Archive for the 'DigiWriMo' Category

Diffusion of Useful Ignorance… and Self Forgiveness

Monday, November 26th, 2012

I’ve been inspired to study Thoreau again, and suspect this will generate a number of posts here. I’m heavily annotating what I read and have found much I want to write about, some of which would be in the realm of “and life” posts – though some of it would be relevant to this blog in other ways as well, which is to say it would relate to education and technology. In the interest of getting something posted tonight, I want to focus on one particular idea that has resonated with me. 

The purpose of education might be said to be the “Diffusion of Useful Knowledge,” but Thoreau suggests that there is “equal need of a Society for the Diffusion of Useful Ignorance… for what is most of our boasted so-called knowledge but a conceit that we know something, which robs us of the advantage of our actual ignorance?” Elsewhere he asks, “how can we remember our ignorance, which our growth requires, when we are using our knowledge all the time?”

In short, as educators, it is often difficult to admit that we are ignorant… but of course, no matter how learned we are, everyone is always more ignorant than not. If we are to be true educators (and if we are to grow and learn ourselves – and be lead learners) we must embrace our own useful ignorance. But we must also work to diffuse this mindset within our institutions – and among our students. Helping them to adopt an attitude of useful ignorance might be one of the best learning tools we can offer to students – and one of the best gifts we can offer them in life.

I’m not drawing this from Thoreau, but I’ve found that this attitude works well hand-in-hand with the practice of forgiving yourself for your own shortcomings. Together these two attitudes can help a learner (or members of an organization) to not only let go of preconceptions, but also to let go of the burden of needing to be responsible for having preconceptions (or accurate understandings) of the world to begin with. This makes it easier to accept the world as it is, to learn new things from new experiences, and in short – to grow.

I think Thoreau means many more things when he talks about “useful ignorance” (including his believe that there is a “subconscious magnetism in nature, which, if we unconsciously yield to it, will direct us aright”), and I suspect I’ll return to these more abstract ideas, too. But in the meantime, I’m finding this simple reminder to embrace and diffuse useful ignorance a pragmatic source of clarity, particularly in the context of sharing increasingly intoxicating information technologies with others. :)

Self Government and Education

Tuesday, November 20th, 2012

I missed the chance to see Obama’s victory speech on the day he won the election, but I went back and watched it two days later, and I’m glad I did. I immediately searched for the transcript and copied it into a Google Doc so I could mark it up. I found a few passages particularly meaningful… and relevant to our mission as educators, particularly in the age of social media.

I often appreciate and respect the president’s realism, which may not be something his opponents consider one of his strengths. I think it is important to temper the “hope” and “change” (which are vitally important) with a more realistic (sophisticated and nuanced) view of the world if anything is going to actually get done – and if hope is not going to be lost in the face of difficult challenges. Incidentally, I think this is true for educational technologists (and perhaps educators… or people… in general) as well as for political leaders. In any case, I think we see an example of that philosophy from the president here:

Democracy in a nation of 300 million can be noisy and messy and complicated. We have our own opinions. Each of us has deeply held beliefs. And when we go through tough times, when we make big decisions as a country, it necessarily stirs passions, stirs up controversy. That won’t change after tonight — and it shouldn’t. These arguments we have are a mark of our liberty, and we can never forget that as we speak, people in distant nations are risking their lives right now just for a chance to argue about the issues that matter, the chance to cast their ballots like we did today.

I also think this last point is important in our field. We can be grateful that we get to have the arguments that we do… which device, which policy, which pedagogy. And as much as we may grow tired of our opposition (and resistance to what we see as positive change), at least we’re in a position where the argument is a meaningful one and we do actually have the power to make the future a better place for our students.

I believe one of the president’s other strengths is challenging Americans to see a bigger picture. I think it’s why so many people who oppose his efforts feel he is bringing about an end to “their” America. I’m not one who thinks he is selling out our country to the UN, or Europe, or socialists (or whatever), but if the US needs to one day give way to something greater (perhaps in the wake of the UN), I am unequivocally all for that. A meaningful global government (that allows for great diversity in many arenas) will be a good thing for humanity, and this planet. I think the day has already come when we need to not see ourselves as Americans first, but as Humans… and not as “from America” but as “from Earth.” Sometimes the president’s frankly political rhetoric falls short of this vision… and sometimes it moves from the politically correct toward what ought to be. I saw that here:

We want to pass on a country that’s safe and respected and admired around the world; a nation that is defended by the strongest military on Earth and the best troops this world has ever known — (applause) — but also a country that moves with confidence beyond this time of war to shape a peace that is built on the promise of freedom and dignity for every human being.

We believe in a generous America; in a compassionate America; in a tolerant America…

I was proud to hear these words coming from our president. And again, I think this perspective is also important in our field… though I would take it an additional step. If we are a generous, compassionate, tolerant America… perhaps we should be working toward educational systems and tools that not only might benefit the 50 million American k12 students, but perhaps the 750 million k12 students world-wide. And there certainly are people and organizations working toward this aim. As I’m writing this I even find myself feeling a bit proud that I’ve been working increasingly on international professional development events… carrying our message face-to-face to educators outside the US. That being said, I know our team is only scratching the surface… and so far is mostly serving international and private schools with more resources than their local public counterparts. One step at a time… hope and hard work in the face of challenge.

Speaking about this change in America, the president touched again on the theme of hard work hand-in-hand with hope (both are necessary for real change to happen in any meaningful pursuit, especially on a national  - or global – scale):

…progress will come in fits and starts. It’s not always a straight line. It’s not always a smooth path. By itself, the recognition that we have common hopes and dreams won’t end all the gridlock, or solve all our problems, or substitute for the painstaking work of building consensus, and making the difficult compromises needed to move this country forward. But that common bond is where we must begin.

Also in keeping with this theme was this next segment, in my opinion the most important (and perhaps most audacious) of the president’s speech:

The role of citizen in our democracy does not end with your vote. America has never been about what can be done for us. It’s about what can be done by us, together, through the hard and frustrating but necessary work of self-government.

In the context of our work in education this means at least two important things to me. First, it means that we can’t complain about the government’s approach to education (at least not unless we’re actively working to change it). It is our government. In a very real way, we are the government. And, things will not change for the better in education (or in any particular direction at least) until we the people rise up and make it so. This can happen at the local level. School boards have a tremendous amount of power, freedom, and flexibility to do as they please locally… and it is rarely exercised… but most boards serve at the pleasure of the voters – you can have it another way if you can craft a compelling vision and organize support for it. This can also happen at a larger level at the state departments of education (states still maintain a high degree of independence when it comes to education, though they too exercise it less and less), and at the federal level. In short, if we want something radical, like, say, a constructivist educational technologist as a secretary of education… we have to make that happen.

Second, it means to me that we need to prepare our students for a life of self-government. I mean this on a personal level of course… in that students need to be able to govern themselves (it’s a key to success in any field – and in life), but I also mean this in terms of participatory government. We need to prepare students to take things into their own hands… to craft compelling visions and organize support… to demand something different from their local, state, federal, and global governments (in all areas, not just education of course… kids are concerned about the environment, human rights, and civil liberties – and we should empower them take their government into their own hands to improve things in the ways they want). And, in this age of social media and participatory media – with the internet in everyone’s pocket (or glasses!) making widely distributed easily scale-able participation almost ubiquitous (among those who have access), it is not unreasonable to think that these technologies can and should make it possible for more people to participate in government more often. I would never imagine everyone voting on everything; we’ll need representatives for the foreseeable future. But there is no reason more people can’t be involved in organizing and lobbying… and no reason more people can’t be authoring, editing, or otherwise contributing to legislation… and no reason we can’t have voters vote on some more issues. Our government should be far more participatory – and far more transparent. There’s no reason a significant overhaul of our government shouldn’t be forthcoming in the wake of these technological changes… despite all the challenges and hard work (and mistakes) this will inevitably entail. Incidentally, I believe we should prepare students both to be more involved in their government no matter what new technologies bring and to help bring about the technologies to make self-government more of a reality in this country… and around the globe.

Perhaps this is a tall order, but I think it’s the cause we take on as educators (or at least as educational technologists). We have the power to make this happen. I believe we will. And I can’t wait. :)


A Focus on Individual Learning and Individual Technology

Monday, November 19th, 2012

Here is another exerpt from an email… I felt myself going into “manifsto” mode and thought it might be worth posting here. With full knowledge that this might be considered a controversial (or arrogant) stance, I offer this for your comments. (As I get back into blogging, I need to get back into pushing my comfort limits – and into not caring so much if something I post might rub a potential client the wrong way.) In any case, this captures some of my philosophy regarding where I should focus my time, and where I hope the people I work with will focus their time.

1. Our team is explicitly constructivist (and explicitly focused on social change efforts), so I hope you’ll encourage creating environments in which students construct knowledge by making, doing, creating, sharing, and working together on authentic work that matters to somebody outside the classroom. Don’t be afraid to downplay the importance of standardized tests in the lives of the students… and as a legitimate measure of a school system. To be blunt, I’m (at best) ambivalent about the Common Core Standards. Creating standards for a state of 30 million people was a bad idea – creating standards for a nation of 300 is doubly so (if not 10 times as bad). We encourage focusing on systems that allow individualized learning experiences for students – experiences that tap into students’ passions and are driven by their own inquiry. The Common Core can be an excuse for introducing some of these ideas into a school system if it’s a buzz word with some force behind it (since the common core and constructivist techniques are certainly not incompatible), but in the wrong hands the Common Core can also be an excuse to focus on tests and standardized “scope and sequence” or “pacing guide” style systems. If they want Common Core, give them Common Core with a Constructivist spin. If they don’t focus on Common Core, let it be.

2. Our team believes the most important change we can focus on (with respect to educational technology) is to get an internet connected device into the hands of each student… whether it’s a school provided 1:1 program or a BYOD arrangement, I would work to move them as quickly as possible to having every student carry a personal device to school – and home. This could be an iPod Touch, an iPad, a Nexus 7 (or 10), a Chromebook, a Macbook Air, an Ultrabook running Linux (like I use now), a Windows Netbook, or whatever. That being said, we’re sort of partial to Google’s solutions (and open source solutions) for their price, features, scale-ability  and ease of management – and their tight integration with Google’s cloud services, which are important (whether Google’s or otherwise) for ensuring the device doesn’t matter. Naturally, we’re also partial to Google Apps for Education. In fact, if there were one thing I could teach all teachers today, it would be Google Docs – I think it has the most potential to change (and improve) the way teachers work with each other and their students – and of course, the way students work with each other and the world.

3. …Actually, that’s about it. Focus on meaningful pedagogy, and the devices to amplify the individualized constructivist approach. The rest is just details..

 I look forward to the pushback in the comments below… and perhaps some “amens” to boot. 

BTW, I can feel how rusty I am not only at writing, but at sharing. Onward… :)

What did I learn? Search Google News Archives

Thursday, November 15th, 2012

I wrote (most of) this on the plane ride home after the Google Apps for Education New England Summit last week…

If I’m going to blog publicly, I can ask myself… what did I learn this weekend? I usually learn something new at each summit… from dropping in on sessions, or from good questions asked in my own sessions… or, of course, from new tools or features released since I last ran my sessions. :)

Thanks to an attendee question, I relearned how to search the Google News Archives using the new interface. If I post this to my blog, I’ll have to re-record a new video of it. It’s awesome. In short, though, you can now access the Google News Archives by simply visiting Google News, and clicking on the drop down arrow in the search box. One of the options is to search in the archive – and you can limit your search by date as well.

Here’s the video… my first screencast using my new Linux laptop. I used RecordMyDesktop to create an ogv file and then uploaded it directly to YouTube. I forgot to turn up my audio input first… and YouTube seems to have crunched the resolution down pretty far, but considering I wasn’t up for a second take, I’m pretty happy with how it gets the point across. :)

Given my difficulty in articulating what else I’ve learned this weekend, I think another take away is this: I’ve got to make it more of a priority to spend substantial time in the other sessions in order to learn something new each time (and to take advantage of where we are, and who we are with). It will also help me have an even better idea about how each presenter runs their sessions and how the events are going. Right now I stick my head into every session (when I’m not presenting) to see how it’s going. I busy myself taking pictures (as unobtrusively as possible)while I get a sense for how the energy in the room, but I don’t usually stick around for the content. Most of the content is of course familiar to me, but I still pick up nuggets here and there, and there’s no doubt in my mind that the speakers at these events have vastly different experiences and expertise from mine – that I could benefit from if I put more time into listening.

That being said, I did learn A LOT this weekend, but not necessarily about educational technology. I continue to learn a lot about business… and about people (and organizations)… and about myself. These things just might not be appropriate for an educational technology blog. Depending on the reflections, though, they might work here (it is an “and life” blog too after all), or they might work on a separate blog – or perhaps on an anonymous blog. Or perhaps only in a private file – in a hidden directory on an encryped drive. I’ve been doing some journaling too. ;)

Back to Blogging: NaNoWriMo & DigiWriMo

Thursday, November 8th, 2012

Tonight I’m reflecting on the power of writing – and on the power of blogging. I thought it might be appropriate to share some of it here.

For the last three years I’ve had my eye on National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo). The writer in me has looked on with jealous interest as over a hundred thousand people each year attempt to write 50,000 words in 30 days.

I once wrote a great deal of fiction, science fiction actually – and perhaps ironically, a great deal of poetry as well (which eventually became song lyrics during the years of 1996 to 2003). Sometimes I think the work I do now is also something like a marriage of these two genres, but since starting my Ph.D. in 2003, I haven’t written a new song… or new poetry… or a story (at least not a complete one of any of these). I sometimes thought I would write more again when I was done with the Ph.D., but that hasn’t turned out to be the case. Of course I still write. I wrote a 215 page narrative for my dissertation. On many work days I easily spend 6 hours or more writing email, planning documents, etc. – and many more hours than that writing tiny bits of whatever as I complete my work at my keyboard. But it’s very different.

So each year, NaNoWriMo captures my attention. I consider doing it, but I back out due to my workload. This year, I decided that it was more important to practice the spirit of it than to stick to the 1667 words a day (which would take me about two hours… time I don’t have every day). For now, I’ve settled on 30 minutes… and I’m not even holding myself to doing it everyday. So far my record has been abysmal, but… I’ve written more this November than in any of my previous “attempts.”

Most of it has been false starts and most of it has been crap. I’ve really struggled with what to write (or more accurately, I’ve struggled with committing to writing something). I started two stories. I started a blog post. I started a more personal journal. And I broke out my two book outlines for Educational Technology books (one based on my workshops over the past ten years, and one on based on my vision for what schools could be today).

Naturally, I’m questioning whether or not I want to write fiction at this point in my life. I love the idea in the long run… but in 2012, for the most part if it’s not family or work, I’m not doing it… and it seems hard to write something (oh I don’t really mean this, but) frivolous… something that doesn’t directly support my goals. I still fancy myself a science fiction author (with rejection notices to show for my early efforts – so I am a “real” writer in that sense), but it’s been years… and it may be a few more yet.

That being said, I may still benefit from something less structured than writing a book in my professional field. That doesn’t exactly help me “write things out” or explore other parts of myself. I find myself ripe for discovering a twist on NaNoWriMo… Digital Writing Month (DigiWriMo), which encourages writers to produce 50K words – in any digital medium. More importantly, it encourages writers to play with the medium (and most importantly, the effect) of their words. Anything online counts – blogs, twitter, wikis, etc.

This happens to correspond pretty closely with my long ignored goal to blog more regularly again.

I won’t have the time for 50,000 non-work related words in November… and I won’t spend the nearly 2 hours I used to spend on most “true” blog posts. I won’t even write for 30 minutes a day, and I won’t even post everything I write. But, I could actually write 30 minutes (or more, as usually happens once I’m rolling) on most days. And if I keep that up through to the end of the year, I might really have something to show for it… or even lots of little somethings, since I’ll certainly journal things I don’t post – and I may even write some fiction (perhaps for my two little boys).

It turns out I’ve had a very healthy approach to annual resolutions (or more accurately, habit changes) the past few years… and I’ve often used November and December to “try out” changes before committing to them for a year. It’s in keeping with the “lean learning” or “lean living” philosophy (as in “lean manufacturing” or “lean start ups”) of “testing early and often.” In any case, after trying this for two months, my hope is that writing 30 minutes a day might be something I’ll feel comfortable committing to in the new year.

30 minutes can be a long time if you’re just writing. This post was written in about 20… after I screwed around deciding if I would compose in wordpress or a Google Doc… and after updating plugins and themes on my wordpress blog. :)

One of the reasons I’ve chosen to focus (primarily) on blogging as the form for my writing this month (and perhaps beyond) is that I’m a big believer in (and evangelist for) connected writing. Durring my dissertation, I found the writing experience was much more powerful and valuable when I posted what I was writing to my blog than it was when turn it in to my advisor. And I continue to see that the value of my writing for others grows over time when it is shared. If any piece of writing is searchable and discoverable online it may be “accessible and useful” to others. It may help like-minded people to connect… and it may help those of differing opinions (or different resources and experiences)to challenge each other – and to grow. Even though I’m sure I’ll journal some personal things, too, I suspect I’ll find the same is true with this new writing process. If you’ve read this far, I hope you’ll share your own thoughts in the comments below.

And maybe you can weigh in on whether or not I’m really just avoiding committing to a 50K word project that requires actual planning – and avoiding putting myself on the line by writing something so substantial that others will actually judge.

More soon…