What we do during class time…

A quick rant:

Will’s post this morning pointing to Steve Dembo’s Podcast versus Lecture Shootout post and Dave Warlick’s “An Apple for my ipod post, ask the same question I get asked repeatedly about my blogging-podcasting-digital storytelling classrooms: If so much time is spent outside of class engaging in the discussions that normally take place inside the class (the blogging part), or in this case, if podcasts or vodcasts will replace the in-person lecture class, then what DOES go on in the classroom? I find this question nigh on shocking. And it points to the fact that we do not train our teachers about learning–about what education means. We do not ground them in classroom practices beyond the lecture-demonstration-discussion model, and we do not ground them in Paolo Freire or Ron Burnett who writes in his essay, “The Challenge of Change in Creating Learning Communities” : “…the importance of learning in a shared dialogue between partners and not in a monologue that is based on power.”

Indeed, I went on a bit about this topic a couple of posts ago and throughout my blogging. It’s hard not to get frustrated by this question–that it even needs to be asked.

Teachers are forever lamenting the fact that we don’t have enough time to dig into our subject in any depth, to do more than a greatest-hits kind of overview in survey courses, for example, because there’s so much ground to cover and so little time. First off, I have always had a hard time with the entire knowledge consumption model of education–well before a computer ever passed the threshold of my classroom. But, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a decent lecture (at certain moments). And a good lecture can work just fine virtually. So what do we do with all that time? Focus on the learning, provide opportunities for our students to practice and apply the discipline as apprentices in collaboration, rather than wasting the precious hours together in passive (or even active) listening.

WHAT DO WE DO IN CLASS??

POSSIBILITIES:

* Engage students in collaborative, subject-centered learning through authentic projects, activities and simulations. Not all of these need to take place in class of course. The time together can function much like the circle around the fire–sharing, discussing, probing the issues. Teachers can present problems to be solved together, the way Exeter dispenses with textbooks almost completely and instead throws a challenging problem on the table that, when solved or explored, will trigger questions about the theories, the facts, the processes of the discipline. Students learn by questioning, questing, doing and consulting. (And don’t tell me you can’t evaluate such learning! The whole notion of evaluation is another post I’ve got steeping…)

* Bring experts into the classroom (and onto the blog) to contextualize the subject within the real world. Have them talk with (not at) the students. Have them, like Paul Klein did when he visited my class–give them an assignment (Paul gave my artswriting class the charge of designing an exhibition that would include a specified number of artists. They had to decide who to show, how and why. What a lesson in thinking , doing and writing about art! Or look at this assignment Jim Grant, a composer, gave to the class. Have them write wiki-books about the subject, creating the course text as they go. Have them explore create tags for the lecture or reading or discussion, compiling terms and tag clouds as a way to engage with the vocabulary of the discipline. I could go on and on here… Every course, every learning situation will invite its own opportunities.

* Throw the classroom doors open to service learning. Have the students apply the learning from the lectures, books and online discussions in efficiacious, meaningful work for the larger community in which they live.

* Have the students present their takes on pieces of the lectures–analyzing, extending, applying the learning for their peers. They can do mini-lectures and presentations in front of the group to gain experience in formal and informal presentation situations. They can create podcasts and vodcasts as well, comparing the three kinds of presentations within the field.

Ah, the possibilities are limited only by our imaginations and by our grasp of the goals of formal and informal education and our specific course objectives ( of course we are often hampered by state mandates and standards). As Maxine Greene has said repeatedly, “Scholarship is intensely creative.” Shouldn’t teaching be so, too?

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A Couple of Small Pieces…and a Push

I’m deep into final preparations for two talks (trying to do vodcasts for the blog) for the International Digital Storytelling Conference in Melbourne (yes, I am crazy enough to fly to Australia for four days…) an event at which I know I’m going to learn a great deal. It’s not often I get to talk about blogging one day and then digital storytelling the next, but thanks to Joe Lambert, I’ll be doing both. The Aussies are doing such interesting work in both regards–I’m sure to bring back many ideas and inspiration.

In the meantime, I’ve just written a wee piece for the new ASCD Express, entitled, “Elevating Creative Discourse through Student Blogs”, familiar enough stuff for readers of bgblogging. NITLE has published an interview with me on their new site ( bg riffing–as they introduce the piece: ” Listen in on Ganley riffing about social connection, learner development, the nature of writing, and how to understand the intersection between teaching and technology.” )

And this evening at 7:00, I’ll have the chance to talk with Ewan McIntosh and Barbara Sawhill on languagelabunleashed. All about podcasting in language instruction–again, I know I’ll come away with far more than I contribute.

But lest I begin to get a little pleased with myself, and think that my take on blogging and digital storytelling and podcasting and the like is pretty darn interesting, along comes one of my dear students to give me a little push, to make sure I’m telling the story my students might tell about their experiences with social software in my classroom–yes, one of the Blogging the World students, Lizi, just left me a comment on my previous post that has me reflecting once again, testing, and making sure I really mean what I say here on the blog.–and she’s keeping an eye on me all the way form Siberia! (Her latest post to the Motherblog is also well worth a read.) See what happens when you give students a piece of the power??

Lovely stuff–here’s her comment and my reply:

Barbara,
I don’t know if blogging reminds me of high school, but you’re right, it’s definitely NOT what I pictured when I thought of liberal arts schools. Rather, I thought about a technology-less circle of students and teachers sitting on a sunny lawn discussing literature. (I wasn’t that far off, in some respects.)
I feel like I’ve definitely moved up the blogging echelon, though. In your class, blogging amongst ourselves with you on the sidelies felt sort of useless. I wasn’t saying things that I wouldn’t have said in a face to face conversation. By the end of the semester, I appreciated blogging as a way to have everyone’s work accessible quickly, but that was only appreciating the format, not so much the idea.
The blogging community is much more exaggerated now that I’m not in Middlebury. I’m connected to people by ideas, not just writing individual emails repeating “I miss you.”
You did right with the blog, not using it in class, but using it to “spread the aura” of the class during the rest of the week, reminding us that we would, soon, all be in class together again. Yours was the only class in which students came together for a party. (Proud?)
Creative writing classes are inherently more personal than other classes, and using technology didn’t take away from that. I wouldn’t want us to all sit side by side in class with computers on our laps, blogging instead of talking. But I’m all for hearing someone read in class, going back to my dorm room, and pulling up my own copy of their poems.

I mean, it’s pretty phenomenal that I can et into your mind from Siberia, let alone ‘cross campus.
Posted by: lizi at January 18, 2006 09:26 PM

Lizi–Leave it to you, my student, to push me about blogging in class. Hmmmm… I can’t say I agree with you here:
“In your class, blogging amongst ourselves with you on the sidelies felt sort of useless. I wasn’t saying things that I wouldn’t have said in a face to face conversation. By the end of the semester, I appreciated blogging as a way to have everyone’s work accessible quickly, but that was only appreciating the format, not so much the idea.”

First off, students don’t necessarily get it while they’re in the blogging class–it can take some time away for the power of the experience to sink in. The point to me of using blogging in classes (not in classrooms–that I RARELY do except to show models and play with images and such, more in Artswriting and FYS classes than in creative writing) isn’t that you necessarily say things on a blog that you wouldn’t say face-to-face (though I’ll contradict myself in a minute). The challenge is that students, being spread across campus outside of classtime, immersed in many differrent interests and activities, rarely come together to talk about the issues raised in class, or read one another’s work and think about it deeply (or record one another’s poems-ha!). We still treat higher education as a solitary pursuit in some ways–think about how much time a week you have class, talking over ideas…

Blogs connect us –when you’re reading something alone in your room, something the rest of us just gotta see and think about, you can fire up the blog and let us know–you can explore ideas asynchronously, at leisure, through writing, even if you’re only three rooms away from one another. EVERYONE in the class has access to your thinking–not just the clutch of two or three who are your friends among the group. That leads to the very different sense of the group (hence wanting to party together).

I also believe that something very different happens when we write our ideas and conversations than when we speak them (here’s my contradicton). One feeds (or can feed) the other.. And in a writing class–a creative writing class–I want to explore both realms as much as possible. There’s no mistake about why my creative writing class meets an extra evening a week–it’s because the blogging,and the posting of the work to the blog demands more time together to work through the ideas, the writing. I love the way the blogging feeds the discussion when we’re in class, not in a way that is perhaps apparent to you the students, but to me the teacher. The discussions in my classes have gotten a lot more interesting since I’ve taken to course blogs. Also, some people in the class actually only really spoke out on the blog–I think our experience of EL170 would have lost something essential without their blogging.

As for me staying on the side, I’m always seeking balance (though I don’t always get there) between guiding and showing and staying out of the way. I know that sometimes you all would like me to get in there on the blog more than I do. I think this topic is worth a post sometime soon. You’ve got me thinking it through again. Thanks.

As for your blogging now–both on the Motherblog and on your own–it’s quite extraordinary, Lizi. I’m learning a good deal from you about the journey through a study-abroad year–and yes, I’ll post comments more often! 😉

Thanks for pushing me.
Posted by: Barbara at January 19, 2006 05:18 AM

Soon a new group of students will come through my door–last year’s group (or those still on campus) got together today to play writing games, and probably talk blogshop, almost a year since they first all met up in creative writing class. I can’t wait to see how the new bunch pushes me and how the old group stays in touch.

Teaching the Blog, Blogging the Teaching

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TALKING AND WRITING DURING LAST WEEK’S SSUG MEETING IN OHIO

Last week’s NITLE-sponsored Social Software Users Meeting at The College of Wooster brought together educational technologists and faculty from liberal arts colleges (a 50-50 split between the roles) to talk through the successes, failures, opportunities and future of social software in the liberal arts. I came away with many ideas, seeds for collaborations, and a community of fellow educators thinking about the relationship between uses of social software and undergraduate learning.

Mulling those two days over and meeting up with the remarkable Sarah Lohnes for coffee yesterday reaffirmed my growing inclination to spend less time looking through crystal balls at what the future might have in store, and more in examining our actual classroom practices with technology–what works, what doesn’t, and why. I plan to talk here even more than I do about teaching, giving examples from my classes and pointing to theory and practice out in the world. It isn’t enough to say to people that they need to have the use of technology spring from the classroom goals–we who are doing this need to show how it’s done while keeping an eye on the big picture. At Wooster we didn’t talk all that much about the next five years, about the transformations that will certainly occur on our campuses–we talked a lot about teaching and literacies across disciplines, and how social software can contribute to our missions of preparing our students to be active, thoughtful citizens. We talked Pierre Levy and Stephen Johnson and Paolo Friere and Maxine Greene among others. Those kinds of conversations will help us to pull down artificial walls of the classroom as Web technologies provide us with ways to ground the learning in the world, to focus on collective intelligence, and to mentor learners.

The next conference/meeting (that is, after the International Digital Storytelling Conference) that I attend will, I hope, focus on teaching and learning with technology in the liberal arts–the hows and whys and what we can learn from social activists, artists and others about teaching and learning in the world. Why are people having so much trouble moving from lecture to what Sarah calls, subject-centered teaching? Instead of seeing the teacher as holder and dispenser of knowledge, or student as central maker of knowledge, why aren’t we concentrating on the conversation itself–on how Web technologies can help with the process of exploring a subject matter–its vocabulary, its parameters, its demands, and its constraints?

I realize how lucky I am when I think back to high school, to Exeter’s Harkness Table, around which we were given primary source documents, novels and problems to puzzle over together in search of the hows and whys of world events, literature and mathematics. The teacher was there to ask, not answer questions, and the best instructors were nearly invisible and yet always there, helping move us towards understanding how we engage with the discipline at hand. I think, too, of the two courses my daughter goes on and on about at Barnard CollegeReacting to the Past I and II, courses in which the students study pivotal moments of change in human history–the partition of India and Pakistan, for example–by assuming the roles of the constituent parties and conducting research into their point of view. Each unit culminates with a debate, a trial, a reenactment of sorts. My daughter (who also went to Exeter) has a firm grasp over the events studied, but more significantly, I think, about the processes. Computers had nothing to do with any of this–inspired teaching did; an understanding of learning did.

Let’s face it. Students come to the liberal arts not really wanting technology in the classroom–at least not initially, not to the degree that I shower them with. They want the convenience of it, sure, but the rest of it? Do they really want to blog to the class and beyond, putting their flawed work on display, discussing discussing discussing in public? Do they want to hear their own voices on the audio files embedded onto the blogs? Play around with Photoshop in a literature class? Create tag clouds in political science? Such exercises initially seem like add-ons or smack of high school to them–this isn’t what a liberal arts college is all about, what they had imagined even when we make the pedagogy transparent, as my colleague Mary Ellen Bertolini is committed to doing. I have a reputation as the blogging teacher around here, so students know they’re in for something different when they step into my class for the first time, but still they’re skeptical, resistant even. They have romantic notions about the liberal-arts college life conjured through the stories of their parents, the movies, their high school teachers. Blogs and wikis; skypecasting, podcasting and digital storytelling might be fine in high school, but in college? Many students think not. Many think the magic of learning means to come under the spell of a charismatic, “brilliant” teacher whose lectures entertain and inform. Even in discussion classes, the students expect the teacher to do most of the talking–and indeed, if there were a study conducted, I bet most discussions classes are really call-and-answer sessions dominated by the teacher’s questions and commentary.

This kind of classroom takes some getting used to–and teachers have to be okay with students feeling a bit off-kilter to begin with in the course (my students often liken their experience during the first couple of weeks to free-falling). But just wait until a student gets a chance to learn within a class using this technology effectively. I don’t think my students will ever look at learning or their role in their education quite the same way again.

Why am I going on and on about this? Well, I found myself at Juniata and Wooster being asked quite a bit about what it is I actually do in the classroom during class time if my students are blogging away together so much outside of class. How do I remain a part of the community if I am not reading and commenting on everything they write–if I’m off somewhere to the side? What happens when I don’t post more than a couple of weeks of a syllabus at a time when students need to plan their semester? Do I really just let the students take over everything? Is there no balance? And I was also asked about the particulars of assignments–how I actually teach with social software–the nitty gritty. I realized how little we teach our scholars, our teachers in the liberal arts about teaching and learning.

I feel lucky to have had that taste of collaborative, subject-based learning at Exeter and even more, to trained as a public high school teacher in an exceptional teacher-training program that immersed us in educational theory as well as having us teach under a master teacher for a year. These experiences have given me a solid background in pedagogy and practice, in understanding the journey of an adolescent through the high school classroom before I turned to undergraduate teaching.

And so I plan to do more talking teaching here. Pulling examples out, pointing to the experiences of such inspiring, inspired educators as Barbara Sawhill and Ted Permutter and Peter Havholm and the many others who shared their insights and experiences with technology in the liberal arts.

Reflections from the Week’s Social Software Adventures, Part I: Juniata

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The Presentation Slides

I’ve arrived back from an intense, stimulating four days immersed in social software at Juniata College and Wooster to find a sloggy January-thaw reality in Vermont (sheeting rain, 50 degrees–ugly skies with a deep freeze forecast) and a blog with a futzy template (for anyone looking for my usual flickr, list of papers and courses, and categories, right now they are all the way at the end of the entries —scroll, scroll, scroll–until I can get the IT guys to realign whatever went out of whack–I tried to figure it out to no avail…)

I had a great time meeting some remarkable faculty members at Juniata College, learning about the concerns and questions surrounding the introduction of social software into their undergraduate classrooms. Getting out of my own institution puts important pressure on my thinking on the place of new technologies in the liberal arts — it was invaluable to gain that kind of fresh perspective both as classroom social software user and edublogger. Many thanks to the great folks at Juniata.

Being the fine teachers they are, the 28 faculty members pushed me hard about the real vs. hyped value of blogs, wikis, RSS and tagging in courses across the curriculum; about time issues–both in terms of the time it would add to their already pressed schedules to put social software into play in effective ways and the time using software in the classroom would take away from the focus on course content; and about other kinds of potential compromises and losses (such as the magic of a class community coming together in a room to explore ideas for the first time, the deep pleasures of sustained engagement with a text) that might result from moving away from strictly traditional modes of expression and communication. Would learning be compromised? What actually happens to a classroom–to the time spent together–if so much time outside of class is engaged in discussing online the themes of the class? How can a teacher read all the discussion, and make sure students aren’t heading down roads of shallow or misguided thinking? Ah, the whole issue of control, of responsibility, of the role of the teacher surfaced.

We spent 8:30 – 2:30 engaged in such talk on Wednesday before I zoomed off to Ohio in my wee rental car. When I left them, they were still at it with their skilled IT staff. I look forward to following the developments in Juniata classrooms over the next few semesters–I have the feeling that many will find social software not to be the add-on they feared; social software is not interior decoration if woven into the content and filling pedagogical needs; rather it becomes the architecture of a course.

Indeed, after six hours of discussion, peppered with as many concrete examples as I could come up with on my feet, I think they opened up to ways a well-planned and creative use of social software creates opportunities to make learning in our disciplines transparent, connected, and electrifying. As the blog(s) and/or the wiki(s) (with RSS and tagging and a welcoming of audio and image) become the course–as we give students more responsibility for their learning and each other, instead of becoming watered down, lightweight “fun-only” courses, our classes deepen, and the students engage with the subject matter inside the class and outside of their own accord. Students connect the often abstract learning in the course to their experience of the world–and that’s when the aha! moments really kick in. So, yes, I was energized by that day, so much so that the four-plus hours of hurtling down Pennsylvania & Ohio highways to make it to NITLE’s Social Software Users’ Group Meeting at Wooster passed far more quickly than I would have guessed.

Over the next few days, I will post a reflection on my adventures in Wooster, including my delight in seeing so many FACULTY and so many WOMEN among the twenty-seven of us! (Indeed, I’m working a post on that very subject–how few the female voices and how few the undergraduate liberal arts faculty voices are in the most attended-to corners of the edublogging world.) For now, here’s the link to the wiki–feel free to cruise around the notes jotted and the pictures snapped during the open-space meeting. I had hoped to blog, but my role of co-facilitator kept me on my feet or tapping wiki notes. And truth be known, I’m still working on my blogging-in-the-moment skills–I prefer to use my blog to reflect and synthesize rather than to report.

Much as I dislike PowerPoint presentations (giving and sitting through them), I did prepare and show slides–I’ve had too many experiences when network connections have crashed mid-presentation to trust going live-only with the blogs; I will upload the presentation slides on Monday when I can put them on a server (THEY’RE AT THE BEGINNING OF THIS POST), but for now, here’s a summary of the slides, plus links. Note the last-minute tweaking of the talk title (opening the talk to a wider audience than I had first anticipated).

slide1.jpg

Slide 2: Writing Prompt: (doubled as a chance to try out posting to a freshly set-up blog):
What are your pedagogical goals?
How does technology intersect with those goals?
What are your questions and concerns about using Web technologies (blogs, wikis, podcasts, RSS, tags, etc.) in this course?

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Bob Sprankle’s Third-Graders Podcasting

Will Richardson’s High School Journalism Blog
High Schoolers on a wiki
Underground High School Newspaper
California Digital Storytelling Contest for High School Students

Canterbury Tales High School Project
Oral history Project (High School)

SLIDE 4: The Writing Divide–The personal vs. the academic realms (no links)

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The Chronicle of Higher Education 11/05

SLIDE 6: Overwhelming Realities–speed of change, classroom pressures, the baffling array of tools (no links)

SLIDE 7: First Year of College–Setting the tone, providing a transition, engaging the passion for learning vs. pressures of content loading (no links)

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Introduction to Creative Writing
Writing Across the Arts

Contemporary Ireland through Fiction and Film

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SLIDE 10: slide10.jpgIrish blog–Front page
Summer Assignment Page

SLIDE 11: Extending the Teaching Moment
Link to Responses to “Thee jazzmen”–two student responses and the professor’s

SLIDE 12: The Students Shape the Blog as the Blog Shapes Them–Links to an award-winning multimedia essay, students conversing with an expert; students referencing one another; meta-reflections

SLIDE 13: Blogging to Engage Students Actively in their Learning Process–How taking advantage of the medium’s connectivity, visual nature, and archiving leads to student understanding of their own process, an awareness of their progress, and improvement in critical thinking and writing

SLIDE 14: Real-World Classroom Connections–Experts invited to the classroom can continue the discussion on the blog–link to Liza Sacheli discussion

SLIDE 15: Blogging to Ground the Learning within the Wider Discipline and the World–Experts on the blog; public nature of the blog & publication lead to enhanced authentic & extended learning; a range of discourse modes, levels and audiences understood; efficacy in action

SLIDE 16: Blogging to Initiate a Portfolio of Student Work–How students, by having their own blogs/pages linked to the Motherblog, linking to earlier semesters, joining future iterations of the course via the blog, and reflecting in an ongoing way lead to a unified education/integrated self, learning as process, a rich and ongoing record for student and teacher, and effective revisions & growth in deep critical thinking.

SLIDE 17: Taking the Blog Outside–Multiple Layers of Meaning (a Bloggers’ Field trip)

SLIDE 18: Blogging to Create Rich Archives and a Course Portal–How keeping a blog as CMT; options for a rich range of research, group, oral, creative, multimedia and traditional assignments, student models, lead to nothing being lost from the original course; emergent outcomes are made possible; enlivened and enriched collaborative projects; service-learning and dispersed-community collaborations possible.

SLIDE 19: Student Responses to First-year Blogging
“I feel this class is like that game where everyone tries to sit down on each other at the same time, in a circle, and if they do it correctly no one falls because the weight is evenly spread around.”
“…we are all experts, and we are all apprentices…”
Reflections

SLIDE 20: slide24.jpg Links to Posts on Time, Blogtalk Paper, and Modeling

SLIDE 21: Blogging Exercises— Links to in-class writing prompt and follow-up

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SLIDE 23: Blogs Invite Multimedia : Images prompting language, stories without words

SLIDE 24: Podcasting/Audio Filespost on using audio to teach writing

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Bowdoin College English class wiki
Digital Storytelling
Independent Student Projects
Inter-institutional Projects

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Off to Juniata College and The College of Wooster

Tomorrow I head to Juniata College in Pennsylvania to give a workshop-length version of the presentation I made at Antioch College last summer:
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I’ll post the talk notes and slides, responses and reflections in a couple of days.

And then it’s over to Ohio’s The College of Wooster for the two-day-plus NITLE Social Software Users Group Meeting. We’ll be using a wiki (which I’ll link to here once we get it going if we decide to make it open) and I hope to blog the Open Space meeting. I’m eager to hear what other liberal arts faculty and instructional technologists are making of the rapid changes in the Web 2.0 technologies landscape, the clarion call for an overhauling of the educational system, and the opportunities for ever more interesting collaborations between classrooms, colleges, and grade-levels. Looking forward to seeing some examples of classroom practices.

More soon…

Intensity and Playfulness: Students and Artists Online

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To start preparing for my spring semester creative writing course, I’ve been reading two new books (in addition to Vikram Seth’s Two Lives and Anne Carson’s Decreation), that have nothing ostensibly to do with the evolution of my teaching with Web technologies: John Berger’s Here Is Where We Meet and Robert Coover’s A Child Again. I journeyed into these books not just for the pleasure of it all, but to remind myself that teaching creative writing is mostly an offline experience. I wanted to pay deliberate attention to words on pages; after all, my office is dominated not by computer equipment but by books and paper:
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I know how to keep my online writing/reading/thinking self separate from my I-love-the-feel-of-page-in-my-hands self. Or so I thought. The deeper I find myself within the marvelous holds of these fictions, essays and inventions, the more I realize how much I’m looking for a dose of art, of experiment, of play to bring into the classroom blogs, podcasts et al. Indeed, as I read post after post by bloggers I routinely turn to, recounting this uneasy present we’re in as edubloggers looking at what needs to be be done, what can be done, but how far we have to go to get there (is it the moment when we stand atop the cliff, mesmerized by the dazzling lagoon beneath us, afraid to dive?) I find the wild, irreverent inversions of Coover and the marvelous threading and blurring of time in Berger calming me down, showing me how ridiculous it was even to contemplate a separation.

In my struggle to piece together the fragments, conversations, discoveries and shifts in my classroom and blogging, I’ve for a moment forgotten the importance of story itself–and that is what these books are reminding me: to enjoy this process, the telling of the story of this wild moment and not worry so much about getting my head around the changes. I’ve got to keep in mind what Flannery O’Connor said: “If a writer is any good, what he makes will have its source in a realm much larger than that which his conscious mind can encompass and will always be a greater surprise to him than it can ever be to his reader.”

From the bookflap of Berger comes this description:

This is a unique literary journey in which a writer’s life and work are unseparable: a fiction but not a conventional novel, a narration in the author’s voice but not a memoir, a portrait that moves freely through time and space but never loses its foothold on the present, a confession that brings with it not regret but a rich deepening of sensual and emotional understanding.

And from the slipcover of A Child Again:

Casey returns to bat. The Pied Piper pipes again. Little Red Riding Hood is not safe yet.

Robert Coover, one of the true revolutionaries in American fiction, presents a new collection of short stories, revealing the cruelty of puppets, the perfection of a jigsaw puzzle, and the lonelinesss of the invisible man. Outlandish and precise, menacing and humane, this collection finds new life in our oldest tales.

These writers remind me to make connections, to make fun, to invert and make new–to draw upon the past intentionally as I move headlong into this future, and to learn from writers who have managed to keep language bristling and new as they tell the stories of our time. I am reminded of the playful language inventions of Patricia Eakins and the essays-and-novels of Carole Maso. These writers have much to teach me as I urge my students to work with and in this transparent, collaborative, connected Web medium to push language and our notion of what language is and how we write and how we create worlds with our readers/interacters. Ah, I’m not saying this well.

Back I go, then, to Roy Ascott’s brilliant Telematic Embrace, to an essay he wrote in 1966, in which he wrote:

This cybernetic process of retroaction generates a constant stream of raw and familiar relationships, associative links, and concepts…At this early stage of a radically new culture, the artist is doing little more than explore his new relationship to the spectator. He is searching for new ways of handling ideas, for more flexible and adaptive structures to contain them; he is attempting to generate new carrier-waves for the modulations of contemporary experience,; and he is searching the resources of technology to expand his repertoire of skills…The modern means of communication, of feedback and viable interplay–these are the content of art. The artist’s message is that the extension of creative behavior into everyday experience is possible….He will continue…to provide a matrix for ideas and feelings from which the participants in his work may construct for themselves new experiences and unfamiliar patterns of behavior.

So here I am, back to the blog, drawn here to puzzle out the unfolding story, how we’re trying on this language of connection, this new writing, remembering to look to the artists, those who write books and those who play within the Web, such as dispatx art collective (artists collaborating on theme-based projects in the transparent world of the Web, and now adding blogs for ongoing process reflection and viewer feedback), which is embarking on a new project, the description of which ends with this explanation:

The theme is underpinned by countless interconnected forms of communication, drawing on the rich history of human utterance and phonology: its consideration suggests a simultaneous reassessment of how we define language and semantics, and highlights an inherent philosophical discourse concerning how we can think about thought, or use language to explore language.

We’ll follow this project, commenting and participating with artists outside the classroom as we muck about with words, sounds and images inside the classroom–and with layered, conscious connectedness.

We’ll also follow the January writing adventure of fellow student, Remy, from his initial about-this-blogging post and a response he received through the coming month. Remy explains:

I will use this blog to explore travel writing by documenting my own travels and adventures, exploring the processes of getting at this style of writing. I want to rob myself of the image and force my writing to exist in the present, reflecting on the immediate instead of working to stir up memories of smell, temperature, color, etc. later. I wonder, ‘Will this writing evolve?’

The point of my blog, though, is not for you to solely follow me around and live vicariously through my experiences. I want this blog to become an open forum for anyone and everyone to communicate ideas, thoughts, photos, you name it I want to foster conversation, generate new ideas, build a community of thinkers. (Enough with the clichés, right?) But this is what I want to do. Read my stories and comment on my adventures, on my thoughts, and on issues that stir inside of you. If nothing more, I hope that you enjoy these stories and my photography.

And Jeff comments:

I like to think of Rem’s current travel-blog as piece that can be used to emphasize the anatomy of an experience, the time-lapsing of a curious mind and the trickle-down process of personal evolution. The medium of incremental and embedded journaling is a prime medium for teaching a reader about the telescoping of experience from a single moment to a time period at large and through its revision as it passes into hindsight. I think we readers are very lucky to get to dip our fingers in and taste whatever our fella is up to and also to stir the pot with our own updates and insight. So let’s enjoy the ride and give him some good material for his blog.

This is something I haven’t yet done much in my teaching with social software–look into the unfolding process of Web writers and artists beyond ourselves as a way to understand our own writing–both process and goals. We now have so much rich material to bring into our classrooms, to talk about, to play with, to extend. Artists feel overwhelmed, at a loss, at some point in the creative process. My student writers need to get used to the feeling of freefalling. Why shouldn’t we be feeling this way, too as teachers? Especially now? And so as I feel overwhelmed by the amount of information and applications bombarding me, and frustrated by my shortcomings and an educational system unshaken from its inertia, I will remember how I feel this way every time I try to write. Artists have always been at the edge, looking back over their shoulders, commenting, provoking and distilling as they leap into the unknown .

Plans for 2006–Action

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I’ve been dipping this morning into the edublogosphere for the first time since semester’s end to catch up with the year-end reflections and year-ahead aspirations.

As Will points out, we are reinventing ourselves in many ways right now:

It all still feels glacial, this unlearning, reinvention stage that we’re in. I still wish there were more voices engaging in the conversation. And I’m not sure that 2006 or 2007 or even 2008 will bring us to the point where the system itself will be undergoing a similar transformation. But there’s no doubt there is an energy around all of this right now, an urgency even. I’m feeling it in my own life, not just in the education sense but in a more global sense. What difference do I really want to make? What contribution?

I feel much the same way, casting about in the fog as we try to move our thinking and our practice forward while not getting lost in the maelstrom, blitzed by the speed, or delighted by our own thinking. In fact, I see many of us (myself definitely included) spiralling back again and again to make the same observations as we did at the beginning of 2005 in hopes that we now can perhaps gain some sort of clarity and direction as we try to adapt to the changes, as we try to ready our classrooms for what’s to come, as we try to move our schools and colleagues towards the new learning opportunities and realities. Yes, it’s dizzying and electrifying and terrifying–and maddenly slow. And as my colleague, Hector Vila, keeps telling me impatiently, for years and years people have been saying everything about the world of technology that we’re saying now, and how it will affect education.

But there is value in hammering away at the issues collaboratively across blogs way beyond what exactly it is we are saying–using blogs and wikis and multimedia work and webcasting helps us to understand what our students are experiencing in their connected worlds. Learning by doing. We’re the students here, sitting in our teacherless, wall-less, Web 2.0 classroom, and sometimes that means we pretty much all write variations on the same theme until someone breaks through with truly original insights or applications. And sometimes that means we just mess around. And sometimes we’ve got to get out of the classroom altogether.

Prompted by watching my daughters try to make sense of their education (one a sophomore in college taking spring semester off to explore other ways of learning and one about to graduate from high school and head to India for the spring to study Buddhism and Hinduism in the field), and a recent post by Dave Warlick (and really Marco Polo’s comment profiled there), I ‘ve been thinking a good deal about how to pick my way through the smorgasbord of technologies and applications and communities and opportunities for collaboration. I’m looking for balance and connections between this virtual work and the physical world. I’ve even said no recently to some of the most interesting Web collaboration projects that have come my way — I have to pull back a little in order to move forward.

For me the next step is two-fold:

First, getting together as much as possible with edubloggers across grades, disciplines and cultures in an edublogtalk kind of unconference so we can engage directly and over the course of a few days about what we’re all blogging and webcasting and podcasting about in tiny clusters. Next week, I’ll get a chance to do that with other liberal arts folks: first working with some thirty faculty members at Juniata College for a one-day workshop in which I will explore with them the connections between social software and their teaching, and then heading to a three-day meeting with some twenty other NITLE social software users to compare notes, and plan new collaborations.

Second, I want to pay more attention to the explorations and experiments of my students and artists/cyber-thinkers like Oliver Luker. I want to learn from my brave and adventurous daughters as they move outside the “expected” paths into the world and out of the tower. I want to keep in mind the remarkable post of my student Megan’s, the last before she left her teaching semester in South Dakota to return to the tower. Not only does she give us a searing view into her experience on the reservation, she even takes me to task a bit, and rightfully so, saying, in response to my previous post:

My addition to Barbara’s comments would be that we need action combined with our blogging. We are now finding that ownership and that community, but now–how can we share that collaborative reflection within a larger community, acting with our passions, our words alongside our blogs?

Indeed.

I’m going to try out more class-to-class, school-to-school collaborations for my students via blogs, wikis and webcasts; I’m going to encourage more students to take their blogs & wikis & cameras & microphones out into the world in independent projects, such as Remy, bound for Southeast Asia; I’m going to watch Emily closely this month, the remarkable blogging student of Hector’s, who is breaking new ground with the way she is writing about her hometown new Orleans as it tries to stagger to its feet. Action.

I see 2006 as a year of experimentation and action and talk–if anyone has a class wanting to do some online work with college creative writers this spring, let me know. If anyone has students doing work I should look at. let me know. If anyone has ideas about organizing an edublogtalk, let me know!