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.

Thanks for your uninformed opinion!

I don’t mean to sound overly dramatic, but the United States has become a country in which those who have actual knowledge and experience in a certain area, we’ll call them experts, have become “tainted” by their expertise.  By virtue of their unique depth of understanding, their motives are quickly challenged and their knowledge is discounted or ignored.

Here’s a quote from former senator and vice-presidential candidate Joe Lieberman referring to the new secretary of education for the United States of America Betsy DeVos, as he introduced her at her senate confirmation hearing:  “I know that some people are questioning her qualifications to be secretary of education, and too many of those questions seem to me to be based on the fact that she doesn’t come from within the education establishment. But honestly I believe that today, that’s one of the most important qualifications you could have for this job.”  Did you get that?  It’s because she doesn’t have any experience in education that makes her, and hundreds of millions of others I guess, uniquely qualified to run the U.S. Department of Education.  Try highlighting your lack of experience on your next job interview and see how that works for you.

In local school districts, board members who are responsible for running their district, have been upset about texts being recommended by educators that refer to man-made global warming.  They argue that they do not “believe” in this concept and lament that “both sides” of the global warming issue are not presented in textbooks.  This also occurs in relation to evolution.  Somehow, scientists’ views of the facts about man-made global warming, and other topics, are up for debate from people who know nothing about the science.  Uninformed opinion supersedes millions of data points analyzed by tens of thousands of scientists.

Why is it that Americans have elected an alarming number of decision makers to positions of power who are so uninformed?  This is certainly true in education where the secretary of education, right on down to the local school board, is almost always filled with people with no experience in education.  The following comes from a Forbes article about an interview Newt Gingrich did on CNN following a political convention:

“There are three different lines of thinking he explores, and they should all terrify you.

  1. The full suite of facts doesn’t say what you want it to say, so you pick out the few facts that support your non-factual position and talk about them.
  2. The average American doesn’t think that the facts says what they actually say, and that alone should be a basis for both voting and policymaking.
  3. And that what people feel about an issue is more important than what the actual facts behind the issue are.”

I never thought I’d say this, but Newt is correct!  Why else would Americans insist on turning their uninformed opinion into policy?  “Fixing” education has been a topic of debate in our country for many years now.  As usual, those who are uninformed, which includes most of the policy makers, believe the “fix” is easy and revolves around such gems as school competition, breaking unions, getting better teachers while showing a lack of respect for the profession, etc.  Those who are informed know that the problem is complex, demanding a long look at the facts.  Those who are informed know that many school districts in the U.S. perform on par with the top performing countries in the world.  Those who are informed know that “failing” schools are in communities dealing with problems schools couldn’t possibly solve on their own.

But that’s just my uninformed opinion.  What’s yours?

 

 

Thanks for your uninformed opinion!

I don’t mean to sound overly dramatic, but the United States has become a country in which those who have actual knowledge and experience in a certain area, we’ll call them experts, have become “tainted” by their expertise.  By virtue of their unique depth of understanding, their motives are quickly challenged and their knowledge is discounted or ignored.

Here’s a quote from former senator and vice-presidential candidate Joe Lieberman referring to the new secretary of education for the United States of America Betsy DeVos, as he introduced her at her senate confirmation hearing:  “I know that some people are questioning her qualifications to be secretary of education, and too many of those questions seem to me to be based on the fact that she doesn’t come from within the education establishment. But honestly I believe that today, that’s one of the most important qualifications you could have for this job.”  Did you get that?  It’s because she doesn’t have any experience in education that makes her, and hundreds of millions of others I guess, uniquely qualified to run the U.S. Department of Education.  Try highlighting your lack of experience on your next job interview and see how that works for you.

In local school districts, board members who are responsible for running their district, have been upset about texts being recommended by educators that refer to man-made global warming.  They argue that they do not “believe” in this concept and lament that “both sides” of the global warming issue are not presented in textbooks.  This also occurs in relation to evolution.  Somehow, scientists’ views of the facts about man-made global warming, and other topics, are up for debate from people who know nothing about the science.  Uninformed opinion supersedes millions of data points analyzed by tens of thousands of scientists.

Why is it that Americans have elected an alarming number of decision makers to positions of power who are so uninformed?  This is certainly true in education where the secretary of education, right on down to the local school board, is almost always filled with people with no experience in education.  The following comes from a Forbes article about an interview Newt Gingrich did on CNN following a political convention:

“There are three different lines of thinking he explores, and they should all terrify you.

  1. The full suite of facts doesn’t say what you want it to say, so you pick out the few facts that support your non-factual position and talk about them.
  2. The average American doesn’t think that the facts says what they actually say, and that alone should be a basis for both voting and policymaking.
  3. And that what people feel about an issue is more important than what the actual facts behind the issue are.”

I never thought I’d say this, but Newt is correct!  Why else would Americans insist on turning their uninformed opinion into policy?  “Fixing” education has been a topic of debate in our country for many years now.  As usual, those who are uninformed, which includes most of the policy makers, believe the “fix” is easy and revolves around such gems as school competition, breaking unions, getting better teachers while showing a lack of respect for the profession, etc.  Those who are informed know that the problem is complex, demanding a long look at the facts.  Those who are informed know that many school districts in the U.S. perform on par with the top performing countries in the world.  Those who are informed know that “failing” schools are in communities dealing with problems schools couldn’t possibly solve on their own.

But that’s just my uninformed opinion.  What’s yours?

 

 

Checklist for Love

In the aftermath of these first nine days, as saddened as I am by the decisions of a powerful few, I cannot help but be so inspired by and proud of the collective many.  The message from cities and airports across the world has been clear; love is worth fighting for.  With a history that proves that this has not always been the case, I feel hopeful for the side of love.

Here’s what you can do to continue the inspiring actions of so many:

  1. You can #StopSessions.  The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote on Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions’ confirmation for US Attorney General on January 31st. Read this letter, written by Coretta Scott King, about why he was not an appropriate vote even back in 1986.
    Contact your Senator to let your voice be heard.  Not sure what to say?  Here’s a template for your phone call, e-mail, and tweet.  (They even provide a link to help you locate your respective Senator.)
  2. You can voice your support for public education, the foundation of democracy. There’s a class of Kindergarteners more qualified to lead public education than Betsy DeVos.  Use the phone numbers, e-mail addresses, and twitter handles you already located above to call/e-mail this message to your Senators.  (They also provide a link to help you locate your State Representatives.)
  3. Protect the powerless.  Print out and distribute this flyer, “Everyone has basic certain rights, no matter who is president,” to those who you know are undocumented.  Knowledge is power.  Pass it on. (English, Chinese, Arabic, Korean, and Spanish translations available.)
  4. Spread the word that “Hate Has No Home Here.”  Click here to join the movement and download the below sign. Display them in your front windows, classrooms, or get them silk screened onto a t-shirt (and then promptly contact me for my shipping address).

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Small Moves in Connected Learning & Teaching

Anna was a student in my Seeking Equity in Connected Learning and Teaching course last spring at Arcadia University – she is an Arabic teacher at a local University and teaches intermediate and advanced Arabic to students, some of whom will also go on to teaching. My class is open to both inservice as well as pre-service teaches, both in and out of school. It is organized as an opportunity to learn connected learning by being a connected learner; we follow our interests and work to connect our learning along the way both on and offline. This makes the  course very open to the interests that the participants bring. I encourage us to dig into our interests through an inquiry lens and share and reflect on our work in public spaces online such as blogs and twitter. There are two opportunities for self-reflection on progress in a formal way – mid year and as part of their final work. Anna reached out to me very early on and wanted to more consistent feedback on her work, letting me know that she had been burnt in the past by not knowing how the professor saw her work. She also told me how she worked as an instructor herself and this was how she did it with her students. While it was helpful to hear from her how she organized her classroom, I was also reluctant to set up a situation where she was only getting feedback from me. Instead I wanted her to interact with the whole class while building a body of work and related reflections that she could use for her own self-assessment. We continued to talk as things progressed in the early semester and she did a great job all around, increasingly posting more and more while sharing interesting reflections about her work and engaging with others along the way. By the mid-course self-reflection she reported that she felt much more confident in her work. Up to think point we had been mostly working on our inquiry questions and thinking about equity in our contexts. We then shifted into engaging explicitly with the CL principles and spent a week on on each one. During the Openly Networked Learning week, I wrote  … “this week we’ll dive into what it means to be ‘openly networked.’ We’ll look at this from a few angles — human as well as technological, the possibilities as well as the challenges.” And then I asked them to start by reading Bud Hunt’s section in Teaching in the Connected Learning Classroom. In that section, Bud writes:
Embracing the connected learning principle of openly networked learning is manageable. It does require, however, that teachers and other facilitators of learning make small moves toward openness and connectivity.
I then prompted folks to think about “small moves” they could make to to be more openly networked. This idea of small moves seemed to be very freeing for Anna – she referred to that idea frequently in her writing that week and the weeks ahead as she explored CL further and started an inquiry project of her own in her own teaching. She mentioned a couple times that as a University professor she couldn’t change the syllabus mid-course but needed to shift things in small ways instead. Even in her final self-assessment, she enthusiastically described the moves she made and the impact they had for her and her students.
Before and after ED 677: When I assigned projects to my students last semester and the years prior, they were  individual pieces of work. I gave them some freedom to choose what they want to learn about, but not completely. There were some rules and constraints to follow in completing their work. Every student worked privately on their project and they had their own presentation in the classroom. The only audience for those pieces of work were my students and I. The students reflections were done orally after every presentation. This semester, by implementing the connected learning principles and making small changes every week, I prepared my students to be more flexible with collaboration inside and outside the classroom. It became evident they were responsible and curious about the subjects at hands, more able to do their research, and more open to share their work with peers and other interested people out of the classroom. The final projects were examples of their improvement, and the  results came out phenomenal.
For me the take-away was around the power of small moves .. and the domino-impact they can have when working in connected ways.

Goodreads

Books have a lot to contend with for time in my life: Instagram scrolling, TBS network binging (Big Bang Theory re-runs, duh), Snapchat story watching… you get the idea.  It’s not that I do not enjoy reading; I think that the written word is one the most powerful and inspiring tools we own.  The issue lies in the fact that life is busy and tries its very hardest to make me believe that I am too busy to sit down and read.  For that reason, I set a goal for myself this past January that I would set aside all my distractions and read one book per month.

Six months and one to two books later, I realized I had a problem.  I decided to make up for all my months of missed books by reading as many as I could during the summer months.  Yes, goals can bend and work like this, don’t yours?

I ended up reading seven books, all of which I would recommend to another reader in a heartbeat!

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American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

Graphic novel. Brilliant, creative tale of three very different worlds that come crashing together in the most twisted ending you’ll ever read. A very short read!

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Fans of the Impossible Life by Kate Scelsa

You haven’t read a more perfect description of what it feels like to be the loneliest of lonely, struggle with depression, or feel frustrated with life until you read this.  Feel those things and need to feel less so?  Read this.  Don’t know what those feelings are like?  Great, read this to know how to walk in the shoes of 99% of the people around you.

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Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee

Want a romance story?  Read this.

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The Truth Commission by Susan Juby

How many times have you looked at someone long enough to actually see them for they are?  How many times have you asked someone how they are doing and deeply cared about listening to the response?  How many times have you listened to understand, not to reply?

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I’ll Meet You There by Heather Demetrios

Want an even better romance story than my above recommendation?  Read this instead.

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Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

So witty, so hilarious, so deeply and incredibly sad.  An easy read.  An absolute must.

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The Taxidermist’s Daughter by Kate Mosse

Romance, murder, queasy descriptions of twisted violence.  I read this on the way to Colorado and was so engrossed that the flight attendant scared me to death when she interrupted me while passing out in-flight cookies.