Jamming, Hacking, and Connecting at #NCTE14

It’s been a whirlwind at #ncte14, and I’ve enjoyed every second of it so far. Here’s a rundown of a few of my favorite moments:

(1) Going for a river run with my former HS teacher / forever career mentor / PaperGrader blogger extraordinaire / generally awesome person, Sarah Zerwin (aka Doc Z).

me n' doc z

me n’ doc z

(2) Lunch with former methods instructor / another forever career mentor / joyous human and great friend, Kim Parker and the amazing Elliott True (#ETatNCTE!)

(3) Beverages and long conversations about surviving graduate school with JPEE compatriots Christie Toth and Bonnie Tucker, featuring reflections on how finishing a PhD changes both everything and absolutely nothing at all (but mostly nothing at all).


#ETatNCTE! this is the happiest kid in the universe, ppl.

(4) Presentation with incredible teachers and friends Dawn Reed, Aram Kabodian, and Jeremy Hyler, chaired by our co-digital-thinker Troy Hicks, where I met a couple Boston teachers who made it to NCTE and added a few dozen more tasks to the to-do list.

(5) Late night conversations (sometimes featuring being locked out of our hotel room) with NCTE roommate / NWP and MSU PhD genius / Social Network buddy Andrea Zellner, who led the coolest Hack Jam session this morning. Sarah, Dawn, and I hacked the convention hall and thought deep thoughts about how hacking helps us reimagine spaces (a few deep thoughts below).


#ncte #hackjam fun

This is my fifth NCTE, and every year I’m reminded why this conference is a non-negotiable one for me; not only do I have the opportunity to reconnect with incredible people who have shaped my career, but I get to brainstorm, collaborate, co-create, and generally challenge my own thinking and writing. In the hackjam session, for example, I was reminded how powerful “hacking” can be, and was inspired to bring some hacking ideas back to Boston with me. We had a few minutes to freewrite after we hacked. Here are a few of my in-the-moment thoughts:

I’ve avoided the exhibit hall always. It’s a scary place where ppl try to sell you stuff, where the “Common Core” is written on everything, where test scores drive sales and agendas, where PEARSON lives. Ick.

Tasked with getting “all the free stuff,” it felt fitting – HAHA! I will go to this place I detest and jack them of all the free crap they give you so that you’ll buy stuff, and then I’ll remix it. What followed, I did not expect.

I talked to those sitting around me about how hacking helped us reimagine the space of the vendor-thick exhibition hall; suddenly, I was looking for things I could repurpose, reimagine, and recreate, and the general malaise I always felt about the exhibit hall was lifted. I was searching for colorful things, things I could rip up, cut up, tape together, or stick to other things. When we returned to the session, we (in collaboration with others who had also hacked the exhibition hall) created a banner (pictured above) with all the free stuff we had gathered. The banner invites participants to create their own story, with bins for “characters,” “settings,” and “conflicts.” Presenters shared other resources for hacking in the classroom, like X-Ray Goggles, which lets you “hack” websites (thereby teaching you, or your students, some basic web authorship and coding).

The session challenged me to think about the skills students need for the 21st century — is one of these skills the ability to hack — to look at a space, a tool, a thing, and reimagine it? This is at the heart of innovation.

How can teachers help students learn how to do this? How are digital tools part of this learning? What kind of classroom supports this kind of thinking, learning, making? The mind boggles.

Also I’m going to write a book with Jeremy Hyler on interdisciplinary collaboration and digital literacies. IT’S HAPPENING. Along with about a thousand other projects I’ve saddled myself with in the last few days. Because that’s what these conferences are for, yo. More reflections to come, I’m sure.

NCTE 2014: Integrative and Innovative Pedagogies, E-05

Hello from Washington, DC! I’ll be presenting with my amazing colleagues and National Writing Project geniuses Troy Hicks (@hickstro), Dawn Reed (@dawnreed), Jeremy Hyler (@jeremybballer), and Aram Kabodian (@AramKabodian) today at #NCTE14 in session E-05 in Maryland 5-6 — come find us!

Our session is entitled “Integrated and Innovative: Five Stories of Technology-Rich Instructional Partnerships.” It focuses on how practitioners in K-12 with partners in higher education have integrated technologies in meaningful and innovative ways with their students. Specifically, we’ll showcase the practices of teachers and provide frameworks for thinking about what innovative practice might “look like.” We’ll also share how our partnerships within and beyond our institutions brought us together, shaping our thinking and practice.

Session Resources

I wanted to share a few resources here for people to access during and after the session. My section will be short, because I want to hand it over to Dawn, who is the real star of the show. I’ll describe a few frameworks for thinking about innovative practice, along with a framework I developed out of my dissertation work with Dawn, which argues that teacher practice with technology can either facilitate classroom tasks or fully integrate technology with content and pedagogy.

Here are our slides:

We will also be tweeting throughout our session (#ncte14) and hosting a backchannel on TodaysMeet. Hope you can join us — digitally or physically!

Update: here’s a PDF of the TodaysMeet Backchannel (link below!) It was a great session, thanks to all who attended!


Online PD: (Im)Possibilities

The more I work in this system, the less convinced I am that I like it.

Those were the words that came across the office at me a few days ago, as I worked with Ed — the other BPS Digital Learning Specialist — to build a course in BPSLearns, our online teaching and learning system. I echoed his sentiment. The more I tried to design in our Moodle-based platform, the less enamored with it I became.

I’ve since decided that the tension we were feeling in this moment had little to do with the system itself, and more to do with our own conceptual struggles about what “online PD” actually is. What it should look like. What’s possible in online PD, and what’s not. In this post, I hope to explore some of these tensions, using this as a space to engage in some reflection, and to invite ideas and reflections from others.

Meta-PD: A Bit of Context

The learning series we were working on at the moment was a self-paced, fully online series for BPS folks who might want to facilitate their own online PD using BPSLearns (our learning management system, or LMS). We wanted to design the series such that future facilitators would come away with a sense of how to “do online PD well.” In other words, we didn’t want to just hand someone an online course and say “GO!” without also providing some sense of how to “GO!… with purpose.”

The problem? We’re still learning how to “GO!… with purpose” ourselves. As we begin moving our own department’s PD into online and blended spaces (defining blended, btw, opens up a whole new can of worms for us), we’re still figuring out what we think “looks good” and “works well” when it comes to online learning. My PhD research had much to do with integrating technology into classroom work with students, with what good “blended” or “digitally enhanced” classroom practice might look like, and with how best to prepare teachers to integrate technology meaningfully into their classroom practice, but it really had nothing to do with online teacher learning.

Faced with the very “meta” task of designing online PD on how to design online PD, we were stuck and stymied, and a little frustrated. It was sort of like when you have to teach a concept that you’re not sure you have a firm grasp on yourself (English teacher friends, think of when you had to teach your now-favorite incredibly difficult literature text for the first time, or that grammar concept you’re still not sure you have a firm handle on).

The Tension: Can Good PD even be Entirely “Online?”

I don’t have an answer to that question, and I don’t think I ever will. However, this question is serving (at the moment) as a very productive one for me as I watch myself and our team learn how to work within an online system to create online learning experiences that are interactive and collaborative. We want our online courses to move beyond “resource repositories” and into digital learning experiences that harness the power of Web 2.0 technologies.

These technologies, Colin Lankshear and Michele Knobel (along with many others) remind us, have created a “new ethos” of engagement and learning, promoting sharing and co-authorship over simple consumption and dissemination of content. Taken alongside what I have learned about “good PD” – that it is collaborative, it is connective, and it seeks to build communities of shared practice — it makes sense that digital technologies could extend the reach and capacity of such learning experiences for teachers.

In fact, that was the very premise of Chapter 4 of my dissertation: that those teachers whose practice was most innovative and connected were the same teachers who maintained extensive digital and face-to-face connections with educators beyond the walls of their schools. They blogged. They tweeted. They created web content. They composed and shared digital stories. But they also took master’s classes. Attended conferences. Laughed in the halls with their colleagues. Attended summer institutes. Had coffee with friends at other schools and institutions.

See, part of what makes the connectivity and collaboration in Web 2.0 spaces so powerful are those very human connections that are fostered within, through, and beyond them.


It is the end of the day, and I have just arrived home. Gertrude (my weimaraner) greets me at the door, so excited about my return that she does the four-paw hop in circles around me. I drop my bag, feel the relief that comes with shedding the weight of my laptop at the end of the day, and strap the pup into her harness for her evening walk.

I make sure I have my phone with me, and as we walk, I turn to my Spotify app to see if anyone has shared any good new music with me. I follow my friend Aubrey, who can always be trusted to post good music.

The tunes ring out, and I check Facebook. My sister has posted a triumph from her first year as a first grade teacher. My best friend from high school has posted a picture of her new baby girl. My feed is littered with posts from teachers from Illinois to Michigan to Colorado and of course Boston, posting about their children, their trials, their joys.

The song changes, and I turn to Pinterest. My friend Erin has sent me a hysterical pin about graduate school. Some of the boards I follow include infographics related to digital citizenship, so I pin a few to my “digital learning” board for later reference. As Gertrude and I round the corner and trudge up the hill to my favorite spot, I shove my phone in my pocket just in time to look up and over the trees at the harbor.


Social media is a major part of my life. Because my professional and personal networks are so intertwined online, I often learn and reflect in social media as I reconnect with old friends. I look forward to these moments in my day, catching up with my teacher friends as they post resources, interesting articles, or stories from their classrooms. I reflect on these moments when I ask myself, does meaningful professional learning — professional development, as loaded as that term may be — happen online? Of course it does.

A(n) (im?)Possible Task

I have been thinking for the past few weeks that I just need to figure out how to harness the power of these technologies in the online and blended PD we create, leveraging them to connect  teachers and enable collaboration, to create communities of teacher learners within online environments. But I’m starting to think I had it backwards. I think I need to harness the power of the communities that already exist, the connections that already exist, and use the technology to enrich these communities, to make them stronger, to allow teachers to share/create/compose/collaborate beyond the walls of their schools and the city limits of Boston.

I’m not sure what that looks like. Or how to help others do it. Or what this means for me, now, in a new job that seeks to move so much of that very human interaction into very unhuman spaces. Is this an impossible task? I don’t think so, mostly because I don’t believe in impossibility. But it is certainly a difficult one.


Reflect with me. Do you have good examples of online PD or stories about your own online learning as a teacher? Twitter: @lizhoman. Email: ehoman@bostonpublicschools.org.




The Story of A Defense


Along the back wall, my parents. A doctor, a father, a fisherman, a teacher… a peacemaker, a wine connoisseur, a guitarist, a mother. At the end of the impossibly long table, my program-mates and forever friends. My best friend and partner in life and love. Two of my mentor-friends, who have traveled over an hour and taken time out of their ridiculously busy schedules just to be here, now. Some of the most important people in my life sit before me, and now I have to talk about the most important work of my life.

Sure, my committee is sitting closer, immediately to my right and left. They are there to ask questions, to challenge my thinking. But as I take a deep breath and launch into my acknowledgements, I know who I am talking to — these people at the back of the room, who have supported me, cried with me, laughed with me, told me their teaching stories, listened to my teaching stories. My little sister — a new teacher — is, in this moment, conspicuously absent, but I feel her presence. I think of her first as I begin to speak.

I began my Second Year Exam, one of many benchmarks in my graduate program, with the following sentence: “Many people begin at the beginning, but I am going to begin at the end – or, I suppose more appropriately, at the present.”

And so I start with the strangely still moments before I began my defense, moments in which I felt very present, very aware of what I was doing, where I was, and incapable of imagining a world beyond that very long room. I shook a little, relying on the notes gleaming from the tablet I held in my left arm a little too much as I started speaking, but soon my rehearsals took hold and I eased into the next hour and a half.

Beginning in the Middle

But before I go too much further, let me tell you a bit of the middle part of this story. The beginning part starts when my mom read me my first book, so I won’t bore you with that.

The middle: I moved to Boston this fall to start a new job. Alone. If you want to know all about that crazy thing I did, I’ve written about it before. A few times. No, really.

And I wasn’t sure, when I moved, whether I would (a) like this job, (b) stay in this job for more than a year, or (c) be ABLE to stay for more than a year. This was because we didn’t know what my partner’s job search would bring, or whether he would be able to move out here and join me. Really, all was temporary when I moved to Boston. The dissertation was almost done, but what would follow was very ambiguous.

And then he got a job offer the day I flew out for the defense, and everything fell into place like the universe was playing Tetris and got dealt the perfect block combination. Suddenly, we knew what the future held. Suddenly, there I was in Ann Arbor, saying goodbye to my house (for good), to my friends (for now), and to a town that had been oh-so-good to me, excited — but a little shocked — about beginning a life in New England with a job I love and a partner who supports me.

Back to the End

In a weekend that can only be described as one for the record books, Kristoff got an unbelievable job for an excellent company, I said goodbye to the Midwest with a 26.2 mile run through beautiful Detroit, and I successfully defended my dissertation and became Dr. Homan. And the weirdest thing?

Nothing changed.

The eeriest thing about defending (for me) were the moments that followed. After all the buildup (and my friends will tell you I’m good at the buildup — I’ve been chronicling my dissertative journey on Facebook for the past few years in order to keep the “social” in what can be a very, very solitary process), I defended, and then… all was the same. I don’t mean for this to sound depressing, because it felt in many ways poetic. Musical. As though someone struck that final resolving chord and then launched right into the next movement, no seam, no pause, no new stanza, no denouement. I celebrated, I got on a plane, and I went to a conference the next day. 

Lost in what has been the chaos of my life for the past couple months, the defense was beautifully anti-climactic. Perfectly there and very exciting, but completely surrounded and consumed by other shit that also mattered, and in many ways mattered more.

And also, it was fun. Short of a minor freak-out the weekend before, I didn’t worry about the defense, because I didn’t really have the time to do so. As we launched into the questions segment — the part that most terrified me because really you never know what they’re going to pull out of Batman’s underpants and smack you with in these thingsI was okay. Comfortable. We talked. They handed me some revisions that I agreed with. We hugged. And it was over.

And then I looked to the back of the room, at those people who have supported me every single day, no matter what. Who have been there to listen, to cry, to laugh, to raise a glass, share a pizza, run a marathon, read a paragraph, or sip a coffee. And I know while the doctorate is great and all, it wouldn’t have been possible without them.




Sooo… tomorrow I defend my dissertation. WHAT?!

I wanted to make a few materials available here, for purposes of accessibility for those attending my defense. Enjoy!

Transcript of my Defense Talk

Defense Talk Slides (PowerPoint)

In other news, I ran a marathon this morning. I ran clear to Canada and back with my friend Ann! Check out the view as we approached (and then ran over) the Ambassador Bridge:

Ambassador Bridge at Sunrise: Detroit International Marathon

Ambassador Bridge at Sunrise: Detroit International Marathon

Easily the best way to spend the morning before my defense — celebrating the marathon that has been this PhD with a marathon tour of Detroit!