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.