Tag: Teaching Theory

Discourse about Discourse: Educasts Archive


As I am moving everything over from Podomatic and Edublogs, I thought it only appropriate that I combine the podcasts I have done in the past into an archive.

The Future of Literacy


January 23, 2007 08:21PM

This is a podcast about how I see the world of literacy shaping up in the next few years. This idea was brought about by discussion ideal learning environments with my 7th and 8th grade students.

Why All Teachers Should Be Using Web 2.0

January 23, 2007 08:37PM


I have been thinking a lot about this question. Should all teachers be using the Read/Write Web in their classrooms, or am I merely a part of the latest educational technology trend. I try to answer it in a fairly in-depth, before-school podcast.

The Discovery School within a School

January 29, 2007 04:18AM


A colleague of mine and I were brainstorming all of the technology implementation possibilities for the next school, when he suggested that what we were talking about was not merely two classes (Social Studies and Language Arts) collaborating, but that we were shifting the paradigm of teaching to a School within a School. On this podcast, I attempt to flesh out what a technology-centric School within a School would look like and I hit upon a couple of things: 1. Online interactive notebooks. 2. Collaborative note taking. 3. Curriculum wiki’s that are edited by students and teachers. 4. Teacher reflective blogging. 5. Strands of curriculum that students could learn all disciplines within. 6. Synchronous and Asynchronous online discussion.

The Perfect Learning Environment

January 31, 2007 03:57AM


This podcast is of a discussion that I had with my 7th and 8th grade students about what they think the perfect learning environment would be like. I asked them a few guiding questions, but their ideas were purely their own. I think there is a lot of insight here. If you would like to follow the online discussion, you can go to our conversate page at http://conversate.org/conversation/3JTD3.

Teacher-Proof Teaching

January 31, 2007 04:04AM


I created this podcast because I was frustrated with the way our vision of education seems to conflict with the reality of education. I know that the administration at my school wants only what is best for kids. I do not have any doubts in their abilities as leaders. Yet, I do wonder if every “education movement” we fall prey to is good for our school. This podcast takes a critical look at current educational practices, and is therefore both different from and similar to my other podcasts.

The New Graduation Requirements

February 01, 2007 07:55PM


I have been thinking a lot about how we have the same graduation requirements that we have always had. We may have upped the number of Math and English classes, but each student has to do the same things in high school, jump through the same hoops. Why is it that none of the new literacies and skills are included in the graduation requirements? Why should each student accomplish the same things in four years, when they will all be doing different things with their lives? Shouldn’t we be preparing our students to compete, to stand out in a crowded field of applicants? Well, this podcast tries to answer a few of these questions.

How do we assess School 2.0?

February 11, 2007 08:36PM


I’ve been trying to figure out for a while just how assessment is going to look in School 2.0. I have developed (or at least half-baked) 3 types of assessments that I would consider in this new type of environment: 1. Conversation 2. Reflection 3. Aggregation

Parents as School 2.0 Stakeholders

February 13, 2007 08:58PM


Convincing parents that the skills of School 2.0 are important is going to be one of the biggest jobs facing all teaching in the very near future. I have outlined in this podcast three possible ways of accomplishing this goal: 1. Student exemplars of continual advancement. 2. Constant communication and reflection on learning between parents and teachers, students and teachers, and parents and students. 3. Parent and Student testimonials of engagement and achievement. My hope is that by identifying the things that are the most convincing to parents, we can create a compelling argument for technological school reform.

The Internet as Utopia

February 18, 2007 08:51AM


This was a discussion I had with my 8th graders about how the Internet could be used as a vehicle for creating a utopia in their everyday lives. I was truly surprised and intrigued by some of their responses. Many of the students believe that the internet is a “0.” Meaning that there are just as many bad things on the internet as there are good. One student also identified the three most influential groups for his (and other young people’s) life: The Governement, Celebrities, and The Internet. Another student proposed splitting the internet into different sections, so that no one who was looking for educational materials would be able to stumble upon to pornography and misinformation. I am encouraged by my kids’ ability to think so abstractly on this subject, but I am disheartened to find out that so many of my students hold such a bleak look of the most amazing resource of our time. I wonder if each of them were immersed in a School 2.0 experience they would feel the same way.

What Myspace can teach us about School 2.0

February 21, 2007 07:18PM


This podcast was brought about because of the classroom discussion that my eighth graders had about what a terrible affect Myspace can have on their lives. I wanted to start brainstorming a school-sponsored space that we could substitute for Myspace that would be an extension of the classroom. This space would have the ability to connect students over academic interests as well as personal interests. It would allow for photo sharing and digital storytelling within these photos. Primarily, however, this space would allow students to comment on everything. Each element of the space (a module) would have a feedback form, so students would get comments about their school notes, their podcasts, their blog posts, their beliefs, and their photos. I can’t think of anything that would engage students more than being able to get specific feedback on all of the important aspects of their lives, and to do it all in an environment that wouldn’t allow the inflammatory remarks that are a systematic part of Myspace. Let me know what you think of this idea and its feasibility at benjamin.wilkoff@dcsdk12.org or http://yongesonne.edublogs.org

What does support look like in School 2.0?

March 03, 2007 07:06AM


Support is such an essential part of education, but many of us who are looking ahead to a technologically rich educational experience sometimes forget this. Because we are savvy, we expect others (including our students) to be savvy. I created this podcast in order to flesh out a few of the ways that we can support teachers who want to transition to School 2.0. The basic points that I came up with were: 1. All teachers need an aggregator starter pack. 2. School 2.0 must be framed in terms (and using tools) that most teachers understand. 3. Small groups of teachers must conduct relevant research within the specific school before many teachers will buy in. 4. School 1.0 teachers should engage in assessing School 2.0 products from the small group’s classrooms as a way of transitioning into a more collaborative model. I have also decided to start including the chapter information and links as part of the show notes for those of you who do not have access to a podcatcher that recognizes enhanced podcasts. # 00:00:00: Outdated Paper? Dave Cormier’s Blog (http://www.davecormier.com/edblog/) # 00:02:04: How does support look in School 2.0? School 2.0 Wiki (http://school20.wikispaces.com) # 00:04:20: An Aggregator Starter Pack Netvibes (http://www.netvibes.com) # 00:06:16: RSS as Support xFruits (http://www.xfruits.com) # 00:08:32: Framing collaboration Ourtenwords.org (http://www.ourtenwords.org) # 00:12:20: Collaboration Take 2 # 00:13:35: Supporting Relevant Research Terry Freedman (http://www.terry-freedman.org.uk/db/web2/) # 00:15:16: Flat Classroom Assessment The Flatclassroom Project Wiki (http://flatclassroomproject.wikispaces.com) # 00:16:50: Summary and Conclusion My blog (http://yongesonne.edublogs.org)

Is School 2.0 just a fad?

March 06, 2007 08:20PM


Although there is a lot of talk about School 2.0 among those in the edublogosphere, I believe that many educators are going to try and wait out the torrent of technology integration that they currently are experiencing because they believe that it is merely a fad that will eventually go away. If we are serious about this type of systemic change, we need to be able to convince everyone that School 2.0 is not a fad. In this podcast I came up with a few observations about the nature of School 2.0: 1. We need a watershed collaborative School 2.0 event that causes all educators to take notice (I’m thinking of a hybrid between the numbers on myspace with the education of the K12 Online Conference (http://k12onlineconference.org/)) 2. Once you give students the power to create their own learning, you can never take it back (nor would most teachers who have tried it, want to take it back). 3. Students are clamoring for School 2.0 classrooms, even if they don’t know that is what they are looking for. 4. School 2.0 is not a fad because it doesn’t repackage something that has come before (like many movements in education). It is truly something new. Show/Chapter Notes:

Researching School 2.0

March 13, 2007 08:58PM


In creating a wiki for my vision of School 2.0 within a school, I have found that there is quite a bit of research out there supporting 1:1 computing, constructivist teaching practice, and engaging technology usage in the classroom. What is even more amazing is that I didn’t know that this research existed because it has been so universally ignored by much of the proponents of this kind of reform. We must have this kind of research on the tips of our tongues, and we must be ready to spout off both the anecdotal evidence and the numbers to anyone who wants to know more about where education is going. We must also create our own research from our own classrooms. This podcast describes three different ways of achieving this goal: 1. A malleable research model that can assess new types of technology as it becomes available. 2. Survey and reflection of what is working in our classrooms. 3. Comparisons of certifications of mastery. Show notes:

A New Image for New Students

March 20, 2007 05:08AM


My students are different. Not from yours, but from the ones that came before them. They are desperate to connect everything together: disciplines, ideas, home and school. They need a way of bridging the gaps that many adults artificially create. We must help them to connect. I don’t have any five point plans in this podcast, but I do have a good example from a student about tormenting substitute teachers. Have a listen. I am looking for a new image to help explain this phenomenon of connection as a reaction to the increasingly splintered world that they experience. If you have any grand ideas about this, please drop me a line at benjamin.wilkoff@dcsdk12.org.

The Great Remix Debate

March 28, 2007 04:56AM


I give all of the credit for this podcast to my amazing students. They were the ones that kept a debate on intellectual property, remixing, and mash-ups going for nearly thirty minutes. They were the ones that came up with the amazing examples to support their points. They were also the ones to inspire many thoughts on creating rules for how we use content in the classroom. I am now convinced that each classroom of students should decide for themselves just what they want to be done with their content. Should teachers be able to use it for next year’s class? Should teachers remix their content into more polished work? We need to be asking the students to come up with what their own boundaries for intellectual property are, and we need to be teaching them where the boundaries are drawn already. I have decided to split this podcast up into about 40 chapters because that is how many different ideas were thrown around (mostly by different students). I have attached each student’s blog to the chapters in which they spoke. The one request I have is that you comment on this post and tell us which side won the debate. (Although, I’m sure my students wouldn’t mind if you commented on some of their blog posts either.)

Remixing The Classroom

March 31, 2007 09:36AM


One of my students came up with an amazing metaphor for how intellectual property should work in the classroom and in greater society. She described the idea that remixing should be like cake making. You buy all of the ingredients and then can prepare any kind of cake you like. Once you have the cake, however, you can’t un-remix it and get back to the sugar and flour. You can also borrow sugar from a neighbor, but generally you give them credit when you are serving your delicious cake. I hope that this podcast outlines such a metaphor a little bit better, but I think that this is the metaphor for creating connections that I was looking for a few podcasts back. If you like this podcast, I recommend the Great Remix Debate. You can also digg this podcast at http://digg.com/podcasts/Discourse_about_Discourse_Educasts_by_Ben_Wilkoff

The Embedded Classroom

April 04, 2007 09:09PM


The two wiki project that my students have started to work on have taught me that an open framework that allows for embedded materials is preferable to any all-in-one solution that tries to do too much at once. I also would like to apply this concept to my classroom in a concrete way. My students should be able to embed their knowledge and experience into the framework of the classroom. They should be allowed to use whatever service/method they can to prove that they have learned something. Show Notes and Links:

Beyond Rubrics

April 10, 2007 04:33AM


This podcast was created because of a discussion I had with my students about the merits of rubrics in a School 2.0 classroom. The data was mixed. Some students felt very comfortable with rubrics because it let them know how to get an A. Others believed that rubrics would hinder their creativity and ability to be authentic. Although I had asked students to help me create a rubric for an assignment, I had never asked them if they thought a rubric was a good idea at all. This podcast is a summary and a discussion of what I decided to do: Student-Centered Youbrics. Show Notes:

Creating the School 2.0 Movement

April 19, 2007 04:28AM


I have become dissatisfied with talking about School 2.0 only among educators. It seems to be this feedback loop that creates a lot of noise, but in the end, really doesn’t create any massive change. So, I am proposing a change in tactics. We need to begin talking to anyone who has the time to listen about School 2.0. We need to show them artifacts of authentic learning so that they know just how effective it can be. We need to get outside of the blogosphere and podcast communities, and talk to the parents that don’t get it yet. Although “consciousness raising” is important amongst teachers, it really should be our only tactic in bring about a transformation in education. Most of this is why I will be starting up another podcast over at The Podcast Network. I am looking for educators and non-educators alike to interview, anyone who is willing to think critically about the shared vision of student-centered education. Please contact me for details.

Visions of Change

April 24, 2007 06:10AM


Well, I guess it was bound to happen sometime, but I really didn’t expect it to happen this soon. We have received funding for our School 2.0 within a school idea, The Academy of Discovery. So, what do we do now? How do we continue to articulate the vision in the face of overwhelming support. Adversity I can handle, but what do we do now that everyone is behind us, just waiting to see how we can pull this off. It leaves me very excited to have the freedom of collaboration and experimentation within my community, but it also leaves me scared for blank page that we have been given to write on. I just hope all of our posturing and framing doesn’t signify nothing.
Show Notes:

The Would-Be School 2.0 Advocates

May 06, 2007 05:14AM


The podcast episode is based upon the idea that teachers will listen to someone who has a lot of experience teaching without technology and then stumbled upon the effectiveness and authenticity of technology and became an advocate for change. They will not listen to someone who grew up with technology, and for who it naturally comes to. They need “one of their own kind” to bring them on board with the School 2.0 movement.

I also decide that we need a School 2.0 plank in the 2008 presidential election. No matter who wins, I want our commander and chief constantly thinking about how technology can influence learning in public schools across the nation.

Show Notes:

What Happens Next Year?

May 12, 2007 05:41AM


I am very worried about what is going to happen to my students when they leave me at the end of this school year. Not because I think that they won’t be able to handle to rigors of high school life, but rather because I think that they won’t be able to handle going back to a traditional classroom. I wonder what the transition will be like when they know that collaborative tools exist, but they aren’t allowed to use them for school. Will they revolt? Will they create change? Or, will they just take it as another in a long string of disappointments from their learning institutions.

Digital Ex-Patriots and The Formula for Transparency

May 14, 2007 09:19PM


Well, I may be going out on a limb with this one, but I have described in the podcast a level of discomfort with technology that goes beyond the simple immigrant/native debate. The fear and panic that is associated with technology in the classroom comes from Digital Ex-Patriots. These people (parents, teachers, administrators, etc.) are so sure of their anti-technology stance that they are actively pursuing a life (of education) away from technology integration. These are the people that we must win over if we are going to continue our collaborative efforts and truly create change. Please let me know what you think about this concept in the comments or in an e-mail (benjamin.wilkoff@dcsdk12.org) Show Notes:

My Students Are Known For…

May 28, 2007 10:26PM


This is the first podcast that I have done on my new MacBook and I was used GarageBand rather than ChapterToolMe in order to create the chapters. I have, as of yet, not been able to find a way of exporting the chapters and links into html using GarageBand, so you will have to download the show in order to get the links. If anyone has a way of doing this, I would love to hear about it. As for the episode itself, I have been hoping for a very long time that my students are learning everything that I want them to. I want them to come back to me after years of amazing creation and show me just how much influence they have derived from my class. I do not expect to change each of my students, but I do believe that many of my students see value in the School 2.0 environment that we are trying to create. The three things that I want them to be known for and to come back and tell me all about are Authenticity, Analysis, and Passion. If they have those three things down, there is no telling what they can do. http://thefischbowl.blogspot.com/2006/08/did-you-know.html http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/httpwww.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/persuaders/ http://discovery0607.wikispaces.com/The+Weekly+Authentic http://discovery0607.wikispaces.com/message/list/reflections http://headrush.typepad.com/ http://yongesonne.edublogs.org

Digital Sticky Notes

June 05, 2007 03:12AM


Feedback continues to be something that requires a lot of thought to do right. I want to provide my students with as much timely feedback as possible, but I don’t want to have to resort to the methods of printing out blog posts and putting paper sticky notes on them. In this podcast I explore the possibility of giving student feedback using web annotation tools. If anyone has any good ideas for tools like this (other than diigo) please e-mail them to benjamin.wilkoff@dcsdk12.org

  • 00:00:00: Intro to Feedback
    The Podcast Blog
  • 00:01:33: Feedback Methods
  • 00:02:56: Revision-based Writing
  • 00:06:03: Collaborative Tools for the Individual
  • 00:07:21: Virtual Stick Notes
  • 00:08:55: The Outsourcing of Grading
    Steve Hargadon’s Blog
  • 00:11:51: Looking for the Tool and Conclusion
    My Blog

The New Job Description

June 11, 2007 05:02AM


The more that I think about doing something “different” in my classroom, the more that I feel that process should be transparent. Not just for my students and their parents, but also for my administrators. Principals, Assistant Principals, and even Super-Intendants should be aware that there is change happening in the classroom. They should also want that change to occur, meaning that they should actively support it. But the only way that this is going to happen is if we start advocating for it. So, this podcast is all about how we should be writing our own job descriptions for the jobs that we dream about doing as teachers and presenting them to our administrators. I think that if we take this proactive approach, many will listen and start to think differently about what should be going on in the classroom. Show Notes:

The 1.0 to 2.0 Transformation

June 19, 2007 09:24PM


Well, there are two main elements to this podcast. 1. This is my first blog post/podcast about being named the 2006 Totally Wired Teacher by Edutopia and Yahoo Teachers. I am honored, but I hope that the one thing that comes out of flying to San Fransisco is that I meet as many would-be advocates for School 2.0 as I can. I really would love to be a larger instrument for change than merely by blogging and podcasting. 2. I am challenging everyone to come up with a description for Teacher/Classroom 1.0, 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.4, 1.5, 1.6, 1.7, 1.8, 1.9, and 2.0. I would really like to know what it should look like at all of these levels. What should we be striving for in our classrooms? What should a stranger be able to come in and observe?
Show Notes:

The Most Change For The Most Kids

June 27, 2007 12:30PM


It is with some hesitation that I post this podcast. I am a teacher, and I will always be a teacher. However, I have been given the opportunity to do more. I have been recruited (although not formally given the position) for a Technology Integration Position in a nearby school district. This podcast is all about coming to terms with the idea of leaving the classroom so that I might create change and achieve School 2.0 in a larger way. At this point, I am very much interested in following my passion for finding solutions, and if this job provides solutions for more teachers and more students and also for my family, I don’t know that I can do anything other than pursue it. I am, however, still looking for others who have either made this transition or who have rejected it in favor of the classroom. Please e-mail me at benwilkoff@gmail.com if you have any questions or ideas.

Show Notes:

The Social Networks of Tragedies

July 05, 2007 07:52PM


This podcast is pretty heavy:
I was in Osawatomie, KS for the 4th of July. It flooded earlier in the week, and my sister-in-law lost her car and her apartment due to this natural disaster. This event really got me thinking about how we can use the technology that our schools provide (especially in 1:1 programs) in order to create social networks for a community. I hope that we can start putting together ideas like Steve Hargadon’s Public Web Stations (link below) in non-crisis times. If you have any ideas about how to do this, please shoot me an e-mail at benwilkoff@gmail.com
I am also interested in knowing if you would rather I don’t include links and pictures with my podcast, but rather simply upload the mp3 file. If you have an opinion either way, please post a comment on this podcast.
Show Notes:

Why do I want to work here?

July 17, 2007 04:44PM


Well, this is the official podcast about my interview with Littleton Public Schools. Although I was passionate and had a great experience in the interview, I was not offered the job. That made my decision to leave the classroom much easier. I still think that this podcast is relevant to anyone else who is thinking about leaving the classroom. I also outline the idea that passion and vision are the two elements that will allow you to progress professionally and personally. I think that I will continue to explore these ideas in the classroom next year, and I am extatic that I will have one more year to impliment all of the ideas from this podcast into my practice.

Show Notes:

Totally Wired Acceptace Speech

July 24, 2007 09:08PM


Well, it has been a week or so since I got back from San Fransisco where I accepted the Totally Wired Teacher Award for 2007 from Edutopia and Yahoo for Teachers. This podcast has the introduction and my speech. I don’t think that it is particularly eloquent, but I do think that it goes right along with everything that I have worked for on this podcast. Let me know what you think.

I vs. We

July 31, 2007 08:09PM


I don’t know when it happened, but I have started using the word “we” in my podcast and blog when I would normally use the word “I.” I believe that it is due to my increased awareness and involvement of the community that I have surrounded myself with. I also think that many more of “us” should start using “we” when “we” write and speak. It makes me feel like I am a part of something, that “we” are going in a particular direction. I want “us” to be aware of how amazing “our” community can become, so long as we don’t fall into some of the pitfalls that I describe in the podcast. Let me know what you think of this idea at benwilkoff@gmail.com.
The image for this podcast is by http://flickr.com/photos/factoids/. I think it is amazing.

Choices, Choices…

September 13, 2007 01:32PM


This is the first podcast in over a month because I needed to upgrade for more storage space. It is not an enhanced podcast, but I’m sure it will be illuminating nonetheless. I was trying to figure out which content management system to use for The Academy of Discovery. I am still not sure if I picked the best one, but I am pretty confident that we are doing some great things. Check it out at http://academyofdiscovery.com.

Beginning the year, systematically.

September 13, 2007 01:59PM


This podcast is all about how I am starting my year. I would love to know how you are starting your year and how we can collaborate (share) any of the resources and systems that we have set up. Send me an e-mail at benwilkoff@gmail.com

Articulating Vision

September 13, 2007 02:10PM


I am now convinced that the only way to create widespread change within our schools is to articulate a singular vision for the future of education. I don’t know if I am the person to articulate that vision yet, but I am working toward it.

The Act of Creation

September 24, 2007 04:17AM


Sometimes we get so caught up in creating the system and the environment for learning that we forget about the most important element of that environment: creation. The singular act of creation is not something to be glazed over; it is the backbone of all that we do, and sometimes we need people to remind us of this.

A New Possibliity

October 26, 2007 09:04PM


This new possibility (which is now kind of old) is a total reversal of some of the things that I have consistently talked about and advocated for. This only comes about because of a great contact I have made with the principal of our online school (eDCSD). The possibility is this: Starting from a place of amazing technology and bringing in education rather than starting from a traditional school and trying to shove technology into it. What do you think about it

Two New Documents

October 26, 2007 09:17PM


I have been working on a couple new documents that make sense for the development of pedagogy and the future of education. You can find the links to them at the k12online conference: http://k12online.wm.edu/AuthenticLearning.pdf http://k12online.wm.edu/101Resources.pdf

Why should students come to class?

If my students can do the majority of their work with writing and reading online…
If my students can receive all of their assignments online…
If my students can maintain constant contact with their friends, classmates, and teachers online…
If my students can create spaces to come together or work alone online…

What do should we do in the classroom?

One of the biggest takeaways that I have been formulating at the Virtual Schools Symposium is that the hybrid model is not fiction. When students have access outside of class hours (and this is not a given by any means), shouldn’t we be expecting that they be connecting and collaborating during this time?

The more that I work with my new 7th graders (the students who I have only known under the Academy of Discovery Model), the more I realize that productivity is something that comes from having the ability to work at your own pace and schedule. I keep seeing the majority of essays being written at home even though I feel the obligation to give them time in class. I keep seeing my students make more meaning out of the emails and instant messages outside the classroom.

My real question, I guess, is what activity is so well suited to face-to-face contact that it can’t be replicated online? Whatever the answer to that question is, is what I need to be doing in my classroom, every day.

Here are my thoughts on what can’t be replicated online, yet:

  • Debate – In its truest form, debate is a refined series of verbal arguments that require many people talking in rapid succession. Although you can do debate in an elluminate session, the passing of the mic is awkward at best and the visual separation of the competing sides is not possible.
  • Networking – It is why we still come to conferences. Finding great people that you want to work with and that will challenge you is something that is lacking in the online world. A social network does create a sense of community amongst many people, but it the bonds forged are not immediate. They take time and tending. In face-to-face communication, it is easy to see the worthwhile. It is easy to recognize excellence. That is what classroom time can be: the search and recognition for excellence (in writing, in math, in science, etc.)

What are the things that you think are so essential in the classroom that they can’t be outsourced to a virtual space? (Do they still exist? Will they always exist?) I really want to know.

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Without Community…

This is my first time blogging from in on an airplane. My daughter, Isabelle, may be the cause of that. She is cleverly intriguing, so much so that it is difficult to be very reflective when she is saying “da da da” at you. My trip today, and the reason for this blog post, is to find out what the North American Council for Online Learning has to add to the School 2.0 conversation.

I was not the only one with this idea, however.

I just so happened to sit next to Kathryn Knox, Ph.D. (Senior Director of Curriculum and Instruction at the Colorado Virtual Academy) and we struck up quite the conversation about online learning.

My favorite part of the discussion was when we stumbled upon community as a tenet for a successful online school. She put it this way: “Without community you don’t have a school. You have a program but not a school.” This idea really caught me and it hasn’t let go yet.

Are we trying to create programs that are viable and sustainable, or are we trying to create communities that constantly need tweaking and guidance. The first is easy: Set up the systems, install the software, write the content. The second is terrifyingly hard: engage all stakeholders, listen, change.

I really need to keep looking at the Academy of Discovery to make sure that I am not just creating a program, I am creating a community.

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The Niche

My students are amazing bloggers, but they mostly blog in class. They write about authentic topics (ones that they care about), but they don’t seem to transfer into their home life. Originally, I had envisioned a teeming community of student bloggers who are blogging about their lives, their interests, and their academic endeavors. I had imagined that their blogging space would become like a second home for all of their thoughts. For the most part, however, this has not been the case.

Some students blog because they have to. Some students blog because they enjoy using the technology. Some students blog because they like their choice of topics, but very few of my students blog because it is the life-blood of their communication. They don’t see it as their primary or even secondary way of putting ideas out into the greater world and getting validation for those ideas. This saddens me as much as it sobers me. I have been putting off thinking about it for a while because I believed that this kind of community would exist out of my classroom eventually if left alone. Unfortunately, I don’t think that a laissez-faire approach is going to do it.

That is why I now believe that every student blogger need to find a niche, a type and style of writing that best fits them and draws in a larger audience. This niche should not just be an understanding within the blogger him or herself; it should be a well articulated part of their writing.

So I say to my student bloggers:

You cannot create an audience from thin air, you must go in search of an one. You must write about things that make sense for you, that you are passionate about. You must go and find your niche. Subscribe to other’s blogs about sports. Find those interesting voices that you would like to become a part of. Link to them in your blogroll and in your posts. Start commenting on things that are outside of our small writing community. Break out of the repetitive storytelling that can lead to feedback loops within small groups of friends. Use Google Blog Search or Technorati. Use Netvibes or Google Reader. Work to find what you are looking for in your own writing. It may take longer to write your next post, but once you find your niche, you will be able to work within that framework that you have set up and never again be at a loss for words.

I can’t take any credit for this idea, though. I was inspired to try to make my blogging community a part of the greater conversation by two presentations at the K12 Online Conference.  If you haven’t checked out Sustained Blogging in the Classroom  or Initiating and Sustaining Conversations: Assessment and Evaluation in the Age of Networked Learning, you really should. The latter may be the best presentation on blogging in the classroom that I have ever witnessed.

Although I believe that my classroom blogging community is working, it has a lot more potential energy than kinetic at this point. I think only now am I really able to admit that to myself. I have found one of my own niche again: reflecting upon what goes on in my classroom.

The Ripe Environment: It’s the content, stupid.

It has taken me quite a while to figure out how to come back to The Ripe Environment with all of the things that I am doing within my school. It came to me when my students were finally ready to work with their blogs on authentic writing. I was struck by a question that I’m sure others would have considered long before: “Why use blogs vs. any other teaching tool (digital or analog)?” I have had a pretty decent answer for a long time, but it wasn’t mine. It was the pat answer that THE Journal came up with. It was for the reasons/purposes that Edublogs espouses. These aren’t good enough for me now.

For the Ripe Environment to exist, we have to have better (and more simple) reasons for doing what we do with technology. So, I was struck with the simplest of all reasons for using blogs in your classroom: It’s the content, stupid. (I believe this is the one and only time that my mind has blatantly stolen from Bill Clinton and his 1992 presidential campaign.)

The following is what I shared with my students after I shared my rather abrasive reasoning for blogging in the classroom.

That is why we use blogs to communicate, not because they are easy, not because they are more collaborative, it is simply because they let the content speak for itself. Without content you are nothing. Without great ideas there is no hope for the future. It is the content that matters, not the format. That is why we do blogs, to pull content up through the rss straw, roll it around in our mouth-like readers, tasting each smooth milkshake post and swallow it down, totally satisfying our desire to fill our bellies with content.

Now, content can be anything from stories to videos to embedded PowerPoint. The only crucial element of content is that you are proud enough of it to consider it yours. That means that content does not exist in an answer that was just done to get it over with. Content does not exist in the unrealized half-wonderings of a before school speed post. Content exists in thought-provoking ideas. It exists in well-worded prose or original poetry. Content is the torrent of inspiration that is created when authenticity is the goal, and you actually have the time to do something.

I actually wrote the preceding piece on my Palm Treo while I was eating cereal. I didn’t start writing it as a way of addressing The Ripe Environment, but this piece really gets at prerequisite number 6: Students and Educators should know that their products and ideas as valuable. If we are concerned with content, students will know that we genuinely care about what they express and teachers will know that their ideas will have some impact. If we focus too much on adding more features or tools to our toolkit, we will never get to the act of content creation. And that would be a very sad thing.

The Ripe Environment: The Living Examples

Today I drove nearly four hours (round-trip) in order to talk with 8 teachers from rural school districts in Colorado about blogging in the classroom. The meeting was in one of the most out of the way (and beautiful) places imaginable, Leadville. I tell you this not to rouse your sympathies for a long and hard drive or to lull you into a state of wonderment at my dedication to teaching others about school 2.0, but rather to tell you about the realization I had in Leadville about how Living Examples of collaboration start and continue to grow.

The social network that many of us have come to love, Classroom 2.0, is a space for teachers to come together and share ideas for and stories about teaching in the 21st century. Yet, so far, it has not been an avenue for turning on “would-be advocates” to social media. It has basically been a way of aggregating all of the great minds that are already engaged in the authentic use of technology. Although we may be able to see Classroom 2.0 as a living example of collaboration, most other people won’t. They will see it as a teacher-based myspace, a place where work and play blend into this muddy mixture that can not possibly pay attention to the details of an individual classroom.

So, if Classroom 2.0 isn’t it, then what are the Living Examples of collaboration that The Ripe Environment requires?

Well, I don’t have to look to much further than the hour and half I spent with these eight teachers. In fact, I don’t have to much further than the first few minutes I spent with them. In those beginning moments of our time together, I asked the following question: “How would your writing (and writing instruction) change if the form and content of your writing were separable?” Now, there is nothing very special about this question except in that it demands an answer. Most teachers cannot resist a question about how they will or will not change their teaching in light of a new idea. Better yet, this question does not ask for a generic answer that could have come from anyone, but a real answer that only the individual teacher can provide.

I realized, perhaps too late to make my presentation as good as it could be, that the only thing Living Examples require is action on the part of the newly initiated. If the example of collaboration can go on existing without the new teacher, it isn’t Living in the way that it should. If the type of collaboration is revolutionary but requires no revolutionary step on the part of the person seeing it for the first time, then it is just another piece of noise that can be filtered out.

There are too many collaborations going on in our edublogosphere that require only minimal thought and effort on the part of the observer. Classroom 2.0, for all of its merits, will continue to be an edubloggers’ paradise until new users are made to feel challenged by the very notion of collaboration. Where are the engaging questions that will bring new bloggers into our spaces? Where are the wonderful memes that grab a hold of our attentions? Why aren’t we reaching out with inquiry rather than answers?

We seem to simply accept that everyone should want to use blogs, podcasts, wikis, social networks and all of our other wonderful tools, but we really don’t ask other people if they agree. We need to let others poke holes in our logic/pedagogy. We need to ask others to contribute, not just to the periphery of the conversation, but to the hearty core. We need to let them change our spaces, to create the Living Examples for a new group of teachers, teachers that can get along fine without technology in their classrooms (or at least think they can).

So, those are the things I learned today. Throughout my presentation, the most engaging moments were when I was asking my fellow teachers to think about how they saw blogging working in their classrooms or how they envisioned a shift in their instruction.

The Living Examples, therefore, are time sensitive. They only exist for the moments in which a teacher feels challenged enough to act and collaborate with either the challenger or others who feel the same way. If they do not take advantage of the opportunity they have been confronted with, the same question or line of thinking will never engage them in the same way. They will need another Living Example of collaboration in order to get them into the Ripe Environment, and we need to create it for them.

So, I guess my challenge to anyone who reads this is as follows: What are the questions, ideas for inquiry, or memes that will get teachers and students to create Living Examples for one another?

$5.00 of Effort

“Why are you willing to pay $5.00 for a low quality 30-second clip of music but you aren’t willing to pay 99 cents for a good quality complete recording of the same song on iTunes?”

“Honestly… because my friends will hear it.”  – Sam Altman

I’m pretty sure that this can become an analogy for why creating blogging and collaborative writing communities are so much more engaging than writing in a journal, writing an essay for a teacher, or taking notes in class that are only for a test. Students aren’t willing to put forth the equivalent of 99 cents of effort if only they (or only their teacher) is going to see it. However, if their content will be seen by many other students, they will put forth $5.00 worth of effort.

I want my kids to always put forth $5.00 worth of effort. I want them to continue to come back and purchase more and more content from the ideas that my classes provide. Are there any other ideas other than giving students the ability to broadcast/syndicate their content that will make sure that we receive that level of engagement and effort? What is the specific value of expression that engages students? How can we capitalize on it in our classrooms?

Making Content Your Own

“Our philosophy is that we want everyone to take our content and make it their own.” – Dixie Feldman (I couldn’t find the actual article, so this is cached.)

This woman really gets the kinds of environments that kids crave. She told the story of a character dying on Degrassi and students needing a place to grieve. She created that environment, gave kids the tools, and then let the kids talk. I find this anecdote to be extremely compelling. For the most part, I don’t do this in my classroom.

For the most part, we don’t show students compelling content and then let them recreate it. We don’t give them the tools and set up the environment and let them go. Why? Are we interested in what they would come up with, or are they more interested in seeing the kind of knowledge that they can amass?

I hope that we start to focus more on creating the environment and finding the best tools (ideas, resources, collaborative values, etc.) that will allow them to create or recreate learning. What are the standards for that?


There is a panel here at the Ypulse mashup of teenage entrepreneurs including Aseem Badshah, creator of Scriptovia.com. Scriptovia is an amazing website for sharing school papers and essays. During the panel I asked the following question: “What do you tell to teachers who are worried about kids using your site for plagiarism?”

His response was quite interesting. He first started talking about reassuring the teachers that they are working with turnitin.com and other anti-plagiarism sites, but then he started going on the offensive. He put a challenge out there for teachers: “We need to teach kids how to cite sources before fourth grade.” He said that most students are not trying to cheat; they just don’t know what qualifies as plagiarism. He also calls into the question the line between plagiarism and collaboration. We need to explain, expand, and explore this line.

Where is this line for you?

Should we respond to his challenge?

Clearly, this man is going to be a star. We need to watch his projects because he is going to move the debate, whether we are with him or not.

Convergence Culture

The Ypulse Mashup has turned into a much better event than I had previously thought. I think that it makes sense to continually question the theory of why kids are so drawn to online, mobile, and collaborative environments. Henry Jenkins is one speaker who has gotten me thinking.

His research into fan fiction has helped him to think about online communities that create mentorships and opportunities for continual advancement. He talks about how kids start writing harry potter fan fiction one day and then two years later they are helping other writers to edit their work and get it ready for publication. This is an amazing process for creating mentors. Why aren’t our educational communities like this?

We need to create online mentorships between adults and students. This needs to not be a weird element that borders on child predator activity. How can we set up these connections so that the mentorships go both ways. The digital native/immigrant debate is counterproductive. It doesn’t allow these groups to blend and change. It doesn’t allow students to indoctrinate teachers. It doesn’t create the kind of hope that is possible when communities cross-pollinate.

How can we do this? I really want to know.