It is important for students to pause and celebrate their successes – big and small! Particularly, during these weird and sometimes bleak times, we need to encourage students to see their triumphs and accomplishments. Recently, the middle schoolers finished writing their fantasy stories and we took time to reflect and celebrate their hard work. It took the class several weeks to complete the whole writing process – brainstorming, planning, drafting, revising, and editing. During our writing celebration students got to share their stories like real world authors would during a book release. By the end of the unit the students felt incredibly accomplished and proud of themselves! Way to go middle schoolers!
With the COVID-19 pandemic, we find ourselves in an unprecedented time and more reliant on technology than ever before. If it wasn’t clear before just how far we have come along from a technological standpoint, there is no question that we are all on the same page now. Our society has shifted dramatically over the past year and technology has now become a coping mechanism.
In our Information and Communication Technology in Business class, we were examining the legal, social and ethical issues of technology, privacy and security. In order to unpack some of these issues, we watched Netflix’s The Social Dilemma documentary film.
Below is a list of quotes from the film selected by students thought to be the most interesting or powerful:
“If you’re not paying for the product, then you are the product.”
“There are only two industries that call their customers “users”: illegal drugs and software.”
“Nothing vast enters the life of mortals without a curse.”
“It’s the gradual, slight, imperceptible change in your own behaviour and perception that is the product.”
“We’re training and conditioning a whole new generation of people that when we are uncomfortable or loney or uncertain or afraid, we have a digital pacifier for ourselves. That is kind of atrophying our own ability to deal with that.”
“The way to think about it is as 2.5 billion Truman Shows. Each person has their own reality with their own facts. Over time you have the false sense that everyone agrees with you because everyone in your news feed sounds just like you. Once you’re in that state, it turns out you’re easily manipulated.”
The purpose of this film is not to scare people into thinking technology is bad for us and should be avoided. Instead, the point is to inform and educate people that technology can be addictive and manipulative. Even when there are genuinely good intentions behind a design, there are oftentimes adverse and unintended consequences. For example, when Facebook created the “like” button, it was meant to spread positivity and love. However, when you look at it today, you can see teens getting depressed because they don’t have enough likes or a political polarization which has fuelled endless hate comments.
The Social Dilemma shows us that social media is intentionally designed to be addictive and manipulative through subjective algorithms that determine what you see and the psychology of persuasion that is built into AI technology today. In essence, technology is now created and designed to use you and having that knowledge doesn’t necessarily make your need to fulfill your cravings less susceptible. This serves an important reminder to teens and adults alike that technology is extremely powerful and it ultimately comes down to us how we choose to use it.
It’s somewhat hard to believe that a year in lockdown has already gone by. To say it has been an interesting year would be an understatement. After all is said and done, and this human experience is in the rearview mirror, there is a lot that will be looked back upon and analyzed. One of the major realms that will undoubtedly receive a lot of attention will be education, particularly virtual learning.
Virtual learning is by no means a new idea or phenomenon. Virtual schools have existed for years now, but such schools were created for educational reasons and designed for specific situations. The pandemic, however, has thrown the vast majority, if not all of the world’s education systems into some form of virtual learning. Those who choose to attend virtual schools do so (for the most part) of their own volition. Over the last year, everyone has been thrust into virtual learning whether they wanted to or not, whether they thrive in such a situation or languish.
There is a notion in education as to whether or not the growth and implementation of technology will one day lead to a future where students can learn solely from an artificial educator. The current education system is built on top of a framework that was designed to educate students to have the skills and knowledge to be effective and efficient factory workers. In the early days of education, students would sit in desks and listen to a teacher at the front of a classroom. The teacher was a source of information that they would disseminate to their students, a sage on the stage. Fast forward to today, and the only difference in many of today’s classrooms is the colour of the board at the front of the room.
Education has gone through many “revolutions” where this, that, or the other thing was going to radically change how students learned. From radio to television and tablets, no one invention or innovation has really changed education in a fundamental way. The internet, however, offers one place that holds more information than anyone can ever hope to consume, and essentially renders the idea of a person at the front of a classroom who knows a lot of information obsolete. So who needs teachers? Are they commodities who will one day be completely replaced by screens and algorithms?
In my estimation, the past year of learning mostly online – which has had teachers using a lot of digital resources such as videos, podcasts, and the like – has shown us that replacing a classroom teacher with digital content is not a scenario that leads to optimal learning environments. Granted, our small school full of dedicated and passionate teachers has been able to make the best of the world’s current situation; it is likely that many students have found virtual learning less than ideal. Although having one-on-one guidance for each student would be the ideal scenario, even if you could fabricate a digital Aristotle to tutor every student based on his or her individual needs, it could never replace a real – in the flesh – educator. As technology continues to advance, the sage on the stage needs to transform into the guide on the side, helping students navigate the world wide web of information overflow and teach them how to learn and not necessarily what to learn.
Students in the YMCA Academy middle school recently completed a mechanical system design project as part of their most recent unit in the school’s Science Technology Engineering Arts and Math (STEAM) program. During this project, students shared and extended each others’ ideas as they applied knowledge of simple machines to build complex mechanical systems. Along the way, they developed practical understanding of fluid properties that could be used to improve their designs through inquiry-based use of hydraulic and pneumatic systems. Instead of battle bots, students participating in online-only learning engineered their own mousetrap-powered cars, developing the same understanding and skills while completing these devices. In the end, each student engineered a unique machine, their own complex system designed for friendly competition.
There are lots of topics and concepts to cover in Gender Studies. One of the earliest, and most important, concepts we covered was “Intersectionality”. “Intersectionality” is a framework used to help understand the many intertwined, complex identities that make up an individual. It also provides insight into how these identities may open individuals up to certain levels of privilege or discrimination. This privilege or discrmination can occur on an individual level and/or at a more institutional, systemic level.
One of the first activities our Gender Studies class did was called “Identity Signs”. Using a Google Jamboard, there were 7 questions that required students to reflect on where they stand and have stood in reference to privilege, discrimination and their multiple intersecting identities. When the questions were asked, some students immediately knew where they were dragging their post-it note! While others took their time and thought for a minute about it. It was really interesting to see where students moved and there are even some questions where many students shared the same feelings. Students were invited to share their “choice” if they wanted to, which some did, but no one was forced to. This kind of activity can be vulnerable and open students up to reflections and feelings that may not come up on a regular basis. All students participated and were incredibly honest, patient and kind towards their peers.
We have used the framework of intersectionality to better help us analyze events in class. Most recently, we have used the framework to discuss the shootings in Atlanta, where 8 people were murdered and 6 of them were Asian women. We also applied the framework to try to understand why there are thousands of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Children in Canada. Intersectionality will come up in class again and again and the hope is that this framework will help students analyze events, especially where race and gender are involved, long after the class is done!