Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Damned Statistics & Digital Meta-cognitive Opportunities

Tweeting my mouth off
Education would rather  focus on arbitrary and fabricated data, like graduation rates.  It's easy to increase graduation rates, just lower standards.  It has been working for Ontario Education for years now.  You barely have to even attend a class now to get a credit, and if you fail? A teacher not even qualified in the subject area will pass you along; we call that student success.  The grade eleven university level English paper with no less than three grammar and punctuation errors IN THE TITLE was an example I saw of this.  It was given a 78% by the credit recovery teacher grading it.  That failing student will now go on to university thinking that they are an 'A' student (they went from failing badly to 80%!).

There is another way.  Rather than chasing our own tails by trying to improve statistics that we create ourselves, why not start harnessing data that is actually useful and relevant to students beyond the context of education?  Digital technology offers us a fantastic and under utilized avenue for collecting meaningful data on student learning; data that might actually help them beyond the walled garden of education.

Rather than addressing the distraction caused by digital devices, we ignore them, or try to ban them.  Even at our best we only tentatively use digital tools, and when we do we ignore the data they could be providing on student activity.  Digital devices could shine a powerful light on student learning, instead we call them a distraction and let students abuse them into uselessness.  Effectively harnessing educational technology could give us granular, specific data about student activity in the classroom, yet we choose to wallow in darkness.  Really useful data-driven learning is only a decision away from implementation.

Education, like so many other sectors, has become increasingly interested in data driven management.  I don't have anything against that on principal, in fact, I'd rather be managed according to logic and fact than the usual management ethos (egomania and paranoia).  Where we go wrong with data driven educational reform is where human beings are involved.  Education, more than most fields, prefers not to reveal its inner workings.  The choices made on what data to collect and how to present it usually revolve around a sense of self preservation rather than a focus on student success.  The only data we collect is data we can control for our own ends.

The intent of the education factory is to reduce something as complex as human learning down to a percentage.  That in itself is about the biggest abstraction you could devise, what Twain would call a statistic in the truest sense.  Those numbers are ultimately useless in anything other than education.  The only time in your life your grade will ever matter is if you're transferring from one educational institution to another.  No will ever ask what your marks were once you're out of school.  They don't even ask teachers what their marks were before hiring them; even educators realize how meaningless grades are.

Instead of spending all our energy fabricating meaningless statistics in the form of grades, imagine harnessing all the data that flows through education technology and presenting it in a radically transparent reporting system that connects students to their lives after they graduate. That system would provide students with a powerful tool for metacognitive review around their own learning, and their use of digital tools.  Instead of reductive grades and empty comment banks, why not offer an insightful statistical analysis of how a student uses digital tools as they learn?  The tools themselves are eager to share this data, it is only educators who are stopping it.

A student who is shown, in specific detail, why they failed a course (but watched oh so many fascinating youtube videos), is being shown their own poor choices in stark detail.  One of the great joys I have in elearning is showing students their analytics.   When I get the, "I don't understand this!" line, I ask for specifics, which usually gets me a, "I don't get any of it!"  I can then pull up an analysis of what lessons the student has attempted.  The student who didn't bother to actually even try any of the lessons gets wonderfully sheepish at this point.

With meaningful data on hand about their poor choices, education's arbitrariness instead becomes a metacognitive opportunity to adjust learning habits; something we seem loath to do on digital tools, even as we criticize how students use them.

Collecting meaningful student data would allow us to connect the abstract world of education with what students will face on the other side of graduation, especially if we continue to collect data after they move on.  Ever wondered what high school courses are actually useful (and I don't mean in graduating, I mean in finding work, being useful, living a good life)?  How about a live stat attached to each showing employablity based on course choice?  Think you'll move over to applied level English because your friends are in there and you don't like doing homework? Welcome to a 14% higher unemployment rate, and a 6% higher criminality rate!  Imagine what parents and students could do if this kind of data were available.  Realizing that there are real world consequences to your educational choices would do much to remove apathy and a lack of engagement on the part of students.  Education has very real consequences beyond school but we seem intent on trying to remove any obvious connection between education and the rest of a student's life.  With open learning data we'd have way fewer students who have missed the starting gun.

Last year my school talked about creating a cosmetology program.  This would be a hugely expensive undertaking requiring changing the face of the school.  That was OK though because the board was willing to throw tens of thousands of dollars at an increase in graduation rates for at risk girls.  What would they do with it once they were out?  It made me want to start up a video game program, not because it would do anything helpful, but because it would fill sections.  We subvert usefulness in a desperate attempt to game graduation statistics.

I couldn't help but think of the college computer engineering program I'd been to see a few months before.  They had a 100% placement rate for grads with starting pay well above the Canadian average, but they couldn't find enough people interested in the field to run a full course each year.  They didn't have any females in the course at all, and were desperately trying to get more women interested.  I can't find enough kids in my high school to run more than one combined senior computer engineering course... in a field that all but guarantees a good job when you graduate and is about as future proof as you could wish.  I don't imagine cosmeticians are walking into that kind of employment certainty at high rates of pay, but a future out of school isn't what we're aiming students at, we're just concerned with graduating them.

It sounds harsh, but one of the reasons students are so disengaged from school is because they recognize the cognitive dissonance between the world beyond school and the fabricated reality we keep them in until they turn eighteen.  If you want students to engage in their educations provide them with metacognitive data that actually helps them.  Education has gone to greater and greater lengths to try and protect students from themselves and the 'real' world, all to chase fictional statistics.

Digitization in the classroom offers us access to meaningful data on student learning behaviour that was impossible even ten years ago.  Instead of being ignored and treated as a distraction, we should be harnessing digital technology and communicating that data.  A student who spends less than 10% of class time working on their project before failing it?  If that data were included in assessment, a student would have a metacognitive opportunity to understand the mechanics of their own failure.  They might then also begin to harness digital tools rather than being distracted by them.  Digitization shouldn't be an escape from accountability, it should amplify it.

In such an environment, assessment might become something more than a damned statistic.


I didn't even get into how this data could serve employment after school.  Detailed data on how students tackle work would be of great interest to employers.  Even the basics like attendance and ability to focus on work would be of more interest to employers than any grade.

Imagine an Ontario Student Record that offered employers an automated resume that included attendance and other useful details like ability to complete work in a timely fashion, group/team skills, communications and approach to new challenges.  Instead of hiding education behind a curtain of graduation, we could begin to make it immediately and obviously connected to future success.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

I Know It's Just a Number: 30K

I just turned forty four; that's just a number.  A day later Dusty World is going to cross the thirty thousand page view mark.  That's just a number too, but I like it a lot more than forty four.

Blogging started as a bit of catharsis; a chance to reflect on my profession.  I picked up the idea from ECOO a few years ago and hit 5000 page views in February 2012, just over two years after I started posting.  I was overjoyed then.

In June of 2012, just four months later, Dusty World passed ten thousand page views.  Once a backlog of posts builds, people wander in off the internet looking at old posts as well as new.  This is my 168th post.  I tend to stay away from the picture and/or short comment posts.  When I write it tends to be about me trying to develop an idea, usually with graphics and a lot of hypertext to support it.  

I love how blogging has sharpened my voice and I love talking to people about ideas reading a post has sparked in them.  I even love listening to the disagreements; most times I agree with them.  When I write a post, I have to follow the idea all the way down the rabbit hole, it's why I do it.  Blogging has let me shake the dust of my English and philosophy degrees and exercise them.

Posting has become a natural part of my reflective process.  I sometimes don't even necessarily agree with what I end up working out in Dusty World posts, but they always offer me some perspective on what I'm wrestling with.

During the worst of the job action in Ontario this past year Dusty World occasionally wandered into politics. After being bitten by all sides of that dissonance I'm thinking that nothing is to be gained from trying to untangle the nasty politics around education in Ontario.  The interests are so deeply ingrained and self involved that coming out on one side or the other is essentially meaningless if you're interested in supporting education itself.  My energy is better spend focusing on the unnerving, exciting and revolutionary technological change we're going through.  It not only frightens and excites me, but it also makes for a rich source of reflection, especially when I see students being experimented on with it every day.  How technology is changing our society is always a source of interest and something I'd never want to stop looking at.

The bizarre future we're making for ourselves is going to make existing political structures around education increasingly tenuous and inconsequential.  If I have to take a side it would be the side that doesn't exist yet, but it will.  I'm OK with being the villain for thinking in a way that is only just beginning to exist.

Dusty World is going to keep its eye on the prize and speak to the radical changes we're all going to have to adapt to in the coming years.  Meanwhile, thirty thousand is a nice number to think about.

Noon on May 18th!!!

Friday, 17 May 2013

Get off the Bus and Drive

The transition from institutionalized, single platform education technology to a decentralized model is in full swing at our school.  I'm getting blow back from various teachers who want things to remain as they've always been.  I don't think they mean ditto machines, facsimiles and telegrams, but they might.  There is always a tendency to fight advances in technology, it's difficult to change ingrained habits.

The difference between this and previous technological shifts is that we've institutionalized helplessness into educational digital technology.  We've convinced teachers that computers are an appliance and networking is a utility.  We treat internet access the same way we treat electricity or water delivery; it's off loaded to a bureaucracy who guarantees delivery.  As the old guard retires and their traditional thinking around passive technology use fades, we are left with whole generations of teachers who have been taught to do nothing except sit on the institutionally provided bus and go where it takes them.  Complaining about it is about all they can do.

Any decision making about educational technology has long been taken from teachers.  Digital learning tools are seen as remotely operated apparatus that should be dropped the moment they don't perform as expected.

When I suggest that teachers can get off the #edtech bus and drive their own educational technology they get anxious; driving a car takes a lot of effort compared to sitting on the bus.  You not only have to drive it, but you've got to look after it too, make sure it has gas, service it, take ownership of it.  The reward is much finer control over how you travel on your journey.

If you want to get where you're going (making education relevant and useful to your students?) driving your technology will get you there much sooner.  You'll get to decide what vehicle to take, what options to put on it, and even how you want various technologies to enhance your teaching.  Diversification of technology is vital to a better understanding of what it is and how to use it effectively. Digital technology isn't one app or one platform, it is a sea change in how we access and share information.

Driving your own technology usage does take a lot more effort than sitting on the #edtech bus, though it's just a different kind of effort.  All that energy you used to expend on worrying when the bus would show up?  or why it's so old and dilapidated?  You can now spend deciding what to get, what options you want and how you want to implement it.  You get to decide what, when and how your students are using technology to enhance their learning; you get to actually control your digital learning environment.

That last bit is perhaps the most enjoyable part of driving your own technology use; being able to control your #edtech environment is a key factor in customizing 21st Century learning to suit your students.

If we treated classrooms the way we treat digital learning environments, all rooms would be exactly the same, with the same seating plans, the same chalk boards and the same size.  Those classrooms would also be years out of date, and the teacher couldn't move a table or chair if they wanted to, because they'd all be nailed to the floor.  If you dare to ask why the furniture is nailed to the floor you'd be reprimanded with a fear based diatribe on how not keeping everything locked down and the same is potentially dangerous to your students and staff.

A Digital Skills Continuum: Differentiation of technology is a key to technical fluency!

If you're teaching using technology you're also teaching technology, and it would behove you to know what's under the hood.  Being ignorant of the machinery you're operating makes you a very bad driver indeed.  You don't necessarily need to be a full-on mechanic, but a tinkerer's mindset allows you to understand and look after your own needs in terms of the technology you use.

There are going to be some crashes with all these new drivers coming onto the road, but each collision will result in a learning experience.  I only hope that teachers who are inexperienced are willing to look past the messiness of their own learning to the possibilities opening up to them in a digital world.  At some point we'll tip over and teachers will accept that competence in technology isn't someone else's job but an integral part of their profession in the twenty-first century, just as it has become a basic fluency in so many other professions.

Monday, 13 May 2013

The Determined Luddite

They showed this at the Google Summit a couple of weeks ago:

A metaphor for users of technology?

It's a special kind of learned helplessness, and I see it every day when trying to get people moving on their computers again.  There is nothing magical about computers, though many people like to think there is (it gives them an excuse not to engage in learning about them).  If we're going to make digital skills a foundational skill set in the twenty first century (and we certainly seem to be moving in that direction), then we need to integrate digiracy into curriculum in the same way we integrate literacy and numeracy, and we need teachers to be able to demonstrate competence in digital skill in the same way that we expect them to display proficiency in traditional literacies; acting helpless does nothing to move this forward.

Our board is about to take steps toward a BYOD/multi-platform approach to #edtech.  This can't happen until people get off the escalator and figure out how to open a book.
Helplessness, learned or otherwise, isn't going to lead to the effective integration of technology in the classroom.  How we train teachers to become digitally competent is a vital piece to this puzzle.  The mini-lab approach with digital coaches assigned to their own tech-cloud is a way to encourage the tech-curious to develop better skills.  It also (through collegial interaction with peers) lets the tech-curious spread their enthusiasm and know-how to the less keen.
Build digeracy through scaffolded, objective learning with diverse technology. Opting out is no longer an option.
It was an embarrassing approach ten years ago, it's quickly becoming untenable now.
That people seem to rewind well past where you think reasonable caution may lie in trouble shooting computers is frustrating from a tech's point of view.  If a user has a genuine issue with their computer, or something has actually broken, then we're generally happy to be of assistance, but when a teacher says a printer is broken when it is simply unplugged, this points to a willful kind of ignorance.  When that teacher is also one of the schools computer teachers I want to move to the arctic and give up.

A minimum expectation of digital fluency should be a willingness to address basic, operational issues before evoking support.  If schools want to develop digital fluency, an expectation of honest engagement has to be where that starts.  If the internet is really becoming that important, then it becomes incumbent upon the user to make that connection as stable and effective as possible.  I'd say that 80% of the tech calls I deal with are people unplugging things they shouldn't be touching in the first place, and then everyone else being too helpless to plug it back in again.

One of my grade 9s shared this as a video to help them out with an introduction to computers (the editing is hilarious):  Komputer Kindergarten.  MSDOS and the beige 1990s are the reason this sounds so antiquated (and funny).  That so many people twenty years down the road still don't "do that stuff'" is getting to be equally ridiculous.  I'm not saying everyone has to be a technician, but everyone should be able to change their own tire, otherwise they shouldn't be driving.  You can't be expected to operate the equipment effectively if you're determined to know nothing about it and want nothing to do with it.

Effective teaching with digital tools begins with teachers, and I find so many of them not just reluctant but downright contrary to the idea of learning even the basics of how a computer or network functions.  Some of that lies at the feet of teacher unions and school boards who have taught teachers to be helpless through locked, fear driven educational I.T. regimes.  Educators who have bypassed these restrictions and developed digital fluency in spite of their union and board's best efforts are the ones we need to bring back in from the cold now that the school technology cold war is over.  Their fluency as digital coaches could create momentum to inflect enough colleagues to adopt a more open approach to learning technology.

The idiotic idea that technology is the realm of the young and if you want to know anything about it, just ask your students, needs to die.  Students are the rocket scientists who unplug an ethernet cable to plug into their infected laptop so they can have faster internet.  They then leave it unplugged and the next student comes along and instead of plugging the end back into the computer, plugs it into the wall, creating havoc as the network loops itself.  Then everyone complains at how slow and unreliable the internet is; it's not the internet that is slow and unreliable.

As school systems stumble along years behind business and society, they have finally gotten the idea that being online is just a new medium of communication (not bad, only a decade after the rest of us did).   As education evolves into a more diverse, open technological environment, perhaps the hardest people to convince will be teachers who have bought into the fear and panic of their unions and employers and have been forced out of step with social expectation as a result.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Edcamp Hamilton: Let It Flow

I attended edcamp Hamilton this past weekend.  It was my first cross country trip on my newly minted motorbike license as well as a chance to meet and self direct my professional development with colleagues from beyond my own board.  I got there heavily oxygenated and cold; the Starbucks on tap helped warm me up and then we were into sessions that the edcampers themselves suggested.

With over 140 people interested in education showing up on a Saturday morning just to talk shop, it was a busy, energizing affair.  The first session I attended started off a bit stiff, but quickly loosened up as the bar was raised on the pedagogical reflection.  Peter Skillen pitched some critical thinking on technology use in learning, and it wasn't all the gee-wiz thinking from a few years ago.  We are such chameleons in our ability to change ourselves to fit our technology.  Peter asked some hard questions about how we're making students connect to technology.  Educational technology seems to have reached a stage of maturity where we can ask hard questions about it.  Jane Mitchinson also brought up the idea of multi-tasking (or more accurately, rapid task switching) in terms of the information overflow students face when using digital tools.  Getting information from the internet is like drinking from a fire hose  you'll get a face full, and it won't be graceful or particularly useful.  Learning how to use these tools is something we're still not very good at.  As an opening discussion it got everyone moving and for the newer edcampers it got them realizing how a single person isn't running any of the sessions; this is a truly an open, democratic process.  It can't be directed.

An awful lot of people meeting on their own time to discuss their profession,
I wonder how many politicians do that.
I got restless in the seconds session because it seemed to belabor a point that wasn't going anywhere.  After listening to a bit of talk around how to keep your idealism in the current educational environment, I started getting quite negative, so I went for a wander to think about what was said and do one of the best things you can do at an edcamp - wander by rooms and stumble across awesome conversations.

In that session I left, Carlo Fusco said, "the education system was designed to sort people into jobs in order to fit them in to the new industrial model.  Education is there to sort people."  I suspect he was being Socratic and pushing an idea so that others could question it, but my cynicism knows no bounds after the past year teaching in Ontario.  Others took a stab at it before I commented that I find it impossible to remain an idealist in the current Ontario educational climate.  With unions, governments and corporations playing games with education for their own benefit, I said I find it hard to believe in anyone's best intentions.

The wandering broke up my negativity as I stumbled across wonderful, critical discussions about  gamification, online learning tools and what a twenty first century student needs to know.  One of the nicest things about an edcamp is that you want to be there (or you wouldn't be).  No one is holding you to one mode of learning or thinking.

Earlier edcamps I attended had very few people in upper administrative roles attending, it was a real grass roots movement of teachers, student teachers and onsite admin, the people who work with students directly every day.  It was nice to see more senior administrative types at edcamp Hamilton, though their predilection for telling people how they should be thinking might get in the way of what edcamps are really about.  If  asking big questions settles my value theory and allows me to do my job better, then I'll do it at an edcamp because that is where I get to direct my own professional development.  Suggesting limitations on what people should be allowed to talk about in order to promote an administrative objective strikes me a missing the point.  This has me thinking about educational leadership in a twenty first century context.  If we're moving toward more self directed, less hierarchical ways of directing PD, how does an education leader move people in the direction they want them to?  We talk about student centered learning as an ideal to move towards.  Edcamps do that for PD, but not if we're going to start drawing lines around what people can and can't talk about.

I ended the day with some very interrogative discussions with people I have fundamental disagreements with about recent events in the Ontario PLN community.  This too was great PD because it allowed me to understand their point of  view and be less reactionary to it.

The last session of the edcamp still had larger groups meeting, but many smaller groups spun off and talked about what they needed to.  Ah, the freedom to not be told what to think; if only other PD had more of that.

I'll call #EdCampHam another excellent EdCamp experience.  Thanks to the EdcampHam organizers for a wonderfully immersive day of thinking about my profession.

Some other Ed-blogs on EdCampHamilton:

What Does A Self Regulated Person Look Like?

Another one of those why I listen to CBC radio moments this morning.  Day Six interviewed Cody Wilson about his 3d printed gun - a weapon that you can manufacture out of plastic on a 3d printer.  Here is another example of the internet bypassing governments and regulations while radically empowering individuals with information.  If you have a few minutes listen to the conversation, Bambury really tries to get around the subject and Wilson is more than willing to address it head on.

It doesn't matter what information wants,
in a digital world it is free, this is a simple fact
In a world where information is free whether we want it to be or not, and where the former owners of information (governments, corporations) find that they can't regulate, control or censor it, where are we left when the means of manufacturing is removed from the moneyed classes as well?

3d printing is tumbling in price.  Wilson posted his gun design online last week only to have to withdraw it this week under a request from the U.S. State Department.  Wilson did withdraw the download, but it doesn't matter, it's out there now.  Copies of copies of copies spread across the internet.  No government can stop it, no corporation can prevent it, the information now has a life of its own online.  As Wilson mentions in the interview, this is just information, what people choose to do with it is their choice... and there are many easier ways to get your hands on better guns, especially in America, so if someone is going to use this to commit violence, they are doing it for a very specific political reason.

The "dawn of wiki weapons"
As a philosophical action, posting these plans online asks questions about a not too distant future where you will be able to build anything you like at your desk in much the same way you can print anything you want now.  Printing presses, once the domain of industrial giants, became democratized; small item manufacture is about to go the same way.  What does the world look like when anyone can design (and freely share) a lethal weapon, and anyone could build it without serial numbers or identifying marks of any kind?

They use a term radical libertarianism in the interview.  The digital space is the new frontier, and on that frontier stand the usual early adopters, the same kind of people that colonized North America, with the same mindset; staunch individualists who have moved into the power vacuum of the internet and pushed technology into areas that make traditional powers very nervous.

Is this madness?  Is radically empowered individualism nerve wracking?  I'd say yes, because the vast majority of people, if given that kind of power, wouldn't do anything good with it.  While most of us are waiting to be told what to do with our new found freedom of information, radicals like Cody Wilson are taking what is already at hand and acting on it.

To paraphrase a famous evolutionary biologist, the future is not only stranger than we imagine, it's stranger than we can imagine.  I don't know what a world where anyone can build whatever they want looks like, but as Wilson said, short of turning off the internet, you can't stop the spread of information, and the internet has quickly made itself essential in this new age.  Turning it off isn't really an option any more, and should we want to?

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Wired Thinking on Neurodiversity

Wired at 20 years old
My favorite magazine is WIRED, and I'm a magazine guy.  No other magazine dares me to think as widely and as daringly about the times we live in (if you've never picked up a copy, give it a go!).  Wired will go after interests of mine (internet culture, technology, etc) but it will also introduce me to the leading edge of fields I have only a passing experience in, and make me care about them.

This month they turn 20 years old.  They've been daringly guessing what will happen next for two decades now, and while they don't always get it right, they always make you realize what changes are upon us.

As  I read a new edition I usually want to link and share the ideas they stir up.  This edition is full of them as Wired goes over an alphabet of ideas considered in the last two decades.

Neurodiversity is a topic that hits close to home.  With a son diagnosed, I've come to recognize how I've dealt with ASD myself.  One of the reasons I love reading Douglas Coupland or William Gibson is because many of their characters are neuro-atypical, and it's nice to read about people like yourself; I find much of mainstream media quite alienating.

I've struggled with my inability to care about social distinction forever, and I feel for my son while he does.  I also think that difference is wonderful.  When we heard the diagnosis I said, "excellent! Who would want to be normal!?"  I guess the normal people do.

WIRED's take on all this? Neurodiversity is like biological diversity; it develops resiliency.  The neurodiverse might not all be geniuses, but the ones that are (and geniuses by definition are neurodiverse) may very well save the human race.  Diversity allows a species to survive in extreme conditions, conditions that we're making for ourselves.  As long as we're hammering round pegs into square holes, we're not allowing human beings to be as neurally diverse as we naturally are... and we're hurting ourselves in the process.  Normal people really need to get off their high horses.

I wish I could convince the school system of this as it focuses exclusively on short comings in hopes of making the exceptional ceptional..  If they could improve my son's image pattern recognition (which is astonishing), his special skills would be enhanced, instead they rush to make him fit a mould.  The system presses him to be as widely and flatly skilled as 'normal' people in hopes of making him what, normal?  Upcoming standardized tests won't examine his superhuman abilities, they will focus on what 'normal' people are expected to do (they have charts).  When he fails a literacy test because he's unable to verbalize what he knows in a manner that suits the testers, we're left with the pieces.

Some might suggest that alternative school systems might offer a response to this, but I doubt it.  Adding money to remove expectations isn't what is needed here.

Like eating factory produced meat, driving SUVs or buying sweatshop made products, how we treat the neurodiverse is going to be one of the things that points to our backward (hypocritical) thinking in the early twenty first century.  Like the eighteenth century person who thought slavery was perfectly acceptable, this social ignorance makes us look like fools to history.

Fortunately, I don't really care what most people think about it.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Influence Without Affluence

After a Social Media gathering a couple of weeks ago and a rewatch of We Are Legion I've been pondering what social expectations we're developing in our new digital society.  Why would I do this?  Since our students are immersed in this radical, unprecedented counter culture it might behoove us as educators to have some idea of what cultural norms are coming out of it.  Recognizing what is normative online behavior goes some distance toward explaining the seemingly bizarre responses teachers are seeing in class.

If you think the buttoned down 1950s era teacher had trouble understanding the hippy counter culture student of the sixties, you ain't seen nothing yet.  What technology is offering students today is nothing short of an entirely new social medium to inhabit, and what that is doing to early adopters (like teens) is nothing short of a paradigm shift in social behavior.

A number of years ago (2006!) WIRED did a quick piece on GENERATION XBOX, in which they talked about the expectations of gamer culture and how different they are from preceding (non digital) generations.  This short list hit the gaming ethos precisely: arrogant, hacking (competitive, results focused regardless of rules), insubordinate... sound like anyone in your classroom?  That gaming ethos has done a great deal to influence online presence.  The egalitarian nature of the gamer is clearly seen in internet cultures like Anonymous where there is a strong emphasis on your contribution rather than your social standing in the 'real' world.  What matters is what you say and how well you say it, not how much money your parents had or who you're the boss of.

You might think this is socialist, but it really isn't, it can be crushingly cruel and direct and has no patience for bullshit or spin.  Everyone isn't equal, though everyone does have equal access and ability to contribute.  This ties organizations, especially politically powerful ones, in knots, especially when they expect the same kind of submission they can force in traditional media in an open digitized space.  I suspect it's hitting a lot of people who are used to the benefits of their social circumstances hard.

If suddenly all of the benefits you had (race, socio-economic status, education, family) are ignored, how do you establish yourself as an alpha?  Especially when you're used to having it handed to you.  In the last post I tried to push privacy and ownership of information as far as I logically could considering the near friction-less information we find online.

If you can't own information because trying to hold it is impossible when it can be copied and spread with no real effort, and privacy is irrelevant because anyone can copy and paste your information, and almost everyone has a media recording device unimaginable 20 years ago and can capture you at any time regardless of whether you want to be seen or not, regardless of whether you yourself are online or not; how do we understand what is ours?  Ownership is at the foundation of how we relate to other people in society.  With no ability to own material and with information being so slippery we can't regulate who sees it online, how do we establish social dominance?  If we can't flash the car, the house, our jobs, or even our educations at people and expect benefits, what value do these things have?

The tendency would be to fall back on existing power structures, to try and exercise the same protections that advantage us in society in an online milieu, but this has been shown to fail again and again.  Digital information does not work in a personal context the way that social status does.  The only thing that makes you special is what you're doing right now.  Your interaction is your credibility online.  If you try to game the system and people can find that data, they can make you look the fool.  If you are able to maintain an honest and insightful digital footprint, you come as close as you're ever going to get to being untouchable in the Wild West of the internet.

Someone who puts Ph.D. after their name online is as likely to be made fun of as they are to be respected.  If that same person does not advertise their traditional social standing, but produces excellent ideas clearly
and accessibly through an understanding of the tools available, then they will gain online currency.  If the approach is one of indirect, politically motivated self interest, then the proliferation of digital information makes it very difficult to game the truth, or play people.  That email or DM where you instruct other people to do something that you wouldn't want everyone to know?  It'll end up buried in your back.  You can't stop the signal.  If you've done it online, it's obtainable.

I still maintain that radical transparency is what will evolve out of this startling social evolution.  Say what you mean and do what you say, be consistent and don't be afraid.  If you make a mistake own it, and if you can't handle what's happening don't advertise it by leaving a permanent record.  Lurking is a perfectly reasonable place to back away to online.

I suspect that many of our students lurk online because they are trying to parse the wild west that they see out there.  They don't want to make fools of themselves, but they are also wrestling with what they know happens in the real world (you can get away with lying, deceit and social/political games quite easily in a world where information is ownable - especially if you're the beneficiary of racial, social or cultural advantage).  Online the powers aren't powers and the socially weak can suddenly become something else if they have the voice and the will to do it.

Being hacked may not be a bad thing if it keeps everyone honest.  The threat of hacking is what prevents many of the 'real' world powers from abusing the internet (that and it has insinuated itself into business and society to such a degree that pulling the plug would be a disaster).  Marx may not have taken down capitalism, but online society offers the kind of radical egalitarianism that wraps monopolistic capitalists in knots.

The other thing about this radically flat mediascape is that hierarchies that force group think tend to fail.  Rather than being threatened into following the crowd, you are free to disappear online.  You aren't beholden to social context in the same way you are in the real world.  This means you can do things online you'd never do in 'real' life.  Like the guy who screams obscenities and gives the finger to others while driving who would never do the same thing while walking down the sidewalk; the person online is removed and empowered in an interesting way by the machines that isolate them from their social context.

I've enjoyed watching the dismantling of these assumptions in a number of large organizations.  I've been frustrated by others that claim democracy while really wanting to enforce an existing hierarchy.  Online society is the most radically democratic ideal we've ever created.  Access is cheaper and more available than citizenship in the first world (arguably the previous means of access to political control).  As we miniaturize and mobilize computing and billions more people come online and realize that they are not powerless in their societies (and that they belong to a larger, more pervasive and more powerful online society), the world will change, and the ones who will suffer are those that have benefited from history the most.