Digital Storytelling Sans Angst

For those daunted by example stories of family pain or otherwise distinctive experiences, here’s a lovely, creative digital story of every day life.





Filed under Digital Storytelling

Reading and Attention

I’m spending the morning rereading work I’ve assigned for my courses (fairly conventional books/ academic articles for the most part). I’m extra conscious today of all the skills I’m using to grasp main ideas, to monitor when I need to reread, when I can skim, when I even decide to skip some parts all together. Those are essential skills for any of us with too much to read and too little time.

Some of these skills, we teach as we work with kids to make sense of different genres, including nonfiction texts. Partly, I have taught myself how to get through massive amounts of text for many courses and now as part of my work.

I’m pretty certain that no one coming to class tonight will have read through every work, beginning to end.

And I’m thinking now about how so much of what we read comes to us in much less linear form– in RSS feeds, via links in Twitter streams, almost always with multiple hyperlinks to related text or other media.

And I’m thinking about how there is more to read every day, being created by the moment.

Are we teaching kids to read in these new genres? To sort out where deep and focused reading is called for and where skimming is fine? To ignore what’s not core to learning?

Or is that learning for outside of school, and school literacy is still primarily about conventional print text?

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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

Multimedia response to reading

While rereading the text for my Monday night class on the rapid development of the internet — in the context of a long-term societal shift from face to face communities to social networks, I decided to play with a timeline  tool I’ve had bookmarked for awhile.  This took 15 minutes while I was multitasking ( and I’d never used the tool before).   Watch the top and the bottom for events and dates.  I was able to trim the YouTube video.  I could have put narration, photos, links, or video at any of the steps.

This would embed on some sites, but for reasons that aren’t clear to me, WordPress won’t take “iframe” code, so you’ll need to link through.

Meograph: Network Culture

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Timing is Not a Digital Literacy

I’d just read this essay yesterday morning (Antero Garcia did amazing things with “at risk” high school kids and digital media when he was a high school teacher and is now doing great things as a college teacher) in which he talked about introducing many tools early in a course.  “No problem”, I thought.   “He had 50 minute periods.  I have 3 hours”.

And then I  watched the clock tick away last night, thinking, dam*.

There is absolutely no good way to predict the timing of this new sort of teaching.   That’s just the way it is.

And it’s still worth doing.


Filed under Uncategorized

Connected Learning

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.



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Filed under Teaching Goals

Teachers Connecting After Tragedy

In the aftermath of the tragedy in Newtown, teachers have been speaking to one another and to broader community about their work with children, their reactions that day, and about ways to talk with children about the unspeakable.  I’ve been curating some of their responses on Storify:


[View the story “Teachers Talking about Newtown” on Storify]

Ten years ago, such connecting would not have been possible, and beyond hushed conversations within buildings or possible weekend phone calls, teachers would have been navigating this impossible weekend much more alone.

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Filed under connection, teacher writing