19 October 2015

Blog Action Day 2015

As usual, I am slow to get my work online for Blog Action Day 2015. I talked it up in class on Friday, and my students were eager to speak out on the issue chosen: #RaiseYourVoice (#BAD15) the need to remember and speak out for those repressed by powers, governments, and other groups in the world who would silence those who suffer in the world.

The links to what my students want to say may be found online at http://thelearningcoach.tumblr.com/post/131305426905/blog-action-day-2015 and I would encourage you to read and learn how beginning bloggers are finding their voice on a number of issues and topics.

Thanks, All!

13 April 2015

Coach Takes a Course

It has been awhile since I have stepped out of the instructor's chair entirely to take a course myself. I have just registered to take the course offered in connection with OERu and sponsored, in part, by the Open Education Resources foundation. The tag for the course is #ds4oer. I hope to acquaint myself with a network of people who are designing materials for use online in open courses.

With this message, I declare myself to be a part of this course and welcome response from others either taking the course already or interested in joining the course.

16 October 2014


It is vital to the future of humanity that we embrace our differences, but all differences are examples of inequality. We all differ in our appearance, our genetic strengths and weaknesses, our talents and abilities, and the backgrounds of religion, culture, philosophy, language, and family that have shaped us.

As we all differ, so we all have something of value to bring to our worlds. On the one hand, then, the inequalities that allow and encourage our differences are acceptable and must be maintained. However, in terms of our opportunity to thrive, to pursue goals, to educate ourselves, and to bring value to our world, it is important that we strive for an absolute equality. People must not be put down by others for the differences that make them unique in the world. They must not be held back, and they must be encouraged by others to be all they want to be.

When we consider the inequalities that exist in our world, it is important to note two things: First, different inequalities stand out to different people, and every person’s ‘take’ on the important inequalities is important to hear and consider. And second, inequality is not a phenomenon happening “long, long ago in a galaxy far away”; it is real, current, and local. As an illustration of this, I asked the students in a university class I teach the following question.

  • What are the most important things you can say to the world about the current state of inequality among people in the local area (Central British Columbia, Canada)?

Here are some of the things they said. Each bullet-point segment was contributed by a different student in the class, but they all had access to each other’s comments.

  • Inequality is defined as the condition of being unequal; lack of equality; disparity. Every person will at some point in life come face to face with inequality. It could be in a workplace or while in school. In the workplace, inequality is often in the form of sexism. This could be expressed in talking about “blue” and “pink” jobs, where males and females are not able to cross over and do jobs that are not considered to be their “gender colour.” With this gender role inequality, there often comes a pay difference. Even in cases where women are more qualified than a fellow male coworker, their pay will generally be less.

  • To say we have inequality in BC is to state the obvious. We have child poverty and many people rely on food banks. Many people that work minimum paying jobs cannot afford to live.

  • Equality has been an issue in every society since the beginning of time. If there is more than one person in a room, both of them will feel superior to each other in their own way.  Whether two people or an entire community, inequality is an issue that is still prevalent in our modern society.  No matter how far we think we have come up the evolutionary scale, society holds fast to its preconceived ideas and standards, no matter how outdated and wrong they are.  As individuals, though, we have an obligation to do what we can to correct inequalities when we come across them in our daily lives.  Every correction, no matter how small can snowball and become something bigger.  Calling a bully on his or her behaviour or hiring a qualified person of a different ethnicity or religious belief is a start.  Accepting a person’s sexual orientation or religion as being a part of who they are and not the totality of what they are is one step that could lead to greater equality in the larger world.  

  • Inequality occurs very often in Central BC and all around our country. Some people think they are better than others, creating huge problems, some of which are eventually result in violence. Some people are treated differently because they can not afford some of the greater things in life. Even when someone from a different race is new to a workplace or a school, they are often looked down upon. When someone is constantly being looked down upon, it can really take a toll on that person. I feel like inequality has grown over the last couple years and will continue growing, whether it is based upon sexuality, gender, or age. In addition, teenagers are often looked at like they are complete idiots that just want to mess around and create problems. While some teenagers do that, there are also teens who care about their surroundings and care about what others think and feel.

  • Inequality happens everywhere and can take many different forms. Gender inequality, racial inequality, and economic inequality all happen often and everywhere. Although our western society seems to think that inequality has been mostly removed, I personally think it’s still rampant in interior British Columbia. My hometown has a very serious racial inequality issue, and it’s only impeding the town’s growth. I see many people of other races who look down on First Nations people who are single mothers or youth. This encourages nothing, especially when the First Nations are such a huge part of our history. This is like beating heads against a brick wall when races backstab and hurt each other. It’s not productive and it doesn’t encourage growth in my community. I see another issue of economic inequality, especially with the youth. Many youth who live here tend to hang around the crowd that they and their parents relate with economically. For example, the “rich kids” hangout with the “rich kids”, the “middle class kids” hangout with the “middle class kids”, and of course the “poor kids” hangout with the “poor kids”. This results from the community being small with a large lower and a large upper class. An inequality issue like this can make children with less fortunate home lives feel like they are not equal or capable of living a successful life. Gender equality is very relevant in the workplace around interior British Columbia. Many jobs that require working with tools, power tools, and machinery are considered “men’s jobs”. Although women work in the heavy-duty trades, it’s still hard to get a comfortable paying job in this work force if you are a woman. We have all experienced a form of inequality in some way in our lives. The only way to put a stop to inequality, is to talk about it and deal with it for what it is.

  • Inequality is a state of being unequal. In BC and other parts of the world, inequality is a huge deal.  Everyday there are people who suffer from not having enough money or resources to survive.  In BC, there is a huge gap between rich and poor.  People are judged on the amount of money they have and the toys and accessories they are able to buy. People like to believe that this problem doesn’t exist any more, but this just isn’t true. In our everyday lives, each of us as individuals will one day be faced with inequality.  For example, single moms (or even single dads) may be stereotyped because of the way they raise their children and the mere fact of not having parents of both genders to raise their children.  Or if they do not have money to put their children in sports like other children, other people may criticize them since their children aren’t practicing their social skills or getting physical activity.  There are many different kinds of inequality and different ways inequality may affect people.

  • Since coming to live here in Williams Lake, l have seen lots of inequality with everyone, no matter the race. I have seen it from both sides. There are those that think others have it better because of the colour of their skin, but little do many know the real story of what it is like for those who are thought to be better off. There are those that say “She was hired because she is white” (or maybe “...because she is First Nations”), and they don't see how hard she had to work to get the skills needed for that job. There are times people don’t give others a chance to succeed because of their race, and this can be particularly hard when the person being so despised has troubles at home and just needs this job to make a big difference. We never know what is happening behind closed doors;  we all sometimes just need a real smile, not a fake one given only to move us along.

  • Inequality has many forms from math to humans.  Human inequality can be measured in money or family backgrounds.  "All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others." People think they're higher up in the social scene because they make more money and look down on people who make minimum wage.  I see a lot of this with First Nations people. First Nations moms are stereotyped as as single moms on welfare.  As a single mom myself, I find  this unfair.  Most single moms try hard to get out there in the world and look for jobs, but as soon as an employer sees you are single, you are automatically labeled as a drunk mother who won’t last on the job.  Inequality comes in many shapes and forms.  

  • Inequality is presented in many forms in the modern world. People like to think that society has eliminated this problem for the most part. However, while we have overcome a variety of obstacles, inequality still exists in many forms in our world. For example, I know many people who find it hard to accept foreign workers that come to Canada to take advantage of better opportunities here. In addition, there is still gender inequality present in the workplace, whether it be in an office setting or out in the oil fields. In everyday conversations, generalizations are made about specific groups, often breeding hatred and ignorance. I feel that though humanity has made very significant leaps to accept and embrace the differences that cultures, ethnicities, etc. contribute to society, there is still much that needs to be changed in our thinking and our talk, in order to eliminate the stereotypes and prejudices that result in inequality.    

  • In our local community there is inequality for members of the LGBT community.  It is unfortunate for all of us that it is unwise and unsafe for people to appear different than the conventional norm for sexuality.  Employers are not eager to unsettle their customers by forcing them to be served by a person they cannot identify with.  I was surprised to see the difference in how people dress and express themselves when I moved here from the Lower Mainland.  I hope that this inequality will be addressed soon.

People have unequal perspectives on the subject of inequality; this is a good an essential aspect of inequality. However, there are important inequalities that must be studied and eradicated in the world—and not just the far-away world. We need to address and change the rampant inequalities in the world that we ourselves inhabit everyday: our homes, our villages and cities, and our regions. As we address inequality, we need to follow the advice of Mahatma Gandhi: Be the change you hope to see in the world!

For readers of this blog post who are well-established in life, whose careers are well along (or perhaps mostly behind them), please note that the ideas expressed in the body of this blog post were written by students whose careers lay mostly ahead of them. Most, if not all, of these people will be leaders at the community, regional, provincial, or even national level within a couple of decades. We do well to listen to them and to encourage them to build a better world than the one we have brought them into.

16 October 2013

Blog Action Day 2013: Human Rights

I have some questions about human rights:
  • What is a human right?
  • Are there a predetermined set of rights that every human should have?
  • Do independent states (and cultures) have rights of self-determination, or are there issues where world-wide citizenship obligates us to speak out concerning the treatment of others?
I also have some important assumptions about rights. For example, rights are what humans believe that we can expect, as we live in society. While rights are often the province whereby those who have are jealous to conserve their own advantage against those who do not, rights must be for everyone or no one. Also, rights necessarily limit liberties at some point. Freedom and equality are ultimately contradictory values. In a society where people have liberty in a meaningful way, we must allow certain amounts of inequality, due to differences in people’s values. However, people are often limited, not by the choices they have made, but by the choices of others who command and control them.
With these things in mind, then, I believe there are several things we must consider in our search to maximize opportunities for those in the two-thirds world.
Several things about our free enterprise system are structured to maintain poverty in the world.
Many social practices necessarily impede progress in human rights.
No one has the right to consume too much of the world’s resources, until we all have enough clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, and healthy food to eat, so that we can all be healthy.
No one has the right to consume products produced by labour that is forced, physically, psychologically, economically, socially, or politically.
No one has the right to keep education from any human being at any time and in any location.
No one has the right to deprive any human being of dignity, security, or opportunity at any time or in any location.
Of course, the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights is much more detailed and carefully considered than what is listed here.
The real questions for us to consider require careful and thoughtful answers:

  • How are we doing as a world population seeking to encourage and promote these rights as truly universal?
  • What institutions should be dismantled (or downsized) in order to promote these rights?
  • What liberties can be ‘rightfully’ limited, in order to promote these rights?
  • What is the true and ‘rightful’ exercise of police and military force?
  • In what senses (for what purposes?) should national borders be required to be open and allow for free movement in the world?
  • Who will provide leadership in the promotion of universal rights?
  • Where will we humans find the will to set aside our own comforts for the survival and prosperity of others?

14 October 2013

Study Groups for Success

Much has been made in recent days concerning the power of social action. Regimes have been toppled. Legislation has been changed. Clean drinking water has been provided. Why, then, do we think that students are better when we encourage them to work alone on projects? Notwithstanding repeated demonstration of the value and quality of group work, many students indicate a marked preference for individual over group assignment. However, the finding of careful studies is that students who form study groups in university have better chances of academic success than those who study alone.

The first advantage of working in study groups is that the burden of note-taking is shared. I remember what it was like to take notes as a professor lectured in class. Most of my note-taking was by hand, using pen and paper. However even now, I believe I would get typing cramp from trying to keep up with the material spoken by people in class. This is especially true when you consider that note-taking is not just a matter of simple record-keeping. The good student must not only record ideas faithfully, but also find a shorter way of putting them on paper well while attending to what is just ahead of what you are writing. When students take notes together, they can jointly understand, record, process, consider, and evaluate what has been intended. This allows one person to catch another’s slip-up or momentary distraction. When individual’s try the same task, mistakes are made, but there is no one to monitor and correct the errors. This means that students’ individual notes contain errors that are studied and carried into examinations and out into life.

In study groups, the burden of second-guessing professors is also shared. Students working as individuals often study the wrong concepts, thinking that the prominence of their notes reflects the prominence of ideas held by their professors. While such individualised records are often correct, they are also often incorrect. Again, the performance of multiple evaluators is superior to that of individuals doing the same task.

In addition, the task of prioritising is shared. Although this simple sentence might seem to be saying the same thing as in the preceding paragraph, its intent differs. It is not only during the construction of a class record that group performance exceeds that of individuals; it is also when the study group are preparing for examinations and other performance that prioritising is necessary.

Once the actual task of note-taking and organising is complete, a group shares in the production of study materials together, providing more study aids, but also providing a higher quality of materials than a single individual can hope to.

As in life generally, so it is with university performance: ‘everyone together is smarter than anyone alone’ (Richardson 2010, 57). Students who work alone are only as good as they can be on the particular day; some days are good, and others, not so much. Just as a team working together can outperform a group of highly skilled people who do not know how to work as a team, so also the academic tasks required of today’s students can be better performed in teams than individually.

10 March 2013

An Educator?

Recently, one of the groups in a class I teach played a short game as part of a class presentation. Their game involved catching a ball and answering the question, "If you could do anything or be anyone, what would you do or be?" After answering, each player would throw the ball to someone else and sit down. The goal of the game was to hear from everyone concerning their dreams and plans. When the ball came (at last!) to me, I said, I would be an educator. About a day later, I had some thinking time on a long drive, and I began to think about my answer. I wondered, "Am I an educator? What do I know about being an educator? I have been a teacher for almost all my life, in one area or other, but am I really an educator? What is the essence of being an educator?" As I thought about these questions, some ideas came to me that I thought I should share. Although educating others is an activity, a doing. It seems to me that an educator is more about what one is, rather than what one does. Although this is true, I believe an educators are unhappy unless there are three activities going on in an around them.
An educator is a learner, first and foremost. I do not always have to be learning, but I am always happier where and when I am learning than at any other time. I like teaching classes where I have clearly defined areas that I hope to explore for the first time. Once I have taught a class for awhile, there is a danger that past performances of students somehow limits my expectations of how the class will help me learn and what I stand to learn in the course. At this point, I find I must reconstruct the course to allow for my own continued learning: I cannot communicate a passion for discovery, when I have become to familiar with what students are going to find.
Beyond being a learner, an educator is someone who helps others learn. When we do this, we find ourselves learning new things, and this learning sometimes actually comes from those we are trying to help. Thus, learning is not along a single dimension, but along multiple vectors and with multiple layers and facets. Helping others learn requires patience, since the vision of what is to be learned is often more clearly seen by the teacher than the student. This, for me, is the hardest part of education; the letting go of expectations and the anticipation of discovery along new parameters.
Thirdly, an educator is someone who validates learning. Careful nuancing of this concept is essential. When I say an educator validates learning, I don't really mean that the educator makes the learning that has happened valid; the validity of the learning is not dependent upon anyone's opinion, so validation is a bit of a misnomer. At the same time, students must not look to their teachers to provide assessments of validity in their learning. Rather, students must learn to validate their own learning. What I mean when I say educators validate learning is that they help students see that their learning is valid.
Educators are learners who help others in their own learning, while also validating the learning process in their students. It is my great pleasure to be an educator, as well as the greatest single challenge of my daily work. As I contemplate the changes going on in schools, both where I teach and those of my colleagues, I sincerely hope school and schooling does not come to stand in the way of further education.

15 October 2012

Blog Action Day 2012: The Power of We

This year's Blog Action Day topic is "The Power of We." (Of course, it really should be 'the power of us', but let's not quibble!). The point is how groups of people can get things done around the world. I would like to take this opportunity to discuss how we can get the process of education to flourish in the world.
In order to make education a truly democratic and egalitarian process, I believe we need to lose the distinctions between those who have an education and those who need one. When we come together to make learning happen in my classes, I am as much a part of the learning that happens as my 'students'. The reason I teach is so that I can feed my thirst for learning, and it's not just learning about how the new generations of students approach problems that I am talking about: It's learning new ideas, new ways to interact, new strategies for negotiating the world around me.
John Cleese once remarked (I believe the video is available on YouTube), "I'm very old and will soon be dead. And I would like to die knowing as much as possible." My heart echoes these sentiments.
In my teaching, I long to pass this passion for learning on to my 'students'. By the time they get into my class, many are rather jaded regarding the education process: it seems like such a waste of input and output to them. They listen to lectures (many illustrate the process known as 'death by powerpoint' in extreme fashion!), they regurgitate facts or applications of principles on quizzes and exams, and then it's on to the next course where the process is repeated.
Because many of my students say their other professors have a negative view of such online general sources of information as Wikipedia, I encourage my students to write articles for Wikipedia. Maybe some of my students will challenge their other professors to join the task of improving the quality of Wikipedia beyond its already high standards.
Because many of my students experience an almost total disconnect between classes and the rest of their lives, I encourage my students to find things to change (inside and outside class). I admonish them of the great Gandhian challenge to "be the change [they] hope to see in the world" and to be audacious in the projects they choose to involve themselves in. I give them up to 20% of their credit in some courses for projects they themselves design to change their worlds.
Because many of my students struggle to pay for their food and lodging after they have paid tuition and fees and bought their books at the institution where I work, I use the news forum of the online learning systems that support our classes to post announcements of food banks and free food events available on campus. I also encourage them to sponsor ad-hoc food events (potlucks, etc.) of their own to offset the high prices of campus-produced foods from Aramark. I encourage them to share their $4/day (!) parking passes with others, so that those who are not served by local transit can get a break from this added fee for education. I also work to develop open education resources through Open Learning locally and the initiatives of OERu globally. I dream of a day when education to the very top levels is as readily available to all as public libraries in many parts of the world.
This post has become much longer than I had hoped, but I get very passionate when I think about the value of 'we' in the area of education. I would like to see everyone have full opportunities to learn as much and as long as they desire from wherever they live. If you have ideas relevant to this desire, I would appreciate your comments on this post. Please participate, comment, write, and talk up this years Blog Action Day topic, "The Power of We" to everyone you can.