A Homage to Rhizomatic Learning

So, it is Week 6 of ‘Rhizomatic Learning’, the last planned week of the course, and the focus is how do we teach ourselves into uselessness? How do we empower people so they have the PERMISSION to learn without us?
 
What an interesting topic to end Rhizomatic Learning with, the notion of doing your job so that you are no longer required any more. Maybe the word job is the wrong word, but simply so that you are no longer a required commodity. The question then is what remains? I would argue that when all else has gone, we are left with learning. The problem with this is that so much of ‘learning’ is social, it comes from our connections with other, those clashes of ideas that once settled, develop into new beginnings. The first step then in making ourselves useless is to define who ‘we’ are. Teachers? Learners? Facilitators? Critical friends? Fire starters?
 
What is often missed in discussions about teaching is the inadvertent, incidental, non-traditional environments that don’t necessarily stem from college and higher-education. Take for example a swimming teacher who may have completed a set of modules. However, their ‘qualification’ to teach is often based on their own prior learning and experiences. 
 
I sat watching my two year old daughter’s swimming lesson the other day and wondered what made her teacher a ‘good’ teacher. I had already decided that she was good, especially that my daughter had come along in leaps and bounds since moving up to the next level (although still easily distracted, can’t change everything). Added to this, in the previous group, I had gotten in the pool with my daughter, but now she was going solo and it gave me a whole different view on things. A view from the outside.
 
Some of the attributes that I would say that made her a good teacher is that she is stern but fair, while her instructions are always pertinent and to the point. However, what stands out the most is that she compliments the kids whenever she gets the chance. Although she obviously works from a program, she never ceases to interrupt the lesson when needs be so as to support her students if they are struggling with a particular skill or adapting a lesson to extend them. The reality is that her focus on providing continual feedback and encouragement is the attribute that truly makes her stand out.

Coming back to Rhizomatic Learning, I am therefore left mulling over how +dave cormier has successfully ‘managed the MOOC’. I must be honest that the word ‘manage’ may be slightly misleading, inferring incorrectly a sense of power and control, I think that instead what the course has done is instigate learning throughout. In some respect this has now been coordinated by everyone, although Dave has ‘set’ the tasks and facilitated the communications and conversations. However, as was demonstrated by +Mariana Funes‘ post, much was left to the community to continue the learning.
 
Whoever it may be, whatever the situation is, I believe that the reality is that someone always needs to be stoking the fire, throwing more wood on it, as well as setting some boundaries to make sure that it doesn’t burn out of control. Now I don’t necessarily mean ‘boundaries’ to dictate what you can and cannot say, rather it is about highlighting fractures or providing critical responses. The reality is, we all need constructive criticism and feedback at some stage.
 
I am reminded of a comment +Steve Wheeler made about blogging that restricting it is like going to a party with a paper bag on your head. To add to that, I think that a blog that doesn’t open itself to readers is like going to a party with only one person. Although a blog is usually written by one person, it is the community which legitimises it. Whether it be adding a different perspective or providing push back. For example, I always love when +Richard Olsen writes back to my posts, questioning all those aspects and ideas that I take for granted.
 
To me, there will always be a need for an instigator, someone to stock the fire occasionally, keep it burning, but whether this needs to be a teacher or leader I am not so sure. I am really intrigued by the idea of guest hosted accounts such as @edutweetoz and @vicpln which are voices rotated throughout the online community. In the end, what needs to change is putting learning at the heart of education. In this environment everyone has their part to play. If we all see ourselves as learners then surely that is most of the job done.

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The Risk of Hospitality

Digciz is a conversation centered around ideas of Digital Citizenship. The focus this week is on hospitality, in particular, the openness, risk and vulnerability relating to existing in online spaces. My response involves a series of short reflections:

Context First

Peter Skillen recently reflected on a situation where he corrected someone. He was sorry for the way it went about. This had me thinking about my own conversations with Skillen, especially around computational thinking and Twitter. One of the things that I have taken away is the place of technology to change the way we think and act. The problem is there are contexts where the conversations move away from the ideals. Although I agree with Skillen (and Papert) about the power of Logo and Turtle to explore mental models, especially after reading Mindstorm, sometimes when you are asked for simple material you put aside your bias to share a range of visual resources. In this situation, technology is only one part of the equation. First and foremost is pedagogy and the place of coding as a lunchtime club. The focus then becomes about entertainment, engagement and ease of instruction. The ripe conditions for initiatives such as CS First and Code.org.

Crossing Imaginary Lines

There are some learning experiences which seem to stay with us long after the lights have been turned off. In regards to online learning, my participation with Rhizo14 was one such experience. I neither knew exactly why I was there or what the protocols were. Stepping out into the unknown, my focus was to hold my judgements for as long as possible. Sadly, I think that I went a little too hard. Caught up in the flow, I critiqued everything a bit too much. (If you read any of Jenny Mackness’ research, apparently there were some heated conversations on Facebook which I was not a part of.) This questioning even included Dave Cormier and his assessment methods. Although this was a risk he fostered, it felt as if you knew you had crossed the line even if there were none. Maybe this is the reality online, the challenge I guess is knowing when to take your shoes off at the door and apologising if you happen to forget.

Tribes and Tribulations

In the book Teaching Crowds, Jon Dron and Terry Anderson unpack the different ways that people gather within online spaces. One way that really stands out to me in regards to open online spaces is the idea of tribes. At the intersection between groups and sets, tribes involve bringing people together around complex ideas and interests, tied together by certain rules and expectations. When I think about my participation online, I would say that I am a part of many tribes, some of which I collected here. The challenge with tribes is that they do not always talk to each other, sometimes even working against each other. Indirectly though they influence each other in a number of ways. For example, when communication is shared openly, it carries the risk of being appropriated by other communities. This bleeding and breaking can be construed as negative, but it also has a positive outcome of extending our thinking.

Mapping Our Digital Bits

David White and Alison Le Cornu offer a more fluid typology with their notion of digital visitor and resident. White and Le Cornu suggest that our use of different spaces on the web fluctuates between two states: that of the visitor whose use is often short term and task orientated compared with the resident who sees their participation as being an important part of their lived experience. Amy Collier goes beyond the notion of residency to describe the web and instead suggests the ideas of kindred spirits and belonging. I wonder if a different way of seeing the divide is from the perspective of APIs and the little bits of ourselves that exist around the web. In discussing the notion of personal APIs, Kin Lane provides the following breakdown:

  • Profiles – The account and profile data for users.

  • People – The individual friends and acquaintances.

  • Companies – Organizational contacts, and relationships.

  • Photos – Images, photos, and other media objects.

  • Videos – Local, and online video objects.

  • Music – Purchased, and subscription music.

  • Documents – PDFs, Word, and other documents.

  • Status – Quick, short, updates on current situation or thoughts.

  • Posts – Wall, blog, forum, and other types of posts.

  • Messages – Email, SMS, chat, and other messages.

  • Payments – Credit card, banking, and other payments.

  • Events – Calendar, and other types of events.

  • Location – Places we are, have been, and want to go.

  • Links – Bookmarks and links of where we’ve been and going.

As with White and Le Cornu’s mapping, Lane’s emphasis is on the journey, rather than a destination. Mapping our APIs provides the potential to dig down into our particular uses. The problem is, I am still trying to work out exactly how to go about this.


So they are some of my thoughts on the risks and vulnerabilities associated with belonging in open online spaces. What about you? What do you have to add to the conversation? As always, comments welcome.


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Did Someone Say … Hashtags

Hashtags


“Hashtags” by mrkrndvs is licensed under CC BY-SA

I was recently asked about my take on hashtags. I have written about hashtags before, whether it be their role within Twitter, the way in which they help foster sets and a reflection on what they mean to my own workflow. While I have been influenced by Jon Dron, Terry Anderson, Clive Thompson, Ian Guest and Kevin Hodgson. Here then is a summary of the different uses that have meaning to me.

  • CHATS: The obvious use of hashtags, especially when it comes to education, is as a means of facilitating a chat. This is personified by Tom Whitby and #edchat. These are used at specific times designated by organisers and archived using applications such as Storify.
  • TRIBES: Extending from the chat is the use of hashtags to collect together tribes. In Teaching Crowds, Jon Dron and Terry Anderson describe tribes as communities bringing people together around complex ideas and interests, tied together by certain rules and expectations. Jerry Blumengarten is oftwn quoted as the definitive source for hashtags. However, more recently Kasey Bell has attempted to update this. Although many of these hashtags are associated with chats, they are not confined to that and often take on a life of their own outside of them. Sometimes the challenge with using what seems like the ‘right’ hashtag is that it is difficult to remember every common hashtag, while it seems tedious to go check lists all of the time.
  • RANDOM TEMPORAL CONNECTIONS: Similar to the idea of an in joke, where what is being said only makes sense when privy to the context behind it. Two that come to mind are #whereisHa and #TwodayswithElton. Based on the idea of Where’s Wally, #WhereisHa was started by a group of participants at DLTV14 when Michael Ha was running late having just flown back into Australia from USA. #twodayswithelton was a tag between Ross Halliday and I leading up to Google Teachers Academy a few years ago. It started when Ross said that I looked like  Elton John. We then started a swapping lyrics that acted as something of a sidechat to the official #GTASyd14 hashtag. This informal ad-hoc use is captured by Dean Shareski in his discussion of a more playful Twitter. Another temporal use is also a hashtag around a particular event, whether this be a conference or a camp.
  • EMOTIONS: A different take on the informal is the use of hashtags to capture emotions or responses. This is best demonstrated in Instagram, where everything seems to be interconnected through hashtags. However, it is used on Twitter to highlight various attributes, such as #longread, #trust and #leadership.

Personally, I don’t really think that I use hashtags that effectively. Fine I have a few ‘go tos’, such as vicpln, digilit, edchat, leadwild, edtechteam, disruptedu and gsuiteedu. However, beyond that I don’t really actively use them unless i have clear reason. There are some that seem to methodically share their posts across a range of tribes by including five tags in Tweet. I also tried to game Feedly by placing blogs into categories that would automatically be turned into a tag. There are some that I used to use quite a bit, such as #rhizo14, #TL21c and #ccourses. However, over time these tribes have seemingly moved away. Interestingly, these tags were associated with courses. This in itself may say something.

So what about you? What do hashtags mean to you? As always, comments welcome.


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Building Trust in Online Communities


flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

I have been doing a lot of thinking of late around building communities of practice. Although there has been a lot of discussion around purpose and intent of the community, the question that I have been wondering is how we build trust in a purely online environment so that people are willing to participate. My own experience of a community of practice with Teaching and Learning in the 21st Century started with a face-to-face session, however not every community of practice is afforded such luxury. This led me to reflect upon my involvement with various cMOOCs over the years and consider how each set out to create an environment which fosters sharing and collaboration. So here are my thoughts and reflections:

Rhizo Learning

I am not sure how to explain #Rhizo14, #Rhizo15 or Rhizo anything. I guess it could be considered as a radical attempt to facilitate a course where the community is the curriculum and being the expert is not necessarily the goal. Although each of the iterations has been facilitated by Dave Cormier, he always seems to make every attempt possible to get out of the way. Other than a weekly provocation and Hangout, there were very few explicit formalities. This worked (and failed?) in part because of the strength of the community. I cannot actually recall any explicit trust building activities and I must admit that it got a little unwieldy at times, which I imagine might have put some off.

#CCourses

Connected Courses was a collaborative community designed to develop networked learning in higher education. Each fortnight had a different focus, supported by a team of facilitate, as well as a range of makes, videos and resources. In the lead up, Howard Rheingold, Alan Levine and Jim Groom supported people in organising a space and connecting it to the syndicated blogs. This was done via social media, as well as through a Hangout. Beyond the act of getting going, the first unit involved responding to the provocation #WhyITeach.

#CLMooc

Connected Learning MOOC is a yearly event designed to help people make sense of learning online through the act of making. In the first week of making, participants are invited to introduce themselves however they like, connect with other learners by commenting and reflect on the connections made. To support this creative process, a range of possibilities are listed in a ‘Make Bank’. Beyond the usual weekly challenges, there also daily connectors which allow people to maintain a sense of connection, even if they may have dropped out of the weekly tasks.

#DigiWriMo

Digital Writing Month is an annual 30-day challenge that has been occurring since 2012. Similar to CLMOOC, it encourages people to be creative by providing a number tasks and challenges. This includes a mixture of daily activities and on-going projects. Each year is facilitated by a different team, adding a different twist. In regards to introductions, the 2015 iteration started with an invitation to create an alternative CV (#altcv).

#walkmyworld

Walk My World is an annual social media project in which people are encouraged to share and connect around a hashtag. The intent is to explore open research and open publishing. The weekly assignments are designed to help tell your story. In 2016, the first challenge involved sharing a selfie and reflecting on the story behind it.


What seems to stand out is the sharing of something personal. In order to make this more possible for people to participate, these activities often emphasis choice and creativity in a lighthearted manner.

What about you though? What experiences have you been a part of? Do you have any thoughts, ideas and experiences? As always, comments welcome.


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Defining a Community of Practice


flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

I have been spending a bit of time lately with the idea of communities of practice. One of the things that becomes clear quickly is that there are many different definitions and descriptions.

Etienne and Beverly Wenger-Trayner suggest that:

Communities of practice are formed by people who engage in a process of collective learning in a shared domain of human endeavour: a tribe learning to survive, a band of artists seeking new forms of expression, a group of engineers working on similar problems, a clique of pupils defining their identity in the school, a network of surgeons exploring novel techniques, a gathering of first-time managers helping each other cope.

While Lani Ritter Hall and Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach describe it as follows:

Communities of practice (or inquiry) are systems of collective critical inquiry and reflection focused on building a shared identity and a collective intelligence garnered over time. Members have a “none of us is as good as all of us” mentality.

Touching on the role of communities, Tony Bates explains that:

The basic premise behind communities of practice is simple: we all learn in everyday life from the communities in which we find ourselves. Communities of practice are everywhere. Nearly everyone belongs to some community of practice, whether it is through our working colleagues or associates, our profession or trade, or our leisure interests, such as a book club.

A report by the US government highlight some of the benefits:

Past research has already suggested that, if designed, implemented, and supported well, online communities of practice can help educators strengthen their performance. Through these online social learning spaces, evidence shows that educators can effectively access, share, and create knowledge, as well as strengthen their commitment to the profession

In there discussion of teaching crowds, Jon Dron and Terry Anderson explain that:

The concept, drawn from anthropological studies, relates to how newcomers to a collection of people, such as a department in a firm, a university, or a group of charity workers, learn the group’s practices and become participants in the community.

One of the problems with each of these definitions and descriptions is that they do not necessarily capture the nuance of each context. Another way of making sense of communities of practice is using the Modern Learning Canvas:

Modern Learning Canvas - CoP

One of the benefits of the canvas is that it provides a structure to talk about learning. Starting with a description of an ideal community, you can then make changes to the canvas based on the needs and purpose of particular situation. For when I think about the communities that I have participated in, whether they be MOOCs (Rhizo14, ccourses, digiwrimo, CLMOOC etc …) or professional learning programs (TL21C), they were all different. They all appraoched things differently, providing for different needs.

So what about you, have you had any experiences with communities of practice? As always, I would love to know.


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A Personal Twitter Tour


flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

Twitter is one of those unique platforms. There is so much said about it. Some dream of what it could be. Others swear by it as a means of professional development. Some rue the changes. Others talk about the public/private conundrum. Some are critical of the branding and death of the real comment. What is interesting is that with all of these attempts to make sense of the platform, how people use it is always somewhat particular to them.
Riffing on Ian Guest’s recent post unpacking how he uses Twitter, here are some of the ways I use the platform:

  • Hashtags: Clive Thompson once described tags as the soul of the internet, in regards to Twitter they are pretty important. I often use them to follow up different ideas and information, this is especially the case when participating in a cMOOC, such as #ccourses or #rhizo14. I also use hashtags to tune into different communities, such as #VicPLN, seeing what is being shared and if I can help with anything. In regards to my own posts, my thinking has been influenced by a post from Mark Barnes, I consciously restrict myself to two hashtags when I post.
  • Publishing: one of my main uses is to share ideas and information. This is often done outside of Twitter itself. If it is my blog, the Jetpack plugin allows me to share posts when published, while I often share directly from news aggregation applications, such as Feedly and Pocket. For this, I usually try and capture a key quote, rather than just tweet out the title. This is about my own sense of meaning making, as well as a way of commenting to the author what I find interesting. For other spaces, like Flickr, I use an IFTTT recipe to publish to Twitter.
  • Engaging: When pondering something or seeking different perspectives, I will often put it out there on Twitter to see what I get. This is something that Clive Thompson talks about in his book Smarter Than You Think. I must admit, I have found that open questions or calls for help themselves often receive little attention even with thousands of followers, therefore if I really want a response I will tag particular people. Sometimes this can produce momentum where others will then add further thoughts. In addition to this, I regularly engage in different conversations online. Along with sharing ideas, I see this as a part of giving back.
  • Chats: I must admit, I have never truly fallen in love with chats as others have. In part, I have always been a little sceptical about what ideas can be gained, but to be fair my bigger concern is time. My life as it presently stands does not always afford me 30-60 minutes to tune into a chat. Subsequently, I often break the unwritter rules and just drop in and out based on what else is happening. Sometimes I will come back to the Storify’d archive, but not as often as I would like. What I do like about chats is the stronger connections with other educators that such spaces allow.
  • Consuming: I have been through different iterations when it comes to reading tweets. I remember when I started I would scroll through every tweet each day. I actually managed this for quite a while, until I started following far too many users and felt that I needed to dig deeper. I then resorted to creating a list, which contained all those people that I felt I didn’t want to miss out on. Now though I rarely use Tweetdeck and find lists too cumbersome when using the Twitter application, I therefore just take a dip in the river every so often when I have a spare moment or two. To support this serendipity, I use IFTTT to save tweets directly to Pocket. While I also sometimes check out the highlights, as well as the links that people occasionally tag me in. Early on, Twitter was my source of ideas. However, I rely heavily now on the 100+ blogs in Feedly, as well as other sources, such as newsletters and Nuzzel to curate my content.

I have written before about Twitter, capturing the different possibilities, but a focus on supposed affordances overlooks the nuances of personal use and development over time. Although I have used Twitter for quite a while, how I use it has changed and morphed. Sometimes it is about where it fits within my life, sometimes it is about purpose and intent, other times it is simply about trying new things.

Take for example sharing visual quotes. I used to use Quizio (an application I actually discovered via Twitter). I share less images now, but probably spend more time creating them. A part of this is about developing a unique style and signature.

So what about you? How do you use Twitter and how has it developed over time? As always, comments welcome, but even better, write your own post and share it here.


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Developing a Blog


flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

Will Richardson recently reflected on his journey in regards to blogging. He spoke about the changes that have occurred over time and how these have impacted his writing. In another post, he discussed how his authorial voice has morphed from being a ‘tools guy’ to a focus on system change. What is interesting are the actual changes to his writing. Whereas in the halcyon days of blogging he would publish 50 odd posts a month, there came a time when things changed and he wrote less.  A part of this was the change in audience and environment. More recently, he has returned to daily writing as a habit to clarify his own thinking. The lesson that stands out through all of this is that there is no single way to blog.

It can be easy to view a blog as being a set of hierarchical processes. A product organised around a series of clearly defined steps, whether it be creating a space, writing a post, organising around categories and inserting content. This is how blogging is often often spoken about, something simply to be learnt, rather than why and for what purpose.

Another similar such approach is a focus on search engine optimization (SEO). This often leads to worrying about a desired structure of the content, as opposed to the content itself.

A more useful way of appreciating a blog is as a continual act of change and development. This is not a focus on improvements towards some impossible ideal, but rather something that is continually morphing and evolving. Adapting to both the content and intent. On the one hand, the platforms and practises change. Something that Martin Weller has touched upon. However, this development is also personal and more nuanced.

When I think about this blog, there have been many iterations over time. Initially, I started out with the intent to record some of my thoughts and reflections. As I became more connected online, I started engaging in different communities through my blog, such as #Rhizo14 or #CCourses. In addition to this, I began exploring ways to involve different voices, whether it be highlighting comments in a post or curating perspectives, as well as experimenting with modes of expression, including narrativesreviews and an openness to process. On the flipside, my use of different platforms has changed overtime as I have made more sense of the various niches. After beginning with Blogger, I have since moved my main website to WordPress via Reclaim, as well as explored various other platforms.

I was recently asked by someone online how they could get their blog up and running again, beyond simply posting more often. My initial ideas were to tell a story about what you are learning right now, make something new, be the connection that gives other’s a voice or return to why. However, what matters most is where you are at right now. For example, look at the personal blog of Bec Spink. In the past she has included posts exploring classroom habits, uses of Evernote and work associated with her Masters study. Bec Spink does not necessarily post that often on personal blog anymore, but she regularly posts on the Code the Future site. Although she could dual post, sometimes development involves new spaces and new projects. As our focuses change, so to does what we write and post.

In the end, I agree with Bill Ferriter that blogging is about “reflection and making contributions and learning through thinking.” However, what this actually means in action is dependant on context. Although lists of ideas can be useful in providing inspiration, it is always best to start with your own situation and go from there.


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Voices in the Village (2015)


flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-SA ) license

In a previous post, I reflected on the voices in the village. Reflecting on the different comments shared with me via my blog across the year. This got me thinking about the ideas and influences that have influenced my thinking this year. I have subsequently spent some time mining through my memories, as well as my Diigo collection, for the posts from the village that have left a mark. Some on my thinking, others in regards to my practise …

Coaching and Leadership

Why Agency Matters – Jon Andrews (@obi_jon_) argues that to get the most out of staff we need to support their agency, rather than continually dictate instructional models and learning outcomes.

The most conducive and productive professional environments for this have been those with high expectations intertwined with support. These environments resist compliance in favour of engagement which leads to responsible autonomy. The best leaders have been those who grow these organisations with two key things, trust and reciprocal relationships in unique contexts.

The Know-How Continuum – Chris Munro (@cmunroOZ) unpacks the challenge of staying in the coachee’s context as long as possible, rather than jumping to ideas and supposed solutions.

The aim is to keep responsibility and ownership with the coachee. Introducing a suggestion with something like “What I’ve seen work in the past is….“, to some degree, puts the idea out there in neutral territory without the coach claiming ownership of it. This is very different from “Well, what I think you should do is…“. For (teacher) coaches (or perhaps just humans in general!) this can be a difficult thing to do.

Dear John – Brad Gustafson (@gustafsonbrad) writes an open response to a parent who raised concerns that digital literacies, such as social media, were being focused at the expense of foundational skills, designed to create a space for debate, rather than an answer to a question.

When our answers become more important than the questions others ask we will have done a disservice to the very nature of learning.

How Do We Rebuild Trust in Our Schools – Corinne Campbell (@corisel) touches on the importance of being trustworthy, as well as what this might mean for schools and education.
Our goal as individual teachers, as schools and systems, needs to be that we are perceived as worthy of trust.
Evaluate Expert Advice on Schools and Advice – Richard Olsen (@richardolsen) questions the debate surrounding the ‘expert advice’ of Ken Wiltshire and Kevin Donnelly, suggesting that the real issue is our perspective on learning.

Illeries model is useful in that it enables us to identify some of core differences between what different people believe about learning (and teaching.) While, I wouldn’t recommend using this model to adequately explain the differences between the various educational theories and theorists as some try to do, it does help us to start identifying where we agree and disagree with others, which in turn enables us to construct and articulate a well formed argument.

Educators as Lead Learners – Jackie Gerstein (@jackiegerstein) provides a guide as to how educators can lead the learning in the classroom.

The goal of this post is to encourage educators not only to adopt the mindset of the educator as a lead learner but also to model, demonstrate, and teach his/her learners the process of learning how to learn new “things”.

What Happens When There Is No Curriculum? – Royan Lee (@Royanlee) flips the complaint about the constrains of the curriculum by wondering what we would do if we didn’t have one.

I am neither a staunch defender of all things curriculum, nor a flag-waver for the dissolution of it. The grey in between, of course, is always far more delightful andcolourful if you allow it to be.

Permission to Innovate – Adrian Camm (@adriancamm) outlines his vision for a co-created curriculum coupled with a permission for staff to take risks.

… because schools are built on trust and relationships, people need to know that innovation isn’t about devaluating anyone’s work. Innovation isn’t necessarily a deficit statement. Innovation can simply refer to the introduction of something new – an idea, product, teaching approach or in creating more effective processes to create a new dimension of performance. Certainly, innovation is contextual, and what represents innovative thought and practice for one person might not necessarily be innovative for another. Being innovative however requires us to step outside of the normal and suspend our biases. Suspending our biases allows us to develop a capacity to disassociate from the way things have always been done. By developing this capacity we give ourselves permission to innovate.

Learning in Perpetual Beta – Borrowing from the tech industry, Tom Barrett (@tombarrett) suggests that learning should be a state of perpetual beta, where we engage in a continual cycle of feedback.

Learning in perpetual beta is all about continuous improvement with an emphasis on engineering as many opportunities for feedback as we can.

How to Use Polarity Management to Support Innovation – Tim Kastelle suggests we need to find balance between execution and innovation. It is a reminder that change involves balancing between many polarities.
The key to managing a polarity is to recognize when you are drifting into the negative region of one of the poles and take corrective action as soon as possible.

Trying to Solve for the Problem of Education in 2015 – Elaborating on the idea of motivation and caring, Dave Cormier (@davecormier) meditates on the various challenges associated with education in 2015 in an attempt to clarify the idea of rhizomatic learning.

I have had a not insignificant number of people I’ve talked to in the last 6 or 7 years say things like “this is exactly the way i think about education…” and they do it this way or can’t or are afraid to or are doing it better. I want to be able to do a better job of explaining how rhizomatic education is possible. How would it roll out to a university? A school district? Does it need to be wholesale? Can it work in pieces? Are models like Genius Hour examples of this…? I have alot of questions.

Following a Shared Vision Does NOT Mean We Share Compass Headings – Grant Lichtman (@GrantLichtman) challenges the professional development model where one size fits all, instead arguing that schools need to develop a collective North Star with each teacher plotting their own journey to get there.

Adults must own their learning just like students, and it will most effectively start with this: “There is our school’s collective North Star. Identify where you are with respect to its location and chart your path.”  How cool would it be if you had an actual map of all of these trajectories for your school!

Learning to Lead and Leading as Inquiry – Claire Amos (@claireamosNZ) shares her use of the inquiry model to support her own growth and development as a leader.

As many of you will know I have a thing for teaching as inquiry, in particular I have a thing for teaching as inquiry as a means of developing future-focused adaptive expertise.

Leading School Improvement – Corrie Barclay (@corrieb) reflects on the challenges with implementing  change and some of the lessons learnt along the way.

The SWITCH Program involved four communities of learners within our P-8 campuses. Their amazing teachers were then charged with creating flipped videos to support and enhance their learning. We were wanting to extend the learning of the students just beyond the daily grind of 9:00 – 3:30.

Leading Change is Hard – Bec Spink (@BecSpink) on the difficulties and frustrations associated with leading change and the need to celebrate the wins, however insignificant they may seem.
I felt compelled to write this post to celebrate the successes- however small they seem from the inside…they are pretty huge on the outside and will continue to motivate, engage and challenge me to keep on keeping on!
The Need for Vision in Schools – Greg Miller (@gregmiller68) outlines why having a vision for learning is so important. What is significant is that it does not necessarily have to be complex, more importantly it needs to be clearly communicated.
I know this may sound simplistic and may even appear to ignore the complexities of schools and the diversity of leadership requirements of school principals; however, without Vision, you have a rudderless ship.
The Ideapreneur – David Culberhouse (@dculberhouse) suggests that one of the challenges we face today is not only coming up with innovative and creative ideas, but successfully being able to sell these within wider organizations.
Turning creativity into innovation, turning innovation into acceptance, turning acceptance into adoption, and turning adoption into change, will be the work of the modern day ideapreneur.
Leading Groups: Dealing with Too Cool for School & Other Personalities – Laura Hilliger (@epilepticrabbit) reflects on her time leading groups and provides a range of tips for dealing with all types.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re teaching a piece of software or a concept or facilitating a workshop to hack on project or product or even if you’re organizing donors night for your local non-profit – when you are leading a group of people to work together, you will have to deal with difficult personality types.
Five Takeaways About Student Wellbeing – Dan Haesler (@danhaesler) provides a summary of the Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation’s literature review into Student Wellbeing. Although based on work in New South Wales, there are points made which go across the board.

Engagement and wellbeing are at the crux of what we do in schools and if we get this right, outcomes will – largely – look after themselves (for staff as well as students).

Why Teacher and School Leader Wellbeing is Critical – Jason Borton (@borto74) reflects  on the importance of staff wellbeing in school and shares some of the strategies that he has used to maintain morale.
We can’t continue to just add stuff to our daily workload, so if we’re going to take on something new then what are we going to stop doing to make room for it?
The Speed of Things – Greg Whitby (@GregWhitby) wonders about how we might carry our schools into the digital age and what future orientated form of assessment can help us with this.
I wonder whether we need to be looking at schooling in the same way countries assess readiness for the digital economy?  Do we need a Digital Education Index based on key drivers?
Letting Parents in On the Secret of School – Peter DeWitt (@PeterMDeWitt) suggests that we need to stop protecting parents and let them in on the supposed secrets. A challenging piece in regards to the stories we chose to tell in school.

We assume there are topics that parents don’t need to know about when we engage in new initiatives or changes, when the reality is that they are the very topics that parents need to know about. They can be our biggest advocates with their very own children, and letting them in on the secret of school will help them understand that some of what we do may have changed from when they were students.


Edtech

Everything is Broken – in a harrowing post, Quinn Norton (@QuinnNorton) shares her insight into the level of trust we invest in the web and why this will always be fraught with risk.
There’s your choice: constantly risk clicking on dangerous malware, or live under an overpass, leaving notes on the lawn of your former house telling your children you love them and miss them.
Peering Deep into the Future of Educational Credentialing – Doug Belshaw (@dajbelshaw) explores the possibilities of combining open badges with blockchain, the technology behind bitcoin, to make credentialing more secure.

While we wouldn’t want to entirely remove the “human” element around credentialing, a hybrid OBI and blockchain approach could add value to our current system. Machines and software are extremely good at fact-checking, whereas humans are good at meaning. We need both.

My Name is danah and I’m a Stats Addict – danah boyd (@zephoria) reflects on the obsession that many of us have with all things statistics when online and how it often means so little.

Stats have this terrible way of turning you — or, at least, me — into a zombie. I know that they don’t say anything. I know that huge chunks of my Twitter followers are bots, that I could’ve bought my way to a higher Amazon ranking, that my Medium stats say nothing about the quality of my work, and that I should not treat any number out there as a mechanism for self-evaluation of my worth as a human being. And yet, when there are numbers beckoning, I am no better than a moth who sees a fire.

Appropriation vs. attribution. What’s ok in our digital world? – Deb (@debsnet) reflects on the challenges associated with sharing content in the digital age.

Ownership in the digital world is a slippery issue. In academia, the parameters are straightforward; if you are repeating or even building upon the ideas or words of someone else, you cite them. Period. Yet this same practice does not consistently apply in the blogosphere, Twitterverse, or classroom.

Please Stop Stealing Images – Chris Wejr (@ChrisWejr) continues his reflection on technology by addressing cthe question of sharing and copyright. An important read in regards to anyone who shares anything online.
I strongly believe that very few of us intentionally use images as if they are our own; however, as educators, we all need to do our best to model the appropriate use of images to our students.  If you want to share an image and are unsure of the reference, ask. Creative Commons is all about sharing; If you use or share images, use Creative Commons images on Flickr and provide the correct attribution.
Passion or Promotion – through a series of chalking provocations, Andrea Stringer (@stringer_andrea) explores the question as to whether Twitter is a space for sharing passions or merely promoting self-interest.

I so appreciate the humility and generosity of many educators who share their passion, successes, failures, blogs, lessons and reflections. I assume they do this because they want what is best for their students. Or should I say our students, as they share to make us more effective educators as Brad Currie so clearly stated on #satchat.

Anyone Want to Have a Real Conversation? – Dean Shareski (@shareski) shares why he feels alone on Twitter and more at home in closed off spaces, such as Voxer and Slack.

The challenge is to find a place to take that social capital and use it to challenge and provoke deeper, more interesting ideas. While I have more followers than ever on twitter, I feel more alone there than I ever have.

Why Schools Shouldn’t Ban Smartphones – Steve Wheeler (@timbuckteeth) provides a thorough account as to why banning smartphones and technology is not the future and merely avoids the inevitable.

Technology is like water to a fish. It surrounds us, and we rarely notice it, but we use it all the time. Instead of keeping children away from the water, we should teach them to swim. Any alternative would be unthinkable.

A Bicycle for the Mind – Chris Betcher (@betchaboy) wonders about the place of iPads, and technology in general, in the classroom. An important post in regards to addressing why, rather than what that too often dictates conversation.

It’s about giving students agency and independence to take control of their own learning. And with that simple goal usually comes a whole lot of change. Sometimes quite painful change, but change that has to happen. Adding technology to a classroom without reimagining how that classroom works, and rethinking what your students can do because of that technology, is a waste of time and money.

Plus ça change: Why Mobile Learning is the New Impressionism – Amy Burvall (@amyburvall) provides a different take on the changes that have been brought about through mobile learning by comparing it with Impressionism.

The Impressionist Art Movement can teach us quite a lot about mobile and connected learning and hopefully put us at ease so we can reframe our thinking and offer the most enriched experience possible.

Keeping Alive the Ghost of Computer Rooms Past – Alan Thwaites (@athwaites) suggests that the real intent of BYOD is to stop worrying about what device students have, but rather what learning they are doing.
Students already have these devices along with the skills to work out how to use them. What they lack is the opportunity to explore, themselves, how they can best support their learning using their devices. We can give them that opportunity if we choose to do so.
Why Technology Alone Won’t Fix Schools – Kentaro Toyama (@kentarotoyama) addresses the myth that technology can fix schools. As he points out, it only amplifies pre-existing inequalities.
Technology’s primary effect is to amplify human forces, so in education, technologies amplify whatever pedagogical capacity is already there.
Blogging as an Essential Literacy in Contemporary Learning – Anthony Speranza (@anthsperanza) provides a great introduction to blogging in the classroom, providing examples of different purposes and contexts.
In a traditional sense, education in the past has been separated from learning communities across location, language and culture. With technology at our fingertips and at the disposal of our students, these obstacles are no longer present as barriers; blogging is a great way of expanding the immediate classroom community.
50 Ideas for Student Blogging and Writing Online – A fantastic collaborative blog kept by the team at Edublogs, in this post Ronnie Burt (@ronnieburt) provides an extensive list of ideas to support blogging. A priceless resource for staff and students alike.

As you think about writing assignments for your students, try to vary it up. Even better, give your students some choice in the type of posts they write. The end goal is an authentic and engaging learning opportunity for all.

Using Seesaw to Engage Kids and Parents Alike – Lee Hewes (@waginski) provides a story that is less step-by-step instruction, more possibility and potential. An interesting read regards the possibilities of technology in the Early Years.

Kids get very excited about sharing their work with their parents. With SeeSaw you can tell them what you are looking for and ask them to go off and demonstrate in order for them to take a photo or video to share with their parents. They typically scurry off excitedly to complete their work, returning to have a discussion about what they have done. This opens up an opportunity for you to either confirm that they are on the right track, or explain to them what needs to be fixed up for them to be able to share their correct understanding with their parents via the app.

Publishing Your Content Online and Syndicating It ElsewhereWilliam O’Byrne (@wiobyrne) outlines steps for not only claiming your online presence, but then syndicating it elsewhere on the web.

In the Indie Web Community, this is either known as the POSSE model or PESOS model. The POSSE model is preferred and indicates that you are publishing on your own site, and syndicating it elsewhere. An example of this is I publish it here on my self-hosted WordPress site, and then syndicate (or re-publish) it out to Medium and elsewhere.

Top Ed-Tech Trends of 2015: Indie Ed-Tech – In her review of the edtech trends of 2015, Audrey Watters (@audreywatters) talks the indie web as a means of rethinking and reclaiming the open web.

To resist the compulsion for data, to resist the big business of ed-tech, we need more “indie,” more agitation, more care, and much more not-yetness. And this resistance is happening…
Blended Learning is Not the Next Edtech Revolution. – Phil McRae (@philmcrae) provides a thorough critique of blended learning, which in the end appealing for a more nuanced approach, rather than one dictated by corporations.
Blended learning is not a new term nor a revolutionary concept for classrooms in this second decade of the 21st century. However, the way it is being (re)interpreted could be hopeful or harmful depending on how it is implemented. It is an increasingly ambiguous and vague notion that is growing in popularity as many groups try to claim the space and establish the models, despite a lack of evidence and research. We should therefore be skeptical around the mythos of blended learning before endorsing or lauding it as the next great reform.
Digital Watering Holes – The team at Learn Enabling (@LearnEnabling) provided a discussion of student meeting places online suggesting that maybe we need to go to them as teachers, rather than be surprised when they don’t cone to is.
Learning is social…has been that way since the dawn of time.  Students gather informally and share informally and YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, etc…these are the watering holes where students gather.  Are these watering holes that teachers can use for teaching and learning?
NOT Voice – A significant figure in the Digital Leaders movement (@ozdlt), Nick Jackson (@largerama) explains why endlessly focusing on voice, rather than action, misses the point. A useful commentary for thinking about the place of students in and out of the classroom.
the language does matter because in some ways, student voice could be argued to have been tainted by weak, low-level empowerment of students and because we are now facing power shifts on a completely different level due to technology. Whether you agree or not, I will keep banging the action NOT voice drum.
(Digital) Identity in a World that No Longer Forgets – Alec Couros (@courosa) and Katia Hildebrandt (@kbhildebrandt) suggest that in a world where there is digital record for everything somewhere then we need to learn to consider intent, context, and circumstance when considering different artefacts that may be dredged up.
Perhaps, instead, we might accept that the Internet has changed our world in fundamental ways and recognize that our societal mindset around digital missteps must be adjusted in light of this new reality: perhaps, in a world where forgetting is no longer possible, we might instead work towards greater empathy and forgiveness, emphasizing the need for informed judgment rather than snap decisions.
Digital Portfolios and Self-Determined Learning – Robert Schuetz (@robert_schuetz) provides an introduction to different methods for creating digital portfolios, as well as some steps for going about them.
As we move rapidly from analog to digital forms of learning, it is becoming essential for us to create a cloud-based archive for our learning processes, and our favored pieces of work.

Learning and Teaching

Mistakes, Failures and Disasters with PBL – Cameron Paterson (@paterso) talks about the ‘failures’ he has had with Project-Based Learning and the changes that he has made along the way.

I tend to throw out what hasn’t worked and start again, so I no longer have the tasks that didn’t work so well. Learning (and teaching) is an iterative process. My key message is that I need to start doing a better job of documenting my own learning.
Friday Afternoon Poetry Fun – Bianca Hewes (@BiancaH80) reimagines the age old immersion into poetry by creating a series of short sharp stations which allow a mixture of play and creativity.

My first lesson ever with my new year 10 class was at the worst time possible – last period on Friday of the first week back at school. Our topic? Poetry (OK, the topic is consumerism, but the text form is poetry). I knew that I couldn’t stand up and talk at the kids, or even get them to do a writing task. Why? I’m the new teacher, they’re in year 10, you work it out. So, I went for a hands on hook lesson.

Festival of Gaming – Mel Cashen (@melcashen) provides a summary of her classes investigation into gaming. A fantastic example of inquiry in action from beginning to end incorporating technology in an authentic manner.

From setting the culture, modelling the inquiry and for one group, me even being a team member sharing ideas and contributing. Would they have pulled it off without me? No.  Would they have had as many people visit their website had it not been for me?  Would the group with the arcade game thought of the idea without me.  Probably not. But what I did do is show them how next time they can do it on their own.  I modelled to them how amazing curiosity, inquiry, determination and failure can be.

Words: the More We Learn, the More We Can Learn – Anne Del Conte (@annadelconte) provides a great example of change from the bottom up through her action research project into vocabulary. You can follow the project here and here.

I hope to improve the students’ literacy skills by systematically and explicitly teaching vocabulary using various strategies borrowed from Robert J. Marzano, Paul Dufficy and Joanne Rossbridge (PETAA Paper 196). My goal is to measure the effectiveness of these teaching practices by analysing student performance before, during and after this project. Hopefully with each round of lessons I can refine my teaching practices and improve student achievement in the learning of vocabulary and in particular, tier 2 vocabulary –  those words that are used to embellish and emphasise and can be used in a range of contexts with multiple meanings.

Google’s 20% Time and Genius Hour – Alex Quigley (@huntingenglish) provides a critique of Genius Hour as the solution for improving student engagement and outcomes.
We should not waste the precious time of our students by not guiding them within the best that is what is thought and known within our subject. Great learning requires interdependence – the independence conferred by Google 20% should be confined to the realm of our most experienced students.
Outcome Versus Process: Different Incarnations of Personalisation – In a useful guide for teachers, Yong Zhou (@yongzhouED) breaks down the different ways learning can be personalised.

Generally speaking, personalization can be put into two categories: process personalization and outcome personalization. Process personalization enables students to enjoy choice in the learning process, whereas outcome personalization allows students to define the end results of their learning. Process personalization is by far the most prominent version in education today because the current education paradigm has a predetermined outcome for all students. That is, no matter how one gets there, we want everyone to get to the same place: mastery of the knowledge and skills prescribed in the authoritative curriculum or standards.

Does Your Practice Align With Your Belief – Edna Sackson (@whatedsaid) shares her school’s act of of recording, observing and reflecting to support the alignment of belief and practice.
Viewing ourselves through the eyes of others and becoming aware of different perspectives has been both validating and enlightening. In the process of planning for and evaluating the visits and observing our school’s practice through a different lens, we have asked ourselves the same sorts of questions. Does our practice align with our beliefs about learning?

Storytelling and Reflection

+/- memorable (my ***x talk) – Encapsulating what Alan Levine (@cogdog) does so well – storytelling – this TEDx presentation touches on what is memorable in education and wonders what fills in the rest of the time.

Nearly all of my teachers I talked about have no idea these things were memorable… to me. That’s why I only have photos of two of them, who I got a chance to tell them much later. So if you are trying to be memorable, you are going about this wrong.

The Un-education of a Technologist: From EDUPUNK to ds106 – Jim Groom (@jimgroom) reminisces about his journey of un-education. An interesting read, if not simply for the superb storytelling, then for the rethinking of learning and (higher) education.

ds106 opened up questions about infrastructure, architecture, student agency, pedagogy, and much more all at once. It wasn’t just about technology, it was about how the technology affords new ways for us to collaborate, share, and learn with and from one another.

Mariposa – Jon Harper (@jonharper70bd) tells the fictional story of a girl and the challenges and choices that she makes through life up to the point of graduating. An empathetic piece that reminds us that students always have a backstory that we are never completely privy too.

This journey. This transformation, started one cold, dark morning nine years ago …

The Beauty of Dreams – Steve Brophy (@stevebrophy3) shares a personal story about what drives him each and every day to achieve his dreams.
The power of Kev’s journey was that he had believed in this dream since he was four and had worked his tail off since then to achieve his goal.  He faced rejection on numerous occasions but never let it deter him from believing in the beauty of his dream.

The Role of Personality in Education – Martin Weller calls out the elephant of personality in the room in regards to Massively Open Online Courses. An interesting read if not for the debate the follows in the comments.

As you’ll know, I’m a BIG FAN of Jim Groom, but it’s hard to say that DS106 isn’t a product of Jim’s online personality. Indeed it is all about that, which is exactly why it’s fun. Similarly, I think Dave Cormier’s Rhizo courses are truly innovative and beginning to explore what a networked take on education might look like. But I think Dave’s (loveable, cuddly) personality is a big factor in its success.

Actors Seriously? – Eric Jensen questions the age old metaphor of teacher as an actor. An interesting post regards reimagining the role of the teacher in the classroom.
Seeing yourself as an actor is putting yourself at the centre of the classroom. You’re saying “Watch me, kiddies. It’s all about me.”
Can We Talk About Change Without Hurting Feelings – Will Richardson (@willrich45) argues that we limit change by worrying about too much about feelings, rather than confronting what needs to be done.

As someone who finds the experience of traditional schooling to be increasingly out of step with the real world, and as someone who has come to believe that schools actually are “broken” in many ways, how do I write and speak about those viewpoints without being heard or read as hurtful or demeaning to educators in schools? Is that possible?

A Learning Revolution or a Learning Renaissance – In something of a thought experiment, Matt Esterman (@mesterman) compares the difference between a revolution and a renaissance in regards to educational change.
Calls for a learning revolution have been sounded for at least 10 years, in some cases a generation, in others such as John Dewey well over a century. This is a significant lack of progress in any sense of a revolutionary timeline. I call this a neverlution rather than a revolution.
An Alphabet of Inspiration – Inspired by Austin Kleon’s idea of a creative genealogy, Steve Mouldey (@geomouldey) wrote a list of people who inspire him. A great reminder that it takes a village.
One of the great points I got out of Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon was that of your creative genealogy. Who are the people that inspire you, whose ideas have added to your creativity; whose ideas can be seen remixed in the work that you do?
Caring About Sharing – Ian Guest (@IaninSheffield) wonders why some people are more willing than others to share ideas and resources.

Perhaps these teachers have found ways to overcome the organisational, cultural, legal and technological barriers (Charlesworth et al, 2007)? Or perhaps they recognise the value of participating in a community of sharing which delivers benefits.

Working Out a Schools Competitive Position Even When It’s Not Competing – Ewan McIntosh (@ewanmcintosh) suggests that every school has two value propositions which make it stand out and provides a long list of examples.
A value proposition, even if you are a state school, is a vital value to hone down, not just so that kids aren’t ripped out of your school but so that everyone, including the leaders, can be held to account when kinks in the system appear. If you state that excellence in education is your value proposition, then you’d better get that nailed, all the time, every time, or perceptions will change and take a long time to bring back.
The Good School – Dale Pearce (@dalepearce3) asks the question as to what makes a good school and wonders if this is really demonstrated through the statistics presented on the My Schools website or school ATAR results.
Parents make schooling choices based on a wide range of factors, including results, and we do them a disservice with much of our current representation of those results. We need a better understanding of what a ‘good school’ looks like.
Who is Your Schools Anthropologist – Jason Markey (@JasonMMarkey) asks who is documenting, in a non-judge mental way, what is happening on a day to day basis at your school?
What are the observations we should look for in our schools and what are the questions we should ask students and teachers about their experiences to think with an anthropological mindset?
Work Life Balance is a Myth – Paul Browning (@PaulDBrowning) reflects on life as a headmaster and some of the strategies he uses to find life balance.
Work-life balance for me is knowing the limits and making sure I listen to my body. It is about taking time each week to rest and switch off. I know I have to be disciplined to do this.

It would be nice to tie all these narratives together, but that is not always the way it is. So what about you, what are the posts that have made an impression on you this year? As always, feel free to share.


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Just Remember, It Takes a Village


flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

I discovered this week that I had been nominated for the 2015 Edublogs Awards under the category of best Ed Tech / Resource Sharing. What an honour to even be considered in the same space as Alan Levine, Richard ByrneAlice Keeler and Mark Anderson. Like others, it has left me wondering what it might actually mean to be nominated? Why do I even blog? And what do such awards represent?

edTechResourceBlog_2015-1tsmz8b

So, is the best blogger the most prolific? Most helpful? Most regular? Most influential? For me the ‘best’ blogger is the one who gives others a voice. Holds on loosely and provides a space for ideas to grow. A place of new beginnings. The problem with this is that such a space is a connected one and difficult to isolate. Rhizomatic in nature. Although we may try to trace ideas to their beginnings, we can never be sure.

So many of my posts are: responses to others, reflections on ideas and activities, a curation of perspectives. Do I deserve credit for these? Are they mine? What I feel is often forgotten is that it takes a village. Although someone will be the ‘winner’, each blog within the different categories adds something to the conversation, all helping make the room smarter.

In the end, like Richard Olsen, I simply hope that I might benefit people onlookers. What that means is up to those who take the arguments and thoughts. If that means you vote for me, thank you. If that means that you disagree with me, thank you. If that means that you build on my ideas, thank you. For it is only together that we are truly made better.

So what about you, what do you think constitutes the best? Maybe more importantly, why do you share? As always, I would love to know.


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Ten Step Program to Being Connected; or Getting Connected for Dummies


flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

I recently presented a session at DigiCon15 about Becoming a More Connected Educator. To provide a voice for those listening, I created a Google Form asking a few questions of those in attendance, such as how they are connected, what are the biggest challenges and any questions they may have. There were a few that I addressed at the end of the session, including moving beyond sound bites and giving back. However, one question that alluded me was a ‘get connected’ for dummies. So here goes, my 10 step process to becoming connected or as requested, a getting connected for dummies:

Work Out Why

Too often people are told, sign up to Twitter and get connected. Not only does being connected not simply equal signing up to a platform, but it misses why we might do it in the first place. In part, my initial reason was wondering what impact sharing and being open might have for learning. Although being open is still at the heart of my reason why, I would argue that now it is less about wonder and more about action, that is, how might we use the possibilities enabled through networked learning to build ‘smart rooms’ that consciously make possible new ideas and beginnings.

Grow a PLN

There are too many posts out there that discuss personalised or professional learning networks as something that can magically be done. Follow these people and hey presto you are connected. As I have discussed before, PLN’s are better thought of organically, a rhizome, with no central root system and no central belief system. Instead, there is one connection leading to another. This being said, the strength of a PLN is often deemed by how we nurture and grow it. Andrew Marcinek and Lyn Hilt reflect upon our role in regards to the health of our PLN and the need to continually reinvent it. One of the challenges is where you choose to spend your time and further your connections. For many it seems to be Twitter, others it is Google+, for some it is in spaces like Edmodo, while there are those whose connections are fostered between blogs. At the end of the day, the choice is yours. Some possible starting points are to participate in a Twitter chat, join a community on Google+, join in a blogging challenge like #youredustory or go to a teachmeet or an edcamp.

Find Your Tribe

One of the keys to connecting online is finding your communit(ies). So many of my early connections were based on a sort of convenient hypocrisy. My room was made up of people I had grown up with, went to school with or worked with. Often such connections become about sharing stories about this or that, but not necessarily common interests and passions. What can be hard is that there is not necessarily a directory of tribes, rather it is something relational and discovered by listening and engaging online. It needs to be noted though, that sometimes finding your tribe might actually mean standing up, leading and connecting people around a cause.

Surround Yourself with People who Scare You

On the TER Podcast, Cameron Paterson spoke about finding someone who scares you to be a mentor. I suggest taking this a step further, I suggest surrounding yourself with people who scare you. Often we start out meeting people at conferences or following people who seem to have similar interests. The next step is actively seeking out new connections. This does not mean that you need to automatically openly engage with these people, but instead tuning in and critically evaluating the various ideas and arguments. David White describes this as elegant lurking, where the purpose is to assess credibility of those involved within the discourse.

Support Others and Give Back to the Community

Although it is fine to observe from a distance, at some point communities thrive on participation. As David Weinberger points out, “Even if the smartest person in the room is the room itself, the room does not magically make all who enter it smarter.” Too often people get caught up in the ‘original’ trap, feeling that they themselves have nothing new to say or add. However, being in the room can mean different things to different people. I think that Steve Brophy puts it best when he made the call to “be the connection that gives others a voice.” To me, giving back is about participating, being someone’s +1, paying it forward, attributing ideas where possible. Putting his spin on this, Seth Godin says in Tribes that the challenge is, “to help your tribe sing, whatever form that song takes.”

Create a Place For People to Find You

Online, it is important to own your identify before someone else does. Anne Mirtschin talks about creating a digital badge, incorporating three key ingredients: a consistent image, clear username and detailed profile. In addition to this, it can be useful to guide people to a splash page, such as About.me, which brings together all our different spaces online. Some alternatives to this include pointing to a personal blog or a Linkedin account. Although trust within online spaces can be a difficult, by at least being open about who we are and what we might stand for at least helps build trust and deeper connections.

Have More Meaningful Conversations

In a recent post, Dean Shareski lamented on the lack of depth to many of the conversations he finds online. He reminisced on the ‘raw and natural tone’ that was prevalent when he was drawn to blogging ten years ago. Although idle chatter may be the glue which unites us, Shareski suggests that our challenge is to use this social capital to ‘provoke deeper, more interesting ideas’. For some this has meant moving conversations to more private mediums as Voxer and Slack. While others have taken to creating podcasts and web shows as a space for deeper conversations. Although Peter Skillen maybe right in saying that no wisdom can come be found in one-line, however it can be the stimulus for further thought.

Curate the Chaos

Heather Bailie suggests that in regards to digital literacies our focus has moved from the traditional idea of read, write and react, to a focus on being able to create, curate and contemplate. For me, creation is the means that we use to collect information. Many find all their resources via various social media platforms, however, there are other means of engaging with ideas, such as Nuzzel, Flipboard, Zite, Paper.Li, Feedly and Tagboard. Such platforms offer their own means of aggregating information. The next step is making sense of it all. In regards to social bookmarking, there are many different possibilities, whether it be Evernote, Delicious, Scoop.it, Pinterest or Diigo. For a more extensive list curation tools, see Christopher Pappas’ post.

Make Stuff Worth Stealing

I think that Doug Belshaw puts it best when he says, “Remixing, re-appropriation and riffing off other people’s work just seems to be part of what we do as human beings.” A step beyond engaging online, whether it be providing your perspective or adding a comment, is making stuff worth stealing. Instead of worrying about how much money could be made or how people might use ideas, Austin Kleon suggests we need to, “do good work and share it with people.” In his book Open, David Price touches on four key values which he sees as being integral to the 21st century: sharing, being open, giving things away for free and trusting others. A great example of such communities of sharing, riffing and giving away are cMOOCs like the CLMOOC, Connected Courses and Rhizomatic Learning.

Be a Lead Learner

How can we really say that students and learning at the heart of the classroom if we ourselves are not learners ourselves? Jackie Gerstein argues that we should not only be leaders when it comes to learning, but actively modelling the process by continually articulating our understandings and experiences. Gerstein provides a model to support this iterative process, focusing on prototyping, testing, failing and tweaking. Blogs or vlogs can be a useful means for not only documenting this process, but also gaining precious feedback and perspectives to support growth and improvement.


I am sure that there is more to it than what I have touched on here and like Tom Whitby, I wonder why we still need to continue to talk about such topics as PLN’s. However, we are all at different points in our learning. So what about you, where are you at? Is there something that you would add to or elaborate? As always, comments are welcome. For it takes a village and that village includes you.

Getting Connected for Dummies (1)
flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license


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