Summary of Learning

I have to say I’m disappointed that this class has come to a close.  Every week was so packed with learning and new opportunities.  I will attempt to summarize some of the major themes that I really connected with over the course of this term.  The first thing that really struck me was the Dave Cormier‘s talk on Connectivism and Rhizomatic Learning.  After spending 7 years teaching using the curriculum document given to me by the Province of Sask.  I realized after this session that networks and connections could be just as powerful as a well laid out curriculum.  The ability to learn from others is so valuable and often we don’t seek out these opportunities enough.  These topics led me into a realization that we need to be preparing students for a world of connected learning and networking.  The jobs our students have may not even exist right now so it’s critical that we give them digital literacy and move them from “knowledgeable to knowledge-able” as Michael Wesch put it.

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Looking at ways that students are using social media was also a huge eye opener for me. I have used a class twitter account for a few years now but social media in the classroom has always been a topic that I’ve tried to teach by being a positive role model.  However, I never really have taken the next step of allowing students more control of how we share our learning.  The tweets or posts are usually created with the class and sent out from all of us.  The student blogs are also highly monitored and closed to outside viewing or comments.  Although this means that I can control the safety and accessibility of the students, I now feel that using blogs and twitter in this way are very limiting and I started to question how to better use these tools.  I also wanted to balance these tools as complimentary to learning and not distracting from learning.  At times I feel as though when teachers pull up Instagram or Snapchat, we are invading student spaces to some degree although I believe it can be very engaging if used properly.  These types of tools can be amazing when utilized with students to build community and network with others around the world.

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The discussion then led into the safety of students online.  Again this was a good reminder for me of the dangers that our students can find themselves in online.  Some of the darker corners of the internet are places that I did not know existed.  4Chan, for example, was a website that I had never heard about and I realized that these are the places that some of our students are drawn.  As educators promoting online activity to enhance learning, it behooves us to know where our students may find themselves online.  Self-Trolling and the Pew study stats on Porn were also a huge wake-up call for me especially because I have at risk kids in my class.  This discussion gave me a whole new perspective of what kinds of emotional trauma students may be going through.  How to teach students to have safe online practices is something I definitely need to focus on in my own teaching.

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Trolls.  An interesting topic to say the least.  I had very little understanding about trolls and who they are when I first started this class.  I did not realize the lengths that people go to in order to disrupt people on line.  I have not really had experiences with trolls as of yet but I feel more prepared to know how to handle situations such these.  The degree to which woman are attacked and berated on line was also somewhat surprising to me.  Maybe I’m a bit naive.  I feel as though we have to do a better job educating students around this as we model how to behave with respect in online spaces.  

I also very much enjoyed the sessions on the open education movement.  The idea of knowledge not be owned by anyone is very appealing to me.  I realize that knowledge means literal power for many people around the world but the sharing of knowledge is such a crucial part of the education piece.  Having grown up in the Third World, I have seen the difference that an online course could make in someone’s daily life.  It could mean the difference between death or survival.  The story of Aaron Swartz as well as the work of Lessig and Shareski were very impactful in consideration of the reasons behind the proliferation of open education.  Even the completion of my learning project would not have been possible if not for the open learning environment of Kahn Academy.  These types of spaces allow people to learn from almost anywhere in the world.  As teachers I believe that we need to be more open with resources in order for the profession to thrive.  Teaching has been a profession in which young teachers do not survive because of burnout and lack of resources.  How much would it benefit our new teachers if they had resources to access when they first started teaching.  David Wiley’s ted talk was one of my favourite non-course assigned pieces that really highlighted what I was learning at the time.

In closing, I feel as though this course was a great introduction to the world of Social Media and open education.  I feel as though I’ve gained a valuable new PLN, learned a lot about safety online, become an advocate for social media in the classroom, and learned how to create a solid digital identity.  There is so much more to learn and I’m excited to continue blogging and documenting my learning in this field.  The key will be to use this new knowledge to move students from knowledgeable to knowledge-able.

Here is the Interactive story I coded to showcase what I’ve learned during the course.

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Learning to Code Online

When I started out in ECI 831, we were asked to consider a learning project.  The goal was to learn something new that we had never tried before.  Through documentation of our learning in an online setting, we would not only be learning something new but also reflecting on the process online.  I decided I would start learning to code.  I had a student in my class who was quite keen on it so I decided I would give it a try.  It was a bit of a rocky start, I have to say, because I was unaware of the sheer number of different programming languages available.  It was tough to know which one would be the best to use.  In addition, there were so many different places to learn as well.  From open online courses to dedicated sites for coding like CodeAcademy, and Hour of Code.  I started with Java and Javascript as a base because of the ability to do simple animations on websites etc.  It took me a while to be able to get a handle on how to give commands to the computer.  In this sense, as I’ve alluded to in the past on this blog, it really is like learning a new language.  Each function also has specific parameters that allow you to fine tune the action.

Once I completed a few smaller projects, I decided I would try to write a program that explained what I had learned during the term.  I used javascript to start writing a program with the help of some tutorials from Kahn Academy.  I have to say that the online coding community is awesome and very helpful when it comes to new learners in coding.  Below you can see an example of some issues I had with my program.  Within a few hours, several people had offered advice and one person had even sent me an example of his program to look at.  I have to say that overall the learning has been augmented by the social features built into the various online learning websites.  It’s imperative that learning takes place alongside others, even if you aren’t face to face.   Screen Shot 2016-04-10 at 1.43.09 PM

In the first blog post in this series, I stated some of my goals for this learning project.  Firstly, I wanted to learn about different coding languages and choose one to learn.  Secondly, I wanted to get a a basic understanding in a programming language to the point where I could carry out a basic task like creating a simple program.  Lastly, I wanted to learn a little about the basis for teaching in schools, the value in it and how I could possibly incorporate coding into my classroom.  Having set all these goals, I set to work learning to code.  Even after the coding for the course of this term, I still have a lot to learn.  In retrospect, it may have been a good idea to join an online open course dedicated to coding but I had little available time to commit to this so I chose to learn at my own pace.  Making connections online was at times difficult because I lacked a certain vernacular to participate in online chats and forums.  Twitter and coding chatrooms became a great source of information for me and I soon began connecting and asking questions of other coders.

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After a few initial projects, I started working on an interactive story that would serve as a summary of learning for the class.  It became apparent immediately that even to make a simple program would require hours and hours of coding.  Calling images or animating them was another process altogether.  One of the biggest things I learned during this whole process was patience.  It took a lot of patience to keep plodding along even though at some points, all I was able to accomplish was to make a simple button that clicked to the next screen.  I hope that this is something that will help me in the future as I teach my students how to use online spaces for learning.  These online contexts are so rich for reflection and documentation of learning and collaboration.  I still have lots to learn with regard to coding but in reflection on my goals set out at the beginning of the term, I feel that I have definitely, solidified in my mind the importance and benefits of teaching coding in the classroom, become familiar with coding on a basic level, and participated in online learning and documentation.  So, without further ado, have a look at my first interactive story.  I programmed this using Kahn Academy.  Hope you enjoy it!  

Luke Learns About Social Media

https://www.khanacademy.org/computer-programming/luke-learns-about-social-media/2956636555/embed.js?editor=yes&buttons=yes&author=yes&embed=yes

Made using: Khan Academy Computer Science.

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Creating a Computer Program Can’t Be That Hard, Can It?

For the past few weeks I’ve been working on coding my summary of learning project so I thought I’d share a little bit about the process of setting up your own program.  I decided to use Kahn Academy programming interface to set up the program which in my head would run like an interactive story of sorts.  The idea was to have characters in the story and include some animations and basic functions.  I chose to start with Javascript because so far it’s the language I’ve used the most and it allows for simple animations and basic functions like mouse clicks.  I have to admit that initially I had bitten off more than I could chew.  Mouse click functions turned out to be fairly straightforward.  The key is to make sure that the correct page is called up when the button is clicked.  Going through the process reminded me again of the connections between editing skills in writing and combing through your code to see where the problem is.  It takes a keen eye.  Sometimes it’s as simple as a missing semi-colon or an un-closed bracket.

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The second new trick I learned was how to make things move on the screen.  This was a bit more difficult because there are more parameters to keep in mind with the movements.  You have to basically tell the computer where you want the image to move, for how long, where to start, where to end, etc.  This took quite a bit longer than expected because I was reading and watching tutorials but I eventually had to take a look at some sample code to get me started.  This is where a open education course may have helped to give some further direction for my learning.  It becomes difficult to self motivate when you get stuck.  The beauty of online learning is that you do have access to a wealth of network options to ask questions.  It was great to go on some of the coding forums and ask questions to get clarification for how to set this up.  Twitter was also a huge help in finding great little nuggets and tidbits of information such as the one below.  This was a good article to read because it helped me realize how my program was being slowed done by clunky pieces of code.  For a smooth running program it is so important that the code is as succinct as possible.

The experience has been meaningful in many ways.  It has taught me patience, persistence, and has given me pride in learning a new skill.  It has also given me an appreciation for online learning and the importance of networks.  They give insights that would otherwise take years to uncover.  It’s a wealth of interactive knowledge that we have access to at any time of day or night.  In the end I will hopefully have the program finished in the next few days and will post the link when it is finished.  Although it has been a long and sometimes frustrating process, I feel as though I have definitely learned a lot and hope to continue with coding in the future.

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Activist or Slacktivist?

Social media has become a tool used to share opinions, broadcast ideas, connect with others and even learn to make a killer pot of soup.  The ease with which we can click the “like”, “retweet”, and “share” buttons makes it simple to reach a wide audience.  However, is the posting of opinions supporting a certain cause able to make a concerted difference in the long term?  Clearly, there are a number of visible advantages to the use of social media in the organization of protests and movements.  Think back to the Arab Spring in which Twitter and Facebook pages were dedicated to social and political change in Egypt and the Arab states played a crucial role in the fall of dictatorships across the Middle East.  In these movements, social media was used to organize protests, warn others of secret police arrests, and promote the cause for millions of users around the world to engage in the struggle.  Again during the earthquake in Haiti in 2010, social media became a critical means of communication among rescuers and victims.  Searches and rescues were often organized using social media platforms and updates from the crisis were spread around the world.  This information led to millions of dollars in aid being donated and thousands of volunteer teams being deployed.  It is clear that online activism does play a crucial role in the dissemination of important information during crises.  Aside from raising awareness about political turmoil and global catastrophes, social media also plays a role in promoting the work of social organizations, raising money for various causes, and even promoting social justice issues.  Why then, is the term slacktivism used to describe those who use social media to promote or support a cause?

Slacktivism has come under scrutiny in recent years due to several factors.  In one sense, it requires little to no effort for those involved.  Simply clicking on a button can give users an euphoric sense of participation in doing something good for someone else.  It has often been argued that this feeling supersedes the actual effects of the cause itself, letting online activists spiral into a vacuum of self-promotion rather than participating in true change.  As seen in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, videos were posted by the thousands but few made mention of the cause or the reason for taking part.  It became a huge popularity contest among some participants who tried to come up with the most creative way to take part.  Some celebrities opted to donate instead of creating a viral video thus choosing to draw attention away from the personal aspect and make it strictly about the cause.  The reality is that the ease with which we can take part in these campaigns and the publicity inherently involved translates to little true engagement.  The business and intensity that dictates our Western lifestyles means that as soon as the “like” or “share” button is clicked, the message is soon forgotten.  In Kirk Kristofferson’s recent research, it became apparent that

“those whose initial act of support is done more privately (for example, writing to a member of Congress) are more likely to engage in deeper, more costly forms of engagement later on. Those whose initial support is public (i.e. through posting to Facebook or Twitter) are less likely to engage more deeply”-Kirk Kristofferson et al.

Therefore it appears that the more public the initial action, the less likely that engagement in social action causes will remain high.

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I grew up in Mali, West Africa.  When teachers went on strike, students would riot in the streets, burning tires and blocking traffic.  Why?  They believed in their right to an education.  I saw kids like the one pictured above begging on the streets everyday.  I find it hard to reconcile the click of a button with the feeling that a difference is being made. However, I do believe that slacktivism can be an important precursor to true activism.  Is slacktivism a waste of time?  I don’t believe so.  As mentioned, the awareness drawn to social causes is immeasurable.  It is unknown who will view your “posts”, “likes”, “shares” and “retweets”.  It could be the start of something big for someone else.  The reality is that many in the Western world exist in everyday lives that are comfortable, predictable, and not easily shaken.  It becomes extremely difficult to justify the extrication of oneself from a life of relative comfort to march, strike, protest, or donate life savings to a cause.  Enter the world of easy, one-time engagement in social issues.  We can’t all sell our homes and move to war-torn countries to give aid on the ground.  It’s just not practical.  However, as suggested in the video below, there are measures we can take to ensure that if we truly believe in something, we can do our best to make a lasting difference.

  1. Ask yourself why you’re sharing or liking?  What’s the purpose?
  2. Have you done some research?  Go beyond the initial viral video you see to uncover more of the story behind the cause.
  3. Try engaging in a more private manor (i.e. an anonymous donation, WorldVision Sponsor a Child).  With the publicity component removed, there will be deeper engagement with the cause.
  4.  To see true change, find ways to alter the context the person is in.

Social media has been an amazing tool for the promotion of social and political movements.  Raising awareness is a key factor in the fight for change.  Slacktivists, keep clicking those “like”, “share” and “retweet” buttons.  Activists, it’s just possible you may have some former slacktivists joining your ranks very soon.  Activist or slacktivist, don’t we all desire a better world?

 

Featured Image Credit: www.technicianonline.com

To Speak and be Heard

As I reflected this week on the ability of my female counterparts to express themselves online, it became abundantly clear that many women and indeed people who are on the margins of society simply do not feel safe commenting in online spaces.  Depending on where you live in the world, the ease with which you may take part in meaningful conversations online will differ.  However, the differences are not simply geographical.  Those who are operating from a base of, often unseen, power will have much more social capital and therefore agency to participate in online discussion and be heard and validated without fear of reprisal.  These power bases can be socio-economic, gender-based, age-based, sexual orientation-based, race-based, class-based, and even ability-based.  Peggy McIntosh‘s work on white privilege is one example of how certain people in society operate from a base of power.  Here is another visible example of how privilege plays out in society.

Should we be surprised that people who are marginalized are experiencing feelings of fear and insecurity in online spaces because of who they are?  Not at all.  The human race has always been fearful of what is different, and for this reason, our prejudices are reflected online often times with more intensity and ferocity than occurs face to face.  Privilege exists in degrees and therefore some people will experience more while others experience less.  As shared by equity matters, it is “constructed and normalized by the established frameworks of society – narratives that have been developed based on the power struggles of history.”  As the narrative is reinforced, privilege is also further normalized. When I first began studying about this topic, I went through a variety of stages as I grappled with the reality of what I was reading.  At first, I denied it existed.  Then, I felt guilt. Finally, I realized that I could either be a part of the system or seek to change the discourse in order to foster change.  Over the past few years I have done an exercise like the one below with my students in order to get them to think about privilege a little bit.  Students at the front of the room are closer to the basket and therefore, have an easier shot than those at the back.  The comment “that’s not fair” comes almost immediately after I explain the game.  However, students soon realize the intended lesson and I have had some very meaningful discussions on equity with students who will hopefully continue to explore what privilege means in our society.

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Photo Credit: http://www.Buzzfeed.com

The online attacks on marginalized society members who are brave enough to speak up are a sad commentary on the state of society.  Racism, bigotry, sexism and hate are everywhere.  This is clearly evident in the amount of comment pages that have been shut down by news and media sites over the past few years.  Due to the fact that there is really no accountability for what is said online, it becomes challenging to receive justice in these cases.  Therefore, it becomes extremely difficult to know how to respond when attacked online.  Many countries do not have express laws addressing online harassment.  In addition, because it is often the marginalized who are the victims, there are few resources available for support in these situations.  In a 2014 PEW study, women and minorities experienced online harassment far more often than others and young women in particular were also experiencing more severe forms.

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As Kristy Tillman’s article in the New York Times stated, “anonymous communication certainly has its place on the Internet, but it is important to understand how our social ills are exacerbated when users are not required to be accountable for what they say, and how that disproportionately affects some individuals more than others.”  There are crucial steps that can be taken together in order to change the discourse and allow all members of society to feel the freedom of expression that is guaranteed in the charter. The first step is for those with agency to continue to lend their voices to the conversation.  The role of those with agency is thus crucial in addressing the issue of privilege and harassment.  If there is silence on this front, we are unequivocally signalling a surrender of equity, decency and respect for the human spirit.  Secondly, it is imperative that educators continue the slow and painstaking work of teaching about privilege at all levels.  To build on Justice Murray Sinclair’s words, education will be the key to changing the narrative and ensuring a disruption of social “norms.”  As we begin to recognize and do away with pieces of discourse that serve to divided us as people, there can be progress.

However, as Justin Ford explains, the best way forward does not come from pointing out the ills of society or playing the blame game.  It starts on the individual level.  It starts with me.  By recognizing the ways that I interact with privilege everyday, I can begin to, through small actions, equalize the playing field.  This may mean examining the way I treat women.  It may mean examining the way I treat minorities or my attitudes towards those with disabilities.  As I engage in these small daily exercises, the privilege will be recognized, confronted and dealt with.  It will not be easy.  Giving up something that gives you power or advantage is never easy.  Neither is learning to read or do math.  We model reading and mathematical strategies to students all the time.  Isn’t it time we started modelling examination of privilege as well?

 

Learning to Code, or Coding to Learn?

Over the past couple weeks I’ve turned my attention toward coding an interactive summary of some of the big concepts we’ve covered over the course of this term in ECI 831.  I have found that Javascript has been a lot of fun to use and has also allowed me to focus on one programming language in greater detail.  It has been interesting to read some of the other learning projects over the past few weeks as well.  In many ways, learning to play music or learning a new language has many similarities with learning to code.  The only difference is the type of language.  While Sarah Wandy and Logan Petlak are learning to read and speak using notes and bars, Amy Singh and Ashley Murray are learning a whole new set of vocabulary.  The language of computers is an interesting one because it is the means to communicate with an inanimate object.  I sometimes catch myself muttering to the computer incessantly as I try to get the coding errors to resolve themselves.

The reality is that unlike when I was learning French, there is no one there to tell you if you are giving the computer the correct commands.  The program either works or it doesn’t.  The lack of direction or interaction when learning online has been a challenge but I have appreciated the opportunity to slowly increase my understanding of coding with Javascript as it applies to animations and drawing.  As with anything that’s worth doing, it takes an incredible amount of time.  As a dad with young kids, it’s difficult sometimes to work on coding projects during the week.  So, I’ve learned to set reasonable goals for myself.  This helps me to stay positive and not to get frustrated when the program isn’t running the way that I want it to.  It’s been great getting inspiration from other developers online and chat rooms and communities of coders are a huge advantage when it comes to resolving issues.  In the end, learning anything new is going to be risky.  But, as Einstein once said…

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It gives me great encouragement watching young students get excited about programming because it is a skill that is so much more than simply learning to give commands to a computer.  As Jonathan Buchanan describes here, the skills used in programming are skills that can be applied to a variety of situations.  If a 10 year old can create their own app on the app store, surely I can learn to make a simple program of some kid right?

I was never a student who excelled in Math or Science so this has been especially challenging at times.  I have had to push myself to dive into the functions and how they work in order to understand the order in which to do things.  It is at times intimidating and I can not begin to tell you how much I have appreciated having the internet as a resource to look things up or to post a question about my progress.  I’m not really sure if I’m making good headway or not but I feel like every time I sit down at the computer to work on coding, I’m coming away with a a new tidbit so that feels good.  This short video sums up in some ways how I feel about coding but I know in the end it will be worth it.

I definitely don’t believe I could have gotten as far as this in one day without some help but on the other hand, it is always useful to remember that the networks of fellow coders are constantly posting and updating endless streams of code.  In this way, as is shared in the video, we can build on the work of others without having to start from scratch.  I’m constantly reminded that learning is a connected activity.  This is really comforting and makes me realize that in the end, it’s not me against the machine.  It’s me and a network of humans interacting with machines to help make the world a better place.

Internet Equality: Bridging the Digital Divide

If you’re old enough to remember a time before the internet, you’ve seen the world change a lot in the past 20 years.  People can access all types of information, take classes online, and even make a living online in a variety of ways.  Students can work collaboratively online while teachers can monitor their learning using a variety of tools.  As I’ve reflected this past week on the rights and privileges that accompany access to technology and the internet, I’ve been struck by several things.  It seems as though access to technology becomes yet another instance in which the less fortunate and those on the margins are further disadvantaged.  I have stated before that teaching in a community school has opened my eyes to the needs that exist right here in our own city.  Trying to help students learn becomes exceedingly difficult when they are experiencing deficits in lower levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy.  Add to these the lack of access to the technological advantages of some other schools in the city and it is clear to see that some students in Regina will simply have greater chances of success than others.

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This argument can be extended to the rest of the world as we see the same types of issues on the macro level.  For example, internet users per 100 people in the developing world are between 90-99%.  This includes countries in Europe, North America, and Australia.  While countries in the developing world are at 9-20%.  It shouldn’t surprise us that the countries with the highest access rates are also the countries with the highest quality of life and lowest unemployment rates.  I do not mean to draw unnecessary correlations between internet access and quality of life but it is yet another factor to add to the already long list of disadvantages for people living in these countries.  Facebook has recently become a major player in the push to increase access to the internet for those in the Third World.  However, the question that is always asked of large companies seemingly interested in philanthropy is “what’s in it for you?”  Big companies clearly see that in these undeveloped parts of the world, the potential for profit is huge. In this case it is much like the Europeans that first landed on the shores of Africa and South America.  Just as the colonizers saw opportunity for exploitation in these “new” lands, big internet players see enormous potential if they can corral potential future users of their product or service.

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This is why it is crucial that the internet remain an open and free environment that is not predicated on who pays more or has more political connections.  The internet was supposed to be the great equalizer.  It was supposed to help everyone have an equal opportunity to access information, make connections, and have a voice.  Individuals and companies alike should have the right to access information and services at comparable speeds to anyone else.  However, if big companies have monopolies in certain areas of the world, they will be the ones deciding who has access to what, for how long and at what speed.  For everyone to have an equal chance at internet access and usage, internet access equality must be in place to allow individuals to access information and promote services regardless of their socio-economic status.  Why is this important?  Well, for one thing although it is clear that socio-economic status is a huge factor in the future prospects for students, the current popularity of open education means that opportunities are available but inaccessible to those without information technologies.

As Aleph Molinari discusses in the video found above, the internet is “a basic social necessity of the 21st century and therefore it should be considered a right not a privilege.” With 5 billion people in the world who are digitally excluded, what will be the state of the digital revolution we are experiencing in North America and Europe if only 30% of the world’s population are included.  In essence this indicates that 70% of the world’s ideas, insights and innovations are completely untaped.  In Molinari’s model, RIA, community centres with computers and internet access are provided to communities in need of these services.  The centres are also equipped with educational software to enable both youth, seniors and everyone in between to have access to what they need to improve their lives.  They are also built with sustainability in mind.  Users are given opportunities to learn how to use computers and build connections and networks while learning to also become digital citizens.  This is one model but there are many others.

With the influx of new immigrants and refugees to Canada and other developed nations, we need to be providing training and opportunities to people who can lend their voice to digital conversations around war, reconciliation, peacekeeping, citizenship, immigration, politics, etc.  They also need to be able to access and navigate the myriad of forms, databases and information hubs necessary for survival in Canadian society.  For anyone who has ever tried to navigate the CRA or Government of Canada websites to retrieve a form or file a claim, I think you understand what I mean.  Now imagine that you don’t speak English or French, you’ve never used a computer before and you’re trying to register your baby for a SIN number.  It’s not just newcomers to Canada that are faced with this issue.  First Nations reserves across the country are also faced with this reality.  Low income urban neighbourhoods are another example of citizens with little to no access to technology or the internet.

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So, what’s the answer?  What is the role of educators and indeed all digital citizens in building a bridge across the digital divide? There are a number of positive options you can be involved in.  Volunteer at a local library to teach newcomers to use computers. Make an online connection with someone in a developing country to help them practice their English.  Donate to an organization that supplies computers or digital centres to underprivileged communities.  Raise money through fundraising with your students to provide technology for underprivileged communities.  Above all, remember that because you are already a part of the digital world, it is incumbent upon you to fight for the inclusion of those whose voices are not heard.  Do you agree that internet access is a right for all people? If so, let’s fight for it and fight to protect it.