Notes and slides which served as a summary of learning at our cohort’s presentations in Vancouver on December 5th, 2015. The title comes from an essay by Virginia Woolf and has been used as the basis for a project started by Jim Groom and others at the University of Mary Washington called Domain of One’s Own (which they’ve since taken on the road as Reclaim Hosting) and which allows faculty and students to own and manage their own domain and web publishing spaces. The idea from Woolf is that all one needs to write, and thus be free, is a place to write: and while for Woolf that place may have been a room, for people today everywhere is place to write, and reflect, and synthesize. This is as true for us in how we are able to approach our various areas of education, as it is for our students who are growing up on the web as participants in a truly globalized culture. Teaching young people to own and manage their own data, from the 1s and 0s on up to the content they share on Facebook is central to the task of educating digital citizens. In an article published on Medium last year, Audrey Watters cited the TALONS class as an example of “the growing number of schools [who] believe that students need a proprietary online space in order to be intellectually productive.” This project focuses on the creation of that space as having a central role in citizenship learning in the 21st century.
Something great about networked learning – and learning in public – is that it sprawls. It goes all over. In relationships and projects, initiatives and endeavours: it is always ephemeral. Sometimes it crystalizes into moments of understanding and knowledge, but inevitably it careens back into confusion and new mysteries.
But in blog posts and pictures and videos and presentations, collaborations and conversations, rhizomatic wanderings can come together and be recorded as syntheses of new meanings and understandings that sprawl further and further in every direction.
This was a journey I had been on for more than five years before I joined TIEGRAD, and the challenge to bring together this swarm of ideas and authentically represent the last two year’s learning has been tougher than I might have thought, coming in.
p style=”text-align: justify;”>Something that has remained consistent, however, has been a focus on teaching and learning for citizenship, and the view that schools are places that can increase a community’s ability to realize democratic possibilities. This was true in many of my past experiences as a teacher prior to enrolling at Uvic:
- Whether working in an experiential gifted students program;
- as a music teacher;
- as someone working in a global social network;
- or in my personal and professional development on my blog.
All along I was sketching out the elements of what might constitute a conception of citizenship in the 21st century.
Through my grad studies, that conception of citizenship has grown to include the longer traditions of educational philosophy, and support what I had previously approached as exclusively “digital” concerns.
Introductions to Paulo Freire, John Dewey, and Gregory Bateson brought me to a view of citizenship learning that blended critical pedagogy and transformative learning, and placed the digital contexts of modern learning square in the tradition of the Enlightenment.
In his description of Enlightenment, which he called ‘critical ontology,’ Foucault referred to: “a philosophical life in which the critique of what we are is at one and the same time the historical analysis of the limits that are imposed on us and an experiment with the possibility of going beyond them.” It’s a description befitting the outcomes much of our educational reforms are concerned with these days, especially when we think of an emphasis of constructivist pedagogies and student-led inquiries. But for schools to truly embrace an emergent view of knowledge – where what emerges from the process of learning cannot, and should not, be predetermined – schools confront a direct challenge to the notion of traditional curriculum and assessment.
Over time, my research question formed around the possibility of creating such a framework for learning based on emergence, and what this could look like within the constraints of traditional – or even the newly Government-mandated – curriculum, and given the possibility of digital technology.
In attempting to set up digital spaces for learning, I try to use a similar structure for knowledge-building and dialogue that I would in physical space: we learn by trying to articulate ourselves to others, and by recognizing new possibilities in one another’s expressions of our shared experiences.
So as would apply in the classroom, it is important that digital space is organized to foster audience and sharing around collaborative inquiries, with a record of individual growth accumulating in an environment that is owned by the individuals in that community.
p style=”text-align: justify;”>In the unit plan of one’s own, the process can be organized around any grade level or subject area; it also doesn’t necessarily need to take place within a digital environment. What the class or individual blogs present is the opportunity for a critical praxis of learning to be documented in-progress by individuals or groups: if a similar record of learning artefacts were to be kept in a binder or shoebox or corkboard through the course of a semester, much of the essence of the pedagogy would remain. For those looking to instil a sense of digital citizenship extending beyond the local classroom, however, public sites can take the process onto the global web. At the outset of a unit, students document or represent their “First Position.” The intent here is to “capture” the state and intentions of their learning with only introductory information at hand:
- What are my first impressions of the topic?
- What do I already know?
- What do I want to know?
- What are my questions?
- How will I go about finding answers to them?
- And why is it important for me to have them answered?
From there we have a document of learning in progress, a planning document of what might become of the ‘summative’ event, a ‘capture’ or record of that summative piece, and a reflection or self-assessment to articulate the learnings of the particular unit – whether to the individual learner, teacher, or group as a collective. The process itself is structured to bring about an authentic emergence of subjective perspectives around a common topic or inquiry.
For each of the unit assignments, criteria are generated by the class to determine mutual expectations for the learning that should be done, and how it will be shared. Rubrics are created and distributed, and used to gather peer-feedback, provoke authentic self-assessment, and to provide for teacher intervention where necessary.
It is not even always important that grades be attributed to each of these unit assignments, as they can distract the focus from seeking out relevant feedback to better meet individual and collective goals.
To coincide with reporting periods, it can be useful to require a mid-term and final synthesis of learning relative to mandated curricular outcomes. Here, students are asked to look back over their amassed documents of learning, and to assemble a record of their work toward identified learning standards. These points in a semester can offer a chance for students and teacher to arrive at a grade reflective of the totality of their work – rather than an aggregate ‘score,’ for the term or semester.
In brief, the process has left me with a few takeaways:
- One is that I need not be a revolutionary: the system we have inherited is itself built on the premise of an ongoing revolution. Democracy is the worst form of government there is, except for all the others. But it is especially bad if we don’t know how to use it to build community-driven consensus.
- How we pursue this community driven consensus is by preparing young people to express themselves as members of their various communities to achieve authentic collective ends.
- And finally we must pursue this for ourselves as educators and citizens, working through our own praxis of intention, action, and reflection, because this is what it means to be enlightened.