Friday, March 30, 2012

Reconceptualizing the library #change11

I’ll be blogging in response to a webinar series offered by at the invitation of the National Writing Project’s Digital Is. In this week's session, hosted again by Howard Rheingold, we heard from Buffy J. Hamilton, The Unquiet Librarian, who engaged in a discussion about libraries and learning spaces.

Dr. David Preston’s high school class “hung out” during the webinar and asked a big question: "What [does] the future of libraries look like, considering the rapid growth of reading technologies such as the Kindle and the iPad?"

A great question by itself, this inquiry only gets better when you consider the context: from their classroom in California, this group of students asked this question of Buffy Hamilton an innovative librarian in Georgia, Howard Rheingold, prolific author and a teacher at Stanford, and a live stream audience of educators. It appears these students came to the right place for answers.

In her opening remarks, Hamilton hinted at the work that educators will have to do to answer the students’ question. She challenged her audience to “reconceptualize the library as a place that is a shared composition.” She said educators have to collaborate with the students they serve to “compose and construct the story of library participation,” with the goal of developing responsible, agentive students who learn what education can be in a lot of different spaces.

Where do we even begin?

Well, we might begin here- Librarian 2.0. It’s Rheingold’s 2010 interview of Hamilton. When I read this the day after the web session, still thinking about connected learning, I stopped only for a brief moment to name what I was doing.

I’m looking at exemplary student work that came from an nationally-recognized librarian’s collaboration with a classroom teacher, mediated by the writing of an expert on the Internet and learning. (And I’m in my pajamas!)

I poured through some student projects, and I read for a while on each of the two blogs I found that Hamilton offers, The Unquiet Library, The Unquiet Librarian. (I found three or four other virtual platforms for the work she does with her school, and skimmed those, too.)

I think I got a glimpse of the future of libraries, which is what those students in the web session asked about. I saw pictures of a dynamic physical space and I toured an unbounded virtual space.

During the web session, Hamilton spoke about her work with students and Personal Learning Environments (PLEs), remarking that asking students to work in public, virtual spaces was asking them to take a “leap of faith.” Hamilton’s own work demonstrates for students and teachers alike the benefits of this leap. By publishing her work to the web, she gives us all access to her joyful approach and her strong thinking about physical and virtual spaces which promote inspired learning. By sharing in this way, she encourages other educators to take the leap of faith, to share and think with a larger community focused on answering tough questions.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

What am I doing in this MOOC? #change11

I read Stephen Downes’ address at EdgeX2012, highlighting the parts that were meaningful to me. Here is the annotated link in Diigo that shares my highlights. They might be useful to you if you’re pressed for time and find yourself wanting to skim the long post. I affixed to the digital text a virtual sticky note which reads, “When online begins to outperform face to face.”

After reading Downes’ address, I thought about his assertion that MOOCs aren’t about content, they are about doing. Here are some of the things I’ve done in this MOOC to date:

Annotated and shared those annotations

(See above.)


I wrote informally about the speakers, the content and the experience of this MOOC.  


At one point during my participation in this course, I made my own rule that if someone commented on my blog, I would comment on theirs. Interesting stuff, this rule-making in an open online context. I would also like to do a better job of following those who comment on my writing and I try to “pay it forward,” reading the latest blogs to help myself feel current, but also to encourage recent participants.


In the backchannels of the web sessions, I chat frequently and furiously, at times losing track of the speaker’s presentation. I’m fascinated by backchannels, their role in the session and the tangents and trails they take. I like to catch up on sessions I miss in the recording, taking notes online to record my thoughts and support my reflection, but without the live backchannel, the recordings are not nearly as engaging.


I pose questions in chats during online sessions, and I pose them in the comment fields below participant blogs. My questions also leak into my own blog posts.


In a previous blog post, I shared a workshop activity which invited readers to add their ideas to a Prezi I created. I was delighted to see a few additions from other participants.  


Recently, during the “lull” in this MOOC, I co-facilitated a three-week open course through Interestingly, in our discussion threads for that course I connected with (at least) three other participants from this MOOC.

When I think about the connections formed in a MOOC, I think about the common experiences of participants who have navigated, consumed, published, lurked and Tweeted as part of their participation in #change11. What changes? Our work? Our expectations? Our skill learning online?

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Watch the geeks

I’ll be blogging in response to a webinar series offered by at the invitation of the National Writing Project’s Digital Is. I highly recommend the archived session hosted by Howard Rheingold in which Mimi Ito lead a discussion about connecting interests and achievement with a panel of librarians, teachers and parents.

Mimi Ito studies geeks.

It takes one to know one!

The geeks, she reports, are highly interest-driven and immersed in technology. Ito says geeks use different media platforms than other students because they put their interests first and friendships, while important, come second. To me, that means they might prefer to Facebook, for example.

I share Ito’s interest in geeks and I like to conduct my own informal studies on them.

It used to be easier to spot geeks. They were the ones wearing glasses, reading books. They were the only ones who knew how to use a computer, before using a computer became so social. Now everyone’s on some kind of a computer and you have to really look closely to see which kids are pursuing their interests. It is harder to know who is hanging out, who’s messing around and who’s geeking out. Before, you could stake out a library and find the geeks. Today, even if you go to the library, you’ll see a bunch of kids on computers. You have to sneak up behind them to figure out who the geeks are.

I like to sneak up behind the geeks because I’m a teacher and I have a sneaking suspicion that studying the geeks a little more closely will suggest possibilities for a way forward in education, especially in an era of increased accountability and emphasis on measuring educational outcomes. Schools can no longer take geeks for granted. We really ought to poke and prod them, prick them with pins, find out how they tick.

When I find a real geeky geek, about 11 or 12 years of age, and I poke him real hard, he gives up his secrets! “School is easy, when it isn’t too boring,” he wails. “Some classes are fun, when we get to do cool stuff, or when we read, write and talk about cool stuff.”

Geeks might not like homework, but if I prick them with a pin, they’ll tell me their ten favorite homework assignments. I record the answers in my notes because I think it will help us find a way forward in education.

Here’s a thing I’ve noticed: when you leave a geek to his own devices, he makes up his own homework, and he enters into his own intellectual discussions. Geeks use the Internet for this all the time. You basically cannot click twice on the web without encountering a geek collaborating with other geeks.

Geeks interests change all the time, but we can learn a great deal by studying how they pursue those interests.

To help in this effort, I’m growing my own geeks.  

The biggest one is six and her interests are as follows: dinosaurs, roly polys, dogs, singing, and animals.

Her mother won’t let me prick her with a pin, so I have hang out with my little geek and make careful notes about her interests. I recently took her to the local library. She’s learning to read, so it is an opportune time to watch this geek blossom.* I watch how she walks through the bookstacks, introduces herself to other kids and explores. It doesn’t get interesting until I start picking out the books.

I’m an English teacher, so I have an agenda.  My approach is complex- I look for books on her instructional level, but I also want high quality literature. I look for author’s names: De Paolo, Fox, Carle, Pollaco, and Yolen. Pulling books from the shelves, I look at the sentence structure, the patterns and the ratio of text to picture support. I find the perfect books for this reader's development and then things get interesting.

"No, Dad. I only want dinosaur books."

Despite my  assurances that she will love the books I have chosen, the little geek, unyielding, insists on a new search strategy for me, the reading "expert." Not only do I have to reshelve the instructionally appropriate materials, I have to find dinosaur books. Not real dinosaur books, I’m told, but dinosaur books where dinosaurs talk and play. We find about 10 and when the little geek concedes that dragon books will work, too, we check out 13 in total.

I record my observations.

Our oldest geek rejects expert-selected, instructionally appropriate materials in her zone of proximal development. She demands to focus on a topic and style of text. In the weeks following our trip to the library, she independently increases her time on text with the self-selected materials. Her method of reading practice, while different than the work I might have prescribed, increases instructional opportunities to model and mentor reading strategies.  

During her recent discussion on, Ito asked a small panel of parents and educators an important question, “Have you seen in your own work some potential for interest-driven work with students?”
So, I believe Mimi Ito is onto something when she asks about the potential for interest-driven instruction. I also believe we can ask educators another question: Have you seen in your work the negative potential of continuing with a course of instruction that did not interest students?

*During the writing of this blog post, my oldest geek walked by and told me, “Don’t forget your periods at the end of your sentences, Dad!”

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Technology for community sake #Change11

Right before I show YouTube videos by Michael Wesch in professional development workshops, I always take a quick poll of the audience, asking who has heard of the Kansas State professor. In the last four weeks, I have had the opportunity to lead three variations of the same professional development workshop, with audiences ranging in size from 13 to 35. I average about one raised hand each time I ask. This comes as both good and bad news; good because I can keep showing the videos and asking participants, most of whom are inspired by 4 minutes of hearing Wesch speak, about the implications of his work for K-12 public education; bad because it indicates to me that K-12 educators, confronted by the same issues of scale and relevance that Wesch tries to optimize in his courses at Kansas State, have not heard of his cutting-edge work.

In this video, A Vision of Students Today, Wesch’s students famously publish the statistical results of a class survey they did on a Google Doc. In other talks Wesch has done, among them this address to the University of Manitoba in 2008, he details how he uses web portals to aggregate class resources and student work.  

The tech integration in these videos in not about portals, wikis and RSS feeds. I see Wesch gathering student data in new ways, employing a strategy not unlike a very low-tech system like “Fist to Five Feedback,” where the teacher asks students to quickly assess the success of her lesson.

When I read a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education by Jeffrey Young, I realized that the importance of Wesch’s could elude the higher ed community. The article dismisses Wesch’s use of technology as a strategy that other professors are unable to apply, and then concludes that he is just talented, so his methods don’t matter. A talented lecturer might be just as effective using less interactive methods, according to Young.

Participants in technology workshops I lead readily agree that the purpose behind integration matters more than the tools. This is especially true in Wesch’s case. When a colleague of his remarks that they tried his methods and had them result in “chaos,” I worry that institutions cannot see past tools to instructional purposes. 

My biggest worry is that we might watch powerful practices enhanced by technology and see only the technology. We might not notice that Wesch asked his students, his paying customers, what it is like to be a student in his class and then used technology to maximize their experiences as learners.We might forget that when his students report that their professors don’t know their names, he uses technology to create social connections for them in a class of 200. We have to see past his web platform to think critically about his purpose.

When technology gives us the ability to hear from all students all the time, what questions will we ask them? Wesch asks his students about relevance and significance. If we don’t know what questions to ask, it doesn’t matter how well the technology helps us aggregate the answers.