Statements of Discourage

One of the oddest things I read when I look at job posting in post secondary is when an institution includes this type of statement in the job description:

“While we welcome and encourage external applicants, we warn you that this position has a strong internal candidate.”

Well, which is it, do they encourage and welcome external candidates or not? Because with this type of statement they are explicitly discouraging it.

I mean, you never know what it’s like to work somewhere you haven’t, but it always makes me do a bit of a double-take in wondering about the place that puts out this kind of statement. Is this the type of double-speak that’s a common part of their institutional culture?

I’m sure there are some sort of rules for providing “open postings” for each position, and maybe something I’m missing, but if they’re going to side-step these requirements why bother with the technicalities? Just hire the internal candidate from the start and save everyone time. Save the risk of representing the school in a poor light. College and University application processes/websites are horrendous enough, these types of things worsen the lasting impression for potential employees.


The Broadcast Machine

Is Twitter a broadcast platform or a place for conversation? Well, both. Yet how any person invokes Twitter will also play a role in how they understand and use the social media’s architecture. (See here)

With digital spaces and social media have come a new intersection of public and private space. The idea behind a social media platform like Twitter probably allows for a variety of ways that public and private spaces can intersect.

One way to understand this relationship is through the metaphor of a person’s front yard or front porch. Twitter is like your front yard, someone might suggest: You generally control your own space and what goes on there. You’re the host, you decorate it and set themes, you lay out the topics of conversations, and you invite or consent to let people into that space. In the intersection of public and private, it is the vertical boundaries (walls of the porch, fences of a yard) that distinguish space. Others need to “dip into” your space in order to access it, because there’s really no “out there” except a bunch of other private spaces. Between these vertical walls people have conversations that are effectively broadcasted.

This yard/porch metaphor fits in well with a broadcast understanding of how a twitter space has evolved and currently runs. The conversational and connective aspects of twitter are part of the grand vision of the platform, but in practice twitter is grounded as a broadcast service. Users tend to recognize their own space as social, outward facing, but not public.

Another way to understand the private and public relationship is with the metaphor of a house’s engawa. An engawa is an external hallway that runs around the perimeter of a Japanese house. It is distinguished by horizontal boundaries not vertical ones.

Twitter is like an engawa, someone might suggest: You control your own space, yet part 9531095739_54dda6cb1e_oof that space allows you to “dip into” the stream of society, and divert the flow of the street (as it is) into a shared space. You don’t control the nature of the water that flows in, yet you adapt around it, finding your place among the people that the current brings in. In the intersection of public and private, it is the horizontal boundaries (overhang and floor) that distinguish space. This architecture recognizes the mass of private spaces out there as a collection of something in and of itself, where the emergence of society is negotiated.

Architecturally, engawas emerged in Eastern societies because of the homogeneity of Japan. Collective cultures seek to harmonize with each other more than to establish their individuality – this makes it easier to open up your walls and allow people in. This type of space even provides a place to reinforce and confirm one’s place among society. In the West, when people open their walls to society, they often don’t like what they see and want to control or hide from it, completely.

In practice, Twitter is a broadcast platform because it grew out of the west. This isn’t to say that there aren’t conversations happening on there, but they’re happening in between vertical walls. The public nature of twitter is often nullified by the expectations that come with traversing on someone else’s turf.

Twitter’s concept contains a strong conversational potential. Yet, as much as this side of twitter is touted (and especially with design features that promote broadcast features and values) any metaphors that focus on its broadcasting values will be more apt. An individual’s own ground, even virtual ground, is often too sacred to allow the compromise.

Education and Design

Last year I enrolled in a Digital Media program at the UofC. I am always looking to upgrade my skills and knowledge informally, but decided to take a more formal plunge with my design skills (or lack of them) because of a strong belief I’ve developed in the growing relationship between design and education.

Recently I’ve been able to understand and articulate how I understand this relationship a bit more (although not completely, yet).

Over the past few years I’ve noticed design people talking about the fragmentation of their industry – design comes in so many different forms now (graphic, UX, UI, etc etc), and one of the points that design industry workers seem to be making when they bring this point up is that employers do not need to keep creating job positions based on all of these different divisions between these design areas. They need to hire people who are capable of recognizing these divisions and completing their tasks accordingly. People also need to develop accordingly.

And this makes sense to me. A project generally requires a grand vision of what that project will end up as. This isn’t always easy, or time efficient, to communicate. Why bother with a graphic designer AND a design writer and a UX designer, when one person can do that job. The more people involved, the more chances that miscommunication will occur.

This is what I’ve seen happen in education. Institutions are trying to adapt to digital environments, but they’re getting bogged down not only in the number of jobs they’re needing to create, but in the lack of knowledge about design mechanics and timelines. Online course are difficult to plan, for example, because the planners don’t speak the same language as the designers.

Ok, but why is design even important to education?

First of all, what I’ve recently realized is that the natural bridge between the larger industry of design and the larger industry of education is located between Information Design and Instructional Design. On the big poster that maps out all the fragmentations of design (or, of education) these two are right beside each other.

The other point to make is that education, more specifically online learning or digital environments (where I work), now includes an incredible amount of nuance in communication. I think you see this point made many places. We talk of digital literacies not literacy now, and even the definition of the word literacy has changed in the course of my lifetime, I would argue.

In this world where the digital message surrounds us, unlike how the printed word merely directs us, I would also say that we can now start to talk more specifically about rhetorics. Not the sense of rhetoric that is inherently negative, not the way that the word is thrown around to describe a politician dodging an important question. Rather, rhetoric in the way that Richard Lanham describes in The Electronic Word – as a way to be able to say what you want to say effectively. Design speaks to the rhetoric of a given literacy, the quality of our ability to communicate a thought with respect to that form of communication.

Educators don’t know which literacies students are going to bring with them into our classrooms. It’s increasingly difficult and unrealistic for institutions to expect learners to build their literacies specific for that particular institution. Educators need vast literacies and strong rhetorics to make edtech decisions and to create clear, effective, and apt instruction. In the least, educators are models for learners (especially so for language and culture, where I also work), making explicit the ways in which they adapt their own communication within the teacher/learner relationship.

The design skills that anyone may or may not have will be a determining factor in the ability to communicate in a digital environment, and thus determine such things like quality of courses, course design, teacher and institution communication, and for learners it will determine the quality of participation in an online class and even the degree of access to that information/instruction.

Categorizing People

A quick note about the video I posted yesterday, watch it with critical eye. I posted it for the discussion on education, but I should have warned that it does get political.

When I watch videos like this, for example for the education content, I tend to ignore and look past all of the talk about this group and that group. I generally try to avoid discussions where people refer to “the right” or “the left” (or whatever name they use for either) because more often it seems they’re cherry-picking examples from within that group to bat imaginary heads with a caricature representation of their own design. They’re not grappling with ideas.

What often happens in discussion where talking heads use these categorizations of people is that they’ll look at the “other” side with this glossed over categorizations, then claim that the other side never gives their side the individual examination and respect that it deserves. That’s what does in fact happen in this discussion. If you’re looking for the education stuff, it’s more prominent in the first half of the video.

I really don’t know anything about the guest speaker here, but my impressions is that she approaches the issues with a more exploration attitude than the host, who naturally seems to be speaking up his audience and reinforcing his identity.

Education is for Knowledge not Values

I listened this interview about education on the way into work today, and there’s a lot to latch onto in here. The discussion provides many useful debate starters, and I found myself on either end of the spectrum for most of the opinions expressed, agreeing with a majority.

Honestly, many of the points made (especially by the host) are supported by a flimsy “things are different from when I was growing up”, and then an implied “…therefore it’s bad.” More often however, I found myself agreeing with the guest speaker. Here are a few points she touches on:

  • Kids/students/people should learn knowledge, not values from an educational system
  • Elementary schools shouldn’t teach things like good eating and sex ed
  • Grades and credentials vs learning
  • Parents need to teach kids values, and shouldn’t be stuck with teaching things like math and science to their kids
  • Kids need to be allowed to do things, challenged and given responsibility

I struggle with this last one – I want to keep my own kids little forever. But, I know I can’t.

I sometimes write on here about the school system that my daughter and son attend, I hold back a lot of my opinions though because, well it’s just not worth it to complain so much. Paraphrasing Joanna Williams in the video: in these schools parents are commonly put in the position that if they complain about (or, even, don’t comply with) value based initiatives they run the risk of making their kids stand-out on behalf of their own opinions. Unfortunately, this makes ‘voicing opinions’ not a worthwhile mindset for a parent to be in much of the time.

One thing I’ve learned, is that despite how much they insist they want to hear from parents, schools and boards of education don’t want to hear from them unless it’s on their terms.

Anyway, the other thing I did want to say about this video is that all of the comments Joanna makes about “eating right” hit so close to home. Schools are terrible at teaching kids good eating habits. Yet, for some reason, they seem so dead set on taking up this cause. It’s simply not needed. Their “healthy hunger” lunch program that features Little Caesars Pizza, Opa, Subway, and all other sorts of fast food places, isn’t needed. Their gym classes that ban running, isn’t needed. And they’re constant fundraising that try to sell us discounted pizza, isn’t needed.

It’s difficult not to undermine the authority of our kids’ schools when they constantly take up the teaching of values at the expense of knowledge, and then turn around and sell those values off to local businesses in the name of education.

An Elementary School Teacher Telling Students that Wikipedia is a Bad Website

I’m hoping to get some advice from anyone who happens to read this. Just as the title states, my daughter’s 4th grade teacher told her class last week that Wikipedia is a bad website, that the information on there is mostly wrong, and that they should not use it.

More specifically, the students were doing an in class exercise on computers – they were supposed to look up something they were interested in, and write about it. One of my daughter’s friends searched for “Morse Code” and navigated to a wikipedia page on the subject. The teacher saw, and gave the speech about how wikipedia sites are bad and strongly suggested they use google or other websites instead.

I’m not sure how to handle this, what to do or if I should do anything. We’re pretty active in teaching our daughter at home (based on past experiences with the school here, I realized we need to talk on most of her education herself), and I work in technology and digital literacy so I have no problem teaching her about such things (we got her a tablet about half a year ago, and I slowly introduce her to various websites and digilit concepts – wikipedia was one of the fist we added). What I do worry about is what else is her teacher telling her?

Or am I seeing this wrong? I realize that maybe I’m out to lunch on this one. Is Wikipedia seen as a bad website now? I use it often throughout the week, in professional settings, though not usually as a final resource in itself – like any other source of information, it needs to be verified when the situation calls for it, right?

Are these the types of opinions teachers should be telling kids at this age? Shouldn’t they rather be teaching them to discern information more objectively?

The edtech “Ban/Not Ban” Discussion is Misleading

The underlying origin of any edtech “ban/not-ban devices” question out there is the gap between what is taught in elementary and middle school, and what is expected that secondary and post secondary learners ought to know. The gap being the digital literacy skills that many people feel should be taught at a young age, similar to reading skills, study skills, and even cultural norms like “how to behave in a classroom” and the ever-vague “socialization”.

If one believes this, that elementary kids need to learn digital literacy skills, then this is a question of what needs to be included in education goals and curriculum. There is not much worth in bringing it into the ban/not-ban question, which is a useless question to ask or answer.

A flat ban on devices ignores technology’s impact (let alone many learners’ access to content and preferred literacy), and conversely a mandate that teachers must use devices because it is “best” is technology infatuation that prioritizes digital literacy as a class goal over whatever the subject matter is. Both are wrongheaded, and both fail to consider the situation.

An educator designing their course needs to look at each activity/lesson and decide whether to include modern technology or not. It may be that one day devices are useful for that activity, the next they are a distraction. Devices are often superfluous, when technologies like pen, paper, desks, and spoken word are more suitable. If educators want to teach learners “self-regulation” then they should practice and model it in their class design.

(Furthermore, and I say this because I don’t see it enough, the first question to ask when deciding about technology/device use is “What is the content?”)