Try as we (or, most of us) might to convince ourselves that we’re only blogging “for ourselves,’ there is a certain pleasure derived from looking into the view-counts, clustermaps, and other user data that most of our blogs and sites are keeping track of for us. Knowing that there are specific people out there reading our words, watching our videos, and learning our songs always seems to push the envelop of what else we might put out there onto the web, and what reaction it might illicit.
But there is another layer to the data that shared sites are silently tracking and recording for us that offers another glance of our digital learning environments. Looking back at the first month of activity on the Philosophy 12 blog, I’m beginning to see a whole different purpose to these stats.
For instance, which posts are generating the most conversation?
Who are our most prolific commenters? (Interestingly enough, three of the top seven commenters this week are open participants, learning alongside us for no credit.)
Who are we reading?
Now, all of this could very well be nothing more than the ego stroke that goes along with realizing that rings in our imagination to the tune of Muhahaha! but data sets like the above (and these are just the ones that come with a free WordPress.com blog) can help sift through the firehose of web-generated course content and help facilitators and learners alike zero-in on not only those hotbeds of conversation, but perhaps also (to follow the metaphor through to its logical conclusion) those embers needing a little more oxygen to reach ignition.
I know that there are folks like George Siemens, and Philosophy 12 guru Mr. Downes, who are blazing trails in much larger learning environments than ours, nurturing the burgeoning field of Learning Analytics (or Educational Data Mining). But I wonder – as much of the Philosophy 12 experiment has made me in the last few weeks – about the applications these environments might lend K-12 education. I’m also curious:
- Are statistics like these informing/driving/related-whatsoever-to learning in your classroom(s)?
- How might the gathering of such information change classroom practices in the future?
- Is all of this just a big distraction from attending directly to student-learning?
Teaching and learning in the open is wild. Anything can happen and hopefully it does…
We’re a few weeks into the open-online experiment that has been our school’s pilot Philosophy 12 course, enough time to pause and – yes – reflect on what has begun to emerge from the medium, course content, and individual voices and perspectives that are shaping the learning experience. Looking back on these first few weeks, here is what I’ve been discovering:
An open course revolves around its architecture
I’ve been lucky to have had the opportunity to work for a few years now in what amounts to a blended learning environment that incorporates blogs, wikis and class discussions; as well, I’ve also had the good fortune to meet and work alongside luminaries in the field of open education and digital course delivery. These experiences have led to focusing much of my September attention (when I haven’t been in the woods with my other classes) setting up the online environments and channels to enable and support the for-credit, face-to-face learners in our school, as well as allowing for straightforward channels of online participation for our open-online learners and facilitators.
This has largely centered around the creation of:
- A google form to sign up as a participant on the blog and in the course
- A course wiki to function as a digital accompaniment to the text
- A class blog to function as a conversation hub and resource-sharing area
- An RSS bundle of blog posts and comments to follow the discourse
- Broadcasting classes regularly on #ds106radio
Philosophy is about the Journey, not the Destination
More of a course outcome than something I’ve learned about online pedagogy, I was engrossed as the class spent much of its first few weeks setting out to define Philosophy along our own terms, incorporating different perspectives and readings as participants saw fit. This process revealed many different personal definitions of philosophy, and a working vocabulary for the community at hand which paid homage to Wittgenstein’s statement that:
Philosophy is not a theory but an activity.
The words we use are important
After wading into the process of conducting philosophy, the rest of the Wittgenstein quotation (shared as part of Kristina’s definition) becomes worthy of contemplation:
A philosophical work consists essentially of elucidations. The result is not a number of “philosophical propositions” but to make propositions clear. Philosophy should make clear and delimit sharply the thoughts which otherwise are, as it were, opaque and blurred.
To make propositions clear.
As we began, I quickly realized that this was no small task in a group of young intellectuals in love with language, performance, and the newness of many of their own emerging ideas. Our conversations over the course of the first week, and more than a few of the ensuing posts on the class blog, careened wildly from thoughts about life and death, the nature of reality, ethics and the various topics at hand. The ideas were powerful, but fleeting – ethereal and never fully grasped before the next one had arrived.
Teaching and facilitating in this environment, and with the above-stated goal in mind, to meaningfully conduct philosophy rather than learn about it as such, involves (for me) a (hopefully) transparent positioning of myself in such a place that I can point out, or suggest different directions or aims of the various tasks the group is undertaking: instigating pauses, asking for more deliberate expressions or synthesis of ideas, creating space and time for reflection and, if necessary, gently directing that reflection.
Assessment opportunities frame the outcomes
This is a relatively fresh understanding beginning to emerge as the class has been delivering its first set of assignments which have ranged from news broadcasts and ‘human experiments,’ to stories, blog reflections and a formal debate. Here my thinking has been particularly influenced and aided by GNA Garcia, who has been an outgoing and supremely helpful co-learner, participant and facilitator in the #philosophy12 experiment, listening on the radio, offering links and related readings, asking questions, and sharing back-channel feedback and help from a course-design perspective.
One question GNA tweeted yesterday during a broadcast of one group’s presentation of a formal debate led to much thought about the nature of assignments proposed within the course construct:
Upon further reflection and some conversation, this question about the tone (and objective) of debating itself led to much thought about another article GNA shared in a blog post wrapping up her first week ‘Back in Grade Twelve‘ by James Paul Gee entitled Beyond Mindless Progressivism. Gee outlines seventeen principles of course design and implementation that read like a laundry list of (personally) ideal classroom objectives, one of which I’ll bring out here:
Learners are well prepared to learn new things, make good choices, and be able to create good learning environments for themselves and others across a lifetime of learning.
This conversation addressed the intention of our learning community – to conduct philosophy – and the ability of our assignments to meet this expressed need. For me, teaching (or: facilitating the learning process around) learners “being able to create good learning environments for themselves‘ involves interrogating the ability of the assignments themselves to achieve course outcomes. Now, the particular assignment of the debate had been suggested by the group, but in allowing a learner-generated assignment model, the class as designed by the instructor/facilitator was, in this case, endorsing a mode of instruction and presentation not entirely suited to the stated goal of the course: to build ideas together rather than for one party’s ideas to emerge victorious.
“I am asking permission, really,” I told the class this morning after some thought, “If you all would be OK with me revising our assignment proposal sheet, not to limit the scope of assignments necessarily, but to encourage thinking toward what our purpose is here, and to reflect on how the assignments you choose to do support that goal.”
Which is where we find ourselves today in Philosophy 12: figuring it out, sharing our thoughts and reflections on the process as it unfolds. We are paying attention, and trying to make some sense of it along the way.
As we live we learn.
On Monday I’ll be giving a brief talk to the Langley cohort of Simon Fraser University’s Learning & Teaching with Technology Field Program about Personal Narratives as a framework for learning. Not particularly adept at the nomenclature surrounding and separating ‘frameworks,’ lenses, methods, and mostly considering myself self-taught when it comes to this stuff, I have long-found stories to be a vital part of my teaching bag-of-tricks, and will be sharing some of what I’ve found along the way with the group. As an introduction, I’ve shared the following post on the class’ Posterous account, but it’s private; so I’ve shared it here in the hope that those of you out there – who have really done all the teaching in this supposed ‘self-teaching’ I’ve been doing – might leave us a comment, a story, a link to some reading, or pass this post along to someone who might.
As a means of collecting some of the supplemental material I would attach to a discussion of Personal Narratives and Storytelling in the classroom, I thought I would put together a post here that you may find useful in extending the conversation post-”Institute.”
As a general introduction, the above video is a story I told in a canoe in Algonquin Park last summer at the Unplug’d Education Summit. The purpose of the “un-conference” was to bring together educational stake-holders to synthesize our individual essays (each filling the blank in the title, Why _________ Matters) into a book organized by thematically grouped chapters. You can download the e-book here, and learn more about this year’s event at Unplugd.ca.
While the whole process revolved around a socially constructive framework, my essay centered around the idea that “Sharing our Stories” matters: that each of our individual truths construct a shared “truth” or objectivity; and that if we follow this through to its logical conclusion, the skills required to realize, share and synthesize our stories become essentials in creating a healthy culture (democratic, social, educational or otherwise).
From both a personal and pedagogical perspective, this aspect of joining the personal and the collective through stories holds great interest for me, especially as we consider that our digital tools provide ever-more opprortunities to share unique pieces from our individual corners of the world with tribes and swarms and communities beyond our own local geography. Indeed:
…our understanding of authorship is, at the present time, caught between two regimes: one a system of knowledge production informed by Enlightenment-era notions of the self, the other is a world of “technologies that lend themselves to the distributed, the collective, the process-oriented, the anonymous, the remix.” As we step into the future increasingly governed by the latter, we move, in some ways, back to an earlier era: a move away from a culture of isolated reading — the individual reader, alone with a book or a screen — towards a more communal engagement, the coffee-house or fireside model of public reading and debate in which literary culture historically originated. Long before print culture, storytelling was not a solitary experience but a group event. Houman Barekat on Planned Obsolescence
In its more classical sense, education concerned itself almost exclusively with Aesthetics, or the “broader sense” that Wikipedia describes as “critical reflection on art, culture and nature. Educators today would do well to be aware of an emerging New Aesthetic (which is described here in a specific fashion that need not be completely digested or accepted to be relevent to our discussion).
Simply put, the New Aesthetic concerns itself with how the digital world and the real world are starting to overlap and intermingle in interesting, routine and unexpected ways. As search engines, online ‘bots’, spam generation engines, online mapping tools, google street view, machine vision and sensing technologies proliferate, our everyday life in the western technologically advanced world is starting to bristle with new types of augmentation and hybridity. Interview with Bruce Sterling about the New Aesthetic
As we move into next week, I hope we can play around with some of these emerging tools to begin to tell our own stories and begin to create possibilities for storytelling (digital or otherwise) as a means of individual and collective learning in your classrooms.
The main point I like to stress in talking about storytelling in our emerging media/digital landscape is that despite our new modes of communication, the act of telling our individual and communal stories is fundamental to the creation and maintenance of our culture and in this way is at the center of what education strives to achieve.
As one of my teaching idols told me on the day he retired, “Any class you teach is just another opportunity for kids to practice forming communities,” a sentiment I find myself agreeing with more the longer I teach, and a process in which I find stories increasingly fundamental.
Now that we have come to the final week of the semester and school year (where did it all go???), the Thirty Person Rock Band Project, since baptized as the Bears, is trying to make its various pieces “land” in time to showcase the fury of the past few weeks’ endeavour: to make rock music.
As a group, we’ve been working on an aesthetic: amidst countless jams, we named the band, developed a logo, flyers, dance moves, and set out to write a song around a bass riff developed by the original Bear, Florentine.
At present, we are preparing to showcase our work this Thursday in a brief set to be played in the parking lot after the second-to-last 3pm bell of the year rings.
See you there?
In a year that has seen much public discussion of the teaching profession in British Columbia, it’s important to do a few things every day to remind ourselves that we are incredibly lucky to do this job. This spring’s Thirty Person Rock Band project has made for many such opportunities, and with four weeks of school left, it feels constantly like we’re just beginning. It’s a good place to be.
As sometimes happens, I didn’t sit down at work today – unless you count the few minutes I spent helping a guitar student figure out how to add piano to the upcoming QR-code-musical-Easter-egg-hunt I’m setting up (and will tell you about later), or taking part in a few of the interviews throughout the day. But it was a memorable and energizing to live as “the bridge and the Bondo” between two communities of learners who make my job an invigorating blend of my own personal passions combined with professional exploration and experimentation in developing an enriching space for learning.
Today our class spread out, both in the physical building, and across the continent in search of learning through uncovering the experiences of others. And for brief sessions throughout the day, my greatest teachers (both TALONS learners and members of my personal learning network) became each others’ greatest teachers. In asking questions, the TALONS contributed the subject, and an audience, for the people I learn from and with every day – people like Stephen Hurley, and Rodd Lucier, Zoe Branigan-Pipe, GNA Garcia and Giulia Forsythe, Zack Dowell and Dave Truss, as well as Andys Forgrave and McKiel, and Leslie Lindballe (seriously though: no Jabiz?) – to talk about what they’ve learned about life, and work, and how they’ve learned it. By responding, and lending their reflection and wisdom to the questions, my colleagues were able to step into our classroom today because of the social – both physical and digital – networks I’ve brought into my life and learning.
This is how it all went down:
A very interesting talk given by Tobey Steeves Friday afternoon at the BCSSTA Conference in Vancouver that is well worth your time to explore both in the slides above, and the corresponding ‘pencast’ embedded below that captures the session’s audio, and my notes about the discussion of public education’s role in a democracy, and how this thinking could be applied to education policy’s current obsession with a vague notion of 21st Century Learning.
I have been thinking of the role of this type of critical inquiry into not only the terminology surrounding 21st Century Learning and the advent of technology in the modern classroom, but Learning (or Schooling) itself, similar questions being posed by Dave Cormier in a recent post entitled, Workers, Soldiers or Nomads:
The why of education should be the first question that we answer in any discussion in the field. The answer to the ‘why of education’ question should be debated, mulled and hammered, on and on, and be at the centre of the work that we do. Sadly, it seems to be very difficult to say anything about “what learning is” and “why we educate our children”. We tend to end up saying something like the following
There are any number of ways to say this, and, by saying it, say nothing. These answers have content, maybe, for the people saying them, but there’s no way for me to know what you mean. What are the cultural values you’d like to pass on? Is it likely that a vast majority of people are going to want to pass on those particular values? What would a good citizen do in our society? Are they law abiding or do they fight injustice? I’d like to think that they are both, but it’s pretty tough to create a system that both trains people to do what they are told and to also critically assess their culture.
- We are preparing our students for the future
- We need to get them ready for university
- We are trying to make good citizens for our society
- We are trying to instill cultural values
- We are trying to teach them to learn
I think that last piece, the ability to ‘critically assess [one's] culture,’ is essential if we are to realize this idea of Maslow‘s, brought to my attention this weekend by Canadian musician and activist Raffi Cavoukian:
So while we become human through being culturalized so that our mind, emotions, speech, and behavior is cultivated to the values of our parents and teachers, to develop to our full potential we have to simultaneously learn to wear our conventionality lightly so that we learn to choose what parts of the outer world to bring in and what to merely adapt to, and what to reject. If we conform blindly and unthinkingly to the cultural rules of family, religion, school, media, business, etc., we dull our individuality and avoid authenticity.
From L. Michael Hall’s “Unleashing your Real Self“
We talk a lot about individuality and authenticity in T.A.L.O.N.S. and how to live in such a way that we enable each of these in ourselves and one another. But isn’t what we’re really talking about also called subversion?
And what if we are talking about subversion?
Might that be (at least part of) the point of school?
Linked from the TALONS Blogging page on this site.
As a personal professional development and learning tool, I began this blog during the spring of 2009 as a means of connecting to the web and the world in the most personalized manner possible. After experimenting with Twitter, Delicious, and an English Department blog at work, having my own blog seemed the natural course of things.
Two years ago I brought the TALONS class into the fray. A two-year program for gifted high school learners in our district, our class tackles English, Socials, Science, Math, Leadership and Planning curricula, augmented with experiential service learning projects, cultural events, and outdoor adventures in the local school community, and beyond..
At the best of times, it can be trying (for students, but also the program’s two teachers) to stay on top of the class’ varied passions, interests and Ministry mandated topics. But with blogs, I began to think as our online communication took shape over the summer and ensuing school year, each student (and again, teachers) presented, recorded, and reflected upon their individual learning, in addition to supporting one another in a fluid and ongoing narrative built around the topics of wide-reaching curiosity, as well as the course material.
TALONS teachers have long held as their goal to dissolve the lines between our diverse subjects as often as possible – supporting essay theses with biological arguments, using math analogies during the study of history, and many other as-yet-undiscovered connections – and are continually astounded by the depth and individuality in the class’ blogging.
For two years this blog served a living record, and synthesizer of TALONS student blogging, but has since seen these responsibilities delegated to the class blog, Defying Normality, its Flickr account, Youtube Channel and subject-based wikispaces:
Some of the memorable learning experiences shared on this blog during the 2009 – 2010 school years are:
- Classroom Doors, Open to the World: an English assignment shared via student blog links.
- To Find Your Own Way: Teacher reflection & summary of grade nine Eminent Person Speeches.
- The Interviews Take Flight: Student summaries of success in finding expert testimony for Eminent Person Study.
- It Takes a Village: this brief summary of results from our TALONS-parents interview process is a testament to the benefits of community upon education.
- If a Student Asks a Question in a Classroom… : summary of Katie’s quest for primary source information to construct her Night of the Notables speech that spans the globe in less than 24 hours.
- Eminent Person Wrap Up: Student examples of learning centers, interviews, and speeches abound here with many links.
- Wordle as Discussion Synthesis: As part of a Social Studies discussion of the English Civil War and Canada’s Colonial Society, TALONS students used Wordles to synthesize the range of topics covered in the various discussion threads.
- TALONS Debate the “Good” Books: A class conversation of the ongoing relevance of “The Classics” boiled over into a Facebook thread between many of our grade tens debating the nature of “good” literature.
- A Rash of Ravishing Student Blog Posts: The fruits of a weekend near the end of the TALONS Novel Study, this post links to the majority of the class’ exploits.
- Participants in the Age of Information: A conversation about unfolding events in the Arab Spring of 2011 that became the basis for my essay, ‘Why Sharing Our Stories Matters,” written as part of the Unplug’d Educational Summit publication Why _______ Matters.
- English Final as Documentary Film: “On Education“: Liam’s video about the present state of education becomes fodder for a University of Connecticut course offered to pre-service teachers.
- TALONS’ Showcase of Learning: American Revolution: An example of an open-computer test in the TALONS classroom.
- Jenna lands an Interview with her Eminent Person’s Biographer: TALONS grade ten enjoys a personal conversation about journalism with NYU professor Brooke Kroeger.
- Did the author of the Golden Spruce comment on two TALONS’ posts? He did.
- TALONS Launch new blog, continue Defying Normality: Looking back at the evolution of TALONS blogging in 2010.
The RSS Feed to follow this year’s TALONS Learners’ blogs can be viewed, and subscribed to here, as can the class’ comment feed. Our individual bloggers this year are:
- Jonathan Z.