Tag Archives: #ccourses

The wall has ears. When your students get it and start talking from the heart.

Just when you think you’ve been talking to the wall, you realise unexpectedly that some of your students have been listening when they suddenly start speaking from the heart to their peers and you realise that they get it.

I coordinate the co-curricular group, Competition Writing. I’ve blogged before about this group I inherited along with the title that didn’t sit right for me from the outset. Three and a half years later and the title remains but the philosophy of the group is changing before my eyes. I’ve been talking to my students about the passion for writing and learning community which is what I hope will become the focus of the group despite the title, but talking at students and becoming as a group are two different things.

The co-curricular groups are designed as an opportunity for students to take on leadership roles, and this is one of the reasons why it’s taken so long to get to this point – the start of a more democratic learning community. Students stepping up to the role of captain must have some sort of idea of what behaviour a leader exhibits, and the leaders in my time have been an assortment of personalities but with one thing in common: taking up all or most of the hour-long session with talking AT the students. They feel that they have to step up as experts and relay their ‘expertise’ to the students in a lecture style. Some have used the screen for powerpoint and occasionally videos (spoken poetry) but it’s interesting what their perception of teaching is – and how this implies that their experience as students has been as passive listeners, being taught to.

My library roster has not always allowed me to be present at these meetings (yeah, right? but this year is different) but occasionally I have snuck in and attempted to have a word to the group.  My main objective has initially been to encourage students to share their writing in our blog, Unicorn Express, and I’ve spoken to them about the authentic reading audience – the fact that their writing is published and read by a global audience, not only read by their teacher; the opening up of constructive feedback and response by any reader – all the things that I think transform the act of writing from a prescribed thing to a real thing and which must affect the way writers feel. Yes, students write to improve writing skills and for a good mark, but more than that, everyone surely wants some kind of confirmation, something that affirms their ‘soul’ (and I feel entitled to use this word after reading bell hooks).  All learning surely exists in a space where our whole person relates to others in a holistic way, not just the intellectual side of ourselves, not just the grammatical or stylistic side of ourselves  as writers.

Last year our Writing Competition (always feel I use this word facetiously) leader did a great job running regular fortnightly meetings, with the energy of a confident extrovert. I’m grateful for that, but still I noticed that the students were sitting silently and listening for most of the session. Writing mainly took place outside the meeting. We also have a Facebook group which I created for communication but also in the hope of creating a space for sharing articles and interesting bits of information, ie. learning outside the meeting time.  It’s been a place where I do all the sharing but at least I can see how many students ‘read’ the posts. Despite my constant encouragement, none of the students have inhabited this space as their own, and I’ve been stuck between thinking I should stop posting and thinking that if I did the space would die.

Anyway, back to what I was saying before. Last year, as I read the wonderful writing students posted to the blog, the same students who remained silent in the meetings and gave nothing of themselves away – and weren’t put in a position where they were challenged to – I started thinking that it might be interesting to encourage an introverted student to take the leading role. Yes, that was a risk, and last year’s leader was concerned about this, but it was a risk I really, really wanted to take. Leadership is not always extroverted, and can come from quieter, less confident students. Isn’t the leadership role an opportunity for all students to learn about how they can also be leaders and for the group to see all the many faces of leadership?

So this year we have a very different leadership – one student as captain and two co-captains. I know how talented they are,  but I also know how challenging it is for them to stand up in front of the whole group (which is quite large) and win the attention and respect of the students. Having nominated them I have to trust them, and I do, but I also have to discipline myself not to step in too much and to let them run with it.

Last Friday the new captains ran their first meeting.  They did a spectacular job, and my heart melted listening to how they talked about the purpose and philosophy of the group. They had been listening all the time! They completely understood what I had been talking about and trying to model with the blog and Facebook group. In about ten minutes (because they wanted to spend most of the meeting writing together) they said that, although members would have the opportunity to earn diploma points (all co-curricular groups did) and to enter writing competitions, they hoped that the group would be more about sharing the passion of writing and becoming a writing community (I’m paraphrasing). They encouraged students to post drafts to the blog, and talked about the writing process as the most important part of writing, and how feedback during this process was invaluable. They encouraged frequent writing and posting without worrying about imperfection or incompleteness. In the same way, they encouraged students to make themselves at home in the Facebook group (MHS Competition Writing) as a space to share whatever they found interesting or were passionate about. I was so proud; I was exhilarated!

And then they gave a writing prompt (‘A man walks into a bar and sees’) with a short time limit, and everybody wrote, and then brave people read their writing out. It wasn’t brilliant but it wasn’t expected to be. I felt the satisfaction in the group of being given the opportunity to write together, and then to share. I asked if students were comfortable to leave their writing (a short paragraph) with me, that I would post everything to the blog.

Speaking to the captains at the end of the meeting once everyone had left, they told me how nervous they were before the meeting, and I told them how fantastic they were, how they so naturally and beautifully responded with generosity to those students who read out their pieces, and how well they had prepared by thinking carefully about what they wanted to achieve in the session. Everyone had been involved in writing activity, and the expectations of the group had escaped the traditional confines beyond diploma points into the realm of joyful sharing of writing passion.

I’m excited about this group and look forward to see how it develops, and to documenting the progress of the writing community.

The wall has ears. Just when you think you’ve been talking to the wall, you realise unexpectedly that some of your students have been listening and that’s when learning happens.

Because #MOOCMOOC and Connected Courses have been about community building above everything (at least in my opinion), I am passionate about assisting my students to feel the joy of connected learning even as they learn within a program.

Waiting for Freire. A 15 second play

A tweet from Kevin Hodgson @dogtrax about a 15 second play (that day’s #dailyconnect for #ccourses (wow, that all looks a bit cryptic, maybe Freire would say exclusive?) made me think ‘why not? what’s 15 seconds’ and the example made it look like fun.

Kevin had introduced me to Notegraphy before and I liked the look of it and sharing options. Unashamedly I pulled a chunk out of Maha Bali’s post and pieced together a 15 second  play using Maha’s quoted material from participants of yesterday’s #moocmooc chat about critical pedagogy and Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed. If this isn’t making any sense to you, don’t worry. It’s just a 15 second play with quotes from real people. No more, no less.


To be or not to be cartoon characters. In a Greek tragedy.

It started with a tweet (mine)…

I swear it was only minutes before Simon Ensor @sensor36 published a post with enough substance for a PhD – or at least a 3-part TV series. A cartoon program.

Simon says:

Then there was Tania suggesting in a tweet that tweeps such as @Bali_Maha, @dogtrax, @sensor63  et al in her PLN were ‘cartoon characters’ – if she had not met them F2F or should I say 3D?

So is that my friends what we are to one another – Cartoons – (on)line drawings?

Now Simon thinks in colour:

Like a canary to a black and white cat that was a red rag to a bull.

He also believes in getting straight down to (serious) business:

Existential questions

1) Are our online ‘friends’, ‘follows’ ‘followers’, akin to Loony Tunes?
2) Are our offline ‘friends’, ‘follows’, ‘followers’ not akin to Loony Tunes?

I will pause here before the ‘cartoon preamble’. Simon has muddied the waters (in my head) with his cartoon world/real world questions. I’m propelled back into my early childhood when I wished that my world was the cartoon world. We all knew it was much more fun. Cartoon worlds were more colourful, more exciting, funnier – and risk taking was never a problem because even if you ended up falling off a cliff and being squashed into a flat pancake upon landing, you would always, always be able to stretch yourself out and back into your normal body shape. And with a cool sound effect.

Simon is playing with my head. He should not tempt me into going down the rabbit hole into fantasy land. Mixing realities. Switching worlds.

So now, we’re up to Simon’s

Cartoon preamble.

I can quite accept that @dogtrax or should I say Mr Hodgson K. qualifies as an honorary cartoon character.

His lifetime achievement to cartooning in itself would merit such an accolade.

I am not sure that I am quite yet ready to take on the caricature mantle without a fight.

Simon, how can you resist the lure of the cartoon reality? You, whose prose is poetry, references labyrinthine, whose playfulness is akin to the Dadaists.

But, yes, I will play your game.  I see it’s four rounds and then you’re out.  Or so you think you are. You concede defeat and accept the cartoon character identity. You have chosen wisely.  You have chosen the cartoon reality. No more ‘He he he’ as part of the Queen’s court which was as taken with Boy George’s superficial mask as the people who insisted they saw the king’s finery in ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes‘.

Round one.

The strange case of Culture Club.

I can boast quite openly that I once met Boy George F2F (3D) outside the Mud Club in central London, while driving a London cab.

Boy George was undoubtedly a larger than life character, dressed to the nines, painted in broad strokes, armed with an infectious laugh.

He was surrounded by acolytes, disciples, hangers-on, groupies, and various fawning clubbers, similarly attired.

They appeared to be infected with George’s laugh.

“Ho ho ho ho.” (George)

Micro-second later

“He he he he.” (Queen’s court)

I am quite sure the boy George had more depth than this vignette.  There was no apparent desire among the performers to go beyond the make-up.

Well done. You have not been fooled into thinking the pantomime of school is real – surely you must choose the cartoon world again. You will never again be able to be that teacher operating the Cambridge textbook franchise.  You will never again be the teacher conducting the masked chorus who played out the lesson scenario to the last letter.  Surely your cartoon avatar had already escaped down the rabbit hole or up the Magic Faraway Tree into magical lands.

Many of the my 3D colleagues are unknown to me, they remain line-drawings.

Yes, you are losing control here; worlds are colliding and changing places. Can you feel it? You admit to have a more lifelike exchange with unseen friends online than in your 3D pantomime life.  You/we all speak the same Cartoon language.

And in Round Four you have a strong inkling that brings you closer to your unreality. Your blog is the Tardis, and you are all the Doctors.

You have one voice, you have another voice. (Some voices have trouble throwing off the old voices to take their place).  Time and place matter not. Your voice, your identity do not reside in one body, are not located in the 3D world.

I sometimes feel that a distinct voice, that is evidenced in this Touches of Sense blog, has become a distinct character.

There are times when I feel distanced from it’s mannerisms, its annoying ways with words.

You are ready for the new Doctor.

There are times when I feel that I shall introduce a new character to stem its irritating flow.

CARTOON character.

Do not despair of your identity breakdown. In your last hours as a 3D  entity of the pantomime world, you are having brief flashes of revelation.

I am reminded of Maha’s reflections on how she feels at times as catalogued as an ‘exotic’.

I am reminded of Susan’s reflections on her various incarnations.

I wonder if despite ourselves we become characters in others’ performances.

And there it is:

CARTOON character.

You are reborn. You throw off the skin and step out of the world you’ve been taught to accept as the real one.

OK Tania, I accept defeat. I am a caricature.

Do not think for a second that you are accepting defeat. On the contrary, you have returned home. You are where you belong, in the Cartoon World, the colourful world, the exciting and funny world.

This comic metaphor has become too complex for the cartoon @sensor63.

He accepts the mask.

He is one of the Connected Comic Characters.

He must live with it.

Oh the tragedy!

And it’s a genuine tragedy you now inhabit. Your comic tragedy has a speaker and a chorus and everyone is in costume. Everything is brightly coloured. You have many lives and you live your fantasy life.  We are all there too – Maha, Kevin, Susan and the others. Me.  In our cartoon world.

But who is watching us play out our online lives?

Going back to analyse the water #ccourses

Photo by Aleksey Myakishev

We’re in the 4th unit of Connected Courses: Diversity, equity and access. I thought I’d look back at some of the previous questions and objectives from which  we’ve been making meaning together. Only now have I realised that each unit has a ‘design touchstone’, and while I was investigating what this could mean and how these linked to each other, I decided to re-familiarise myself with the first one: Water.

I watched again the video of the speech given by David Foster Wallace to Kenyon College’s 2005 graduating class.  The video starts with the story of two young fish swimming along when they meet an older fish swimming the other way.  The older fish asks ‘How’s the water?’, and after they’ve passed him, one of the younger fish asks ‘What the hell is water?’

A rough summary of the message would be that the most obvious and important realities are often the ones that are  hardest to see and talk about.   Foster postulates that a Liberal Arts education is not as much about filling you with knowledge as it is about teaching you how to think – not in terms of the capacity to think (which we all have ) – but in terms of the choice of what to think about. He mentions that we often live unconsciously, that is, not questioning where our belief systems come from, and he encourages us to have a critical awareness of ourselves and our certainties.  He talks about our default setting which positions us as the centre of the universe and suggests we do the hard work to rid ourselves of this hard wiring which leads us to interpret everything personally by learning how to exercise some control over what and how we think, and being conscious and aware enough so that we choose what we pay attention to and understand how we construct meaning from our experiences.

I feel that I need to go back and revisit readings many times to have the ideas and issues float to the top of my consciousness where they are in view and so that they don’t sink to the bottom and get forgotten.  Connected Courses has enabled me to construct meaning in conversations with people and in the solitude of my own thoughts. I’m beginning to feel as if I’m conscious of the water.

It’s interesting to note that although Connected Courses  is designed for faculty within higher education who are looking at developing online, open courses,  so far the technology part of constructing the courses has been in the background. This is a valuable lesson for schools introducing new technologies to support teaching and learning. In Connected Courses we started with the why and we moved at our own pace supported by the network of participants. Expertise has been distributed and sense making has not only been in the form of text; participants have shared creative responses which have included drawings, comics, songs and other audio, slides and video and more.  Some people have tried new things!

We’ve been given the opportunity to construct meaning together, and  given choices about how much and what we focus on.  My opinion is that this approach has enabled me to look more deeply into selected things.  I haven’t felt rushed or forced in any way; I’ve had choice and control.  At first I may have felt intimidated by learning in an academic cohort, but now I feel energized. It’s been fun!

Feel free to look at what I’ve collected so far in my Connected Courses Pinterest board.

Taking control of our digital lives

In a few weeks our team will be running sessions on digital citizenship with all the year 10 students. In an attempt to make sense of a very dense session I thought I’d throw it into a blog post.  I’m open to suggestions or advice if you’re kind enough to read the post. Thank you.

The leading question is:

In the digital age what are the most important skills we need to develop?

We will explore digital literacies and what it is to be a digital citizen in today’s information age. In particular, how can we take control of our digital lives?

In no set order, and depending on the dynamics of the class and their receptiveness to engage in discussion, we will look at:

  • attention (mindfulness) – thanks to the work of Howard Rheingold
  • online privacy
  • critical evaluation of information
  • your digital profile

With mobile devices and technology ubiquitous in our lives, is it possible that we are not in control of the balance in our lives?

To start discussion about whether we are online too much, I will show students this video.

I hope to talk a little on mindfulness. Mindfulness is something we can practice. It helps us have control over what we give our attention to.

We might do this one-minute meditation exercise or we might ask students to do this in their own time.

Mindfulness during study would be really appreciated by students; it’s so easy to get distracted especially with the ping of social media inviting us to take a ‘quick’ break. We will recommend to students the SelfControl app which allows them to lock themselves out of social media and email for any period of time. Sounds good to me. Students can download this app to their devices for free.

Next we’ll move on to the question: ‘Are we doing everything we can to secure our online privacy?

Then we’ll show students this video about nothing being free online and about how their online activity is stolen for the purpose of data collection.  Hopefully they’ll start to feel a little uncomfortable as they realise how little control they have over what is taken from what they do online . But will this lead to some good discussion?

At this point we’ll introduce our students to Duck Duck Go, an anonymous, encrypted search engine.  We’ll take a look at why Duck Duck Go is better for privacy than other search engines.  We’ll look more closely at how our search results are generally filtered and how we can escape our search engine’s filter bubble.

We’ll watch the following video to discover that our search results are far from objective and that the internet is showing us what it thinks we want to see.

Moving on to our digital identities, we might google each other and see what comes up. When I did this last year there wasn’t much which – as I said to the boys – is good and bad. It’s great if they don’t have inappropriate things on their public profile, but what if somebody wants to find out more about the, for example, when they apply for a job?

Here’s an revealing video about why our Facebook likes say more about us than we think, and why we should care.

At this point I’d like the students to take a look at what others see about them on Facebook by going to their public profile. Since Facebook changes privacy settings constantly and these are never simple, it should be an interesting exercise. Facebook allows a user to view their page as a person they haven’t ‘friended’ and also as a ‘friend’. Then I’ll ask the students to check out the Facebook Help Centre – I don’t think they will have looked at this in detail.

Although I’m not an advocate of the fear tactics used to scare young people off social media, I also want to make them aware of what can and does happen.  What happened to Alec Couros very recently is a sobering story. Alec Couros is Professor of educational technology & media at the Faculty of Education, University of Regina. Someone stole his online identity and created an internet relationship scam. Read about it here in his very open blog post where he explains how scammers stole his photos to lure women into online romantic relationships to get at their money. Alec lists a long list of things he recommends to fight internet scams. He says that ‘digital literacy is necessary for determining the validity of sources, including the integrity and authenticity of our relationships.’ He recommends that ‘this needs to be a topic in school as part of a required digital citizenship curriculum’. Yes, it does. And so, our one session is not enough, but we are squeezing in at least this one session.

Alec’s final words in this second blog post are:

Likely, what I’ve learned the most throughout this predicament is that we need better systems for identity verification. I don’t actually like proposing this because I’m a strong proponent for rights to anonymity on the web. But, there must be a way to allow for anonymity and to also build mechanisms in place for identity verification where necessary. Ideas, anyone? Maybe my life’s work is in this problem somewhere.

After this frightening real story we are actually going to go back to encouraging our students to cultivate a positive online profile. I know that many of them will ask why. Why do they need to go public online? Doesn’t this go against what we’ve just been discussing – all the negative stuff? While thinking about how I could possibly make this case convincingly with something our students could identify with, I was on Twitter and had asked a question about saving archived webpages from the Wayback Machine. A few seconds later I received an answer from Nick Patsianas (@nickpatsianas) – someone I followed a while ago. He is a year 11 student who lives on the Central Coast in NSW. Nick is an inspirational young man (as you will understand when you read his blog bio) and his blog is an outstanding example of how a student can create a positive digital footprint. I will introduce Nick to my students. Nick is part of an active network on Twitter, as you can see from his Twitter conversations if you follow him.  Nick is part of Oz Minecraft Educators. If I were an employer and were looking for evidence that Nick was an intelligent, literate, responsible, engaged and thoughtful young man, I would have everything I needed in the digital footprint he has created for himself.

To finish the session (if there is time remaining), I will take my cue from Alec Couros when he says

Detection of these scams requires critical thought, a healthy skepticism, and active digital literacy.

We’re going to look at photos and text posted online and try to evaluate their validity. Hopefully this will be a fun exercise, and we might do it together. We will ask our students if the following photos are real or fake, and if the accompanying information is real of fake. We will see how well they can uncover a hoax.

After discussion, I’ll ask the boys to find out here.

What about this?

Find out here.

What about this one?

Find out here.

What about “15-ton prehistoric shark captured off coast of Pakistan”?

Find out here.

And “New York artist creates ‘art’ that is invisible and collectors are paying millions.”

Find out here.

Next we’ll have a look at some fake news websites.

In Australia:

The Shovel

World Daily News Report

See a list of international fake news sites here. 

We’ll look at some of the information taken from the article by Paul S. Piper,Librarian, Western Washington University, Better read that again: web hoaxes and misinformation. These categorise web hoaxes and misinformation, for example, parody and spoof sites, malicious sites, counterfeit, fictitious, questionable and malicious websites, and finally product sites and subject-specific misinformation.

Finally we will ask the students which of the following websites are reputable and which are not? Of those which are not, they are to specify which are counterfeit, parodies, fictitious, questionable, malicious or product sites:

I’ll leave the students with the following sites which are dedicated to tracking internet hoaxes.

Don’t Spread That Hoax


Snopes (Rumour has it)

Vmyths (Rhode Island Soft Systems produces this site designed to counter myths and hoaxes about computer viruses.

The National Fraud Center is a consumer centre for fraud, including internet fraud.

I think that ending with this lengthy activity is a safe way to approach different classes which may delve deeply into a couple of things listed here, and not complete all activities, or they might be less willing to join a discussion, in which case we will whizz through these activities.

So this lesson will be about 45 minutes long. If you are reading, please leave a comment at the end of this post. I would really appreciate it, and there is still time to edit the lesson plan.



How many years does it take to change a light bulb? What about schooling?

Alec Couros shared this video. It’s a clever advertisement about lighting. Main message:

Our homes have changed radically over the past century. So why do we still use lighting that’s based on 19th century technology? Well, that’s all about to change.

Isn’t this an apt metaphor for education, specifically schooling? I really think so. So many aspects of life have changed  but the way we view learning and teaching in most schools and many tertiary institutions has changed very little since the Industrial Age.

I know that some educators reading this post will disagree, even be offended. It’s not that we don’t have expert, committed teachers. It’s not that students learn nothing; of course they do.  It’s just that the internet has opened up access to information, and the new opportunities to connect to information and people, the ability to create something online, to collaborate, to ask questions, to learn outside the classroom/course, to follow your passion, to drive the learning, to make a difference – all these things have changed the game. We can teach content well, we can also teach specific skills, but what are we doing to teach students how to learn what they will need when they leave school – because that is unknown to all of us. Learning how to learn – we’ve heard it all before, but what does it mean? If teachers were forced to be learners in an unknown learning environment, would it make any difference to their perception of their role?  When we’re used to teaching what we know and have known for years, are we out of touch with what it’s like to be bewildered learners?

We don’t know what our students will need to know throughout their working lives but we should recognise that the learning will be continual, and they won’t be in cosy classrooms with dedicated teachers. The curriculum is unknown. The only thing we know for certain is that being able to navigate the learning journey is imperative.  Will our students feel lost or will they know how to find the people they need to help them? Will they know what questions to ask, and will they feel comfortable developing their learning networks, or will they feel they have failed because they are not used to initiating their own learning journey?

There isn’t a simple solution to this but there is the possibility of changing the game.  Right now I’m enjoying the personal interactions in Connected Courses. I’m learning so much from other people through conversations, sharing of information and projects, of digital tools and research methods. Many blogging their way through this course have said what I’m about to say. Much of the learning is not explicitly related to a task. The incidental learning is getting me going – motivated, that is, to go in for more. Yes, there’s a structure, recommended readings, topics and videos to watch, but there is a choice of what, how much and when we do something. There’s company – that’s the best part. There are platforms like Twitter (#ccourses), Google+ (#ccourses), Facebook and others, where we can go. So as soon as we read something, as soon as we watch a webinar (in real-time or archived), in which we meet the facilitating people – and these people are contactable through social media – we have the opportunity to jump into one of the many platforms and say what we think, ask questions, benefit from other viewpoints, gather further information from our network, initiate or join projects or create things (eg #dailyconnect).

Why can’t learning be like this for our students? Why don’t all teachers enjoy a professional community like this one?

(Why can’t I stop asking rhetorical questions?)

I’d like to finish with a slab of transcript text from Anant Agarwal’s TED talk: Why massive open online courses (still) matter. (Thanks to Yin Wah Kreher’s post).

Here he is talking about peer learning.

Let me tell you a story. When we did our circuits course for the 155,000 students, I didn’t sleep for three nights leading up to the launch of the course. I told my TAs, okay, 24/7, we’re going to be up monitoring the forum, answering questions. They had answered questions for 100 students. How do you do that for 150,000? So one night I’m sitting up there, at 2 a.m. at night, and I think there’s this question from a student from Pakistan, and he asked a question, and I said, okay, let me go and type up an answer, I don’t type all that fast, and I begin typing up the answer, and before I can finish, another student from Egypt popped in with an answer, not quite right, so I’m fixing the answer, and before I can finish, a student from the U.S. had popped in with a different answer. And then I sat back, fascinated. Boom, boom, boom, boom, the students were discussing and interacting with each other, and by 4 a.m. that night, I’m totally fascinated, having this epiphany, and by 4 a.m. in the morning, they had discovered the right answer. And all I had to do was go and bless it, “Good answer.” So this is absolutely amazing, where students are learning from each other, and they’re telling us that they are learning by teaching.

Students learn really well with a great teacher and a finely tuned class but they can also take a more active part, and the collective whole can become better than the one-to-many model.



Short picture story on the theme of dandelions – farewell to our year 12 students

Inspired by the clever and inspirational posts and creative takes on the theme of dandelions in Connected Courses, I created a short picture and word story as a farewell gift to our year 12 students who will be leaving us soon. See shared thoughts by others on the theme of the dandelion here, here, here and here.

Can we be like children sampling new and foreign flavours?

One Saturday afternoon last month, six second graders from P.S. 295 in Brooklyn got a head start on the fine-dining life when they visited the acclaimed French restaurant Daniel.

Just watch this; children are the best.

In a previously unexplored environment, are we like them in any way? unlike them altogether?

First observations:

They are honest. Some are carefully adventurous. Some of them share their reactions and opinions. They form a little micro-community with different personalities.  Many of them delight in the experiences – both bad and good. They look at each other to compare reactions. They laugh. They bond.

Some background.

The art of slowing down learning

Photo by Alexander Sheko

This blog post led me to a New York Times article (13 Sept. 2014) by Stephanie Rosenbloom : The art of slowing down in a museum.

There is something in this message that speaks to me about Connected Courses. Many of us have already remarked that the course is bursting and exploding with the wonderful shared information and ideas.  Mia Zamora even made sure, at the start of the course, that we acknowledged it was a guilt free zone. We were encouraged to dip in and out of things that spoke to us rather than tick off a (massive) list in a course which isn’t actually linear.

For me Connected Courses have been the most valuable and inspiring form of professional development – maybe ever. I even wished I didn’t have to sleep so I could keep learning and stay in the  conversations that were mainly happening in different timezones to mine. But at the same time I feel like a child who is overwhelmed by too much choice, and currently I’m aware that I’m running from this to that, not staying too long in case I miss out on something.

At times I feel like I’m skimming the surface; I would also like to go deeper. After all, there should be more times when I stop feverishly multi-saving to Diigo/Pinterest/Feedly and sit down to digest some things at a reflective pace.

The art of slowing down in a museum really resonated with me, and I started drawing parallels between looking at art works and reading and watching what the Connected Courses community shares.

If the average visitor spends 15 to 30 seconds in front of a work of art, according to museum researchers (as stated in the article), how does this compare with the amount of time we spend reading (and thinking about) shared blog posts or articles?  If we tweet out an article or post so quickly  that it becomes obvious we couldn’t possibly have read it properly, or at least read it deeply – and I’ve done that many times (even halfway through reading) charged by a passionate response and the desire to share – then are we being too superficial, and should we just take the time to read one thing more deeply?

Does ‘the breathless life of the Internet age conspire to make that feel normal?’ There is no doubt that our behaviour on social media is fast paced. ‘But  (as stated in the article) what’s a traveler with a long bucket list to do? Blow off the Venus de Milo to linger over a less popular lady like Diana of Versailles?’ How much breadth do we sacrifice for depth?

Professor Pawelski, who studies connections between positive psychology and the humanities, states that people who visit an art museum quickly and look at art in the same way as they might tick off a large reading list of books, see as much of art as you would if you read books by looking at their spines. He says that ‘ if you do choose to slow down — to find a piece of art that speaks to you and observe it for minutes rather than seconds — you are more likely to connect with the art, the person with whom you’re touring the galleries, maybe even yourself’.

So I’m thinking about my own behaviour in Connected Courses, and reflecting on how much I slow down for, and how deeply I’m engaging with thematic offerings. Of course, we don’t always have the luxury of unlimited time when we’re all juggling #ccourses with work and life, but it’s good to stop and reflect.

As a teacher librarian I’m like a squirrel gathering the goodies and adding to the stockpile so that I can curate best quality resources across the curriculum, or provide teachers with exactly what they want at point of need. But finding resources is only one part of my job, and I’m convinced that ‘connecting with the art’  in a way that enables me to connect with myself – metaphorically speaking – will benefit the teachers and students whose learning and teaching I support.

When Professor Pawelski asks his students to spend 20 minutes in front of a single painting,  he is confident that they will actually begin to be able to see what they’re looking at. The article also includes an interesting anecdote about Dr Julie Haizlip, a scientist and self-described left-brain thinker, who was a little skeptical about this exercise, and who confessed that she ‘had never spent 20 minutes looking at a work of art and prefers Keith Haring, Andy Warhol and Jackson Pollock to Matisse, Rousseau and Picasso’. ‘Rather than check master works off a list as if on a scavenger hunt’, the exercise aimed at finding an art work that resonated with her on a personal level.

At first nothing grabbed her attention but eventually ‘she spotted a beautiful, melancholy woman with red hair like her own. It was Toulouse-Lautrec’s painting of a prostitute, “A-Montrouge” — Rosa La Rouge.’

Source: Wikimedia

“I was trying to figure out why she had such a severe look on her face,” said Dr. Haizlip. As the minutes passed, Dr. Haizlip found herself mentally writing the woman’s story, imagining that she felt trapped and unhappy — yet determined. Over her shoulder, Toulouse-Lautrec had painted a window. “There’s an escape,” Dr. Haizlip thought. “You just have to turn around and see it.”

“I was actually projecting a lot of me and what was going on in my life at that moment into that painting,” she continued. “It ended up being a moment of self-discovery.”

Dr. Haizlip had been looking for some kind of change in her professional life but wasn’t sure what. Three months after looking at the painting, she changed her practice, accepting a different position.  She said:

“There really was a window behind me that I don’t know I would have seen had I not started looking at things differently.”

We have so many interwoven responses to the weekly themes in Connected Courses – so many wonderful perspectives, and so many engaging conversations, so many ‘aha’ moments. The value of the course is the community: the human interaction.  It really isn’t  about the content as much as the energy and elucidation which comes from connections within the cohort. It’s messy, and it’s frustrating – because we can’t capture everything or follow something to its neat conclusion – but it’s exhilarating. But if we don’t stay long enough in a post, article or webinar, if we don’t grow the personal connections, we’ll miss the meaning that is ours. Reading other’s reflections is not the same as looking for our own.

And while I secretly want to read everything (and capture it forever in my carefully crafted bookmarks and boards), I know that I need to let go of wanting the whole lot in order to focus more deeply on what speaks to me, and stay for a while, playing with others in that space.

Might you miss some other works by narrowing your focus? Perhaps. But (as Professor Pawelski put it), sometimes you get more for the price of admission by opting to see less.

Vilhelm Hammershøi - interior, young woman seen from behind (1904)

The issue of trust in open networks #ccourses

Photo source: George Balanchine’s Apollo – David Ingram & Traci Gilchrest – photo by Peter Zay


It’s such a vast concept. Galactic even.

Unit 2 of Connected Courses raised these questions:

In the quantum learning space where interest is a key driver, how do we employ the same dynamics in our teaching? Or, how do we leverage the power of open? How do we maintain trust and a sense of security in open networks? How do we build our networks? What is social capital? How do we enable at-large learners to engage in our courses? Where should we teach our classes?

I started my pre-thinking by focusing on ‘trust’ as a general concept in my own understanding.

My reflections over the last week or so have been fuzzy, but now I think it’s time to attempt some kind of personal definition of trust in open networks, especially if I’m advocating these spaces to teachers.

Trust – we can talk about this from so many perspectives.

One of the difficulties of trusting in people you connect with online is the problem of not seeing them face to face, or not hearing what they have to say on a regular basis as we would with people we work with daily. I think we read visual clues about people without even thinking about it, even though some of our assumptions are not always based on scientific observation.

It’s also very difficult to read tone in text. You don’t always know for sure if people genuinely mean what they say, or if they are saying what you think they mean. This relates to people you know well in real life too. I go in and out of being sure that I know where people are coming from, especially online, and that’s part of the whole trust issue in open networks.

I usually stay away from self promoters while being aware that I may be coming across as one myself. I suppose I keep some sort of distance from people who don’t give back, that is, share things others have said without giving something themselves. This is not trust with a capital T: you don’t fear these people but you might not want them in your inner circle.

So, to state the obvious, to trust someone you have to know them to some degree. Trust is knowing someone well enough to make a judgement that they are someone you are willing to interact with.

Having said that, I ask a question: how do you know someone online?There is no simple answer, and I still don’t know. Maybe I rely on instinct?

Perhaps I warm to people who have similar interests? I’m in awe of people who have superior or expert knowledge, and so I trust them enough to learn from them. I think trust requires an openness, and a transparency, so that I can peek inside the person a little.

Who do I trust to be in my inner circle? (Haha, inner circle sounds very mystical and elitist). How can I trust that what they share is credible? Of course, it’s up to us to evaluate what others post online but I think that once you have a clear picture of their background and credentials, you can trust their shared knowledge. That’s why it’s important to provide a reference point for people in the form of a short biography, blog(s), Twitter handle, Google+ profile or similar.

So, turning the issue of trust around to me –

How can people trust that what I share with them is good quality and worth looking at?

This is a very important professional question for me: How can I build my trust as a teacher librarian who regularly shares online resources? Trust is at the core of everything that I do, and it’s been instrumental in the way I have developed my digital profile. I’ve made myself transparent online, which means interested people can check my bio, blogs, google+, twitter, etc.

My personal professional blog hopefully shows I’m serious about education. I’ve provided opportunities for people to contact me if they want dialogue through email and comments in many of my networks. When I share educational resources, I’m open to talk to teachers if they have any queries.

Why do we want to be trusted online? Some people might think it a strange question. They might think it’s nobody’s business but their own who they are even if they have an online profile. What if people want to be on Facebook, for example, so that they can see what their friends are up to but don’t want to reveal much of themselves?

I think that what you gain from a connected community will determine how much you get from it. To be accepted and considered a valuable participant requires trust, and then a continued demonstration that you can be trusted, for example, to behave respectfully, not to take over at the expense of community balance, to listen as well as contributing, to make an effort to contribute as well as taking from others.

It’s important to be yourself, to add value to the community, to share your unique perspective. If I’m hoping to be accepted as a valuable member of a community, people should be able to trust that I won’t be lazy and just piggy-back others. That is to say, it’s okay for me to retweet and share others’ stuff because I’m in awe of it or excited about it and want to share with others, but I also need to balance that out with my own contribution – and often that just means sharing my unique perspective on things.

From my observations, the best connected networks consist of people who are not afraid to be themselves, who push past the platitudes that sometimes make sameness in online communities undesirable or boring.


Yes, I admit, I’m guilty of being lazy sometimes, of sharing of others’ resources without the value added comments, and I will try to add value each time with my own perspective, by sharing Diigo annotations, adding my perspective to retweets (although word restriction!), doing the hard work of research and deeper reading to get to the deeper observations which add to the group’s understanding.

Some people might say, I don’t have anything to add that is unique, and to these people I would say:

Trust in yourself. You do have something to add that is unique, and this enables you to become someone real online. In my interaction with people through Connected Courses, I would say there are many people who exemplify this online. Maha Bali stands out for me through her open, encouraging and accepting online interaction, but there are also many others.

Lastly, I think that trust goes hand in hand with being interesting.

Everyone is interesting because there is something about all of us which is unique and which others may be interested in, but it’s important to bring that part of yourself out. I connect with people online who give a little extra detail about themselves because it enables me to picture them eg playing an instrument, cycling, getting worked up about something they care about. Sometimes photos are useful in providing a little window into ourselves. Howard Rheingold gives us many insights into his life and his interests through photos. Of course, it’s up to you how much you want to share about yourself beyond the educational context. I could trust someone online and interact for the purposes of educational exchange but they don’t become real for me until they paint a little more about themselves.

But that’s another thing to think about in another post.