Seek Less Permission

Over the weekend, I read Dan’s post. I thought it was the right thing to say, and a good way to think about moving a networkish kind of community-esque thing into a better place in a time of networked publicness1 .

Stephen’s take is a good reminder of one of my Internet teacher pet peeves:

And it’s funny how passive people are – why would you need permission to use a hashtag? Nobody can own a hashtag, not even if they set up a Twitter identity and lay claim to it.

I wish more folks would quit trying to claim territory and focus instead on doing interesting things in ways that invite other folks to see/help/share/experience.

  1. Yeah, I know that’s a ridiculous phrase – but it’s more accurate than something like “the community.” On the Internet, there’s no such thing. Just the illusion of one. []

Follow Up to Today’s (Well, Okay, Yesterday’s) Blogging Conversation

It was a real treat to get to spend an hour in conversation with some of my blogging and writing teachers on Thursday.  We were assembled at Connected Learning TV by Jabiz to talk about student blogging.  I hope we get to have round two soon – there was plenty more to talk about.  Here’s the recording:

And a few further thoughts.  If I had to give my stump speech for blogging, the talking points would look something like this:

  • Blogging should be a habit, not a unit.  Multiple blogging units for students as they move through an institution makes for a really creepy digital graveyard of barely begun texts.  Better to build the habit early on and practice as you go.  Therefore . . .
  • Blogging should be buiit into the infrastructure of the learning institution, not up to the whims of a particular teacher or teachers.
  • Blogs can be really interesting containers – you can put pretty much any digital stuff into a blog that you’d ever want to – but they should also be playful playgroundy spaces.  Blogs are much better as places of play rather than places of expectation.
  • Of course, the thing about toys and choices is that sometimes you’ve got to be able to choose not to play at all.  Otherwise, you’re not really playing.  Well, you are, but you’re playing a game that isn’t blogging.  It’s called school.  And that game isn’t always all that fun to play.
I said during the webinar that I felt like the infrastructure that we build, support and maintain should feel more like an invitation than an obligation.  We should make spaces and places on the Web where we’d actually like to spend time, and we should be working to bring other folks in to the party.  I think that’s the kind of work that Jim and Alan do.  They play in public and invite others to play along.  I think that Jabiz does that in his classroom.
Maybe I’ve been forgetting to do that lately.



"Pummeled by a Deluge"

Rebecca Blood, a lifetime ago in Internet time, :

We are being pummeled by a deluge of data and unless we create time and spaces in which to reflect, we will be left with only our reactions.

And when I read Dean yesterday talking of owning one’s space to share one’s words, and then Tony’s post about the value of Twitter, I am reminded that I lean on Dean’s side of this conversation.  Twitter is to relationships as wheel decals are to roller skates. Nice to have and to use, but far from essential.

Twitter is the spice that flavors what you’re putting on the table.  It might be the after dinner snack.  It may well be the connective tissue that flavors the stew1.  But it’s not the meal.  It’s part of the deluge2, and we must push against it,  building spaces where we can be thoughtful.


  1. Because you just needed one more awkward meal metaphor in there, didn’t you? []
  2. At least sometimes. []

#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. []

Digging In

If you’ve been following along on what I’ve been up to lately, you know that I’ve been facilitating, along with Michelle and some colleagues from the , some teacher research projects in my school district.  It’s good and important work, and I’m trying, as we facilitate, to be engaged in my own teacher research along with the group.  It’s one thing to say that a practice is important.  It’s a better thing to model its importance by doing it.

Earlier in the year, I wrote about my proposed research topic, and about how I thought I might proceed.  Tomorrow, I’m digging into the work in earnest.

I’m curious about how we, in our school district, are actually using our blogging engine, a WordPress installation that’s coming up on three years old.  I read what gets posted there, but I’ve never taken a real hard and descriptive look to see what’s there.  So tomorrow, I’m going to sit down and take a close look at a three week window of the blogging engine from this year, and I’m going to try to read, annotate, and classify every posting that appears there.  Then, based on what I see, I’d like to follow up with some of the authors, both teachers and students, and see if I can learn more about what they’re blogging about and why they’re blogging at all.

Why am I looking ? Well, in large part because I want to see what’s happening in the space, and to go after promising practices that are present.  And, to be brutally honest, I’m looking because I expect that what I’ll see is a great deal of using blogs, rather than blogging, and that’s worth knowing and quantifying.

So I’m digging in.  I suspect it’ll be an interesting look.  And, as with most teacher research, I suspect my questions will change a bit as I get into the data and see what there is to see.

Wish me luck.


It’s Blurry. But It’s Still a Vision

Lately, I’ve found myself, quite by accident, thinking a great deal about what an “online school” might look like, were I to have the opportunity to be involved in the creation of one.  I’m watching this process unfold in my school district, and it’s started some wheels a’turning.

And this is thinking that, while I’ve done peripherally off and on over the last several years1, has been persistently in my head these last few weeks.  So it seems reasonable to try to write some of it down before it slips away, or as an opportunity to bettter understand what’s going on in my head.  So I imagine this will be a few posts over the next few days, as I flesh out various ideas.  If you don’t want to head down this road with me, here are some links to other distractions that you might enjoy.

First draft thinking.  But thinking I like and find useful.

To begin with, any online school that’s worth building won’t be a district-branded school in a box.  You know what I mean when I talk school in a box, right?  One purchases the curriculum and coursework and so on2 and replaces the curriculum company’s logo with their district logo. This is relatively easy to do, and results in the ability of a school board to say “Hey.  Look.  We have an online school.” But doesn’t really result in a change to, well, pretty much anything, or any advantage to the home school district other than a slight financial one.3
So that’s not good enough.  And it feels, well, funky.  At least to me.  So that’s not doable, in my mind.  Not in totality.  But there are other ways.

In our school district, in the face of a change in state standards4, the curriculum team has been working with select teachers to map our standards into a curriculum framework.  The next step is to begin to map out what new common district assessments might look like and then to give examples of what exemplary work looks like and to build all of those standards, assessments and exemplars into a curriculum map that makes it pretty transparent about what’s up with teaching and learning in the district.5

That’s good.  But let’s try to tie in a few other district projects.  For one thing, there’s a real sense of excitement about the possibility of digital and/or open source textbooks here in the district.  Both the board and the curriculum team and others are beginning to realize that there’s a big opportunity to save some money and to create better materials at the same time through the curation of digital texts.6

I imagine that we could double our curriculum expertise here in St. Vrain, have folks work regularly on curating resources by hanging the good stuff from elsewhere on our curriculum map and writing the rest, and save money in the process.  The distribution model for what folks produce is a bit muddled7, but it’s doable.

Let’s suppose, though, that the aims of creating digital textbooks that are mapped to curriculum and building an online school weren’t disparate.  In fact, I think they’re complimentary.

Suppose, instead of going after a school in a box, you took the opportunity to think of an online school as a lab school, a place of possibility and “what if-edness” that you might use for R&D into new methods, practices, and opportunities for partnership.  Suppose the goal of such a school included being the development and testing ground for the digital resources that you wanted to build?  And furthermore, suppose that you hired teachers to both teach and curate curriculum, so rather than teach full time, or curate full time, they did both things together.

This would give you a space in which to create resources and to, with the aid of students, who would be partners in the work, fieldtest and improve them?


Doesn’t that have a nice sound to it?  I think such a school would need to be a high school to begin with, but that might be an irrational bias8.

And now that we’ve opened the door to cross-purposes, I’d like to explore a few other ones.  There are plenty more.  What might an office of professional development as a partner in an online school look like?  How might an online school be a school-within-a-school that lives across a school district?  What are the essential physical spaces in an online school?  How do you build community in such spaces?

But those’re posts for other evenings.  For now – might something like this make sense?  What places do you see that look like this – online schools with experimental purposes?  Lab schools?  Online?9

I’ve not yet mentioned that, as I wrote and wondered a little while back, it would be essential that there were democratic structures built into the school.  And, although I’m not sure I’ve said so, it would be essential in any online school, that there be advisors in place and an advisory period of some kind that made sense for all students.  Students are less likely to get lost when there’re always folks looking out for you.

More soon.  Let me know what you think in the comments.

  1. “You know,” I say to friends, smart ones, “We should really build a school.”  And then we explore the idea. []
  2. and in some cases, the staff and even the administration []
  3. I say slight because you’re looking to split the revenue returned to the district between a curriculum company and the operating costs of such a program. []
  4. Twice.  Colorado adopted new ones recently, and then adopted Common Core over the summer.  It’s been a bit standards crazy lately, and the state is still figuring out what it’s done, as are many others. []
  5. I really like the idea that the curriculum map, up to and including activities and common assessments, is available to anyone who wants to take a look.  Particularly for a public school district.  Here’s one that a district to the south is doing interesting things with. []
  6. Folks like Bill are doing some good thinking in this area, so take a link break and head over to his post.  Go ahead.  I’ll be here when you’re done. []
  7. Do we go all digital?  Print on demand?  Allow for folks to bring their own devices?  Some combination of the above? []
  8. I was a high school teacher before I went to work as an educational geek full time []
  9. I suspect that many of you have answers to some of the questions I’ve outlined, as well as a couple that I’m reserving for future posts.  I can’t say this more clearly – I’m very interested in hearing from you.  Would love to hear how you’ve answered some or all of these questions in your own online spaces and places.  Or maybe you have better questions.  I’ll take those, too.  Please. []

The Podcast: Why I’m Not a Fan of Free (At School) (Infrastructure, I Mean)

UPDATE: In the comments below, Mike advocates for free versions of desktop software.  I am completely in favor of those options for students and schools.  I also like free and open source software for digital infrastructure.  (Both the software packages I mention in the podcast are free and open source tools.) The “free” I’m talking about here is quite different.  Forgive the poor title choice.

In today’s podcast, I talk a little bit about my reaction to a Twitter conversation from yesterday about free tools and why I’m not necessarily in favor of them, at least for what I believe are basic educational needs.  We’ve got to support our schools and our classrooms and our educators and our students, but not on the backs and whims of third-party kindness. As always, I’m interested in your thoughts as I continue to develop my own.

Links I Mentioned

Steve‘s “luxury” tweet.

A smattering of some of the Twitter conversation. (These don’t do it justice, but will give you a bit of the flavor of the conversation.)

Vicki Davis’s posts on her Lively project/protest.

Direct Link to Audio


An Open Letter to Teachers

Here in my neck of the woods, it’s the weekend before the start of classes. At my house, life got frantic this week as my wife, a high school language arts teacher, returned to work.

It’s about to get really busy if you are at all involved in education. As you gear up in whatever way that you do, I selfishly wanted to jot down a few reminders that I’d be telling myself if I were about to get started.

First. I hope you take lots of risks for the sake of learning this year. Not just for your students, but also for you. Make it a goal to try to learn something in a sustained and meaningful way that has little to do with your classroom life. I’ve been trying to learn photography this year, and while I’m nowhere close to proficient, it has been helpful to be in the mindset of a learner who’s struggling. That’s how many of our students feel everyday.

It doesn’t have to be a big risk that you always take – take little ones, too. Ask the question that you’re hesitant to ask. Share the writing you’re doing with your students. Volunteer to do the silly dance at the assembly. Just challenge yourself a little bit every now and then. We rise to the challenge when we’re pushed. But it’s easy to forget to reach.

Try very hard not to work all the time. I suck at this, at turning off my work brain and focusing on being a dad or a husband or “just a dude reading the paper at the corner coffee shop,” but I recognize the value of being at rest and at play, of knowing that it’s better to let small work things go in the name of preserving long term relationships. You CAN be that hero teacher that everyone loves and is in awe of, but only for a little while. Then, you burn out and fade away and don’t do anyone any good at all.

You need no one’s permission to postpone a due date or modify an assignment for the benefit of a student, or to delay some grading for the benefit of yourself or your family. All will be right with the world if you’re a day late, so long as you had a reason.

Be an expert when you need to be. Be a learner always. You are probably the most experienced learner in your classroom. But don’t assume you’re the most knowledgable person or object. If you’ve a computer handy, then you’re not. Embrace that. Relationships and mentoring cannot be outsourced or Googled. They take time and genuine concern.

Model always what you want your students to do. You and your behaviors and habits, no matter how much you might wish otherwise, are a curriculum of sorts, perhaps THE curriculum.

Be humble, but fight like crazy for your students.

Have at all times, as Geoff Powell says, “a healthy respect for young people.”

Work on your crap detector. Teach your students to develop theirs. Read and write lots. Let your students make meaningful choices in their learning. Hold them accountable for the choices they make, good or bad.

And share the good stuff. Your stories are all human ones, and they are all special, just as each one of you, and each of your students, is special. There is always someone curious about what you’re up to.

You’ll have nervous days and scared days and failure days. But you’ll also have “yes” days. Write about, reflect upon, and learn from all of them, but build a special place to keep a record of the “yes” ones. Return to it when you need a boost on some of the not-so-good days.

I wish you well. I ask you to be brave and humble and kind and tenacious and wise and caring and gentle and fierce. We so need you to do well. And there are lots of folks out there who want to help. Do good stuff.


Goal #1 – Build Community

Goal:  Work to build multiple and overlapping communities of learners in our district who have knowledge, expertise and/or interest in the hardware and software and services that our district is supporting.  Help those communities to begin to learn from each other and to support each other in their teaching and learning.  As best as I can, document and share the learning and stories of the community.

I’m aware of so much potential in our classrooms and schools, and so many new tools that are coming online in the district that can be used to help students and teachers create deep and meaningful opportunities for learning and reflection in our classrooms.  These are tools like laptops (three new elementary schools, opening in the fall, will have laptops for every teacher; many more schools are investing in laptops for some teachers to be used with) interactive whiteboards, and/or clickers and document cameras, software like ActivStudio, which we’re trying to standardize on across the district, and services like Moodle, which powers our St. Vrain Virtual Campus.

There are a multitude of projects and programs that already meet and discuss some of these issues – but there’s nowhere to go to see all of those conversations, or for folks who aren’t already connected to those groups to have the opportunity to find ways into the conversations.  I also know that, with so many resources out there, we need to do a good job of aggregating all of that stuff somewhere (or somewheres) and then helping people to find that space.

Also, if we can work to build and/or sustain these communities, we can work to develop leadership on instructional issues in our district.  Better yet, we can help teachers to teach teachers.  That’s a good thing. I believe very strongly that the answers to most of the important questions facing schools and teachers and learning and students aren’t going to come out of school districts – they’re going to come out of classrooms.  It’s my job to help get the stories out there and the people connected.


Connective Writing: Multi-Purposing

The more I work as a professional developer and teacher of teachers, the more I am resolved that I will do my best to never create a resource for one situation that cannot be useful in another.  There are too few of me and too many needs in my district to do otherwise.

I think, though, the careful consideration of audience and purpose that I engage in before creating a resource is a valuable one for all readers, writers, and creators.  Perhaps there’s value, in a connective writing class, in spending some time on rhetorical analysis, specifically in the vein of thinking about multi-purposed work.

This isn’t a new statement for me to make, either here or in my classroom(s), as I’ve always operated under the assumption that the best writing happens when writers consider their audience and their purpose for writing, allowing them to determine the focus they should take in a particular piece.  This idea (often called the rhetorical triangle, with each of the points defined slightly differently by the person(s) doing the defining) can and should be expanded to include all kinds of composition and writing, not just print texts.  This leads me to the teaching point that I would want to include in my connective writing work:

As much as possible, all texts should have a life outside of the classroom.

This “extra-curricular life” can take multiple forms, and won’t make sense for all types of writing and creation, but I strongly believe that we should never create something that will die after a teacher has blessed or cursed it with a grade.  I’ve always believed that, but the more I learn, the less I’m willing to suggest that such multi-purposed work should only happen at the end of a course, after all the practice work is completed.  Project-based learning, too, embodies this philosophy, as projects should have a life outside of the classroom.

What does “extracurricular life,” or multi-purposed work, look like in a professional learning experience for teachers?  One way I attempted to create a multi-purpose-able resource in CyberCamp was through the series of Works in Progress (WiP) presentations that we asked every participant to do.  As I explained at the beginning of CyberCamp:

One of the values of CyberCamp is sharing.  Talking about what we’re up to is a good way to better understand our own work, and the act of sharing it with a group is useful, too, because it allows your fellow CyberCampers to help you out, be it through good questions, suggestions, or becoming an extra set of eyes and ears in the world seeking resources to help you with your project.

Because sharing is so essential, we’ve set up time here at CyberCamp for everyone to have a 20 minute block of time in which to share their work.  Each day, we’ll ask two of you to share what you’re working on and then we’ll give ten minutes to the CyberCampers to give you some constructive feedback.  We’ll be talking more about what “constructive feedback” looks at CyberCamp, but know that you’ll be getting help – not criticism.

Again, because sharing is so essential to what we do, we’ll be adding an extra level of sharing to your process.  We’ll literally be sharing your Work in Progress conversation with the world and archiving your presentation here on the blog using a tool called Ustream.  This will allow you to share your work with, and to learn from, the world.  While that can be scary, trust us when we tell you that your work is important and worthy of being shared.

Not to toot our own horn (or whistle, to stick with the camp metaphor), but it seems to me that a twenty minute investment of class time here (thirty minutes if you leave time for some feedback) leads to an excellent archive/snapshot of a work in progress, a chance to get very specific feedback, and a permanent record of the event that is available for further scrutiny, reflection and commenting.   Not bad, as far as multi-purposing goes.  Add in the fact that these presentations also become resources for other people working on similar projects as well as models of our activity for future CyberCamp experiences, and we’ve got some handy multi-purpose resources.

Other examples of multi-purposing in CyberCamp include our project proposals as well as our blog.  Pretty much, any well-written blog (as a whole, not each entry) is a fine example of multi-purposed writing.  But perhaps that’s another post.

One of the struggles, of course, with trying to build multi-purpose resources, or to find ways to ask learners to do so, at least one that I worry/wonder about, is making sure that I’m never putting the needs of future learners or secondary audiences ahead of the learners who are the “primary” audience for a particular activity/event/experience.  Let me try to say that better – we can sometimes create problems for our class when we try to create opportunities with “outsiders,” particularly if we’re forcing a connection that maybe isn’t organically or authentically there.  Connections just for connections’ sake are bad ideas, maybe even educational malpractice.  The trick becomes figuring out where those lines and boundaries are, and when to say no to kind invitations to meet/Skype/join up with others who may or may not be in a similar place, educationally speaking.

Another struggle, I suspect, is figuring out how to contextualize those creations in a way as to make them as useful as possible.  I’m beginning to practically understand why so many higher ed folks talk about learning objects and repositories and a slew of related issues, and struggle with those things, too.