Check out this video archive from the National Writing Project that lays out the theoretical and pedagogical connections between the Maker’s Movement, the use of code for understanding and the writing process.
How would we teach reading if our end goal was that people became strong, powerful, authoritative, engaged, participatory writers? If that was our goal, and then we saw reading, actually, the ability to access the knowledge of others as something that you do on the way to what you produce, would we think about both of them differently? And I think there’s probably actually both on the coding and the making side this notion that if your real emphasis is not on the consumption side, but on what somebody will produce themselves or with their peers, we would shift a million things in teaching.” — Elyse Eidman-Aadahl, NWP Executive Director
I can’t say I am utterly unknowledgeable about Minecraft, but my basic understanding comes from the excited chatter over the years of my sixth grade students, particularly during our video game design unit, and my youngest son. It’s often confusing chatter to an outsider like me, with a vocabulary and a flow all of its own.
Whenever I have tried to jump into Minecraft, I have quickly gotten lost and felt aimless. I could always see the potential in collaborative World-building — and there are amazing examples of how educators are using Minecraft to connect with learning — but now I realized that what I needed were: goals with a interesting hook, a knowledgeable guide to keep me alive and a crew to hang out with.
My Networked Narratives colleague, Keegan (ie Crazyirishman7, there in the corner of the video), provided all three, by setting up a Minecraft Realm server space and inviting NetNarr folks into an exploration of a new world. I joined in, along with Terry G. (“the Annihilator”), and we spent about 90 minutes watching the sun rise and set at an alarming rate, as we began to build a home before the zombies came, with a bed to regenerate ourselves; a garden for food that Terry farmed with gusto; and a mineshaft where Keegan and I began to seek out ore and then diamonds.
Keegan, an educational technologist at the university level, clearly knew what he was doing. Terry and I clearly did not, as I scrambled to learn how to swim and walk and run and turn, and I kept a little command cheat sheet that he had sent us right at my fingertips. I’ve never been more grateful for fake torchlights and lanterns than I was yesterday.
But that’s how expert-novice relationships work, and that’s how the Connected Learning theory comes into action with immersive experiences like this. We dove in, made mistakes, died a few times, re-spawned, and had a steady hand following Keegan, who was generous and patient with us. I know a whole heck of a lot about Minecraft now than I did 24 hours ago, even with lots of reading about it. I even ended up with a Diamond Pickaxe, after using the crafting device that Keegan set up. Apparently, that’s a good thing to have.
Keegan also set up a livestream of our adventures in his Twitch Channel (a new experience for me) to share our experiences with the larger NetNarr community (more Connected Learning in action) and we used an app called Discord to be able to “talk live” amongst ourselves as we explored Minecraft. Keegan has since migrated the Twitch video to YouTube (where you can see me as Meatballlol5, which is my son’s avatar all suited up like Deadpool, since I borrowed his account to play with my NetNarr friends, much to his amusement. He even dropped a Minecraft Hacking book at my side while playing, as if that would help me. Thanks, kid.)
Since the Networked Narratives course is centered on a concept of Digital Alchemy, Keegan’s plan for the Minecraft World space is to move into “magic potions” and crafting of “elements,” as a way to explore the notions of Alchemy in a Worldbuilding Space. I find that intriguing, and watched as he wrote out our “goals” on the walls of the house we are building. He gave me a sign to play with, too.
Our next step is to find a common time to go back to our world, and maybe invite a few more folks to come along with us (I’d say, connect with Keegan on Twitter and let him know). I’m intrigued by the possibilities of us building a world of magic, and then thinking about how storytelling might evolve from the mix and flow of immersive open-ended gaming experiences like this.
The other day, I received an email that I first thought was some sort of spam that got through the filter. I almost deleted with the spam button. Then I realized, no, wait, it’s an email from “past me” to “future me” which is now “present me.” Ignore the space-time continuum for a second. It will all make sense.
The email was one I wrote to myself exactly a year ago, using a site called FutureMe, which archives emails and then ships them out at a given time. The catch is that it has to be at least one year into the future. The site allows you to designate the emails as private or public, so you can read what some people write (I have kept mine private).
This is the third time that I have done it (I realized this only after doing a search through my emails although the first time in 2011 was a very short one), and as soon as I finish writing this blog post, I am going to do it all over again, sending some words forward to myself in 2018.
Well, as I was reading through the email I wrote to myself, I realized both how much my world is the same and how much has changed, and how reading myself writing to myself was a sort of comfort. In the email, I am checking in myself and the family, and wondering how things have turned out. Oldest son off to college? Check. Writing songs? Check. Making comics in connected spaces? Check.
I even shared out my One Little Word from 2016 — “Remember” — and reminded me to keep that word in mind, and asked, what’s this year’s word? (It’s “Filter”)
We’ve used FutureMe as a Daily Connector activity with CLMOOC (“Connect with Yourself!”) and Connected Courses but I don’t know how many folks have actually done it. You should consider it. A year from now (or further into the future), when you are reading what you wrote to yourself, you’ll be thanking me.
The third “studio visit” by the folks at the Networked Narratives earlier this week was with two interesting women with extensive experience and understanding about the worlds of Fan Fiction. If you know nothing about FanFic, then this studio visit is worth your time. There are entire communities — very large ones, in fact — where fans of novels (and television shows, and movies, and …) write entire offshoot stories with secondary characters, or mixing characters from one novel with characters with another.
I popped the video into Vialogues as a way to closely watch the discussion and think about what Flourish Klink and Elizabeth Minkle, of the Fansplaining podcast, shared during the hour-long conversation.
Here are some of my take-aways from listening in and some lingering questions in my mind:
FanFiction sites are composed of significantly more readers (ie, lurkers) than writers, which makes a certain kind of sense, I guess, although one wishes that more people were writing (that’s the writing teacher in me talking). What kinds of hurdles are there for new writers? What kinds of entry points are there? Is there as welcome wagon?
There seems to a fairly narrow demographic field of readers and writers, if I understood Klink and Minkle correctly. Most FanFic sites are populated by women (there was a real feminine theme emerging from this discussion), with a “Queer” sentiment (this is often known as “slash” fiction — ie, Spock/Kirk), and mostly white middle class. I wonder why? Is it cultural? What draws that demographic in? What keeps others out?
Comments by readers in the FanFic world can be supportive and they can be critical, although there is apparently a sense of criticism being done privately, not publicly. Does this private criticism run counter to why people write in these open sites? It’s more likely a sense of protectiveness of writers, I suspect.
There is a lot of explicit content in many FanFic sites, which makes it something to consider when introducing young writers (like mine) to the prospects of fan fiction. So, yeah, don’t start fanfic in your classroom with a tour of some of these sites. Just saying.
I wonder about the roles of writers in these spaces. Who is there because an avenue for writing has suddenly emerged and they want to write to write? And who is there because they want a career as a writer (good luck with that) and see fanfic as a stepping stone to something larger? This fault line seems important to me.
Finally, FanFic sites are built under the radar, purposefully (except for Harry Potter worlds, which is supported by Rowling and her publisher). If teachers teach fanfic, do we suck the fun out of it and ruin the very thing that makes fan fiction so wonderfully unique and important to communities of young people? (FanFic is mostly the domain of teens and younger adults). I grapple with this question on many occasions (ie, video game design).
Overall, the exploration was enlightening, and raised a lot of questions to consider and mull over. Flourish and Elizabeth seemed to have in-depth knowledge, but openly admitted they can’t speak for all of FanFic, since it is large and rather undefinable. But this very unknown nature — where writing and networking and creativity and literacy come together — is what makes learning more about FanFic worth the time.
(This is for the Slice of Life, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write each Tuesday — and all through March — about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)
For more than a year now, I have been involved in a postcard writing/mailing project with folks in my connected circles, mostly through the CLMOOC clan. This year, a subset of the Postcard-ers is doing Data Postcards along agreed-upon theme (So this month, it was “love”).
Yesterday, I gathered up a bunch of postcards that had arrived in the last week or so, and took a picture. We like to share out, if only to show arrival. You can see a woodcut postcard of Woody Guthrie, and a 3d keychain (and 3D shovel!), and messages about art and collaboration. And a mallard duck.
Then, yesterday afternoon, just after I posted my collection of recent arrivals, I received this gem of a postcard, and poem, from another friend, Sandy, in my mailbox. She and I connect in other spaces, such as the current Networked Narratives. Sandy does a whole other kind of postcard adventure around a magical art theme (I think). Her postcard — right from the beautiful colored handwriting on the envelope — was a work of part, and her poetry was pure beauty.
I’m lucky to have found my way into such a creative tribe.
I am thankful I was asked to host an Educator Innovator session the other night with Katie Eder, the teen founder of an expanding project called Kids Tales, which provides free writing camps with paths to publication for young writers, often in communities that are struggling. All camps are organized and run by teenagers. The teens write curriculum, pitch for funding, and created a non-profit. In fact, the entire Kids Tales organization is completely run by teenagers.
When we talk about Connected Learning, about how to empower young people to engage with the world through networking and through learning and through making, the Kids Tale story shows how a vision by one young person — Katie — can lead to an entire network of other engaged teens, reaching out to help young writers. And all with minimal help from any adults. It’s also a good example of how technology does not have be a central aspect of Connected Learning — it’s about the connections.
Katie and some of her fellow members of their Board of Directors, Shreya and Morgan, as well as my teaching friend Charlene Doland, joined me for the hour-long discussion about writing, empowering students and making change in the world. I was inspired by the work they are doing. I hope you will be, too.
Infographics done right fascinate me, particularly if they tell a story from the data. Cold data analysis … does nothing for me. In the amazing book Dear Data, graphic designers Stefanie Posavec and Giorgia Lupi document a year of postcards between themselves, sharing personal data in hand-drawn styles. Their 52-week journey of documenting and share is a reminder of how we might be able to uncover insights into ourselves, and each other, by paying more attention.
In fact, over at the Connected Learning MOOC community, a number of us are using Dear Data as a launching and inspirational point for sharing Data Postcards in the coming year. Some of us sent out Resolution Data postcards in January and “love” is the theme of February, and we are using Lupi and Posavec’s work as our starting point, to some degree.
This is my workspace the other day, as I was working on my data postcards, which I sent to different parts of the world. I sort of cheated by not doing every one by hand, but this is how I got it to work for me.
The two developed weekly themes that they built their data collection on, from the opening theme of “clocks” to observing urban animals (week 34) to a week of distractions (week 44) to a week of goodbyes (week 52, of course). Along with sharing the postcards, the two write about their experiences, from the difficulties of coming up with data representations to the celebration of sharing to insights they gained about their personal worlds through such an endeavor.
I also appreciated the insights at the end of the book, where the two outline some suggestions for others, such as:
See the world as a data collector
Begin with a question
Gather and spend time with your data
Organize and categorize it
Find the main story that the data tells
Share the data and the story
We don’t need to leave it to our machines and our computers and vast programming ventures to gather our world. We can do it ourselves. Lupi and Posavec show us the power of connections between people, and how to humanize the data, as a means to strengthen insights and understanding through a very visual means.
I have known Bonnie Kaplan for more than a decade now, through our affiliation with the National Writing Project and our common interest in digital storytelling. She is an avid video documentary filmmaker, and we have jumped into more than a few projects over the years (including the Collaborative ABC Project and the launch of the iAnthology writing space for NWP-affiliated teachers).
When I learned she was just back from a course on Virtual Reality Storytelling, out in California, I wanted to chat with her, to pick her brain a bit about the potential and the possibilities of this new technology in terms of where it might lead us into storytelling down the road. (You can read her blog reflections here).
Then I remembered Scott Glass and his Curiosity Conversation ideas from CLMOOC this past summer, in which one teacher reaches out to record a discussion with another on a topic of personal interest, so Bonnie and I chatted via Hangout.
I am grateful for her time and friendship, and her reminder that stories are at the heart of any digital storytelling.
There’s a term kicking around the new Networked Narratives course that I keep referring to and which I am curious to get to in the coming weeks: Civic Imagination. Mia Zamora hints at this a bit with her posts over at DML about the Networked Narratives course that is a hybrid between a university class and an open course (with Alan Levine), with the theme of digital storytelling.
Mia’s terminology was on my mind yesterday as I listened to a keynote presentation by Jacqueline Vickery, a professor and researcher out of Texas, during a local technology conference that I attended. Vickery’s focus in her talk was about engaging students as citizens in the Digital Age, and how adults often thwart those moves by teenagers to engage with the world through fear and intimidation. Vickery’s talk reminded me of the deep work by danah boyd, too, and how we need to pay attention to the “stories” of our young people, and help them find ways to positively engage with the world through social media and other technology/communication avenues.
“This narrative (of young people not in control and falling prey to the dangers lurking everywhere) … ignores what they are doing with technology,” Vickery said. “We often hear young people’s technology use pathologized .. (ie, web junkies, addiction, etc.) … as if they have no sense of agency of what they are doing, as if they are just passive users of technology.”
Vickery laid out some tenets of helping young people see themselves as Citizens of the Digital Age (see image above), where social interaction across the technology is a vital component for participatory media and connections, for the betterment of the world.
She asked, rather rhetorically, if schools were doing enough to teach students about use of technology, from the standpoint of:
Probably not, in my estimation.
And this brings me back around to Mia’s reference to the term of Civic Imagination, and it has me wondering how we help students envision a better world ahead of them, and then how to turn that imaginative yearning into reality through awareness, information, agency and engagement with the world. This is the whole underlying premise of Connected Learning, by the way.
Vickery didn’t dispute that there are places where young people need help and oversight from adults to navigate the tricky waters of technology, but overall, she remains positive about the choices and the actions of young people.
“There are many ways to connect students with digital media, to see themselves as agents of change and active citizens,” she said, near the end of her talk. “If we view young people as agents of change, then we as adults can help them.”
A few weeks ago, Greg McVerry interviewed me for some research he and Sarah Honeychurch are doing about literacy and leadership in open learning spaces. Before our conversation, Greg asked me to construct a diagram of the open learning projects I have been involved with, and gave me the ‘cartesian coordinate’ labels (involvement/learning) to consider playing with.
The diagram above is the best I could do .. I am sure I am probably leaving things out (Slice of Life? Is that open learning?) and I know that some should stretch more across time but it made the design of the graph ugly to do so as a visual. My ideas didn’t quite fit the grid. But it works for what it is, I think, which is a reflection point for myself
What I found interesting is my perceptions about what I learned in various networks, over time, and the corollary discovery which the graph shows me is pretty simple and expected, if you know me at all, and that has to do with the connection between agency and learning.
What the chart shows is that the open learning spaces that invited me to create knowledge, with freedom to explore (Rhizo, CLMOOC, etc), are the ones where I came away with a lot to think about, mainly because of the interactions with others (or it was where I was a facilitator with ideas on opening up the space to the emergent unknowns). The projects where it felt more like a structured class or course (Deeper Learning MOOC, IMOOC) were less “sticky” for me, in terms of learning. That doesn’t mean they didn’t have value. But the value was less fundamental to me as a writer/teacher than places where I had more agency to pursue my own interests in the company of others.