reflectively assessing my professional goals

Slow simmer…connected learning needs low heat and time

This week I had the pleasure of working with a few teachers on projects that mesh nicely with our discussions at ETMOOC  Topic 1-Connected Learning.  Although I’m still feeling all over the ‘map’ I’ve recognized themes in my day and added new skills inspired by the community.   Connected Learning – Tools, Processes & Pedagogy is the current ETMOOC focus and I was engaged in all three.  I’ve added EduBlog to my toolbox and some of its assets.  I’ve tried the embed Twitter from the Blackboard session. I’ve used the discussions and other blogs as resources for teaching. Tomorrow I have a session with a new cohort of UBC interns and I will share some of the themes with them and encourage them to join my PLN.  My post today was inspired by trying out a new tool suggested by Andrew Petrus, Vine app. I just happened to be playing in the kitchen. So … naturally I had some blog fodder.   Connected learning on slow simmer.

-Al Smith CC. NCSA attribution.

-Al Smith CC. NCSA attribution.

Slow simmer lets the flavours and aroma mature. High heat boils all the goodness away.

Sharing ones workflow or learning paradigm  is a challenge but I’ve found this ETMOOC wild ride a real personal inspiration even if I cannot articulate how it is all going. (If) I was on sabbatical or taking graduate courses and not working full-time I certainly would reflect longer and deeper to assess this entire process. I’m sure I am not alone.  The responsibilities, both mundane and exciting, inundate us like the tides- they never let up. I believe heartily that technology and modern culture devalues the value of slower learning that requires reflection and contemplation but that is for another post and day…

An  educator in my PLN, Erin Gregory has considered this issue:  @erringreg Indeed.
I’m sure that getting real in learning means we must design more opportunity for reflection pause #reflectivetweet
— Al Smith (@literateowl) November 9, 2012

What does my PLE/PLN look like? How can I share it? I’ve started posting my Twitter on Monday for my faculty. It is getting readership and generating QA far wider than I expected. Staff that do not follow Twitter or read my blogs are opening doors to ideas and content shared from educators in my close PLN and from others far beyond.  My network expands wider than my immediate contacts through my Diigo bookmarks. I’ve added the RSS feed of my bookmarks to the as well as submit specific web sites or articles directly using a widget in my browser. This is one connected learning tool that shares my personal explorations without me making extra steps.

How important is connected learning? Why? It seems to me that the question is obvious. Expanding horizons, points of view and activities is far greater if you add the connected element than if you just worked with your school or even local sphere. We all reach points in our learning where our support systems need to develop. I find in a large high school even the site interactions and sharing in person is severely compromised.  The connected world let’s me share far beyond the inadequacies of email news ( this tool is drastically overused in my view ) The challenge I see for educators is the immediate urgency of the day-to-day tasks. Teachers hesitate to embrace activities they perceive as adding to their work load, even if that is only a mouse click into another platform.  We are drawn into the daily urgent tasks, marking, etc and teachers struggle to learn effectively with just a few PD days during the year.  Many cannot even afford to travel to conferences.  Others cannot manage the time to sign up for endeavours like MOOC.  We need a community plan. A site plan.  This is often not possible or seems improbable.  Connected learning has a large role to play.

“We work too much like a triage center and faculty email bulletins are like cold blue”

Is it possible for our classrooms and institutions to support this kind of learning? If so, how? Classroom support and institutional support are two unique creatures.  I think the technology tools available now can provide a teacher with an effective means to supporting students without large expense or even major investment in training. If the will is there, individual teachers and small groups of teachers can support students almost immediately.

This week I was working with a teacher to develop her first classroom blog. She wanted to add a more social and technological component to her French 10 classes but wasn’t confident about where to start. Her inspiration may have come from my helping her class last semester with a multimedia project.  A seed gets planted on fertile ground. After some scheduled time contemplating options, we started designing and setting up her blog.  I will provide instruction with her classes and guide her community along. I’ll act like a safety net for her and a coach for her students. I think this is a sensible way to support connected learning.

The question of institutional support is much more problematic.  Many times I see my large school board moving with good intentions but slowly and sometimes off the mark because they do not consult enough with educators in the field. Teachers who have become ‘experts’ in ebooks, or blogs, etc are not invited to contribute toward a policy or strategy. I see talented creative teachers planning ways around or over the district because their patience has expired. Policy and practice often do not keep pace in this dynamic environment. Some administrators and school boards are supportive of initiatives while others find ways to implement road blocks of caution.

What skills and literacies are necessary for connected learning? How do we develop these? I think that having leadership that supports development for connected learning broadly as a culture.  Placing connected learning in the hands of the IT departments and directors is a major mistake.  It needs to be a best practices layer in the entire culture.  Just signing off on some Distance Learning proposal or adding some fancy new technology doesn’t generate much education reward. Start with pedagogy. Stimulate the culture. Provide resources as much as possible.  THe leadership needs to model digital technologies and embrace the people and communities that are innovative. Too many administrators do not comprehend the process of integrating technologies in learning beyond just the RFP. I wish we could develop a community model for districts more like our own PLN. Then there is the politics. British Columbia is almost toxic. The new BCedPlan had all the trends and language but no meat. There was no pedagogy.   There was no consultation with the innovative teachers in the field.

Source: via Alan on Pinterest

As far as student support, a teacher-librarian lives and breathes literacy and nurtures every way he/she can.  Like administrators, counselors or other non-enrolling professionals, the librarian has to solve the reality that he/she does not have scheduled contact with students. ( triage again ) I follow the simmering slow cooking model.  Add good ingredients, add some heat and let the aroma fill the air.  A ‘if you build it, they will come’ kind of approach.  It’s like Alec’s ‘six-degrees of separation‘ slide last week.  When you provide assistance that renders smiles for one teen the word gets out and learning opportunities can ripple forth.

I’ve been training a senior student to be a library staff blogger.  @dharmaayla She has started with book reviews. ( read and give her a plug) She has full access and editor authority now on my book blog . In itself this is fun, rewarding and educational. The etmooc point? Other kids are now interested and learning some of the tools. We have a dozen or so kids now writing reviews for a local book store blog and a few want to blog more.

“My student bloggers will be growing, slowly  simmering away while I occasionally stir the pot to prevent burning.”

What are limits of openness in regards to privacy & vulnerability? Are we creating or worsening a digital divide? Wow! As far teachers are concerned, the degree of openness for things like a MOOC or EdCamp, etc are quite dependent on local leaders.  Teacher evaluations that include flexibility help build trust and risk taking.  Our district uses a PGP model.  This ETMOOC will be part of my report. I will be sharing my goals, observations and documents with my admin and faculty. That helps teachers to be more open when it comes to professional development. Student privacy and vulnerability is another matter. Balancing open sharing while protecting social privacy is a balance.  I think that we fall back on strong pedagogy again. If we only rely on connected learning then we handcuff a teachers ability to address personal and social concerns with some students. We need variety and levels of openness. A Creative Writing class might need more privacy options than would a Biology class? If students have options and can be made to feel safe then I think they will response accordingly.

“We have guided missiles but misguided men.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

The distinctions of privacy need to be taught.  Children, do not acquire digital citizenship skills by osmosis or accident. The digital divide seems to growing rapidly now with or without our help.  As educators, in specific regions or neighbours even, I’m not sure how this plays out. I’m very concerned that the affluent student getting opportunities, access and equity that other students may not. Public school does it’s best to flatten the field but the divide in skills is there. I live in a fairly homogenous demographic area and I can recognise differences already.

How do we expand this conversation?  Have a ETMOOC every winter? Maybe try regional MOOCs?   Essentially I’d say we expand the conversation much like we expand our own professional learning. I start by strengthening myself, then helping my immediate colleagues and students and hopefully work my way outward wider and wider. Organically if you like.  I’d have to say that Twitter has changed the world in this regard for me. Now I’m using Google+ the same way.  Perhaps MOOC is another. Start local and personal and let things germinate.

” Where did you get that?  Can I get help with that idea , I’d like to try it out”

So, I’ve come to believe that education projects that are designed well to work with one person or just one class will often find a home somewhere else.  Learning takes time.  Educational initiatives are not like tech startups;  they do not have shocking IPO’s or media hype.   In fact, I’m suspect of education projects that get flashy media breakthroughs.   Like some cooking or building projects, the end result may take some simmering and slow stirring.   Like my hot mulled apple cocktail, you can add all the right ingredients but to enjoy a perfect beverage take several hours of slow warm steeping.  Today, we want everything to produce splashy results immediately.  We’ve become sucked in to the very short turn around of sexy technology innovations but forget that these impressive announcements were built on decades of slow gradual engineering grunt work.   Education initiatives, despite are excited anticipation,  are maybe better off simmering slowly and steadily?

Appendix… from my ETMOOC digital kitchen, something new I’m simmering

“… Never confuse the special devices that connect us, with the precious moments that keep us together..” -unattributed

Simmering…. Hot Spiced Apple beverage > nb. after realising I let my podbean license expire I was hunting for a podcast solution. It is quite as nice as iTunes but Soundcloud work pretty well. At least I can embed in WordPress.  ( Soundcloud is going Beta with a RSS podcast option soon.)


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