Education & Innovation: why not?

1_room_schoolImagine the possibilities if we could harness the collective intelligence of those educational leaders whose innovative uses of technology are transforming their classrooms and engaging their students.

A recent visit to Waterloo by TV Ontario’s cutting-edge current affairs program, The Agenda, hosted by Steve Paikin, got me to thinking about how Ontario has never fully realized the vision of collaboration between government, private industry and the education sectors as called for in For the love of learning, the 1995 Ontario royal commission report on learning.

In 2006 I wrote an op-ed piece in my local newspaper, Step up to the cyber-learning plate, about how some of the royal commission’s goals stated in the chapter entitled Learning, teaching and information technology have, for the most part, not been realized.

Though there are pockets of technological innovation occurring in some schools, most classrooms in Ontario still reflect a nineteenth-century model of education where the teacher contains controls and dispenses information which students then consume and regurgitate back up again on paper and pencil tests. This cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all approach to learning does not even begin to meet the growing needs of or engage the average 21st century media saturated, techno-savvy learner.

During the recent live broadcast of The Agenda’s program, Waterloo’s Innovation Economy, host Paikin asked what I believe was the most important question of the evening. His question went something like this: when in the education curriculum should we begin to teach our youth to be innovators and risk-takers? Because it was a difficult question involving multiple issues that demanded more than a 30 second ‘sound bite’ response, the panelists basically dodged it.

But I would argue that Paikin’s very important question needs to be addressed by all stakeholders – now. As we hesitate and wring our hands, the gap between the existing outdated educational model and the lives of today’s students (many of whom have ample access to the latest camera-equipped cell phones, MP3 players and social networking web sites) continues to widen.

What if The Agenda were to devote an entire program or better yet, a series of programs on innovation in the Ontario education system? What if cutting-edge leaders in innovation and educational technology from across Ontario were invited to share their vision of education in the 21st century or how they are leveraging tools like cell phones, interactive whiteboards, podcasts, wikis and other technological web-based resources?

Discussions between educational leaders are busting out all over Twitter as networks of teachers across the globe, genuinely concerned about the digital divide – engage in conversation after conversation.

And who knows, if we act now, ‘what if’ just might lead to ‘why not?’

Photo: Michael D. Martin

Labels: Education, technology


Interior castles & cathedrals

my_outdoor_cathedralThe Master of Catholic Thought graduate program at St. Jerome’s University is much richer today.

It is richer because of the unique contributions of four wonderful people involved in the program since its inception in 2005.

Dianne, Anne, Ted and Andy will be the first students to complete the last of the ten-course requirement for this uniquely catholic graduate program.

Their individual gifts and talents have helped to raise the moral, intellectual and spiritual tone of the classes they have been involved in. Their collective catholic imaginations have forged an indelible stamp upon the ‘interior castles and cathedrals’ of the hearts and minds of their colleagues during the last few years.

A few memorable highlights of the journey taken with these outstanding individuals come to mind:  Andy’s powerful ‘My Outdoor Cathedral’ story during the uplifting Catholic Imagination course, Dianne’s expertise and wealth of experience in Canadian catholic health care, Anne’s moving personal journey involving her beautiful daughter and her relatively brave new diocesan adventure and Ted’s inspiring dream, rigorous intellect and insightful scientific knowledge.

These four friends all have one thing in common, their selfless commitment to family, community and the common good. They have modeled life-long learning, servant leadership and enriched, immeasurably, the lives of their fellow classmates and instructors. They now embark on the final stage of their noble scholastic journey – their master’s thesis.

I humbly submit a fitting excerpt from the writings of St. Teresa of Avila to take them home:

“Let nothing trouble you
Let nothing make you afraid.
All things pass away.
God never changes.
Patience obtains everything.
God alone suffices.”

Photo credit: Andy Burns


Natasha Richardson: “A fleeting wisp of glory”

p1010400The tragic and untimely death of actress, daughter, sister, wife and mother Natasha Richardson has unleashed a torrent of public grief and sympathy for her and her family. Her sudden death reminds us all again of just how precious and fragile life really is.

Only a few hours after what, by all reports, was a routine fall on a beginner’s ski hill – online bloggers were already debating the merits of the exorbitant media coverage the fall had sparked.

Some bloggers lamented the fact that the average person falling, striking their head and injuring themselves during a skiing lesson would garner little if any of the media spotlight. One bone-headed boor actually posted a comment suggesting that Richardson’s fall was somehow divine retribution for skiing at a luxury resort during an economic depression.

Natasha Richardson was no ordinary person. Refusing early on to ride the coattails of her mother’s (Vanessa Redgrave) fame – Natasha was an extraordinary talent in her own right. A Tony Award winner and accomplished theater, film and television actress, and AIDS awareness activist and fundraiser, she blazed a most impressive trail during her brief 45 years among us.

No doubt she inherited some her exceptional talent and beauty from her famous mother. This cinematic clip from the 1967 film version of the musical Camelot gives one a glimpse into this stunning familial beauty and astounding similarity in likeness between Natasha and her mother.

To her entire family, especially her loving mother and beloved husband Liam Neeson, her sister Joely, her two sons Micheal and Daniel and devoted fans and colleagues she was anything but ordinary – indeed, Natasha Richardson’s brief, extraordinary life – like the legendary Camelot was truly “a fleeting wisp of glory”, a heavenly gift and dazzling flame that was extinguished . . . all . . . too soon . . . too soon.

Photo: M. Redfearn


Media must shoulder blame for violence

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No troubled teenager or tormented adult who coldly guns down innocent human beings and then self-destructs does so in a vacuum. They learn it from the media.

Another tragic school shooting has just occurred in Germany.

Another event where a male shooter irreparably shattered the hopes and dreams of his innocent victims then either takes his own life, is captured or killed by police.

Violent video games, Goth culture, relentless bullying, dysfunctional families, or access to guns may be contributing factors but are clearly not the main reasons a growing list of angst-ridden adolescents and alienated adults suddenly seem to snap.

Since 1966, there has been a gruesome litany of at least 15 other occasions when ticking human time-bombs have self-destructed, though not before inflicting a horrific tsunami of human grief and anguish in their wake. Each inexplicable act has and continues to take an incalculable toll on the stunned survivors, the families and friends of each victim.

How many of us can actually remember the names of the victims? Without conducting a formal survey, I would be willing to wager that more people recall the names of the deranged killers than they do the tragic victims of these senseless crimes. So what else do all of these shootings have in common?

In almost every gut-twisting case, the names and images of the killers were boldly splashed across countless newspapers, television and computer screens throughout the free world.

It’s time we give our heads a shake and stop making instant celebrities out of the latest school-shooter-of-the-week. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not for a minute suggesting we can or should even attempt to completely squelch information about the perpetrators of these horrendous crimes.

The proliferation of camera phones, video-sharing Internet web- sites and other technologies yet to land on our store shelves makes any attempt at complete censorship impossible. If there is the slightest chance we can learn more about why these sad souls end up exploding, then by all means such information should be shared with law enforcement agencies and medical experts to prevent future calamities.

What I am suggesting is that media organizations employ the same sort of discretion and self-censorship we see when television networks refuse to provide a platform for individuals or groups who openly threaten violence to achieve their ends. To deter would-be exhibitionists, most TV networks decline to broadcast images of inebriated fans who decide to bare it all during professional sporting events. Couldn’t they also refrain from communicating information about school shooters?

What possible benefit can result from feeding the public sordid details of a killer’s banal past, other than giving them exactly what they crave? Such coverage only draws attention away from the victims and their families whose lives are mangled beyond repair.

Rather than suffer in silent despair or seek help, a small but disturbing segment of youth is choosing to violently lash out and die in a hail of bullets, though not before dragging others out the blood-spattered door with them. In death, they achieve the mass notoriety that eludes them in life, as their lethal deeds instantly vault them into the glare of the media spotlight.

As any psychologist or weary teacher will readily acknowledge, many troubled adolescents choose to misbehave to gain some attention, however negative, rather than none at all. Should we really be surprised at such attention-seeking behaviour in our more distressed youth?

On an almost daily basis we witness spoiled celebrities who garner disproportionate media attention simply by being bad. Misdeeds, substance abuse, violent tantrums and rehab are all now one-way tickets to over-the-top media coverage.

It’s time to take back some of the media landscape by encouraging owners of the broadcast industry to exercise more prudence whenever tragic events like the recent Valentine’s Day school shooting occur.

Like it or not, when we scan the latest newspaper, television or online news story for details of such heinous events, we also indirectly contribute to the cycle of violence and frenetic media mayhem that inevitably ensues.

Beaming the names and faces of the killers around the globe following such chilling events will only encourage more unstable individuals to act out in ways that, in the end, will continue to rob us all of our humanity.

Photo Credit: elevats