Tips Up or Tips Down?


cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by courosa

I just returned from the grocery shopping with my five-year-old son. As we approached the fruit section, my curious little guy asked, “Do bananas grow with tips up or with tips down?” Since we don’t have a lot of banana plants in Regina, I didn’t actually know off-hand. But, being the connected father I am, I pulled out my iPhone, Googled it, and in less than 30 seconds, we were looking at photos of banana plants and we no longer had to wonder.

We no longer had to wonder.

I did that entirely wrong. At the very least, I could have asked my boy, “Well, which do you think son?” perhaps followed by “So, why do you think that?” But I didn’t. And because I didn’t, I messed up a great learning opportunity.

Instead of providing my boy with an extended opportunity to be curious, to imagine deeply and to think creatively, I reinforced one of the worst habits of our generation. I demonstrated to my boy that you can solve a problem without thinking. And, I won’t do that again.

Literacy Gangnam Style

I’ve been discussing memes such as Gangnam Style in my recent presentations. I’m particularly interested in memes as an emerging information literacy and their study is important for comprehending the way in which information flows through systems. Dae Ryun Chang wrote that one of reasons why Gangnam Style has taken off is that “the song intentionally lacked a copyright so that people would be encouraged to create their own online parodies, in essence their own ‘XYZ Style’”. It’s not quite factual (as argued elsewhere) that the song ‘lacked’ a copyright, but it is certainly clear that Psy has encouraged the remix and reuse of the song which has led to some incredible statistics (such as being the first video to reach 1 billion views). And, besides the ability to reuse/remix, the song is just downright catchy.

There have been hundreds of great remixes. Bill Nye Science Style, Minecraft Style, Baby Gangnam, and the Gangnam Halloween Lightshow rank among my favorites. But when I see schools participate, THAT’S where I think this gets so very relevant and exciting. Students and teachers at Okanagan Missionary Secondary (Kelowna, BC) recently put together this lip-sync version of the song. The video has achieved around 33,000 hits, and created a great buzz at the school.

The video was shot over a two week period at various locations around the school. Once all the post production work was completed, the school held a ‘spirit assembly’ last Thursday and the reception was astounding. Not only was the crowd entertained, laughing and cheering to the on screen antics, but for the rest of the day students could be heard excitedly talking about it or mimicking dance moves.

Creating such joyful events at school are vitally important for an overall healthy learning environment. Combine this with complex, project-based work that seamlessly integrates new literacies through media development and your institution has just made great strides toward the development and modelling of a positive digital footprint (for the institution and for the individuals involved). And these sorts of activities can go a long way to ease some of unwarranted fears regarding social media felt amongst parents, teachers, administrators and students.

And the Grade 11 French immersion students at Holy Trinity Catholic High School (from the Ottawa Catholic School Board) have taken the Gangnam craze even further by creating a French version of the song. Even if you are not a French speaker, you will quickly notice the creative effort that has gone into this parody. That, and the students look like they are having so much fun!

These last two examples demonstrate the successful intersection of emerging media and school learning. It can also be seen as an example of what Thomas and Brown describe as “The New Culture of Learning“.

The new culture of learning actually comprises two elements. The first is a massive information network that provides almost unlimited access and resources to learn about anything. The second is a bounded and structured environment that allows for unlimited agency to build and experiment with things within those boundaries.

So how is your educational institution embracing this new culture of learning? Or, how are you as a teacher, administrator, or learner creating opportunities to critically discuss and/or participate in these new media environments? I’d love to hear from you.

But for now, enjoy Holy Trinity Style:

Rethinking #etmooc – Towards the #unmooc

If you’ve been following this space, you’ll know that we’ve been considering and planning an educational technology focused MOOC to begin January of 2013. I’ve written on the development of this idea here and here, and there are a number of us who have been working on this collaborative #etmooc planning document and discussing possibilities in this Google Group. Progress has been intentionally slow, and very thoughtful.

Yesterday, I had a chance to meet with a few interested collaborators in a Google Hangout and the resulting conversation has me thinking about this project in a very different way than what was originally conceived. I think that this is a positive step, and I am sharing my thoughts here in hope that others will provide feedback on this reconceptualization.

Planning meeting with Alan Levine, Helen Keegan, Lenandlar Singh & Valeria Lopes. Sean Williams not shown.

Google Hangout planning meeting with Alan Levine, Helen Keegan, Lenandlar Singh & Valeria Lopes. Sean Williams attended, but not shown.

The Problem:
Each time I facilitated EC&I 831, a MOOC-like course, I was fortunate to have a core of 20+ registered students that took the course for credit. The approximately 200 other students, many who acted as mentors, had very loose responsibilities around the course, and came and went according to their commitments and interests. #etmooc, as planned thus far, would not have that core group. So, much of the discussion thus far around #etmooc has been around developing learner motivation, engagement & retention especially in light of the high drop-out rate for MOOC participants.

While I viewed the lack of a core group as a welcome challenge, until this latest Google Hangout, I hadn’t really considered the freedoms that a core-less MOOC also provides. For instance, the most discussed elements around #etmooc planning so far have been related to decisions around the specific content areas to be covered (see table), especially since our potential audience is somewhat uncertain. It took me some time to realize that I was planning this too much like a traditional course, focusing on a pre-constructed curriculum, scope & sequence. This is an unnecessary constraint.

I feel that it is the ‘Course’ element of the MOOC acronym that constrains our thinking (the ‘Massive’ is a close second), so this is exactly the component that I hope to avoid in moving this #etmooc project toward the vision of an #unmooc.

So what could our #unmooc look like? Here are some ideas that originated from our planning meeting.

Focus:
The original content area for #etmooc was educational technology. This is such a broad area, too vast to cover in any one course, and certainly my bias has been towards social software, free and open content and connected learning. For the purposes of this #unmooc, I now propose that the general focus should be around supporting the creation of practical knowledge and experiences for developing connected learners. (It’s roughly worded – please help me idea/word-craft this)

Audience:
The #unmooc could be appealing to educators of all sectors, preservice teachers, students, parents, or really anyone wishing to be supported in developing connected literacies & skills for themselves, or for others.

Content/Curriculum:
Rather than developing a long, defined list of topics, it would be ideal to have curriculum driven by participants – curriculum that is responsive to not only learner interests, but to current trends & events (while scaffolding within a historical context). Weekly ‘topics’ could be broadly themed with variations across interest groups, sectors, subject areas, and geography. I would suggest thorough, ongoing & recurring orientation to connected learning concepts (including tool orientation & #unmooc sharing protocols) so that participants develop basic literacies & skills necessary to share, discuss, and create.

There could also be a strong focus on creating learning artefacts (this was voiced loudly in our meeting). An Education adaption of the #ds106 assignments database could prove worthwhile. As well, as I did with my #eci831 course, it could be ideal to have any educators who participate in #unmooc to develop projects that could directly be applied to their own contexts. Thus, #unmooc could become an ideal testing ground (e.g., virtual lab) for teachers (or preservice teachers) to develop or facilitate presentations/projects with other educators before implementing elsewhere (e.g., in classrooms or with colleagues).

Timeline:
#etmooc was originally planned to begin in January, and end in April. But there are several of us beginning to question the need for an end date. I know from my own experience with #eci831, that many students became so immersed in the network, that it felt odd & unnatural (and sad for some) to have to ‘end’ the experience. For several students, the residual experience of the course has remained. If successful, the #unmooc could go well beyond April – and if not, we could pack up early. But since we are not bound by academic schedules, there seems little point in predetermining an end-date.

In our meeting, Helen Keegan raised a good point regarding her approach with her students. In her courses, students spend a portion of time sharing their artefacts and celebrating their successes in public spaces. In support of this, Alan Levine added that there should be a set of explicit milestones for participants. In my own experience, my students’ ‘summaries of learning’ have been wildly popular in the courses that I teach. So, even without an end date, it is likely important to establish milestones throughout an #unmooc experience to celebrate successes, share creations, and renew connections.

Interactions:
The type and format of participant interactions in the #unmooc could vary greatly. I believe there is still great value in large synchronous web-conference sessions/presentations, especially for introducing/advancing ideas and for tool demonstrations. However, deeper interactions are certain to occur through one-to-one or small group communications, both synchronously and asynchronously. Spaces could be provided via the #unmooc but as I’ve often stated, I believe that as much as we can use and control our own learning spaces (e.g., self-hosted WordPress blog), the better off we are in the future. Of course, with this distributed approach, proper illustration of the importance and utility of tagging is essential to aggregating networked conversations.

While interactions in the #unmooc would likely be more often serendipitous in nature, designing interactions would be key to the function of the #unmooc. Forums could be provided and/or we could setup a virtual helpdesk through a Twitter hashtag, or more directly, through a tool like Google Hangouts. As well, the nurturing of subject-area, sector-based or geographically-bound sub-groups would be beneficial to deeper interactions.

One of the most important comments from this recent meeting was from Alan Levine when he suggested that the #unmooc should help to encourage people to “do things out in the world”. While I have suggested above that activities in the #unmooc could directly inform what educators do in their classrooms, I think that this notion is extended by Alan’s comments. If we can nurture this idea, to enable participants to do (good) things out in the world, whether simple things or those of deep social value, I believe that this alone would justify the existence of this initiative.

Did I Just Describe Twitter, Classroom 2.0, or the World Wide Web?:
Some may argue that much of what I described above already exists in other spaces, and perhaps then, there isn’t really a need for this. I would argue that we should proceed anyways for at least two important reasons. First, much of what I see on Twitter, and elsewhere, can be quite shallow, lacking depth, and for many people new to these networked spaces, entry can be frustrating and difficult. This is not so much as a critique of the Twittersphere, but more so, of the medium. Educators need a rich set of tools and experiences to encourage deep learning, and I feel that thoughtful design and guidance can provide this. Second, spaces like Twitter are becoming increasingly controlled and restricted. We are losing the ownership of our own conversations and learning spaces. Though admittedly a grand ambition, I hope that the process of developing an #unmooc, while providing a rich place for learning, can help us become more thoughtful and considerate of our learning spaces and the control of our discourse.

So did you get this far? If so, I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas.

#etmooc – Let’s Get Started!

In mid-August, I wrote a post to gauge interest in a possible Edtech-focused MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) to begin January of 2013. I received a handful of responses on my blog, dozens of Twitter replies (captured in this Storify), and (to-date) 142 individuals stated their interest in participating via this Google form. I believe there is more than sufficient interest in an Edtech MOOC, and so I am very happy to begin the development process. I am looking forward to those who have expressed interest and those we are likely to pick up along the way.

I thought I would share my ideas for the course. These ideas are informed by my initial thoughts on the MOOC (from my experience running #eci831 & blended courses), the growing body of literature on MOOCs (especially the cMOOC variety), informal conversations with individuals (theories, practitioners, students), and the many responses received through the process mentioned in the above paragraph. I also hope to make as much of the planning & development of the MOOC open & transparent so that others can understand and learn from decisions made around tools, technical processes and pedagogy. Thus, I will be doing my best to gather documentation, and I invite others to do so as well. I hope that the ‘making of’ the MOOC will be as valuable as the MOOC itself.

Ideas will be shared below. I will then copy the headers into an editable Google Doc so that facilitators/participants can write, edit, add feedback or sign-up for key roles.

What should this MOOC be about?
I am hoping that this MOOC will be developed on the topic of educational technology & media, a broad-ranging and continually expanding area of study. I believe that this MOOC can be relevant to all educators (P-12 school teachers, instructors, professors) and learners across a number of educational systems. As well, it is my hope that the MOOC is accessible and relevant to participants across the globe, wherever there is access to Internet technologies.

Some possible topics may include, but are not limited to the following (in no particular order):

  • History of educational technology in teaching & learning.
  • Relevant educational theories & integration models.
  • Overview (how-tos & critique) of current gadgets, resources & web tools.
  • Connected/networked learning and personal learning networks/environments.
  • Mobile learning overview, strategies and resources.
  • Learning management systems, overview & critique.
  • Copyright, copyleft, mashups, remixes – overview & practical use.
  • Digital citizenship, digital identity, footprint, ethics.
  • Privacy, edu. business models, terms of service – what to know about web services.
  • Digital storytelling & other non-literary modes of expression.
  • Memes, viral videos, and how information spreads.
  • 21st century literacies (whatever that means).
  • Openness in education (Open educational resources, MOOCs, etc.).
  • BYOD initiatives, responsible use policies, and other ed. leadership topics.
  • Future of … (technology, schooling, education).
Again, these are just a few suggestions. I’m looking for your feedback. I think that once we refine the list, we can start scheduling and finding individuals willing to facilitate these topics (and others that have not yet been suggested).
Beyond the content itself (outlined above), I am hoping that the greatest benefit of this course will prove to be be participants developing resilient personal learning networks, forming the habit of connecting with others to facilitate independent learning goals (both planned & serendipitous), and nurturing online communities based upon sharing & transparency.

How should the MOOC be organized and/or facilitated?

It feels traditional, but I assume we will need to come up with a time-frame for this experience (start & end date, semester framework?) and methods of facilitating content/connections (e.g., live seminars, networked writing spaces, microblogging, newsletter, etc.). Other logistics needing to be discussed may include:

  • the bridging of educational sectors (K12, university, tertiary).
  • development of global nodes of activity, time-shifting, & having localized events.
  • assessment (peer assessment, do we need assessment?).
  • credit (badges, peer developed, localized approaches, no credit?).
  • type of assignments (maybe something like DS106 assignments model?)
  • development of peer mentorship relationship (support participants at various levels).
  • involving the less connected (e.g., teachers at schools who would have never heard of a MOOC but could be supported & encouraged locally/globally).
  • development of participant blogging (or other publishing) spaces to decentralize the learning environment.
  • development of a common hashtag (#etmooc?) and other ways to aggregate data (such as Downes’ GRSShopper or tools like http://paper.li)
  • a central aggregation site for course information (like http://eci831.ca)
  • development of a research agenda/protocols/ethics for those wishing to study this experience.
  • getting people interested & involved & sustaining participation & engagement to avoid MOOC dropout.

What do we need to make this happen?

  • What tools & processes will we need to develop the content? Timelines? Responsibilities?
  • What tools & processes shall we use throughout the course?
  • Who shall we invite to facilitate? How do we develop localized nodes?

Who’s going to help, and what role will you play?

In the online form featured in my first post, I broke down participation into four major roles: development/planning, session facilitation, online mentors, participants. Obviously, individuals could choose more than one role. Am I missing anything?

For those who would like to help planning/developing this MOOC, consider signing up for the #etmooc Google Group. If you have a suggestion for a better place to collaborate, please let me know.

Thanks to everyone who is considering some form of participation in this experience. I look forward to working with you and making this experience beneficial for those interested in exploring technology & media in education.

 

Edtech MOOC, January 2013?

During my sabbatical year (July 1/12 to June 30/13), I plan to focus on Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) as one of my key areas of research. To do so, I’m considering planning, organizing and facilitating a semester-long MOOC focused on educational technology starting January 2013. I am envisioning the course to be somewhat similar to my EC&I 831 course, but with the focus more explicitly on the integration of technology in teaching, learning & professional development (hands-on sessions exploring major categories of tools with a focus on pedagogy & literacy).

I’m thinking that this course would be relevant to teachers, administrators, preservice teachers, teacher educators, librarians, parents and likely many others hoping to sharpen their understanding of emerging skills and literacies. Also, it would be great to have newbies involved (people that are fairly new to educational technology and/or those we wouldn’t normally find on Twitter). However, before I get too far along in this, I want to make sure there is interest from both those that would enroll, and those that would help develop & facilitate the experience.

So, is there a need for this sort of thing? Is there anyone willing to help plan the experience? Anyone interested in participating in a course like this? Any thoughts on what we could do to make this successful? I’d love to hear from you.

Edit #1: There seems to be some interest already, so to make sure that I don’t lose any potential collaborators due to the chaos that is Twitter, please fill out this very short form if you are interested in participating. I will contact you very soon to get things started.

Edit #2: I wanted to capture the responses of potential collaborators/participants, so I put together this Storify. I’m really excited about this, and will get back to everyone by early September at the latest.

What endures? What remains?

A couple of weeks ago, several colleagues and I arranged a retirement dinner for my former Dean, Dr. Michael Tymchak. Michael was the Dean when I was hired at the Faculty of Education back in 1999, and I’ve worked with him in various roles over more than a decade. Michael is one of the most inspiring people I have ever worked and has done powerful work in our province in the areas of teacher education, northern & aboriginal education, and in the development of inclusive, community schooling.

At his retirement, Michael told a story about a recent visit to his family’s homestead. He recalled how as a child he would play and explore in and throughout the many buildings found on the farm – a complete universe through the eyes of youth. Now, with his return, the buildings are completely gone, the land is bare, and the farm is owned by another family. Yet, on this visit Michael dug through the dirt with his hands where he remembered the old landmarks. He tells of finding a perfume bottle, still intact, with a fragrance that triggered still more memories. He also found something he described as a ‘heel protector’, a device much more common at the time. Little things perhaps, but things once important, and at the time of Michael’s visit, enough evidence to trigger important questions, “What endures? What remains?”

I have been thinking about these questions since Michael shared them. I thought I’d share some of my thoughts with you – this is sure to be more of a ramble than a coherent progression of ideas.

For instance, I saw a post recently on Reddit that was simply titled “Life in Three Pictures“. While I have no idea who these two men are, how they may have lived, or the strength of their relationship, the three photos express so well the commonality of our lived experiences, our changing relationships, and our inevitable fate. But I’ll save those topics for another post.

Today, I discovered a photo (source) that made me think about these key questions a bit differently, more in-line with my work in developing & sustaining network interactions/communities.

Here, I saw the metaphor for so many abandoned online communities. This is MySpace and Friendster. And some day, this will be Facebook & Twitter. Online communities face the same inevitabilities as any other form of community.

This isn’t much of an ‘aha’. I assume that anyone who has studied or participated in online communities would quickly come to the same conclusion. Communities are hard to sustain and develop, and all communities have a finite life-span. So why write about this at all?

First, I think that examining the question “What endures?” is incredibly important for educators – and not simply for its philosophical relevance. Educators are designers. We design (learning) experiences and (hopefully) foster the development of communities for our learners. In these roles, what should we hope endures for our students? What will remain of these experiences? And what do we know will not?

And second, for us – those especially invested in social networks – I hope these questions increase our awareness of the depth and quality of our own connections. While I’ve spent the last decade studying and promoting the importance of ‘weak ties‘ for collaboration/cooperation, I would be the first to admit that such ties can be more practical than meaningful, and by definition, tenuous.

Finally, on the practical level – think about your own use and embeddedness in social networks. Say, if Twitter or Facebook were gone (or dramatically different) tomorrow, would the human connections that matter to you be easily rediscovered/re-formed elsewhere? Are your relationships platform-dependent? Is it time to increase the depth and quality of your social network relationships? And if so, how will you do this?

As expressed near the beginning of the post, these are mostly just rambling thoughts. Help me make sense of this. Your thoughts?

Need Your Help (Again) – unKeynote/Keynode 2012

Two years ago, I was asked to do a co-keynote with Graham Attwell in Barcelona for the inaugural PLE Conference. At that time, Graham and I decided to crowdsource our ‘unkeynote/keynode’ and to invite participation from anyone who wanted to contribute to the live conversation. The original call is found here. The contributions from others were amazingly creative and generous, and we both felt that the experiment was a success.

This July 12 to 13, Joyce Seitzinger is organizing a PLE Conference to take place in Melbourne, Australia (concurrent to the European strand) and I have been asked to participate as one of the keynote speakers. I am hoping to facilitate something similar to the 2010 unKeynote/Keynode experience.

So, if you have a few spare minutes, this is where I could really use your help.

The question that I am hoping to facilitate is, “Why do (social) networks matter in teaching & learning?”. To help answer this question, I am hoping that people will do one of the following things:

  • Submit a short video or audio clip (between 30 seconds and 1 minute in length) that helps to answer this question.
  • Submit a single PowerPoint or Keynote slide or image that in some way represents your response.
  • Respond to this question on your blog or similar personal space.
  • Respond to this question via Twitter using the hashtag #WhyNetworksMatter.
While I am happy if you respond in any way possible, I would love to have at least a few video or audio responses so that I can feature these during the presentation. And respond in any way you wish – whether it’s very personal (from your own experience) or something more ‘academic’ – the key question is broad and ambiguous to allow for multiple interpretations and responses.
To submit, use a medium of your choice (e.g., Youtube, Soundcloud, blog, etc.) and send me the link at couros@gmail.com. OR, submit the file directly to my Dropbox folder using this link with the password ‘pleconf’ (this option will only work with files that are 75MB or less). For Twitter responses, I’ll likely use Storify to archive and arrange your tweets.
And, because the conference is coming up very soon, I am hoping to receive your responses by July 8, 2012 so that I can sort and arrange your work in some meaningful way. Sorry for the short notice!
So are you willing to help? Please?

Value of Twitter as Professional Development for Educators

During my sabbatical, I’m hoping to dive into research around the value of social networking tools like Twitter in the professional development of educators (including administrators). Today, I began with a some reconnaissance around the topic.

At this point, I’m still developing developing questions that need to be answered. Please take a look at the conversation captured in this Storify, and I’d love if you could either add to this discussion or provide advice as to what questions on this topic are worth exploring. I’d love to hear from you in the comments. Thanks!


Student Work – Winter 2012

As I’ve done previously (see 20092010 and 2011), I wanted to share some of the best examples of student work from my ECMP 355 (Technology in Education) undergraduate course. These students are all preservice teachers and they range from being in the first to the fourth (final) year of our program. If you have any questions about the work featured here, please comment below or email me. I hope that you will find these projects valuable.

Final Projects: The goal of these projects varied – essentially, they were either of the ‘build a learning resource’ or ‘learn something of significance using the Internet’ variety.

Blogfolios: Students were tasked to create blogfolios in the class as a means to strengthen their digital identities, and experience an important form of alternative assessment.
Summaries of Learning: These summaries of learning are typically a 3-5 minutes reflection/presentation/celebration of what students learned throughout the course.

Student Work – Fall 2011

For the third year in a row (see 2009 and 2010), I wanted to use the last post of the year to share a few examples of the great work that is being done by my graduate and undergraduate students. I am so very fortunate to have creative & hard-working students who are committed to improving their knowledge of teaching and learning in light of our new digital landscape. I hope that some of these examples will inspire you to take up new challenges in your own context.

From EC&I 831 (Open graduate course, Social Media & Open Education):

 Summaries of Learning:

  • Leslie – used stop-motion technique.
  • Tannis – used Glogster, an interactive, digital poster-making tool.
  • Shauna – used Freemind (free & open source mind-mapping tool) & video-editing.
  • Laura – used Xtranormal, a freemium “type-to-create-movies” tool.
  • Gail – used Screenr, a free and easy screencasting tool.
  • Kelley – used Jing, another free screencasting tool.
  • Lorena – used Voicethread, a group conversation and presentation tool.
  • Katy – used TikaTok (a tool for creating books) and Jing.
  • Alison – used Prezi, an less-linear Powerpoint alternative.
  • Kevin – used Knovio, a video-enhanced presentation tool.

Final Projects:

From ECMP 355 (An Undergraduate Technology Integration Course):

Summaries of Learning:

Electronic Portfolios:

There were many other good projects to share, but this represents a good sample of the student work from the semester. I’m looking forward to one more great semester before a 16 months hiatus from teaching as I move toward my sabbatical planning.

Happy New Year everyone!

Writing Prompts (Collaborative Document)

In the style of previous collaborations (here and here), we’ve collaboratively written a great list of writing prompts related to technology & media in teaching & learning. These were intended for the teacher candidates I teach, but I see tremendous value for anyone who is writing or thinking about the use of technology in education.

Thanks again everyone for showing me that this form of collaboration really does work and for contributing great ideas to the document. I now have a great, growing resource for my students when they tell me ‘I have nothing to write about’.

See the collaborative document here.