Saturday, May 28, 2005

Through the Labyrinth

When I was assigned the job of creating a site for leaders and learners of ICT, I thought I wasn't a geekish enough. I was into the human side of computing, not all that tech stuff like php MySQL and all the Open Source coding I hear some of my colleagues discuss. Little did I know that I would be embarking on an adventure through a labyrinth that would connect me to an amazing virtual community of educational bloggers. They don't know me, yet, but I know them through their posts.

I have come across Bud the Teacher. He has been blogging with his class. One post I enjoyed, recently was The End, in which he described how his students explained their blogging experience to another teacher. It showed both that students can teach teachers, but also in reflecting on one student's response, it gave Bud a new perspective on his students' experience. I also am getting to know Bud through the links to blogs he reads. One link took me on a path to Nancy Mckeand.

Nancy writes a blog called Random Thoughts. Her post on Question #3 in which she responds to a question of Mr. McNamar (The Daily Grind) She reflected on whether or not blogs should be assessed and if so how. She quoted from Tyr who is a student of Bud. Tyr wrote:

Students, at the beginning of the class should explain what they want to accomplish with their blog as a final goal or as a 'major' goal. The occasional assignment/prompt from the teacher is fine to keep people on track and to make sure they have an accurate depction of what they are meant to do. If a student then does not do what attempted to set out for the class goals, then s/he will not receive an A, the grade would then fall into the hands of the teacher based on the other work this student has submitted.

Students understand goal-setting and reflection. What fascinated me was the interconnection of the blogging community. People respond to each other's blogs both through comments and through more extensive reflections in their own blogs.

I had to go and see what Mr. McNamar had written. His post: Reflecting on a Blog is a wonderful model of teacher reflection. He states articulately the issues he is thinking about and what the questions are that he will be pondering.
Writing has put the ideas out, not only for himself to examine, but we can share his voyage. The power of the blog is that people have added their comments giving Mr. McNamar (and me) food for thought and other perspectives coming from different experiences.

Each blog takes me on new adventures in the labyrinth. I do come up for air, but the atmosphere of the Blogosphere is heady and it lures me back frequently.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Commerce in the classroom

A colleague of mine sent an e-mail around on whether to post a link to a site that is selling something on our very non-commercial site and it got me thinking about commerce in schools. There are several issues that come out of this.
  1. We do not have company advertising in the classroom - should we go to Internet sites that have advertising?
  2. How do we teach students to be alert to what is advertising and what is content?
  3. How do we teach students to be aware of the effects of advertising (the codes, conventions and techniques used to entice, persuade, convince.... viewers )?
  4. Many important thinkers have web sites that also sell things (e.g. Kathy Nunley's site, which has good information on brain-based learning, also sells her books). Should we link to those sites?
We live in the age of commerce. It is impossible to go on the web for more than a very short time without bumping into ads, so it is unrealistic to think we can navigate the net without meeting up with advertising.. Just as when we walk through the streets in our neighbourhood, we are surrounded by commercialism, when we walk out of the classroom into the virtual neighbourhood, we meet the same reality. We have to street-proof our students so that they can understand the neighbourhood and think critically about what they meet.

There is a difference between meeting sites with advertising when students are researching and pointing students to a site with advertising. Are we, in some way, endorsing products? I think this is something we have to address with students.

I firmly believe we have to teach students to use the net carefully, to learn ways to keep safe and to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the environment. We have to give students the tools to look critically and be able to read a web site. Then they will be wary of the commercialism they find everywhere.

Friday, May 13, 2005


I have been thinking about synchronicity - how things in our lives that seem to be disconnected come together and make things clearer. I am an avid reader and recently read "Three Farmers on their Way to a Dance" by Richard Powers. Written in 1985, it is a story woven around a photograph taken in 1914. So much in there resonated with the reading and workshops I have done on digital storytelling. Syncronicity - choosing this book to read. For beginners in digital storytelling, I have suggested using photographs rather than shooting video. Powers, via his characters examines the effect of photographs on the viewer and the effect the viewer has on the photograph.

He writes about how photography gave a person the possibility " of being subject, audience and - by commisioning, posing and selecting the final work - auteur."

He also writes of how images take on a life of their own. "The strange persuasion of photographs rests on selective accuracy wedded to selective distortion.The reproduction must be enough like the original to start a string of associations in the viewer but enough unlike the original to leave the viewer room to flesh out and furnish the frame with belief. "

Another quote I really liked. ..."composition, vision, and decision are precisely the skills any intelligent viewer uses when standing in front of and appraising a finished picture. The process of making the thing becomes qualitatively indistinguishable form that of appreciating it."
The reader brings him/herself to the image. This is true of all texts (images, film, words..)

Powers talks of the interplay of image and viewer. " Every mechanical landscape, interior, or portrait comes to the viewer over time, a memory posted forward from the instant of the shutter waiting to come into conjunction with the instant of viewing. Noticing the image, observing it at once implicates the viewer as a paartner in that memory. Looking at the photo, we act out and replay, to a copied phantim, parallels of the very decisions and criticisms of the photographer. We ask "Who would I have to be, what would I have to believe in to have wanted to preserve this instant?"

Interesting ideas to think about as we create our digital stories. I also wonder what Powers would write in light of the use of digital cameras and the way we can manipulate reality. Automatic cameras democratized the process of picture taking. Digital cameras can turn us all into artists. Photography can affect the way we see. Our choice of photographs directs how we tell our stories.

Enough rambling.... The book is worth a read.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Identifying Oneself on a Blog

I read an interesting post on Will Richardson's blog regarding identifying oneself in a blog. His reference is to students, but the issues are the same for anyone. He talks about the possibility of future employers (or lovers!) googling your name and finding things written years before which would then reflect on whether or not to hire you. In my naive (50 +) head it never occured to me that would happen. Yet I realized, that if you google my name, you do come across items from as far back as 1990. The Internet keeps a long term record of thoughts that we have made public. To me, one of the strengths of blogs is that we can put down ideas and then objectify them both for ourselves and for others who read them. Although the discussion may be public (it is incredible that we can include the world in our conversations), how long do we want our fledgling ideas to haunt us? For it is in discussion that we clarify and change our thinking. Those first ideas may get turned on their heads once we have had the chance to examine them. How do we encourage this aspect of blogs without fearing the way the future may interact with it?

In an article linked from Weblogg-ed Making Teachers Thinking Visible, the author addressed teacher accountability. Will fear of a threat to one's job interfere with healthy discussion of educational issues? Many people talk about 21st century skills - one of which is learning to learn. Blogs can enhance the social aspect of learning by opening up the community of learners to a larger constituency, thus enlarging the variety of backgrounds and points of view. It is through "messing about" that we can open our minds before solidifying our "final polished" ideas.

Are pseudonyms the answer? I admit I have not put my full name here. Still nervous as a new blogger? When I admire something I find in a blog or on the web, I do google people's names to see what else he / she has written. Any solutions? The doors are open to interchanges. We don't want to close them out of fear and create online gated communities.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Voyage of Discovery

I have been going on a voyage of discovery, but unlike Franklin or Hudson, mine is done virtually in the comfort of my home. No ice floes or hard tack, just sleepless nights and a brain that won't stop processing. In working to produce the ICT Leaders and Learners site (which will be public, shortly) for QESN-RÉCIT I have been filtering through many web sites, blogs, etc. I am now subscribed through Bloglines to 34 feeds ranging from blogs on blogging to e-portfolio to educational technology...... What do I see as important topics? I keep coming across Digital Storytelling. Interesting after the workshops at AQUOPS and McGill. I guess our topic and site were timely. And of course, the whole aspect of social computing. To understand more about it I have started 2 blogs and want to see what kind of response I get to them. This one is for my educational musings, the other for my other passion - Early Music in Montreal. It will be interesting to see who comments and if the audience grows. I have learned to send photos to Flickr which can then be included in an article.

My travels have brought me to the feet of many educational gurus, who unbeknownst to them, have generously shared their ideas. I have not climbed mountains but I have have seen many interesting views.

As I truly believe learning to be a social activity, I hope others will share my musings, reflect back to me and, as they go on their voyages, travel part way with me.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

First Time Blogger

I am not used to making my ideas so public. I plan to use this space to muse on what is happening in education and the occasional post on music ( my other passion). I have recently started to read many blogs and decided I could only begin to understand them if I started one myself.