Category Archives: teaching

Blogs are NOT airy-fairy, soul-searching, self-indulgent

You know how you can’t let some things go?

Well, the back of my mind is often processing ways to demonstrate to people the value of reading and writing blogs. Recently I read an educator’s comments about introducing teachers to Web 2.0 practices, where he says he wouldn’t start with blogging, but provide teachers with examples of great blogs to read. Often people considering blogging will say that they don’t know what to blog about. It’s a bit like a student getting an open essay topic; it’s difficult because it’s undefined. That’s why reading blogs of people who share your interests is a good starting point for new bloggers or even sceptics. What I’m actually saying is – you don’t know what you’re missing – there are people out there who are really worth knowing, in all parts of the world and in many spheres of life and occupation.

John Connell linked to a series of blog networking interviews by Lilia Efimova in his post about passionate bloggers. People whose blogs centred around knowledge management topics were interviewed by Lilia about how they used blogs for networking. What’s particularly interesting is the variety of backgrounds represented. Lilia’s interviews covered the following:

  • professional background of a participant and characteristics of her network in KM field prior to blogging
  • changes in the network or networking practices because of blogging
  • uses of weblogs for developing, maintaining and activating relations as a starting point for articulating stages of the process at more granular level
  • place of the weblog in the ecosystem of networking tools (mainly focusing on what weblogs are good for and when they do not work).
  • important networking-related issues that haven’t been discussed

Here are some examples:

Brett Miller, a system engineer, says

 “I know more people in different areas of KM when I knew before.” Blogging helped him to reach people he wouldn’t be able to reach otherwise.

Dave Snowden is a founder and a Chief Scientific Officer of Cognitive Edge, a consulting company focusing on complexity, sense-making and narratives. He was formerly a director of IBM Institute of Knowledge Management and founder of the Cynefin Centre for organisational complexity. He has about 50 science bloggers in his RSS reader.

“They scan journals for me, so I don’t have myself … I’ve learnt to trust them over the years … it’s much better than summarisation surface”.

Euan Semple is an independent advisor for social computing for business (www.euansemple.com). He started blogging with his personal weblog The Obvious. He says:

“Previously I was subject to geographical constraints or social constraints or organisational constraints as of who I was likely to meet and suddenly with online networks I’ve been able to connect to […] the whole bunch of interesting and interested people whom I suddenly had an access to in a way in a normal life I would never ever had that chance. I could then establish relationships and (and again something I get very hot about) is that these are not pretend or unreal or virtual relationship, the real relationship, where you build up trust and affect and those powerful things that make people work together. Online.”

And also:

[Blogging] is “a collective pointing that helps to find stuff, once you have an established group of bloggers you read and trust. And their ability to find a good stuff to point to it, increases your signal to noise ratio on the web … Blogs do that better than other tools because of the context – you have to say why that is important, why are you pointing to something”.

Luis Suarez works at IBM as social software evangelist. He is located in Spain, but travels frequently for his work. He says:

Weblogs allow you to get beyond what people publish and to get as sense of what a person is like – to build a profile of a person as a person, not a business entity. Not how long you have been married, but how people write articles. When you write a blogpost you are giving yourself out as a person. The line between life and work is going to disappear.

The question of blogs developing trust is an interesting one. Luis says that trust is developed through a ‘willingness to expose what you don’t know’, and ‘a willingness to learn not yet finished thinking’ or ‘taking a radical position that invites criticism’, ‘being brave and bold’. He added that ‘there is something special about somebody coming to your place to leave their words there’.

Talking about changes in professional network as a result of blogging, Monica Andre, who worked in a research lab in Lisbon focusing on information behaviour and information management, says:

“I didn’t realise that linking and giving credits to someone’s work would extend my professional network extended very quickly.” She then told a story of being contacted by a municipality government from Spain who wanted her to speak at an event. “I didn’t know I was followed by them. If [people] leave comments, you have a clue, a footprint. It turns out that guy who was reading my blog suggested the government that I would be a good person to talk as a keynote speaker”. When she received an email she thought it was a joke, but they called to confirm.

These are only a few examples of what people had to say about blogging in Lilia’s interviews, just to whet your appetite. You can read all interview summaries on Lilia Efimova’s blog Mathemagenic.

It’s difficult to ‘convert’ people to reading and writing blogs and to online networking in general for a variety of reasons I’ve spoken about many times in previous posts. It may be as difficult as religious or political conversion. To those of you reading this post, I’m preaching to the converted, I know. So please tell me, have you had successful experiences in converting those resistant to blogging that you would like to share?

Humanity meets in the library

This is how it goes.

I read Jenny Luca’s post ‘The future of libraries’ which she wrote after reading John Connell’s post ‘Education and the cloud’. John wrote his post after reading Kevin Marks. Kevin had read something Tim O’Reilly had written. Tim was writing after having read a book by Kim Stanley Robinson. Before spiralling further, I should redivert to the purpose of my own post which is to contribute my own thoughts following from these threads, and specifically following from Jenny’s valuable insights.

As John Connell remarks, ‘the world of knowledge is shifting inexorably onto the Web.’  Whether we like it or not, it’s true. Now, I’m not saying that, in agreeing with this statement, I’m ready to pull books off shelves, turn libraries into clubs and restaurants (as Russian communists did with churches), or make the whole population of teachers redundant. I’m here to say that the massive shift of knowledge onto the web is happening, and that people will be playing a new, even more important role in the location and management of knowledge and technology.
Thomas Frey, the Executive Director and Senior Futurist at the DaVinci Institute, has written an interesting account of the future of libraries, which is actually a history of information and knowledge, since libraries house information and knowledge in whatever form they take. Frey comments:
We have come a long ways from the time of da Vinci and the time when books were chained to lecterns.  But we’ve only scratched the surface of many more changes to come…
Throughout history the role of the library was to serve as a storehouse, an archive of manuscripts, art, and important documents.  The library was the center of information revered by most because each contained the foundational building blocks of information for all humanity.
So what do libraries become once information moves to the web? And what becomes of schools and teachers if information can be accessed by anyone anywhere?
Jenny Luca says:
There will still be a need for schools and teachers. I don’t think we will become obsolete. I do think the nature of learning will change; we will need to encourage and foster self directed learners and this is what I see the function of teachers will be in the future…
… What the point of libraries will be, I think, is as a meeting place for humanity to share ideas. A bit like Ancient Greece where the Sophists would meet up together to share ideas.

 Humanity. Both Jenny Luca and Thomas Frey have identified the larger concern as humanity. It’s not about books, computers, buildings or technology but the collective resources of humanity. It’s not about books versus the internet. And as Frey says, ‘books are a technology, and writing is also a technology, and every technology has a limited lifespan.’  People locate, write, store, use and share information. How revolutionary was Johann Gutenberg who unveiled his printing press to the world by printing copies of the Gutenberg Bible in 1455? But, as Frey says, communication systems are continually changing the way people access information:

If you were to construct a trend line beginning with the 1844 invention of the telegraph, you will begin to see the accelerating pace of change:  1876 – telephone, 1877 – phonograph, 1896 – radio, 1935 – fax machine, 1939 – television, 1945 – ENIAC Computer, 1947 – transistor, 1954 – color television, 1961 – laser, 1965 – email, 1973 – cell phone, 1974 – Altair 8800, 1989 – World Wide Web, 1990 – Online Search Engine, 1992 – Web Browser, 1994 – Palm Pilot, 1996 – Google, 1999 – P2P, 2002 – iPod, 2004 – Podcasting.

If we bring back the true meaning of libraries – to share knowledge and ideas, or, more specifically, to enable the human interaction with knowledge and ideas, then we can see that schools and libraries, as centres of learning and interaction, are challenged with a new, global purpose. Frey says:

Libraries themselves are a global system representing an anchor point for new systems and new cultures… The notion of becoming a cultural center is an expansive role for the future library.  It will not only serve as an information resource, but much more, with the exact mission and goals evolving and changing over time.
It’s humanity that Jenny focuses on when describing what libraries and schools should be:
The space where students can form relationships, the space where they can articulate ideas and glean advice and encouragement, the space where the human network forms and where they can find ways to make it grow.  
In redefining the library and its purpose, Frey advocates experimenting with creative spaces. He suggests new functionality in the library, including band practice rooms, podcasting stations, blogger stations, art studios, recording studios, video studios, imagination rooms, and theatre/drama practice rooms.
With the whole world changing so rapidly, we have the opportunity to reinvent our learning spaces creatively. In doing this, we don’t destroy what we had in books or teachers, we respond to changes by recognising what is essential, and reshape our learning instead of holding on to external structures out of habit.
Learning is about people as my first paragraph attests to. Thankyou to my learning community.

Synesthesia or Remembering that learning is not all thinking

My son wrote an interesting post about his association of different keys in music with colours. Although his colour association is not synesthesia, he does intuitively ‘see’ colours in music.  It’s a great reminder that our learning and understanding come through different channels, and that we’re programmed in unique ways. Here’s an extract from his post where he explains the thinking behind some of his improvisations on keyboard which are named after colours:

The image underlying Green (G minor) was one of a forest, and so I worked in some (admittedly simple) cross-rhythms to give the sensation of the complexity of the forest, of the trees in three dimensions, randomly scattered. Blue (E minor) is an ocean, with a lapping, repetitve bass line; the waves rising and falling with cresendo and diminuendo. Finally, White is in C major, more conventional and ballad-y with a recurring tonic note in the higher registers. When I was playing around with the ideas on my upright, the image was one of ice and its cold purity, especially through the harmonics that it caused; but unfortunately these were lost when I recorded it on my electronic piano.

Sometimes I think that we should trust that we’re all wired to naturally absorb things, and that teaching should be the provision of the ideal environment to assist that absorption. If our teaching interferes with this, then learning is aborted.

I wonder if that made sense?

Good teacher, Bad teacher

Recently I’ve been thinking about teachers that I’ve had, which ones were good or bad, and what makes them so. I can remember teachers who inspired me, and whom I loved, whose classes I enjoyed. I can also remember those who worked like a sedative, or whom I didn’t respect.

Well, I just remembered a teacher who was both the best and the worst teacher. It’s a good reminder that ‘good teacher’ and ‘bad teacher’ may only exist in fairy tales, and that, just as people in general, teachers are multi-dimensional and complex. There may be aspects of their teaching that are good or bad, but they themselves can be both.

My teacher of Russian (from the age of 6 years to about 16) – and I knew her well until she died at the age of 91 – used to torment me with disparaging remarks about my ‘bad’ character, as displayed in my handwriting (narrow at the time, an obvious mark of mean character), and the fact that I was Pisces. At the age of 9, I had reached saturation point with her constant negative remarks and exploded at her, telling her that I hated her. We made up, and she continued to teach me. As an adult, I continued to visit her, and was able to forgive the early years, developing a close relationship with her, and considering her earlier ‘faults’ as idiosyncracies.

What I will always remember her for was her passionate commitment to teaching. She would speak about literature, art, drama, architecture, historial events in a way that convinced me they were part of her life, never something she had just learned from a book. She used to direct Russian-language plays, and would be directly involved in every aspect, including stage design, music, choreography – she would paint the set, design costumes, edit the script, coach us with our lines and expression, research for historical accuracy, give us the background to authors, genre, etc. She gave up every hour in her day, and we were fortunate to have had these experiences, although we didn’t always appreciate this at the time.

I think she would have embraced modern technology. I was still visiting her up until her death. In her last days, before her cancer became too unbearable, I remember her little unit with its map of the world on the wall, so that she could follow world news events, and all her books, her notebooks with summaries and research, sketches, plans. I can imagine her enjoying Google Earth, or saving her newly found links in Delicious. She lived to teach, but even more than that, she lived to learn, and I saw her learning with an unquenchable fervour, her mind fresh and excited, until her death. She is a real inspiration to me. She wasn’t perfect, and she’s a reminder that none of us are, and that you can still be great, even as you are imperfect.

Why blogging is a selfish activity


This image compliments of Dean Shareski

One of the things that made me pause for thought during the PLP Kickoff yesterday, was when Will Richardson and Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach told us to participate in the NING environment just for ourselves for the time being.

I was talking to someone recently and we were discussing how blogging and participating in Web 2.0 applications is such a joy for educators because it’s feeding us. Teaching can be exhausting. Teachers are giving non-stop but not always replenishing their own supplies. The best part about learning through connected networks, Twitter, NINGs,etc. is that you get so much out of what others put out there. It’s the interconnectivity (long word for connection, I think) that is so good for you. And so much choice, you don’t know where to start. If you don’t refuel, you eventually stop.

We need to be selfish, that is, to feed ourselves as well as our students. To take time to read, think, discuss and wait before giving out. That’s not as selfish as it sounds. Fact is, when we’re bursting with ideas from meaningful interaction with others, people around us can’t fail to see this. Modelling Web 2.0 functioning is like sending sparks out.