PLN awareness

Posted: October 24, 2011 in collaboration, participatory art

When we were first asked to determine or to think about what our Personal Learning Network was, I was at a bit of a loss. My PLN consisted mainly of myself, I thought. Sure I sometimes bandied ideas about around the proverbial “water cooler”, but I didn’t consider that as learning. I have to change my view on that, Because it IS learning. As a professional photographer I constantly read up on the latest in cameras, lenses, software, and a variety of other facettes of photography. I attend lecture and speeches by visiting Photography legends. One of them, noted American Ralph Gibson, said during a Q&A that everything he learned or watched made him a better photographer. Paraphrasing, he said that every dance performance he attended, every movie he saw, and every language he learned made him a better photographer. Everything he ever read, saw, or heard, was available to him as he framed his shots, made decisions on composition, exposure, and aperture. And this next part I thought was particularly interesting: he added “whether he was aware of it or not”. The more art he saw and learned about, the better was his own art.

And so it is with teaching. Every unit I plan, every lesson I develop, every activity I envisage, is influenced not only by what I’ve done in the past but by what I’ve read, seen in Alan November’s latest video, or a TED session, read in a blog, refered to in a Tweet, discussed in my cohort, and yes, by the “water cooler discussions”. I know this now; and knowing it affects how I teach. Acting on new ideas, suggestions, and concepts has already made me a better teacher, and made my students’ learning experience more engaging, and effective. By engaging more actively with my PLN I am forced to think about what I’m doing, how I am doing it, and especially why I am doing it. The more I interact with my network the better I get at teaching, and being aware of it is crucial in maximizing the benefit to my students and myself.

The sharing process in our case could have used a little more time. There is a warmup period where we informally caught up with what we’d done and how we done it over the last week. In my case the  process of creating a network is slowed down by  a couple of factors, the main one being almost all of my time is currently being used putting my Field Inquiry into action. The second factor is my standing as a relative newbie to Twitter and its functionnings. I’m certainly spending time trying to develop my own PLN, but so far I am still very much in the learning process. I can easily get sidetracked.
I will have to exercise discipline in the form of staying on task while on Twitter. I will also have to do a little more homework on the inner workings of Twitter; some form of organization in whom I follow would be helpful i.e. one group for assessment, one for technology, one for PBL, etc.
I have learned that by following my cohort peers on Twitter, I can see who they’re following and in turn add those whom I find of interest to my list of “following”. I look forward to a day where I can log on to Twitter and use it efficiently as a source of tools for me to implement, but also as a place to share my, and other educators’, successes.
 All of a sudden, in an exponential sort of way, my network is growing in leaps and bounds. From my cohorts, to whom they follow, and in turn whom they  follow, and whom they  follow…
Now, to get my Social Studies students on board!
Having spent the summer in some of Europe’s best Art Galleries and Museums, I was a little underwhelmed by the visit. This being said, our guide did bring up interesting points, even though I did not always see them put into action in the gallery per se. One room was dedicated to a participatory art installation, where the visitors own contributions altered the sounds produced by the artistic creation. I found this original and appreciated the extension of the traditional boundaries that art is often restricted by. I also enjoyed the The REMIXX.sur.RE exhibit that uses 700 digital photos, 60 digital video and animation clips, text in five languages and 260 audio clips created by Surrey youth. It pleased me that this allowed the multimodalities of expression and artistic literacy to be expressed: it came from the youths’ reality and was expressed using the literacies they are used to using. I also enjoyed the fact that, as observers, we affected the nature of the presentation in terms of content presented and speed at which images changed, or flashed on the screen.
Probably the most important element for me was a short comment the guide made that he didn’t elaborate on very much but had an effect on me. He spoke of the gallery “making the best use of the space”. I loved this; the space itself becomes a consideration in the creation of not only the shows, but of the displays, and the actual creation of the art itself. It led me to wonder if I use my classroom as well as I could be using it; am I “making the best use of the space?” “what could I be doing differently that would ensure I am making the best use of the space my students and I have?”
Our literacy group of four was presented with the task of preparing a 2 to 3 slide presentation to share out about the section in the Jenkins White Paper we were responsible for. Almost immediately we all assumed roles in the creation of the presentation; the collaboration was natural and particularly effective because we gravitated to our strong suits. Rob started the “mechanics” of the presentation, figuring out how to set it up properly in Google Docs so we could all edit it; when he needed help Gina came and help him iron out the details. Karen and Leyla were voicing the important points we wanted to include, and I had already started searching for images because we wanted to use only a few words to convey our message and the accompanying images would be important.
We all contributed editions to the content and layout; when, for some reason my computer wouldn’t download images anymore, Leyla jumped in and started inserting them from her computer. I was still able to work on the layout to make it as visually appealing, and effective, as possible. The result was a presentation I was proud of for more than one reason. The content was ‘bang on’, succint and complete, the visuals supported the content very well, the layout was effective, and we had all contributed. I learned even more about our section than I had gleaned from my own reading in the process of producing the presentation. And then I even reinforced my comprehension during the sharing out to other groups phase of the activity. This is definitely an activity I would like to include in my own practice.
While this article is certainly worthy of praise based on the fact that it was written in the mid nineties, and was very forward looking for the time, I found many aspects familiar. There were similarities with the Leu article (Leu, et al. (2004) “Defining Literacy and New Literacies”) and its variety of literacies called multiliteracies here. The point was again made, in a very wordy fashion that made comprehension difficult at times, that the number of literacies and the number of people using them was so important that it behooves us to take them into account when planning literacy activities and assessments.
Success will be atainable in more ways, through a variety of means of expressing ones’ learning, ones’ level of literacy in a given area. No longer will pen and paper be de rigueur to demonstrate concept acquisition; instead one’s literacy should be allowed to be expressed in several different ways thanks to the multiple literacies now given more validity. In fact, success may be measured in terms of which literacy is chosen for any given activity. Success might be a reflection of the judgement of the learner in selecting the best or most appropriate communication of information tool.
Remarkably it appears that to the authors, the notions of diveristy and multi culturalism seem to be new ones; this is probably due to the fact the New London Group is composed of members from the UK, the US, and Australia. Had there been a Canadian on board, it might have been written differently. Diversity and multiculturalism have been a cornerstone not only of Canadian Education but of the Canadian Identity as a whole, since Pierre Trudeau’s Cultural Mosaic and Just Society made their entrance on the Canadian scene in the late Sixties.
Still, the authors took great pains in reminding their readers that what they wished for most was to create a document that would lead to open minded discussions and to an undertaking of a task that needs to be addressed. It is indeed an important document that underlines the challenges educators around the world face in dealing with the rapidly growing number of literacies and the adjustments in design precipitated by such a proliferation.

New literacy

Posted: August 15, 2011 in Uncategorized
While literacy has always had a “reading-writing” connotation for me, technological changes are adding many more layers and depth to the meaning of the term literacy. Literacy can and should now be taken in a much broader sense. I can be literate in the sense that I can read and write, but illerate, or at a low level of literacy in terms of social media proficiency. Or, for the learner who has never met with much success iin the more traditional definitions of literacy, this might allow his proficiency in technology, website designing for example, to be taken into account when assessing his “literacy”.
In other words, with the advent of so many more ways to communicate, literacy is now a much broader topic. It allows for the inclusion of the myriad of new technologies, be they social network related, web based design focussed, or any number of newly available presentation tools and devices. The advent of emerging technologies makes for many more possibilities of demonstratioting literacy (or lack thereof).