Beyond These Walls

Learning everywhere

Digital Identities: Where does your digital self begin and end?

Tonight I watched Bonnie Stewart’s #etmooc session on Digital Identities; it was her last slide that got me.


When I came to #etmooc (as it does feel like a place for me), it was a stepping away, to create a new space for me, the personal me. Not the professional me, not the #flipclass teacher me, around which I have created most of my digital identity. This space here, very intentionally, very purposefully, was made away from my already established professional blog space. At first and still, this space here felt lonely in comparison to my blog where I feel very connected, highly visible, and incredibly supported.  Yet at the same time I felt strangely hemmed in.

This space here had none of that hyper-connectedness and so for me #etmooc has been a bit of a solo journey. You might think it sad, as for many #etmooc was about connecting and it’s not that I didn’t connect, I did. But at its core, #etmooc has been about connecting to myself as a serious, dedicated and focused learner, again, after many years away; falling deliciously, delightfully, head first in love with learning, for the sake of it. No other reason.

Pure process.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I didn’t produce, connect or interact, but these were not the aspects of #etmooc experience that resonated deeply for me (I think this post: Is developing voice a prerequisite for connected learning? explores this tension a bit).

I can’t adequately express in mere words, how immensely and deeply satisfying a journey it was and is and will continue to be; how it pushed out and filled up a space of me that had sat empty. This may sound confusing, I am a teacher, I am learning all the time, reading all the time, thinking, reflecting and sharing. All true. But everything in that arena, is and was purposeful, mandated and on someone else timetable and to suit someone else needs.

This was my learning. No purpose, no beginning, no end, no have to’s, no pressure, no goals….just me. Strange, how when all constraints, definitions, and lines are removed, that out of nothing emerges my interests as bright soft spaces that I can easily push through. No need to question the purpose, the goals. You just know… this way next.




I think at the deepest level, if I keep drilling down, the process provoked a more authentic self to emerge in my digital identity. Less afraid to be undefined and more confident to define for myself, minute to minute who I wanted to be, rather than whom I had created. The process has fused the many disparate identities of me, that don’t seem so disparate anymore. Before I thought that keeping them all separate would be easier. Somewhere about half way through #etmooc, the lines of my digital self, that I had worked hard to create, in the first place, began to blur. I didn’t erase them purposely; they just seemed to fade on their own.

Maybe now I feel empowered as a learner and all other identities are easy off shots of that self? Maybe now I don’t see this digital world as much as a game to be played? Maybe I see that I don’t have to be defined as carefully out here as I thought? Perhaps I can be a person who is layered on top of layer of identities and still have a cohesive identity? Or it is that #etmooc evoked for me memories of my first learning forays in my backyard where everything was interconnected, separate contexts and constructs not needed?

Maybe what I am trying to say is I found a powerful lens to see many facets of me all at once.

“There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story.”
Frank Herbert

The Digital Iceberg.

Last week as I listened to Harold Rheingold‘s #etmooc session: Literacies of Attention, Crap Detection, Participation, Collaboration and Network Know-How, I began to think about how frequently in education we devote 90% of our energies to 10% of an issue. Just as studying an iceberg exclusively above water and refusing to consider the more substantial portion that lurks below the surface, in education, we often fail to get to the bottom of issues. Nowhere is this more evident than in our approach to ed-tech as we continue to fixate and fascinate on the bells and whistles, but seem unable to look beyond the specific technologies to the more deeply rooted and implied literacies. (The iceberg also serves nicely as a symbol for our teens’ digital vs. school lives; what we see of them at school is only the tip of the iceberg as many have rich, active digital lives that we fail to consider, examine or connect to while they are at school.)

Is technology “just” the fun tricks to be played and titillated by? Are proficiencies with digital tools really what this is all about, like skills to drive a backhoe; a finite universal list that can be acquired once and then checked off? Or do we need to begin to understand literacies more as: “an active relationship or way of orienting to the social and cultural world” (Lankshear 1999) as Doug Belshaw suggested in his session on digital literacies. He pointed in the direction of considering literacies, as something to be developed rather than delivered. Is this the something larger lurking below the surface that our Edu-ship might run into, causing us to capsize, leaving us gasping in the dark waters à la Titanic? Or has this already happened and we feel this frigid disconnect on a daily basis in our classrooms when we work with students?

Is it really the tech tools now in the hands, pockets, and purses of our students that account for the scattered focus we feel intuitively in our classes? (And honestly, did we ever have their attention when we stood and lectured for hour on end?)  Is it whether or not we know how to use Socrative, Camtasia8, Animoto etc. that is THE game changer in this time of serial digital divides (have and have-nots, teacher and student, adult and teens, parents and teens, tech savvy and non etc.)?

Or is it more that as a collective, mainstream education has for the most part, failed to notice where our students ARE stuck, where they are struggling, submerged below the surface in their digital lives? And although many students do need help with the how to of setting up a blog, imbedding an image or making a digital story, where they are stuck is in the underwater part of this digital iceberg; frozen in the complex issues of digital literacies (and lack thereof) hidden, submerged, at times drowning in this complicated new ecosystem that is their digital lives.

As Rheingold explains: “Keeping up with technologies is not as important as keeping up with literacies”. This implies we may need to take a step back, or rather back up our boat a bit, to see the difference.

Further inspirations:

Harold Rheingold describes his book Net Smart.

Can storytelling and content courses play nice?

In a society characterized by uncertainty and rapid change, the ability to think creatively is becoming the key to success and satisfaction, both professionally and personally. For today’s children, nothing is more important than learning to think creatively – learning to come up with innovative solutions to the unexpected situations that will continually arise in their lives.

                                                                                                                        Mitchel Resnick

This week in AP Bio class students told stories about DNA replication using whiteboards. I use this activity to invite students to make sense out of content that might have little or no personal relevance. The stories produced in the AP class, were, well very unstory- like. Students told stories that were precise, exact and essentially verbatim of their texts. Their whiteboards were full of words and included few pictures. They were being what obedient students are, well-trained parrots (sorry students I love you parrot like and all).

When later in the week my Bio 12 classes did the same group task, students wrote stories that were zany and fun. One story described a helicopter ride over shark infested water and how Student J is ripped in half (like DNA in replication has it’s 2 strands broken apart by an enzyme). There were fewer details in the stories, but the overall flow of information was there and accurate.

At the end of the week when I look back I cannot remember even one of the AP classes’ stories but I do remember several of the Bio 12’s and in particular the shark one in vivid detail.

I have always loved metaphors and when I think I tend to think in images first and then find words later. I get flooded easily if all I am given in word based input. I prefer to look at diagrams in text then fill in details as needed. I can recall patterns on a page easily but fail to remember how to spell simple words. When I struggle to understand a topic I get clarity when I find a central metaphor to attach details to.

I find many students make sense out of unfamiliar territory this way. Many like to make stories to help give meaning to a topic devoid of meaning to their brain, but many do this activity in private, as if it were a less-than learning strategy.

Theorist Klaus Krippendorff writes: ” unlike analogies, metaphors are fundamentally asymmetrical. They are the linguistic vehicles through which something new is constructed.” He further explains that metaphors “carry explanatory structures from a familiar domain of experiences into an other domain in need of understanding or restructuring”.

Students like stories in general. If I find fiction pieces that relate to a topic I will read them aloud in class; I can feeling them listening in a way that is completely different from when I read a non-fiction piece. I also find that reading fictional stories aloud brings a calm and peace in class to a stressful day.

Despite these observations about the power of telling stories on both myself and students, I frequently encounter disdain and scepticism from some students who feel they are getting a sub par education when I invite them to be creative. They see the creative part as wasteful as the time could be better spent amassing more knowledge. Can storytelling have a meaningful role in a senior science class or is the time better spent on inquiry and experimental design? I wonder why it seems that as we move into senior secondary courses do we strive to squeeze out every ounce of the creative spirit of storytelling and squeeze into the learning space raw unfiltered content?

Can they not dance together, the content with the story? Or does one always have to take over and be the sole performer on the stage of learning?

For them to dance together, there must be the right tension between them and perhaps it is the complexity and nuance of this tension that scares us off of having them dance together? How do we decide where one begins and one ends, when we are trying to keep the subject matter in its pure form? Or is that the problem itself, that really our brains don’t think in subject areas and the silo approach pulls meaning from a topic like vultures pull flesh from carrion?

What do you think? Can storytelling and content courses play nice?

What an individual can learn, and how he learns it, depends on what models he has available. This raises, recursively, the question of how he learned these models. Thus the “laws of learning” must be about how intellectual structures grow out of one another and about how, in the process, they acquire both logical and emotional form.

Seymour Papert

Is developing voice a prerequisite for connected learning?

Every time you take the risk to be true to your own soul – whether or not you name your action as heroic – your example helps others to do likewise. When you notice this pattern, it becomes easier to have absolute fidelity to your own path without fear that doing so is selfish. We can do nothing better for others than model the authentic life.

                                                                                                         ~ Carol Pearson

I have been struggling with locating MY voice. I thought I “had it” awhile back, but I was out riding an #etmooc wave that threw me up on shore sanded, seaweeded and discombobulated. I pick off the bits ingrained in fabric and particles between toes. I was cautious to ride again.

What made me fall? Did my voice drown, gasping in the discordant cacophony of others? Did doubt make me unstable losing balance all at once.? Did I become too attentive of the other riders?

As I paddle out again, I hear voices louder than my own; stronger, clearer, purer, surer. Not mine. It pains me to hear my voice yet have it tangle on its way up and out, mixed up and mixed in, still. Seaweed and sand. Discordantly it does not seem to matter that I have clarity of voice within but rather it seems essential to get it out in one intact piece.

To connect, my voice is my primary tool, whether in 140 characters, a blog post or meeting face to face for the first time at a conference. Is my voice the way you draw a connected line to me? Is it one of the fundamental ways that we connect as people and therefore a primary building block for connected learning?

Do students have an opportunity to safely explore their own voice? Do they get to explore voices from different points of view, social, global, entrepreneurial, political ?

Is voice the nutrient broth for connectivity and does an authentic voice allow for more meaningful connections which in turn amplifies the connection?

Is care  fundamental to voice development in providing an environment where you feel heard and feel your voice has value?

Do we give our students voice? I think at school students have very little voice. Why is that? How can we change that?

“All I have is a voice.”
― W.H. Auden

Remix of the remix: All mixed up.

I watched RiP: A Remix Manifesto  this week (recommended by Verena Roberts), an open source documentary. At 1:27:21 this film is a time commitment. I was trying to get into the deep end with this open network topic quickly (I am there now!).

The film opens with the manifesto and provides intimate glimpses into life stories of six people are living the remix.


1. A culture always builds on the past.

2. The past always tries to control the future.

3. Our future is becoming less free.

4. To build free societies you must limit control of the past.

Watching the film provoked two other ideas to fall from my brain attic (stored away since the lovely languid days of summer).

The first to fall was a quote from Joi Ito that: “we have obedienced ourselves out of our ability” and further that “disobedience is really what creativity is at some level, you don’t get a Nobel Prize for being obedient.”

There exists a disturbing juxtaposition in mainstream education in rewarding those who do not re-mix and are consistently iterative.

We (the system) penalize and extinguish those who do remix. Ironically, the former is redundant and devoid of connected thought. The later invites us to be active and forge new connections for ourselves.

The control in our system frowns on remixing content freely and demands we (students and teachers) remain within strident content lines (I see barbed wire). We discourage and even condemn pushing beyond boundaries of content (ie using creative dance to explain DNA replication is viewed as artsy, frivolous and therefore frowned upon, think “Will it be on the test?”).  Moreover cross-pollination between disciplines is frowned upon and this works to strengthen both isolation and the razor-sharp lines of how content must be represented.

In Unlearning How to Teach (my second stored nugget) Dr. Erica McWilliam, suggests that “teacher and student [should] mutually [be] involved in assembling and dissembling cultural products.”  Further she states that the ” teacher who does not add value to a learning network can – and will – be by-passed.”  Students will (and have already) discount our value as teachers if we cannot in a real way become co-creators with our students.

Dr McWilliam’s paper stuck with me, although at the time I found it unsettling. In particular I have hung Titanic-survivor-like in the frigid waters to:

“the capacity to move outside the discipline because there is no threat in entering a larger and more strongly contested knowledge world.  One is strong enough in one world to be prepared to be uncomfortable and ignorant (at least temporarily) in another.”

Now for some serious remix…


#etmooc Session 1: Idea Burrs

There were many “idea burrs” (ideas that stick) from this afternoon’s first intro #etmooc session. I decided I would drill down into one topic and try to get some traction. The topic that pulled me in was the fourth one, Open Movement, of the 5 (Connected Learning, Digital Storytelling, Digital Literacy, and Digital Citizenship) thatwe will be exploring further in #etmooc.

The open movement is the topic that I know least about yet find intriguing. I also found the Aaron Swartz story both compelling and tragic, which drew me in further.

Alec recommended we read Prosecutor as bully  by Larry Lessing as well, he recommended Larry’s Ted Talk.

I read Larry’s blog and I have to admit that although I found it interesting in a general sense, it did not provide me with any deep insight into the very complicated issue surrounding Aaron’s removal of digital articles from a MIT archive. I can only summarize very broadly because that is all I am able to do at this moment. At the heart of this matter, are the questions of who owns knowledge? Who controls it? Where and how do we define the lines of ownership?

I found the Ted Talks more compelling (albeit a lot to process at 9:00 PM for the first time).  My very general and first take away were a big pile of sticky questions:

Where do ideas begin and end? Can ideas be ever completely “owned” as we do we property? Does it all come down to control of resources as a means to be powerful and this in part motivates those in control to “own” as many ideas as possible? Is this similar in some ways to how in Science we are struggling with the questions of who and how people (companies) can own, buy, re-mix and alter life via Recombinant DNA technology?

Maybe ideas are like DNA, that can change and evolve, mutate and be of someone but never completely “theirs”. Maybe ideas, as DNA evolve in spite of us, rather that because of us.

Lessing’s quote below summed it up:

….in response to this new use of culture using digital technologies, the law has not greeted this Sousa revival with very much common sense. Instead, the architecture of copyright law and the architecture of digital technologies, as they interact, have produced the presumption that these activities are illegal. Because if copyright law at its core regulates something called copies, then in the digital world the one fact we can’t escape is that every single use of culture produces a copy. Every single use therefore requires permission; without permission, you are a trespasser. You’re a trespasser with about as much sense as these people were trespassers.

This reminded me of  Kirby Ferguson’s Embracing the Remix. I like when a new idea connects to another older idea!


MOOC: Say what? Let the #etmooc adventure begin.

I signed up for a MOOC last year, at the time I had no idea what it was, I just knew I was curious and intrigued.

This time around I have a better sense what I am diving in to and am brimming with delicious excitement wrapped in nervous anticipation (Can I keep up? Will I keep up? Will this work for me?). Probably this is a feeling shared by many who are new to the MOOC world. That said I feel confident that this is the path I want to explore more than any other right now and when I look down it I see growth, adventure and expansion.

Although this is the continuation down a path I am already on and started over a year ago, this new adventure feels the beginning of a new chapter. In this chapter I feel more in charge of my learning, have a handle on tools to amplify my learning and I am 100% ready to be part of a collaborative process.

I might as well be going to Narnia, considering the reactions of people in my life who say: “A MOOC? What? Why? Don’t get it!” when I tell them about this new project. Soon I will be able to articulate more clearly for them just exactly what I am up to with #etmooc

Looking forward to diving in and discovering my first MOOC experience with such a diverse group!

Let’s go!!

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