There’s a new permanent sculpture on the front lawn of our county courthouse, right at the very heart of the downtown of my small Western Massachusetts city. Artist Greg Stone finished the piece in the days before passing away, and his piece — showing a young woman caring for a dove — is beautiful and powerful.
I felt the need to not just photograph it yesterday but also to remix the images of Stone’s piece. It’s yet another way for me to kindle the fire of Hope in myself and in my world. I tried to find a way to bring it all together, to tie the images into a larger digital composition. I could’t find a way to do that which satisfied me, so it’s pieces of the whole here instead of a whole with pieces.
Here is the original, from one angle:
I then began using an app called Fused, remixing the image (a second image is also from the courthouse — colored lights in the form of a peace symbol).
Working with the images gave rise to a poem.
I tinkered with the poem’s look, too.
I also followed my friend Carol V’s lead to tried out a 3D Cube tool, which is nifty but not practical for images with words, I found.
And then I did a podcast of the poem, using some recent guitar open tuning that I was messing around with as the underlying melody, which I thought meshed nicely with the poetry.
And that led to … Zeega … where I sought to combine the image and poem and media … this is closest to what I was thinking …
I still may yet do something more with all of these pieces. For now, I am happy just to have been deep with Hope.
Wednesdays are #WhitmanWednesday, and so in a convergence with #DigiWriMo, I found a quote from Walt Whitman about writing and used it as an audio file, adding in sound effects and an underlying string melody. I like the heartbeat, although the heartbeat sounds a lot better with headphones than on my computer’s tiny speakers.
What about you? What can you do with Whitman’s words and poems today?
First, the Connected Learning MOOC (CLMOOC) almost didn’t happen. Now, Digital Writing Month is here for November but it is not really here at all. In both cases, those who envisioned online learning adventures and those who nurtured those spaces over years decided time had run out. For CLMOOC, it was my friends at the National Writing Project. For DigiWriMo, it is the folks at Hybrid Pedagogy/Digital Pedagogy.
I think there are valid reasons for founders to say, we’re moving on to other things. Things do run their course. NWP has been deep into Letters to the Next President (worth checking out … thousands of letters of all media shapes and sizes from high school students). Digital Pedagogy people may be shifting its focus to other ways to support digital writing and thinking about digital writing (and thinking about the teaching of digital writing.) Both organizations do wonderful projects, with vision.
I guess I have a hard time letting go, though.
I was part of the crowd-sourced CLMOOC this past summer (where the collective parts led the activities, and it was fantastic). Now I am part of CLMOOC folks working to plan some Pop-Up Make Cycle activities later this month for Not-DigiWriMo.
It always feels strange when the founders say, this is no more, and the folks who in the midst say, let’s do more. There is the possibility of tension there (I can hear the voice: “Hey, I thought we said this was over!”). I don’t revel in that tension, but if we all believe in the potential of dispersed ownership of Connected Learning and the open value of hashtags and social media spaces, then it makes sense that if the participants don’t want something to be over, there is no reason why it needs to be over. We’re following our passions. (Reality Check: in some cases, though, the brand of an online learning space might be legally attached to an organization, so there’s that … here, both organizations know something continued/is continuing onward.)
Where I am going with all of this? Well, DigiWriMo is officially “retired,” as the pioneering folks at Hybrid Pedagogy noted on Twitter this week. Digi Duck is no doubt kicking back on a beach chair, drink in hand, dreaming of bread crumbs.
But hey, don’t wait for us. Get writing, digitally. Make a poem. Write a video. Experiment. Tinker. Create. Many folks are still using the #digiwrimo hashtag on Twitter. Share. Inspire others. Get inspired.
Keynoting and presenting in a virtual site like Blackboard Connect is sort of like hanging out with roomful of ghosts. They’re very friendly and curious ghosts, sort of like Casper if he were to become a teacher instead of just a cute spirit. You feel the presence of participants in the scrolling chat room as you talk to a screen featuring slides you made and know by heart (mostly). Sometimes, they take the mic. Yeah, being a presenter in that kind of screen-based format is slightly odd.
But I was satisfied with how my keynote address for the 4T Virtual Conference on Digital Writing went last week. Even with my ghosts in the machine, I felt as if I accomplished most of my goals of exploring what we mean when we say “digital writing” (even if we/I haven’t solidified the thinking) and my own experiences with how digital canvasses might push the possibilities of how and what we write in different, and new, directions. I didn’t get to all that I wanted to get to, and I left some projects hanging in the wind. We never got to crowdsource a definition of Digital Writing.
I had five take-aways from my own session that I thought I would share here as a sort of my own post-keynote reflection.
Presenting “what” you do requires deep reflection on “why” you do it. I found that as I was pulling together different projects that I hoped represented my “moves” as a digital writing, I was re-examining the rationale for why using a digital space might be different than a non-digital space. I’m not sure we always do this kind of reflective writing afterwards, but the value of it is immense. It informs our thinking now, and into the future. Reflection is the best non-digital aspect of digital writing, for me.
I was asked a question from the participants about how I explain to parents and administrators the value and merit of all writing with digital. I had one of those “Aha” moments as I was answering. What I realized is that I never use the term “digital writing” with my students. Never. We just …. write. We call it writing. This goes to the heart of some of the discussion on what we call what we do when we write with technology and it bubbled up in the chat room and in the question/answer session of the keynote. As to the initial question, I explained that my role as teacher is to expand notions of what writing is and what writing can be. I value the writing my students do out of school and I want to hook as many of my young students as possible in as many platforms as possible, all with the goal of improving writing skills that we all value: clarity of message, sense of audience, writing to learn, etc.
One of the projects I shared — Blink Blink Blink — brought back a lot of memories. As I looked at the date, I realized … that was 10 years ago. Ten years in the past, I was experimenting with multiple videos as a way to transform a poem at a National Writing Project Tech Matters retreat. I’ve been at this for some time, and still, I get the sense that I am nowhere near where I want to be as a digital writer. (Listen to my audio reflection after making Blink Blink Blink … and you can hear me struggling with some of the same ideas I am writing about here, ten years later). I have yet to finish any project and say, That’s exactly what my vision was. I always fall short. That sense of “are we there yet?” keeps me moving forward, experimenting and tinkering and trying out new possibilities. Still, to be honest, I wouldn’t mind a “we’re here” moment now and then.
My push into digital writing is inspired by my students, all the time. I am constantly trying to figure out what they are doing, and why, and how what they might be interested in might inform how I can reach them as writers. Snapchat. Musical.ly. Video game design. Video production. I go where they lead me, and then I write and create, and come back to try to lead them forward, too. It’s a dance that we have, and it requires paying attention to the ever-shifting sands of technology and social media and young people. I won’t say I have a finger on the pulse — no adult should ever really claim that — but I keep my ears open.
This is no new insight for me but as I look back on the projects that I shared in the keynote, you can’t help but see that collaborative elements are baked right into just about everything I do when it comes to digital writing. I can and do go it alone but I often would rather be writing and making with others when it comes to digital writing. I am empowered and nurtured by my fellow travelers — learning from those who are two steps ahead of me and encouraging those who are one step behind, as best as I can. We write, together.
Interested in the idea of digital writing? Or just writing (with digital)? Or in whatever you want to call it? Here are some resources I mentioned in my keynote that might be worth exploring:
The entire DS106 ecosystem is chock full of amazing ideas and curriculum, and as an open network, it is all free for the borrowing and remixing. In particular, the Ds106 Daily Create is a fantastic source of daily ideas for making, writing, creating and more. Even if you don’t participate each day, the flow of ideas will get you thinking.
I helped co-facilitate Digital Writing Month last November, but the founders of DigiWriMo decided, for many complicated reasons, not to do it this year. However, folks in the CLMOOC from the summer are planning Pop-Up Make Cycles mid-November as way to do some DigiWrimo-ish activities. You can keep an eye on the CLMOOC website and the #CLMOOC or #DigiWriMo hashtags. Also, explore the Digital Writing Month website for incredible resources and analysis of what it means to write digitally.
I curate a Flipboard magazine called Along the Edge of Digital Writing as a way to highlight some of the pieces that I come across that I think may push our thinking about the possibilities of writing.
For the second summer in a row, the Western Massachusetts Writing Project collaborated with the Springfield Armory (a US National Park site) on a summer youth program. Middle school students spent a week in the Armory, learning about innovation, immigration and role that the Springfield Armory played in our country’s history.
This week, I joined some other presenters –in conjunction with WMWP, a regional educational collaborative (which is running the program, as part of its history programs and Library of Congress access and support), the Springfield Armory and the Veteran’s Education Project — in a three-day Professional Development that uses the Springfield Armory as the source for primary documents and experiences.
My facilitation role in the PD is more central to the second session taking place in a few weeks, when teachers will be exploring Narrative Writing, History and Primary Sources, as they develop lesson plans for the classroom. My goal will be to explore “voice” and “perspective” from the angle of writing and primary sources.
One of the goals of the program is to get teachers inside the National Park site, and consider bringing students there. I admit: I remain a little leery of mixing my students with displays of guns, but the innovation and invention elements of the museum are pretty intriguing.
Here is a playlist/collection of students from the summer program, presenting student research on various aspects of the Armory and its historical connection to the Pioneer Valley region. Note: I was not a facilitator of the summer youth program.
Let state my appreciation for any conference, virtual or otherwise, which takes the time and energy to archive and share as much of a workshop/keynote presentation as possible after the fact. I have been circling my way back to some of the workshops in the free 4T Virtual Conference on Digital Writing (I am delivering a keynote session at the end of the month — Sunday, October 23) in order to get a flavor of what I have missed so far (and wishing I could have been in these sessions while they were happening live).
So, over coffee in my pajamas, I ventured in and learned more about what research looks like in this digital age (Thank you, Dawn Reed); how scribbling on the Internet and thinking about open web compositional tools might spark connections and extend writing (Thank you, Andrea Zellner); how YouTube might be a rich resource for compositional strategies for students, and how to connect watching with writing (Thank you, Rebecca Hornak); how spaces like Tumblr might open up an authentic audience for our young writers (Thank you, Richard Krienbring); and considerations of the social and civic impact of young people expressing their voice and staking out ground in digital spaces as active participants in the larger world (Thank you, Nicole Mirra and Antero Garcia).
Every Sunday, right through October, there are even more amazing sessions, all free and all archived afterwards. How great is that?
Tomorrow, I see another stellar line-up, with topics ranging from Design Thinking (Lindsey Stoetzel), to Dispositions/Practices of New Media (Anna Smith), to Grammar and Digital Writing (Jeremy Hyler) to MultiModal Moments (Cassie Brownell, Jon Wargo, and Rohit Mehta).
Did I mention the “free” part of 4T?
Peace (after the moment but still in the moment),
I am very fortunate in having connected with so many educators around the globe for the ways their thinking keeps my thinking moving forward. Here’s the perfect example. Last November, I co-facilitated Digital Writing Month with Sarah Honeychurch (Scotland) and Maya Bali (Egypt).
Sarah’s slides about Inclusion and Exclusion (who gets invited and who gets left out), often articulated beautifully when working with Maha, remains one of those tricky topics that we must keep asking ourselves about. This is also Connected Educator Month (in the US) — this issue of equity and access has to always be front and center. Not just for students (which is always a critical conversation) but also about educators.
Avoid the echo chamber. This slide is from Sarah’s presentation:
Often, this is easier said than done, I think. It’s easier to reach out to your existing networks, which may grow … but only incrementally, for the most part. And often, they grow with like-minded people. You speak the same “language” and articulate similar views. There is research that shows that many people remain in their social networking comfort zone.
Maha Bali, who is insightful in her observations of the US-dominated connected education conversations, wisely guided the activities in the invitations for Digital Writing Month. Sarah and I helped Maha to reach out to writers and educators from various places in the world and cultures and backgrounds. What I didn’t realize at the time is that for every invite that fell into the traditional invite (white, male, American, etc.), Maha and Sarah reached out even further for someone else, to balance out the community.
To be honest, it took a lot of time and a lot of effort on the part of us, the facilitators, to make that happen. I’m not sure we were completely successful, but we were successful enough for me to appreciate Maha’s and Sarah’s insistence on the task. The new voices and the new ideas, and the new perspectives and lens on the world, enriched the experience.
I’m not sure we do that enough with CLMOOC, particularly this year when it was a crowdsourced affair. When National Writing Project folks were overseeing CLMOOC, there was more planned intention, I think. This summer, as a crowd of us sought to run CLMOOC, there was probably not enough purposeful invite.
We didn’t do demographic studies, but a casual observation would be that we are mostly white, middle-class, American educators. This is not bad, but it doesn’t reflect the kind of diverse thinking that one would hope for (or at least, what I would hope for) in an open learning environment. We think of open learning as open doors, but some doors remain shut to people for all sorts of reasons.
In the open learning networks that I am part of, none of this exclusion is ever intentional, as far as I can tell. If it was, I would push back or leave. That doesn’t mean the exclusion doesn’t happen, however. It does. And if we want the places where we learn together, and explore ideas together and collaboratively, to be truly “open,” then the issue of inclusion/exclusion has to be on the minds of any facilitator planning such a space.
I was creating a Storify of all of the short video reflections that folks are making for the IMMOOC (Innovator’s Mindset), grabbing them and tucking them into the curated project. (see it here) But when I was tinkering with the template of the Storify, and tried to use the slideshow template, suddenly, my speakers were filled with all of the voices, talking all at once.
At first, I panicked — too loud! too loud! — and turned the volume off. After some reflection and a spark of curiosity, though, I turned it back on and … I listened. I listened to the swirling sounds of all of our voices. I could hear different textures of sounds. I could hear individual words and phrases lifting up from the chaos, every now and then. Clusters of noise came together and then apart, weaving this noisy tapestry.
Which got me thinking: could I record all of those voices together (yes, I could) and then add a looping music track underneath it all, guiding the sounds into some sense of song? I could. What made it all work, in fact, is that towards the end, voices begin ending, slowly, like an audio tail wagging, and we are left with one lone voice, and her daughter, telling the entire IMMOOC community to “have a great day,” and that voice of that young daughter of Sheila Vick (@sheila_vick) was the magic sauce that made it all work.
Listen in headphones, if you can, and tell me this is not beautiful in its own way. It is longer than I would have liked, but I could not force myself to cut out anyone’s voice. (And some videos were added to the Storify later that did not make it into my audio recording. Sorry.)
The most innovative idea that I came across this summer? How about John Hunter’s World Peace Game concept? The game is incredible and complicated and pushes all sorts of learning in all sorts of directions.
Hunter’s story of how he developed this intensive game that upped the ante for his fourth graders (and other assorted age groups as he brings the game elsewhere … including the Pentagon, where military leaders played it, too) as he asks players to help solve problems facing the world. His story is certainly worth a look, if only for discovering another way to re-examine our classroom spaces as something beyond testing and mandates.
I was listening to George Couros on a hangout for IMMOOC, and he was telling the story (if I remember it right) of a high school student building a car, and when George asked how the young builder how he learned to do build a car, the student replied … on YouTube.
My class was waiting for dismissal on the first days of school and in the back of the room, a student pulled out a yo-yo and started to do acrobatic yo-yo-ing tricks. Where did he learn some of his more complicated moves? On YouTube.
A student once brought in video of friends skateboarding, flying across the air off ramps and other objects at the local skateboard park. The camera angles and the music and theatrical editing of the video had me asking the student, where did you learn how to shoot movies and edit like that? On Youtube.
My son wanted to hack and mod Minecraft. Where did he go to learn more about how to do that? On YouTube.
A student is very interested in anime. I mean, obsessed with the Japanese art-form. Where did they go to learn how to draw? On YouTube.
I had a plumbing issue. I am not mechanical. But this seemed fixable, and I didn’t want to pay our plumber $100 a hour for so simple a job. Where did I go to teach myself how to fix the plumbing? On YouTube.
And on and on and on … right?
Remember when schools universally blocked YouTube from student access? I hope those days are fading away. The more I talk with young people, and watch my own sons interact with the world, and reflect on how I learn new things, the more it becomes clear that YouTube has become the largest classroom in the world.
People of all sorts, in all parts of the world, are willingly sharing their expertise and creating narrow communities (what Chris Anderson called “The Long Tail” of marketing in the business world but which might have applications in thinking about students’ interests) and niche interests, and people are finding those communities more readily than ever before. Videos are a key component. Showing what you know. Sharing what you know. Learning from each other. Sure, there’s still a lot of flotsam and jetsam on YouTube (some of it wonderfully distracting) but more and more, there is amazing teaching and learning going on.
Check out Gary Haye’s Social Media Counter, and zoom in on the hours of YouTube video being uploaded in any given time. It’s staggering. In a 60 second period in which I was watching, there was nearly 400 hours of video uploaded to YouTube.
And those of us (you, me) who share their knowledge and expertise to our students in this venue are the teachers. Not necessarily us, the classroom teachers in the school building. Us, the world at large.
We openly share our knowledge with others, by pointing the camera at ourselves and saying, this is how I do it. You can, too. We learn by clicking pause, rewinding, watching again and again and again. We comment (sometimes, not so nicely, alas), and follow our “teachers” for the next video. We join communities of others with our interests, and discover new things and share what new thing we have invented or discovered or found out how to do.
Now, this is both an idealistic view of the YouTube world, and yet, the reality, too. Ask any kid. They’ll tell you. As Google seeks to monetize more and more aspects of YouTube, this might all shift to something different. For now, if you want to learn something, you don’t necessarily ask your teacher. You search YouTube.
The question is: how do we use that awareness and understanding to help our students in their own learning? I don’t think teachers and schools are obsolete, or that they even need a complete revamping. That doesn’t mean I don’t believe we don’t need change, though. The discussions in the IMOOC may give us a chance to envision the future of school, and make strides to get there.
But what if we could do a better job of teaching:
Search Engine Queries (and Search Engine Differences … Not Everything Starts and Ends with Google)
How Algorithyms Shape Our Internet Experience (and How to Navigate Technological Bias)