Learning to Change

Thanks to a tweet from Jeff Whipple I found my way to this video produced by Pearson’s for CoSN.

The title – Learning to Change, grabbed me first and got me thinking before I even clicked the play button. We tell teachers they must change, but do we acknowledge that we must in many cases learn how to change? I think we’ve been doing a good job of this in the Comment Challenge this month. Participants are learning strategies to make and manage changes in our blogging practices.

I don’t need to say much more here – the video speaks volumes!

The last sentence will stick with me for a long while: If the death of education brings the dawn of learning that makes me very happy. Does that statement uplift you or bring fear to your heart?

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Comment Challenge – Let’s Take Stock

Comment Audit

As part of the 2008 31 Day Comment Challenge, we’ve been asked to consider how we’re inviting conversation on our own blogs. It’s been suggested that we use Michele Martin’s post Six Reasons People Aren’t Commenting On Your Blog as a guide for auditing our blogs. Here are six common traps Michele says bloggers fall into.

  1. You sound like a press release.
  2. You sound like an info-mercial.
  3. You sound like a know-it-all.
  4. You haven’t showed them how.
  5. You haven’t created the right atmosphere.
  6. You just don’t seem that into it.

Ouch! That’s one tough list!

At first glance I think I can easily stroke two items off the list. So let’s revise.

  1. You sound like a press release.
  2. You sound like an info-mercial.
  3. You sound like a know-it-all.
  4. You haven’t showed them how.
  5. You haven’t created the right atmosphere.
  6. You just don’t seem that into it.

Number 6 was easy to eliminate. If I’m not “into it” I don’t write about it. Period.

Number 4 was also pretty easy. Figure it out people! There’s a similar structure to most blog platforms. There’s always some mention of “Comments”. Click on the link and see what happens 🙂

The rest are really hard! I suppose at times I may be perceived as sounding like a know-it-all writing press releases about what I’ve been doing and learning, and posting info-mercials that invite teachers to join my projects. That’s not my intention! In reflecting on my work I feel it’s as important to share the lessons I’ve learned as it is to raise questions. I’m trying to do this in a clear, well-thought-out manner. There are project promotions on this blog. I don’t see them as info-mercials; I’m not selling anything. I work for a not-for-profit organization that connects scientists, researchers, engineers and astronauts with classes around the world in an online collaborative learning environment. There is no cost for teachers to enroll in any of our projects and I use every means at my disposal to get the word out so as many classes as possible can get involved. As for number 5 – atmosphere, I hope people find it warm and welcoming.

This is a tough challenge; it’s very difficult to hear your own voice! Here’s how I think it sounds.

  1. You sound like a press release. You have clear, well-thought-out reflections.
  2. You sound like an info-mercial. You are passionate about the opportunities you are developing for students.
  3. You sound like a know-it-all. You are willing to share what you have learned.
  4. You haven’t showed them how. You believe in letting people build confidence by discovering things on their own.
  5. You haven’t created the right atmosphere. (I really can’t gauge this one.)
  6. You just don’t seem that into it. You write about the things that truly engage you.

You tell me – how does my voice sound to you?

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The Comment Challenge: Building Community One Conversation at a Time

We’re more than a week into the 2008 31 Day Comment Challenge and at the time of this writing, coComment is tracking 135 conversations by 92 group members. There are far too many individual comments to try to read them all! However following conversations that interest you will still lead you to many voices you haven’t heard before.

Through this process I’m learning a lot about community. It appears that we’re basically in agreement that blogging is not a solitary pursuit. I think one of the main reasons we all start professional blogs is to take part in conversation with others in the profession, to learn from and with each other. Unfortunately the “Field of Dreams” metaphor doesn’t hold true here. Readers won’t come just because you’ve built a place for them. Community doesn’t just happen; it must be built one conversation at a time.

coComment puzzle

The Comment Challenge is proving to be an excellent impetus to build community. I’ve been trying to pick out key features of the community as I’ve been watching it grow. Here are a few that have caught my attention.

  1. Purpose. Just as there is a reason why the community where you live exists geographically, online communities need a sense of purpose. In the Comment Challenge we share a common purpose – (as stated by Kim Cofino), “to become better blog citizens by actively participating in conversations and sharing our learning, especially with those new to blogging”.
  2. Culture. We are building and sharing a culture of learning. When you read through the conversations, you see it stated over and over that we are learning this, that and the other thing. What we’re seeing here is that our learning is embedded in our common purpose. For instance, we’re all struggling with the various tools we’re using to track our conversations, but we are doing it together as part of moving toward our common purpose. I haven’t run into anyone yet who has said: “Ok folks, I’m having trouble with coComment. I’m going to wait for the in-service, then try and find some time to learn it, and then I’ll be back to take part.” It has become part of our culture to learn how to use these tools in situ.
  3. Interaction. Many of us are seeing increased traffic to our own blogs, “click-throughs” from the comments we’re leaving on the blogs of others. Interaction involves risk-taking, but the professional tone and supportive manner I am seeing everywhere I go is building confidence in the individual members of the group, in turn adding to the strength of the community.

For me a lot of the pieces of the puzzle are falling into place; a picture of a vibrant learning community is taking shape!

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Things are buzzin’ at the Comment Challenge!

The volume of the edublogsphere has been cranked up this past week as over 100 bloggers have taken up the challenge to improve their commenting by participating in the 2008 31 Day Comment Challenge. Commenters have been buzzing, flitting from blog to blog, sampling bits of wisdom here and digging into conversations there.

Kate Foy and Kevin Hodgson created great videos to give us a peek into the their commenting journeys. In the spirit of fun, here’s a quick Animoto flick to give you a sense of where I’ve “been” lately.

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2008 Comment Challenge – Tracking Your Comments

31 Day Commenting ChallengeI’m really enjoying taking part in the 2008 Comment Challenge! I’m meeting familiar and new-to-me bloggers all over the place (including here on my own blog)! And as usual when I throw myself into a challenge, I’m learning so much!

Today’s challenge relates to comment tracking. This is a critical element of commenting. When you make the effort to comment on someone’s post, it’s usually because the writer struck a chord and drew you into the conversation. It follows that you would have an interest in seeing where the conversation goes. A number of blogs have a “Follow this conversation by e-mail” function. That’s the first method I used to track a conversation and I have to admit I might still use it for a conversation in which I’m deeply involved.

About a year ago I started looking for a more efficient way to track the conversations in which I was involved. I was also coming to the realization that some of my best thinking and writing was happening on other people’s blogs, leaving my own looking a bit barren. That’s when I found coComment. It seemed to offer what I was looking for – a way to track my comments and aggregate them on my own blog through a widget. If you are interested in having a detailed look at how coComment works visit Sue Waters‘ blog. She has done a superb job of explaining how to use this tool.

I had stopped using coComment a while back because I was finding it cumbersome and felt it was slowing down my posting. I’m having a fresh look now as part of the Comment Challenge. There are features that I missed before or that have been added recently that I’m finding worthy of a second look.

  1. Tags. When you track a comment you can tag it with one or more keywords. Then when you view your comment page you can click on any of your tags to see just those comments. Love this feature!
  2. RSS. I don’t think I could function without RSS so I was pleased to see that I can pull in the feed from any of the conversations or groups I’m tracking. I’ve subscribed to the feed for the Comment Challenge group and am reading the comments in Google Reader. So far, I think I like this.
  3. Social networking. I had noticed before that coComment suggests “neighbours” and allows you to add friends and follow their comments. Personally I can barely keep up with the blogs I subscribe to; I’m not even going to try to keep track of other people’s comments! I do however like the “Group” feature. We’re using it to pull together the comments of the 100 or so people involved in the Commenting Challenge. I can see how this would be an asset in the classroom and in professional learning!

There are other comment tracking systems as well. Maybe I’ll have time to look at them during this challenge. Better yet, I’ll see what others post as part of the Day 3 Activity!

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Join the 2008 Comment Challenge

Coordinated by Sue Waters, Silvia Tolisano, Michele Martin and Kim Cofino, the Comment Challenge has been designed to motivate us to become “better blog citizens.”

I think this is just the kick-in-the-pants I need to get back to being a participating citizen of the edublogsphere, one who enjoys the right to take part in collegial dialogue and lives up to the responsibility of adding to the conversation in a meaningful way.

I’m looking at the Challenge Activity for Day 1 (and I’d better hurry as this day is rapidly getting away from me). The activity is to do a commenting self-audit. It’s interesting that as I’m reflecting on my commenting behaviour, I stumble upon today’s post by David Truss where he re-visits one of his posts from a year ago. One of the comments David quotes from the original post is mine. A year ago I commented daily – on many of the blogs aggregating in my Google Reader as well as throughout the Classroom 2.0 community.

Here’s a snapshot of my Google Reader as of five minutes ago:

Google Reader

Four hundred + unread items. That’s actually not too bad, considering it was consistently 1000+ items for the first couple of months this year. I’ll admit – in juggling all the things screaming for my time, I’ve let reading slip down the priority list. And if I’m not reading it follows that I haven’t been commenting either. Well I’m back – at least for the next thirty days! Want to join me?

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Horizon Project 2008: Don Tapscott Keynote

I’ve been keeping an eye on the Horizon Project 2008 when I can steal away for a few minutes and am very impressed with the efficiency of the students as they get themselves organized into their focus groups and assign individual and group responsibilities.

Don TapscottThe project was officially opened more than two weeks ago with a keynote by Don Tapscott, Canadian author of Growing Up Digital and Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything. Tapscott’s opener, while short, covered a lot of ground. The role that technology plays in the lives of today’s students is a key focus of the message, but for me the key point is pedagogical. Tapscott makes the point that there is nothing more important for teachers today than transforming our model of teaching and learning. He strongly states that our current pedagogy must change.

We are all aware that our current model of teaching and learning, in many cases one-way and teacher-focussed, has remained virtually unchanged in the past century. I agree with Tapscott that this model is irrelevant and ineffective for the current generation of students who prefer learning experiences that are student-focussed, highly customized to their needs and interests, and collaborative in nature.

There’s a huge disconnect between the way many of us have learned in formal settings and ways this generation prefers to learn. We were isolated in the learning process, and individually accountable for demonstrating “what we knew” using methods defined by teachers. Today’s students prefer to learn in connected groups. I’m sure we will soon be reading more news stories like this one about the Ryerson student who faced an expulsion hearing for being the administrator of a Facebook study group. He was charged with academic misconduct because the professor required that assigned problems be solved individually; the students in the study group were collaborating on problem-solving techniques. The hearing ended with penalties for the student as well as an action item – he is required to take a course on academic misconduct. Unfortunately, what we didn’t see in this case was action required of the professor and the school – i.e. to examine the kinds of proof we are asking to see to demonstrate that learning has taken place. The school would do well to have a look at the expectations and assessment criteria so clearly laid out by Horizon Project organizers Vicki Davis and Julie Lindsay.

Even if you’re not taking part in the Horizon Project, Tapscott’s keynote is well worth a watch!

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Horizon Project 2008 is underway!

Kudos to Vicki Davis and Julie Lindsay as they kick off what promises to be another incredible global collaborative project, Horizon Project 2008! Eleven classrooms from the Australia, Austria, Japan, Qatar, Spain and the United States are collaboratively envisioning the future of education and society based upon the Horizon 2008 report from the New Media Consortium and Educause.

You can watch the learning unfold at both the project wiki and the ning networking space. I spent some time on the weekend wandering around the project ning and it is very interesting to watch the maturity of these young learners as they use Web 2.0 networking and collaboration tools to organize their groups. There’s a lot teachers can learn here about organizational strategies such as tagging conventions. Of course the best way for teachers to learn is to get involved. Organizers Vicki and Julie are still looking for more Expert Advisors, Judges and Peer Reviewers. Jump in and get your feet wet!

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Note to self!

dear-diane.jpg Dear Diane

Please tag this post as you will probably need to refer to it at a later date. The following action items require your immediate attention:

  1. Acknowledge that you are a busy professional with too many items on her to-do list and that the process of completing these tasks is of far more significance than the act of completing them.
  2. Stop feeling guilty about unread RSS feeds, un-tweeted reflections, unwritten comments or posts, unheard conversations…
  3. Celebrate the daily learning that is integral to your well-being – professional, intellectual, emotional.

This is your to-do list, get to work!

Authentic Learning – Meaningless Edspeak?

Skimming my Twitter messages yesterday, I came across a request from Dr. Alec Couros from the University of Regina to help him respond to a writer who took issue with his use of the phrase “authentic learning” in an article, Safety and Social Networking, that he had written for TechLEARNING. The writer in question characterized the term “authentic” as meaningless edspeak.

While I couldn’t take the time yesterday to respond, many others did and are quoted in Alec’s post, Authentic Learning Environments. The comment by Rob Wall hit home with me.

First – “authentic” means genuine as opposed to artificial, contrived or imitative. In traditional schooling, many experiences are contrived. We tell students to write for their audience, yet the audience for whom they are writing is just the teacher or perhaps their class. An authentic audience is an audience beyond the teacher, class or even the school. It is a heterogeneous audience as one would write for if one wrote in a newspaper or magazine article. It is an audience that chooses to read what is being written instead of a group that is chosen by the writer or a teacher.

There’s little to argue with in Rob’s comment and most language teachers can see snapshots of their classrooms when reading it. But gosh, it’s hard! How do you move beyond the artificial when a contrived system dictates that:

  • you will have 27 twelve year olds with no choice but to sit in front of you;
  • during a time frame that an artificial schedule has determined to be “language” time;
  • ready to learn about “planning for writing” because a prescribed curriculum mandates it?

What’s a teacher to do? Carefully craft a lesson centered around a topic that will hook the interest of as many of those twelve year olds as possible, ripe with examples from literature and shared writing, logically broken into meaningful steps, rich with opportunities for students to practice and apply what they have learned, all coherently and masterfully logged in day and unit plans. Does learning take place in this scenario? Certainly some. After all we have test scores that verify this fact, don’t we?

What can a teacher do to break out of this artificial mould, to move towards more authentic learning opportunities? I think the first step is to realize that authentic learning is often not scripted nor planned for. The teacher needs to open up the classroom and see who and what will enter “naturally”. A good first step is blogging. Here’s an example in one of my project sites, Ontario Blogs, where blogging has opened a classroom to authentic learning.

The teacher has asked students to share responses to the books they are reading on the Ontario Blogs site. There are many classes from across the province using the site, so there is the potential for a wide audience for these young writers. Student “Bam” shared her response to “OK to Be Me”, a short story written by Monica Marie Jones and published in “Chicken Soup for the Girl’s Soul”. The author of the story came upon Bam’s post and contacted me to ask for a login to the project site so she could respond to the student. A meaningful dialogue is shaping up here and a learning network has been started involving students and author. Please read the exchanges yourself, but if time is lacking, I’ve picked out some highpoints:


My name is Monica Marie Jones and I am the author of the short story, “Okay to be Me” from Chicken Soup for the Girls Soul. That story is an excerpt from my novel, “The Ups and Downs of Being Round.” I was so glad to see that you wrote a blog about my story. Reading it really made my day.


I am the writer of this blog and I was so exicited to have you respond to my blog!

… I was wondering if my class could blog back and forth to you?


I would love to blog back and forth with your class.


Wow, wait until Tuesday when my class finds out about this!

…When you begin a book or are brainstorming for a book do you go right to typing or do you draft up a mind map first? Do you have a little “inspriation book” for when you think of story ideas when you are on the go?

Bam’s teacher

WOW!!! I am very excited the you are interested in blogging back and forth with my class Ms. Jones! When I first showed your response to BAM they were thrilled and applauded her. It has definitely been motivating for all of the students to hear comments from an author.

Bam’s classmate

That is very cool that mjones responed on our blog site
that means any author can get an account and repond on anything on here that is really cool


When I write a book, it begins as an idea in my head. From there I start by writing short stories or situations that I see happening within the book. I guess this is kind of like my way of doing an outline. I write everything that I want in the book, then I go back in and fill in all of the gaps and the details.

Hmmm… now let’s compare this experience with the lesson I mentioned earlier, the well-crafted one about “planning for writing”. Which experience is more authentic? Which has more impact? Authentic learning – meaningless edspeak?

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