Moving Backwards

This past week has been interesting. Wednesday afternoon I had tendon surgery on my (non-dominant) left hand. This has left me a bit immobilized but made an opportunity to see how good Read&Write is (spoiler: SO much better than Siri).

So, this week our question is about our concerns about teaching in a digital world. This was particularly of interest to me as there are going to be vast changes to how we are able to use Google Apps for Education in the very near future. Essentially, our use of GAFE is going to be severely curtailed to the point of non-use.

The concern is student privacy. Google gathers information to disseminate to others for money: data mining. I’ve talked about this in a previous blog for this class and more in detail for a previous class. To me, this is not a new issue.

Photo via: Kelsie Lenihan

But this connects to the question of our “moral imperative” to teach children, but to also protect their privacy. How do we ethically curate an online presence within a classroom, when we are bounded by so many obligations from our board, which ultimately dictates our parameters?

Photo via: McGraw Hill Education (also a really interesting article)

I think my questions are stemming from a growing frustration: I see the direction the world is moving and I am trying to teach students to move within it. The video by Michael Wesch about how connected everything is and how “ridiculously easy” it is to connect and share speaks very closely to my classroom experience. It is so easy to connect, but we seem to be moving backwards in our rush to protect the vulnerability of our students.

Sharing will become locked down and inaccessible as our students’ privacy versus our students’ growth in a modern world becomes paramount. We are required to teach critical thinking skills, which Wesch referred to as a filter, but critical thinking skills are not enough anymore.

There is an atmosphere of control emerging as administrators and those in power grapple with the impact an online presence can have on a student’s future. This is compounded by the issues of privacy and the fact that no one truly knows where information is going.


Photo via: Education Next

To me this means that education is going to take a massive step backwards: I’m going to have to go back to pen and paper in order to make my students untraceable. Nothing will be shared, no footprints online.

I believe this is doing our students a huge disservice and is reactionary rather than being proactive. I think that before this edict is handed down, education about our role as educators online needs to happen for teachers and information about students’ online presence needs to be given to both students and parents. The only term I can put with this is frustrating.

As Google may be on its way out, thank goodness for other options. I’ll be exploring how to move my Google Classroom onto Canvas.


A Whole Can of Worms.

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Source: Giphy

This idea of posting online is such a can of worms in elementary and secondary teaching. There are so many implications, both obvious and more subtle.

Photo via: Heart Sisters

Posting class achievements and online work online is a way to show the world what educators do, which often occurs behind closed doors. Educating students can be a very isolated event and teachers can sometimes feel maligned by various interest groups. Teaching is an emotional labour and showing the fruits of that labour can feel really validating. It proves that teaching is an essential job and that students are learning things, despite it not being in a traditional fashion, like perhaps their parents and grandparents learned.

Photo via: Getting Smart

Students can feel value in their learning by seeing its applicability to the outside world: they can see immediately the impact what they do has on others and see other’s responses to their work.In this way students are exposed to the wider world, beyond their closed classroom doors. This prepares them in many ways for life after high school.

Photo via: Steven Smith

The world of work is in many ways about how you connect and to whom you connect. Being able to more easily through the internet and understand the trail you leave is now an essential skill. Networking is no longer just circulating at a cocktail party in your hometown; you can now wander the globe, making contacts literally everywhere.

In my context, a high school English teacher, the task is to get them to understand the power of their words: not just in the sense of what they say, but how they say it. Being articulate and using proper conventions is important when trying to get your message out. Being able to sound like you know what you’re talking about is almost half the battle. Spelling and grammar have not disappeared. Sure we have spellcheck, but it doesn’t do everything. Proofreading is still an essential skill.

However, there are issues when it comes to blasting the internet with your latest literary essay.

Infrequently, but still enough times for me to pause and reconsider my practice, the issue of custody appears.

This happens in two forms: custody of the materials I’m posting and physical custody of the child.


Who owns what I’ve posted online? Do I own it because it was turned into me? Does the student own it because they created it? Does the school or school board own it because it was created using their materials/technology? If it were to generate an income, to whom would it be paid? The person who uploaded it or the person who created it or the entity that provided the opportunity?

The second potential issue is with physical custody. There have been situations in schools where there has been an acrimonious breakup and there have been protection orders issued. A child’s safety may be compromised by putting their artifacts online, which can be traced with a little bit of tech wizardry.

This letter from the Peel District School Board and this one for British Columbia teachers gives some guidelines for teachers to follow regarding what to put when. By providing protections for both staff and students, the online world can be explored.

Freedom and Choice


Hi! My name is Kelsie Lenihan and this is my 9th Master’s course in Curriculum and Instruction. This is also my third Alec course.

I was initially a little hesitant to sign up for a social media course because 1) our lives are so dominated by social media, do I really want to add another layer on top of it? and 2) I’m not the most active on social media.

But I dove in. I want to learn more about how to use social media effectively, both personally and professionally. It seems like a big job to curate your online presence in a way where you control the message sent to the world about you.

As well, I have two young sons. I want to know how to make the social media world inviting and safe for them by helping them create their online identity early.

On the first day of class, when we were assigned the task of learning something new through exploring online help, I was stymied.

Source: Giphy

There were just so many avenues and options. This is a huge opportunity to do something — anything — that you’ve always wanted to try but never had the time. Here is the time. You need to do this.

So I started asking around. Everyone had a different opinion. My art teacher friend insisted I learn how to paint, because she saw how “well” I did at a Paint Nite. I thought about cake decorating but that got a hard “no” from my husband, who would most likely have been responsible for the eating of the cake.

Finally, it was my three-year-old who made the decision for me.

He’s been starting to get together his wish list for Santa Claus (thank you, Costco, for having Christmas decorations out before Hallowe’en). One of the things he’s been after is called a Code-a-pillar. It’s a way to introduce coding to preschool children.

This started me thinking about why I would want my child to learn how to code at such a young age. It came to me that this is about 21st century learning — about preparing him for jobs that don’t yet exist and to get him familiar with technology so that he’s confident using it and can adapt to the massive shifts in learning that are happening right now.

Computer science is no longer just for nerds. It’s become part of the core curriculum rather than a hobby.

Because my children will probably have coding for homework, I want to be able to help them.

I know nothing about coding. Quite literally nothing. I am starting from ground zero. Well, not quite ground zero, because I’ve got Twitter.

I’ve got a place to start from, but I’m still struggling with the end product. Backward design is ingrained in me, so I am trying to figure out what success will look like. Do I want to learn to code for Apple (I’ve got an iPad and iPhone) or for Android (much more open)? What do I want to code? A game? An app? What is being too ambitious? What is not being ambitious enough?

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Source: Giphy

If anyone out there has experience about coding, I’d LOVE to have your advice of where to start.

Effect on Stakeholders

Source: Mike Cornelison

The immediate impact on stakeholders is obvious: there would be less money all around to distribute to other areas such as transportation, building maintenance, staffing, or professional development opportunities. I cannot say whether or not the Ministry would allocate any funds in order to offset the costs of implementing a new system. Considering the current economic climate I would assume not.Therefore, the impact on students and teachers cannot be taken lightly.

Source: Regina Public Schools

I have searched through the budgets posted on Regina Public’s website to see if I could determine the approximate cost of the implementation of PowerSchool to compare it to the quote I received from Alma, but I was unable to find out where in the budget this would be. It did not look like there was a massive increase in operational costs in the years I associated with the start of Regina Public’s use of PowerSchool.

A change like this cannot be undertaken in one year. A school board must ensure that there is enough of a contingency fund to offset the extra costs this would have. There must be a plan for any unexpected costs arising during the school year that had not been budgeted for.

Because this would be a gradual process, impact on stakeholders would be distributed over the course of years rather than months.

As discussed previously, buy-in from stakeholders would take place through surveys, forums, and participation in working committees. Hopefully by eliciting comments and suggestions from staff members, this change can proceed with little resistance.

Failure in this endeavor would look like a refusal to accept or acknowledge that PowerSchool could be problematic because of its genesis and corporation.

Source: Abundance and Happiness

The report to taxpayers would have to be thoroughly detailed indicating that all possible outcomes have been analyzed. The case for social justice would have to be made in very clear, concise terms so that it is obvious why Pearson-developed software is problematic. Unfortunately, in this conservative province, this is potentially the source for the biggest backlash of the change. The general public does not appreciate change in education for a variety of reasons, mostly due to the cost. I would anticipate that board meetings would have open forums to educate people on the change proposed. School trustees would be tasked with communicating to their constituents the dangers of Pearson and what makes Alma the more positive choice for students and teachers.


I think, most obviously, the resistors will be teachers, parents, administrators, superintendents, directors, and Ministry staff who do not like change. Especially expensive change.I think this will be one of the biggest hurdles to overcome. A strong case for the change must be made that includes detailed cost breakdown of the removal of PowerSchool, the cost of breaking contracts, the cost of implementation, and training. When PowerSchool was implemented, the board saved money by having teachers learn about the new system over the summer rather than using Professional Development time or other instructional time. I would promote this idea as a way to offset some of the costs involved in getting teachers used to the new system.

By providing cost analysis, it can be proven that a change, while expensive in the short term, can have many long term benefits. 

Source: Capterra

Before the change is detailed, an explanation of the corporate history of PowerSchool should be given. There should be an emphasis on the lack of equality implicit within a program developed by Pearson. This alone should encourage a change, though there may be more convincing that is needed. As well, the results from the teacher survey could be used as further leverage that change is needed. PowerSchool has a reputation for having a lot of downtime and maintenance issues, as I have discovered personally. In my experience, at least once a month, PowerSchool is unavailable during school hours. This means I am unable to log attendance, as is my legal obligation, or enter grades. This causes mass confusion and frustration and adds time to the end of my day as I try and catch up. Comparing downtimes and maintenance schedules will help make the case as it would increase productivity to have a system that did not have technical issues on a consistent basis.

Source: Capterra

In researching the alternative I discovered, Alma, I found that one of the features not supported by them is Special Education. PowerSchool does support Special Education. However, I am not sure what is meant by supporting Special Education. I was unable to find out if this feature in PowerSchool means that IPPs are stored or that specialized applications are integrated. I have not used or heard of Special Education features in PowerSchool being used in Regina Public. As far as I am aware, student support is managed through CLEVR.



Source: Regina Public Schools

Currently, I work at Campbell Collegiate, which is a large secondary school. There are approximately 1 300-1 500 students registered with approximately 100 staff members. There, I teach English Language Arts to 9-12.

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Source: Campbell Collegiate


Part of my duties include Core Leader, which is the same thing as a Department Head. In this position, I am responsible for communication between administration and staff, creating professional development opportunities for staff in my core, and managing system goals.

My school district is Regina Public Schools with approximately 22 000 students, K-12. There are also affiliate schools with the board, such as Huda School and Luther.

Current State of Matters:

Source: PowerSchool

Currently, the Regina Board of Education uses former Pearson software, called PowerSchool and Gradebook, as their Student Information System (SIS). This suite includes parental tools called ParentPortal which allows parents real time access to attendance and achievement. The companion, StudentPortal, allows students the same access.

Source (Screenshot): Youtube

PowerSchool was implemented in 2010 and replaced Student Information Records System (SIRS).

Roll out was extensive with teachers required to do modular learning in June and over the summer in order for the system to be workable by September.

Not all features of PowerSchool were immediately available. Teachers began by using the Gradebook system (which is a web based system) and PowerSchool. After approximately 3 years, ParentPortal and StudentPortal were opened up with learning sessions for parents at parent-teacher conferences.

From anecdotal conversations with administration, Regina Public purchased a version of PowerSchool. Since that purchase, additional updates have been purchased in order to keep the system current. However, the division is not running the most recent versions of PowerSchool as the cost to purchase is too high. Again, this information is from an administrator who had completed a PowerSchool course to help them complete timetables within that system.

Source: Vista Equity Partners


PowerSchool was developed by Pearson, the behemoth educational conglomerate. In 2015, Pearson agreed to sell PowerSchool to Vista Equity Partners, a venture capitalist firm that specialises in acquiring software, particularly financial software. PowerSchool now operates as PowerSchool LLC, a completely separate entity from Pearson. PowerSchool has made several acquisitions since its departure from Pearson, consistent with its parent company’s vision.

PowerSchool has faced criticism in Canada about the cost of its programming versus the benefit of implementation. As well, the ParentPortal aspect of PowerSchool can be empowering to parents and students as a way to monitor achievement and attendance, but it can also lead to teacher stress and helicopter parenting.

Furthermore, the concept of corporate responsibility and accountability to customers has gained prominence. The idea that a corporation cannot take whatever actions they please in search of the greatest profits is something that is a new concept in today’s educational and technological environments. Customers, such as school divisions, expect that companies they are dealing with have transparent sets of ethics and accounting. Corporations are being held to a greater standard.

Source: Pearson, defaced by me

I believe that because of PowerSchool’s history and current owners, that the corporate responsibility expected of them cannot be met. I believe that any ties to Pearson, past or present, taints a company’s credibility. Pearson is in the business of continuing systemic inequalities in education for profit. I cannot even begin to post the innumerable articles detailing how awful Pearson is for education. Those nine articles are a sampling of the over 1 million results for a Google search of “Pearson education bad”.

This alone should worry any educator. Any ties, especially for one concerning student data, should be examined. Pearson is single-handedly destroying the credibility of teachers by disseminating the idea that learning is objective and can be measured through standardized tests. They are eliminating the purpose of school divisions because they are promoting the idea that education is one size fits all and that school divisions do not need to be responsive to individual needs.

Pearson appears to run contrary to every single ideal that Critical Theory stands for.  Companies founded by Pearson seem to have the same ideas that their parent company has: maintaining social inequalities through unequal access to education.

Regina Public has the obligation to ensure they are setting the very highest of standards in the selection of software for students. Regina Public serves a diverse population and as such should ensure that the companies they are paying money to can and will support all students, regardless of who they are or where they are from. This is a basic tenant of public education: education for all.


Clearly, switching a SIS is a massive undertaking. It must be carefully researched and costs of implementation must be considered. SIS must address every possible avenue of need from each corner of the educational system. It must be accessible by teachers, first and foremost, as teachers are the ones that consistently access an SIS, multiple times a day for a variety of reasons. It needs to be user-friendly for parents whose technological literacy may not be that of their children. It needs to be easy to navigate for students who wish to stay informed of their progress. It needs to be formatted in a way that administrators have ease of access to data, timetabling, and contact information. Finally, the SIS must be able to interface with Ministry software as ultimately, that is who administrators must answer to.

With all of this in mind, an all encompassing SIS should not be chosen lightly.

The positive outcome of this selection would be increased ease of use, an SIS that is responsive to the needs of our division rather than our division changing to fit the constraints of the SIS. An SIS contains all information about students, both academic, personal, and medical.

The personal data of all students is stored within the SIS and is accessible by all staff members. This also means that the owner of the software, the developer themselves, could also have access to all of this data. In addition to examining the usability of the software, the division should also examine the privacy of the software. Is it vulnerable in any way? How long is data stored? Where is the data stored? Who has access? What fail safes to unauthorized access are there?

The potential issues to implementing a new system across a division are obvious: cost, staff buy-in and training. A system change such as this cannot be done in sections; it must be completed all at once in order to ensure continuity for staff and students. Reticence and resistance should be expected from staff, as teachers, from my experience, are not the most accepting of change.

Rationale for the change should be explicitly discussed with staff. This would help staff adjust as there would be transparent reasoning behind the change.