A Walk Down Memory Lane and a Big Thanks!

2012 Learning 2.0 Virtual Conference
Several weeks ago Steve Hargadon invited me to deliver a keynote address for his Learning 2.0 Virtual conference, which he has been planning for Connected Educator month (August). I confess that I neglected to respond for some time, because, frankly, I do not enjoy these things and consider them a poor substitute to an actual face-to-face conference. It’s the old and old-fashioned teacher in me that feels that way. But, because I respect Steve enormously I finally agreed do a session, dreading its approach. However, I always, ALWAYS, end out enjoying the experience, feeling good about my contribution, and I’ve watched and learned from a number of the other presentations and keynote throughout the conference.  As my friend, Peggy George, said,

This is such an incredible opportunity for us to be able to learn and connect virtually wherever we are!

..and it was free.

Since I assembled my talk, “The Memory Lane of a 30-Year Connected Teacher and Learner,” specifically for this event, I did not have any online handouts, and since I ended out taking exactly my allotted hour and leaving no time for questions, I thought I would take this opportunity to scan through the chat archive and respond here to any questions or comments that strike a nerve.

First of all, this was not a “Here’s how you do this” sort of presentation nor did I tour through cool web sites or suggest cool  ways to use iPads. There were and will be plenty of presentations that fill that niche. My uniqueness right now is my age and range of experiences, and so I reverted back to my Southern heritage and shared some stories “..about some of the critical and revelatory moments of (my) long career.” You can revisit my talk here, as Steve is archiving all (?) of the presentations.

First of all, I was impressed by the number of learning20 hash-tagged (#learning20) postings on Twitter that were not in english.  In fact, I see now that some of the names in my chat archive included letters that are not among the 26 character Roman alphabet – more evidence of the increasing globalization of education.

Here are some links posted during my talk:

One of the really cool things about these virtual events, and about being part of the backchannel at face-to-face events is when people share URLs related to what I am talking about – and often they are web pages, of which I was not aware.  In a sense, the online handouts just happen. ..because learners are also teachers.

One point I’d like to double-click on is the WIRED magazine issue I’m reading on my iPad, the magazine’s first issue, published in 1993, and now available for the WIRED iPad app.  I love scanning through these old magazines because of the advertisements, seeing the sorts of technologies that were emerging 20 years ago, how big they were, and how much they cost.  There was a Sony GPS that gave you the coordinates of you current location at a cost of only $1,195 (USD).  20 years ago, that was fantastic. Imagine being able to know, at any time, your exact location in relation to the Equator and Prime Meridian. Fantastic!  Yet, I just bought a Garmin app for my iPhone that operates exactly like the Garmin GPS that I drive with, and it only cost 99¢.

We are preparing our children for THE FANTASTIC.

Do we truly grok the implications of this?

I have to delight at the recognition several members of the audience registered for the Radio Shack Tandy computers I talked about and their further references to the Sinclair, TI-99, VIC-20 (I had one) and Atari 400 computers, machines that all helped to define personal computing today.  It made me feel “not so old.”  I guess I’ll be old when I have to explain what a cassette tape is to my audience 😉

In contrast, someone mentioned the current tech-du-jour, Arduino and Raspberry Pi – off-the-shelf computer circuit boards that people (“makers”) are using to create all sorts of intelligent objects.  This is something I want to learn about and play with.  Someone recommended the Raspberry Pi.

Another participant asked about the old computer magazines that featured BASIC programs that you could type into your Atari or VIC-20.  “Compute!” was one of them and it was published out of Greensboro, North Carolina.  Orson Scott Card worked for them at the time – and some of you know him as the author of “Ender’s Game,” one of the best science fiction books ever written.

I told the story of a librarian friend of mine, Cynthia Wilson, who, back in the ’80s got some at-risk 7th graders to write children’s books using Apple IIe computers and FrEdWriter, and then emailed them to first graders down the street using FrEdMail (There really needs to be a Wikipedia article about FrEdMail). The First graders read the books, illustrated the them, and then brought their prizes back up to the middle school where the 7th graders did a book signing.  It’s a concept that has continued as the chat perked up at that point, with lots of ways that teachers and librarians are continuing to empower learners by making them authors. (see links above)

During several of my stories, which involved teachers and learners connecting to the real world, there was some conversation about teachers who are reluctant to allow their students to share their work outside of their classrooms.  I believe that it comes from a lack of confidence, and this is not wholly our fault.  It’s part of what I talked about at the end, how the empowerment that comes from “connected” teachers and learners has to come from somewhere, and that somewhere is the various social, political, and commercial interests who have traditionally enjoyed and employed that power – and have a need to exert more. I believe that causing communities to lose confidence in public education has been an explicit part of the school privatization movement that may well have begun with No Child Left Behind.

Someone commented, “Why can’t we have developers of apps working in our schools with our students on projects they are working on?”  I think this is a fabulous idea, and I remember reading about a school in New York that hires game developers to work with teachers and learners.  That has always seemed a brilliant thing to do.  But I wonder if this “developer” needs to be an adult, or if it could be one of, or a team of students.

Again, I thoroughly enjoyed presenting to the conference, from my home office, and am actually getting accustomed to teaching to that little green light at the top of my laptop display that marks the position of the camera.

I also want to take this opportunity to thank Steve Hargadon for this and all of the “connections” that he creates and facilitates for educators around the world.  All the wires and cables that circle our globe come to nothing if there is not a community of interest, and that community doesn’t happen without an architect.  Thanks to Steve Hargadon for bringing us all together so many days of the year!

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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Should it Matter?

Flickr photo by Andy Carvin

Educon 2.1 is over and I have so many regrets — so many people I did not get to talk with.  Entirely unsatisfying.  Next year, I’m there for three-days.  I sat in on some fabulous sessions, and they were conversational in nature — as advertised.  I did hear that some of the sessions ended out being presentations, and I suppose that’s fine as long as it was clear from the start that folks were there to listen and pay attention.

I guess that the greatest “aha!” realization to me happened with the early morning panel discussion.  I live blogged my notes here.  First of all, Chris Lehmann “gets it.”  I knew he “gets it” before the panel.  He’s not the only person I know who “gets it” and he wasn’t the only person on the panel.  But I can’t think of anyone who is in such a perfect position to test “it” and demonstrate what he gets.  There are folks I know who are cultivating similar situations, and they are going to be worth watching, but SLA is there..

However, there were two elements of the panel’s conversation that — quicken my heart.  One was Gary Stager’s opening and the list of what he believes — and just about everything else he said.  I was especially taken with his demand that reform needs to happen locally.  I didn’t realize the importance of this statement until a conversation that I had with Steve Hargadon at the end of the day.  Stager questions a lot of what I say and write, and I learn from his challenges, but he sees the evils of what has happened to education during the past several years, and he hammers it ruthlessly — and I thank him.

On the other hand, there were two other panelists who stirred my soul a bit, and in the other direction.  I do not clearly remember which of the panel members they were, so I’ll not use names here.  But on several occasions during the conversation, the importance of “data” to education today was expressed.  Now I get data.  I understand its value under some circumstances.  Yet when I hear people exulting data collection as a principle way of educating children, I feel that we are being drawn away from the things that I truly value in teaching — in being a teacher.  It’s because I am, admittedly, a romantic when it comes to education.  It’s about relationships, environment, and activity.  I know that disaggregated data can help, but there’s something about the scale that bothers me.  Enough said…

Flickr Photo by Setev

My main point is, “Should it matter?”  When I try to think about and try to visualize learning 2.0, I’m still getting a fairly blurred picture.  It’s the purpose of these conferences, to clarify that image.  But I am fairly certain that in the classroom that effectively leverages the contexts and opportunities of our times, our students and their native information experience, and today’s dramatically new information environment, I can’t see that it would matter if the students are tested at the end of the year, or that data is constantly being extracted about their learning. 

What will be happening in that classroom will be so exciting and so compelling that tests and data will be nothing more than mist on the breeze.

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