Tag Archives: network

Network literacies are essential – what are we going to do about it?

Being netsmart is something Howard Rheingold has been talking and writing about for some time. In this video, he very recently presented a keynote on this topic at Utrecht University.

Howard talks to the audience about network literacies: attention, participation, collaboration, crap detection and network know-how.

As I listened to his talk – nothing new for those who have been following his thoughts and writing, but certainly always worth listening to – I thought again about the need to recognise the importance of teaching network literacies to our students. And I don’t mean the once a year session snuck in by a teacher librarian, I mean a recognition by staff and leadership that we need to seriously work on a plan to integrate network literacies into our curriculum.

I’ve been working with others on a plan of attack for helping our VCE students who are having problems with study – time management, literacies, etc. Howard’s first identified literacy in the networked age is attention, and this is something I’d like to spend some time unpacking with the students.

Howard recounts a realisation during his lectures that students were not looking at him but multitasking online. He quotes statistics warning us that multitasking is disrupting our attention span more than we realise, and that only 5 or 10 percent of people manage to multitask without losing attention. What is it about these students? I really like his term, mindfulness or metacognition – being aware of where you’re putting your attention. I agree that we could identify for students attention probes which would encourage them to be aware of their use of media during class, lectures or while doing homework. Since trying to be more aware of my own online habits, I’ve had to admit that my attention is dispersed and that I’m addicted to following that little sound that alerts me to a tweet or Facebook message. I realise I need to exercise self discipline, knowing that these things can wait until I’ve finished what I was working on. This is what I plan to discuss with my students.

The aspect of manners is an interesting one in an age when private phone conversations are heard by everyone on a train, or when tweeting during a conference means you might look rude to others or even the speaker. As Howard says, maybe in the future it won’t be considered rude not to pay attention to the lecturer, but as far as I’m concerned, there are times when I ask students to close their devices and look at me, and other times I’d like to allow them to be productive online and take notes or do some on-the-fly research while listening. Listening without doing anything can be difficult. Why do you think people doodle? Still, we do have to make decisions all the time about what we are going to pay attention to. Are we going to look at that cat meme right now? Oh, why not! What was I saying again…?

So what Howard is recommending is that we take that unconscious process of multiple distractions and our behaviours and make it conscious so we take some control. Do I follow this link or email now? Why might I want to? What else am I supposed to be doing? Am I going to pay attention to it later?  How am I going to make sure I find it again? (This is where I couldn’t live without Diigo). This is a conversation I’d like to have with my students. Howard suggests that we could modify our attention behaviour and make it automatic, following strategies instead of impulses.

He’s right when he says that you’re the only one who knows what you need to get done today, and your priorities need to be your own. This is why I won’t conduct the study skills sessions with students in a rigid way recommended one way of doing things. Howard recommends establishing new habits, finding a regular place for these and repeating them. A simple act of writing down 2 or 3 goals on a piece of paper, away from the computer with the space to think, can make a difference when you keep those goals close to your sight while you work as a reminder, to help you refocus and assess your productivity.

As Howard says, attention can be trained, and we know this from thousands of years of contemplative traditions and also from neuroscience.

As I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, some of our English teachers have started using Goodreads for wider reading. Yes, I’ve been pushing it a little – well, maybe a lot. It is about the reading network but I also believe it’s going to provide many opportunities for teaching network literacies. I expect students will feel so comfortable within this platform that it won’t be all deep and meaningful conversation about literary things. But, as Howard points out, casual conversations may seem trivial but help people get to know each other and trust each other, and understanding how networks work is part of esssential literacies these days. We do live in the age of social media, and the information society is becoming more of a network society, with the interconnection of all sorts of knowledge from different disciplines. Do you agree that diverse networks are more important than expert networks? That they are more likely to come up with better answers?  

I really do believe that we should teach our students the importance of switching off regularly, and I say this as a person who has problems switching off. I assume it’s very difficult for our students to not be connected all the time. It’s not common to be alone for long – does that mean we lose our ability to feel comfortable in silence, in our own heads, with our own company?

I really think we, as educators, should have this conversation and then do something about creating the regular opportunities to talk to students about these things.

I’ll leave you with Howard’s minicourses.

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Writing – audience optional

For a very, very long time we have accepted the fact that teaching writing to students takes place without an authentic audience. Students’ writing is the property of one subject teacher, and if the students are lucky, they’re permitted to read their piece to the class. Generally it’s considered that learning takes place once the student has received a mark and feedback from the teacher.

There is a much better way, and students are often finding this independently, outside school. This is why, as moderator of my school’s Competition Writing Group, I’ve created a blog and a Facebook Group so that students can share their writing, receive feedback and feel like part of a like-minded, community. It’s taken a while for the conversation to develop as students gradually embrace ownership of the group, and that’s when I can pull back to allow peer learning to take over.

I’d like to post something written by a student who has experienced the benefits of a global writers’ community. Best to hear it from the source.

As a young writer looking to develop my skills, I started writing many short stories, and novellas and the like. After having written a large amount of stuff over the course of a year, I was faced with another problem. I was in need of feedback, but wary of going outside of my immediate circle of friends to find it.

One option was suggested to me, and that was to submit some things to competitions for students. I thought about doing this for a long time, before I realised I had a problem with that as well. Friends of mine had submitted things only to get a reply email saying they hadn’t made the shortlist, and that that was the end of that.

This was something I didn’t want. I wanted somebody who was good at writing themselves to look at my work and maybe leave me some constructive feedback, and the seemingly faceless judges of these competitions didn’t seem to be too willing to do that.

So it was by pure chance that I discovered another medium to gather feedback for my various writings, one that I still participate in today, and one that has led me on a literary journey of amazing experiences and wonderful creations. I discovered two websites, fanfiction.net and fictionpress.com, from a friend of mine.

Fictionpress.com was more relevant to me to begin with, because it is a site where authors can effectively post any kind of original material, and the wide variety of reviewers and other authors on the site can respond. I found the society there to be highly constructive, and highly informative. These days, some three years later since I began that journey, many things have changed. I now give tips more than I take them, but that is a perfect example of how the site has affected me. It breeds a community, where new people get help, become experienced people and cycle goes on and on. With many friendly people, the experience has been brilliant to be engaged in, and while it is also a faceless medium, it is certainly far more constructive than entering competitions.

Fanfiction.net wasn’t something that I got involved with until later, when I became more confident in my writing skills. Ironically, most people step the other way, and begin with fanfiction.net and move to fictionpress.com. One of the reasons for this is that fanfiction.net provides writers who want to improve their writing without spending enormous amounts of time creating a world and creating characters. On fanfiction.net, the worlds and characters have already been created for you, which is sometimes really useful. All the writer has to do is invent a plot and write.

The site is also particularly good because the community is very friendly and very informative. When I first began to work on this site, people critiqued my writing effectively, and in return I critiqued theirs, and since, I have had some amazing opportunities through the community. I have had the opportunity to review works by some truly outstanding writers, and the opportunity to work on things collaboratively with up to as many as five authors from all over the world. The experience is amazing, and the friendliness of all involved has been outstanding.

Overall, I like the online community because of its productive kindness, as opposed to judges for a writing competition who are mostly nameless, faceless and not really helpful at all.

Cheers, Leon 

Thanks, Leon.


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How Delicious it was

The words from Big yellow taxi come to mind

Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
Till it’s gone

That’s how it’s suddenly hit me with the news about Yahoo terminating the popular social bookmarking  site, Delicious. I haven’t felt this disappointed since Ning stopped free service. Delicious was one of the first Web 2.0 tools I used and raved about to other people. Not only an extremely efficient way to save links and render them searchable via tagging, but also a very transparent way to follow what other people are reading and saving.

I’m slow off the mark with this post; so many people have already tweeted and blogged their despair but it’s taking a while to settle in. At first I thought, oh well, I still have Diigo. And actually, I’ve been sending my links to Delicious via Diigo for some time since it’s so easy to use Diigo’s bookmarklet for recording essential information, and since, like others, I’ve used the automatic Diigo to Delicious function.

But then today I decided to have a look at my Delicious and realised how easy it is to see what people in your network are reading and saving. The beauty of Delicious is in the Network. Not only can I see what someone in my network is reading and saving, I can see an alphabetical listing of their tags, their tag bundles and their lists. This means I have an insight into the way their thinking, what’s important to them, the direction they’re taking.

And now I’m lamenting not using Delicious as well as I should have. Why didn’t I use tag bundles or make lists? Typical that I’d want to start now that Delicious is on its last legs.

Seriously, many people have written about the demise of Delicious with informative alternatives. I like Anne Mirtschin’s post. Anne’s not a whinger like me; she’s a postive, forward thinking person who remains open to future possibilities.

Just the other day, when Anne read on Twitter that @ggrosseck and I were wondering if we could trust cloud applications, if we  should stop promoting Web 2.0 tools to colleagues, Anne responded with her characteristically unwavering conviction:

“Never any guarantee on the future of any Web 2.0 but will always be alternative”.

Wise words, Anne, very true.

Good luck, everyone, in exporting your Delicious bookmarks and finding alternatives.

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Filed under 21st century learning, Social media, technology, Web 2.0

When failure means growth

Photo courtesy of the State Library of New South Wales on flickr

Today I found out that I didn’t get the teacher librarian position I’d recently applied for in a girls’ secondary school. Initially I was undecided about applying for the position and upsetting my world with change, then I decided that I’d go for it, and that I’d get it only if it was meant to be, after that it became something in which I had to succeed, which is silly because it turns into a personal quest. So when I received the fatal phonecall today, the rejection hit me on a personal level, although fortunately not for too long.

After asking for feedback, the head of library and I had a lovely conversation which had me thinking I would like to keep in touch if only by seeking her out at PD sessions. Some people you feel you would click with in the first few minutes of conversation.

Anyway, I’ve processed the whole thing to the point where I can put the matter behind me and return to my previous life. I wanted to write about this experience of job seeking, applications and interviews because I was interested in other people’s experiences. How many people go for new teaching jobs, how often, and how many rejections do you have before it hits you where it hurts, or before you decide no more?

And isn’t the interview a strange, artificial beast? I’m not very good at the interview thing but with practice (I don’t get any better but) I’m not as threatened and start to feel more confident about what I have to offer. I won’t be fake though, won’t talk myself up, and I definitely wear my heart on my sleeve. I suppose I feel that I don’t want to trick people into thinking I’m something that I’m not. I want to be able to say, here I am – warts and all; take me or leave me. But that’s just unprofessional. Nobody wants to hear about your shortcomings, they just want to hear your uncompromising assurance that you will do a brilliant job.

Photo by Terry297 on Flickr

Meanwhile, I’m staying transparent, sharing everything I have with whoever is interested – and if that includes my failures, then so be it.

Just today I read a very transparent graduation speech by a  primary school principal whose openness and generosity of heart really touched me. Here is a principal whose strength lies not in top-down leadership but in the acknowledgement and appreciation of the members of his community.

Although this was grade 6 for you at Forest Green as a student, this was Kindergarten for me as a principal. .  I am honoured that I got to address you on your first day of grade 6 and now your last. In my first year as a principal, I wanted to sit back and learn the environment of the school and I was so impressed with all that you did.  As a teacher first, we are suppose to be the ones that teach YOU, but in reality, you taught me just as much.

As I get older, I feel not so much that I’m more knowledgeable – in fact, my questions increase – but that I’m stronger in that I draw my strength from others and I’m not afraid to admit it. My hope is that I pass on the message to students – that their greatest achievement is their learning community or network – not their mark but the support of and appreciation of others in their learning journey.

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Spider’s web

Photo courtesy of moonjazz.

The Powerful Learning Practice experience is coming to an end, and it’s time for us to gather our thoughts and share what we’ve done.

I’ve been putting off my reflection because, frankly, the thought of gathering my thoughts about this relatively short, but intense, period of PLP participation, is overwhelming. Scouting around in blogs and Twitter links, I came across something which describes what I consider to be the focus of what is most valuable from my PLP experience: connectedness. 

I love the way Lisa Huff compares the spider’s web-weaving in Walt Whitman’s A Noiseless Patient Spider  with our reaching out to connect with others through technology.

Whitman, writing in the 1800’s, observes how a spider ceaselessly launches forth filament to explore his surroundings, to travel from one place to another, to bridge his world. Whitman notes mankind’s similarity to the spider. We too ceaselessly seek to connect, to make sense of the world, to reach out to others.

 Technology of the 21st century is connecting us like never before. We blog, we podcast, we collaborate via wikis, webcams, e-mails, discussion boards. We explore endless information easily summoned with a few clicks. We are living in the midst of sweeping technological changes that are reinventing the way we live, learn, laugh. At the heart of this change, however, is the basic spirit of exploration–that same spirit Whitman captured some two hundred years ago.

This is what I have learned since joining the PLP team – how much richer my life has become through connections with people globally via technology. I’m connected through people’s blogs, wikis, through Twitter, and other Web 2.0 applications, to a limitless network of resources, ideas, discussions and creativity. At the risk of sounding evangelical (once again), this is a life-changing experience. It’s not just a matter of acquiring some technological skills with tools, it’s what we have in common with Whitman’s spider as we ‘ceaselessly seek to connect, to make sense of the world, to reach out to others.’

Coming down to earth a little, I must say that my fervour about 21st century learning, and that of my team members, is shared by few in our school community, and I hear it’s the same everywhere. At times it’s lonely, other times frustrating, to be convinced that networked learning and teaching are in step with our fast-paced, global world, and to know that our current education system supports an outdated society. Trying to take tiny steps in convincing others is perhaps the only way to move forward, taking care not to alienate others, but to support them, model new ways of teaching, and to celebrate small successes.

What have I enjoyed the most?

  • writing my personal and fiction blogs
  • reading others’ blogs, wikis; commenting; taking part in discussion
  • creating and supporting nings, joining others’ nings
  • the support of my personal learning networks on Twitter, Facebook, Friendfeed, etc.
  • sharing information and ideas
  • ‘converting’ others to the networks
  • discovering amazing people with great talents and wonderful minds
  • seeing engagement and joy in students, especially after the new ways of teaching have been a struggle to implement
  • being able to participate in professional development opportunities online at many different times
  • lifting up the minds of young people, seeing the spark in their eyes, hearing excitement in their voices
  • collaborating with others towards common goals
  • discovering unexpected and wonderful links to links to links
  • feeling energized by the depth of what’s out there
  • loving the learning

What have we learned, and what have we achieved? We’ve learned so much, and at the same time, we have so much more to learn. We’ve achieved a great deal, and yet we’ve only just begun.

What I’m sure of is that there are people I can rely on for help, ideas, support, resources, inspiration. These are the people I connect to as a teacher. I can never be bored, will never feel isolated, will always look forward to more.

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Filed under 21st century learning, Education, networking, teachers, teaching, technology, Web 2.0

Wisdom from the periphery

As always, I’m amazed by the wisdom of the people who form my online network. My last post was written out of the frustration I was feeling when I was temporarily overwhelmed by a sense of isolation – it seemed to me that I was speaking a foreign language amongst many of those around me. It wasn’t long before I started to receive comments from other educators – intelligent, diverse and encouraging comments. My sense of isolation was short-lived. These people have become colleagues regardless of their geographical location. They have become valuable friends and colleagues, sharing their views based on experience and reflection. I feel inspired and supported by these people; thankyou to all of you.

I would recommend you read all the comments, and I’d like to take the opportunity to feature the last comment I’ve received so far, because it would be a shame to leave it buried. I admire Paul Stewart’s deep thinking, and I think he eloquently expresses what many of us can relate to:

A wonderful post. It’s a reminder that we’re not all on the same page. Teachers are an eclectic bunch, and this should be a good thing – I abhor homogeneity, as do kids – but I can appreciate your frustration that our differences result in division. Ironically, it is our diversity that should unite us – it’s what makes us interesting to our students.

That said, I find it difficult to understand how educators – people charged with the responsibility of extending our youth, could be so reluctant to understand the context in which today’s youth develop. These teachers often see school as separate to the world outside, rather than an essential part of it.

Now I don’t buy into the whole digital natives nonsense (now there’s a flawed concept that has got more mileage than it deserved) but I do believe it is the role of any educator to constantly seek out new ways to engage, stimulate and challenge their students. Educators should be provocative. They should be unsettling (but in a good way).

And students? Well, students should be constantly shedding their skin in a classroom. They should be pushed to embrace change by experiencing it.

Now of course, you don’t need to use technology every minute of a lesson to achieve such outcomes, but it puzzles me that some teachers can so easily dismiss the opportunities that lie in technology: the chance to produce rather than consume, the chance to collaborate across time and space, the chance to make a mark upon society without using a spray can. Technology gives students so many tools to analyse, design, produce and investigate and these should not be denied to kids simply because a teacher is unfamilar with such tools.

I added dumplings to a chicken curry I made the other day and one of my progeny stuck out his bottom lip and refused to eat. After much coaxing, he tried one, then two… Ten minutes later he stuck out his bowl for seconds. I was pleased but I wish it didn’t have to be so hard. It’s sometimes like that with teachers (and they do not have the defence of youth to excuse their reactions to new experiences).

Your post really made me think of how different people are. As I get older, I am increasingly aware that I am approaching a time when there will be fewer days in front of me than there are behind me, and that makes me want to pack in as many new experiences as possible. The thought of doing something the same way twice kind of depresses me. The thought of teaching the same lesson that I taught five years ago, ignoring all the incredible changes that have happened in the world, now that would lead to ennui so crippling, I wouldn’t get out of bed.

I don’t think you’re alone in getting frustrated in having to justify your position, but that’s the lot of innovative people. By pushing the boundaries, you (by definition) place yourself on the periphery. There will always be a need to supply justifications to employers (they have a right to ask) but I hope we can move to a place in education where the innovative and bold are not subject to the sort of scepticism you allude to in your post.

Thankyou for taking the time to reply so thoughtfully, Paul. This line made me sit up and take notice:

These teachers often see school as separate to the world outside, rather than an essential part of it.

How many of us have thought about whether what we do at school has anything to do with the outside world? That would make an interesting survey, don’t you think?

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Timelines and Twitter

Yesterday I was at a SLAV professional development session with the dynamic duo, Ross Todd and Carol Gordon – something I might write about in a later post (although I might not, considering Judith Way has taken copious notes and will no doubt do a brilliant write up in Bright Ideas – and she has). I was uncertain whether to take comprehensive notes or not, so that I could sit back and enjoy listening to and watching the speakers. I ended up splitting myself three ways – a solution to my indecision – and jotting down some things on paper, some in a word document and tweeting out interesting one-liners and links on Twitter.

Twitter is always so satisfying during conferences because while you’re sharing information and links, you’re getting immediate feedback from your network who are either retweeting or responding in some way.

At one point during the afternoon session while we were working on transforming an enquiry unit,  I tweeted out a request for online timelines, and unsurprisingly received 3 replies, so I thought I’d share them with you.

Paul Stewart shared a link to his blog post about Timeglider which used to be called Mnemograph. Interesting, the name change. The former does sound more ‘futuristic’ while the latter sounds like some kind of wondrous ancient machine housed in a museum.  Paul describes Timeglider in his post:

Mnemograph is a web-based timeline application. It can be used for a range of purposes. I attempted to chart the growth of Web 2.0 technologies. After a few minutes of initial confusion, I quickly found my way around and was throwing in images, text and hyperlinks with gay abandon. My first effort in Mnemograph is below. Additional information can be accessed by double-clicking items on the timeline. In this particular case, I have included links to original pages via the incredible Wayback Machine, a web archive of 85 billion webpages). I thought it appropriate to complement a timeline with the web’s most significant piece of temporal devotion.

I can’t seem to embed Paul’s example, so here’s the link. 

And here’s one of the examples given on the site:

timeglider

Martin Jorgensen shared this link to a post about Our Story, stories built with interactive timelines. Martin writes:

OurStory allows users to design a timeline using images and text. Stories built using this tool most often appear as sequences of events that lead to a conclusion. Some of the examples I’ve seen are simply one event leading to another, but others are more subtle.

Allison Kipta shared a link to Timeline. You can create a timeline or browse existing timelines which have been featured on the site.

timeline

What I love about shared resources which are housed in blogs is the opportunity to explore the blog and discover all the other resources and ideas by the authors. In this way, I’ve found Twitter an invaluable resource and opportunity to discover and connect with amazing people and their work.

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