(I am indebted to Paul Oh & Christina Cantrill, both for the title of this post, which comes from an episode of NWP Radio in which they invited me to participate, and for their encouragement to reflect on and write about my experiences.)
In the spring of 2013, when I accepted Carolyn Frank’s offer to be the Connected Learning liaison for the Los Angeles Writing Project (LAWP), I was excited at the opportunity. When the Connected Learning Massively Open Online Collaboration (CLMOOC) began in the summer, however, my excitement turned to puzzlement, as I struggled to make sense of this new learning environment.
I had decided to make my presentation for the LAWP Summer Institute (SI) about my liaison work, and I scheduled time in the computer lab for a workshop on the principles of Connected Learning and digital tools for writing. First, though, I needed to understand what I would be presenting. In particular, I was learning about a wide variety of digital tools from the members of the CLMOOC community, and I was struggling to figure out how I could adapt and scale these tools to my classroom. In addition, while I grasped the Connected Learning principles fairly quickly, I was struggling to understand CLMOOC itself. Since CLMOOC was not a traditional, linear course, I realized that it would be difficult to explain to the other fellows in the SI.
Yet, despite my confusion, as I planned my SI presentation, I had an epiphany:
I’d been using technology to make my classroom teaching more efficient, but I could use technology to transform my teaching.
By way of background, I should add that, while I’m not especially brilliant with educational technology, I am pretty fearless. I try out new things and don’t get discouraged if my ideas need revision. Still, though I’ve gained a reputation for being tech-savvy at my site, I really think I’m a big fish in a small pond. In CLMOOC, on the other hand, I felt like a microorganism in the Pacific Ocean. Everyone seemed to know more and have done more; they talked about badges and Thinglink and something called DS106.
Literary critic Kenneth Burke famously compared academic writing to a conversation at a party:
Imagine that you enter a parlor. You come late. When you arrive, others have long preceded you, and they are engaged in a heated discussion, a discussion too heated for them to pause and tell you exactly what it is about. In fact, the discussion had already begun long before any of them got there, so that no one present is qualified to retrace for you all the steps that had gone before. You listen for a while, until you decide that you have caught the tenor of the argument; then you put in your oar. (The Philosophy of Literary Form: Studies in Symbolic Action, 3rd ed. [1941; rpt. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973], pp. 110-111)
Well, at the start of CLMOOC, the oar flew out of my hands and the boat capsized.
However, this sense of frustration, of swimming to shore in a storm like Odysseus, if I may badly belabor the metaphor (and relocate it from a stream to the Mediterranean) was probably an excellent environment for developing my understanding and reaching my epiphany.
As a tool for understanding Connected Learning and the CLMOOC, I created a RealTime Board that mapped my use of technology as a learner as well as my use and my students’ use of technology in my classroom.
This led to another insight: I was doing most of the technology use in my classroom. Oh, sure, kids used computers, but I was doing most of the creative work; the kids were essentially doing really expensive worksheets. Obviously, I needed to shift the balance toward greater student use of digital tools.
In my next post, I’ll discuss the inquiries I pursued last year in an effort to shift that balance.