Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Matter of Balancing the Good with the Bad . . .

Personalization. Interconnectivity. Creative capabilities. Interactivity. Immersion.

These are the good things.

Distraction. Self-obsession. Irrational thought. Inability to focus. Feeling overwhelmed.

These are the bad things.

And, it turns out, that, just like every single thing in life that is wonderful and delicious and full of promise (fast cars, ice cream, having children, the entertainment industry, organized religion), there is a long list of pros and cons when bringing technology into educational settings.

This isn't to say we shouldn't do it. I'd be the LAST person (just look at my growing stomach) to say we should do away with ice-cream because people occassionally overeat and get tummy aches. But I also would be the last person to say we should avoid ever talking about or acknowledging the occassional indigestion that can result from misues of ice cream.

And so, I am here to proclaim bravely, in this last blog for a course on the Web 2.0: Technology can give me heart burn, in a variety of ways:

1. People turn first to their affinity groups. They read/respond to blogs that are like-minded to them; they choose news sources that affirm what they already believe; they watch youtubes that have been created by similar demographic groups. In essence, it is VERY human to use technology to simply pat ourselves on the back ("see, I WAS right after all") rather than probe into more painful democratic deliberations with various perspectives.

2. I don't care how many scholarly articles proclaim that students mostly use the web 2.0 for educative purposes. The truth is, I know that I don't. Not yet, anyway. I use Facebook to space out and take a BREAK from thinking. I look at a youtube video because it is supposed to be funny or entertaining. We need to spend LESS time trying to say that young people using technology are doing it WELL and MORE time equipping young people to use technology for purposes beyond texting and facebook.

3. In the K-12 setting, introducing Web 2.0 tools IS TRICKY. Students that are not academically motivated BEFORE getting a laptop, will not turn academically motivated AFTER getting a laptop. This means that, despite my best intentions to create relevant, authentic, interesting activities using Internet, my "low level" ninth graders would inevitably skirt around the firewall and get to facebook and "inappropriate" rap music the minute they opened the laptops. We need to train preservice teachers to deal with the COMPLEXITY of CLASSROOM MANAGEMENT ISSUES that WILL arise when using these technologies in the classroom. We need to teach them how to scaffold, how to support students to make GOOD decisions. We need, in essence, to be truthful rather than insisting that technology is a panacea that will make unmotivated students suddenly intensely focused on teacher-directed activities.

Listen, I love ice-cream. And I love technology. And I could have spent this entire blog taking about the sweet, creamy goodness that is the Web 2.0. But, frankly, I think a lot of the articles we have read in class already do this. And, I don't know about you, but I think being realistic will do a lot more for technology integration than just adding another cherry on top . . .

Saturday, November 27, 2010

A Multi-Tasker's Dream Invention . . .

I have a problem.

I admit this to you all, because I know you will not judge me, and because I know that, of my millions of blog readers (okay, maybe all two of you), most of you have the same problem as me.

I can't just sit and watch a television show. Nor can I merely cook dinner. Or simply play with my two-year-old. I can't even go for a run in perfect silence.

I, like millions and millions of folks out there today, am an obsessive multi-tasker, the kind that feels nervous getting into a car without folders of articles or books to read. The kind that cannot IMAGINE a worse fate then (GASP) finding myself in a doctor's waiting room without anything PRODUCTIVE to do. The kind that loves taking online classes largely because I can fold laundry AND nurse my newborn while watching videostreamed lectures.

Which leads me to something that I REALLY REALLY REALLY love. My iPod shuffle.

The thing is like one inch long, hot pink, and I've lost it/washed it/scuffed it more times than you could imagine. But it carries, within it, hours and hours of knowledge. Mysteriously locked inside are podcasts about the history of kissing, reviews on movies/music, interviews with famous people, journalistic accounts of people's lives, discussions about faith in our modern world, dramatic readings of fictional stories. In short, my iPod is the only productive non-productive invention that makes me feel validated in going out on a run, washing the dishes, or waiting in a waiting room.

As a rule, my iPod is not for school. Not yet, anyway. I don't load podcast assignments from classes, because only twice in my PhD career have they been assigned. I load podcasts that interest me, podcasts about food and diverse people and places. They are quality podcasts; they are informative podcasts; they are entertaining podcasts. They are mine.

And don't believe for a moment that they don't impact my school career. Nearly every week, I have some comment in class or add some resource to a paper that has its origin in a podcast. So just because I'm not being assigned podcasting for school, doesn't mean I'm not using them for school. Not by a long-shot . . .

What implications do my ramblings have upon educational uses of podcasts, whether they be in recording lectures, providing supplemental materials, or having students make their own?

I have no idea, and no time to think about it since, after all, it's time for my hot-jogging-date with my little pink bundle of amazingness . . .

Friday, November 19, 2010

Technology Enthusiast's Missionary Zeal

Believe me, as I read about Paul Kim's inspiring goal to save the world, one mobile hand-held device at a time, I teared up a little. I mean, seriously, who can resist short videos with moving music and images of smiling, appreciative multi-cultural kids? Kim's Seeds of Empowerment project, in particular, impressed me, as it involves kids creating their own stories, communicating about their own lives (with the help of technology of course.) But there is always the tiny part of me that has to push back a little in the face of over-riding optimism: "this MUST be an AMAZING thing for these kids."

It's the same, part of me that took a class on Language Change a few semesters ago, the class that highlighted the importance of preserving indigenous cultures, of being careful about what we "bring" in the name of God, technology, or globalization. We had many conversations in this class, about how good intentions (I want people to go to heaven) could lead to less positive results (dissolution of families, languages, culture, indigenous religions.) I think this is complicated territory, and before we sweep in with our technology saviors of the world, we've got to think long and hard about the consequences of their entrance into these "poor children's" lives. Here are some issues I've got:

1. Kim, Miranda, & Olaciregui (2007) make a strong case for the opposition our illiterate "poorest of the poor" face in today's society. These children are described as attending the worst schools, with the worst teachers, with the least educated parents, with the worst living conditions (they may be hungry or sleep deprived). In essence, they are solidly described from a deficit model. There is no mention of the potential resourcefulness or funds of knowledge they might possess that our rich techno-savvy kids may lack.

2. I get the feeling that little thought has gone into how the home life might be affected by handing out this hand-held devices, although I could be wrong. For instance, how do this poor illiterate parents react when their child, who used to come home and help with chores, is now absorbed 24/7 in some educational game or other. This reminds me of an entire two years of my brother's life (from age 8-age 10) when we rarely had a social interaction. He either had his face in a Gameboy, in a video game magazine, or playing Super Ninetendo. Of course, the educational games featured in Kim's device have a lot more to offer than, say, Super Mario Brothers, but the take-away is the same. Electronic devices seduce us and draw our attention away from face to face interactions (or chores.)

3. How about the impact on culture at large? Although Kim et al. speak eloquently about knowing their audience in designing educational software, it is difficult to measure all of the cultural norms/assumptions that might mismatch this new culture.

My real feeling on the subject? This is a good thing. Students feel empowered. They gain access to resources. The intention is absolutely pure and good and noble. I just hope hope hope that the consequences measure up to the intended effects . . .

Friday, November 12, 2010

A Blog about Blogging a Blog

I have a confession to make.

I was a journaler.

As a kid, as a pre-teen, and even as a teenager, I found unbelievable solace for my never-ceasing angst in the blank pages of notebooks, diaries, post-its, whatever I could find to write in. In those pages of privacy and complete control, I could write about my mean teachers, my unfair parents, the boys that didn't notice me, my pitiful life, my love for God, my incredible life, the sunset, my homesickness, my self image issues, etc etc etc . . . My mom discovered piles of these journals a few years ago and called me, shocked: "You had this ENTIRE LIFE going on that I had NO idea about! I thought we were close!! Did I even know you?"

So I had no need for an authentic audience (and after I got one, I felt a bit violated.) But for those insecure beings (like me) that feel the need to express their life in writing to make sense of it, blogging can serve as a place to do so and gain an automatic virtual audience. As Downes (2004) points out: "writing a weblog isn't for everybody" . . . it perhaps is mainly for those who feel that "writers will write because they can't not write". (Pilgrim)

Maybe this is why assigning my "Culture of College" students last semester to create their own blog was a bad idea. These students, who are forced to take the class because of a failing grades, are typically freshmen or sophomores who thought college was about partying, not going to class. In my head, letting them express the struggles and joys of college life (without any parameters- just write a blog about your life every once in awhile) would help form community in the classroom and also be a welcome way to gain some points. Ummm . . . probably should have thought through this a bit more . . . .

Here are some challenges that emerged:
1. Technical difficulties: It probably took me until the last week of the semester to finally get everyone to provide me with their web URL. And I'm sure very few of the class members actually did the work to "follow" their fellow classmates (although I made it mandatory for them to comment on posts throughout teh semester.) The same reasons they were in the class to begin with made some basic organizational issues a nightmare to contain.
2. What do I write about?: The lack of constraints and topic assignments KILLED several of my students, who said they couldn't complete the assignment because they didn't know what to write about. I tried showing the class examples of successful classmate blogs, gave them suggestions of things to write about (how did midterms go? are you meeting any of your set goals? what do you love/hate about IU?), but the same students again and again lamented the lack of specifics I was giving them.
3. Conversation? What?: Mandating that my students comment on each other's posts was like pulling teeth. For 5 or so of my students, this came naturally, and they jumped on everyone's posts with insightful thought after funny thought. But most only responded to their best friend. Community, thus, was not enhanced through the medium.

Some of these issues are probably predicatable. Downes says it well here: "What happens when a free-flowing medium such as blogging interacts with the more restrictive domains of the educational system? What happens when the necessary rules and boundaries of the system are imposed on students who are writing blogs, when grades are assigned in order to get students to write and all, and when posts are monitored to ensure that they don't say the wrong things?"

Well, it appears that conversations via blogs need to have clear PURPOSE but REMAIN UNCONSTRAINED. How can I facilitate both of these things? How could I have helped blogging maintain authenticity and engagement for these unhappy learners? And how could I have helped them see that blogging is FIRST about reading your culture, your community, your ideas: "If a student has nothing to blog about, it is not because he or she has nothing to write about or has a boring life. It is because the student has not yet stretched out to the larger world, has not yet learned to meaningfully engage in a community."

That student sounds like my students, and it sounds like I was trying to treat the symptoms rather than the underlying problem. . .

Saturday, November 6, 2010

It takes a special kind of kid . . .

My mind wanders . . perhaps a bit too much . . whenever I read anything related to education/teaching/pedagogy. This is because, invariably, a particular situation, kid, context, parent, or assignment will come into my head that is at least tangentially related to the topic being eloquently ruminated about, and I feel driven to use the specific recollection to contextualize the idealized abstract.

So this week, while reading about the boundless educative potential of immersive, open-ended virtual worlds such as World of Warcraft and Grand Theft Auto, I had two faces in my head: Alex, my inscrutable sixth grade student, and my dear husband of six years.

Let's get the husband out of the way. This husband of mine is the most sensitive, compassionate man I know. (He happens to be a nurse for goodness sake.) He can't say "no" to anyone and avoids confrontation at all costs (unless sanctioned for some athletic sport.) This same man, loves games like Grand Theft Auto. One minute he'll be tossing his giggling two year old in the air, and the next minute, he'll be dropping "f-bombs" (through his video game self) as he's escaping from police sirens, stealing cars, and shooting people. We've been together for ten years, but still, everytime I see him so engaged in pursuit, I just stop and stare in disbelief: "Who is this man? Do I really know him? What is FUN about this?" This is one distinctive type of gamer.

Then there is Alex. For Alex, video games are not a fun escape every once in awhile. World of Warcraft WAS life. (The rest was just an annoying distraction from what really mattered.) Alex was a kid that got to me, because try as I might, try as I could, I never could get him hooked into what we were doing in class. (I came closest when I encouraged him to share his computer game funds of knowledge in some form, but never really succeeded.) Alex was silent, sullen, antisocial, "nerdy". He was so thin and white, I'm pretty sure he rarely ate and definitely rarely saw the sun. He spoke to just ONE other sixth grader, another super-tiny-for-his-age-kid who was also somewhat of an outcast, although much less silent. But everyday, at the end of school, Alex would come to room, face brightning, so that he could tell me the latest in his World of Warcraft game. I never figured out what the heck he was talking about, but from those conversations I realized he had definite passions and definite skill sets; unfortunately formal school stuff just wasn't one of them.

So what to make of my husband and Alex and virtual worlds mattering? This blog is getting too long, so I'll leave it up to you. I'm just saying that it seems to me, there are two people in these world: people who love video games, and people who don't. And I'm pretty sure there are some deep reasons for this. What I'm less sure about is how to create virtual worlds that are both immersive and educative, autonomous and directly beneficial . . .

But who I am talk? I hate video games . . .

Thursday, October 28, 2010

My love/hate relationship with COLLABORATION

For all the talk our articles had this week about our naturally collaborative, collective meaning-making young people, I sure have had a lot of students who hated group projects.

"Do we HAVE to work on this as a group?"
"I work better independently."
"Am I going to be counted off if _____ doesn't do his part?"
"How are we going to be graded on this?"
"You mean we have to find time to meet OUTSIDE of class?"
"These things always take twice as much time as projects I do on my own!"

And I could never forget the parent (who happened to be a brain surgeon, very short, and a very scary angry person) who publicly accosted me at a charity for the school I was helping work at: "My son got an A- in your class because of a GROUP PROJECT?? That is entirely ridiculous, and I will ensure that you lose your job! If MY son got an A-, I hope that the rest of the class got F's!"

I bring this up, in part, because I relate to these crazy traditionalists. Being the control freak that most of us teachers are, group projects represented, to me, a dangerous zone, with lots of unknowns. The only time they were fun or insight-creating was when I was allowed to choose my other nerd friends to work with in a group. (We then, would create incredible, strange, time-consuming video productions involving lots of props, background music, and laughter.)

So my take-aways here?

-Just because young people are naturally social beings doesn't mean this will directly lead them to LOVE all technology things that are collaborative.
-Teachers have to establish ways of facilitating group work that feel safe and quality to students, parents, and all of the stakeholders.
-As in all things, the less experienced with collaboration the student (due to age or past educational experiences), the more scaffolding that will be required for success in working together.

But the big tension I struggle with, one that is particularly relevant for the K-12 environment?
-How can we best group students? Homogenous? Heterogenous?
-How can we make students of mixed levels, mixed talents, mixed abilities collaborate successfully?
-How can we use technology to make this doable?

And MOST of all, how we can we empower pre-service teachers to navigate the tricky but oh-so-vital land of collaborative work with their students, and avoid passing along the inaccurate belief that "all students LOVE working in groups". . .

Thursday, October 21, 2010

You Do, I Do, We All Turn to You-Tube

It was my husband who first pointed it out, several years ago:

"Have you noticed that everytime our friends come over, at some point in the evening, we all end up crowded around the computer, watching a YouTube? What did we do before YouTube??"

He was right. Sure we have some deep friends, and we had some deep face to face convos as well, but it never failed: at some comic-relief-needing point in the night, someone suggested that we all check out this HILARIOUS You-tube video.

And, being the dutiful English teacher I was, I immediately had the brilliant idea to use a Youtube or two as a hook into a lesson. And, working at the conversative schools I worked, I was immediately shot down and told we didn't use inappropriate YouTube videos; the site was blocked.

Flash forward a few years, and I'm teaching some teacher candidate college kids, and we have this "materials and strategies" project, where they come up with several diverse texts around a theme of their choosing to use with a class. 92% chose a Youtube for one of the texts. Some were songs, some were "how to" videos, some were mini-documentaries about famous people. But NEARLY EVERYONE immediately turned to Youtube a text of great worth for their discipline (art, science, math, English, history, etc). Oh- and a suggestions from a midterm eval in that class: "Since it's a three hour class, I recommend you show a few more Youtubes to break up the time."

What to make of all of this? (Beyond the fact that I'm freaked out that these students will make a ton of lesson plans revolving around Youtube only to find that their school doesn't allow it . . . ) I kind of like what Alexandra Juhasz makes of all of this, during her great experiment of a class ON Youtube ABOUT YouTube. In the course intro video she is clearly skeptical. As Jenkins puts it, "does a participatory platform insure diverse, meaningful, or innovative content?" She asks questions about ownership, the value of popular culture, control, access, losing the value of expertise, and community. And, in the spirit of academic inquiry, she asks these questions on the very platform in question. The class defines four structural limitations to YouTube, including communication, community, research, and idea building, and THIS is the crux of critical education.

What if we thought about ALL meaning-making in this way? What if we looked at both the affordances, but also highlighted the limitations of each medium? And, even more exciting . . what if we empowered our students to do so?

And (gasp) what if we realized that stupid, humorous, short video snippets can also do a lot for our ability to make connections, provide a contect for learning, provide a common experience to discuss, provide an advance organizer for later discussion, and link to an emerging participatory culture (Bonk, 2008).

So is YouTube broccoli or twinkies in the land of nutrition for our brain? My guess . . . it all depends on your reflective/critical capabilities . . .

Friday, October 15, 2010

Empowering our students for CRITICAL engagement with new technologies

Let me be the first to say, critical people get on my nerves.

They are the ones that look at me funny when my toddler sneaks her pacifier (now only reserved for sleeping) out of my purse and snags a few drags on it in the mall when I'm not looking. They are the people in my daycare cooperative who send emails with "friendly reminders and suggestions" about only using filtered water for our baby's to drink and refraining from discussing death when a kid encounters a dead butterfly. And they are the folks who judge me as unscholarly by my wrinkled shirt, my wild curly hair, my juvenile backpack.

But, let me be the first to also say that critical STUDENTS who can critically THINK . . . they get me pumped up. Here's what I love about we technology folks. (I'm unsure if I am a legit member of the group technology folks, but just go with it.) I love how we assume, take for granted, and imagine K-12 students that are naturally thoughtful about their use of technology. Take the short "7 Things You Should Know About Wikipedia" by Educause, for instance. The lovely scenario features Elliot, a graduate student using Wikipedia who is such a reflective, critical user of the site that he checks out the discussion page and ends up editing the source himself. Upon reading about Pat's engagement with Wikipedia, any educator might be pushed to jump up and shout "TECHNOLOGY IS SUPREME!" If only all of our students were empowered to engage in this way . . .

One amazing teacher in Bloomington recently did a unit on Wikipedia with her students, and explicitly enabled them to participate in this way. They looked at various wikipedia pages, spent time checking the sources, made some revisions, and ended up getting their well-thought-out-revisions erased by someone else a week later. (Ouch!) They also started their own page on their school. This was not a one hour lesson, or even a one week lesson. For us to make space for critical reflection about technology, we have to make space for technology in our curriculum. IT CAN NOT BE AN ADD ON. Adding it on as an afterthought (as I've been known to do) is a recipe for noncritical engagement.

So let's get real about technology and let's get real about the students we teach. We're all somewhere on this spectrum of critical participation, and none of us have fully arrived. And let's not make the mistake to avoid technology because of a noted lack of reflectiveness in our students. We could all use reminding: we teach to the needs, not to the strengths.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Ito and Carr Face Off

You know how, sometimes, rarely, when you read an article or watch a speech given by an academic, you feel this strange, ineffable affinity with the person? You think: "I would have said that (much less articulately) if someone had given ME a microphone!" You think, "if I just ran into this person in a coffee shop, I am 99% sure we would sip our drinks and become instant friends." And sometimes you even wonder: "Is this person my soul mate?"

This phenomenon is strange enough as it is, but it's even stranger when you experience it on the SAME DAY (today, to be exact) with two very different scholars (Mimi Ito and Nicholas Carr), with two very distinct vantage points on the same issue.

Nicholas Carr's "Is Google Making Us Stupid" (in a nutshell): Technologies impact how we read, write, and think. They disable our ability to closely focus, to deeply read, and replace it with a constant drive for fast, efficient, convenient, greedy knowledge-gulping. The more we use computers, the more we think human brains should be MORE like computers. Sure, people always "expect the worst of every new tool or machine" (aka the development of writing or the printing press), but, come on, silent reflection is the essence of understanding.

Mimi Ito's Keynote at the Summer 2010 New Media Consortium (in another, very differently shaped nutshell): New technologies always inspire polarization, one side over-the-top with rosy hopes, and the other raging with fears and panic. Who is right? Both sides, if you subscribe to both simultaneously, that is. We've got all of these ridiculous, limiting boundaries in our heads separating school and entertainment, socializing/hanging out and learning, adult culture and kid culture. But these lines are getting blurred quickly, and it seems the way to enhance the good out of technology-based-learning is by surrounding it with a social wrapper of peer-based-sharing-community. Peer community feedback, then, can serve as these fundamental mechanisms of filter and focus.

Despite my the inarguably schizophrenic nauture of my two academic-crushes, I have to say, these two work pretty well together. Ito acknowledges that Carr has something to his argument, and Carr acknowledges that he's not all that sure he's right. Ito points out that whether or not technology is great or technology is terrible depends, in large part, upon how we choose to use this social wrapper to draw us out of the individualized brain-frying "I've been searching on Google on day by myself in my isolated room" image that Carr presents as technology-based-learning. In fact, I'm beginning to see that it may be a lot more realistic to imagine Carr and Ito meeting up in a coffee shop and becoming fast friends over some biscotti and caffeine.

Ah well . . . at least a girl can dream . . .

Friday, October 1, 2010

Open Educational Resources (and other ways I survived my first year of teaching . . . )

As I read all one hundred and forty nine pages of Geser's edited report on "Open Educational Practices and Resources", my mind kept wandering back to my first year of teaching . . . 2004. . .

Elated to get a job my first summer of interviewing, I paid little attention to the fact that I would be the ONLY English teacher for ALL 6th-8th graders at the small Catholic school, and didn't even know enough to realize that having SIX preps each day (one involving US History) wasn't so much the norm for a teacher work load. But it only took a few days for me to realize . . . I CAN'T DO THIS ALONE!!

Despite their best intentions, the burnt out math and science middle school teachers on my team had few curricular-pedagogical ideas to share with me, and my "mentor" teacher in the building visited me once, saying "they weren't too noisy, so I think you've got things under control."

Being the tech-savvy barely-twenty-something I was, I immediately turned to the Internet to fill my looming void of teaching experience, and found that, with a few key types and a click, I could access idea after idea after idea. Sure, I found (and ignorantly used) some bad teaching worksheets/ideas/tests I discovered online, but I was reflective enough as a teacher to realize after a few minutes that they WERE crappy. And, with the help of some idea-packed-quality sites (such as the Read, Write, Think lesson plans on NCTE's site), I managed to impress (or anger) pretty much everyone with my "wildly creative" teaching methods. The open educational resources I implemented those first few years were an invaluable source of teacher education for me. I tried things. I discarded things. I adapted things. I discovered things. All of this, thanks to the OER movement.

Just one minor problem . . . I never contributed ideas myself. I never made blog comments about how I adapted things to fit my context, and I never reflected publicly about what worked and what didn't. In one sense, I was in survival mode, and taking time to do such gratuitous work would have been ridiculous. In another sense, I was incredibly selfish . . . taking, taking, taking, but never adding to the body of knowledge. Perhaps this is why I've returned to grad school . . . now I have TIME (the time real practicing teachers DON'T have) to contribute.

This is what worries me when authors wax on and on about the importance of "bottom-up" models that involve K-12 "teacher participation and reflection". Yes- practicing educators are our best sources of information, expertise, and can be powerful reality-checks. BUT-- the current teaching climate disempowers teachers from engaging in most "professional" activities outside of their duties with their day to day students. To be a great teacher means investing time in assessment, planning, searching, and facilitating. This simply leaves very little room for posting reflections or ideas or comments online.

How to solve this? Cut class sizes in half. Hire twice as many teachers. Give teachers real time to think and prepare during the school day. Pay teachers more. The answers are many, but the payback could very well be enormous . . .

Friday, September 24, 2010

"THAT'S MINE!!": Sharing, from the perspective of a two year old.

Reading up on the Free and Open Source Software movement this afternoon conjured up all sorts of warm and fuzzy language: "help your neighbor", "so the whole community benefits" "create communities of practice that promote learning", "free exchange of ideas", "sharing", "stewards . . entrusted by society with resources and with the mandate to feed and nurture the world of ideas and innovation", "openness", "gift culture", and my favorite, the tongue and cheek: "magical pixie dust that gets sprinkled over software to imbue it with various kind of goodness."

None of these phrases got to me, however, (not even the pixie dust), as much as the word "sharing". Why? To put it simply, I live with a two year old.

To be clear, Lucy (aforementioned two year old) used to be a big believer in collective meaning making and social constructivism. She loved bestowing her toys or artistic creations upon her friends, piling them in heaps on my lap, etc, etc. But then, she turned two.

And now, everytime I enter her daycare cooperative (Knee High Daycare) to work my weekly shifts, I hear a chorus emerging out of the door : "MINE!" "THAT'S MINE," cries that are often followed up with shriek-inducing punches, pushes, and scratches. My daughter is not the lone aggressor. She is one of five two year olds. Together, they spend the day taking ownership over a toy, pacifier, a kleenex, a spoon, a chair, a bib, a swing, a coloring page, pile of blocks, etc, and then spend the rest of that day zealously protecting their righteous ownership.

And, although I discourage her behavior in all of the ways good and loving parents do, I really can't blame her. We humans seem kind of wired to want to keep what we claim, to own what we have, and to take credit for what we do. This is why I find the FOSS movement kind of miraculous. What we do together is always much more fun than what we do alone. The towers out of blocks we create together are much more astounding than the ones we create on our own. But this takes some getting used to. And it takes some maturity.

But I have some hope, because even Lucy is learning to say: "Dat's not Lucy's toy. That's Knee High's toy." And if we could all start to think that way, if we could recognize that every good thought that we have, every cool toy we possess, couldn't be possible without a grander collective . . . a bigger story . . . we might have the grace to say: "That's not my brilliant discovery. That's everybody's."

Saturday, September 18, 2010


The Sloan report on "Blending In", while presenting that there is room for consumer growth in blended learning environments since openness and preference exceeds experience, that academic leaders perceived no higher value of hybrid learning as "the best of both worlds" A more recent article, however, (Demski's "A Better Blend"), irrefutably states a 2009 Department of Education study that found larger advantages of hybrid learning over face to face instruction. Her article describes a teacher who successfully uses class forum discussion on a social networking site as a warm up for face to face conversation.

Bonk makes a nice list of suggestions to address the technology resistance movement, including incremental change, shared success, training and development, just-in-time support, sharing atmospheres, awards/incentives, modeling, etc,etc. It seems to me that blended instruction is just one way to move teachers incrementally from the "technology is isolating" argument.

In my early inquiry last Spring, I spent time talking to a few fabulous high school English teachers in the Bloomington area who had had wide success in using class Nings to collaborate with other classrooms during a War of Vietnam Unit. Central to their model was the forum discussion, and the face to face conversation that followed after the forum discussion. Reflection and engagement, thus, go hand in hand in this new world of learning models . . .

Online Classes: What's In It for Me?

All of the reading this week about online learning (NACOL's "A National Primer on K-12 Online Learning; Eduventures: Instructional Tool Usage in Online Education Programs; Sloan Report "Blending In"), I've been thinking a lot about myself, Julie Rust, as an e-learner in an online class. My first year in grad school I took not one, not two, not three, but FOUR online classes, mostly due to the fact that I lived in Terre Haute (not Bloomington), and I had a three month old at home.

These classes, which I initially signed up for in a "okay- I'll compromise my education for the sake of my daughter" kind of way, ended up being pivotal, both in shaping my research interests and the learning of the content-focus within them. Here's a non-comprehensive "the good, the bad, but mostly the good" about my online course experience:

1. When a professor utilized video lecture or video-streamed classes (thanks, Dr. Bonk), I could MULTI-TASK while attending CLASS! Watch me folding laundry as I learn about creativity form a variety of theorists, or nursing my baby while taking notes on differentiated assessment!
2. I could "attend class" and asynchronously engage in forum discussions with classmates, whether I was up at 2:30 AM with a sick baby, or doing my work on Friday nights when my husband was home for work.
3. These forum discussions were revelations. Since my primary mode of discussion about course readings/topics was WRITTEN (a reflective, learning practice for me) rather than just SPEAKING (an impulsive, less-reflective process for me) my contributions were richer and more thoughtful than they typically are in class.
4. One professor (Dr. Barbara Dennis) had such a STRONG presence in our Y5221 class as she engaged so often in one-to-one communication, posting personal videos to our small groups, etc, etc, that when I met her face to face, I felt as if we were already close! She also powerfully divided up the class into groups of 4-5 for discussions, which increased an intimate community and sense of trust.
5. This summer, Dr. Rob Kunzman provided SPECIFIC feedback to my forum discussion contributions using an assessment rubric. Within his narrative comments, he always referred to at least one or two specific thoughts that I had and reflected on them.

I could go on and on, but it became pretty clear to me that, while face to face classes will ALWAYS have a special place in my heart, I've become a "hybrid" kinda gal.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Oh Guilt-Inducing Digital Information Age . . .

Some people, the normal ones, get excited by all of the cool things that technology offers, all of the amazing, positive, thoughtful ways people have utilized the affordances of the Internet, of mobile phones, of ebooks for the sincere goal of democratic education.

I, on the other hand, feel guilty.

I don't feel guilty because I am a white, privileged American girl who grew up in the kind of middle class home where my first car was bought for me. I don't feel guilty because I don't always stop completely at four way stops, and I sometimes speed up, rather than slow down, at yellow lights. I don't even feel guilty that I gave my two year old her pacifier in the car on the way to daycare this morning, even though I promised my husband we'd only use them when sleeping from now on. Nope.

I feel guilty in the same way I've always felt guilty when standing in bookcase-lined libraries. I feel guilty because, in the grand scheme of things, I've read NOTHING. I know NOTHING. I've retained NOTHING. And even though, I've got a few years ahead of me to live, I realize with great clarity that I will never make it through all of the books in that library, even if I developed a strategic system to do so.

You can imagine the problem, then, that Internet presents for me. Not only are there blogs to read and comment on, websites to visit and peruse, shops to purchase from, an entire virtual world called Second Life . . . but there are also, you guessed it . . . E-BOOKS! It's a virtual monster monster library, one that in a million years I could never conquer.

So here's the question: How do you behave when confronted with an impossible task, even if it's an impossible task that you deeply WANT to take on? Here's how I behave. I shut down.

So as I click from cool e-book-related website to website, my heart slowly sinks deeper in my chest, as I realize "I should have used this when I taught middle school! My ninth grade fifth hour class would have LOVED this. This would have been GREAT in my presentation last conference. If I had KNOWN this existed."

And if I'm going to be really honest, I'd also note that a portion of my guilt stems from the realization that I haven't been a creator of ANY of this cool stuff. That, while I slept last night, thousands of innovative people were hard at work crafting things I never would have dreamed of! And I'm unsure if this has to do with my inherent laziness or just my general inferiority.

So there I go, turning a cool week of readings and websites into a psychotherapy section all about me. Somehow I've got to move out of this "there's so much to do and see and read" paralysis. Somehow I've got to figure out an efficient way to catalogue, remember, store, and use the cool things I find, rather than just getting excited for two seconds and then immediately forgetting it. And somehow I've got to jump in on the game and become a producer myself.

I wonder if any of my students have felt this overwhelmed way about the Internet. . . I wonder how I can enable them to surf (rather than be drowned by) the digital wave . . .

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Icy Bite of POLARized Arguments

I recently read the last Chapter in Zimmerman's insightful book about culture wars in education, where he pointed out that, media headlines to the contrary, very few people are one-sided in the world views. Most at least understand the other side of the argument, and many possess seemingly incomensurable opinions simultaneously. Articles, investigative reporting, and conversations, however, often frame debates quite differently, for the sake of simplicity and perhaps clarity: There are two sides to this issue, and everyone falls on one or the other side.

This good/evil paradigm similarly surfaces in the technology debate, specifically the one that is raging regarding the impact of digital technologies on our brains, our students, our literacy skills, and our schools.

There are the Nicholas Carr's of the world that believe google is making us stupider, driving us away from contemplative, deep thinking and directly into dangerous, multi-tasking, "surfacey"utilitarian thinking. Among his ranks are people like the author of the article "First Church of Robotics", who fears that seeing computers as fellow creatures and not just tools causes us to view humans as mere computers. He calls the technology-enthused movement a new religion, one that demands faith in computers to even make aesthetic choices for us, such as which movie to rent or music to download. Then there's the author of "The End of Human Specialness", who proposes frighteningly that digitally charged mankind is suffering from a decay of belief in self, and calls for a break in tweeting and blogging so that we can "fully exist." It goes without thinking that these guys are the villains in the story. (I am, after all, enthusiastically blogging, aren't I?)

But there are good guys too. And they are the folks who created a new test to measure digital literacy, called iCritical Thinking Certification, a test that calls upon students to solve real problems using technology tools. There are the multitudinous PEW surveys that again and again hit home the point that technology-use is increasing, and perception of technology is overwhelmingly positive. Various reports cite statistics about teens as content creators and consumers, quotes from interviews affirming that social network sharing is here to stay, even quoting experts about how Internet is NOT making us stupid or negatively impacting our reading skills. And I can't forget to mention that nauseatingly (see previous post) optimistic authors of "Connecting the Digital Dots: Literacy of the 21st Century", who laud the deep critical skills inherent in today's call for digital and visual literacy.

But to tell you the truth, I'm left watching the battle wishing the two sides would just annhilate each other. Because technology talk, especially technology talk about education, needs to be more than just persuasive . . . it needs to be thoughtful. I get what Nicholas Carr is saying, and I think some of his cautions are essential to take into account. The cognitive overload I experience each day is palpable, and I often yearn for a time where my reading was limited to the books on a shelf in a library. And I've multitasked throughout this entire blog (I checked my email four times, called Uverse to get my VISA rewards card, worked on a schedule for my daughter's daycare, etc) and I definitely noticed the extra amount of energy it took to switch from task to task. And honestly, I couldn't stand "Connecting the Digital Dots" article, which was vague to a fault and blatantly over the top. And I'm not so sure that investing our time in creating a standard way to measure students' technology skills is the best use of our time, although it may be a realistic one.

All of this to say, all of us are large enough to hold paradoxical thoughts and understandings about technology. And, even if we aren't large enough, our world is certainly is.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The "It's All Starting to Sound the Same" Factor

There comes a time in every PhD student's life when reading the same research articles that used to WOW one into ecstasy start to bore one into a near-coma. The very same words that used to seem pumped full of new ideas and creative organizations of concepts seem to be just singing the same old tune, perhaps slightly faster or slower or in a different key, but the same tune, nonetheless. For me, that time is now.

Let me make this clear. I am by no means an expert into digital literacies or technology in the classroom. There is an overwhelming amount of work that is being done/has been done that I am totally clueless about. And don't even get me started on how clueless I am regarding my own personal uses of these technologies I have professed to be so interested in. I don't even Twitter or text, for goodness sake.

But if I hear/read/think the words "collective meaning making", "multi-tasking", "digital native" or the importance of "reflection" one more time, I could very well do something that would be quite shocking and inappropriate. (Such as only SKIM, rather than fully read the rest of the week's readings.)

I'm hoping my new cynical attitude can just be chalked up to sleep deprivation or being stuck in "summer mode". I'm hoping that I can regain my passion for reading theory, which by definition tends to be over-generalized, uncontextualized, and kind of presumptious. I'm hoping all of this, because the articles this week in class about New-Millennial/Web 2.0 Learners were good. Really good. I believe in the power of WHD's to promote fluency in multiple media, collective learning experiences, and reflection founded in experience. I'm glad to hear that, according to the Speak Up survey, principals and administrators are supportive about technology integration. (Where are these principals and administrators? I've certainly never worked under them.) And I agree that the "Net Generation" is unique, and am left wondering if I am part of this generation since I was born during 1982, not AFTER 1982.

I'm reminded of the feeling I had when I was in the first trimester, pregnant with my now two-year-old, and I saw a piece of chocolate cake or a doughnut. "I know I used to enjoy that immensely, that I used to eat these things constantly, but all I want to do when I smell them now is vomit." Perhaps not the best way to start to a semester (comparing the assigned articles to nausea-inducing subjects) but, then again, the first trimester isn't a great start to motherhood, and I'm pretty darn happy with it now: chocolate cake, toddler, and all.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Why I Shouldn't Be the Person to Write a Blog Entitled "How to Write a Blog"

So I'm teaching a new course this semester, one euphemistically entitled "The Culture of College", but one that could perhaps more accurately be called "I'm on Academic Probation and I Want to Get Out." And, of course, being the teacherly sadist that I am, I've made one of the requirements in the course to be the following: Create a blog. Some have met me with disbelief, others with death threats. Therefore, in a great outreaching of kindness and respect I'd like to offer an olive branch of help via this blog "How to write a blog."

Unfortunately, I am just so NOT the person to be writing this blog. I've blogged, what, like fifteen times my entire life, and each time was a designated class assignment, which really means, I've never blogged. Of course, I've always wished I WAS the type of cool, intellectual young adult, coffee-sipping, pop-cultue-spouting person that did this sort of thing effortlessly, but let's get real. I'm the mother of a 19 month old (FYI-mother's of toddlers don't have time to shower, let alone blog), who is getting so close to turning 30 that one of my biggest current life goals is to use the phrase "I'm in my twenties" at least five times a day.

There are other reasons, worse, deeper reasons that I'm not qualified to write a blog. I'm an English teacher, for instance, and this immediately qualifies me to write such award-winning essays such as "how to analyze Shakespeare" or "how to diagram sentences" but hardly qualifies me to write about an emerging, important, social-networking-medium that is actually relevant and accessible in REAL life.

So yeah, if I were to attempt to actually act like an expert on the topic, I'd probably be awarded something like "World's Biggest Hypocrite" or, well, you get the idea . . .

Instead, I'll just let them figure it out on their own. Student-centered teaching. All the teachers are doing it, after all . . .