Tag Archives: digital literacies

On Rhizomatic Learning, Virtual Connections, and Sherwood Anderson

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For several weeks I have been immersed in a digital world. Coming back into a face-to-face reality has given me pause to reflect on the contrast between what is “virtual” and what is “real.”

It’s really Simon Ensor’s fault. In a Google Hangout during a conference, Simon asked someone to define “virtual buddy.”  He asked the question again on Twitter. He followed that with a blog post. And then he wrote a poem about belonging.  And so I started thinking.

The Hangout that began the process was a “between” space during the annual conference for the Association for Learning Technology, this year in Manchester, England. A number of presenters were from a virtually connected associates discussing a project called #Rhizo14. I had followed along with #Rhizo15 in connection while actively participating in #clmooc (another virtually connected community focused on learning), so I had an interest in the conference, even though I could not attend. I was introduced to the “between” Hangouts during yet another conference about hybrid pedagogy (#digped) when I was invited to participate by colleagues I met on Twitter through #clmooc. *

These “between” spaces were supposed to be a sort of “third space” for collaborative discussion about the keynote speakers at the conference. As they evolved they became a sort of debriefing for participants while the online participants (from all over the world) became sort of eavesdroppers who gleaned whatever information came through the on site players. It made me feel both connected and disconnected at the same time. When the on site players shared a single computer their conversation was often between themselves as they developed tactile relationships while the rest of us watched. When they returned to conference activities, those of us left in the Hangout tried to make sense of the information and even found ways to create our own “mini-sessions” of informal collaboration.  While I had connected with many of the participants (both on site and online) before this conference, Simon’s question made me consider the reality of those relationships beyond the words shared on the screen.

In a reflective post about Rhizo15, Dave Cormier discusses the challenges of creating a structured community in an unstructured idea (rhizomatic learning is by nature without formal structure). How can individuals belong to a community without creating a division between “we” and “them”; in this case those who had been around since the first experiment (Rhizo14) and the newbies who were just figuring out the concept? Dave writes far more eloquently than I about the conflict between Instructivism and Constructivism, but it all goes back to Simon’s original query: What exactly is a virtual buddy?

I have playing on the digital playground long enough that I no longer consciously differentiate between local acquaintances and those whom I have only met online. In many ways, I often feel MORE connected to those virtual friends because we have to make an effort to connect across time zones, geography, and cultural barriers. Underneath that, however is a common interest in how to harness the power of the internet to make education both accessible and relevant to as many people as want it. Along the way we discover other common interests: knitting, photography, Doctor Who, and other facets of life that have nothing whatever to do with education.

So are these friends “real”? And if they are, why is there a disconnect when some of them are together in a place while others of us connect from our own individual spaces? This whole new world of digital relationships and collaborations is messy. But then, new things are often messy. And not always “right”, especially at the beginning.

This idea of messy newness is a reflection of something Sherwood Anderson said to William Faulkner in June, 1953:

…America ain’t cemented and plastered yet. They’re still building it. That’s why a man with ink in his veins not only still can but sometimes has still got to keep on moving around in it, keeping moving around and listening and looking and learning. That’s why ignorant unschooled fellows like you and me not only have a chance to write, they must write…it won’t ever be quite right, but there is always next time; there’s always more ink and paper and something else to try to understand and tell. And that probably wont be exactly right either, but then there is a next time to that one , too. Because tomorrow’s America is going to be something different, something more and new to watch and listen to and try to understand; and, even if you can’t understand, believe.

(as cited in Meriwether, 2004, p. 8)

And there is the answer. Online relationships won’t ever feel “quite right”, but we must keep trying new ways to connect and eventually we will see something “different…more and new” that, even if we don’t fully understand, we can believe. In its imperfections, there is still connection. Perhaps the best part of being “virtual buddies” is the journey we are taking together into something unexpected.

 

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*All the acronyms are confusing, but much of the hybrid pedagogy/virtual connections take place on Twitter with extensions to Facebook and/or Google Plus. All of the things in which I participated were forms of MOOCs (massive open online courses) geared toward educators who wanted to explore and promote the idea of open learning. Rhizo  is based on the idea of the rhizome plant, one that sends out new growth from its roots so that the visible growth is supported by an underground structure that is interconnected. Dave Cormier is probably the leading expert in the current iteration and his ideas on the purpose of education need more thought that I intend for this particular post. DigPed is attached to the Hybrid Pedagogy journal. The Connected Learning MOOC (#clmooc) was a six-week course for educators organized mostly by professionals connected to Youth Voices. All of the hashtags are still active on Twitter.

 

 

 

 

References

Meriwether, J. B. ed. (2004), William Faulkner: Essays, speeches, & public letters. New York, NY: Modern Library. Random House, Inc.

National Parks #clmooc Make 6

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The fiWEB20150730_122355_20138025332_onal project for the Connected Learning MOOC (#clmooc) took us to explore the National Park system as an open public space. Georgia has a plethora of National and State parks along with Heritage sites, Historical sites, National Monuments, and National Recreation Areas. I chose to explore a new-to-me park in Lithonia, Georgia. Arabia Mountain is an exposed granite monadnock still relatively unaltered by humanity. There was once a quarry there, but it is long shut down and the machinery removed. Because it is not heavily promoted and the signage is less than obvious, few people walked the mountain while I was there. (Granted, it was midday in July, and the 95 degree temperature may have had something to do with the solitude.) Still, it was easy to imagine early settlers and Native Americans hunting and living here. It is vast and rugged, but upon inspection, harbors all sorts of microscopic life and plants that manage to thrive without much soil. The views from the summit are beautiful, even on a hot and hazy afternoon. Buildings and roads are invisible, so it feels remote and isolated.

WEBArabiaMtn-38 WEBArabiaMtn-43 While I enjoyed my trek, I had to consider how I could incorporate this Make into a classroom scenario.WEBArabiaMtn-49

 Science and math might be natural fits: micro-biology and ecology are obvious, and geometry students could calculate the pitch of the mountain or determine the weight of granite slabs. Literature requires a little more creative stretch to incorporate. However, upon reflection, I see a number of ways to justify a National Park field trip for an English classroom. There is the historical value of oral storytelling, which was the tradition of the first inhabitants of this land. The area was also home to a community of freed slaves (the area bordered three different plantations) that became a prosperous town through the mid 20th century. NPR did a story about the Flat Rock community in 2008. Blending the Park with this history affords students the opportunity to write a historic retelling of the community or of fictional residents. This allows the students to research life in a specific era, a particular setting, and a historic climate about which little is known. Story is a key element of preservation, although it requires careful study blended with critical and creative thinking. As research, this is far more difficult than the “encyclopedia report”  many students do, but the benefits of learning curation from multiple sources ultimately proves practical well beyond the high school years.

WEBArabiaMtn-53 Research fulfills a number of standards in the Common Core requirements, but there are opportunities to use a visit to the Parks as impetus for creative writing. Many American authors wrote about nature (Jack London comes immediately to mind), and short stories featuring the land may inspire students to dig a little deeper into their own psyche or philosophies. Poetry may also emerge as a way to capture the vast beauty of the Parks.  A haiku or tanka (even a sonnet) poem embedded into a photograph blends creative thinking, art, and a structured form that touches the highest level of Bloom’s taxonomy.

WEBArabiaMtn-80-Edit2In any education, National Parks are a treasure to consider, and many of them are accessible enough to encourage all students to visit, even if a school field trip is not allowed. Arabia Mountain is off the Path system of DeKalb County, a free to use paved greenway designed for pedestrians and cyclists. The Arabia Mountain website offers a number of ways to see the park.

RE(MEDIA)TE clmooc Make 2

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hydrangea-photoI love hydrangeas. When I visited Savannah at the beginning of June, I took dozens of pictures from every angle and of every color I could find. It made sense to begin this project, RE(MEDIA)TE, with a personal photo of something I love.

Why hydrangeas? I think it is because they can change with the acidity (or aluminum) in the soil. High pH leads to pink blossoms, while a lower pH produces blue blooms.  The whole range of color, from rich red to deep purple is all dependent on the acid in the soil. The plant adapts to the changes in the soil, and a plant that is naturally pink can be made blue by manipulating the circumstances of the growing environment.

People have a harder time adapting to change. Many shrivel up when things get hard,  while others refuse to bloom at all unless conditions are just right. What if we, as educators, can teach our students how to “remediate” their responses to the challenges they face in life, whether or not it is academic.  Certainly no one can predict how the future will unfold, and it is rare to live very long without some unexpected change. What if we can use our classrooms as adaptive spaces, where students can find their identities and understand that flexibility will keep them moving forward when the hard times come? In fact, it is the challenges that make us more beautiful, even though the outcome is nothing we could have anticipated. Like hydrangeas, the acid/alkaline balance of life’s circumstantial soil does change us. If we can anticipate that change, perhaps we can welcome it and appreciate its loveliness. And if we can pass that message to our students, perhaps we reach beyond our content area to real-world learning.
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My re(media)tion began with a photo. Good photos require an attention to aperture and shutter speed, light and shadow, as well as composition. As I changed media and took to colored pencils, I had to consider shape and color in different ways. Shapes were something that photography captured for me. The image as colored pencil drawing is not realistic. That is a decision I made as a creator, based largely on my skill set.

There are other artists whose techniques create drawings that rival photography in detail and accuracy. Neither is better than the other; it’s a decision each artist makes in order to capture the image in his/her mind. Or it is a decision based on constraints of technical ability or available tools.

Once I was satisfied with my drawing, I scanned it in order to re(media)ate to a form I am comfortable with and that I enjoy tremendously. I find digital art such a freeing form. I am a pretty good photographer and a mediocre sketch artist, but Photoshop Elements lets my imagination run free without the hindrances of a lack of ability or training.hydrangea-pencil 004

This is an important consideration for our students. Some will be gifted writers. Other will excel in various art forms or physical accomplishments. When we consider re(media)tion, we must consider that each student will come with his own set of abilities and challenges. When we meet students at their comfort levels first, we are then able to guide them to new ideas, new experiences, and walk them through the art of becoming. They may only identify as athletes or an artists or a mathematicians, but we can teach them to embrace new ways of expression and in the process, help them develop a new skill.

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I used a variety of digital techniques to manipulate my original image. I started by scanning the colored pencil drawing so I could pull it into Photoshop Elements (PSE). Someday I’d like to move up to the whole Creative Suite, but for now, PSE does everything I need. And what it doesn’t do, I can usually figure out a way around it. That’s another good life lesson for our students. Sometimes the way you think you’re going to accomplish something requires a change of plans and some creative rigging.  Back to techniques. I used several art filters: high pass, watercolor, darken image, and a few others. I changed blending modes and ended up with a nice foundation. Then I added some textures, mostly my own creations, but one from a company call Design Cuts that has some really fun effects, textures, and overlays.

hydrangea-remix007WEBThat was artistic enough, but fantasy/imagination is an important part of remix. I have a former student who is a ballerina and my favorite model. I had wanted to do a fairy themed set of digital art pieces, and I knew she would be game to play along. We ended up doing a whole series of photos that I am currently turning into Elemental Sprites: Air, Fire, Water, and Earth. It’s great fun for me, and she loves the end result.

I remembered one of the photos from the shoot taken in an outdoor location that allowed me to easily extract her. I added some wings from Deviant Art (once I changed the colors to work with my theme.) Then it was a matter of placing her in a place that made sense. And isn’t that also true of life? If we are haphazard with where we place our trust or our skills, we may find ourselves in precarious places. We must think through life’s decisions, and the sooner we can help our students see that, the better prepared they will be for a world where they are in control of all their decisions.

I finally added a quote to finish the piece. I looked for the source, but couldn’t find it. Still, it fit the scheme of the artwork, so different from the original photo, yet still totally me. I think that’s one message of re(media)tion: freedom in creation expands the mind and allows the self to continue on a journey of becoming.

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Wheel

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Along the lines of the #clmooc “untroduction”, KQED posited a unique way for students to self-identify through a #donow project. Not only does it deal with identity, but it can also introduce the ideas of imagery, metaphor, and symbolism.

Select an everyday object or material as your personal symbol. What object or material did you choose, and what might it signify about you?

 

I had to give this some thought. I am not easily classified (which I like). Many objects have a singular purpose, so that character trait eliminates a fair number of objects. So I thought, “What one thing best summarizes my multiple interests and abilities?” Because I’m always on the go in a multitude of directions, I settled on the wheel as the object that best serves as a personal symbol.

Why the wheel? It is always in motion, often productive, useful in multiple situations, and able to cover vast distances, revealing new vistas at every turn.

I admit it. I get bored easily. I like new adventures and new challenges. What more evidence is needed when I join #clmooc when I should be enjoying a short respite from school between M.Ed. completion and Ph.D commencement? Learning new things keeps my mind busy and gives me new ideas for being even more unorthodox in my pedagogy than I was a year or five or ten years ago. That keeps me fresh and relevant and frankly, effective. No stale lesson plans for me; every corner I turn reveals new ideas to test and tweak.

 

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Always spinning, always thinking, always looking for the next adventure. What better personal symbol than the wheel?

#clmooc Make #1 Unmake an Introduction

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Playing and learning about connected learning this summer. I got a late start, but here is my first “make”.

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I find it interesting that my word for 2015 was “identity” and I’ve had a number of opportunities to find my own–some ways more pleasant than others. Becoming is a complicated process.

Twitter: My Capstone PowerPoint

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Hopefully all the links are intact!

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Twitter as a Tool: My Capstone Presentation

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I much prefer written words and live audiences to recordings, but this is good practice! I also used a new-to-me-tool to record, so be gentle in your critique. One thing is sure, I will continue to research and study and practice Twitter in the English/Language Arts classroom.

Twitter_logo_wordPart One

Part Two

Can Tools Shape the Mind and the Eye? A #walkmyworld Reflection

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DSC_0852_31Can tools shape the mind and eye? An interesting question posited by Greg McVerry (@jgmac1106) during a Twitter conversation that began with a #nofilter photograph I posted from my holiday at the beach and ended with a conversation about vision.

It’s not about technology.

At least, not really. And it certainly shouldn’t be.

Technology opens the world so that the eye can see farther than before and the mind explore ideas once hidden in isolated locales. Technology affords the ability to make connections with people and places far away by geography, but as close as the nearest computer. It’s a transformative idea for education. Textbooks become important supplemental resources to real time interaction with other cultures. Art and music become accessible to all students, even those who have no access to museums or symphonies. Tutoring is available from experts in minutes, rather than limited to scheduled sessions. Ideas can be exchanged through annotations or Twitter dialogues or shared blog posts. It is a new paradigm that shifts the learning model from one of reciting established ideas to developing new ones through unique connections.

Having said that, the elemental units of learning are unchanged. Curiosity will always drive discovery. Vision will always precede art. Necessity will always be the mother of invention. The mind and the eye are far more complex that even the most advanced artificial intelligence. The artist or reader or scientist brings himself (or herself) to the equation of learning. Experience, reason, logic, and emotion are all unique to the human mind. To see something in its parts as well as the whole is a function of the human eye. The ability to connect emotion to the parts of something seen is impossible to duplicate mechanically. The human element will always be more powerful than the technology no matter what science fiction tries to say.

One thing that #walkmyworld has demonstrated in the 20 weeks I have participated is that people are pretty much the same around the world. I understood this before, but this project illustrated the fact perfectly. The only really common ground was that the participants were involved in education and interested in technology. The learning events revealed our humanity. From the view from our front doors to the virtual high fives, we learned that we all start our days with motion and that we all appreciate encouragement, even from strangers. Maybe especially from strangers. We recognized how one poem or story can affect each person differently depending on his (or her) personal history. Make no mistake, the study of literature will never be completely free from personal interpretation. The best literature will always connect to the soul. We learned to see through the eyes of children in Australia, graduate students throughout the US, and a few (ahem) seasoned learners. We saw the importance of heroes, and the journeys each of us must take as we live out our lives.

Technology made the learning events open and available, but it was the mind and heart and willingness to risk vulnerability that made #walkmyworld work. Tools do not shape the mind and eye; the mind and eye use the tools to shape a connected culture.

#walkmyworld: Hero

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Heroes among us

This week’s learning event caused me a little angst.  I understand the hero’s journey in a literary sense, but we live in an age where true heroes come in unique forms. 

One of the distinctions between the heroes of myth and the heroes of the modern era is perception. Mythological heroes are revered, recognized, and celebrated by the people, and while they revel in the adoration, there is still a humility about them. Today, people recognized and revere celebrity, which is a false form of heroism. Celebrities generally do not serve the people, as a true hero does.  They may rise above difficult circumstances and accomplished great things, but for the most part, they keep the rewards of their ascent, which is antithetical to the true hero of old. True heroes may find wealth and prestige, but they are quick to share in order that the people benefit.
This fact requires a new view of the hero. Modern fictional heroes, like Batman and Superman, maintain a sense of anonymity when they do their good works, and there is a magnified dark side to each of them. On the other hand, the common man is able to become a hero without having great power over the masses, but rather be heroic on individual levels.
This is where teachers can be heroes. In this world, teachers do not have great wealth or power. Nor do they have widespread influence. They do not direct policy, curriculum, or even the standards by which they and their students are judged. Even still, teachers do take that hero’s journey from the call to adventure (and make no mistake, teaching is a calling), to the obstacles and abyss of preparation (grad school is often a desolate experience), to the gift to the people from that experience. Students in the classrooms of teachers who are called through difficulty to that role find they learn, not because there is a test at the end of the material, but because learning is a wonderful and exciting and even magical thing.
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