Book Review: What If?

There’s a reason this gem of a book is sitting on top of the New York Times book list these days. What if? (Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions) by Randall Monroe (he, of xkcd comic fame) had me laughing, and thinking, and wondering about the world in new ways. The premise is that, at Monroe’s website, folks submit scientifically based absurd questions and he tackles some of them from a scientific standpoint.

The clash of serious and absurd, and Monroe’s engaging voice and comic interpretations, makes for an incredible read. Some of the issues that he tackles here include: could you swim in a pool where they cool spent nuclear fuel rods? Or what would happen if you tried to hit a baseball pitched at 90 percent the speed of light? How about if you drained all the oceans on Earth? What would this place look like then? (interestingly enough, this is a question one of my won students asked me the other day as we were discussing the oceans. I need to bring this chapter in for her). Or, could someone really live on an astroid like the Little Prince?

Man, I could go on, but you need to get it yourself. What If? will keep you not only pondering life’s mysteries, but also pondering who the nuts are who come up with these questions (the answer: us.)

Peace (in the questions),
Kevin

Inflection Points (on trust and networks and connections)

You want to know a beautiful sound? It’s when a classroom of young writers are given “freewrite” time and they work diligently on whatever it is they choose to write about for 20 minutes straight. And I write right along with them.

Inflection Points

Yesterday, as I continue to mull over the themes of trust and networks and connections, via the Connected Courses, this poem began to take shape in my own writer’s notebook. I hope it captures some of the concepts in my head, about the multitude of voices coming together, the strange dynamics of online spaces, and the question of whether what we construct together in virtual space will ever really take hold beyond this “moment” that we are in.

Poetic responses, and remixed, are welcome.

Peace (in the poem),
Kevin

 

192 Lines of Collaborative Poetry

#DailyConnect for #CCourses

(hear the poem)

Writing a collaborative poem in an online space is a messy, creative endeavor, and yesterday, as part of the Connected Courses, many people dropped by an open document to add to a poem that I started in the morning as part of the Daily Connect idea.

This morning, there were 192 lines written (give or take a few empty lines) and the collective piece of writing both shifts and turns in interesting directions and stays true to the focus of what it means to be part of a virtual network of people learning as we go.

Read the poem (and use the Timetable Slider to see the poem unfold in real time as the site captures keystrokes. It’s strangely fascinating to see the poem being written over time. Of course, I don’t expect you watch for 21 minutes, but you could.)

I thought it would be very cool if someone podcast the poem in a single voice, so …


Record audio or upload mp3 >>
(hear the poem: http://vocaroo.com/i/s00WbrKqEIj6 )

Peace (in the poem),
Kevin

 

Firing Up the Daily Connect

#DailyConnect for #CCourses
I was invited into the planning for this idea by friends and fellows in the Connected Courses community, and I could not resist. The idea that emerged from side discussions is to create a Daily Connect, a riff on the DS106 Daily Create, in which folks will be encouraged to make connections.

I set up a simple WordPress blog — The Daily Connector — to get things going. If I had more time (or if Alan wasn’t on the other side of the world and had time on his hands), it would no doubt be fancy-shmancy. But I like simplicity, too.

So, here is the Daily Connect blog site, where we hope to post a single connection idea ever day for October (no promises, folks, but we sure will try). Yesterday’s post was about using the Connected Courses Blog Randomizer and today’s post is about collaborating on a shared poem. Come jump right in.

And if you have an idea for the Daily Connector, please please please share it with us. We’ve set up a Google Form for you to submit an idea. If we run out, we might start raiding other sites, like the band of Information Pirates we really are.

Peace (in the connect),
Kevin

PS — did I mention we need ideas?

Social Networks are People (not Technology)

Social Networks are People (not technology)

I was in a meeting with our writing project the other day, as various small leadership groups began planning out activities for the school year. One group, which is charged with outreach, intends to move deeper into some of our existing social network accounts to connect our educators together and get word out about activities. We’re working to leverage more social media.

“If we use our MySpace site …” began one of the leaders, and we all just gaped at him. It took him a minute to realize what he was saying, and then we all had a laugh. What he meant to say was our Facebook space. But it might as well have been Friendster, right?

Give yourself enough time, and the technology will change. Maybe even by the time you wake up tomorrow. But the goal of connecting with people across those networks is what is most important, and if the digital platform changes or expires or becomes untenable (or if you are a teenager, if it loses its cool factor), then search for another. Keep the focus on the “people” aspect of why we connect, not the technology, and you’ll notice a change in the way you interact with that technology.

Peace (in some musings),
Kevin

When Trust Gets Breached, Repairs May Be Impossible

There Goes My Privacy #ccoursesAbout ten summers ago, in my role as technology liaison with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, we were setting up a blog site for our month-long Invitational Summer Institute. This was at the near dawn of blogging, and most of the participants barely knew the word, never mind the concept of online writing spaces. I was just learning, too. We were using a blogging platform called Manila, which had been graciously managed by the National Writing Project.

We decided early on to keep our Summer Institute blog closed and private, as a way to help build a sense of trust with our teacher-writers in a space that they didn’t quite comprehend. We wanted the hurdles low for writing and sharing and reflecting. We explained this to our participants, most of whom were relieved that their writing would stay private. I had the idea of taking head shots of everyone and having them all create profile pages as a sort of “get to know you” activity, and everyone agreed.

We set up the pages, which were successful, and then got down to blogging through the summer, and the online writing space was a hit with the institute. Connections were made. Classroom practices were shared. Writing was done. By the middle of the next school year, I had sort of forgotten about the blogging space. As with most summers, even now, once the institute ended, it was nearly impossible to encourage folks to keep on writing. The energy gets lost as the school year looms and our attention turns elsewhere. (which is too bad, but that is mostly the reality).

So imagine my surprise when I get an email from one of the Summer Institute participants, in a tone both angry and confused. This teacher was doing a Google search on herself, and lo and behold, she found the headshot of herself that we had posted in our private space with the promise that the content there would be remain private. She was upset and sort of panic stricken. Even then, I thought she was a tad too nervous (who would search for her image?) but I do not know her whole story (maybe she was hiding from someone) and I was just panic-stricken as the one who had told her things would remain private.

I had broken that trust and it gnawed at me.

I never did find out exactly how the image from the private site spilled into public view, but I suspect it was my own doing, not the site’s. The problem, then as now, is that once the information spills out, it was nearly impossible to stuff it back in. I did remove all the pictures from our site, and even sent a message to Google at the time (and encouraged her to do so) but I know the innocuous nature of a simple headshot would be unlikely to sway Google to move it off its search results. Months later, I could still search her name and still find her image.

I apologized more ways than I can count to this teacher. She never really did accept it, and made it clear that my role as an administrator of the site was a sacred duty, and if I promised something, then I had a responsibility to make sure that happened. Nowadays, we go into digital sites with a little more wiggle room in our expectations, I think. Facebook has done more to erode confidence in privacy issues in social media spaces than any other organization. We are both skeptical of privacy statements from companies and hopeful for the trade-offs.

Most of the participants in the Connected Courses are at the University level, and they have to grapple with the concepts of the privacy walls for their students when they move towards an open platform. If everything is open, how can a student protect their own privacy? Do they have that agency if openness is expected of them? Who is the gatekeeper? The instructor? These very complicated questions require learning about the flip-side of that question: how does one construct a positive digital footprint for yourself that will withstand the possibilities of breaches here and there? This is often one of the important points that Will Richardson makes so eloquently in his various talks and books (including the fantastic, Why School?). His line, not quoted verbatim here, is that when a high school student graduates, they should be able to Google themselves and find a slew of positive data, and our education system needs to do more to help make that happen.

For me, as a teacher of adolescents, it comes down to first making my 11 year old students even aware of the ramifications of their online lives, now and into the future, and we do an entire unit around this concept. Clearly, not enough parents are having those conversations at home with their children. To have choices, you must be made aware of the issue, and be helped along the way to be empowered. Trust between people, and between people and networks, requires awareness of the boundaries of information flow and the places where things might leak out. (Note to movie starlets: don’t take naked photos on your iPhone. Yes, it is despicable that someone hacked your account but what were you thinking in the first place?). We, as teachers, whatever the level, can’t assume our students, even if they are adults, understand this tenet of the digital age we now live in. Assume nothing.

Trust leverages awareness and knowledge, and when that trust is breached — as it was with me and the teacher in the story above — it can be nearly impossible to repair. That teacher never talked to me again, and I wear that responsibility and that memory like a scarf, and I think of it every time I set up an online space for young people and for teachers.

We are potentially entering the age of The Right to Be Forgotten, although I suspect it will be a whole lot difficult that some believe, particularly here in the United States. For me, as a traveler here in various digital realms, I still believe in the Right to Be Remembered, too, and I still think the positives of online interactions outweigh the negatives (call me naive, but that’s what I believe and trust in).

The Right to Forget #ccourses

Peace (in thinking),
Kevin

Short Video Vignettes from WMWP for #OurNWP

As part of an effort to create an archive of the National Writing Project for its 40th year anniversary (called OurNWP), I went into our Western Massachusetts Writing Project video archives and pulled out a few short pieces that we have done in the past few years, usually around the National Day on Writing. I love how our voices come together as teacher, writers, colleagues.

I also donated to the cause, as the effort to create the archive is slated to require about $100,000 to complete and NWP is halfway there. I gave a donation in honor of a past WMWP Director, Charlie Moran, whose work in the field of writing, and with our writing project (as a founding member), paved the way for many a great idea, and whose thinking has always pushed me forward, particularly around the ideas of digital literacy.

Peace (in the sharing),
Kevin

How We Write (pen vs screen)

How we write (a comic)
I made this comic a few weeks after reading a piece about the physical writing process — of handwriting with pen on paper and of tapping out words on a keyboard. I am so much of a keyboard person these days, as my handwriting can’t keep up with what I want to say. But I recognize there are conflicting thoughts on this, and it had me thinking of both sides. (And in a recent Reading Teacher PLC that I am part, the advantages of learning cursive writing for dyslexic students was new to me.)

This comic, taken from conversations in the past with students and with my own ideas on the nature of writing as a physical act. Despite what the comic says, this was not a research study or anything. It’s just a comic.

How do you like to write?

Peace (in the frame),
Kevin

Making Your Own Jam Is What It Is

I had a good friend in an one of my very first bands (The Roadbowlers!), and when I would bring in original songs for the three of us to play, she would always be so appreciative and receptive, even if the song sucked and fell apart (more often, than not, it turns out). Susanna was just learning to play guitar but her philosophy around music making was informed by an artist she listened to a lot and admired as an artist making her way mostly independent of the record industry, Michelle Shocked (although a controversy over some of Shocked comments that were deemed homophobic would no doubt upset my friend terribly).

My friend, Susanna, would quote this line from the song, Strawberry Jam:

Yeah, if you want the best jam
You gotta make your own
- Michelle Shocked

The line resonated for her, and later for me, because it reminds the musician that you don’t need a recording contract to make music. You don’t need a manager. It’s not about the money or the fame. What you need is something that you can play on, something to sing about, maybe a porch to sit on, and then, you make your sounds wherever you are. You make your own jam because that’s the best jam there is.

I was thinking of Susanna and her musical mantra the other day as I was reading a reply to a comment I wrote at Howard Rheingold’s post, asking us to check in as part of the Connected Courses.
Test

I had written in my comment to him that things were going relatively smooth, even from my angle of a K-12 teacher in the midst of University folks, but expressed the wish that more of the facilitators would be more involved in social media interactions. This was not a criticism, knowing how busy folks are. It was more of an observation, and worry that the online component was seeming to replicate the classroom experience of the knowledgeable one imparting lessons (via video) as the students (us) listened.

One thing we agreed on early in our own Making Learning Connected MOOC is the concept of “no one gets left behind” — ie, no blog post or project ever sits there with no comment, and no interaction. Facilitators were active in sharing, commenting, etc. It made a huge difference to people, to know that other folks are in the mix, reading and interacting. This is not to say this is not happening. Howard, and a few others on the Connected Courses team, are doing what they can, given the feed of information flowing. I was just hoping for more. (ie, selfish me)

Howard’s response was logical: he is encouraging facilitators, who may or may not be used to social media on this scale, to dive in, and he noted, rightly, that this is the start of the fall semester for many of them, and we all know how swamped we get when things get rolling.

Then he made the comment, which has stuck with me for days. He said:

What it is, is up to us.”
– Howard Rheingold

In true Connected Learning fashion, we make the connections that matter to us and we build our networks and communities that are meaningful to who we are and where we are going. We sustain us. His small sentence reminded me again that waiting around for validation by the “teacher in the room” goes against the very grain of Connected Learning.

Thank you, Howard, for reminding me of where the learning starts. If you want the best jam, you need to make your own.

What it is

Peace (in the think),
Kevin