Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Words Worth Repeating and Remembering

I love Alberta. Here, I am surrounded by a diverse and rich ecosystem: the Rocky Mountains and snow, the prairies, hills and valleys and crops, the deserts and dinosaurs, the northern forests and lakes, flora and fauna painted overhead by the aurora borealis.

While I love traveling across Canada and around the world, I can honestly say, much to the chagrin of my wonderful Maritime-born husband, that I never want to live anywhere else. I was born approximately two hours southeast of Calgary; I have lived in Alberta my whole life. Generations of my family have worked the land, built and taught in the schools and worked on the oil rigs. One grandmother started a kindergarten in her basement when the town needed one; another grandmother taught elementary school all week and played golf in the scrub on weekends. My great-uncle raised sheep in the southern desert, and another uncle raised cattle and grew grain in the center. Cousins have worked the rigs, uncles have built hundreds of homes and office buildings, and aunts have nursed the sick in Alberta hospitals.

I guess you could say I am "dug in" because my roots are in Alberta. I have lived in or close to Calgary almost as long as the University of Calgary has been a University. I was schooled in Alberta, I went to University in Alberta, I work in Alberta, and I am bringing up my children in Alberta. I will probably die here (my sisters and I have talked about having our ashes spread at the foot of the Three Sisters Mountains near Canmore).

Why the focus on Alberta? Or me, for that matter? Well, it IS my blog... Really, though. I am currently reading Catherine Ford's book, "Against the Grain: An Irreverent View of Alberta". I picked this book up after attending Ford's talk at a conference in Banff. "Against the Grain" captures the spirit and complexities of the hard working settlers who carved homes and livelihoods out of the prairie, the ranchers whose cattle and lifestyle both complemented and competed with the land, and the oil and gas and coal barons who mined the riches beneath the land. On her tour through several cities and towns, Ford explores the complex tensions that characterize Alberta's social, political, economic and cultural heritage and present day life and landscape in the province.

Ford's book about Alberta is a "personal story, filled with the love and hope and anger of any intimate relationship" (p. 11). She describes Alberta as "a complex province, still young and growing, still not sure what it wants to be when it grows up" (p. 11). I love Albertans - while visiting with Eastern relatives or in-laws, it becomes clear that the entrepreneurial, hard-working and optimistic attitude that I associate with my people, which deserves respect, is often met with disdain and a lack of understanding - to some, we Albertans are "uncultured rednecks".

Rather than accepting "redneck" as a pejorative, my definition of a redneck is "a hard working, trustworthy urban or rural person who values freedom of expression and of religion, pays their taxes and distrusts the elites". Rednecks built this country, laid track for the railroad, settled the west, drilled for oil, fished the rivers, lakes and seas, rode the ranches and harvested the grain, and constructed the universities and businesses that are reflected in culturally, politically and socially diverse skylines across this Country. Last time I checked, the freedoms and values lived by Alberta "rednecks" like me are enshrined in the Canadian Charter, but we "péquenot" do not forget that rights are only rights for as long as we are willing to fight for them.

To be sure, there are problems, challenges and inequities in Alberta - these can be found in each province in our great dominion. However, I share Ford's view: "all things being equal, it is easier to work to reform the things about a rich province that are bad, than it is to find enough money to reform a poor province" (p. 10). And, we rednecks like to remind the East, Alberta is RICH.

Ford quotes from people she has encountered along the way, people whose words are worth repeating and remembering. As I add to this review, I will share some of these Ford gems with you. In the meantime, I encourage you to reach inside the "redneck" stereotype to learn more about Alberta here, here, here, here and here.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Academic Freedom, For the Common Good

In the recent issue of the CAUT Bulletin, 56(7), there is a book review by Donald Savage (p. A7-8) of "For the Common Good: Principles of American Academic Freedom". In Savage's words, Finkin & Post's book is a "lucid and concise account of the evolution of the idea and practice of academic freedom in the United States over the last century".

Another review of this book, by Chibli Mallet, entitled "How Did Academic Freedom Make U.S. Universities the Best in the World?", was published in Campus Watch.

I plan to buy the book, $21.78 for Finkin & Post at Chapters.ca, and may even add my two cents on its contents.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Big Babies

And now for something completely different... The following story captured my attention: Record-holding 19.2-pound baby boy draws crowds to Indonesian hospital". Perhaps it is because both of my babies weighed over 11 pounds and were 24 inches in length (no, I did not have gestational diabetes, uh, thank you for asking... ). My husband and I are both Tall. Both of us have Tall parents and Tall grandparents. Do the Gregor Mendel. I can imagine this Indonesian couple will be answering a lot of "well meaning, well intentioned, just curious" questions about how this precious miracle could have happened. I just hope that he is healthy, he gets enough to eat and his parents can pick him up to hug him regularly. Ta.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Academic Freedom on Campus by a Cranky Professor, or Two

On the occasion of my 50th blog post, I decided to write about Academic Freedom and Tenure. People often misunderstand tenure to mean a "job for life" on campus; however, tenure is better understood in the context of academic freedom. This article caught my eye: The Nature and Value of Academic Freedom by Mark Mercer, The Saint Mary's Journal, 75(3), September 21st, 2009. Among other freedoms that come with tenure, professors are free to speak publicly about their own teaching and research, to make known their views on politics and society, and "some" tenured faculty members are free to criticize their universities (for now).

Freedom of inquiry and critique is defined on the Canadian Association of University Teachers’ (CAUT) website: “Academic freedom is the life blood of the modern university. It is the right to teach, learn, study and publish free of orthodoxy or threat of reprisal and discrimination. It includes the right to criticize the university and the right to participate in its governance. Tenure provides a foundation for academic freedom by ensuring that academic staff cannot be dismissed without just cause and rigorous due process”.

Most academics take seriously their freedom to inquire and to publish research on topics of their own choosing – academic tenure is a measure used by faculty associations and universities to ensure that faculty members can pursue research and publish their findings without restraint. Ideally, a university faculty member’s academic freedom is protected through a collective agreement that is enforced by member’s faculty association. However, academic freedom cannot be taken for granted or considered a “done deal” – in Canada and abroad, there are constant challenges to the concept and reality of academic freedom. For example, in Canada, several academics have had to defend their academic freedom in recent years. The following faculty members’ cases are listed on the CAUT website: Nancy Olivieri, David Healy, Gabrielle Horne, David Noble, Mary Bryson, Stéphane McLachlan and Ian Mauro, Denis Rancourt, Larry Reynolds, Anne Duffy, Paul Grof and Martin Alda, and many others.

A Canadian organization formed in 1992, The Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship (SAFS) is primarily concerned with institutions of higher learning in Canada, though they have members across Canada and in other countries. The two main goals of SAFS are to (1) Maintain freedom in teaching, research, and scholarship; and (2) to Maintain standards of excellence in academic decisions about students and faculty. A list of articles written by SAFS members indicates that the fight to protect Academic Freedom is alive and well, and still very much needed, in Canada.

A campaign for free inquiry and free expression in the United Kingdom, Academics For Academic Freedom (AFAF), defines academic freedom using two main principles: (1) That academics, both inside and outside the classroom, have unrestricted liberty to question and test received wisdom and to put forward controversial and unpopular opinions, whether or not these are deemed offensive, and, (2) That academic institutions have no right to curb the exercise of this freedom by members of their staff, or to use it as grounds for disciplinary action or dismissal. Founded by Dennis Hayes, a visiting professor in the Westminster Institute of Education at Oxford Brookes University, Academics For Academic Freedom counts thousands of international scholars among its supporters. Dennis Hayes, who is a recent article argued that “Academics have a responsibility to challenge conventional wisdom without any buts”, has been invited to be the Guest Editor of a special edition of the British Journal of Educational Studies on Academic Freedom.

Like Freedom of Speech in Canada, Freedom of Speech and Religion in Alberta, and Freedom of the Press in Alberta, Academic Freedom is not a "done deal" when a faculty member has tenure - whether or not academic faculty members actually have Academic Freedom requires constant vigilance and awareness to uphold and defend these rights.

Freedom of the Press Victory in Alberta

From Karen Kleiss at the Edmonton Journal: Alberta's Human Rights and Citizenship Commission has dismissed nine human rights complaints filed against the Edmonton Journal and the Calgary Herald in connection with a controversial editorial published seven years ago.

A bit of background from Kleiss' article: In April 2002, the Edmonton Journal and the Calgary Herald published an editorial, titled "Apocalyptic Creed", in which strong language was used to condemn the use of suicide bombers, and to suggest the death of a 12-year-old Palestinian boy might have been used in a propaganda campaign urging children to martyrdom. A flurry of letters to the editor resulted, along with human-rights complaints filed by nine organizations.

With his senior officer's support, a human-rights investigator decided that the editorial did expose certain groups to hatred and contempt and forwarded a decision to a director for review in January 2005. The Edmonton Journal filed a notice of motion in July 2006 that argued neither the commission nor the province had the jurisdiction to decide the issue. "Political speech can't be the subject of provincial human-rights legislation," he said. "This was political speech, and the Supreme Court of Canada settled that issue many years ago with the Alberta Press Bill case."

Kleiss: "From our perspective, it is a victory for freedom of expression," Journal editor-in-chief Allan Mayer said. "There's a huge difference between a provocative editorial and hate literature, and that distinction has been clearly made by this human-rights ruling. Lorne Motley, editor-in-chief of the Calgary Herald, said this is clearly a victory for press freedom.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Left and Right on the State of Human Rights in Alberta

A few years back, but in this century, an Alberta religious man wrote a letter to the editor that an Alberta newspaper printed. An Alberta educator took offense at the reverend's letter, and filed a complaint with the Alberta Human Rights Commission. The complaint was filed against the reverend, but not against the newspaper. The educator's complaint resulted in a ruling by the AHRC that the reverend pay a fine to the educator and to a witness, and that the reverend cease sharing or publishing his religious views, or any disparaging comments against his accusers, for life.

Much is available online about this particular case, "Lund vs. Boissoin", including the entire text of the original letter by Boissoin, the AHRC ruling / remedy against the reverend, Lund's views and opinions, the public reaction & outcry on both sides of this issue on various blogs, and a plethora of comments on websites.

In July 2009, the reverend filed an appeal against the AHRC ruling. There are a few recent items of interest to those who are following both the public debate about human rights legislation and this appeal before the Court of Queen's Bench, in Alberta:

1. An editorial in the Calgary Herald, "Alberta Must Amend Human Rights Act"
2. An article on CBC News, "Anti-gay letter is free speech, lawyer argues"
3. Slade's article in the National Post, "Pastor who condemned gays takes on rights tribunal"
4. Slade's article in the Calgary Herald, "Former pastor appeals sanctions for letter attacking gays"
5. The full legal brief presented Sept 16 & 17, 2009, on Stephen Boissoin's website

Readers are encouraged to make up their own minds about the presence and possibility for Free Speech in Alberta "no matter who is doing the speaking". If I am missing key documents, newspaper articles, etc., from either side of this debate, please pass along the URLs in the comments section.

As this debate heats up, my questions are: Who IS free to speak their minds in Alberta, what are they allowed to say, which media / forms are they able and allowed to use to express their ideas and opinions, and Who gets to decide? What proportion of
Albertans are content to leave it to the government to decide what and whose opinions, which and whose ideas and what forms of expression, and what media and methods, are acceptable forms of discourse in a democratic society?

I hope that as this appeal of an Alberta Human Rights Commission decision makes its way through the legal system that, (1) Albertans will engage in active and public debate about the status and extent of free speech and freedom of expression in our province, (2) that awareness of the Alberta Human Rights Commission and their decisions increases, along with accountability, and (3)
that Albertans will voice their opinions to government about the nature and extent of Human Rights legislation that they want and need in order to participate fully in a democratic society.

Who gets to decide? We do.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Left and Right Advocates for Freedom of Speech in Canada

Freedom of speech is the inherent human right to voice one's opinion publicly without fear of censorship or punishment, no matter who is doing the speaking. "Speech" is not limited to oral or public speaking and is generally taken to include other forms of expression, including diverse forms of media.

Freedom of speech is considered fundamental to democratic citizenship, and therefore, along with other fundamental freedoms, it is enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, along with freedom of conscience, freedom of religion, freedom of thought, freedom of belief, freedom of expression, freedom of the press and of other media of communication, freedom of peaceful assembly, and freedom of association.

While I completed my Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Education degrees with an eye on inspiring generations of high school students in my English classroom, I developed a passionate interest in issues of censorship and punishment with regard to my curriculum (i.e., I believe it is evil to burn books, ban books, and deny our heritage). As I developed my research program in educational technology as a Master of Science, and then as a Doctor of Philosophy graduate student, I began to delve further into the relationship between media, networks, open access and freedom of speech and expression (i.e., anyone, anywhere, anytime access to people & their opinions, and anyone, anywhere, anytime ability to publish ideas broadly). My first "free speech" crime was circumventing the Canadian media publication ban by obtaining press reports and articles from the United States media on the Karla Homolka trial using lynx and gopher and email. Okay, RCMP, come and get me.

For the past two years, I have been monitoring the tensions between fervent advocates of free speech and those in the human rights industry who preach "responsible speech" in the context of digital media and the internet. A question I ask reflects my stance on protecting freedom of speech, "What happens to academic and political debate and decision-making if the diverse perspectives published online, some of which may be regarded as unpopular or unsavoury, are silenced?" For more about my inquiry and perspectives on the "idea of a participatory social, academic and political Web 2.0", please see my editorial in CJLT.

Recent developments indicate that the tensions between online free speechers, citizen bloggers and journalists, and advocates of the human rights industry in Canada are coming to a head. Those who share my interest in maintaining freedom of speech in the Web 2.0 era will be interested in a recent Canadian Human Rights Tribunal decision, a citizen journalist's blog, the National Post and Ottawa Citizen editorials, a recent Maclean's column, and UPDATE: a Maclean's editorial.

1. On Sept 2, Athanasios Hadjis issued a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruling on the Lemire-Warman case that denounces the Canadian Human Rights Commission, its aggressive stance and its punitive powers [see Craine's summary].

2. Ezra Levant's blog post analysis of Hadjis' ruling: "Tribunal: the CHRC has been breaking the law for years" and his National Post letter

3. Editorial in the National Post, "End the witch hunts for good", with this statement: "As of yesterday, it's no longer illegal to write politically incorrect things on the Internet. Now it's illegal to prosecute someone for it."

4. Editorial in the Ottawa Citizen, "Unjustified Infringement" that states, "When even the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal is saying that the hate-speech provisions in the Canadian Human Rights Act are unconstitutional, surely reform of the act cannot be delayed much longer"

5. Mark Steyn's Sept 17 column in Macleans: "It took a while but Section 13 is dead". A quote near the end, "To survive as a free people, Canadians need the rough and tumble of honest public discourse. Instead, its “human rights” regime has, quite consciously, attempted to upgrade unfashionable opinions into illegal ones. When government bureaucrats forget they are not our rulers but our servants, that’s always a bigger problem than whatever “crisis” they purport to be addressing."

6. Editorial, Macleans: "Harper must act now to protect free speech: the Prime Minister admits there's a problem. And he says he doesn't have a clue how to fix it". A great summary of the events that have exposed the problems with Section 13 of the Human Rights Act. "It is an issue of crucial importance to this country and our strongly held traditions of freedom of speech and freedom of the press."

More on these developments can be found by Jay Currie here, David Warren here, Rob Breckenridge here and Deborah Gyapong here.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

CNIE 2010, May 16-19 and Legacy Educational Technology Research

The call for papers for the "Heritage matters: Inspiring tomorrow" themed, CNIE 2010 Conference in Saint John, New Brunswick next May 16-19, just went out. There does not seem to be a website yet, but you can find general information here, and here. I will post the URL for the CNIE 2010 Conference site as soon it is available.

The conference theme, Heritage Matters: Inspiring Tomorrow, invites applicants to dig into two questions: Where have we come from regarding earlier legacy research and experience, and how might that legacy knowledge inform our future? Deadline for receipt for submissions of summaries: November 20, 2009.

UPDATE: Depending upon the type of submission, there are five different email addresses to use:

Formal Research paper - cniesub1@unb.ca
Graduate Student papers – cniesub2@unb.ca
Practice-based reports – cniesub3@unb.ca
Showcases/Poster - cniesub4@unb.ca
Harbourside hangouts – cniesub5@unb.ca

In my recent Editorial for CJLT, I mention that we have added fourteen volumes of Canadian Journal of Educational Communications [CJEC] to the CJLT archive. Forty (yes, 40!) back issues of CJEC from V. 15 in 1986 – V. 27 in 2001, are now available online at the CJLT website. In the context of this year's CNIE 2010 Conference theme, Heritage Matters, the CJLT archive of CJEC back issues is an absolute treasure because it makes several years of past research newly available to graduate students, researchers and historians who are interested in legacy educational technology research.

At CJLT, we are working to archive ten back issues of vintage Media Message (which was published by The Canadian Education Media Council in the late 1970s), that capture research and perspectives from assorted volumes and issues between 1976 - 1981. The archiving of back issues is an ongoing project to which members of the educational technology community can contribute. If members of the former AMTEC community and present CNIE community, can help this editor locate CJEC back issues from between 1979 – 1985, and earlier versions of Media Message, these will be scanned and electronically archived on the CJLT website. If you are interested in contributing to the archiving project, either through good ideas and or sweat equity, please contact this editor at: cjlt@ucalgary.ca

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Catherine the Great: Journalist, Author, Blogger

I enjoyed a talk by Catherine Ford this past weekend at a conference in Banff. The title she used was, "If I Knew Then What I Know Now", and it was great fun. She is acerbic, opinionated and hilarious. While some of her opinions made my table companions wince, I found her to be a refreshing break from the ordinary. She asked the audience to write down a piece of advice they would give their younger selves -- mine was, "Invest in Apple Computer or Real Estate" (ever the pragmatic Scandinavian). She had quite a few words to say about the impending Federal Election, many that I agreed with, starting with "it is up to us to tell our Government who is worthy, to speak out for our least bretheren" and "we all have the power of one". She railed against apathetic citizenship and opined that "we were not given our giftedness to do nothing, to fritter it away". Catherine also talked about the true measure of a woman - the difference she makes in her community.

What I found most memorable from Catherine Ford's talk was a quote about laughter. The idea resonated so much with me that I hunted down the full quote:

from: Prisons We Choose to Live Inside, by Doris May Lessing, 1992

"Choosing to laugh.... The researchers of brain-washing and indoctrination discovered that people who knew how to laugh resisted best. The Turks, for instance ... the soldiers who faced their torturers with laughter sometimes survived with others did not. Fanatics don't laugh at themselves; laughter is by definition heretical, unless used cruelly, turned outwards against an opponent or enemy. Bigots can't laugh. True believers don't laugh. Their idea of laughter is a satirical cartoon pillorying an opposition person or idea. Tyrants and oppressors don't laugh at themselves, and don't tolerate laughter at themselves.

Laughter is a very powerful thing, and only the civilized, the liberated, the free person can laugh at herself, himself (p. 46)."

Perhaps a little less philosophical, but just as memorable and resonant, was Catherine's view on magazines: "Do any of you still buy women's magazines? Why do we DO this to ourselves? Women's magazines are full of 'you are fat, you are ugly, you need a makeover, your clothes suck, you are getting old'. On the other hand, men's magazines are full of 'you are still fabulous, how to get laid even though you are balding, you look great with that extra 20 pounds'. Again, I ask you, Why do we do this to ourselves?"

Catherine has recently started a blog that makes me chuckle. I look forward to reading Catherine's book, Against the Grain: An Irreverent View of Alberta, published by McClelland & Stewart, 2006.

Monday, September 14, 2009

On being "only" a conference delegate

This past weekend, I did something I haven't done for a while - I went to a conference just to learn and to enjoy myself. Normally, given the expectation to share and publish my research findings, I attend academic conferences in my discipline to present my work and to teach. I find academic conferences to be great networking and learning opportunities, to be sure. However, as a professor, I have found it a rare opportunity to attend a conference simply as "a delegate" without having to present or give a keynote speech, or to attend SIG meetings, or Board meetings, or strategic wine and cheeses. ;-)

When I am at a conference to present, my focus and planning is on sharing the results of my research and meeting up with colleagues from across the country (after all, with limited and shrinking travel and grant budgets, it is hard to make a case for just attending a conference for fun). So, when I left my office on Friday, it felt curiously liberating to not have to carry my laptop stuffed with powerpoint slides and a folder full of copied papers to the van.

When I picked up my conference program at Banff 2009 Mensa in the Mountains , all I had to do was select the first talk I would attend rather than hunt down my rooms & meeting spaces, make sure the data projector was set up and count how many chairs I was expected to fill (and worry whether I would have enough copies of my paper). Instead, I enjoyed diverse presentations by researchers, journalists and mountain climbers in the majestic Banff Springs Hotel while my husband and children tried to find the king and queen who must live in this castle. I met people from Europe, the United States and from across Canada. I enjoyed being a conference delegate - only a delegate - it was refreshing! I encountered new ideas, and new perspectives, and engaged in interesting conversations, in a rested and open frame of mind. I look forward to blogging about specific talks in subsequent posts.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology, V35.1, Online!

It is my pleasure to announce the publication of Volume 35, Issue 1 of CJLT. The Winter 2009 Issue is the first fully online issue of CJLT. URL: http://www.cjlt.ca/index.php/cjlt

Editorial: CJLT: A Fully Online Journal with Roots in its History
Michele Jacobsen

Exploring Individual Differences in Attitudes toward Audience Response Systems, by Robin Kay & Liesel Knaack, Canada

How Research Moves into Practice: A Preliminary Study of What Training Professionals Read, Hear, and Perceive, by Saul Carliner, Regan Legassie, Shaun Belding, Hugh MacDonald, Ofelia Ribeiro, Lynn Johnston, Jane MacDonald & Heidi Hehn, Canada

Using Interactive Technology to Disseminate Research Findings to a Diverse Population, by Denise Stockley, Wanda Beyer, Nancy Hutchinson, Jennifer DeLugt, Peter Chin, Joan Versnel & Hugh Munby, Canada

Relative levels of eLearning readiness, applications and trainee requirements in Botswana’s Private Sector, by Paul T. Nleya, Africa

Monkeys on the Screen?: Multicultural Issues in Instructional Message Design, by Debbie McAnany, Canada

Participation in Knowledge-Building Discourse: An Analysis of Online Discussions in Mainstream and Honours Social Studies Courses, by Hui Niu & Jan van Aalst, Hong Kong

Knowledge Building in an Aboriginal Context, by Alexander McAuley, Canada

Learning for Teaching: Building Professional Knowledge on a National Scale, by Elizabeth Hartnell-Young, Australia

Online Learning Journals as an Instructional and Self-Assessment Tool for Epistemological Growth, by Clare Brett, Bruce Forrester, Nobuko Fujita, Canada

Models for Building Knowledge in a Technology-Rich Setting: Teacher Education, by Gregory MacKinnon, M. Lynn Aylward, Canada

URL: http://www.cjlt.ca/index.php/cjlt