A Creative Summer

Over the past few weeks, I have been fortunate enough to teach in MSU’s MA in Ed Tech program here in Rouen, France. With the inspiration of Leigh Graves Wolf and Punya Mishra, one of the major foci of the program is on creativity. As I think about how to be more creative in teaching my own pre-service methods courses and leading professional development, this summer has been very helpful for me, allowing me enough flexibility to explore new ideas while also teaching about broad themes in education, as well as educational technology. To that end, we have been inviting the teachers to do “quickfire” types of activities each day, and I wanted to share some of my thinking on some of the creative works that I have developed in the past few weeks alongside my colleagues — and how they can be connected to digital writing — beginning with one that Punya led yesterday.

Multiplicity Photo

Troy's Multiplicity Image
Troy's Multiplicity Image (7-20-11)

Yesterday, Punya led us in a conversation about “tensions” in education, and we had to represent our tension through a multiplicity photo. Using my iPhone (solo, so I had to actually record this as a video and take screen shots from the footage), Pixlr, this tutorial, and help from colleagues in class, I was able to produce and submit the photo above. Don’t ask me which tension I was trying to represent exactly, as I am not really sure myself; my composing process got too focsued on the the outcome and the tech, and I really forgot what it was I was supposed to “say.”

What I do know is that it took me a great deal of thinking to do this quickfire because A) I did it alone and we were supposed to have a partner to take the photos, B) I got a late start, and C) even though Punya said we could repurpose a tool like PPT to blend photos together, I knew that I wanted to do something with an image-editing tool (once Photoshop wouldn’t work for me, I switched to Pixlr).

More importantly, I was learning with my students. I normally talk about the fact that I am only one step ahead, and helping them figure things out. But, because I am one step ahead, I look like a tech genius. In this case, I was walking right next to my colleagues, or even a step behind. I had to raise my hand when Punya asked us who wanted a tutorial and, after figuring it out, immediately had to explain the concepts of the layering, erasing, and blending to another colleague, leading her through the process.

This put me in the role of the learner, and only a slightly more knowledgable other. It was good to feel uncomfortable with a technology and process. This reminds me that when I am talking about digital writing tools, no matter how common they are to me, they can still seem completely strange someone who has never used them. Moreover, describing what we did as a composing process is critical, because it helps me frame the task in terms of purpose and audience.

Ignite Presentation

[iframe_loader src=”http://present.me/embed/625/350/1253-maety2-authentic-use-presentation” height=”375″ width=”640″ click_words=”Go to Present.me to view” click_url=”http://present.me/embed/625/350/1253-maety2-authentic-use-presentation” ]

Inspired by the idea of an Ignite-style presentation, in particular this one by Chris Lehmann, Greg and I wanted students to summarize the major problems and possible solutions related to technology integration in education. We also wanted our students to be concise and collaborate. We wanted them to develop an “Authentic Use Policy” for themselves and their colleagues. Knowing that Present.me would be the final tool that we used to share our work and record the five-minute presentation, we knew we needed to have slides in a PPT compatible format. Also, people needed to collaborate. Fast.

So, we went with Google Docs. And, while it didn’t allow us all the flexibility in terms of design, it did work as a collaborative composing space. I recorded the entire 30 minutes or so of the slidedeck coming together using Camtasia, and here is a quick clip of the few minutes that I was working on my slides. Watching what I am doing (playing with fonts, finding a CC licensed image, organizing slides) and what is going on in the background with other partners’ sets of slides shows us a quick glimpse into the collaborative composing process. We had talked about slide design and looked at some resources from Robin Williams’ Non-Designers Design principles, and that helped some of us guide our work.

This collaborative, quick process is one that many of the teachers said could be adapted to their classroom. Moreover, the slides contain information that could be adapted for future PD that they might lead. While it was fast, it captured a semester’s worth of learning, and brought all our voices into the process, both in terms of design and implementation.

[iframe_loader src=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tnOqF-pKpPA” height=”550″ width=”510″ click_words=”Go to YouTube to view” click_url=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tnOqF-pKpPA” ]

Stop Motion Video

[iframe_loader src=”http://www.youtube.com/embed/5KjsG_467do” height=”550″ width=”510″ click_words=”Go to YouTube to view” click_url=”http://www.youtube.com/embed/5KjsG_467do” ]

Punya has been exploring stop motion with his own children for a number of years, and I have also been inspired by the work of Kevin Hodgson, and I wanted to find a genuine opportunity to try it out with my own. After watching a series of videos that our MAET students created in response to a prompt about creativity, my own children were quite inspired. Lexi, Beau, and I took my iPhone, and some bowling pins that they had been playing with outside, and began to craft a story. Using a lawn chair to steady my camera, we shot dozens of pictures while, at the same time, trying to think about a good story to tell along the way.

They quickly figured out that the one yellow pin should be excluded in some way, and had to figure out how to animate that. They worked together to hold the yellow pin off screen, having her “peek” back in as the bowling ball moved forward to knock down the other pins. At first, we ended the picture taking with the yellow pin standing in the middle, triumphant. But, they were not happy with that ending, as they didn’t feel like the story was really “over.” So, we brainstormed other options. One of them remembered that grandma had just thrown away a red twist tie, and we fashioned that into a smile to put on the yellow pin. After importing those shots, choosing a song, putting in the sound effect, and testing it out on an audience of siblings, we knew that we had created a good story.

While my kids did not “write” in the traditional sense, spending time putting words on paper (or screen), we were clearly engaged in a storytelling process. Also, the fact that they had to think about the story in such small, frame-by-frame increments led them to carefully consider what each pin would be doing. Finally, even though Lexi’s feet were accidentally included in one key shot (that we didn’t want to shoot again because we couldn’t get all the pins back in the exact place), they were able to creatively solve that dilemma by putting a note in the credits.

This has been a fun summer, both in terms of teaching and trying out new digital writing approaches with my kids.

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Designing PD Experiences: Can You RELATe?

This afternoon, second year students in MSU’s Master of Arts in Educational Technology presented a conference – in person and virtually – for their teaching colleagues: RELATe (Rouen Educational Leadership and Technology Conference, #relate11). This conference comes in the middle of the 4 week summer program, and is one of the main projects for Year 2 students. As one of the instructors for the course, and a mentor to them during the planning process, I have asked them to reflect on the process of creating this conference, so I also want to add a few thoughts to the conversation about technology, leadership, inquiry, and learning.

  • Planning – I have coordinated about half a dozen conferences, numerous summer institutes, countless workshops, and more than a few online events. Given that the focus of this event was for the teachers themselves to plan the event, it was difficult to step back from the planning in many ways, yet I still offered my informed opinion and helped scaffold a discussion about the conference by having them talk about effective PD, analyze past conference schedules (and lack of materials online), think about back-channeling and  archiving, and the overall presentation/hands-on balance within the conference. For the most part, I think that they did a good job planning an effective day, although I do wonder if the kiosk/hands-on times worked in the way they thought (as a combination passing time and opportunity to work one-to-one with presenters). It seemed like most of the sessions either ran over into that kiosk time, or people left because they weren’t quite sure what to do during the kiosk time.
  • Thematic, not technological, approaches to organizing sessions – rather than highlighting specific technologies in session titles and descriptions, as had been done in years past, the group took a more thematic approach to designing the sessions. I think that this worked well, as it really helped them focus on the content and pedagogy aspects of TPACK (not that technology was excluded by any means, but it certainly was not the star of the show). I hope that this thematic approach guides the MAET students as they approach PD plans in their own schools.
  • Social media – there was a team for social media (as well as for other aspects of the planning) and they did a great job producing a series of viral videos, sharing the hashtag, and tweeting/back-channeling during the conference. This has helped me really think about how we can, conscientiously, work with conference planners and attendees before, during, and after conferences to enhance their experience. As one MAET teacher mentioned to me — I’ve been to conferences before, but I never realized how much work goes into planning and promoting it. This is amplified even more in an age of social media. Given that many of the professionals we target for writing project and other literacy PD are still on the fringes of heavy social media use — and it was still tough to get everyone from our very techie group involved today — I wonder how we can more effectively employ social media for groups like MRA, NWP, and NCTE.
  • Web streaming – I was genuinely surprised when, a week ago, I asked if anyone in the group had been a part of a webinar before and found out that no one had. Leigh did a great job setting up the Adobe Breeze rooms, and most of the actual connections worked well during the conference. One link from the Weebly site had an extra two spaces at the end and, in turn, directed people to the wrong “room” on the MSU server. Once we figured out that the spaces needed to be deleted, we were back in business. Also, we realized quickly that presenters were not advancing slides in the Connect rooms, so the virtual visitors were not on the same slide. Also, one presenter used Prezi, and the Flash interface wouldn’t play in Breeze. Then, it was tough to monitor the in-room and Twitter backchannels both at once.
  • Virtual keynotes – fortunately, we had the keynoters record their sessions before hand and just join in for a Q/A session. The first one went fine, but we lost the Breeze connection on the closing keynote. So, being sure to have a back-up plan for that is important, too.

All in all, I feel that the RELATe conference was a success, both for the participants and, more importantly, for the Year 2 students who led it. I look forward to reviewing and discussing the evaluation data with them, as well as thinking about how they can transfer what they have learned about technology, inquiry, and leadership back into their own teaching contexts.


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This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.