Let’s make democracy great again

The English novelist George Orwell once observed that in a time of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act. If this is accurate, then the Internet and the tsunami of so-called ‘fake news stories’ now jamming our online news feeds and flooding the collective social media landscape, makes all of us potential revolutionaries.

The recent world-wide condemnation and outcry over president Donald Trump’s immigration, health care and environmental policies, indicates that many people are finally waking up and fighting back with their own forms of ‘culture jamming’.

Massive astonishing and spontaneous public rallies in cities across the globe, not seen since the anti-nuclear movement of the early 1980’s, are signs that those citizens who sat on the sidelines during past and recent political elections, are not willing to accept alternative facts.

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Other forms of dissent involve the propaganda war, where the cyber-weapons of choice are stinging satirical memes and endless streams of phony and real news stories, all intended to persuade and convince by flooding an opponent’s news feeds.

Creators of ‘fake news’ stories have been implicated in manufacturing everything from Obama citizenship conspiracies theories, to linking Republican senator Ted Cruz’s father to the JFK assassination and tilting the result of the recent American election in Trump’s favor. In today’s ‘give me entertainment or give me death culture’, where puny attention spans and instant gratification are king – it’s not necessarily the detection of fake or fabricated news that is the issue.

In today’s ‘give me entertainment or give me death culture’, where puny attention spans and instant gratification are king – it’s not necessarily the detection of fake or fabricated news that is the issue.

With so many compelling and alluring forces vying for their daily attention: work, family, the Internet, binge-watching and dizzying array of the latest smart phones and associated apps – most people do not have the time or the inclination to fact check every pseudo-story that litters their social media news feeds or jams their inbox. Enter the newest technical audio-video manipulation advancements that will soon obliterate any existing line between what is considered fake and real.

In a paper published last year by professors at Stanford University and the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg – researchers discovered that technologists could record video of someone talking and then change their facial expressions in real time. The technology demonstrated how the facial expressions from a news clip of Russian president Vladimir Putin could be altered in real time in difficult-to-detect ways.

Other initiatives like the ‘Digital Emily Project’, a study where researchers used digital characters in place of real people, further blurs the line between fantasy and reality, making truth detection that much more elusive. Seamless digital technologies now employed by Hollywood and video-gaming industry artists, make the detection of real actors from digital avatars virtually impossible.

Advancements in audio technology have also made truth detection an increasingly daunting task. At a developer conference this past November, Adobe touted its new product nicknamed ‘Photoshop for audio’. The product allows a user to transfer around 10 to 20 minutes of their voice into the application, then allows them to type words expressed in that exact voice. The result does not sound computer-generated in the least, but uncannily real.

Imagine how real video and audio interviews of political leaders could be seamlessly twisted to further nefarious ends. For instance, audio of a comment could be generated and inserted before or following an interview (heard over a hot microphone) of a world leader making threatening comments toward another country.

Of course, all this assumes that some people still actually care whether the stories in their newsfeeds are real or fake. Increasingly, consumers of social media seem more concerned that the rivers of content cascading through their media streams support their worldview, as opposed whether any of it is true.

Historically, autocrats rely on the indifference of the masses to maintain their grip on power. Give the masses ‘bread and circuses’ and they will be happy. Given the choice between the awesome power and responsibility of the freedom to choose what’s in the interest of the common good versus ‘bread and circuses’ – I would suspect those in power hope the people continue to choose the latter.

Ironically, it may just be the Orwellian policies of the Trump administration that stir the consciences and souls of the multitudes that tip the balance in making democracy in America great again. The alternative is a darker world, where, theoretically, two plus two could equal five.

Sources:
Vanityfair.com – http://www.vanityfair.com/news/2017/01/fake-news-technology
1984. George Orwell.

Photo Credit: Michael Redfearn

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The Day ‘Student Voice’ Almost Died

Thankfully, I can probably count on one hand the number of times I have been reprimanded during my career in education. But during the late-1990’s – at about the time the provincial Conservatives were deep into slashing and burning education and health care budgets – I decided enough was enough.

It was the Harris Tories’ threat to kill the stand alone grade 11 media studies course that made it personal and put me over the edge. The death of this course would have meant the end of a golden opportunity for many of my academically challenged students to graduate. You see, that course, for many, represented a chance to earn a ‘5th English credit’ that students needed to graduate with their Ontario Secondary School Graduation Diploma.

Not only that, the media course contained content (movies, music videos, magazine/tv advertisements etc.) in which most were deeply engaged and immersed on a daily basis. Students who wouldn’t dare dream of raising their hand in Algebra or History class – felt at ease and in complete control when analysing a music video or Superbowl TV spot in media class.

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Through such a course – they were able to ‘pull back the curtain’ on pop culture and get a valuable glimpse into how and why various media are able to effectively use marketing and cinematic techniques to construct meaning, manipulate and control an audience.

So upon learning that the government was intent upon gutting the media literacy credit – without consulting teachers or students – I got mad, then I got inspired. What if my students and I actually staged a media event (silent protest) to make others aware of this threat?

I sprang the idea on my students the next day and took a vote to see if they were interested in my plan. All were in favor (by show of hands) of: inviting the local media to our class, wearing black clothing and duct tape across their mouths (both optional – to symbolize that they were silently mourning the fact they had not been consulted in the decision to axe their course). Most of the class time would be spent writing and editing letters to their local MPPs expressing their thoughts at the government’s decision.

Of course, once the media arrived and the school’s administration discovered what was happening in Redfearn’s media class – guess who was summoned to the office and, not surprisingly, ‘raked over the coals’?

As I sat sheepishly in front of the admin team of three and endured their rebukes and indignation – I empathized with them. They were completely blind-sided by my actions. Yet, had I tipped them off before hand – I risked having the protest squashed before it began. Their biggest concerns – that they were not consulted and that the ‘image of the school’ would be adversely affected. Seeing students’ mouths bound with duct tape had, I think, something to do with it.

Fortunately, the media coverage was minimal. A segment ran on the local TV station at noon and later that evening (see YouTube video below) and an article with photo did run in the local section of The Record but the admin’s fear that pandemonium would be loosed upon the world was unfounded.

Instead, my students actually witnessed the media in action and THEY were part of the process: they took part in media interviews with local reporters, wrote to their elected representatives about how they felt about the government’s decision and watched, critiqued, filmed and edited TV and print coverage of their event.

In retrospect, I truly believe it was one of the most powerful learning experiences I and my students had ever been a part of. By taking part in the silent protest, ironically, my students actually found their ‘voice’.  And isn’t that what real learning is all about?

P.S. There was such a ground swell (provincially) from people outraged over the potential loss of the media studies stand alone course – that the Conservative government of the day backed down from its original decision to cut it.

 

 

 


So Many Memories of St. David . . . flowing, like a river

Memories of our lives, of our works and our deeds will continue in others. ~ Rose Parks

In light of St. David catholic secondary school’s 50th anniversay – I recently started digging around and dusting off the old Celtic archives – wondering if any of the VHS footage from the 25th anniversary Video Yearbook had not yet disintegrated and was still viewable. Having spent a significant slice of my teaching career at St. David (18 years) capturing and editing so many Celtics in action, I was hoping that it was not too late to transfer some of that fine vintage footage over into digital format.

If you are currently an active member of the rapidly-growing St. David CSS 50 Year Renuion 2015 Facebook group – you probably already know that I have been posting ‘rescued video clips’ to the group’s timeline. And I can honestly say that I am thorougly loving re-watching those videos for the umpteenth time as much, if not more than perhaps even some of you.

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God gave us memories so that we might have roses in December. ~ James Barrie

I just want to share with you a few personal observations resulting from the recent postings and associated comments:

  1. Sometimes Smaller is Better
    The 1988-90 25th St. David Anniversary video footage is quite unique in that it represents a time when the school population was significantly smaller (800 students – give or take before the early 90’s expansion) than it is today. I think the smaller community vibe is quite evident in some of the footage – especially the ‘sing-along 60’s day love-in’ in the school’s main hallway. The footage looks, feels and sounds like a ‘kumbaya cliche’, but 60’s day aside, I think that’s because the smaller community really allowed the students and staff to connect and develop closer bonds. Of course, footage of Celtics who have passed on (staff and students) – only adds to the power of video to evoke vivid personal, deep feelings and memories.
  2. The Power of Social Media
    The postings have generated an exciting buzz and sense of nostalgia within the Facebook group – as former alumni and staff ‘like’, reshare, and share their own personal thoughts and feelings about the video clips and the events and people contained in them. Leveraging social media (Facebook, Twitter etc.) allows us to build on this momentum quickly, widely and easily, at a click.
  3. Golden Opportunity
    The upcoming St. David 50th Anniversary events represent a wonderful opportunity for us to celebrate our rich history/heritage together, reconnect (‘catch up’) with other former St. Daivd alumni and staff and connect with members of the current school community.

The St. David catholic community provided me with nearly two decades worth of precious memories of amazing people and events both inside and beyond the classroom walls: liturgies, teams, clubs, assemblies, victories, defeats, class excursions and memories of former teachers & students who have passed on etc. Many St. David graduates have gone on to establish wonderful careers and create loving families. I just  thank God that I was fortunate and privileged enough to work with some of you, to capture and now revisit once again, in the age of social media, some of those priceless moments, . Carpe diem!

Twitter: @StDavid50 #Celtic50
Email: SDCeltics50@gmail.com
Facebook: St. David CSS 50 Year Renuion 2015
Lisa Denomme (StDavid50 Co-Chair)


An Open Letter to All Students

Everybody at the speed of light tends to become a nobody.  – Marshall McLuhan

An Open Letter to All Students,

Look up! That’s right, put your smart phones away, look me in the eye and listen to me for just a few minutes. Seriously, I mean it; your future may depend on it!

Don’t worry. I am not going to tell you how you should NOT use your mobile device or judge you. I have taught, observed and spoken with enough of you about digital technology over the years to know that the vast majority of you are decent, respectful human beings who, like me, make mistakes from time to time.

I know that your time is precious and that there are a gazillion things you could be doing with your mobile device right now, like chatting and playing online games with your friends via at least a dozen trendy social media and gaming apps; or capturing cool photos and videos of one another, tagging and uploading them to the internet.

You might even be texting, blogging or video-calling about how much you love your new sneakers or the amazing adventures you have planned for the summer. These are all valid and wonderful ways to celebrate the miracle of digital technology. You should keep doing these things!

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I just want a minute or two to share three suggestions that may enhance your valuable time and perhaps alter, for the better, your life’s path.

  1. Always be positive. Whether you are online or offline, in person or in cyberspace, strive always to be upbeat, kind and gentle with yourself and others. Use digital technology and social media to stay in touch with family and friends and create a positive digital identity that you, your parents and teachers would be proud of. Build one another up by sharing all the incredibly wonderful things you are already doing in your school communities (charity fundraisers, arts, science and technology fairs, community partnerships etc.). If you are always positive and THINK before you speak or post online – this will go a long way in helping you to construct a positive persona and digital footprint, thereby avoiding potentially embarrassing, hurtful and perhaps tragic situations.
  2. Strive for balance in everything you do. It doesn’t take a genius to know that spending too much time doing anything: sleeping, listening to music, playing video games, or watching videos, is likely not good for your physical, emotional, intellectual or social well-being. Take some time every day to go outside and walk, run, or cycle in the natural environment. This would be a perfect chance to exercise your body and clear your mind, while celebrating, appreciating and enjoying nature.
  3. Be thankful. Make time to slow down, meditate, reflect on and be thankful for all the gifts in your life: family, friends, shelter, food, health and the natural environment. By slowing down, being appreciative and thankful for the people and possessions in your life- you will gain a deeper understanding and respect for them.

Remember, all it takes is one thoughtless moment: sending an angry text, posting or sharing online an inappropriate or embarrassing comment, photo or video of yourself or others – to derail your dreams. Ironically, by slowing down, thinking, being thankful and periodically looking up from your digital gadgets – you may just find a sense of peace, balance and new appreciation for life and all its wonders.

Photo Credit: jesslef


Passing The Torch: #bit14

They were born well before the dawn of the Facebook and YouTube generation, watched VHS movies on VCR’s and listened to their favorite music via portable cassette tape players. But, ultimately, it was the internet and 21st century technology (LinkedIn) that allowed two of my former students, Monika Bural (1986-87) and Pat Downey, (1987-88) to stumble upon and connect with their former high school English literature teacher.

How ironic that these same two individuals attended the only two schools spanning my entire 21 years in the classrrom, my first 3 at Philip Pocock Catholic High School in Mississauga and the following 18 at St. David Catholic High School in Waterloo.  Imagine how delighted I was to discover that they had both become teaching colleagues at the Dufferin-Peel CDSB and were searching for someone to help them navigate the rocky path of 21st century learning and digital technology. It was a bit of deja vu all over again and back-to-the-future combined.

When I learned that Monika and Pat would also be attending the recent ECOO BringIt Together Conference in Niagara Falls and that they wanted to reconnect after almost 3 decades – I immediately agreed to meet up with them. After reconnecting, we opened and dusted off our collective ‘time capsule’, sharing a few memories from days gone by.

Bold makeup, bracelets and crimped Madonna-esque hair adorned the hallways and classrooms of Philip Pocock Catholic secondary school in 1987.

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Chillin with my grade 10 English ‘peeps’  circa 1986-87. Monika Bural is 3rd from the left in the photo.

It was fitting that the three of us meet at BringIT Together, a cutting-edge educational technology conference that connects educators and information technology support staff from school districts far and wide, encouraging them to share ideas and collaborate so that students can benefit.

A highlight of the conference was sitting in on a Android Tablets and Google Play EDU presentation by the Upper Grand DSB. While there I saw an engaged information technology specialist from my former school district (Waterloo CDSB). It was incredibly encouraging to see school district technology consultants and IT support staff sitting in the same room, side-by-side, grappling with challenging technological issues and working together to help break down barriers to create a more authentic and engaging learning environment for all students.

L to R - Monika Bural, Michael Redfearn, Pat Downey

L to R – Monika Bural, Michael Redfearn, Pat Downey reconnect at Bring IT Together 2014.

An artifact and metaphor that dominated the BringIT Together conference was a green VW microbus with a sign above that read, What will education look like in 25 years? Conference participants were encouraged to write their responses to the question in marker somewhere on the bus.

If the past 25 or so years in education is any indication – the next 25 years will also contain its share of challenges and obstacles. But judging by the energy, enthusiasm and hope expressed by the #bit2014 conference delegates and presenters – the next 25 years in education should be filled with a host of wondrous new digital technologies, a dynamic culture of learning, sharing and collaboration and, most importantly, passionate educators, eager to pass the torch of learning to the next generation.

Web site:  http://bringittogether.ca/


Note to Media Orgs: Make My ‘Blanking’ Day

BREAKING NEWS . . .

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Life took a huge chunk of my childhood innocence when (__________) shot president John F. Kennedy and time and the world seemed to stop on November 22, 1963. And blank’s face, name and history were instantly plastered on countless newspapers, glossy magazine covers and featured in television programs around the world.

As a young man driving home from a pick-up hockey game, just after midnight on December 8, 1980 – the radio blared the unbelievable news (__________) killed John Lennon and, for a time, the music and a little piece of my soul died. And blank’s face, name and history were instantly plastered on countless newspapers, glossy magazine covers and featured in television programs around the world.

And on December 6, 1989 I was horrified when terror hit home when (__________) murdered 14 women in cold blood at École Polytechnique at the University of Montreal. And blank’s face, name and history were instantly plastered on countless newspapers, glossy magazine covers and featured in television programs around the world.

Just when I thought my soul and pysche could not bear the shock and horror of another bloody, tragic tale, in the span of a few days, in another flash of insanity (__________) and (__________) brutally killed Canadian soldiers Patrice Vincent and Nathan Cirillo.

And blanks’ faces, names and histories were INSTANTLY and FOREVER posted on social media websites, plastered on newspapers, glossy magazine covers and featured in television programs around the world.

Photo Credit: commons.wikimedia.org


Circles & Catholic Education

It does not happen very often in life, but when it does, there’s no experience quite like it. I am referring to those rare moments when fate, destiny and circumstances collide and converge to bring a chapter of one’s life full circle.

This particular chapter started in the fall of 1984 when, fresh out of the faculty of education University of Toronto and three weeks into September, I landed my first fulltime teaching job at Philip Pocock Catholic secondary school in Mississauga. 1984-85  was a year of firsts for me: my first teaching gig, matrimony and the birth of the first of my five children.

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Hanging out with my student peeps in portable city at the original Philip Pocock campus circa 1987

I spent only 3 of my 21 years in the classroom at Pocock in Mississauga 1984-87 (Kitchener-Waterloo was home for my wife and I) – yet those 3 short years were filled with precious people, moments and memories that have endured for 3 decades. Following another 18 years teaching at St. David Catholic secondary school in Waterloo and 7 years as a school district K-12 technology coordinator – I decided to transition, to strike out on my own (Michael Redfearn Consulting) in a new role as a digital literacy consultant.

While scanning the Internet for potential conferences at which to share my ‘Being A Catholic Parent In A Digital World’ presentation – I found OAPCE (Ontario Association of Parents in Catholic Education), sent them an email and received a response from Renata Quattro, one of the conference co-chairs. After exchanging a few emails we quickly discovered that our paths had crossed at Pocock from 1984-87.

 A school is much more than bricks and mortar and measured more by the collective spirit and generosity of its many members than any fleeting material wants.

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The original Pocock campus, located at Rathburn and Cawthra in Mississauga was, previously, an elementary school site. An additional 10 classroom portapac and 33 portable classrooms outside the main building were added to accommodate approximately 1,800 students. Inspite or because of the cramped, bizzare conditions – I spent 3 incredible, unforgettable years with dynamic, dedicated teaching colleagues and a culturally diverse mix of energetic inquistive students. As a ‘Pocock pirate’ I learned early on in my career that a school is much more than bricks and mortar and measured more by the collective spirit and generosity of its many members than any fleeting material wants.

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Former Pocock teacher Michael Redfearn with former Pocock student Renata Quattro at the OAPCE Conference 2014

Both Renata and I left Pocock in 1987 – she as a grade 13 graduate and I to return to Waterloo for a teaching job at St. David Catholic secondary school. That we are now both immersed in and working on behalf of Catholic education in Ontario and united again at Philip Pocock CSS (Tomken Campus) for the 75th Anniversary of OAPCE Conference – is a delightful and deeply satisfying irony.

The current Pocock campus, constructed in 1992, is a truly impressive three-story building that is designed around a bright, expansive indoor atrium and cafetorium – which make it an ideal facility to host events like the OAPCE conference.

During the moments before and between my workshop presentations – I took a little time to wander some of the halls and peruse the beautiful wall murals and scores of framed photos of former Pocock graduating classes. But what really seized my attention was the framed photos of the current (2013-2014) Pocock staff on the wall outside the main office.

As I eagerly scanned and recognized the familiar names and faces of staff members I worked with from 1984-87 (close to a dozen) my mind raced, my heart warmed and my soul soared back, to another time: to staff ball hockey nights, students, school teams, tournaments, clubs and assemblies, to the glory that was ‘portable city’ on Rathburn road, where new friendships, circles, fate and destiny converged and another chapter in someone’s life . . . began.