Category Archives: Dilemmas of teaching Twine Might Be Too Much. Or Not.

flickr photo shared by dutruong.t733 under a Creative Commons ( BY ) license

I started this blog some time ago to invest in the reflective work on teaching and learning that I was asking of my students, and I was not a good role model.  Thanks to Todd Conaway for jump starting this project where a number of us will write together.

I didn’t keep up the blog because there was always something else that needed to be done, and I’m certainly feeling now that I should be working on my syllabi for the quarter.

But here’s the thing: I’m grappling with whether or not to incorporate two new digital tools into my Education and the American Dream course this quarter.   It’s time to decide.

I have seen multiple faculty blogs and tweets about using to support social reading, as students jointly annotate websites or PDFs. I’ve read very encouraging accounts of deepened learning, richer class discussions, and students’ capacity to see things in course readings that they might otherwise have missed. Some of the readings in Am Dream are  dry  but important sociological studies, and I imagine that enabling students to  read “together” would provoke more questions and  legitimize critique of writing styles that merit critique. I’m also often surprised with the range of “numerical literacy” among students when they read some of the quantitative analyses, and I imagine the learning that could happen by witnessing others’ interpretations/ questions/ ideas as they work through these readings.

Back in June –when the summer seemed so enticingly long —  I also spent some time playing with Twine and I started to get excited about making interactive stories for this class.  They read books  (in small group “book circles” that usually operate mainly within fairly conventional online discussions) that trace pathways of opportunity — along with multiple multiple obstacles to opportunity.  I imagine them constructing games that explore different outcomes for the people in their books as they consider the complex routes that people take from childhood to adulthood.

So, instead of just revising my assignments and taking a run at either of these, I write.  I imagine having one or two students primed ahead time (and bribed with at least coffee cards) who could help classmates troubleshoot and who could model playfulness.  I imagine how great it would be to know that a few colleagues were also experimenting with either of these this quarter and we could compare notes or panic together out of the sight of students when we have no idea how to solve something.  But neither of those is likely.

So it’s time to decide.  Do I have the time?  I no longer believe that I have to have “mastered” a tool to introduce it to students, but neither will I go in without having a very good idea of how something works.  Will colleagues understand when two students (inevitably) push back on their end of quarter feedback that “this is not a tech class”?  Would my time be better spent prepping for my conference presentations (they COUNT) than refining assignments that already work ok?

I’m also developing a brand new course, in a new field that has mostly been an ever-more-finely tagged folder in Evernote for a year now, and is only now being organized into weeks and assignments and grading scales.    That’s been a lot of (fun) w0rk.

But it’s time to decide.

One? Both?

Stay tuned.  Right now, I have no idea.








Filed under assignments, Dilemmas of teaching, Uncategorized

Why Am I /Are We Doing This Work in Digital Media?

After some push back in class this week, I’ve been doing so much thinking about the “why” of learning about digital media and learning, because for me, knowing the “why” is absolutely necessary before even beginning to think about the “how”. I’ve always written to organize thoughts and to learn, so decided to do that here.

In an email exchange with a wise and thoughtful student this week, I wrote,

 I am enthusiastic about this work, and that’s based pretty much entirely on the many studies we have on   the ways that kids now learn outside of school using digital opportunities and the big disconnects that they therefore feel in school.  It’s grounded in a sense of social justice when we know that kids in homes in which parents use technology are learning to create and connect in pretty important ways, while lower income kids are mainly being tested on computers but otherwise are learning little about how they might use this new digital world  to enrich their lives and that of their community.  There is also a really rich literature on teachers’ learning from each other via networks they form and the difference that makes in the kinds of learning that kids can access. 

I’m grateful for the times when pushback in my courses pushes me to step back to think more about the “why”.   I’m not sure I’d otherwise have tried to sum all of these things up in one paragraph.

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Filed under digital divides, Dilemmas of teaching, Teaching Goals

Shifting Cultures of Learning (and Teaching)

'iPad + Peppa Pig = quiet toddlers' photo (c) 2012, Richard Leeming - license:

I have students across both courses reading Thomas and Seeley-Brown’s A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating Imagination for a Imagination for a World of Constant Change.

They start Chapter 2 with this:

“For most of the twentieth century our educational system has been built on the assumption that teaching is necessary for learning to occur.”

And at the end of the  chapter, they write:

…”in the new culture of learning, the point is to embrace what we don’t know, come up with better questions about it, and continue asking questions in order to learn more, both incrementally and exponentially.”

We’ve so long taught that learning is a process of receiving:    Learning in digital medium also requires a great deal of acting, asking, and playing.

Thomas and Seeley-Brown compare digital learning to doing puzzles — when we engage a puzzle, we  begin posing questions of ourselves and of the material, and then the answers for those questions are used to formulate ever  better  questions and what’s learned also becomes part of solving future problems.

So where does this new culture of learning leave teachers?  My job in this work is not just to run tutorials so that others “learn” digital media (though I do tutorials and demo tools all the time).  I remember my early days in this work when software was designed for a very small number of elite users who had to toil to do the most basic tasks, and  those things could only be learned through the “old” culture of learning: An expert passed on knowledge to others in long and tedious lab sessions.

Now, the tools are, for the most part, designed to teach users along the way, like a puzzle.  If we’re  willing to  ask questions of the tools and to explore by clicking around,  just like we might twist a Rubrik’s cube multiple ways at first before starting to see how the patterns work, we’ll not only learn the platform but even deeper things about how to harness a computer or tablet of phone to create and to connect.   If I teach every detailed step, people will efficiently get their blog set up, but — and this is key — they won’t learn anything more about digital learning.

They won’t learn  about the multiple ways that they can make that blog their own creative expression, about how to find information from others who are also learning or how to navigate the community forums that are now working together to learn and troubleshoot new tools.   Those things only come by playfully exploring.

Yet the trick for me is this:  This “new culture of learning” is happening mainly outside of school.  I worth within the deep culture of institutionalized learning, where I and my colleagues are accountable for dictating the learning goals and to pace people through content and to assess what they “know”.

But in this new culture, what we have to learn, after years of schooling that taught us otherwise, is that play and “failure” are key.  Teaching the solution to the Rubrik’s cube step-by-step is missing the entire point of picking it up in the first place.

So I have to work instead to make it safe to play and to fail.  It’s the biggest challenge of being the teacher in this work, when there can be steep initial learning curves and frustration.   When do  I step in?  When do I assure people that they’ll get it only if I don’t step in?  When is frustration an essential part of formulating ever-better questions and when is it counterproductive?

Part of the learning I want to happen in these classes is that students will become adept at making those very judgments themselves:  When so I keep exploring? What can I try that I haven’t yet tried?  When do I ask for help – not only from the “teacher” but from someone who’ll sit down next to me (virtually or otherwise) and ask questions with me?    When do I persist with “what if”, and when do I give up?

And what do I learn about learning when I keep going even when frustrated?

…especially if my sense of myself as a learner was shaped by exceptional success within a culture of  learning that was  mainly about teacher-directed, teacher-paced, and teacher-evaluated transmission of information?

These are huge challenges for me as a teacher, to know when to step in and when to stand back with support and encouragement and  trust that people will get it.

I’m reading every word that people in these classes are writing and at times,  I want to cave and just turn these courses into software tutorials because that would be so much easier for everyone. And at other times, I want people to trust themselves as much as I trust them to learn more than they know that they can learn.

And in the end, it’s not about the tools at all. It’s all about the learning that the tools make possible.

So as a teacher in this new culture of learning, I’m constantly asking: What is my role now becoming?

Thoughts, anyone?


Filed under Dilemmas of teaching