Uncovering Privilege in Online Education

April 21, 2016

“Tethered.” A. Worner, 2014. CC-BY,SA https://flic.kr/p/ow/Roub

(Download my full paper, “Uncovering Privilege in Online Education: Applying McIntosh’s Lens” here.)

This past semester I was privileged (pun intended) to audit Soci 470, a course in educational sociology given by my colleague, Dr. Jerry Hinbest, in the Sociology Department at Vancouver Island University (VIU). While proximity made the course accessible for me (Jerry’s office and classroom are one floor up from me), the course also made me further question the ‘accessibility’ of online education for students in general.

People who have taken OLTD 506  with me in VIU Education Department’s  Online Learning and Teaching Diploma Program over the past 3 years are aware of my equity concerns when teaching about social media use in education. Equity and access are strong threads in the technology integration workshops I run for our VIU Ed pre-service and graduate students. They are also evident in my Twitter feed (@jhengstler). Yet, it was Jerry’s course, the readings and interactions with his undergraduate students that gave me the tools and time to reflect on my position in greater detail. The paper I’ve posted began as a paper and presentation submitted for Soci 470. In this version of the work, I’ve attempted to refine my thoughts for a more general audience. ( I also use Chicago vs. APA citation style, to allow for a less “academic” reading experience. To someone so programmed in APA, this was a bit of a challenge.)

Below are the “5 Key Assumptions of Privilege in Online Education” that I uncovered in my reflection on the topic. If you want to know more about them in detail, or how these issues could be addressed, please download the full paper here: “Uncovering Privilege in Online Education: Applying McIntosh’s Lens”.  It is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0, so you may freely share it and use it under those provisions.

The 5 Key Assumptions of Privilege in Online Education

  • Assumption 1: Everyone Has Internet Access.
  • Assumption 2: Public Schools Level the Playing Field for Online Education.
  • Assumption 3: Online Courses (Like MOOCs) Democratize Education, Especially in Post-Secondary Education.
  • Assumption 4: Online Education is Accessible for Everyone.
  • Assumption 5: You’re Free from Discrimination in Online Education.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the topic.


@AERA 2012: Research as a Mona Lisa in HD?

April 14, 2012
Pixelated image of the Mona Lisa

Pixelated Mona Lisa as metaphor for research.

A s I worked diligently with @rfmoll, my colleague–Rachel Moll–to finish our paper and presentation for AERA 2012 in Vancouver (Educating with Social Media: Policy & Practice in British Columbia), I have been struggling with the challenges of researching and the ability to see a complex, holistic vision within which the object of the research is situated–as well as what might be influencing what you’re observing. As I attend more and more sessions here, @rfmoll has reminded me that in order to research–the focus must be narrowed. I guess that’s what the ‘limitations’ section is for. One session I went to focused on ‘big data’ sets that yielded interesting information on wiki development by students–while that sounds all encompassing, the breadth meant the research left me yearning for depth of focus like recommendations for best practices, etc. So a narrow focus can also be broad.

While I accept that for one person–or even a few people–to research something with any depth, the field of vision must be narrowed, I find it troubling–maybe because I’m a global learner, a systems thinker–I don’t know. Many of the presenters/speakers I have seen are discovering very interesting things that can inform our teaching and learning, but they can only encompass so much in the scope of a study; they are taking it in one direction where multiple directions are possible & likely equally valid. They have considered specific aspects while others might be in play. I guess I want research to be more like an HD picture of the Mona Lisa from the Louvre. In the virtual copy, you can get much closer than in person, zoom in/out and around the image in high definition. I’m wondering is there anyway to network our research around technology, educating, and learning in some way that would allow us to move from randomized microscopic visions, to orchestrating those narrow visions to recreate a more complex wholistic picture–much like pixels populate a screen to render HD images. Right now, I feel like I’m looking at some pointillist version of reality.

Maybe I’m naive? Admittedly, the higher the resolution, the more pixels you need. That’s an awful lot of microscopic visions that need to be coordinated to make an HD picture, but imagine if you could take a research item in technology, teaching and learning and look at it from multiple lenses at the same time at varying depths–almost like one of those 360 photos you can pan around. That’s how I wish I could pursue my technology-based educational research–find a group of researchers interested in different views of the same system–students, teachers, administrators, institutions, etc. then coordinate & collate the results. Not too long ago, HD images were a dream for most people. @rfmoll told me I’m looking for the Holy Grail of research. In truth, I’d take the Mona Lisa. Anyone else want to recreate the Mona Lisa with me?

Cloud Apps: What Horizon 2011 Missed

May 19, 2011

 First, let me say that I have great respect for the work done by the New Media Consortium (NMC) in the Horizon Project. The Horizon Reports produced by NMC fill a very important niche in preparing educators & institutions at the K-12 and Post Secondary levels for new and emergent technologies that will impact teaching & learning. I assigned the K-12 2009 & 2010 reports to my pre-service teachers as required reading in my Educational Technology courses the past few years. I believe that the Horizon Reports provide a critical compass for those interested in technologies that can be leveraged for education–helping with planning, identifying new technologies and tools, highlighting emerging better & best practices with newer technologies.

Which is why I was a bit surprised that in the assessment of cloud computing and cloud tools, the 2011 K-12 Horizon Report seems to have overlooked a key aspect in determining your data/content vulnerabilities in cloud applications: identifying the profit model of the service you are using. “Why is this important?” you might ask. Well, we don’t have to look further than Facebook and Google to see what the ramifications are regarding a cloud service’s profit model. Facebook is, and continues to be, a company deriving profit from exposing user data. The recent wrangling between Facebook and users regarding who had the rights to images uploaded by users–whether Facebook could sell images users uploaded–is a prime example. Though it could be argued that the End User License Agreements (EULA)  or Terms of Service (ToS) for services like Facebook would cover these situations, EULAs or ToSs that reserve the right to change the terms without prior notice or any notice can be extremely problematic. Many cloud services who see their profit model in your uploaded content will include terms in EULAs or ToSs that state that any content you upload to the service becomes the property of that service and may be used & repurposed, repackaged, for the company’s own use, resale, & promotions. (This is one reason I’m always particular about the presentation sharing platforms I’ll post my content on–no matter what one conference organizers may support. )Is it surprising then that Facebook has over 140 discrete privacy settings? In contrast, Google’s model is to look at your user habits and sell prime cyber advertising real estate to companies interested in your demographic. Which is more intrusive? With which model is your data more vulnerable?

The report also seemed to gloss over the issues surrounding use of cloud applications when it simply states:

While the many advantages of the cloud are easy todetail, there are cautions as well. Unlike traditional software packages that are installed on a local computer, can be easily backed up, and are available as long as the operating system supports them, cloud-based applications are online services and require a persistent Internet connection. Entrusting work and data to the cloud is a commitment of trust that the service provider will continue to be there, even in the face of the changing market and other conditions. Nonetheless, the economics of cloud computing are increasingly compelling. For many institutions, cloud computing offers a cost-effective solution to the problem of how to provide services, data storage, and computing power to a growing number of Internet users without investing capital in physical machines that need to be maintained and supported. (Horizon Report 2011 K-12 p. 11)

For any teacher, school, district, institution, etc. considering using cloud services and applications, you need to know that you are committing a valuable resource into someone else’s keeping. Here are a couple of decision making tools and frameworks to help you decide if the benefits outweigh the risks. The University of Oxford has a “Checklist for assessing third-party IT services” that is a handy tool to help teachers, schools and school districts assess whether to use a cloud based service or application. The key consideration points are:

•Availability and reliability
•Continuity of service
•Support issues
•Migration issues
•Domino effects
•Duplication effects
•Strategic and legal considerations
•Rights issues
•Privacy and confidentiality
•Cost implications
For those of us working in Canadian institutions, privacy & confidentiality considerations are mandated under the provincial Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy  (FOIPOP) acts–especially when the data/content we are dealing with involves minor children. There are far too many K-12 teachers meerily using Google Apps in the cloud with students who have no permission forms from students’ parents or guardians. All I can say to that is, “Yikes!” [Note: there are versions of Google Apps and other “cloud” apps that can be run in a smaller cloud–i.e. from a school district server–where FOI POP concerns are minimized.]
Another very helpful document for making this type of decision is, the UK Office of Library & Information Networking’s “Risk Management for Use of Third Party Web 2.0 Services “:
Risk Assessment Management
Loss of service
  • Implications if service becomes unavailable.
  • Likelihood of service unavailability.
  • Non-mission critical use.
  • Have alternatives available.
  • Use trusted services.
  • Investigate services.
Data loss
  • Likelihood of data loss.
  • Lack of export capabilities.
  • Evaluation of service.
  • Non-critical use.
  • Testing of export.
Performance problems
  • Slow performance.
  • Unreliability of service.
  • Testing.
  • Non-critical use.
Lack of inter-operability
  • Likelihood of application lock-in.
  • Loss of integration & reuse of data.
  • Evaluation of integration and export capabilities.
Format changes
  • New formats may not be stable.
  • Plan for migration or use on a small-scale.
User issues
  • Gain feedback.
 Moreover, the UKOLN suggests that we also need to look at the risks of NOT using a particular service.  They suggests we consider:

Do I think cloud apps are useful? You bet, but we need to consider what we will be storing with whom, what the profit models of those service providers drives them to do, and what our risks are when using the services.

Grey’s Anatomy, Doctors, Educators & The Effects of Twitter?

February 6, 2011
Falling dominoes with twitter logo in lower left

Effects of Twitter?

I’ve had a couple health issues & have been in bed for about a week. (Nothing life threatening–if you were worried.) It gave me some time to catch up on Internet TV–when the 300 channels or so on my satellite were less than appealing. I hadn’t watched Grey’s Anatomy in about a year, but after a week, I’d about exhausted my options. So I watched season 7’s episode 13, “Don’t Decieve Me (Please Don’t Go)” http://watch.ctv.ca/greys-anatomy/season-7/greys-anatomy-ep-713-dont-deceive-me-please-dont-go/#clip412517 There are several plots running though the episode, but the subplot that interested me here was Bailey’s use of Twitter.

The Twitter Sub-Plot Summary

For those of you who don’t watch the show, all you need to know is that there are 2 surgeons in this part of the story–Bailey & Webber. Webber is older, the chief. Webber is doing a procedure in the OR while the residents looking on all have their mobiles out–apparently texting. When Webber tells them to put the things away, one resident explains that they are actually tweeting following another procedure in another OR on Twitter–an OR that was full. The full session being tweeted was Dr. Bailey’s. This gets Webber in a bit of a flap. He tells Bailey that she’s not allowed to tweet any more until he’s looked into this Twitter thing. Bailey points out that she has consent forms, she’s reaching a wide-audience of students–which is good for the teaching hospital, and that if the patient starts coding (going critical) she stops tweeting. [What she doesn’t mention, is that one of the observers actually does the tweeting and relays questions, comments, etc. to Bailey as Bailey does the procedure.] Regardless, Webber says no more tweeting until he looks into it and OK’s it.  

During her next procedure, Bailey is convinced to tweet when the doctor-observer in her OR points out that this is the 3rd procedure for the patient, Bailey now has a following–even from Australia, the followers want to know the outcome for the patient, and since Webber doesn’t use Twitter, he’d never know. As you can imagine, in typical TV fashion, Webber just happens to be researching Twitter at that particular time. With the help of a fellow doctor, Webber locates Bailey’s Twitter stream and sees the procedure being tweeted. He rushes into the OR to stop her. While he’s reprimanding her, something goes sideways in the operation. The doctor-observer continues to tweet and they get suggestions & questions from doctors at other hospitals via Twitter–one of whom was a previous resident under Webber. Basically, they get free consult and options they hadn’t considered–and are able to reach beyond the resources of their one hospital to save the life of a patient. During the surgery, Bailey leaves to get something from one of the hospitals who tweeted support, and Webber is left holding the bag and fielding tweeted questions on this procedure and others via Twitter.  Post procedure, it has him diving back into a fellow doctor’s old personal hand written journals to rediscover a procedure he had mentioned in a tweet but couldn’t remember entirely at the time. As you can imagine, he’s now hooked to an extent & Bailey gets permission to continue tweeting on her next procedure. As Bailey leaves his office, Webber asks her to tweet the procedure that he rediscovered in the hand written journal during her next procedure on Twitter.

Episode’s Twitter Use Reflect Reality?

You bet. There are numerous hospitals using Twitter to tweet procedures as done in this episode. You can read here how Henry Ford surgeons Twitter from OR:  http://www.healthcareitnews.com/news/henry-ford-surgeons-twitter-or. Here you can find the 2009 Top Hospitals on Twitter: http://ebennett.org/top-ten-hospitals-on-twitter/. To put this in professional perspective, imagine a teacher-observer, or student-teacher, in your classroom tweeting what you do from the moment you start class to the end of class.  For us, I think the closest parallel would be lecture capture systems–more prevalent at the post secondary levels–but alone it lacks the social networking aspect.

Episode’s Twitter Message

Clearly, Twitter is shown in a favourable light in this particular episode: 1) hospital and patient get access to more doctors’ knowledge, ideas, and suggestions; 2) the field is enlightened as various doctors can follow the procedure, ask questions, get answers, & learn; 3) the hospital–especially as a teaching hospital–has its profile raised especially among today’s mobile-friendly population; 4) the mention of Australia, gives us the notion of the global boundaries that can be transcended by technology; 5) the mention of reconnect with an old student, gives us the sense of the social connections & reconnections–as well as learning relationships–that can be built and maintained via technology–extending face-to-face professional learning networks. It’s all rosy–and when technology and social networking are used professionally and responsibly, I agree Twitter can be great.

Role of the Technologically Cautious & Issues for Rising Professionals

If you are a committed “bleeding edger” with regard to technology, you may never understand the important balance that the technologically cautious like Webber or the technologically fearful can provide. Their voice, in my opinion, is a critical check & balance in the technology adoption process. They help us to move beyond the rosy picture to think about what could go wrong, why people might be fearful, weigh the potential concerns. Sometimes those extra moments of consideration help us to envision what other relevant issues might arise–issues only the technologically savvy might envision when they take the time. In my opinion, when implementing newer technologies, we need to think about what could go sideways, BEFORE it does, in order to prepare for it, prevent it, or at the least mitigate it if it does happen.

As the episode was unfolding, I found myself at first judging Webber for his slower uptake of technology–but then asked myself, as “Chief” what would be his concerns beyond personal discomfort with learning a new technology. One issue that extra moment rasied for me was, what happens when a doctor makes a decision that could be considered “problematic” or “wrong” by others. If it’s tweeted, it’s permanently out there for the world to see & critique; it would reflect on the the hospital, the Chief, and the doctor’s colleagues–ultimately the profession as a whole. It could be fodder in a malpractice suite. People make mistakes all the time–it’s part of our learning process. Experienced professionals tend to make fewer of these–especially public ones–otherwise their professional longevity is questionable. What about as we’re rising up through the ranks of a profession? What then? Do we have ‘allowances’ for errors or misjudgement? As professional elders, or administrators, are we more constrained in dealing with these errors or misjudgement when they become a matter of the digital public record?  Do we ask students and rising professionals to stay off social media where their every posting is open to public, global, scrutiny? What training do we provide? What guidelines?

Tweeting Affect Decision Making Processes & Professional Behaviour?

This led me to other questions. Does Twitter effect choices made by doctors in a tweeting OR? Would doctors tend to take fewer risks, be less innovative if their every action could be scrutinized by professionals around the world via twitter? If a doctor has a personal need for fame, would it make that doctor more inclined to take risks? Would tweeting from an OR make doctors more thoughtful in their choices–more carefully weighing outcomes now that their actions and decision-making processes are revealed & set in digital stone for later review? Would they second-guess themselves and thereby have confidence issues? Have doctors and the tweeting hospitals considered these factors and accounted for them by setting parameters re. what procedures may be tweeted, by whom, and when?

It has been the claim that putting students’ content on the internet can make for higher quality product–students know the world is watching and want their work to reflect well upon them, but students have the time to make drafts, edit, and post polished work. Tweeting from an OR is the professional equivalent of  having a teacher-observer, or student-teacher, in your classroom tweeting what you do from the moment you start class to the end of class–fielding comments, questions, suggestion based on the parameters you may outline–or maybe you didn’t. You’d know they’d be tweeting–but still what would be the effects on your instructional style and interaction with the students? What happens when you forget they are there? What happens if you make an error in judgement? What if you had a bad day?

Perhaps in the education profession, our closest parallel is today’s lecture capture systems (primarily at post-secondary) at least as far as the issue of what happens when things go sideways and it’s captured in the digital public record.  Does lecture capture affect your inclination to take instructional risks? What if you have a bad day–and it’s the day you forget that there’s a lecture capture system running because you’ve gotten so used to it? Case in point is that of Carnegie Mellon University’s  Professor Talbert when he went sideways about an “overly loud yawn” during a lecture to HA 1174. If you haven’t seen the video, watch it and see for yourself: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QuLaQoQP9oo  I was so stunned by it, that I quickly dragged 2 colleagues to see it. One thought it was a hoax. This was not a hoax video–research revealed it was taken from a lecture capture system. I’ve had bad days in class as I’ve come up through the ranks. What if they were captured for posterity and came to define my teaching? I recently read an article that some US States will start recording class sessions for teacher evaluation–where a 3rd party goes into the class and records it for others to review and critique. These are pilot projects leading toward a wider scale US evaluation process. 

Ultimately, lecture capture is a poor cousin to Tweeting in respect to immediate feedback, suggestions, questions, and support when dealing with an instructional issue, procedure, or strategy for our students. In education, it is far more likely that we will be gaining this kind of support asynchronously in face-to-face situations, though digital or blended instructional environments may lend themselves more toward synchronous, real-time, discussions about at class and its students as it unfolds–much like the OR.

 The are interesting questions, that have me pondering what the implications might be for both the medical and educational professions.

TAIP Framework for Educational Tool Assessment

November 30, 2010

While teaching an introductory course in educational technology for pre-service teachers this semester, I attempted to create a framework to help them evaluate new educational technology and tools. The ability to evaluate potential educational tools and technologies is a useful skill for all educators–getting pre-service teachers to develop this as a habit of systematic thought seemed a worthwhile pursuit. I began to think about my thought processes when looking at some new technology. I then based the framework on what I thought  I do when evaluating these tools.  I called it the TAIP Framework:

TAIP Tool Assessment Framework

TAIP Tool Assessment Framework (Hengstler, 2010)

The first time I used it with the class, I realized I had to further guide students in what was expected in answering each of the items. After comparing their initial attempts to my implicit expectations when reviewing them, I built the first rubric for the TAIP:

Beginning No specific tool delineated like a named website or service; no brief description of what it is or does in general
Developing Specific tool delineated; may or may not have brief description of what it is or does in general
Capable Specific tool delineated with a brief description of what it does in general
Powerful Specific tool delineated with a brief description of what it does in general that does not provide extraneous or irrelevant information.

Beginning No applications outlined or applications are general and not specifically related to potential uses of the tool by teachers, students in relation to education
Developing Few educationally relevant  applications are outlined
Capable Several educationally relevant applications are mentioned demonstrating how a teacher, student, class may use the tool.
Powerful A variety of educationally relevant applications are mentioned demonstrating how a teacher, student, class may use the tool not only teacher to student; but teacher to teacher; teacher to parent; student to student, etc.

Beginning No discussion of the educationally relevant benefits or challenges of using the tool. No mention of planning & resources necessary to use the tool.
Developing Little discussion of the educationally relevant benefits or challenges of using the tool—though there may be some general benefits or challenges mentioned. Little mention of planning & resources necessary to use the tool.
Capable Discusses several considerations of the educationally relevant benefits or challenges of using the tool. Establishes necessary planning & resources required to use the tool in at least 1-2 contexts (e.g. teacher-teacher; student-student; teacher-student).
Powerful Thorough consideration demonstrated of the educationally relevant benefits or challenges of using the tool. Planning & resources necessary to use the tool are considered & anticipated in the various contexts.


Policy & Professionalism
Beginning No discussion or consideration given to the types of policies or practices that may be in place –or would need to be developed–to encourage the use of the tool. No consideration of existing policies that might affect tool use. No discussion of impact that tool use might have on  teacher digital footprints
Developing Evidence of consideration given to the types of policies or practices that may be in place –or would need to be developed–to encourage the use of the tool. At least one consideration evident of what  tool use might mean for a  teacher’s digital footprints
Capable Several points considered re.  types of policies or practices that may be in place –or would need to be developed–to encourage the use of the tool. Mention made of existing policies that might negatively affect tool use. Discusses more than one impact  tool use might have on a  teacher’s digital footprints
Powerful Several points considered re.  types of policies or practices that may be in place –or would need to be developed–to encourage the use of the tool. Mention made of existing policies that might negatively affect tool use. 

Mentions forms or other permissions required. Considers the impact  tool use might have on a  teacher’s digital footprints from more than one perspective: teacher-teacher, teacher-student, teacher-parent, teacher-professional community, etc.


Beginning Several grammatical & spelling errors evident 

Several issues with sentence structure.

Content strung together with little logical connection to move reader from one point to next.

Developing May have occasional grammatical & spelling error evident 

Few issues with sentence structure.

Content strung together with some logical connection to move reader from one point to next.

Capable May have 1-2 of the following overall: grammatical error, spelling error, issue with sentence structure. 

Logical connect is evident between points.

Powerful May have no more than 1 of the following overall: grammatical error, spelling error, issue with sentence structure. 

Logical connect is evident between points.

Responses in “Applications” & “Implications” show some evidence of creative or unique thought/perspective.

[Notes: Had to break rubric out of landscape table as there wasn’t room to display it properly here. Also, as a result of my lack of clarity, my students received a done/not done mark on their first attempts. When the rubric evolved, they were then given a chance to self-assess for editing and resubmission.]

When thinking about Applications, I wanted students to think about the uses the tool was meant for as well as unanticipated/unplanned uses.  I also stressed that virtually every TAIP’s Implications should include the issue of  providing access to selected tools outside of class without singling out individuals with limited or no access beyond school.

My ultimate idea was that my pre-service teachers would be able to collect solid TAIPS in a wiki and share them among our class and beyond. Our semester was short, so I could only devote a limited amount of time to using the framework.

In this blog post, I’m looking for some feedback & discussion around this TAIP Framework for Educational Tool Assessment & it’s attendant rubric to improve or reinvent them entirely.

Shortly, with my students’ permission, I will share some examples of their reviews using this framework.

Fleas in a Bottle?: Will Social Networking Stymie Personal Development of Youth?

October 28, 2010

Recently I was giving a workshop on digital footprints at the CUEBC Conference Saturday at Simon Frazer University, Vancouver, BC. A digital footprint is the collection of all the traces you leave in electronic environments as you use or move through them. Some is content you actively volunteer—like your Facebook profile. Other material is passive—the cookies a site stores in your browser, the content your district collects about your use of their equipment, etc. All this data can be aggregated to build a profile of you and your behavior—to profile you in the FBI-sense of the word. The PEW Report, Digital Footprints (2007) states that what can be found and assembled through a simple Google search today, used to take a private investigator months to do. We tweet where we are and what we’re doing complete with pictures. Social networking profiles itemize our likes & dislikes, our friends & families. As PEW (2007) states, we’ve crossed from being “findable” to “knowable” .

We are living in an unprecedented era with regard to digital footprints. Mashable posted a recent article by L. Indvik (October 10, 2010) citing that 92% of all toddlers in the US and 81% internationally, already have a digital footprint. This would be a passive footprint as it would be data posted about those children versus data they post themselves. Further, Indvik (2010) cites that 23% of children have a prenatal presence—like sonogram images and such posted before birth. For these toddlers and the unborn, their digital footprint will encompass just about their entire lives. Contrast that to adults in their 30’s-40’s (I’m in there): for us, our digital footprints will stretch back about 15-20 years (Indvik, 2010). In between these groups are the tweens, teens & twenty-somethings—let me call them the 3T’s—who are just starting out with their digital footprint—often in the absence of good judgment or good adult modeling.

For those of us in our 30’s & 40’s,  our digital footprints began at just about the same time we were entering mature adulthood. I know there are exceptions, but by–in-large we would have started posting at about the same time our impulse control, and mature thought processes of foresight, etc. were emerging. This is in stark contrast to the 3T’s who often started posting when their impulse control, long range projections and overall mature thought processes were barely emerging. I would argue that their age, lack of foresight, discipline/personal control coupled with the emergence of social networking and lack of elders’ scaffolding in those networks created a “perfect storm” that will adversely affect their digital footprint in a way 30/40 somethings and beyond will rarely experience. (My position that society & educators abdicated their responsibilities in regard to preparing these young people to handle this technology–but that’s for a later post.) Some of the 3T’s most thoughtless and foolish actions are being chronicled for the world before they have the opportunity to reflect upon them and decide if sharing them with the world & posterity is a good long term strategy.

What will be the effects? Will these young people be labeled for life because of young foolish indiscretions?

When we were talking in the session, I likened it to growing up in a small town where everyone knows your business. For example, there’s a woman in my small community—in her late 30’s holding down a respectable job, mother of a few kids, who during her wilder teen years got drunk and jumped on the hood of someone’s new car with her boots on. She damaged the car, but ultimately paid for repairs. To many people in our community, she will forever be labeled. She will be that woman-who-got-drunk-&-jumped-on-X’s-new car-in-high-school. Of course, she could have always moved to another town or bigger town where she’d be relatively anonymous. Quite often that’s what people do if the situation becomes too uncomfortable—at least that’s what they did before the advent of the Internet, high powered search engines, identity aggregators and social networking. That got me thinking about the fleas-in-the-bottle analogy used by Zig Ziglar. If you’ve never read it or heard it—fleas are confined to a bottle and when the bottle is removed they continue to jump roughly within the confines of where the bottle was. They have been conditioned. (There used to be a video on YouTube showing the fleas, but I’ve been unable to find it. If anyone knows where it is, please let me know and I’ll add it here.) For our youth, the questions I pose are:

  • Will the 3T’s (tweens, teens & twenty-somethings) of our time forever be constrained by the behavior they published on MySpace, Tagged, Bebo & Facebook—or that others have posted about them?
  • Will they be the proverbial fleas in the bottle? Will it hinder their ability to move past the youthful indiscretions onto productive adulthood?

During the workshop, I also spoke about the need for professionals to unfollow or unfriend individuals in a social network who post problematic content (discriminatory language, off-colour jokes, sexual content/comments, etc.) that would reflect poorly on the teachers’ professional standards/code of ethics (BCCT Standards, BCTF Code of Ethics, etc.). I explained that though you may not repost the content you see in your network (like retweeting it in Twitter), if the problematic content is in the other person’s public stream (e.g. a public Twitter stream), and the person is publicly visible in your network (e.g. your Twitter “home page” who you’re following ), that person’s problematic content will be associated with you. I advise people to contact the network member privately and state that though you valued his/her previous content, the current statements would reflect poorly on you professionally—and that for professional reasons you will be unfollowing/unfriending/unnetworking him/her. It is my belief that if you simply click unfollow because they post offensive content, people may never know that the content is offensive and affecting their digital footprint. Sending a private message can be a teaching/learning opportunity.

One of the attendees looked at it from a different perspective:

  • What happens when all the more socially and politically correct people unfollow/unfriend/unnetwork the problematic ones?
  • Wouldn’t that leave all the politically incorrect “fleas” in a smaller bottle reinforcing each other in their politically & socially incorrect views?

What will the impact of the perfect storm be on youth development? What will its impact be on toddlers and unborn who already have digital footprints? Will they be Ziglar’s Fleas in a Bottle?

Julia’s Comments on Snapshot Study of Canadian K-12 Online Learning

July 14, 2009

You may be aware of the North American Council for Online Learning released a report in October 2008 called “A Snapshot State of the Nation Study: K-12 Online Learning in Canada”. The report was written by Michael K. Barbour of Wayne State University (Michigan) & Robin Steward of Chatham Kent Public Library (Ontario) based on existing literature and contributions of practitioners in the Canadian field of K-12 online learning. As I now teach & work in educational technology in a pre-service teacher program at Vancouver Island University (Nanaimo, BC) and as a teacher with a history of distributed learning experience in British Columbia, Canada, I am very happy to see some research materials on Canada’s K-12 online learning experiences. Overall, I enjoyed reading the report and appreciated the Canadian focus of the research/data and I will be using it for  courses I teach on educational technology.

Some interesting points of the study:

History of K-12 Online Learning in Canada

  • “virtual schooling, as we know it in North American, began in Canada in 1994”
    • Avon Maitland Distance Education Centre, Avon Maitland District School Board, Ontario (1994-1995 with first courses offered in 1997-1998)
    • first virtual school offerings by Electronic Distance Education Network (1995-1996, Ontario)
    • first virtual school offerings by  Garden Valley Collegiate (1995-96, Manitoba)
    • several offerings by Alberta school district consortia

(Author cites Barker & Wendel, 2001; Barker, Wendel & Richmond, 1999;  Haughey & Fenwich, 1996; Muirhead, 1999 for data)

Little Existing  Research Data re. Canadian K-12 Online Learning

  • “With limited government, foundation and private support for education research, K-12 online learning programmes have not received financial support for research and evaluation.”
  • “…there has been little activity in Canadian higher education towards research of K-12 online learning “
  • a key governance difference in K-12 online learning responsibilities between Canada and the US is that  responsibility for education in Canada rests in the hands of each individual province or territory– in US it is in the hands of the federal Department of Education

Canadian Regional Differences

  • eastern Canada tends to have stronger provincial programs
  • Quebec has “limited district-based programmes”
  • central Canada (i.e. Ontario) has provincial system and extensive district-based programmes as well as private school initiatives
  • western Canada tends “to have smaller or dated” provincial programs and “a varying level of district-based programmes”
  • Canadian territories leverage district-based programs in BC & Alberta

Governance & BC’s Extraordinary Situation

  • “the vast majority of provinces do not have policies that are specifically realted to K-12 online learning. Instead, online learning programmes must struggle with meeting regulations designed for brick-and-mortar schools. The main exception…is British Columbia where the Government has created a specific regime to govern the operation of distance education in that province.”

Julia’s Comments on the Research

Firstly, it is important to note that this report helps further significant research dialogue on Canadian K-12 online learning. That said there were a few areas I think warrant further work.

Leap from Correspondence to Online Models: Where is Potential Impact of Offline Computer Mediated Education?

I am interested in the way that the description of the historical context seemed to leave out any mention of the use of offline, computer-based or computer-mediated education. The research seems to jump from the use of correspondence-type materials and to online content delivery. As one of the practitioners in the 1990’s, there was a distinct phase of using computer mediated content delivery either at a distance or in face-to-face brick-and-mortar situations. This was especially true for educators wanting more multimedia & interactivity in course design than could be supported on BC’s PLNet connections of the day (low-bandwidth). I think that educators who had been participating in the computer-mediated education were well positioned to move into and leverage online education as content became available–and to call for increased media & interactivity to push online learning beyond text on screen. I can remember several computer-mediated programs like Plato, CMI Crossroads, Nelson’s The Learning Equation,  that were in use when I was teaching in the mid-late 1990-early 2000’s in British Columbia and were a way-point between correspondence and multimedia rich online learning.

Some Key Items in BC Context Merit Inclusion

When I reflect on the development of online learning in British Columbia, I found it quite interesting that the report did not mention the rise of the COOL Schools consortium–prior to the formation of BCEdOnline. COOL schools started out as a collaboration among several school districts–then other BC districts wanted to buy access to content. When my district joined, our membership initially required a Blackboard license brokered by the Open Learning Agency or Open School. Two other groups that had historical impact on the formation of online learning in BC were  the BC Computer Curriculum Consortium and the BC Teachers’ Federation Provincial Specialist Association, Educators for Distributed Learning.

One of the interesting issues I remember occurred when the regional distance education programs were still working in defined catchment areas.  Teachers employed in some regional educational programs were concerned re. the classification of their positions as  “markers” rather than “teachers”. If I recall properly, the issue of classification allowed for treatment of markers distinct from “teachers” re. student & course loads (e.g. in brick-and-mortar schools). Also of note was that during the rise of online learning, there were various tensions between the officially published positions & supported policies of the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) and the positions & policy recommendations of the EDLPSA (Educators for Distributed Learning Provincial Specialist Associaion, BCTF) members with regard to teachers’ working  issues around distributed learning in the province.

The authors also missed another interesting period of online development fueled by K-12 funding  when the BC government was funding both local school districts AND distance education providers for FTE at the secondary level. Under that arrangement, students might attend a distributed learning support block at brick-and-mortar school within its schedule while working on a distributed learning course from another provider. At that time, the government was paying for enrollment in the distance education course and funding the teacher supervision FTE in the brick-and-mortar school. I believe that period lasted for 1-2 years before it was radically restructured. Likely enrollment data would show a increase in enrollments in the former and a steep decrease in enrollments under the later funding structures. I know that within my Distributed Learning Program, we began to look at leveraging existing content from COOL Schools through an opensource learning management system, ATutor ( complying with licensing constraints), as well as developing our own local content to further reduce costs.

So on what do I base my critique ?

My historical experience with distributed learning in BC schools stems back to the mid-1990’s when I developed a private program that leveraged several distance education providers like South Island Distance Education School (SIDES), Nechacko Valley’s eBus, & North Island Distance Education School (NIDES). Local parents enrolled students  in full-time distance education/distributed learning programs approved by the provincial government, and then paid me–a BC Certified teacher– to work with their children as a group in a pseudo-school.  Some content was “pizza-box” courses and some content was online. I supported  students “distance” education face-to-face with a range of subject matter expertise while the distance education programs supplied content, marking of submitted work & official course credit. Over time, I established partnerships with the providers mentioned above that allowed me to help guide instruction in a more collaborative fashion with these organizations. In one instance, a partner organization provided a computer and internet access in my rented location–that would have otherwise been made available to one of the students in their home–and with the student’s & parent’s permission– so that the students enrolled in their program might access their online content and communicate with their online teachers, advisors, etc. during our “class” days and hours–generally a 3 day week.

My local district, SD 64 Gulf Islands,  took an interest in the model I developed and asked if they might send someone to chat with me and observe what I was doing.  An administrator from one of the Gulf Island schools on Pender Island, Jean Way, met with me to observe what I was doing. My model was a partial basis for the development of SD 64’s Secondary Learning Centres, later renamed Student Learning Centres.

After running my private program for a number of years, I entered discussions with the local school district regarding potential employment working in their program at the local high school.  I applied & won the position, then closed my private program to take over the distance education program supervision at Gulf Islands Secondary School. A proponent of computers, I worked to bring in more computer mediated and online resources. In many cases, I continued partnering with my earlier contacts at the various regional distance education programs. During my employment with SD 64 Gulf Islands, I served as a member of the   Secondary Learning Centre Committee (later called Student Learning Centre Commitee, 1999-2006) to help form the directions our district was taking in regard to the provision and delivery of distributed learning programs, the district Technology Committee (2000-2001)–a natural extension as I was using computers extensively in the Gulf Islands Secondary Distributed Learning Program. I was also active at the provincial level as an Executive Member-at-Large for the Educators for Distributed Learning, Provincial Specialist Association, British Columbia Teachers Federation (2000-2003) and an Executive Member-at-Large in BC4 (BC Computer Curriculum Consortium, 2001-2003).