new staffing patterns begin to emerge. The amount of time students spend in schools becomes irrelevant as brick-and-mortar structures fade away. However, this myth disregards the overwhelming parental desire and societal expectation that children and youth will gather together to learn in highly relational settings with knowledgeable and mindful professionals (teachers) who understand both the art and science of learning. As John F. Kennedy (1962) so eloquently stated: “The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie — deliberate, contrived, and dishonest — but the myth — persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic.”

The U.S. Department of Education (2013) has clearly articulated a commitment to making blended learning come to life through nebulous ideas of competency-based systems and personalized learning.

“Transitioning away from seat time, in favor of a structure that creates flexibility, allows students to progress as they demonstrate mastery of academic content, regardless of time, place, or pace of learning. By enabling students to master skills at their own pace, competency-based learning systems help to save both time and money … make better use of technology, support new staffing patterns that utilize teacher skills and interests differently … Each of these presents an opportunity to achieve greater efficiency and increase productivity.”

The cost efficiency and effectiveness rhetoric must be given special attention as part of the myth of blended learning in competency based systems.

HARM
Schools and classrooms across North America are being subjected to economic volatility and severe constraints by reduced public education funding. Blended learning can be positioned as the vehicle to bring in third-party education providers to wipe out the expectations of small class sizes and certificated teachers in traditional classrooms. This idea is gaining momentum through a variety of U.S. virtual and charter schools that are radically reducing the numbers of teachers and executing increased class sizes under the banner of blended learning. As Michael Horn states when asked to give expert advice on blended learning models, “budget cuts and teacher shortages are an opportunity, not a threat” (Horn et al. 2014).

As school jurisdictions across the U.S. turn to online learning and blended models as a way to reallocate resources, the private providers are also advocating for “eradicating rules that restrict class size and student-teacher ratios” (Horn and Staker 2011, 13). To achieve this means lifting the rules around teacher certification so that schools can replace teachers at will with para-professionals or noncertificated individual learning specialists. As Christensen and Horn (2008) suggest, “Computer-based learning on a large scale is also less expensive than the current labor intensive system and could solve the financial dilemmas facing public schools” (13).

To enable this in an education system, several policies must be enshrined by governments that would allow private schools, virtual cyber-charter schools or educational technology companies direct access to students outside of a protected public system. The first is to open up multiple pathways of learning, which are more flexible in terms of time and space, and designed around technology solutions that only the company can deliver.

The Software & Information Industry Association, the principal trade association for the software and digital content industries in America, is a clear backer of redefining and expanding the role of the teacher, and advocates that “teacher contracts and other regulatory constraints may also need to be addressed to provide the flexibility in a teacher’s role needed to make this dramatic shift in instruction” (Wolf 2010, 15).

On the surface, this flexibility sounds promising, as teachers and school leaders certainly recognize that the industrial model of command and control does not fit with our hyper-connected world. Yet the flexibility of any-time, any-place learning is manifesting itself in the U.S. around adaptive learning software programs or mandatory online learning courses that are being delivered by private companies. New course access legislation (as found in Wisconsin, Texas, Utah, Florida, Michigan and Minnesota) now allows anyone to teach online courses to students regardless of jurisdiction, certification or geographic location (Dwinal 2015). In other words, every course, for every student, anywhere, anytime — and now — taught by anyone. Half the teachers, but sold as twice the fun?

In the case of K12 Inc., the United States’ largest private for-profit provider of online education for grades K–12, student-teacher ratios are as high as one teacher to 275 students (Aaronson and O’Connor 2012). As the president and CEO at McGraw-Hill Education affirms: “With this new method and capability, all of a sudden you could see a teacher handling many more students ... the productivity could double or triple” (Olster 2013).

The harsh reality, however, is that private online schooling is not about new blended learning models, flexibility or choice, it is about profit through the constant cycle of enrolment and withdrawal of students known as the “churn rate” (Gibson and Clements 2013). In contrast, our current publically funded and publically delivered online schools across Alberta reinforce the important role of certificated teachers as compassionate and empathetic architects of learning who work relentlessly to reduce the drop-out rates and increase student engagement in virtual learning environments.

Rocketship Education, one of the many rapidly growing charter schools out of the U.S., has adopted a rotation model of blended learning known as the Rocketship Hybrid School Model for kindergarten to Grade 5 students. It combines online learning on campus with traditional classroom-based activities in order to save $500,000 per charter school per year in teacher salary costs (Danner 2010).

To accomplish this, Rocketship Education has cut half its teachers, changed its scope of practice and hired low-paid adults to supervise and monitor students in computer labs. The new staffing patterns within this rotation blended learning model place the schools in a one to 100-plus student/teacher ratio, with one or two low-wage computer lab monitors. These support personnel are endowed with titles like “individual learning specialists,” “coaches” or “facilitators” (Public Broadcasting Service 2012).

Without certificated teachers present, there is a need to gather data on student performance, so the children spend a great deal of time in a computer lab with an adaptive learning program monitoring their every interaction. John Danner, former CEO of Rocketship Charter Schools and a former board member of DreamBox Learning Inc., promotes increased screen time during the day for children. He thinks that as the quality of software improves, “‘Rocketeers’ could spend as much as 50 per cent of the school day with computers” (Strauss 2013). How many hours of development, in the minds and bodies of children and youth, are we willing to sacrifice for more individualized computer-human interactions under the guise of blended learning?

If blended learning through the rotation model is to be defined by reducing the number of certificated teachers in schools and placing students in computer labs to spend half of their day in front of math and reading software programs, then education in the 21st century is indeed heading down an antiquated and very dangerous path. This is not historically the way blended learning has come alive in Alberta classrooms, nor should it be our preferred future.

HOPE
The growth of digital media and the Internet has led to an explosion of resources and opportunities for teachers, students and learning communities. A constant shift is occurring with different mobile apps, blogs, video podcasts, social media tools, e-learning courses, or learning management systems in schools that all promise to help teachers create and organize student work, provide (real-time) feedback or communicate more efficiently.

With the proliferation of digital tools in our lives, many K–12 students now experience learning through a blend of face-to-face and digital or online media and are able to access new ideas and resources where student attitudes and engagement towards their education can be positively supported. If blended learning is to lead to positive outcomes for students, then it must be highly relational, active and inquiry oriented (both online and offline), and commit to empowering students with digital tools.

If done right, blended learning can be used to support more equitable access to learning resources and discipline-specific expertise. It may also engage students (and teachers) in a variety of online and offline learning activities that differentiate instruction and bring greater diversity to the learning context. Improving communication between teachers, students and parents and extending relationships across boundaries and time may also be an outcome of blended learning. It may also hold value by employing certain technologies that help teachers and students to formatively assess learning.

To make this truly hopeful, school-based technology infrastructure must be robust and up-to-date, with equitable access, and the necessary resources (human and technology) must be made available to pedagogically support the blending. It is not tenable if Internet connectivity is unreliable or limited, or if there exists inequitable access to bandwidth or technology infrastructure in the school and home. Finally, if technical glitches are pervasive, or if dependable technical support is not available for students and teachers, then it is unlikely that blended learning will be a sustainable concept.

CONCLUSION
Blended learning is not a new term nor a revolutionary concept for classrooms in this second decade of the 21st century. However, the way it is being (re)interpreted could be hopeful or harmful depending on how it is implemented. It is an increasingly ambiguous and vague notion that is growing in popularity as many groups try to claim the space and establish the models, despite a lack of evidence and research. We should therefore be skeptical around the mythos of blended learning before endorsing or lauding it as the next great reform.

Blended learning has occupied a place in discourses of educational change for well over a decade, but it cannot be co-opted into a movement that displaces the human dimension of learning with an economic imperative to reduce labour costs by cutting the teaching population in half. Of particular concern in times of severe economic restraint is that high schools may become the testing ground for policymakers looking at ways to redesign by cutting certificated teachers in favour of massive online cohorts of students tutored by “facilitators” or “individual learning specialists.”

Technologies should be employed to help students become empowered citizens rather than passive consumers. Innovations are needed in education that will help to create a society where people can flourish within culturally rich, informed, democratic, digitally connected and diverse communities. We should not descend into a culture of individualism through technology where our students are fragmented by continuous partial attention.

For the vast majority of students within Alberta’s K–12 public education system, we must achieve a more nuanced balance that combines both digital technologies and the physical presence of a caring, knowledgeable and pedagogically thoughtful teacher. This is not an optional “nice to have,” but a “must have” if children and youth are to build resilience for the future. Blended learning may be (re)shaped by privatization myths, with adaptive learning systems as their voice, but in Alberta, our teachers still remain the quintessence of the human enterprise of paying it forward for our next generation. It is time for Alberta teachers to claim the space of blended learning and push back at the myths and questionable rhetoric.

This article was reprinted by the Washington Post (June 21, 2015)

Citation:
McRae, P. (2015, June 21). Blended learning: The great new thing or the great new hype? Retrieved from The Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2015/06/21/blended-learning-the-great-new-thing-or-the-great-new-hype/

This article was printed in the Summer 2015 edition of the ATA Magazine.

Citation:
McRae, P. (2015). Myth: Blended learning is the next ed-tech revolution – hype, harm and hope. Alberta Teachers' Association Magazine 4 (95). Edmonton, AB: Barnett House Press p. 19-27.

Dr. Phil McRae is an executive staff officer with the Alberta Teachers’ Association and adjunct professor within the faculty of education at the University of Alberta, where he earned his PhD.

REFERENCES
Aaronson , T., and J. O'Connor. 2012. “In K12 courses, 275 students to a single teacher.” Miami Herald, September 16. http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/09/16/3005122/in-k12-courses-275-students-to.html.

Christensen, C. M., and M.B. Horn. 2008. “How Do We Transform Our Schools?” Education Next 8, no. 3 (Summer), 13–19.

Danner, J. 2010. “Rocketship Hybrid School Model — Half The Teachers and Twice the Pay.” Donnell-Kay Foundation website. http://dkfoundation.org/news/rocketship-hybrid-school-model-half-teachers-and-twice-pay (accessed May 4, 2015).

Dwinal, M. 2015. “Solving the Nation's Teacher Shortage: How online leanrning can fix the broken teacher labor market.” Clayton Christensen Institute website. http://www.christenseninstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Solving-the-nations-teacher-shortage.pdf (accessed May 4, 2015).

Friesen, N. 2012. “Defining Blended Learning.Learning Spaces, August. http://learningspaces.org/papers/Defining_Blended_Learning_NF.pdf (accessed May 4, 2015).

Gibson, D., and J. Clements. 2013. Delivery Matters: Cyber Charter Schools and K–12 Education in Alberta. Edmonton, AB: Parkland Institute.

Gosper, M., D. Green, M. McNeill, R. Phillips, G. Preston and K. Woo. 2008. Final Report: The Impact of Web-Based Lecture Technologies on Current and Future Practices in Learning and Teaching. Sydney: Macquarie University.

Green, N. 2013. “What to look for in a personalized learning plan.” DreamBox Learning website. http://www.dreambox.com/blog/personalized-learning-plan#sthash.ubJ00yA3.dpuf (accessed May 5, 2015).

Horn, M. B., and H. Staker. 2011. “The Rise of K–12 Blended Learning.” Clayton Christensen Institute website. http://www.christenseninstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/The-rise-of-K-12-blended-learning.pdf (accessed May 5, 2015).

Horn, M. B., C. Christensen and C.W. Johnson. 2010. Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Horn, M. B., T. Hudson and J. Everly. 2014. “Blended Learning in K8 Schools: Expert Advice from Michael Horn.” DreamBox Learning website: http://www.dreambox.com/webinar/blended-learning-k8-schools-expert-advice-michael-horn (accessed May 5, 2015).

Kennedy, J. F. 1962. “Yale University Commencement Address.” Transcript of speech given at Yale University, New Haven, CT, June 11, 1962. Miller Center, University of Virginia website. http://millercenter.org/president/speeches/speech-3370 (accessed May 5, 2015).

McRae, P. A. 2010. “The Politics of Personalization in the 21st Century.” Alberta Teachers' Association Magazine 91, no. 1: 8–11.

McRae, P. A. 2013. “Rebirth of the Teaching Machine through the Seduction of Data Analytics.” Alberta Teachers' Association Magazine 93, no. 4. Also available at http://philmcrae.com/2/post/2013/04/rebirth-of-the-teaching-maching-through-the-seduction-of-data-analytics-this-time-its-personal1.html (accessed May 5, 2015).

McRae, P. A. 2014. “[Debate] Challenging the Promise of Personalized Learning — WISE 2014.” World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qwI4oC_A0IM (accessed May 5, 2015).

Murphy, R., E. Snow, J. Mislevy, L. Gallagher, A. Krumm and X. Wei. 2014. Blended Learning Report. Austin, TX: Michael and Susan Dell Foundation.

Olster, S. 2013. “Better Technology and More Productive Teachers are Just Around the Corner.” Fortune website. http://tech.fortune.cnn.com/2013/01/10/the-future-of-the-classroom (accessed May 5, 2015).

Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). 2012. “Can 'Rocketship' Launch a Fleet of Successful, Mass-Produced Schools?” PBS Newshour, December 28. http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/education-july-dec12-rocket_12-28/ (accessed May 5, 2015).

Sparks, S. D. 2015. “Blended Learning Research Yields Limited Results.” Education Week, April 13. http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2015/04/15/blended-learning-research-yields-limited-results.html (accessed May 5, 2015).

Staker, H., and M.B. Horn. 2012. “Classifying K-12 Blended Learning.” Clayton Christensen Institute website. http://www.christenseninstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/Classifying-K-12-blended-learning.pdf (accessed May 5, 2015).

Strauss, V. 2013. “Rocketship Charter Schools Revamping Signature ‘Learning Lab’.” The Answer Sheet blog, Washington Post, January 25.  http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/01/25/rocketship-charter-schools-revamping-signature-learning-lab (accessed May 5, 2025).

U.S. Department of Education. 2013. “Competency-Based Learning or Personalized Learning.” U.S. Department of Education website. http://www.ed.gov/oii-news/competency-based-learning-or-personalized-learning (accessed May 5, 2015).

Wolf, M. A. 2010. Innovate to Educate: System [Re]design for Personalized Learning, A Report from the 2010 Symposium. Software & Information Industry Association. http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/CSD6181.pdf (accessed May 5, 2015).
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<![CDATA[On Resilience: Bending with the Wind]]>Thu, 07 May 2015 21:52:00 GMThttp://philmcrae.com/blog/on-resilience-bending-with-the-wind
"The oak fought the wind and was broken,
the willow bent when it must and survived."

~Robert Jordan

At one time or another we all come face-to-face with real hardships in life, whether they be social, emotional, financial and/or physical.  It is an inevitability of being human, and something that life’s wisdom gets around to teaching us all. 

How we cope with this adversity is dependent on our ability to manage change and reshape our lives.  To adapt, and be able to bounce back from adversity, which is a central part of the human condition, we must build resilience in children and youth.

As Editor of The Learning Team publication, which reaches over 25 000 parents across our province, I have dedicated the April 2015 edition to exploring the notion of resilience at a time in our history when it is desperately needed, perhaps not just for children but society writ large.

Zolli and Healy[1] (2012) define resilience as “the capacity of a system, enterprise, or a person to maintain its core purpose and integrity in the face of dramatically changed circumstances,” and see resilience as “preserving adaptive capacity (p. 8)—the ability to adapt to changed circumstances while fulfilling one’s core purpose, which is an essential skill in an age of unforeseeable disruption and volatility” (p.9).

Complex societal shifts are now coinciding with a growing body of research that has documented a steady increase in the rates of depression, anxiety and other mental health disorders among children and youth across North America. According to Jean Twenge[2] five to eight times as many high school and post-secondary students meet the criteria for diagnosis of major depression and/or an anxiety disorder as was true over fifty years ago. This startling increase is not the result of any new diagnostic criteria, but in fact stems from a questionnaire, known as the MMPI--the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, that has been used to assess a variety of mental disorders with over seventy seven thousand Americans since 1938. 

Some would suggest that the decline of free play may be causing this meteoric rise in anxiety & depression, while others claim it is a result of hyper-parenting and a narcissism epidemic driven by an obsessive focus on the individual.  Whatever the causes, it is a clarion call to look deeper at resilience as one of many ways towards a more hopeful future for our children and youth.

The articles contained in this edition have been selected to provide some pragmatic and meaningful suggestions for facing reality regardless of our circumstances, finding meaning in life through positive relationships and resilient networks, and discovering ways to find new solutions to the difficult challenges we inevitably face. We explore this concept of resilience in three very different developmental spaces, which are those of children, youth and adults.  Only if we can learn to bend with the winds of adversity will we learn how to flourish in times of profound change. I hope you enjoy this collection.
The Learning Team - April 2015 Edition
Resilience: Bouncing Back from Adversity
[1] Zolli, A., & Healy, A. (2012). Resilience: Why things bounce back. New York: Freepress.

[2] Twenge, J., et al., (2010). Birth cohort increases in psychopathology among young Americans, 1938-2007: A cross-temporal meta-analysis of the MMPI. In press, Clinical Psychology Review 30, 145-154.
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<![CDATA[Rebirth of the Teaching Machine through the Seduction of Data Analytics: This Time It's Personal ]]>Sun, 14 Apr 2013 19:06:12 GMThttp://philmcrae.com/blog/rebirth-of-the-teaching-maching-through-the-seduction-of-data-analytics-this-time-its-personal1
Postcard from 1899
“At School in the Year 2000” A futuristic image of learning as depicted on a postcard from the World’s Fair in Paris, Circa 1899 Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
Notions of mechanized teaching machines captured the imagination of many in the late 19th and 20th century. Today, yet again, a new generation of technology platforms promise to deliver “personalized learning” for each and every student. This rebirth of the teaching machine centers on digital software tutors (known as adaptive learning systems) and their grand claims to individualize learning by controlling the pace, place and content for each and every student. This time around, however, it is personal.

Personal choice, with centralized control, in an increasingly data driven, standardized and mechanized learning system, has long been a fantasy for many technocrats desperately wanting to (re)shape K-12 teaching and learning with technology. In this alternate reality, class sizes no longer matter and new staffing patterns emerge. The amount of time students spend in schools becomes irrelevant as brick and mortar structures fade away.  Yet this fantasy disregards the overwhelming parental desire (and societal expectation) that children will gather together to learn.

Technologies have amplified our desires for choice, flexibility and individualization in North America, so it is easy to be seduced by a vision of computers delivering only what we want, when, and how we want it customized. The marketing mantra from media conglomerates to banks is that of 24/7 services at any time, in any place or at any pace. Many governments have in turn adopted this language in an eagerness to reduce costs with business-like customization and streamlined workforce productivity - all with the expectation that a flexible education system will also be more efficient and (cost) effective.

The adaptive learning system crusade in schools is organized, growing in power and well-funded by venture capitalists and corporations. Many companies are looking to profit from student (and teacher) data that can be easily collected, stored, processed, customized, analyzed, and then ultimately (re)sold. In the year 2014, venture capital funds, private equity investors and transnational corporations like Pearson poured over $3.5 billion USD into education technology companies in the United States alone (CB Insights, 2014). Children and youth should not be treated like automated teller machines or retail loyalty cards from which companies can extract valuable data.

Adaptive learning systems (the new teaching machines) do not build more resilient, creative, entrepreneurial or empathetic citizens through their individualized, linear and mechanical software algorithms. Nor do they balance the desire for greater choice, in all its manifest forms, with the equity needed for a society to flourish.  Computer adaptive learning systems are reductionist and primarily attend to those things that can be easily digitized and tested (math, science and reading). They fail to recognize that high quality learning environments are deeply relational, humanistic, creative, socially constructed, active and inquiry-oriented.

This article paints a picture of how old notions of teaching machines are being reborn through a seduction of data analytics and competency-based personalization (think individualization). It is also intended to be a declaration against the fatalism of adaptive learning systems as the next evolutionary stage for K-12 education in the 21st Century. 

The History
For generations various devices have been patented to mechanically teach students.  The first popular attempt was in the 1920s when Sidney Pressey (1926) invented a machine that would run on two modes of operation: ‘teach’ and ‘test’. After reading through material in the teach mode, a student would flick the control to test and proceed to pull down one of four response keys.  To give the illusion of progress, the machine would score the response and wondrously record the total number of correct answers. A ‘reward dial’ could also be added so that when a correct number of responses were achieved, a piece of candy would drop into a small dish for the student (think Pavlov’s dog). It was simply a multiple choice test in a mechanical box.

Pressey’s machine was born in an age where managerial approaches to controlling and sequencing learning were popular.  It was a time of efficiency where the industrial assembly line had introduced innovative technologies, increased competition, and inspired new efforts to (re)organize companies. The industrialist Fredrick Taylor (1911) was especially influential to the teaching machine movement. His concepts of scientific management drew on studies of assembly line workers and proposed new methods for managers to speed up efficiency and productivity through a process of measurement and control. It was an era that privileged behaviourism (i.e., stimulus and response).  At this time Edward Thorndike’s (1921) popular book on Principles of Learning stressed that people all learned in the same basic way through individual practice and reinforcement.

However, it was not until the 1950s, that psychologist B. F. Skinner (1954a) made the bold claim that the dawn of the machine age of education had finally arrived.  With his particular brand of teaching machines and programmed learning he vowed that, “students could learn twice as much in the same time and with the same effort as in a standard classroom” (Oppenheimer, 1997).  Skinner would go on to say that his machine had an important advantage over past attempts because a student was “free to move at his own pace [and]…only moves on when he has completely mastered all the preceding material…to a final stage in which he is competent.” (Skinner, 1954b).  For Skinner, learning was about measurability, uniformity, and control of the student.  This view of learning dismissed the larger social, cultural and emotional contexts in which knowledge is created.
The next big lurch forward came from the artificial intelligence movement of the 1970s. This era reinforced behaviourist notions while introducing research in the unfolding field of computer science. This gave rise to Computer-Assisted Instruction (CAI) projects like PLATO (Programmed Logic for Automated Teaching Operations).

CAI treated students like patients who once diagnosed through computer testing and task analysis could be prescribed individual remediation by the software. But, the software development costs for CAI were high, and computers (both personal and school-based) were rare and expensive. Ultimately, the artificial intelligence of the computers was never really that intelligent.  Once again the teaching machines receded into the storage room.
Picture
PLATO (Programmed Logic for Automated Teaching Operations).
In 2013, Dreambox Learning Inc., a technology company out of the United States, claims that their proprietary intelligent adaptive learning (IAL) system, has the “effectiveness comparable to human tutoring [and] accelerates math teaching and learning” (Dreambox Learning Inc., 2013). The company’s contracted research white paper unflinchingly states, “the level of sophistication of today’s IAL systems is far superior to similar technologies of the past” (Lemke, 2013, p. 13). This particular brand of teaching machine individualizes learning by adjusting “path and pace to stay within the child’s zone of optimized learning to accelerate understanding and critical thinking” (Dreambox Learning Inc., 2013).

It is as if we are caught in an ever renewing cycle of promises, or as Yogi Berra once observed, “It’s déjà vu all over again” (Berra, 2004). Adaptive learning systems still promote the notion of the isolated individual, in front of a technology platform, being delivered concrete and sequential content for mastery. However, the re-branding is that of personalization (individual), flexible and customized (technology platform) delivering 21st century competencies (content).

At its most innocent, it is a renewed attempt at bringing back behaviourism and operant conditioning to make learning more efficient. At its most sinister, it establishes children as measurable commodities to be cataloged and capitalized upon by corporations.  It is a movement that could be the last tsunami that systematically privatizes public education systems.

The Seduction
So why is this movement so seductive? First, it is seen as opening up possibilities for greater access to data that can be used to hyper-individualize learning and in turn diagnose the challenges facing entire school systems. Second, the modern teaching machines, and the growing reach and power of technologies, promises to (re)shape students into powerful knowledge workers of the 21st Century.

For publishers and educational technology companies, the adaptive learning systems are a means to ‘atomize’ students (and their data) away from the shelter and protection of public education systems. It allows them to create long-term ‘personal’ relationships with students, so they can market their products over the student’s lifetime. Senior publishing executives from McGraw-Hill are not shy about stating their desire to profit off student data: "collecting data, having a student profile that goes from kindergarten through professional [life] is where we want to invest" (Olster, 2013). It also prevents materials from being shared or transferred over time by students as the materials are all digitized and copyright protected. It allows for direct marketing of products and services at any time, place or pace to students or their families.

For teachers, adaptive learning systems are sold as providing easy ways to bump test scores for each and every student, while generating detailed individual student reports through the software’s surveillance structures.  Companies market their algorithms as not only teaching better, but also freeing up teachers’ time and relieving their burdens in a world of test-based accountability. Just as Pressey (1926) stated almost a century ago, the machine will “make her [teacher] free for those inspirational and thought-stimulating activities which are, presumably, the real function of the teacher” (p. 374).

For parents, this is an extension of the growth in the tutoring movement. It is estimated that one third of Alberta parents now pay for private tutors (Alberta Teachers’ Association, 2011). As the Canadian Council on Learning (2007) found in their national survey, “most parents who hire tutors (73%) estimate that their children's overall academic performance is in the A or B range”. This is a global obsession, and in 2010 74% of all South Korean students were engaged in some form of private after-school instruction, at an average cost of $2,600 per student for the year (Ripley, 2011).

Adaptive learning systems are seductive to a North America society reeling from economic volatility, decline and severe fiscal constraints.  It is a time where the middle class is rapidly shrinking.  Parents are obsessively enrolling their children in after-school programs or tutoring with a fanatic devotion to giving their offspring a competitive edge over the pack. Hyper-parents are investing more time, money and energy in their offspring than in previous generations, and adaptive learning systems may be seen as one more tool on the treadmill to Harvard.  As Carl Honore (2008) says, “It is not just kids who are under pressure now; it’s parents too. We feel we have to push, polish and protect our offspring with superhuman zeal - or else we’re somehow falling down on the job. We start from the noble and natural instinct to do the best for our kids but end up going too far. Social and cultural pressure drives a lot of this”.

This has resulted in some dramatic consequences for childhood. Since the late 1970s, children have lost 12 hours per week of free time, including a 25% decrease in play and a 50% decrease in unstructured outdoor activities. (Juster et al., 2004). Parents are working longer hours and families are spending less time with their children (Parkland Institute, 2012). The adaptive learning algorithm, wondrously sold as virtual tutor, could also become a convenient digital baby rattle.

For students frustrated with working in a group setting, or having to negotiate the diversity of a public school setting, the teaching machine provides relief. The new teaching machine becomes the panacea for students who are struggling academically or irritated by the pace of learning in schools. Yet, as Hargreaves and Shirley (2009) suggest: “Customized learning is pleasurable and instantly gratifying. Nevertheless it...ultimately becomes just one more process of business-driven training delivered to satisfy individual consumer tastes and desires” (p. 84).

There are no quick fixes to learning and teaching. Excellence in life, and with all complex activities, takes time and patience. This time is what Malcom Gladwell (2008) calls the ten thousand hour rule, where “researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: ten thousand hours” (p. 40). Although seductive, data analytics and algorithms of the software that magically determine the pacing, path, or content for the learner, do not reinforce this type of dedication for true expertise.

Educational technology companies and publishers are rushing to colonize the Big Data and personalized learning revolution. In the United States the trajectory of education reform is one of increased standardization, centralization and adaptive learning systems.  Far too seldom are the conversations about fostering creativity, the arts, talent diversity, or interpersonal communicative competencies for children and youth. Big data and personalized learning is the next tsunami. 

The Context

Big Data
In this first quarter of the 21st Century people have become deeply (inter)connected with machines.  These connections have blurred the boundaries between our online and offline behaviours.  The location data from our cellphones, information from credit card purchases, retail loyalty card transactions, medical records, household energy consumption or even the dynamics of our online social media connections can now be tracked and traced. Essentially we are leaving digital breadcrumbs around our increasingly connected lives. Data about our existence is consequently growing at an exponential rate, driven by an astounding 2.5 quintillion bytes of data created every single day (IBM, 2013).

As our personal data grows, so does the desire to have it harvested for patterns. With the ability to track social connections and economic habits down to the individual level, micro-patterns emerge. People (and their data) become “atomized”, behaviours are tracked in real-time, and then compared with millions of other individuals. With more powerful computing technologies large data sets may even hold the power of prediction (think Amazon book recommendations, but for personal health). This is known as the ‘Big Data’ phenomenon.

Big Data is about finding the seemingly hidden connections within a population or even from our own (learning) behaviours. Companies, and some governments, are beginning to see these big data insights as holding the potential to provide new products, redesign systems and personalize services. 

As data gathering increases across society, and we crank out even more information about our behaviours, companies look to one of the last frontiers to privatize: student and teacher data. With access to big data on student populations, companies would have limitless opportunities to increase profits and growth. However in public systems, with democratic governance, it is difficult to get access to the intimate data on students and teachers. Public school jurisdictions often frustrate businesses as they try to sell (and hyper-personalize) their products to students, parents and teachers.

A Cautionary Tale
This changed with inBloom Inc., a $100 million dollar K-12 education data-sharing initiative launched in 2013 by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation of New York. This massive database contained personal student information that would allow sharing of the data with 21 for-profit companies. As reported in Reuters, the inBloom Inc. database held "files on millions of children identified by name, address and sometimes social security number. Learning disabilities are documented, test scores recorded, attendance noted. In some cases, the database tracks student hobbies, career goals, attitudes toward school - even homework completion. Local education officials retain legal control over their students' information. But federal law allows them to share files in their portion of the database with private companies selling educational products and services” (Simons, 2013a).

The stated mission of inBloom Inc. was to "inform and involve each student and teacher with data and tools designed to personalize learning" (inBloom, 2013). It started by populating the database with student information for free, with a plan to charge states or school jurisdictions annual fees of $2 to $5 per student by the year 2015 (Simons, 2013b).

However, two concerns arose from this particular Big Data development in K-12 education. The first was that Amplify Education Inc., a for-profit division of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., built the database infrastructure for inBloom Inc.. Murdoch is internationally known for the personal wiretapping and hacking scandals of one of his companies, and he has openly articulated his interests in profiting off K-12 education: “When it comes to K through 12 education we see a $500 billion sector in the U.S. alone that is waiting desperately to be transformed by big breakthroughs...[News Corp.] is at the forefront of individualized, technology-based learning that is poised to revolutionize public education for a new generation of students” (Murdoch, 2010).

Second, parents in New York were not made aware that their children’s personal information could be shared with for-profit private technology companies without their consent. And as with the state of data security in our times, inBloom Inc. “cannot guarantee the security of the information stored … or that the information will not be intercepted when it is being transmitted” (Simons, 2013a).

The Electronic Privacy Information Center subsequently filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Education charging it with violating student privacy rights and undermining parental consent (Strauss, 2013a). While in Louisiana, John White, the State Superintendent of Education, announced that he would be recalling all confidential student data from inBloom Inc. (Leader, 2013).  Three other states, Kentucky, Georgia and Delaware, were initially listed as partners on the inBloom website, but then declined to participate in this activity, with Georgia specifically asking for its name to be removed from the partner list (Simons, 2013b). 

InBloom was sold as a convenient store house for student data that would connect to software in order to tailor assignments and 'personalize learning' for each and every student.  Yet, in the end InBloom Inc. was perceived as getting too personal with their data gathering activities. On April 21, 2014 Iwan Streichenberger, the chief executive officer of inBloom Inc., announced that due to generalized public concerns over privacy, data misuse and security, it would be winding down the organization.

As many global technology companies and publishing companies such as Pearson, McGraw-Hill Education,  and News Corp. continue to introduce student databases and student performance tracking software (especially on mobile devices), legislation began passing in 2014 in eight states, including New York, Virginia, and Kentucky, that have placed strict legal boundaries around the ability of school jurisdictions to share student data with third party vendors or marketing firms.

Issues of privacy, data access, and who actually owns student and teacher data will continue to grow enormously in the near future.  There can be value in having big data analyzed to discover new patterns, but not at the expense of removing privacy protections for students (or teachers) within a public education system.

Data Driven Decision Making
The professional work of teaching and learning has used data and evidence to improve educational decision making for years.  Even ‘big data’ and its power can be used to help redesign a public system, as long as teachers, principals, parents and/or students give clear consent to its various ethical uses to improve student learning. Data is key to empowering and generating educational growth and insight for teachers. In fact data and evidence generated through teacher action research was a hallmark of the internationally recognized Alberta Initiative for School Improvement (AISI) for over a decade. Ironically we have more data on student assessments, and fewer opportunities for deep conversations between parents and teachers.

The right data, meaningfully and thoughtfully used, could enhance individual and collective teacher efficacy. The same data could also be used by system leaders for narrow accountability regimes and punitive action. In the United States, mandates created under the “Race to the Top” initiatives, and programs promoted by the Gates Foundation, have led to more data attempting to measure teacher effectiveness than ever before. As a society we have become obsessed with data quantity, but in many ways have fallen short on the quality of our human interactions.

Personalized Learning
Personalized learning is neither a pedagogic theory nor a coherent set of teaching approaches; it is an idea struggling for an identity (McRae, 2010). A description of personalization of learning tightly linked to technology-mediated individualization ‘anywhere, anytime’ is premised on old ideas from the assembly line era. It is a model that is being advanced by the rapidly growing private corporations, virtual schools and charter school in the United States.

Personalizing learning, as an act of differentiating learning in a highly relational environment, is not new to the profession of teaching. Legions of teachers enter classrooms to engage diverse minds across multiple activities and to support each student as he or she inquires into problems. These same teachers, who hold a keen awareness of each of their student’s particular learning styles and passions, are also simultaneously contending with issues of poverty, lack of parental involvement (or conversely helicopter parents), large classes, familial and community influences, student effort and numerous digital and popular culture distractions that add to complexity of their professional practice.

Personalizing learning can be a progressive stance to education reform, and is in line with many new forms of assessment, differentiated learning and instruction, and redesigning high schools beyond age cohorts and classes.  More flexible approaches to education are undeniably necessary, and findings ways to personalize learning will be important if students are to adequately develop the skills and knowledge that will help them creatively navigate an uncertain future. However, personalized learning defined as an isolated child in front of a computer screen for hours on end is folly.

The Enablers
To enable this all to happen in an education system, several policies must be enshrined by governments and school districts that allow publishers or educational technology companies direct access to students. The first is to open up multiple pathways of learning, which are more flexible in terms of time and space, and designed around technology solutions that only the company can deliver. On the surface this flexibility sounds promising, as teachers and school leaders certainly recognize that the industrial model of command and control does not fit with our hyper-connected world. Unfortunately, the flexibility of anytime, any pace learning is manifesting itself in the United States around adaptive learning software programs or mandatory online learning courses that are being delivered by private companies.

The U.S. Department of Education (2013) has clearly articulated a commitment to making this happen with ‘Competency-Based Learning’ or ‘Personalized Learning’: “Transitioning away from seat time, in favor of a structure that creates flexibility, allows students to progress as they demonstrate mastery of academic content, regardless of time, place, or pace of learning. By enabling students to master skills at their own pace, competency-based learning systems help to save both time and money…make better use of technology, support new staffing patterns that utilize teacher skills and interests differently…Each of these presents an opportunity to achieve greater efficiency and increase productivity.”

The notion of creating new staffing patterns has evolved in the United States to redefine and expand the role of ‘teacher’. The new staffing patterns with this model have shown to reduce the teaching force to a 1 to 150 pupil teacher ratio with the monitoring of students in computer labs, tutoring and marking supported by non-certificated staff with titles like ‘Coaches’, ‘Facilitators’ or ‘Individual Learning Specialists’. In the case of K12 Inc., the United States largest provider of online education for grades K-12, it is reported that student teacher ratios are as high as 1 teacher to 275 students (Aaronson and O’Connor, 2012). As the President and CEO at McGraw-Hill Education affirms: "With this new method and capability [adaptive learning systems], all of a sudden you could see a teacher handling many more students...the productivity could double or triple" (Olster, 2013). The Software & Information Industry Association, the principal trade association for the software and digital content industries in America, is a clear backer of redefining and expanding the role of the teacher, and advocates that “teacher contracts and other regulatory constraints may also need to be addressed to provide the flexibility in a teacher’s role needed to make this dramatic shift in instruction” (Wolf, 2010, p. 15).

The Challenges
1. Commodification of Student Data:
Public schools must be the guardians of students' personal data. Teachers, as the guardians of children, cannot collect ‘big data’ without parental consent and then allow it to be passed on to companies looking for a new marketplace in public education. With adaptive learning systems companies can market directly to the individual student or parents, without the obstructions (or guidance) of a robust public education system.

The data analytics crusade in schools, and issues of who owns and controls the ‘big data’ of children and youth, must be highly contested.

2. Reductionist Thinking:
Adaptive learning systems can divert teacher and student attention to only the ‘basics’ of math and reading.  In some cases even privileging just one curricular area. As DreamBox Learning Inc. forcefully states in direct emails to parents: “Research has shown that mastery of early math skills is the single best predictor of future academic success - more important even than early reading!” (McRae, personal communication, January 28, 2013).

In respecting individuality and difference, we need to move education systems towards actions that Yong Zhao (2009) says will provide “more diverse talents rather than standardized labourers, more creative individuals rather than homogenized test takers, and more entrepreneurs rather than obedient employees.” (p. 181). A narrowing of cognition through the teaching machine will not build the kind of confidence, social agility, cooperation and creativity that children growing up in post-industrial society need. As Dewey (1938) said, “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.”

3. Learning is Socially Constructed:
Research out of the learning science makes it clear that learning is successful when it is socially constructed, and occurs in an active and inquiry-oriented process that engages people in social, emotional, cultural and deeply intrapersonal experiences. This research will likely hold true whether our future learning environments are enacted face to face, online or in blended learning online/offline contexts as this carbon and silicon line begins to blur. It also holds true regardless of whether one is considered digitally literate or whether one is a member of the New Millennial Generation (Gen M).

4. Adaptation:
There is much good in providing opportunities for students to have more personalized experiences with learning, but the world does not adapt to people, we must adapt to the world. To adapt, and be able to bounce back from adversity, which is a central part of the human condition, we must build resilience in our children and youth.

Zolli and Healy (2012) define resilience as “the capacity of a system, enterprise, or a person to maintain its core purpose and integrity in the face of dramatically changed circumstances,” and see resilience as “preserving adaptive capacity (p. 8)—the ability to adapt to changed circumstances while fulfilling one’s core purpose, which is an essential skill in an age of unforeseeable disruption and volatility” (p.9). Resilience not only encourages adaptability, but it also strengthens 21st Century collaborative skills, connectivity and an appreciation of diversity in the world around us. Resilience is not shaped through teaching machines, but it is through highly relational learning environments. It will be especially important in a global world defined by increased volatility, ambiguity, uncertainty and complexity.

5. Echo-Chamber Effect:
We are entering a digital age of mobility where students can access the information they want at any time, place or pace through a variety of devices. This will have a profound effect on critical thinking as individuals are increasingly fed only the exact type of information (specific political views, topical book themes, local environmental conditions) and sources (individual blogs, twitter feeds, facebook updates, or websites) to which they digitally subscribe.  In many ways, hyper-personalized (customized) digital spaces have the potential to limit students to only the content that they want to see, hear and read about.  A condition can then arise in online communities where participants find their own opinions constantly echoed back to them (i.e., echo-chamber effect), thus reinforcing a certain sense of truth that resonates with their individual belief systems (McRae, 2006).

This then challenges a call for a diversity of talents, and positions free will and personal choice as taking on new (and obscured) meanings in digital echo chambers.  In considering personalization and technology, we need to be thoughtful about the role of critical thinking, diversity and chance (serendipity). These are all important for learning and will have long-term implications for society.

6.  Children and Screen Time:
To what extent do we want children and youth spending even more time immersed in adaptive learning software programs during the school day? A growing body of research indicates children between the ages of 8 to 18 already spend an average of 7.5 hours a day in front of screens (e.g., television, computers, video-games and phones) (Kaiser Family Foundation, 2010).  To gather even more data through adaptive learning systems, children will need to spend time allowing the machine to monitor their every interaction. John Danner, former C.E.O. of Rocketship Charter Schools and a member of the Board of Directors of DreamBox Learning Inc., envisions even more screen time during the day for children: “As the quality of software improves, Danner thinks “Rocketeers” could spend as much as 50 percent of the school day with computers” Strauss (2013b).

Those who work with children, families, schools and communities are asking serious questions about the effects of online digital activities on health and mental well-being. We should be particularly concerned with late-night screen time, especially if children are spending hours in front of the screen with the virutal computer tutor at home. A growing body of new research indicates that nocturnal screentime decreases sleep quality and quantity thus negatively affecting children’s readiness to learn (Howard-Jones, 2012; Rich, 2012). How many hours of the developing minds and bodies of children and youth are we willing to sacrifice for more individualized computer-human interactions under the guise of data analytics?

A Better Path
There are no simple computerized solutions to the complex and diverse challenges of poverty and inequity, or lack of parental engagement (conversely hyper-parenting) facing schools.  In an effort to continually improve educational practices and create great schools for all students, what might be a better path to the seduction of adaptive learning systems?

We can establish conditions of professional practice where high quality teachers and principals, with a sense of efficacy, can differentiate instruction and advance new forms of assessment for learning with/without technology. Teachers could be engaged in a conversation, earlier rather than later, around how they might use data (big or small) to enhance student learning.

Technologies could be employed to help students become empowered citizens rather than passive consumers. Innovations are needed in education that will help to create a society where people can flourish within culturally rich, informed, democratic, digitally connected and diverse communities.  We should not descend into a culture of individualism through technology, where people are fragmented by a continuous partial attention.

The education of our next generations should not be about machines but, rather, a community of learners whose physical, intellectual and social well-being is held sacred. This point of view is driven by the human desire to connect, maintain friendships, tell stories, share thoughts and inquire into the nature of the world. It is a perspective that naturally flows together with the research on learning that suggests that education is not just about content or physical place but also a collective and highly relational set of experiences within a community of learners.

Emerging technologies and smart data certainly have a place in educational transformation, but they must be employed to enhance what research in the learning sciences continues to reinforce as the foundation of learning: the pedagogical relationships between students, teachers, parents and community. Attempts to displace this human dimension of learning with the teaching machine (whatever you imagine this to be) is a distraction to the most important support great schools can offer students each and every day – relationships, relationships, relationships.

References

Aaronson T. and O’Connor J. (2012). In K12 courses, 275 students to a single teacher. Miami, FL: Miami Herald. Retrieved from: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/09/16/3005122/in-k12-courses-275-students-to.html

Alberta Teachers’ Association (2011). Changing Landscapes for Learning Our Way to the Next Alberta. Edmonton, AB: Barnett House. Retrieved from: http://www.teachers.ab.ca/SiteCollectionDocuments/ATA/News-Room/2011/Changing%20LandscapesOctober2011_Proof2.pdf

Dewey, J. (1938). Experience and education. New York, NY: MacMillan Publishing Company.

Dreambox Learning Inc., (2013). Adaptive learning: Intelligent Adaptive Learning. Bellevue, WA: DreamBox Learning Inc. Retrieved from: http://www.dreambox.com/adaptive-learning

Berra, Y. (2004). Yogi Berra: Yogi-isms. Little Falls, NJ. Retrieved from: http://www.yogiberra.com/yogi-isms.html   

Canadian Council on Learning (2007). Survey of Canadian Attitudes toward Learning: Canadian attitudes toward tutoring. Vancouver, BC: Canadian Council on Learning. Retrieved from: http://www.ccl-cca.ca/ccl/Reports/SCAL/2007Archive/SCALStructuredTutoring.html  

CB Insights (2014). Ed Tech Investment & Exit Report: 2014 On Track for New Funding Record. New York, NY: CB Insights. Retreived from: https://www.cbinsights.com/blog/ed-tech-investment-report-2014

Eisner, E. (1994). The Educational Imagination: On the Design and Evaluation of School Programs, Third Edition, New York, NY: Macmillan Publishing Company.

Gladwell M. (2008). Outliers: The story of success. New York, NY: Little, Brown & Company.

Hargreaves, A. & Shirley, D. (2009). The Fourth Way: The Inspiring Future for Educational Change. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Howard-Jones, P. (2012 April 25). The impact of digital technologies on human wellbeing. Invitational Research Colloquium on Promise and Peril: The Impact of Technology on Children, Schools and Communities. Edmonton, AB: Alberta Teachers' Association. Retrieved from: http://www.teachers.ab.ca/SiteCollectionDocuments/ATA/Teaching-in-Alberta/Paul%20Howard%20Jones.pdf

inBloom (2013). inBloom: Our mission. Atlanta, GA: inBloom, Inc. Retrieved from: https://www.inbloom.org

IBM (2013). Big data at the speed of business: What is big data. Armonk, NY: IBM Corporation. Retrieved from: http://www-01.ibm.com/software/data/bigdata

Juster, F.T., Ono, H., & Stafford, F. (2004). Changing times of American youth: 1981-2003. Ann Arbor, MI: Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan. Retrieved from: http://www.umich.edu/news/Releases/2004/Nov04/teen_time_report.pdf

Kaiser Family Foundation (2010). Generation M2: Media in the lives of 8–18 year olds. Menlo Park, CA: Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

Leader, B. (2013). Superintendent John White recalls student data stored with nonprofit inBloom. Monroe, LA: The News Star. Retrieved from: http://www.thenewsstar.com/article/20130419/NEWS01/130419017/Superintendent-John-White-recalls-student-data-stored-nonprofit-inBloom?nclick_check=1

Lemke, C. (2013). Intelligent adaptive learning: An essential element of 21st century teaching and learning [White Paper]. Bellevue, WA: DreamBox Learning Inc. Retrieved from: http://www.dreambox.com/white-papers/intelligent-adaptive-learning-an-essential-element-of-21st-century-teaching-and-learning

McRae, P. (2010). The politics of personalization in the 21st century. Alberta Teachers' Association Magazine 1 (91): 8-11. Edmonton, AB: Barnett House. Retrieved from: http://www.teachers.ab.ca/Publications/ATA%20Magazine/Volume-91/Number-1/Pages/The-Politics-of-Personalization-in-the-21st-Century.aspx

McRae, P. (2006). Echoing voices - emerging challenges for educational practice on the internet. In T. Reeves & S. Yamashita (Eds.), Proceedings of World Conference on E-Learning in Corporate, Government, Healthcare, and Higher Education 2006 (pp. 2622-2629). Chesapeake, VA: American Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE). 

Murdoch, R. (2010). News corporation to acquire education technology company wireless generation. Washington, DC: News Corporation Press Release. Retrieved from: http://www.newscorp.com/news/news_464.html

Olster, S. (2013). CNNMoney: Better technology and more productive teachers are just around the corner. New York, NY: Cable News Network Retrieved from: http://tech.fortune.cnn.com/2013/01/10/the-future-of-the-classroom

Oppenheimer, T. (1997). The computer delusion. Atlantic Monthly 280 (01): 45–62.

Parkland Institute (2012). Family day on the treadmill: Alberta families at risk of too much stress. Edmonton, AB: Retrieved from: http://parklandinstitute.ca/research/summary/family_day_on_the_treadmill

Pressey, S. L. (1926). A simple apparatus which gives tests and scores-and teaches. School and Society, 23(586):373–376.

Rich, M. (2012 April 25). Finding huck finn: Reclaiming childhood from a river of electronic screens. Invitational Research Colloquium on Promise and Peril: The Impact of Technology on Children, Schools and Communities. Edmonton, AB: Alberta Teachers' Association. Retrieved from: http://www.learningourway.ca/images/pdf/Dr%20Michael%20Rich%20-%20ATA%20Research%20Colloquium%20Keynote%20Presentation.pdf

Ripley, A. (2011 September 25). Teacher, leave those kids alone. Time Magazine. New York, NY: Time Inc. Retrieved from: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2094427,00.html

Skinner, R. (1954b). Teaching machine and programmed learning [Video file]. Retrieved from: http://youtu.be/jTH3ob1IRFo

Simon, S. (2013a). K-12 student database jazzes tech startups, spooks parents. New York, NY: Thomson Reuters U.S. Edition. Retrieved from: http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/03/03/us-education-database-idUSBRE92204W20130303

Simon, S. (2013b). School database loses backers as parents balk over privacy. New York, NY: Thomson Reuters U.S. Edition. Retrieved from: http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/05/29/us-usa-education-database-idUSBRE94S0YU20130529

Strauss, V. (2013a). Lawsuit charges Ed Department with violating student privacy rights. Washington, DC: Washington Post. Retrieved from: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/03/13/lawsuit-charges-ed-department-with-violating-student-privacy-rights/

Strauss, V. (2013b). Rocketship charter schools revamping signature ‘learning lab’. Washington, DC: Washington Post. Retrieved from: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/01/25/rocketship-charter-schools-revamping-signature-learning-lab/

U.S. Department of Education (2013). Competency-based learning or personalized learning. Washington, DC: United States Government. Retrieved from: http://www.ed.gov/oii-news/competency-based-learning-or-personalized-learning

Wolf, M.A. (2010, November). Innovate to educate: system [re]design for personalized learning: A report from the 2010 Symposium. Software & Information Industry Association in collaboration with ASCD and the Council of Chief State School Officers. Washington, DC: Software & Information Industry Association. Retrieved from: http://siia.net/pli/presentations/PerLearnPaper.pdf

Zhao, Y. (2009). Catching Up or Leading the Way: American Education in the Age of Globalization. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Zolli, A. & Healy, A. M. (2012). Resilience: Why things bounce back. New York, NY: Freepress.
An edited version of this article appears in the Summer 2013 edition of the ATA Magazine.  Elements of this piece also form part of a larger ATA research initiative on data analytics and adaptive learning systems.

Comments, questions, considerations, or perspectives are always welcome.

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<![CDATA[Innovation and Emerging Technologies: Perspectives and Provocations]]>Tue, 20 Mar 2012 15:46:48 GMThttp://philmcrae.com/blog/innovation-and-emerging-technologies-perspectives-and-provocations-march-2012
Within a 21st-century tsunami of change to K-12 education, innovative teaching and learning practices that employ emerging technologies are sweeping into our collective imaginations with the broader goal to transform education. Too often, however, the space for dialogue about the truly innovative practices that learning and technology can enable is non-existent, superficial or uninformed, and thus more thoughtful considerations and questions remain unasked or answered.  This blog post is meant to share some of the perspectives and provocations around innovation, emerging technologies and educational practice.
Innovative teaching and learning with technology is a dynamic, challenging and creative act.  In assessing how digital technologies might be used appropriately to engender more innovative learning experiences, educators might consider using the well-conceived Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPACK) model (Koehler and Mishra 2009).  TPACK tries to reconcile the complexity and dynamics of student learning as it relates to technology and the multifaceted nature of teachers’ knowledge. Rather than conceptualizing content knowledge (CK), pedagogical knowledge (PK) and technology knowledge (TK) as isolated entities, TPACK focuses on the interplay between these knowledge sources. TPACK asks educators to consider how the various knowledge sources apply to a particular learning situation. No single pedagogical approach applies to every teacher or every student. The teacher must traverse the elements of content, pedagogy and technology and understand how they interact in the context of learning. A more thorough explanation of TPACK can be found in the thoughtful work of Koehler and Mishra (2009).

Yet a caution remains, technology should not be considered the principal driver of innovative educational transformation (as technological determinists would argue), nor just a neutral and innocuous tool (as technological instrumentalists make claim). The reality is far more complex and it serves the profession of teaching well to dig deeper into the dialogue around innovation and emerging technologies in education.

On the more mechanistic side of the conversation related to innovation resides the technological deterministic view that envisions technology as the primary determinant of human experiences. As Selwyn (2011) notes, technological determinism has influenced discussions about innovative educational change for many years. In their day, filmstrips, radio and televisions were characterized as having the power to radically transform public education and offer the most innovative solutions to educational challenges. In the early 1920s, for example, Thomas Edison predicted that the motion picture was “destined to revolutionize our educational system and … in a few years it will supplant largely, if not entirely, the use of textbooks” (Oppenheimer 1997). This prediction was followed 40 years later with psychologist B. F. Skinner’s assertion that the dawn of the machine age of education had finally arrived and that “with the help of teaching machines and programmed instruction, students could learn twice as much in the same time and with the same effort as in a standard classroom” (Oppenheimer). In our contemporary setting the buzz is around the iPad or the ‘holy grail’ of digital textbooks vaunted as pedagogic panacea. The proliferation of motion pictures has not fully withdrawn the desire for educational print, and the teaching machines (whatever you imagine those to be) have not yet displaced the will for teachers and students to gather together to learn in inquiry oriented classrooms.  History offers perspective and provides us with at least two important insights: (1) there have always been, and always will be, strong and weak educational practices and (2) technologies in education, as Selwyn (2011) establishes, rarely live up to the utopian forecasts of their most enthusiastic advocates. Rarely is the imagined future of innovation accurate; more often than not the predictive space tilts heavily in either an overly optimistic or a deeply pessimistic direction.

More commonly, at the other end of the spectrum, lives the technological instrumentalists deception;  technology is just a “tool”; an innocent object; value-free and in the service of whatever subjective goals we chose to ascribe the device.  According to this view, technology is culturally neutral and innocuous (Kelly 2005; Levy 2001). Such a view ignores Marshall McLuhan’s (1964) caution that, just as we shape our technologies, so they subsequently shape our habits of mind and physical selves.  As educators champion the visible promise of technology to engage students and enhance their learning experiences, we must also recognize that technology is not neutral, nor is it “just a tool”.  The more invisible perils of pervasive media exposure and its psycho-social and physiological impacts are beginning to surface in the research on public health. With the developing minds and bodies of children and youth there is an increasing need to be cautious of the impact of online digital activities for offline health and mental wellbeing.  When implementing technology, teachers, as pedagogical leaders, should take into account such factors as the age, gender and education level of students, the socioeconomic status of the community and the beliefs that a student’s parents and peers hold about the value of technology both in and outside a school setting (McRae 2011).

School leadership, an important part of the visioning for how technology lives within a learning context, is constantly being (re)shaped in an era full of contradictions and paradoxes around emerging technologies.  A sea of questions are constantly ebbing and flowing for school leadership (broadly defined) around how to engage students with the innovative uses of digital technologies.  Some of the most pragmatic questions emerge for school leaders around how to effectively and efficiently navigate the costs, complexity, access and supports required to place information and communication technologies into the numerous imaginative learning scenarios put forward by parent communities, superintendents, students and teachers.  The most challenging systemic issues, however, reside in the larger context and include poverty and inequity, a lack of parental engagement (or conversely hyper-parenting), large class sizes and complex compositions that impede more personalized learning experiences, and student readiness to learn bound up in the numerous digital and popular culture distractions impacting society.

As we swim in a sea of emerging technologies and envision their power to transform our public education system we must not forget to ask ourselves what it is that we ultimately hope to achieve. Here are two questions related to innovation and emerging technologies as a force of educational transformation that I hope you may take up in professional conversations, at the Destination Innovation conference or perhaps even on this blog.

1) How might educators engage with digital technologies so that students can become empowered citizens rather than passive consumers? 

2) What technological innovations will help to create a society where people can flourish within informed, democratic and diverse communities, as opposed to a culture of narcissists that are fragmented by a continuous partial attention?


Note: This blog post is drawn from a new chapter I recently published in a book entitled Rethinking School Leadership: Creating A Great School for All Students available at www.lulu.com (http://tinyurl.com/85xvrdq).

References

Kelly, K. 2005. “We Are the web.” Wired Magazine (8)13. Available at http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/13.08/tech.html(accessed March 20, 2012).

Koehler, M J, and P Mishra. 2009. “What Is Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge?” Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education 9(1): 60–70.

Levy, P. 2001. Cyberculture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

McLuhan, M. 1964. Understanding Media. New York: Mentor.

Oppenheimer, T. 1997. “The Computer Delusion.” Atlantic Monthly 280, no 1 (July): 45–62.

Selwyn, N. 2011. Schools and Schooling in the Digital Age: A Critical Analysis. London and New York: Routledge.

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McLuhan's 'Tetrad of Media Effects'. A helpful frame when forecasting the effects of emerging technologies.
What does the innovation amplify (positively and negatively)? (Enhancement)
Where is the innovation going? (Reversal)
What does the innovation bring back from the past? (Retrieval)
What does the innovation wipe out that currently exists? (Obsolescence)
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<![CDATA[The Politics of Personalization in the 21st Century]]>Fri, 01 Oct 2010 19:30:26 GMThttp://philmcrae.com/blog/the-politics-of-personalization-in-the-21st-century1
The world’s education systems are in the midst of change (aka informed transformation) unlike any other time over the past century. It’s a historical moment where governments, teachers, parents and school communities are exploring visions of an education system that would embody increased flexibility (curricular and otherwise), innovation (technologies and pedagogy) and more individualized and self-directed approaches to student learning. Within this 21st-century parade of change, the notion of personalization in education is moving to the forefront. It’s an ambiguous and often broadly defined notion that has been hotly contested in the United Kingdom over the past several years. It’s a movement that could be as influential to how public education is conceived as privatization was in the 1980s.

The intent of this article is to provide a brief introduction to the discourse on personalization and encourage a space where Alberta teachers can raise their voices to (re)define and (re)shape this fragile idea as it gets positioned as the next big educational reform.
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World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) Debate on Personalized Learning (2014)
Struggling for an Identity
Personalizing learning is not new to the skilled practice of teaching and learning in Alberta, or to the pedagogical work of teachers around the world. Personalization is in many respects a case of déjà vu. It’s bound up in assessment for learning, which is a focus of the Alberta Initiative for School Improvement (AISI), and with differentiated instruction, which for many years has been weaving together pedagogical practices aimed at tailoring a student’s instruction, curriculum and learning supports to meet their specific interests, learning styles and aspirations. Every day, legions of teachers enter classrooms in Alberta to engage diverse minds across multiple activities and to support each student as he or she inquires into problems. These same teachers, who hold a keen awareness of each of their student’s particular learning styles and passions, are also simultaneously contending with issues of poverty, lack of parental involvement (or conversely helicopter parents), large classes, familial and community influences, student effort and numerous digital and popular culture distractions that add to complexity of their professional practice.

Personalized learning is not a pedagogic theory nor a coherent set of teaching approaches, but an idea that is struggling for an identity. As Michael Fullan (2009) suggests, the concept is most commonly associated in the United States with differentiated instruction. David Hargreaves (2006), a principal architect of the idea, refers to “personalizing” learning rather than “personalized” learning, in order to emphasize that it is a process, not a product. Given that language is the fundamental medium for the social construction of meaning, the term is currently under construction and being (re)defined in many quarters. To give it a new flavour from differentiated instruction and assessment for learning, the terminology is often positioned as uniquely in step with the 21st century (Leadbeater 2008). As the International Network for Educational Transformation (iNet) indicates, “Personalised learning is the challenge to meet more of the needs of more students more fully than has been achieved in the past ... It is concerned with a transformation of education and schooling that is fit for citizens in the 21st century” (iNet 2010a). 

Origins in the United Kingdom
Historically, the term personalized learning was coined in a September 2003 speech in Britain by the Honourable David Miliband, then-minister of state for School Standards for the United Kingdom, who pronounced that “Personalised learning demands that every aspect of teaching and support is designed around a pupil’s needs” (Hargreaves 2004). This speech was driven by Tony Blair’s Labour government’s desire to reorganize the way services were delivered, given a concern that public institutions and government were lacking legitimacy in the public’s eyes. Over time, the government’s reorganization entailed moving from the universal provision of services by government toward a more personalized approach that was hinged on each citizen’s actions.

Thus, in the UK, personalized learning has been bound up in a larger framework for the personalization of public services. In both the healthcare and education sectors, the appeal is to the consumer side of a citizenry looking for a promise of choice, greater flexibility and efficiencies for the individual. People are participants in the design, delivery and co-production of those public goods that they feel are of most worth to them. Of course, the benefit to the financially strapped state is to encourage citizens to take on more personal responsibility for the public good. In this framing of personalized services for the citizenry, UK policy makers do not necessarily distinguish between children and adults. 

David Hargreaves (not to be confused with Andy Hargreaves of Boston College) has been instrumental in defining this idea in the education sector by establishing nine gateways to personalizing learning. In David Hargreaves’ view, personalized learning represents a larger movement that needs to be put forward on several fronts to (re)shape teaching and learning. His nine gateways to personalizing learning are assessment for learning; learning to learn; student voice; curriculum; new technologies; school design and organization; advice and guidance; mentoring and coaching; and workforce development (Hargreaves 2006).

The close association of personalized learning and new technologies has been a central strand since the inception of the idea, and is part of the all-embracing creed of technocrats looking to enter system level educational reform. Of note is that David Hargreaves was a former chair of the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency, which was the UK government’s main partner in the strategic development and delivery of its information and communications technology (ICT) and e-learning strategy. This agency has been shut down by the British government and will cease to exist November 2010. 

Andy Hargreaves and Dennis Shirley (2009) have critiqued David Hargreaves’s approach to personalization as being a new way to manage and market learning in their book The Fourth Way:

Indeed, he [David Hargreaves] initially referred to personalization in terms of its “synonym, customization in the business world”. With customized learning, students access existing and unchanged kinds of conventional learning through different means—on site or off site, online or offline, in school or out of school, quickly or slowly.  . . . [B]ut the nature of learning is not transformed into something deeper, more challenging, and more connected to compelling issues in their world and their lives.  . . . [T]wenty-first century schools must also embrace deeper virtues and values such as courage, compassion, service, sacrifice, long-term commitment and perseverance.

Customized learning is pleasurable and instantly gratifying. Nevertheless it  . . .  ultimately becomes just one more process of business-driven training delivered to satisfy individual consumer tastes and desires. (p. 84)


Personalizing Learning in Canada
Personalized learning is part of the mantra of many educational reform efforts across Canada, where it is often coupled with technology as a means for more flexible learning delivery (as if learning can be delivered like pizza pie). For example, New Brunswick’s Department of Education has produced a document entitled NB3-21C: Creating a 21st Century Learning Model of Public Education Three-Year Plan 2010–2013, that speaks explicitly to personalization, where learning can be delivered 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, 52 weeks a year (anytime, anyplace and at any pace), all facilitated by a multitude of technologies. As with other advocacy positions around personalized learning, emerging technologies are positioned as the force(s) to bring personalization to all students. The New Brunswick agenda emphasizes technology as a main strategy for system level accountability to support “progress monitoring for all students, and to provide data on cohorts of students at all levels of the K–12 system” (New Brunswick Department of Education 2010, p.20). This particular advance of the personalized learning concept may, unfortunately, be travelling down a precarious path of centralization, standardization and narrow outcome-based accountability that distracts reformers from the broader goals of 21st-century skills. 

In Alberta, the ministry of education’s 2010–2013 business plan addresses personalized learning as both an opportunity and a challenge. In fact, the first goal and strategy of the current business plan articulates the intent to “support a flexible approach to enable learning any time, any place and at any pace, facilitated by increased access to learning technologies (Alberta Education 2010a, p. 70). In the plan, personalization is addressed in the same breath as technology, where one is the facilitator of the other. In many ways this is a natural reaction of a government looking to create/support public services in a more digitized society, where people are experiencing (or perceiving) greater choice, more voice and increased scope for self-organization throughout their (digital) lives.

In the more recent recommendations from Inspiring Action on Education (2010b), Alberta Education’s vision for policy directions, legislative change and transformational shifts for education in the province, personalized learning is not equated solely with emerging technologies, but positioned as extending students’ learning experiences into community. “Personalized learning means that … students have access to a greater variety of learning experiences that include and extend beyond traditional education settings and benefit from increased community involvement in their learning” (Alberta Education 2010b, p. 14).

Technologies and (Hyper)Personalization
We now have many deep cultural undertows that are worth supporting; primarily differentiation that recognizes the diversity and complexity in the classroom, and the taking up of emerging technologies to engage learning. Yet we must draw carefully on these cultural shifts to make sound pedagogical decisions in the best interests of students within a commitment to public education and core values of innovation, creativity, social responsibility and community.

Obviously, we’re entering a digital age where students access the information they want—how they want it, when they want it and where they want it (think personalized learning at any time, place or pace). This will have a profound effect on critical thinking as people are increasingly fed only the exact type of information (specific political views, topical book themes and local environmental conditions) and sources (individual blogs, new media and ethnically oriented online spaces) to which they digitally subscribe. In many ways, hyperpersonalized (customized) digital spaces have the potential to limit students to only the content that they want to see, hear and read about. While considering personalization and technology, we need to think about the role of critical thinking, diversity and chance (serendipity), and their importance to learning and society, and to the long-term implications of driving digital personalization (customization) in terms of the future of public education.

Personalization of learning and emerging technologies are engaged in a policy handshake that must be examined. There are, for example, questions of teacher and student efficacy in a K–12 education system when personalization is coupled primarily with the discourses on emerging technologies and their benefits. Especially if the focus is on individualized learning (between student, technology and content), in the relative absence of collective learning, socio-constructivism and relationships with peers, teachers and the community. 

We should also not be distracted from other critical issues by a focus on personalization empowered by emerging technologies. Issues engendered by the pervasive digital connectivity of young people and society are critical if we hope to achieve a healthy balance in our society.  There is a growing call for studies on the physiological effect of digital technologies and new media on children’s brain development—a neuroscience of children and media (Anderson 2007). Based on this concern, we should consider the personal cost to 8–18-year-olds who average 10 hours and 45 minutes a day per day exposed to media (Kaiser Foundation 2010) or the Canadian Paediatric Society’s recent policy recommendation of no screen time for children under two years of age and a maximum of two hours for children older than two (Canadian Paediatric Society 2009). 

Finally, we should be mindful of saving stillness in a digital age where a kind of solitude that refreshes and restores a person is valued. Stillness is a particular concern that distinguished professor Sherry Turkle, director of MIT Initiative on Technology and Self, argues is essential to identity formation and healthy adolescent development in the 21st century. Turkle speculates that “If we identify our need for stillness as something that is part of our human purposes, we will find ways to bring it back into our lives. If we only get excited about what technology makes easy, we will say that this is a kind of … 18th century completely passé thing and that it is not essential. I think that part of K–12 education now should be to give students a place for this kind of stillness, because I don’t think that the rest of their lives is making it easy for them” (Dretzin 2009).

Educators need to be committed to exploring these issues with parents, health professionals and the wider education community so that the transformations to the education system associated with technologies are truly informed. 

Conclusion
Much of the impulse behind personalization of learning is laudable. This stance is in line with many promising new forms of assessment, differentiated learning and instruction, and redesigning high schools beyond age cohorts and class structures. More flexible approaches to education moving away from an industrial model are necessary, and finding ways to personalize learning will be important to adequately develop the skills and knowledge in society that will help the next generation creatively navigate an uncertain future. However, as Andy Hargreaves and Dennis Shirley suggest, personalized learning is often a Third Way reform effort driven by business-like customization, and deeper learning is constrained by the forces of accountability and performance.

Personalized learning is often represented as a novel approach to enhancing the pedagogical practices of educators to broadly reorganize schooling in the 21st century. The personalized (re)shaping of teaching and learning is generally to be achieved through assessing the strengths of individuals and then addressing the specific needs and learning styles of each student in a school community. To achieve this end, governments and school jurisdictions around the world are pulling together a mélange of policy priorities that range from focusing on emerging technologies to increasing students’ active community engagement in learning. Just as with past educational reform efforts, personalized learning is now being represented by a complex collection of voices ranging from those who are critically informed to the misleading and myopic zealousness of those who focus on technology as the metaphor for all change in an education system. Alberta teachers need to add their informed voice and pedagogic experience to this conversation.

Perhaps an immediate and personal action that teachers can take is to embrace the wiki way of influencing meaning by visiting Wikipedia.org and contributing to or (re)shaping the definition of personalized learning. As educators and others search out the meaning of this term, you will then have put your personal stamp on the concept as you see it lived out in your own unique educational contexts. Ultimately, we need to individually and collectively (re)define this term, and in doing so be empowered to share a vision of what knowledge and pedagogical approaches are of most worth in the 21st century.

References
Alberta Education. 2010a. Education Business Plan 2010–13. Edmonton, AB: Government of Alberta. Retrieved August 12, 2010, at http://education.alberta.ca/media/1213923/20100122educationbusinessplan.pdf.

-----. 2010b. Inspiring Action on Education. Edmonton, AB: Government of Alberta. Retrieved August 12, 2010, at http://engage.education.alberta.ca/inspiring-action/.

Anderson, C.A. 2007. “A Neuroscience of Children and Media?” Journal of Children and Media 1, no. 1: 77–85.

Canadian Paediatric Society. 2009. Impact of Media Use on Children and Youth. Ottawa, Ontario: Canadian Paediatric Society. Retrieved August 12, 2010, at www.cps.ca/english/statements/CP/pp03-01.htm#RECOMMENDATIONS

Dretzin, R. (Producer). 2009, September 22. “Interview with Sherry Turkle.” Frontline

[Television Broadcast]. Public Broadcasting Service. Retrieved August 2, 2010, at www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/digitalnation/learning/concentration/saving-stillness.html?play

Fullan, M. 2009. Michael Fullan's Answer to "What Is Personalized Learning?" Microsoft Education Partner Network. Retrieved August 19, 2010, at http://cs.mseducommunity.com/wikis/personal/michael-fullan-s-answer-to-quot-what-is-personalized-learning-quot/revision/3.aspx

Hargreaves, A. and D. Shirley. 2009. The Fourth Way: The Inspiring Future for Educational Change. Thousand Oaks, Calif: Corwin Press.

Hargreaves, D. 2004. Personalising Learning: Next Steps in Working Laterally. London: Specialist Schools and Academics Trust.

------.2006. Personalising Learning 6: The Final Gateway: School Design and Organisation. London: Specialist Schools and Academics Trust.

iNet—International Networking for Educational Transformation. 2010. What We Do: Our Priorities: Personalising Learning. Taunton, Somerset: Specialist Schools and Academics Trust. Retrieved August 30, 2010, at www.ssat-inet.net/whatwedo/personalisinglearning.aspx

Kaiser Family Foundation. 2010. Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8–18 Year Olds. Menlo Park, CA: Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

Leadbeater, C. 2008. What's Next? 21 Ideas for 21st Century Learning. London: The Innovation Unit.

New Brunswick Department of Education. 2010. NB3-21C: Creating a 21st Century—Learning Model of Public Education. Retrieved August 31, 2010, at www.gnb.ca/0000/publications/comm/NB3-21C%20consultation%20document%202nd%20edition.pdf

Note: This article first appeared in the ATA Magazine in October 2010
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<![CDATA[Forecasting the Future Over Three Horizons of Change]]>Fri, 17 Jul 2009 17:14:05 GMThttp://philmcrae.com/blog/forecasting-the-future-over-three-horizons-of-change-april-2009
Making predictions about the future is an inherently risky activity. Rarely is the imagined future of education accurate; more often than not it tilts heavily in either an overly optimistic or a deeply pessimistic direction. For example, in the early 1920s Thomas Edison predicted that “the motion picture is destined to revolutionize our educational system and ... in a few years it will supplant largely, if not entirely, the use of textbooks” (Oppenheimer 1997). This prediction was followed 40 years later with psychologist B. F. Skinner’s assertion that the dawn of the machine age of education had finally arrived and that “with the help of teaching machines and programmed instruction, students could learn twice as much in the same time and with the same effort as in a standard classroom” (Oppenheimer). Well, the proliferation of motion pictures has not fully withdrawn the desire for educational print, and the teaching machines (whatever you imagine those to be) have not yet displaced the will for teachers and students to gather together to learn in classrooms.

For many years, I have found my research, teaching and scholarship with one foot in curriculum studies and one in emerging technologies. I am most intrigued by the way technology is taken up in the field of education and society, and prefer to explore the sociological implications of technologies to enhance learning rather than the physical technologies themselves. Even more important to me is how technology is (re)presented, or should I say marketed, as an object of desire and an item of necessity for educational progress. Let me attempt to forecast some of the effects of technologies on education within three horizons of change.

The first is the short-term horizon of one to two years, with the trends well along the way to becoming a reality. The second horizon is a midterm forecast of three to five years, which is likely to be accurate, but remember that funny things can happen on the way to the future (think biomedical innovations, global economic crisis, climate change chaos and pandemics). The last is the long-term horizon, which pushes 10 years into the future – a much hazier view that allows for a far-reaching prediction of a world where people and things are always digitally connected (think Marshall McLuhan’s Global Village). In discussing these predictions, I hope not to overestimate what will emerge in two years while underestimating the state of affairs in a decade’s time. I am certain, however, that we live in a time of exponential change, and what we imagine might take 50 years will likely happen within the decade. The path ahead will be riddled with dynamic changes to educational practice defined by speed, complexity, risk and unanticipated events (funny things happening on the way to the future). What follows may be just a glimpse of Canadians’ multidimensional future.
Short-Term Horizon (one to two years)

In the short term, there is going to be an increased appetite to digitally connect and network teachers, educational administrators, students and parents in online collaborative spaces (portals). If you have been asked to be part of a school jurisdiction portal or have created a space for your own students to have conversations (think Moodle) or have participated in an online professional learning community, then you are immersed in this trend already. The demand for more online networking is a result of the global explosion of social networking (think Facebook), which is the second most popular activity on the Web after searches (see Alexa.com). Education will follow this trend by creating digital portals as spaces to seed or stimulate educational conversations and to network individuals.

Many online collaborative spaces that emerge in the short term will migrate into cloud computing platforms. Cloud computing pulls together an individual’s or groups’ digital activities, such as document (co)creation, e-mail, video, spreadsheets, instant messaging and discussion forums – all remotely stored and accessed through the Internet. If you have ever used Google Docs or Gmail then you have participated in cloud computing, a trend that will explode in the next two years, essentially given the proliferation of mobile devices connected to the Internet, the potential cost savings for educational organizations and the desire for individuals and groups to access (at point of need) information and resources through the World Wide Web. This new scenario is one of computing “everyware,” and it is enhanced by increased digital mobility, which is connecting information and people in real time (think iPhone and iPad).

There are three things to consider about this trend. The first is the fragmentation of the already stretched time available in the lives of students, teachers, educational administrators and parents. There are only so many hours in a day, and the question will be which of these online collaborative spaces are important to an individual. Which portals will flourish and which will turn into dry lake beds of inactivity? Time is among the most precious commodities in our increasingly distracted lives, and finding time to participate and to create and maintain a digital presence will be an ongoing challenge.

The second is to consider the growing paradox of socially connected isolation. To what extent may we inadvertently be displacing face-to-face connections and increasing feelings of alienation within a profession often defined by isolation?

The third consideration is privacy – pervasive monitoring and the deliberate deleting/removing of content from the cloud or online collaborative spaces. If student work is co-created in a digital space for educational purposes, at what point will it be deleted? Will the digital footprints of teachers and students be forgotten in the cloud, only to be recalled ten years later as historical artifacts? Going forward, we must be vigilant and thoughtful about the role of privacy in a public (digital) space.

Midterm Horizon (three to five years)

In the medium term, we’ll see the emergence of the “Internet of Things.” This is a trend by which everyday objects are always connected to the Internet. An associated term is smart objects, where objects appear to hold intelligence as they draw information continuously from the World Wide Web. Think about how cars today are enabled with Global Positioning System (GPS) tracking, and how that has changed the way a vehicle moves about geography in conjunction with live satellite feeds. Now take that same concept and imagine it in your classroom, where objects will continuously draw information from the Internet in real time. For example, the globe in a social studies classroom might show earthquakes, storms or international events as they occur by pulling information directly from the World Wide Web, or the cafeteria’s Internet-connected refrigerator might monitor food quality via sensors, notify the school when the milk is about to expire, and suggest foods that should be purchased to provide a healthy diet for students. The Internet of Things and live connection to the Web will begin to have a profound influence on the nature of our connection with objects, information, people and knowledge. It will begin to turn innocuous objects into sensors and, on a micro-scale, will begin to change the process by which we collect and access information and people in real time “everyware.” From an environmental perspective, it will also mean a proliferation of digital refuse as we dispose of these everyday objects and their digital sensors.

Again, a consideration in this medium term will be increased surveillance, and as we become accustomed to objects as sensors connected to the global Internet, questions will arise about how the machines are influencing personal choices and perceptions of the world.

Long-Term Horizon (five to ten years)

In the longer term, with the explosion of digital connectivity “everyware,” students, teachers, educational administrators and parents will be able to access the information they want – how they want it, when they want it and where they want it (think personalized learning at any time, place or pace).

In a decade’s time, we’ll be immersed in a world where online/offline boundaries will have blurred to non-existence and where we will be supported by machines talking to machines. This is the space to which I dedicated a great deal of my doctoral studies, identifying the challenge of the echo-chamber effect online to the role of critical thinking in our educational environments. The echo-chamber effect is a condition arising in an online community where participants find their own opinions constantly echoed back to them, thus reinforcing their individual belief systems. Participants within online collaborative spaces will always act in human ways: that is, people will gravitate toward and be more comfortable communicating with those who share their ideas, conceptions of the truth, cultures and communication styles.

The contemporary World Wide Web is rapidly moving toward what Sir Tim Berners-Lee has called the “Semantic Web” (Berners-Lee 1999; Berners-Lee, Hendler and Lassila 2001). Berners-Lee, the chief architect and creator of the World Wide Web, has been working on the next generation of the Internet at MIT for over a decade. He has articulated his vision for the Semantic Web as follows:

I have a dream for the Web. … [Computers] become capable of analyzing all the data on the Web – the content, links, and transactions between people and computers. A “Semantic Web,” which should make this possible, has yet to emerge, but when it does, the day-to-day mechanisms of trade, bureaucracy, and our daily lives will be handled by machines talking to machines. … The intelligent “agents” people have touted for ages will finally materialize. (Berners-Lee 1999, 157–58)

The future of the Internet would then appear to be a technological perfection, where we have information and people creating knowledge tailored to our specific interests and ideological orientations. This will have a profound effect on critical thinking as people are increasingly fed only the exact type of information (specific political views, topical book themes, local environmental conditions) and sources (individual blogs, mainstream media online, ethnically oriented Web spaces) to which they subscribe. In many ways, this personalized (customized) digital state is already in its infancy: consider the highly accurate book recommendations (based on purchasing habits) from Amazon and RSS (Really Simple Syndication), which delivers (feeds) information updates from select Web sites to a personalized Web portal. This active screening of content, facilitated by the emergent nature of the Semantic Web, is a state that Nicholas Negroponte, director of the MIT Media Lab and chairman of the global One Laptop Per Child Initiative, has dubbed the “Daily Me.” As people engage in a blurred online/offline reality, with only the content that they want to see, hear and read about, then notions of diversity will be increasingly challenged, while free will and personal choice will take on new (and obscured) meanings in these echo chambers. In considering this long-term trend, we need to be thoughtful about the role of critical thinking, diversity and chance, and their importance to learning and society, and to the long-term implications of driving digital personalization (customization) within our educational discourse.

Conclusion

A funny thing always happens on the way to the future: an ancient perspective rises up and demands that the education of our next generations should not be about machines (videoconferencing, laptops and handheld devices and learning objects) but, rather, a community of learners whose physical, intellectual and social well-being is held sacred. This point of view is driven by the human desire to connect, maintain friendships, tell stories, share thoughts and inquire into the nature of the world. It is a perspective that naturally flows together with the research on learning that suggests that education is not just about content or physical place but also a collective and highly relational set of experiences within a community of learners. In the research on education, learning is successful when it is socially constructed, and occurs in an active and inquiry-oriented process that engages people in social, emotional, cultural and deeply intrapersonal experiences. This research will likely hold true whether our future learning environments are enacted face to face, online or in blended learning online/offline contexts as this carbon and silicon line begins to blur. It also holds true regardless of whether one is considered digitally literate or whether one is a member of the New Millennial Generation (Gen M).

As we chart our way across these horizons, I humbly offer two things to consider. The first is that we should recognize that technology use in education is not monolithic: age, gender and education level all determine how students might use digital media, just as the socioeconomic status of students and teachers, along with the diverse attitudes and values of students and their parents and peers will all have significant influence on the way emerging technologies enter into their lives. As teachers, we need to be especially thoughtful to the appropriateness of technology use with young children. A wake-up call for Canadians came in October 2009 in the form of a recommendation from the Canadian Paediatric Society that children under the age of two should not be exposed to any screen time whatsoever (the American Academy of Pediatrics adopted this same recommendation back in 1999 and reaffirmed its position in 2001). Let’s not be monolithic in our consideration of educational technology for learning; instead, we should question the appropriateness of technologies at different stages of human development. What do you think should be the range of guidelines for screen time within a 24-hour period specific to the different ages and developmental stages of children?

The second thing to consider is recognizing that 21st-century skills are much more than technological competencies for a skilled and globally competitive workforce. The next generation will face enormous challenges posed by global climate change, water consumption, overpopulation, economic destabilization, urbanization and pollution, and in Canada we will all be confronting the deeply ethical and moral implications associated with the transnational flow of people, ideas, technology and culture (globalization).

As we co-create the future and strive for a more innovative, creative and dynamic education system in Canada, let us consider the courageous uses of educational technologies that will help to build compassion, (global) citizenship, service and perseverance in our students’ lives. The future will require a curiosity and consciousness of different perspectives, along with a resilient and engaged population that understands that long-term commitments to complex challenges will be necessary if we are to flourish as Canadians.

REFERENCES

Berners-Lee, T. 1999. Weaving the Web: The Original Design and Ultimate Destiny of the World Wide Web by Its Inventor. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco.

Berners-Lee, T., J. Hendler and O. Lassila. 2001. “The Semantic Web.” Scientific American 284 (May): 34–43.

Negroponte, N. 1995. Being Digital. New York: Knopf.

Oppenheimer, T. 1997. “The Computer Delusion.” Atlantic Monthly 280, no 1 (July): 45–62.
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