Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Edubloggers Meta-conversation

Today I have been visiting new blogs and reflecting on the many stages of conversations coexisting in the edublogosphere. We are all teachers and using ICT. It seems to bind us all, but that is a quick surface structure conclusion. Sense is made with deep structure parameters: "tools and pedagogy". I need to see which side of the pendulum they are at. Reading in depth, reading the discourse styles, I begin to draw quick conclusions about where they stand in education.

There are people who are still discussing things that, to be honest, I feel they are so last century. I find it very difficult to engage or say something to those posts. Shall I say: read this tag in my delicious? Provide links to the many posts that have already pushed me ahead? Certainly not the way. I give up reading them.

However, it just dawned on me the value of those conversations. The possibility to see how we have been talking while pioneers were overhearing us. Finding the same crossroads of filter/digestion/production through someone else's viewpoint. Whatever it was that took us in one direction and not another may be more evident reading them than your own PLE blogs. It is not just that some people "get it" and some don't. It's the process of getting somewhere. I just realised the value of seeing the trail of thought being born again and again. Another chance to assess the quality of the decision making process.

Disagreement pushes my thinking back and forth again. I struggle to write just what I mean. Trying to verbalize passionate ideas puts their core values to the test. Decisions to be made beyond the borders of my comfort zone.



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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

21st Century Skills - A Reply to Bud Hunt

This morning, on Twitter:

budtheteacherTalking to some online educators today about online learning and 21st Century skills. What should I be sure to tell them?
My extended tweet reply:

Tell them there'll be a day when we can surface data from the Internet pile in a timely and meaningful way. For the time being, we play with tools available and their possibilities. We should expect them to change.

As a consequence, there are no must-have tools. No definite lists.

We do not look at so many tools because we are geeky, but because they show us possibilities we hadn't thought about. And perhaps we should.

Tell them the tools were created neither to aid nor hinder good teaching.

Tools do not make the world more or less human than what it is. It's up to the user. Always.

We can do old things in the old way. We can do old things in new ways. Down this path, we'll just do better or faster. We'll complain when the machine doesn't match our teaching purposes. Stumbling blocks on the road.

Or...

We can be bold enough to try doing new things in new ways. The less travelled by road has a drawback, a certainty we do not know where exactly it will take us. What will success look like in your classroom? You will find that whenever a tool seems to be working fluently, the results you get are things we could not do before.

Teacher and students alike feel the motivation level soars.

Right after that, there arises a problem. A pointer or a sign that you, as a teacher, cannot go on doing things in the same way.

So that is when the present (early 21st century) social learning scenario eats up your traditional teaching role, leaving you face to face with the need to re-define what, when and how we teach. Some task.

If you are a passionate teacher, you'll certainly feel more engaged than threatened by the task. We strive at being more precise about the skills we are using to learn in an interconnected way.

It is not easy to put this in words.

The phrase 21st century skills is probably an umbrella term. A sticky name that entails many more things we are simply discovering and wondering about. A handy tag for a conversation worth having.


-------
On a side note
What triggered me to answer this question?
I like the idea of talking by proxy. Writing for two audiences at once: the bloggers I know will nod when they read and the unknown audience of online educators. I assumed Bud has an audience who is online, but not necessarily blogging or twittering. I may be completely wrong. Anyway, if I succeed in expressing myself, this post should perhaps get meaning accross both.

From time to time, I find it useful to re-write about those learning discoveries we've made and hardly question anymore. This post says nothing new to many. Yet it took longer to write than I had thought.

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Friday, September 11, 2009

RSS Reading Habit

This seems to be my current RSS reading habit:

1.Sift for posts
2.Star them
3.Mark the rest as read
4.Focus on the stars

Now each step of the way probably involves more complex processes that I am able to spot or describe. I find that these steps may apply whether you tend to subscribe selectively or just one interesting post compels you to subscribe to many new bloggers for a while. I like to think that even if you subscribe to 100 feeds, it would be important to develop reading habits as if they were 1000. Scalable tools probably require scalable skills to keep up.

Now in more detail, this is how I intuitively think or explain what is going on when I am reading.

1. Sifting
It's a kind of treasure hunt. At times I want to be informed. More often than not, I want to be inspired or challenged by the ideas. Definitely sifting through posts is a skill that ranks top for me. Much more than any tool playing/tweaking ability. Why? Because I think it is the antidote to being overwhelmed by the task.

What does sifting entail? These words from Howard Rheingold explaining mindful infotention resonate with me here:
Knowing what to pay attention to is a cognitive skill that steers and focuses the technical knowledge of how to find information worth your attention. More and more, knowing where to direct your attention involves a third element, together with your own attentional discipline and use of online power tools - other people. Increasingly, most of the recommendations that make it possible to find fresh and useful signals amid the overwhelming noise of the Internet are social media - online networks that make possible social exchange and relationship. Tuning and feeding our personal learning networks is where the internal and the technological meet the social.
2. Starring
The advantage of starring is its quickness (one click, no reloading page to get it done). This quickness matches the sifting speed you get after using RSS for a while. It's a smooth decision-action cycle. Google Reader now allows you a range of instant posting features, but at this stage, classifying or deciding who and where to share it with needs a time that doesn't match the priorities involved at the sifting phase. I prefer not to shift focus and keep on spotting my selected readings for my own selfish reasons.

However, sharing within Google Reader or Twitter generally happens at this stage. Yet I think sometimes I do not stop to consider the consequences of sharing it. I may simply grab the tool at hand to satisfy my impulse to share the reading happiness; but well, you know that I do not think passion does it all. Sometimes it is wiser to stop and decide where, when and what for to share. Another drawback for me is that after microblogging it I might not blog it in more detail later. Sadly because it's a read/write web after all.

3. Mark All as Read
This is a crucial step. The prerequisite of hitting the button is keeping your inner voices quiet. Mine tend to say things like: "Maybe I missed something important". Some anxiety management might help. Drop a read-now-or-never attitude. Reading past posts is not like reading yesterday newspaper. You'll learn in your time and mode, your learning receptive time. Besides, you are not alone reading. You are doing this in a networked way. If it is important, someone will tweet it or RT it, bookmark it with a tag you have subscribed to and content will come back to you. So the antidote is being networked and staying tuned.

Reading it all or feeding yourself less to avoid choking is not a valid alternative for me. That is the old way. The new way is perfecting steps 1 and 2. We have all at some point posted our dissatisfaction about the unread feeds on Twitter. What to do? Stop needing to catch up so much. Expect cross postings and repeated information. Accept not to have the satisfaction of the task completely done. This also involves giving up illusions of knowledge waiting somewhere for you to discover and seize. Who cares what you haven't read? The blogosphere is less for that post you haven't written.

So far for what and how I read. Now it's the turn to explain when and where I could read.

Steps 1, 2 and 3 could well be done in any place -bus ride, airport waiting time or the quiet of your home. I feel it is possible to go through them in a multitasking mode full of interruptions. Periods of short attention span are enough.

4. Focusing on the stars
Beware the stars. I've discovered that to read certain bloggers I need time enough to draft something quickly before their thinking puzzles or thrills me beyond articulation. Sometimes it is good to jot down notes before finishing reading the post. Even if you are not going to publish that yet or ever. Writing to me is a way of keeping track of the way I think, not just the resulting ideas.

When your aim is reflection, the reading skills involved entail the time they require, not necessarily the time you have. The context of the blogger I am reading is generally completely different from my own. Personally I choose to find a quiet hour. (Lucky me when I do.) A hour far from the quick sifting moments that leave me as if I have been running a race. I need a shift of pace. Another mind wave to go into enjoyable learning mode. A quiet moment with perspective. Simply stop. Allow myself to be inspired at the site of a blank post in the editor. For that, I may close my eyes to recreate the feeling of being in my home family garden. I might even succeed seeing this picture of a tweet by @bgblogging (11:49 AM Sep 4th). Try it yourself.
From words to images and words again. Write. Post.


Paying attention, having time, overwhelming effect management are intertwined concepts. You need all three functioning fluently to profit from online learning experiences. You also need powerful tools. As the tools evolve facilitating the tweaking that pipes content to you, my four steps today will be a thing of the past soon. Understanding how we pay attention and manage overload will always be the poser.

This is a related post about how I read in 2007. Let's see how I am reading in a years' time.





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Saturday, September 05, 2009

Content First, People Second

Tweeting is easy. Tracing how I got there is not. I'll give it a try.

Before I posted it, my mind was a whirlwind of messy tweet-length thoughts. Browsing blogs and conference announcements on 21st century skills with speakers who have never blogged but claim they 'get it' made me react in disagreement. Hence the post tone. This is the edited version.

An edublogger is not on an attention search. It's a learning search. I agree there is a bit of both, however, it makes a world of difference which one prevails. Of course you want to be read and you need an audience to spread your content. Up to there, it is simply a broadcasting quest. No learning yet.

If your blog visit counter soars, it only means you have built an interesting, visible conversation venue. Easy to tell because at that point, you will be contacted for all sorts of so-called collaboration offers. They just see what you can do for them. Funnily they may have never been inspired to post a single comment on your blog. If they did, they certainly always agreed. You see, attention is the web currency and you might give them some. Attention currency exchange does not equal networking or learning. Creating an attractive venue is a start. You are findable. Just that.

Learning awaits the node that builds network. The network does not revolve around a guru or star blogger. Although you might be inclined -at first sight- to affirm it is so. Seeing a long thread of comments in a high ranking edublog can give that impression.

Whatever makes a post or blog a gem is that blogger's ability to express what other people wish they could, but they can't. Yet. Or perhaps something you were sensing was important, but didn't have a name for it; therefore, no conversation dealing with the core issue had been built around it. A blogger may offer a playground of a post to imagine how we can think new ways of learning. I think many newbies have believed this is it about the blogging revolution. This is the kind of success we should be after. Owning the learning in your blog. Without comments on the post, it is still unidirectional. Close to what fascinates me about blogging, but not it.

Oddly enough, for those taking the conversation ahead, it is not countless visitors or comments what they are after. They are indeed making connections and exchanging Twitter trivia preferably with a closed or selected circle of people, but it is not because they are popular that they flock together. It's because they can all relate to the same topics of conversation. Therefore, rapport. Once those minds get in touch, they accept the kind of learning that occurs cannot happen in isolation. That is what makes the network continue paying attention to new ideas from those selected bloggers. Because it is the only sustainable way to learn informally. You know they are your best learning triggers. That's when learning sticks.

Learning nodes are special tweeple/people. These guys are not seeking ordinary learning, but brain-pulling learning experiences. No echoes or emotional bursts like "Amazing, great post, keep them coming" will engage them at all. It is the conversation going on. They need to find the key node for some push back to their ideas, not pleasing words from followers. If there is any high they are after it is the thrill coming from the learning itself.

So you write, you tag, you post. Twitter or blog or both. Just make it findable. To make your voice heard without a hyperlinked text, you'll have to be patient. For it takes patience to build your network of trusted sources, friendly reviewers of content that may circulate your words in a range of sharing options. Content will get to you by link or by network. Anything you mark as read in your reader is not lost forever if it is important. This web of ongoing educational possibilities re-tweets or saves again and again in your delicious network for you to step on it when your learning time is ripe.

Push, promote and email doesn't do it. Pulling the tag into your reader does the trick. I think that if any of my favourite bloggers started spamming their content in my email, I would stop paying attention. The protocol of the connection is constant choice to read or not. It cannot be forced.

How does all of that networked learning start to happen?

I think there is a simple structure:
Content first, people second.

For the newbie, this structure seems counter-intuitive. The newbie tends to crave for people to help them focus in an attempt to control the messy nature of the web. They want to search and quickly get to the list of 1001 best tools or the blog roll of the must-follow in education. They apply an old way in a new medium. The new way, instead, is opening up to finding value in randomness of diverse readings that lead to bloggers and, perhaps, connections. Serendipity is finding people through content. This is pure pulling power. It cannot be forced.

There is no right or wrong or best or fastest way to do it. I'd say it takes a couple of years to build a PLN. Once built, once it works for you, I find that you have to stop trying to search for connections. It is time lost that could be better spent blogging. Those nodes will appear as you join backchannels or blog posts. One day, you have to stop looking for learning to happen in a pushy way and let the flow of interactions in your network feed you the content.

As more people publish, what does the picture look like nowadays?
Educational technology is fashionable. I see misunderstandings on and offline.

We have to accept there will always be so-called experts talking about blogging who do not have a blog. If they haven't dipped their fingers into the pool, I guess I may be impressed at their performance, but not engaged. If they were truly committed, they would make their content findable. They would have piped their way to me through my RSS by now. How am I so confident? Because I am not looking for voices who need companies or institutions to make them seem reliable or specialists in the subject of informal learning. That is a marketing strategy that has no effect on me. Show me the content. Let people network around it.

Before hurrying into following popular people on blogs or twitter, it would be wiser to expose yourself to their content and see if some genuine resonance happens inside. Or not. You may be clueless why that blogger is so well networked. If tempted to approach them, you'll see it is fairly easy to attract the attention of any edublogger for a temporary exchange. It just takes a good amount of @messages or trackbacks. Problem is pushing doesn't build network.

The learning I am after is about depth. That takes a trail of thoughts sustained through a long time. If the connection lacks a foundation in content, it will fall like a castle of cards. It doesn't escalate. Content first, people second makes the difference. With a good connection built, it's irrelevant whether someone temporarily blogs about topics outside your interest area. Blog on. If you are engaged parts of the same conversation, content will pull you back together at some time.

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Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Gmail is Down

I love using Google products. All of them.
When a tool like Gmail is not working, this pic comes to my mind:




cartoon from www.weblogcartoons.com

Cartoon by Dave Walker. Find more cartoons you can freely re-use on your blog at We Blog Cartoons.

Then the question:

What is our DRP =Disaster Recovery Plan?




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