Fear and Resistance in the Text Event

Fear is a funny word to start with here, I suppose, it can be taken in so many ways, goes all the way from “i’m being hunted by a tiger in a doghouse” to “I just blew through that stopsign, I hope no one saw me”. For the purposes of this conversation we’re talking more about the latter. The kind of fear and avoidance that makes people ignore the phone bill on the desk – trepidation – or makes students look sideways at an exam score, like only taking a peek will somehow make the inevitable D+ feel better.

On the other side of that fear/hope continuum from our bill avoider is that small chance that there was a special at 1-900-basket-weavers the day he called them for advice and forgot his phone off the hook as he attended to the apple sauce that had oddly caught fire on his stove. The hope that the bill just might not burst into flames as soon as he opens it. The the letter will fail to meet his expectation.

Odd metaphors aside, this is the reaction that I see when people approach something new. Fear. Trepidation. Excitement. Hope. (there’s apathy too, but we’ll leave that aside for now) What’s the difference? Of the many possible answers to this question, the one that interests me the most is about text events. By text event I mean a word, an action, a picture, a sign of any kind that is used, refered to or otherwise occurs. My interest is not in terms of definitions, but in terms of USAGE. The text language-game. Not ‘what does the word or action mean?’ but ‘what does it mean to use the word or action?’ What is the correct thing to do in response to that word or action? When we see a stop sign… we stop. When a person points a gun at us and says “hands up!” we don’t turn our palms upwards, we raise our hands over our heads. We know how to play those games. Here is an example of how not understanding the ‘game’ can lead to discomfort, fear of failure, or exclusion from a group.

A simple example – podcast. If I’m talking to a co-worker and I say,

“I’ve got to do my podcast this weekend”.

What has happened? I’ve described an event. I’ve also annouced something that I expect the listener to be interested in (potentially). What’s the correct response to this statement? How do I play the game? I may know the definition of the word ‘podcast’, but I don’t know what I”m supposed to do with the information. Is ‘wow, that’s great’ a good reponse? How about “you want some help?”? What about “oh, where are you doing that?” These are all, more or less decent responses. A little odd, but ok.

But what about “when is your podcast?” or “why are you doing that?” These responses aren’t so good, they illustrate a misunderstanding of what a podcast is.

Good answers like “what’s it about?” and “where do you publish it?” are successes in the language game.

I can imagine many situations where my lack of specific knowledge about a topic has led to a failure in the specific language game dictated by the text-event. These failures, the losses, lead to slight feelings of alienation and resistance. They can lead to a potential withdrawal from a group. The laughter these ‘faux pas’ these missteps can often lead to can result in inclusion or exclusion, just like the failure itself can lead to both. All depending on the way that it happens. This is an idea I”m going to have to talk out at length, comments are most welcome. If you’ve made it this far into the conversation… penguins are people too!


The feedbook is an idea I’ve been talking about and working through with many people over the last six months or so. The idea (not a very complex one I admit) came to me in conversation with Tim and Rob (more on these guys later) in our early planning stages for a new media program for UPEI. It is a flexible idea that can encompass many possibilities. For its first introduction I’ll restrict myself as much as possible to the ideal version of the feedbook as its been worked out between Jeff Lebow and I during our edtechtalk broadcast in September.

The feedbook is a collection of feeds (including podcast, blogs and someday soon hopefully vlogs) contained in an open ended opml first seeded by a course instructor and added to (or pared down) according to student needs. Imagine five instructors all teaching a an education course on using new media in the classroom. In their opml they might include:

This would make up the main ‘textbook’ for the course. The students would not be getting a textbook positioned from a single instructor from last year or even a couple of years ago, but a collection of essays written right now about changes that affect the current issues in education. The instrutors can add their own flavour to the course in their own blogs as well as modeling blogging as good educational practice.

A feedbook is a living text. Students are getting material that is new. The material may surprise the instructor, but it gives them things to discuss, a real platform upon which to have a natural discussion rather than one forced by a lesson plan made weeks, months or even years earlier. As a final advantage, when the students leave the course, their feedbook goes with them, not a textbook slowly fading into kindling for your fireplace, but one that will stay current…

The Four Step Web 2.0 exercise

The four step plan is something that we’re planning on trying out in various ways all this fall. It’s an introduction to the web, in a way, an attempt at encouraging some good habits, a transitional step between the luddite and the blogger. In broad strokes the plan is simple… Get several people together and have them text message on a topic for a while. The goals for that chat are to choose a topic for everyone to work on, to choose roles for each member and to set a timeline for accomplishment of that goal. The next step is to move to the BB and start posting back and forth developing those ideas, accumulating media, doing research. The finished bits of research should eventually migrate their way into a wiki, the project organization center. Here things are refined until each member is ready for them to be published. They are then blogged out in the world somewhere.

This is the part of the process that has come up against the most criticism. Jeff thinks, and he may be right, that this step could be ommitted as it creates too many complications. What platform do you use? It has several advantages. With a site like tapped in, you can get records of your chat emailed to you(Drupal, for instance, also does this). It is a good way to make sure that contribution is evenly spread across the group, and also a way to get a better window on the entire process, from start to finish.

Bulletin board
The bulletin board is where the process starts to come together. Students are encouraged to put their ideas out in whatever way they come in. Interesting photos, bits of audio, video or text found and thrown into the pile. From this research, and the peer-editing that goes with it, a project starts to develop.

In the wiki, the finished bits of the project start to collect. There are a bunch of different ways that this could come about, whether the students end up working on parts of the same project, or different interrelated projects, but a quick link setup in the wiki would accomodate any needs.

This is the key part of the whole process. Giving the students a goal to reach for, and somewhere to put the work they are working on. There are several options for this, many schools now have their own blogging system, there is a cool project going on at dekita.org where your students can post their own stuff alongside work from people around the world… and then connect with other students, starting a dialogue.

An after thought – Last night on the edtech brainstorm Todd Vanek was talking about eportfolios (another form of publication) being controlled by the students. Controlled in terms of access, giving them the option of what they wish to share and when. I think it’s a solid idea. That’s what i like about this educational process, it’s a constant struggle to open my mind a little further everytime i come across someone with a good idea. And that seems to be all the time these days.

comments lost in the server disaster of ’06

  1. Jeff Flynn Says:
    This post was very helpful to me. I have had a great vision of an online portfolio process much like Elgg. While I am chasing that thinking it was the way to go, I started thinking of the group collaborative aspects of Moodle as a bridge step. But I think you have articulated a nice developmental sequence for new online learners. I am not sure it would spoil chatting for my students but I am thinking how positive it would be to expose and guide them first. Most of my 8-10 year old students are not yet messaging.
  2. dave Says:
    Yeah. I think chatting has many advantages as a first step in the K-12. It gives an instructor a chance to monitor what many people are calling the plague of written English… instant messaging. I think it also has great brainstorming potential. Jeff L. keeps saying that VOIP is better, and I may agree with him, but text has the advantage of being an easier record, and also of being in the format that many of the projects will be exported as… written text.
  3. Susanne Nyrop Says:
    I agree – although Jeff insists on voice, for non native speakers it is not always the best way to express deep thinking. Speaking for myself, as someone who did not have much purposeful English spoken communication after graduating from high school, and until I started around 1999 to become an international Webhead, for the first few years text chat was far easier for me to follow, than a spoken conversation. I joined an online community just two years ago where longish teleconferences with many people were a must. I just sat in there, listening and trying to follow the stream of fast speaking people with all sorts of difficult sounding dialects, even foreign accents. But I could not come to think of much to say myself, as the conversation partners were often from a different context than my own, and most of the time it was also very academic and research oriented. Rather embarassing for me to stay pretty silent, as I wanted to show my benevolent presence. I was more than happy when someone took minutes, and if there was a recording of the cal, I would perhaps listen again and get more out of it for a second time.Then, virtual classroom sessions with bonus text chat added to the voice, came in from another side. I was invited to speak as a virtual guest teacher with students who probably had less experience than myself with authentic coversation in a foreign voice. Their teahcers were my virtual colleagues and our collaboration was more informal, down to Earth so to speak :-)

    First, I could see who was speaking! We also used slides and whiteboard a lot. And, if I needed some clarification on a difficult term, I could have it spelled out to me. And soon after I started to relax and chat naturally with my own voice. Remember, I needed practice as well as a stressless, supportive context. And today I feel OK with a podcast interview, although I think next time I would prefer to prepare myself a bit. I see myself as a lifelong learner in this case, supposing this could refelct the different between being primarily a visual learner, or an auditive. This is why I think the mixed mode blog/podcast is excellent.

  4. John Issitt Says:
    Hi. This all looks really interesting and exciting – some great ideas that celebrate in the individual in the process. However – a note of caution directed at the technology aspect of this idea – is this about liberating us or unconsciously developing a technology for the self and thereby doing the opposite of liberating us? What I mean is there have been many educational technologies that have been sold using the rhetoric of liberation and empowerment, whilst – it seems to me – they have had the effect of policing the imagination through creating a technology that looks benign but carries its own structural limitations – sold as geting beyond structure it provides yet another. Having said all that it looks really good. I try to get students to write books together with a similar sense of trying to get students to genuinely own what they are doing.John