Annotation and Connecting Our Learning

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This is my third year of teaching ED677 at Arcadia University, a course titled “Seeking Equity in Connected Learning and Teaching.” There always so much to record, document and share along the way. Always true in the dynamics of teaching; always challenging to accurately capture.

Let me start with some thoughts about the power of annotation so far this semester.

Over the years, I have been learning from educators I work with about the power of annotation and new tools that support online annotation/social reading. These tools have included Google, Vialogues, Now Comment, Soundcloud, Genius and Hypothes.is. I have dabbled here and there, jumping into conversations that have been organized or creating a new thread in one of the various tools or forums myself. I’ve also been fascinated by the power of annotation historically and across disciplines, worked with Hypothes.is on projects like Letters to the Next President 2.0, and am interested in the power of projects like Climate Feedback to support scientific accuracy and reporting.

It wasn’t until this semester though that I focused on the ways that participants in ED677 were encouraged to annotate – and the results, so far, have been noticeable and encouraging.

I started this process really during the first week when I asked the participants in my course, who are both inservice and pre-service teachers, to use the commenting feature of Google docs to highlight things they noticed and that raised questions for them on the ED677 Spring 2017 syllabus. Publicly visible, the comments show me where the group’s interests and questions are within the framework that I have created for the semester. I have also found that reviewing the syllabus carefully like this created a shared understanding of ED677 that, previously, has required many individual conversations to support as the semester got started. The structure of ED677 is fairly different than other courses and requires the individual participants to set their own timing and priorities and therefore it is important that everyone reads and understands the goals and resources of the course right at the beginning.

The next step we took with annotation came during our second week together. After we get oriented to the course and introduce ourselves to each other, I encourage us in week 2 to move into thinking about the larger context of this course, ie. the rapidly changing technological landscape in which we are thinking about learning together. In the past I asked everyone to engage in recent work by John Seely Brown and the authors of the Connected Learning Design and Research Agenda while also reading the first chapter of School and Society by John Dewey, a publication of lectures he gave at the turn of the 20th century.

In the past, the Dewey piece has got short shrift from participants in my class and I kept wondering about it – maybe it was less interesting or relevant than I think it is when I read it. So I read it again. No, I decided – this article, despite a few archaic words and gendered descriptions, is still interesting and relevant today, 100+ years later. And JSB, in his 2012 keynote, directly challenges us to tackle Dewey’s ideas in the context of flowing on the tides of change today. So I decided to try something new this time around, and I turned to my colleagues Joe Dillon and Remi Kalir who were working on a fascinating project called Marginal Syllabus and asked them if we, as ED677, could join in.

Why “marginal”? The creators explain:

  • our conversations will engage authors and their texts, topics, and perspectives that may be considered marginal to dominant conventions of schooling and education.
  • conversations associated with The Marginal Syllabus will occur in the margins of online texts through practices of open web annotation.

They then write that “The Marginal Syllabus is collaborative and emergent attempt to create a new sociotechnical genre of educator professional development in which authors and readers, the practices of amplified marginalia, and learning technologies begin (re)marking on equity and education.”

Perfect, I thought. Here at ED677, we are all about new sociotechnical genres to support equity in learning and teaching, so I decided to barge my way in. And not only were Joe and Remi welcoming, they seemed excited and promptly made a space for Dewey’s 1907 text and created an annotation “flash mob” event to support us during that week. Amazing. Going back to ED677 then, my only job then was to invite the class. I did so by introducing them to the project, adding related scaffolding between the texts and supportive approaches (for those who might be new to this or nervous about doing the work publicly), and an opening annotation of my own, which read:

In 2012 I heard John Seely Brown give a keynote at the DML Conference where he said that “perhaps John Dewey (and Marie Montessori) were 75 years ahead of their time” when driving models of education that brought the learner into the flow of what they were learning. Maybe, he posits, “their intuition was right but their toolset was wrong." See: http://dmlcentral.net/the-global-one-room-schoolhouse-john-seely-brown/

I was so excited by this thought and have been wondering it ever since. So how might we do what JSB does in his speech and recast some of John Dewey’s work here from 1907 in today’s networked age?

The results of this experiences, and the differences in the ways we engaged with this older text, were significant. Not only did almost all of ED677 participate and contribute their significant knowledge as teachers and learners into the mix, but their reflections that week posted to their own blogs were filled with connections they made between Dewey’s work, John Seely Brown’s, and the research report/agenda for Connected Learning. They also quickly made important connections between to their own work and with their classmates through their shared blog posts. Eric, a graduate student in education aspiring to teach math, wrote “I feel like a conspiracy theorist… I’m finding connections everywhere!”

I should mention that ED677 is an entirely online course taught in the open, meaning that all of the activities and readings we engage in, and our writing and reflections about this work, are posted to our own blogs which are then aggregated together at our shared blog (Domain of One’s Own inspired). While we meet via video every other week, I have found that it always takes time to develop a sense of ourselves as a community and that this sense develops as our comfort with being a community of educational bloggers begins to grow. What I think I am noticing this time around, however, is that this kind of online social reading activity seems to have been a significant jump-start to that sense of belonging to a community, both within the course and beyond it. And since the goal of this course is to be connected learners ourselves, as educators, in order to support equitable access to connected learning and teaching with the youth we work with, this jump-start could have significant implications.

This week we are diving back into annotation as a way to explore the idea of “wobble” as in Pose/Wobble/Flow, and thinking about that idea within communities of other connected educators. I look forward to seeing where this all brings us.

Week 3:  #TECHQUITY

 It is difficult to assess inequities in technology without the acknowledgement of inequity and inequality that exist within the bounds of our society; from sexual orientation to gender, or from race to barriers for second language learners. With the wide range of equity topics, we were asked to choose one particular inequity, and, for me, I work in a school district which is in a little country town in PA, in its own little bubble. The primary student race is Caucasian and the ESL population is near nonexistent. I have to say, despite the lack of diversity, I got a real kick out of the blog from the Philly Voice, where a young, 11 year old female student voiced her frustration with reading books at school all about “white boys and their dogs!” At our district, Where the Red Fern Grows has been a staple for many years! Hilarious. I do not consider myself qualified to attack such inequalities without having much experience on those topics in the classroom. Although all of these inequities have an impact on a global society level, I believe as I teacher I am in a position to make a difference in a positive way not on these deep rooted inequality issues, but more specifically on the equity of technology use in the classrooms of my school district. 

         In the article, Smart Tech Use for Equity, I found is very telling on how many school districts, in an attempt to create equity of technology use between the wealthier schools considered “the haves”, and the lower socioeconomic schools, the “have-nots”. We are a society fully engulfed in technology, and, for our future leaders to survive in this technologically rich environment, basic skills and exposure are essential. However, many schools think this problem can be solved by a grant and purchase of several technological tools, programs, and resources, and by simply making these resources available, it equals the plain.  After my readings, I have come to understand that in order to strive towards true tech equity, it relies not on what tools or how often students are using these resources, but rather how they are using these tools to further express themselves, research, or make connections to themselves, others, and the world around them. I found this article very interesting in how the authors consulted teachers in a school in San Diego to determine which experiences were meaningful and which were useless to learner development. Essentially, spending(wasting) money and funding on new, hot apps and tablets for students to practice math fact drills…bad. On the other hand, using a combination, based on the needs of the learner, a mixture of small group, verbal communication with the teacher, with peers, and using technology as an outlet to foster lifelong skills such as verbal communication and demonstrating an understanding for deeper connections…good!  Tech equity really is all about, in my opinion, not giving all students the same kind of tools and time to use them, but how teachers invoke moments of breakthrough using technology as a vessel to deepen student understanding and encourage self expression. 

Week 3 – Blog Focus #TECHQUITY

I have decided to focus this semester’s blog on an issue that I am researching in my Culminating Master’s course – it includes a focus on #techquity and the #digitaldivide.  I was inspired by the article on the 11-year old in Philadelphia who has done more in her short life than most people do by the time they are thirty.  I absolutely loved her quote that she is simply using what she has been given to help others, so that they, too, can go out and take part in their own social action projects.  Though I am currently working at a Cyber School, I find that this article and the focus still resonates with many of the students I have.  I actually had a live class two days ago where a student asked if we would be discussing Black History Month – this was during a Civics class that typically focuses on the struggle for rights throughout history. At first I was going to say no, that we already have a unit on the Civil Rights Movement coming up in a few weeks; but then I stopped myself.  This is an opportunity for me to reach my students in a way that can “reflect experiences that are closer to what they have” and what they are interested in. 

 I want to focus on #techquity in a way that moves beyond the access gap, and instead focuses on the participation gap that is occurring particularly in areas of large minority populations.  I would also like to focus on the “smartness of technology use with equity in mind.” I thoroughly enjoyed the article on Smart Tech Use for Equity as it looks beyond the addition of technology in a classroom, but rather evaluates its utility in the classroom and how it actually affects achievement.  In a cyber school, we often focus on the curriculum as a way to differentiate, rather than the technology.  In our school it is somewhat of a one-size-fits-all system, where all students receive a laptop, and then are expected to work independently after a three day orientation to our learning management system.  Often times, academic achievement is low well into the second month the student is in attendance due to a “learning curve” that occurs when entering cyber school.  Those that enter Achievement House with a background rich in technological exposure tend to enjoy the platform used to instruct, whereas those with a background lacking in technological experience often results in technological frustration, and academic disengagement.  We need to finds ways for all of our students to gain access to the skills needed be interacting, collaborating, and contributing effectively in a technological environment.   Technology needs to be viewed and evaluated as a tool now more than ever – I am hoping this semester’s focus on #techquity will help to improve my own practices to help level the #techquity playing field in cyber education.

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Week 3 – Blog Focus #TECHQUITY

I have decided to focus this semester’s blog on an issue that I am researching in my Culminating Master’s course – it includes a focus on #techquity and the #digitaldivide.  I was inspired by the article on the 11-year old in Philadelphia who has done more in her short life than most people do by the time they are thirty.  I absolutely loved her quote that she is simply using what she has been given to help others, so that they, too, can go out and take part in their own social action projects.  Though I am currently working at a Cyber School, I find that this article and the focus still resonates with many of the students I have.  I actually had a live class two days ago where a student asked if we would be discussing Black History Month – this was during a Civics class that typically focuses on the struggle for rights throughout history. At first I was going to say no, that we already have a unit on the Civil Rights Movement coming up in a few weeks; but then I stopped myself.  This is an opportunity for me to reach my students in a way that can “reflect experiences that are closer to what they have” and what they are interested in. 

 I want to focus on #techquity in a way that moves beyond the access gap, and instead focuses on the participation gap that is occurring particularly in areas of large minority populations.  I would also like to focus on the “smartness of technology use with equity in mind.” I thoroughly enjoyed the article on Smart Tech Use for Equity as it looks beyond the addition of technology in a classroom, but rather evaluates its utility in the classroom and how it actually affects achievement.  In a cyber school, we often focus on the curriculum as a way to differentiate, rather than the technology.  In our school it is somewhat of a one-size-fits-all system, where all students receive a laptop, and then are expected to work independently after a three day orientation to our learning management system.  Often times, academic achievement is low well into the second month the student is in attendance due to a “learning curve” that occurs when entering cyber school.  Those that enter Achievement House with a background rich in technological exposure tend to enjoy the platform used to instruct, whereas those with a background lacking in technological experience often results in technological frustration, and academic disengagement.  We need to finds ways for all of our students to gain access to the skills needed be interacting, collaborating, and contributing effectively in a technological environment.   Technology needs to be viewed and evaluated as a tool now more than ever – I am hoping this semester’s focus on #techquity will help to improve my own practices to help level the #techquity playing field in cyber education.

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#techquity/#clequity

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If you ever thought that twitter was just for sharing what you had for breakfast, then you probably never had a twitter chat with Joe Dillon regarding #techquity.

This past Wednesday evening, Joe Dillon – a colleague of mine from the Denver Area Writing Project and instructional technologist for the Aurora Public Schools – visited my ED677 class at Arcadia via Google hangout. I had invited him to come because we are starting to naming equities/inequities in connected learning and teaching and I was interested in the #techquity conversation he had been leading recently via social media:

This was also the first twitter chat that we had done in ED677. And for several of those participating, the first use of twitter at all. But bravely the group dove in … both as readers as well as tweeters. And it was not about breakfast at all. In fact, Joe took us right into a set of deep and important topics regarding the use of new technologies for learning and unpacking equity/inequity.

The design of this chat was based on work by Peter Below re: doubting/believing which has been iterated many times and in many ways by educators over the years. Joe Dillon iterated it once again, posting images of statements drawn from a set of five curated-by-Joe blog posts we had read beforehand, and then asked us to respond with I believe … #techquity or I doubt … #techquity.

For example:

1. Believe and doubt….#techquity pic.twitter.com/9ReEJI210T
2. Believe and doubt. #techquity pic.twitter.com/4qkH10LAM6
3. Believe and doubt. #techquity pic.twitter.com/g7HS1XLD14
4. Believe and doubt. #techquity pic.twitter.com/XzHAUDNomA
5. Believe and doubt. #techquity pic.twitter.com/ZgU9xccPkq
6. Believe and doubt. #techquity (4 minute warning.) pic.twitter.com/5SRbnoAzY4

You can see the full transcript of our chat.

I have reflections on this to share since then that cover a range of topics related to this chat …

First, I have been thinking about the topic of #techquity and the form/facilitation of this chat to get underneath these complex systemic issues. I am struck by the power of it actually, not to finish a conversation but to start some …. I noticed this week (and yes, this is the first of my 5 things this week) that the quality of the blog posts by those participating in ED677 have just rocketed forward … I see a lot less abstract ideas and many more personal reflections about self and practice (note added: I actually love abstract - and think it’s important - but also need to get down to it too. So both/and :). And in getting to equity, I think that kind of personal and visceral response and shared reflection is necessary and promising.

I do, however, also feel like I threw everyone in this week … unintentionally? I’m not sure and I’ve been thinking/reflecting about that all week since the chat. I know these topics are big topics and in some ways I know that I do feel like we just have to go at them, together and in community, to make any progress at all. But/and I realize that we are all still new to each other, most of the participants in this class are new to using social tools in this way, and that we haven’t really had much conversation about equity yet. On the other hand, how do you get to underneath these difficult topics unless you just go there – and I mean that content wise as well as technology wise. And as adult learners I think we have to go there with our full selves and as learners and peers. If we don’t how will we ever support youth in grappling with what is hard and challenging about all of this?

I’m reminded of the Buddhist concept of approaching each thing with a beginner’s mind. And if we can do this together, what are the implications? That’s the question I am left with and in the weeks ahead I hope we can reflect on this even more as we move into a focus on our syllabus on inquiry communities, practitioner research and communities of practice (both on and offline).

(That all said … I also probably could have/should have provided a bit more support for jumping in because, as you know if you’ve ever been on a twitter chat, these things are a bit frenetic. Everyone did great though and while I am comfortable with everyone choosing for themselves whether to be a reader or a tweeter or somewhere in-between, whenever the technology and/or the content is new. And I probably also could have made that clear from the get-go … as the authorized teacher of this class, even though I am interested in prompting a peer-based way of working together, I realize I have a certain authority that I need to also accept and address in these kinds of situations. So note to self … and happy to get feedback from those in ED677 about this too.)

That’s my second find this week – both my own learning and checking in as well as how impressed I am by how everyone in the class is making their own decisions and and working through their own questions while also working with each other in these new environments. Kudos all around.

My third find this week has to go to Joe himself. I am impressed by his attention and commitment to this conversation and to his vision of continuing to support it by connecting it to other activities and conversations happening both on and offline. For example, colleagues of his joined us from the Aurora Public Schools and this is clearly an important thread of conversations happening there right now … we were also joined by Kim Douillard, a colleague from the San Diego Area Writing Project who earlier that day we had noticed online working with local colleagues to #createquity. Joe and Kim have in many ways had important impact on my own thinking over time, I always appreciate their shared leadership and insight into these discussions, and I appreciate Joe creating opportunities to bring the pieces together.

My fourth find this week is related to ongoing questions I have about how to continue this discussion about equity in connected learning (ie. #clequity). I saw Selma last night, for example, which just reminds me again how important it is to share powerful stories of change and justice … and before that I spent last weekend at Educon where thought leaders such as Melinda Anderson, Jose Vilson and Rafranz Davis encouraged conversations about privileged voices in education. Melinda Anderson, in particular, struck cords within me related to the value of ethnic studies for all students as well as a demand, as a parent, that the education community do something about the lack of educators of color in the profession in a “Connections” panel on Sunday (note to self: will try to find the livestream or transcript of this).

Then my fifth find has to go to the authors Joe evoked in this “five entries” blog post … as well as all those who continue to write/share and surface the essential questions, tensions and systemic implications of inequality and injustice whether in education or society more generally. A few things I noticed online and bookmarked just this week that relate include:

I am filled with gratitude.

Christina