Heartbreaking Conversations About the Realities of Gun Violence in Schools

I don’t know why news outlets do it this way, but every time there are gunshots at a school in Texas, the only thing you see for a while is “Gunshots reported at Texas School.” If they know someone was killed, then the headline reads “Fatalities reported at Texas School.” Of course, as a parent of a kid in Texas, either one sends me flying to the most recent reports, praying its not my kid’s school.

Which is selfish, of course, but its the new reality living in the wild, wild wes… errr… Texas.

When it doesn’t end up being your kid’s school, but there are fatalities, you are both relieved and sickened (when you realize what too many families are going to go through today).

Then, of course, your kid starts asking all kinds of hard questions:

“Where should I sit in the classroom to avoid getting shot if someone breaks in?”

“Where should I hide if a shooter breaks in?”

“Where should I spread blood on me to look like I have been killed?”

Wow. He should ask those questions. And I did my best to answer (which wasn’t very good).

But it is heartbreaking that he has to ask them in the first place.

He also wanted a police officer permanently assigned to every classroom. I pointed out there aren’t near enough officers to do that. I didn’t have the heart to also talk about how they might not even try to stop a shooter, and the shooter could possibly out gun them if they did. But he has made comments about that as well… so, he knows.

Our kids live in a world where we won’t do what it takes to protect them in schools.

Despite the fact that we have decades of evidence from around the world that gun laws do work, our leaders don’t want to go the proven route. As usual, they have to turn to Ed-Tech to solve problems.

Yes, arming teachers is an Ed-Tech solution. And as a former teacher, I can tell you it is beyond pathetic to think it will work. They expect teachers to fight off some dude brandishing a modified AR-15 and body armor… with a hand pistol? When the police can’t always do the same? If you arm teachers, you will have dozens of students accidentally shot (and probably killed) by those teacher guns before one single teacher gets their first shot off at a shooter. And I would bet they never stop a shooter that way.

Or how about the whole “add more surveillance” options? Really? You want more video footage of carnage that still doesn’t stop anything? How sick is that?

Then there is the whole “door” argument. Also Ed-Tech, and I get why people turn to this option. If you want to do that in addition to gun law reform, that is great. But you also have to realize that school buildings are living, breathing entities that love to find ways to open doors. Teachers know this: they get left open all the time… or blocked when some object falls out of a backpack. Plus it would be literally impossible at many schools to get all students in through a single entrance at the front before noon. And those multiple entry points just love to find ways to stay open.

But wait! The solution is simply to have random inspections to make sure schools are keeping security up… right? Oh, sure. Anyone that has worked at a school knows that 5 seconds after the surprise inspector shows up, every teacher or employee near a security point will be alerted and fixing any issues they see.

Hundreds or thousands of humans inhabit a campus every second it is open – all with a vested interest in seeing their school pass an inspection – and you think you are going to be able to have a “surprise” inspection? Good luck with that.

I used to work as a health inspector. My surprise inspections – where I would show up in between classes and few people saw me come in – were always reported to the cafeteria well before I set foot in there. This was before cellphones and I would literally talk to the secretary in the front office and see hardly anyone else. Yet they still found a student somewhere to run the back way and warn the cafeteria I was coming.

Oh, and shooters can often get in these new secure doors anyways… even when locked and reinforced and made bullet proof…

My son mentioned that he won’t go back to school until he feels safe going. Maybe that is what we need on a national level: give us meaningful, strong gun reform or we don’t take our kids back to school until it happens.

Of course, we would need some massive donations to help support parents that can’t keep their kids home if we did this – but maybe someone should get on that.

And before you ask – yes, I have specific laws in mind to pass. Yes, I know the differences between assault weapons and assault rifles and AR-15 and so on. Quibbling over those things is just wasting time. We all know what we are talking about even if we don’t use the specific correct terms every. single. time. Even if you mean well bringing that up, it is generally a bad faith argument by many others, and it is well past time to #$&?@ stop that.

Also – anyone that wants to say that the Second Amendment is “sacred” – that is blasphemy and you should stop that as well. There is not a single religious text out there that refers to 2A as “sacred” (most are against weapons in many cases – especially the Bible). Go look up what the word “Amendment” means. There is nothing saying that we couldn’t abolish the Second Amendment if we wanted. I used to be against that option, but after decades of waiting for our leaders to enact “common sense” gun laws… I am tired of seeing nothing happen. So I have a lot more sympathy for the “Abolish 2A” crowd.

Does that upset you? Too bad. I have been waiting for decades for real change to happen while supporting those that want to keep 2A… and it has led to nothing but more death and carnage. So I don’t care about 2A anymore. Sorry if that offends you – you should have been pushing to get better gun laws than getting people like me to protect 2A itself. I’m tired of empty thoughts and prayers. Tired of people arguing moot points about definitions and changeable amendments being somehow sacred and Ed-Tech options that are garbage as actual solutions and all the pathetic nothingness that is putting my son’s life at risk. Do something meaningful in this area or just get out of the way.

People Don’t Like Online Proctoring. Are Institutional Admins Getting Why?

You might have noticed a recent increase in the complaints and issues being leveled against online proctoring companies. From making students feeling uncomfortable and/or violated, to data breaches and CEOs possibly sharing private conversations online, to a growing number of student and faculty/staff petitions against the tools, to lawsuits being leveled against dissenters for no good reason, the news has not been kind to the world of Big Surveillance. I hear the world’s tiniest violin playing somewhere.

It seems that the leadership at Washington State University decided to listen to concerns… uhhh… double down and defend their position to use proctoring technology during the pandemic. While there are great threads detailing different problems with the letter, I do want to focus in on a few statements specifically. Not to specifically pick on this one school, but because WSU’s response is typical of what you hear from too many Higher Ed administrations. For example, when they say…

violations of academic integrity call into question the meaningfulness of course grades

That is actually a true statement… but not in the way it was intended. The intention was to say that cheating hurts academic integrity because it messes up the grade structures, but it could also be taken to say that cheating calls into highlights the problem with the meaningfulness of grades because cheating really doesn’t affect anyone else.

Think about it: someone else cheats, and it casts doubt on the meaning of my grade if I don’t cheat? How does that work exactly? Of course, this is a nonsense statement that reals highlights how cheating doesn’t change the meaning of grades for anyone else. Its like the leaders at this institution are right there, but don’t see the forest for the trees: what exactly does a grade mean if the cheaters that get away with it don’t end up hurting anyone but themselves? Or does cheating only cause problems for non-cheaters when the cheaters get caught? How does that one work?

But let’s focus here: grades are the core problem. Yes, many people feel they are arbitrary and even meaningless. Still others say they are unfair, while some look at them as abusive. At the very least, you really should realize grades are problematic. Students can guess and get a higher grade than what they really actually know. Tests can be gamed. Questions have bias and discrimination built in too many times. And so on. Online proctoring is just an attempted fix for a problem that existed long before “online” was even an option.

But let’s see if the writers of the letter explain exactly how one person cheating harms someone else… because maybe I am missing something:

when some students violate academic integrity, it’s unfair for the rest. Not only will honest students’ hard work not be properly reflected…. Proctoring levels the playing field so that students who follow the rules are not penalized in the long run by those who don’t.

As someone that didn’t cheat in school, I am confused as to how this exactly works. I really never spent a single minute caring about other students’ cheating. You knew it happened, but it didn’t affect you, so it was their loss and not yours. In fact, you never lost anything in the short or long run from other student’s cheating. I have no clue how my hard work was not “properly reflected” by other students’ cheating.

(I would also note that this “level the playing field” means that they assume proctoring services catch all “cheaters” online, just like have instructors in the classroom on campus meant that all of the “cheaters” in those classes. But we all know that is not the case.)

I have never heard a good answer for how does supposed “penalization” works. Most of the penalization I know of from classes are systemic issues against BIPoC students that happens in ways that proctoring never deals with. You sometimes wish institutions would put as much money into fighting that as they would spying through student cameras….

But what about the specific concerns with how these services operate?

Per WSU’s contract, the recorded session is managed by an artificial intelligence “bot” and no human is on the other end at ProctorU watching the student. Only the WSU instructor can review the recorded session.

A huge portion of the concern about proctoring has been about the AI bots – which are here presented as an “it’s all okay because” solution…? Much of the real concern many have expressed is with the algorithms themselves and how they are usually found to be based on racist, sexist, and ableist norms. Additionally, the other main concern is what the instructor might see when they do review a recording of a student’s private room. No part of the letter in question addresses any of the real concerns with the bigger picture.

(It is probably also confusing to people whether or not someone is watching on the other side of the camera when there are so many complaints online from students that have had issues with human proctors, especially ones that were “insulting me by calling my skin too dark” as one complaint states.)

The response then goes on to talk about getting computers that will work with proctoring service to students that need them, or having students come in to campus for in-person proctoring if they just refuse to use the online tool. None of this addresses the concerns of AI bias, home privacy, or safety during a pandemic.

The moral of the point I am making here is this: if you are going to respond to concerns that your faculty and staff have, make sure you are responding to the actual concerns and not some imaginary set of concerns that few have expressed. There is a bigger picture as to why people are objecting to these services, which – yes – may start with feeling like they are being spied on by people and/or machines. But just saying “look – no people! (kind of)” is not really addressing the core concerns.

Dealing With Educators That Are Not Interested in Legal Issues

If you have been in Instructional Design / Learning Technology / etc for any length of time, you have no doubt run into the various laws and rules that govern all areas of the work we do in this space. Hopefully, you have even been well-trained on these legal issues as well (but I know that is not always the case). And unfortunately, you have probably run into educators that dismiss certain legal issues out of hand.

I say “educators” even though most people probably think primarily of professors when they think of people that ignore the law. This is because there really are people from all sectors of education that are known to dismiss any legal questions or concerns that may apply to what they are doing.

For me, it seems that Accessibility and Fair Use end up being the most oddly contentious issues to address in education (again, not just with professors, but people from all levels of education and non-teaching staff as well). Its not that people think Accessibility or Fair Use are bad per se. Its usually that dealing with Accessibility can “wait till later,” and that concerns over what counts as Fair Use (or more often, what doesn’t fall under Fair Use) are all just “semantics.”

With accessibility, what typically happens is that the instructional designer will point out the need to take the time to make sure all course content is accessible from the beginning. The common counter argument that is made is that accessibility is important, but it can wait until an actual accessibility request is made… “if” it is ever made. Usually with an extreme amount of emphasis and eye-winking placed on the word “if,” because many seem to believe there just aren’t that many students with accessibility needs out there.

Of course, when those accessibility requests do come in, usually much quicker that expected, the ensuing rush to meet requirements becomes a panicked realization that you can’t just adjust an entire course to be accessible in a few days or even a couple of weeks (the typical time frame given for compliance).

But at least they try. The one that seems to get the least effort to even respond to is our concern over what counts as “Fair Use.” I still find it weird that people use “just semantics” as a dismissive trump card, like it is a reason to give up making a point. Many of our laws are built on semantics. Semantics are usually an important issue to discuss, not a “go away with your petty concerns” push back. It never comes across as helpful or respectful disagreement, even if meant that way. People use “its just semantics” as a way to shut someone else down and “win” a disagreement.

I get that many people don’t want to discuss Fair Use because it can be confusing and hard to define. But if you have had someone warn you about going over the line, chances are that if you end up in court over it, you stand little chance of winning. If an Instructional Designer thinks you went over the line, well, we often go over the line ourselves as well. So don’t expect a court to be more liberal with the line than IDs are. And don’t expect me to put my neck on the line when you ignored my concerns in the first place.

Of course, these two aren’t the only areas that end up seeing contentious arguments over legal definitions. Artificial Intelligence, Learning Engineering, Virtual Reality, OPMs, and many other current hot topics all have critics that raise legal concerns, and defenders that dismiss those concerns out of hand. But these two are the biggest ones I have dealt with in day-to-day course design work.

If I could count the number of times a faculty member came back to me and told me they wished they had listened to me about legal issues….

But what to do about it ahead of time? Just keep bringing it up. Show them this blog post if you need to. Bookmark stories that you read about the issues – from legal or educational experts weighing in the idea, to actual news accounts of legal action. Show them that story about the school in Florida that got caught showing Disney films illegally on a school field trip because a Disney lawyer happened to be driving by the school bus.

You are going to have to make a case and defend it as if you are already in court in many cases. And this is just if you actually have the organizational power to push back. Many IDs do not. In that case, make sure you have an electronic trail suggesting to people that either specific classes or entire departments or schools should take these laws seriously.

The Great OPM Controversy

So if you have been following OPMs for a while, you are probably asking yourself “which particular controversy are you referring to?” Good point. Over the past week, there has been some controversy over an article by Kevin Carey that takes a harsh look at the pricing and income from online courses, especially related to OPMs. I took issue with the way the article throws all OPMs into the same bucket – Carey mentions 2U and iDesign in the same sentence, but doesn’t cover the massive differences between the two companies. Personally, I have concerns over even labeling companies like iDesign as OPMs, because they don’t offer to take over the entire online program creation process. They serve more as a specialty service for contract, a type of company that has existed for a long time in HigherEd and that adds great value when priced right.

(also, full disclosure: I have worked for iDesign in the past as a part-time side gig, and still would if their current employment model allowed for work on nights and weekends).

Carey also falls for the assumption that online courses should be cheaper, something that Matt Reed effectively discusses in his own response (just ignore where he briefly falls into the “MOOC attrition rate” misunderstanding). Despite these two points of disagreement, Carey does raise some legitimate hard questions about OPMs that we as a field should discuss.

Of course, with all of this attention, 2U was bound to respond. Today their CEO Chip Paucek wrote an article for Inside HigherEd. While I am glad that Paucek wants to have a constructive dialogue, there were problems with his response as well. Paucek starts off (after selling his company some) by stating that any real conversation about cost or value in online education has to be “grounded” in four specific principles: quality, access, outcomes, and sustainability (personally, I would add ethics and privacy concerns as well). But those are four good ones, and Paucek states that Carey’s article did not focus on those.

Okay, the quality aspect – as related to costs – he did miss. But access, outcomes, and sustainability are all important aspects of the cost of online access – and by addressing cost Carey is also focusing on those three aspects. I think it would be more accurate to say that Paucek felt that Carey did not focus on those aspects the way he wanted him to. They were still there, just not in a format that Paucek recognized maybe? Hard to say. But I felt that point was too forced in Paucek’s response. You can’t separate any discussion of cost from access, outcomes, and sustainability.

Paucek goes on to point out that face-to-face returning students typically have to quit their job and lose income to get a degree while still paying for living expenses. Which is still the case in some places, but not as much as it used to be. For example, I earned my Ph.D. while still working full time because the traditional on-campus program I was a part of adjusted their courses to be on nights and weekends. But the point by Paucek is:

Most master’s and doctorate-level students are working adults who historically had to quit a job, and often move, in order to attend a top-tier university for graduate school…. the average actual cost and debt burden of attending a 2U-powered program is significantly less once you factor in ongoing income and the room and board savings, which in some cities can be as high as 25 to 40 percent of tuition.

Which is true – for all online programs. If the 2U partner schools had built their own online programs, this statement would still be true. Its a bit disingenuous for an OPM to claim a historical benefit of all online / distance education as their own like this. It would be like a website designer claiming they personally are saving clients money by using WordPress, even though WordPress was free long before they started a web design company. Paucek also does this again by claiming that, on average, their partner programs students “are more diverse from both a race and gender perspective than students in comparable on-campus programs.” Again, that was typically true of many online programs long before OPMs came along.

Paucek also goes on the attack against schools that want to build in-house capability for online programs, because he sees this as being wasteful of institutional funds. This is partially true and partially not true. Paucek’s point is that

“…it’s also critical to discuss whether it’s reasonable, rational and appropriate for that investment and risk capital to be shouldered exclusively by schools or in collaboration with a strategic partner like 2U…. each one of our program partners would need to invest their own scarce capital and hire in-house talent to expertly deliver what we deliver.”

Yes, it is true that it takes a lot of money to build online programs in-house. But it also takes a lot of money to hire an OPM like 2U. However, here is the counterpoint: you can hire people that are already experts in online course design, online program management, accessibility, privacy, cybersecurity, etc. You don’t have to start from scratch even if you go the in-house route. I know this, because I am one of many, many experts out there that has the ability to do so. And we are not as expensive as one would think :)

And while Paucek tried to make it seem like it takes 10 years and nearly a billion dollars to develop a quality online program, the truth is that a lot of that went towards building a company – which is different from building an online program. Yes, it does take a lot of time and money to build a quality online program, but it takes a whole lot more to build a national / international company – and those are mostly costs that HigherEd programs will not have to shoulder. To be cliche, it is comparing apples to oranges to make this point. There is some financial overlap between building an OPM and building an online program at an existing institution, but there is a lot that is extra to build a company from scratch.

There are also many other important benefits to building programs in-house that few are talking about. Usually, these programs are built in-house by hiring local talent, which helps local economies. Then there are all of the schools that hire GRAs, GTAs, student assistants of all kinds to help build and administrate and even teach the courses. This helps to empower students by giving them valuable life and employment skills of all kinds. Then there are all of the research articles, blog posts, think pieces, etc that various instructors, staff, and students produce while participating in the process. When these are published through OER models, the additions to the global knowledge space of online learning are immense. Some OPMs participate in some of these benefits, but many keep the whole process behind closed doors to protect proprietary processes and products.

Of course, Paucek’s overarching points that creating quality online courses is expensive, and that we need to have open conversations about the process, are both important. However, I am of the opinion that OPMs should not be the one’s hosting this conversation (as Paucek suggests), as the points outlined in this article make apparent. We as the education community have been hosting it, and all disagreements aside, we have been doing a pretty good job of doing so.

How Would You Use Innovation to Save Education?

Too often it seems like educators define innovation as “change for the sake of changing something.” Innovation becomes the default context that they start with: if you have a problem, then fix it by innovating. For a while now, various outlets have been asking various questions that all boil down to: How would you use innovation to save education?

This is part of what Audrey Watters refers to as the “Innovation Gospel,” which became overwhelming in education and business a long time ago. One goal of the Innovation Gospel, of course, is to “fix” education… but always by starting with innovation rather than solutions. Watters response to what she would do to fix education is not “innovative” according to many, but it is something that would be a huge change:


This is also a question I have often pondered – what would I do if I had massive money to fix education? “Reparations” being one of the best answers, I will have to go for some runner-up answers. To be honest, nothing really innovative comes to mind at first. What I first think of are things that we all have heard from research as far back as the 80s or 90s (probably earlier) – stuff that we are pretty sure would help education, but that we never really hear mentioned in the Innovation Gospel:

  • Care for students: make sure they are fed, clothed, cared for – and not just with the small (but impactful nonetheless) efforts we currently have.
  • Train teachers to be more empathetic and caring for their students.
  • Pay to make facilities and tools safe and inclusive.
  • For that matter, make our schools and curriculum inclusive and empathetic for all learners. Even the newer ones.
  • Re-vamp curriculum to move away from pedagogy to heutagogy (teaching learners how to learn rather than what to learn).
  • Fund and pay teachers and staff.
  • Remove grades and standardized testing.

The list could probably go on, but the important thing to emphasize here is that this is all old research. None of it is “innovative” in the way many use the term today.  You will even find these ideas mentioned or even explored in depth in older Instructional Design textbooks as “established ideas” (even though I would still use “established” cautiously at best) or some other term that implies they are not new.

So why do we hear more about learning analytics and virtual reality and innovation “fixing” education these days than these “established” ideas?

Maybe it is our worship of the Innovation Gospel. Maybe it is difficult to quantify care, inclusion, heutagogy, and grade-less classrooms. Maybe it exposes education’s long fascination with increasing surveillance of learners in various ways. Maybe it means we lose the ability to “weed out” less desirable students in the name of standardization and averages. Maybe we are afraid that these are never-ending rabbit holes of problems that we don’t want to know how deep they go. Maybe these are just too hard and complex and overwhelming to know where to start. Maybe, maybe, maybe.

Whatever the reason, the people that have the money and means to work on these issues are usually not interested in the fixes that have already been discovered (but poorly implemented or never implemented). They are interested in data policies and future trends and fancy shiny virtual things – all things that might in some way impact education (or they might not). Our challenge is to pull that interest away from the shiny new toy of innovation and focus it on the nitty gritty work of making the hard changes at the classroom level of education. To be honest… that is a pretty daunting dragon to slay.

Rant Up, Rant Down, or Learn To Rant Better?

Interesting post recently from Jesse Stommel that basically takes The Chronicle to task for allowing people to mock students in an open, official section of their website. I have never really been to the “Dear Student” column, and I am glad that I haven’t. Student shaming really isn’t any better than any other form of cyber bullying.

However, I do have another concern about the post, or I guess I should say with some of the responses to the post. When Stommel says “rant up, not down”, he clarifies it later in a comment that probably gets buried in the long list: “I agree that we need to have open discussion about real concerns, but there are better ways to have those conversations than stereotyping, mocking, and belittling.” The point is not to tell instructors to just stop discussing their concerns, but to learn how to discuss them in a productive way without ranting. And if you have to rant, do what most professionals do and keep it private.

A lot of the response that I have seen to the blog post really focus on that “rant up, not down” part. This is where I would be careful – I was at a University in the 90s that had a leadership change that took this approach. While I generally liked the new president that came in, he did go too far into shutting down faculty concerns…. and the students knew it. The campus went from having a fairly challenging learning experience to one that barely pushed us at all.

Education needs to be challenging sometimes. We need to struggle and be pushed at times. When students know they can complain in the right way and get the faculty in trouble, it creates a weird power dynamic. I remember other students plotting how to get their instructors in trouble when they decided an assignment was too hard. For people like me that really wanted to learn, being stuck in a group assignment with these bums was horrible.

The things is, I know that when you put all of the power in the instructor”s court, you usually create a high stakes system where learners become afraid of failing. Failure usually has dire consequences in power imbalanced systems, so cheating is usually rampant and students rarely take chances. They just want to know what exactly they have to do to pass. Sound familiar?

But if you swing the other way, and imbalance the power towards the students, this creates a system that makes the instructors afraid to push and challenge learners. Learning becomes stale and watered down, taught in way that makes everyone happy with their grades. That probably sounds familiar, too.

The reason these two sides sound familiar is because our educational systems often swing like a pendulum between the two. There is always a power imbalance in some direction, causing major issues.

edugeek-journal-avatarThe goal for education should be a fairly balanced share of power for all involved. This balance of power would actually be empowering for all involved. So, please make sure that in reading articles like Stommels (and I agree with his demands that The Chronicle pull the column and apologize) that you don’t advocate for a swing in power that will cause imbalances in education.

(image credit: Gozde Otman, obtained from freeimages.com)

Can Instructors Also Be Victims of Cyber-Bullying?

If you have worked in education long enough, chances are that you have had to deal with student threats. A typical scenario in online courses usually unfolds like this: a student disappears from class for a while and misses several assignments. This student appears again after the last day of class and begs to be allowed to make up the missed assignments to bring up their score. The instructor sticks with class policy and the student’s grade stays the same.

The student then proceeds to write an intense email letter that threatens to give the professor a very bad course review if he or she doesn’t raise the grade. Or the student goes to another site like Facebook to start a group to spread stories about how “bad” their professor was.

Instructors in this situation are justified in being a bit concerned because student evaluations affect pay and eventually tenure. Anything from evaluations to ratemyprofessor.com could be used to get back at a professor for just doing their job.  Not to mention the fear that some student might get mad enough to come back with a gun.

Of course, student reactions are not the only concern here. Their parents can be just as threatening – especially at the grade school level. The scary truth about cyberbullying is that anyone can bully or be bullied.

Most schools have policies that somewhat deal with physical threats to instructors. These policies need to be expanded to deal with electronic means of communication and the cyberbullying that can occur through those. Now, I don’t think that these policies should be so strict that students are afraid to respectfully disagree with their professors. The goal should be to create a system that deals with malicious libel, slander, or misrepresentation of events through any electronic means, whether these actions are actually carried out or just threatened.

I would also then suggest that schools create an anonymous web page where anyone (students, instructors, or community members) can submit links to specific instances that they think are inappropriate. We shouldn’t just make instructors or students responsible for self-reporting these incidences. Empower students and even people that have no connection to your school with the ability to stop threatening activities. Whether it is students witnessing other students bullying each other on Facebook, or a random web surfer finding malicious threats against a professor in a discussion forum – give these people the power to do something about it and report it to officials at your school.

Shame On Those Pesky, Distracting Laptops

“Recent studies suggest that laptops in class detract from lecture-based learning”

Lecture-based learning?  Isn’t that an oxymoron?  How much can you really learn by sitting and soaking?  :)

Okay, so I’m showing my constructivism bias here.  The article I am reading, Can I have your half-attention, please?, actually is an interesting read about how instructors are getting over their technophobia (and themselves in the process) and finding ways to integrate laptops into learning.  It also shows how other instructors misunderstood what is going on in their class before laptops.  I was one of those students that zoned out and started doodling on my notes to pass time until lecture was over.  If I had a laptop, I bet I would have paid more attention, because I could have double checked the instructor’s facts while he/she was talking.

Educators like Don Krug and Richard Smith are really getting the idea about laptops (even though they both seem to come at the issue from two different angles), while others like Jean Boivin are just missing it.  Too bad the ones that miss it have some questionable research to back them up.  I hope we get some better designed research studies on this in the future.

Recent Problems With Facebook Highlight Misunderstandings of the Web

Educators are grappling with how to deal with some of the problems that arise when students and teachers use online social networks such as FaceBook. No one is going to get it perfect to start with. So, while we are shaking these tools out and trying to learn what is good and what is wrong, we should appeal for cool heads and open minds, not suspensions and lawsuits.

Sadly, cooler heads are not prevailing on either side. The New York Times profiled a case today of a high school student that was suspended for posting a rant on FaceBook against a teacher.

The problem really stems from the fact that this student encouraged other people to “express your feelings of hatred” in that post.  Luckily, some people did post comments that pointed out this student’s immaturity in the situation.  Others unwisely followed suit and posted hate messages.

Just so we are clear here… generally, in most civilized countries, it is not legal to encourage hate in any form.

The student is now suing the school to get the suspension off of her record so that it won’t hinder her later in life.  Maybe the punishment was too harsh, but on the other side – don’t post something if you aren’t willing to take the heat for it.  The posting and punishment are not that surprising to be honest – although, I wouldn’t have put it on her permanent record if it was her first offense.  To me, the really jaw-dropping part of this story are the responses from the lawyers and other people involved.

The lawyer representing the student compared this case to one in 1969 involving student protests against Vietnam.  Really?  Encouraging hatred is comparable to protesting Vietnam?  Those are not even close – there is a huge difference between wearing a sign of protest against the government (which is not likely to face direct retaliation as a result of said protest) and encouraging others to post messages that could be seen as threatening (especially when the teacher in question could face retaliation of some kind as a result of the posting).  To compare those two issues is shameful if you ask me.

Even more shocking are the comments from Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida.  I’m no fan of the ACLU half of the time myself.  But I’m not even sure how supporters of the ACLU can agree with this statement:

“Since when did criticism of a teacher morph into assault?” Mr. Simon said. “If Katie Evans said what she said over burgers with her friends at the mall, there is no question it would be protected by free speech.”

What? Posting a comment on FaceBook is comparable to a discussion over burgers?  For one, once the conversation is over, it’s history.  People can’t come back later and read the comments hovering over the table the next day.  They can’t encourage others to add comments a week later.  And only the people that are the friends hanging out will hear the comments – not the extended community of FaceBook “friends” (which generally includes people that aren’t close friends).

By the way, Mr. Simon – this is not just a case of criticism.  It is a case of encouraging others to join in the hate.  Usually, the ACLU is against these kind of things… or so I thought.  My main problem with the ACLU stems from their inconsistent stance on some issues, especially where religion is involved.  But that is another issue.

People, especially in education, just don’t seem to understand that the Internet is not the same as having a conversation with friends.  It is a printed medium, one that has to follow the same rules that a news paper or book would.  You have to be careful what you print in any medium, no matter how temporary you think it is.

And for crying out loud – getting in trouble over something that you write or post is not an infringement of free speech.  It is a part of life.  Any blogger can tell you that :)  People need to understand that free speech has always had limits, and need to quit taking the cheap road by pulling out the First Amendment every time something like this happens.

Teaching a Class Entirely Through YouTube

I read an interesting article on Wired Campus today called “What Happens When a Course Is Taught Entirely via YouTube?” The basic idea was that a class was taught entirely through YouTube – class interactions were filmed and posted, discussions happened through comments, etc. Of course, this design does violate just about every Instructional Design standard in the world. Not surprisingly, the instructor felt like it was a failure.

I have to say – of course it was. Why design a course entirely in YouTube, only about YouTube? Here are some of my thoughts on this:

  • Why not make it on something more interesting than just YouTube? Why not try to do something on art, history, culture, or a hundred other topics more suited for the medium?
  • Why not use Google Videos in the first place – and keep the videos private?
  • Why not use Google Groups to discuss the videos, and upload other assignments?
  • When you use a site that was not built for social presence, of course you are going to lose social presence and immediacy. Try using some tools that can increase social presence, like maybe Google Sites?

Just taking these suggestions in to account would have negated most of the criticisms on the accompanying blog post. Most of these reflections I would have predicted before the class even happened, but I think this was still an interesting experiment. I am interested to hear if anyone has used Google Sites to teach a course? I am setting something up in there now, and it is an interesting free tool.