The idea of a professional learning network has existed for quite some time, built on some of the foundational work related to “situated learning” and “communities of practice” developed by Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger in the 1990s.
With the emergence of Web 2.0, Stephen Downes described “learning networks in practice” in a 2007 paper, arguing that “The idea behind the personal learning environment is that the management of learning migrates from the institution to the learner.”
Combined with the 2006 emergence of Twitter, a new idea had taken form, and educators began using hashtags to start a variety of ed chats, including our own #MichEd which was inaugurated Nov 7, 2012.
This week, we reflect on our own experiences being a part of the #MichEd network and, more broadly, what it means for each of us to develop our own PLN. We will be joined by students from CMU’s Doctorate in Educational Technology, and the chat will be hosted by Troy Hicks. During the chat we will consider:
What motivates you, personally, to create and maintain a PLN?
How do PLNs change with time, for you personally and across the network? Think about #michED and who was there at the start, who has joined, who has left (or is less active) and WHY?
How do we keep our networks diverse in thought? We don’t want them to be echo chambers for our ideas, but to be constructive spaces for dialogue. How can we achieve that goal?
Besides sharing great resources, what can a PLN teach us about how to be an educator? How does participating in a PLN become part of your professional persona?
OK, let’s get specific. What, exactly, can we learn from PLNs? Along with soft skills of collaboration and sharing resources, what other digital or pedagogical skills can we learn?
Finally, what’s next for PLNs? How can we nurture and sustain them? How can we invite new voices? What should a group of doctoral students studying educational technology be thinking about?
A recent conversation with a colleague about this topic reminded me of the many reasons why I, personally, dislike Bb:
The interface is almost entirely teacher-centric, and even the features that allow students to contribute (discussion forums, and “innovations” to the LMS like blogs and wikis) are still very didactic in nature requiring that the teacher set them up in a manner to “allow” students to contribute. For instance, look at the many options available in just the “discussion board” settings in the screenshot below from Bb and consider the levels of autonomy that the teacher can decide upon for students, leaving them with fewer and fewer decisions to make for themselves. This is not really a discussion, but an assignment.
Similarly, the interface is designed on a “delivery” model of content. Yes, a creative instructor could build some self-guided learning, inquiry, and even “gamification” into the system (which Bb has conveniently added as “achievements,” but it is centered again on content consumption, assignments submission, and the gradebook. Again, the premise with the LMS is that students are logging in to view content that the teacher has created (or curated), and that this content (and this content alone) is what is important. Even if students create content (and could, theoretically, do so by embedding images, videos, or other types of digital artifacts). Still, for the most part, when directed to engage with the content (and I haven’t even mentioned online quizzes/exams), students are encouraged to do so most often to earn points.
Even in the best possible case, where a teacher is open to multiple revisions of an assignment that allows students to engage in an iterative process of learning, the interface for responding to assignments is, again, didactic, with the student submitting a paper, the teacher using commenting tools and rubrics to reply and, perhaps, opening up another “attempt” for submission. In contrast to a more open and flexible system of collaboration (as enabled by, say Google Docs or even the most current version of Word with synchronous and cloud-based editing), this workflow in Bb still relies on discrete assignments, deadlines, and grades.
There are more critiques that I could levy, but these are the main concerns that I have with Bb. So, from my earliest experiences teaching at the university, then, I have been trying to upend the expectation that I must use an LMS to organize my courses… as well as my thinking and my teaching. It is a struggle, and I have succumbed to the convenience (and mundane normality) of Bb in my past few semesters when teaching masters and doctoral courses all online. (I’ll have to describe my (compromised) rationale for all that in another post, but suffice it to say that I have, at least in recent times).
For the moment, I want to reflect on my journey with wikis as an alternative to the traditional LMS, in particular, with Wikispaces. Eagerly heralded as one of the revolutionary Web 2.0 tools that would democratize knowledge, especially for digital teaching and learning, wikis have been a staple of my teaching and professional development work for over a decade. So, like many others in the ed tech community who were both saddened and shocked when Wikispaces announced its imminent demise (some more shocked and outraged than others), I knew that this was more than just a moment to rethink where I store my data and how I organize my teaching.
First, a quick note of thanks to Wikispaces. Yes, I know that I have lots of data to recover, and that will be a pain. But, I can’t complain. I’ve used, enjoyed, and promoted Wikispaces for over a decade, and I appreciate what they have done with and for educators. Alas, like anything that has been offered for free, I am well aware that it too could go by the wayside (and soon will be). Wikispaces, alas, is no different. People are figuring out ways to save and repurpose their Wikispaces data, and I will, too (before the end of July!).
So, instead, I look at this as an opportunity to rethink my presence on the web as a teacher, teacher educator, and scholar. I will do that in the weeks and months to come. What I want to reflect on for a moment, however, is different. I want to think about why I really used Wikispaces, and whether I was being as open-minded, collaborative, and innovative as I thought I was.
That is, even as a progressive-minded educator, opting to use Wikispaces as a substitute for the LMS, as a tool for students to collaborate and contribute to our classroom community (as well as during workshops in which I lead professional development for teachers), I don’t know that I have fully enacted or lived up to my egalitarian ideas. If I were to do an honest accounting of all the Wikispaces that I manage, and see what I have contributed versus others, I would guess that I am, at best, close to a 50/50 balance. More likely, I am the one doing most of the adding and revising, especially in my course and workshop wikis.
In other words, at a deeper, more substantive level, have any of the wikis that I have created — and the pedagogy that I have enacted surrounding those wikis — really been about the participants, or has it been about me?
For all the class websites that I have created with Wikispaces, including ones for undergraduate, masters, and doctoral students, and for all the pages that I have created for workshops and longer PD institutes, I have to wonder… was I creating things on Wikispaces because it was convenient for me?
Was this a technical choice, perhaps, because giving a wiki address was an easy to find a domain (back before shortened URLs and QR codes made it easier to get to a Google Doc?)?
Was it because I wanted the public facing interface and immediate editing as a way to fit my own style of teaching, and not so much as a tool for really encouraging substantive contributions and communication amongst students?
I’ve been wondering all of this because – as I prepare to download the data from dozens of wikis and figure out where and how to archive it – I’ve noticed that I am the main contributor to most of the wikis I’ve begun. There are exceptions, of course, including our writing project’s wiki which has existed for nearly 10 years and contains the contributions of dozens of teachers. There is also a smattering of wikis that I’ve created in a one time workshop, inviting teachers to create their own page, for a day, that then linger in cyberspace. And, of course, there are the class wikis, where I have had varying degrees of success with students creating and curating their own profile pages and contributing to other sections of the class wiki site.
Still, the challenge is taking a deep, thoughtful look at all of these wikis again and thinking about who it is that has done most of the contribution. There is the old adage that “school is the place where young people go to watch old people work.” Bb, certainly, seems to be virtual manifestation of that physical truth about schools.
My question, at least at this moment, is whether or not I have been simply recreating that truth under the guise of collaboration, creativity, and inquiry by using wikis…
… or, have I really done anything different in the space of hybrid/online learning over the past 10 to 12 years? And, to circle back to the dilemma of the LMS, this has given me pause to seriously reconsider my use of Bb, too.
I’ve started to become complacent, and that is a dangerous place to be when it comes to digital writing and digital teaching. Like most teaching dilemmas, this is a wicked problem, and one that I will need to wrestle with more and more as the July 31 deadline for Wikispaces’ imminent demise comes closer and closer. In a way, I am thankful for the the opportunity to rethink why and how I create and curate materials for the web, for students, and for other teachers. I don’t know that I will ever have the answer, but I hope to soon have some thoughts on how to approach it from a new perspective.
When they are engaged in the writing process, students need timely, specific and goal-oriented feedback. During this workshop, we will briefly discuss research-based elements of successful writing instruction that focus on feedback. We will then explore how to make textual feedback more efficient with a comment bank and voice-to-text dictation, audio recordings and screencasts to efficiently provide feedback to our writers.
In what ways does feedback help keep students engaged in their relationship to the content, the instructor, and one another?
Do a personal 24- to 48-hour news audit in which you record all the news you get now, where it comes from, and how well it meets your needs and interests.
This short course reminded me of the power of experiential, inquiry-based learning. As I am redesigning a media literacy course for teacher candidates, I am thinking that one of these types of brief activities each week could be incredibly useful, so I will return to them again in the future.
Yesterday, I was fortunate enough to lead a workshop for teacher consultants at the Oregon Writing Project at SOU. Fall in Oregon is beautiful, and I am thankful to have had the opportunity to be here.
Like all the workshops I do, it was a unique experience in the sense that I begin with some idea of a plan and, as I interact with the teachers, I make moves from one topic and activity to the next based on their needs and interests. I’ve used this model for nearly all of the workshops that I have done in the past ten years. Call it flexibility, call it intuition. I am not sure. I just can’t plan out, minute-by-minute, a workshop that will be “delivered” to an unwitting audience. I want to be a professor who teaches, not just one who professes.
At any rate, their site director, Margaret Perrow, and I had time to talk on Thursday night, and I had shared my strategy for leading workshops. We talked about flexibility, especially as it relates to using digital tools. She then told me how each teacher in their summer institute will often choose a guiding metaphor to describe themselves, and how they will carry their metaphor throughout the SI and into their writing.
Her metaphor, for me, became “the hyperlink.”
In all the best ways, that gave me pause to think. And I kept thinking about it all day yesterday and into this morning.
Unlike many workshops that I do, this one (on the west coast) didn’t require me to rush off yesterday afternoon to catch a plane (because the flights home didn’t go that late!), so I was able to stay another day. I’ve had some time to think, and I have continued to ponder this guiding metaphor over the past 24 hours.
Immediately, I thought of Bud Hunt’s “Teaching Blogging Not Blogs,” which has been a seminal piece in my thinking about what it means to teach and learn digital writing, and I am spending my few minutes at the airport to reread his work and think about it even more.
Despite Bud’s concern that he is aging (hey, aren’t we all), I think that his post has, indeed, aged well. Written in 2010 as a summary of ideas about blogging (and hyperlinking) from 2005 forward, here are some of the relevant quotes for me as I reflect on what occurred in yesterday’s workshop and, metaphorically, think of myself as the hyperlink.
Blogging is that set of skills that he [Will Richardson] talks about. It’s the reason why I want the students that I work with to use blogs — in the end. But I don’t think that many of them will start with that skill.
Bud’s point here — that students need to experience how we, as writers, use blogs — resonates with the broader philosophy of the National Writing Project: teachers must be writers themselves. In this case, he is talking about how teachers can be digital writers and think about using links in strategic ways. In turn, when I lead a workshop, I want teachers to see me model the kinds of teaching that I want them to do. Without being trite, I want to be the change in the world (of teaching with digital writing tools). When teachers can see a model for digital writing and learning in my workshops, my hope is that they, like students, will begin to build their own skills. Linking requires us to stretch in these new directions.
Digital texts have the potential to make a big, juicy mess of a linear experience. Or to turn a so-so piece of writing into a masterful collection of references, linktributions, and pointers to other good stuff. My hunch, a rough one, but one I’ve held for a while, is that reading and writing that way makes you (ultimately) a better reader and writer. I just don’t really think I know how to teach that way yet, or at least, I don’t know how to teach other people to think about teaching that way.
This is a quote that I’ve cited before, and I agree with Bud’s hunch. Reading and writing (in a digital space) has the potential to make you a better reader and writer overall. As the news media and some sensationalist scholars would have us believe, it has the potential to make things (much) worse, too. I suppose that the jury is still out on that.
Anyway, during my workshops, I am usually faced with a question. Many versions of the question abound, but one teacher I worked with yesterday asked it pretty bluntly: why should we be asking our students to do this (digital reading and writing) work?
I am not entirely sure how I answered: modeling and mentoring are important, it’s the world in which we live, it’s part of the standards and digital literacies. Something along those lines.
But, at the core, I want teachers and students to be smarter, more productive readers and writers. Being the hyperlink — connecting them to new visions for teaching practice — is, indeed, what I hope I am doing.
Blogging as experimenting. Want us to try out a tool or a lesson or an activity? Post it here along with some instructions and, perhaps, a question or two to guide our exploration/experimentation.
Experimenting is risky, and doing so in front of an audience is even more so. I want the teachers with whom I work to experience risk by trying out new tools and practices, so I need to risk, too. Without a doubt, there will be a link that doesn’t work, a question I can’t answer, or a tool that won’t load on someone’s machine. That is risky, and it causes many teachers to feel (at least) a small degree of panic. I want to model for them how I handle that stress, how I problem solve, how I adapt and move on. Hyperlinks take us from one place to the next. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t.
But, you have to keep clicking, keep linking.
Again, being the metaphorical hyperlink is something that I can aspire to. Thank you to Margaret for the metaphor, to Bud for your reflections, and to the entire NWP network for continued opportunities that amaze and enlighten me.
As I mentioned earlier in the week, I had an opportunity to collaborate and learn with about 130 other teachers, librarians, and higher ed faculty at the Summer Institute in Digital Literacy. Given that this was my second go-round, I had some idea of what would happen day-to-day, and over the arc of the entire week, and again the institute met and exceeded my expectations.
First, I appreciate having had the chance to collaborate with Jill Castek on our Thursday keynote, “Deepening Assessment, Digitally.” Here are the slides, as well as many additional links.
The other key takeaway for me — which is really just a reiteration of what I have learned from my colleagues in the National Writing Project — is that relevance, relationships, and reflection are at the heart of learning, for both kids and adults. No secret here; just a gentle reminder that great learning takes all three of these elements, and those elements are fostered through sustained immersion in an intensive, sometimes disruptive, yet ultimately supportive and growth-oriented environment.
Both summers at URI have provided this for me, and in a slightly different manner than what I experience in NWP work. One protocol that we use at the end of the day, both with participants and faculty, is a group discussion of “highlights and lowlights.” Not meant to be a space for problem-solving, it is a structure that allows us all to share the best and worst part of each day in a setting where our colleagues listen empathically. While I was quite tired at the end of each day, those conversations were rich, and I am still thinking through what everyone brought to them.
So, the reminder that these elements all matter is a good one, and knowing that there are multiple paths to pursue as we lead our colleagues in professional growth is a good reminder, too. I’m heading back to Michigan with a renewed appreciation for what it takes to immerse one’s self in a digitally-rich learning experience, and that we need to take time to build those three R’s of a true twenty-first century education: relevance, relationships, and reflection.
Having been on my “to read” list for quite some time, I was finally able to dig into an oft-mentioned book: Alvin Tofler’s 1970 look at, well, today, Future Shock.
I had not read it before, though I see one of his quotes mentioned quite often: “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”
Quite awhile ago, I had heard a story about the book on NPR, and was reminded that a copy still sat upon my bookshelf. Why I hadn’t cracked the cover, I am not sure. And, of course, hindsight is 20/20, so there are tributes to Toffler’s insight, as well as critiques. Prediction is a tough business, so I don’t really want to offer either. Also, I will be honest… I made it about 2/3 of the way through, and then took a fast-forward jump to Chapter 18: “Education in the Future Tense.” So, some of the quotes below are from earlier in the book and some from that section, and I need/want to finish the entire book.
So, here, I want to just pull out a few quotes that speak to the current state of debate when it comes to education, school choice, and ed tech, without offering too much additional commentary.
“Failure to diversify education within the system will simply lead to the growth of alternative educational opportunities outside the system.” (274)
“Moreover, in the educational world of tomorrow, that relic of mass production, the centralized work place, will also become less important… A good deal of education will take place in the student’s own room at home or in a dorm, at hours of his own choosing… he will be freed, for much of the time, of the restrictions and unpleasantness that dogged him in the lockstep classroom.“ (275)
“It is obstinate nonsense to insist, in the face of all this, that the machines of tomorrow will turn us into robots, steal our individuality, eliminate cultural variety… technology, far from restricting our individuality, will multiply our choices—and our freedom—exponentially.” (282)
On mass schooling:
“Mass education was the ingenious machine constructed by industrialism to produce the kind of adults it needed… The inner life of the school thus became an anticipatory mirror, a perfect introduction to industrial society. The most criticized features of education today – the regimentation, lack of individualization, the rigid systems of seating, grouping, grading and marking, the authoritarian role of the teacher – are precisely those that made mass public education so effective in instrument of adaptation for its place and time.” (400)
He goes on to know how progressives such as John Dewey were trying to instill ideas of “presentism,” and to push back against the ideas of the education industrial complex. I’m still not sure that we are all reading enough Dewey. At any rate, back to the quotes:
On the connection between school and work:
“In such a world, the most valued attributes of the industrial era become handicaps. The technology of tomorrow requires not millions of lightly lettered men, ready to work in unison at endlessly repetitious jobs, it requires not men who take orders in unblinking fashion, aware that the price of bread is mechanical submission to authority, but men who can make critical judgments, who can leave their way through | novel environments, who are quick to spot new relationships in the rapidly changing reality.” (402-3)
On the study of history and social issues:
“It is no longer sufficient for Johnny to understand the past. It is not even enough for him to understand the present, for this here-and-now environment will soon vanish. Johnny must learn to anticipate the directions and rate of change. He must, to put it technically, learn to make repeated, probabilistic, increasingly long-range assumptions about the future. And so must Johnny’s teachers.” (403)
On the structure of schooling:
“This trend [toward a knowledge-based industry] will be sharply encouraged by improvements in computer-assisted education, electronic video recording, holography, and other technical fields. Parents and students might sign short-term “learning contracts” with the nearby school, committing them to teach-learn certain courses for course modules. Students might continue going to school for social and athletic activities or for subjects they cannot learn on their own or under the tutelage of parents or family friends. Pressures in this direction will mount as the schools grow more anachronistic, and the courts will find themselves deluged with cases attacking the present obsolete compulsory attendance laws. We may witness, in short, a limited dialectical swing back toward education in the home.” (406)
On the nature of truth as it relates to schooling:
“Given further acceleration, we can conclude that knowledge will grow increasingly perishable. Today’s “fact” becomes tomorrow’s “misinformation.” There is no argument against learning facts or data – far from it. But a society in which the individual constantly changes his job, his place of residence, his social ties and so forth, places an enormous premium on learning efficiency. Tomorrow’s schools must therefore teach not merely data, but ways to manipulate it. Students must learn how to discard old ideas, how and when to replace them. They must, in short, learn how to learn… By instructing students how to learn, unlearn and relearn, a powerful new dimension can be added to the education.” (414)
My hope is that I can find some time to read the last third of the book and, perhaps, watch the documentary.
In the meantime, I just wanted to share the quotes that I found compelling in hope that it will give me some ideas to talk about/from in the PD events I have coming up this summer. My hope is that Toffler (and his wife’s unattributed) work still resonates for you, too.