Question 333 of 365: When should we make buttons?

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As I sat in my grandmother’s dining room table, I knew that there was something very different about the evening’s events. There wasn’t going to be a rousing game of cards or a big football game to watch. There was something much more subdued going on that was difficult for my 6 year old brain to put together. At one point, my aunt came out with these buttons that had a big red circle with a line going through it. The drawing of what they were against was ominous but entirely unfamiliar, though, so I asked what was happening.

My mother told me that some people wanted to put in a trash incinerator near my grandmother’s house and that a few people were going to get together and talk about how they could make them stop. She said that they were wearing those pins to show that they didn’t want the incinerator. Immediately, I wanted to wear a button too. In my head, I imagined the trash burner being right next to the bedroom I slept in while I stayed ay my grandmother’s house every December. I did not want to smell burning trash as I was going to sleep.

I wanted to start my own 6 year old’s crusade throughout Chillicothe, Ohio. I knew nothing about the political, economic, or social underpinnings of either side of the argument, but because my family was against it, so was I. And we would have buttons to prove it.

That was the first time I saw how a single idea could be so universally understood as to have everyone immediately on board. The framing of the problem was simple. The answer to the question of “Do you want burning trash next to your house” is always going to be no. The other side doesn’t have buttons. Their case can only be made with cash in hand. The only way incinerators are built near housing is by way of compensation to the local government and the residents. It is a harder case to make, even so. There is no community that is going to stand up and fight for their right to burn trash. There are no after dinner meetings with concerned citizens who discuss ways to get more incinerators to be built in their community.

And yet, none of the things I believe in are causing people to get together in living rooms and make buttons. There is no big, anti-busywork campaign that has children and adults alike in an uproar. There is no one beating the collaboration drum from dawn until night so that we make sure that tomorrow is filled with more ways of connecting with one another instead of less. There is nothing so concrete as an incinerator to rally against, no symbol of everything we do not want. There is no image of a child sitting in his bedroom playing with his toys and being overrun with the smell of burning trash and the possibility of being consumed by the fire itself.

But, perhaps there should be.

All we would need would be a few people to frame our debate so that arguing against it would inherently be corrupt. We would need to break down our arguments for authentic learning and networked spaces into something that a 6 year old could understand and promote to all of her 6 year old friends. Most of all, we need a story that can be told on a button, not by simplifying it beyond all recognition but rather projecting a haunting image.

If I were starting a homegrown organization to sit around dinner tables and talk it would be called something like, Inquiring Minds for Learning Reform

If I were making buttons for that organization, here is what they would say:

“What do you want to know?” – An image of an inquiring mind would be opening up to a world of possibilities.

“Did learning happen TO you today?” – An image of an inquiring mind would be forced to sit in a seat.

“Tell me a story.” – An image of an Inquiring mind would be listening to people all around it.

“Let me Google that for you.” – An image of an inquiring mind with a smart phone, googling a current event

“Who is in your learning network?” – An image of an inquiring mind being networked to other inquiring minds that have different hats on representing all of the things that can be known through networked learning.

“Did you stop learning after Graduation?” – An image of an inquiring mind pushing away a laptop with Wikipedia up.

“Inquiring minds unite!”- An image of a locked inquiring mind with a big red circle with a line through it.

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Question 13 of 365: What does it mean to be an Expert?

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In a world where the network is what matters, where being able to tap into knowledge that is distributed and widespread is valued, what does it mean to be an expert? Just because we can figure out the answer to most of our every day questions by googling them or by asking them of our friends and followers, does that mean that having individual experience and knowledge does not matter? Is being an expert today the same as just knowing an expert in years past?

Maybe.

Yet, there is something about actually having the understanding yourself. There is something to being able to call up information and theories and research within your own head and create a synthesis of where to go next on the spot. I have a deep respect for all those who know their stuff and can create something new out of their experience. I believe that the power to rip away any BS from what you are looking at is in knowing the truth for yourself. And so it could be that only when expertise is tested that you can see what it truly is. That is why it is still so important to know who is an expert and who is a pretender. I still need to be able to rely on the people who do have something to offer of themselves rather than those who are simply offering up their network or remixing other’s ideas by 1 degree. I believe that in a world of wikipedia, true expertise is in short supply.

So, how can we put expertise to the test? Walking up to a PhD and asking them about their work isn’t exactly going to yield the results I am looking for. I also can’t just say that I know expertise when I see it. There must be a good way to tell who it is that knows what they need to.

Perhaps there is a question that can be designed, one that will test the very nature of “knowledge” within the person. The question should be something that requires you to justify your position, to show that you believe what you believe for a reason. “Who do you think you are?” doesn’t have quite the right level of nuance. And, “What is your truth?” is really an existential mess that I think would cause more confusion than anything else.

A Curriculum Vitae is supposed to do this for us. The list of accomplishments in a resume is supposed to have the same affect. A blog perhaps is the digital equivalent of someone attempting to state their knowledge. But, I want a way to weed out the spam. Surely, even in the best Curriculum Vitae, there is some filler, some padding, some spam.

The one sticking point of my argument (although I should probably leave it to others to find those) is that becoming an expert requires experience, it requires living through and telling the stories of how you got from point A to point B. So, perhaps there is no better question than “What is your story?”.

If they have a story that is worth listening to, that really does reveal their expertise then they could be considered an expert. On the flip side, anyone who is not willing to tell their story cannot be an expert. They can be knowledgeable and even wise, but without sharing their wisdom, their expertise cannot be established. Telling your story is the test of your expertise. It is how you show the world that you are who you say you are.

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The Ripe Environment: Connecting more than two dots.

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There is a severe lack of time in the air. It pervaides every conversation I hear on many days:

“No, I don’t have time for that collaboration right now. Maybe after this quarter is over.”
“Are you sure that it has to be due tomorrow. I really think that having the weekend when I don’t have games or practices or school would make more sense.”
“I don’t even have time to think.”

Hyperbole aside, this lacking is palpable. I think it is one of the only times that a lack of something can be more heavily felt and deeply understood than the presence of it. Many people, though, have just gotten used to having no time to connect the disparate parts of their working or waking lives. It has become the film upon our skin that always coats our interactions but can’t be rubbed or cleaned off.

I am not one of those people, however. I believe that connecting the dots and creating time for that process is possible. I believe that it is all about creating a Workflow of Passion (requires a better name, but that’s all I’ve got).

When I say passion, I do not mean that you must be equally in love with every assignment or task that you come across. Instead, I mean that there is something meaningful within each thing that you do. There is some meat there, no matter how hidden it may be in the luke-warm soup of “other stuff.” The only way to craft the time to connect that meat to something else equally meaty is to plunge your spoon in and not be satisfied with the carrot or water chestnut you come up with the first time. (I would like to apologize to both the literary crowd who sees the metaphor being stretched thin and the vegetarian crowd who beleives that no one should be looking for meat within a vegetarian soup.)

So, what does this spoon plunging action look like. Well, I have recently taken to a maxim for resolving the issue of time suckage and distraction in the classroom and out.

“Use the tool that has everything you want, and nothing you don’t.”

Although the different image settings in Photo Booth are cool, the distraction factor is so high that it is nearly impossible to use it as an instructional tool (for kids or adults).

Wikipedia provides a cornocopia of educational resources, but blind searches are still stabs in the soup that lead to less than appetizing results.

The Ripe Environment is anywhere that makes information clickable, that sets the path of least resistance to learning as the norm. The Ripe Environment is a place that doesn’t waste time on stuff that doesn’t matter. It is a place that the workflow always works for the user, according to their needs and passions.

The Would-Be School 2.0 Advocates

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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: