Digital learning for everyone – project management + socio-emotional support

I’m into Year Two (of two) leading digital strategy for the K-12 system here in PEI. I landed in a wonderful situation where almost all the hardware (computers and wires) system-wide had just been replaced when I arrived, and where the educators and curriculum/governance people involved are interested in having conversations about a way forward. But we want a way forward for everyone. How do we make a plan that is inclusive, that develops web literacy and helps support our learners becoming good digital citizens? I’ve become really interested in trying to build some key strategies into the process to help everyone succeed. This is where that thinking is at now.

Where we are in the digital strategy
Year One was mostly about setting the stage for change.

  1. We’ve built a system wide committee with decision making responsibilities (more on this in another post)
  2. We’ve built a platform to house curriculum and resources for each course
  3. We’ve developed a two course approach to building literacy (my own digital practices course and Google Certified Educator)
  4. We’ve identified and started working on a massive list of things that need attention
  5. We’re working on grants and partnerships to bring cool stuff (and training) to the system

The targets we’re looking to address
Digital citizenship
This one is first because it’s the most important. We need to understand what literacies we need to be good members of our society in a world that has the internet in it. The internet can give us access to wonderful things, and it also contains piles of people who are purposely trying to mislead us so they can make money off of ads. The internet has entertainment for us and also has terrifying Peppa Pig videos. I would love to be part of a society where each individual is trying to make good choices based on their values and not on fears stoked by some kid in Veles.

For so many reasons. Once we start talking about technology, the idea of gender equality inevitably comes up. And it should. Our numbers around tech and girls are still not great and there is still way more work to be done. But there are lots of other issues in here as well. Technology (as its often taught) favours the autodidact. It also favours people who have certain kinds of support at home, whether it be access to tech or the habits that are privileged by our education system. I have seen countless folks over the years, big and small, who come to this work with a great deal of fear. I like to think that I have helped some of them succeed through that, but how do you plan that for a system?

Silicon Valley Narrative
I could call this a lot of different things, but lets just say that it’s the ‘we all need to be coders because coding is the future’ argument. The idea that the purpose of this technology is somehow that we are all going to make millions or have nice cushy jobs pushing the world through its fourth revolution. Go and read Hack Education. It’s amazing and will cover these issues way better than I can. Suffice it to say there are more reasons to work on internet things than coding. Coding isn’t bad… it’s just not some panacea that will save the children.

Technology is hard
Well… it is. I have no interest in taking something like an Arduino, or blogging or web literacy and breaking it into tiny bits that will slowly combine over 13 years in our education system. I want each interaction with this stuff to be meaningful, so that means it’s going to be hard to do. I’m not terribly worried about that. Kids are actually quite smart if you let them be. But it’s important always to remember that this stuff can be difficult technically, socially and emotionally.

Project management and socio-emotional support – a partnership
My solution to address this has developed over 15 years. Much of it comes from my experience working with the concepts around rhizomatic learning and watching people struggle to come-to-know using the rhizomatic approach. My approach is based in hundreds of conversations with educators, research I did for Academic Planning at UPEI two years ago, researchy stuff and lots of time spent staring out the window.

Project Management
Nothing has had a bigger impact of my professional career than learning how manage a project properly. I certainly wouldn’t claim that I have fully reached that goal, but it’s something I’m working on constantly. I’ve learned to ask questions like: What is the real goal we’re working on? What change are we trying to make in the world? What objectives will tell me that I’m getting there? What strategies will I use? Who will do the actions? When?

I’d like to see these concepts applied constantly to our work around tech. We do…kinda. What I’m hoping to encourage (I don’t write the curriculum, I’m working with the people who do) is that we standardize the language around project management and the literacies required. We can use it with 7 year old and with 17 year olds. Imagine a school system graduating people that could directly go into the workforce with strong project management skills. Forget about the workforce. Just imagine how much easier it would be for them to plan a weekend party.

Some people seem to come out of the womb with these skills. I am one of the legion that did not.

Socio-emotional support
I’ve waffled on what to call this. I started out by calling it resilience… but I’m finding that I don’t like the connotations sometimes attached to this. Resilience also, to me, suggests that growth as a human is somehow just about sucking it up and trying harder. That’s not what I mean here. I’m talking more about that reflection that allows you to process your feelings when you’re working. The pressure of idea generation. The frustration when something doesn’t work. That feeling you’re falling behind. What do we do about those things? Is it really about just trying harder?

I’ve been walking around with an Arduino kit in my backpack and doing a little test with it. I’ve been putting it in front of people, opening it up and asking them how it makes them feel. Some people say they are really excited by it. Most are not. The majority of the response I get sits somewhere between revulsion and fear. That kind of response doesn’t encourage learning.

How do we build supports to work and talk our way through those feelings, as learners of whatever age? How do we encourage the kind of reflection that allows people to ‘succeed’ AND feel supported and good about themselves in the process?

Putting them together
I think both approaches get stronger when you think of them as a team. Some learners will certainly favour one approach over the other – but I’m fine with that. Structured conversations about what your goal looks like and how to create a timeline are going to keep people on task and give them success milestones. Reflecting on your feelings in that process – “What did you do when you felt like you were lost in the process?” “How did you deal with having too many ideas (or none)?” and, eventually, “How did your idea generation impact your project charter? Did you have to change your timelines?” is important too.

I would love to see us focus our assessment on these two things. I don’t particularly care if your tech project is perfect, or all the lights blink or whatever… what I care about is how much you’ve grown through that process. Did you develop your search literacies when you got stuck? Did you hit your timelines? Did your goal change as you learned more about the process?

I’m not 100% convinced that this needs to stop at digital. I can totally see it applied in the exact same way to a science project or an essay. Imagine if we focused all the project work we work around those two pieces? If we all used the same language, and pulled together towards preparing our kids to have healthy approaches to running projects?

Wish me luck 🙂

Why Open Education Matters – The competition and my take

I’ve been hearing bits and pieces about a new project being launched by the US government to support open education. Certainly the recent work being done by Cable Green is a clear indication that government support for the obvious financial advantages and more subtle curricular advantages of #OER are coming around. I think of the content provided by #OER as the foundation of learning. It has the possibility of being nothing less than the ‘dictionary’ of our times. The thing that allows everyone access to the basic bits of information that make up the fabric of our world.

Is it everything that education is? I certainly hope not. It’s the foundation. The bowl, rather than the icecream 🙂

The competition
In an attempt to create a message that will help covert others (i presume) Arne Duncan (Secretary of Education) has launched a competition for people to submit their videos explaining why open education matters. An attempt to create a short (hopefully) awesome (certainly) video that will help convert people to the idea that things that are open can still be good. They want you to create your own high quality video to help convince teachers, students and schools that #OER is the way forward.

Issue 1. They left parents out of their list. I’m going to take a huge leap of faith and believe that that was an editorial mistake. Parents are the wildcard in all these decisions. Oh… and government. As they make alot of the decisions. Lets not forget the parents and the lobbyists… i mean… government.

The competing part
There are any number of existing projects out there that have been made in an attempt to spread this message. One of the nice things about the #OER community is that it allows for people to live alongside each other. Of course, recent comments by #OER luminary David Wiley do signal a move towards a more professional approach to dealing with #OER.

Issue 2 – OER hasn’t entirely been about competition so far, but people have certainly been competing for funding, so maybe this isn’t very different.

The judging
This is where i start to get my dander up… as it were. I have no doubt that each of these seven folks are fine professionals. I am familiar with the work of most of them, and Liz Dwyer in particular has certainly been involved in a number of massive educational projects. So lets dig in a little more

  1. Davis Guggenheim is an Academy Award-winning American film director and producer.
  2. Nina Paley is the creator of the animated musical feature film Sita Sings the Blues (update: Nina Paley is a strong copyleft proponent. Thanks @hjarche)
  3. Liz Dwyer is the education editor at GOOD magazine (plus a bunch of other education stuff)
  4. Anya Kamenetz is a staff writer for Fast Company magazine and a columnist for Tribune Media
  5. James Franco is an actor, artist, and filmmaker
  6. Angela Lin oversees all things education at YouTube
  7. Mark Surman is the Executive Director of the Mozilla Foundation

In this list we have 5 of 7 people who have made part/most/all of their careers working behind the copyright firewall. Angela Lin works for youtube… which allows lots and lots of creative commons stuff. Mark Suman is an excellent choice as a judge obviously.

I’m not even saying that a few of the others might not make interesting choices, or offer insight or star power. Many of them have a profound understanding of how to get a message out or how to craft video. Those are necessary things in communicating any messaging. What I can’t understand is how on a website that acknowledges that #OER has been around for 10 years they have not been able to find a SINGLE one of the people who has been carrying that banner the whole time.

Issue 3. why are there no open education experts on the open education judging panel?

What this means for OER
Well. Here it is then. I posted my first open website (before i’d heard of openness) in 2003… and it sucked. But I made it and I offered it up. I shared my work and handed it out to the world. Since then I’ve met lots of other people who have done the same, who share their work, and make it public for everyone. I think OER is great for dealing with introductory concepts, for getting people on board, for giving them a sense of what you are doing.

But openness, where it’s really powerful, is about connections. It’s about really talking to the kids in that other country about what its like to live there. It’s about having 20 slightly different points of view on the same subject so we can see the complexity of the world around us. It’s about sharing.

Do these guys understand that? Or is this where the OER movement becomes about trying to convince people that we’re right? We’ve always been a hundred factions, a thousand factions… that’s the nature of it, we don’t need to agree with each other. This project feels different. Maybe, like in Wiley’s case, it’s just openness growing up. Maybe the use of the word in public is going to become something i don’t recognize.

Issue 4 – is this project about openness as I understand it or is the word soon going to mean the same as ‘at no cost’?

I hope that’s not true.

The politics of working with others in the age of skype and twitter

Over the next month or so, I have a couple of presentations talking about the way that ‘the digital’ impacts the ways in which we work with others. I’ve spent a lot of my time over the last few years focusing on the learning part of that cycle, but maybe not as much about the day to day of actually partnering up with someone in order to work together and get something done. It’s odd, I guess, that i haven’t, as other than this blog, I almost never do anything on my own. I tend to work better when there are other voices in the mix… they keep me on track and keep my ideas from spiralling out of control.

Partnerships at a company level
One of the things that Bonnie (speaking of partners) brought up to me in our discussions around partnerships, is how they have moved from being between companies to being between people. It’s a pretty profound change when you think about it, it used to be that for two people from different institutions were going to work together there needed to be a fair amount of driving/floating/flying around involved to get them near enough to each other to get any work done. This requires that your ideas be in pretty good shape before someone in your organization is willing to spring for ticket fair (not to mention the amount of time that you need to be out of the shop) My suspicion is that this has a profound effect on innovation. I’m not necessarily saying its a good or bad effect, but it certainly changes things. If i can take any kind of crazy idea and just skype someone about it, it sure does speed things up. It also means that new ideas can come from lots more places. It might also mean that i need to spend less good thinking time on an idea before it gets out the door.

Partnerships and locality
One of my struggles in the past 5 years on the island has been making local connections to work with. I have an excellent working relationship with people from all over the world and still struggle finding people here. I think this is a real challenge in an era where choice and happenstance on the internet makes connections available. I’m tempted to use the time that I have for ‘fun’ projects with people i have worked with before, or with people that I happen to run across. I’m not sure if the rest of you are in this position… but it sure is a struggle when I have feelings about local issues in education or social media and realize that I don’t even know who to call to get involved in the conversation.

Beating duplication
Maybe the nicest thing about working in this era, is that I need not simply replicate all the same mistakes that everyone else makes. And, for that matter, my mistakes can be of value to others… which might be even more encouraging. If you set things up right, and you release your ideas early and often, you can gain months on any project simply by hearing back from others doing similar things. You might even find a partnership or two. If you can band together with others… sustainability isn’t far behind.

Partnerships for sustainability
I’ve been co/manager of edtechtalk for nearing 6 years now. We’ve done thousands of shows (ok… maybe under 2000 but we’ve done a heck of alot of them) and lots of people have made lots of connections that have helped them out. I can promise you that I wouldn’t have done a podcast every week for the last six years without a little help and encouragement along the way. We’ve lost a few shows, gained a few others, we’ve had shows where different people have cycled in an out of them. The best of projects is susceptible to real life. To new kids and new jobs and moves to different houses.

The ability to be open, not just in the sense of being willing to share, but also to have that sharing get out there to have your openness ‘interact’ with others is the most powerful part of the change. As people have come in and out of my personal life, the things i have done have changed. You’re friend the guitar player leaves and you stop jamming so much, the person who likes hiking moves away and you stop going to see birds. We’re not all like this, I realize, but I sure am. The thing that having all of you out there changes is that there are others to play with. As I’ve lost connections over the years the ‘long tail’ of others interested and passionate about the same things as i am have filled the gaps (not exactly the same way… but that’s often good too) and allowed me to stay focused longer…

and maybe get further.

Too much dave, episode 19

Well… i’ve made it to episode 19 of 365/2010 too much dave. A daily video blog experiment to see what happens over time, given the chance, to my public voice. I an already feel changes… thoughts about spreading the scope of what i’m talking about… of different kinds of synergies. I’d originally thought i would go with 1 min pieces, and apparently i’m too mouthy for that.

Last time i tried this i got to number 50 (2007). Almost half way there now. we’ll see. it’s here… i tweet out the live broadcast, wait 2 min and then get started. Not a great format maybe, but there it is…—too-much-dave

Does the PLE make sense in the connectivist context?

So I posted a little tweet tonight that got a few raised eyebrows from my esteemed colleagues. I sent it out because i’d been thinking it for a while… I’m preparing for a “where we are two years later” paper on my rhizomy stuff (not for any journal in particular, just think its time to write one, and i feel the need to pull strands together) and am trying to think a little deeper about how i feel about knowledge and learning.

This is definitely first draft thinking. I’m more than willing to have someone explain to me what i’m missing… (I’ll accept whole hearted agreement as well) Lets start with a couple of quotes from George’s 2005 paper. These are both ‘first sentence’ quotes from summary sections of the paper.

Connectivism is the integration of principles explored by chaos, network, and complexity and self-organization theories. Learning is a process that occurs within nebulous environments of shifting core elements – not entirely under the control of the individual.

Connectivism presents a model of learning that acknowledges the tectonic shifts in society where learning is no longer an internal, individualistic activity.

My problem with the combination of the PLE and connectivism is that they seem to come from two different epistemic background. I guess that’s not necessarily a bad thing (to someone like me) but most people I’ve met like to live by one theory of knowledge at a time. Leaving aside the unrelenting desire to acronymize everything that has led us to the term PLE and its historicity as an opposite, learner empowered version of the VLE (virtual learning environment), it is also the current candidate as the child of the enlightenment. It is the location where the one, the individual (personal) stands their ground for learning, where they store ‘their knowledge’ where they represent their learning. We often hear of people talking about PLE’s as portfolios, this is the sense in which i mean it.

The PLN and the PLE, at any one time, are instantaneous reifications of the set of (as yet, unknown) rules which govern the complex interactions between resources, individuals and their own knowledge. Pat Parslow

The key bit here (of an excellent post) is the part about knowledge ownership. The PLE (and the PLN) are a reification (interesting choice of words here as it, to me, means that it becomes a thing, something potentially real, a far stronger term say, then snapshot) and govern the interactions between a person’s different stuffs. It is MY place to keep MY things. To represent, further, how I am connected to the world and where i sit on the knowledge spectrum.

There is a distinct difference, I’m thinking, between this view of knowledge as something that can be possessed and something like connectivism where “Learning is a process that occurs within nebulous environments of shifting core elements” and “learning is no longer an internal, individualistic activity”.There is a desire, it seems, to return to what “I” have and what “I” know pulling things out of their connective space. It makes sense to make the attempt, certainly. The vast majority of what we call education is premised on the idea of knowledge being something that can be owned, that you can give and receive. What, I wonder, does knowledge co-created look like when it is taken back and possessed by an individual? This seems like a critical context shift that removes knowledge (and learning) from its connective state and returns it to something countable.(as opposed to knowledge and the learning thereof being non-counting nouns)

I’ve since received a few more definitions of PLE from the twittersphere (doubt, now, that this is first draft thinking?)

Share what you discover as “best”-I’ve never come up with a general def short enough to be of use; I define by processes @fncll

The essence of our characterisation of the PLE highlights its change in the locus of control of technology from institution to learner. ( via @scottbw)

In the former case, Chris seems (i’ve got a tweet which he claims doesn’t probably cover it, so i’m winging it) that it is the place from which he shares the best of what he thinks and comes across. And he does this very well. By this argument my blog would be my PLE, and if we’re using this as a definition, then i don’t really have much of a problem. But this is only talking about a publication medium. A means by which we are communicating. It is not the communication itself.

The second quote from the JISC/Cetis study is a more profound claim, I think. It’s about control and power. In it we see the student controlled classroom where they get to decide how they handle knowledge and learning… Student centred learning… there are certainly reasons to like that… but it’s not connectivism. Connectivism is networked learning, a student is not ‘controlling’ anything really, unless its the networks that they try to blend in with.

Things I understand i’ve glossed over
I understand that a cleaner treatment of the separation of knowledge and learning is necessary here. I’m not sure how I want to do it yet (that’ll be in the paper) pick the way that sounds best.
It’s PLE as “thing we should pay for and get designed and write scads about” that referring to… not the kind that is a major broadcast platform for an individual.

So what am I saying?
I’m saying that in a connectivist model, as i understand it, the learning (and i would argue knowledge) lives in the network, it lives in the connections that are part of each thought and idea. In the print world, we have an amazing maze of interconnections in references and works cited pages that go back (in some way or other) thousands of years, one cannot speak of ‘knowledge’ as being separate from that historicity nor of ‘learning’ any part of it without it being part of the whole. One of the prime affordances we have at our fingertips with the web is the ability to create these connections very quickly, and very complexly, we can also see far larger chunks of the network at any one time.

The Personal Learning Environment may simply be a misnomer. If it is, as (i think)Chris suggests, a fancy way of talking about a medium of publication, then it is more like a “Snapshot of my personal thinking platform” (SOMPTP) if it is, however, as Pat suggests, a place where my personal knowledge lives or, say, a place where my personal learning happens, then I’m thinking that it might disagree with the ‘non-individualistic’ nature of connectivism.

Identity, memory, death and the internet

Lofty title perhaps, but a topic that I’ve been thinking about a lot over the last year + since our excellent colleague, Lee Baber died of lung cancer. A shining light that woman… and one that I’m reminded of every week. Not just in the legacy of good work and good friends that she left behind, but also on the internet. Her name is everywhere. I’ve got her in my skype account, still, she’s in my gmail memory thingy, she’s in a half dozen of my friends lists on different sites. If you a google search for me, or edtechtalk or, well, or alot of things, you’ll see her name. The page linked to above is a fine example of that… a fine person through the eyes of her colleagues. A memorial, like many others created over millenia, it’s just that this one has a different medium than most of its predecessors.

Identity is, for me, things being identical over time. When i think of my own identity i look for those things that are the same in two different incarnations or timestamps and calls those things identical. To say that there is no identity is to say that things aren’t the same, and to look at someone’s identity is to look for those things that are the same over the period you are looking at. The internet makes this both more complicated and less so. There is a sense where it crystalizes your performance of yourself and makes it possible to measure if two performances are identical, and while all things might be performance, it is difficult to think that the premeditated performance mediated through the internet somehow encompasses a ‘person.’

That being said, we are creating this identity in little bits all the time. We leave little trails of ourselves in different places only for them to crystalize when we stop feeding the beast. In Lee’s case… that was her very rapid, sudden death. No time to wrap things up or ‘set things straight’ we are left with a snapshot of her work the day she stopped doing it. There is the possibility for remixing, for reshuffling, for her projects to grow (and this is happening in some cases) but the image we have of her is crystalized in a way that is unique to our particular period in history.

When we talk about students putting ‘stuff on the internet that will stay with them for the rest of their lives’ we sometimes forget, i think, that in our local communities the stuff we do stays with us for the rest of our lives. Our communities allow for growth, they all for things to no longer be identical, for new patterns of behaviour to emerge, for new things to be identical. We adapt for the fact that people ‘grow out of things’ that there is a time and place for each kind of thing. We will, as a culture, adapt to this new memory that we have, this digital memory, and we will no longer worry about such things (any more than we do about the silly things we’ve done in our childhoods are anything more than an injoke in our hometowns (depending 🙂 )

Me and my older brother
Dave Cormier and Stephen Cormier
Yesterday was the 20th anniversary of my older brother’s death. Stephen Cormier was, in my memory, the older brother that little boys dream of. He taught me things, brought me along to the drive even though his girlfriend was going, taught me some tricks with a three-wheeler i probably shouldn’t have known… 8 years older than me, he died at the now ridiculously sounding young age of 22. He was very old and mature to me at the time, but he died 12 years younger than I am now. I remember him mostly in a series of film clips now (or so i described it to bon last night) the time we flipped that three-wheeler and i tried to hide the full length calf bruise from my parents, that drive in, wrestling in the drive way. But i still remember.

Just not in a digital way. Not with the 1600 + photos bon and I already have posted of our kids. The video . The incredible blog posts over at Our grandkids will, barring a worldwide meltdown, KNOW their parents and grandparents in a way that we never did. Identity… particularly in this sense of being able to see how two things are the same over time… and how they are different, is a far more present concept.

I don’t and never have until the last couple of days, thought about his digital identity. About the fact that, for whatever i do online, I have never mentioned that name “stephen cormier” in a blog post or a tweet. His name, to my searching, didn’t exist anywhere. It got me to thinking about Lee and about the good and the bad of our identities online. About the concern that some people have about what kinds of things that people post and how i often warn people that they should be cultivating their online identities. There is a longer, more human thing at work here that I’m reaching for. There is a sense in which we are storing the memories of ourselves, of our friends, of the ways that we are all connected to each other. Of our love.

So. 20 years later. This is my flag in the ground for my long lost brother. cheers.

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