7 Things Meme

OK, so I’ve been tagged by both Rodd Lucier and Angela Maiers in the “7 Things You Did Not Know About Me” meme, so I guess I’ll give this a try. OK, where do I start?

1) I have walked away from three major car accidents in my life (not the driver in any of these).

    a) The first was a roll-over at about age 16. Luckily, none of us were hurt.

    b) The second, at age 23, was a roll-over on the daily, 1 hour commute on the way to teach in small town Saskatchewan. The driver wasn’t wearing a seatbelt and broke his back, but I believe he is fully recovered today. I felt especially lucky at the time because I remember sitting in the back, before the crash, trying to retrieve the seatbeat. At one point, I just gave up, and figured I would go to sleep without. A few minutes later, the passenger beside me tapped me on the shoulder, and had taken the time to pull out the seatbelt for me. I acknowledge this act of kindness as having saved my life, or at least, from severe injury.

    c) The third was the most serious, and happened in Greece in 2005. I was in a taxi with another occupant when we hit a large truck that was backing up. The taxi driver was killed instantly, and the occupant in the back lost part of his leg. I walked away. The crash was difficult for me on a number of different levels. The taxi driver had taken taken my fare after several other drivers tried to overcharge. I remember him speaking about how such drivers gave Greek taxi drivers a bad name, and that they were crooks. I remember him speaking fondly about his family. He was a good man. And then, that was it.

Incidentally, I took a photo of the driver before the accident and for some reason, it did not pick up the proper EXIF date data. Whenever I open up iPhoto, he’s the first photo that comes up. All of the other photos I took during my trip formatted correctly.

2) My middle name is Valintino. No one else in my family has a middle name (not a Greek tradition), but since I was born on February 14, the doctor that it would be “cute” to give me that name.

3) I never wanted to teach. I went into the B.Ed program for lack of better options. Even when I was done, I didn’t want to teach. Then, I got my first job at St. Michael’s College, a First Nations residential school near Duck Lake, Saskatchewan. It was the biggest challenge of my life. I was threatened with violence, had my car vandalized, and felt that it would be impossible to relate the least bit to my students. And this was just in my first three months of teaching. But, right before Christmas break, in my first year, several of my students came to see me. They wanted me to know that I was making a difference. I won’t get into the details, but it was what I needed at the time. And, more importantly, I think it was what they needed as well. Needless to say, I fell madly in love with teaching that year, and I have never looked back.

4) Similarly to Angela Barbara, I am deathly afraid of heights. However, I can do amusement park rides, gondolas, and that sort of thing. But, I fear heights when I am not secured to or inside something, where I have the ability to fall. I cannot get on my own roof.

5) One of best jobs I have ever had was as a ride operator at Kinsmen Park Rides in Saskatoon. I spent four summers operating a mini-train (I considered myself an engineer), a ferris wheel, and a merry-go-round. The pay was good, the hours were great, and it was stress-free. Hmmmm …wondering if they are still hiring?

6) I was once a very skilled percussionist and pianist. I quit both. I remember my music teacher crying because I quit. I’ve always regretted it.

7) Although I am not what you would consider a religious person, I have had two distinct spiritual experiences that I cannot explain.

    a) First, the night before my grandfather Aleco died, I recall him speaking to me in a dream, telling me goodbye, and that I should take care of my mother (his daughter). I had never dreamt about him before that time, or after. I remember the dream, and then my mother waking me up, telling me that she had just learned that he had passed away.

    b) After a very late night in Saskatoon during my undergraduate days, my friend and I collected ourselves and headed back to Humboldt, where we were working that summer. It was about an hour long drive, and we were very tired. I was driving, but fell asleep probably about 15 minutes into the trip. I remember that moment vividly. As I fell asleep, I felt a firm hand grab my shoulder and my first name being called. I woke up instantly, just in time to veer back into my lane, and away from the half-ton truck coming in our direction. My friend was still passed out in the passenger seat and no one else was in the car.

That got a bit deeper than I expected. :-)

Alright, I duly tag the following people:

What is a PLN? Or, PLE vs. PLN?

I am currently writing a chapter regarding open and networked learning. I have used the term Personal Learning Network (PLN) dozens of times over the last few years, and have seen it mentioned countless times in blog and microblog posts, and other forms of media. However, I cannot seem to find a solid reference or definition for the concept of PLN. I sent out several email messages asking people if knew of an existing article or reference for the PLN definition, and I have yet to receive a response. About the best lead I could find was a post from Stephen Downes that mentioned “Dave Warlick has taken the concept of the Personal Learning Environment, renamed it (to Personal Learning Network).”

I thought it was appropriate to ask the question to my PLN (or what I perceive as my PLN) via Twitter. I asked if anyone had a definition for a PLN, or if they knew the difference between a personal learning network and personal learning environment (PLE). I received varied responses, and the majority of these are pasted below. To make more sense of this conversation, read these from the very bottom to the top as they are in reverse chronological order.

PLN Conversation 15
\PLN Conversation 14
PLN Conversation 13
PLN Conversation 12
PLN Conversation 11
PLN Conversation 10
PLN Conversation 9
PLN Conversation 8
PLN Conversation 7
PLN Conversation 6
PLN Conversation 5
PLN Conversation 4
PLN Conversation 3
PLN Conversation 2
PLN Conversation 1

There were a number of interesting perceptions revealed regarding PLNs and PLEs. Participants of this conversation seem passionate about these topics, and there are some very interesting research questions that begin to emerge. If anyone has suggestions for existing academic research that relates to PLNs and PLEs, please let me know.

And this conversation itself seem to have sparked some creativity around these questions. For instance, @bookjewel posted this conversation to Plurk, where @catspyjamasnz (Joyce) developed and shared this diagram (below) that describes her current understanding of the differences between the PLE and PLN.


I also received a Twitter direct message from @BlancheMaynard who shared this important distinction:

PLN is organic; PLE is mechanic. You can use ‘tools’ like Twitter within your PLE to access your network, but the tool isn’t the network.

And, I received a very thoughtful email from @jrichardson30 (Jeff) that helped to give me insight into PLNs and this very conversation. I have included only a small piece of this message as I am hoping Jeff posts his thoughts in their entirety in his own space.

I have a PLN but really haven’t tried to describe it. I have talked about PLN’s with the teachers at my schools but I really haven’t defined it in any certain terms…much less in 140 characters (actually, 132 characters by the time I added in the @courosa to respond on Twitter). So I distilled out what I thought was a somewhat thoughtful response and tweeted it. Well, just like any good steward of Twitter, Dr. Couros quickly responded to my answer. But his response was another question! Isn’t that what good teachers do…use good questioning techniques to get students thinking on higher levels? Of course it is. And he must be a good teacher because his question led me to closely examine what a PLN really is…to discover what it means to me personally. It’s not that defining a PLN has been a pressing issue for me or something that I have lost sleep over. It’s the fact that I entered into a conversation, shared my thoughts and then the conversation didn’t just end. It was been furthered by another person’s response and question…a true conversation.

This conversation has become a learning opportunity for me, my chance to create meaning and gain a better understanding for myself…a meaning and understanding that I can then share with others in my PLN. Maybe I can further this conversation or enter into a new one, but the difference will be that I have something NEW to bring to the community because of my personal discovery as a result having a PLN. Isn’t that our goal for our students…for them to authentically engage in the learning process so as to create/discover meaning that is useful to them personally and then hopefully to contribute to the larger society? Isn’t that what a good citizen does? I believe that is what a PLN is all about…To act as a source AND catalyst for this sort of thought-provoking conversation and authentic experience mentioned above that leads us to a point where are required to engage, to reflect, and ultimately to contribute instead of just consuming.


From a simple question on Twitter, I received dozens of twitter replies, direct messages, and email responses. While I am still having trouble defining exactly what this is, I know that what I observe to be my PLN has dramatically changed the way I view teaching, communities, and the negotiation and formation of knowledge.

So let’s keep the conversation going. What are your thoughts?

A Busy Week

The last seven days have been very busy for me, especially with presentations. Here are some of the highlights, and a few things to come.

Last Friday (Nov. 21/08), I presented Academic Integrity and the Culture of Sharing to instructors of the Faculty Certificate Program with SIAST (in Saskatoon). View slide deck.

On Saturday (Nov. 22/08), I presented on the use of technologies in the research process for the Learning From Practice conference. I created a wiki to support this presentation.

On Monday (Nov. 24/08), I co-presented with Dean Shareski on The New Interactive Classroom: Education, Teaching & Globalization for the Talking about School & Society series. Related to this, there was something quite interesting that happened earlier that day. My colleagues, Patrick Lewis and Marc Spooner, were interviewed for a local CBC Radio program called Blue Sky. While this was going on live, I asked people from Twitter to call in and ask questions and email the program. Before we knew it, we had calls from Virginia and Massachusetts, and an email was reported from Holland. Not bad for local radio, and I really have to want to do more with this idea. The radio program is well worth listening to, so here’s the link.

On Wednesday (Nov. 26/08), I spoke to a group of undergraduate students about social justice and technology. We were INCREDIBLY lucky to have had Howard Rheingold join us from California to speak about the concept of smart mobs and technology for political action/activism.. Howard is a pioneer of online communities, has been doing great stuff recently with the Social Media Classroom, and is one of my heroes. I put together a wiki to support this presentation as well.

On Thursday (Nov. 27/08), I presented from my office to Manitoba for Awakening Possibilities. I was joined by a list of terrific presenters as we were tasked with “5 minutes to make a difference.” These presentations have been archived, and are available here.

And now, after this busy week, it is time to switch gears as I will be leaving to Ukraine next week. A colleague and I are involved in the project “Youth Development of Democratic Citizenship” funded by a Partnerships for Tomorrow Phase II grant. My role will be to look at how technology can mediate long-term partnerships in the Ukraine, and focus on concepts of democratic media, digital citizenship, and social justice.

And when I get back … I have a week to finish my annual review forms, and write a chapter on the concept of open teaching.

I am happy (and lucky) to be busy … but I’m just a little stressed.

Streaming from the iPhone w/ Qik

I have been playing with Qik for the last couple of weeks. Qik is a service that allows you to stream video from your mobile phone. It has been released officially for the Blackberry, but has not yet been authorized for the iPhone. Thus, to use it on the iPhone, you need to jailbreak your phone.

Qik - University of Regina Tour

Today, I took a short tour of my campus green while I streamed video from my iPhone. The video is automatically recorded, so if you are interested in seeing the results, click here. You will notice that I seem like I am talking to myself, but I am actually responding to the text chat that is superimposed over the video on the iPhone. Viewers reported good results, although several complained that they had to continue to hit refresh to see the live video.

So, minus the lack of content and mumbling, what do you think of the quality of video and audio? More importantly, what are some possible implications or educational uses for video from a mobile device?


Barack Obama has just been announced the winner of the 2008 US Election. This is an incredibly important day for the United States, and an even more pivotal time in US race-relations. Coincidentally, today was also an important day for my family. It was today that we received a letter from the Government of Canada with two distinct identification cards. The contents of the envelope will forever shape the identities and destinies of my children. The letter reads:

Enclosed is your Certificate of Indian Status (CIS) card. This card identifies you as an Indian within the meaning of the Indian Act and thus entitles you to certain benefits.


See, while my own heritage is Greek, my wife is of Ojibwa descent. More important, from the perspective of our government, she is classified as a “Status Indian” and thus listed in the Indian Register. The Register would include the information that she is also a “Treaty 4 Indian” whose ancestors signed an agreement for certain rights in the exchange for rights to land; a huge mass of territory that spread from southeastern Alberta, through southern Saskatchewan, to western Manitoba. So, for those interested in why this is important, bear with me. But first I want to explain how this all works. It’s a game of numbers, a system that was borne of assimilationist policies.

When treaties were signed between the Europeans and First Nations, in some cases, the duration of the agreement was expressed with the phrase “as long the sun shines, the rivers flow, and the grass grows.” Yet, the system was set up intentionally to assimilate First Nations people into a subset of the colonial culture so that these individuals would eventually lose this status. For instance, had I married my wife prior to 1985, she would have lost her status for marrying a non-status man. Other ways of losing status included: (i) enfranchisement (until 1960, an Indian could vote in federal elections only by renouncing Indian status), (ii) having a mother and paternal grandmother who did not have status before marriage (these people lost status at 21), and (iii) being born out of wedlock of a mother with status and a father without. (Source)

Since 1985, the process of losing status has changed. This is how it works. See if you can follow along:

1985: Amended to allow First Nations women the right to keep or regain their status even after “marrying out”, and to grant status to the children (but not grandchildren) of such a marriage. This amendment was debated in Parliament as Bill C-31. Under this amendment, full status Indians are referred to as 6-1. A child of a marriage between a status (6-1) person and a non-status person would qualify for 6-2 (half) status, but if his/her child in turn married another 6-2 or a non-status person, the child will be non-status. If a 6-2 marries a 6-1 or another 6-2, their children will revert to 6-1 status. Blood quantum is disregarded, or rather, replaced with a “two generation cut-off clause”. According to Thomas King, around half of status Indians are currently marrying non-status people, meaning this legislation will accomplish complete legal assimilation in a matter of a few generations.

So, in this case, my children are 6-2s. If either of them have children with a 6-1 or 6-2, their children will revert to 6-1 status. If they do not, their treaty status is lost forever. And as you can read above, the system is set up to fulfill a complete legal assimilation, where the promises of the treaty no longer need to be fulfilled.

So, I looked back at this brief line on the letter that we received today regarding these “certain benefits”. First, these must be understood as much more than just “benefits”. What the Treaties promised were in fact literal “rights and freedoms”, many of which have continued to decay over the course of generations. Second, it is important to understand that being a First Nations individual in Canada has all sorts of hidden “benefits”. How about systemic racism? The highest suicide rate among young people in Canada? The shared history of genocide of an entire people and culture? As someone who has served over a decade with First Nations education, I have witnessed how these hardships and atrocities continue to affect First Nations communities.

So I wonder about the future of my children as they navigate through life with these complex cultural and political identities. My children have been born into privilege, into above average socio-economic status. At the same time, their destinies will be forever linked with racial, legal, and social definitions of their heritage. How will they be treated in their classrooms by other students? How will teachers view my children as learners? Most importantly, how will my children negotiate these complex social perceptions and craft identities that are uniquely their own?

My wife and I hope that our children will learn about and embrace the cultures of their grandparents. The languages, dances, music, traditions, and rituals of both these cultures are rich and wonderful. Someday, I hope to take my son and daughter to Greece, to explore the land of my mother and father. As for the lands of their First Nations’ ancestors, we live on that very land, but these ‘nations’ and these once proud people no longer exist as before. My children need to understand why this is so, and why such crimes against humanity must never happen again.

Video Contest: Bill C61 in 61 Seconds

From Michael Geist and FairCopyright4Canada:

Canadian Industry Minister Jim Prentice introduced Bill C-61, which many have dubbed the Canadian DMCA, in June 2008. There was an immediate outcry from thousands of Canadians concerned that the bill would render illegal every day activities and harm both consumers and businesses.

The C-61 in 61 Seconds video competition is one way that you can speak out. Just post your video as a response to this video. We will post the best videos on the FairCopyright4Canada channel. Deadline for submission is September 1st. A great panel of judges that includes the Barenaked Ladies Steven Page and Ontario Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian will select the best of the best. The winners will be announced on September 15th.

To make sure that your voice for fair copyright in Canada is heard, be sure to write to your MP, the Minister, and join the Fair Copyright for Canada Facebook group today.

EC&I 831: Island Hopping Cruise Ship

I’m finally getting a chance to go through some of the data collected from the study of my EC&I 831 graduate course. I absolutely love this passage from former student, Cindy Seibel, who describes her learning experience in the course.

To me this course was a personal journey loosely coupled in a community. I liken it to an island-hopping cruise ship. When we were on the ship on Tuesdays and Wednesdays there was an array of activities for us to participate in. Then we would stop at an island, get off and go on a personal investigation. We could sit on the beach and reflect, or go off an investigate something that had been triggered for us on the last ship’s activity. Our reflections and learnings were captured in our blogs and we would seek out each other through those expressions. Others outside the course would also participate in the same way, joining us randomly on the island or the ship. Then we would get back on the ship on Tuesday for a new buffet. So could we have done that with a closed LMS? I don’t think so. The public blogs were absolutely key to this experience. The open wiki was important as it forced us to “put ourselves out there”. That was an important part of the experience. We learned that there is a network out there if we choose to participate. The tools are almost secondary. Connecting to the network was key.

I love the cruise ship analogy. As well, I want to pay close attention to Cindy’s description of a “personal journey loosely coupled in a community.” It is an important distinction.

Is Google Making Us Stupid?

Can you relate?

Over the past few years I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isn’t going—so far as I can tell—but it’s changing. I’m not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when I’m reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.

I certainly can. Read this article, that is, if your attention span allows it.

Crash on Highway One

I made it to Banff tonight. I’m here to present at CNIE. It has been a crazy trip.

On the way here, we were a minute behind a semi truck hitting a compact car, trapping two occupants, and it appeared that one person flew out into the ditch. We pulled over, ran to their assistance, called 911 (the semi driver didn’t have a cell phone), and using my GPS was actually able to tell emergency services pretty much exactly where it happened. It looked really grim at first, after seeing the car I figured there was no hope. I tried to comfort the victims in the car, telling them that help was on the way. Claudia got some blankets from the semi-driver and comforted the other woman in the ditch. About 20 minutes, a police car pulled up. I yelled at the officer to come down to the ditch. As he walked down into the water, he started talking to the people in the car. That’s when I noticed that the officer was a student that I had once taught as a preservice teacher (he became an RCMP officer after he got his B.Ed). In the insanity, we quickly recognized each other but didn’t talk about it until the ambulances arrived, and after I gave my statement. The whole incident … incredibly surreal.

I am thinking that everyone will be OK. The woman in the ditch had the worst injuries, but she received attention excellent attention when the paramedics arrived. I am so happy that help came soon.

Here is a photo I took after everyone was being cared for.

Crash on the Way to Calgary

So after all of this, on the way home, two things come to mind.
1) As much as I am enjoying the 3662008 project, and actually starting to think like a photographer in some ways, I couldn’t imagine being the photographer that takes photos of people while they suffer. Remember the fate of Kevin Carter?

2) As much as I tout online social networks, I have been having these really weird coincidences lately, meeting people on the road, in places where neither of us should logically be. In the last few months, I’ve had at least 5 experiences with old connections like this. What does this mean? It’s kind of freaking me out!

3) Hug your family … hard. In fact, my little girl is sleeping on my lap as I type this. Tragedy can happen at any moment, and we are lucky to have every second we can with our loved ones.

Stephen Downes on Personal Learning

We are all delighted to have had Stephen Downes speak to our EC&I 831 class last Monday, March 11, 2008. Stephen framed his presentation around personal learning and we received a first-hand look at how Stephen manages an immeasurable amount of information through his own customized software approach.

The presentation is available as a recorded Elluminate session, and the slides are available via Slideshare (below).

You can also download the recorded audio podcast (thanks Rob).

Note: In order to be responsive to constructive feedback, we will be releasing all of the presentation audio from EC&I 831 in audio-only, podcast format. Watch for this.

Thanks so much Stephen! You’ve added an invaluable contribution to the course and to the students of EC&I 831.

My 3yr Old And Second Life

EC&I 831 is touring Second Life next Wednesday. I have only recently explored Second Life seriously, and I am looking forward to our tour. Tonight, my daughter came into the room where I was exploring SL. She took over the controls, and within 10 minutes, she pretty much mastered the basics. Take a look.

Now hopefully, technical issues aside, my Graduate students will be able to pick it up as quickly.