#ISTE11: On Longitudinal Web Presences for Writing, Learning, Being

I had the opportunity to hear Paul Allison, one of my favorite teachers, talk at length about his work with Youth Voices yesterday. Usually, Paul’s asking about others’ work, or showcasing the work he’s doing – but not talking about the thinking behind the work. And I like it when he does so. I hope he’d do that more.

He said that the pedagogical and philosophical1 recipe for Youth Voices was something like:

  • James Beane and his work on breaking down the curriculum barriers and asking good questions
  • plus Paulo Friere’s thinking on asking learners to look for generative themes
  • with a dash of who reminds us of the power of making things through free writing.

I need to return to all three of those folks and dig back in to some of their thinking.

But he said something, off the cuff, that I thought was really important. He mentioned that he’d been in the Youth Voices work for eight years2, and that students who started in tenth grade were able, in eleventh and twelfth, to return to the space and pick up where they left off. They didn’t have to learn a new space, and their work from previous years was right there.

That’s powerful and important and worth unpacking a little bit. Teachers who are using interesting technology with their students find themselves too often in the setup and infrastructure business – and that’s fine sometimes. But not every time or every lesson or every year.

One of the reasons I went to work for an IT department was because I wanted to help make spaces that had a life beyond one classroom. A student shouldn’t create one blog to suit the needs of every teacher that asks for work to occur in such spaces. Students create short term tools for what should be long term work, and they find themselves create blogs every time they start to do interesting work. The assumption becomes that the work they’re doing in these temporary spaces is throwaway work. When the unit, semester, or year ends, the space dies and the student is asked to create the next one.

That’s not how it should work.

What I love about Paul’s work, and the work of other folks who are thinking about the long game of educational spaces where work lives and breathes and mingles with other work, is that they’re building what I call3 longitudinal Web presences. Spaces where the portfolio happens as the collection grows. Places where the stuff a student made yesterday and the stuff a student makes today will be around for a student to add to tomorrow. Places that don’t die every few months or are subject to Teacher A or B’s personal web tool preference.

When Karl or Michelle or I talk about digital learning ecologies, or Paul talks about Youth Voices, I think that’s what we’re talking about. Teachers shouldn’t have to be in the creation and infrastructure business all the time. Nor should they be helping kids to cram important work into temporary places.

If you’re a tech director or a CIO, I hope you’re thinking about how to create these spaces. I also hope you’re thinking about how to help students return to them over time and to think through what they’ve made and how it resonates, or doesn’t, as they expand their knowledge and experience. In St. Vrain, we’ve built a few tools that help with this, but we’re nowhere close to figuring it out.

We do, know, though, and have been charged by our school board, that we are stewards of the work our students produce. That’s an important word – the IT department is responsible for looking after the students’ work. We’ve got to make sure it’s well taken care of and preserved and saved until they leave our care. And that they can take it with them when they go.

That’s what a portfolio should be. That’s worth making. Thoughtfully.4 I continue to be inspired and pushed by the work of folks like Paul who are building places of learning that last on the Web.

  1. My words, not his []
  2. Eight years. How many writing spaces do you have that last six months. Learning, folks, is a marathon. []
  3. Probably incorrectly, but playing with words is fun. []
  4. Sometimes, the curbs matter and the making of the containers are essential, in no small part because the traffic on the road and the stuff in the boxes is precious and worth looking after. The road needs to last for a long, long time. []

5 thoughts on “#ISTE11: On Longitudinal Web Presences for Writing, Learning, Being

  1. In my first year of teaching at a 1:1 school, I went a little tool/space crazy. Lots of fun, interesting work, but we spent a fair amount of time figuring out tools and a lot of that work sits pretty orphaned on the web. In the past couple of years, we’ve spent more time making students’ blogs their long-term space and embedding work from other sites into those blogs. One student titled her’s “My Home on the Web.” That sounded about right to me.

    I don’t envy the IT folks who have to make the choices about the what those tools/platforms will be. As a teacher, it’s important to me to have as much input and flexibility as possible. As an IT person, how do you balance teacher and student need of and desire for flexibility and customization with desire for and importance of longitudinal spaces?

  2. I feel you’ve hit on something huge here that I had been missing for some time. It’s so easy to look at what we expect of kids short term and completely miss the long term, big picture. Just this year we started (and by we I really mean our tech guy) an online school newspaper for our K-5 kids. I’ve been watching it for months in awe at what they (the kids) are creating mostly independently but it had never occurred to me that one of the wonderful things about this newspaper is that kids can be a part of it from kindergarten through fifth grade. Of course, after that I don’t know what happens.

    As a quick aside, I’ve just this summer discovered Peter Elbow. I’m participating in the Northern Virginia Writing Project Summer Institute and his name kept popping up with articles and books that intrigued me. So, I’m on a bit of an Elbow binge at the moment.

  3. This is one of those “of course” ideas that resonates. I always hope that the learning in my classroom spills into the rest of their lives – that the learning is authentic and meaningful to my students and therefore not a compartmentalized moment “for the teacher.” The web is making some of that easier to create as long as we don’t use such highly specialized tools that will be obsolete within a year or two. I think the KISS principle is a good one to consider when deciding what space to help students create in order to help them create a space with longevity.

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