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Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Nomination for Worst Professor

In my previous post I talked about the McGill education students that cannot calculate an average, but I glossed over talking about the lecturer for that course. We've all heard about bad professors, but I have proof this professor was beyond merely bad. This story also includes what happened when I complained to the head of the department and what should happen instead.

But first, who am I to judge the merits of a professor?

Lord of Undergraduate Credits
Over the years I've taken about fifty university courses from three universities and from over a dozen departments in arts, sciences, and education. Don't ask me to explain why! I also tend to go to lectures (because that's how I learn best). So I have a lot to compare this professor to.

Merely Bad
Lets get the usual "bad professor" stuff out of the way first.
  • His lectures were usually not specifically about the course.
  • He kept telling the class that the course is "boring" and "dry".
  • He liked to end class 30% early.
But if you've ever taken university courses then none of this sounds particularly bad.

Beyond Merely Bad
"Oh well!"
I asked the professor about what he thought when his students couldn't calculate an average in class. Note: math was directly related to the course objectives. His reply:

Knowledge varies considerably from student o student and from faculty to faculty.....the rest???  Oh well!

Oh well! He also told the class he was going to test us on calculating an average but he never did. Oh well!

I'm pretty sure only one study was referenced throughout the entire course. If I'm wrong then it's close to one. So I'd describe the material we studied as "la dee da". Oh well! But the worst problem was with our essay.

Essay Feedback
When we had a research essay worth 25% of our grade, I took advantage of that freedom and wrote what I consider to be a great essay on assessment software. I figured maybe I could get some good feedback from the professor or the TA and actually learn something from the course.

Nope! I got a letter grade and it's been impossible to get any feedback. By the way, McGill students have a right (5.3) to get feedback from their professor. I asked in person. I asked three times by email. Finally, the professor gave me a wrong email for the TA. Oops:

Hey there,
I'm not the TA. He must have sent you the wrong name.

Nice. My fourth email:

Hey. Turns out she is not the TA... What is going on here! :P
Who is the TA that graded my paper..?

The professor's last reply:

relax.....its [email address]

Relax..? Someone is certainly relaxing. I tried the second email but it was rejected - it's not a valid email. By now classes were over, and the professor was ignoring my emails. To this day I have no reply.

I still don't know who our TA was, or if they even existed. There's no evidence anyone read any of our class essays. And according to the professor, we all got As in the course.

Okay, so that's not proof nobody read them. But it's close enough I think.

Complaining to the Department
While I'm still concerned enough to write this post, the head of the department was admirably responsive and professional. He took my complaint seriously and he says he read the student evaluations and made an appointment to speak with the professor. He even took the initiative to keep me updated on the situation!

Please note I spoke with [him] and anticipate that this issue will be resolved in the future. Thanks for alerting me to the issues.

While I appreciate this, I doubt we agree on how to resolve this issue. We have a professor who:
  • Says he doesn't care about the course.
  • Proves he doesn't care about the course.
  • Refuses to accommodate student rights.
  • Doesn't use research to teach his course.
  • Ignores course objectives.
Even after a stern warning, we know this professor is never going to be a model teacher. There's only one reasonable thing for a department head to do: confirm these allegations and dismiss him. Unfortunately I sense this is not going to happen.

Why Does He Have the Job?
You could pick a graduate student from a lottery and almost certainly get a better lecturer. There's also a surplus of candidates with doctorates and masters degrees who can't find enough work in academia (1 2 3). So why not pick someone else? I've thought of a few possible reasons:
  • Research and prestige is enough to protect even the worst teachers at McGill.
  • Age and experience is far more important than teaching ability and caring.
  • Candidates with certifications "lower" than the professor are not being considered.
  • Students in the education program have been giving him amazing reviews because many students like getting an easy A and leaving class early. So maybe the department didn't know?
  • To maintain the legitimacy of the program, McGill hires lecturers that sound the best on paper. Nobody seriously investigates legitimacy beyond that.
  • The professor has friends in the right places. I regret saying this because the head of the department has been very nice, but I couldn't help but notice that the two of them share extremely similar research interests.
In this case I don't really have a clue which combinations of factors is fact, but it can't be good. Why do you think he has the job?

For now, I've decided to keep names to myself. I'm curious to see what is going to happen in September - will the professor be teaching more, less, or not all? I want to give the department a chance to improve themselves.

Why is this Important?
Professors like this are the reason I can write "True Story" at the bottom of this comic.

I'm sure that student will make a fine addition to the surplus of certified teachers one day. Dedicated educators get to compete at job interviews with this guy. Lets hope he's not a charmer.

As usual I'll offer solutions instead of just complaining.

I understand that hiring professors requires balancing a number of factors: research for the department, funding, politics, prestige, teaching ability, etc. McGill desperately needs to adjust this balance in favor of teaching before losing more of its legitimacy. The value of McGill's business product - degrees - is going to continue to decline unless undergraduate courses only have professors that care.

Where's my Feedback?
To be fair, I did admit to the head that I didn't expect useful feedback by forcing it out of the professor. But why not show some initiative, prove me wrong, and get the professor to give me my feedback? It should be obvious that I genuinely want it.

It's great that the professor was spoken to about this, but given the circumstances is that really enough? If this professor can't or won't give me my feedback, shouldn't the administration step up and find someone who can? Their own policy says I must get professor feedback on written assignments.

Hiring Policy
I suspect McGill is strongly in favor of hiring the candidate with the most credentials. If McGill instead hires a candidate with lesser credentials, they are making a strong statement about the market value of higher education. Since degrees are the product that McGill sells, this would be devaluing their product.

I think hiring a candidate with lesser credentials but with more gusto and innovation makes a positive statement about a school, not a negative one.

Stepping Stone
Finally, this professor has professional experience that applies to the department, but not to the course whatsoever! I get the feeling that a low level undergraduate course is just a stepping stone for some faculty. But certainly there are some candidates with very relevant masters degrees out there? I bet there are people in Montreal who wrote a thesis on the course material. Next time, hire them.

Employing this professor proves there is tremendous bias in the hiring process. How can the public hold McGill accountable for this?

Response from the Department Head
I sent a draft of this post to the department head before posting so he would have a chance to respond. I also mentioned the popularity of my last post so that he'd take me more seriously (45,000 views in two days is alot for an education blog). I was profusely polite.

I got a response, but it was short and didn't demonstrate that he read any of this.

The department chair took no action. Here's my next post: Guess Who's Still Teaching at McGill?

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Many McGill Education Students Cannot Calculate an Average

This is a story about McGill education students that cannot calculate an average, and the professor who admitted he didn't care. Finally, I explain why this is important.

I hope that by telling this embarrassing story I will contribute to raising the standards at McGill and for Quebec teacher certification. I don't mean to unfairly target education students and I'm not calling anyone dumb. Some are just uneducated. But as a public institution McGill has a responsibility to fail these very weak students. Instead, in this case McGill handed out As.

The Story
The professor of an education course began one class explaining how to calculate a mean (average), median, and mode. I was surprised this was necessary, because according to the Quebec education plan, it's a basic concept learned in secondary cycle two (grade 8):

Feeling more like an anthropologist than a student, I sat back in my chair and observed. After twenty minutes (yes, twenty minutes) of decent explanations from the professor, he asked us a simple question: what is the average of these numbers:

One 100 and nine 20s. Or:
100, 20, 20, 20, 20, 20, 20, 20, 20, 20
(I'll save you some trouble if your mental math isn't snappy: the answer is 28)

What do you think happened in a class of 40 students? Did they hesitate? Maybe they got it right?

Nope! Six students in the class volunteered six different wrong answers before the professor stepped in. A reminder: Quebec teaches this to thirteen year old kids. It gets worse. I noticed several things:
  • Some of their answers, like 16 and 18, were lower than any value in our sample. This is like saying "all of my students scored higher than 60% on the exam, but my class average is a failing 42%! What's going on‽"
  • Some of their answers, like 120, were higher than any value in our sample. This is like saying "the class average on this exam is 132%, but I never gave bonus marks! What's going on‽"
  • Was it student tricksters? No. The answers seemed genuine, and the students who answered were not sitting together.
  • And the worst thing of all: this deluge of very wrong answers surprised no one.
Not a Smirk nor a Snicker
When a wrong answer was volunteered, each more wrong than the last, I never heard a snicker or saw a single smirk. If you're an optimist you may think that the students who knew better kept their mouths shut to encourage the learning of others. How nice! Except it's simply not the case. Compared to others, education students are far chattier during a professor's lectures and generally less respectful. Tact was not holding them back from snickering or mumbling.

I leave it to you to find irony in the fact that education students are disrespectful during a professor's lectures.

Anyway, had the bulk of students recognized how bad these answers were, nothing was holding them back from cracking a smile, given their usual behaviour. But as I said, no smirks and no chuckles. We can therefore conclude:
  • Many McGill education students cannot calculate an average. Or:
  • It surprises no one that some McGill education students cannot calculate an average.
I'm not sure which is worse.

The professor said we'd be tested on calculating an average and we never were.

Why this is Important
There are at least three major reasons why teachers should not be math illiterate.

Teachers Teach Everything
In their careers, Canadian teachers will teach many different subjects. The reasons for this are complex, but an English/History teacher typically must teach many subjects like Spanish, ethics, math, dance, and technology while climbing the seniority ladder. However being math illiterate means teachers would hopelessly fail high school tests on math and science. Yet sometimes they must teach the subject!

Understanding Education Research
In John Allen Paulos' fabulous book A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper, he shows us how math illiteracy is harmful and disrupts our perception of the world. How can we expect teachers to understand pedagogical research if they are math illiterate? They can't even "read the newspaper".

At McGill, education courses often ask students to read education research. These papers talk about significant figures, regressions, standard deviations... yet a student who has yet to grasp the concept of an average has no hope of critically reading any new research. The result is that a lot of education students get good at pretending they understand things that they do not. They may even convince themselves that they do understand the research. And so they reject and accept research on personal whim.

Too much school and not enough learning makes people confident despite their ignorance.

Interdisciplinary Lessons
We know that a great way to inspire students is to combine subjects in exciting ways. Sometimes chemistry can be taught in English class, or dance taught in math class. It's true! We have trouble believing this though because the teachers we had didn't know a diversity of subjects. Math illiteracy in teachers means there are fewer subjects we can combine. So math class remains boring math class, and nothing else.

As usual, instead of just complaining I'm also going to propose solutions.


Maybe the education program should have a mandatory mathematics course, like statistics? Or maybe not. But if education students can't calculate an average, then don't ask them to analyse articles with heavy statistics in them. Let's stop pretending education students understand these articles. Let's be consistent.

Everyone I know in the program skips the methodology and data analysis sections of their readings. They don't understand it! And then in class we criticize the articles like we know what we're talking about.

Too Many Teachers
It's not like there's some national emergency where we don't have enough teachers. There's a huge surplus of teachers in Quebec and all over Canada. This is a wonderful opportunity to raise certification standards. Lets start failing students who are math illiterate, tech illiterate, and humanities illiterate. But how will we know who to fail?

Teachers Must Pass All High School Exams
How about future teachers must take the provincial exams designed for high school students. If they fail even one, no certification. Try again! Why should someone be a high school teacher if they can no longer pass high school? These exams should be pass or fail, because there's no shame in a history teacher scoring 71% in math. That's adequate I think.

To some (and we can hope, most) bachelor of education students, these exams will be a joke. To others... they will be a crippling blow to their ego. Hurt feelings are unfortunate, but education is too important to let weak teachers get certified.

From what I've seen in my two years taking education courses... Yes, some McGill students would fail high school exams.

Tips for Employers
This advice is for employers who are not seeking certified classroom teachers.

Do not hire someone just because they have a bachelor of education degree. Instead, have a look at their portfolio (if they have one), their work experience, or their other degrees. If all someone has on their resume is a bachelor of education degree, I would view it as a net negative.

I plan on starting a business making education software. Presuming I'm one of the lucky few that succeed, I would never hire a bachelor of education graduate - unless they've accomplished a lot outside of school. I hope education start ups can take my advice so they have a better chance at succeeding. Or, maybe McGill and the ministry can raise the standards for teacher certification.

If you're a university student and you feel this way... please contact your professor, department chair, dean, whatever, about this problem. If you care, complain.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Proof that McGill Administrators Ignore Feedback

There were some concerns about my aggressive approach in my post where I complain about how poor the education technology courses are at McGill university. Before making noise, did I talk to my professors? What about the department, or the dean?

Well that's exactly what I did for two years before finally resorting to public rants. So get ready for a story that ends in a big email to senior administrators and a trick that must have embarrassed them.

Before I start I'd like to say that I'm not targeting McGill's education program. You see, when I searched across Canada for "education software development"-like programs I was hugely disappointed. For this reason and many others, I think these problems are much larger than a single school. I'm hoping we can work together to tackle this monster.

The process of studying education technology at McGill is severely crippled. Here are some things I tried before rocking the boat.

Level 1: Advisers
I feel like half the advisers at McGill must know me by now. I wonder if they have notes on my file as "that guy". To their credit, nearly every adviser has expressed support for what I'm trying to do. And many said they would look into different opportunities for me. Here are some opportunities that tantalized me, but have since receded into the void:
  • Creating an "ad hoc program" that combines computer science and education.
  • Finding professors that are sympathetic to combining computer programming with education.
  • Allowing me to get computer science credits for an education software project.
  • Getting back to me after a phone conversation about internship options (this is with another university).
More adviser fails? You betcha! I've been super fortunate to teach the technology program at Heritage Regional High School since January 2014. I've taught my own classroom of students by myself. This is 200+ hours of class time, not including all the time spent designing my own lessons and grading assignments.

Can this contribute towards my field experience? Of course not. My problem here is that when I asked, the adviser just said no. She didn't appear to contact anyone about this absurdity, or tell me who I could contact. We're left with two options:
  • The adviser doesn't care, or more likely:
  • The adviser knows she's powerless.
I've worked in plenty of customer service jobs. At this point I've learned that advisers have no power and merely serve as front-line customer service representatives. They buffer senior administration from the hordes of whiny students (I'm sure they feel I am yet another whiny student). Allowing a student to contact their superiors is not going to happen because their job description is to prevent exactly that.

Level 2: Professors
I've introduced myself to most of my professors to see if they're interested in education software. There is notably one professor who offered me an individual research course for three credits, but it turned out that credits in their department are neither computer science or education. I nearly signed up anyway, but dropped the course in the last minute when it became clear that the professor wasn't going to offer me any real guidance or support.

I'm still looking for full professors at McGill who care about making education software and understand computers at least as well as the high school students I teach. I've perhaps found one so far, but not really. If that sounds like you, then I promise I am less abrasive in person.

Level 3: Course Evaluations
I always write detailed and constructive evaluations. Sometimes I include serious complaints! But I always wonder if anyone even reads them. Perhaps course evaluations are just a mechanism to make students feel like they have a say, but really nobody important is listening.

This is a well documented strategy to manipulate people. If you want to make an unfavorable change, first ask everyone for their opinion on it. Then ignore their opinions and implement the change. People will be upset with the change, but will complain less because they appreciate that someone sought out their opinion.

Course evaluations may have been implemented with the best of intentions, but I can't help but think that this is the largest effect they have on the university as a community. Course evaluations funnel student complaints into the void.

Level 4: Everyone
On September 15th I sent a long email to nine senior administrators including deans, department heads, and associate deans. Its content was a shorter and more polite version of this post. But here's the problem I faced: I suspected nobody would read it or even reply to me. What can you do pre-emptively when you suspect administrators do not care enough about student feedback?

My plan was this: to blind carbon copy everyone. What this means is nobody knew I sent my email to nine people. To everyone it looked like only they received it and so did the dean. I waited three weeks and as I feared would happen, I didn't get a single reply. All nine of them got this individual email and independently decided "nah, I don't feel like replying to this". Sooooo... next I sent this gem. This time I sent it so that everyone could see the list of recipients. I don't think I am making friends at this point:


On September 15 I sent an email to a number of McGill administrators. In it I outlined some profound issues with the education department's courses on technology and I proposed some solutions.

Sadly, I received no response from any of you... Not even a "thanks for your input". This has greatly shaped my impression of McGill. I would still be happy to discuss the education issues I raised with anyone who cares.


It's sad that a stunt like that was necessary to get any reply, but that's the reality we live in. My manoeuvre earned me a reply from Elizabeth Wood, the "Associate Dean of Academic Programs for the Faculty of Education".

The Response
(and what we can learn from it)
To summarize what Elizabeth said, she was asked by Dilson Rassier, the dean of education, to respond. So she wrote a vague paragraph to me about how "the world today is complex". Absolutely nothing I said was explored, criticized, or even mentioned. I have no reason to believe she did anything more than skim my letter because she was told to. She was however very professional and kind, wishing me "the very best with your studies, and all success with your professional aspirations". So that's nice.

One twist: this email was sent from the dean of education's McGill email address, except it was signed by Elizabeth. So she knows his password and regularly uses it to send email. The only explanation I can think of is the dean does not check his own email, but has someone do it for him. Well... I know he must get a lot of emails but... isn't that his job as an administrator? I'm very confused. I guess there's no way for McGill's education students to directly contact their dean.

Elizabeth says courses are reviewed yearly and my feedback will contribute to that. Which part of my feedback specifically..? I said a lot of shit! Is anyone even going to remember my letter in a year? Aren't they just going to go ahead and do whatever they feel like?

How To Not Win Friends or Influence People
I am honestly being an asshole at this point, but I'm just too frustrated with McGill. In case you haven't read it, there's a ton of snark in the post I link:

Hello again Elizabeth!

I thought you should know that I've been writing about my negative experiences with McGill's education program. To my surprise, this post has over 3000 hits and a lot of people are saying they sympathize with me:

Unfortunately, your response didn't address anything specific that I said. I don't know which of my concerns are being considered, or criticized, or ignored. So I can't help but feel that my letter to McGill administration fell into the void, and no improvements are being made :/

I'd be very interested to be kept up to date on specific progress that is being made here.

I think I'm going to keep writing about my negative experiences with the McGill education program, since at this point I feel it is the only thing I can do to help. I'm sorry if I'm making your job more difficult, but I'm frustrated almost daily with how little progress I feel is being made. I hope my writing can contribute to meaningful improvements at McGill.

Thanks for your time.

I'm waiting for the #mcgilldrama or /r/mcgilldrama jokes to pour in...

What the hell am I doing? Am I burning bridges? Why am I deliberately annoying deans? Well, I'm just really tired of everything I've gone through. If you thought this post was long, consider that it's just the beginning of what I've been through. Trying to study education software at McGill has been really horrible. The worst part is I don't think other schools would be any better.

At McGill I've enjoyed most computer science courses, and I've enjoyed some of the education courses. But know this: do not come to McGill if you want to study education technology.

Finally, I think I'm in a unique situation compared to other undergraduates. I already have another degree, and I know that my programming portfolio is good enough to get me full time employment (because it has, a few times). So why not rock the boat? What's the worst that could happen? We do what we must because we can.

If you care, complain.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Professor Response: McGill's Education Technology Textbook is Embarrassing

Response from the Professor
Before I put this post online I sent a draft to the professor, Sam Bruzzese, so he'd have a chance to respond. He did!

Seeing as I brought these issues to his attention while I took the course, I originally made a list of possible reasons the textbook is still being used. We can now cross off a few items:
  • Someone is pressuring McGill to use this textbook.
  • Courses require a paper textbook, even if it's garbage, for academic credibility.
  • The professor doesn't think the textbook is that bad.
  • The professor picked this textbook because his friends made it.
  • The professor doesn't care.
  • The professor can't find anything better to use.
  • Or my personal favorite: all of the above.
His response was thoughtful and polite, so I definitely think he cares. He says nobody is pressuring him to use the textbook, and he originally chose it because it was cheap (he says 40$ instead of the usual 150$, though I remember paying almost twice as much).

I mentioned the merits of Minecraft. He says the class is now set up for Minecraft - which sounds great! Except... when I took the course he said the we'd spend a class playing and discussing WoW (whatever). We never played it or discussed it. Furthermore, he sent me the new and detailed syllabus which does not contain the search term "Minecraft". So I'm skeptical and a bit confused.

Again, not much time is being given to the most popular educational game in history.

Friends with the Authors?
I'm not ruling out "his friends made it". I think I remember him saying in class that he or his wife knew one of the authors. I'd feel bad making the accusation based on my foggy memory, so instead I'll just keep the question open. While he gave a great number of rebuttals, he did not address this point.

Defending the Textbook with Buzzwords
Sam says the textbook supports constructivist learning, the QEP, and ISTE standards. I am a big critic of the QEP. And while I generally like constructivist learning and ISTE, the textbook was worthless on both topics. We seem to have a case where the textbook says it's about Buzzword-A and Buzzword-B, and that's enough for Sam.

The textbook has pages and pages of projects that are described and not discussed. Many of them are now impossible to use or even find. How this supports project-based learning is beyond me.

19th Century Writing Tips
His other point defending the textbook was about the value of its rubrics, evaluation strategies, and writing tips. Originally I left these out of my post, but here we go! These tips do not belong in an education technology textbook. All of that advice could be straight from the 19th century and we couldn't even tell the difference. Does that sound like education technology to you?

This is not a bonus - it's off-topic fluff.

It's Not About the Tools
Sam says "The text builds a strong case that it's NOT about the technology tools but rather what one does with the tools that's important." I strongly disagree. The textbook spends pages and pages, chapter after chapter, listing old software, broken websites, and unusable projects. If this textbook isn't about the tools then why does it spend so much damn time describing and cataloging them? Our assigned readings were often just lists of old busted shit. No analysis.

Rebuttals like this have me questioning whether Sam has read all the readings he assigned.

Sam, That's Not Open Source
Sam says "The authors have the copyright back from the publisher & are at the point of rewriting the text as far as big picture and the activities and recommendations. The links will be listed live - so it will always be up to date via open source. And it will not be very expensive." This makes me a bit sad. Sam, listing links is not "open source". And it's not an open source textbook if it has copyright or has a price (in practical terms). Open source textbooks are free to be copied and changed by anyone, and distributed for free. That's the entire point.

Sadly I don't think Sam understood all my arguments.

There is one bit of good news: Sam says if "they don't come through then the plan for Sept is NOT to have a textbook." Maybe there is hope yet! Maybe my post will sway him further.

If You Care, Complain
If you think your textbook is a joke or a waste of money, please contact your professor about it. If they don't do anything while you're taking the course... then make as much noise as you can later. That's if you care about the school you're going to, or care about the students that go there.

McGill's Education Technology Textbook is Embarrassing

Get ready to go on a magical journey where we discover just how old a "modern" textbook on education technology is. It says it's published in 2012 but don't let that fool you! Here it is:

This is the textbook currently used by McGill's "EDPT 200 - Integrating Educational Technology in the Classroom" course in 2015. Along our magical journey we will question the existence of the iPhone 1, consider using internet directories instead of search engines like Google, and lose ourselves in a forest of 404 pages and broken internet links. And finally, a response to this post from the professor. Lets begin!

The phones shown above are the Palm Treo 700p, Samsung T809, Motorola i355, and Nokia 6236i. They all came out around 2006. They predate the momentous iPhone 1 which was released in 2007. Okay, so maybe some content from the book is as old as 2007? Don't be so optimistic, we're just getting started!

Why This Matters
I probably don't have to tell you how much smart phones have changed people's lives. Here are two classic pictures taken in the Vatican:

For many websites today, most of their traffic is mobile. And a lot of students in Canada today come to class with a smartphone in their pockets. This means that we're approaching a point where clickers and graphing calculators are hopelessly impotent and expensive. A Texas Instruments graphing calculator is now more expensive than a cheap smartphone - yet as a visualization tool it's about as sophisticated as the home computers we had in 1991 (xmgr):

Why this happens is worthy of another post. In short: Texas Instruments has secured a monopoly and schools are too lazy or incompetent to escape. This isn't going to change if bachelor of education students from one of Canada's top schools are assigned a textbook that was mostly written before smartphones existed.

NASA and Moonbase Alpha
I got excited when the textbook mentioned NASA. After all, in 2010 they released a really great and free game called Moonbase Alpha. It came out two full years before this textbook was published. Certainly the authors heard of this game and were about to talk about it!

NOPE. Instead they talk about some decade old project. I can't get more specific because I lost the name and date, and I no longer own the textbook. But at the time I searched online and hardly found any mention of the project at all. Playing it yourself is also impossible.

But since we're on the topic of games, they do mention Civilization 3, released in 2001. They wouldn't talk about Civilization 3 had Civilization 4 come out (in 2005), so that puts some textbook content as old as 2005. Must go deeper...

Why This Matters
Talking about modern video games is the textbook's attempt to capture our interest and make it feel modern and relevant. They've accomplished the opposite. There was of course no mention of Minecraft, which even has an education edition. I speak from experience when I say that Minecraft is a cultural phenomenon among high school students (for now, in 2015). I'm a big supporter of using it in the classroom. Here are some concepts it teaches naturally through gameplay that people are rarely aware of:
  • Where am I? Cardinal directions and compasses.
  • I have no compass! The sun rises in the East and sets in the West.
  • How many blocks will it take to fill my structure? 3D volume calculations.
  • My structure I want to fill with blocks is not very regular. Estimate how many blocks to fill a space.
  • Redstone..? This introduces tons of difficult concepts from logic and circuitry, but a level that kids can understand.
  • How many do I need for crafting? Frequent mental math for crafting recipes. To craft we may need 2 of something and 5 of something else. How much to craft 15 times?
  • Can I make this jump? Jumping off a cliff follows a parabola - how far can you jump if you fall 20, or 50 cubes? Lets experiment, measure our results, and try to come up with a formula.
Instead, the textbook is not even aware of the most popular educational game ever made.

Let's Pay Money for Google Maps

Perhaps I misunderstood the purpose of If not, I am curious how it ended up in this section instead of Google Maps. Google Maps is free and has higher quality satellite images. TerraServer is a paid service and from what I can tell from its free samples, lower quality satellite imagery (both samples taken from 2013).

Lets speculate. Google maps was launched in 2005, whereas terraserver was founded in 1997. I would say the textbook has simply not been updated consistently to match 2005 web tools. Since Google Maps is mentioned elsewhere in the textbook, I'd say this section has clearly been abandoned by the editors for a decade. So that confirms our earlier estimates of 2005 content. But can we do better? You bet!

Why This Matters
I doubt McGill students are going to be misled by this and spend money on TerraServer. Instead, the reason this matters is that the textbook mentions Google Maps elsewhere. This proves that new editions are not being revised properly.

Furthermore, this textbook is edition 4. Edition 3 came out in 2007, two years after Google Maps. So not only is the textbook not being revised, but this is a recurring pattern which will not be fixed by a new edition.

Rollback to Last Century
I found two things that suggest the textbook has content from 1999 - the previous century. First there's an entire section about which is partnered with AOL. DMOZ is a "directory" as opposed to a "search engine" like Google. Founded in 1999.

Do you think the internet is more like a tree, or a web? I'll give you a hint - we started calling the internet a "web" in 1990 when the term was coined by Tim Berners-Lee and Robert Cailliau. Well a directory like believes the internet is a tree that should be cataloged by human beings instead of search engine software like at Google. Lets include it in our education technology textbook!

Naturally many of the links to DMOZ the textbook provides are broken. But maybe "founded in 1999" isn't enough for you. Try this:

The software "Knowledge Forum" as presented in the textbook looks like it's for Mac OS 9.0 (1999). Wow! We sure have traveled a long ways from 2015. This is the end of the time traveling journey, that's all the dirt I have.

Why This Matters
At this point the textbook is simply a waste of money and time. These are two things students already lack.

Thoughts on Modern Publishers
The mere fact that the authors of the text were pressured into printing this information on paper really says a lot about publishers. The textbook talks about fast changing educational media but then refuses to embrace it. Printing content like this onto paper makes zero sense except financial sense. I do not fault the authors of the text though, because I assume they were given hardly any time at all to rewrite the new editions. The publisher does not care because the textbook is still being sold.

While combing through the book, I manually typed perhaps fifty internet links into my browser and I estimate half the links were broken. That's what happens when you print internet URLs onto paper. And some were as long as 50 characters - are we expected to type those out? Who the hell is going to do that? Well I did. What a joke.

If anyone could send me a digital copy of this textbook, I would love to write a program to visit all the URLs to see which are broken. I can do it, I've made web crawlers before, just send it my way.

Waiting for the New Edition
The textbook continues to be used! From the course website (2015): "We will also add updated links and information while we wait for the new edition to come out in 2015-2016." Waiting for the new edition is not enough. The "modern phones", TerraServer, and Knowledge Forum prove to us that this textbook is not being revised when new editions come out. These expired topics have survived through more than one revision. Nobody is going to meaningfully update this text. Publishers will continue to scam students unless we stop them.

Seeing that this textbook is being used again is partly what prompted me to write this post. I criticized the best I could, I did. So now it's time for a public shaming.

As usual I don't want to just whine, but also offer solutions.

"Teaching Machines" by Bill Ferster
I recommend the book Teaching Machines by Bill Ferster. But wait, how can I recommend a paper book after such a rant?

The difference is that Teaching Machines is a history book. It doesn't claim to list project ideas, give practical guidance, or offer a modern analysis. Instead it analyzes hundreds of years of education technology. It doesn't recommend classroom projects or list websites that no longer exist. I learned a lot about the history of education technology from this book. In 50 years this analysis will still be correct. And that's a lot better than an exhaustive list of education technology mostly from the years 1999 to 2005.

"Teaching Machines" is not perfect. But if there must be a textbook for this course, choose this.

Open Source the Textbook
And why should the textbook be replaced with another textbook anyway? I have a great alternative: as a class project everyone must work on the same open source textbook. Each student can find some education technology they like and write about how to use it, and cite research supporting its pedagogical merits. These future teachers can invent their own priorities and categories. Together they will produce their own textbook. The result may actually be useful to them and the world.

Don't produce a messy wiki with links all over the place. The end product can be an actual textbook.

It will be more up to date. It won't be packed with bullshit. It will be free. Each year students can update it. It might even be funny and relevant. Shit, I may even want to give it a read.

Lets dismantle the textbook publishing cartel together. I bet a few semesters worth of McGill education students working on an open textbook could do a great job.

Response from the Professor
I sent a draft of this post to Sam Bruzzese, the professor of the course. Despite my snark, he replied. Read about it here.