Preparing for Educause’s ELI Conference in Atlanta

Tomorrow I head to Atlanta with one of my former students, Lizi, to co-present with Barbara Sawhill and one of her students, Evie:

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Apart from looking forward, in particular, to watching these two stellar blogging students interact with our audience, I am hoping to catch up with blogging buddies and to attend several talks, including Chris Dede’s, my good friend, Bryan Alexander’s, the preconference workshop by Joann Martyn of Carleton College on using visual media to teach critical thinking, and Cyprien Lomas’ session on Teaching and Learning with Ambient Mobile Technologies.

It’s been interesting to prepare for the conference from Oberlin and Middlebury–I’m not sure we really nailed the best way to share our evolving talks, (email, audio files to give the group a sense of the voice and narrative such as Barbara has done with her first draft–especially important since we do not all know one another–, blogs to post thoughts and elicit feedback as Evie has done, Skype for in-the-moment consults, and Flickr for sharing and commenting on draft slides ), but I rather liked pulling from a variety of platforms to get a pretty dynamic talk ready to roll out. We’ll see how it comes together… and I’ll post the talk once it’s finalized.

Revelations in Dallas

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And no, I didn’t get to take in the Kimball or the Dallas Museum of Art or the Sixth Floor Museum–just the sprawling Dallas Convention Center and the historic Adolphus Hotel and the shuttle between the two. That’s what happens when you attend only the first couple of days of a huge conference. But in that convention center I met some great people and learned about some impressive projects going on in classrooms in Virginia, Nebraska, North Carolina, Minnesota and Michigan.

It was a real pleasure to spend Monday with the marvelous Bryan Alexander and the nearly 50 participants in our EDUCAUSE workshop on Social Software in Teaching and Learning.

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Bryan telling stories…

The biggest challenge for me was the range of experience with and exposure to social software among the participants. While a few attendees had very little knowledge of blogs and wikis–though you wouldn’t think so from this shot I snapped after Bryan asked, “Who has ever edited a wiki?”
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–we also had a Dutch team teaching social bookmarking to seven-year-olds and embedding video of us into the wiki almost in real time. Knowing that we only had a day, and being a believer in student-centered learning, I felt the pressure of getting everyone talking and thinking deeply about their learning and that of the students in their schools. Bryan’s wonderful session wiki helped immensely as it gave our most advanced participants an opportunity to contribute, and contribute they did, adding content to the wiki as we spoke. Inspired by the incomparable Nancy White and her use of Flickr in presentations, I used a Flickr slide show as part of the introduction to my teaching and learning. From now on I plan to use the combination of the two–and invite attendees to contribute to both as I’m presenting–this approach creates an interesting relationship between presenter/facilitator and attendee/contributor, closing in on the kind of interactive conference session I’m after that includes collective knowledge building through the wiki and Flickr as well as discussion following brief presentations. Keeping the presenting part to a minimum is tough, though… And of course, the network connections have to be reliable… The workshop went well, I think, combining Bryan’s looking ahead and deeply with my looking into the classroom. Not surprising at all were the many questions about privacy, assessment, and motivating faculty. Yes.

Other highlights of my brief stay in Dallas included two excellent conference sessions–one so inspiring that I haven’t stopped talking about it all week. In “Time, Space and History” prominent historians Edward Ayers of The University of Virginia and WIll Thomas of The University of Nebraska showcased their Aurora Project (watch their presentation here). Daring to consider historical scholarship in four dimensions through digital means (GIS, xml, coding, visual patterning, ect.), and inspired by the work of weather visualization and analysis, these two noted scholars are portraying the individual and community stories of Reconstruction and the expansion of the railroads against the larger sweeps of history, showing time as well as space as they “weave together the patterns of a multidimensional history” instead of continuing solely with monograph-based historical scholarship.

Students in Ed Ayers’ classes contribute to the project in real ways, including examining historical primary source documents, county by county, and writing brief historical narratives from the documents. Each student writes ten of these page-and-a-half narratives–“Imagine writing history for a cellphone,” Ayers explained–which are reviewed by grad student TAs before being published on the project site linked to the GIS maps, graphs, visuals of all sorts. They spoke of the “productive anxiety” students feel when asked to do something that they have never done before, that no one has done before. The professors tell their students that they are making it up as they go–how many teachers say such things in class? These students are learning the discipline as they are doing it. They are developing the discipline as they learn it. Fantastic! This is how we can weave together the best traditions of classroom learning and the new opportunities afforded by emerging technologies. It was a riveting talk exemplifying authentic learning.

The second session of note, “Gaming as Pedagogy: Teaching College Economics via a Video Game” showcased a visually enticing computer game created for a mid-level economics course at the University of North Carolina- Greensboro as a way for students to apply what they learn while being engaged by the stimulating environment of a computer game. I can see its appeal and its usefulness to assess understanding in a choose-your-own-adventure kind of setting, but I don’t much like the fact that the only options available are set out for the students–they have to choose one route over another, one decision over another, but are not able or asked to give their own reasoning. They click and move on, click and watch, read or mull over, click again. They are applying their learning, sure, and it’s fun, absolutely, but they are not contributing here; there’s no asking the students to articulate for themselves what they have learned. They aren’t doing the discipline I guess, but playing it. The students sure love it, signing up in droves for the section that offers the game. To see a sneak preview, check out their site–they definitely win the award for coolest hand-outs (creature mask, demo disk, and beautiful promotional booklet).

I also found myself at a poster session on Media MATRIX which is “an online application that allows users to isolate, segment, and annotate digital media”–very interesting examples from political science and history classes. I plan to spend some time trying it out and perhaps inviting my students to use it in their research papers later this semester. Promising.

Hearing at the NITLE reception more about some of the extraordinary online work going on at Carleton College, including a full-semester multimedia and blogging course on the road that I had learned about earlier from Sarah Lohnes has me absolutely green with envy. This is how I want to teach!

It was quite extraordinary to see the kind of creative, powerful work being done across the country, and so I returned to Middlebury both inspired and refreshed, ready to keep pushing forward with these ideas, ready to get back to my own classroom, ready to get back to Vermont. geese adirondacks

A Recent Conversation on Blogging for The Vermont State Colleges

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Ah, I’ve been away from the blog too long.

I have several posts waiting for me, posts stirred by comments from the likes of Terry Freedman and Lanny Arvan, on topics ranging from a clearer articulation of what I mean by teaching in a syllabus-less classroom to a clearer articulation of how, exactly, I see images in my classes. I am afraid that the frantic pace at which I am moving these days between teaching, talking and family have made my posts a little thin, a little less carefully developed than I would like them to be. Oh well–at least I’ve been able to show my last few posts and the resulting comments to my students as models of useful blogging conversation and feedback.

So, no, today I am not going to blog back to Terry or Lanny; I’m not going to talk about Chris Sessum’s wonderful new post on “relationships of knowledge, teacher learning, and practice”, or the interesting Skype show I participated in two nights ago about assessment of student blogging over at languagelabunleashed, or even the fascinating group of students I am lucky to be teaching this semester or the new group of world bloggers embarking on their study abroad ventures. Soon, I hope, I’ll get to those posts. For today, I’ll share the slides and text version of the talk that kicked off an afternoon-long conversation a couple of days ago with a spirited group of teachers and administrators from the Vermont State College System on the other side of the splendidly autumnal Green Mountains. And if I can get the audio sounding okay, I’ll post that, too.

I’m not covering new ground here–it is a talk introducing my classroom work with blogs and urging the group gathered to think first of the goals they and their students have for their learning, and how the new literacies affect how and what we teach.
The text served as a guideline, but in the actual talk, I departed from it frequently, pulling in additional examples both from theory and practice.

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BlogHer 2006: Mixed Feelings

I’m still in California, so the unsettled feeling I am experiencing can’t be attributed to jetlag; rather, I am feeling quite uneasy about some of what I observed and heard at BlogHer this weekend. On the one hand, it was a kick to be one of some 700 women bloggers for two days–the energy, humor and good will were palpable among the attendees–and some of the conference was very interesting and thought-provoking–facilitating the edublogging session with Laura and Barbara, for instance, was great; as was running into Stephanie Hendrik whom I had met at Blogtalk; hearing Dina Mehta, Grace Davis and Sarah Fordtalk about their blogging relief efforts; meeting the incomparable Nancy White and hearing her talk about how to set up and nurture online collaborative community sites; having J D Lasica of all people videotape our session.

But rumbling through the two days was, as Laura points out, a strong whiff of the almighty dollar. People were looking for hints on increasing traffic to their blogs, making money blogging, encouraging advertisers. In sessions I attended, and in the buzz around the pool, there was a whole lot of attention paid to getting people to your blogs. Fascinating.

Okay, so I learned that my world is indeed what I expected to find out–a bit out of touch. But I expected there to be a huge outcry against DOPA–after all, Danah Boyd spoke on Day Two. But no–NOTHING within my earshot. And in fact, as I went around talking about it, I found out that many, many bloggers, including those in academic circles, hadn’t even heard of it. How can that be? I was shocked and not a little bothered–we were surrounded by the sponsors giving us everything from zipdrives to condoms, fake flowers to souped up water; but no talk about legislation that will deepen the digital divide by making blogs and other social networking sites out of reach for kids without computers in the home, and force those who do use the sites underground to form their communities. Read Danah Boyd’s inspired research on MySpace and adolescents if you don’t believe me.

And so while I was pleasantly surprised to see how many people showed up for the edublogging session, and how they really wanted to talk about all kinds of Web 2.0 and learning topics (and how challenging so many of them felt sifting through the Web to find helpful sites on pedagogy and technology integration, on places for teachers to gather) I was dismayed by the lack of substantive talk about what’s going on with the Internet and kids. And in fact there were very very very few teens in attendance. And teens of color?

Maybe I just felt uneasy in a crowd of women who were basically having a ball blogging and meeting other women who blog and whose lives have changed through finding this means of expression. Maybe I’m too wrapped up in the future, on trying to reform education. Maybe I should have sat down with a couple of Yahootinis and stopped thinking about DOPA. But I can’t…it’s too big…

I threw this idea out there a while back, but now, now I’m convinced we’ve really got to figure out how to have an edubloggers gathering (K-16, and teacher-training programs), a face-to-face one where we sit down for two-three days and hammer out better ways for us to collaborate, to get materials and ideas to those who need them, and to talk about keeping the internet open to all.

And so, I’m gad, really glad, that I went to BlogHer, for it illuminated for me the current state of blogging, both the good and the bad. And it’s making me ever more determined to get out there and do what I can to get people talking about teaching and learning.

BlogHer 2006: Talking about Education outside the Edublogosphere

I’ve been quiet on the blog for nearly two weeks due to a schedule filled with projects and planning and snatches in the garden and lovely moments with family—true true—-but really, now that I’m here at the keyboard, I confess that the multitude of fascinating projects has been as much an excuse right now not to post as a real reason why I have been scarce around these parts. When I received an email from Terry Freedman today in which he extended his hope that I was enjoying my vacation, I thought, vacation? what vacation–and I told him as much. And indeed, I have been absorbed by my work this summer, and it’s been incredibly exciting to move between plans for my fall teaching to workshops for Middlebury faculty, and writing applications for grants (well, that’s not all that exciting) to leading and planning Web 2.0 workshops and giving talks and writing and reviewing and meeting with colleagues in the field. Phew–it’s a whirlwind and incredibly stimulating.

But truth be told, I have dragged my feet on the blog because the closer I have come to BlogHer, the further away I’ve been from knowing what I want to say in the session on edublogging where I am co-presenting with two of my absolute must-reads in the edublogosphere, Barbara Sawhill and Laura Blankenship. I couldn’t quite get my head around what to say in a non-education-oriented conference. After all, many people outside this realm, when they hear the word “education” during the course of a conversation, smile politely and let it just pass on by without comment. As Ken Robinson said in his riveting talk, (and in his equally compelling book, Out of Our Minds: Learning to Be Creative, people don’t want to talk about education; they want to tell their own learning stories, sure, the terrible or wonderful things that happened to them in school, but they blanch at the mention of EDUCATION (and I DO try to stay away from that word as it smacks of the delivery-system of knowledge rather than the student -centered process of learning). They hear me say, “I’m an edublogger” and they recoil just a bit or look blank. And indeed, in the din of the pre-conference shindig for presenters last evening, someone thought I said I was an “anti-blogger” not edublogger–ha. I bet some of the people here (and even in my edublogging world) think this loose kind of essay writing I do is anti-blogging. I know that. I’m okay with that. In fact, the reason I wanted to come to BlogHer was to see the wider world of women bloggers first hand. Do they struggle getting their voices heard in a male-dominated world? Do they care? How do I talk about the things I am passionate about in teaching and learning to people outside this world? If we don’t want disasters such as DOPA to strike again and again, we have to get out beyond our own set of readers and thinkers as well as throw ideas around with one another.

I’m learning, I’m learning…

And I’ll be back with another post on creativity in the classroom–

Lessons Taken from the Gathering of Digital Storytellers

Spending two days with a group of digital storytelling facilitators working largely outside of the world of formal education but squarely within the world of social activism was not only refreshing but useful. I learned a lot about how people outside formal ed are thinking about technology, and how they are promoting informal learning and personal empowerment. I found myself really trying to sit back and listen, to learn, to take in more than trying to push the conversation in any particular direction. Ha–Ms. Passionate staying on the quiet side!

I found it very interesting how the stories’ dependence on technology didn’t provoke particularly interesting discussions about technology or pedagogy. The facilitators were interested in learning about software and shortcuts, ways to make the work-with-technology easier and ways to keep up with developments about hosting sites and such–but really, they wanted to talk about their projects and the communities they were serving, showcasing the impact digital storytelling was having on their communities. There were lots of questions about next-steps–how to grow the movement, how to convince their own organizations or funders to support the work, and how to share the work. There was some tension between the process and the product, between the creator and the audience.

Of course I jumped into informal between-sessions conversations to talk about ways in which social software might ease that tension, and might well deepen the experience for the storytellers, and extend the reach of the work’s impact. Initially I met with some resistance to social software–blogs were seen as a waste, a distractor, or a isolating factor by some. I heard young people in the group apologize for using MySpace. This morning, an article on the front page of the Boston Globe made me think of that reluctance to think about how perhaps online tools might well help them solve the very problems expressed. Entitled It’s lonely out there: Connections fray in wired America, study finds, the article by Scott Allen opens with the following:

Americans don’t have as many close friends as they used to.
We’re networking on myspace.com, sharing photos and text messaging on our cellphones, and blogging at all hours. But a major national survey being released today shows that the average number of people with whom Americans discuss important matters has dropped from three to two in just two decades, a steep falloff in confidants that startled the researchers.

The study by sociologists at Duke University and the University of Arizona provides powerful evidence for the argument that the country is becoming increasingly socially isolated even as cellphones, the Internet, and other technology make people more interconnected.

Hmmm… Even though he doesn’t come right out and say it, the writer sure is implying that it is because we are on blogs and MySpace and wikis that we do not have strong connections with the people in our lives. This is, of course, nothing new. Book after book after article after article take this position. And indeed, if people are aimlessly wandering around about on the Web or on the streets, bored, restless, they aren’t going to be connecting with others in ways that build strong bonds and a feeling of belonging and wellness. On the heels of the conference, it helped me see why social activists hesitate to try out the Web’s connectivity through their own practice , even when they use the same words–bonding and bridging—that I do, and even when they are actively using digital media technology in their work. Blogs are getting slammed out there in the media–

So when I got up to talk with my student, Remy, I hoped to convey a sense of how blogs, for one, by giving people a place to establish a linked reflective practice (linked to one’s earlier posts by referencing them and by literally being a scroll or click away) help weave a powerful narrative of a person’s relationship with the work and the community of practice. Blogging as a meta-practice can deepen the experience for the community members by grounding it in their own lives, their own experience, their own reasons for coming to the community of practice using digital storytelling. Blogging as a meta-practice for facilitators can help clarify, chronicle, contextualize, situate the experience of facilitating for themselves and their organization.

Again (or as usual) I’ll quote from E. M. Forster: “How do I know what I think until I see what I say?” So, why, some might ask, does this expression have to be on a public blog? Yes, the linking aspect makes sense–but why not keep one only to be read by oneself? Well, that’s certainly a possibility, and when the context is extremely sensitive or vulnerable, that’s understandable. But with a public blog–and what I’d advocate (again as usual), is linking individual blogs from the community off of a group blog or something like drupal, where other kinds of interactions and publishing can go on– sharing the reflection means that you are reaching out to others–your community of practice directly by and the world beyond, to learn from them if they swing by and converse with you via comments, or to teach them through your own stories, experience and reaching-out. And that kind of sharing in an age-old letter-writing manner can help grow ideas for the organization through collective intelligence, deepen the bonds between the members, reach out to other communities. Informal learning can take place, developing of a strong personal and group voice, and a sense of looking out into the world and trying to make a difference. Community engagement can be positively affected. And blogs are great ways to link to digital stories–stories that can be embedded within text, or coupled with images, or open to comments.

And then I handed things over to my student Remy, who did a splendid job being a case study, in essence, talking about how he started by reading blogs, and then tried out blogging in fits and starts until the practice really informed his digital storytelling–the writing and using images and working ouut his ideas and getting feedback from his readers. And then he showed his stunning digital story (which he should have up and running on his blog soon)–he learned a tremendous amount being at the conference as a presenter as well as a participant.

After our talk many people joined us to discuss how a Web community might enhance their own experience, give their constituents more opportunities to develop a voice, and be an important tool in strengthening their communities while reaching out to other groups and individuals. But there wasn’t enough time–we were last up during at long two days. There simply wasn’t time. And so we’ll continue that conversation here and on the blog from the conference (interesting that there’s a blog but it really isn’t being used by the community except to access information) and in other venues that we’re developing.

A couple of highlights from the gathering–presentations by:
Shira Golding, Director of Education & Outreach, <a href=”http://www.artsengine.net/index.php”target=”_blank”<Arts Engine Here are my notes blogged from her session:

Arts Engine was founded by documentary filmmakers working on social issues; they wanted to make an impact with their films and realized there needed to be a much broader network for the makers and the users of film. They house MediaRights.org–a powerful resource and tool for filmmakers for social change and people who want access to films. The films here include digital stories. It is community driven for the most part. Arts Engine doesn’t curate the films. To do so, they started the Media that Matters Festival, a festival working year-round and through as many platforms as possible; it streams online (you can see photos through Flickr or the films on Google Video) On the website you can view the films, learn about them, and be linked to context of the specific film–places to learn more about the issue and to take action. They also realized that online interaction can only take you so far–they also have a traveling film festival and a DVD and tools available for people who want to use the films to make an impact (including posters, press releases, programs, etc., evaluation forms)–to watch within a community.

Concepts needing to be discussed by this movement–
Process versus Product: You can get swept up with the product when you’re talking about distibution and outreach. We can’t forget process. Taking a moment at the beginning, during the process to talk about audience–who will view it and why?
Marginalization vs. Integration: We have to think about digital storytelling as part of a larger form, independent media, instead of a wee, lesser form. They do this with Youth Media as well.
DIY vs DIWP: There is an attitude in independent media that you can do it all yourself; you have to open up to making it with partners–community groups, etc to reach your audience with the most impact.

The Story Development Process Josh Schachter of StoriesMatter and Cheryl Crow of Bridges to Understanding–Josh really gets the media literacy aspect and how to listen to the those doing the storytelling, letting them take the lead at every turn. Inspiring work. My notes:

Josh: Has been working with teenagers and their community stories in image and text; the Tuscon newspaper carries the stories. He’s worked on US/Mexico border to teach photography–what’s it like to live by the fence, etc.

Cheryl: Bridges to Understanding in Seattle –giving children who didn’t have a voice a voice, linked kids in the Amazon with kids in Seattle. The focus now is middle school and elementary students posting their digital stories to share with others around the world. It’s moving towards being an issue-driven model rather than sharing of personal stories.

Josh: He focuses on visual storytelling. He showed a story by a student on a reservation–the process took three weeks. Josh had to learn a whole new form of communication and teaching–the community didn’t want to talk about the issues.
“Why do we even take pictures? How are they used in society? Are they the truth?” These are the basic questions he starts out every class with. The essentialness of teaching image literacy. Every photograph is a self-portrait.
Taking metaphor and turning it into matter–hope, sorrow, confusion, for example. He gives students an image scavenger hunt–he gives them abstractions, and the kids have to go out and take photographs of time, memory, etc.

Then he goes into composition and lighting. And the moment in time captured (he uses film clips and has kids take a freeze frame that expresses it and talks about how the meaning would be changed if they had shifted the frame by a second) .

He talks with them about assumptions they have about people and subject matter.

Visual Variety: (Life Magazine’s formula for taking photo stories, too)

Strategies for getting students to the stories
–Take into account individual differences
–If fixated on text–force them to tell it in 5 pics or just spoken word
–Do interview exercises
–Find what excites them
–Have them tell story without looking at the script, poetry slam
–Screen clips
–Get peers to help
–Go take twenty pictures of the same thing
–Found objects within the community

Cheryl: How much do you prepare before you gather your visual data? What’s the balance between letting unexpected things arise and having a plan?
A worldwide project on the theme of water in their lives and communities– shows a short clip of a piece from Peru and one from New Mexico; the kids in New Mexico didn’t want to talk about water. On the photoshoot, the stories opened up and the kids got to talk about what they wanted to talk about.

So much potential here for social software. I’m looking forward to BlogHer where I hope to listen to bloggers such as Nancy White and Dina Mehta and many others working with activist groups and other nonprofits outside the formal education realm. Can’t wait.

Videoconferencing with James Farmer and The Technology School of the Future in Adelaide, Australia

What a remarkable week–going from the UK’s edublogging conference where I met some of the great eduboggers from that island to this morning traveling to Australia via videoconference for the Technology School of the Future’s Masterclass. Tomorrow will feel quiet when I’m talking about using audio in teaching to colleagues here at Middlebury.

It was great to hear James Farmer talk about how school blogging fits into a continuum of online education–I particularly liked his distinction between the merits of discussion boards and blogs, and will borrow from him to explain to people why I don’t use discussion boards in my classes. His primary objection to them is that they do not involve a personal presence, which is exactly what blogs do–real people are all over their blogs through the choices they make in terms of design and content. Blogs, he said, are about centered communication, centered, that is, around the individual. He drew upon Garrison & Anderson’s elearning in the 21st century, the diagram of effective communtities of inquiry with its intersecting circles of social presence, cognitive presence and teaching presence. He was persuasive in arguing that we have to stop thinking about people going out into online environemntts to interact with others; we have to think about individuals interacting with one another, about who we are as people and how we really communicate.

Here’s my talk:

Centering, Connecting and Creating: Transformations in Blogging Classrooms
The Technology School of the Future Adelaide, Australia June 8, 2006
Videoconference Presentation

The Presentation Abstract:
We’ve all heard stories about the remarkable outcomes teachers claim by bringing social software into the classroom. But enhancing the learning experience for our students is not simply a matter of “handing out blogs” like notebooks and then standing by to watch the miracle; nor is it a matter of setting up series of strict rules and parameters and methods. By thinking first about the nature of our learning community and our pedagogical framework, and how connecting students to themselves, one another, and the world makes sense in our classrooms, we can take powerful advantage of the connectivity and the transparency of the medium. And once we’ve seen the effects of blogging on our students, we’ll find ourselves blogging alongside them, and adding podcasting, skype, RSS, and digital storytelling into the blogging as ways to make learning exciting and effective for every student.

I’m delighted to be here today (even if it is a bit early my time), for a chance to listen to James Farmer, one of the real leaders in this work, and a chance to hear from all of you in a few minutes. I’ve found my own blogging practice greatly informed by Australian bloggers, teachers, researchers and theorists, and so it’s a real pleasure to join you.

At the UK’s first edublogging conference I attended last week in London, a conference for experienced edubloggers, I was struck by the interest in hearing practical advice about classroom blogging. So instead of focusing on research on social software and learning theory, I’m going to return to my roots—my teacherly roots and give you a tour through the blogging landscape that has evolved in my classrooms over the past five years. First off, you need to know that I am actually not very interested in talking about technology. Or at least technology in and of itself. I’m not a technologist; I am a classroom teacher trained in literature and writing, and before I brought blogs into my classes five years ago, email was about as high-tech as it went in my teaching. I am, though, passionate about learning and about helping my students prepare for the challenges of citizenship in this rapidly changing, complex world. And I have found that this goal demands that I focus on a set of new literacies as well as old, which in today’s world means a whole spectrum of visual, auditory, textual, quantitative, cultural, and network literacies. It means that students need opportunities to connect and to collaborate, to explore their roles in a community of practice as well as to understand themselves as learners, as humans. And that’s where technology—in particular blogs, in my case, and digital multimedia—come in.

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