I’ve known Dave Truss for all of a few months. After sitting in his proximity at one of Alan November‘s presentations at a District Pro-D Event, I began to enter the world of RSS feeds, Twitter, and other avenues of the Web 2.0 world, discussing ideas and articles I was finding alongside a few colleagues at school who were becoming similarly inclined. One such colleague kept mentioning Dave’s name: “You’ve got to get in touch with my friend; you two are on the same page.”
Anyway, some weeks later I was at an informational meeting regarding the upcoming Me-to-We Celebration at GM Place that some of my students will be involved with, and noticed that Mr. Truss was one of the administrators introduced. Following the meeting I crossed the room and shook his hand.
“I’m Bryan Jackson. I read your blog, and Andrew Lloyd says we need to know one another.”
At the time I wasn’t yet blogging outside of the classroom-permissioned constraints of my SharePoint site, and though I was one of the “Technology People” (see also: Scott Findley, Cindy Quach, and others) at our school, I realized I\we were very much on the cusp of technological possibilities. I just didn’t yet know what the Next Step might be, so I went and shook Dave’s hand.
It turned out that my colleagues and I owe Dave a great debt of gratitude for pushing us (and assisting us) to create an English Department Learning Blog, which in turn led to Cindy and I beginning our own reflective pages (Comon, Scott!). We were put in touch with the right people – notably Brian Kuhn and Martine Duby – and Dave was quick to comment on our department and personal blogs, fostering the kind of community that makes online communication so vital, and becoming a friend in the process (a friend I’ve had the opportunity to meet once (and a half, counting the November session)). It might seem odd, but to be losing Dave to an administrative post in China is saddening – as our enclave of Coquitlam techies will no doubt miss his influence and leadership – while at the same time also something of a non-issue: 99% of our communication has been online, perhaps higher (our conversation on that first afternoon was brief), and we live in the same town. How much will our relationship change now that he lives in China? One thinks perhaps not very much (though he will be Twittering from a different timezone…).
For me the presentation focuses on the manifestation of the digital divide in our schools that are our policies surrounding personally owned devices: iPods, cell phones (and with them still and video cameras and personal internet access), and the rest of the universe many teens wield from their pockets\backpacks. Out in The World, these tools – Blackberries, iPhones, netbooks – are indispensable across a variety of fields: I have a friend right now working on his PhD in Geology who is tramping across untold swaths of the Yukon wilderness this summer, collecting data, taking pictures, and plotting his sporadic pickups with his helicopter pilot through the wonders of a device the size of a deck of cards. Anyone operating within the realm of business – sales, purchasing, management, and on and on – is at a disadvantage without a Blackberry (even President Obama wouldn’t give his up, as per existing White House policy). But these devices are banned in many classrooms, an irony exposing the faults in our approach to the use of technology in education.
One of the more poignant moments (way to go, Nokia!) in the presentation is the sharing of the video below, which describes the world we live in through the lens of the early 20th century: every day, we interact with magical, mind-blowing tools that shrink our world, and put us in touch with one another through the use of personalized media (again, that fits in our pockets).
But the slide that follows further exposes the common theme of this digital divide:
Our student’s live in her essay’s future, until they come to school.
The presentation goes on to discuss the fact that many school’s computer labs display information about the school, or district’s filters that block everything from Youtube and Facebook, to Blogger to Delicious, to Diigo, to Twitter and Google Earth. How many years will it take before such restrictions are considered the height of irony?
I would venture to guess that we are there, as even yesterday I contributed to a Twitter-question posed by Ed-Tech guru Dr. Alec Couros, who asked his expansive network (4,474 followers at last count) of educators, “What are your favourite classroom tech tools?” You can see the assorted answers by scrolling through the hash-tag search of the course he is teaching right now, but suffice it to say that almost every one of the devices, websites or other resources considered indispensable by hundreds of progressive, global educators is blocked somewhere in schools or districts that consider themselves to be preparing their students for the future.
This all should seem odd: how can each of these ambitions (restriction of access to content, and wanting our education systems to move forward) be congruous?
In the long run, I doubt that they will. History always seems to favour the expansion of rights and freedoms (who knew the iPhone would demand its own civil rights movement?), and in time thinkers like Dave will be vindicated. But in the meantime, it is ironic what passes for consistency in regards to our use of technology in the classroom, and I heartily thank Dave for gently pointing this out (his most biting points are in the form of cartoon). Such observations would be missed, if – for me, anyway – he weren’t moving halfway around the world (while essentially residing in the same place).