#tiebc Chapter 4 The New Literacies

One chapter from Clive Thompson’s book Smarter Than You Think that brought about a vigorous discussion was Chapter 4: The New Literacies. Many teachers have used Wordle or have seen it used. Wordle creates a cloud of words by sifting through a selection of text. Frequently used words appear larger than words that appear less often. In my school, several teachers use it to sort key ideas in class discussions or to generate or organize ideas for student writing. A great idea from Bryan Jackson at the start of this term as we were working towards solidifying our Masters project topics was to drop all of our Masters blog posts into Wordle to help us visualize where our focus might actually lie. If we hadn’t lost our blogs in a security breach over the summer, this idea would have helped many of us!

The author shared a way that Wordle was used during the 2008 American Presidential election, where people used Wordle to find the big themes in campaign speeches. Wordle became a data analysis tool! This action revealed that one candidate was focusing on oil and energy and the other candidate’s main words were “children”, “Americans”, “make”, “care, and “need”. (Thompson, 2013) One possible president was sharing an urgent need to drill for oil as soon as possible and other contender had a more general focus addressing the needs of many.

Our book club was inspired by the idea of using Wordle to seek themes within text. Someone suggested that we take a look at the new BCEd Plan as viewed through Wordle. It is reassuring to see “students” at the heart of the plan! Wordle is not a perfect tool, as capitalized words or words with punctuation are recognized differently than the root words. However, overall, I believe that this word cloud represents the BCEd Plan fairly accurately.

Wordle of BCEd Plan Captured November 27, 2014

Wordle of BCEd Plan Captured November 27, 2014

I would really like to see particular words have a greater emphasis. For example, “personalized” is quite small, yet a lot of the language of teachers revolves around encouraging students to explore topics that they are passionate about in order to develop their skills as learners. “Interests” is about the same size as “personalized”, yet the two ideas feed each other to make learning more relevant for our students.

Another word that is missing emphasis for me is “authentic”. Teachers all over the province are striving to provide meaning for their students by providing real-world relevance to their learning experiences. In my opinion, “authentic” should appear quite heavily emphasized in this document, as the learning experiences and the assessment practices should be reflective of the opportunities that are available in this digital age. Students are constantly learning beyond the classroom and are finding strategies to learn what they want to know using the various tools that are available. Teachers are working to support students in developing digital literacies and smarter searching skills. Our assessment practices should be a source of feedback that feeds ongoing learning, supports further inquiry, and opens opportunities for more questions. In my experiences as a learner, authentic assessment has inspired more learning and conversations as opposed to ending my learning (for example, end of unit tests).

The document that accompanies the BCEd Plan is our new BC Curriculum, where we look at assessment through the lens of competency, yet the word “competencies” is very small in the actual Ed Plan document.

The Wordle reveals that the BCEd Plan slogan matches the text of the document: “Students must be at the centre of their learning”. “Students” are indeed at the centre of the Wordle, surrounded by “education” and “learning”. This document withstood the 2008 campaign speech test.

Using Wordle this way made me think about my own teaching practice. If I were to record my own words with my students for a week, what would the Wordle reveal? What words would be emphasized and what would that say about me? What bad habits do I have in my speaking? How is my tone? Wordle can force me to be honest about my word choice.

How have you used Wordle? What did you learn?



Thompson, C., 1968. (2013). Smarter than you think: How technology is changing our minds for the better. New York: The Penguin Press.


#tiebc Chapter 8 Ambient Awareness

I am smiling as I write this post, with my Mom’s beautiful face clearly in my mind. You see, I know that my Mom is usually one of the first to read my blog posts. And, I believe that she reads them from beginning to end; truly wading through the mire of my digital diary, not just skimming for salient details and points of interest.

Clive Thompson’s Chapter 8 “Ambient Awareness” in his book Smarter Than You Think became one of my favourite chapters, as I was reminded repeatedly of the opportunities and connections that technology has brought into our lives. Clive is a strong proponent of our micro-blogged status updates, our shared dinner pictures and our endless chatter about the minutiae of our days. He describes the wonder of our culture of over-sharing; how it becomes like an ongoing conversation. He actually describes it as social proprioception – an awareness of where our digital community members are, and what they may be engaged in: a group’s sense of itself. What is appealing about these morsels of shared information is that they invite you to interact; they do not demand your attention. When a friend shares out that they are considering which movie to watch on a Friday evening, you can experience a moment of envy about their evening plans and move your attention to other things, or you can offer an opinion and begin a conversation.

I admire people who can blend their personal and professional selves seamlessly online. They can share tidbits about their day, as well as professional resources that their followers will appreciate. My Twitter timeline shares a lot of my celebrations as a learner and a teacher, but I rarely sneak in the occasional personal tweet. I might enthuse about the snow falling, or how my dogs are demanding my attention as I multi-task through my schoolwork on my front deck.

Thompson made me laugh out loud when he talked about how our ambient awareness allows other people know how truly weird you actually are! He describes how freeing text can be. When I reflect on the people who follow my Twitter account and how they read my thoughts about my Masters, my ideas about teaching or my conversations with other people; I regain my fear about posting my words so publicly. It is bizarre to have a clear understanding of and sense of closeness with someone you have never met. Twitter allows us a new social opportunity that breaks the standard conventions of conversations. We drop into conversations held between other people, we leave without polite goodbyes, and we share out random facts, pictures, ideas, and conversation starters to see if anyone wants to talk to us. Our recent history is filled with stories of the dreaded evenings at family or friends’ homes where we may have been forced to sit through endless photo albums, or worse, a slideshow. Yet, Instagram has been embraced as a window into the lives of those around us. This is another example of being invited in, as opposed to feeling trapped.

Ambient awareness extends to everyone. Although we may be intending to share our words or pictures with a few friends in our digital community, we must remain aware that our true audience is huge. Future employers, friends or spouses can see our interactions, or trace our histories with a simple search. Our current employers, friends and spouses have an ongoing geo-tagged window into our every digital utterance. A new mindset of how to behave when we know someone is watching should be taught at a younger age. In discussing my “audience awareness” with my students at the advent of blogging together, I have learned that most of my students do not think about what it means to be interacting publicly.

After reading this chapter, and experiencing my ever-present anxiety of living this public life, I also acquired a new calm. Thompson’s rebuttal to the many people who mourn the use of our social networks to post random updates is that these tools do not actually make us trivial: they just reveal how trivial we truly are. I, for one, am grateful for all of the opportunities that technology has brought into my life. I do feel more connected – to the people I know well, and also to people I have yet to meet in person.

So, post away. Tell me about the dessert you just ate. Connect with me through Fitbit so that I may know how many steps you took today. Post another cute picture of your dog napping. Tell me the funny thing that happened at work today. Capture the beauty outside your front door in a quick pic. Tag me into that conversation about popcorn, because you know I have an opinion about that. What unexpected plot twists filled your day today?

Enjoying the view with my dog Ash. One of my favourite hikes behind my house.

Enjoying the view with my dog Ash. One of my favourite hikes behind my house.

Because, I know that if I shared these things more often, my lovely Mom would feel even more up-to-date in my day. I know that she would be happy to see how my elaborate dinner turned out. She would be able to picture me on my hiking trails vividly if I shared a picture in real time. She would laugh at my stories, even if no one else did. Our connection would deepen because she would be able to see the blend of my personal life and my professional life and how all of the pieces fit together in the course of each day.

Status update: I’m off to tidy my house so that I may decorate for Christmas tomorrow. 🙂

#tiebc Chapter 3

What happens in an internet minute?

I was shocked by how much the data use has changed in a single year. I used a similar graphic last December that showed four times LESS Google searches per minute world wide, three times fewer hours of Youtube uploads, and three times fewer of the amount of Skype use. Now, it has been updated again! See below:

Clive Thompson’s book Smarter Than You Think Chapter 3: Public Thinking tells us that 3.6 trillion words pass through cyber space via emails and social media per day, equivalent to 36 million books. I was shocked to learn that the U. S. Library of Congress only holds 35 million books. In total! The author describes a controversy where some people claim that texting and our rampant use of quick Internet publishing tools is wasteful and producing “crap” (Sturgeon’s Law). People reminisce about poetic prose and reference flowery print in archived letters and diaries from golden ages long past, and then look upon the excess of “writing” online with sadness. Thompson’s note that our literacy in North America has focused primarily on reading (consumption) rather than writing (creation) is a profound observation. It reflects the current shift in education, where teachers are trying to move with their learners away from consuming content online, Googling for information; to content creation – publishing, reflecting, commenting, and participating in the Global community. By the very nature of the internet, our access to this wealth of writing is voluntary. New authors are emerging, and we can read and respond to their content, or navigate away. Previously, we had to deeply invest: we had to travel to the library or we had to purchase the book and that cost often meant sticking with something that we may not actually enjoy. Our very act of landing on an online page raises the site statistics for that piece of content.

One of the points that the author makes in this chapter is that we write online with the expectation that someone will read it. This terrifies me! Especially as I craft this into a blog post. I still hesitate to publish my posts, and I draft more posts than I publish. I found it reassuring to read on to discover that writing for an audience helps to clarify your thinking. Writing publicly, expressing your thoughts publicly, requires you to validate your arguments, to bolster your facts and to address your assumptions. This is all true, but it also feeds self-doubt. Thompson goes on to tell us that once we make our thinking public, connections take over. I guess that one of the hopes of most bloggers is to start a conversation. Sometimes these conversations can take an unexpected turn, as shown by one teacher who attempted to show her students the power of posting an image online, and it went viral and became a new meme. By thinking publicly, and sharing our stream of consciousness digitally as we evolve our ideas, we open a conversation with an unknown audience. We now have access to a connected world filled with willing discussion partners. In our face-to-face lives, we often surround ourselves with people who affirm our way of thinking, and by venturing into the digital realm we open ourselves to new perspectives, opposing opinions and possible pushback. A scary and exhilarating thought! (especially as I consider posting my thinking online, yet again…)

A new skill that Thompson calls “cognitive diversity”, is where a thinker must decide when to make an idea public, and when to let it slowly simmer privately. The risk in making your ideas public might be in the question of “ownership” of ideas. Many online thinkers are extremely polite and careful with tracing original authorship of ideas and giving proper credit. However, I watch my students every year use Google Images indiscriminately to gather resources for their work. But, often an image on a website might be there by permission of the photographer and the rights are located somewhere else. The free exchange of ideas and images on Twitter can make it difficult to give credit where it is due, but courtesy dictates that we must make the effort.

Thompson describes a history filled with missed connections: the development of penicillin, for example. Discovered in the mid 1890’s by a medical student after listening to the stable boys’ methods of healing saddle sores on horses. But, because the medical student (Duschesne) was young and unknown, his discovery was not accepted. In 1928, Alexander Fleming was working with the same mold used by the saddle boys and discussed in Duschesne’s work when it destroyed his own research with bacteria. He did not see the value in it, and it took ten years and two other scientists to uncover the healing possibilities of this mold. Who owns the credit?

Another idea that resonated with me from this chapter was how our “pauses” in a digital conversation are so different from talking face to face. This makes sense, it is rude to walk away in the middle of a sentence, but the nature of an online asynchronous conversation grants us the space to ruminate on how we wish to respond. It is not rude to step away from a digital conversation and rejoin at a later hour, a later day. We also juggle MANY conversations at once in our modern lives: several streams on Twitter, a few private DM conversations, some individual or group texts and a variety of other updates to keep our people informed. The privilege of taking time to pause in our public thinking might be the only thing helping us to keep our sanity!

#tiebc remix

On behalf of the TIE Book Club, I am very excited (*nervous*) to have the opportunity to chat with the author of Smarter Than You Think, Clive Thompson. Our #tiebc (#tiegrad book club) had originally scheduled a meeting with him for one of our final book club meetings December 3rd. Several members of our book club were not going to be able to make this exciting event, so our professor, Dr. Valerie Irvine, suggested that we see if Clive was available to join us on our class night, Thursday December 4th.

He agreed to switch.

So, now we will be facilitating a book club session with our entire grad class AND the author…

So exciting!!!

A mini-remix primer for those of you who have not yet read the book:

Here is a talk that Clive gave at the Hudson Library in October of this year:

An interview with a journalist who does not necessarily share the same viewpoints as Clive:

A Barnes and Noble Review Conversation for you readers:


This novel cannot easily be summarized. The ideas within are profound and stirring. I have published one blog post here and have several more on the way about my new thinking after reading and discussing a chapter with our book club. I really enjoyed Clive’s focus on creation and collaboration through technology as opposed to consumption. His focus is clearly on the positive opportunities presented by technology. He shares a balanced perspective and encourages mindfulness in our use of technology. He also shares a very historical view and is able to show how some of the current arguments about the potential disastrous effects of technology on our social lives, our focus, our culture, etc, have actually existed for decades as each new development came into mainstream use. The stories stay with you after you finish a chapter. I have been inspired by the ideas generated by several people in this book, and also amazed by the catalysts to action that come out of civic events or injustice. I have had to put the book down at times to ponder how lucky we are to be able to reach across the world to consult a specialist, to call to action, to seek an answer, to find a friend.

Or, reach out to New York to see if an author is willing to chat about his book.

Book Club #tiebc Chapter 2

Photo credit: Photo Credit: deeplifequotes via Compfight cc

Photo credit: Photo Credit: deeplifequotes via Compfight cc

I am really enjoying Clive Thompson’s book Smarter Than You Think. This read is serving a huge purpose in my Master’s journey. As part of this learning, I am reading many articles and sorting through conflicting research, and who knew that research papers might be a little on the dry side!?! Smarter Than You Think provides the story of the research, it draws me in to the lives of REAL people using technology in innovative ways and provides me with ideas and understandings that I am struggling to unearth in the data provided by articles. Don’t misunderstand me; this book is brimming with clearly referenced facts and data! However, the data is artfully woven into story, it emerges as a relevant, supporting detail, but the characters and their actions are the main players holding my interest and engaging me with information in a lively way.

I’ve also enjoyed our #tiebc book club meetings on alternating Wednesday evenings. Thank you to everyone involved – your stories and connections help me to expand my thinking and learn in novel ways.

Chapter 2: We, The Memorious

This chapter describes the phenomena of “lifelogging” – capturing every moment of life digitally, through cameras, voice recorders, etc. I connected with the author’s description of the “quintessential modern dilemma” of experiencing a moment in time versus capturing that moment digitally. All too often I can recall being filled with regret that I didn’t record a moment in time, or take more pictures of a person or a beloved pet. But, I also wonder if pausing to take out a recording device to capture that moment; to separate myself from the moment by allowing technology to be the medium through which I experienced that moment would diminish the magic, the power, or the emotion of that particular time? I am lucky to have had so many moments that I value, and I worry about losing these memories over time. And we know that humans lose those fine details, or we re-write our memories unintentionally.

The author explains that memory is an active entity – it requires work. Our new approach to memory is far more passive, we record things quickly, jot digital notes, voice memo our grocery lists, and take pictures everywhere. We also share these memories expansively, assuring ourselves that everyone will want to remember this amazing meal that we enjoyed at a particular restaurant!

How do we catalogue and sort these memories? If we begin archiving everything (text messages, pictures, emails, contact information, medical histories, facts about everyone in our lives and the important dates around them, our conversations, the minutiae of each day), how do we store and retrieve this information? Or do we even try? And, what about the things that we want to forget? I am grateful that my awkward adolescence was captured primarily by photos and faulty human memory, as our current youth will grow up in a time where their most embarrassing moments will be Google-able. My peers will (hopefully) forget that time that I…, but my students may end up with their mistakes on an endless loop on Vine.

Memories are precious to each person, and sharing these memories is how we tell the stories of our lives. A more common occurrence now is our experiences showing up in another person’s digital feed. We appear in the background of others’ stories. By venturing out in public, we seem to enter into an understanding that our movements are for public consumption. Cameras are everywhere!

I don’t think that there is an easy answer to our new reality of memory in a digital age. There are clearly pros and cons; it depends on your situation, your needs at the time and the content being curated. The final quote from this chapter resonated with me: “Our ancestors learned how to remember; we’ll learn how to forget.”