Working for Value

Attendee of my workshop being a Personal Learning Network

I have to say that last week’s NCTIES conference was one of the most valuable conferences I’ve worked in a long time — and it was a treat to be able to use Raleigh’s new and quite impressive Convention Center.  The only complaint I had was about the projectors and displays.  The featured speakers presented in two nearly identical rooms that were visually striking, roomy, and cozy at the same time.  However, there were no drop down screens, and we had to project onto a side wall that was entirely too small and uncomfortably angled.  I think that this is the sort of thing that you learn the first time you use a new venue.

A little less forgiving were the Promethean IWBs that were installed in the other presentation rooms.  The worked quite well, but were intended for classrooms, and were simply to small, and even more frustrating, to low to be useful to attendees sitting further back than the forth row.  It was a technology conference, and part of the point is to be exposed to new technologies, but not at the expense of the teaching and learning that is at the heart of conferences.

The information experiences that help to define our Digital Natives:

  • Responsive
  • Measure Accomplishment
  • Values Safely Made Mistakes
  • Demands Personal Investment
  • Rewards with Audience & Attention
  • Provokes Communication
  • Is Fueled by Questions

I was satisfied the the results of my sessions, two of which were more unconference in nature than presentation.  The first of these sessions, ambitiously entitled something like Foundational Structure for Learning 2.0, sought to build a framework, so to speak, for formal learning experiences that take advantage of specific qualities of our students outside-the-classroom information experiences, or native information experiences.  The qualities, which resulted from an extended activity I did with teachers in Irving,Texas several years ago (read more here).

I described each element by illustrating how it might manifest in a particular video game or genre of game, while operating within a social network, or engaging in conversations via IM or text messaging.  For instance, I showed a rather richly adorned player avatar from an MMORPG, to illustrate measured accomplishment and personal investment, and a video clip from Justin TV (Ustream-type service, where kids broadcast their video game play, while engaging in conversation with a global audience, illustrating audience and attention.

The conversation that followed this brief introduction revealed some aspects of these experiences that had not occurred to me — which was, of course, the purpose of the activity.  I asked the audience to work for a few minutes in groups and to come up with a story that illustrates what formal learning activities that incorporate these qualities might look like. 

Now that I think back, none of the stories were imagined, but true life learning stories, some of which mutated from traditional assignments into something more interesting.  For instance, one person told about her son, who was preparing a report for sociology, and his questions could be answered only from web sites that were blocked by the school’s filtering system.  He resourcefully found a way to redirect the content of the sites into his classroom through sites that were acceptable.  I wish I could remember how he did that.  He also put together a way to digitally survey his classmates, to collect further data to support his study.  His activities were fueled by questions, demanded personal investment, and he used the web to provoke communication.

What most resonated with me came out of conversations about responsive information experiences.  I showed a nostalgia-evoking video of Pong and a Facebook thread to illustrate this quality.  Most of the stories incorporated responsiveness in that they involved students writing or in some other way producing for an authentic audience.  One of the attendees, a rather precocious youngster from a middle school in Union County, described a project from his class, where students produced videos (don’t remember the topic), and then invited their parents to come in on evening to watch and talk about what they saw.

As I often do, when the teller exclaims how motivated the students were, I ask, “Why!”  “Why did it excite you to have your parents see your videos.”  What came out of these follow-ups was a fairly dramatic distinction between authentic audience and teacher as audience.  When writing, let’s say, to the teacher, you are communicated to be evaluated.  Assessment is the outcome, based on some set of expectations involving skills and/or knowledge.

However, when writing to an authentic audience, what you are trying to earn is not an evaluation (though there may be one coming in the process).  What you are writing for is a response, and that response will be directed toward what you have invested in the work, not just the facts you have included or the skills you have demonstrated.

One difference that occurs to me is that when delivering to the teacher, you are working for for correctness.  When delivering to an authentic audience, you are working for value.  It’s not an either or, of course.  We should be striving for both evaluating of learning and response to value.

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3 thoughts on “Working for Value”

  1. I was at a different conference this weekend CUE in California. At the student showcase, a student showed me her ePortfolio. She was eager to share and it was the audience that she had that seemed to make a difference. I doubt the portfolio was on the web but the audience at conference seemed to make a difference. Giving students a real audience makes a difference. I saw the technology tool enabling this, therefore the tool wasn’t what was important but the ability to share.

  2. Very interesting. Unquestionably, there are differences in learning today and that technology fosters engagement. In you sidebar, I was interested to see that digital natives value safely made mistakes — progress. However, let’s not overlook old wine in new bottles. Students circumventing school rules is not new, although that student’s technology savvy methods are quite impressive. Likewise, students have always treasured performing for their parents and wise teachers have long incorporated those opportunities.

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