Seeing Mindfully, Thanks to D’Arcy

It was about a year ago that D’Arcy Norman suggested that, if folks wanted to, we might challenge ourselves to shoot a photo a day for the year 2008 and share as many of them as possible.  I didn’t do so hot about the sharing part, but I’ve managed to work the question “What’s today’s picture?”

into my daily thinking.  My family, when we’re out and about, makes suggestions about what the day’s picture should be, and we’re building together a wonderful family archive of the photos I’ve taken and the memories that they carry.  This is, perhaps, my most thoughtfully documented year.  But that’s not even the good bit.

What D’Arcy’s invitation, and the group’s examples and conversations, did for me was to literally fiddle with the way that I see the world.  He calls it “mindful seeing,” and explains in a post he wrote last January:

Mindful seeing is the process of turning off the filters, of seeing your surroundings unfettered and unobstructed.

When viewing the world without filtering, even the most boring and banal subjects can become wondrous and interesting. We are constantly surrounded by interesting things that we normally don’t see – textures, lighting, patterns, shapes, objects, groupings, even messages.

Photographers are often described as distancing themselves from their surroundings by “hiding behind a camera” or “viewing the world only through a viewfinder.” I see photography from the exact opposite side of the coin. By mindfully seeing the world around me, I feel as though I am seeing much more than I would otherwise. I see patterns, convergence, divergence, shadows, lighting, juxtaposition, and composition that are likely missed by others. That’s not to say that I am “better” than any other – just that by being mindful of what I am seeing, I am aware of what is around me. And when I am aware, I am better able to take an interesting photograph.

I am paying better attention now that I’m thinking about what to capture, and what will look good, and what’s worth remembering and the like.  And as I begin my second year of trying to take a picture everyday, I’m not worried about whether or not I’ll keep up with shooting (yep) and posting (not so much), but it’s becoming a part of my day, a piece of who I am and what I do.  That’s a big deal.

D’Arcy, I’m grateful for your example.

If you’re interested, the group’s still there, and getting started with 2009.  There are also lots of other groups doing the same or similar projects.  Find one you like and join and start shooting pictures.  You don’t need fancy equipment – I alternate between a DSLR and my cell phone – you just need to be willing to look around and really try to see it.

You’re welcome to take a peek at the pictures that I do share online.  Probably the best way is to just take a peek at my photostream. I’m less interested in the presentation than I am in the capturing and saving and seeing – but one thing I’ll be working on this time around is the workflow that I use to upload, tag and organize my photos – that could use a little bit of tweaking.

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“Your Blog is Great!”

This evening, I was playing with the girls as they fiddled with their “laptops” – gifts from my aunt, who knew I was getting an XO for Christmas and didn’t want them to feel left out.

As I stood up to return to the dishes, Ani’s laptop spoke. “Your blog is great!” it told her in a faux-excited voice. I laughed.

Not yet, I thought. But one day.

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Web Presence. On Purpose.

I’m writing this morning from the National Writing Project’s web presence working retreat, an event I’ve been fortunate enough to have been involved with as a facilitator since its inception last year.  This is the second time we’ve run the event, which is an attempt to provide some time and structure for teams from writing project sites who wish to think strategically about their web presence.  We’ll spend the weekend thinking through the identity of our respective organizations and what we can do online to both reflect and support that identity and the good work that all of us are trying to do in our various locations around writing and teaching and learning. That means lots of things to lots of people, but there’s plenty of intersection in the general trends.

The event is pretty intense, and, while designed for sites to think about their organizational web presences, is very helpful to me as I think about my personal and professional life online.  One of the big questions that we’re asking people to think about is how their web presences are a reflection of and a lens into their work.  My personal web presence should be like that, too.  But I’m not sure that it is.  I’ve got content spread around the web in a variety of places, everywhere from Flickr to Twitter to this blog to my wiki (which is desperately in need of an update or seven) to my work with other groups and schools and people.  There’s plenty of personal mixed in with the professional, and I think the boundaries between those two areas of my life, never truly separate in “real, offline” life, continue to blur and fade and shift from day to day, week to week, month to year.  (That’s a good thing, I think, for the most part.) How do I, as a blogger and a teacher and a learner and a father and a husband and a citizen, do my best to ensure a consistent presence across the Internet that reflects what I believe to be important?  Just as essential – how do I bring all of that content that sits all over the place into some sort of a coherent whole?  Or do I need to, so long as all that content in all of those places, and others, reflects the message(s) that I want so desperately to convey – that learning and writing and thinking and engaging and passionately working for the benefit of others are essential habits and skills for everyone, regardless of background, culture, or profession?

I think, too, about what “web presence” means.  Having a presence and creating a presence are not necessarily the same thing.  Being and doing aren’t necessarily the same, either.

These are some of my thoughts as I head into a pretty intensive planning process, where, if last year is any indication, I’ll learn as much, and probably a great deal more, than I’m hoping to facilitate.  This summer, I’ll be doing a three-hour session on presence tools, a class of software that are about making one’s presence known in some formal and informal ways, Twitter being one of the tools that I’m most curious about at the moment.  I also would like to explore more about digital identity, a conversation I sort of started here a little while back.  My work this weekend will continue to influence that work.  Lots to learn.  Luckily, I’ve got plenty of smart folks here to learn from and with.  We should all be so lucky.

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(Re)Creating Ourselves Online

The Reflective Teacher, one of my favorite reflective practitioners, left his blog behind recently.  But now he’s back with another:

Anyway, I figured it was time for a reinvention as a teacher. I see in myself a different person than I was when I became a teacher, and therefore have moved things over to another place. What’s here will be erased but not forgotten. This place is invaluable to me, but I must let it go.

The kids always call me “Mister,” and when they address me, it’s as “hey, mister.” Therefore, you’ll find me at heymister.

Worth subscribing.

As a complete aside, I find the decisions that folks make about what’s public and what’s private, and how they create (or recreate) and negotiate their digital identities completely fascinating.  The rhetorical and practical decisions that go into everything from creating a screenname to deciding what and where to post are really interesting.

I’d love to facilitate a roundtable or panel discussion about this at some point in the future.  Lots worth exploring.  And, of course, for those of you who blog anonymously (which I can understand but not quite condone), we’ll provide brown paper bags and electronic voice scrambling.  Or something like that.

Would you attend such a conversation?

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There Isn’t Just One

I didn’t want to let too much time go by before responding to Doug’s post, and the others that have followed it, but I haven’t have time for a thorough response.  There’s plenty of thoughtfulness in the posts and comments, but I did just want to state, again, that I’m pretty sure an awful lot of the “conversation” on the post(s) is based on a bad assumption, which is this:

There isn’t one “edublogosphere.”  Never has been and never will be.  So to ascribe universal characteristics to something which isn’t (universal) is problematic, to say the least.  Here’s how I said it in November:

Mostly, the assumption that’s troubling me so much is that there’s one group (community – whatever) out there that exists for educational conversation via electronic media, and that we should all try to engage and involve everyone in that one (fallacious) group so that we’re all friends and reading and commenting each other.  And that we’ll all agree on where that group should go, when they should meet, and what we’ll all do when we get there.  Or that we ever agreed in the first place.

Ain’t going to happen.  Not now, not ever.  Never did happen, in fact.  We all construct our blogrolls, our Twitter friends, or our other social networking relationships for our benefit and to meet our own unique needs.

Would I prefer to see more reflective or data-driven posts around teaching and learning practices?  Yep.  But me (or anyone else) not seeing them doesn’t mean that they’re not there.  I’d encourage you to read the rest of that November post for more explanation of my position.

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Student Citizen Journalism

    Mary asked a question the other day that I thought was worth pulling into a main post.  She wrote:

Bud (and others), how do you envision students using CoverItLive for anything related to citizen journalism?
-Mary

I replied:

Mary,

What a great question. I’ve got a longer post that I’d like to write about how we might start thinking about student citizen journalism, but I think it makes almost immediate sense to descend upon a city or school district meeting with a few computers. The teacher can moderate and students can post about the meeting taking place. Later on, the video of the meeting can be combined with the transcript to make for an excellent reflective opportunity.

I think tools like these are perfect for citizen journalists – students or otherwise.

Your turn. Is that a good idea?  Do you promote student citizen journalism in your classes?  If so, what do you do? If not, why not?

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Cover It Live Just Got Better

I’ve been a fan of CoveritLive since I discovered it during Educon.  I’ve used it successfully a couple of times, and intend to use it in the future when it makes sense to.  But I wanted a few more options – like multiple authors and the ability to get my data out of their system.

Turns out, so did others. They’ve added multiple author support, automatic moderation of comments, and some other snappy options. It’s a very, very useful tool for capturing events as they happen, both for me and for an audience. (Turns out I learn better, and take better notes, when I’m doing so for someone else.) I find the linear nature of the notes and archive, too, make for a very useful and re-readable dataset. Handy for a backchannel, too.I’m a big fan of what they’re up to, and yes, I probably would pay to use the service, if they get to that. It’s just that good.
(Oh – and I did try the data export – simple embed code. Easy.)

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Twitter Vacation – Day 1

Day 1 of my Twitter break began with . . . a quick glance through Twitter. Habit. (Although I did give myself the limit of not posting to Twitter – reading is still okay. I do find Twitter to be quite valuable. But is it much of a vacation if I still scan the site when I start the day? Hmm . . .)

Still, I pledge to not use Twitter until St. Patrick’s Day, just to see what that’s like. I’m certain I’ll miss things – but I am curious to see if that improves the blogging going on here. We’ll see.

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Thinking ’bout Linking

It was about a year ago that I wrote a piece for English Journal on teaching “blogging” vs. “writing with blogs” that was pretty much a re-hash of some blog posts that I thought were saying something. The trouble is, I wasn’t sure what they were saying. I’ve been fumbling at this one for a while.

I’ve always found something particularly special about writing online, or at least I’ve learned that there’re more options, more possibilities, and plenty of challenges that make writing online much more complicated than cutting and pasting a Word file into a text box and hitting “submit.”

But most folks that I see beginning to use digital writing spaces aren’t treating them any differently. And I can’t quite figure out why. I also can’t quite figure out how to articulate the differences, even though I think I get some, if not several, of them. And if I can’t articulate them, perhaps I can’t teach them. (Not sure about that, actually – but work with me.)

I think one good way to articulate some of the differences is to tell you a story. Here goes.

Tonight, I’m sitting in
a local cafe, enjoying a cup of wicked sweet coffee and some tunes. As I wrote that last sentence, and added the links in, I wondered how you would read it. Are you someone who clicks on any link you see in a blog post? Or are you more like me? I use a browser that shows me the URL of the link I’m pointing to, saving me the trouble of traveling here if, after reading the URL, I see that I don’t need to follow the link, perhaps because I already know the site, or I don’t want to go to the site, because I’m worried about pop-ups, or a virus, or something that I don’t actually want to see. I love that browser, except when it leaks memory.

I could continue, but I think (hope) I’m making my point. I could have written that paragraph without the links – but I would’ve need an awful lot more details to tell you as much as I did with the links. And you each will have worked your way through that paragraph differently. Some of you read and clicked and fiddled. Others of you read differently. (Oh – and here’s a minor nit – but how many of you, in that last sentence, read, ahem, “read” in the past tense? Present tense? Language is hard. But anyway.)

I don’t know what my students do/did when they see blocks of text with links. And I’m 98 percent sure that there wasn’t another teacher in my school who was thinking about how to explain that to students, much less about how they read that text themselves.

Digital texts have the potential to make a big, juicy mess of a linear experience. Or to turn a so-so piece of writing into a masterful collection of references, linktributions, and pointers to other good stuff. My hunch, a rough one, but one I’ve held for a while, is that reading and writing that way makes you (ultimately) a better reader and writer. I just don’t really think I know how to teach that way yet, or at least, I don’t know how to teach other people to think about teaching that way.

Will Richardson asked me recently (well, it was two weeks ago – but that counts as recent if you forgive me the week I spent sick. And I do.) about connective writing, and what a course on it might look like. I blame him for the frustrated typing that I’m up to right now. And the posts that I suspect are forthcoming. (And I’m thankful, too. I needed a push.)

What would such a course look like? What would it cover? How would it differ from a “regular” (I know – bogus term.) 9th or 10th grade high school writing course? How would it be the same? (Why wait until high school? I’ve been thinking through blogs as science or inquiry notebooks at the elementary school level.) What happens when we add video(s)? Pictures? Embedded widgets? I’ve got to believe that some analysis of what links do and how they do it would be a necessary piece of any such course. So, too, would be copious quoting and linking to others, building a network of classroom texts that would be added to the greater networks of the world.

I’d kill to teach that class.

Perhaps I’ve stumbled across another thesis idea. Again. Nuts.

_______
Postscript – I had thought that perhaps I’d dig into the research on hypertextual writing a bit before I started down this post. I know these ideas aren’t new. But I couldn’t help myself. I made it four pages into this fascinating article before I started writing. Worth a read, I think.

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