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Danah Boyd describes in “It’s Complicated” that cultural shifts are often met with “Moral Panic“. Parents in the 1950’s were convinced that Rock and Roll music would corrupt their children, a notion that seems laughable now. This pattern repeats with each successive generation adopting a new reason for parents to overreact and “protect” their children. It used to be television that made teens more violent, now it’s video games.

Boyd explains that this phenomenon has also affected digital culture and social media. In the early days of social media the great fear was of sexual predators trapping children and young teens through fake online profiles. This fear was spread wide through TV shows such as “To Catch A Predator”. where TV producers made up fake profiles to try to trap older men. The show presented an online world where older men are lurking to trap young girls.

We seem to have passed the online predator panic, have moved through the panic about Sexting, and are now full in the throws of panic over “reputation damage”.

The focus of the “reputation damage” panic is that if teens don’t carefully manage their online posts they’ll ruin their future. Just as The MySpace Generation were told that online communities were awash with sexual predators, so now are teens sombrely counselled control their online reputation, or they’ll ruin their prospects of getting into a good school or getting a job. Students are told to think carefully before they post anything and carefully “manage their brand” (ugh).

The notion that social media is just a giant job and university application board is small-minded and plain deceptive. Social media is also a place where students can express themselves, where they can be vulnerable, where they can ask for help and where isolated teens can just connect with peers. Do educators really want an “in crisis” teen not to post, asking for help, because it might negatively affect their online brand?

As professor Sonia Livingstone, a professor at The London School of Economics explains, the panic over the potential negative effects of social media are unbalanced and overstated: “The Internet is not quite the fearsome Wild West that sometimes it’s made out to be”.

There are many examples of teens using online forums to share their concerns and fears and get support from peers. Facebook Compliment Pages are one of many ways that teens and young adults have used social media to support each other and express themselves.

If the goal of digital citizenship is merely to scare students into compliance the risks are two-fold. Firstly, many students will know, through their own experiences, that we’re lying about what social media is, and the important and necessary message about caution will be lost. Secondly, we’ll be robbing some students of a very important and needed vehicle for them to express themselves, connect with others or get support. These students will shun open social media altogether, preferring instead to remain completely anonymous online rather than risk “ruining their life“.

Students need to learn more than how to protect themselves online. They need to learn how to be exemplary digital citizens. A good citizen doesn’t stay locked behind secure gates. A citizen engages with the wider community, contributing, helping others when they can and asking for help when they need it.

Students also need to know that making a mistake online, posting something they shouldn’t, isn’t fatal. That it won’t ruin their lives. Learning is about taking chances, screwing up, learning from it and moving on. It’s hard for students to do that when all they’ve been told is to do is to manage their brand.

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There’s been a recent explosion of educators using social media and blogging. Twitter “gurus” travel from school to school, lining their pockets by “keynoting” that twitter and blogs will transport us to a “21st Century” education system. Many of these new teachers are “connecting” through social media but they have no real understanding of why.

Many educators in my own Personal Learning Network (PLN) tell me they tweet and blog to improve their teaching practice. Many educators now tout the online Edusphere as a way to “develop your brand” or “manage your digital footprint”. Read More

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The US market for standardized student testing is BIG business. Connecting school funding to test scores through legislation has allowed large multinational corporations to cash in on a $2.5 billion industry. That figure may be an underestimate, as testing companies that design and grade tests also sell curriculum to “improve school performance” on the tests.

One of the biggest testing companies in the world is Pearson, a huge multinational corporation that, in spite of problems with testing worldwide, and a history of unethical behaviour, control a large share of the US testing market.

Advocates of standardized testing in Canada have long maintained that criticisms of US testing don’t apply to Canada. After all, educational testing in Canada isn’t done by “for profit” corporations, but by Ministries of Education or “arms length” agencies such as EQAO in Ontario. That argument seems less plausible, however, since Canadian students will soon be writing tests designed by Pearson.

Students in all ten Canadian provinces participate in the Program for International Student Assessment or PISA tests though an agreement with The Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC). PISA are the international tests that set off a “national crisis” in math education in Canada when the 2013 results were released.

Diane Ravitch’s recent blog reminded me that the 2015 PISA test will be designed by Pearson. That’s right, the multi-billion dollar international corporation that’s messed up testing all over the globe and broken US laws to get contracts, is responsible for the tests Canadian children will write, all with the approval and cooperation of Canadian educators.

How did we get here?

Canada was one of the original participants in PISA in 2000, under the encouragement and guidance of CMEC. The Director General of CMEC was Dr. Paul Cappon, an academic, who left the CMEC in 2004 under questionable circumstances to become the President and CEO of the Canadian Council on Learning (CCL). The CCL worked on many initiatives, including collaborating with provinces and territories on education until it was “shut down” in 2011.

While President and CEO of the CCL Dr. Cappon was a vocal advocate for a national strategy on education and for the use of standardized tests in education. Dr. Cappon is the lone Canadian representative on the seven member advisory panel for Pearson.

Also on The Pearson Advisory Panel with Dr. Cappon are two very prominent names from the world of the Global Education Reform Movement, Andreas Schleicher and Sir. Michael Barber.

  • Andreas Schleicher is a German statistician and researcher in the field of education. He is also the head of PISA!! That’s right, the head of PISA is on Pearson’s advisory board. Gee, I wonder how Pearson got the PISA contract?
  • Sir Michael Barber is the Chief Education Advisor to Pearson. He is a British educationist and also served as an education advisor to UK Prime Minister Tony Blair. He is also listed as number 7 in “The Top Ten Scariest People in Education Reform“.

Sir Michael Barber, CEA to Pearson, also has a strong Canadian connection, “education guru” Michael Fullan. Mr. Fullan, special advisor to the Premier of Ontario on education, lists Sir Michael Barber as a partner on his website. Barber also wrote the foreword on Fullan’s 2014, Pearson published paper, “A Rich Seam“, and in 2010 Fullan and Barber co-chaired “Building Blocks for Education” an “education reform summit” that was hosted by then premier of Ontario, Dalton McGuinty.

All of this makes me very uncomfortable. To summarize:

  • The person directing CMEC, when we committed to PISA, and an influential figure in Canadian education policy is advising Pearson.
  • The head of PISA is also advising Pearson.
  • The Chief Education Advisor for Pearson is partners with the special advisor to the Premier of Ontario on Education.
  • Pearson is now designing tests for Canadian students.

We need greater transparency and more discussion around standardized testing in Canada. We need to know who is doing what, how they’re doing it and why. The participation of Canadian students in international tests and their influence on education policy is growing exponentially.

Do we want an education system where our decisions on curriculum are in response to test scores? Do we want our schools to be part of Pearson’s strategy to sell learning materials to our students?

Head in the clouds

Just as the swallows returning to San Juan Capistrano signal the start of spring, high school students visiting their elementary school teacher marks the start of the school year. Their first year in high school they come back en masse to reassure themselves you’re still there.

Several years ago, in early September, I was talking to an agitated former student. He was a bright and enthusiastic math student who flourished in a math program that emphasized high order thinking skills. He was excited by the challenge of a high school math program full of creative collaborative problem solving.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t what his high school math teacher had in mind. Rather than exploring advanced concepts he was handed worksheets with hundreds of simple computation questions and told to quietly and independently solve them. This continued every day the first week of school. My student was beside himself with frustration.

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Teacher Looking at Filmstrip by Projector

The sound of the stampede to put educational technology (EdTech) in every classroom is deafening. Teachers who don’t thrust students in front of screens are treated with the disdain reserved for smokers or disgraced radio hosts. Meanwhile, teachers who integrate technology into every corner of their classroom are revered and treated like rock stars at conferences.

Unfortunately, the cacophony of EdTech is drowning out the voices of anyone calling for caution or critical analysis. EdTech is an echo chamber, an alternate reality where everyone agrees we need more technology in classrooms and that teachers who aren’t on the EdTech bandwagon are bad. Critical thinking about technology in the classroom is in short supply.

I advocate the use of EdTech, but nothing, not even iPads, are all good. In our rush to embrace digital technology we’ve dismissed some serious issues caused or made worse by the adoption of EdTech.

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