Archive for March, 2014

More on “Online Learning”

A near-perfect analogy from my favourite blogger, Clarissa:

So we went to the theater last night (driven all the way to St. Louis by yours truly, I might add.) And as I was watching the play, I imagined what it would feel like to watch the same play online.

Obviously, I’d get what the play was about and know what the actors looked like. But the entire experience of dressing up, driving there, being at the theater, feeling festive and anticipating the show, being surrounded by other theater lovers, being close to the actors, observing everything in a way no camera can replicate, experiencing the collective surge of emotions during the play, leaving the theater with other spectators, brought together by the shared experience of seeing the play, feeling slightly off-kilter as we reintegrated into the reality outside of the theater – none of that could even remotely be replicated by watching the play on a computer screen.

Everybody should get a chance to see a real play. Everybody should get a chance to be in a real classroom. Computer technology can be put to a multitude of wonderful uses. Let’s not use it to segregate.


“Online Learning”

Teaching online – doing it well, at any rate – is a lot of work, and not cheap, says University of California President Janet Napolitano:

[Napolitano] called the development of online courses merely “a tool for the toolbox.”

For higher education, she said, “It’s not a silver bullet, the way it was originally portrayed to be. It’s a lot harder than it looks, and by the way if you do it right it doesn’t save all that much money, because you still have to have an opportunity for students to interact with either a teaching assistant or an assistant professor or a professor at some level.”

As for preparing the courses, “if they’re really going to be top-quality, that’s an investment as well.” Taking aim at the dream that online learning might be most useful for students needing help in remedial courses in subjects like English and math, Napolitano said: “I think that’s false; those students need the teacher in the classroom working with them.”




Picture 4



From the Vancouver Province: “A former employee is accusing the top brass at Kwantlen Polytechnic University of handing out wage increases over and above a provincially mandated salary cap by hiding them as other expenses.”

Bad news for the downtown eastside

From the Georgia Straight.

First Love Never Die




“Art may spill over from creating a world of language into the dangerous and forbidden task of trying to create a human being.”

I adore that quote.

Edward Mendelson’s essay in the New York Review of Books on W.H. Auden reveals a writer who jumps back, or runs away, as much as he leaps in. When I was a young writer, I did not understand how other young writers of my day put him at the top; I still don’t. But more and more I know why older writers do. Writes Mendelson:

In an age when writers as different as Hemingway and Eliot encouraged their public to admire them as heroic explorers of the mind and spirit, Auden preferred to err in the opposite direction, by presenting himself as less than he was.

That would be love.


My son, Miles Basil, writes: “Sent you some photos I took today from the old industrial waterfront/ first ward region of Buffalo.  J. bought a new camera so we wanted to do some exploring.  Buffalo is such an awesome city to photograph … just one more reason I’ll miss it so much.”




But that would be rude.


I was an extrovert until April 20, 1992. That was the day after Easter. I resigned from my position as Senior and Acquisitions Editor at Prometheus Books Inc. on that day and began a journey that took me from Buffalo’s East Side, to New York City, and then to Stanford University, and, at last, to Vancouver.

I spent that Easter in Toronto. I was there to appear on a 90-minute-long talk & debate show on CBC TV on behalf of Prometheus Books and its two sister organizations (here and here). I don’t actually remember what the topic was but guess, since this was Easter, it was “Near Death Experiences,” often a popular subject during the Easter season back in the day. After the show, which was exhausting, I went out into the city, which was dead, so I bought a dozen or so magazines and returned to my hotel and had some drinks from the mini-bar and read for hours. Back in Buffalo the next day, I cleared out my office after the business manager at Prometheus rejected my expense report, saying it exceeded the allowable per diem. I became an introvert the moment I left the building, and never went on television or did a radio interview again.

Back in New York City a few weeks ago, I went to a bar in Little Italy to have a shot of tequila and a beer while waiting for my sister Jenny to swing by the neighborhood for dinner. I’d hardly sipped some tequila when a fellow at the bar started talking to me about how a wife can now track her husband via the GPS in his cell phone and see what he’s doing, live, online, because web-cams are used in all the bars now. “No kidding!” I said. The bartender joined the conversation with a funny wife-with-GPS story. A woman got up from her table and came to the bar with her own tale. Within seconds, it seemed, seven or eight of us were engaged in loud, intense and very fun conversation. When I got up to leave, to meet my sister, my new friends offered to buy me another round to get me to stay. That sure was tempting.

I left that bar feeling strangely great, and not just Cuervo Gold strangely great but truly elated, as if I had found a treasure, or remembered a most important password or secret. I was on a train going from Manhattan to Buffalo a few days later when I figured out what I had found and remembered: *This* is what life had been like, *this* is what I had stopped being, decades ago, a gregarious man living in places where people wanted you to be gregarious. What did I have in common with the people at the bar that could make our conversation so immediate and intense? We were in the same place, and that was enough.

I flew back to Vancouver the third Sunday of Lent, two weeks before Easter. I walked out my front door the next morning and felt something I had never felt before in Canada: that I was in a foreign country. I am grateful that this feeling soon ebbed, and is now gone.

My students and some of my Vancouver friends have heard my Little Italy story, all of them agreeing that that type of conviviality simply does not exist in BC. One student noted, “Of course it doesn’t. That would be considered rude.”

Here we look after others, but we leave them alone.

(Originally published April 30, 2011. Beautiful goodbye card by Dena Bowles, Stanford University, 1995)

When being a teacher is even more wonderful than usual …

A former Kwantlen student of mine, Sean Bindra, organized a very successful social marketing event on Anti-Bullying Day this week. It received national coverage. From the university news release:

Surrey, B.C. – Bullies didn’t stand a chance against the 640 elementary and high school students who took to the field at Princess Margaret Secondary on Anti-Bullying Day Feb. 26.

The singing and dancing students were part of the feel-good flash mob organized by Kwantlen Polytechnic University marketing student Sean Bindra, who simply wanted to do his part to secure a future free of bullies.

“Bullying is prevalent everywhere, in every aspect of our lives, and it needs to be eradicated,” says Bindra.

Bindra contacted the administration at Dr. F.D. Sinclair, Strawberry Hill and Westerman elementaries, along with nearby Princess Margaret Secondary, in January to propose the massive flash mob in support of Anti-Bullying Day.

Once Bindra had the schools’ support, he approached the internationally recognized Shiamak Dance School to choreograph the performance. Instructors from the school taught students a dance routine to a Michael Jackson song, as well as to a popular Bollywood song, and volunteers from Shiamak have been rehearsing with the students once or twice a week for the past several weeks.

Bindra then secured support and sponsorship from Surrey’s Thornley Creative to provide pink fabric for the performers’ headbands, videographer SoWedding to record the event at no cost, and Long & McQuade to donate use of a sound system.

He also received letters of support from Premier Christy Clark and Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts.

On Wednesday, Bindra saw the hard work of students pay off with the massive flash mob on the grounds at PM Secondary.

“Music and dance transcend our differences and bring us together,” says Bindra. “We are definitely stronger together than we are apart.”

Bindra says he ultimately wants to be able to send his own children to school knowing they will be accepted regardless of what they look like, who they are and what they do.

Nishan Perera, who was Bindra’s instructor in a contemporary issues and marketing course last year, said Bindra is a “passionate and proactive student who showed interest in social issues related to marketing.”

Bindra’s marketing instructor, Bob Basil, added, “This is a great initiative – full of wit and community feeling, and seriousness too.”

[Here is a video of the Pink Shirt Day event. – March 3, ’14]