Blogs as Documents of Learning

Documenting Learning. Electronic Portfolios: Engaging Today's Students in Higher Education

Giulia Forsythe’s visual notes on Tracy Penny Light’s session on Documenting Student Learning with Electronic Portfolios.

I started blogging with the TALONS class (since expanded to two) a little more than four years ago. In that time I’ve learned a great deal about the capacity for such digital publishing tools to help realize aspects of the larger purpose of schooling; part of this has come through developing my own informal network and community of practice constantly interrogating the same question, and lately has included both a graduate community of SFU diploma students, and my own masters cohort. Including my own classrooms, every learning space I move through is suffused with discussion and debate about the purpose of school.

I’ve written about this a few times on this blog, as a matter of fact. Back in May, 2009, I began documenting my Adventures in a Gifted Classroom by quoting Nabakov:

The only way back to objective reality is the following one: we can take these several individual worlds, mix them thoroughly together, scoop up a drop of that mixture, and call it objective reality.

For Nabokov’s objectivity to be realized though is to realize the paradox of Einstein’s relativity (one degree of separation between Nabokov & Einstein: a productive Monday morning!): the more we know about the object’s speed, the less accurately we know its location, and visa versa. Any definition we seek – for Truth in the religious sense, to the tenor of our elected officials and the implementation of our education systems – must be constantly reevaluated, re-calibrated and ready at every moment to be torn down to make way for the New.

And while I still agree with the general direction struck up now four and a half years (and a few hundred thousand words) ago, a quick survey of my blog archive charts the evolution of my theory and practice in the time since:

21st century Learner

Giulia Forsythe’s 21st Century Learner

Breakdown of Posts by Category (from a total of 224) 

As broad terms, Pedagogy and Technology might be expected culprits in a teacher’s blog these days (and I am more than a little glad to see Pedagogy edging to the win here… phew); but I think the focus on Learning Networks and Classroom Communities is more revealing about the larger purpose of schooling I’ve been uncovering in posts on grammar, music, and outdoor education these last four years.

Across these topics, I have striven to refine a pedagogy that empowers learners to take ownership over their learning. As published in my most recent post, I believe that:

the skills attending to student “ownership” of learning are essential elements in the ongoing creation and maintenance of a democratic society.

In four years of blogging, I’ve refined my process in cultivating space in the TALONS class for students to find what Clare found, back in 2009:

“Writing, I think is both a way to think aloud and preserve ideas I’ve come to a conclusion about in my head or random observations; the blog is just an archive in that sense. I also have a draft saved on my email account where I journal on-and-off, as well as a word document on my desktop, but I think the stuff on my blog is more developed in terms of exploring what I have to say. Sometimes when I post something, I secretly hope that other people will read it and offer their opinions, other times I forget about it as soon as I click ‘publish.’ Blogging provides a lot of revelation and I’m still guessing at its destination, but I do know that it’s going somewhere good.

Untitled

Revelation without destination strikes me as a noble purpose for a school system concerned with creating lifelong learners that shifts our focus from product to process. But even while this has been a foundational piece of my beliefs about education since I began teaching, I have continued to refine the role that blogs and the development of student learning networks and communities play in this process.

More and more, both as a reflective practitioner and someone trying to create learning spaces and opportunities for others, I think this revolves around the praxis outlined by Freire – and explored into more than one recent blog post here – of a cycle of reflection and action. Blogging – and tweeting, and taking pictures, and journals, and many other acts of preservation – creates an object of those experiences that can be viewed in reflection, and can be manifest in future opportunities as wisdom.

Social Media and Personalized Learning Project(s) Update

ThursdayRun

Given the way my own learning had unfolded this semester, it’s not surprising, perhaps, that I would be coming to identify (and experiment) with the idea of emergence in my classrooms and the extra-curricular projects I’ve undertaken. My goals of a month ago talked about my intentions:

“to create […] space to reflect on this year’s learning environments, and gradually engage in a manner that seems most appropriate to my own learning and thinking about teaching, facilitation, and collaboration.”

What might otherwise be seen as a failure to commit to any one thing in particular is something I’ve found aligning with emergent educationists Gert Biesta and Deborah Osberg:

“…if educators wish to encourage the emergence of meaning in the classroom, then the meanings that emerge in classrooms cannot and should not be pre-determined before the ‘event’ of their emergence.”

I’ve been thinking about how this type of emergence arrises in transformative learning on both an individual and a cultural level, and how the skills and behaviours required for this type of ongoing, lifelong learning might also be a requisite societal competency in maintaining a democratic society. Paulo Freire has added to these ideas, as has (again) Gert Biesta, who cites Wilfred Carr and Anthony Hartnett‘s assertion that citizenship education is a process by which

“individuals develop those intellectual dispositions which allow them to reconstruct themselves and their social institutions in ways which are conducive to the realization of their freedom and the reshaping of their society.”

These are a few of the ideas guiding me with the various threads I’ve been exploring in my classrooms and other learning spaces this semester as part of my personal learning project.

Philosophy 12 

While it might not qualify as Massive, my ‘open learning’ coursework this semester has found a natural home in critically reflecting on my work teaching and learning in the open with a group of grade eleven and twelve students (and occasionally Stephen Downes) in Philosophy 12. Setting out, my hope was

“that as we move[d] forward, both this semester and into future cycles of the class, we have an organic means of establishing a set of pathways for future exploration of the site, and the philosophical knowledge that is discussed, shared and stored on the site’s various pages and posts.”

But this direction didn’t seem inclusive of the – very real – hybrid nature of the classroom environment; Philosophy 12 has never been composed merely of its online components, but exists fundamentally between the connections of its daily face-to-face participants. In the class’ study of Metaphysics, I was particularly aware of Jesse Stommell’s post on Hybrid Pedagogy:

“When we build a hybrid class, we must consider how we’ll create pathways between the learning that happens in a room and the learning that happens on the web.”

Discussable Object in #Philosophy12

Here, the class’ personal studies went into the wild (with #PhilsDayOff), and returned to the classroom to be shared in a process that was both individually, and collectively, an act of synthesis. All of it was documented and ‘captured’ on the class site (and live on the web as it unfolded).

But this only accomplishes one aspect of the task: to cultivate – alongside the present artifacts of learning – a set of navigable pathways through the layers of annual learning ‘objects’ the course site will continue to house.

Screen shot 2013-10-26 at 3.43.29 PMOn the Philosophy site, there are already a number of means by which online participants and visitors (as well as for-credit face-to-face students) can locate content relevant and meaningful to their own exploration of philosophy. The Widgets sidebars on the home page have organized content by Recent Comments, Units of Inquiry, and a Tag Cloud of topics, themes and ideas generated over the course’s one full-semester.

This year I have looked to integrate ongoing class assignments into the connecting and filtering of course content by assigning for-credit students to act as members one another’s comment groups (so far either randomly drawn or organized by themes of inquiry). These groups are responsible for engaging one another in discussion and dialogue that will further the author’s exploration of the Screen shot 2013-10-26 at 12.11.11 PMoriginal topic, and help put each assigned post into context with larger class themes and ideas; we have also begun experimenting with a rating system of both posts and comments (corresponding to class-generated criteria) that introduces site visitors to a class-sourced collection of recommended site content.

Screen shot 2013-10-26 at 12.13.05 PM

Finally, as we approach the course’s mid-term, and a unit on Epistemology, participants are preparing portfolios of their collected work throughout our units and various assigned or unassigned blog posts. While serving as individual records of progress that will allow for ongoing reflection and the synthesis of summative learning assessments, the linked and communally curated portfolios will allow future Philosophy 12 participants (from for-credit to one-time visitor) to navigate the complexities of knowledge archived from year to year.

TALONS.bc.ca 

My learning intentions with regards to the fall curriculum in my TALONS classes has shifted somewhat from the heights of maintaining personal cyberinfrastructure to the creation of awareness around Bonnie Stewart’s ideas of “an ethos of participation” in blended online spaces. In adopting a communications approach, Bonnie “focuses on the Internet not as a technology but as a medium for human engagement,” which is an idea I’ve incorporated into a redesigning of the TALONS’ Eminent Person Study this time around.

“Because we hope to be transformed positively from this experience, each of us. But if we are to make these journeys, and come to these new perceptions, there is an almost moral obligation to share that wisdom with others who might make the trip themselves, something I’ll be interested to see unfold in the coming weeks.”

Screen shot 2013-10-26 at 12.30.23 PMAlready, as the Yahoo Pipes have aggregated the class initial explorations of their selected Eminent People, the corresponding RSS feed of blog comments has ballooned with the back and forth discussion of Individual Education Plan goals, notable biographies, and reflections on research adventures in the heart of downtown Vancouver.

In the coming weeks, the TALONS will engage in a portfolio cultivation of their Eminent Study not unlike the undertaking in Philosophy 12; in reflection and curation, the present learning will become the pathways for future TALONS learners and collaborators.

The Lunchtime Jam

Lunchtime Jam on @105theHive

Alluvium live on @105theHive

While outside the realm of an ongoing curricular project, I’m no less enthused about the development of Gleneagle Music‘s Lunchtime Jams on K12 distributed web radio station 105 the Hive. Something in Biesta’s citizenship education strikes me as relevant here, where he discusses that

“it can be argued that citizenship learning pervades all aspects of young people’s lives because, in principle, any aspect of their lives can be relevant for their growth as democratic citizens.”

On the other hand, he admits,

“there are very few experiences and events in young people’s lives that are ‘labelled’ as opportunities for citizenship learning.”

Lunchtime Jam

So it is that as I’ve watched various players from our school’s musical community stop by the music wing to create some spur-of-the-moment live radio for anyone who wants to tune in, I think of Bonnie Stewart’s “Trojan Horse” for literacies of participation, and how the emergence I’m perhaps most concerned with helping to facilitate and participate in is that of a more participatory democracy.

It is here, I believe, that my various learning projects this semester find common ground in striving to create opportunities for:

“individuals [to] develop those intellectual dispositions which allow them to reconstruct themselves and their social institutions in ways which are conducive to the realization of their freedom and the reshaping of their society.”

In his essay Transformative Learning and Transformative Politics Daniel Schugurensky talks about cultivating societies that

“generate public spaces of social interaction in which discourse is based on finding agreement, welcoming different points of view, identifying the common good in the myriad of competing self-interests, searching for synthesis and consensus, promoting solidarity, and ultimately improving community life.”

This potential creation of public space seems to mirror not only the implicit elements of the Philosophy 12 curriculum, but the aims of the TALONS blogged artifacts, and the shared rhythms of live jazz:


Eminent Person Study: Documenting Transformative Learning

Screen shot 2013-10-20 at 12.29.44 PM

We began talking about Eminent Person the other day by discussing Gardner Campbell’s quoting of Gregory Bateson’s work, and the idea of:

“…breaches in the weave of contextual structure.”

As I’ve mentioned here many times in the past, many experiential aspects of the TALONS program, and authentic learning wherever it happens for that matter, seek to create “breaches” in each participant’s “contextual structure.” In each bringing past experiences, expectations for ourselves and others, and other “contextual structures” to bear on the learning at hand, when these expectations are exceeded – above, beyond or laterally – we are given a view of the world and our relation to it that didn’t until then exist.

The knowledge of this expanded plane of perception leads us toward the action required to establish it as a new self-evident truth of existence. And we do this as individuals as well as cultures:

  • We see our first live concert and witness the magic of music as something made by people, and go about learning to play the guitar;
  • We watch Chris Hadfield sing with Ed Robertson and a choir in Toronto and know that the world is now this small, this connected;
  • We conduct interviews with experts thousands of miles away, and give speeches, and glimpse in ourselves strengths and talents we didn’t realize we there, and are never quite the same afterwards.

In a way it is impossible to settle for the previous way of imagining the world, and are forever drawn to the expanding horizon. And I think this is where the Eminent Person Study finds its particular stripe of ritual power from every autumn, as the new grade tens settle in to their first major opportunity for individual and collective learning, and the nines learn from their example.

The TALONS alumni often come away with having witnessed something profound:

In a way, I think Night of the Notables, especially the speeches, is the gr. 10 initiation. When I finished that speech and went to sit back down amongst the other gr. 10s, it was like taking my place among the elite. And every time someone came back, they passed the test, I suppose. I saw you all a supportive group being each others’ safety nets.

Having been privileged to be a part of the last seven incarnations of the TALONS Eminent studies, I’ve come to revel in the realization that:

From the college kids in the back to the grade nines sitting in the second row (to the teacher grinning in the balcony), everyone in the TALONS orbit [gathers] to give it up for those whose task it is this year to set aside their fears, come together as a group, and dare to do something exceptional.

The experience is something shared, yet something unique to each of us. And it is this particular aspect of the learning process that I wanted to honour in redesigning the project outline and assigned expectations to focus on the sharing of and in one another’s journeys through the project.

Alumni quotes

Alumni Advice

The project’s goals remain largely the same, but I have tried to have the various assignments move away from presenting a finalized product toward capturing a study in progressBiographical research is intended to be connected to each learner’s personal goals – expressed in blog posts from earlier in the year, or their IEP – and field studies and Night of the Notables postings are designed to become a synthesis of both presentation and reflection of individual learning.

Groups will be formed to facilitate commenting and feedback to help further one another’s inquiries into biography (and autobiography), and it is my hope that these conversations will begin to constitute an assembled ecosystem of narrated learning artifacts. The challenge I am looking to confront specifically this year is emphasizing an ethos of social media sharing and documentation to effectively archive and organize this year’s learning for future reflection and growth.

Because we hope to be transformed positively from this experience, each of us. But if we are to make these journeys, and come to these new perceptions, there is an almost moral obligation to share that wisdom with others who might make the trip themselves, something I’ll be interested to see unfold in the coming weeks.

Social Media & Personalized Learning Project Proposal Ideas

Tuesday Walk

As I’ve been blogging a little of late, I have spent September getting to know my various communities of learners once more. Whether the TALONS, this semester’s Philosophy 12 bunch, or my fellows in the #TIEGrad cohort, I feel lucky to have had the time and know-how to create enough space to reflect on this year’s learning environment and gradually engage in a manner that seems most appropriate to my own learning and thinking about teaching, facilitation, and collaboration.

I’ve been reading a lot, as well. Research papers and such; I’m building on a lot of ideas that began last year during the Philosophy class’ Epistemology unit with theories of Emergence, Enculturation, and Oppression

But more on that later, no doubt…

What I’ve come here to share today concerns the learning plan for my Personalized Learning & Social Media project this semester. At this point in September I have a few balls in the air, each of which could be construed as their own learning project. Or… all of which could fit nicely under a single topical umbrella that I’ve I’ve yet to open (though it is getting to be the season…).

A few things I’m kicking around, looking ahead at the coming months are:

Philosophy 12: An Open Online Highschool Philosophy Course 

For the second time around, this semester I’m teaching Philosophy 12 at Gleneagle, and making as much of the goings on as possible publicly available to anyone who would like to join us as an Open Online Participant. And while there are differences between our face-to-face and online cohorts this year and last, there are innumerable things that excite me about the personalities in this year’s group, the course content and how so much of it aligns with aspects of social constructivism and other epistemological beliefs that I hold about teaching.

One of these aspects is the element of designing the course site to bring about a truly socially constructed knowledge of the course content. Having experimented with individual blogs, and a class blog in my TALONS teaching, I was pleasantly surprised last year to see the simplicity of a single class site become a hub of conversation for a community intent (for credit for amusement) on delving into the Big Ideas of Philosophy.

Coming back to the site this September, it is a little daunting (and a lot exciting) to see that each of the course’s units is already chalked full of posts by last year’s participants. This year we’re already adding exponentially to that total, and we will be again in successive years.

We are, quite literally, creating personalized and communal knowledge.

But one of the problems I’m looking to resolve this semester is how I might construct the site such that it will facilitate the sifting that so much of the Internet does (Reddit’s up-voting, for example, comes to mind) beyond the mere page-views and comments metrics the site’s statistics monitor offers.

My hope is that as we move forward, both this semester and into future cycles of the class, we have an organic means of establishing a set of pathways for future exploration of the site, and the philosophical knowledge that is discussed, shared and stored on the site’s various pages and posts.

TALONS.bc.ca 

I talked to Jim Groom a few weeks ago about working with the University of Mary Washington‘s Domain of One’s Own program to bring some of the collected TALONS digital workspaces together under one roof, so to speak. Currently we use many different online platforms to publish, share and collaborate around the classes’ learning:

All of which I would like to figure more prominently in the daily goings on in the TALONS classroom, both as a means of creating, sharing and preserving learning artifacts and reflections, as well as cultivating a positive digital culture at the school that will extend beyond our room.

With our school and district moving in the direction of employing social media to support student learning, I think that many educators, students and their families are left wondering just what it is exactly the public web offers education (beyond the threats of deplorable discourse, pornography, or predators of youth). With the blessing of unique technology, an engaged parent community, and a documented tradition of former TALONS who have experimented with taking their lives and learning online, we have a unique position in the school to explore and demonstrate the practical applications and potential of many of these technologies.

Part of this learning is tied up in the practice that comes with students (and teachers, and parents, and alumni) engaging in the online community created and maintained across these networks of blog posts, Twitter updates, Flickr photos and comments. Part of it is inseparable from Paulo Freire‘s metacognitive praxis of Engagement –> Reflection –> Reengagement, and parts ask that participants consider their thoughts and actions in the public sphere, both as benefits a community, and as detracts from its potential.

All of which adds up to asking How, in other words, do we employ and engage with these social tools in the most effective way possible?

The other major thread here is of technical application: how do we take ownership and control over the physical data of our online lives and learning?

Image courtesy of Blogs @ NTU.edu

I’ve long held in the back of my mind the privacy mantra, if you are not paying for a service, you aren’t the customer; you’re the product. But have had neither the time / knowhow / dire need to bring much of Gardner Campbell‘s notion of Personal CyberInfrastructure into school until…

…until they killed Google Reader.

But that’s a long and sad story that we can just agree to look forward from, and as an opportunity.

Suffice it to say that in addition to learning about how we might use these social tools, we are on the cusp of delving into how we might use these social tools, and that’s exciting.

#RadioForLearning 

This last one might be the most general, but may also benefit the most from the structure of an ongoing learning project in the coming months.

For the past three years, I’ve enjoyed bringing TALONS learning, musical performances, and a lot of stuff in between to the distributed web radio communities of #DS106Radio, as well as its younger sister-station 105 the Hive. And while this has mostly been a means of connecting my various classrooms and the occasional auditorium with folks hundreds or thousands of miles away, I am excited to think of the possibilities of supplementing our school’s burgeoning social media presence with the vibrant addition of live radio.

In the past few weeks, I’ve spoken with a few former TALONS and current music department seniors about resurrecting a tradition from our early experiments in web radio a few years back: the Lunchtime Jam. Our hope is that by creating and promoting a regular sharing of live music and conversation over the lunchtime airwaves, we’ll be able to bring our school a little closer together.

Through headphones, or iPhone screens, or the wondrous shared vibrations of musical sound.

Just like a campfire.

In-depth Week 16 (only two more weeks until show time)

It is hard to believe that it has already been four months of exploring a particular passion, of expanding our horizons and of experimenting with new skills. The in-depth celebration on May 28th from 7- 1o pm is a little over two weeks away and only a few days after returning from a five-day adventure trip to the Squamish region.  These two events, in-depth night and adventure trip, are two of the five pillars for our program.  The June orientation, fall retreat and eminent person night are the other three significant milestones in our program every year. This last post is an opportunity for TALONS learners to reflect on their learning and to describe their learning centre, station, activity or stage presentation.  It is an chance for you to preview this amazing evening, filled with laughter, learning and lively conversations.

 

Hope to see past, current and future Talons learners and their parents enjoy  this culminating evening of two or one year of program participation. See you soon.

 

Megan’s insight on two years of Talons and in-depth wrap-up and more writing.

A final analysis by Richard about his screen play.

Vincent is experimenting with fruit flies.

Victoria teaching ballet.

Rowing with Immy.

Cake decorating with Emlyn.

Double-kicking the drums with Alvin.

Jeff learning and teaching First Aid.

Play badminton with Derek.

Song writing with Iris.

Know tying with Hayley wraps up.

 

Quirien Mulder ten Kate

In-depth Week 12

We are now in our third month of this long-term project.  Learners should be in the thick of their learning. Learning occurs when we challenge ourselves and when we reach beyond our comfort zone to enter the courage zone. We are gaining new insights, not previously part of our being, doing, thinking and feeling.  This project accomplishes all these aspects as long as we stay focused and engaged.  When our skill level rises and matches more challenging learning opportunities, we are in the zone, experiencing a sense of flow.
The following blog entries demonstrate some of these ideas and possibilities:

Jen and Jen (with a mom) hiking the Juan de Fuca trail in spring which looked more like winter!

Sepehr playing guitar

Golfing with Conrad

Animation with Christina

Screenplay writing with Richard

Baking with Jonathan Z.

Fairy tale writing with Megan

Chelsea’s contortionism act in Mexico!

Water Colour Painting with Kim

Unicycling with Marie

Drumming with Max

 

 

 

 

In-depth week 8

Talons learners are encouraged to reflect on their in-depth learning in as many ways as possible.  The following in-depth posts feed your senses.
Drumming with Max.

Unicycling with Marie.

Painting with Kim.

Ballet and more with Chelsea.

Tasty treats with Jonathan Z.

Guitar with Daniel P.

More colourful treats with Emlyn.

Animation with Christina.

Food carving with Isaac.

 

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In-depth Week 4

The in-depth project focuses on learning a new skill. Its main goal is to develop this skill over a five month period, gaining experiential knowledge.  Practice makes perfect in this case, too!  Learners may do some  secondary research to get their topic focused and gain some basic background knowledge; however, most of the learning is hands-on/ primary experience.  The following blogs exemplify learners who have taken steps in this direction and are developing a feel for their skill.

Snowshoeing with Jen and Jen and Zoe

Playing the Guzheng with Louise

Juggling with Michelle

Contortion with Chelsea

Music composition with Toren

Golfing with Conrad

Through the eyes of traceur, called Daniel

Film editing with Bronwyn

Cake decorating with Emlyn

Fruit and vegetable carving with Isaac

Jess drawing comic characters for now

Yoga with Katie

Cloning with Vincent

 

 

Quirien Mulder ten Kate