A New Start with Education

I had lunch yesterday with Charlie Wright (@cerwright on Twitter).  Charlie is the deputy mayor of Leamington.  Leamington certainly has been in the news in the recent past with the announcement that the 100 year old Heinz facility was being closed.  Reports are that 740 jobs in that industry would be lost.

The recent good news is that the plant will be assumed by Highbury Canco and that it would require 250 people for its operations.

As could be imagined, such a big hit to any community the size of Leamington (~30 000) would have a huge impact on the community.  Not only is the impact felt by those who worked in the plant, a Leamington institution for as long as I can remember, but for the farming community and the retailers throughout the town.

If those jobs are gone, what can you as a community do?

You would hope that education might provide an answer.

Another problem is that Leamington isn’t easily accessible to Windsor or Chatham, the two closest places with educational opportunities with St. Clair College and/or the University of Windsor.  It’s about a 45 minute drive to either location.

You might that a distance education solution would be appropriate but, in this case, it’s not viable.  So, if you can’t get to the mountain, bring the mountain there.

In partnership with St. Clair College, the town has made an educational arrangement that could be very helpful.

St. Clair College will be physically coming to town and offering a diploma program in Business Computing Applications.  The program, composed of 10 courses will be offered in the evenings from 6-9:30 over the course of the year.  Topics include accounting, computing applications, and more.  The logic is to provide a program of marketable skills for a movement into other industries.

Apparently, there is also an interest from existing businesses to upgrade the skills of other employees.

If you check Charlie’s Twitter timeline, you’ll see that he’s been busy going from door to door promoting this offering.

This provides a unique opportunity for those affected to take control over their careers and their learning at this difficult time.

I hope that enough of the residents see this as a solution and take advantage of it.

Spare me the Drudgery

There has been a great deal of buzz about the Khan Academy and how it might have an impact on education.  On the one side, we have seen the thoughts from people like Bill Gates on the matter.  On the other side, we read the thoughts of passionate educators.  One of the most passionate and scholarly approaches was presented by Sylvia Martinez in a series on the Generation Yes blog.  I’ve been doing a great deal of thinking about this myself lately.

As with many things, I find that it’s helpful to take a personal approach to these things and then try to extrapolate to the bigger picture.  I also don’t think it’s fair to make a judgment without spending time investigating personally.  So, it was with some interest that I spent some time poking around anonymously and then by logging in to the Academy.

If we go on sheer numbers, the size of the Academy is impressive.  There are hundreds of videos covering all kinds of content and when you logged in to work through the exercises the choice is massive.  So, as I took in the videos (which is no small feat since I don’t have the fastest internet and  get a lot of retraining), it was like sitting in the front row of a lesson watching a think aloud lesson.  As I went into the exercises, the experience reminded me of flash cards and the sorts of questions that one would find in a mathematics textbook.  You probably remember the drill – do the odd numbered questions of page 37 for homework.

In fact, it looks like a faithful reproduction of the classroom experience that I had – decades ago!  While I enjoyed the mental math exercises, I did grow weary after a short while and started to look for something else.  The accountability of having homework done was there, I suppose, as the academy does some tracking and offers suggestions when it determines that you’ve mastered things.

I then reflected on what I would call “real learning”.  There’s no question that the content here addressed the snippets well and the volume is enough to choke an educational horse.  What was missing?  In my mind, the “real learning”.  I think back to the great teachers and professors that I’ve had.  It’s tough to imagine any lesson that didn’t bring in the anecdotal comments and experiences, the application of concepts, the jokes to keep us on task, divergent learning that happened, the differentiated approach that was needed to try and reach everyone in the class.  In fact, the only time that I can remember lessons that were totally about content was during times that we had student teachers who were doing their best to cover the content and hadn’t developed the self-confidence to loosen up a bit.

I put this type of learning into a personal context.  As noted in a couple of previous posts, I’ve recently attended edCampQuinte for some personal, professional learning.  The actual content that was covered could probably have been found in a collection of videos on the internet.  But, for me professional learning isn’t just about sitting and covering content.  That’s real Educational Drudgery.  When I attend sessions, I want to talk and interact with my neighbour about the subject to be sure, but I want to have a conversation and I want to brainstorm with someone smarter than I am.

So, while at Belleville, I did learn some content.  For that, I’m grateful for the presenters who spent the time to put together and share their thoughts.  However, in addition to the topics, the learning was enhanced by all of the things that I learned just by asking and answering questions.  In addition to what I learned at the edCamp, I learned so much more about the community by taking a drive around and pestering poor Kent over breakfast about what I had seen.  The added value was in the conversation and the fact that we had driven to get there.  We explored parts of the library during breaks and some of the handiwork on display was phenomenal.  The whole experience was far more than the sum of its parts.

On a personal level, I did share some of my learning about QR Codes.  There’s nothing that makes you know your content more than having to share it with others.  Even though I had documented my learning, I dug deeper than ever before knowing that there might be some probing questions coming from the audience.  I also wanted to make the audience interact with me and push my thinking.  And they did!  Even on the drive home, my mind was spinning about new thoughts and ideas that I was inspired with by the participants.

I also started to think of professional learning without actually being there.  I could have summed up my thoughts in the form of a video and mailed it in.  I could have “covered the content” and felt like I’d contributed.  I’m glad that I didn’t.  The conversations and divergent ideas put the experience over the top.  I don’t think I could ever justify my professional learning as something that I just log into from at home and watch a few videos and do a few exercises.

In that context, I look back at the Academy.  It covers the content, to be sure.  But, if that’s all that we want from an educational experience, then count me out.  It pre-supposes that everyone has the same entry point, learns using the same sort of modality, and hopefully exits with the same sets of skills and knowledge.  I deserve better; our students deserve better.

Having said that, I wouldn’t ignore the content completely.  In fact, a short video is an interesting enhancement to a lesson.  It could provide another voice in the classroom.  It could provide a nice refresher on the concepts for a student working at home.  But, it’s not the whole deal and that’s what I’m fearful when people talk about this as the solution to all of education’s problem.

In totality, the Academy has provided a very complete menu of content.  You cannot deny that.  But, just as I learned so much more planning for my presentation, I’m sure that putting together the script and the design had the bulk of the learning at the developer end.  As I sit at my computer as a consumer, I get to relive it but I don’t get a chance to ask a question or to talk to the person sitting beside me.  Maybe the real value is to use this as a model for students researching and creating their own videos on a topic to share with the class.

Personally, I couldn’t sit through video after video and the drudgery that one way expression of ideas follows.

Rubber Side Down Done

Last night was the big premiere of my son Andy’s movie “Rubber Side Down” in Windsor, Ontario.

As I indicated yesterday, the movie detailed the travels of two Amherstburg lads as they biked from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean, covering some 8000 km.

The setting was the beautiful Capitol Theatre and just about every seat in the 700 seat theatre was taken.  Andy and the bikers, Vin and Greg, were introduced before the showing and received a standing ovation in advance for their efforts.

I had no idea what to expect in advance as the content was kept under close wraps.  Apparently, I was lucky having to work Friday instead of being home to witness the opening night jitters.

The movie itself was incredibly engaging.  I wondered how a movie of two guys on bikes could be made into a full movie.  What we saw was a story rich in first person imagery, humour, and events as Vin and Greg embarked on their three month journey.  Throughout, the movie generated laughter and applause as we took part in the journey. 

It was an enjoyable evening – the editing had a great deal of impact from Andy’s work on the Survivorman series and it work well.  The music was from a variety of friends and family and the choice of tunes matched the events nicely.

According to organizer John Scott, this event raised $10 000 towards the goal of raising $80 000 for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation.  Guests could pre-order their own copy of “Rubber Side Down” and the entire audience was invited to a local establishment after the movie to meet with the stars of the movie.

Amherstburg shone nicely last evening.  Good luck to the gang in their upcoming showings of the movie.  If last night was any indicator, continued success should follow this group in their fundraising endeavours.

Social Bookmarks:

Powered by ScribeFire.


World Premiere

Tonight at 7:30 at the Capitol Theatre in Windsor, Ontario is the world premier of the movie “Rubber Side Down”.  You can see the trailer on their website “Powered By Community“.

The concept was simple – just bike across Canada – about 8000 km worth of peddling.  The trip was completed over three months and the lads, Vin and Greg, documented every step.  What does 8000 km of tape look like?  I can tell you first hand that it’s enough tape to completely cover the kitchen table.  I know, because my son Andy, took a three month leave from his job at Survivorman to assemble the whole thing.

I haven’t actually seen the final production yet.  It’s top secret, apparently.  But tonight’s the night.

The whole process would be painstaking as the script was generated after the shooting.  Can you imagine previewing 8000 km worth of video?  I get bored just biking into town and back!  Of course, I don’t have crowds cheering me on or police escorts through big cities or a mission to see the project through to completion.  But, somehow, this is all going to come together.

It’s a long way for us since Andy first got into digital movie editing.  One summer, I brought home an iMac and a digital camera and set it up on a card table in the rec room so that he could learn how to use iMovie and then teach me.  His first epic “The Boy Does Bagels” somehow missed public recognition.

The whole project is designed to raise awareness and funds for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation to help find a cure for this painful disease.

Social Bookmarks:

Powered by ScribeFire.