My Blog

It seems a little surreal to report that I have completed my Masters of Education.

It is the reason that I started this blog. Blogging was a requirement of many of my courses. I had not blogged on this scale before, however, I do blog with my students. I have blogged personally  (when time permitted) on this platform, but most of my posts were in response to my learning. I enjoyed the times that I reflected upon my practice in my classroom, but I still struggle with sharing my learning so publically. The audience effect is a bit intimidating.

There are pros and cons to blogging as an assignment. The positives: you don’t have to come up with an original topic (one is usually provided for you), the due dates ensure that you actually post your blogs, the assignment keeps you blogging regularly, you have the company of your classmates who are posting on similar topics, and your classmates regularly provide feedback or comments on your posts! The negatives associated with blogging for others: your blog can begin to feel like a chore or assignment, you become so consumed with the topics that you must blog about that it can be difficult to blog just for yourself, and some topics can be challenging to to tackle publicly.

So far, all of the blogging “assignments” that I have posted for my own learners have been optional, as I am sure that some may feel the same way that I do.

The reflection component of blogging is important to me. I may need to find a blogging challenge to get me back in the habit again. Although I’ve completed the work on my Masters project, I am not done learning. I hope to continue to share some of that here.

It’s nice to be back!

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My own Digital Participation

Like several #tiegrad cohort members, I spent some time this weekend reflecting on my online presence. In our very first term of our Masters work, we were fortunate enough to have a visit with Bonnie Stewart who posed a similar question asking us to think about who we were online. Unfortunately, that was one of the blogs lost when UVic was hacked, but even so, my answer has changed over time. She shared our professor, Alec Couros as an example of someone who seamlessly blends his professional and personal lives online.

I am only digitally active in a few areas. I have a Twitter account, this blog, a Kidblog account with my students, a classroom Twitter account, a couple of social bookmarking sites, and dormant About.Me and LinkedIn pages. Oh, and I also was starting to develop a Fitbit PLN, until my Fitbit decided to part company with me. I am my most true self on my two blog sites. I try to include personal stories, and a few more personal pictures. I was very saddened to lose my UVic blog where I shared how I learned to read, with a picture of my brother and me outside of the Prince George public library. I still have a Word copy of that post, but I heartbreakingly lost my treasured comments from my family and my #tiegrad cohort. It’s funny that we teach about the permanence/footprint of our online identities – maybe it’s only the stuff that we wish we could forget that is actually permanent!

I am more careful with my words on Twitter. 140 characters leaves a lot of room for context collapse and I worry about what to say or share. I feel great when something I tweet is re-tweeted, but when I retweet, I feel like I might be perceived as fangirling!

I think that the main difference between my blog and Twitter is that few people actually read through my blog in its entirety, but anyone could stumble across my words on Twitter. We often snoop through each other’s lists to see whom people are following and what they have to say. My visualization of blogging is like walking through a semi-deserted street verbally telling a friend a story or answering a question. However, Twitter is like graffiti – very visual and left to linger for all to see. I still hesitate and hover over both the “Publish” and the “Tweet” buttons.

I liked the ideas by Melody and Suzanne of creating a Task List for developing a more well-rounded digital identity.

My Task List:

  1. Refine my About.Me and LinkedIn pages (or start fresh!)
  2. Be more active on Twitter: I loved co-moderating our #anxietyined chats, and participating in #bcedchat, #byodchat, and #mschat. I am currently only participating in #bcedchat. Hesitate less, share more.
  3. Blog more frequently. It is an expectation of this course, but I also enjoyed completing the 30 Days Reflective Blogging Challenge in September. I need my blogging to serve me, not just be an assignment to complete. I may need to examine or reflect upon other areas of my life, not just my thoughts and learning as a Masters student. I’ve been managing to blog twice a week since the term began, but it has been entirely assignment-based. These posts will only engage my fellow Grad students. Time to broaden my focus.
  4. Get to know my PLN. I have gotten to know a few of the people I have connected with on Twitter, but mainly by asking questions. I need to look for more opportunities to connect and give back.
  5. Re-read and reflect on the article that was shared out by Valerie Irvine: The Guide to Social Media Time Management. Keep my task list in mind and refine my goals as I work.
  6. Maintain balance. Cultivate my in-person relationships as I develop my digital relationships.

#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?

 

References:

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. 🙂