Author Archives: joemcgurran

Wrap Around Ending: Seesaw

As we head towards the finish line of EC&I 831, I feel like I need to make some sort of summarizing post around my digital project; using Seesaw. This is not as easy as it sounds, because while this project certainly has a clearly identified starting point, there is distinct ending. This doesn’t wind up nicely with concluding remarks, and list of APA cited resources. That said, in reflecting upon this experience, I would argue that the fact that this project is not concluding  is actually a measure of its success. Let me tell you why…

Enter Seesaw

Part of my reason for enrolling in this course was a desire to experience implementing social media with my professional practice. As I discussed in opening this project in October, I wanted to find a way to meaningfully connect with parents of those students I support as a Learning Resource Teacher.  I wanted to add an element of engagement and fun to that communication. I also wanted that communication to be on their terms, so to speak, and I thought social media could be my way to do that! I chose to implement Seesaw, student managed digital learning portfolios, with my small group reading support students.


I immediately reaped benefits from incorporating Seesaw into my reading groups. I had anticipated that the project would be well received by kids, and I was right.  Every single one of the kids became hyper-engaged with the idea of building an online portfolio of accomplishments to share with parents, teachers and peers. The interface of the app is intuitive for kids, and my students easily learned how to navigate the app. In no time, they had learned how to take pictures, add squiggles and assign the artifacts to their folder.

It wasn’t only the students that were engaged. I was! I don’t want to over-analyze the fact that, for me, using seesaw was as fun as it was for the kids in my reading groups.

Collecting Treasures

As we continued to use Seesaw as part of our reading groups, I began to see the power of the portfolio students were building up. It was creating a neat timeline of the students work in reading. They enjoyed scrolling through their work and looking back at the pictures and videos they have uploaded over the course of the Fall.

I have to be honest, as I continued to use Seesaw, I started to lose track of this in terms of it being a major assignment worth a significant portion of my grade. It did not at all feel like a traditional assignment. Although it certainly took work, it did not feel like work. This is how I want learning to feel like for my students at school! Natural… meaningful… requiring effort, but not cumbersome…

First Contact!

A point of frustration with the project, initially, was the challenge of engaging parents with Seesaw. I had initially expected it to be easy, and this was not the case. At least not at first! When that first parent contact did come, however, it felt great! Over the next couple of weeks, some more parents did connect and even started posting remarks on their child’s learning artifacts. As hard as I tried to connect with parents and support them getting onto Seesaw, I know that it was their child who gave them the push to get on. I know they went home talking about their reading group and putting pictures online, and I know that they were pressing their parents to check it out. Their enthusiasm is what won them over!

Listening Stations!

It was around this point, rolling into mid-November, that my proficiency and confidence with Seesaw had grown to the point where I was starting to seek new and creative ways to implement the application. I began to search online and comb through the posts of my EC&I 831 peers also using Seesaw. I was interested in how Channing was using Seesaw to assign activities at home. I was not aware of this new feature until she pointed it out in her blog.

I also ran into an idea in the Seesaw sharing community, that literally punched me in the face as I read it. I read about how we can set up listening stations using Seesaw. I loved it! I had my students record themselves, by video, reading a book they had mastered. We then donated those videos to a grade 1 class to use as part of their listen to reading programming. Amazing! Obviously, the grade one students adored being able to listen to some older role models red books to them. Furthermore, what an incredible way to combat the narrative and self perception my students have of themselves as being struggling readers. Yes, they are receiving my support, but their reading is easily strong enough for them to be leaders and role models for younger learners.

Wrap Around Ending?

So this is where I stand. Not much of an ending, is it? It’s not, and that’s just fine! The purpose of this digital project, for me, was to experience something different and, hopefully, transform my practice. I believe I have certainly accomplished this. Throughout the course of my project, I repeatedly made reference to having crossed some sort of point of no return. Seesaw is not something I will just drop and forget now that the assignment is, technically, over.

I believe this is actually an appropriate barometer for the success of my project. By not having an ending point, and knowing that I will continue to evolve in my use of Seesaw, I have effectively transformed an element of my practice. And this is never ending. The moment we stop transforming our practice is the moment we become out of touch with current educational trends, and our students deserve better.

Social media does have a place in what I do as a Learning Resource Teacher. For me, this is a paradigm shift. It is a paradigm shift that would not have happened without enrolling in this course, and for that I am thankful!

Full. Stop.

And here we are, coming up on Christmas, at the end of a season long journey of discovery into the universe of social media. Yep, that’s exactly what happened. There actually has  been some discovery going on for me, and this is evidenced pretty clearly by my summary of learning last weekend. But let’s back up and see how I got there:

In the Beginning, there was Paranoia…

The journey began at the tail end of a crisp, end of September weekend. I was at my computer screen, toiling over my first blog post of the semester. First blog post ever, to be perfectly honest. It felt so incredibly unnatural experience, putting my thoughts online, that turned into the most natural experience in the world as I spent most of the post dwelling on my fears and distaste of social media. I paid special attention to my fixation on the pitfalls and dangers lurking with social media

And the Paranoia Continued…

I was allowed to further indulge in my preconceptions with my second week reflection. We spent a good portion of our lecture discussing some vivid examples of what can go wrong online, and I highlighted some examples, like this one, and touched on my own experience with my identity being compromised.

The Turning Worm…

It was at this point, a few weeks into the course, that a perceptible shift in my thinking can be observed. In my third reflection, while not abandoning my fears and preconceptions, I began to perceive that they were contributing to me being left behind. I remarked on how different learning is today in comparison to when I was a child (and that wasn’t THAT long ago). The amount of knowledge at our finger tips is astronomically bigger than ever before, and it’s only going to get greater. And social media is one of the tools our kids use to connect and learn. As an educator, my self-talk regarding social media was starting to change.

My fourth reflection continued to build on this theme, as I made deliberate efforts to internalize the positive aspects of social media.  I looked into some well known social media campaigns, like the ice bucket challenge, and found some incredible initiatives, like crisis mapping. None of these things especially surprised me, but I was putting effort into letting these examples sway my overall opinion of social media. Basically, I was trying to unclose my mind.

With Great Power comes Great Responsibility…

At this point, the conversation in EC&I 831 turned towards digital citizenship. This was well timed, as I had already made a conscious and deliberate efforts to hold my negative attitudes at bay and not only consider the potential good of social media, but the inevitability of its presence in my life.

My fifth reflection discussed my own responsibility to teach digital citizenship to the students I support. I read some material that highlighted the pitfalls of relying on a “fear and avoidance” model of teaching digital citizenship, and this spoke to me on many levels. I instinctively knew, as a teacher, that this doesn’t work. But with social media, up until now, I have been disregarding this good practice, and this almost certainly was a by-product of my own personal fears of social media.

But I am the adult here, and I need to move beyond that. The thought also occurred that some of the very things that drive me away from social media are, maybe, things that people do because nobody was there to really teach them how to use social media responsibly.

The Wishful Demise of Textbooks…

My sixth reflection, and seventh, veered away a bit from my responsibility to teach digital citizenship, and moved towards grappling with open education. I pointed out how kids around the world, 617 million of them in fact, do not have access to quality education, despite being in school. I certainly wasn’t alone in perceiving injustice in mega industries thriving off of education, while so many are left out in the cold.

I had the chance to play and experiment with some OER resources, like Khan Academy, and discussed their potential to extend the reach of education. This was personally relevant, as the school I am employed with has had to make some prioritizing decisions around resources for education support, and this has included not paying for Mathletics. Khan Academy can fill in the void (and more) with no actual cost attached to it.

Khan Academy motto: “You can learn anything. For free. For everyone. Forever.” 


It was at this point in my journey that I felt confident enough to take a small detour and relate my experience with Waze. Waze is a social media approach to navigating, and I’ve quite enjoyed it. The data behind the app is not centrally built up, but built by the users. This leads to a pretty responsive map with live traffic data, and up to date information on road closures. It was fun being able to contribute myself, as I added Harbour Landing School to the map.

Winding Down…

As we started to near the finish line, we veered back towards talking about sharing, and the power of learning collaboratively in shared spaces. My seventh reflection discussed Steven Johnson’s notion of idea incubation, how our greatest ideas don’t actually come in flashes of genius, but rather take time to germinate and come to fruition. Along that vein, I related some stories of unexpected technological discoveries that stemmed far from their original design, like the development of the microwave.

I started to connect this personally to my own habits with regards to professional sharing, outlining the venues in which I am comfortable sharing (ed camps, with colleagues, basically anything face-to-face), and my lingering caution with sharing online (funny how everything seems to keep coming back to that).

Flipping the Grid

My final reflection was a last hurrah to experiment with some applications that harness social media for learning. I chose to play with Flipgrid, an app that lets student present learning in a fun and creative way. It allows for the teacher to pose a question by video, and lets students record answers by video as well. It was a pretty fun experience for the students who got to partake.

This was kind of a nice exclamation point on my reflection process for me. One more pointed reminder that, for the sceptic (me), that social media can be used to some great positive ends. They can be grand, like a massive charity drive, or more personal, like an application that supplements good teaching practice.

In the End

And so this led me to where I am now, trying to summarize my experience through video. EC&I has been a very positive experience for me. An experience that has impacted my practice in meaningful and, just as importantly, actionable ways. My attitudes on social media have certainly shifted towards a more moderate stance, and this is a stance that better fits with my clientele of students who are very much in tune with social media. My adventure with seesaw has, as stated in my summary video, been a game changer. It is something that I cannot imagine being without.

Thanks Alec!

My EC&I 831 Adventure

A quick post today to put my own summary of learning out there. I had a better time doing this than I thought I would. It was quite a bit of work creating the animated video, even with GoAnimate making it pretty simple with their video creator. But it was a good experience, and certainly helped to solidify some personal overarching themes.

Without further ado …

Looking forward to seeing you on Tuesday!

Flipping the Grid

What is it?

This week, I chose to review Flipgrid, an app/webpage that offers another way to harness social learning in our classrooms.

Why did I choose it?

What drew me to this Flipgrid was the relative simplicity of the concept. I could easily imagine myself implementing this and reaping some rewards. I could also easily imagine how engaging this will be for any class I support, whether it be younger novices to technology in grade three, or more savvy tech users in grade eight.

How do we use it?

The concept, again, is pretty simple. It was pretty easy to get going.

  1. Create a grid. The grid represents your classroom, or group.
  2. Create a topic.  The topic is what your students will be responding to, by video.
  3. Share the topic with students by link, QR code, or embed it into a class web page. 

Here is a walk-through to help you create your first grid and a simple topic:


  • easy to get teacher account going
  • free version ($$$) has enough options to make use of application
  • a plus for student engagement +
  • ability to share videos with parents
  • assessment tool: can give feedback through rubrics right to their video


  • can be time intensive to get larger groups (the classroom) using the application
  • potential challenges if access to technology is a limitation
  • students may be uncomfortable speaking on camera


Flipgrid certainly has a clever idea on their hands. No, I don’t feel like this is anything that will revolutionize the classroom, but it certainly can be a nice supplementary tool.  It can be another fun way to demonstrate learning in the classroom, and that can make it worthwhile on its own.

In looking back at past reviews of Flipgrid, there were complaints about affordability ($$$), a pervasive and recurring theme in our current climate at Regina Public Schools. In her review of Videoscribe, one of Steffany’s main concerns was the cost of the application. Likewise, Thanh Hoang Nam Le’s main complaint about Studytracks was it’s cost of subscription. Flipgrid obviously got the message, and released a free version called Flipgrid One. This is what I used for the trial, and I honestly found it enough to make effective use of the application.

It can turn into a bit of a time intensive endeavor to get all of your students a chance to record their video This is especially the case if access to technology is an issue at your school. On top of this, the grade threes I was using this with required a bit more coaching to get going than older students would.

But boy did they love doing it. The amusement they derived from watching their votes for what movie to watch next for lunch was priceless. It was almost like watching that end moment of a survivor episode, when castaways are voting one another off.  It was good fun!

Flipgrid will definitely be one more tool to use as part of an arsenal of ways to demonstrate learning.

Thanks for reading, and until next time:

TSP Update: Listening Stations Come Alive!

Recap:  Last week, while researching some new ways to creatively implement my increasing proficiency with Seesaw, I ran into an idea that I absolutely loved: Listening Stations Come Alive! The premise of this idea, which is ingenious, is to have somebody record themselves reading a book. It can be anybody: an older student, special guest, teacher, etc… Seesaw has a function to print a QR code that links directly to that video.  Other students can then use their seesaw application to scan that printed QR code and listen to the book be read to them.

Hypothesis: For my struggling readers, who are with me in Leveled Literacy Intervention groups, I had hypothesized that this would be an extremely engaging experience that could flip the narrative on them being struggling readers.

How Has It Gone? On this one, was I ever right. The idea that these kiddos could be leaders and be a listening station for our new readers in grade one was a revelation to them, and they ate it up. The project is a time consuming one, especially as we want to get the reading exactly right (to be a good role model for our young friends in grade one). But, as one boy in the group said “This is serious.” Some recesses have been dedicated to creating listening stations, and this was proposed by that same boy -a boy who has melted down over missing recesses for behaviour choices outside. He loves to play outside, needs his breaks, but “This is serious.”

Here is a sample video from one of our new L.L.I reading leaders. We need one more go still, with a couple of gaffes still in there:

This is her QR code that, when scanned, links right to this video:

Next? Next up will be to connect with our grade ones, who are using Seesaw, and present them with this gift!

For Seesaw, I have only gratitude.I know I have said this many times before (here, here, and here) but I feel the need to reiterate how this project does not really feel at all like any other major demonstrations of learning from my past. I am not working with the overriding goal of a decent evaluation being forefront in my mind. Don’t get me wrong, I do care about my grades … but this experience has been a trans-formative one for my practice, and is helping to me internalize the power of social media to do good.

Thanks for reading!


Online Sharing: What’s Holding Me Back?

Benefits of Sharing

The benefits of sharing work professionally and collaboratively are well documented, and are pretty intuitive. Stories, like Ken Baur’s, on how he has advanced professionally and become involved in projects he would’ve never seen himself as being involved with, simply by putting himself out there, resonate with me:

Alan Levine’s story on how some simple sharing led to a once in a lifetime experience inspires on the potential power of unexpected connections:

Idea Incubation

I  understand what Steven Johnson is talking about in his discussion on where creative ideas and innovation come from. He talks about how we have this assumption that ideas are a single, stand-alone concept that occur in a flash of genius.

He instead proposes that great ideas have long incubation periods, where they germinate and slowly come to fruition. Some of the greatest ideas of our generation were not intended at all, but came as unintended benefits of efforts being made in completely different directions, such as his example of how GPS technology developed from cold war efforts decades earlier.

The World War Two discovery that microwaves bouncing from radar equipment could actually cook food is another example of an idea that came about as an unforeseen application of development in a totally unrelated field. You can find an endless number of examples of major innovations that have come about as a result work done in other areas, like this list of innovations stemming from NASA research

Do I even share? Yes … I do …

Ok, so sharing is good. It leads to wonderful things personally, professionally, and is great for humankind. I fully subscribe to Dean Shareski’s idea that it is the “obligation of educational instructions to teach not only the students in the building- but beyond.”

So why am I not gung-ho to lay myself out there, be an open book and let things happen?

Being perfectly honest, I have always been open to sharing with colleagues. As a Learning Resource Teacher, I collaborate with eight or nine teachers on a daily basis. Inevitably, there is a lot of sharing that goes on.  I know that I bring value to these relationships, and I have learned a great deal in watching teachers I work with adapt for their students in need. I am confident enough to really enjoy engaging in co-teaching, and it is those shared teaching experiences that I love most about my role as LRT.

I have also presented at Regina Public School and Catholic School Board Ed Camps as well, and have greatly enjoyed those experiences. Face to face collaboration, sharing, is not my issue.

So, What’s Holding Me Back?

What’s holding me back is a recurring theme for me over the course of the Fall. I have discussed my lingering distrust, and perhaps fear, of having a clear online presence here, here, and here. I have certainly shifted and now incorporate a more positive view of social media and digital identity into my schema. But for me, it is a big deal to simply being opening everything up for public dissemination. I totally understand the sentiment conveyed by my peer Ryan when he talks about sharing leading to unwanted scrutiny. The idea of being scrutinized by people I don’t know, or cannot see face to face, is where I find myself hesitating. For me, this is a big deal.


Even with all the discussion we have had, as a class, on the benefits and drawbacks of having an identifiable online presence, there is a point where this is just going to have to saturate. Meaningful change of something so ingrained is not going to change overnight. It is for this very reason that this experience hosting a personal blog, as well as maintaining a twitter account in ECI 831 has been so meaningful.

Waze: Driving with Social Media

Driving with Social Media

Just a quick, off topic post today on another facet of social media, and how it can influence our daily lives. Being relatively new to Regina, and not growing up in the province, navigation has been an essential for me.  In the past, I have relied on the reliable and powerful Google Maps for navigation, and it has never really led me astray. Certainly strong enough to prohibit even considering paying  for a standalone navigation device, like this one from Garmin.

Earlier this Fall, however, I discovered Waze, a free to use navigation app. What caught my interest is that although owned by Google, it is being run through community input. Its interface is a live map that is continually being updated and altered by drivers. Essentially, it is being run through a social media lens.


1. User Notifications: This is what the screen looks like as you are driving (if you are able to port it to your car screen):

Notice that, aside from the typical map and route information (time to arrival, distance to upcoming turn, etc) there are icons popping up on the screen. These icons are notifications from fellow drivers on hazards you may encounter on your trip. People report on construction, potholes, car accidents, speed traps, and more. The map will also illuminate roads where flow of traffic is slowed down due to traffic or accident.

2. User Created Maps: As a user, you also are able to take part in building up the live map. From what I can see, this leads it to being far more accurate, or more recent at least, than centrally controlled applications. On Google Maps, for example, entire blocks of Harbour Landing in Regina still do not appear on Google Maps. It’s neat being able to have a hand in the map thousands of people will use for their driving:

This is a screen capture of the map showing  my first contribution to the map, Harbour Landing School!

3. Partnerships with Government: The kind of data collected by Waze being user driven is starting to benefit governments and larger organizations. For example, Winnipeg has partnered with Waze, offering a continuous stream of information on planned road closures in exchange for access to Waze’s information on traffic low. Waze has set up a Connected Citizens Program for this very purpose, to partner with government organizations to exchange access to live and relevant traffic date.

4. Fun: There are also some other fun perks to using Waze. For example, you can record your own voice directions. It’s pretty dorky, but fun, to be giving directions to yourself as your drive!


This different approach to navigation has not been without controversy. For example, the Los Angeles Police Department has taken exception to the way the application allows drivers to report on police positions. They went as far as saying it helps criminals avoid police, or worse yet, putting police in danger. In Israel, where Waze was originally developed, it was accused to mistakingly leading soldiers into a refugee camp, and resulted violent clashes. There has also been discussion over Waze possible enabling speeding and distracted driving.

While I don’t know enough about the controversies to have an informed opinion on them, I can speak to its influence on my own life. While not a life changer, by any means, I have found it handy to report on the spontaneous traffic issues that do arise in Regina. For example, it has  helped me navigate (and strategically avoid)Arcola Avenue, a street that does not seem designed to handle the amount of traffic that is now using it as Regina continues to grow in that direction.

Thanks for reading!


OER Review: Khaaaaan Academy!!!

Ok, now that I’ve got that out of my system, down to business: reviewing Khan Academy, an online learning platform for teachers and students.

Over the past two weeks, our learning community has started to delve into open education. The viewings and readings definitely led to a pretty strong  emotional and personal reaction. I certainly wasn’t alone. Peers, like Kelsie Lenihan, wrote about their reactions to the perceived injustice of industries making big money in education while so many remain without real access.

This week marks an introduction for me to one specific open education resource:

After browsing through a few resources, this one piqued my curiosity for a few reasons:

  1. Their motto:  “You can learn anything. For free. For everyone. Forever.” 
    • this is essentially the definition of open education. They are a non-profit that are seemingly concerned with one thing: delivering quality education to everyone.
  2. My Practice: This is something that is immediately relevant to my own practice. This can actually fill a void left by:
  3. Mathletics: For some years, I have had access to mathletics, an engaging, interactive online platform for math instruction and engaging practice. Fantastic, except for one thing: $$$ Mathletics is definitely not free, and we have actually decided that this is an expense we can no longer afford in the face of cuts to spending.

And so, I am drawn to Khan Academy. A free resource. For me, free resources being available is not really new. But the difference in quality has often been prohibitive, especially when compared to paid versions.

So how does Khan Academy stack up? Firstly, Khan Academy is a general learning platform. It is not limiting itself (or specializing) to any specific subject. It penetrates all across the curriculum and grade levels, and this is certainly enticing to me.

How does it work? Check out MY FIRST EVER SCREENCAST to help yourself get going with signing up, adding a class, adding students and, finally, adding assignments:

Overall Quality + Usability

Ok, so the visual effects aren’t going to blow anybody away. As far as educational quality, there is something to be said for the simplicity and succinctness of the learning modules. This seems geared for not taking a lot of time, for teachers, to plan and set up.  It also seems designed with student independence in mind, as the instructional videos and lessons are short and, I feel, easy to follow. Here is an example of a short tutorial preceding a game on subtracting 1 vs subtracting 10.

At two minutes and thirty seconds, it is not too taxing on a child’s attention span for listening, and the basic visuals make it fun enough to follow along. As a teacher, you can follow along your student’s progress. There are also incentives for students to move along through assigned lessons and activities with awards and badges.


Khan Academy certainly fits the bill as far as being open. It is free. I believe it can fill a void, for me, left by our school not being able to afford mathletics any longer. But as I earlier mentioned as being my experience with free resources, this does not feel like a second rate alternative. From my perspective, the quality of the lessons serve their purpose well.

Honestly, the only thing that would inhibit usage is access to technology, and this is an open question mark in our schools. We continue to function in an environment of computer carts, with over five hundred students having to continually share a very small number of computers. But this, I suppose, is more of a conversation around access to technology.

TSP: Listening Stations Come Aliiiiiive!

With over a month of Seesaw being in place, I feel like I have gained a working understanding of its interface. This weekend, looking back over the compilation of memories and artifacts on my two reading groups portfolios, it really is impressive how much we have accumulated there.  As I have said before, I know that I have crossed a point of no return with Seesaw. It’s use has become such a part of our daily routine in reading that this is something I can’t just stop using.

My previous post on Seesaw had me wondering where to go from here. In reading Channing’s blog, I realize that there are features that I am not even aware of. That got me to thinking that, with the amount of teachers using Seesaw, there are bound to be some creative uses out there for me to learn from.

Mission: Find one new idea for me to try and implement

The most obvious starting point will be Seesaw’s homepage itself. They have a promising section of starting guides for teachers to kick off implementing Seesaw. In looking at the startup guide for specialist teachers, there i a helpful set of student task cards that can be printed. These task cards introduce the core skills that students will need to add artifacts to their portfolio. These cards, for example, are visuals on how to make a voice recording, and specifically, how to document yourself reading.

Being in a small group setting, it was easy for me to quickly and naturally have conversations about the kind of work that merits being showcased on Seesaw. But I felt that bubbling enthusiasm, especially when we first got going. I can easily imagine that barely constrained enthusiasm, times fifteen, in the Saskatchewan classroom of 30+ .

This visual is a helpful cue on the kind of self-talk students should be engaging in when deciding to put something onto Seesaw as an artifact:

The startup guide also links me to a sharing community, of sorts, where ideas and resources to supplement Seesaw are compiled. The resources are categorized into grade levels.

There is an embarrassment of riches for ideas to choose from. There is also an assortment of videos posted as Teacher PD ranging across a variety of topics (using Seesaw for special needs engagement, older grade Seesaw use, etc) After spending some time reading, and viewing, there was one that spoke to me in my capacity as a reading support teacher.

The Idea: Listening Stations Come Alive!

In short, this teaches me how to set up listening stations where students can watch and listen to others read a book. It can be older peers, friends, special guests, etc…  How awesome is this?  What a perfect fit idea for my struggling readers. I know they will be extremely engaged at the idea of being in a leadership position, where they can actually help younger kids with their reading. I  can’t wait to do this. There are three classes of grade one/twos that are using Seesaw already, and this will be really easy to implement with them.

Thanks for reading!, and looking forward to letting you know how this goes!

Demise of the Textbook ?!?

The question for our learning community this week pertains to Open Education, and what it means to us personally and professionally. What a massive, politically charged topic… There is nothing uncontroversial about this, with competing views of copyright enforcement vying for supremacy in far reaching international trade agreements.

As I watched the variety of resources made available to us over the last couple of days, it became clear that I have, at best, a haphazard understanding of some points related to open education and open access. The idea of making a coherent blog post on open education is daunting. Where do I even start? Instead of frustrating myself and diving headfirst in to a topic I know I need to build an understanding around, a good way to begin might be to discuss the kind of connections I made as I watched the assortment of videos.

Textbooks = $$$

My student loans are a part of my past, and thank goodness for that … But I vividly remember the pain of pouring my hard-earned money, from summer after summer of intense tree planting in Northern Ontario, into overpriced textbooks. As engaging as my ‘Intro to criminal law’ professor was, I never got over the bitter shock needing to spend over three hundred and fifty dollars on four required texts. There was a feeling of unfairness in having to put in that extra kicker after spending so much on tuition to begin with. As I continue through post-secondary education, I remain a cog in an industry Dwayne Huebner (2009) describes in his book Challenges Bequeathed, as follows: “The technologies of textbook making and test construction have resulted in powerful new industries that influence local decision makers and school teachers.” (pg 3)

Poor Me

In watching the video Why Open Education Matters, I  feel pretty ridiculous for bemoaning the cost of my paperweights, I mean textbooks. Poor me, right?  Here I am, an individual with resources and living in relative privilege, whining about how much I’ve paid for textbooks.

How many people are there around the world who cannot access the resources (let alone tuition) for the kind of higher education that we now deem to be necessary in Canada? An article by Unesco smacked me in the face in detailing how over 617 million kids are not getting the education they need. While the number itself is staggering, what really got to me is that over two thirds of those students are enrolled in school … they’re in school, and still not accessing quality education. Clearly, getting children around the world to school is not enough to truly provide access to.

Unequal access to education is an issue that touches us here at home. Thomas Picketty articulately discusses the impact of unequal access to education in the United States, and details just how unaffordable education is becoming as tuition and material costs continue to explode.

The kind of open education advocated for in Why Open Education Matters speaks to me, both from a personal standpoint, and from what I believe to be right. As stated in Lawrence Lessig’s talk Laws that Choke Creativity, we need to “fight for balance.” The rights of creators are real, and perfectly reasonable … but how can it be ok for entire industries to thrive in building education infrastructure, like textbook making, while so many around the world are utterly unable to access something as fundamental as education? Kelsie Lenihan’s assertion, in her blog, that education is a human right compounds the difficulty of accepting vasts money being made when so many do not yet have access.

Emotionally, it is very easy to empathize with the life story of Aaron Swartz. Whatever one may think of his methods, it feels like there is a certain nobility in the political goals he was striving for. As details of his conflict with the justice system were born out, the extent to which we have entrenched, competing interests is made obvious. On the one hand, Aaron Swartz and his supporters are pushing for access to resources that they feel everybody should have access to, like court documents and jurisprudence. On the other, a severe government reaction to protect creators rights (immense fine, up to 35 years of prison, solitary confinement) designed to deter others from following Swartz’ path.

(If you did not choose this as an optional viewing, I highly recommend you watch it!)

This is by no means an end, but I think it is an ok start. I haven’t even begun to delve into the complexities of sharing, but I have begun where I find myself connecting emotionally. As a teacher in a community school, I see the impact of unequal access to education on a daily basis, and agonize at the potential consequences for our kids’ prospects.