Adventures in Blended Learning

John A. Skype

As I mentioned in a brief thank you to Alec at our last class meeting, in many ways it feels as though I’ve been taking his course on The Blended Classroom for a few years now.

When I joined Twitter back in… can it really have been 2009? Alec was one of the first people I followed. Along with Will Richardson, Dean Shareski, Sylvia Martinez and a host of others who have spoken with us or been name-dropped throughout our time together this semester, Alec has helped form and inspire many of the ideas that have driven my blended practice in the years since, a journey that has been charted across the near-300 posts on this blog, as well as in other online spaces, physical artifacts, and dialogue with peers, colleagues and students.

Along with Dave Cormier I am interested in the blurring of the boundaries between formal and informal learning, and seek to integrate a more rhizomatic approach to institutional learning that makes use of the sprawling inquiries I have engaged in during my time as an open online educator. While it may be more chaotic, and difficult (if not impossible) to direct, this more organic approach has challenged me to make meaning of diverse experiences and connections in a manner which is far more in line with socio-cultural trends at the heart of the digital age and 21st century.

As a reflective practitioner, this has allowed me to plot a uniquely personal course of study that is relevant to my own interests and passions, classroom communities, and emerging perspective on my place in the world as an educator and member of the human project. But it has also offered the opportunity to engage in the type of emergent meaning-making that has become central to the philosophy of education underpinning my work as a graduate student. Taken together these experiences have influenced the type of learning opportunities I strive to create for my students, as well as the type of learning I hope they are able to engage in for themselves once they venture beyond the school.

This semester my own learning has met the gentle structure provided by Alec’s class and branched in what may be considered three overlapping directions: theory, practice and reflection.

Theory

I began my theoretical work in January with a look at the potential for Collaborative Inquiry to address teacher professional development interests, as well as put educators into the experiential role of learners as members of a community:

With increasing classroom needs, revolutionary changes in technology and information literacies, in an evolving culture dealing with widespread anxiety and mental health concerns, classroom teachers and extended school communities confront diverse language language needs and an increased awareness around gender and sexual identity, among other unique challenges. In British Columbia, public schools face the additional challenge of an ongoing and tempestuous negotiation between different stakeholders over curricular reform, teacher-contracts, and the role of education in society.

The convergence of these myriad adaptive challenges – “for which the necessary knowledge [does] not yet exist.” – seem an appropriate place to engage a process of collaborative inquiry which allows participants to “adopt new values and beliefs.”

In addition to the value that it might add to teacher-development and learning, this type of collaborative inquiry is in line with a conception of citizenship that is coming to ground my academic work around civic education. As the emergent view of knowledge described above may be seen to, the challenges presented by multiculturalism in pluralist democracies highlights the tension between creating and maintaining institutions that can bring about outcomes truly constructed out of their (ever-changing) constituent parts.

An ongoing theme in my work on this blog, the problematic view of emergence is described by Deborah Osberg and Gert Biesta:

“If we hold that meaning is emergent, and we insist on a strict interpretation of emergence (i.e. what emerges is more than the sum of its parts and therefore not predictable from the ‘ground’ it emerges from) then the idea that educators can (or should) control the meanings that emerge in the classroom becomes problematic. In other words the notion of emergent meaning is incompatible with the aims of education, traditionally conceived.”

Sigal Ben-Porath presents a potential resolution to this paradox in the form of Citizenship as Shared Fate, wherein “citizenship education ‘seeks forms of attachments, belonging and commitment that would enable children to become positive members of diverse communities of fate.'”

Such a citizenship, and thus citizenship education:

“aims to recognize differences in values, outlooks, language and preferences while developing institutional and conceptual concepts – particularly civic and political ones – in which different communities can develop ties and shared practices.”

Practice

In building on these theoretical underpinnings (among others), I sought during this semester to engage in my own professional learning, as well as facilitate my various classroom-activities, with an eye toward exploring the digital applications of these ideas in the service of both individual and community development.

Guitar

(One of) My own learning project(s) during the term took on the challenge of musical performance, both in my guitar classroom and the school community beyond, a process I documented and reflected upon in a series of posts both here and on the #IntroGuitar site:Murder at the Witch's Tavern

In addition to this somewhat formal performance (as well as those which will follow throughout the semester), I also took a stake in a fundraising evening of murder-mystery dinner-theatre for our drama department, writing and sharing a series of expository songs during the hastily produced play performed for local parents, colleagues and community guests.

In each of these examples, my aim was not only to develop and reflect on my own growth as a musician, but to engage in a process I regularly ask of my students so as to both cultivate empathy for the discomfort that often accompanies learning as well as share an example – successful or not – of stepping into Vigotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development for students and colleagues alike.

For my guitar students especially, whom I ask to document and reflect on their musical learning regularly, sharing my own journey as a guitar player is an integral part of cultivating an open course community within the structure of a for-credit classroom. Part of the ‘open’ ethos of the blended #introguitar environment creates the course site as a space for our students to cultivate and share their own narratives of learning among members of the class, but also those beyond.

But these individual and collective artifacts of learning also stretch beyond the classroom, leaving a lasting community of practice that is accessible – as the three iterations of the course that have used the course are – to future students of guitar, at Gleneagle and beyond.

TALONS Socials

The same might be said of the praxis of reflection and creation I have attempted to instigate in the TALONS Socials learning this semester, where members of the class have been asked to document various aspects of their learning: in blog posts, Tweets, pages of notes, and recorded class discussions and role plays.

With assignments separated into summative presentations and assignments, reflections and self-assessments, as well as documents of learning in progress (questions, notes on discussions, journal entries, marginalia in various readings, assigned and otherwise), the TALONS Social Studies semester orients itself toward students taking ownership over their own encounters with the course’s Ministry-mandated prescribed learning outcomes. Through a range of class activities and assignments, each is charged with the collection of various artifacts of learning that will be used in the creation of midterm, as well as final syntheses of learning, where these articles will serve as evidence that the curriculum has been encountered, critically interrogated, and integrated into their own emerging understanding.

Daily homework, if not otherwise specified, reflects the values of ongoing personal inquiry and is geared toward the TALONS being successful in what has become known as the Philosophy Pop Quiz:

  1. Did you read material for today’s class meeting carefully? (No – 0, Once – 1, Yes, more than once – 2)
  2. Did you come to class today with questions or with items you’re eager to discuss? (No – 0, Yes, one – 1, Yes, more than one – 2)
  3. Since we last met, did you talk at length to a classmate, or classmates about either the last class meeting or today’s meeting? (No – 0, Yes, one person – 1, Yes, more than one person – 2)
  4. Since our last meeting, did you read any unassigned material related to this course of study? (No – 0, Yes, one item – 1, Yes, more than one item – 2)
  5. Since our last meeting, how much time have you spent reflecting on this course of study and recent class meetings? (None to 29 minutes – 0, 30 minutes to one hour – 1, Over an hour – 2)

Working toward the highest possible class average score on the above quiz, the traits and habits required for daily success can become part of the cycle of personal learning without falling prey to being too prescriptive. The synthesis of a collective voice out of these various inquiries and encounters with the common course of study are able to become the task of the social curricula.

This has been particularly evident in the class’ recent study of Canadian Confederation, where an experiment in social media role-playing has built upon the debates and discussion various historical characters have been waging in the face to face classroom, realizing that multicultural difficulty:

“…to ‘teach’ toward these myriad truths is at once a curricular requirement and Quixotic pursuit, revealing the tensions of education for citizenship in a pluralist democracy, asking How do we create unity and cultivate diverse perspectives?

“In interpreting history, as well as our present moment, students ought be engaged in rehearsing this act, and with the dramatic role play the answer offered to the pedagogic problem lies at the heart of narrative.

“Of sensing an individual’s arc at the centre of a multitude of shared and individual lives.

“Of constructing ‘we’ out of many ‘I’s.

“Whether face to face or in the online sphere, this is the task of schooling in the multicultural society.”

Reflection

Perhaps apart from both the theory and practice summarized above, the learning engaged in on this blog regularly ventures into more personal reflections and syntheses of learning that go beyond the collection of classroom experiences or theoretical readings and attempt to articulate something of a larger polemic on the state of educational or cultural affairs.

In the past few months, these posts have charted a variety of themes encountered in my weekly wanderings, including some thoughts on the nature of Learning on (and of) the Web, My life as the Music Department Digital Archivist, and Teaching in the Patriarchy. On a more personal note, I looked back on more than a decade spent with the work of Ernest Hemingway.

Each of these musings serves to help synthesize and express an emerging interpretation of various themes in my teaching, learning and life, harkening back to an image I used in a post last December on Course Design and Narrative Discovery, where data is transformed to information, to knowledge, to wisdom.

By engaging in this open manner, and publishing this work and these thoughts alongside the TieGrad cohort which has inspired many of them in the past two years, each of these experiences – and their corresponding posts – represents at once the wisdom of today as well as the points of data that will be made into new meanings going forward.

In a way it’s been the lesson I’ve been learning from Alec for years, while at the same time a culmination and synthesis of everything I’ve been learning the whole time.

Just as learning should be.

#Eminent2014 in Motion

Slide13

The passage of autumn into winter in the TALONS classroom is marked by the arrival of the Eminent Person Study and culminating Night of the Notables. And while there is a great deal of tradition and meaning transmitted down through years to the current group of students undertaking the project, the chain of cultural transmission is captured in the chorus of individual goals, reflections in progress, and documents of learning blogged as the project unfolds.

While everyone fulfills the same few tenants of the study, the learning that takes place – collectively and individually – is largely a personal affair, one that is handed down from year to year in links and digital portfolios. And as the individual lessons of the study accumulate, so does the culture at the heart of the TALONS classroom congregate in RSS and digital artifacts.

Thus we can look back in the Notable class of 2009 astride our own, with Saskia’s learning center, one which still resonates today:

I left out postcards for people to write to Zahra Kazemi’s son: Stephan Kazemi. These I made from her photographs as a reference to the postcards she herself created (mentioned above). I wanted them addressed to her son for several reasons. By having people write about what they thought of Zahra Kazemi, I was honouring his mother and his own struggle to find justice for her. At the same time, it also showed him just how much his help made a difference to my project. Eleven people ended up writing postcards and I hope that when Stephan Kazemi receives them, they will make him very happy.

The sentiments of Raiya, a year later, looking back on her turn under the lights, echoes in this the fall of 2014:

Night of the Notables left me awestruck, amazed, and inspired. I realized that all my pre-N.O.T.N. stress was well worth the great moments that came with it. For me, some of the more memorable moments of the night were the ten minutes we were all getting a pep talk from Mr. J, the five minutes we were all singing the same familiar notes of “Don’t Stop Believing”, and those three seconds of dead silence after your speech, followed by the thunderous cheers from your classmates. The energy from that night will stick with us our entire life.

The TALONS newly departed, too, leave their thoughts to frame this year’s experience:

Slide11I always get the most peculiar tickling sensation in my tummy after late nights with TALONS. I don’t know if it’s those shooting stars or the fact that these late nights are way past my bedtime, but it’s always a rather homey feeling that curls around my chest when we join hands, all tired and warm from the long day.

But each of these predecessors merely sets the stage for the voices that are lent to this chorus across the TALONS blogs this fall. Newly migrated to a new domain – talons43.ca – each of the blogs is collected and syndicates in a steady feed of interviews, and speech drafts, and learning center floorplans. The results represent a new generation’s perspective on a timeless aspect of the program, which by changing stays the same.

And so this year we’ve been able to travel with Julia to SFU, and glimpse the individual learning on a field trip to a local university:

Before events happen, I usually have this weird distorted vision of20141030_101631 (1)what will happen. On this trip, I had some educational expectations and such. Something I really wanted to get as much as I could of was experience. Experiences are as valuable as any research, and going to an environment I hope to return to as a university student, I hoped to absorb as much as possible. Some aspects of the buildings themselves were how they were all made of cement. It made for a quite gloomy yet professional feel, and looked quite impressive from a distance. It would feel great to walk across the serene pond, down the massive steps, and graduate. There was also a pyramid in a clearing that could only be the pyramid of life, and I questioned it no further. Experiences demand to be felt, and I was entranced.

We’re introduced to fellow grade nine Emma M’s look back on her speech, and see the evolution of the draft(s) that brought her there:

Oh eminent speeches.

I have written many speeches, however I always stress about them and slightly go crazy yet end up finishing with flying colours. People say I’m a good public speaker, and I think that I’m good at it, just when I get up to speak I don’t know if it’s nerves or adrenaline running through my veins. As well, once I finish the speech I don’t speak for a while because all I’m thinking is “Wow, I just did that.”

Sensing the permanence of the blogged reflection, by taking stock of her grade nine speech Nazlie offers some advice to her future self:

I presented my speech on monday, which I am really proud of myself for. I’m usually not the best with public speaking, but I feel like I did pretty well and I am less nervous to present in front of groups of people, especially the classroom. I think I have a pretty good technique for staying calm whilst presenting now, which is something extremely useful that I have gotten out of this project so far. However, I have miserably failed to follow through with my goal of time management, I left my speech to be written on the last weekend before I presented. Personally this wasn’t a big problem for the outcome of my speech, but I still believe it would’ve been more efficient for me to have written at least some of it the weekend before. I literally spent 2 weeks brainstorming and then ended up doing something completely different from what I brainstormed. So, Future me, who will probably look back at this post a year from now and feel terribly embarrassed, PLEASE brain storm and do some speech writing on the same day, preferably 3 weeks before NOTN, so then you won’t have to spend all day on Sunday and Saturday before the big day writing your speech based off of brainstorm-notes and then end up realizing, on the 3rd speech you’ve rewritten, that there is a way better POV to use. Please.

While attending to her own project, grade ten Jessica takes the opportunity to shine some light on Nazlie’s speech, as well:

SFU trip with TALONS

I also want to comment on Nazlie’s project. I recently heard her speech on the woman who runs Rookie. It blew me away. During her speech, she didn’t ever really move, using no body language to aid her, however it worked in her favour. I believe this is because her speech was formed as a letter to her eminent person and letters are not often associated with body movement. She caught my eye because she spoke with such passion in a way that was relatable, and because she was talking about body images and the affects society have on us.

But as the project marches on, Alison takes a moment to forecast her goals for Night of the Notables:

Compared to last year, my learning center is not so complex and it occupies more space. Also, visitors will have to directly converse with me for information about my person rather than reading off a board or by looking at pictures. Although the idea may be more simple, I think I will be equally or even more busy than last year, but I look forward to it! I hope that this learning center idea will be successful and entertaining on the night of while showing the true eminence of Niccolo Paganini to the guests!

While Lyle shares his interview progress with the Reddit community:

If you recall from last year, my interview requests crashed, burned, asked me to tell their wives they loved her, and then convulsed wildly until their vital signs were zero. I believe this was because I was overly optimistic about securing an interview with my person himself and so did a pretty half-hearted job of seeking interviews from anyone else. In short, I was fishing with a line instead of a net.

This year however, my interview request was fired out to a potential audience of almost 60, 000 people, all who are knowledgeable or at least interested in graffiti. Where did I find such an audience?

Reddit!

Joanna shares her successful interview attempt, as well as her results:

So this year, I was extremely lucky to get an interview on my first try, with none other than Margaret Sanger’s grandson, Alexander Sanger, who also happens to be the Chair of the International Planned Parenthood Council.

Talking with Mr. Sanger has really made me feel like I know Margaret Sanger a bit better- questions such as the one I asked about her personality are really going to help me be in character on Night of the Notables, and being able to see this woman from a family members point of view gave me quite a bit of insight on her private life. I also got the chance to learn about some of her lesser known beliefs, and this knowledge prompted me to look into her accomplishments outside of the legalization of contraceptives.

While her sister shares another draft of her speech speech draft, along with the following caveat

The first thing I did for my speech was pretty much a free-write. The free-write is below. I will be posting my speech draft #2, which will actually have a semblance of organization, in a different blog post. The transitions are in bold because I had already decided where I wanted to start and end, so those are parts that won’t change much. You’ll be able to tell that they don’t fit with the free-write, because they were created separately.

Emma F in turn sketches out the broad strokes of her turn as Frida Kahlo:

Although I have chosen not to illustrate a specific ‘snapshot’ moment or event in my speech, I have instead decided to address the concept Frida’s balance of surrealism and reality within her paintings. Although many have labelled her as a surrealist painter, she has incorporated so intimately the realities of her suffering in her work, which makes it difficult to dismiss her paintings as purely imaginative of dream-like. Of course it is necessary to acknowledge that there is a spectrum of realism within her paintings, from her most literal reprentations of people and still life to her most extravagant otherworldy images, but both polar opposites hold meaning and relevance in her life. Thus the ‘surreal’ paintings that she created still were rooted in the very real aspects of her experience.

And Jenny anticipates the Big Night:

Today the grade ten afternoons did a run through of our speeches. The result made me ecstatic! Our. Speeches. Will. Be. Awesome. Glorious. Magnificent. Superb. Spectacular. Terrific… etc. etc.

By Wednesday night, another cohort of grade tens will have passed across the stage which marks their true arrival as the program’s seniors. One of the TALONS pillars will have passed into recent history to be filed among the notables that have gone before, all to act as prelude for the grade nines who will inherit the honour next year.