At their best, blogs give an individual the chance to interact with and become part of a collective that both shapes and is shaped by his or her thoughts. Blogs, by their very nature are tentative works in progress. They have the character of playfulness, which is core to the new culture of learning. They can be experimental in nature, used to test and refine ideas. But at their base, they serve as a means to kick-start a collective around conversations about ideas that spring from the personal.
Thomas and Seeley-Brown, A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for A World of Constant Change.
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.
Teaching two courses this quarter on digital learning and participatory culture is pushing my thinking in really good ways. The New Literacies for Digital Learning course includes teachers, a nurse, and students from business, computing, and women’s studies, so the questions are going to be somewhat different than in my ed courses where we’re talking mainly about what happens in K-12 classrooms. That’s good — because I want all K-12 teaching to be deeply connected to what’s going on world beyond the classroom. And it’s challenging, because I know the limitations under which teachers work and the particular questions that they’re likely to bring to this class.
On the bus ride home doing the inevitable “how could I have done that differently”, I thought a lot about what I really believe about this work: My job is not to be the expert, delivering neatly packaged content (as the video we watched last night said). My job is to teach people how they can build learning networks out of the very powerful connecting and creating and collaborating and sharing that is now going on in “participatory culture” so that people will thrive learning from each other.
So I think about the powerful networks that include 1st grade teacher Kathy Cassidy and the blog post that she wrote this week about her thoughts about how *not* to use tech in schools, and the many people who Tweeted that post out, and then the other blog posts that were written in response — a rich week long conversation among busy teachers who wanted to think together and teach each other and share what they’re doing.
I think about how it’s always a good moment for me (usually on the bus home after a long day) when I check into the Prof Hacker blog for conversation about digital and “real” life in academia.
I’m intrigued by the possibilities of the global connections that teachers are making in schools and cannot imagine what it might have been like in my small town in the middle of corn fields in Wisconsin to actually speak and write with people around the world.
These classes are only partly about content. They are about connecting. They are about networked learning.
They are about enormous shifts in our culture that is not yet always visible in classrooms.
We spend so much time in school teaching children to write, almost always for some invisible, “authentic” audience in their future. And now, as I’m reading my students’ end -of-term thoughts about having maintained blogs for several months, I read how any number of them have struggled with shifting gears — from writing a perfectly drafted essay for the eyes of a teacher, to writing for and within a community of learners and professionals. They seem to be experiencing in this one assignment exactly the shift that we assume that all students will make, seamlessly and effortlessly, from writing within classroom walls to writing for the world.
And it’s not always easy.
Granted, the blogging is a still a course assignment. Granted, it’s been an unbelievably hectic term.
But I wonder: while we’re so busy assessing kids’ writing within school, do we have research on the transition that all kids must then make on writing for “real” audiences? Do we assume that the transfer just happens? What do we know about the ways that people experience that shift?
And how can I support these amazing teachers in also thinking about the authenticity of the writing instruction that they do in classrooms, if the only audience is a teacher, or perhaps, occasionally, a peer reviewers?
I’m intrigued by thinking about writing (and by writing, I mean digitally composing texts that may include images, hyperlinks, video, other media) as connecting – now, not in the distant future, and I’ll be thinking a lot over break about how to continue to support that goal for these blogs.
One thing I’ll be looking through again is the National Writing Project’s Digital Is site, created by and for teachers connecting around writing — beyond the classroom walls.
One of my favorite education bloggers, Chris Lehman, principal of the amazing project based Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, has said that “technology in schools needs to be like oxygen: ubiquitous, necessary, and invisible.
I know that the students I work with sometimes feel pushed to learn the next thing I’m nudging them to learn, and it can feel overwhelming, at least at first.
Two things happened that make me smile.
Yesterday, when I was setting up the e-podium, I saw that someone had set up new page on their wiki where they are all linking to share their unit plans that they’re just finishing.
And in a phone call just now, a colleague said that as they were puzzling in her class about a problem they had to solve, they took about five seconds to come up with a digital solution and she was impressed and how seamlessly a part of their thinking it was.
Like oxygen. Ubiquitous, necessary, and invisible.
And teachers and learners always ready to take the next deep breath.
So I’m curious: What do we take for granted now in our shared digital work that would have been unthinkable five years ago?