Friday, 16 August 2013

ICT in Education: Workshop on critical perspectives

Fourteen critical issues in technology are identified for a workshop at the BCTF Summer Conference in August 2013
The new technologies raise many educational and social issues as they have become infused in our classrooms and culture. Ursula Franklin says that “every tool shapes the task”—no technology is “just a tool.”
Which are the big technology issues that we should focus on? What should we do on these?

1.         Student information system (beyond BCeSIS)

The ministry has selected a corporation, Fujitsu, to run a new software program to replace BCeSIS. This is the same company that has had the contract to run BCeSIS, but with a new software program.

The ministry-developed system is not the only alternative. The Saanich school district is developing OpenStudent, a open access system for student information.

What are the issues that we should be concerned about?

An analysis of the Ministry’s approach to replacing BCeSIS can be found at

OpenStudent can be found at

2.         “Bring your own device”

The BC Education Plan assumes that technology will be infused throughout the school—but largely depends on students bringing their own device.
Should students be able to bring their own device (smart phone, tablet, laptop) into the classroom and use it there?
What are the equity implications of this policy?

What policies should apply to students’ use of devices in classrooms? Type of use? Limits on sending photos and videos?

3.         Cyberbullying

This is a big public issue—for good reason. Ethical and safe communication can be taught in the school. But where?
What responsibility does the school have for actions by students outside of the venue of the school building and grounds?

Lots of material on cyberbullying exists on the web—just Google it.

4.         Boundaries

Social media have porous boundaries. A professional relationship with students requires boundaries.
Many of the cases of discipline of teachers dealt with by teacher unions relate to claims of inappropriate professional behaviour related to online communications. Often the digital footprint ends up as evidence in a hearing.

What should the Federation be doing to help members find a balance between effective use of technology with our students and necessary professional boundaries?

5.         The “cloud” and privacy

BC has a privacy law that requires that personal data must be stored on servers in Canada. This is a positive response to the Patriot Act and the pervasive surveillance that we now know is undertaken by the US National Security Agency.
Cloud services of major corporations like Google and Facebook and many others store information in massive server farms in the US and elsewhere.
This places significant restrictions on the ability for teachers and the school system to legally use these services. Waivers signed by parents may permit some use of these cloud services—but with significant cautions. Some teachers believe that the BC government should change the law to eliminate privacy restrictions for educational purposes. What should the BCTF position be on this?

An excellent publication by Julia Hengstler provides lots of resources on these issues, including sample waiver forms to be signed by parents. It is called A K-12 Primer for British Columbia Teachers Posting Students’ Work Online.

6.         Intellectual property and copyright

Do you own what you create—as a teacher, as a student?
When you create a resource for your students, from an individual item up to a full course, do you own it? Or does your employer own it? Who has the right to decide if it can be used, or sold, to another teacher or another district?

What about student-produced material? What permission should a teacher have from a student if the student’s work is to be shared online?
The student developed issues are also covered in Julia Hengstler’s publication.

7.         Distributed Learning

Under what conditions and with which students is Distributed Learning a good option?
The practice of Distributed Learning in BC is largely determined by funding. Districts create programs to ensure they are getting the revenue that follows the student. Compliance audits drive many of the practices, rather than sound pedagogy being the focus.

What should be the future direction of Distributed Learning in BC? How can we define that and influence decisions on appropriate use of DL?

The working conditions of DL teachers have deteriorated as funding pressures and funding decisions have played out in recent years. DL is expressly excluded from class-size limits incorporated in Bill 22, and collective-agreement clauses don’t deal with some issues specific to the DL environment.

The BCTF policy on Distributed Learning can be found on the BCTF website or on the Digicritic blog at

The BCTF has published several research reports on Distributed Learning that can be found under “Technology” in the Research Reports section of the BCTF website:

8.         “Blended” or “hybrid” learning

This is the new thing in the edtech world. It’s not really new, of course, but addresses concerns that many have about online learning for K to 12 that is only done online.
The concept is simple. Students are engaged in work online sometimes and in a class setting sometimes. A number of research studies say that this combination is the most effective approach. Although there is little research that tells us much about effectiveness in a field that changes quickly, it seems like common sense.

This does, however, call into question encouraging students to sign up for courses offered in districts other than the one in which they live. Blended learning is place-based, not just cloud-based.

9.         Technology in a capitalist system

The capitalist system is based on ownership and the aggregation of “surplus value” through that ownership. As participants in interactive programs we create that value. Our attention and our participation are what major corporations like Google and Facebook, as well as less pervasive businesses, have to sell.
Are open systems based on sharing viable alternatives? Can we really produce an alternative at least on the margins of a capitalist system?

10.       A surveillance society

We are all being watched, particularly online. Many people guessed that was the case, but we now have confirmation through Edward Snowden’s May 2013 “leak” of information relating to secret government mass surveillance programs, and their acknowledgment by the US.
Easy ways of linking information promotes surveillance. The BC government is planning that all of us have a single card that relates to all services—driver’s license, medical care, social services...everything that relates to government.

One of the areas the ministry included in seeking a replacement for BCeSIS is parent and student access to the database from home to look at what the students and teacher are doing, reflected in the eSIS data. Authentication is to the BC ID card.
The government has announced that there will be consultation with the public this fall about this card—and presumably its use.

This is what the Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham has had to say about the card:

Based on Phase 1 documentation, Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham found privacy and security of the card was designed according to legal requirements. Phase 2 will include potential for data linkages across multiple platforms and the rollout could be jeopardized without building public trust, she wrote.

“The BC Services Card program raises significant concerns regarding misuse of personal data, such as unauthorized access, profiling, and function creep,” Denham wrote in a February 5, 2013 letter to Citizens’ Services deputy minister Kim Henderson. “Solutions that government proposes to address these risks should be subject to scrutiny by both the public at large and by those with technical knowledge in the field.”

11.       Big data and data analytics

“Big data” is the basis of much of the direction of technology. It consists of the mass of digital data that is being produced from data points in many of our personal and business activities. We daily produce more data than was produced over thousands of years of human activity. Making any sense of it requires tools to analyze patterns and display the patterns in a way that can be understood—usually called a dashboard.

One of the visions of education technology is “adaptive” learning based on data analytics. It is the learning machine—constantly providing feedback and new content to lead a student to understanding what has been predetermined to be learned.

How big is big data? 

A great critical analysis of the application of data analytics was written by Phil McRae of the staff of the Alberta Teachers’ Association:

12.       MOOCs

MOOCs are Massive Open Online Courses, the new “best thing” in online education. They are free to take, but without providing formal university (or K-12) credits, although that is changing. 
A person can take the course just out of interest and not produce anything to share. Beyond that, an individual may join a peer group that reads and responds to work done. Another option is an “autograder” that checks answers submitted against the already-determined “right” answer. 

MOOCs started at some of the high prestige universities like Harvard and MIT. Tens of thousands of people sign up as students—or a smaller number. Materials are provided online—that may be lectures, streamed and/or archived, and readings, many available on the web.
Lots of post-secondary faculty have serious concerns about this creating two-tier education, the quality of some of the courses, and the threat to face-to-face learning by an automated form of education. Some developments are spilling over to the K-12 systems.

13.       Open source, including open resources

Open source software has long (in technology time) been an alternative to closed, proprietary software. A movement by techies who have been willing to contribute to building software that is open in the sense that techies get access to the code and can make modifications, but with the requirement that the developments also remain open.
Lots of the software that underlies the operation of the Internet is open source. The software for smart phones and tablets is built on open source, in contrast to the operating systems of the iPhone, Microsoft phone, and Blackberry. These are proprietary, and putting up walls is a key to their model for producing revenue.
Open resources are starting to gain traction at the post-secondary-education level. The Public Knowledge Project and others are pressing a model of academic publishing that is open and free to use, in contrast to the expensive and profitable journals for which university libraries pay and researchers provide content.
Open textbooks are also a growing phenomenon. Free, open textbooks have been developed for some post-secondary courses in BC, helping to reduce the cost of an expensive part of education. This approach to textbooks and other e-books will make a significant difference to access to reading resources in less-developed countries that have few publishing options and currently little access to books except by elites.

What are the implications for K-12 education?

The Public Knowledge Project can be found at

The BC Open Textbook project can be found at

14.       Not enough stuff

Transformation of education using technology?

Not if teachers don’t have the goods to do it. What is needed?











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