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.

 

 

Defense!

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!

 

 

Becoming Digitally Organized

I really like things in my life to be organized. This has only become more true with time. As a kid, I was moderately organized. I loved things like trapper-keepers and page dividers and binders, and I was a little obsessed with labeling things. However, my backpack was usually an unmitigated disaster and the desk in my bedroom was a repository for stacks of papers, books, old homework assignments, etc.

As I have gotten older, I have come to detest clutter. With the possible exception of books (which I hoard), I have become more likely to throw out something important than to keep something unimportant. I therefore (predictably) love how most of my work has moved onto digital platforms, because this has eliminated much of the clutter from my life.

Or has it?

Digital Clutter

While my life is certainly dominated by far fewer stacks of paper, binders, and bills thanks to the remarkable capacities of my digital devices, my world is no less cluttered. The clutter is just harder to see. How many hundreds of websites do I visit every single day? How many logins and passwords do I keep stored in the back of my memory? How many digital tasks await me at any given moment, cluttering up my browser window with more tabs than I can possibly keep under control?

The clutter became even more visible recently, when the number of Google accounts in my life increased from two (one for grad school, one personal account) to three (another for work!). I have always kept my inbox carefully filtered and foldered, and have never let it get out of control. With the addition of the third account, I (temporarily) lost my ability to keep up.

I am on a constant quest to become a more effective digital curator of my online content, and this is more true for me now that I’m a digital learning specialist than it ever has been. While I have enjoyed keeping track of my favorite blogs and websites using feedly and have done well organizing my emails, I only recently figured out a system for archiving and organizing the ever-growing pile of web content that I refer to on a regular basis for both work and personal use.

The Importance of Curation for Connected Educators

In the first #bpsplnchat on Twitter for this year, many of our participants voiced interest in learning more about digital curation (which is good, because my colleague and I are hosting a webinar on the topic tomorrow — feel free to join us!). This is no surprise, because educators are constantly being bombarded by the “next great thing.” The next web app, tool, resource, site, software, device — you name it. Educators are sharing the resources they find in social media, in ed-focused Twitter chats that only continue to grow in number and participant rates. Educators are excited, overwhelmed, and stretched thin by the multitude of resources that fly through their feeds and emails on a daily basis.

The problem? It’s hard to know what to keep, what to let pass you by, what to share, and how to organize that which you want to remember or archive for later. Enter digital curation and the skills and literacies associated with keeping up with, and decluttering, your favorite online content.

Curation Literacies

One major digital skill for the web 2.0 world is tagging, which enables you to assign labels to articles, links, pictures, videos — any online content you want to keep and access later. You can tag just about anything online these days, from hashtagging on Twitter to tagging photos on Flickr or videos on YouTube. But most people fly right by the tag section as they upload content, not aware of the incredible power of tagging for curating content. Don’t bypass the tags! You never know when they’ll come in handy later!

Another skill is getting all of the stuff you want to read to go to a single place, taking advantage of your favorite sites’ RSS feeds. Maintaining and organizing your favorite feeds is sort of like having your own newspaper — you tell your feed management tool (as I noted, my favorite is Feedly) what content you want it to go grab, and it generates a constantly-updated list of articles from your favorite websites.

Finally, bookmarking is being transformed by web apps that store your bookmarks in the cloud and turn bookmarking into a social activity. Because it wasn’t enough that we now have social media sites for everything from professional networking to personal cat-photo sharing, video sharing, and music sharing — we also need to share our bookmarks sometimes! My favorite tool for this is Diigo, which we’ll talk about in the webinar on Tuesday. However, Delicious has been around for a long time, and new web apps for social bookmarking continue to crop up. This video from Common Craft explains social bookmarking.

The key is to be strategic about how you curate and which tools you use. Having a thousand new accounts to help you keep track of all of your existing online resources and links is only going to make your digital life feel more cluttered — not less. So ask yourself, where does your digital life need a little re-org? And what housekeeping tools will help you turn your digital life into a well-organized, well-oiled machine?

On Being Connected

Along with a crisp breeze, a craving for apple cider and donuts, and a lot of misty rain (at least here in Boston), the start of October brought with it the start of Connected Educator Month. As promised in my last post, I have set out to post once a week on a topic related to #ce14, but I have to admit — when it came to writing my first post, I was stuck.

The internal dialogue went a little like this:

I could write about Twitter. But being connected isn’t just about Twitter. I could write about how being connected isn’t just about Twitter! I could write about Facebook. Or Instagram! Or PINTEREST! Why am I so focused on social media? Being connected isn’t just about social media. I could write about how being connected isn’t just about social media! 

It usually doesn’t take long for me to land myself in a contemplative, reflective stupor. Before I knew it, my attempt to pin down a topic for my first post had become a lofty attempt to loosely define amorphous terms like “connected” and “network” and even “educator.” *Sigh* I hate it when this happens. (sorta)

“Connected.”

When I thought about what it means to me to be “connected” in my work, it actually had nothing to do with the digital technologies and tools I now use to stay connected with my educator networks, which at this point stretch across the country and span the globe. For me, being connected has always been about maintaining lasting relationships with a few key educators who have shaped my professional identity. A few things have helped me stay connected in meaningful ways, but they don’t have much to do with Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest…. you get the idea:

I don’t let my teachers disappear from my life.

I still maintain contact with my high school AP English teacher Sarah Zerwin (go check her out on Twitter and follow her blog, which she co-authors with her equally amazing colleagues) and my ELA methods teacher Kim Parker, who lives here in Boston and helped me connect with my current landlord — also a teacher. See how that works? These two people alone, because they are so connected themselves, have helped me expand my networks extensively in the past few years.

I go to conferences. 

Which I both love and hate. Conferences exhaust me — I’m actually a pretty shy person at first, and don’t like awkward social situations. However, conferences allow me to reconnect with already-connected educators, like my friend Dawn Reed, a co-author, co-thinker, and friend whose writing on Digital Is and work with the Red Cedar Writing Project never ceases to inspire. Or my ever-on-the-cutting-edge friend Troy Hicks, whose mentorship made my dissertation work possible and who has challenged and pushed my thinking forward. I reconnect with these people (and Sarah… and Kim… and others…) at NCTE each year, and at the same time build new relationships. Some of these are fleeting, to be sure — others will shape and define my career.

I listen.

At least, I try to. Sometimes I’m better about this than others. Sometimes my hearing gets a little selective. Sometimes I get too caught up in one conversation and forget to listen to another equally (or more) important one. But I place a lot of value on first listening, then talking. This is hard for me, people. I really like to talk. And I often think I’m right, which makes it even harder. But I’ve put a lot of conscious effort over the past 2-3 years into listening first. Listening to the teachers in my dissertation study talk about why they could/couldn’t, would/wouldn’t, or should/shouldn’t use a new digital tool with their students. Listening to the chat trends on Twitter among educators who are already connected. Listening to my new coworkers in an effort to figure out the contextual landscape of Boston Public Schools. Listening again to my mentors from years past — like Kim, Sarah, Dawn, Troy, and so many others — and recalling their wisdom.

So in the end, I decided that for me, “being connected” has little to do with the web 2.0 technologies that I use to stay connected, and much to do with the f2f relationships that have allowed me to curate, foster, build, and listen to the educators who populate my networks.

Certainly in future posts I will share the ways in which digital technologies have helped me enrich and engage these networks. However, it’s also important for us to remember the many ways in which our networks begin with those human connections that mean so very much to our learning, development, and growth as professionals… and as people.

Connected Educator Month: A Post Series

Mark your Calendars!

October is Connected Educator Month! I know you just ran over to your calendar (or, perhaps more appropriately, pulled up your Google Calendar) and excitedly marked the first day of October with a giant orange circle. I mean… this is really exciting stuff, right?!

In honor of #CE14, I’m going to do a post series here on Gone Digital exploring digital professional engagement and the use of social media (both as a professional and in the classroom, with students). This is something that has been on my mind over the past few years, as I became twitterate (twitter literate) and developed different digital practices and identities on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, LinkedIn, and eventually (but only intermittently) Instagram. And these are only a few of the big ones — new social media spaces are popping up faster than you can download the apps. According to this list of the 15 most popular social media sites based on web traffic, I am only familiar with the first 10, and I only regularly use 7 of them (though I use many that aren’t on this list, as well).

I used to find this frustrating, wishing the digital world would slow the heck down, already. After all, as a Digital Learning Specialist, it’s sort of my job to stay abreast of new technologies and to think deeply about their role in teaching and learning (and that extends far beyond social media). But now, I embrace the high-speed, can’t-catch-up whirlwind of new digital tools, searching out new (preferably open-source) technologies that might do more than enhance teaching and learning, and actually transform it.

Transforming the Work of Teaching

And that’s what teaching is all about, right? Transforming the minds and experiences of young people? That’s also what connected educator month is about (at least for me) — exploring how teachers can transform their work by connecting with educators beyond the four walls of their classrooms. But don’t take my word for it:

My dissertation research illustrated to me just how transformative “connectivity” can be for today’s educators. Those teachers who maintain networks far beyond their classroom walls, who connect at conferences, online, or over coffee, find spaces to reflect, critique, and transform their practice. Certainly, teachers have always done this. But today’s teachers are “networked” in ways they haven’t been before. Their professional networks extend and persist in social media (as I explored in a recent article) and become more robust in online Professional Learning Networks (PLNs).

Yesterday, my coworkers and I started working on an online digital learning series for Boston teachers in celebration of connected educator month. This work got me thinking about what it means to be a connected educator, the role of social media in fostering connected education, and what exactly constitutes “connected” in a world where tweets come and go faster than you can read them, where tags archive and curate online content for future use, and where educators have a wealth of available spaces in which to present, share, store, create, and design content. In what ways are these connective possibilities transforming what it means to “be a teacher” in the 21st-century… if they are at all? And what role does social media, specifically, play in all of this?

The Series

Here on Gone Digital, I will focus specifically on social media, because I’ve had social media on the mind lately. Despite the fact that many teachers and students use social media constantly in their lives beyond school, many districts have locked down social media within schools. This is because, like it or not, unlocking social media is akin to popping the top of a giant can of worms. There are a multitude of issues surrounding opening up social media to students and teachers, and these include student safety, network infrastructure, and the availability of appropriate professional development. Mention opening up social media to 100 principals and teachers, and I would guess that half of them would shiver in horror while the other half would light up with excitement. It’s not as easy as hitting a button.

But that doesn’t mean social media isn’t transforming teaching and learning in meaningful ways. And that’s what this blog series is about — how teachers are using social media to both transform and make visible the work of teaching, and how they are using it with students to transform their digital learning and literacies. Starting next week, I’ll post once a week, focusing first on how teachers are building their professional networks both online and in f2f environments enhanced by digital engagement, then moving to ways teachers are using social media in the classroom to engage students.

If you have examples, ideas, comments, thoughts, musings, frustrations… whatever, tweet me (@lizhoman) or comment below. And stay tuned!

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