Don’t You Forget about Us

We’ve completed another #tiegrad term and grown even closer as a cohort of connected educators. We were lucky enough to be learning with Alec Couros this term and he brought with him an outstanding collection of guests. He concluded this term with a touching reconnection to the big ideas of connecting, sharing, learning and relationships. He reminded us that it is not about the tools, but instead about learning. However, we must always be mindful of the influence of our tools.

My big takeaways from this course are:

  • Be a part of the conversation. Hearing Dean Shareski speak to US brought the point emphatically home: there is a moral imperative to share our learning and teaching. You don’t need to judge yourself too harshly and censor yourself before you begin, you can grow and find your voice and your people.
  • Ask questions and reach out.
  • It is way more fun to work together. Get into the global staff room and have a coffee together. We do that in #tiegrad – we organize our own coffee chats and morning get-togethers. We pair up, group up, and work together well.
  • Identity matters. We need to consider our own online identity and help our students develop an identity for themselves.

Areas of strength for me as a connected educator are connecting behind the scenes, joining in on Twitter chats, collaborating and working with others, and contributing on backchannels. Most of my areas of weakness center around my insecurities about sharing my voice and opinion. I’m hesitant to disagree, to rock the “global” boat, and to share my simple ideas. I still hesitate to post every blog or tweet, I have piles of drafts on both sites. Sharing my blog publicly causes me anxiety, because I feel a little safer to be myself, have fun and be a little ridiculous here – believing that no one will read much past the first paragraph… right???

Two goals as I go forward are:

  1. Dean Shareski’s challenge: “Can I find your best work online?” You can find my students’ best work online. They proudly tweet from our class Twitter account and their individual blogs. I share my work and learning, but I don’t think that my best stuff is online yet. Sometimes I haven’t realized that there is value in my work until it gets a response on Twitter! I need to be a little more transparent, or at least celebrate some of my efforts in the classroom. There are things that I am proud of, and it might be worthwhile to share them out.
  2. Rethink my metaphor, a challenge by Alec Couros. I have always seen myself as an amplifier of some sort. I’ve called myself a megaphone, a soapbox, etc, with the vision of being a platform of some sort to raise my students’ voices/works/ideas/creations/energies/etc and help them to find their audience and people.

Inspired by Alec’s sweet goodbye “Don’t forget about me… I will always be your co-learner/collaborator” – sticking the Simple Minds lyrics in most of our minds… I’d like to end with:

We found out that each one of us is a learner, a fitbit all-star, a ukulele rockstar, and a tweeter, a blogger, and part of a family that will extend beyond our #tiegrad years together. We were glad to have you join us, don’t forget us!

Sincerely yours, the #tiegrad cohort (your co-learners, collaborators and co-conspirators)

(oh, we should remix this one for our cohort! Challenge extended…)





I virtually attended the Open Education Week session hosted by TIELab this afternoon. I felt lucky to have another opportunity to hear Alan Levine speak again! This was an introduction to Brian Lamb for me (love the identity of Re-Director of Innovation), and now I am a follower. I enjoyed their interplay and camaraderie; it was easy to see how they would challenge each other’s thinking to work some serious magic.

They cut right to the heart of the matter right away questioning why hundreds of thousands of dollars are not allocated for our students in educational technology. They shared how some view open web services as a frill and not something we can afford. Some platforms and providers shutter their services claiming concerns with privacy. There are some that see safety and increased security in more managed services (LMS). They shared a blog post by D’Arcy Norman that speaks to the False Binary of LMS vs. Open. What stood out for me in reading this post was that both Open and LMS tools could still be used, but they serve very different purposes. It does not have to be one or the other. There are clear challenges with jumping right into the open web. The biggest concern (privacy) seems even more pressing here in BC with FOIPPA.

But, being aware of the concerns and going forward with intention and purpose is possible. And should be better supported. Brian went on to share Alan’s blog, which is filled with ideas, process and information. Brian was not the first to celebrate Alan’s blog as an incredible resource, and Clint Lalonde quickly shared that he believes Alan to be the “best sharer/documenter of process in edtech”.

The first creation shared by Alan and Brian was something called SPLOT – an acronym with multiple meanings: Smallest/Simplest Possible/Probable Learning/Latest/Lucid Online/Opportunistic Tools/Techniques/Technology. What was amazing about this resource is that there were plenty of open tools that you can use without ever disclosing your identity or creating yet another account. This has become so routine – in order to continue reading a website, or engaging with/interacting with/creating content online, you must first register for your (*free*) account. I have wanted to create a Gmail account just for all of my random logins. It seems like it may save a lot of time/energy/mental health if that account would just quietly manage all of my notifications and random invitations from places requiring my log-in.

Alan knows his technology. He can build websites, write codes and build things of shiny brilliance. But, he also knows his people. He began excitedly talking about downloading a simple jQuery code to work one of his creations “Comparator” and knew immediately that as soon as he arrived at the word “jQuery” he would have lost some people. So, they created a simple web form with drag and drop features for people who are not comfortable with HTML/Javascript. Brilliant!

SPLOT is crafted as an inclusive learning space/community, for all levels and interests. Alan spoke of the importance to create a space where people can choose their level of identity disclosure. I love this and use this in my own class with our classroom Twitter feed, but it also makes me a little sad. The argument that I have used with stakeholders who are concerned about publishing student work with full attribution publically is that I believe that our students should be getting full credit for the works that they author.

Another resource/collection tool on SPLOT was TRU Sounder and Collector. I liked how one biology teacher was uploading images for shared use on Collector, and I thought about how that would actually make a neat assignment: students create a small image collection to share on Collector. It would teach so much about licensing, sharing, authorship, and mindful sharing.

One of the last resources shared by Alan and Brian was The You Show where the hosts were “learning” publicly and encouraging others to push through their fears. Sharing vulnerability makes it easier for others to ask questions, to feel a part of the process, and to reach out.

An hour with these guys is simply not enough. Thank you for allowing me to attend!

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.

Turning the Tables

Like any Masters course, our EDCI 569 course has several assignment components to it. The second assignment is causing me the most sleepless moments currently. We have been given the choice between an inquiry into some facet of digital learning, taking on a 50-100 hour open learning project, or participating/evaluating a MOOC.

I am least interested in the MOOC, because I’ve already tried them. I like and dislike the same feature: the anonymity. You can hide in the massive-ness, but you can also be lonely in it. I felt like I did a good job “listening”, but my very little voice was indistinguishable from the others. MOOCs generally remind me of the huge auditorium-style lectures in my early University days. Your voice gets heard when you break off into little groups for labs, but the professor has no idea if you even showed up for the main lectures. You could learn the content in other ways and sleep in instead.

My conundrum is between choosing the Open Learning or an inquiry into digital learning. I feel like the Digital Learning option will encourage me to explore more dynamic resources related to my Lit Review for EDCI 515, and will provide me with a richness and depth that I may otherwise overlook. But, the lure of learning anything that I want to learn and sharing out the process continues to be a siren call.

I started Genius Hour in my classroom in October 2013, and it was inspiring to see what huge projects my students tackled. I learned so many new things as my students acquired new knowledge and shared it out on their blogs and in class discussions/presentations. I collaborated with a student on learning a new piece of technology in our class, and shared out my learning as well. Several students were overwhelmed as they faced the buffet of learning options and took weeks to decide on a topic. That is where I am right now: I have a huge brainstorm web on a poster behind my desk where I am brainstorming what I would like to learn. This is my next Genius Hour learning project, and thinking that it could possibly fit in with my Masters is an exciting idea! However, I have questions before I commit:

  • What about collaboration? Can this learning project be completed in pairs or small groups? Most 20% Time or Genius Hour teachers encourage their learners to collaborate, to work together to extend thinking and challenge each other.
  • Can it truly be any topic? Does it have to have a tangible product at the end? I have limited my wish list down to 3-4 ideas, but one does not have an actual end product, only growth over time.
  • How do I decide….??? Too many topics to choose from!!

What would you learn if you could choose any topic? How would you reach out to find support to pursue and celebrate your passions? Who would be your cheerleaders in this project?

The decision is coming soon. Stay tuned!

EDCI 569 Initial Reflection

Inspired by Angela Dopp, I am beginning my weekly blogs for our new course EDCI 569 promptly. Our new course is titled “The Distributed, Blended and Open Classroom”. This is an area of interest for me long term, as I hope to shrink the walls in my own classroom. I believe in breaking down the divide between the learning that happens outside of the classroom walls and the learning that happens during formal class time.

Six years ago, I established a wiki for my learners. At that time, I admit that I was not fully informed about FOIPPA, but did establish some routines and expectations to keep my learning community safe online. For the first few years the wiki was driven and managed by me. Two years later, my students completely owned the wiki, authoring Khan Academy-style videos extending lessons on everything from the math being taught that day to novice lessons in Japanese. I became a learner in my own class as the students curated resources and connections for their peers and shared their expertise in other areas of interest. This wiki was profoundly exciting for me, but admittedly limited in its openness. Last year, my class began connecting on Twitter (@MrsJamesFamily) and individual blogs. That was when the walls of our classroom became more transparent! We experienced a humorous moment when we found out that a classroom thousands of miles away was more familiar with what was happening during our day than the teacher in the next-door classroom. Connecting on public blogs has given my students far more opportunities than I could ever offer as an individual teacher. My students have been more receptive to feedback from other sources, and eager to apply their new learning. My students discussed favourite novels with students in Italy. One of my students was asked to write a guest blog post on a teacher’s blog site. Blogging has opened a window to the world, shrinking distances and offering a perspective into a day in the life of students in other countries.

Using Twitter allows my students the freedom to participate in global micro-blog projects and receive the gratification of fairly immediate feedback. We find active hashtags to connect with, and share out our learning frequently. Twitter provides a window into the events, discoveries and learning in our classroom, and invites others to provide feedback, encouragement and conversation.

This year I am working with several teachers who are interested in having their students blog as part of their work on their #geniushour projects. They are starting with closed blogs where only the linked classrooms can read, post, comment or provide feedback. I am looking forward to seeing how writing for a larger audience impacts these students and their writing process.

I am still taking initial steps in my journey towards exploring alternate methods for my learners to connect, reflect and share. I really appreciate it when my students suggest alternate ways to share their learning. I hope that this course gives me new ideas to invite my learners to connect, share their voices and develop their own learning networks.

#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!