Ontario Online Initiative

So, undoubtedly this announcement by the Ontario government to give $42 million dollars to develop online courses, by getting Universities to compete in some sort of race-to-the bottom/bloodsport of course development so that they get money to develop courses that can be delivered online is kinda’ quaint. I mean, I’d be impressed if this was 1997, or even 2003, but 2014 seems a bit shameful.

Let’s face it, I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, Ontario is a decade behind the western provinces (who easily lead innovation in this realm in Canada) and probably five or six years behind the maritime provinces, who do online learning out of necessity. The really shameful thing is that Ontario Universities should’ve been able to see this gap growing for years, and sought to address it sooner. I guess the last fifteen years of conservative government at the provincial level didn’t help as they were looking to scale back and demolish education into a private business as they are likely to do. $42 million dollars is really  a drop in the bucket – especially if you’re setting up a whole education system outside of the existing University and College system, that will allow transfer of credits to those systems. Which brings up an interesting issue, if I take a University credit, will Colleges accept that towards a diploma they offer? What about the other way?

Of course all Universities will be in on this action, and some of the more developed online schools will have a leg and hand up but it’s a nice development for someone like me who needs 4 or 5 more credits for my degree, and has had a lot of problem with either a home University accepting a credit, but the visiting University not accepting me as a student (in favour of their own); or taking the course and not having the credit accepted at all.

What worries me most though is that if this initiative is ushered in (as no doubt the government goes to election) and is a fair to midlin’ reception. What happens then? This institute and and initiative is certainly subject to a new government’s impulses and legislation. I can easily see a conservative government saying “this doesn’t work, let’s let private market run it better and cheaper.”

And we know where that will end up.

EduBabble Indeed

This one may be a bit snarky because I’m on holiday and a day past my fortieth birthday (and I don’t suffer idiots well).

Well, isn’t this interesting? A pair of old white dudes, write a scathing report based on ONE student’s anecdotal recitation of what happened to them in their Master’s work. Whoever wrote this media release, and indeed the “centre” behind this is a joke – how can you even begin to call this a report that  “highlight(s) the weak academic standards, biased teaching, and nonsensical edu-babble found in this course. ” First of all you’re basing this on one student’s memory of this course – there’s nothing scientific about this survey, there’s no report here – this doesn’t pass the sniff test for journalism (for which the standards are awfully low) and it certainly doesn’t pass the sniff test for academic research. Secondly, the two authors are very biased against current educational theories and practices. Of course, they’re going to write a biased report, when the one author clearly outlines his common sense education platform, which includes standardized testing. Standardized testing is something that’s been trotted out as a way to make sure everyone is receiving the same education – but people aren’t the same, so why should education? I don’t learn the same way you do.  Might I remind you of another common sense revolution that did wonders for education and health care.  Why should we listen to this?

We shouldn’t.


ADED 4P91- Week 9 “Critical Reflection & Ecstasy”

Both the hooks and Brookfield readings looked at how critical reflection changes teaching and learning practices. I don’t know if anything I’ve read this past week changes much for me – I have always been hypercritical of my own work (sometimes to my own detriment). I recognize that being hypercritical and reflecting critically are two different things though.

If we look at Friere’s work, and his dialogue between objectivity and subjectivity (within the first chapter in Pedagogy of the Oppressed) – as teachers we should strive for that middle ground. I think the only vehicle that gets us into that middle ground is the ability to reflect and think about other perspectives. The subjectivity of experience and the objectivity of best practices make us the best we can be. I have often played devil’s advocate, mainly in an attempt to think about potential arguments against my position. In essence this is negotiating that middle ground between objectivity and subjectivity. The mere act of thinking about how one could do something better is critical (unless of course you’re so full of hubris that you think you couldn’t do it better).


ADED 4P91- Week 8 “Critical Reflection in Education and Institutional Contexts”

This week we read chapter 13 in bell hooks “Teaching to Transgress” and chapter 8 in Brookfield’s “Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher”.

There wasn’t a ton of new ideas in hooks chapter, not for me anyways. I was always drawn to passion. That fire, the heat of someone else’s excitement… always a great moment to engage in. hooks is entirely correct in that passion in the classroom (for a subject) is rarely recognized, and almost never sanctioned. Of course they want to have engaged students, but don’t want to loosen the morals that were set in stone at the educational institution’s formation some hundred years ago. Perhaps that’s why I feel an affinity for online spaces – where the tradition is a little less formal, and a little more conversational.

The portion of the chapter that dealt with the eros of teaching strikes me as something that could be dug into far further – does the power structure between teacher and student make the relationship between the two manipulative in either direction?

Brookfield’s chapter dealt more with listening – it seems like good listening and facilitation skills can help people learn and discover their own way.

ADED 4P91 – Week 7 “Critical Conversations and Class”

This week we read chapter 7 in bell hooks “Teaching to Transgress” and chapter 12 in Brookfield’s “Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher”.

I felt, for once, that hooks’ book was tougher to get through than Brookfield’s – maybe it was because we’re in the middle of testing some changes to undergraduate education at my institution; one of which is the start of a learning portfolio program. This program really values critical reflection, which aligns perfectly with what Brookfield is talking about in his chapter. The sorts of strategies – well considered – are intriguing to examine and imagine how that might take place in my institution. It was also interesting to read Brookfield write about the Devil’s Advocate approach to critical thinking – which is something I do quite often in workshops that I deliver. Often I off-handedly mention the downside to some technology. I know some people I have worked with don’t like my approach – in fact I question it sometimes too – but I feel it would be intellectually dishonest for me not to mention the potential problems.

I often struggle because I deliver training that is very guided, and I often wonder if it stifles creativity, askance views of commonly used technology, dictates a way of thinking around technology’s role in the classroom… lots of questions. I don’t really have time, or to be honest, energy to break down what I do to really investigate these things. It would be too much, because there’s too many ways for it to go wrong. Without having me as a knowledge expert, I sabotage much of what I do because I speak from authority. How can someone call me with confidence and ask me how to fix something if they don’t trust that I know more about the system than they do?

These crises of faith (an odd statement when dealing primarily with technology) come far too frequently. Maybe it’s time to do something else? I guess I’ll continue to struggle.

Brookfield provides some guidance, and I recognize that the answers to my questions will only come from within. It’s useful to know that others struggle with this – some constantly, some persistently. And those struggles ultimately come from the responsibility that we take on ourselves, the roles we assume and feel we need to play. In some senses, it seems like an easy out to say that the system forces us into these roles.

ADED 4P91 – Week 6 “Developing a PD Workshop that Promotes Critical Reflection”

This week I read chapter 6 in bell hooks’ “Teaching to Trangress” and chapter 11 in Brookfield’s “Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher”.

hooks takes some great pains to discuss the “authority of experience” – something that many teachers use to justify bad teaching even when faced with evidence that their practice is harmful. She struggled with it in a way that I won’t be able to fully understand, but I can appreciate; she struggled with the authority of experience to make her voice heard. I’ve been thinking about the neoliberal policies of education, how education is no longer really about critical thinking but about learning a trade, getting a better job, improving your wealth, and those changes fall on the system of government that we live in – one that values neoliberal economics over people. Neoliberalism values the sort of anecdotal stories that reaffirm it’s position – things like the wealthy are job creators (when in fact most people are self employed or work for small businesses), things are too big to fail, unions are corrupt and so on and so on ad nauseum. I recognize these talking point for what they are, but I respect that they are coming from a place of inequality. Why are unions bad? Well, not everyone is part of one, so there’s a privilege that is extended to those who are in the union, and excludes those who are not. This sort of class privilege is something that isn’t really covered explicitly.  It was interesting to see hooks’ self identified growth from an academic who relied on authority of experience, to one who took the experience and internalized it, and found ways to explain it in other’s theories, research and work.

In Brookfield’s chapter he discusses the four risks of critical reflection – the imposter syndrome, cultural suicide, loss of innocence and finally recovering from a failed experiment. I don’t have much to add – except that these are all things that when developing a workshop or course that one has to consider. You will feel all these things, go through each of these risks and will be affected by your process for coping with these ideas. I suspect that in the process of developing a workshop around the idea of class in the classroom one would have to be aware of these potential feelings, adn try some strategies that Brookfield suggests would be useful to diminish the effect of these risks.

ADED 4P91 – Week 5 Reflection – “Critical Distance”

This week I read chapter 5 of both bell hooks’ “Teaching to Trangress” and Stephen Brookfield’s “Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher”. hooks delved into the idea of theoryas a liberatory practice (which seems logical to me, one needs a framework to build an identity), whereas Brookfield covered his process for teaching in a democratic classroom. The course uses the term critical distance for these two paired concepts, which to me is problematic. It’s putting a label that doesn’t fit well on an idea that is useful. The idea, as I see it, is that instructors have a position in the classroom that no matter what they do to break down those barriers, instructors still will be set apart by virtue of what they know. People will still look to them as an authority on the subject. That distance between the students and instructors can be shrunk, but never eliminated.

A lot of the ideas Brookfield talks about are just principles of good communication  – know your audience, check your assumptions about that audience, and refine your message. The transparency angle is key in that process, if people understand why they are doing something, they are much more understanding about engaging in it – even if it is unfamiliar. Of course, that’s building trust.




ADED 4P91 – Week 4 Reflection – “Introspection and Agency”

This week I read chapters 3 and 4 from bell hooks’ “Teaching to Transgress” and chapter 3 from Stephen Brookfield’s “Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher”. bell hooks dealt with multicultural teaching and a conversation with herself examining her readings of and influence by Paolo Friere. Brookfield wrote about using autobiography as a starting point for questioning your own assumptions.

Both authors used these chapters to inform me about themselves, as any good reflective process starts with. We have to know ourselves to know our limits, reasoning, purpose and shortcomings.

hooks touched on an interesting point, one that I have heard before, in that she questions herself about Friere’s use of sexist language (and moreso his staunch lack of revision in subsequent editions). She says “I never wish to see a critique of the blind spot overshadow anyone’s…capacity to learn from the insights. ” It’s an interesting position to take. The twenty year old me is outraged with the inconsistencies of such a position, but the forty year old me understands that we all are (too) human and everything has weaknesses and blind spots. It’s a bit of a difficult reconciliation, and certainly speaks to me because I missed the male pronouns in Pedagogy of the Oppressed. In my defense, I did read Pedagogy of Hope first, and returned to it more than Friere’s Oppressed. I vaguely recall from the introduction of Hope that there was some mention and explanation – which would’ve occurred after hooks would’ve published this book. Maybe I just internalized and accepted that Friere and I were speaking as one?

The sessions so far have all pointed that you need to know yourself (as much as one can know themselves at their current age), identify your potential blind spots, expose them. I guess going forward it will deal with strategies to minimize their effect on the class.

ADED 4P91 – Week 3 Reflection “Critical Reflection and Critical Agency”

Brookfield “we discover our voice”.

I discovered my voice somewhere around 1986, when I discovered punk. I always felt outside the boundaries of what mainstream culture was offering. I felt that the world had so much more to offer than the way things were – I had (and have) hope for how we live. Education, I thought way back then was the way to make everything better. If only people knew about how good people of different races, genders, sexual orientations were, then we could all get along. Of course, looking back that kind of naivety is charming, cute and a little unbalanced.

What is totally missing is that paradigm shift that I so easily found, in finding my own voice, is the shift that ultimately impedes people. I don’t have a lot of problem with change – there are things I can fix, and things I can’t. If I can’t fix it, I can’t exactly spend time worrying about the change that is coming. Change is difficult for a lot of people. I don’t hold many absolutes, however I do hang on to a couple of ideas pretty staunchly. One of which is the transformative power of education. Personally transformative – allowing those who are smart enough to get better jobs, make a bit more money, and ultimately do better for yourself. It’s why the MOOCs are so appealing, because here’s the promise that education has laid out for years – better yourself. Except knowledge is no longer good enough. Especially in a world where knowledge is cheap or free, but accreditation is much more expensive.

bell hooks talks about having to unlearn racism, sexism and one’s own biases in the workshops she’s run. I think I’m coming to the point where I have to unlearn this given that I’ve been holding onto for years. I don’t think knowing something is good enough anymore. When we have such external financial pressures, you have to prove to someone what you know, and that, my friends, is a piece of paper that costs money. Sure education can transform your outlook, change the way you view things, but ultimately, unless you already hold power, you’re not going to be much further ahead. Education however, can’t change the economics of the world.

ADED 4P91 – Week 2 Reflections “Critical Orientation to Learning”

For those reading who are not in Brock University’s Adult Education program, I’ll be doing weekly (or almost weekly as time permits) reflections on the readings which come from Stephen Brookfield’s “Becoming a Critical Teacher” and bell hook’s “Teaching to Transgress”. If you don’t care for these, that’s fine, I’ve categorized them with the tag “ADED 4P91” so you can choose to  ignore them in your feed. I suspect I’ll try to make sense of how this, and everything else fits with education technology. Maybe it will all make sense, or maybe it will cloud the issue. The course is titled “Power and Pedagogy”, which is ultimately what I feel drove me from teaching. What right do I have to tell other people what the best way to learn something is?

Brookfield writes a lot about authenticity and the anxiety of teaching in the first chapter of his book. While I understand why one would want to stress the “authentic”, we all perform when we teach (unless we are terrible teachers), leading to what I always question as an “unauthentic experience”. We make split second choices to share, or not share, what we think is appropriate, based on what we sense, or even worse what we know. That reinforces the power structure that is explicit, and implicit in classrooms around the world. It’s also manipulative, because we as teachers are selective about how the course is run, conducted and all the other minutia we engage in. Teaching is ultimately a manipulative act, to get students, or learners, to do things that they might not do on their own.

hooks on the other hand delves into a more personal exploration about her teaching – which I empathized with. I wonder if the crux of my own personal feelings of what it means to be a teacher; which often have undertones of bettering one’s self, climbing social ladders, as a way of escaping poverty or other societal problems, collide with how hooks feels about teaching. I wonder if I have the same crisis of faith every time my assumptions are wrong – much like the incident with hooks and her student who wanted to pledge to a fraternity.

Brookfield spends a lot of time talking about assumptions as well, and breaks them down to their roots and does a great job illustrating how these assumptions set us down the wrong path. I get that assumptions about learners are short cuts we shouldn’t take, but in the way education is structured, how can we afford to spend the kind of time needed to truly understand our students?

Assumptions, when wrong can be a catalyst for change. I wonder if that’s the subtext of both chapters this week?