Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Ethics of Globalization

A lot of consideration is being given to globalization, and to corresponding changes that may be necessary to prepare our students for an increasingly global society.  Personally, I think that is a good thing!

I've had some very interesting talks with junior high students over the past few years discussing what the phrase "China and India have more honors students than we have students" (as shared in the Shift Happens video prepared by Karl Fisch and Scott McLeod) means to them.  

The most recent version of Shift Happens can be viewed here.  If you haven't seen it yet, take a few minutes and watch it.  It is great for stimulating reflection!

Most recently, tonight, I was engaged in a discussion online about the ethical implications of globalization and the outsourcing of production.  I have to confess that despite my more liberal tendencies, I think quite highly of profit!  

In my conversation tonight he impact of moving production from our society to areas where labor costs are substantially cheaper definitely raises ethical issues worthy of attention.  It is a very complex issue though, with some interesting twists possible in the conversation.

I think the primary reason why organizations move their production is to attain a lower cost of production and correspondingly higher profits.  Other ways to do achieve higher profits would be to leave production where it is, and to either lower wages or to increase revenue.  Both are viable means to achieve the same end result, yet for two reasons only one option is realistic.  Organizations are not likely to seek to increase profits by lowering wages because western workers are not likely to accept lower wages.  Also, organizations are not likely to increase profits by raising revenue because the public is not very likely to pay higher prices.

I believe it takes strength of character, of an organization's Board and of those in formal leadership positions, to strive for a balance between profits and what is right for all concerned.  The vision of the organization, to be responsible and ethical profit seekers, is an especially crucial element to achieving this balance.

Focusing solely on the wages paid the workers is, I believe, another concern that can at times be a red herring of sorts.  Without question, if workers are physically at risk or are taken unfair advantage of, or if vulnerable populations are taken advantage of, the organization should be taken to task.  In other cases, the low, by our standards, wages are quite welcomed by the workers receiving them.  Relatively speaking, the wages paid in some developing countries are having a very positive effect on their societies.

One of the pleasant end results of the movement to outsource production to developing nations is the rapidly expanding global middle class (Das, 2009).  Das shared the increased prosperity in developing nations is significant, and while the typical wages are generally substantially lower than those paid in developed countries, the standard of living, as measured by per capita consumption levels, has grown dramatically.  With more money available, middle class comforts such as options for health care are more likely to be made available for people to choose.  

In a book that I thoroughly enjoyed, New York Times Reporter Thomas Friedman shared compelling statistics about the implication of a greatly rising middle class composed of people from Brazil, Russia, India, and China as well (Friedman, 2005).  Ethically speaking then, outsourcing can be seen as having a positive benefit to some geographical regions while having a negative influence in others.  How relevant is it to look at the balance on the whole?  I think this thought shows the importance of our challenge to convert Alberta's economy to a knowledge-based economy from a resource-based economy.  I see that as significant urgency to act!

From this perspective, I believe it will be interesting to see the implications of the increasing costs of production in societies where the middle class outgrows the low wages offered, as I believe happened in our society.

In summary, I believe the ethical impact of choosing to outsource production is something companies must consider carefully.  The choice, if made correctly, is something I believe can be mutually beneficial. 

Statistician Hans Rosling excels at graphically representing data and has several interesting talks posted on the Internet.  In a short video, approximately 5 minutes long, he creatively and graphically illustrates how the health and wealth of countries has changed, illustrating how the gap between the west and the rest has decreased. I find it fascinating, and hope you might find it interesting too!



Das, D. K. (2009). Globalisation and an emerging global middle class. Economic Affairs, 29(3), 89-92.

Friedman, T. L. (2005). The world is flat: A brief history of the twenty-first century. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Black and White and Educational Reform

Someone famous said something about those who are certain.  I'd say who it was, but I don't like to appear too certain about anything.

Well, actually, I can't remember who said that.  I'm hoping someone will comment on it. 

But still, forgetfulness aside, I don't think there are too many things that are 100% black or white.  Context is pretty important.  Aristotle's concepts of virtues were based on his assumption that the right virtues are in between two extreme instincts.  It makes sense to avoid taking a position at either of the extremes, because the power of context makes what is right live on a sliding scale.

Now, what the heck does that have to do with anything?  Well earlier tonight I was reading more about Salman Khan and his Khan Academy.  I believe in Khan's vision to provide resources to students online, but I disagree those who see his approach (including Bill Gates) as a way of completely transforming education. 

I've read today many reactions to Salman Khan's recent talk at the TED conference, on both sides of the fence.  It seems to me people are taking very strong sides on the issue of Khan's thoughts about education.  Depending on some who have written about it, Khan's ideas about education are the next best thing to sliced bread.  To others, his approach is completely off-base.  Read more about his ideas for developing individual mastery, including watching a video about his exercise software, here.  Exercise software?  I'm not sure how that makes education relevant and engaging for kids.  That approach to learning might be kind of distasteful for some students, wouldn't it?  But likely it might also be a good approach for others, depending on the subject and/or their interests?

There are no extremes. 

Khan's resources, and other similar tools, have a significant role to play in transforming how we structure the learning our students have access to. Kids need access to content any time and anywhere, and content like this could be HUGE when planning reverse instruction for our classes.

Resources like that won't replace teachers, however.  Or rather, facilitators as their roles change.  Differentiation instruction is the ultimate support for avoiding the extremes.  Learners (of any age) are so different, we need to use a variety of strategies to support them all.

Why can't we be grey on this issue?  I see huge value for some students who can make use of Khan's resources as a primary source.  I see other students using it for review.  I see other students who will learn best getting dirty and messy and hands-on in class with a teacher near by for support.  There is no one size fits all approach to learning (and therefore to teaching) and I don't think we can budge on that. 

Check out the Khan Academy.  It is interesting...give it some thought.  Let me know what role you see for resources like this in education...


Friday, March 11, 2011

Something OLD, Something NEW, Something Borrowed, Something True

Over the last little while I have been trying to give some focus to assistive technology.  This is a big challenge for us, and it is something I think we need to build a systematic approach to in our district. The potential for assistive technology is great for our neediest students, obviously, but potential exists for technology to enhance the learning of ANY student! 

With respect to meeting the needs of students, it is convention week, and there is an awful lot of talk this week about ensuring we meet the 21st century needs of our students.  I made the point in a presentation to GPRC students this week that an effective teacher could meet prepare their students for the 21st century without using ANY electronic technology!  Effective OLD ways of teaching are still valuable in our classrooms.  With respect to engaging students, and making education relevant however, ed tech can certainly be used in NEW ways to make a difference for kids.

I had some fun this week spending an afternoon helping facilitate a session for Zone 1 school administrators to help them build their personal learning networks using Twitter, blogs, and shared Google documents.  It was an excellent session, and compared to the recent sessions in Edmonton and Calgary, it looks to me like our adminstrators took to things very very well!  We BORROWED the NRLC lab at PWA to deliver this workshop, and the learning that was shared in those 3 short hours was pretty impressive.

In one of his presentations at convention today, Rick Wormeli mentioned that we need to focus our teaching and be more mindful of what we know works and what we know about kids.  How TRUE that is.  We know kids need to move to help them learn.  Let's let them.  We know they need timely and specific descriptive feedback to learn.  Let's give it to them.  We know they need to make mistakes and learn how to recover from them.  Let's let them learn by doing and redoing.

It was great to see the enthusiasm and energy spilling out of those doors following his standing room only sessions today.  My parting question though, is:  How do we move that enthusiasm and energy into our classrooms next Monday?  What one thing can, scratch that, WILL each teacher do to enact change in their practice that is best for kids?

I look forward to (and am hopeful for) meaningful curriculum change that will facilitate the big changes we need to make.  Read about the curriculum redesign project in Alberta HERE.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Welcome Beginning Teachers!

It is that time of year again where my sidekick in the Department of Educational Technology, Ross, and I get to visit with first year college students from The Grande Prairie Regional College who are considering a career in Education.

Our presentation, without the context of course, is embedded below:

Students:  If you have any questions after watching the presentation above, reading content on this blog, or just in general, please do not hesitate to ask!  You can ask me by using an online form that I've put together just for this purpose:

Good luck with your program, and with your careers!