Inclusionary Practices in Open Learning Networks

flickr photo shared by levork under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

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).

Not too long ago, Sarah presented at the AltC Conference on the nature on the facilitation of open learning networks, turning her attention to Digital Writing Month, Connected Learning MOOC (CLMOOC) and various Rhizomatic Learning activities. (See her presentation slides here). Maha and I added some ideas to the presentation, but Sarah presented.

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.

We had this kind of conversation this summer, during CLMOOC, when a Twitter Chat conversation suddenly turned on that question of “Who is Here and Who is Not Here,” and my friend Daniel, who works with youth in urban Chicago and often notices the disparity of access, reminds us again and again about reaching out, making deeper connections, offering up invitations.

Avoid the echo chamber. This slide is from Sarah’s presentation:

Inclusion/Exclusion in open learning

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.

Inclusion/Exclusion 2

Efforts must be made.

Peace (in the think),




Visual Slice of Life: Up On the Wires

(This is a post for Slice of Life, a regular writing feature of Two Writing Teachers. We write about the small moments. Come write with us.)

High ropes

This image neatly captures our day yesterday, as we spent the entire day outdoors at a facility that helps with team-building and community-building.

The central activity is the “high ropes course,” a series of challenges for our sixth graders, and an opportunity to talk about anxiety and reaction to stress, support of your community and individual accomplishments.

It was a great day. The weather held out (we thought rain was coming but it never did) and the energy of the day was overwhelmingly positive.

Peace (high and low),

Of Aspirations: Student Dream Scenes

These are the aspirations of my sixth grade students. This is our Dream Scene project, which we used to do in webcomic form but have now moved into Google Slides (see my explanation of this shift at Middleweb). These are just one of four slides every student did, so I focused only on the telling of the dream. I like how it call meshes together into one inspirational aspiration.

I taught them about image and media, design elements, copyright, creative commons and, for many them doing a presentation for the first time, the mechanics of a slide show. (Which I didn’t think I would have to teach but I did.)

I now know them all a bit better … which is the whole idea.

I also printed these out (Old School!) and our back wall is plasted with them.

Peace (dreaming it),


Humble Ideas for Innovating the #IMMOOC Experience

Nodes and Clusters in IMMOOC

I am appreciating elements of the Innovator’s Mindset MOOC (IMMOOC) just fine.I’m mid-way through the book. I’ve read a lot of blog posts, added comments to spark my own thinking, and tried my hand at some various collaborative efforts.  Some of those collaborations have drawn some interest; Others, not so much.

It’s interesting. Given that our whole topic is “innovation,” I remain hopeful that the MOOC itself would begin to shift into more innovative practices. This is no knock to George Couros or Katie Martin, but sheer numbers alone don’t make innovation. Still, they did post this question for the coming week:

Our goal through this process was to really tap into how we can “empower” you through this process, not simply engage. What are your thoughts on this? Would love to hear what you think.

How we participants engage in the IMMOOC … that’s the key. Just as one central message among blog posts and weekly Hangouts is that teachers need to be innovative in order to help students become innovative, MOOCs have to be innovative if they want educators to become innovative so their students become innovative. If I add another layer — school administrators  (and there are lots of them in the IMMOOC) — into that mix, the loop might leap right off the page.

In hopes of sparking some possibilities, then, I offer up some suggestions for moving the IMMOOC towards more a potentially innovative experience.

  • I have appreciated the weekend Hangout Sessions, particularly later on as I listen and annotate in Vialogues, but it has felt a bit like we’re replicating the old model of teachers (George and Katie) talking to a room of students (us). They talk (with guests they line up and with include questions from the community) and we listen. What about if they openly invited about six to eight IMMOOC participants into the Hangout, and let those folks talk.  Put out an open Google Doc. Let folks invite themselves to be guests. Maybe crowdsource themes. Discuss. Look to Teachers Teaching Teachers as a model. Or the Make with Me sessions in Connected Learning MOOC (which I was part of). Allow participants to be the center and the voice of the experience.
  • What about if Writer George and Publisher Dave put an entire chapter of his book, Innovator’s Mindset, online, and we were all invited to annotate it, using Hypothesis. A rich conversation could unfold in the margins, as we celebrated and pushed back on ideas around innovation. The conversation could drift from George to the community (with George and Katie in the margins, too … wouldn’t it be neat to ask George questions about lines and passages in the text, with the text as the text and the author as participant?).
  • How about if we created short interactives using the site Answer Garden. We could feature two interactive word gardens with two opposite questions: “Innovation looks like …” and “Innovation does NOT look like …” and our responses would be pulled together into one visual Word Cloud experience? It would draw us together.
  • Could we create a Padlet where folks could share their best practices in innovation? I know many are doing this on their blogs (which can be hard to find) and on Twitter (where sharing comes and goes). We could collaboratively create one central resource, built over time, would be valuable to all of us, and into the future. It could live on beyond the IMMOOC. People could just share links to blog posts, so the work involved would not be too much. It would be a gift from us to us to others.
  • Is there any way to consider an innovative culminating event for the IMMOOC? (Note: George and Katie may already have this in mind.) Could we collaboratively write a shared post about the experience, with a nod to where we all go from here and how we help others along the way? (It could start in Google Docs and flow to a blog post at the main site).

Again, this is not criticism for what has been happening so far. Obviously, people are engaged. Some people are writing their first blog post ever. Others are trying new things. George and Katie probably have their hands full. This would not have to fall on them to do.

Real MOOCs don’t rely on the facilitators. Real MOOCs rely on the participants. WE could all do it. YOU could do some of it. It would be a SHARED adventure.

It seems to me that the theme of “innovative practice” should be represented in a learning space that calls itself the Innovator’s Mindset. Let’s harness the digital tools for collaboration so that we all learn and move ahead together.

Peace (in all spaces),


#DigiLitSunday: Using Affordances of Google Apps for Conferencing

Using Google: Conferencing on Writing

Last year, when we finally became a Google Apps for Education school, I dove in with gusto, knowing that my students would be using its platforms all year long (ending in a digital portfolio project). This week, as the theme of DigiLitSunday is about “conferencing” in the digital age, I was thinking again about the affordances offered by Google’s suite of tools.

First of all, the fact that students invite me into their piece of writing right at the start — I encourage “comment” mode but many leave me in “edit” mode — allows me access to where they are with a piece of writing. For instance, they are in the middle of a short story (narrative writing) piece, and yesterday, I started to read the openings (our mini-lessons last week were all about strong openings), and I left comments in the margins of everyone’s stories.

Next week, as we sit down together, for a one-on-one check-in conference, I will use my notes in the margins to help guide our discussions. In this way, I am moving the process of conferencing along and giving them all something to be thinking about before I meet with them.

Using Google: Conferencing on Writing

But I am also paying attention to the “history” element of Google Docs, and the changes that are being made to writing pieces by students before and after the conferencing. Did they think about changes and make them? Did they ignore my suggestions and move on with no fixes? I can see it all in the “history” of the document. When we talk about making revision process visible, the “history” button is the most valuable player in Google Apps space. (It also helps if something terrible happens and the story gets lost … we can always find a version of it in the history of the document).

Still, I do struggle at times in figuring out the right balance between the margins and face-to-face. I find I have to resist leaving too many notes in the margins, for fear that I am marking up the text to the point of no return for students. It’s no better than the dreaded “red pen” effect at that point.

What I want is to leverage the affordances of the digital page to spark discussions in person, so that lessons are learned and writing gets better. The digital environment helps with that, if I can be sure to couple one (margin notes) with the other (conferencing).

Peace (off to the side),


#IMMOOC Blog Tour (Here and There)

Nodes and Clusters in IMMOOC

I did a little #IMMOOC (Innovator’s Mindset MOOC) blog tour the other day, mostly through links shared via Twitter, since there are just too many blogs to get settled into my RSS feed. I spent part of my morning, just following links and reading and leaving comments, and grabbing ideas.

My aim was to be inspired by some of the writing and to think more deeply about what fellow IMMOOCers were sharing. I took what I thought was a central piece of their blog posts and layered it a visual (via Pablo site). You can click on the images to go to the original blog post. I encourage you to do that. Leave them a comment. Interact. Engage. Push back. 

Here we go ..

IMMOOC Blog Tour: AngelaAngela’s observation about the power of curiosity hits home with me, and I am always wondering if I do enough to set the grounds for student-led curiosity, as opposed to teacher-led instruction. Finding the middle ground there seems to be a key. And remaining curious as a teacher? Critical.

IMMOOC Blog Tour: KatieKatie reminds us that if we see ourselves, teachers, as experts on everything, we’ve got the wrong thinking going on. Sure, we probably do know a lot about a lot of things, and our students expect that. But our students, and outside resources, can be valuable, too. Turning to students for insights and help and ideas is empowering for them. But it takes a certain confidence for a teacher to be able to do this.

Her central question, coming from her role as a professional development facilitator, always lingers in my head before, during and after facilitating professional development: Would I want to be a participant in my own professional development sessions? And the other: Would I want to be a student in my own classroom? — that’s just as critical.

IMMOOC Blog Tour: SimonSimon brings up mindset theory – as George does right in the title of the book underlying this MOOC experience. I am still struggling with the concept of “mindset.” I understand the underlying elements (and just read a whole piece in Time Magazine about mindset learning in schools, which helped) but I get caught up in how jargon-y it all sounds. Is it too squishy for me? I’m not sure. I need to keep an open mind here. Change my mindset? Maybe.

IMMOOC Blog Tour: RoRo’s sense of possibilities from professional sharing rang true with me. It’s both the idea of “walk away with something for tomorrow” and/or “that may need to simmer a year or two” — both take-aways prove the mettle of a PD session. If I don’t have either of those in my head, the PD was a dud. If I have both? Success.

IMMOOC Blog Tour: MelissaMelissa’s point about collaboration and how that skill is crucial to the world beyond school is spot on. It’s not on the test — but collaboration with others, of different backgrounds and different skill sets and different ideas, is the foundation for life. Where else can we best introduce and model is but in our classroom?

IMMOOC Blog Tour: JillJill’s insights about “right time/right moment” resonates with me, although I worry about missing that time and moment. I wish there were more times when everything clicked and it all came together in perfect symmetry — my teaching skills and my student’s learning needs. It does happen. That’s the magic of teaching.

IMMOOC Blog Tour: AmyAmy brought me insight into the administrator’s view. Which is good. The most powerful takeaway from the IMOOOC for me so far is the interaction with school principals, superintendents and other administrators who are working to make a difference in their schools. Learning about their learning, and their dramatic and modest attempts at change, is helpful for me, a classroom teacher.

IMMOOC Blog Tour: AaronAaron reminds us that seeing the big picture, as well as the smaller pictures that make up that big picture, is a critical move for any leader of a school. Change can feel overwhelming, and speaking as a classroom teacher, if it is clear that an administrator is overwhelmed, we teachers go: Uh Oh.

Thank you to all the bloggers, writing and sharing. I appreciate it.

Peace (venture out in the world and look),


#IMMOOC Collaboration Invitation: Annotation

Nodes and Clusters in IMMOOC

If you missed last weekend’s second #IMMOOC (Innovator’s Mindset MOOC) hangout, I have it sitting in Vialogues (a collaborative video annotation tool), just waiting for your insights and reactions. Seriously. You’re invited to comment as you watch the hangout session.

Come hangout after the hangout

immooc Hangout2

And I’m still hoping to get more people on the IMMOOC Map to fully represent the IMMOOC. The numbers show nearly 2,000 participants (I think I saw that number in the Tweet stream) and wouldn’t it be cool to see all of us on this map, together? Right now, we cluster on North America, but I think we have a larger representation of the world than the map shows right now.


Pin yourself on the map

IMMOOC MapPeace (together),

What This (Discipline) Looks Likes In That (Discipline)

Curricular Connections

I recently co-facilitated a PD session with fourth, fifth and sixth grade colleagues, and my co-presenter and I chose the theme of Collaboration, as we are feeling more and more like we don’t have time to collaborate across the curriculum and across grade levels with other teachers anymore. (We used to have a PLC time but that got lost a few years ago).

Curricular Connections

We began with a Gallery Walk activity, in which we asked us all to think and notate ways one discipline (say, math) is visible in another discipline (say, social studies), and to notice as we did the activity which subject areas seem a more natural fit than others. It was a great discussion piece, that sparked the idea of how to be thoughtful about lesson planning.

It also laid the groundwork for discussions about collaboration, since each of the grades represented (4,5,6) are all departmentalized to some degree. I teach ELA and technology to all sixth graders, for example. I can’t say we were able to get plans in motion for everyone, as we had hoped. As usual, we ran out of time. But the conversations and activities sparked cross-grade and cross-discipline discussions, and that is always a good starting point.

Peace (here, there, everywhere),

Visual Slice of Life: Low-Lying Cloud Cover

(This is a post for Slice of Life, a regular writing activity hosted by Two Writing Teachers to explore small moments in the day. Come write with us.)

Foggy Ride2

I was driving into work in the morning. The air felt very much like Autumn — a shaft of cool — and as I drove down a long road that runs beside an old Reservoir, I saw this beautiful scene. So I stopped and looked, and then grabbed my phone to capture the moment.

Foggy Ride

Peace (beautiful and rewarding),