Yesterday, I was invited to deliver the closing keynote for CMU’s Great Lakes Conference on Teaching and Learning. It was the 9th annual event and, oddly enough, also the end of my ninth academic year here at CMU… and I had never attended before. So, it was a great combination of a familiar audience filled with many colleagues from CMU and other institutions in Michigan while, at the same time, a new venue for me to present because most of my work with higher ed colleagues comes in the form of smaller workshops, not keynote addresses.
Moreover, I was trying to summarize and synthesize ideas from as many of the other conference sessions as possible building on the theme of Engaging All Learners in Today’s “Classroom,” with the scare quotes intentionally placed around that word. Knowing that the classroom — even in fairly traditional, face-to-face settings — involves so much more than just the time you have with students at one moment, in one setting, I wanted to show how a variety of technologies could be used to enhance literacy instruction. So, before the presentation even began, there was a handout on their tables explaining a bit about what we would be doing.
Thus, I built my presentation using Nearpod, and had hoped that my 100+ colleagues would all be able to use it. This was a risk for me, being generally new to Nearpod and having never used it in a keynote. So, as I launched in, the technology gremlins took over. In that moment, I quickly found out that my “gold” account status only allowed 50 participants. It was a technical limitation that I hadn’t even thought about before hand, but certainly should have given similar limitations with other tools like Poll Everywhere.
Still, we were able to soldier on — and I had prepared for some technical difficulties by providing short link URLs to different online activities such as a discussion using Padlet for a visual literacy exercise and a critical thinking activity with Google Docs. I also paused periodically throughout the presentation to remind my colleagues that these technologies can provide us and our students with unique opportunities for sharing and collaborating, but ink and paper can also work just fine as we work to build their skills with disciplinary literacies.
On the whole, I felt as if the audience gave off a good vibe and — despite some technical difficulties — the combination of literacy-based activities with relatively easy-to-use technologies worked well. My fear was that it would be too much, too overwhelming. And, while I could see and hear that concern from some audience members, it seemed as though many people were able to participate. One person commented on the fact that it was good I had the shortened URLs available as a backup.
So, I will continue to take risks with technology. Given that there were many of my CMU colleagues in the audience, I wanted them to see that even the tech experts sometimes try and fail, and then try again. Also, with many of our DET students there, I wanted them to know that I was practicing what I had been teaching all semester long in EDU 807, making an attempt to model creative technology use with practical, pedagogical skills. I am glad that I took the risk, and I hope that the audience felt the same.
The past two days (and into tomorrow), I’ve had the good fortune to be in Austin, TX, amongst a group of dedicated National Writing Project colleagues. As with all NWP events, it has been intellectually challenging and emotionally rewarding, inviting us to think about what it means for us — as site leaders who have each traveled our own unique path to this position — to think about new ways that we can support teachers in our post-NCLB/RTTT world (which also happened to defund the NWP).
We are at the point in the retreat where we have been asked to reflect on two days of conversations, brainstorming sessions, interactive panel discussions, tweeting, post-it noting, gallery walking, and, of course, eating. While there are many themes to reflect upon, I want to zero in on two that made their way to my post it notes this afternoon: effective models for online professional development and recruiting and supporting teachers as they grow into leadership roles.
For the first component, it is fortuitous that I am teaching my first online doctoral course — EDU 807, “Learning Tools in Education Technology” — and that has kicked off this week while I am here at the retreat. There are multiple tensions that I feel need to be balanced:
The “magic” that happens in the summer institute being face-to-face vs. the kinds of alternative experiences we can offer online.
The pervading idea that we can “deliver” a great deal of “content” through online courses/PD vs. the kinds of participation and growth that can happen online.
The dizzying array of ed tech tools that we could employ vs. the values we hold dear about teaching, learning, and the NWP core beliefs.
The balance between teaching writing (alphabetic text, academic conventions) vs. digital writing with multiple forms of media.
The fine line between creating and then offering resources and experiences in a free, open source manner vs. the traditional university ideas about ownership and intellectual property.
There are more, to be sure, but these are the few that have come to mind today.
The second major idea that is on my mind comes in the form of how we can continue supporting teachers as they grow into leadership roles, assuming that we are able to find and develop these teachers in the first place. It is no accident that the NWP model has been compared to minor league baseball’s “farm system.” Noticing and inviting teachers who showed promise as leaders was (and still is) one of the main goals of our work. The challenge is that we don’t have the immersive summer institute experience (or, at the very least, not the same system that we used to have).
Additionally, in many states, teachers are no longer rewarded — in prestige or with pay — to be truly outstanding in the sense that they actively seek out professional learning above and beyond the basics offered in their districts. For instance, in Michigan as in many other states, it is now possible for teachers to get their certificates renewed using “district sponsored” PD hours. Teachers will not be recognized or rewarded for doing more. One teacher with whom I have worked extensively, for instance, doesn’t even share info with department members about the presentations at professional conferences or publications on which we have collaborated. Neither the incentive structure in her school nor the culture of professionalism in the school invites it.
In short, my mind is full, but I admit that my heart is heavy.
This is challenging work and — while I am not afraid to tackle it — I am afraid that, despite our best efforts, we are going to lose some of the magic that is the life-changing NWP experience (with or without summer institutes). This is not to say that we can’t continue to do good work, to reach out to new teachers, and to develop exciting, enriching programs. We have already. We will in the future.
It’s just to say that the “new” pathways to leadership are going to continue to be difficult for us, as existing leaders to forge, and for the next generation of leaders to find. I know we will continue, yet I am anxious to figure out exactly how we will do so.
While the semester officially starts tomorrow, I had scheduled an online session with my EDU 807 students tonight via Zoom as a kick-off to the semester. As it happens, this first week of class also coincides with a trip to Austin for a meeting of the National Writing Project for the “New Pathways to Leadership” retreat. So, when I originally sent out a call to the doctoral students in the course to plan for the best time for meeting, I knew that it would be a challenge to get a mutually agreeable time in early this week, preferably Sunday, Monday, or Tuesday, so I had picked tonight when I new.
Travel plans and Mother Nature didn’t cooperate,
One of the values I know that many teachers hold dear is the actual moment of educating — bringing forth new ideas, forging connections, asking questions — and that is, no doubt, difficult to do in an online environment. At best, we aim to do so with the occasional synchronous online event (like the webcast I had planned for tonight), sometimes simply through chat. More often than not, however, it seems that online learning comes in the form of “content” to be “delivered” by a teacher and, subsequently, “mastered” by a student. Either way, the online experience seems less than optimal, though I admit that I am fairly new to fully online teaching.
So, in my efforts to maintain consistency with the goals and aspirations of our doctoral program — and because those goals and aspirations such as a personalized experience, thoughtful relationships with peers and the instructor, and (to the extent possible) flexible models for participation — I wanted to host bi-weekly, whole-class conversations to review the main ideas of the module, have groups report out on their projects, and otherwise build and maintain a community. Even with this goal in mind, I know that I must be aware of the context that my students find themselves in as working adults, spread across time zones, so watching a recorded version of the session is always an option.
I know that this balance has been difficult for anyone teaching an online course — whether 20 students, 200, or in the case of some MOOCs, 2000 or more— yet it seems integral to the learning process. Even last fall when I taught an online writing course that was designed by someone else, when I saw no live interaction between teacher and student in the form of conferences scheduled in the semester, I made time. Even a 15-20 minute conversation with my writers made a big difference in their work, probably more than had I just written 15-20 minutes worth of comments on their papers and sent them back via email.
At any rate, syncronicity escaped me today. Screencasts, such as the one I was able to hack together while stranded in an airport on a weather delay, don’t seem to be a good substitution. And, even if it was a viable option, I simply can’t image that I would have recorded this screencast as “content” that could be made available in the course. I tried to personalize it with a bit of humor, poking a bit of fun at myself and the situation as a way to build rapport with my students.
Interestingly, I was planning to share the oft-cited French postcard above during my talk with them. Noting that it offered a vision of 21st century education from the turn of of the twentieth, it is worth seeing what the artists and futurists got right (and, of course, what they got wrong). While I was not just jamming whole books worth of information into my students’ heads today — and we will use collaborative conversations tools like NowComment and Acclaim later this week — it does echo some of the major concerns that those who resist technology can call on: isolation, memorization, and lack of authentic learning tasks.
My hope and expectation is to be more interactive as the semester wears on and, for that, I appreciate the flexibility that online learning offers.
My goal/hope is to reenergize my blogging activity and to share some timely and consistent updates from EDU 807. As a way to begin this conversation, here is my video introduction to the course.
One idea that I am still mulling over is if and how I might “open” up EDU 807 to bring in additional voices of teachers and teacher educators who would want to experience the course in a MOOC-like manner. That is, participants would be able to listen in and participate in our class discussion, both in a synchronous manner through video conferencing as well as around discussions of our shared reading.
So, for all of you reading along this far… if you have any interest in this potential MOOC-like experience, please let me know by sharing a comment below or sending me a tweet or email. If there is enough interest, I may just pursue it.
More on EDU 807 to come soon, most likely around the idea of how we will use tools like Kami, Hypothes.is, and NowComment for our initial reading discussions.
We are in the middle of week three of our Chippewa River Writing Project’s Invitational Summer Institute, and I am sitting in the late afternoon calm of writing time.
At this moment, eight of the seventeen of us are here composing various pieces, including our digital stories. The rest are scattered around our building, or around campus, doing the same. Teacher writers who have found some time, space, and stillness to do meaningful work, both personally and professionally.
For me, it is digital storytelling — the recursive process of writing words, finding images, recording our voices, and repeating each of these steps over and over again — that makes for the most compelling type of writing that we do each summer. I am continually fascinated by the ways in which teachers work on this multimodal composing process.
Some begin with a hint of an idea for a story; others have a strong lead with a clear picture of the story they want to tell. Some begin with their own pictures, digital or digitized, and are able to easily form them into a timeline. Others are stumped, searching the web for countless images that will fit with their vision. Narration is scripted, recorded, revised, and re-recorded.
Finding and clarifying what a story is really about isn’t easy. It’s a journey in which a storyteller’s insight or wisdom can evolve, even revealing an unexpected outcome. Helping storytellers find and own their deepest insights is the part of the journey we enjoy the most. (10)
We don’t often talk about how to gain insight from our writing processes, at least not in school. This is the joy and opportunity that we find in the summer institute.
All of these intangible elements combine to allow us to take risks, be creative, and open ourselves up to discovery. This is the space in which digital stories are born, are nourished, are revised, and, eventually, published and shared with the world.
This afternoon, we took some time to talk about revision, too, and it was interesting to hear how many of us talked about revising our digital pieces, especially our digital stories. Changing one word, just one small element of a script can result in an alteration of the entire timeline. The exact moment when a picture should appear, timed with our own voices or a sound effect, can make or break a digital story.
Digital storytelling, unlike any other form of writing, is a recursive process of discovery, a process that I continue to enjoy as a teacher, teacher educator, and storyteller myself. I look forward to sharing my next story soon.
As anyone who has followed my blog probably knows, there are no ads. No banners. No AdSense. No clickbait.
I don’t accept advertising nor do I often pass along information from others. Sadly, as Dan Meyer explained many years ago, many people make many dollars from those clicks, and I think that educators and parents want a website they can trust. So, I don’t do sponsored posts or the like.
Every once in awhile, however, something comes along that I think is legit: the people running it are working to support teachers and students, they engage in genuine education reform or improvement, and/or the message resonates loudly enough that –even if they take ad money or are directly selling a product — I am willing to share their wares.
As it happens, this past week, three sites came my way that fit this “every once in awhile” phenomenon. I will share a bit about each here:
First, I was contacted by Herrie Coralde at BestSchools.com about the possibility of sharing information for students about, as you might guess, the best schools that offer online degree programs. Many sites, like the ones Dan mentioned in his blog post, create these guides or portals with the intent that someone will click from them to the online program and they get a kickback.
Not so with Best Schools. As they note on their About page, they exist for two reasons:
The first reason is simple: there are too many online programs out there. It’s impossible to keep track of the industry’s growth. And if you turn to Google for help, you’ll see a glut of for-profit schools. It’s hard to know what’s legit and what’s not.
The second reason is more complicated, and it’s the reason why we started BestSchools.com. The existing ranking systems aren’t anywhere close to perfect. They look at metrics like graduation rates and extrapolate them into a ranking. While graduation rates can be a telltale sign of a high quality school, metrics like that don’t tell the whole story.
Moreover, they offer many articles that tell this broader story about online education such as Kristen Hicks’ (no relation) “For-Profit Colleges: What Every Student Should Know.” After providing a list of pros and cons for these types of schools, she advises the reader:
In short, if for-profit colleges continue down the path they’re on now, they may not have much of a future. But if they evolve to better meet the needs of current students and appease the governmental powers currently challenging them, they may just weather all the current storms…
Do your research. Don’t just listen to what a representative from a college has to say, get online and see what else you can find about the school you’re interested in.
Overall, I appreciate the way that BestSchools does their research and presents their findings. For instance, and not just because they pick my employer, CMU, as #1 in the state, they provide an overview of the state’s programs and then dig in to the top 10.
Overall, BestSchools.com appears to be legit and I appreciate having a balanced, research-based team looking at the many options available for online learning. So, finding two in one week was quite interesting, as I will share next.
The second query I received came from Lauren Ford at Online Masters Program. Again, I did some looking around on their site, and found their About page compelling, too. Given my criteria for such sites, listed above, I noticed two things about their page work:
Are you affiliated with the programs featured?
OMP.org is an independently run site. We are not affiliated with any master’s degree programs or schools. None of our links to particular programs or schools are sponsored. These programs were chosen because we regard them as some of the most reputable graduate schools.
How do you make money?
All money made through our site is done so via 3rd party advertisers and affiliates. All ads found on this site, be they banners or forms, are labeled as such. The material we produce ourselves and the tools we offer are all ad-free and 100% free to access. We will never require visitors of our site to use or endorse advertised or affiliated content.
So, fair enough. They are clear about their advertising policy, and I appreciate it. More importantly, they provide a good deal of information for each program, as evidenced here by this entry for CMU’s masters in education.
The site includes public, private non-profit, and private for profit listings and the reviews are written, like BestSchools.com in a balanced, research-based way. Their data comes from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, U.S. Department of Education and the Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs.
Again, this makes for a very thorough and useful site as someone begins to review online programs. Of course, there are other ways for teachers to get online, too, and this third resource shows how.
I began blogging in 2009 – and since then I’ve managed over 20 blogs, some with 200,000 visitors. I started getting tons of questions about blogging from people all over the world, so I thought it’d be a great idea to pack all that information onto one site where I could share it with everyone.
In doing so, he has created a robust website with a clear approach, a clean design, and usable tips. For instance, the screenshot below shows step two in his step-by-step guide. You can see the clear advice, the helpful links, and (just barely at the bottom) a helpful graphic. Most of the resource pages on his site are designed like this.
He is also very clear about how he earns money from his affiliate marketing program, but that is not the heart of his work. He adds “Don’t get me wrong, it’s not because I want to make money from you. It’s mostly to keep my site up and running so I could provide you with the latest blogging tutorials, guides and strategies in the blogging niche.”
Overall, Mike’s work is smart, concise, and useful. Probably his most relevant page for educators is “Blogging in the Classroom,” followed closely by his “What is a Blog?” resource. In particular, I could see using that document as a great way to talk about audiences, purposes, and genres for blogging, not just for using blogs (ala Bud Hunt).
So, there you have it. Three coincidentally timed contacts in the past week, all of which have led to useful resources that I may have not otherwise considered. Please let me know if you check these resources out and what you think by leaving a comment below or following up with me on Twitter.
For anyone that has read this blog, seen my guest post on the Heinemann website, or heard me speak in the past few months, you know that I am becoming more and more intrigued with Mozilla’s Popcorn as a digital writing tool. Last week, my students in ENG 201 started playing around with Popcorn as one possible tool for creating their final, multimedia projects.
Before I share this example from one of my students, Cali Winslow, I wanted to note just a few quick notes about helping guide students to this point of the semester.
First, I have been fortunate enough to teach and honors section this semester. While most times I teach English 201 I am focused in on various forms of academic writing, and especially on the techniques of argument, this particular semester has been interesting because I am guiding students, as freshmen, to think about what they want to do for their senior honors capstone research project. As a part of this work, students will be submitting what I’m calling a “very rough draft” of what they would like to do as a senior honors project proposal.
Second, because we’ve been talking about digital writing throughout the semester, I am asking them to share their final presentation not just as a PowerPoint, but in some kind of multimedia form. Over the past few weeks we have begun looking at a number of different tools, and Popcorn is one of them. My hope is that the few students will use this tool for their final projects, especially since I have so many students interested in topics related to media.
All of this is a lead up to what I found to be a truly wonderful project. Mind you, this was meant as an opportunity for play and exploration, a formative assessment opportunity just to see what students could come up with in a limited amount of time. My guess is that Cali spent much more than just a “few extra minutes” outside of class to get this creative representation of her many “fandoms.” In fact, she noted in her reflection, there are many things to consider when embarking on such a project:
This project revealed some important benefits and drawbacks of using multimedia presentations. One clear benefit is that, if executed properly, it can provide a concise, engaging presentation related to the topic. A one-minute video can be much more compelling than a page of text presenting the same information. It also allows the author to be more creative in how they present their message, which can draw a wider audience. As with any media, however, there are some limitations. The biggest problem, in my presentation, was due to technological issues. As I mentioned, I had five tracks that were all timed precisely to fit with one another. Several times I tried to play them back and one would glitch and become out-of-sync with the others, which in some cases, even somewhat changed the message I was trying to get across (some of you may also have had this problem if you tried watching my video).
This is one of those projects where a student clearly went above and beyond, and I think you’ll find the final results to be compelling and creative. If this is what she was able to create just playing around with Popcorn for fun, I can’t wait to see what she — and all of my students — with their final projects.
This past week has been a busy one for me, with professional experiences ranging from face-to-face workshops and two webinars, to our first school-based field experiences with pre-service teachers; additionally I met with my writing project leadership team, facilitated two writing groups and ended last night by helping to moderate a panel discussion amongst principals for helping them secure a job. Whew…
In and amongst all of these activities, I have been reminded of the power of teacher networks. In fact, my entire professional life centers on the idea of teacher networks. Identifying networks. Building collaborations. Nurturing novice and veteran teachers alike. Putting them in conversation with one another. Asking smart questions about curriculum, instruction, and assessment. Creating new networks, and beginning the process again. It’s part of who I am, part of what I do.
At the core, what I am attempting to do with my pre-service teachers is about using technology in a way that moves well beyond simplistic integration. As Ruben Puentedura describes it in his SAMR model, I want pre-service teachers to move from technology as a tool for enhancement of teaching practice into an opportunity to transform their practice.
Yet, I find my pre-service teachers, even the most engaged Twitter users amongst them, to be hesitant about using social networking in this manner.
Of course, change is hard, and I am working to ease them into it. I want to provide them with the opportunity, yet not foist Twitter upon them. At the same time, we cannot move fast enough. There are so many conversations, so many ideas that they need to jump into, so many networks that they can learn from.
Indeed, my colleagues in teacher education could take a play from the Twitter/PLN playbook, as I do not often see teacher educators participating in regular conversations. There are exceptions, of course, but when I was in a recent college of ed meeting about reforming our teacher ed program, no one presenting mentioned how we could tap into these existing networks as a way to recruit mentor teachers, build school partnerships, and learn about current trends in the field. Many of my colleagues need to rethink how they, too, participate in networks as a broader component of their own (and their pre-service teachers’) professional learning.
At this point, I am still pushing forward with Twitter outside of my methods class, though I think I might use it in class next week to hold a backchannel conversation, too. I’ve resisted the urge to place any kind of grade on Twitter participation, though I have told students that they will be evaluated on their participation in class, both at the mid-term and at the end of class. So, I will keep working to get them involved, and to get other teacher educators involved, too.