Air is the medium of our natural and spiritual life, of our relation to ourselves, to speaking, to the other Luce Irigaray ‘Way of Love’

In a podcast unpacking biofortification, Jeremy Cherfas explores how science has not delivered on the promises, especially regarding yield. One of the interesting points raised is the idea of ‘hidden hunger’, this is where people get enough food, but not enough micronutrients.

One aspect of malnutrition is hidden hunger, a lack of micronutrients in the diet resulting in poor health that may not manifest for months or years.

Source: What is wrong with biofortification by Maarten van Ginkel and Jeremy Cherfas

This idea had me thinking about our digital diets, where we often get too much information, but not enough critical content. This can subsequently leave us with ‘hidden hunger’. Although we may spend time clicking and consuming social media, there is something missing.

One place I have found myself continually going to over the last few years has been The Minefield podcast featuring lecturer in politics and journalist, Waleed Aly, and, philosopher and theologian, Scott Stephens. Their weekly discussions diving into wicked problems always leave me thinking differently about the world around me. In part, this is for the way in which they never quite agree, but always find some sort of consensus. (For me, their dialogue represents what Angus Hervey describes as holding on tightly and letting go lightly.) I was therefore intrigued to read their Quarterly Essay Uncivil Wars: How Contempt Is Corroding Democracy

At its heart, Uncivil Wars argues that democracy cannot survive contempt. Democracy, Aly and Stephens explain, is about cultivating a common life even in the presence of serious disagreement, while contempt is about having no life in common at all. They suggest that, to make this argument requires a careful consideration of both contempt and democracy, but it also requires us to think about the conditions in which we are going about our democratic lives. So they divide their argument into three stages.

First, we draw on the insights of moral philopsohy to make clear what we mean by contempt and to identify precisely what makes it morally suspect. Along the way, we engage with recent philosophical and policatical arguments that seek to validate contempt in certain circumstances. Even those arguments, we note, require participants in public debate to practice a high level of restraint.

Next, we show that such restraint is rendered completely unrealistic given the environment in which our public conversation takes place. We argue that the machinery of public discourse, dominated by media and social media, is powerfully designed to manipulate, inflame and commodify our moral emotions, impelling us towards an unrestrainted contempt for each other.

Finally, we argue that such contempt is ultimately incompatible with and thoroughly corrosive of democracy itself.

Source: Uncivil Wars by Waleed Aly and Scott Stephens

Aly and Stephens describe contempt as being personal, judgmental, comparative, performative, an enduring disposition, a way of acting and feeling towards others. Breaking this down further, they identify three particular types of contempt:

  • Patronising Contempt. This is ‘knowing without being known, speaking without being addressed.’ An example is Malcolm Turnball’s dismissal the Uluru Statement from the Heart where he showed contempt for indigenous people with the way in which he rejected it.
  • Downward Contempt. This is contempt that focuses on hierarchical order. An example of this is slavery and the prioritising one group over another.
  • Moral Contempt. This is contempt that is not necessarily pre-existing, but arises out of a situation. It is the staple of tabloid journalism. It is also epitomised in the Robodebt’s contempt towards those receiving government payments and cancel culture.

Aly and Stephens point out that these three types are not mutually exclusive. For example, the response to Yassmin Abdel-Magied a few years ago mixes cancel culture with a downward contempt of gender and religion. In the end, these three types are brought together by there deep dismissal of others with no place for forgiveness. Oddly, contempt is often self-fulfilling.

For Aly and Stephens, ‘air’ is more than the oxygen we breathe, it is the space that occupies the space, it is where democracy exists. They use a quote from Luce Irigaray to capture the way in which our public life is beholden to the air that we breathe.

Air is the medium of our natural and spiritual life, of our relation to ourselves, to speaking, to the other – Page 67

Source: Way of Love by Luce Irigaray

Sadly, actions such as ‘likes’ and ‘retweets’ in the open air of Twitter serve as moral contagion and help build outgroup animosity. Social media acts as a contempt machine and helps push us all towards the tabloidisation of everything.

Aly and Stephens use a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson discussing the way in which Fugitive Slave Law in 1850 made everyone culpable for slavery to capture the situation.

We do not breathe well. There is infamy in the air.

Source: The selected lectures of Ralph Waldo Emerson by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Rather than tending to the air, media platforms suck everyone into a game where virality is the goal. Every speech act is reduced to a positive or negative response, this leads to a situation where contempt occurs before moral considerations of the other. This leaves us incomprehensible, unknown and unknowable to others.

Although there are always limits, the problem is that in the modern world this has become the first questions we ask. Little room is left for complexity and consensus. For Aly and Stephens, our focus should be on ‘thick democracy’, the reciprocal act of hope, interdependence and attention.

Democracy lives by and through such incidental acknowledgements of the moral reality of other persons.

Source: Uncivil Wars by Waleed Aly and Scott Stephens

Borrowing from Simone Weil, they talk about the importance of being attentive to the best of arguments of the others view, rather than a caricature. Weil talks about the symbolic language of lovers and the way this cultivates the relationship. With this, we need to think of democracy as a marriage that is continually cultivated.

We have become profoundly unreal to each other and therefore inattentiveness to the moral reality of our fellow citizens. This is perhaps the greatest irony. For all the talk of the attention economy, attention is precisely what our social media saturated age disallows. We are living in a time of contempt and the future of our democratic life depends on whether we can resist it.

Source: Uncivil Wars by Waleed Aly and Scott Stephens

With the movement away from platforms like Twitter and Facebook, it can be a useful time to consider what such spaces serve and what a constructive alternative maybe to borrow from Doug Belshaw. What might it mean to form what Eli Pariser has described as ‘online parks‘:

We need public spaces, built in the spirit of Walt Whitman, that allow us to gather, communicate, and share in something bigger than ourselves.

Source: To Mend a Broken Internet, Create Online Parks by Eli Pariser

All in all, Uncivil Wars is a thought provoking book, which demands attention and consideration.

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I’ve also noticed a lot more intentionality and value coming out of people who are writing their own posts and replies on their personal websites first. Because it appears on a site they own and which is part of their online identity, they’re far more careful about what and how they write. Their words are no longer throw-away commentary for the benefit of a relatively unseen audience that comes and goes in a rushing stream of content on someone else’s social site. Chris Aldrich ‘On Blogs in the Social Media Age by Cal Newport’

Many argue that something is not right with social media as it currently stands. This post explores what it might mean to make Twitter great again?

Responding to Jack Dorsey’s call for suggestions on how to improve Twitter, Dave Winer put forward two suggestions: preventing trolling and making changes. Some of the particulars Winer shares include giving control over who can reply, eliminate character count and allow organisations to curate lists. Although I agree with Winer about some of these changes, I wonder if the answer to improving Twitter is always to make Twitter great again?

I feel the ways I use Twitter have changed considerably this year. My one word this year has been ‘intent’. A part of this is being more aware of my ‘prosumption’ online. One of my concerns is that Twitter is not the Twitter it once was for me. In short, it feels like there has been an increase in branding, as epitomised by ASCD’s recent spotlight on edu-twitter influencers. There has also been a rise in hostility and abuse. Some of which is automated, some of which perpetuated by crowds.

Deb Netolicky's Edutwitter

Although I have not wiped my account and started again, as Anil Dash did, I definitely started reviewing my practice and participation there. To be fair, my participation on Twitter has taken many guises over time. In the past it was the place where I shared ideas and connected the dots. The problem I found was that although I could dive back into my archive, it was far from organised. If this was my ‘outboard brain’ (as it had seemingly become) it had become rather chaotic. Initially, I adjusted things to syndicate to Twitter using Dave Winer’s Radio3 linkblog platform. I then moved to sending from my own site, however this did not feel right.

I wondered why I was actually sharing on Twitter (and every other site, such as Google+ and Tumblr), especially after reading Ben Werdmüller’s reflection on POSSE.  Maha Bali suggests that sharing is a reciprocal act:

Giving means bringing something to gift to others … whereas sharing means reciprocity … you bring something of yours to give some to others, but others also bring some of theirs to give you, whether immediate or over time.

If this is so then isn’t it enough to share via my blog and rely on pingbacks and webmentions for reciprocity? As Kicks Condor describes:

I do find that Webmentions are really enhancing linking—by offering a type of bidirectional hyperlink. I think if they could see widespread use, we’d see a Renaissance of blogging on the Web.

Posting on Twitter therefore lacked purpose, contributing to something I did not feel comfortable with. As I have elaborated on in the past:

Often it is presumed that sharing out links and continuing the conversation is always a good thing. However, at some point it can become too much of a good thing. The effort and intention to connect and engage in this situation has the opposite effect.

I also thought that if these links were for me then why not simply post them on my own site, what Greg McVerry describes as a social media of one. Posting on Twitter has now become about sharing if there was actually someone in particular that I felt might be interested and that was my main point on contact.

Some have found Mastodon to be the social answer to Twitter’s ills. This is something Doug Belshaw has written about in the past. However, I have never found a place. In part I agree with Ben Werdmuller, who suggested that:

Mastodon doesn’t suffer from the organizational issues I described above, but by aping commercial social networking services, it suffers from the same design flaws.

Associated with this, I have tried to engage with Micro.Blog, but feel frustrated by the technological constraints. I love the use of RSS, but personally use my headings for too much to give them up and have yet to crack open the code as John Johnston has.


In the song Miss Those Days, Jack Antonoff sings about pining for the past:

I know I was lost, but I miss those days.

I think this conundrum captures the desire to return to what Kicks Condor  has described as a weird Twitter. Although I was not tgere for the weirdest of times I remember my early days of anxiety and axiliration, of constant notifications, questions and check-ins. This is epitomised by Craig Kemp’s image of addiction:

Craig Kemp's Twitter Chat Alarm Clock

Although I never set alarms, there was a time when it encompassed a lot of what I did. I do not regret that time, but it is not necessarily something that I miss. My fast food social media diet has been replaced by one managed around blogs, feeds and comments. I do sometimes feel I miss out on some things, but trust that if I need to know something that I will probably capture through some other means.

What I am left most intrigued by is how my thinking has changed since I started talking with Dr. Ian Guest about this topic. Ironically, I think that his investigation inadvertently spurred my own inquiry. The ever present flanogropher.

NOTE: This post has sat in my drafts brewing for a few months. It involved a range of research. I apologise if it is inconsistent or incoherent, it is a topic that I have been really grappling with. I would love to know if anybody else has any thoughts. As always, comments and webmentions welcome.

Also posted on IndieNews

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What the drive-in was to teens in the 1950s and the mall in the 1980s, Facebook, texting, Twitter, instant messaging, and other social media are to teens now. danah boyd ‘It’s Complicated’

What might it mean to be ‘digitally mindful’ and does such a thing exist?

I was a part of a discussion about technology and wellbeing today. It was framed around the work of Hugh van Cuylenburg and the Resilience Project. For van Cuylenburg our focus should be on gratitude, empathy and mindfulness.

The focus then moved to Common Sense Media and the addiction to phones. The need for ‘tech-free time’ was brought up. This reminded me of a keynote last year from NSW Secretary of Education, Mark Scott, and his push for deep work, a term attributed to Cal Newport. The suggestion was that to be mindful we need to put the screens away. I was therefore left with the question, what might it mean to be ‘digitally mindful’ and can such a thing exist?

In an article for Common Sense Media, Elizabeth Galicia discusses some strategies families and tech companies can use to foster healthier habits. In addition to screen-free times and parental controls, there is discussion of ‘humane’ design and protection of data. The problem is that there does not seem to be any support for student action?

Maybe this action accounted for through the discussion of citizenship addresses this, but I feel there is a missed opportunity. Rather than wait for the ‘humane’ solutions to arrive, I wonder if there are opporrtunities to create deliberate safe spaces that can be used to support students in learning.

I did this myself with three classes connected together using Edublogs. One of the benefits is that comments were moderated, therefore if there was something shared that was inappropriate then it provided an opportunity for a learning conversation. As danah boyd points out in her seminal book It’s Complicated:

What the drive-in was to teens in the 1950s and the mall in the 1980s, Facebook, texting, Twitter, instant messaging, and other social media are to teens now. Teens flock to them knowing they can socialize with friends and become better acquainted with classmates and peers they don’t know as well.

Although teens will still most likely go online out of school, this safer space within school at least allows them a place to start. We are so adamant about enabling a generation of coders, yet overlook the importance of communication.

A further extension on this is the #IndieWeb and the Domain of One’s Own project. There is something about not only being a part of networked publics online, but also actively engaging with what that actually means. For me, that has come to include commenting, collecting and posting from sites that I have some sort of say over. Some who are currently immersed in what this might mean for education are Greg McVerry and Ian O’Byrne. Although I think that there are currently hurdles around ease and access, for me this is what it means to be ‘digitally mindful’. It is not always easy, but I feel that as I have stepped back from engaging  directly on social media I have become more aware of my presence online.

Although we can push for limited screen-time and better technology, I think that the challenge that faces many of us today is being more aware of the technology we have at our mercy and being more informed about what it all might mean.

What do you think? As always, comments and webmentions welcome.

Also posted on IndieNews

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RSS Standard and the Foundations of Blogging

With the potential demise of social media, does this offer a possible rebirth of blogging communities and the standards they are built upon?

There is something wrong with social media. Responding to John Lancester’s article in the London Review of Books, Alan Levine suggests that the only response is to exit Facebook. For Duckduckgo, the issue is the 75% of the top sites incorporate Google trackers. Nicholas Carr heralds a new era where we will depend on third-party security support, an era where even thinking is automated. Writing about the disempowering nature of Twitter, Kris Shaffer argues that the answer is not simply moving to Mastadon.

For some the answer is about going ‘old school’, a blogging Renaissance. Oddly, there seems to be a push in some communities for subscribers and email newsletters. This is done by adding sign ups that pop out of posts (even if you have already signed up). If we are to truly have a rebirth though then the technology that I think we need to reinvest in is RSS.

Short for Really Simple Syndication or Rich Site Summary, RSS is a standard that allows users to receive updates to content without the need to manually check or be in fear of missing something due to an inconspicuous algorithm working in the background. As David Nield explains,

One of the main reasons RSS is so beloved of news gatherers is that it catches everything a site publishes — not just the articles that have proved popular with other users, not just the articles from today, not just the articles that happened to be tweeted out while you were actually staring at Twitter. Everything.

Usually this feed is built from the web address. If not shown on the site, tools like the Connected Courses Magic Box can be used to capture it. Some platforms, such as WordPress, also allow you to create a custom feed based on a particular tag or category. You do this by selecting the particular tag or category and adding ‘/feed’ to the end of the URL. Useful if wanting to follow just a particular topic. Although feeds themeselves can be adjusted, this is done in the backend.

To sort through ‘everything’, you use a news aggregator, such as Feedly, Digg Reader or Tiny Tiny RSS. These applications allow you to collect a number of feeds in the one place. These feeds are stored as an OPML file, a format designed to exchange outline-structured information.

As a side note, these applications each have their own features and affordances. For example, Feedly now restricts new users to 50 feeds before asking for payment.

There are a number of ways to develop and edit an OPML file. You can use an OPML generator to build an outline or use an editor to refine a pre-existing list shared by somebody else. Something useful when downloading the public links from a WordPress site. You do this by adding ‘/wp-links-opml.php’ to the end of the URL.

I am not sure whether social media will go away, but with the questions being asked of it at the moment, maybe it is time for a second coming of blogs, a possible rewilding of edtech. The reality is that technology is always changing and blogging is no different. Whatever the future is, standards such as RSS and OPML will surely play there part. So what about you? Do you have any other alternatives to social media and the challenges of our time? As always, comments welcome.

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Mark Scott, Secretary of the NSW Department of Education, recently closed the National Coaching Conference for Educators with a suggestion to move away from false appeal associated with social media. Instead, he encouraged educators to spend their time focusing on ‘deep work’. To support this, Scott spoke about the work of Cal Newport. Ignoring the segmented nature of schools (see Richard Wells) or what we focus on (see Audrey Watters), the debate around reclaiming our attention is not new. However, Newport’s call to close accounts has been doing the rounds. After watching his TED Talk though, three questions puzzled me: what is social media, what is work and how do I differentiate the changes in my mind?

What is ‘social media’ anyway?

The message is clear, get off social media, your career depends upon it. Newport explains that interesting opportunities are not dependent on being online and in fact social media is harmful (see for example Doug Belshaw’s post on Facebook). Although I did not go and close all my accounts, Newport’s video did lead me to reflect on the place of social media within my life. However, as I watched the TEDTalk I thought that maybe I was misunderstanding his message. With his reference to RSS, it seemed that he was suggesting getting rid of all dynamic content? In many respects, social media is just as ambiguous as digital literacies. Is it how we use it? Is there something baked into applications or inherent in various web formats? Does it depend on if the application calls itself a media company? Are applications like ClassDojo or Seesaw examples of social media too? This was all confounded by the fact that Newport, someone who proudly flaunts the fact that he has never had a social media account, himself has a blog.

Finish at Five

Late in the presentation, Newport shares how he rarely works beyond five. This is such an interesting point, which leaves me wondering when ‘work’ starts and stops? People like David Culberhouse and Steve Brophy get up early in the morning to read, to write, to reflect. If they do not check email, does that mean that it is not ‘work’? What is work? My other concern is with the work that we ask people to do. As an educator, I feel uncomfortable telling an specialist teacher with 400+ that the reason they are working long hours to get reports written is because they are not committing themselves to ‘deep work’. Deep work is often associated with flow, I have never entered such a state while compiling reports. Maybe some work is always shallow?

Minds Changed

One of the concerns that Newport raises is that the instant gratification provided by social media rewires the brain.

The more you use social media in the way it’s designed to be used — persistently throughout your waking hours — the more your brain learns to crave a quick hit of stimulus at the slightest hint of boredom.

Our inability to commit ourselves to concentrating for lengthy periods of time means that we are unable to complete deep work. Maybe it is just me, but being a parent has taught me to seize the minute. If my daughter is asleep on my knee or I am waiting for pick up I often use my phone to dip into some reading. I get moments. I make the most of them to dig down into awesome ideas that I may not get the chance to do at ‘work’. In regards to putting on headphones or going into an office speaks of privilege? Then again, maybe it is just my broken brain.

In the end, I may have been hooked in by the click-bait nature of the New York Times and the TED Talk? Not sure. Maybe at some point I need to stop doing such shallow readings and dive into a deep reading of Newport’s book?

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“Technology” by mrkrndvs is licensed under CC BY-SA

I was asked today about Facebook Pages for schools. Although everyone seems to have one, I have seemingly avoided investigating Pages for a while now. I therefore decided to unpack the platform using Doug Belshaw’s digital literacies as a guide.

The 8 Essential Elements of Digital Literacies #digilit

“The 8 Essential Elements of Digital Literacies #digilit” by mrkrndvs is licensed under CC BY-SA

From a cognitive and constructive point of view, there are a few things to consider, including:

  • Cover Pages. This could be as simple as adding your own photograph or something found in Creative Commons. Another option is to create something with Canva or Google Drawings.
  • Username. This name is used for searching. For example, it acts as the second part of the URL for the page ( and provides an address for people to message by ( There is the option of posting as yourself or as ‘the page’. This is adjusted in Post Attribution in the Settings tab. A useful site for identifying a username is Namech_k as it shows what is available across a number of platforms.
  • Profile Picture: Each page creates a unique user, associated with this is a profile picture. This maybe the school logo, an image of the principal or if the page is for a classroom, an image of the teacher.
  • Description: Limited to 1-2 sentences, this description is similar to what you find in social media sites, such as Instagram and Twitter.
  • Links: There is the option to provide a link and/or a button to an outside website. This could be a class blog, a school website or another social media platform.
  • Content: There are a number of ways to add content to the page. This includes images, events and posts and notes. Within notes there is the ability to add basic formatting and embed objects from Facebook, Giphy, Instagram, SoundCloud, Twitter, Vimeo, and YouTube.
  • Settings: As with all of Facebook, there are a number of settings that can be changed. For example, you are able to adjust settings around comments via Settings > General > Visitor Posts.

Much of this is covered by Facebook in a series of tips provided when you start a new page. However, this blog also provides some additional guidance.

From a critical and cultural perspective, there are many considerations. One thing is permissions. For example, as a school have you gained informed consent to use images? Or communicate what is happening in the classroom? Does the school have a policy which accounts for how Pages will be used?

Another important aspect is privacy and identity. The first thing that I noticed with my trial space was the focus on marketing and boosting hits. Although I chose to categorise the space as education, it is not designed for education. Here I am reminded of Mark Zuckerbergs’s desire to destroy journalism. Facebook’s failure to protect teens. The way in such spaces and platforms foster a templated self and support inadvertent exclusion. Encouraging transparency through searching by continually changing settings and agreements. Targeting vulnerable teens. Manipulating user emotions. Inviting inappropriate connections. Makes you the product. If you are to use Facebook, it is important to be informed.

For many the appeal to use Facebook relates to communication and cultural norms, rather than considerations around data. The challenge is to find balance between ideals and common practice. I have written about alternatives before. However, if they take twice as long they will never be taken up. Convenience often wins out. So what about you? Have you used Facebook in education? Are there other aspects to consider? As always, comments welcome.

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Often it feels as if the discussions around being a connected educator resort to being a part of this or that community or signing up to a particular platform. For example, many argue that all educators should be on Twitter. When I think about my connected activities, I exist in a number of spaces, each with a different level of commitment and engagement. David White and Alison Le Cornu capture this with their idea of digital resident and visitor.

What is interesting is that beyond the commitment and balance between personal and professional, each application often offers a different set of features and affordances. Take Twitter readwriterespond  for example, allows such things as:

  • Post a message of 140 characters
  • Connect with ideas using hashtags and.people using handles
  • Add additional material, such as images and links

Although these features are continually tweaked, from adding an algorithm to the feed to the new functionality in the form of moments. What is interesting is that overtime the way these features are used changes and morphs. From an educational point of view, there has been a move to more serious and professional consumption, with this there has been a rise in automated engagement, while some conversations have been somewhat silenced with the rise of so-called ‘attack dogs’. See David Hopkins’ post for an example of a critique. In addition, I have changed both personally and professionally. Personally, I feel that I have developed an extensive network with different connections in different spaces. Although this is a positive, it has changed the way I engage with my feed. I also use other means to find posts and information. Professionally, I have become more mindful of my presence, especially what impact it might have with the various schools and teachers who I work with. One of my mainstays has been sharing.

As I read in other places I use Twitter as my first place to share. This month I decided to mix things up and change to Google+. Doug Belshaw is always talking about workflows, bringing in some different, junking what may not work anymore. I was interested in what would happen to my workflow if I had to junk Twitter. I understand that their are copies, such as Mastadon social, but I was particularly interested in what would happen if I moved to a completely new platform altogether. the differences.

So here is a summary of my experiences of moving in part to another space:


  • Longer Explanations: With the limit of 140 characters lifted, I started writing longer elaborations on my thoughts and reflections. I also included a quote for most posts. I have been doing this for a while with Diigo and then my newsletter.
  • More Thought Out: I found myself questioning what I posted on Google Plus. For some reason I am happy to post more frivolous content to Twitter, where the focus on summarising and quotes made me think again.
  • Text Formatting: Although it is only *bold*, _italicise_ and -strikethrough-, this simple formatting offers some different possibilities, such as italicising quotes or bolding keywords.


  • Serendipitous Conversations: Although there were a few comments and conversations on Plus, it is not quite the same as with Twitter. It would seem to have a smaller serendipity surface. There was neither the breadth or depth that can come with Twitter.
  • Connections and Communities: One aspect that stood out within Google Plus was the lack of connections. Don’t get me wrong, I have plenty of people in my Circles. However, it feels like there are more people on Twitter than there are on Plus. In addition to this, it would seem that people spend their time on Plus within Communities. The problem with this is that there are so many different communities. This can make it hard to work out where to share exactly.
  • Multiple Identities: Another point of confusion that Plus adds to the mix is that people often have multiple Identities, each with their own purpose and intent. Therefore, it can be a challenge when tagging people in a post as it is not always clear which account to share with.

So that was my month of residence in Google Plus. It definitely left me thinking about some of the challenges in moving between different spaces. So what about you? What have been your experiences associated with Google Plus? What would you miss without Twitter? As always, comments and perspectives welcome.

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flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

In a recent post, Will Richardson made the point that most parents have no idea what happens in school. This assertion was based on the seemingly meaningless numbers and grades that parents are feed through the rise of learning portals. Although I can understand where Richardson is coming from, I do not think that every school is the same. I know of some schools that share key learning tasks with annotations using various applications, some provide feedback to students and with that parents via the portals, some set in place digital learning portfolios curated by students and others provide monthly updates about attitudes and applications. What interests me in all of this is not necessarily what constitutes learning and achievement or what is exactly shared, but the impact of the move into the digital realm on parents.

As I have written before, there is a growing trend to use different commercial applications to connect and collaborate with the wider community. Whether it be Facebook Pages, Google Sites, Edmodo, Seesaw or Evernote, these spaces are chosen for a number of reasons, including their cost, the ease of use and it is where people are. I am reminded though of the edict that is often bandied around that if something is free then you are the product. Now I know that it is not always that simple, but I am left wondering about what data is collected by such platforms, either obvious in the forms of names, emails and phone numbers, as well as the incidental in the form of IP addresses and devices used.

Often the discussion around data and online privacy is focused on students and their safety. Whether it be posting images online or providing personal information which can be used as a point of identification. The reason claimed for this caution is protection from online predators, adults posing as children in spaces like Club Penguin. (Interestingly, danah boyd points out in It’s Complicated that more often than not, cases of online predators often involve those who already have a connection offline and shown susceptibility to such problems.) The problem though is not necessarily these extreme examples, but rather big data and the endless collection of data. In part, this is the intent behind the COPPA laws, which a designed to protect children from being marketed to. A few random data points may not mean much to you and I, but when they are fodder for algorithms they can mean so much more. As Audrey Watters explains,

Algorithms are not neutral, although they are frequently invoked as such. They reflect the values and interests of their engineers, although it’s hard to scrutinize what exactly these values and interests entail as the inputs and calculations that feed algorithms are almost always “black boxed.”

Therefore when we have investment from various venture capital funds, this is why we need to be mindful. It is for this reasons that there is so much conjecture around Google Apps in school.

The problem though is that this conjecture about data and algorithms goes far beyond students, it encapsulates the parents as well. Although sites may be private, this does not make them exempt from data collection. Even the fact that you might be a parent is another point of information. In addition to this, they influence habits. Here I am reminded of Marshall McLuhan’s tetrad:

  • What does the medium enhance or amplify?
  • What does the medium make obsolete?
  • What does the medium retrieve that had been made obsolescent earlier?
  • What does the medium “flip into” when pushed to the extreme?

For example, the use of Facebook Pages enhances documentation, can make communication via school diary obsolete, it retrieves a notion of learning through observation as opposed to tests and at its extremes normalises the use of digital spaces as a record and reflection of learning.

Another question that has been playing on my mind associated with the matter of data and the impact of openly sharing spaces has on teacher and student agency and identity. Maybe it is sharing information on a platform such as Twitter or Instagram. What restrictions and limitations are at play through seemingly being open. Does the feeling that we are publishing to the world both bring out our best, while also limiting what we share? While coming back to Richardson’s argument, I wonder if teachers are always clear about the expectations of such spaces, especially when they are continually changing. Also on the flip side, what are the expectations in regards to voices outside of the classroom and interaction within such spaces?

I am not saying that we should ban the use of such platforms, but with the introduction of digital technologies curriculum, it only seems logical that we should start where we are and unpack the biases at play. So what about you? What spaces do you use to communicate with parents and what expectations do such spaces bring.

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There are many wicked questions in education, such as what is the role of the learner? Or the teacher? What strategies should we use? What are the essential learning outcomes? How do we engage with stack holders and the wider community? Each problem involves grappling with contradictory knowledge and opinions involved, the economic challenges and the interconnected nature. So many of these problems though are engrained in how we integrate technology within education.

A popular solution in regards to integrating technology seems to be the TPACK framework. It consists of seven different knowledge areas focusing on the relationships between technology, pedagogy and content. However, it can be argued that it creates more confusion than clarify. For example, Richard Olsen points out that, “separating technical/digital literacy from traditional literacy offers nothing”. The issue is that the framework sees things that are not necessarily so as somehow being in isolation, such as Pedagogical Knowledge and Technological Pedagogical Knowledge, as well as Content Knowledge and Technological Cotent Knowledge. The question then remains, what part does technology play?

There are many who argue that technology plays a central role in all that we do. The latest message coming from Greg Whitby, who suggests that technology offers the potential to extend our perspective beyond our own limits, offering the potential to deepen learning. The question though is how far do we take this? Where does social media and other such technology belong in schools? There are those such as Jason Markey who share about using hashtags and a shared Twitter account to model best practice. While there are also those, such as George Couros and Dean Shareski  who warn against ‘edu-fying’ every new application, like Snapchat. Eric Jensen touches on this dilemma wondering if schools should provide students with a safe space away from the external pressures of parents and the world wide web. In addition to this, students have a tendency to simply move onto the next best thing. For although technology may offer the potential to deepen learning, it can also turn students off too.

In the end, I am not sure the exact place of technology? Is it a class Twitter account open to the world or is it a closed off space like Edmodo which allows for some sort of security? Is it allowing students to bring into school whatever device they like or is it banning all smartphones and wearable devices? Maybe the reality is that the answer is different for every school and context. What I do know is that Danah Boyd’s book, It’s Complicated, is more important than ever. Not because she necessarily provides all the answers – who does? – but that she paints a picture of technology and the challenges of today.

The reality is that we all have a choice to make and that choice has consequences. So, what are you doing and what consequences is it having? I would love to know. Please share.

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flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

During a recent ICT planning session the age old argument was raised again, where is the promised digital revolution that everyone promised? Really, it was argued, we are not doing anything different than what we did in the past. For example, the new Digital Technologies curriculum, awaiting endorsement, calls for a focus on coding. However, it was argued by some members that this is no different to the focus on Logo in the 80’s. In response, one participant suggested that one significant change technology has brought about is the ability to communicate with parents on a more regular basis. Instead of being restricted to the usual diaries and school newsletters, technology allows schools to foster deeper connections between home and school.

I agree with Eric. I think that technology has the ability to make listening to voices both in and out of the classroom more doable. The question though is whether such messages that are enabled are always worthwhile. In his book Open, David Price discusses this problem, saying:
Most parents, I believe, would prefer to know about their child’s confidence, their sense of well- being, their capacity for independent thought, or their ability to ask critical questions – the language of milky coffee. Instead, parents only know the language of black coffee, because that’s all they hear. Are they on target for good grades? Are they getting enough homework? What were their last test scores?

For whatever reason, schools often use new mediums to provide same old information. Complaining that parents do not read printed reports, some believe that making them accessible digitally somehow makes them different. I am not so sure. Although it can be easy to blame parents, if we do not give them a reason to engage, can we blame parents when they do not show any interest?In a conversation about education reform on Twitter, Alan Thwaites shared a documentary video including the usual voices, such as Sir Ken Robinson, Tony Wagner and Thomas Friedman.

Education Documentary Clip from One Potato Productions on Vimeo. Although many of the arguments were not necessarily new, what stood out to me was the discussion of High Tech High and project based learning. For the culmination of the project, students had to present what they made to the community at an information night. I know showcasing student work is nothing new, but there just seemed to be something different about what was happening in the video. Maybe that it seemed more authentic than usual, with students enthusiastic about their work. Or maybe it was the space that was created. Whatever it was, parents seemed to be genuinely interested.

Coming back to the planning session, there were many quotes bandied around to create conversation and spur us on. One that stuck out was Michael Fullen’s discussion of technology in Stratosphere, where he states:

New developments must be:
i) irresistibly engaging (for students and for teachers);
ii) elegantly efficient and easy to use;
iii) technologically ubiquitous 24/7; and
iv) steeped in real-life problem solving.
What stood out in this quote was the reference to students and teachers in the discussion of ‘irresistibly engaging’. I was left wondering, what about parents? Don’t they have a part to play in all of this, shouldn’t developments be irresistibly engaging for them too? Are they not important?

Too often when it comes to involving parents in schools it seems to be a one way transaction, simply focusing on informing them:

  • Putting on chalk and talk information sessions for technology
  • Publishing digital newsletters discussing what has been going on
  • Sending texts and emails to parents when a child is absent
  • Providing access to academic and behavioural results online
  • Advertising school events and information on public webpages
  • Putting on showcase events once a semester to celebrate students work and achievements

Many of these things are simply substitutions, with little augmentation. While coming back to Fullan’s argument, I question whether they are irresistibly engaging.

Reconsidering the list and thinking about how they could be changed, here are some ideas:

  • Developing information sessions that are co-constructed and incorporate the practise in question, as Jon Andrews has done when introducing PBL to parents
  • Having year levels/classrooms openly publishing a blog celebrating learning
  • Engaging with parents in regards to supporting goals and homework, as Alan Thwaites has done using Compass as a means of dialogue
  • Provide parents with live updates about student activities, as Andy Hair has done using Google Hangouts during sporting carnivals
  • Publish student work online and showcase to the world, as Bec Spink has done when creating eBooks and putting them on iTunes
  • Engage the wider community using video conferencing, as Alan November has done by Skyping grandparents from overseas into the classroom

Each of these ideas and activities involve a modification of practise, but also in regards to mindsets. Many of these mediums provide the potential for parents to comment, ask questions and provide their thoughts. For some, this is fraught with danger. What if this or what if that. Such fear and trepidation though gets us nowhere. As Price points out, the world is going SOFT whether we like it or not, the question then is how we are going to embrace it. For me, it starts by fostering a culture of trust.

The reality is, many parents work irregular hours and do not necessarily always have the time to participate the way that we would like them to. The ideal of 9 til 5 is fast becoming a figment of the past. However, technology makes connections and communications that were previously not necessarily possible. Maybe there are schools already embracing such changes, if so I would love to know, please share. Or maybe ‘engagement’ is a poor metric, as Richard Olsen has suggested. Having said all this, we must always remember to never loose the human element. As always, comments welcome.

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