Tag Archives: technology

Capacity and Creativity

It has been over two months since I’ve written here, and I have nobody to blame but myself. While I could point at a thousand “reasons why” I haven’t been blogging — among them the fact that I am blogging, just on other blogs — they are excuses. To be honest, I haven’t had the mental or emotional energy to think reflective thoughts over the past few months. At least not reflective thoughts that I deemed cohesive enough to turn into a blog post.

Then I had my first “official meeting” with my writing group the other day, and was reminded how important writing here is for moving my work and thinking forward. One of my writing buddies noted that when it comes to her dissertation, she returns to it each and every day, even if that only means writing a few sentences or doing a few minutes of analysis. It inspired me to be more purposeful about making the time to write something down, even if it lacks cohesion and coherence. 

For me, such writing has often taken place here or in other online spaces, where I publicly process my thinking in order to make visible the messiness that is the work of teaching, learning, and composing. So, while I likely won’t be able to leave a mark each and every day (I don’t know how she does it!), I can at least re-dedicate myself to finding the time and place for doing some writing, even if the thoughts are messy and incomplete. And today, I have some messy and incomplete thoughts about building capacity while leaving room for creativity.

Building Capacity…

I am so tired of this phrase. Education these days feels like it’s all about building capacity as resources dwindle. At the same time that articles in the popular media and from the DOE argue that teachers need more support, not less, much of the focus these days seems to be on doing more with less. Less time for teachers to plan, learn, and collaborate, because they have more kids in their classes and more demands on their time than ever before. Less money for district programs to fund the purchase of devices, the hiring of more teachers and support staff, or the facilitation of engaging and effective professional development.

Our response? We need to build capacity. And what builds capacity like moving things online? After all, I can reach a lot more readers a lot faster with this blog post, which I can Tweet out, share on Facebook, or link to in an email, than I could with a print text. Similarly, one can reach more learners in a MOOC than in a face-to-face workshop. When working under the physical limitations of things like space, place, and the very reality of getting one’s body from one point to another (which trust me, is not so easy in Boston right now, what with all this snow piled up around us), it’s much easier to invite people to view a live Google Hangout than it is to ask them to schlep across the city at the end of a long school day.

Is it important that we “build capacity?” Certainly. We need to be able to reach more teachers with more resources so that they can access those resources anywhere, anytime, from any device. We need to supply them with the physical means to access these resources, too (which is why our district provides teachers with laptops). We need to support them in building their digital literacies, so that they can in turn translate those literate practices into their classroom pedagogies. Part of this involves building capacity, extending our reach, and re-thinking how we design digital and physical spaces for learning. Which brings me to the question that’s plaguing me tonight: how do we build capacity without losing sight of the very time-consuming, non-linear, inefficient nature of creativity?

…While Fostering Creativity

I have been back in K12 education for about 5 months now, designing digital learning resources for teachers and students, building online courses for teachers and school leaders, and working with a team that wants to think deeply — and help teachers think deeply — about what it means to teach in the digital age, preparing students for colleges and workplaces that do not yet exist. More than once in those 5 months, I have found myself frenzied, overwhelmed, sometimes frustrated, and unable to articulate why, exactly.

I’m okay with all of those feelings (if I weren’t okay with frenzy and frustration, I never would have made it through a PhD program), but I’m not okay with not being able to reflect on or pinpoint what is causing them.

Chances are, these tensions stem from multiple sources — not least among them a major move across the country (I’ve never done well with major life or career transitions). However, I think some of my “frenzy” and a bit of my “frustration” lies in the space between my desire to constantly be creative while also being productive, which is sort of at the heart of “capacity-building.”

<aside>

In the second year of my PhD program, I joined what would later be called “The E-book Project that Wouldn’t Die.” Our team had grand visions for a set of e-books on multiple topics, an offshoot of a larger book series for practitioners on the Common Core that we had written the previous year. These e-books were going to be epic. epic.

Our vision for them included the development of multimodal texts that included annotated podcasts of kids reading aloud, video clips of teachers talking about their practice, and interactive tasks and invitations to engage with other educators. And the ultimate e-book (yes, one e-book) that we created actually included all of these things.

But it took us 3 years to videotape, clip, and caption the interviews, to thematically code them to come up with the book’s structure, to clip and annotate the podcasts, to integrate all of this media into our written text and design the layout, to figure out what platform to build the book within (we ultimately outsourced this), to complete the editing and revision on a collaborative team of busy graduate students, and to finally — finally — publish the damn e-book.

</aside>

One of the luxuries the academy afforded me — and my team of e-book compadres — was the space to be messily creative, to get sidetracked, to do it wrong five times before doing it right, then to decide that we actually did it right the third time.

I love designing digital content. There is something thrilling to me about hitting the “publish” button, about sharing a digital resource I’ve created, about designing a course website, social network, or space for learning and collaboration (sometimes all at once!). Part of why I love creating digital content is because I get to not only teach, but design. I love to make, create, then share and disseminate. It thrills me.

But dammit if it isn’t hard. And time consuming. And often, quite frustrating. And inefficient. 

Take this blog post, for example. I have been composing it for two hours (so far) while also doing various household tasks. I have been designing it in anticipation of a reader’s eyes, thinking about how my argument evolves and where my paragraphs break, what my sections will be and how they will unfold for my reader. I’m not even integrating hyperlinks and images, as I normally might, because my goal here is to reflect. I am, however, thinking about the accessibility of my post for diverse readers, whether my musings will make sense, whether they will prove coherent enough for this space, for this moment. It’s taking so much longer than I thought it would. 

And therein lies the tension. The digital world holds such promise to build capacity and creativity, all at once. The interwebs give us a magical, dangerous, terrifying, beautiful space in which we can create, connect, compose, publish, explore, and interact. Where we can be messy in affinity spaces of our peers who provide feedback and help us push our craft forward, or where we can present our most polished versions of ourselves in online CVs and portfolios.

But for me, at least lately, my desire to take the time to be creative, meandering through a project for as long as it takes to do it well, comes into dissonant contact with my desire to reach more teachers, more quickly, with more learning opportunities and resources. The immediacy of this work — its relevance to teachers and students right now — was the very thing that drew me to it. And yet, I wonder, as we search for more ways to build capacity in education, do we sometimes lose sight of the inefficiency, the outright disastrous mess, the productive but capacity-defying reality, that is creative design?

And to take this line of questioning a step further — what does it mean for teachers, who design learning opportunities and resources for students, that the modern rhetoric of K-12 education revolves around concepts like efficiency, productivity, and capacity? I am consistently searching for ways to encourage teachers to be designers who take risks in their planning and practice as they engage in the very creative work of teaching our young people. Do they share my feelings of frenzy and frustration? Is there a balance to be struck between capacity and creativity? What does that balance look like?

And with those questions, I leave this very inefficient, messy, but entirely #worthit blog post to the wandering eyes of the interwebs.

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

#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).

hackjam

#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!

Integrated&InnovativeTodaysMeet

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.

<Storytime>

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.

</Storytime>

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.

 

 

 

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!