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.
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.
This is what it means
to be on the side —
to watch it all unfold
to watch the world fly by
(bridge) This is where you are
You’re on the inside, not out,
and even in the quiet
you figure it out
We’ve got a place for you
and when you’re ready
Come on through
Lurkers learning lots
on their own plots
Self direct your learning
And unexpected turns
Squash any limits
Reach out in return.
A discussion that unfolded some days back via the Rhizomatic Learning ‘uncourse’ (which is not happening) centered around how best to celebrate those folks who watch online learning networks (like MOOCs) but don’t participate. I don’t like the word “lurker” and prefer active observer. These folks (you may be one) are valued members of the community, too, even if they don’t actively participate. Sarah suggested a song in celebration of the observers of networks, which I took as a call to collaborate.
I quickly set up an online document on TitanPad and opened it to up anyone to add lyrics. I honestly don’t know who wrote what lines. Isn’t that interesting? I did a little tinkering with the words to make them fit within the rhythm of the song, but not much.
A few days later, as the words were being written on Titanpad, I was messing around with some open tuning on my guitar and came up with the underlying structure. I went into Soundtrap, a collaborative music recording site, and put the guitar track down and then invited folks to join me. Ron and Sarah, from other parts of the world, did, and over the last week or so, we’ve been slowly pulling the song into shape in Soundtrap.
Here it is. Ron added the many keyboard layers and some of the underlying vocal pieces. Sarah added some mandolin. I played the guitar and sax, and we stayed with my scratch vocals, although we had hoped others might sing instead of me.
(This is for the Slice of Life challenge for March, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We are writing each day about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)
It’s not a huge thing, really, but still, I feel this lingering disappointment about a grant that our Western Massachusetts Writing Project was going for and didn’t get. We found out about it this week in a very kind letter. I know this is how it goes in the competitive world of grant funding. Small pots of funding means lots of people vying for support, and not everyone will get some. I’m thankful there was even an opportunity.
But I had been the primary writer of this grant, drawing on more than a few projects from the past that our writing project has been quite proud of, and building off an existing two-year initiative that connects science teachers around argumentative writing and NextGen Science standards.
Our grant application took that a step further, proposing to virtually connect the students in those classrooms in online spaces as science writers, so they would have authentic audiences and collaborative hubs of inquiry. We had more than a half-dozen teachers in urban and rural and suburban schools ready and willing, with hundreds of middle school students who would have been in the mix next year. It would have been crazy and hectic, but inspiring and enlightening.
This was a visual of our vision of our Connected Learning hubs:
We’ll keep pursuing funding in other places – we believe in the project’s potential — and I’ll keep an eye on the initiatives that did get funding. We can always learn from each other, even in disappointment. And laying out a vision of this kind of project on paper was educational in and of itself. The disappointment comes from wondering where we fell short, and if I missed something in the visioning process.
Since late December, I had been slowly sharing out thoughts from the new book by Henry Jenkins, Mimi Ito and danah boyd called Participatory Culture in a Networked Era. We chose the book as a slow-read after Digital Writing Month unofficial ended in November, hoping to continue the conversations and keep our own participatory elements alive and active.
I’m not sure it all worked as we had hoped (this vision of multiple entry points with various conversations emerging and unfolding), but maybe it is too early to make that assessment. There was some activity here and there, and Terry Elliott offered up multiple entry points for folks to “participate” in the conversations. A few did. Some may be doing it still. Some may still enter in. It’s an open invitation.
You come, too.
But I figure I needed an artificial ending point for myself with the book itself (and I wrote this post a few weeks ago but kept it in my draft bin), while still hoping to keep open the connections with other people reading it and learning from it, too. The last page of a book does not mean the last thoughts of a book. Much of what Jenkins, Ito and boyd talk about in Participatory Culture in a Networked Erarattle in my head. I am still hoping to find more people to talk about it with.
So, here are some take-aways from the book on my end:
Just “hearing” the discussions and debates and diving deeper by these three thinkers around Connected Learning and Participatory Culture is intriguing. The book is framed around main ideas, with an introduction by one of the three, and then edited transcripts as the three bandy about the ideas. I felt like I was in the room at times.
By the end, they agree that the defining of Participatory Culture is still in flux. I still have troubles grasping a definition. It anchors on the ideas of people being to come together based on common interests, and creating ideas or things together, with experts helping novices. I feel like those ideas are important.
I wish there had been more about classroom experiences, but these three are more researchers, and it seems as if much of their research has been done in out-of-school programs. This makes sense, as kids gather around interests in after-school programs or online spaces. But I keep coming back to the question of how to make sense of this in my classroom, and how to use Participatory Culture concepts to engage students in meaningful learning and literacy moments.
The discussion around ways that commercial enterprises and corporate culture have sort of hijacked “participation” for financial gain and status in the world of Social Media is something that I appreciated, and certainly do talk about with my students. It’s about empowerment and filtering, and having agency to decide when to participate. The three authors have strong ideas, culled from their research.
Talking about what kind of elements help nurture a Participatory Culture had us thinking of how technology platforms (Twitter, Google Plus, Facebook, etc.) either encourage or hinder Participatory Culture. Most of the sites I use on a regular basis seem less than ideal. There are pieces that invite participatory ideas, but there are also walls to a seamless experience.
We found it interesting that our open invitations to discussions, of trying to create a small pocket of Participatory Culture around the reading of the book, didn’t seem to gather any reaction or comments from the three authors of the book. Maybe they didn’t even know we were talking about them. Or maybe they are keeping removed from the discussion around their book. Who knows? But it seemed counter to the theme of participation, of narrowing the line between reader and author.
I still don’t get the cover art. I am not sure why I keep wondering about it. I guess I find it interesting and intriguing …. but it is strangely odd.
This book is well worth your time, even if you don’t connect with discussions. I think it makes for a richer experience to read with others in online spaces, and explore and create, but the book is worth your time one way or another.
Yesterday, I shared out a bit about the twists and turns of a poetry project that involved friends from around the world, postcards sent and found and lost, and an original poem that I had broken apart and parsed out, with an invitation to friends to reconstruct the words and phrases on a digital wall.
Today, I wanted to find a way to share out the original poem, particularly now that we have opened up the wall and others are jumping in, adding words and media and more. The poem is receding in that space as collaborative sharing surfaces. I love that movement, but I still want to keep the original poem intact.
The video above is that poem, told as digital poem, and with a bit of App Smashing on the iPad, too. I used the Legend app to make the animated text pieces (with background images as screenshots of the wall), and then I moved those short videos into the iMovie app to create a single video. Meanwhile, the guitar music is a piece that I wrote and recorded with the new Music Memo app the other night, mixed in the Garageband app, and then moved onto the iMovie app as soundtrack. From there, I uploaded the video into YouTube. Phew. It seems like a lot to juggle but it all worked rather seamlessly to create what I had in mind.
I debated whether to narrate the poem with voice and then decided against it, letting the words speak for themselves on the theme of poetry writing as collaborative endeavor, and using the music to create an emotional underpinning of the poem. (I also am considering asking folks to record their word or phrase, and then stitching our voices together like a quilt …)
There is a great scene in the wonderful picture book, Weslandia by Paul Fleischman, in which Wesley, the outcast boy who decides to build a new civilization for summer vacation break, has an argument of sorts with an adult neighbor. Wesley has been prepping a garden, and the neighbor tells him to plant tomatoes, Brussel Sprouts and other common crops.
Instead, Wesley looks towards the unexpected, and makes room for it.
“Wesley found it thrilling to open his land to chance, to invite the new and unknown.”
He decides to leave it to the winds to decide what will grow, and one night, a magical wind of chance does come a-blowing, scattering strange unknown seeds in Wesley’s plot of ground that become the flowering plants that will transform the backyard into the civilization that Wesley calls Weslandia.
The neighbor tells Wesley that if he doesn’t watch out, he will have trouble with the sprouts.
“You’ll have almighty bedlam on your hands if you don’t get those weeds out,” warned his neighbor.
“Actually, that’s my crop,” replied Wesley. “In this type of garden there are no weeds.”
Way back in early January, I started a poem project. A connected poem project. A slow-moving connected poem project. Here’s how it began and still is unfolding:
I wrote a poem
I cut up the poem into words and phrases
I sent a word or phrase to a dozen or more people who have been part of a periodic Making Learning Connected MOOC Postcard Project (we send postcards to each other)
I asked them in a note on the postcard to go to an online space and add the word and any media they thought applicable
I suggested they try to reconstruct the poem, sort of like a puzzle (which is difficult with no context, I know … that is part of the whole endeavor)
And I waited. And I waited. (Not my strong suit, this waiting for projects to unfold … I like to do things nownownow)
Nearly eight weeks later, a few postcards are still arriving (some of the postcards went to other parts of the world.) Some postcards never made it. Some may have been forgotten or ignored. But the Padlet wall where the poem is being reconstructed? It’s pretty cool.
While waiting for the postcards to be delivered, I had also started up a Twitter Messaging forum with the folks I sent the postcards to. Originally, I had just intended to “warn” them about the postcard on the way (my handwriting stinks so if they could not read it, I wanted a way for them to reach out).
That string of messages in the Twitter backchannel has become a very interesting space over the past eight weeks or so, as conversations have turned on the project, on the use of traditional mail for a connected learning project, of patience and perseverance, of global connections, and of the nature of “chance” in an open environment. I feel more connected with that conversation that I have with the poem itself, interestingly enough.
And then something interesting happened … one of my friends shared the link to the poem project in a blog post about process of writing (which I think is cool to think of it all as a process of writing and collaboration over time) and one of their readers, another friend of mine outside of the postcard project but in other networks, went and left a piece of media and their own new word on the poem wall. Suddenly, the poem was becoming something new, moving out of my hands in an intriguing way.
So, while I have not yet come to a point of writing about my intent as the first writer behind the Postcard Poetry Project (since the poem is not yet completely reconstructed .. this post is not the reflective post I still intend to write someday), I want to open the whole poem itself to the Winds of Chance, as Wesley did when he was beginning his summer civilization project, and I want to invite you (and you and you) to come into the Padlet wall, and maybe add a word and a piece of media.
What shared writing can we create together? What will the winds bring? Come add to the poem. We will write this next phase of the project together. Wesley would be proud.
Yesterday morning, I had the good fortune to hang with out with friends from Egypt and Scotland. At 6 a.m. my time — but later in the day for them, of course — Maha B., Sarah H., Maha A. and I held a discussion on Blab (a new platform to me but reminds me a bit of The Brady Bunch opening sequence .. it’s still in Beta, and there were some minor technical difficulties) about Digital Writing Month reflections. Maha B. and Sarah are presenting to a TESOL conference soon, and they hope to use parts of the video chat in their presentation. The video eventually will be live on Youtube, I believe.
For me, the conversation brought home yet again the concepts of connections. Yes, we were reflecting on the experiences of facilitating Digital Writing Month back in November and yes, it was recorded for a presentation to other educators, but here I was, at the break of day, chatting it up with some friends from other parts of the world on issues important to me, and all from the dining room table as my kids were getting up and getting ready for school.
Pretty amazing — this small world.
I am fortunate to have connected friends like these three, and many others, and I am fortunate to be living in a time when connections can be made and nurtured and extended time and time again. Now, how to help my students see those kinds of connections and extend their own views of the world ….
This is the third and final “audio letter” that I created as a reader response to Participatory Culture in a Networked Era. The letters use a quote from the three writers of the book as an inroad to a reflective response. The first audio was to Henry Jenkins. The second, to danah boyd. And this one is to Mimi Ito.