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2 min read

Let's recap. A few weeks ago, the consensus was that Stephen Harper's campaign was in trouble. There was news of a campaign shake-up, most noticeably the introduction of a strategist who had employed race-baiting strategies with success in Australia and the UK. Almost immediately, we started to hear the phrase "dog whistle" a lot. There was some ambiguity around odd phrases like "old stock Canadians", some slim grounds for benefit of doubt.

Since then, a steady stream of statements and manuevers that are clearly intended to mobilize sentiment against Muslims. Obfuscation on Syrian refugees. The "controversy" over the niqab is bullshit. Pure and simple. It has nothing to do with the identity of citizenship seekers, and has no impact on any of our lives. A "Barbaric Cultural Practices" hotline... well, I could think of a few barbaric practices I would like to report. But honestly, just reading those words gives me cold fearful chills.

If the Harper government is so concerned about Islamic human rights abuses, and Islamic women, why is it selling $15 billion in arms to Saudi Arabia, a country where women's rights are an oxymoron? Right now Saudi Arabia is bombing Yemen, and killing civilians. How does injecting $15 billion dollars worth of death into the region help anything?

More disturbing to me than the racist strategy is its apparent success. Harper has been steadily climbing in the polls, is now poised to win a majority. A few voices have spoken out in protest, but it's clear that this shit resonates with Canadians.

Thing is, racism is not an easy thing to contain once it is unleashed.

Tomorrow I leave the country for a couple weeks. I come back just before the election. I am grateful to get out. This campaign has been unbearable.


Songs of uncertainty and acceptance

1 min read

This past weekend, I witnessed a nasty conflict between atheist and Christian people (the conflict wasn't solely about religion, but it was a flashpoint), and it happened in the context of music. It got me thinking about the relationship between music and religion. I meandered a lot from there, didn't come up with much worth sharing, but eventually came to one realization. If agnostics could have hymns, then "Let the Mystery Be" by Iris DeMent would be a great one:

From there, I tried to think of more hymns for agnostics. It's less explicitly theological than DeMent's song, but The Flaming Lips' "Do You Realize?" has more of the sense of uplift I associate with ecstatic music. And if you want a more meditative version, check out this one with Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, performed at the Hollywood Cemetery:

Can agnostics have hymns? What might some other ones be?

Interesting piece from a former LMS zealot turned "nihilist": Because in spite of the small part I played in the changing of the guard in the LMS market in the Higher Ed sector here, I’ve yet to see any conclusive evidence that a change of LMS, in and of itself, made any material difference to student outcomes. I saw numerous universities use the change of LMS as a perfect time to embark on a range of educational programs aimed at improving the use of technology in learning, and hence did some of the LMS upgrades coincide with improved student outcomes? Very probably. But – and here’s the critical question – did the LMS change in and of itself have any material impact on the learning outcomes of students? Not that I’ve seen.

"it is worth considering how long anybody who currently has this kind of freedom is going to be able to keep it. As the transition from face-to-face to online learning accelerates in more places, I believe there will inevitably be more ass deans trying to justify their existences by taking control of people’s online classrooms. This is why I’ve been so obsessed with mandatory LMS usage for some time now. To me this smells of being just the beginning. And even having a Lego box full of many brightly-colored pieces is not worth the heartache that this kind of interference with our traditional professorial prerogatives will bring."

I actually spent part of my evening thinking about learning management systems.

LMS Notes

2 min read


My reaction to the observation of the 80/20 rule (LMS has too many features, with most getting little usage) is that we need a system that does fewer things but does them very well. Then take advantage of LTI and Caliper (more on that later) to allow multiple learning tools to be used but with a way to still offer consistent user experience in system access, navigation, and provision of course administration.

I answered another question by saying that the LMS, with multiple billions invested over 17+ years, has not “moved the needle” on improving educational results. I see the value in providing a necessary academic infrastructure that can enable real gains in select programs or with new tools (e.g. adaptive software for remedial math, competency-based education for working adults), but the best the LMS itself can do is get out of the way – do its job quietly, freeing up faculty time, giving students anytime access to course materials and feedback. In aggregate, I have not seen real academic improvements directly tied to the LMS.


This is not as it should be. Virtual classrooms should be more flexible than their physical counterparts rather than less so. Do you teach art history? Then you need an image annotation tool. But probably a different one than the image annotation tool needed to teach histology. Foreign language teachers may want voice discussion boards to check student accents. Writing teachers should have peer editing tools. History teachers should have interactive maps. And so on.

Granted, some of these applications exist today and can be included in an LMS. But there are not nearly as many of them as there can and should be. We contend that the current technical design philosophy of today’s Learning Management Systems is substantially retarding progress toward the kind of flexible virtual classrooms that teachers need to provide quality education. In order to have substantial development of specialized teaching tools at an acceptable rate, LMSs need to be designed from the ground up to make development and integration of new tools as easy as possible.