Dilemmas and Tensions


Do You Dream of Databases? 2

“Sunset on a Set of Boxes Sitting,” image by aforgrave, on Flickr

Cross-Posted from a long comment response to a Doug Peterson (@dougpete) question, “Whatever Happened to Filemaker Pro?” on his Doug – Off The Record blog.

I knew when I read Doug’s post this morning that it would be impossible for me to let it go without commenting. But where to start? How could I start and not go on for hours and hours? And I expect that he knew that it would be difficult for me to not reply. I remember the day when John Taylor introduced us to one another at ECOO. I’m fairly certain he was looking at pushing the OSAPAC database of licensed software to the web from FileMaker at the time.

My original thought was that I would reply by writing my own post on my own blog. But the post would be out of the blue and wouldn’t have the context that Doug’s post provided. In the end, I posted a long comment on Doug’s blog, and based it on his prompt questions. To go broader would open the floodgates and I’d never get any sleep. But I did decide to cross-post it here to EdVisioned.ca all the same. After all, I spent upwards of five years from 1998 to 2003 breathing, eating, and sleeping in Filemaker. I’m sure I had a few Filemaker-inspired dreams along the way.

Have you ever developed a database application in Filemaker Pro?

Database101Oh, yeah. You know I have! It all began with a demo version on floppy disk in the back of Guy Kawasaki’s Database 101 book, purchased one lazy Sunday afternoon while browsing computer section at the the local bookseller, a year or so after I started teaching. That was pre-Chapters/Indigo, pre-Internet. But I did have a Mac, and a background in programming and Hypercard, and the first real project was to develop a lesson planner for a summer course I was taking. Why spend all that time formatting the pages when common fields across the various lessons in the unit could be automagically arranged, and I could add and re-sort the lessons with a nice table of contents to boot? I remember carrying that Mac to and from class and school in one of those big bags.

“Ontario Curriculum Unit Planner,” photo by aforgrave, on Flickr

Subsequent to that, the Class Organizer was a database that I developed and then shared at an ECOO SIG-ELEM in Kingston (Doug wrote about Special Interest Groups last weekend), and then came a school report card in my third year of teaching — followed by district Report Cards, Provincial Report Cards, and then the Ontario Curriculum Unit Planner (units still available via Queen’s University as PDFs) for the Ministry of Education.

Do you have a need for a database in the things you do on a computer?

To this day, I maintain student records and manage a bunch of classroom tasks from within Filemaker. Record keeping is the very raison d’être of a database, but the reality is that most folks do not “think” in terms of databases. I’ve had conversations with people over the years (looking at you, Peter Skillen) about how our thought processes and problem solving are influenced by the tools we understand and use. You are familiar with The Law of the Instrument, perhaps as initially clarified by Abraham Maslow in 1966: “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” For years and years, the hammer of choice for many in Ontario was WordPerfect, and every single problem was solved with it. Now, decades later, comfort with spreadsheets has increased, but the subtleties of difference between spreadsheets and databases are lost to most. While visiting the Google Showcase at pre-ISTE NECC in 2009, I recall asking their booth folks if Google had a database program under development to complement Docs, Sheets, Slides — and I just received blank stares from the folks there. Now, a few years later, even Microsoft’s Access has disappeared from Office365. Databases are a hidden entity. They manage our finances, they organize and store our blog posts behind the interface of WordPress, but most people do NOT think of a database when faced with a database problem. It is not in our toolbox.

What sorts of things do you collect that would be suitable for inclusion in a database?
There was a time when I worked towards what one might call The Grand Unification of Data Architecture, where any and all information worth capturing was stored within a set of linked databases and was available to be searched and cross-linked and referenced with other related bits of data. Calendar entries, journal entries, financial data, family and contact information, events, presentations, goals, books and movies and media, quotes and research findings, long-range plans, any and all information belonged gathered together in a single related data-entity. As it has turned out, in the same way Facebook has given a web presence to the masses in a way that HTML never did, the multitude of mobile apps that exist today for managing groceries, workouts, friends, photos, and so on have provided everyone with a splintered and fractured collection of databases that can be used without truly understanding the methods beneath. Have a problem? There’s an app for that, no need to solve the problem yourself.

keep-calm-there-s-an-app-for-that-MODIf you’re not using a Filemaker Pro version, what are you using instead?
Over the years, I have played around with other data structures, MySQL being the most long-standing complement to my use of the latest versions of Filemaker. When the web really kicked into gear in the 2000s, the gathering and provision of data via AJAX became a new technological pursuit for me. That meant working with MySQL, HTML/CSS, and Javascript — three separate components. From the days of FileMaker 2.1 through FileMaker 15, one of the strongest features of FileMaker has been the way in which it marries the traditional modal-view-controller components within the domain of one application. With Filemaker, developers simultaneously manage the data structure, the interface, and the business logic. The most recent releases of Filemaker continue to support publishing web interface as well as generating mobile apps. For me, however, with today’s prevalence of apps and cloud computing, a lot of my data is stored within someone else’s data architecture. There are instances when I wish it were easier to hook the bits together, but the need to create things from scratch out of necessity has been supplanted over time with ready access to a multitude of specialized apps. The emerging potential of APIs has yet to be realized.

A Hammer, a Screwdriver, and a Flashlight?
In closing, as with coding, there is an untapped depth of problem solving potential that today’s learners are missing out on because the strengths and benefits of database structure and manipulation are not readily understood by folks. We have a wonderful category of tool available to support our thinking, but it’s not in the toolbox of the masses. A screwdriver may have joined the hammer for some, and perhaps a flashlight once in a while, but we really have yet to explore the full set of tools to which we truly need access. Databases are one such tool.

hammer_PNG3890

“I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” – Abraham Maslow, 1966.


Let’s Look Behind the Cloud of the #ontsm Tag 16

“#ontsm Visualized” by aforgrave, on Flickr

There is a wonderful opportunity for Learners and Learning lingering behind this visual representation of participants who used the #ontsm Twitter tag over the past 60 hours or so. Dig into the conversations and tweets, and join into the conversation yourself.  While this cloud capture image was made last night, there’s a whole related, yet untagged story developing on Twitter today and the emerging collection of blogs posts that have arisen since yesterday’s Pearson social media “summit” event. More will follow.

While I hope to find the focus and the time to extend my thoughts again on this blog in the coming days, at this point I’d like to float out some initial points that (I think) folks need to let resonate a bit:

 What’s Going On?

  1. the traditional publishing industry is undergoing a need-to-survive process of redefinition in the age of the Internet, web 2.0+, and mobile devices; education publishers are part of this larger group
  2. social media is a rapidly growing force in our society, of which we are only beginning to understand the effects;
  3. educational institutions, governing agencies, and schools are at varying stages of an initial response to the recent advances in technology that are already exerting a massive influence on informal learning;
  4. connected educators are actively seeking and wanting to help education evolve in response to the same forces;
  5. the institutions of learning will be required to undertake the same need-to-survive process of redefinition that newspapers, the music industry, television, and other “published” media have had to address since the high-speed Internet connected world has arisen — post-secondary institutions are already at it — ask them about MOOCs.

I fear that too few educators and educational institutions are as yet actively engaged in real conversations about where formalized learning is headed in the medium-to-long term. (Envisioning where we’re headed takes research and focus, we don’t yet get support for Google 20% time for innovation in our line of work.)  Our parent partners and our society in general are not yet asking this question loudly enough — but one day, they will.  Our learners, from their own perspective, ask this question on a daily basis.

Economics and Learning

There is a not insignificant tension between the decisions made in an effort to influence / respond to economic pressures on one hand, and the laudable goal of educating ourselves and our children on the other hand;  one need only look at recent decisions within the province of Ontario related to the provincial deficit and contracts to see this at a superficial level. However dig below that and ask questions about how closely what schools do relates to the larger economic picture (standardized training for jobs, the factory model of learning, corporations the provide education content) and one can see that there is a close intertwining of the two. Stepping back and educating for the love of learning and creativity and art is hard to do from a standpoint of a business case. It’s much easier to design teaching for concrete results, than it is to create an educational environment that support learning for creativity.   Please note that I use the words teach, teacher, student, schooling distinctly from educator, learner, etc.)

Get Involved

The Pearson get-together yesterday was only one instance of a gathering of educators in one space where the beginnings of conversations about the future of learning, social media, technology, communities, pedagogies, business took place. Conversations at grass-roots edCamps are continual (to date, there have been eight instances in Ontario, edCampHamilton takes place this coming weekend), conversations at events like the annual ECOO conference (#ecoo13 bringITtogether.ca October 23-25 in Niagara Falls) are in preparation, and the conversation is ongoing during the in-between times at events like the annual August Unplugd.ca retreat in Algonquin Park. And of course these discussions occur all the time online, and at other events outside the boundaries of our province.  Anyone should feel that it’s okay to share their thoughts on these issues.

Unfortunately, it is all too easy to marginalize / ignore / dismiss / avoid that which we do not understand, or that which we fear, or not to focus attention on that great big elephant over there in the corner of the room in the hopes that it is just a figment and will go away if we wait long enough. It can be too easy to say, “that’s not my job,” or “that’s above my pay grade,” , or to feel ignored, or to delegate our collective responsibilities to someone appointed to “deal with it,” or, after countless attempts, to give up in frustration and stop trying to make a difference.  That we develop and exercise our voice as part of a collaborative effort remains one of the most important — and social — potentials that social media provides for us. For this reason, it is important — dare I say, critical — that educators understand and act to see that it clearly understood by our learners (and, by extension, society) as we move forward. Why should we let our learners be subject only to the dominant Voices of the traditional institutions and publishing agents? Should we not seek to empower everyone with an educated Voice?

Perhaps it’s time to see and ensure that our role as educators extends beyond the boundaries of our classroom walls — in the same way that we seek to integrate the external world within them.

Where is Learning going?

I invite you to join in this conversation, here, and with the authors of other posts written in conjunction with this event.


Broten: Oxymorons, Verbs, and Grammar 3

“@Dalton_McGuinty must feel ashamed right now. #rally4edu” by aforgrave, on Flickr

January 3rd, 2013 was a sad day for Ontario Educators, for Education, and for the democratic rights of Ontarians.

Kudos to Dave Lanovaz (@DaveLanovaz on Twitter) for posting his open letter to the Premier of Ontario on his blog Thursday morning. Check out the conversations in the 65 comments posted there in the last 36 hours.

If you’re not from Ontario or haven’t been following the education drama here over the last few months, you can read details of Thursday’s news in Doug Peterson’s post, The Hardest Job, as shared on his blog Friday morning.

All in all, neither a Merry Christmas nor Happy New Year for those of us dealing with an unwillingness to budge on the part of the Minister of Education, her negotiating team, and the Liberal Government. 

However, on the upside, there was an opportunity for some language learning lessons for the Minister of Education, Laurel Broten (@LaurelBroten on Twitter), as reflected in a number of conversations Thursday morning on Twitter.  (Note that even though the Minister of Education’s Twitter account immediately followed a lot of Ontario edTech leaders when it was first created (who gave her that sage advice?), she has never once replied to any of my DMs or mentions. (Like the time on August 28th when I personally invited her and @Dalton McGuinty to come out of Queen’s Park and meet with us on the lawn during the #rally4edu.) Nothing. Not interested in listening or talking, I guess. 😥

So. On with the language learning opportunities for Minister Broten and the government:

Oxymorons

In reflecting on the words Ontario’s Education minister yesterday morning, it seemed as if the actions of her government were at odds with the language in use.

Broten announced Thursday that the minority Liberal government will impose the contracts [collective agreements] on approximately 130,000 elementary and high school teachers under the controversial Bill 115 before students are set to return to the classroom on Monday. from CTVNews.ca

In seeking to provide a bit of commentary and perhaps some tension-breaking levity (thanks, Alana!), I posted the following update on Twitter.

Broten Oxymoron1

I was increasingly amazed throughout the day as my phone continued to beep and chirp every time someone retweeted or favourited the tweet. Imagine my surprise Friday evening when a Twitter summary email (“the following users have tweets for you”) listed that @msjweir, @mkgoindi, @tk1ng, and 37 others had RT’d the update. Seeing that, I clicked on the View Details button and grabbed this — four hours since the summary email had added another 20 odd additional retweets. Go figure. Another one popped up as I was writing this!

“Regarding that Level 5 Exemplar…” by aforgrave, on Flickr

I do my best folks. Every once in a while something like this resonates with people. I think we all see and understand the deep unintended irony inherent the Minister’s words and actions.

But that wasn’t all.

Verbs

Broten also announced that the Ontario government will now move to repeal the bill – known as the Putting Students First Act – as it “has achieved what it was put in place to do.” from CTVNews.ca

Continuing in the soul-saving spirit of humour, @acampbell99 shared a definition yesterday morning of a new verb, “broten,”

Broten_verb

This morning I received my latest copy of The New Ontario Education Dictionary of Words (it is updated daily), and, just to check, I turned to the appropriate page. And there it was.  (Coincidentally, this is quite an interesting collection of consecutive, yet somehow relevant words!!)

Pg 216

Grammar

One final note. I thought I was having a conversation yesterday with the Liberal Press Office on Twitter.

LibPressSec_Grammar

In receiving the mention from the Media Office account (@LibPressSec) in response, I checked out their Twitter updates and found that there were perhaps 6-10 updates that were being posted, over and over again, directed at various folks who where clearly commenting on the day’s events. Rather than engaging in conversation with the folks posting on Twitter, the account was simply re-using the same statements, ad nauseam. The one that I received had a problem with the participle. (It wasn’t the only one with that error, but I saw it reposted over and over unchanged.) I don’t know if they ever #brotened it or not, as per my suggestion. They were probably not listening either.

However, now that these little language lessons have been carefully documented, I’m most certain that their learning will commence.

With over 130,000 educators in the province on the job, the government will be sure to get the message.


The Day Without Technology

The Day Without Technology

My youngest son and I had an interesting conversation this past Sunday as we were leaving the arena after his speed skating practice.  Rather than sitting in the bleachers fiddling with my iPhone as I am usually wont to do, I had instead just completed 20 exercise laps (walking) around the perimeter of the rink. During the 20 laps,  I listened to music on my iPhone, posted 3 messages to Twitter, and on my final pass, recorded a video of the loop for subsequent sharing. I figured that was an acceptable improvement over my usual practice.

But maybe not. It would appear that my continued use of the iPhone technology for walking is still problematic. Check out this conversation:

The Day Without Technology

So, the Saturday in question is tomorrow.  That gives me about 150 minutes now to make use of technology, and then I’ll be off for 24 hours.

[Subsequent to the recording, we negotiated that my use of technological amenities around the house for basic human needs is permissible, but not electric lights once it get dark. Also, apparently, cameras fall into the “not okay” list, so I’ll be foregoing pictures, too.]

However, I’m certainly looking forward to tomorrow. I’m guessing that my son will be less enthralled with his technology tomorrow, too. 🙂

 


Unplug’d 2011: Unplugging to Connect

by Andrew Forgrave and Kim Crawford

Central to Unplug’d was the notion of leaving the Internet behind. Various thoughts on connecting, unplugging, and focusing attention have started to emerge.

What did it feel like to unplug?

Close to The Edge

Close to The Edge by aforgrave, on Flickr (CC)

Kim: I didn’t have far to go from ‘plugged’ to ‘unplugged’. I scaled back my online presence a year ago.  Since then it has been sporadic; I lurked, but rarely participated.  For me, unplugging was only difficult in that I couldn’t text with my teenage children or search for information online (which I do a lot).

Andy: If I have the time, I tend to be online, keeping tabs on conversations that occur at all parts of the day. So while I was fully prepared to unplug, I found myself wrestling with how to choose the right time. In part, I was observing others to see how they would handle the transition to disconnect. With other folks posting to Twitter on the train north to The Edge, there was an interest in participating in the recording/telling of “the departure story.” However, upon arrival at South River, there was a great flurry of activity, and a while thereafter, about halfway through the 22 km bike ride to The Edge, I simply realized I would turn off my phone to conserve its charge. I was unplugged.

How did being unplugged shape your experience and interactions with people?

Collaboration by Kim Crawford on Flickr (CC)

Kim: I was present and focused on the moment, so I fully embraced and engaged in the experience.  At The Edge, I think we were able to practice mindfulness, without the distractions of news, people and information from outside of our Unplug’d circle.  Throughout our formal and informal conversations, we listened to what people’s eyes conveyed. We listened to gestures and body language.  We listened to the emotion in a wavering or cracking voice that we wouldn’t hear, couldn’t hear, in a tweet, and we were there to place a comforting hand on a shoulder.  We couldn’t hide behind online personas, so we exposed ourselves for who we are.  We accepted each other for who we are. And, with the focus on connection, we couldn’t help but ask “what is my connection? What can I offer?”  We formed deeper relationships by removing the barriers of time, space and pretense.

Andy: Without devices buzzing in my pocket, supported by the hyper-natural setting of The Edge, and with real-live friends front and centre, awareness of the Internet melted away. Maybe I shifted into a former at-camp mode (years ago, working at summer camp for weeks at a time, the only news came in the form of a newspaper — which I ignored).  At Unplug’d, without phones or Internet, we worked with primitives: paper & pens, even markers, paints, rocks and stone. And canoes. Without distractions of plugged-in life, conversations went deep. Really deep. These are experiences that just can’t happen online. Internet? We didn’t need no stinkin’ Internet.

How did you react to the ability to plug back in?

WiFi on the Bus, by tomfullerton, on Instagram

Kim: After sending some texts to my children, it was all about the pictures and the conversation.  We were still together on the bus when we could plug back in, so it was a group share out to those who weren’t at The Edge.  I wanted to tell a part of the story, so I used my pictures. I started editing them and planning captions.  I uploaded everything on the train from Toronto to London.

Andy: As with “the departure” from Toronto, I was interested in observing our collective response to “the return,” and the opportunity to plug-in. It came as a shock to me to discover that there would be WiFi on the return bus. I somehow felt as if nature was testing us, to see if we had learned a lesson — or not. I avoided the immediate temptation to check what was being shared on Twitter. In my head I was hearing, “I have four more hours to connect with these people face-to-face.” And I’m glad I did.
The next day back, however, after some time spent sleeping, presented the opportunity to continue conversations with Unplug’d delegates as they travelled home. And that meant being online. And online I was. Looking to carry on the discussions that we hadn’t had time to finish. Looking to make plans for future projects. Caring for new friends who were now getting further and further away. And not wanting Unplug’d to end.

How did being (at) unplug’d inspire you?

Tilting the keel

Tilting the keel by Tom Fullerton, on Flickr (CC)

Kim: I will make more of an effort to be connected both online and off.  In order to do this, I’ve generated these reminders for myself:

  • Listen first
  • Stay open to people
  • Don’t be afraid to speak your truth, but share it with kindness
  • Participate online
  • Keep moving forward even if you don’t know what the path or destination look like
  • Join forces

Andy: Unplug’d was an inspiration in many ways. With regards to the connected/disconnected tension, Unplug’d was a wonderful reminder of the benefits of stepping away from day-to-day routines to renew connections with things we overlook in our busy lives. So I’m going commit to continue to unplug; to break the habit of continual online connectedness. I do know that there’s an issue of balance in here. Too little connection and the conversation gets lost. But the other conversation is important, too. The Unplug’d experience made that very clear.

We’d like to hear from you.

What does it feel like to unplug?  How does being unplugged shape your experiences and interactions with people?  How have you reacted to the ability to plug back in?  How has being (at) unplug’d inspire you?


The Bricked-In School Box 4

Schoolhouse

Image: 'Schoolkeeper.' http://www.flickr.com/photos/23565432@N05/2986035445

Outside,
like a knowing parent, patient and amused,
the Experience of Life
glides around the bricked-in school-box.

Inside,
sequestered,
we struggle to learn,
isolated from Truth,
in our compartments,
with our Rules.
Walls of brick and mind dividing us from It.

“This IS the real world.”

They say.

In a long-faded comic book,
the bare-footed Kung Fu, accosted by a booted security guard,
replies,
“Does not the pavement distance your feet from Earth enough already?”