What is content? #rhizo15 #week3

Laura Gibbs’ says something heartwarming in her post for Week 3 which is about content. (Dave thinks of the word ‘content’ ‘lonely and disconnected… merging with the learning objective and the assessment to create a world where learning is about acquiring truth from the truth box.’  Laura talks about the #Rhizo15 course :

There are not assigned readings for Rhizo15 as there were in Connected Courses … and that is totally fine with me. It’s the blogs of the other participants that are really alive and important to me for the purposes of the (un)course experience. Yes, CONTENT IS PEOPLE:

Content for #rhizo15 is people and conversations happening, and learning/understanding being constructed in Twitter chats, blog posts, blog comments,etc.

It’s very rich and it draws its own path just as the unheld garden hose comes alive and is a bit wild.

Here’s an example in the form of a Facebook conversation arising from Simon Ensor’s post ‘Does content need a container?’

For #Rhizo15 the content really is the curriculum. But we are educators. No – we are educators who love to learn. No – we are educators who love to learn with each other. Content is people.

Is content people in secondary school? Definitely no. It is predominantly prescribed content delivered to the student by the teacher or assigned to the students through designated sections of a textbook, practised in homework and tested. It is graded, given a percentage, there is a volume that is known and that is assessed.

Is it created? No. Is it constructed? No. Is it shared? Not really, it is given to the teacher to check.

That is sad.

I tried to create an online community for my writing interest group. This is something the students choose to join. It’s not curriculum although the students can get diploma points.

Boys are like ‘how many blog posts do we need to do to get diploma points?’

I’m like ‘are you here for the diploma points?’

So the Facebook group is supposed to be a caring and sharing space far away from the bustle of the bright school lights. I’m thinking my students know how to be on Facebook.  In meetings I’m like ‘so feel free to share what you write, something you’ve read that resonates with you in the Facebook group’.

(On Facebook) They’re like: silence (invisible).

I try not to go on about it. I share stuff, all sorts of stuff, hoping to show them how to do it, trying to be unschooly.

Some of them will ‘like’ but many of those I can see have read (or visited) will not offer any response.

Yes, I know they’re busy but sheesh.

I don’t know what to do. I can’t say ‘every term you must share 3 somethings in the Facebook group or else you don’t get diploma points. You understand why I can’t, yes? But what can I do?

How can I transform content from something cold, solitary and unhuman to something which is embodied?

I’ve written about this before. You can see I’m obsessed with it. Making the shift for these students to the kind of learning they construct together is important, more important than giving them content in a textbook-shaped container.

Content is a shifty word. It can mean different things to different people.

23 thoughts on “What is content? #rhizo15 #week3”

  1. Oh Tania, this hurts! I’m hoping some others have suggestions for how to shift this, within a setting that is oriented towards grading. My daughter just came back from a semester program that challenged students to engage deeply with world issues, but that was at a boarding school that also teaches nonviolent communication and deals with a lot of issues in community meeting, so there’s a lot of “personal is political” context. I remember a teacher pulling me aside for a private chat in 3rd grade, to tell me “it’s not about you” in as caring a way as possible. With a lot of teens, it’s all about them. Starting there and bridging to something else might take a lot of work, or a lot of play.

    1. Thanks, Lisa, I appreciate your feedback and understanding. This is an interest group so theoretically the students should enjoy writing. They seems to enjoy the meetings and mini workshops. These are structured things and whatever they do is within that lunch hour and social. However maybe I’m expecting too much from them to voluntarily do unstructured stuff in their free time (or knowing them – selective school – within their homework time). I suppose I’m hoping they’ll just do it because they enjoy it. Maybe they really don’t have much to say after they read something I’ve shared. It might be the same if we had a discussion. I think we’ve come some of the way with many of them posting pieces on the blog so I should be happy about that.

  2. I wonder if it’s also their own demarcation – of Facebook as a social and non-school space. I struggle with this and started with a work and non-work Facebook & Twitter presence. But, because I’m genuinely personally passionate about my work, I had a dilemma over which account to post on, so now I just carefully accept colleagues into my mostly personal FB space and accept that they are going to see me dressed up going to a medieval fair, or rambling about obscure poetry. 😉 You’ve probably thought of this, but could you try letting the students set up and facilitate the space (on their choice of platform) and tasking them to self-manage and run the discussion group (ie. completely stepping back excepts as a silent witness). It may just have the same result of web tumbleweed blowing around on the plateau, but if there was one student to hook into that idea of leading it, it might ignite something. It’s a hard one though, engagement and hard to assess too.

    1. You’re right, Angela, maybe I should suggest they talk about a platform of their choice and something they set up. Although I have a feeling this will not get off the ground because it’s not official school time – and again, not marked. Marks are such a strong culture in our school, although we do have many interest groups so lots of co-curricular involvement. Not sure, I’ll talk to them about it. Thanks for your ideas.

  3. I feel like the world of social media is tricky and I would feel like adding educational connections (unless a group was designed just for that), would be an intrusion. However, a blog is still a really valuable element. The spaces can be interconnected but more formalized. I agree, the content production part of posting and responding has to be guided and reinforced. I think of Laura Gibbs and her post about assigning writing and teaching writing. We have to show them what a good connection to scholarly learning and response looks like. Otherwise, they will only like things and add only what will earn them their grade. I think the boundaries in social media is something that should be discussed and explored if we are going to deliver and mediate academic conversations on that platform. Fascinating line of thinking.

    1. All good ideas, Ron, thanks. Definitely agree that the content production part of posting and responding has to be guided. Laura has fantastic scaffolding for this in her courses. My situation is different, though, because although I’m the coordinator, the student leaders are supposed to be leading. They’re fantastic but also need help, and I don’t want to leave them to it altogether because they’re very busy at year 11 and also appreciate some help. I suppose I think about the potential of a group which is not tied to marks (even though there are diploma points).

  4. So Tania as always i love ur post. Can i challenge the way ur using facebook? It seems you are modeling sharing of content but not modeling interaction/connection. Maybe u wanna be posting provocative questions following up on something you didn’t have time to talk about f2f? Maybe you ask each week that one person suggests a topic or format for fb interaction? Or even do introductions or social things on it first, build community as you would in class?

    There is the part of invasion of their social space as Angela said BUT since it’s a closed group u get privacy while retaining the “checkability” (as in they’re always checking it) advantage

    1. Thank you, Maha, for your ideas. I’m going to try some of these. If I decide to intervene a bit more I’ll try to organise a topic/theme and allocate students – and I’m in two minds about this because it’s supposed to be student-led (but again this is very unclear). I do think it’s an opportunity for me to encourage community to develop because it’s almost impossible to do it in subject classes where teachers are struggling to get through the curriculum. I think an aspect I haven’t mentioned – and I’m hesitant to do it – is the fact that they are boys, and possibly more introverted than eg boys who pick political or environmental groups. So I’m pushing them to move out of the comfort zone. They are very bright and talented but perhaps not confident with unstructured things like post discussions.

  5. Thanks for this post Tania. Trying to get my head around this content challenge I was also thinking about how content can mean different things to different people. I’m still struggling but this helped.


    1. Thanks, Autumm. I found ‘content’ tricky to talk about. Some of the thinking shared in #rhizo15 has been very sophistocated and bent my head out of shape a bit. My perception and experience has been much simpler.

      1. I came out of CLMOOC this summer totally excited to do connected learning with my team of teachers. I got the same response (crickets).

        1. Even if you expect that and look for the occasional collaboration it’s still depressing. Thank goodness for cmoocs people! Thanks for dropping by, Susan.

  6. Education is suffering of accountability and wrong management. I like your struggle for better education.
    I did a wonderful course on social media in education and we had to comment to blogposts and tweets of the other students. You could ask your students to do that. If they must do this they will discover the fun of it.
    I did work on social media and moderating does help a lot to pull people over the side and make them respond.

    1. Hi Jaap, thanks for dropping by! Your suggestions is precisely what I’ve been trying to do. I also thought they would enjoy commenting on other students’ writing which is shared in the blog. How do you suggest I moderate in this situation?

  7. Fine post, Tania. I have abandoned using FB in class. Like Ron Samul above notes, most of my college students resented my intrusion into their social space. I and my topics were the wrong mix for the conversation they wanted to have on FB, so I moved the school conversation to Google+, which most of them did not use, and it has worked better. I think the problem was that they had already defined FB as a peer space, and they find it difficult to connect to me as a peer. I have power over them—however much I try to ignore or deny it, they still think I have it because I must assign them grades—and they see FB as a place to avoid that power and censure.

    We connect out of interest, and we become interested out of our connections. But grading (power) is like a black hole that distorts the field about me, and my students don’t really enjoy that space. Thus, they limit their connections to me as much as they can.

    Also, think about how difficult it is to have a dialogue with someone who knows so much more about a topic than you do. If I were to sit down with mathematician Peter Hall to discuss mathematics, I would quickly find myself unmatched, and our conversation would lapse into a lecture. Or we would agree to discuss something else, somewhere else.

    Social networking with perceived unequals is tough.

    1. Keith, great observations, thanks so much. I think it’s different when you are not exactly running (coordinating the student leaders) an interest group which is optional but which also offers diploma points. The Google+ idea would be great if I had a class and if I were the teacher who ran things. I’m aware that Facebook is (or used to be) their social network away from adults but I think if I switched to Google+ nobody would get an account. None of this is compulsory. At the moment they get 1 or 2 points for turning up and contributing in some way eg posting to the blog. I think your point about having a dialogue with someone who knows more about the topic than you do is spot on. Although I’m not sure if they think I am an expert (because they think teacher librarians are not real teachers) but certainly the rich conversations amongst us all in #rhizo15 and previous cmoocs don’t come naturally to teenage boys. I thought that if it was open ended (and unlike school) they would come on board but I suspect they actually need some formal guidelines (which I have tried to avoid).

  8. Have to agree with Keith on the power thing. It’s been years but I never felt connected in any way with my teachers and I’m not really sure why. First year in college a teacher from the high school I attended shared a room in our apartment and there was still distance.
    Being very averse to institutions, this may be simply my weirdness but I consciously am not myself around “authority.” Even as an adult there’s a tension to contend with that makes me feel fragile and in-confident. There must be a way past this? Not sure.

    1. What you say just confirms for me that I’m expecting too much. I’m trying to behave ‘not’ like a teacher in some ways, being open ended with options, but I don’t think the students know how to behave. Thanks for dropping by, Scott.

  9. Tania, is this group meeting in person at your school? Is there any reason that there has to be an online component to the interest group?

    Maybe you could talk to the boys about what would be a more natural way for them to connect than Facebook. If you’re all in the same room at the same time, maybe you or one of them could facilitate a discussion or a friendly critique of each other’s writing. If there’s a place that all of them stop by during the week, maybe you can put up some butcher paper for graffiti or cartoons or some other artistic or written response. Or they may share another interest, like gaming or music, that can build on or take off from the writing in some way, or open up other avenues for dialogue.

    1. Lisa, the group meets in person once a fortnight at lunchtime at school. The Facebook group was set up mainly for communication about changes to meetings, and for boys to promote their blog posts. I started posting things they might be interested in – related to writing, eg author writing tips, competitions, interesting articles, writing help, etc.
      I think I will chat to them about where they want this kind of thing to happen. The reason I chose Facebook is because they are already there, and I know they won’t make an effort to go anywhere else in their free time. I think you’re right – I’ll start building community during the F2F meeting.
      I’m amazed at the amount of help given by generous people here. Thanks so much!

  10. What a wonderful post. To your point, you are excited about sharing and the dynamic learning / camaraderie that comes from it, though try as we like, if somebody is not interested or ready or open or capable of it, then that would just not work. It is difficult to do this when there are “expectations” for it, namely with grades and points and the like.

    Perhaps the issue is more along the line of why some here in #rhizo15 are so active and engaging? What motivates them (and you), and in what ways is that quite different from the experiences of your, or any of our, students? We are here purely because we (informally) choose it; most learning is structured in some way (tuition is involved!), so the luxury of coming in or out, and reading this or that blog post (or not) is not possible. Otherwise, we ask, “How many posts do I have to do?”

    1. Jeffrey, you have pointed out a fact that I’ve been avoiding for some reason. We are all here because we love to be here and we choose it. Stubbornly I keep persisting with teachers and students, hoping that it becomes infectious but people have more pressing things to do (teachers: marking/students: homework) and if they had the time they probably wouldn’t choose the same thing. Do I keep quiet? Do I stop trying to convince people to do things differently?

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