Back to Teaching, Post-EduCon 2.3

Although I would have posted this last night upon returning from EduCon, Sara and I found ourselves rerouted by Delta and not arriving home until about 2AM. So, a little time to sleep this morning (in fact, very little) and a little time to think about this all day today has now brought me back to my computer tonight, and I am reading a flurry of tweets and posts, post-EduCon. In particular, Liz B. Davis shared her “EduCon Struggle” with a thoughtful follow-up from Chris Lehmann, among others, and Bud just asked for our “educontext” in a tweet just a while ago.

So, where am I at in my “educontext?” Well, with encouraging words from both Sara and Liz to share my thoughts, here is where I was at 24 hours ago, when composing a draft on a plane, with a few more comments below.

My second visit to EduCon (and third visit to Philly) in three years gave my time to reconnect with many progressive minds in the education and edtech world, including many NWP colleagues whose support made my presentation on Because Digital Writing Matters a success (see our shared Google Doc for details from the session). Although EduCon bills itself as “not” a technology conference, I find the distinction between “tech” and “not tech” conferences to continue blurring, and the number of smart phones, laptops, tablets, and other devices at EduCon would suggest that we, as educators, are increasingly reliant upon a number of technologies to stay connected. At least, within certain contexts.

What I mean by that — and this takes nothing away from what EduCon is, both as an actual event and an educational phenomenon — is that I think we might be lost in our own echo chamber.

When Sara noted at one point that, in her TweetDeck columns, her Twitter feed of “All Friends” and also of “#educon” looked almost exactly the same, I began to think about what it was that we were experiencing… and when the panels of distinguished guests and educators, let alone the hallway conversations and scheduled conversations, continued the chorus of innovation, change, and educational evolution, I started to (I will be honest here) lose focus. I tried to attend, literally by being in my seat and choosing not to tweet, as well as figuratively, by wrapping my head around the big ideas. But, I lost focus, and it was frustrating.

I am not saying this in any sarcastic manner, as I appreciate all the work that SLA staff and students have put in to making EduCon what it is. And this is not to say that my experience at EduCon, as a participant and as a presenter, were not valuable, because they most certainly were. I just preface the second half of this reflection with the idea that we — as the innovators, the thought-leaders, the doers — need to be very conscious of how and why we attended EduCon and what we are taking back with us to our day-to-work.

And, that is where I want to focus the second part of this reflection… on my day-to-day work with pre-service and in-service teachers and what I am taking from EduCon 2011 back with me as I return to Michigan (via a rerouted trip to Minneapolis). Do we need more “steam” in STEM? Yes. Do we need time and space for kids to innovate? Absolutely. Do we want to empower all learners to share their voice in democratic classrooms? Of course we do. Again, I am not being sarcastic here, as I truly appreciate all the insights, dedication, and inspiration that everyone involved in this weekend shared with us.

But, I feel like something is missing in the conversation, and I am hoping to write myself into finding (at least) part of it.

First, I was reminded about how one’s own continuous partial attention can, in fact, lead to not paying attention to anything at all, and I was reminded of the power of face-to-face conversation. No matter how many conversations I enter into online — even the exchanges I had during EduCon this weekend — I continued to be most impressed with my conversations with colleagues when we are sitting next to one another. Some were serendipitous “tweet ups” (oh, I just started following you last week!). Others were intentional (let’s meet between sessions), yet most were the casual, comfortable conversations that I had with colleagues I’ve know for some time, or who I was introduced to during the weekend. It is good to connect and reconnect, yet sometimes make an effort to move beyond.

Second, as much as I value those conversations, I also value the opportunities to introduce colleagues to one another, and to say hello to those around me who I have yet to meet. EduCon lends itself to friendly conversation, yet it is still a challenge to make sure that we take the time and make the effort to have those conversations. While I am not as critical as some voices I heard who went so far as to call EduCon “cliquey,” or worse, I know that it is still tough to break out of our comfort zones. Oddly enough, at one of the most innovative high schools in the country, many of us sat last night in the cafeteria with groups of our friends. During the sessions, I would intentionally try sit at tables with other EduCon participants that I had yet to meet, and I tried to strike up conversations when I could. To the extent that I was able, I tried to widen my circle and I am continually reminded that I am the one who needs to move beyond, even though I would hope that others make an effort, too. That a little intentional focus on my part can lead to conversations that I hadn’t imagined. Again, I hope to take back the idea that we need to move beyond our own echo chambers, and make opportunities for ourselves to do so.

So, where does this leave me? Well, one component that I am bringing back with me is the idea that I closed my session with — no matter how many digital tools we invite students to use, it is the quality of the community that matters. And, let’s face it, we are the community. What is it that we, as a self-identified group of progressive educators, hope to (and plan to) do to move beyond our own comfortable conversations and invite other voices, even dissenting voices, into the mix? Do we want innovation? For sure. Who are those that are (from our perspective) stifling innovation… do you think that they want innovation, too, even if they are going about it in a different way? I imagine that they do. Sure, it may be a race to nowhere, not the top, but those who are designing these reforms have intentions, and it does us no good to preach to the choir of progressives if we are not truly understanding the logic of those who think otherwise and, if at all possible, attempt to come to some common ground. What voices were missing from those panels and what value (and values), positive or negative, might they have brought to the conversations?

Maybe I am still riled up about all the political rhetoric lately about the new tone in Washington that, very quickly, degenerated right back to where we were at election time (if not worse). Maybe I am tired after a long weekend at a conference that encouraged me to think, share, and connect, yet still left me with more questions about how to do so than answers. Maybe it is because I need to translate this all to pre-service and in-service teachers who, rightfully, want to know what they can do to engage reluctant students and help them master content all the while defending their profession to parents, administrators, and politicians. Or, maybe, just maybe, I am a bit unsatisfied with the way that the conversations played out, that I want something more… that I want us to really, really move toward something new, something different, but no one really knows how.

Sara and I just finished our coffee break on the flight and she mentioned the idea that software, when moving from version X.Y to X.Z will usually do some major overhauls, adding some features that make it richer and more robust. For all the wonderful panels, collegial conversations, and student voices we heard this weekend, perhaps those who organize it need to think more about what EduCon 2.4 could be. What other voices, however contradictory they may appear to be, do we want to join in the conversation? What value would that add to the conversations within our own echo chamber?

Thank you, EduCon — SLA staff and students, participants both onsite and online — for a wonderful weekend, for pushing my thinking, and for helping us all become better teachers and learners. I look forward to continuing the conversations.

Now, back to the present. I need to encourage the teachers with whom I work to get out of their own echo chambers, to listen to and understand the voices of others, and to make sure that they are bringing their own voices — classroom-tested, inquiry-based, well-reasoned voices — into the conversation. Understand the key ideas about innovation, democratic classrooms, STEAM, and the like. Yet, don’t stop there… be sure to listen, to engage, and to be a part of the conversation in wider circles. Despite my frustrations, that is still my take-away from the weekend.

All that said, I was hesitant to post any of this at all, feeling much like Liz in that I might hurt the feelings of colleagues at SLA and in the EduCon community. But, Chris’s response to her post was generous, and in the spirit of the conversations that EduCon fosters, I hope that my post will provide an opportunity for response, too.

Again, thank you EduCon for pushing my thinking in ways that I would otherwise not be able to move myself. I appreciate the ways in which you make the conversations happen.


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Conversations and Collaborations from EduCon

We have quite a crew of NWP colleagues here at EduCon 2.3 in Philadelphia this weekend, too many to list right now. As we begin our conversations this morning, for instance, I am in a room with Chrsitina Cantrill (NWP), Meeno Rami (PhilWP), Paul Allison (NYCWP), Chad Sansing (CVWP), Cindy Minnich (CAWP) and probably even more colleagues who I have to meet yet. As I sat down this morning for the presentation, I met Shelley Krause (@butwait), who I had been conversing with about digital literacy via Twitter when at the NWP Resource Development Retreat a few weeks ago. EduCon’s theme this year is “innovation,” and the ideas and connections so far this morning remind me of how creating an environment, a space (both physical and virtual) is so important to creating opportunities for innovation. And, the fact that all the sessions are being streamed, tweeted (#Educon), GoogleDoc’ed, blogged, wikied, or whatever, it is truly an opportunity to help us innovate.

So, speaking of innovating, I know that webcasting isn’t really an innovation (in the sense that people have been doing it for years). But, for me, trying to do a live presentation and a webcast at the same time is something that I haven’t done yet. Also, our local site (Chippewa River Writing Project) and state network (National Writing Projects of Michigan) will be hosting a month-long online book study for Because Digital Writing Matters beginning later this week. So, as a kick off, Sara and I are going to give webcasting for BDWM a try this afternoon when Christina Cantrill and I present at EduCon in Philadelphia from 2:30 to 4:00 EST. You should be able to watch live on EduCon’s site, but we hope that you are able to join us in the webinar to by clicking on this link, launching Wimba, and joining as a participant:

http://cmichlive.wimba.com/launcher.cgi?room=_cmich_s__43031_1_826813

This is a new experience for Sara and me, even as techies, and we hope that we are able to get you as our NWP colleagues to join in the conversation. So, enjoy all the conversations coming out of EduCon this weekend, and we hope that you can join in our webinar, too.


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Reflections on EduCon 2.1

NOTE: This was written yesterday in the post-conference, pre-flight moments that I had on the train from downtown to the airport. Since my flight didn’t arrive in Lansing until about 1:30 AM last night, I was just now able to put the finishing touches on it. Hope it makes some sense…

Sunday, January 25, 2009

As I catch the train back to the airport, I have a few minutes to compose a quick reflection to EduCon. All in all, I found the weekend to be highly engaging, both in the “techie” sense of learning about some new digital writing tools and angles to think about teaching, especially copyright and assessment. Also, it was a great opportunity for professional networking, and I finally met many of the people I had only read or heard online.

Yet, I also leave in some ways slightly disappointed — not because of the conference itself, exactly, but because I am beginning to really wonder, deeply, about the work that we do as educators and why the changes we seem to clamor for are not happening. Big questions, I know, but ones raised at the conference, and ones I will write my way into thinking about below.

So, first a few points that I want to highlight.

First, a tool. Along with the professional conversations and connections that emerged — with many thanks to Bud — the one new tool that I picked up was TweetDeck. I have been on Twitter for a long time, finally syncing it up with my phone last fall. I understood the value that others found in using Twitter as a part of their personal learning networks, yet the interface that I had (as a sidebar in Flock) was still not useful for me in the sense that I could not really stay on top of tweets and really see what was going on. A number of people this weekend were using TweetDeck, and I downloaded it, finding it to have a clean and fun interface. It notifies me when new tweets come in (a feature I may have to turn off since I get email notifications already that sometimes drive me nuts). I am still not quite sure if and how I will introduce Twitter as a digital writing tool to my pre-service teachers this spring, but I can see it as a part of our writing project network this summer, so it is good to have this tool as an option.

The second point came from the session by Kristin Hokanson and Renee Hobbs about clearing up copyright confusion. Paul, Christina, and I talked on and off after this session about how we just didn’t understand fair use and how the idea of “transformation” both strengthens arguments for having students do compelling work with copyrighted material, but also makes us wonder what it means for something to be “transformative.” Still, there are a number of resources that I need to explore on the Media Education Lab website and think more about the implications of this, especially as I move to teach digital storytelling this spring. Also, check out TTT from a few weeks back as another entry point into this conversation.

The third point that came clear in a session today about assessment by Konrad Glogowski. Wow, he made assessment seem so straight forward. My take away from this session: We are never, ever going to be able to measure digital learning in a standardized assessment. I know that everyone is trying to figure this out, including the most recent attempt by Microsoft and others. And, I think that those types of tests can measure some particular 21st century/digital writing skills. Yet, he talked about the dispositions that students need to have for 21st century learning, and the ways that teachers need to reply to students in order to give them substantive feedback. Tests made to be taken on a computer and never seen by human eyes are just not going to measure these dispositions.

There were many other great sessions, and I am just going to have to look back over my notes to think about everything from them. But, for now, my final point comes from the combination of many speakers that we heard over the weekend, especially those on the panels. I begin this point by saying that all of these individuals are highly-accomplished in their fields, all deserve our respect, and I listened attentively to what they all had to say — from local school district officials to professors to consultants. They all made empassioned, although sometimes different, calls for innovation in education. Prakash Nair, for instance, has collected a number of them in his 30 Strategies booklet. Powerful to hear, useful to think about.

Yet, in all of these conversations, all of these ideas, I am still just not hearing that we are going to actually do something. Yes, the teachers at SLA, and others in other schools with pockets of innovation are doing things, and that is incredible given the odds that some people face. So, in the week of the most historic innauguration in our lifetimes, I am still sadly disappointed — and perhaps becoming a bit cynical — that anything is ever really going to change. Why? Because “the system” (with scare quotes intended, because it was called that throughout the weekend) is actually not failing. It does exactly what it was designed to do — segregate, relegate, castigate.

There are others who have captured this idea with more data to support their argument and eloquence to bring the point home. So, I know that what I am saying here is not new, or revolutionary, but this weekend I just felt the sharp pain of having little to no power to enact change, despite the rhetoric of change and good examples of pockets of innovation presented this weekend. Sorry, just had to vent a bit there.

But, I also vent in the context of my airplane reading of Don Tapscott’s latest book, Grown Up Digital. He makes a pretty compelling case that all those who bemoan the amount of screentime and lack of effective communication skills that this generation will have are wrong. Hurray to that. More importantly, after debunking the critics, he also makes it clear that business that are not adapting to the Net Generation are fading fast (for instance, he cites the corporate culture of Best Buy as one that has adapted to the Net Gen, and Circuit City as one that has not). In fact, the book has an entire chapter on education, ending with the chapter with descriptions of “2.0 Schools” in which individualized learning plans, laptops, and personal attention are the norm. The implied message is, of course, that other models of schooling will soon fade away. Perhaps… Perhaps not… But, certainly something to think about given all the conversations in which I have participated this weekend, especially the many led by SLA students as well as the studnets that Antonio Viva skyped into his session.

So, in terms of digital writing, and teaching digital writing, where does this weekend leave me? Well, along with making a new commitment to participate in Twitter and, as Bud says, “not dissappear,” I am also going to begin thinking about how to really get my pre-service teachers to write, learn, and collaborate with the tools that I introduce to them — blogs, wikis, and Google Docs — by engaging more with each other. Even though I have been using these tools for years, I am still not confident that I am enabling a writing community in the best way that I can. And the one key theme that I got from being at SLA, listening to the teachers and students at the conference, and the whole idea of EduCon was that we need to really see students for who they are and help them grow individually and as communities. The tools are just a part of that process.

With all this in mind, I now have to turn my attention back to more writing for the books, planning for class and my students’ midtier placements, and getting a writing project up and running. I look forward to continuing a most busy, and engaging, semester. Thanks EduCon and SLA — I appreciate the opportunity I had to learn with you this weekend, and those yet to come in the future.

Notes from 21st Century Assessment

Notes from 21st Century Assessment Session

Konrad Glogowski

  • What we know about assessment
    • Assessment is the tail that wags the curriculum dog
    • Grades with substantive comments have the most impact on
      learning
  • What impact does a blogging community have on the role of the teacher?
    • Reflecting on what happens in the classroom, both online and off — show how much you have learned
    • Noticed that the students were engaged in talking with the community, but not by communicating with the teacher
      • Students saved docs, printed them and gave them to the teacher offline
      • But, they were interested in conversations with one another
    • Is this evidence of learning?
      • Not in the sense of “data” that is measured on a test
      • Rubrics, too, only focus on what they can not do and not on what they can do.
  • Current Models
    • Metaphor of acquisition moving to a metaphor of participation to metaphor of knowledge creation
    • Assessing learning of what is taught in test conditions (behaviorist) to assessing learning as individual sense-making through problem solving and demonstration through projects and writing (cognitive constructivist) to assessing learning as building knowledge with others in a situated context of a community and with real-life problems using resources and represented in a variety of forms(sociocultural)
    • Most of us would want to be in the socio-cultural paradigm
    • Suggestion One: Sociocultural Assessment Practices
  • Models for the Future
    • All of this is woven together, like a mat
    • There are no specific goals, and what they use to
      assess student progress is a narrative, learning and assessment are dynamic and continuous
    • If there is no score, what are they working towards?
      • Rubric combined with narrative response
    • Focus on what students can do, not just the deficits
      • Individuality, learning as holistic, inquiry-based,
        draws from family and home
      • When children see that teachers, families, peers, and others see value in their work and that what they do have meaning, then wonderful things will happen
    • Children who are valued with do valuable learning
    • The government of New Zeeland is looking for learning
      dispositions that invite students to investigate and collaborate
  • Two common dispositions
    • Resourcefulness and agency
  • What we need to do with assessment:
    • Feedback — timely and substantive
      • “Needs to provide information related to the task or process of learning that fills a gap between what is understood and needs to be understood” — missed citation
      • Where am I going, how am I going, and where to next?
      • These three questions can work at different levels: task, process, self-regulation, and self level
    • Self-assessment — and peer assessment, to some degree
    • Revisiting episodes of competence — need to do this more intentionally
    • This creates spaces for conversation about learning
  • Example: how to grow a blog — flower metaphor
    • What do I want to accomplish?
    • How will I nourish it and help it grow?
    • Questions
      • What makes me unique?
      • As a blogger and writer, what will I do?
      • How will I support my peers?
  • Frequency of blog posts as compared to quality of writing and impact on the blogging community
  • Discuss how their own blog post has impacted their own learning and the community by using a “ripple effect” diagram
  • Questions
    • What is the role of the teacher in the 21st century classroom?
    • What are your experiences with assessment as a student?
    • What are the benefits of a learning story approach? What are the drawbacks?
    • To what extent do your current assessment practices promote resourcefulness and agency?
    • Detailed and timely feedback can be time consuming — how do we do it?

Notes from “Using Social Media to Define the New Humanities”

Notes from “Using Social Media to Define the New Humanities” – Antonio Viva

  • Thinking about new humanities
    • Context, conversation, collaboration
    • How do we educate our students for success in the web 2.0 world?
    • Can we harness the power of social media to provide students with a vehicle for exploring and creating original content?
  • Old School Creative Writing
    • Genre based instruction
    • Anthology as primary class text
    • Student work not published
    • Blogging/journaling
    • Assessments were traditional and rubric based
    • Mostly fiction and poetry
    • Workshop style with peer editing and review
    • In depth study of literary elements and terms as a vehicle for creation
  • What is the basis of the new humanities?
    • Richard Miller’s presentation to MLA, December 2008
    • See Digital Digs for a reflection and embedded video
  • Personal paradigm shift
    • Communicating instantly and globally
    • English is about human expression
    • Humanists should be at the cutting edge of this
    • Multimedia composition
  • Why should we reconsider thinking this whole thing? — connecting to panel discussion last night
    • Creativity, collaboration, and courage
    • Schools should be a place where student generate ideas
    • Ability to try out new ideas
    • Fostering new humanities rich environments
    • Provide opportunities for students to convey concepts and original ideas through thoughtful technology rich collaboration
    • Schools should be about communication
  • The WA Mash – Worcester Academy Mash Up
    • What do we want to communicate?
    • To whom and how best do we communicate this message?
    • Model after Salon.com and Slate.com as an outlet for creative writing publication
  • Publishing Tools
    • YouTube
    • Flickr
    • Facebook
    • WordPress
    • Twitter
  • Conversation with students about WAMash
    • How do you get students engaged — turn some of the control of creating and sharing content over to the students
    • What have you learned as a part of taking the class?
      • More technology
      • Enjoy writing more
    • What does it mean to be a writer?
      • Before, I considered writing as an essay style, but now it has really expanded my horizons about writing and there are more ways than just essays and school work
      • What has changed for me is that I am a lot more willing to put myself out there for people to examine and I was questioning my own ability, but there are so many ways to express yourself in writing. I am more able to accept criticism now and having a good support group from peers and teacher.
      • For the past few years, just writing essays, now I have learned that I can express myself more; writing from different perspectives
      • Before the class, I thought that it was limited and you had to just write, but now I realize that writing is more about expressing and getting the word out there about something that you care about because people will listen. Writing is important, and I respect it. It is more of an art than I thought it was.
  • Thinking about change
    • Change needs to be organic — comprehensive school change does not work
    • It will cause chaos — people will not be doing substantive and good work with students
    • Establish a culture for creativity, innovation, and the appetite to try new things are the norm
    • Support the inventors, creative thinkers, risk takers, and innovators with resources, PD, and public accolades
    • Don’t follow the trends, create them

Clearing Up Copyright Confusion Session

Copyright Confusion Session

Kristin Hokanson with Renee Hobbs

  • Exercising fair use demands an expanded conception of literacy that includes mass media, popular culture, and communication skills
  • Copyright confusion — the end has arrived with the  Code of Best Practices for Fair Use
  • Purpose of copyright: to promote creativity, innovation, and the spread of knowledge — Article 1, Section 8 of the Contitution
    • Copyright was not designed to have forceful restrictions
  • How teachers coped
    • “I am going to do what I want”
    • “Close the door”
    • “Hyper-comply”
  • Problem — the educational use guidelines are still confusing
    • These are negotiations between media companies and educational groups
    • But, these “guidelines” are not the law — these documents give them the appearance of law, but they are not and the guidelines have a negative effect on education
  • Transformative use
  • Creative Commons looks at owner’s rights
    • Lessig’s idea — let’s give the owners some options
    • But, users still have rights under fair use, too
    • Think of Creative Commons as an owner right and fair use as a user right
  • TEACH Act and Digital Millenium Copyright Act have limited fair use
    • No teacher has ever been sued under fair use — but cease and desist letters are used to create fear and uncertainty
    • This is all the copyright holders can do — not really force you to take something down
  • Almost all parodies are protected under fair use
  • There are fair uses that are not transformative, too
    • Some can be illustrative, so long as it benefits society more than it harms the copyright holder
    • All fair use is based on informed opinion — did we make a good faith interpretation, especially for educational purposes
    • Fair use is an interpretation that we, as educators, are obligated to do under the law