Wandering Lost!

I guess I never realized how attached I was to my computer until the hard drive crashed (I think) this morning. Yesterday was something of a whirlwind - between sharing my musings about Web 2.0 groups with interested Fellows, to clarifying what I can do to make my Keep On Learning site a via "publishable" piece, to canoeing down (and eventually swimming in) the mighty Housatonic River I was exhausted. We have spotty Internet connection here at best, so I captured by blogs thoughts in Word late last night and go up early to post.

Alas - the computer does nothing.

Thanks to JoAnn, I am working on a computer but it isn't mine, with my scattered desktop and the comforting pictures of my family in the background. I am trying to remain calm -but the flood of work that I have created may be lost and it is causing rising panic. (I know - I should back up more often and I have learned a powerful lesson!!) Fortunately - a great deal of my work is available to me on-line through blogs and wikis so I am not totally despondent.

I have come to realize that my computer has become an extension of my hands. Pens and pencils work at times, but how I organize my thoughts and my writing is all done electronically. It is comforting to me - the warmth of the battery, the click of they keys, the glow of the screen. I am not sure how to write and organize without it.

Much of our conversation the past two days has been around the use of electronic tools - and I can see the look of confusion and trepidation on the faces of many of my Fellows. It can be a powerful way to join our two communities (Upstate and Downstate) into the one community we become in the summer - but it could also cause others to disengage. I am mindful of this as I ponder ways to integrate these tools into the Collegial Circle that I am planning for the Fall around literacy. I will need to take it slow, temper my enthusiasm to allow others to discover these tools the way that I have, ,and build the community of learners one at a time.

Cross-posted on Writing Frameworks.

A Vision for the Future

Our morning plenary session today focused on refining our vision. Visioning can at times be dull or perhaps seem too "touchy feely" to be worth the time spent developing it. But the activities we did today were powerful and thought provoking. More importantly - the activities helped us to refine our visions.

This was important for me, as clarity has been something of an issue for me of late. I think I know what I want to say - carefully select the best words to convey that meaning - but somehow when they come out, they come out in gibberish. Or at least it seems from the stunned look of the person of I am talking to. You know the look - somewhere between pity and confusion, when they start responding to you by speaking s-l-o-w-e-r and LOUDER?

Back to my vision! While I ponder how close my vision is to that of my organization - I have come to understand that it is about building capacity and efficacy. Because I have felt that I have been unsuccessful in using Web 2.0 tools in the past year to help build a sense of community, I took a step backward and thought about why that might be. I think there are three reasons why I was unsuccessful.

First, the technology. I was speaking with a colleague yesterday who I view as quite the risk-taker and we were discussing the use of blogs. She said it was one thing that she would never do because when it came to things on the computer - she just wasn't as comfortable as in the other areas in which I have seen her step out of her comfort zone. I thought about the comment for a while and realized that it holds true for many people. Some are afraid they might break something on the computer - others are afraid that they'll put something out there, accidentally and before it is polished, and then they can never take it back. This tells me that I need to focus on the use of the tools, but also on the culture of the schools I work with around what publishing on the web might mean.

Second, the time issue. This issue seems ever present and I am not sure how to address it. What I do know is I need to focus on how the tools can be integrated into classroom practice, or show what they might replace, before the time dragon is quieted.

The last issue is a bit tricky. In reflecting on conversations with folks and on blog posts, it seems that as teachers we don't often feel comfortable with our own writing. It isn't something that we are asked to do regularly and for some, it seems to be a chore. Yet - we want our students to do it on a much more regular basis. I am thinking about asking teachers to set up their own blogs first - to experiment with their writing, find their voice, and be comfortable becoming a writer. Then - as their comfort level with both the tool and the writing increases, they might be able to see a use in their classroom. And hopefully, might become active participants in the blogging community.

More Questions than Answers

This blog was birthed from an idea Jenn had while we were at a CSETL meeting. We both belong to this professional learning community and were looking for ways to replicate that feeling with other folks in our region who held similar positions. Although we created this blog almost one year ago - we haven’t exactly been successful in creating a community using these tools.

One thing I am investigating at our summer retreat this week is the roll that wikis and blogs can play in creating a learning community. I have read everything I can get my hands on (not too terribly much to be honest) but most importantly, I have experimented this past year with creating the community using these tools. There have been some roadblocks – some I expected and others I did not – that my fellow Fellows are helping me grapple with, as well as sharing with me this first week.

Nearing the end of our first day, some things keep bubbling to the surface:

1. There is a great deal of literature out about what it takes to build learning communities. Is it really possible to build these communities using technology tools? I believe that it is possible, but it will involve a shift for teachers and quite a bit of “unknown,” particularly in the use of the technology tools. I really like the model that Stanford University has developed in order to move through the phases of wiki use to build a community of practice. I think that using this framework, I am going to see if I can adapt it to blogging and then reflect a bit on where I have been the past year in the use of these two tools to see what steps I may have skipped that might have been critical to move forward.

Image from Using Wikis to Build Learning Communities, Stanford Center for Innovations in Learning.

2. One reason that I value the use of blogs and wikis for classrooms of the future are that they create an authenticity for writing that has been absent lately in our "test centered" world. When using Web 2.0 tools, you are published – and published for the whole world to see. But I was reminded today that while I might in fact be “published,” my work has not been “peer reviewed.” Hasn’t it? Don’t blogs provide an opportunity for feedback and exchange of ideas? Whether my peers read my work or not certainly speaks to whether it fits their criteria for “good reading.” Many of the teachers I know who use blogs are working on the fact that the work must be in final format – proper spelling and grammar, solid foundation for the ideas presented. Some even have their students' work reviewed to create a "Hall of Fame." All information about good blogs talks about “citing” your sources, particularly if you are citing a fellow blogger. Aren’t those some of the hallmarks of a “peer reviewed” piece of writing? If not – what are we missing and what could we put into place to “legitimize” blog writing?

3. Time continues to crop up as I discuss the use of these tools with others. We all have very crazy and hectic schedules – deadlines to meet, balancing family and work obligations. So how do we fit these pieces in? When I first ventured into the Web 2.0 world, I had the same concerns. I set aside specific times to read and to write blogs, but even then I have fallen off the wagon. In order to fit it in – I needed to take something out. The piece I have removed is the purchasing of a physical newspaper – I no longer receive our local daily. Instead, I have formatted my RSS feed to be my ideal newspaper. I have sports (hockey and football only!), I have the education section (missing from most newspapers) and politics, as well as local news. The time I used to take to read a paper version, I now spend reading on-line and from a much richer variety of sources. I know this is not for everyone – but it is one solution!! Another piece that I am committed to doing this year is to track how long it takes me to read/write blogs (I am currently at 3 minutes on this piece – it will probably be a bit closer to 7 minutes by the time I proof-read and add links.) Hopefully – this will allow me to share with others my process and the amount of time it actually takes to participate in this manner.

My head is spinning but I am putting this out on blog form in order to get pushed back. I am hoping my fellow Fellows will take a break from their work this week to pop into my world and ask me questions, respond to my thoughts, and push my thinking – as they always do in person, but this time virtually, so that I can explore new perspectives and find other paths to follow.

P.S. I was wrong - I spent closer to 20 minutes completing this post as you see it now!