An Example of Efficacy And Collective Intelligence at Work

Héctor Vila’s inspired project “The Community Digital Storytelling Collaborative”is not to be missed– now in its infancy and as it evolves online for us (as well as f2f and in the classroom for them). Over the past three + years, I have marveled at how Héctor has brought us along at Middlebury College (well, in particular, the Writing Program), getting us to think about how technology could/might/should play a role in our classrooms, helping us along the way as we stumble or as we succeed.
I love the fact that what he describes here:

There are several reasons: the unification of the teachers came about because of a project-based inquiry motivated by digital storytelling; this is a “win-win” approach: rich content knowledge is essential; the sharing of information is a pre-requesite since no one person knows everything, thus the collaboration is immediately a part of the basic infrastructure; technologies that make sense–digital storytelling and a CMS tool that can, as we see here, double as a blog. These are the basics; however, there is something else, something more important and hardly ever –if at all–recognized in educational institutions: gifted and dedicated master teachers working to create with each other projects that emerge from the student’s needs, ideas, and perspectives; the hard work teachers perform when the central focus is the kids. Besides this warm, creative grouping of teachers, we are also being rewarded in the process; this makes for the manifestation of a professional group: teachers receiving recognition for their work!

about how this group working together to create student-centered learning structures is exactly what he’s doing with the group of teachers. This is efficacy at work–the teachers find this kind of planning valuable because the projects interest them; they have “expertise” (a la Lévy as they participate in reciprocal apprenticeships (Lévy again), which leads them to have an effect on their environment (their fellow teachers within this collaborative as well as the students in the classroom). This is the beauty of what Héctor has accomplished: he has given the teachers a meaningful community while they prepare to return to their classroom communities with a project to benefit the larger community! Brilliant! Inspired! Inspiring.

And then there’s how he’s using digital storytelling to create community, to develop projects (I don’t think he’s written enough about his outcome of ds), and to effect change.

So why can’t we get something like this going at the college???

I am particularly interested in how this group might integrate Orton Foundation’s mapping and CommunityViz tools into this work. It seems to me that what we really needs is a mobile platform of user-friendly tools that we can select from as the need and/or occasion arises in our teaching or community work: Bottom-up, incredibly flexible tools such speaker after speaker mentioned, including Leo (SnipSnap), Jon Hoem (Videoblogs as collective documentary), Daniel Dørgl (Zoomblox), and Mikel Maron (Blogging and Mapping) as well as Lee Bryant (Using weblogs to connect work communities)at BLOGTALK 2.

And will the teachers end up unintentionally dominating the projects? I see this happen again and again–teachers think they are making their classrooms student-centered and project-based, when in reality they are still the pivot, the focus, the main attraction, and what they say goes. Will the teachers in this collaborative dare pull themselves to the periphery and let the students be experts as well as apprentices? Do they really know how to do this? Again, I have seen my children’s teachers think they are handing the reins to their students by saying, here, do some peer editing. But without modeling, without a sens of how this helps the writers and editors (i.e. without a reflective practice alongside the workshopping), it’s a useless waste of time and frustrating experience for the kids.

And yes, we need creative leaders and implementers who first think about the communities and projects, establishing relationships with the help of the tools. All too often the tool overwhelms the user, it becomes the focus rather than the facilitator. I see my own colleagues dismayed by what they perceive as a “giving up time” to technology when they don’t have enough time to cover the content as it is. As Héctor has written about and, of course, so has Will Richardson (and my sister-in-law Patti Ganley at C.A.S.T. and I have talked about repeatedly), teachers feel overwhelmed by having to introduce anything new into their classrooms. The are burdened by our production-oriented society. They have to produce “results” that can be measured with numbers. They have to answer to adminstrators, parents, students–everyone–and so the incentive to reach into the dark, into this new arena just doesn’t exist. None of us know how enduring our results with technology in the classroom are–I mean, just take a look at what has happened to some of my students who, by the end of my technology-rich classes, feel as though for the first time they understand how to think and write for themselves as well as for the world and why this is important, even essential (many students in their end-of-the semester reflections–take Barrie’s for instance, from Contemporary Ireland–remark upon how they burst through pro forma kinds of writing and thinking to discover their voices, their interests, and their abilities to have an effect on their world [ah, the voice whispers, efficacy efficacy]) But then they move on to other classrooms and run into trouble when they want to hand in multi-media research papers, say, or incorporate personal narrative into literary analysis. Oop! BG strikes again.

But I would counter again and again–what is the use of all the content in the world, all the tried-and-true forms of writing and thinking if they are not used, if they are not integrated into the fabric of living. This is my goal for the new version of the Arts writing course–to help the students discover for themselves how writing about art matters for them and for all of us.

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