Tagged: education

Ontario Premier Says Cellphones Could Be Useful In The Classroom

This post originally appeared on Techdirt.

With schools, cell phones and a politician in the same headline, you’d think the story would be about another attempt to ban technology, but in Ontario, Premier Dalton McGuinty is telling schools to be open to uses for cellphones in the classroom.

McGuinty, who won’t even let his ministers keep the devices during cabinet meetings, said he understands they can be a major distraction, but there is a “right way” to use them in class.

“Telephones and BlackBerrys and the like are conduits for information today, and one of the things we want to do is to be well-informed,” he said. “And it’s something that we should be looking at in our schools.

The issue came up in light of the Toronto District School Board rethinking its blanket ban, and “exploring ways to make [mobile devices] more acceptable.”

Political opponents are already mocking McGuinty, and his government does have a really mixed track record on technology… but the comments here are actually quite reasonable. There’s room between the “discipline theater” approach of a total ban and the teacher’s nightmare scenario of a total free-for-all. A good acceptable use policy would attempt to reduce distractions while not precluding ways in which mobile technology can be helpful in the classroom.

I attended a strict private high school in Toronto from 2001-2005, and we had a blanket ban on electronic devices… but teachers were smart enough to know when it made sense to ignore the ban. I used my PDA to take notes and manage homework in every class, and another student in my year often used a tablet computer. The ban was eventually lifted after I graduated, acknowledging the fact that more and more students were using laptops and mobile devices in ways that helped them learn, while I’m sure they still have a no nonsense policy for students goofing off or distracting others. Rules are needed to minimize bad uses, but that shouldn’t prevent people from exploring good uses.

So, good for McGuinty for recognizing that we’re better off exploring applications for mobile technology in the classroom than simply trying to ban it.

Read the comments on Techdirt.

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Principal Installs Cellphone Jammer But Forgets To Check If It’s Legal

This post originally appeared on Techdirt.

Many educators are having trouble figuring out how to handle electronic devices in the classroom. Some have been educating students on the negative effects, encouraging them to regulate their own use. Others have even highlighted possible applications for mobile devices in the classroom. Though, many just try to ban everything. A principal in British Columbia took his school’s ban to a new level by setting up a cellphone jammer. There was just one problem — the device is illegal in Canada. The principal had ordered the Chinese device online, but some angry students were quick to find out and inform him that he was breaking the law. So much for that idea. Now, he’s left looking pretty bad while cellphone use in school now seems like some kind of civil rights issue to some students.

It seems like this is less about the cellphone ban and more about maintaining authority in the school. On that front… this completely backfired. Plenty of schools have effective cellphone bans without resorting to technological blocks (I attended such a high school). Maybe the principal should explain to students and teachers why cellphones are a problem, set some reasonable guidelines for use and some reasonable consequences for violations of the policy. That would probably go a lot further to establish the principal’s authority and gain his students’ respect than installing an illegal device and being forced to backtrack ever could.

Read the comments on Techdirt.

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Canonical’s schizophrenia about FOSS

Last month, George Farris began a thread on the Ubuntu-devel-discuss mailing list questioning the license choice of Ubuntu training material. The training manuals are released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA license, which is non-free because it doesn’t allow commercial use. George asks, “why on earth would you not allow educational institutions to use this material in classes?” Billy Cina from Canonical responded:

The purpose of the license is to prevent the material being used for profit-seeking purposes. If you (or anyone else) is from a not-for-profit institution or running community classes etc., then this material is 100% intended for that. Charging students minimal fees to cover expenses is also ok.

The problem is that isn’t true. Neal McBurnett highlights the huge legal gray area surrounding the non-commercial clause. When George brings up a practical example of using the manual to offer a course on Ubuntu and charging a student fee ($50-$199.00), Billy confirms the problem: “Non-profit are key words. $50 – $199.00 sounds like profit seeking to me.”

Scott Kitterman retorted that “if this were packaged for inclusion in Ubuntu it would have to go into Multiverse because it does not carry a free license.” I added that there are other free licenses available which are better suited for documentation and inline with the Ubuntu philosophy and the philosophies of free software and open source software communities: CC BY, CC BY-SA, GNU Free Documentation License.

Billy Cina provided an unfortunately empty corporate response:

Ubuntu is a free distribution and will always continue to be free. However, this does not mean that every service provided to support Ubuntu or its further expansion must also be free. Both the Ubuntu community and Canonical have invested a lot of time and money in developing this course, it is therefore reasonable for: a. the community to be able to use the material (freely) to further spread the work of Ubuntu and grow the user base, and b. for Canonical to determine who should be seeking a profit out of its investment.

The problem is… well, the whole statement.

Billy muddles the two meanings of the word free. No one expects that every service provided to support Ubuntu will be provided at no cost, but one does expect Canonical to have a more consistent respect for the freedom central to the open source software it provides. Using a non-free license by choice seems inconsistent with Canonical’s stated mission of “facilitating the continued growth and development of the free software community” since it’s inconsistent with the community’s beliefs and restricts its development.

More importantly, the community isn’t able to use to the work freely. Community members are in a legal gray area, at best, if they want to be compensated for any time and money they spend on training if they make use of these materials because of the non-commercial clause. Nevermind the implications for business users in the community.

Yes, Canonical has the legal right to make this decision. But Canonical (and the community) would benefit from some consistency in their commitment to free software and free culture. If everyone in the free software world believed it was reasonable “to determine who should be seeking a profit out of [their] investment[s],” Canonical wouldn’t have a distribution.

Scott Kitterman says:

The exact same argument applies equally well to the Ubuntu distribution. I don’t see how it’s somehow better for documentation that the community contributed to than for the distribution.

Personally, I don’t expect there’s much more point in discussing this as this seems to me to be typical of Canonical’s schizophrenia about FOSS.

The non-commercial clause is counter-productive. It severely limits the use of the materials, when such use would only further the adoption of Ubuntu and by extension a demand for Canonical’s services.

If I were a small business considering Canonical’s distribution, I’d be concerned that Canonical thinks it ought to control profit-seeking within its community.

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Catholic school religious knowledge test: What’s so controversial?

The Toronto Catholic District School Board is piloting a new religious knowledge test for fourth grade students in order to assess the effectiveness of the religious education program delivery. This is not a test of students, but a test for the board. Yet, the Toronto Star thinks it’s controversial.

I don’t understand the objections to such an assessment.

The Toronto Star quotes Trustee Sal Piccininni:

Our faith is tested every day, with our morals and the way we live our lives. We don’t need to put pen to paper on that.

That’s nice. No one’s asking students to do that.

And John Podgorski from the Ottawa board says:

If I proposed it to my board, I don’t think it would go forward. The educational goals associated with religious education … are designed to draw forth some of the deeper questions about life, deeper values like your sacred dignity as a person, the value of friendship, family, community, justice in the world – those are the kinds of deeper questions posed through religious life programs.

That’s nice. I agree, those are the broader educational goals. How in the world does an assessment of the program undermine that?

There are some concrete things that kids ought to learn in a Catholic school through a religious education program. What are the sacraments? What is the significance of various Christian holidays? Who’s the pope? Can you recite the Lord’s Prayer? Things like that. These aren’t tests of character, faith or morality, but of curriculum. Going to a Catholic school, students are educated about the Catholic faith. The board is trying to get some feedback in the same way that the Ministry of Education gets feedback through its standardized tests.

What’s so controversial about that?

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