Archive | June, 2014

Why Connected Learning?

We have been excited about the “Connected Learning” movement for some time at the Kean University Writing Project, and our team has been thinking about how to incorporate connected learning principles into our overall Invitational Summer Institute experience for our new Teacher Consultants. I thought I would share a bit on my own entry point into this work as a way to illustrate why I think “Connected Learning” is so important for today’s educators and their students. As a literature professor, I have a passionate new research focus on Electronic Literature.

interventionsELit (otherwise known as Digital Literature) is a literary genre born entirely in a digital environment. ELit requires digital computation in order to be read. These literary works might include links, generative aspects, multimedia content, animation or reader interaction in addition to the actual text, the actual words. As I have been engaging this exciting new field in literary studies it has become apparent to me that in order to really read these texts (in the sense of practitioner close reading), one would also need to develop the skills that would allow one to understand the “back end” or code involved in producing these texts. So, as I have been facing this scholarly challenge, I have also been wearing my other professional hat as a National Writing Project Director. In this context, I have been thinking so much about 21st century literacy skills, and what it means to be digitally literate in this day in age.

It is often said that our students are digital natives and that they are born into a tech-steeped world. (Perhaps you have seen that YouTube video of a baby that tries to swipe a magazine page because she assumes the analog text will work like a tablet).   To be nimble with technology is perhaps second nature to our students. But I think we need to look more closely at this assumption. I think our students most definitely have a level of comfort with technology due to its ubiquity in their everyday lives. But that doesn’t mean that they are digitally literate, which is the source of our profound challenge as educators. Students play games and are quick to use apps, but the do not know how to write that new media world that they exist in. In short, they are more likely to be consumers, but not producers of new media. Said another way, perhaps they can “read” an electronic environment, but they cannot necessarily write it.   This crucial distinction is why it became so apparent to me that the “Connected Learning” movement is a vital engine for preparing our students to read and write and to think critically in a digital age.

“Connected Learning” is about reimaging the experience of education in the information age. It draws on the power of today’s technologies and embraces hands on production and open networks. Many teachers feel overwhelmed by the prospect of using technology and digital tools in their classrooms. But the embrace of digital tools to enhance learning potential can be such a transformative part of teacher professional development.   At the Kean University Writing Project, we use to have a choice of “tracks” that a new Teacher Consultant could choose from at the on-set of their own Summer Institute experience. One of those tracks was the “Tech” track. In other words, gaining more facility with technology and digital tools was an option. Gaining more digital confidence was essentially an elective.

But for the first time this year, we are taking a new approach.  And I know this is an important paradigm shift for us at the KUWP: Tech is no longer a track to be selected, but instead, “Connected Learning” principles will be inherently woven throughout our entire Summer Institute experience.  We are all participating in the MakeLearningConnected MOOC (better known as #clmooc). Everyone will be gaining further facility with digital tools and open networks throughout the course of the Institute.   And with this embrace of digital tools and making, therein lies an essential identity shift for teachers. Teachers also become designers. The emphasis on the idea of making – an embrace of a more production-oriented approach to learning, will offer all of us some inspiring examples of peer-supported learning and interest–driven learning.  By embracing “Connected Learning” not only will teachers build a new professional learning community for themselves, but they will practice the kind of creativity that will eventually catch a spark in their own students.

papercicuitryThe weekly #clmooc “make cycles” will give all of us at the Kean University Writing Project a chance to tinker and make.  In addition we will have face-to-face lunch workshops during the Summer Institute which will give us the chance to share our “makes” and chat about new digital skills that we have acquired. This is always fun and informal, but it tends to be the glue that seals a teacher’s new digital confidence.  In particular, I look forward to the very special “Paper Circuitry” workshop we have planned.   The KUWP Makerspace will lead a “Hack Your Notebook” project that combines the traditional paper notebook with LED lighting circuitry. I know we will have fun lighting up our writing, our artwork, our ideas! We will also be hosting innovative educator, author, and maker Meeno Rami on Thursday, July 10, 2014, for a day of conversations and workshops focusing on the art of “hacking your writing”. We will be sure to share this work through live webinar, sent out to everyone in our global network.

Finally, our culminating collaborative “make” will be the KUWP E-BOOK.  We are planning on pulling together some evidence of the “learning pathways” experienced by different members of the KUWP community over the course of the 5 weeks of #clmooc.  I cannot attest for what will emerge yet, but that is the beauty of it!  We will try to include both our “lightbulb moments”, and our “fails” as well.  I hope the compilation will be at heart a reflective e-book on “Connected Learning” in an open network.

:For Librarians

The four modules of Webmaker Training are somewhat non-specific. They are mainly designed to be an on-ramp for people who don’t have much experience with trying to #TeachTheWeb or people who are new to our community and the idea of Connected Learning. The four modules are the basics of what we as a community care about and why. We’ve tried to gather information that is useful when people are beginning to think about their involvement in the Mozilla community and in Maker Party, and we’ve tried to help people develop digital skills by prompting them to make using free and open tools. Since we have a wide reaching and global community, we have lots of different interests to think about. With Webmaker Training, I feel like we’ve found a model that can work for any interest, so I’m excited to see if I’m right.

Enter the Librarian.

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="200"] made for TV gone B Movie Franchise![/caption] In the fall, we will be running Webmaker Training: For Librarians as our first specific interest group. In thinking about the specific learning modules librarians would need, I felt like I need a little bit of backup. So I used me some connected networking skills and I reached out to some Mozillians who know libraries and librarians*.

Notes about this audience

1. Jennie said that one of her favorite quotes from the “sleep cell librarian crew” in our community was
“Librarians are trained by vendors.”
She explained that it’s normally proprietary software that ends up in libraries and, thus, librarians are helping people use that stuff. Solution 1: We’re a “vendor”, our software is the Web. Bam. 2. It was also pointed out to me that whether or not a librarian can justify his participation in #TeachTheWeb to a library director will determine if the modules are successful or not. Solution 2: Everything is open and free. I guess that most libraries in N. America are members of the ALA, but their e-learning resources are…uh…not free. Also, there’s not much in the way of information literacy or digital making in their e-learning catalog, so programs like Webmaker Training can augment. I don’t really know what a library director is looking for, but libraries are the perfect establishments for things like Maker Parties, digital skills workshops, web - ahem - literacy work. 3. There is a huge age gap in librarians, so there’s also a huge skill gap when it comes to technology. Solution 3: Karen suggested facilitating connections between generations, and I like this idea. I also think that modules for developing specific technical skills are a good idea. 4. There’s a difference between academic vs public libraries.
[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="300"]:For Librarians Public[/caption]
[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="291"]:For Librarians Academic[/caption]
Solution 4: I think we can solve this with modularity. Kaitlin and Greg over at the Mozilla Science Lab and Software Carpentry have been working with academic research librarians, so we have a jumping off place for things like data skills, indexing, unix, etc. I mean, look at these lessons. 5. There’s a difference between urban vs rural libraries. Solution 5: Oh yeah, I know! What can a rural librarian teach an urban librarian and vice versa? How does technology play a part in each library? What resources do libraries need? Let’s MAKE them together! 6. Librarians have some of the pedagogy stuff, so we need to have a stronger focus on the technical details. Solution 6: That aligns with my sense that we need some smaller more focused “skill” modules ;) It was also mentioned that Webinars, videos and anything people can consume at work world be helpful, so I’m thinking popcorn videos should make their way to 7. This group needs to understand how they can use this network and why it’s valuable to them. Solution 7: This is a discussion we should have together, but we have lots of case studies we can put together in an easily digestible format. Webpage to ebook anyone?


I’ve had quite a bit to think about in terms of how :For Librarians can fit into overarching visions of what Webmaker Training is or should become. These are my initial thoughts after digesting everything the “Mozillarians” had to say. I’d appreciate it if you collaborate with me on this by giving feedback, adding thoughts, curating content, donating ideas for good make prompts and otherwise help me push :For Librarians further.

Ideas for NEW modules

  1. Logistics (how to organize a Webmaker event / Maker Party - could be an education remix of the Event kits!), maintaining and developing free public spaces (finding funding and programming opportunities, understanding distribution).
  2. Building Online Networks (setting up a blog, HTML basics, online networking)
  3. Privacy and Security for Public Spaces (How to make online anonymity default, 3rd party cookies, https, do not track, Lightbeam)

Ideas for Building :For Librarians

As I said, we have lots of amazing baseline content. We don’t need an entirely new Building module, we need learning activities that would be valuable to lots of librarians. So what does each librarian want to make that would immediately benefit his/her library? A couple ideas for make prompts:
  • Make your typical learner profile (who are your largest group of patrons? Marginalized teens? Seniors? Children?)
  • Teaching Kit for Computer Basics (click, double click). I found this resource, got excited about what the community could do with it.
  • Top ten programs at your library
  • Top ten problems your library has
  • Teaching Kit for Searching (Especially in North America, library patrons are often elderly or disadvantaged who need basic training in everyday internet usage. Librarians are teaching people how to find health info, filing taxes, etc. How can we teach those basic skills in a way that people to keep coming to the library to level up?)
  • What else? Help!

Discourse discussions we should have

  • Best practices for encouraging critical literacies Honest and Open communication; (Exploring - could be based on typical learner profile) Community building (Connecting - could be based on “top ten programs”)
So that’s where I am in my :For Librarians thinking. What do you think? Leave a comment, or better yet, join the discussion. * Thanks to Emily, Jennie, Kaitlin and Karen for brain dumping for me, and to the folks feeding me ideas in email ;)