An essay on lifelong learning

June 24, 2013 § Leave a comment

A Call to the Learning Road

Wisdom comes in all guises, in youthful exuberance as much as cloaked in venerated gown and mortarboard.  More so, it can be common and ready wisdom – a casual conversation, an overheard aphorism – that indicates a journey we ought to take.  I suspect we have all been recipients of wisdom that, heeded or not, we later recognized as a critical juncture in our travels, a fork in our road of learning.  Therefore, lifelong learning is first a call to our road and foremost an embarking upon our journey.

My first memorable glimpse into informal lifelong learning came during my days as an apprentice Blues saxophonist, during a long drive from Edmonton to Saskatoon in a van filled with veteran Blues musicians.  Rogues to the outsider, the unschooled music makers of the world, chroniclers and exemplars, carry with them the breadth and depth of human experience.  Our traveling Blues elder assured me that the one book I should take on my impending contract as a cruise ship musician ought to be Joseph Campbell’s Myths to Live By.  Joseph Campbell may have provided the script for further learning but the Blues elder, the roots music bodhisattva, illuminated the fork in the road.

An identifiable advantage to formal lifelong learning is visible, celebrated mileposts: you don your robe and mortarboard, sitting before the public until your turn comes to cross the threshold into knowing.  It may even be unclear what enduring understanding you have acquired but you most certainly have acquired enough of something such that society applauds you.  After twenty years as an educator in Community Colleges and International Schools I too will soon be celebrated for having reached a formal milepost: two semesters in Initial Teacher Education.  In her novel Prozac Nation Elizabeth Wurtzel quotes The Sun Also Rises to illuminate how she became depressed.  A character in Hemingway’s novel is asked how he became bankrupt, to which he eventually replies “Gradually and then suddenly.”  This is how we come to know that we have much more to learn.

An enduring understanding from Initial Teacher Education came during the final days of my first teaching practicum.  Confident in my subject area, I focused my attention on an anti-oppression lesson planning assignment.  I had learned that student diversity was woefully underrepresented in classroom resources and I set out to illuminate this for those very same students.  The lesson would be the culminating moment of my journey to becoming an ally.  It came suddenly as prophesied: the students’ reflections on the lesson revealed that they were well aware of their underrepresentation.  I had underestimated their depth of prior knowledge.

Initial Teacher Education will shape the next twenty years of my career but seventeen year-olds illuminated the fork in the road.  I once measured the wisdom of others in terms of initials appended to a name or pages attributed to it.  Since, I have realized that we are much more than a collection of artifacts or titles: Life’s enduring meaning comes from the pursuit of understanding rather than from its possession or dissemination.

The preceding essay was the 2013 Henry Jackman Award winner, University of Toronto Chapter of Phi Delta Kappa.

© K.C. Hoffman and, 2013.


Part 9: Is your phone smart enough?

April 27, 2013 § Leave a comment

One of my classmates was recently demonstrating how to use “Poll Everywhere” with smartphones to assess student learning.  Amidst the Blackberrys, Androids and iPhones my Motorola Razr was greeted with chortles of derision.  Through mortification I was liberated into 21st Century Teaching and Learning: my phone is smart enough.

Productive discussion of phone use for classroom learning is frequently sabotaged through baneful counterpoint: “but not every child has a phone!” or “what if a student sharing a phone damages the phone?”  This reactionary refrain serves the technologists’ endgame – getting more smartphones into the hands of children (Nielsen) – rather than the educationists’ – getting more learning into the hands of children – by presenting technological equity as a straw man on the path to student learning.  I say burn him down.

Consider the following dystopic implementation of 21st Century Teaching and Learning (21CTL): students tracing letters with a stylus over an iPad screen.  We are instructed to teach students for their future, not our past, so how is the scenario above different from tracing chalk over a slate tablet in the 19th Century classroom?  I rest my case.

Technology in schools is a vital driver of 21CTL; however, it is a driver, not the vehicle.  The development and implementation of sound pedagogy is the vehicle for 21CTL.  If technology is to genuinely revolutionize classroom learning then pedagogues had better hurry up and get in the game before the technologists have sealed the outcome.

The next serial will focus on the development of 21CTL pedagogy.

Lisa Nielsen. “Finally! Research-based proof that students use cell phones for LEARNING.” Lisa Nielsen: The Innovative Educator, 16 Feb. 2013. Web. 27 Apr. 2013.

© K.C. Hoffman and, 2013.

Part 8: The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (Scott-Heron)

April 16, 2013 § 1 Comment

The greatest criticism that can be leveled against digital collaboration, at least in terms of the 20th Century educational paradigm, is that it does not foster rich and meaningful social interactions.  In the words of keyboardist/engineer Richard Hilton “We signed up for a business that was very social, where people would get together in rooms and make music, and other people would be in the control room recording them. We’d all have lunch together and it was a very social business. We now work in an extremely isolated business, so if there’s a downside it’s that the cloud-computing aspect facilitates something that’s a symptomatic byproduct of what is the problem, which is that we no longer work in a social business” (Jackson 18).

Hilton is lamenting the consequences of asynchoronous collaboration: there is no simultaneity to the collaboration as each participant works when it suits them individually, not the group.  Synchronous environments (Adobe Connect, Mikogo, Skype), where the collaboration is simultaneous with either text, audio or video interaction, is a remedy to the socialization concern, but perhaps socialization is an unnecessary element of digital collaboration pedagogy?  This begs the fundamental question: where on the continuum from output to interaction will digital collaboration pedagogy situate itself?  In Hilton’s world the answer is on the output side.

On the contrary, some feel that this negotiation of the aims of digital collaboration will necessitate a rethinking of what collaboration means in the 21st Century.  Literally, to collaborate is “to labour with” and perhaps 21st Century Teaching and Learning will return group work to this strict original meaning.  I, for one, find the social aspect of teaching and learning to be most enriching.  For example, while teaching overseas I received permission to teach one of my classes of enriched chemistry using a synchronous, online environment.  This class was held online, every Tuesday night, for two years (the course of study ran two years).  The online environment allowed us to keep our community intact, when one of our class members relocated to Kenya after year 1, much to the benefit of the students and the boy who moved to Kenya in particular.  Notably, despite audio and video conferencing, the students’ preferred means of interaction was through the text box.  This speaks volumes of how those born into the digital universe interact.

Digital collaboration need not mean an end to socialization in the classroom, nor should it mean that social media norms for socialization would dominate.  It may well mean that a change in the classroom social paradigm is imminent.  “While some may say that it is impossible to replace the rock ‘n’ roll factor that is the result of getting together with a bunch of like-minded souls in a garage, it doesn’t take much imagination to realise that these are exciting developments that could well see the internet becoming the record label of the next-generation and that the genre that is World music may one day mean something entirely different” (Anderson).  The “cloudroom” is still to be negotiated.

Anderson, Vicki. “Virtual Jams; Online Musical Collaboration.” The Press: 0. Dec 04 2007. Web. 16 Jan. 2013.

Jackson, Blair. “Cloud Collaboration.” Mix 35.5 (2011): 16-18. Business Source Alumni Edition. Web. 16 Jan. 2013.

Scott-Heron, Gil. “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.” Pieces of a Man. RCA, 1995. CD.

© K.C. Hoffman and, 2013.

Part 7: Walking the Talk – Show Me the Pedagogy

April 16, 2013 § Leave a comment

An online Environmental Education collaboration between Finnish and Korean elementary school students revealed that students were more often interested in comments on their contributions, rather than providing feedback for their collaborators.  This is a common phenomenon in social media: banal, self-centred and content-devoid postings that are meant to coerce engagement.  For example, a posting of “boy, that’s thirty minutes I’ll never get back! LOL” is a thinly veiled plea to engage the poster.

Digital collaboration has a tendency of falling short of its promise, as was the case of the Finnish-Korean collaboration where “(e)nergy and resources were all used in creating one’s own products, which left neither time nor energy to comment on the work of others, although students loved reading comments on their work made by students from another country. It raises the need to emphasize commenting on other students’ postings as vigorous interaction” (Lee 250).  Lee continues further, reflecting that the study “contrary to our expectations, found student activities more task-centered than interaction-centered” (Lee 254).

The problem with 21st Century Teaching and Learning is that it hasn’t been adequately codified.  Paradoxically, the means for learning that it espouses impede the development of adequate pedagogies.  Web 2.0 lacks the mechanisms for peer review and vetting of content because the potential 2+ billion contributors are de facto peers, whether they possess expert knowledge or not.  “Despite the potential power of technology, it is generally not utilized effectively in teaching. A primary reason for this is that teachers do not know how technology can be employed in meaningful ways. While teachers have the necessary technical IT skills, pedagogic training is also needed” (Lee 253).  This raises an essential, but often overlooked, confusion about 21st Century Teaching and Learning: to paraphrase Michael Fellows, it’s “not about (technology), in the same way that astronomy is not about telescopes” (Fellows 2).  Though our students may be early adopters of digital technology, until sound pedagogies for digital collaboration are developed (Lee 254) the rules of social media engagement will prevail.

Lee, Okhwa, and Irja Leppisaari. “Modelling Digital Natives’ International Collaboration: Finnish-Korean Experiences of Environmental Education.” Educational Technology & Society 15.2 (2012): 244+. Academic OneFile. Web. 16 Jan. 2013.

Michael R. Fellows, “Compute Science in Elementary Schools.” (pp 143-163) In Fisher, Naomi, Harvey Keynes, and P Wagreich (eds.) Mathematicians and Education Reform, 1989-1990. Providence, R.I: American Mathematical Society, 1991. Web.  Retrieved from

© K.C. Hoffman and, 2013.

Part 6: Music Education as the Way Forward

April 16, 2013 § Leave a comment

Music education is ideally suited to drive Digital Global Collaboration, in part, for the reason outlined in Part 5: music is the age-appropriate, native content.  The exchange of music content on the Internet is the antecedent to all other content exchange (pornography notwithstanding).  Music education is further suited to lead because it is among the few subject areas in school that teach and promote creativity.  Content and creation situated in a digital medium is the essence of Web 2.0.

Why is music such a powerful mover of content?   Music, in addition to being content, is a means of communication and a way of knowing and, as such, has always represented a means of expressing social commentary on time, place and events: “We Shall Overcome”, “American Woman”, “What’s Going On?”, “Redemption Song”, “Fight the Power” and “Wavin’ Flags” are but a few examples from the past fifty years.  And so are “Gangnam Style” and “Chocolate Rain” (notably, a Darth Vader-inspired parody of “Chocolate Rain” has almost ten million YouTube views).

Students enter the learning environment, physical or virtual, with a well-established relationship to music as content and context: “Music-driven instructional activities support students’ construction of conceptual knowledge within a personally relevant and meaningful context, enhancing long-term memory and transfer” (Dunlap 62).

Dunlap, Joanne C. and Patrick R. Lowenthal. “Hot for Teacher: Using Digital Music to Enhance Students’ Experience in Online Courses.” TechTrends 54.4 (2010): 58-73. Web.

© K.C. Hoffman and, 2013.

Part 5: A Brief History of the Internet

April 16, 2013 § Leave a comment

Celia Haig-Brown throws down the gauntlet for students of education “to think first about their relation to the land they are on at that moment” (Haig-Brown 13).  She further challenges us: “How many generations does it take to become indigenous?” (qtd. in Haig-Brown 9).  I have an answer: one generation.

My uncle worked on cruise missile guidance systems for Boeing and during a visit to his home in the very early 1980s he introduced me to an IBM typewriter with a rubber adapter for a telephone handset in the back.  He dialed up the mainframe computer at Boeing and a few boings, dings and buzzes later we were playing logic games, the outcome typed out on the typewriter.  This was the Internet: as a military contractor Boeing was provided access.

Considering the virtual lands that have been cyber-terraformed in Second Life for the past decade as a precedent, I can now answer Haig-Brown’s first question and liberate myself of my diaporic-settler guilt and commensurate dislocation: when I’m on the Internet I’m on my indigenous land.

What kind of exchange and trade takes place in my native digital land?  Historically speaking, “music sharing” has been a form of indigenous exchange in digitally native online communities (e.g. Napster, Limewire), so it stands as an existing model and mechanism for the exchange of content, ideas and for the construction of knowledge.  Apart from military applications and academic exchange, music was among the first popular media content to be distributed via the Internet, pornography being the other.  “If it were not for the subject matter, pornography would be publicly praised as an industry that has successfully and quickly developed, adopted, and diffused new technologies” (Coopersmith 28).  Theft and illicit trade lay thick over the history of the digitally native territory.

Coopersmith, J. “Pornography, Videotape and the Internet.” Technology and Society Magazine, IEEE 19.1 (2000): 27-34. Web. Retrieved from

Haig-Brown, Celia. “Decolonizing Diaspora: Whose Traditional Land Are We On?” Cultural and Pedagogical Inquiry 1.2 (2009): 4-21. Web. Retrieved from

© K.C. Hoffman and, 2013.

Part 4: Cloudroom vs. Classroom

April 16, 2013 § Leave a comment

Not only must a student be aware of the origins of digital media, but they must also be aware of emerging trends and where the media is headed.  Digital media are driven by information technology: we are all experientially aware of Moore’s Law through the ever-increasing speed and decreasing size of our personal digital devices and the concomitant acceleration of the advancement of digital technology.

Teachers need to be aware of the trends in learning through digital media so as not to be relegated – as an anthropological artifact – to the list of Walkman, Palm Pilot or Kodak.  This necessitates that a teacher not only utilize contemporary media in their classroom but also reach out to the technology that their students have embraced.  With the rapid uptake by students of hardware such as Smart Phones or Tablets and applications such as Twitter and Facebook the teacher must find ways to utilize these media in the classroom to deliver relevant and appropriate course content and engage the students in a dialogue on how the technology can be implemented to transcend its social origins and create a new paradigm for classroom learning.

Teachers must embrace the 19th Century classroom as 21st Century “cloudroom” (PR Newswire).  The role of the teacher, irrespective of subject, is as a guide to finding ways and means of achieving a student’s learning goals through the appropriate application of the student’s technological paradigm.

“New Initiative into Cloud Based Learning as Industry Reports Businesses’ Indifference.” PR Newswire Europe Including UK Disclose (2011) ProQuest Asian Business & Reference; ProQuest European Business. Web. 16 Jan. 2013.

© K.C. Hoffman and, 2013.

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