366/2008 Project Complete

While mainstream media sites like the New York Times and Boston.com have already released their photos of 2008, they seem transfixed by the BIGGER picture. I say to you MSM, what about the photos that are most important to ME? Luckily, D’Arcy Norman inspired me (and many others) late last year with his 365/2007 photo project. I am quite proud and happy that I fully participated in the 2008/366 photo project. I took a photo each and every day of 2008, and managed to upload those photos daily as well. Here is the result of my work.

And here’s a direct link to the set if you want to see the description behind each photograph.

I have learned a lot through this project. I have learned tips and techniques that I think have made me a better photographer. I have learned a bit about myself in terms of my dedication and discipline to a project. I wanted to quit many times, especially on the days where I lacked motivation or inspiration. I learned to view the world differently and realized how many beautiful moments exist all around us. D’Arcy does a much better describing this through his discussion of “mindful seeing.” And, most of all, I learned what is most important to me. While we all take different meaning from the photographs we view, I am sure that from these photographs you can guess the things that are most important to me.

Thanks again D’Arcy.

And a Happy New Year everyone, all the best in 2009!

7 Things Meme

OK, so I’ve been tagged by both Rodd Lucier and Angela Maiers in the “7 Things You Did Not Know About Me” meme, so I guess I’ll give this a try. OK, where do I start?

1) I have walked away from three major car accidents in my life (not the driver in any of these).

    a) The first was a roll-over at about age 16. Luckily, none of us were hurt.

    b) The second, at age 23, was a roll-over on the daily, 1 hour commute on the way to teach in small town Saskatchewan. The driver wasn’t wearing a seatbelt and broke his back, but I believe he is fully recovered today. I felt especially lucky at the time because I remember sitting in the back, before the crash, trying to retrieve the seatbeat. At one point, I just gave up, and figured I would go to sleep without. A few minutes later, the passenger beside me tapped me on the shoulder, and had taken the time to pull out the seatbelt for me. I acknowledge this act of kindness as having saved my life, or at least, from severe injury.

    c) The third was the most serious, and happened in Greece in 2005. I was in a taxi with another occupant when we hit a large truck that was backing up. The taxi driver was killed instantly, and the occupant in the back lost part of his leg. I walked away. The crash was difficult for me on a number of different levels. The taxi driver had taken taken my fare after several other drivers tried to overcharge. I remember him speaking about how such drivers gave Greek taxi drivers a bad name, and that they were crooks. I remember him speaking fondly about his family. He was a good man. And then, that was it.

Incidentally, I took a photo of the driver before the accident and for some reason, it did not pick up the proper EXIF date data. Whenever I open up iPhoto, he’s the first photo that comes up. All of the other photos I took during my trip formatted correctly.

2) My middle name is Valintino. No one else in my family has a middle name (not a Greek tradition), but since I was born on February 14, the doctor that it would be “cute” to give me that name.

3) I never wanted to teach. I went into the B.Ed program for lack of better options. Even when I was done, I didn’t want to teach. Then, I got my first job at St. Michael’s College, a First Nations residential school near Duck Lake, Saskatchewan. It was the biggest challenge of my life. I was threatened with violence, had my car vandalized, and felt that it would be impossible to relate the least bit to my students. And this was just in my first three months of teaching. But, right before Christmas break, in my first year, several of my students came to see me. They wanted me to know that I was making a difference. I won’t get into the details, but it was what I needed at the time. And, more importantly, I think it was what they needed as well. Needless to say, I fell madly in love with teaching that year, and I have never looked back.

4) Similarly to Angela Barbara, I am deathly afraid of heights. However, I can do amusement park rides, gondolas, and that sort of thing. But, I fear heights when I am not secured to or inside something, where I have the ability to fall. I cannot get on my own roof.

5) One of best jobs I have ever had was as a ride operator at Kinsmen Park Rides in Saskatoon. I spent four summers operating a mini-train (I considered myself an engineer), a ferris wheel, and a merry-go-round. The pay was good, the hours were great, and it was stress-free. Hmmmm …wondering if they are still hiring?

6) I was once a very skilled percussionist and pianist. I quit both. I remember my music teacher crying because I quit. I’ve always regretted it.

7) Although I am not what you would consider a religious person, I have had two distinct spiritual experiences that I cannot explain.

    a) First, the night before my grandfather Aleco died, I recall him speaking to me in a dream, telling me goodbye, and that I should take care of my mother (his daughter). I had never dreamt about him before that time, or after. I remember the dream, and then my mother waking me up, telling me that she had just learned that he had passed away.

    b) After a very late night in Saskatoon during my undergraduate days, my friend and I collected ourselves and headed back to Humboldt, where we were working that summer. It was about an hour long drive, and we were very tired. I was driving, but fell asleep probably about 15 minutes into the trip. I remember that moment vividly. As I fell asleep, I felt a firm hand grab my shoulder and my first name being called. I woke up instantly, just in time to veer back into my lane, and away from the half-ton truck coming in our direction. My friend was still passed out in the passenger seat and no one else was in the car.

That got a bit deeper than I expected. :-)

Alright, I duly tag the following people:

Boston.com Photos of 2008

Boston.com has put out a three part series highlighting the year in photographs for 2008. There are some amazing photos here, and it’s highly recommended viewing.

Part I, Part II, Part III.

Although there are many images to choose from, I think the one below may be my favourite. The strength of the woman depicted in this photograph is simply beyond words.


An indigenous woman holds her child while trying to resist the advance of Amazonas state policemen who were expelling the woman and some 200 other members of the Landless Movement from a privately-owned tract of land on the outskirts of Manaus, in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon March 11, 2008. The landless peasants tried in vain to resist the eviction with bows and arrows against police using tear gas and trained dogs, and were evicted from the land. (REUTERS/Luiz Vasconcelos-A Critica/AE)

What is a PLN? Or, PLE vs. PLN?

I am currently writing a chapter regarding open and networked learning. I have used the term Personal Learning Network (PLN) dozens of times over the last few years, and have seen it mentioned countless times in blog and microblog posts, and other forms of media. However, I cannot seem to find a solid reference or definition for the concept of PLN. I sent out several email messages asking people if knew of an existing article or reference for the PLN definition, and I have yet to receive a response. About the best lead I could find was a post from Stephen Downes that mentioned “Dave Warlick has taken the concept of the Personal Learning Environment, renamed it (to Personal Learning Network).”

I thought it was appropriate to ask the question to my PLN (or what I perceive as my PLN) via Twitter. I asked if anyone had a definition for a PLN, or if they knew the difference between a personal learning network and personal learning environment (PLE). I received varied responses, and the majority of these are pasted below. To make more sense of this conversation, read these from the very bottom to the top as they are in reverse chronological order.

PLN Conversation 15
\PLN Conversation 14
PLN Conversation 13
PLN Conversation 12
PLN Conversation 11
PLN Conversation 10
PLN Conversation 9
PLN Conversation 8
PLN Conversation 7
PLN Conversation 6
PLN Conversation 5
PLN Conversation 4
PLN Conversation 3
PLN Conversation 2
PLN Conversation 1

There were a number of interesting perceptions revealed regarding PLNs and PLEs. Participants of this conversation seem passionate about these topics, and there are some very interesting research questions that begin to emerge. If anyone has suggestions for existing academic research that relates to PLNs and PLEs, please let me know.

And this conversation itself seem to have sparked some creativity around these questions. For instance, @bookjewel posted this conversation to Plurk, where @catspyjamasnz (Joyce) developed and shared this diagram (below) that describes her current understanding of the differences between the PLE and PLN.


I also received a Twitter direct message from @BlancheMaynard who shared this important distinction:

PLN is organic; PLE is mechanic. You can use ‘tools’ like Twitter within your PLE to access your network, but the tool isn’t the network.

And, I received a very thoughtful email from @jrichardson30 (Jeff) that helped to give me insight into PLNs and this very conversation. I have included only a small piece of this message as I am hoping Jeff posts his thoughts in their entirety in his own space.

I have a PLN but really haven’t tried to describe it. I have talked about PLN’s with the teachers at my schools but I really haven’t defined it in any certain terms…much less in 140 characters (actually, 132 characters by the time I added in the @courosa to respond on Twitter). So I distilled out what I thought was a somewhat thoughtful response and tweeted it. Well, just like any good steward of Twitter, Dr. Couros quickly responded to my answer. But his response was another question! Isn’t that what good teachers do…use good questioning techniques to get students thinking on higher levels? Of course it is. And he must be a good teacher because his question led me to closely examine what a PLN really is…to discover what it means to me personally. It’s not that defining a PLN has been a pressing issue for me or something that I have lost sleep over. It’s the fact that I entered into a conversation, shared my thoughts and then the conversation didn’t just end. It was been furthered by another person’s response and question…a true conversation.

This conversation has become a learning opportunity for me, my chance to create meaning and gain a better understanding for myself…a meaning and understanding that I can then share with others in my PLN. Maybe I can further this conversation or enter into a new one, but the difference will be that I have something NEW to bring to the community because of my personal discovery as a result having a PLN. Isn’t that our goal for our students…for them to authentically engage in the learning process so as to create/discover meaning that is useful to them personally and then hopefully to contribute to the larger society? Isn’t that what a good citizen does? I believe that is what a PLN is all about…To act as a source AND catalyst for this sort of thought-provoking conversation and authentic experience mentioned above that leads us to a point where are required to engage, to reflect, and ultimately to contribute instead of just consuming.


From a simple question on Twitter, I received dozens of twitter replies, direct messages, and email responses. While I am still having trouble defining exactly what this is, I know that what I observe to be my PLN has dramatically changed the way I view teaching, communities, and the negotiation and formation of knowledge.

So let’s keep the conversation going. What are your thoughts?

Join the Youtube Symphony Orchestra

An exciting new Youtube music project has been announced. Tan Dun, the legendary classical composer, wrote a piece specifically for this project that asks you to download the available sheet music, practice your piece, and submit your completed piece to Youtube. I imagine this could be very motivating for young musicians, and for me, something like this would have likely kept me interested in music (rather than kicking myself years later). Take a look for yourself.

Play your part in music history and join the YouTube Symphony Orchestra. You just need to upload two videos: your contribution to the Tan Dun piece and a general audition video. Good luck!