Tag Archives: learning

Rethinking the value of technology in learning and teaching (and my own role as advocate)

Found on Pinterest – saved from Fiverr

It occurred to me last year, during a ‘lesson’ I was permitted to give to a year 9 English class, that I had marginalised myself as a ‘technology person’. ‘Permitted’ because TLs need to approach teachers for permission to interrupt their class if we want to buy time with students. To do this we need to have a sales pitch, to convince the teacher that what we are going to teach is valuable. Not just valuable, because why would you allow your class to be interrupted if it wasn’t for something that ‘better be worth it’.  And suddenly I realised that I was focusing on the sales pitch to justify my existence as a teacher, to justify the ‘teacher’ in my title ‘teacher librarian’. While pushing to be a relevant, valuable part of learning and teaching at school, somehow I’d become the person who pushed her way in to classes to feature a technology tool.

That lesson didn’t work so well because, although the tool (Thinglink) worked for me, it was blocked for the students – something I should have checked (because the same scenario had taken place so many times over the years, you’d think I’d remember to check). And although the teacher was patient and gave my tech tool the benefit of the doubt, it didn’t end up being the ‘enhanced learning tool’ that I had envisaged. She moved on, and I stayed to witness much more authentic learning and teaching which occurred in a traditional setting, without the aid of technology.

This wasn’t the first time I’d been forced to rethink the value of pushing technology tools but it was the first time I had realised that I didn’t want to be associated with ‘the person who always pushed technology’ or believed in technology as the saviour of 21st century learning and teaching . Rather, I wanted to be in an integral part of teaching and learning in the classroom, I wanted an organic partnership with the teacher, trusting in and respecting her teaching expertise and instincts, and coming in from behind to support and enhance the direction she was taking.

Just today I was tagged in a tweet by Geoffrey Gevalt to join Digiwrimo with my students – an event which is run by the Young Writers Project. This is an opportunity to connect with other writers and so is an example of technology enabling, connecting and enhancing:

We at YWP define digital writing as writing done in digital spaces — often with digital media — that is interconnected by social media and different external audiences.

Unfortunately for us in the southern hemisphere November is the time for end of year exams, and so we miss this opportunity. Neverthless I’ve shared this invitation with students in my Writing Interest Group (WIG), hoping that even one student might take the opportunity to connect to a global writing community.

This is not an instance of technology being an add-on, or even an instance of online learning  where traditional teaching and learning are transferred online just as they are. Digiwrimo connects writers globally and celebrates writing through a community of writers sharing and giving feedback . Although our exam- and VCE-focused curriculum makes it difficult to take up such opportunities, something like this might engage students in a way that writing for submission and marks would not. I believe so anyway.

What is digital writing? (from the Digiwrimo website):

The internet has changed writing. Today, there are more people writing every day — e-mails, text messages, blog posts — and more self-published authors than ever before. Written communication is popular in a way it hasn’t been in a century, and everyone’s doing it. But unlike when writing between two people was quiet and private, much of today’s writing is loud and public, connected through a web of hyperlinks to every other piece of writing out there. With the old masters like Shakespeare, Milton, Melville, Hemingway, and Shelley being translated into code and uploaded onto the web, your blog posts exist right alongside their greatest works.

The school I dream about will shift its focus from prescribed curriculum, outcomes, targets, exams and preparation for exams, but retain and intensify the wonderful teaching I see in classes at my school, with time for deep discussions. Students will have the time to share their writing/work with their colleagues, discuss and give/receive feedback, but also be able to connect to other learners/writers outside the classroom and beyond the school. Technology will be the enhancer/connector but never the forced add-on, never the one-size-fits-all LMS; it will be a connection even as the old-fashioned phone connects voices.

The internet allows us to communicate through our text in new ways; it frees us to join our words with others’, to innovate, and to let our words become our actions. We can live spontaneously through our words, or vicariously, or cooperatively. Our words can form communities, can take a stand, can create at the same time as we create them. (What is digital writing?)

Recently I shared a poem a student had posted in our WIG blog, Unicorn Express. I shared with people and groups I’m connected to on different social media platforms. The post was written by a past WIG member (co-captain). How wonderful that the year 12 student who is no longer part of this group (because of the pressures of year 12) is moved to share something he’s written (and how lovely that he’s found the time to write for himself amidst the final exam preparation).

I was moved by my online buddy, Kevin Hodgson, who not only took the time to read my student’s writing, but commented to encourage the student, and then pulled out words that spoke to him, created a ‘poster’ and then shared it online with me and his own network. This is the human element enhancing the solitary writing experience, this is one of the best examples of the potential of technology.

In conclusion, I’d like to finish with a tweet I just read from Maha Bali:

Saying that any digital tool teaches us digital literacies is like saying a pen or a keyboard teaches us writing. #DigPed #OpenEd16

Amen

Do learners need teachers? A reflection

Last year one of our teachers, at that time an assistant principal, surveyed some of our senior students about how they learn, who they learn from, and the role of their teachers in their learning.

His survey, in a nutshell, demonstrated that ‘they don’t need us’. They have their tutors and they come to class but do not participate in class discussion because they don’t want to admit they are tutored and in some cases far ahead.  Not all students, but a large number of them.

So I wonder why, after being accepted into the much-coveted selective Melbourne High School,  they continue to be tutored. Isn’t this a lack of confidence in their teachers? Where does most of their learning take place?

Our students are competitive; in many cases they choose their tutor – the one who apparently ‘will get them a 50′. There is no self-directed learning in this relationship – they believe tutors will somehow get them the final ranking they aspire to. There is an implied process that, if followed and supported by the experienced tutor, will result in a top mark. These students are tutor-focused; I see how often they talk to their tutor on their phones in the library during their study periods. I guess they would be chatting to them even more frequently after school hours.

While they are focusing on their tutored work – occasionally even asking their teachers to help them with work their tutors have set -something else happens – it is the absence of these students from class. Students are sometimes physically and/or mentally absent from class because they don’t value a particular subject as much as other subjects, or they are in the library studying for their most important subjects. From year 9 onwards, students sometimes have already decided which subjects they will select in VCE  and which are not part of that plan.

Teachers are frustrated by absences, students’ failure to do assignments and homework, or lack of engagement when this happens. And with good reason; they have prepared interesting, engaging lessons and have much to give to their students. Focusing on more than marks, teachers try to engage their students in the learning itself, and that kind of learning takes shape in passionate collaborative conversations, healthy debate, critical thinking and reflection, deep reading and a writing process which evolves after feedback and review.

We talk about lifelong learning. In my conversation with teachers at school, I guess that our teachers realise that our students need to drive their own learning so that they prepared for higher education and life. I’m not sure, though, if our school system is designed to prepare them for this. I’m also not sure that our boys’ parents understand how much more important this is than helping them achieve the highest ATAR. I probably fell into that category myself when my two sons were at school. I understood the value of lifelong learning but was more concerned that their final VCE ranking enabled them to get into their preferred courses.  I may have thought that learning habits would fall into place once they got into their preferred tertiary courses. Maybe the two don’t play well together  – working for the high ATAR and delving into deeper learning and developing literacies. After all, in our school at least, the quest for the gold ATAR begins when the students arrive in year 9.

Lifelong learning. Funny how these catch-phrases somehow become meaningless. We know what the term means but I wonder if we are tied up with abstract notions more than getting our hands dirty.

I was reading Audrey Watters’ article, ‘Roaming Autodidacts and Entrepreneurial (L)Earners: The stories we tell about lifelong learning.’

In general, Americans do believe that lifelong learning is important, so it’s not that surprising that hyperbolic narratives about the future of learning are appealing to us.

‘Hyperbolic narratives’  – yes, I’ve fallen for these. They are so uplifting – temporarily – but they don’t always fit into the everyday reality in schools/higher education. As we constantly rewrite curriculum, exchanging definitions over the years to come back full circle, do we really have the time to build a deep understanding of the terms in our curriculum mapping and policies? Is all the rewriting and re-defining as useful as it could be or should we just get on with the business of teaching? And if so, could teachers spend more time engaging  students in the learning that inspired them in the first place, the learning that was responsible for them becoming teachers – than preparing them for exams and marking all their work?

 

Doing the #twistedpair with teaching colleagues – taking a risk!

Flickr photo by Anktangle

As part of a couple of professional exchange days, I decided to use Steve Wheeler’s #twistedpair idea to invite my colleagues to write. When I say ‘I decided’, I mean I spent several weeks agonising over whether to do something safe or take a risk with the #twistedpair. See this post for the history. Finally I decided to take a risk and go with the writing session although I was convinced that nobody would choose my session over the other, more obviously traditional, professional development sessions.

I promised Steve that I’d report and here it is. I actually had 10 teachers come to my session (with 3 other choices). It was so much fun! With the changeover from the previous session, we actually only had 10 minutes to write after a shortish explanation with examples of #twistedpairs to get people going. We all shared; that was the best part.

Some people were happy for me to share their #twistedpairs (some in the early thinking stages due to time limit):

Professor Dumbledore and Frida Kahlo (group effort by 2 Art teachers) –

  • They are both larger than life
  • They both command an audience
  • They both express themselves through their clothing
  • Big picture philosophy
  • They have an intimidating presence yet they draw people to them at the same time
  • They are both story tellers
  • They are both very open-minded
  • They are both risk takers

Thanks Vanja and Mihaela!1

Joan (English and Performing Arts) wrote about how Ken Robinson and Doris Day inspire her:

Ken Robinson is someone who inspires me because he talks about creativity being central to education. His books The Element and Out Of Our Minds made me shout out loud as I read each new idea on the page. “Yes, I agree with that!’ or “Yes, that’s what I think/do in my classes!”

Doris Day also made me shout – I played Calamity Jane in year 12 and the musical was about a mix of love and feminism. As the character of Calam I got to explore ideas relating to feminism, I was in my ‘element’ as described by Ken Robinson, singing, acting, thinking and discovering things about myself and the world. The song that encapsulates all these things for me had the line about ‘my secret love, not being secret anymore’. “Now I shout it from the highest hill.”

We also heard about how Florence Nightingale and Nike worked as inspirational #twistedpairs for Jenny. We heard about Josh Thomas and Michael Long.  Some #twistedpairs I’ve forgotten because I didn’t force people to hand over their writing.

Alex is happy to share what she wrote:

Here Emily Bronte converses with William Shakespeare.

EB: I want to ask you whether you travelled to all the places that you wrote about. Italy, Africa and India.

WS: No but I was a robber of tales tall and true from the sailors at the docks.

EB: I live in a parsonage in a tiny village. I can’t move beyond my own footprints nor can I escape the influence of my family.

WS: Well of course you are a woman, and remember ‘your name is frailty’, you aren’t to be trusted in the world beyond your father’s house and will always need to be protected from ‘ the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune ‘.

(Excuse me for quoting my own work, but then again, on one else has ever come close)

EB: Too true, by your reckoning and insistence.  I have been gazing into the world of the human heart, having neither knowledge nor opportunity for experience I have had only human behavior as a model. What else might I have written if I had seen the world?

WS: Too many of your Victorian novels have remained in drawing rooms.  Even men were too bound by their own watch chains to look outside. At least you did examine the human heart.

EB: And you were excited by the prospect of defeating Spain and conquering the world. The age of exploration was dawning.

WS: Yet you Victorians in your plump complacency had conquered, but still you didn’t understand. You believed that you were the pinnacle of human civilization and the apex of intellectual life. That no one else could write or rule as well as you could.

Themes: feminism, gendered discourse, colonialism

Motivation: Looking at the contrast in political, social and economic contexts from the epochs represented by these two writers. More of a disciplinary focus, stimulated by the change in VCE Study Design and the introduction of a comparative essay for Year 11 next year.

Thank you for taking a risk with my session. I think we had fun. I learned a lot from all of you. In particular that I am blessed to be amongst intelligent, creative and talented people. I wish the students would see this side of you more often.

If you’re interested in reading what other people have done with #twistedpair see this list.

 

 

Why not #twistedpair for professional exchange?

I’ve mentioned my idea of using Steve Wheeler’s #twistedpair to inspire writing for a professional exchange session at school. I figure teachers are always attending PD which teaches them how to teach or how to use new technology in their teaching. What about just doing something instead of learning how to teach it? Why not? Just an enjoyable session being challenged to write something creative. Steve’s #twistedpair seems perfect. So here’s the slideshow introducing the session. (I hope someone comes to my session. Please come. Yes, I realise it might be threatening.)

Thank you to people whose examples of #twistedpairs helped me explain the challenge in this slideshow.

Creativity for learning in higher education

It seems I don’t know my place.

Again I’m sneaking into an online course designed for educators in higher education. ButSandra Sinfield, Senior Lecturer in Education and Learning Development, LondonMet @danceswithcloud, one of the Open Course team, said it was okay, so I’m doing it.

The course is called Creativity for learning in higher education and I’m not sure exactly what to expect but I like the idea of creativity in education and I’m also interested in working with people online around the topic.

Within this course, enablers and barriers to creativity in higher education will be explored, together with related pedagogical theory and literature. Participants will experience learning through play, games, models and stories and will actively experiment with such approaches. This will help them further develop their understanding, knowledge, skills and practices in these areas. Students will be able to critically reflect on their practice and identify opportunities to design, implement and evaluate an imaginative and creative innovation that fosters curiosity, and maximises meaningful active engagement and discovery learning.

I particularly like this sentence:

“Participants will experience learning through play, games, models and stories and will actively experiment with such approaches.”

Sounds like fun.

Outcomes are good too:

On successful completion of this open course, students will be able to:

  1. Critically discuss creative teaching and teaching for student creativity, as a driver for student engagement and learning in their own professional context.

2. Develop and implement an innovation in their own practice and appreciate how their own creativity was involved in the development and implementation process

3. Critically evaluate their innovation.

4. Appreciate and recognise unanticipated outcomes that cannot be predicted in advance.

The open course will incorporate the following themes:

  • Conceptualising creativity in higher education
  • Enablers and barriers of creativity in higher education
  • Learning through play, games, models and stories
  • The role of curiosity and other intrinsic motivations for engagement
  • Developing creative methods and practices
  • Evaluating a pedagogical innovation

The course is part of P2PU.

The Peer 2 Peer University is a grassroots open education project that organizes learning outside of institutional walls and gives learners recognition for their achievements. P2PU creates a model for lifelong learning alongside traditional formal higher education. Leveraging the internet and educational materials openly available online, P2PU enables high-quality low-cost education opportunities.

Let’s go! Trust me to join another online course in the last few days of my term break.

Imagine never being born again. Mike Wesch reminds us why we are teachers.

Mike Wesch can easily collapse your constructed view of learning and teaching to clear a path for a clear vision of what’s essential.  Watch the video below.

Click on “The Syllabus” link below to see Mike’s trailer for his upcoming course. Dr Michael Wesch is Associate Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Kansas State University.

The SyllabusI got so excited about my new syllabus that I decided to create a “trailer” for it. Here’s how I introduced it on the first day of class. For more information about how I created my new syllabus, check out http://myteachingnotebook.com/index.php/2015/08/28/rethinking-the-syllabus/

Posted by Michael Wesch on Friday, 28 August 2015

How can I sign up for Mike’s class!

As Mike Wesch says at the beginning of his video, “we create our tools and then our tools create us.”

In a way the curriculum is a tool. It’s a carefully constructed document, a program, a set of criteria and outcomes designed to capture what we want our students to learn and how we should teach this.

The intention is good but what about the outcome? As a tool that is meant to guide us and ensure that we address all the aspects of our subject areas, has it in fact shaped us, and what does this mean?

Are we slaves to a once living conversation and collaborative debate about learning and teaching that educators felt passionate about – now a dry document with boxes to tick and outcomes to begrudgingly limit our teaching to?

Are we imprisoned in a cocoon which prevents us from evolving to our natural and more colourful role as teachers who directly pass on passion and excitement to students, freed from predetermined outcomes which prevent each student to follow his/her learning path as if it were the first time anyone had experienced this journey?

Does our curriculum leave us, as educators, with our hands tied, and thus prevented from being who we could be for students – experts and learners ourselves who can inspire our young people to be fully involved in their own learning journey?

Weren’t we once totally besotted with our subject areas, passionate about learning within our chosen fields?

Do we even have the time and head space to keep  learning, that is, to keep the flame burning in ourselves?

Think about it: how has the curriculum, as a tool, created us as educators? How has it shaped our behaviours in the classroom and affected the way we teach?

What has become of schooling?

School, like college, should really be about ‘learning all kinds of stuff so that the world comes alive’. Let’s keep that at the forefront of the way we teach kids.

Makerspace reflections

The humble beginnings of our makerspace in the library – a collaborative effort between Steve Draper, Evan Watkins, Pam Saunders and me – have got me thinking about alternative learning spaces other than the traditional classroom, eg student-driven learning, passion-driven learning and hands-on, collaborative learning. 

Much has been written about the importance of tinkering, play and unstructured learning which takes problem-solving, collaborative learning and risk-taking into an unthreatening space. Although we obviously can’t throw out what we do in the classroom in favour of hands-on, unstructured activity, I’m still convinced that a conversation about this kind of learning will be valuable. Of course, students in the visual and performing arts do it all the time. And don’t get me started on that; we should try to understand the value of the Arts for the playing out of the learning process, and not just look at it with the career as end point. 

 

Updating the makerspace activity. LittleBits have brought different groups of students throughout the day. We could do without the little horn but never mind.

The conversation coming from a group of students tinkering away is an interesting one. I’ve been thinking about the difference between this space and its offered activities and the traditional classroom. The boxes of bits and pieces catches the attention of passing students who might come and see what it’s about. You can almost hear the cogs whirring in the brain as fingers turn bits around to make sense of how each bit works. A relaxed conversation follows, with questioning and ‘what ifs’ going in any direction, free from the confines of predetermined outcomes. The students own the activity. They choose how they stay, whether or not they read the manual.

Experimentation does not involve high-stakes risks. Right and wrong hold no judgement; it’s just a matter of trying a different way if it doesn’t work the first time. And there’s always someone to ask if you’re stuck.

There’s an element of mindfulness here; the activity relaxes as it engages. There is potential to bring together students who have not come together before. And most of all it’s a happy space.

Can we envision this kind of space for a classroom?

Educators Across Contexts (EdContexts) – Google hangout conversations

Thanks to Maha Bali for inviting me to take part in a webinar conversation about connected learning and contexts. Maha is one of my first MOOC friends when I jumped in last year, and she is the most generous and wide-reaching person.  It was great to meet everyone and chat about contexts in learning – just scratch the surface really –  great to meet new people, and talk to people I’ve known from online networks face to face (so to speak) for the first time eg Maha, Simon and Tanya (who’s from Sydney). Together we represented many contexts across geographical, cultural, linguistic and professional borders.

Of course, all participants are part of connected learning networks which can be discovered through their links below:

  • Maha Bali (host) – Associate Professor of Practice at the Center for Learning & Teaching at the American University in Cairo (AUC), located in Cairo, Egypt
  • Shyam Sharma (host) – Assistant Professor of writing and rhetoric at Stony Brook University in Stony Brook, NY
  • Asao B. Inoue – Director of University Writing, Associate Professor, Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, University of Washington-Tacoma
  • Tanya Lau – eLearning Instructional Designer from Sydney, Australia
  • Tania Sheko – Teacher Librarian at a 9-12 secondary boys’ school in Melbourne, Australia
  • Simon Ensor – English teacher at the Université Blaise Pascal Clermont Ferrand in France

Lenandlar Singh was unfortunately unable to attend. His list of conference papers indicate he would have been a fantastic addition to the conversation.

Shyam and Maha were hosting and did a great job despite technical issues and Maha’s daughter waking, and thanks to  Liana for her excellent support as we all connected to the hangout. I know Terry Elliott was watching and tweeting and I know that others were too, asking questions in the #clmooc and #connectedlearning Twitter spaces.

The video and storify (summary of related tweets) is available on the Connected Learning website as well as additional links and resources shared by participants.

I discovered that one of our French teachers comes from where Simon is located – Clermont Ferrand. She is very excited about that and would like to make contact with him. We are thinking it would be fun to connect our students in way similar to the way he already does through CLAVIER.

 

Shake, rattle and remix, then repeat. The outpouring of creativity in #clmooc when people play

As Terry posted in his blog, one thing led to another and it happened very quickly. Click on the larger image to see how it started. Terry explains it all.

 

This is Terry Elliott‘s annotation of the interaction between a few of us on Twitter. Yes, an annotation, that’s what I said.

I’ve written it out in linear fashion in case it’s difficult to read from this image.

And very soon Kevin Hodgson was in:

and then Terry played his hand

and back to Kevin

and Terry

Kevin again

Sometimes the comments section of a blog is vital to further annotation. In this case definitely. So following this series of remixes in Kevin’s post, Terry said the following:

What you have documented is connected learning and what Nick Sousanis refers to as unflattening. The messification of the world by increasing “parallax”. My whole argument in the original comic (and I do think of it as a comic) was that reciprocation was one of the requisite initial conditions for any of the connected learning principles and values. What happened yesterday was proof in practice. What I especially liked was that the rising complexity came from the initial conditions of reciprocity just like chaos theory tells us it does. Our web pages are flat but world they live in is multidimensional across time. Or as Sousanis says, upward and downwards not just north,south,east,and west. We’re not in Flatland anymore, Kevin.

Kevin answered with a summary of what he was trying to do, some reflection and a question:

In the post, I tried to purposefully leave out context and let the visual happen. I imagine some will say, “Say, Huh?” when they see it and wonder about the ping-pong effect. I had hoped others might join in but maybe the pace of the shuttling back and forth between media intimidated others. Or maybe it was Sunday and the folks were offline, unplugged. Or maybe they did not have the context for engaging in a media practice that surfaces connected learning. Surely, it was messification.
I’d like to squabble a bit about whether your initial image is a comic or not. It seems more flowcharty to me. But your push to have it viewed as a comic is what had me do the first iteration, in the comic maker. Looking at your first piece, it seems more of a flowchart, pushing things along. But when you called it a “comic,” I looked for panels … and gutters (see later joke) … and shout-out balloons … and characters … but I wonder if we need all that? How defined must our definitions of comics be?
Why did you call it a comic?
Curiouser and curiouser …

Terry again:

Panels, page, comic grammar (albeit spiral with numbers and arrows to help show movement), tweets as dialogue callouts, and a narrative with lots of characters. I think we can call a tweet an identity with a speech bubble without much of a stretch. And the rhetoric is visual not paragraphs although it gets paragraphy at the end. And the idea is, like Sousanis often shows an overall visual metaphor that supports the ideas in the panel–in this case a spiral.

and Kevin

Ok … I get your thinking …. working in a spiral … strike!

I wanted to play but didn’t know how. Terry and Kevin told me they used Snagit but I discovered that it cost quite a bit, and told them so in the following comment:

You two are brilliant. And this is great – the comic battle which happened so fast and now the articulation in the comments section. The reason I didn’t join in is because I’m not as adept at the technical side. Lots of ideas but need time to learn new making skills. Wasn’t prepared to pay $68 for Snagit. I think if my technical/making skills were improved I’d be able to capture the concepts that fly around in my head. Thank you for being brilliant!

In the next couple of comments Terry and Kevin expressed their commitment to inclusiveness in online courses:

This is where danger can creep in … leaving people out who want an entry way in but can’t find the door … Terry and I were building on past experiences via CLMOOC, Rhizowhatever, and more … and could riff … but were others feeling invited in? I know his initial invite was inclusive .. but once I responded, did the world tilt in only one direction?
No need for real answers to those questions … but this is what sits at the back of my mind (it’s a crowded place some days)
Thanks for taking the time to join the conversation here
Kevin

The only way is to help Tania play the game. The repertoire is not that extensive to get in the game. I think the attitude of play is the one that gets folks hung up. I felt very bad to exclude anyone. No like. Want more messiness in the mix. Want more mix. Gotta get Tania into the game.

And my reply

Ha ha! I will not be defeated by lack of technology. I have 2 and a half offerings. One is a sauce (reduction).

 

I did a poor version of blackout poetry using a printed copy of one of the remixes. Considering it was late on a school night and the lights interfered with the ipad photo of the printout, it’s surprising anyone can make out anything. Still, I thought, if technology isn’t working for me, I’ll just move across to another possibility.

Then I had a crazy idea: I asked my son (music student) to take a look at the remixed content and, based on the feeling he got from the look of it all, compose something quickly. He (Maxim) said:

What – now?

And I’m like: Oh yes, just something quick, whatever inspires you after looking at these comics. A kind of musical paragraph. And he did. Within 20 minutes I could share his Soundcloud link to a midi version (which he said might suit the comic style more) and the version with Sibelius sounds.  If you look at that one you can see the comments Terry and Kevin have made which are visible in the music itself – very cool.

At this point I went to bed. It was late but I had to force myself to sleep because the creative exchange was so invigorating. In the morning I saw Terry’s remix of Maxim’s audio file.

Terry tweeted it out, saying: Wanted more pinbally busy-ness so I layered maxim soundtracks n2 Popcornmaker–remix?

 

Well, guess who couldn’t resist the remix? Here’s Kevin’s version, rich with imagery: For Maxim it was a new experience because he assumed music he whipped up would be of no value, and there it was, being listened to and commented on. But wait, there’s more! I also shared the score which was remixed immediately!

The river does not run dry for some people! This could go on and on. In fact, when I tried to explain the whole thing to friends I kept starting somewhere and then saying – no, I’ve got to go back a bit – and then kept going back and back through the rabbit hole. Backwards through the rabbit hole like pressing rewind. Exhilarating. I hope that this documentation is not too confusing, and that it has captured some of that outpouring of creative makes and remixes, that joy which comes from adding another layer, playfully hacking and not knowing when to stop.

 

 

 

PLN? Unconference? Virtual learning

Maha Bali’s excellent article entitled Living the Unconference Life – a Form of Praxis?  has me nodding and highlighting like a crazy woman. In fact I may as well jump straight into the disclaimer that I’ll be quoting her extensively in this post while I tease out some of my own experiences in unconference-like practices.

What are the differences between traditional conferences and less structured, more informal opportunities for professional development – unconferences?

What might we get from a traditional conference?  Maha mentions “gaining visibility through presenting or discussing our work, receiving feedback, meeting people outside of conference sessions and jotting down contact details for further contact.” But, as she says, once the conference is over, that’s basically the end of it.

Whereas unconferences are “all about connectivism, and I’m going to suggest this lifestyle is a form of praxis.”

A form of praxis.

Maha said it, and I’ve also been more and more convinced about this, but more from me later.

Maha identifies some of the special things about unconferences:

  • the opportunity to get up close and personal with some of the speakers you admire and would not normally get a chance to talk to
  • a chance for everyone to feel like they can contribute to everyone else’s learning
  • a chance for people to set their own agenda
  • a chance for people to take that agenda where they wish
  • break-down of the traditional conference hierarchy
  • a chance to encourage the agency of participants without the feeling they will be evaluated (in the same way as contributing by submitting a paper and running a session)

Maha mixes everything up.  And why not if it improves learning experiences? She talks about the time she implemented an unconference in a formal workshop within a conference and in a faculty development event and observed the following:

  • the energy in the room soars
  • people feel they can share their learning in a relatively egalitarian atmosphere
  • everyone is learning from everyone else about topics they are interested in
  • people are creating their own agenda instead of following someone else’s
  • it’s high impact learning in a very short time frame

So what does it mean to live the unconference life? Maha identifies social media and connectivist MOOCs as central to this kind of life. The PLN (personal learning network) is another way of doing similar things –  seeing what the people you are connected to are discussing, jumping into their hashtagged conversations, following conferences on Twitter, reading what they’ve shared about conferences in their blogs. This is the kind of learning which has, for years now, directed my learning and nourished my need to connect to people interested in ongoing conversations, and I am one of so many others. Unlike conferences, this kind of learning is continuous and through it we get to know people better over time. It gives us the opportunity to build our understanding of things with people, it exposes us to the diversity of their thoughts and expands our own knowledge.

Maha and I have something in common. We want to be involved in so many conferences but are geographically disadvantaged – she’s in Cairo, Egypt, I’m in Melbourne, Australia. Maha also has a young child but this doesn’t stop her from being arguably the most engaged person in the conference/MOOC world. She’s there in the hashtagged Twitter discussions, in the Google Hangouts, in the Facebook groups, and recently she took her involvement to a new level by experiencing conferences virtually through a buddy.  Alan Levine also wrote a great post about the conference buddy experience.

I do attend local conferences and live events, I love getting out and seeing other schools and school libraries, and talking to people about what they do. But on a daily basis my PLN and unconferencing life feeds my personal and professional need to learn and keep learning from people. Like Maha has stated, so much of value feeds directly into my practice as a teacher librarian. It feeds, it stimulates, expands, challenges and keeps on doing these things daily. You might say I can’t live without it – couldn’t imagine living without it.

Is it just an internal thing? I don’t believe it is. Maha realises the same thing:

But I realized something. Praxis is about the thoughtful, reflective action that we take, not just the action. And I realized something really important: we take action  every day in our lives. But it may not be thoughtful or reflective. And here’s what connectivist MOOCs and engaging with other educators on social media has done for me: it has made me constantly reflective. People often talk about social media as a form of information overload, as hyper alertness, as attention deficit, and it gets described as if it’s a superficial kind of engagement.  This has not been my experience. When we engage with social media in thoughtful ways, when we interact with others with similar interests, and open our minds to engaging with each other’s ideas and practice deeply, we’re helping make our day-to-day action a form of praxis, because we are constantly reflecting on it with others.

I looked up praxis on Wikipedia for a quick summary:

Praxis is the process by which a theory, lesson, or skill is enacted, embodied, or realised. “Praxis” may also refer to the act of engaging, applying, exercising, realizing, or practicing ideas. This has been a recurrent topic in the field of philosophy, discussed in the writings of Plato, Aristotle, St. Augustine, Immanuel Kant, Søren Kierkegaard, Karl Marx, Martin Heidegger, Hannah Arendt, Paulo Freire, Ludwig von Mises, and many others.

I agree with Maha that this constant engagement and reflection makes us lifelong learners in the truest sense and that my life, too, has become one continuous and wonderful unconference.

I suppose that this kind of learning started with the creation of my blog, Brave New World, in May of 2008, and my leap onto Twitter even before November of 2009 (as stated in my Twitter profile) because I somehow managed to delete my entire Twitter account the first time around and had to start again from scratch. I don’t think I could list all the hashtags I’ve followed on Twitter, but some of the most important ones are associated with communities of people I want to keep learning from and with, for example, #vicpln (started by Judith Way for a specific course and still going strong as a local community hashtag), #austl, #tlchat (both library-related communities). More recently I’ve expanded my online networks to include people taking part in MOOCs such as #ccourses, #moocmooc and #rhizo15.

So my questions is:

How do I show this kind of learning and praxis to my colleagues, to the teachers at my school? It still feels like I’m living a secret life or at least that it’s the invisible alternative life. How do I show others – without being intrusive or condescending (this is great, I know what I’m talking about) that it’s easy to connect to people and events online and that this world is just as real as the external world of work? In fact, in many cases I know more about  people I’m connected to  online than I do of staff at my own school.

How do we change our behaviours in a system that doesn’t change?