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.

statue_liberty

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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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.

StDavid50

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)


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.

Pocock

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/


Technology in the Classroom


Waterloo Region Record
Mar 6 2014


Ode To An Amazing Journey: Or I Can’t Believe They Paid Me To Do This For 28 Years!

“The moment you know, you know you know.”  – David Bowie
Where Are We Now? The Next Day Album

I cannot remember where I was or the exact moment I ‘knew’ it was time for me to ‘toss in the chalk’ and call it a career. All I know is, at some point within the past year the whispering voice of doubt within, eventually gave way to a roar of certainty that 28 years service in education (21 in the classroom & 7 as a technology coordinator) = time to move on .

What a glorious 28 year journey though!  At its best – life in and outside of the high school classroom really was one daring adventure after another, a truly wonderful odyssey. I had the amazing and humbling honor to lead, be inspired by and, at times, inspire the students entrusted in my care.

Pocock

I spent the first 3 years of my career teaching English and Religion at Philip Pocock Catholic secondary school in Mississauga.

It still beggars my imagination to realize that I actually got paid to share with my students my passion and love for: my faith, family, social justice issues, literature, media studies, drama, athletics, computer studies, and the natural environment. I will forever treasure the moments spent in the presence of every one of the thousands of students (with all their complexity, incredible ‘beauty’ and ‘baggage’) who walked through my classroom door every day.

The last 7 years as a system technology consultant and E-Learning contact has been an astounding whirlwind of networking and professional learning with a myriad of wonderful teaching collegues, I.T. support staff and technology consultants. Time away from the frenetic pace and pressures of the classroom, (lesson prep, marking, always being ‘on’ and chained to the bell) also allowed me the opportunity and time to pursue my dream of completing the Master of Catholic Thought Program at St. Jerome’s University.

Still, it would be dishonest of me not to admit feeling a little like the poet, “my heart aches and a drowsy numbness dulls my sense as though of hemlock I had drunk,” as I bid a bitter-sweet farwell to a marvelous 28 year run in education.

This sweet sorrow is softened by the following memorable highlights of a long, satisfying, rewarding and blessed career:

  • Supervising a Philip Pocock student dance at which the Canadian new wave band The Spoons performed in the mid-80’s
  • Physically breaking up a fight between two male students outside my portable and walking both of them to the principal’s office
  • Coordinating and viewing countless dramatic performances by my students of scenes from a variety of plays (Macbeth, R & J, Man of La Mancha etc.)
  • Facilitating at 2 Race Relations Camps for students from both local school boards
  • Participating in teacher-led skits/performances at numerous school assemblies (e.g. Hans & Franz, teacher bands etc.)
  • Advisor of the social justice committee at St. David C.S.S.
  • Advisor for the St. David Perspective school Newspaper & Video Yearbook
  • Joining in a ‘Pro-Life’ walk with teachers and students outside an abortion clinic in Toronto
  • Accompanying World Religion students to Holocaust conferences and talks by Holocaust survivors and visiting the Holocaust Memorial Center in Toronto
  • Facilitating workshops at the St. David Week For A Better World Symposia
  • Teacher liason accompanying/supervising WCDSB students participating in dual credit courses at WCDSB & Conestoga College’s Communication Program
  • Coordinating the Ping Pong Panic fundraiser in memory of Michael Longo
  • Hosting and speaking with former Canadian Heavyweight boxing champion George Chuvalo during a Drug Awareness Assembly at St. David
  • Supervising students during numerous Shakespearian and other performances (Phantom of the Opera, We Will Rock You etc.)
  • Playing ‘Let’s Play Carpe Diem’ with my English classes
  • Giving out ‘Fearnback’ bonus bucks to my students for particpating in class activities
  • Inner-city social justice awareness walk with my grade 10 Religion students
  • Leading my grade 10 & 12 Religion students during class retreats
  • Meditating with my grade 11 World Religions classess in the school chapel
  • Coaching boys wrestling, hockey & soccer teams and girls soccer and baseball teams
    (including my daughters Melissa & Michelle on the girls soccer team)
  • Coaching boys hockey players / teams during tournaments in Cape Breton NS and Lake Placid NY
  • Accompanying my media students to a taping of the Camilla Scott day-time talk show in Toronto
  • Hosting guest speakers / Chilly Beach creators/actors and former students Todd Peterson and Steve Ashton in my media studies classes
  • Watching the Lord of the Rings Trilogy film marathaon at the Princess Cinema Theatre with my media and English students
  • Leading my media studies students in a silent protest to voice their concern over the ministry of education terminating the Gr. 11 media studies credit
  • Witnessing the priceless look on the faces of students who finally understood something they struggled mighty hard to grasp
  • Participating in the St. David Fast-in-Action in solidarity with the hungry poor
  • Having my son Jonathan as one of my students in my grade 10 Information Technology course at St. David
  • Canoeing, portaging and camping with grade 12 students during 5 trips to the Algonquin Park interior
  • Participating in intramural ball hockey at St. David and being on the inaugural championship team – the Red Kellys
  • Legendary ping pong games during lunch with the Mighty R (Runstedler) and other Celtic legends
  • Stage managing during St. David’s performance of The Wiz – my daughter Melissa as one of the actors.
  • Supervising at numerous St. David Coffee Houses
  • Attending 3 Graduation ceremonies at Philip Pocock C.S.S. and 18 Graduation ceremonies at St. David – 5 of which involved my own children
  • Managing the Interactive White (SMART) Board Pilot at Waterloo CDSB
  • Co-chairing the annual Waterloo Region Technological Skills Elementary Competition
  • Creating the provincial Catholic resource – Ethical & Responsible Use of Information & Communication Technology: A guideline for all stakeholders in Catholic education – (This resource was shared with the former Pope Benedict and the Pontifical Council for Social Communication in Rome.)
  • Coordinating the first-ever online course offering at Waterloo CDSB
  • Managing 10 online courses and teacher training at Waterloo CDSB
  • Leading professional learning sessions on Ethical Use of ICT, E-Learning and digital resources for teachers and administrators at numerous conferences/PD days.

Now as I prepare to fill my hours with other passions and dreams close to my heart, I sit and wonder . . . was all this a “vision or a waking dream? . . . Do I wake or sleep?”

Onward Sancho! The quest! The quest!


Out of Class: Education is so much more than 3 R’s

In the midst of the quiet majesty and serenity of the natural surroundings, you can sense the transformation taking place in the students.

This article was originally published in October of 1996 in the Waterloo Region Record.

By Michael Redfearn

If you don’t think teachers can make learning boring, you underestimate the power of education.

“O.K. class, turn to page 59 and together we’ll read about how the Algonquin Indians lived hundreds of years ago.”

A holistic and relevant education must incorporate some real-life adventures. Invariably, this sometimes involves risk-taking outside the boundaries of traditional school buildings and school hours.

When asked their favorite memories of elementary or high school, many adults point to experiences outside of the four walls of the classroom. They fondly remember field trips run by caring teachers who all had one belief in common – that education was much more than a basic understanding of the three R’s.

With all of the cutbacks occurring in education these days, one has to wonder if the learning which takes place outside of the confines of the classroom will also fall victim to the axes of the political czars in the Ministry of Education.

In my teaching career, I have been privileged to have accompanied students during some of the most valuable learning experiences of their lives. One such event was our school’s four-day, Grade 12 canoeing camping trip to Algonquin Park.

Algonquin Park by Paul Bica

Algonquin Park by Paul Bica

The knowledge gained by generations of high school students, who’ve experienced wilderness trips over the years, cannot be gleaned from a textbook. Booklearning alone cannot adequately prepare our children for life or truly convey the daunting physical hardships endured by our forebearers.

Only after they actually feel the oppressive weight of a 16-foot canoe or heavy pack on their backs, after hours of strenuous hiking, do students come to appreciate the comforts they often take for granted. Four days and nights of vigorous canoeing, portaging and camping in the autumn wilderness quickly spawns a keen yearning for a hot shower and cosy bed.

The haunting call of a loon at daybreak or rhythmic sound of autumn leaves rustling in the wind must be witnessed first-hand to be truly appreciated. Not even the most sophisticated computer or CD ROM technology can begin to capture the profound natural beauty of a mist-shrouded morning lake or star-studded night sky.

In the midst of the quiet majesty and serenity of the natural surroundings, you can sense the transformation taking place in the students. Having spend most of their lives in suburban comfort, they are awakened, in part, to the stark reality and natural beauty of the life of their ancestors.

The students quickly learn to work together out of necessity to overcome the many challenges posed by the natural world. Rocky, uneven, mud-soaked terrain, narrow, twisting waterways and beaver dams must all be navigated with care if the obstacles are to be overcome.

When pushed to their limits, shy, insecure students often surprise themselves with new-found talents and innate resources they never knew existed. To paraphrase the German philosopher, Nietzsche, these students begin to see that, that which doesn’t destroy them, makes them stronger.

They also learn that in order to live in harmony with the environment, they must respect its sheer power and nurture its awe-inspiring beauty. They begin to see what their ancestors understood – that they are part of a greater, divine force which emphasizes they sacredness and interconnectedness of all living things.

Though the winds of change are dramatically revamping the face of the education system in Ontario, one can only hope that those who truly value education will never abandon the struggle to expand the minds, hearts and spirits of students beyond the limits of the traditional classroom.

If we want our children to be prepared for the many obstacles they will encounter in life, then we must also continue to demand that the education system be both relevant and meaningful. Failure to do so would rob our children of the opportunities many of us have benefited from and of fond memories of their school years.

Related Links:  St. David students safe, but exhausted after night in the woods

Photo Credit: Paul Bica


Embracing the gift of learning: Catholic Education Week

It does not happen very often, but when it does – it is sheer joy to witness. Pedantic sounding phrases like ‘collaborative inquiry’ or ‘differentiated instruction’ are pale shadows set against the dazzling colors, sights, sounds and wonder of real learning.

In such a magical place, students are truly engaged, not so much with shiny new tools, as with how those tools are used to effectively create the conditions for the miracle of learning to occur.

Welcome to Rolland Chidiac’s learning environment, where the world and its boundless lessons are one vast inviting sandbox.

My personal journey with Rolland began a few years ago when I offered to let he and his students experiment with an iPod touch. Rolland reflected on this pilot in a May 2011 guest blog post. Since then, Rolland has more than heeded the words of the late Pope John Paul II, “Do not fear the new technologies”. Whatever the learning tool: pencil, iPod/iPad, interactive projector, livescribe pen, digital camera etc., Rolland has consistently and whole-heartedly embraced these wonderful gifts to humanity and the countless opportunities for learning they provide.

A leader and mentor in the integration of educational technology at his school, Our Lady of Fatima, Rolland models servant leadership. Like Christ who fed the multitudes with a few loaves and fishes, Rolland feeds his flock of students and teaching colleagues not with bread but with the simple joy and love of learning.

His recently accepted ministry of education-sponsored TLLP project (Teacher Learning & Leadership Program) involves leveraging technology (iPADs) to increase and enrich the learning experiences of autistic learners at his school.

Like pearls, learning experiences of this quality are inspirational and rare. That I have been able to be part of Rolland’s wondrous journey is indeed a gift.

Rolland continues to collaborate with his peers and share his learning experiences with a growing audience via his The Digital Citizen blog  and Twitter PLN via @RChids.

Related links:

The Digital Citizen blog

The Rapid Development – Apostolic Letter by Pope John Paul II

Photo Credit:
Atlas, it’s time for your bath by Woodley Wonderworks Photostream