Inspired by the brilliant Scott Lockman‘s Slices of Life project, and wanting to begin this semester of Digital Storytelling 106 in a manner that would lead to an inspiring next few months spent blending pedagogy and creative expression, professional development and a variety of different learning communities – that is what this Life-Long Learning is all about, isn’t it? – I thought I would share a slice of life from last Saturday’s epic adventure at Whistler / Blackcomb.
Reunion with an old friend
Scott’s slice of life story is a perfect example of the #ds106 community in all of its authentic and on-the-fly glory: uncovering the power of relationships mediated (and empowered) by our digital tools, as brought about by a course that is everywhere and nowhere, connected seemingly by the strings of vibrating energy prophesied in theoretical physics. Though it’s been described (by Tom Woodward, though he is probably not the first) as “an online course meets Woodstock,” I think the string theory analogy may fit closer to the dream of DS106′s version of EduGlu-as-the-Unified-Theory-of-Everything (in pedagogy). Tom continues with his Woodstock comparison, “You take a guided online experience and mix it with both chaos and, more importantly, community.
…to push yourself beyond your creative comfort zone, time for us to wrestle honestly with the future of education through praxis and engagement and, more than anything else in my book, it’s time to make some damned art already. Let’s go!!!!
To think that it’s only been a year…
It’s only been a year since I started recording music, spoken word experiments and podcasts as my own creative projects, and began weaving the same emphasis on the shared creation of (physical and digital) learning artifacts into the inquiry, assessment and reflection taking place in my classroom. It’s only been a year that I’ve begun to think about terms like personal cyber infrastructure, and begin to see the next horizon(s) of education as a means of preparing citizens to create a new, more hopeful world. It’s only been a year that I’ve been so completely surrounded by people who see their own path to becoming their best selves, and who are constantly challenging me to become mine.
This has all been on the one hand personally inspiring and meaningful in a transformative way, and on the other a challenge to see the chaos of the #ds106 as part of its ultimate aim, and Jim’s (along with a host of others who have brought this idea into being) genius as an educator.
Because he did all of this on purpose. Not by knowing where it would end up, but by knowing (suspecting, maybe?) how to encourage (again, borrowing from Tom Woodward): commenting, community, and creativity.
There was no way to know that I would hear Scott, a few months back, talking from his Japanese morning to my Canadian evening about an informal daily check in, or simple creative act. “I’m going to narrate my own life,” he promised the few of us assembled across the strands of DS106 Radio airwaves.
And even after that broadcast, there was no way to know that he’s go out and do it (45 times, as of this posting). Or that a year later he would be teaching his own sections of DS106 at Temple University, in Japan (or that Michael Branson Smith would be teaching the course at City College, in New York, either), taking the simplicity of Martha Burtis, Tim Owens, Alan Levine and Jim’s EduGlu setup, and bringing more stories and students into the wild frontier of online learning that strives to unleash potential than constrain it.
Which is what I hope to not only take away, but bring to #ds106 this semester. Last year a number of the TALONS spring assignments were created through the lens of the we jam econo motto, and at various times our grade nine/ten cohort took on the nick name #DS105, phoning in expert testimony to Jim’s DS106radio broadcast celebrating Songs to Grow By and crashing more than one of the open university course’s parties. I expect that the spring semester provides even greater impetus, and more avenues, to share the the learning in our classroom, as well as in the school beyond.
Tomorrow, I will be presenting at this year’s BCSSTA Conference on 21st Century Learning, and am planning to introduce my particular approaches to the use(s) of technology in the classroom with the above Prezi & access to the assembled terrain of my own, and my students’ emergent digital geography. I hope to frame the implementation of technology in the modern classroom as an opportunity to extend elements of communication and collaborative critical thinking education has always been pressed to provide its students.
But I don’t want it to be a conventional presentation so much as an opportunity to engage a specific community of educators in a conversation about establishing a digital presence that provides an authentic extension of the learning community. In short, I would like to create a digital record and extension of the conversation anyone who comes to my session wants to have.
That’s why and how I try to use technology in my class. Why wouldn’t I do it that way with my fellow educators?
I’ve set up a wiki intended to aggregate dialogue (and maybe bookmarks) our conversation through this Posterous blog, that you can submit your thoughts to if you want by emailing text, video, audio, links or the like to connectivemedia at posterous.com.
we negotiated meaning through shared understanding. We dug deep to determine ‘the point’. The main ideas were mined, refined, expanded and sculpted. The group was so considerate but challenging too. It was the perfect mix of choice and voice, modeled perfectly- as teachers, editors, learners, colleagues and friends.
Voices & Choices author group
As my invitation to the Unplugd Educational Summit arrived during the beginning of the unit(s) mentioned in my canoe story – which turned out to be perhaps the most fulfilling and relevant of the year – it seemed a logical focus for my essay and supporting anecdote around the topic: “Why ______ Matters.”
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.
As even the devil might need an advocate from time to time, I thought I’d offer a few points in support of delaying the rounding up of the school’s cell phones and putting the kids who use them in camps where they might better concentrate. An unfortunate wordplay that evokes a similar (if heavy-handed) connotation of totalitarianism run amok as in the oft-cited observation, the only institutions who ban cellphones are the Taliban and highschools .
While they may present a different set of challenges for today’s educators, cell phones and mobile devices are a part of the world we live in, and should be a part of the education we provide today’s students.
Cell phones are distracting. They can isolate people, be used to bully, gossip, buy or sell drugs, commit other crimes, prorogue Parliament, call in bomb threats, cheat on tests, procrastinate, plan the next 9/11, etcetcetc. There are plenty of reasons for teachers to be leery of such technology coming through their doors, being used under their classroom desks, or being flipped open anytime one of their students is in “the bathroom.” As well, in training our students to enter the workforce we will do them many favours by instilling in them the ability to discern between times when it is appropriate to be engaged with personal technology, and when it is not. I certainly don’t want the fine people who pump my gas, serve my fries, and are otherwise working for (or with) me in the face-to-face capacity of many service sector jobs using a cellular or smart phone while they’re at work. If I ran a factory, hired manual labour, or even dealt in certain collaborative fields (business, creative arts, think tanks, etc), I might be so inclined as to institute a no-cell phone rule, as they would likely impede the nature of the work my colleagues or employees are engaged in.
TALONS consult with local blogger Amber StrocelBut even then, there would likely be exceptions, and if I wanted to be a co-operative boss rather than a prison warden, I probably wouldn’t make my employees empty their pockets before they came in to start the day, and it will be a while before I do the same to my students – TALONS, guitar, or otherwise. But that may be me; I realize that I might be in the minority. But I would also be interested in establishing a school learning community that values face-to-face dialogue, debate, and experiential, first-hand learning for students and teachers alike. If we are to ask that our students are committed to the present moment of their current learning, why shouldn’t we expect the same of one another?
In fact, I suggest that if we’re philosophically against the ills that our mobile devices provide the educational landscape, I would await the outcry that would ensue if our administrators collected our phones, laptops, tablets, and other technologies that distract us every morning, things that get in the way of our more personal human interactions, and that make “cheating” (emailing resources, helpful material and maybe even email threads like this one to one another) all too easy. If the school is a no cell phone zone, it should be a no cell phone zone for all; otherwise, the logic of a school wide ban for Students Only doesn’t add up for me.
If the ban is only going to apply to students, the more moderate approach of a classroom-by-classroom basis, allowing each teacher their own classroom management strategy, is far-better suited to the central beliefs of a profession based in the diverse subjectivity of human experience. Personally, I can say that banning cell phones at our school would unequivocally make me, my students, and my classroom(s) less productive.
By no stretch am I saying that this is how your classroom should look, feel, operate or anything else; how you teach your learning outcomes is your practice – this is mine (though granted, as a language arts and history teacher, the ability to communicate and decode text-based information is central to learning outcomes in both curricula and inherently involves more of the sorts of things PODs make possible). Ban cell phones, laptops, carrier pigeons, calculators, GPS, pens, smoke signals or anything else you think takes the focus away from your lessons. But my classroom would suffer if you would have your values imposed on it, just as yours would likely suffer if the reverse were true.
I am also, while I’m at it, not advocating for any sort of laissez-faire, anything goes policy toward my own or my students’ mobile devices in class. Q and I lectured and facilitated classroom discussions for more than two consecutive hours today, and only saw one cell phone the entire time. We don’t allow iPods, cell phones, watches or any digital technology other than cameras on our (single or multi-day) field trips. During these times when our priorities are to be engaged with one another and our environment, it is made clear that these devices serve no worthwhile purpose other than to detract from meaningful present experience. I think it is important to stress the value in “unplugging” to our students – and remember it ourselves – as a means of maintaining a sense of attention literacy in an increasingly busy information landscape.
A Talons Desk
But there are countless other times when cell phones are an invaluable, free resource in which our classrooms, offices and the rest of the developed world are suffused. When looked at as an opportunity, rather than a threat, modern mobile devices offer possibilities for student engagement, collaboration, and learning that are staggering.
Each of the classes we teach can reasonably expect to contain nearly a class-set of the following, at no cost to us, the school, district or Ministry of Education: video and still-cameras, mp3 recorders, internet browsers (that open, load and surf faster than many of our school computers), communicative networksthat involve 99% of our school community and well-beyond its walls, personal calendars, organizers, note-takers, tutors, tutorials, stopwatches, calculators, RSS readers, image and video-editors, as well as instantaneous communication (Facebook, Twitter, email) that is the hallmark of a burgeoning Information Age.
Being able to use these technologies may not be appreciated by service-oriented employers whose workers are paid by the hour, but they are already workplace essentials in many sectors, as it is seemingly impossible to find professions within an information-based economy where the leveraging of the internet, mobiles, laptops, and social networks is not a basic requirement.
To neglect this fact would be irresponsible if we believe our jobs hinge upon preparing tomorrow’s workforce.
Kids texting while a teacher is talking, or while the class is supposed to be working, is an issue of manners, or alternatively one of classroom management, and we are free to teach either of these in any number of ways that doesn’t involve our school making cell phones illegal (unless, like I say, we go full-bore – I’d be into that experiment).
I only offer my thoughts as respectful counterpoint to a wave of emails that seemed to slant toward a “Get rid of ‘em!” approach that would impede the great learning I see these devices enable every day. It’s not a matter of better or worse; the way each of us teaches with respect to these devices is merely different.
A final realtime example: I posted on Twitter (from my phone) that I had received emails from multiple colleagues cheering for the banning of mobiles at our school, and asked my assembled network for links to resources discussing the advent of hand held technologies in the modern classroom. Within a few hours, I had several responses (including a few from current or former students at our school) that shared insights like recent grad Kassie Wasstrom’s (and were likely typed out by thumb on a phone’s keypad or touchscreen):
“We need to focus on the positives. I have a couple of profs that encourage us to bring iPods, iPhones, etc, because they help stimulate conversation.”
“It is not a matter of banning cell phones, or even giving them a constant working purpose in our classrooms (such that they are not idle and hence a distraction, or even to meet students “on their turf”), but rather, a focus on raising learners – and to continue in Broadbent’s vain: citizens – that exist within the emerging fluidity of the 24/7 social media cycle, and yet are empowered by its capabilities to unite, and connect, rather than cowed by its vapid and addictive lesser qualities.”
A few weeks ago Jan Smith invited me to participate in Dr. Alec Couros‘ presentation to British Columbia School District #71′s pro-d session. Figuring a trip up island would be a long shot on the first weekend of a new semester, I told her I would surely join the proceedings however I might be able, either through Twitter, uStream, Moodle, Elluminate, or whatever means Alec chose to share his dialogue with our colleagues. I have ‘sat in’ quite a few different sessions and conversations of Alec’s before, and knew such things were possible, but with the access offered today, I feel compelled to share the experience (even though I was teaching class during its original airing).
A proponent of open, networked learning, Alec is a prominent Tweeter and maven for all things technologically educational who makes a great many excellent points during his hour long keynote, posted below, and shares a myriad resources on both his wiki and his blog.
Here are the two sessions presented via Alec’s uStream channel. The first hour covers the benefits of open and networked learning, and the second delves into how to make such a classroom possible.
At one point during the Q & A, Alec is asked how he has time to do all of the things he is describing alongside a full teaching load, and his answer proved a revelation for me, as well as an affirmation that there may be more power in a learning environment created, managed, and facilitated by many participants than one in which the teacher is constantly the main supplier of information, motivation and inspiration.
“How do you find time to blog \ tweet \ email \ uStream \ comment on blogs \ connect educators to students to educators to…?” Alec is asked.
“I stop doing the things I don’t need to do anymore,” he answers.
About a week ago, a member of our school’s professional development committee announced that, as a means of furthering conversation between our school-based pro-d days, she would be making a habit of sending (via email) a series of weekly “energizers,” or prompts to further our staff’s thinking.
Hopefully, sometime this week I will be able to stage an introductory Tweetup for her – something along the lines of the ongoing introduction TeachPaperless offered a colleague new to social media last spring. But in the meantime, I have sent her the following Startup Instructions, and thought I would share them here (further points will no doubt reference my post, Building a Personal Learning Network):
There is a vibrant, global conversation of education on a 24 cycle if one wishes to engage that fully (and there are those that do). But, with the right kind of use, I think you will find an efficient, unobtrusive manner in which to continue the school, the pro-d committee, and your own dialogue and learning. I can hopefully provide some of the startup help you need to get going. We’ll start small… the great thing about this individualized pro-d is that you can take it on in doses large or small. Set aside as little as a half an hour a week to check in with your Twitter feed – once it is set up (see below) – and I don’t doubt that you’ll find yourself increasingly engaged.First things first: sign up for an account on Twitter. Before you will want to venture into running a whole blog – if that’s where you wind up going with it – Twitter is a great way to test drive a public publishing channel with microblogging. Here are some resources to help get you started:
Once you have a base of people whom you are following, I would recommend downloading a Twitter client, like Tweetdeck to organize them into streams (think: Teachers, Writers, Current Events, etc). Also, utilize Twitter Seaches of topics like #education, or #edchat (which has now become a 24hr a day conversation of teachers from everywhere, but began – and remains – as a weekly conversation on a designated educational topic decided by a polling of participants: follow the conversation at 4pm Pacific time every Tuesday) to further the reach of your listening, and contributions to The Conversation.That should be an ample challenge for the extra three hours (really though, this could all take half an hour) you hopefully find this week! Let me know if I can be of any other assistance in the meantime. I’m happy to share any help that I can!
Is there anything you would recommend adding at this point? There are no doubt better Twitter lists of educators to start with since I began with the service (and compiled most of the resources I shared above). Help us build our school’s social media infrastructure with some of your favourites via the comments!
This afternoon I was sitting in the wonderfully rustic Minnekhada Lodge, discussing Formative Assessment with my colleagues for our school based professional development day. And as the day drew to a close, and our pro-d hosts encouraged the “continued discussion” of the day’s aims, I thought, “How I wish that everyone at our school used Twitter.”
If everyone at my school used Twitter, each of our individual voices could continue to be lent – even with minimal frequency – to the conversation surrounding our staff’s development. As classroom educators we are often starved for dialogue with our colleagues, whom we often work within mere meters of and yet never engage with each others’ practice. The most valuable members of our learning networks are those with whom we share a personal connection, and this is easily (and perhaps most productively) forged with members of our school and district communities.
And so this afternoon I was happy to begin a week of Twitter education for BC Educators, where 150 of our province’s teachers and administrators (and others?) have come together to begin a dialogue uniquely possible through the use of the microblogging tool. The brainchild of James McConville & Grant Potter, the week promises to be an engaging opportunity to expand our local community and its conversation online.
As I sit over a lengthy edit of a post of student examples of recent eminent person projects, I was glad to find this November Learning video on Wesley Fryer’s blog. Alan walks around Marblehead, Ma, and speaks about the necessity of engaging the world in a collaborative, networked existence, citing examples of classrooms able to employ Global Researchers, Communicators, Tool Builders, and Internal Collaborators as places of today’s most relevent learning. “As we move from an environment where the teacher-is-boss,” Alan says near the conclusion, To one where the students, or workers, are collaboratores, self-directed, self-motivated and lifelong learners, we are creating a learning environment which directly mirrors the demands of the 21st century workplace.
This year I have been entering the classroom-blogosphere alongside Paul Aitken, who as a district middle school humanities teacher had a hand in bringing along a few of the students who found their way into the high school gifted program I teach. Through Twitter, our blogs, and even – occaisionally, when nothing else will seem to work – our district email (side note: is email becoming obsolete? Or is its purpose merely changing? ie. Can’t send attachments with Twitter DMs), Paul and I have bounced ideas about the burgeoning nature of our class’ blogging off one another, sharing materials and experiences in the way that technology allows (even though Paul teaches less than ten minutes up the hill from me).
In his latest post, Paul has cited concerns (anxieties? hesitations?) about beginning his class’ blogs, chiefly:
Getting the blogs off the ground
Maintaining the rigors of academic writing
Keeping things “civil” (Social responsibility)
And generating ideas & prompts for writing
As my high school class is a few weeks ahead in the blogging regard, here is the comment I left last night on Paul’s blog. As it sums up my reflections on blogging in class along the lines of his concerns, I thought I would share it here:
Your points of hesitation resonate with my introduction of blogs with TALONS, Paul. But I think the students will impress you if you create an environment of awareness around the notion that all they do and say is public, and lasting.
I have found that using blogs as a forum for supplementary writing – more reflective andor representative of learning that pieces of formal writing such as creative pieces or essays – leads to a more confident sense of written voice (that I don’t think can help but be transferred to academic writing) and creates countless opportunities for team-building or a sense of empathy between classmates (citizenship, even, if applied to the larger sense of community). Something in the public nature of bloggin forces them to take both writing, and their behavior more seriously (though I agree, sixes – and perhaps the young student caught testing our school’s firewall this week – could be prone to some initial missteps).
As for topics, I have used blog posts as moments for reflection upon, or representation of learning. At times, students are told only to have a post on a topic from the week’s classes written by Friday (this week’s theme statement “informal essay;” other assignments are more directed (the post outlining each’s RSS subscriptions) with criteria as to use of images, and layout. With the use of Google Reader to syndicate the entire class’ blogging (as well as the stream of commenting for each of the class blogs, including mine), every student is tuned to the others’ work, and the conversation taking place around each of the varied topics. Again, the public nature of the work leads students away from working in isolation, and the tenor has been supportive – with the grade tens taking a leadership role in helping to define project criteria in the Eminent Person stuff, especially – and engaging, without requiring too much pushing.
I am looking forward to the community among the class blogs growing, and continuing even once the current students move on. Not only do the blogs connect the classroom to other learners and experts across the globe, but the hub of a class blog remains a community open to its alumni if they chose to lend their presence. But it all does move slowly – I have only recently streamlined our blogging to be able to think of it as having just “begun.” The fact that it is being built up will probably only strengthen its eventual delivery.