A Day in Texas

I’ve been at home for a couple of days doing some planning for upcoming events — and trying to find a better Linux distribution for my netbook.  Linux can be a real time-sink for someone like me, who would really “..love it if my computer could do this too.”  Anyway, I settled on something called Crunchbang Linux, a derivative of Ubuntu with the Kuki (pronounced “cookie”) kernel inserted in.  Kuki has been enhanced for the Acer Aspire One’s peculiarities.  I hope that those last two sentence impresses you.  I don’t understand it worth a flip, but it’s working just great, and I’m blogging on my Netbook right now at Starbucks.

The Athletic & Fine Arts Center.

The buzz from my day (Monday) at Region XI in Texas is still ringing in my head.  I knew that it would be a different sort of day, when I walked into the “Fine Arts Center,” whose sign actually read, “Atheletic and Fine Arts Center.” I walked in, through a wrought-iron gate, across a high cellinged entranceway, through another opening out into a huge football statium.  OMG, I’m going to be soooo late.

I walked back into the entranceway where there was a ticket office, a worker having just entered through the glass door.  I followed her in and asked about the Region XI event.  In typical Texas friendliness, she ushered me out to some double doors, just outside the gate, and up some stairs, where folks were preparing a huge room for the event — the inclined celling echoing the statium seating above.

It was a good day, however, with, by my approximation, between two and three-hundred folks.  The intended audience was library media specialists, but many of them brought teachers, principals, and even superintendents with them.  The topic was contemporary literacy and the information environment that it rises out of.

I took three things away from the event.  One was the graying,  yet rather aggressive school librarian, who launched her hand into the air when I asked the younger educators among us to share their experiences with social networks.  She insisted, and many concurred, that social networking was no longer the exclusive domain of the young.  This rang true, considering a blog I recently discovered, Social Networking Watch.  In a January 14 post, (Older Adults Among New Members on SNS), Mark Brooks graphs Social Network Service members by age, revealing that a full 36% are older than 44 — 7% older than 64.

The second thing I came away with was a story about a fourth grade class who visited the local Rotary Club (May have been Lions Club) to inform community leaders of how they were using technology in their classrooms.  They did their presentation, and then went about talking withmembers during lunch, taking pictures and video clips, and conferring with each other in the back. 

In the back, they were mixing the content they had collected and they ended the meeting with a video conveying what they had just learned about Lions Club International (May have been Rotary Club). The members were so impressed that the local Chamber of Commerce commissioned the class (4th graders) to attend one of their meetings and to create a promotional video for the organization.

The third thing (and their may have been a fourth, but I can’t remember) was a conversation that we had at the event and that I am starting to have with myself — about project-based learning (PBL).  What got me started on PBL was another conversation I had with a superintendent from California recently, where he reminded me that PBL is outlawed in his state.  All instructional techniques must be directly related to standards and research based — and project based learning was not allowed.

I remember when this happened and it was years ago, so I’d figured that this edict had faded away — and most certainly there are many inventive educators in California who have found ways to include PBL in their classrooms.  But I wonder if there is some distinction about what that Texas educator did and what many of us usually think of when we have students doing projects.  My notion of projects has been to have students take a topic that is curriculum related but something that they have a genuine interest in, and then asking them to research, become an expert, and then prepare some sort of presentation for the class.  It might be a personal performance, a multimedia product, or just a report.

The distinction I wonder about is the difference between project-based learning, and job-based learning.  In this example, the students were working on a project, making themselves experts, and producing an information product that might be of value to other people.  Another example, I heard from Rowland Baker of TICAL, whom I worked for last week in Arkansas.  The EAST Project (Environmental and Spatial Technology)

…focuses on student-driven service projects through the use of the latest in technology. EAST schools are equipped with classrooms containing state-of-the-art workstations, servers, software, and accessories, including GPS/GIS mapping tools, architectural and CAD design software, 3D animation suites, and much more. Students find problems in their local communities, and then use these tools to solve them.

Rowland told me about an Arkansas school where students, involved in the EAST project were saving their county millions of dollars a year.  One of the students wanted to learn how to use GIS and GPS, so he started studying how the local farmers used water (552,000,000 Gallons a year).  He learned, through his study, that with a series of reservoirs, ditches, rises, and pumps, farmers to recycle more water instead of having to drill new and deeper wells. [link]

This is a pretty dramatic example.  The simple difference that I see is that a job-based learning activity produces something of value to others and its value/impact extends beyond the walls of the classroom or school.

There is NOTHING new here, and I am not suggesting a change in educational terminology.  It’s just that the idea of learners using their education as a tool for benefit or change is one that deserves repeating every now and then.

You can learn about the water project and others from this TICAL podcast.

The Bad News

I mentioned, the other day, having met Keith Krueger and seen his presentation in Arkansas. He shared a bit about the stimulus package, with regard to ed tech, and we talked a bit more after his presentation. I must confess that I had not honed in on the specifics of the stimulus package.  There were lots of really big numbers bouncing around, but, to be frank, I was avoiding the details out of fear of disappointment — and my fears have certainly been realized.

According to Krueger, both houses had settled on a billion dollars for ed tech, after CoSN and ISTE recommended 10 billion — as a starter.  However, somehow, after the House of Representatives and the Senate had agreed on that sum, education technology got paired down to $650 million — which takes us back into the range of Bush era funding levels.  Equipping our classrooms, teachers, and students with contemporary information and communication technologies got sacrificed.

This is us, passing a possum off for a cat, because we do not know the difference.

It is depressing to realize, that even under the best of leadership, there remains a coercive and corrosive element of greed, complacency, entitlement, smoke-screen values issues, and astounding short sightedness. 

There is other money going to education — and I’ll take one more opportunity to state here that ICT, alone, will not save education.  A lot of the money is going to the states to off-set budget crunches there — and some of it is labeled under modernizing education.  Yet our new governor (NC) continues to paint a picture of doom and gloom, with almost daily announcements of cascading budget cuts.

I spent some time at the airport this morning and on the flight to Dallas, ranting on about this loss, and how we need to keep talking, remain enthusiastically hopeful, more imaginative than ever before, and more consciously looking for stories and language that will gain traction in the continuing conversations. 

But, I didn’t say anything especially original or even very helpful.

So I’ll just say that I had a wonderful weekend, out to eat with Brenda and to a movie (Slumdog Millionaire — a little more cruel than I’d expected), and then playing with my first ever Woot purchase.  It is a USB Turntable.  I’ve been transferring some old albums to iTunes and just enjoying music I’ve not listened to in decades — some of which has never been published on CD.  Anyone remember Cafe Jacques?

Deeper Info Habits

I’m reading Born Digital, by John Palfrey and Urs Gasser, both of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society.  There is not that much in the book that has surprised me, just another source of info on a generation that is different.  One part peeked my interest, however, more because of a couple of conversations I have had recently.  In the chapter called Learners, they say…

There are a lot of excellent questions to be answered about how kids are learning in the digital envrionment and how that compares to the way they learn in a predominantly analog world.  Does reading websites, instead of books and broadsheet-style newspapers, actually change the way peole process information, in the short and long terms?  Do kids end up remembering the information that they gather online more or less effectively than they remember matieral from the printed page?

Many DimensionsThe day before yesterday, when meeting with the administration for a private school I was working with in Atlanta, someone asked about the differences between how students read on the web and how they read in print.  I suggested that they look at the work of Donald Leu and his New Literacies Research Team, who are interested in literacy and web-based reading. 

When using work-tracking software to record and then analyze children’s operation of the mouse and keys to search for the answer a basic question, the researchers found that there was a great deal of higher order thinking going on.  Computer actions indicated that the readers were constantly having to decide on links to follow for alternative texts — and continually re-evaluate their decisions, sometimes deciding to click back.

In the following pages of Born Digital, the authors describe the various reservations that my generation has about our children’s info-habits.  Regarding the news, we assume that because digital natives absorb news through the day through various web sites, through their phones, from comedy programs and other unconventional sources, and not reading newspapers and news magazines, then their understanding of current events must be superficial.

We assume that these are biased websites, rather than authoritative organizations like the New York Times or the big television networks.  If it’s not outright wrong, then version of the story Digital Natives encounter online must be superficial, many peole fear.

But do we underestimate the depth of our students’ information pursuits and encounters.  Paufrey and Gasser say that we do, that we miss the fact that digital natives experience news by interacting with information in constructive ways.  They go on to say that natives process information in a three-steps:

  • Grazing
  • “deep dive”
  • feedback loop

They are exposed, according to the authors, to a huge amount of information through the day.  It comes in from various favored web sites, news flashes SMS’ed to their phones, other SMSes from their friends, etc.  It is a grazing process of picking up tidbits of stories and incorporating them into their word view.
As they encounter something that resonates in some way, they utilize a variety of techniques to dig deeper into the topic, including Wikipedia, Google, news services, and posts on social networks from others who have researched the topic.  YouTube may be another source for deeper information as well as powerhouses like CNN, the BBC, the New York Times, The Economist, Global Voices, and Talking Points Memo.

The last phase is not practiced by all digital natives, and, according to the authors, is the part that is the most difficult for traditionalists to grapple with.  I’m not sure I agree with this in that I have a long history of writing letters to the editor.  But today, these youngsters might write a post to their blog, comment on someone else’s blog or bulletin board.  With time and a more creative tilt, they might produce a podcast or post a video’ed plea to YouTube.  The difference between my letters to the editor and today’s forms of feedback are their immediacy, and the more real and direct conversation that can result — hence, the feedback loop.

I’m not sure how generally used this three-step process is or even if enough net-gen’ers are engagged in these deeper info habits to generalize in this way.  Maybe they have, I just don’t know.

But all of this got me to thinking, back to the original question about reading on the web and reading in print — and I think it’s the period. According to WordNet a Princeton, a period is “a punctuation mark (.) placed at the end of a declarative sentence to indicate a full stop..”  It is the end of the sentence.  It’s all be said.  If you don’t get it, then go back and re-read the sentence.

In a sense, to folks who have been raised on the Net, there are no periods.  Certainly there are sentences and hey end in periods.  But you can always go further — deeper.  You can dig, hyperlink, right-click and dictionary a single word or phrase.  Under some cercumstances, you can re-write the sentence, and ask for clarification from the original author.

I just wonder how important this is, how this three-dimensional, ever-expandable, and even alterable reading experience affects our student learners and how they learn.  If so, how do we leverage it.

Technorati Tags:

This is a test

This is a test. This is only a test. In the event of a real emergency…

Just testing a new Linux blog editor.

Hmmm! I’d thought that this was not successful.  But lo and behold, it’s up and somebody’s commented on it.

To have something more meaningful here, I just got the announcement about this year’s NECC keynote speakers. Malcolm Gladwell will be opening the conference with “..a customized perspective on the way intentional practice today influences expert-development of the future.”

I am devastated to learn that I will miss Erin Gruwell’s closing keynote address.  I had not seen the movie about her class and had almost conciously avoided renting it.  I’m not sure why, except that I’ve seen so many teacher movies and figured that they had stopped being entertaining or inspiring to me.  But, a couple of weeks ago, while I was desperately looking for some flicks to drop into my Netflix queue, and nothing inspiring was showing up in my browsings, Freedom Writers some how ended out slipping into a position far down in my list.

Well Brenda and I watched it the other night, only after that white jacketed DVD had sat on the table for over a week — and I was surprised.  I thoroughly enjoyed the movie and suspect that Erin will be an amazing speaker.  She empowered her students through their own stories.

The mid-conference keynote will be an “..Oxford-style debate with panelists from many different backgrounds weighing in on a controversial topic facing educators and world citizens.” Topic and panelests to be announced in mid-may.

I’ll be following the bloggings via travel engagements that were confirmed long before I knew the dates for NECC 2009.  I do plan to be there for the BloggerCon and workshops.

A More Interesting Conference than I’d Expected

Keith Krueger of CoSN

Feb 18 03:00: I don’t know why, but I’d forgotten that the Peabody Hotel was known for its chocolate.  It’s the reason I’m up at 3:00 AM — I have no doubt.  I’m in Little Rock, Arkansas, and I’m starting to believe that the superintendent in Missouri I worked with the other day was right, when he said that the recession was not affecting the midwest to the degree that it was both coasts.  TICAL, the organization I’m working for today, had to cancel their administrators conference in California, but the version they put on in Arkansas seems to be enjoying full attendance.

In just a few hours, I will enjoy breakfast with superintendents across the state (and many from California), and then have the morning to just attend sessions. 

Feb 18 09:45 Breakfast is over and I was frankly inspired by some of the stories, and saddened by others — especially as some of the superintendents were from California.  Arkansas, it seems, is not in nearly the dire straights that much of the rest of the country is experiencing.

I am now sitting in a session being presented by Kieth Krueger, CEO of CoSN.  The session is called Learning to Change, Changing to Learn: Global Lessons.  We all received a CD with the L2CC2L video at the superintendents’ breakfast, along with a new video with quotes from students.

Feb 19 05:30 Sitting at a table, just out side the Great American Babel Bakery and just next to a working 110 Volt electrical outlet. 

I took lots of notes from Krueger’s presentation, but deleted them when I just saw that his slide stack is available as a PDF file here.

Most of the research on the impact of technology in education, that he shared indicated little to no impact — until he got to recent studies done by Becta in the U.K. where enormous investment has been made in technology.  What has accompanied that investment are efforts to redefine and retool education to reflect 21 century realities.  They found dramatic advancement in learning, when that investment was accompanied with enthusiasm and support.

A U.S. metastudy came to two conclusions.

  1. We’ve often over-promised what technology can do.
  2. When there is appropriate vision and adequate professional development, Technology can be a powerful, transformative tool.

We are making progress when it comes to teachers.  63% of teachers say their technology skills are “somewhat advanced” or “advanced”.  Yet most of them use their skills for e-mail and Internet research, not changing teaching. (CDW-G Teachers Talk Tech Surevey 2006)

From the student perspective (customer), they are expressing growing frustration that schools are “irrelevant”.  We teach them all in a cookie-cutter style, while, in their outside the classroom information experiences, they learn at their own rate — and they do a lot of learning outside the classroom.  Krueger talks about individualized instruction.  I prefer talking about personalized learning.  It implies to me a more active and direct involvement by the learner.

Krueger then depressed us all by talking about what technology gets from the Obama stimulus package.  That deserves its own blog post.

This one caught my attention.  88% of the voting public believe that 21st century skills are important and should be integrated into the classroom.  What actually struck me was the 10% who said that 21c skills are important, but that they should not be taught in school.  Where does that come from?

The next slide indicated that 99% of people say that 21st century skills are critical to the future economic success.  Yet school and district administration continues to run against resistance among parents and community.

We finally watched the new student-version of the Learn to Change, Change to Learn video.  Here are some of the quotes that resonated with me. 

  • “I can make anything that would have been ordinary, extraordinary.”
  • “I just started making music a few months ago.  I’m learning how by trial and error.”
  • “I’d say that being able to experiment with technology is what is good about technology.”
  • “Video games are about coordinating and communication.”
  • “When you have access to everything, you get to know yourself better, because you have to choose what to use and what not to use.”

I then saw a presentation by ,California superintendent of the year, Bob Price about using video clips for communication.  It was basically a viewing of funny, moving, and thought-provoking video clips, mostly available through YouTube, that can easily be incorporated into presentations and lessons.  We also received a CD with the videos that he showed, and some that he avoided showing to the less adventurous-in-spirit Arkansas educators.

That said, one of the most interesting aspects of this unique conference was that of collaboration.  The TICAL project is a state (California) funded initiative to assist school superintendents in their efforts to modernize their schools with contemporary technologies.  The project seems to have been hugely successful in California, less by measure of penetration, and more by its impact on the school systems that are participating.  Super after super told me that their TICAL Cadre was their learning network.  It was the one entity that pushed them to learn and act in new ways to address today’s educational pressure points.

Another aspect of the conference that was intriguing was the interactions between California administrators and the majority, administrators from Arkansas.  The west coasters, who seem constrained on almost all sides and all levels by an apparently dysfunctional government, were impressed and envious of an education environment that seemed to be encouraging and providing for innovation in teaching, learning, and education management. 

Both of my sessions seemed to have been well received, though I recognized that I was preaching to the choir in many instances.  The truth of it, however, as David Wells and I talked about this the other morning in Vermont, is that we’re not preaching to the choir.  A Choir assumes that church is in session.  We’re still preaching to the missionaries, and missionaries come to conference to learn new language and to collect new stories.

I’m finishing this, scrunched up against the inner wall of in a silver torpedo,  jetting through the atmosphere, about six miles up.  I’d hoped to post this within the wifi haven of the Little Rock airport, but too much to type and much more dancing around in my artificially pressurized brain. 

Till then!

The Active Ingredient

I spent the last part of my time at the computer yesterday, listening to a recent Women of the Web podcast interview with Dr. Gary Stager.  It was a good interview and Stager seemed, on several occasions, to be talking straight from my speaking points — something that is deeply gratifying to me.  He did a better job than most at balancing his constructivist approach with the fact that this is not an either or proposition — that although consciously constructing learning from previous knowledge, frame of reference, and skill is preferred (and natural IMHO), some times and for some objectives, teaching to the students is called for.  

As is often the case, the conversation veered over to the ever persistent question, “How do you reconcile these more progressive constructivist strategies with the demands of standards- and accountability-based teaching.

It’s a hard question to answer and I hope it is a temporary question.  My hope is that “modernized” schools will come to value what students are capable of learning and doing with what they are learning, than what we are capable of teaching.  It was after a rather short play-out of this conversation that things shifted again — “How do you reconcile progressive, constructivist, project-based learning with teachers who are more comfortable with the traditional direct teaching approach — especially as many of these teachers seem threatened by more student-centered education.

It all reminded me of an instance, about 20 years ago, when I was director of technology for a rural school district in North Carolina.  We had a lab of Apple IIe computers at the high school, where computer applications was taught.  They taught AppleWorks, which ran off of a five and a quarter inch floppy disk.  Raise your hands if you remember those!

There were two teachers who taught this course.  One was a business instructor and the other was the school’s Art teacher.  The idea of an Art teacher teaching computer applications seems much less unusual today than it did back in 1985.  Toward the end of the semester the Art teacher, John Bell, had taught word processing and spreadsheets.  It was time for databases.  He presented the class with a problem.  I do not recall the nature of the  problem, but it related to a small business.  Then he said, “I want you to use the database in AppleWorks to produce a report that will solve his problem.”  “The user manuals are over there.  Get to work.”

An Appleworks Manual

This was a first for me, but it immediately made sense.  Learning to rely on a users manual to learn how to operate a new piece of software or operating system seemed like a valid technology skill.  But other teachers at the school didn’t make that connection.  In fact, there was a vehemence to their objections that seemed down-right irrational in its emotional intensity.  They said that that art teacher was not doing his job, that the students were doing it for him.  Being John Bell, he let it run its course and the controversy died down.  But I’ll not forget that.

If you are a parent, then you have certainly had the experience of asking your son or daughter, “So, what did you learn today?” only to be answere with an irritated shrug of the should or a simple, “noth’un!”

I wonder if a reason for many of our students’ lack of enthusiasm for learning is that it isn’t learning that they are doing.  The the active ingredient of traditional classrooms is teaching.  Might our students become more excited and engaged by what they constructively learn than what they are taught.

Ready for Work?

Flickr Photo from Matthew Stenzel

A couple of days ago, I worked with the school district of the Chathams (yep, two Chathams), a few miles west of Newark, New Jersey.  It was a facinating and very appealing community and I was reminded, once again, how hospitable people can be and not be from the south (sorry).

Most directly, I worked with a local education foundation, which has funded a number of technology projects for the system, including projectors and interactive smart boards, video game systems (Nintendo DSes, and a cyber social learning center at the high school.  They asked me to come and talk about video games, their associate superintendent having met me at an NJ conference a year ago.

I presented an afternoon workshop with educators, sandwiched between two sessions for parents and the community, one in the morning and one in the evening.  It turned into a long but very enjoyable day.  As you might expect, there was some initial skepticism about the educational potentials of video games, and I did not alleviate all of it– nor should I.  We should all remain cautious about new technologies and new techniques.  It is too easy to go overboard, blinded by the glare and seduced by the glitz.

We tend to form our opinions about what is new from our past experiences, and when talking about education, we all have fairly rich experiences to draw on — and though they not always positive experiences, they are indelible.  It was during the evening session that the most push-back occurred, as I shared some findings indicating that the video game generation is more sociable and better collaborators than the previous generation.  This ideas is especially difficult to easily grasp when it goes against the experiences of watching our children spend hours alone, at the screen, game controller in hand.

One particular woman challenged this idea, stating that employers are complaining that young workers are unskilled at personal interactions and do not easily adjusting to work life.  I should have asked her where she was hearing this and under what circumstances, but being pressed for time, I simply responded that these video game and social networking experiences do not make our children and that we all had difficulty adjusting to our first jobs.  I also brought up one of the studies, published in Got Game, by John Beck, Senior Researcher for the USC Annenberg School’s Center for Digital Futures.

Part of the message of this book is that because of their video game experiences, today’s youngsters are gaining skills and insights that may be especially useful to today’s business and industries.  However, those skills may not be easily apparent, that to see and leaverge these skills we have to alter our expectations and even aspects of the work environment and schedule and even the nature of our assignments.  The woman seemed less than completely convinced, but I went on.

After the session was over, a young man came up and introduced himself.  He has recently taken a new job at a small publishing house, but before that worked at McGraw Hill.  He said that he supervised a number of employees and that he found the younger folks to be a delight to work with — that they were creative, good communicators, and eager to please. 

He also mentioned that McGraw Hill had offered generational training to its supervisors, informing them of the differences between the work styles of younger workers and older ones.  He said that one thing he remembered was that younger workers want to know that they are doing a good job, that they need frequent reinforcement — an idea that makes sense in view of the constant reinforcement provided by video games, and even social networking activities.

This is not to say, again, that the kids are perfect communicators and or collaborators or that they adjust easily to new work environments.  The issues are far to complex to express in one hour.  However, it is essential that as we continue to value our own experiences and the lessons of those experiences, we must be willing to open our minds to the value of new ones. 

It’s not a new lesson!

Video Games in Chatham, NJ

Presenters Deborah Evans and Erik Yates

I’ve been working in Chatham, New Jersey, today, for their Education Foundation.  The organization has invested a lot of money in the schools, including a cyber center in the high school, a section of the cafeteria where students can lounge and have access to laptops for surfing and working together — social learning.

I’ve been doing my thing about video games as learning engines for parent groups and teachers.  My presentation is followed by Deborah Evans, who is a self-professed gamer.  What impresses me is that she is almost my age.  She started with a Commodore 64, on which she and her kids played Zork.  She said she would never forget that Christmas. 

After that, her children started using educational games to master math facts.  But things got interesting again when they discovered SIM City.  Deborah went on to adventure games but is now entrenched in World of Warcraft.  She makes the point, as she shows a typical WOW scr

People with a British Accent are so smart! 

Eric Yates, the district’s K-6 tech integrationist, then talked about his experience of brinking Nintendo DSes into his elementary classroom.  He got the idea, when he first ran across Brain Age.  The Education Foundation invested in ten DSes and Erik has learned a lot about using them in elementary classes.  One of the best features of the DS, he says, is that it is wireless, and multiple devices can communicate with each other. 

He is basically using them as a learning center.  As groups are doing differentiated activities, one of the options is using the DS and math software.

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A Very Cool Story

At this moment, I’m sitting at the Burlington Airport, having a burger in the restaurant filling time before my 7:00 PM flight to Washington.  Then is a short wait for the final leg to Raleigh and a full Saturday at home.

It was an excellent day in Burlington, working with educators from the Northwest region of the state.  Vermont is an interesting place with very interesting people, and the workshop ended out being a lot of conversation and sharing of ideas. It was one of those days I wish somebody had recorded — everything.

One of the best stories I heard was told by a school librarian, Kathy Gallagher.  Her daughter is a senior in high school and is currently shopping for colleges.  Kathy said that all of the schools her daughter is considering have their own Facebook groups — except for one, a fairly small liberal arts school.  …So her daughter set up the the group for the school.  She said, “In just a couple of days, the group grew to over 300.”

This was very impressive — to all of us.  But hoping to learn more, I asked, “So why did she set up the group?” 

Gallagher looked at me, as if I had completely missed the point.  I had completely missed the point.  She said that her daughter was visiting the Facebook groups to get answers to questions about student life at the schools from the perspective of students.  She wanted to ask the same questions about the small liberal arts school, so she created the community for the school, grew the community, and then had over 300 sources for answers to her questions.

This was, hands down, one of the most interesting and resourceful strategies for finding information on the Internet that I have ever heard.  It has as muct to do with working the environment as it does with using Google.

No More Sweet Spot

Searching Flickr for Adjectives can often reveal interesting photos.
Flickr Photo by Vilhelm Sjostrom

I’m on my way to Burlington, Vermont, leaving the balmy climes of North Carolina, where it is 20  (-7C).  First thing this morning, it was -1 (-18C) in Burlington.  I have my furry Russian hat, which I bought about 10 years ago and have only worn three or four times.

I worked with the same Vermont group last fall, talking about contemporary literacy, and left feeling far less than successful.  Vermont has some fantastic things going on, and has given more freedom than most to educators who are exploring emerging opportunities.  What I remember fondly was the early days of Web 2.0, when there were only a handful of educators who were coming to understand it, and for the rest, it was brand new.  It was a sweet spot, where virtually everyone was learning something brand new from you, and they were all learning the same thing. 

The sweet spot’s gone.  When I worked with that autumn audience in Vermont, a significant number of the participants were already familiar with the concepts and many were already using them.  I added very little that they didn’t already know.  There were more who were just beginning their journey toward rethinking their schools and classrooms.  But I felt really bad about those savvy souls — until I read their back channel discussions.

It amazed me, and deeply impressed me how they had turned the event into an extremely valuable experience.  I know that I learned a lot from their conversation, and was able, I hope, to contribute more through my insertions — after the transcript was converted over to a wiki page.

I was just reminded of a back channeling event I facilitated many months ago, that got hijacked by three teachers who filled the channel with their favorite ’80s wreslers.  Regardless, the conversation continued as some of the more savvy educators skipped out onto Twitter and even Ustream, inviting even more participants into the room.

It all makes me wonder what this might mean to future, more porous classrooms.  As we stop resisting the networks, shielding our classrooms as sealed containers, designed to hold and protect both learners and that which is required to be learned — I wonder how porous classrooms might reshape themselves by the actions of the students.  Might, in such classrooms, active differentiated instruction techniques become practically obsolete.  Might free learners, engaged in a lifestyle of curiosity, inquiry, experimentation, and construction; supported by professional master learners, make education less an ordeal and more a habit.

All that said, tomorrow will see much more challenging ideas from me … and even more opportunities for back channeling. 

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