reflectively assessing my professional goals

Vision, Planning and hazards building digital neighbourhoods


Connected learning is like building digital neighbourhoods. Yes, one good analogy but it takes more than vision and skill building. It takes planning and plenty of patience because it can be a neighbourhood with pot holes, speed bumps and detours. I excitedly thought I had a new paved cul de sac but discovered a dead-end so now I need to design some new routes and modes of transport. How do I build digital neighbourhood for my teens when I cannot have them blog?

Swim Lessons

(Swim Lessons by ICMA Photos)
It was more than curiosity or insanity to join #etmooc, it was also an effort to develop assets and insights that may be needed while building my professional growth plan. My PGPs have always had a collaboration and teacher in-service theme over the years because I believe it is important part of my role as a teacher-librarian. Our role lends itself to developing and sharing resources including human capital. I’ve run into a serious obstacle.

This week I’m rethinking the entire process and priorities. BC Provincial FOIPPA law and our District policies prevent me from advancing student activities into publishing their own blogs or using social media creation. I have a conundrum. Developing connected learning as my PGP focus and synthesizing teaching practices with colleagues is on pause because I’ve run into policy barriers. Apparently our students, if directed or guided in class by teachers, cannot publish content outside our nation and preferably should be inside our WAN. I have been expanding my training sessions, peer tutoring and collaborative teaching plans to reflect my growth and understanding in the field. I have many teachers demanding support and excited about their new-found skills. The natural scope and sequence is for kids to develop their own digital portfolios and learn discourse in their digital neighbourhood. Now they may inquire online but not create or share online. Emailing digital assignments to their teacher is not a sufficient paradigm in my mind.

“Just having a teacher blog is not a new neighbourhood. It is still an old paradigm in new clothes. Our students need to be on the street with us, not shut ins “

I’ve spent a great deal of personal time studying the ways and means of bringing sound pedagogy into 21stC progressive practices. I believe we owe it to our students to provide opportunities AND a level of skill in digital citizenship and connected learning. Just offering Distance Learning options in a course guide does not suffice. Just saying you desire citizenship does not suffice. It is wholly inadequate to transition our pupils without any training or experience using social media tools for scholarship. Assuming that independent Facebook hours or a birthdate ensures a ‘digital nativeness’ is foolish. We need to teach them as well as we teach anything else. Ill also argue that in doing so will make our students preparedness in the sciences, arts or any specialty stronger.

Our business leaders, our community, our government and our own district want more modern, relevant and personal learning methods but handcuffing teachers assets, by policy, lacks practical and ethical integrity. We are not adequately preparing our students for college, workplace or civic life. In my mind, not having kids writing, creating, sharing , managing their digital content ( blog being the core ) is akin to teaching swimming without water. It’s like teaching sex education by only talking about family planning.


(image, Al Smith,CC-ncsa )
I do not question my district personnel interest in youth just the opposite. We are well off and advanced in so many ways. Our team, top to bottom, love kids- that I truly see. Even my IT technicians love our kids. Network Use Agreements outlines internet usage for students and faculty and obviously safety of youth is paramount. I get that part intensely more than most but if my government hires us to take care of our children and be responsible for their education every day, I think teachers are very capable of implementing new online publishing experiences safely and in fact help prepare students well.

“…The existing educational model with its expert-centered pedagogical planning and publishing cycle is too static and prescribed to accommodate the kind of fluid, transitory conception of knowledge that is necessary to understand the simplest of Web-based concepts.”

(Cormier, 2013)

We ( society ) are currently not preparing youth well enough now. They need more proactive skills while on the digital streets. They are driving around without else so by restricting their short stories, essays or image mash-ups to paper or Word docs that only a single teacher ever sees is akin to letting our kids only dip in the plastic kiddies pool and never jump into the deep end of the pool until they graduate from our school. A well designed classroom and mindful digital pedagogy with student blogs as a core, is a scholarly neighbourhood full of critical thinking and all the content and skills other found in a paper classroom. Fear that blogging is another risky “add-on” is simply nonsense. Blogging is the new duo tang. An ‘A’ student blog can be an honours student’s 3ring binder with wings.

“…If the world of media education is thought of as a rhizome, as a library à la Eco [in The Name of the Rose], then we need to construct our own connections through this space in order to appropriate it. However, instead of that solitary groping made by Brother William, we see as our goal the co-construction of those secret connections as a collaborative effort.

(Tella 2000, 41)

I was devastated for a while. My peers are disappointed. I am meeting with senior management soon to either create a solution or at least make a position clear. Take account. My school admin understands my anguish. They are my team but a large high school has other problems pot holes to fill in. Not everyone sees my passion about this topic as important, never mind urgent. I’m already trying to find new routes through or around the neighbourhood. Maybe I can get WordPress MU installed and running on site? Or get by until Sharepoint is enabled? I have people. I have assets. I’ve seen the power connected learning and social media can have on academic engagement. Vision? Dream? Hazard? Not sure, but the status quo, regardless of how good is no longer good enough. STAY TUNED.  I’m a connected learner and I will find solutions. 🙂
– Al Smith @literateowl


2 thoughts on “Vision, Planning and hazards building digital neighbourhoods

  1. I feel your pain, Al. I think we are lucky at UBC to have WordPress on our own servers, so students can blog and have their content hosted in Canada. But then the question becomes: can I ask them to blog publicly so they can develop a personal learning network? Apparently, no. Or rather, I can say it might be good, but also tell them the possible downsides, and they can decide whether to make their blog subscription-only (so that I could get a subscription but maybe no one else could, if they wanted).

    I haven’t even looked into finding out if they could join Google+ groups or other social networks in their area of interest. Of course, on their own and outside of school, they can do whatever they choose. But as part of a course, probably not. And what about using digital tools to make stories as part of class assignments? Their “personal information” will be stored outside of Canada in that case ( as most of the tools have servers that are not in Canada), so I guess we’d have to give students the option to do their storytelling without such tools if they choose.

    It’s really a difficult issue. I, too, see the importance of protecting students’ privacy, and I also think the USA Patriot Act is a problem and so understand BC’s view that personal information should not be stored in the US without express permission and full disclosure as to what, exactly, will be stored and where. But it certainly does hamstring our teaching.