Learning on (and of) the Web


“…ds106 is not just ‘on’ the web—it is ‘of’ the web.”

Alan Levine

The advent of the web enables a type of individual inquiry and collective synthesis that makes new experiments in constructivism possible. But creating the conditions for such epistemological emergence can be a challenging possibility to consider.

As Osberg and Biesta note,

“…if educators wish to encourage the emergence of meaning in the classroom, then the meanings that emerge in classrooms cannot and should not be pre-determined before the ‘event’ of their emergence.”

Such a conception of knowledge-creation presents a problem for educators in imagining a means of assessing the type of collaborative inquiry necessary to bring about this type of learning. However, Gardner Campbell has created a daily pop quiz that may provide a template for a daily barometer of individual engagement:


The pic of Gardner Campbell included here was taken by Michelle Lamberson

To achieve top marks on this type of quiz, learners must be engaged in generating personal courses of study around shared themes, the fruits of which can then be woven together in expressions of individual and collective synthesis that become the processes of learning in the classroom.

Osberg and Biesta describe a similar process of emergence based in “the idea that knowledge is neither a representation of something more ‘real’ than itself, nor an ‘object’ that can be transferred from one place to the next.”

“Knowledge is understood, rather, to ‘emerge’ as we, as human beings, participate in the world. Knowledge, in other words, does not exist except in our participatory actions.”

Bonnie Stewart characterized the shift in thinking surrounding open learning environments such as MOOCs as indicative of a cultural transition driven by digital technologies:

When communications are seen as key to learning, the numeric focus of the information-centered paradigm cannot be reconciled with the significant and varied body of educational research which foregrounds the importance of interactive (Dewey, 1938), situational (Lave & Wenger, 1991), and critical (Freire, 1970) perspectives on learning. The communications approach focuses on the Internet not as a technology but as a medium for human engagement. “The Internet encourages discussion, dialogue and community that is not limited by time or place. The role of educators in this world is to facilitate dialogue and support students in their understanding of resources” (Weller, 2007, p. 6).

This facilitation involves the planning and design of learning environments and activities, to be sure; but these preparations are best informed by educators’ own experience and learning in these environments, and in the same spirit of inquiry that is being asked of the students. As one of the TALONS articulated a few years ago now, to exist in the Age of Information is to participate in it.

In a rash of social studies blog posts that were published in late January of 2011, as the class was studying Louis Riel and the Northwest Rebellion and the Egyptian people were staging a revolution in Tahrir Square, TALONS now-alumni Megan comes to a realization at the heart of literacy in the digital age:

And then you come back to me. Still sitting in front of her computer, and still on the opposite side of the world. I am a child, in this age of information. But I am also part of the age of information. I have just as much say in what occurs as everyone.

If what happened in Egypt is any indicator as to what can be accomplished through communication, I think that maybe, I need to realize, or maybe we (and I’m talking to all my fellow youth out there) need to realize that if we organize we can accomplish something big. People may say that children and youth are better seen, and not heard. But you know what? We are the new generation, and we should have a say about what sort of world we are growing up into.

So hey, there’s my two cents. Just tossing it out in the world of the internet.

But I guess you might say this:

I know that it actually matters now.

I am a participant in this age of information.

An important aspect of participating in the age of information is developing a personalized means of accessing, filtering, saving, sharing and synthesizing the cultural voice of the zeitgeist being expressed across the culture. To provide meaningful experiences in this emergent environment, educators are challenged to engage with information in new ways made possible by the read-write web, and social media.

bell hooks describes such a process of “engaged pedagogy” as “more demanding than conventional critical or feminist pedagogy.”

“For, unlike these two teaching practices, it emphasizes well-being. That means that teachers must be actively committed to a process of self-actualization that promotes their own well-being if they are to teach in a manner that empowers students.”

The question of well-being brings into focus many educators’ difficulty in embracing the Digital Age and its myriad publishing tools, social media, and unending streams of information.

How do I read it all? 

Where do you find the time? 

Etc, etc… 

In the five or so years I have been teaching and learning in blended learning environments that attempt to seed the type of culture implied by the advent of digital publishing technologies, I’ve settled into something of an information workflow that allows me to read and reflect on an ever-rising tide of information, but also to organize those readings and reflections, and publish my own thinking to a fluid community of peers and students not only in the present, but also into the future.

Appropriately, this process has emerged over time, and continues to. But a lot of it looks like this:

Feedly ReadsReading


I stopped surfing around to the sites I tended to find interesting reads or views on a few years ago now, opting instead to follow my favourite sites on either Twitter, or in an RSS reader such as Google Reader. Now, unfortunately having lost the Reader, I’ve moved to Feedly, which does almost everything the former used to, and which is likely similar to many offerings from Digg Reader and a host of others.

My RSS feeds are collected into bundles that I can check at various intervals throughout the week: my News folder is a daily check, while Education, or Arts and Culture generally get more attention on the weekend. Something like Food or Music are generally lower in the pecking order, but as I flick through any of these folders, I am generally not so much reading what I find as filtering and saving the intriguing items for later on.

I do much the same thing on Twitter, where I use my Favourite option to save interesting things for later viewing more than as a sort of Facebook “Like.” 

Now, a lot of people probably participate in these first two steps, and that’s the last they ever see of these links and blog posts and other data flying across the web. But this type of reading demands a later stage in this filtering process where these items can be logged into digital long-term memory.

Delicious bitsWhich is where a service like Delicious comes in (Diigo and other sites can serve the same purpose here), as I then spend time – maybe once every few weeks – going back through those Favourites and Saved articles from Twitter and Feedly, and organize them for longer-term storage.

In Delicious, I’m able to save links to my Saves and Favs that I want to hang onto (helpfully, they have a Chrome plugin that lets me do this right from the page or article itself), as well as as descriptive tags that will help sort different articles, videos, posts or resources.

During the summer, when I have more time to cook, I actually send the favourites from my Food folder to another ap called Pocket which turns my iPad into a cookbook.

This way, as I approach a unit in Social Studies, for instance, or find myself in an email debate with one of my colleagues, or am writing a blog post about something one of my students blogged four years ago, I can consult Delicious and search the tag for “Confederation,” or “Enbridge Pipeline,” or “Student Posts,” et voila. 


Blog Tags

When it comes time to publish, I find myself torn between two extremes of blogging or sharing: namely either the carefully-crafted or long-winded dissertation on a topic; or an attempt to capture a moment in time (which can still tend toward the long and windy…). This applies across platforms, to my blog probably as much as Twitter, or Youtube, or Instagram or Flickr.

But the important part of publishing or sharing online is that it can become the natural exhalation of all that good stuff I’m taking such pains to ingest with Feedly and Twitter and, y’know… life. The mass collections of data that these services offer in potential – much as the possibility for learning in life outside of screens – exists in proportion to our ability to synthesize those streams of information into our own view of things.

And it is this potential that I find so riveting about the social, metaphysical, and epistemological transformations brought about with the advent of the Digital Age.

In this view it is important to see one’s own publishing (especially in blogged form) as a node in a network of other information: thus the use of hyperlinks and reference to others’ ideas as support remains an essential quality. But so too does the impetus to organize new posts within a structure that will continue to organize your work into the future. So here we can see blog tags and categories, Youtube playlists, or Flickr albums playing an important role in your own informational tail being accessible, searchable and available to you six months or six years from the date of publication.

Over time these blogged gardens of links and stories and photographs can require weeding, and one is reminded of the health that returns to many of our perennial plants after a thorough trimming of its branches and tangled intersections.

Don’t be afraid to trim, hew, and hack. Unfollow, unsubscribe, reevaluate your workflow. As the Boss says, “there’s no right way to do it. There’s just doing it.”

Eminent Person Study: Looking Back, Looking Forward

Macleod's BooksWith a new fall, the current incarnation of the Talons class sets out on one of the pillars of the program, encountering a person deemed Eminent in the annals of history: someone who has changed things and left the world indelibly marked with their unique gifts. The importance to gifted learners of such projects is arguably of special relevance, as much of the Betts’ Autonomous Learner Model concerns itself with developing social-emotional learning in youth prone to being isolated or singled-out in traditional educational or work settings.

“To be nothing but yourself,” ee cummings tells us, “in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else — means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight.” And while every learner, young or old, could benefit from finding a new path through the weeds to self-actualization, the Eminent Person Study, culminating in the tradition of Night of the Notables, is an opening salvo in Talons years that sees the program’s grade tens resolutely begin to inhabit their Role Model shoes, and set out on a life of individualized learning that won’t end.

In the years I have been blogging as a Talons teacher, the Eminent Person Study has been recorded and shared frequently here, as learners stretch themselves in aspects of research, presentation, reflection and personal growth along the way. Some of the memorable moments worth collecting for reference at the beginning of this year’s study are:

  • On Seeking Eminent People A familiar class debate about finding the ‘right’ Eminent Person, and how this process is effected by, and effects, the notion of His/Her-story.
  • To Find Your Own Way… A collection of links to grade nine speeches from a few years ago that saw the class take on the task of writing from the perspective of someone who may have known their Eminent Person from a diverse array of perspectives.
  • Eminent Person Wrap Up and Examples A grab-bag of links to speeches, learning centers, and reflections on the Night of the Notables 2009.
  • The Interviews Take Flight Part of the Eminent Person research process involves seeking out an expert on their Eminent Person, or a related field of inquiry. A few years into the process, this post offers a look at some of the tactics that began showing dividends across the class’ blogs.

The PodiumAs each culmination of the Night of the Notables expands with the diversity of the class’ individual pursuits, it is inspiring to look back at last year’s Notables reflections and wonder what visions this group might realize in the coming fall:

It’s just…yeah. There was so much stress (and caffeine) but then we had the grade 9 speeches, and the class got to spend 2 days rolling around in the puddles of everyone’s excessive amounts of talent. And then there were all the learning centres which blew my mind….and then the grade 10 speeches. THE GRADE 10 SPEECHES. THEY BLEW MY ALREADY BLOWN MIND. Every single one of them.  


I would like to thank all of the TALONS, for making this a great night, a special night. Each of your learning centers brought something special, and really is what makes this night what it is. All of your learning centers were amazing, and each was unique in its own way. It really is hard to pick out a best or a worst, because each is so different, it’d be like comparing Pineapples to Dogs. However, there was one I really thought stood out, and that was Donya’s, being right beside her learning center I had the liberty to spend a bit of time inside there. When you look from the outside you really don’t see, experience, or comprehend how it is different from everyone else’s. It is when you stepped into that you, did you really experience the atmosphere of the room, and authenticity of the demeanor. It truly was like you had opened your eyes and saw, unplugged your ears and listened.


I sat there in a sort of anticipation as Jenna got off the stage, and then before I knew it, I was up there, standing behind the podium, and grabbing the mic out of the stand. I think when you’re up there, you don’t really focus on the audience. You focus on giving your speech. I really didn’t notice the audience at all, and it felt like I was in a practice session by myself, still walking around the top floor of our school. It went by so fast. I can’t describe how it felt, because I can’t remember it. But I do remember the lights, the cheering, the yelling “VERA WONG” from one of my friends, and the “it’s VERA WANG, stupid!” from another one of my friends.


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.


TALONS Class Blogging 2011 – 2012

Linked from the TALONS Blogging page on this site.

TALONS (PM) 2011-2012 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:

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:

TALONS Facilitators

Grade Tens

Grade Nines

Parisian Love

After a few days of waiting to see what all the fuss was about, I finally saw Google’s Superbowl commercial. I had read Ira’s account of the narrative based in a series of Google searches, and was intrigued by the charm of the commercial is in its brisk, simple rendering of narrative through the universal ‘lens’ of Google searches. And there is the connection to Michael Wesch – of The Machine is Changing Us fame – and Marshall McLuhan carried in the youthfully eclectic and seemingly unconscious use of Google to:

… fully explain the full reach of our contemporary information gathering tools, from the academic to the frivolous, from the mispellings (“louve”) to the mis-searched (needing to add “France” to Paris is one search), from the maps to the photos to the comments on a location. This, for all those wondering what “students need to know,” is what students need to know.

Wesley Fryer asks the following question on his blog today:

It would be great to see students use this method of “storytelling via screencasted Google search queries” to tell other stories. What story would you tell? If your Google history could talk, what stories would IT tell?

And I think that this could \ should only be the beginning of our use of digital forms and perspectives to tell our stories. As Wesch declares modern media and its mediums of Google, Twitter, Flickr and a host of other 2.0 tools capable of shaping the possibilities for community, for identity construction, and ultimately for self-awareness, I can think of no more straightforward statement of education’s purpose than these three goals.

I am having the socials students tell digital stories this week, in Biopic film trailers, and campaign videos for Napoleon, and geographic public service announcements. And in the meantime, the class blogs are humming with reflections and assignments solicited as well as unassigned. All of which have resulted in a strengthening of the class’ internal relationships, but also its individual voices. Blogs and a variety of forms thus far – performance, writing, music and research – have lent the class opportunities to tell its own stories, in its own voice(s).

With the continuous advent of new communicative technologies becoming the norm, and mastery of an ongoing and fluid range of tools following suit, it is an exciting time to deal in exploring narratives and self-expression with young people (they’re the ones who know their way around the tools anyway).