Archive | August, 2014

Paper Circuitry illuminates “Writing as Making”

There has been a great deal of buzz lately about “making” and production-centered learning.  As a professor of literature and writing, I have been enthusiastic about the role “making” might play in the classroom.  (Even those classrooms or courses that don’t inherently seem to lend themselves to making in the most obvious sense.)  But the truth is, this new found enthusiasm is sometimes an uphill march.  Should we relinquish our valuable classroom time to such endeavors that seem at best a crafty indulgence, or at worst, a waste of precious instructional time?  This summer I have continued to ruminate on these significant challenges, and certain moments have helped clarify my thoughts:


On July 9, the National Writing Project and the Educator Innovator network helped launch “Hack Your Notebook Day,” which featured a special writing-engineering-art “make” challenge developed by NEXMAP and its partner CV2. Working with circuit stickers developed by Jie Qi, a doctoral candidate at the MIT Media Lab, we were charged with lightening up our writing with copper wire, circuits, LEDs, and more.  We had many resources to guide us in this unique endeavor.  Through our Paper Circuitry workshops (in varying locations throughout the world), we lit up our collective inspiration and our voices, as we crafted through a hands-on STEAM learning lens.

Could this artful hands-on approach to writing serve pedagogic goals in any significant way?  In spite of nagging doubts, our paper circuitry “making” brought to our attention crucial aspects of learning.  The chance to engage in creative expression through the venue of writing, circuitry, drawing and light drew out many important reflections.  And while we all experienced this innovative approach to writing in our separate local venues, we also simultaneously connected through our social media platforms throughout the day.  Our learning was both localized and networked.  Here is a brief video which shares a glimpse of the Kean University Writing Project’s “Hack Your Notebook Day”:


What was intriguing during the “Hack Your Notebook Day” was the transformative power of this work.  I think that the the general consensus before the workshop was most likely that the time spent on this engagement would be a pleasant “time-out” craft session.  …A bit of time away from the “real work”.  But for all that, this “detour” workshop effectively opened up the heart of the teaching and learning enterprise.  Our KUWP teacher/writers were now assuming the position of the learners, embarking in unknown territory for reasons still somewhat vague to them.  In many ways, their positioning mirrored a similar resistance that kids today might feel when introduced to some “random” writing approach in their classroom.  By the close of our time together, we found we were transported to a fresh perspective.

What a revelation to consider the palpable frustration we experienced when we couldn’t make the circuits work (and the feeling of rising failure that might overcome us if we couldn’t make it work).  We also discussed the first time the LED lit up – the very real empowerment of that little light coming into view.  (There were several audible gasps and exaltations from our group when the circuits started to light up).  We considered why we chose certain aspects of our composition to illuminate, and what kind of thought went into selecting certain words and images to highlight with illumination.

The particular care and craft of writing was brought to the collective (and intuitive) foreground.  A poet considers the power of each word when composing.  With paper circuitry we all experienced the rich nexus of visual and textual representation (and the importance of the choices we made in order to produce certain meaning in this work).  We also considered the added layer of circuitry.  In this context, the additional engineering knowledge was harnessed to punctuate certain meaning in our compositions.  We agreed that this experience was indeed writing, par excellence.  KUWP teachers expressed a renewed empathetic understanding of their own students’ learning processes.  They considered anew how their own students might feel compelled to create and express ideas with this medium.  And we all thought further about how our students turn certain corners.  ….How they might discover new openings for communicating in meaningful ways.  As educators, we want our students to become engaged complex thinkers and expressive writers.  Perhaps “making” (as a methodology applied to writing) might help us get there.

Our work with Paper Circuitry was a perfect realization of the Connected Learning experience.  We gained a hands-on understanding of how making, creating and producing are powerful paths to deeper learning and understanding.  These important learning tenets emerged as we hacked our notebooks together:

#1. Peer Learning – We helped each other learn.  We leaned over each other’s shoulder to explain when we figured something out.  We extended ourselves by describing what we discovered and we brought others along with us.  What a powerful “natural” resource that exists in every learning environment.  Imagine if every teacher could effectively harness that kind of learning empowerment?

#2.  Interest-driven learning:  We chose to write about things that mattered directly to us.  We were able to express the personal in our individual projects.  We found creative inspiration in our immediate lives, and those motivations were valid and counted as real learning.  (i.e. -an upcoming wedding, -an upcoming birth, -the reflection on one year in a life, -the habits of a writer, etc).

#3.  Networked Learning – We were part of a conversation that linked our local network with a broader learning community.  We tweeted with National Writing Project colleagues, we posted our work on the #CLMOOC google+ board.  We extended our learning beyond the bounds of our classroom’s four walls and we realized we were apart of a community of practicioners.

#4.  Academic learning – Our work went well beyond whimsy crafting as a time out.  We discussed the implications of composition enriched with such complex entry points for writing and meaning production.  We discussed how a “maker” approach to writing practice might be an opening or gateway for reluctant writers.

#5.  Shared purpose – The work helped us empathize with the younger learners we are employed to engage.  We experienced the possibility of cross-generational learning and connection as we ventured into new territory.  We remembered that learning never ends, no matter your age or position within a learning context.

The Summer 2014 “Hack Your Notebook Day” clarified for me that a when a learner is positioned as a “maker”, they are given fresh license to imagine, to design, to assert a new vision.  They are given the space to fail, and the chance to recuperate with a bit of persistence and help from peers.  Writers-as-makers are called to imagine new possibilities.

…And this is where true innovation is born.  This is where our collective future seems brightest.


“Morning Gleam” by Mia Zamora

An Invitation: Join us for “Connected Courses”!

I’m so thrilled to extend a heartfelt invitation to all my fellow learners and educators out there who are intrigued by the proposition of “open education”.  “Connected Courses” is a new online learning experience being put together by a group of amazing educators from the Connected Learning community.   We are a collaborative community of faculty in higher education developing networked, open courses that embody the principles of connected learning and the values of the open web.  Starting September 15th we’re going to be talking about openness and blended learning in a 12 week course that aims to help people run their own connected courses.  The course is free, open, and you can jump in at any time.  Everyone is welcome and no experience is required.

Jim Groom, Howard Rheingold, Gardner Campbell, Lisa M. Lane, Kira Baker-Doyle, (yours truly), Kim Jaxon, Helen Keegan, Michael Wesch

Jim Groom, Howard Rheingold, Gardner Campbell, Lisa M. Lane, Kira Baker-Doyle, (yours truly), Kim Jaxon, Helen Keegan, Michael Wesch

A group of inspired (and inspiring) educators met about two weeks ago at the Digital Media & Learning Research Hub in order to brainstorm the vision and planning of this important undertaking.  You might have called this moment a transformative “summit” where we all committed to the notion of turning the ship of a “HigherEd in Crisis” around.  Can we imagine HigherEd connected learning experiences that reach above and beyond the immediate goals of certification or better job prospects?  Can we engender lifelong learning while making learning interest-driven and relevant (for both individuals and our society as a whole)? ….I can’t understate what a special week it was.  Meaningful connections were made, plans were hatched, a vision emerged.  I think it is safe to say that we all feel that this is going to big.  We all feel we are part of a movement that will ultimately be world changing.  We want to invite everyone along with us.

Connected Courses selfie: myself, Kira Baker-Doyle, Helen Keegan, Mimi Ito

Connected Courses selfie: myself, Kira Baker-Doyle, Helen Keegan, Mimi Ito

In Connected Courses we will discover and learn together while demystifying the tools and trade of openness. We will explore why you might want to run a connectivist learning experience, how to get started, how to connect online and offline participants, and how to MAKE things that support this kind of learning.  We will talk about building networks, maintaining networks, and diversifying networks. Let’s start to make action plans together for connected teaching in the 21st century.

Amazing FemTechNet minds:  Lisa Nakamura, Liz Losh, Anne Balsamo

Amazing femtechnet minds: Lisa Nakamura, Liz Losh, Anne Balsamo

The first unit starts on September 15th, but you can sign up now and find more details about the topics we’ll be exploring at

See you there!

Connected Courses

I’m quite pleased to point you to a new online learning experience being put together by a group of amazing educators from the Connected Learning community. Starting September 15th we’re going to be talking about openness and blended learning in a 12 week course that aims to help people run their own connected courses. It’s meta! I love meta. The coursework will help you understand how we work in the digital space by demystifying the tools and trade of openness. We’ll explore why you might run a Connectivist learning experience, how to get started, how to connect online and offline participants, and how to MAKE things that support this kind of learning. We’ll talk about building networks, maintaining networks, diversifying networks and living and working in a connected space. We’ll learn together, share ideas and start making action plans for our own connected courses. You might understand, based on the above, why I’m excited about this. For the past couple of years I’ve been learning how to run connected courses, and I’ve been looking to people like the organizers of Connected Courses for advice, best practices and support. I’ve learned so much about how open online learning can activate and inspire people, and I’ve spent loads of time trying to understand the hows and whys in order to make Webmaker’s #TeachTheWeb program a sustainable engine of learning and support for our community. This course aims to simplify many of the trials and tribulations I’ve had organizing in this educational space, so that anyone can run these experiences and join in on open culture. Everyone is welcome and no experience is required. The first unit starts on September 15th, but you can sign up now and find more details about the topics we'll be exploring at See you there!