Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Trust Fall

Thanks to all the great work we did last summer at our site with Connected Learning and #clmooc, I have been invited to create a Resource on NWP's fantastic Digital Is website. What a great opportunity to put the work of our site out there for public consumption! What validation for a first-time SI co-facilitator! What recognition for the beginning Bloggers, Tweeters, and Makers in our group! So, I've begun the process of teaching myself how to create a Resource page on Digital Is, which is not as easy as it would seem, though my newfound tech confidence (and awesome tech support by @JoLusink & @poh) is certainly helping me navigate these new tools and formats. And that, all by itself--confidence in navigating HTML embed codes, Mozilla Popcorn, Google Hangouts and child pages--has been a very important new additive as I tinker and tweet my way into a blended world.

Where has this confidence with The Digital come from?  From diving in. From figuring it out. From pushing past the frustration caused by all things electronic. From participating! Part of my confidence (though now it occurs to me that maybe I haven't chosen quite the right word here) stems from being able to tinker in a no-stakes environment with digital tools and, at the same time, having a community of collaborators, an audience of others who were similarly engaged (a la #clmooc), folks with whom to share my work: my Vines, my horrible stop-motion animation vids, my #25wordstories, my songs on Soundcloud or my Rage comics. As @hickstro points out in his awesome volume, Crafting Digital Writing, relevance is key to technology applications in the classroom. And, for me, the collaborative experience of #clmooc, coupled with the supportive network of tech savvy NWP leaders and the laugh-our-way-through-it-all attitude of our SI teachers formed the relevance for my new learning. The 3-week window of the SI, and the immediacy of the #clmooc experience created an urgency to our learning that was also motivating and exhilerating. We were creating things every day, learning new tools and "showing off" our cleverness to one another, and it felt good.

Aligning our Summer Institute with the #clmooc experience was vital because it provided the perfect gifts of space and time for teachers to play, to tinker, to create, to fail, to collaborate, to conference. With all the PD that we create for teachers, one of the most basic of all teacher truths sometimes gets overlooked: teachers are learners, and what they need most in order to "professionally develop" is space and time (and a little guidance) to do it without intrusion or disruption.

And, so, I've asked my English teacher candidates to create teaching blogs and Twitter accounts, to mark the beginning of their journey as public intellectuals and as a digitally networked reflective teaching community. All seven candidates now have teaching blogs on Blogger, which are linked here our class blog hub: Joy and Justice. Yesterday in class, we decided on a hashtag: #teachouse (in honor of the old farmhouse on campus where we hold our methods class). The #teachouse crew has already gotten a few shout-out welcomes on Twitter, and as my candidates are beginning their field experiences next week, their blogs and Twitter accounts should be lighting up with reflections, resources and classroom artifacts.

If this is my digital expectation of my novice teachers who are also already navigating such murky waters, then I need to be sure to build in time and space for digital composing and to make it relevant to the coursework and program. Some of the candidates, admittedly, are skeptical about Twitter and about how on earth it could augment their teaching lives. Some candidates are already on Twitter but are having to adjust their profiles and handles to match their new professional identities. This rhetorical shift in their Twitter persona will be interesting to discuss and witness, as will the development of their teacher blogging voice. As I find meaningful ways to incorporate my new digital understandings and discoveries into my preparation of and work with teachers, I see more and more how the story of learning to use and appreciate digital tools, especially social media, is about trust in the collaborative spirit of others and in the goodwill of a public audience. We cannot neglect the "social" in social media. What kinds of F2F social environments are we creating for new digital learning to take place?

Happily, the NWP and #clmooc networks, and, I'm hoping, my own classroom, are firmly established on a solid foundation of collaboration, support and goodwill. When I closed my eyes and let myself fall back into the crowd of connected learners last summer, I knew my #clmooc network would be there to catch me...and all of us. Our trust in the network, in the leaders, and in the process--a go-at-your-own-pace weekly curriculum--was (and still is!) a key ingredient to our buy-in. And, the follow-up from #clmooc, the promise to resurrect it again this summer (2014), and the extension of our site's learning through resources like Digital Is and NWP Radio has kept the momentum going here in Rhode Island. A lot of good has come from a Site Director's Trust Fall. I can't wait to see what's next.