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When might a safety manual be a story? February 24, 2013

Posted by IaninSheffield in Musings.
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Whilst I was thinking about the process of storytelling during a previous post and how

Storytellers hold your attention, stir your imagination, compel you to want to hear (read/see/experience) more, invoke an emotional response … make you care.

I wondered also how that might map across different media. To what extent are the authors of these media also storytellers. To what extent do they draw in their readers and lift them beyond the simple consumption of information? Do all media merit some degree of storytelling to capture the minds of their audience? At that point I wondered whether it might be possible to place different media on a spectrum stretching from basic conveyance of information through to passionate involvement.

degrees of storytelling

cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo by ianguest: http://flickr.com/photos/ianinsheffield/8503283842/

Would you agree with those placements or would you change the order?

These clearly aren’t the only (largely) print-based media which could be positioned on the spectrum. How about school textbooks? Perhaps there’s something to think about there …

Image sources in the graphic:








“I wanna tell you a story” February 19, 2013

Posted by IaninSheffield in Musings, Teaching Idea, Tools.
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I hope those (more mature?) UK residents for whom the title quote has meaning will forgive the reference to a long-lived and for many, well-loved English variety entertainer, Max Bygraves. But his catchphrase neatly encapsulated what entertainers need to do – to tell stories. Or at least to adopt the role of storyteller. Storytellers hold your attention, stir your imagination, compel you to want to hear (read/see/experience) more, invoke an emotional response … make you care. Storytelling can be for entertainment and pleasure, but also help understanding, solicit co-operation or build coalition … or even sell a product or service. As Joe Sabia outlined, the influence of digital (and other) media on storytelling may not have changed the essential elements of storytelling, but I’d suggest they have enabled the following:

  • Reach – access to a much wider audience through the Internet and the social networks which magnify.
  • Richness – diversity and profusion of media through which stories can be expressed.
  • Revealing – allowing a wider range of creators, for whom traditional storytelling may have been less accessible, to appreciate that they have something to offer and the media through which it might be delivered.
  • Recycling – where content created by others can be reused to tell the same story in a different way, or weave an entirely different narrative, or be mashed together from different sources.
  • Requesting – the audience need no longer be passive receptors and can be invited in to contribute to, or influence the direction of the story

As teachers, perhaps we need to scrutinise more carefully the role of storyteller and how might exploit the techniques and processes of telling a story so that the experiences to which we expose our students become more compelling.

The ‘story’ I chose to tell for this #etmooc assignment was inspired by a single image a colleague showed me just last week. I wondered whether it could form the subject of a story, but rather than put it up front and centre, I chose to approach it obliquely. Other storytelling techniques such as 5-card Flickr put imagery front and centre in order to stimulate the imagination. I elected to use simple words to conjure images which would hopefully lead the reader in a direction such that the final reveal was a complete surprise. Progressively revealing more and more of the image hopefully served to stimulate the imagination further.

Master storyteller? Well not yet. With such little text, each phrase, each clause, each word needs to be chosen with care and precision. I could have done with a little more time, but you can only tinker so much and eventually you have to ‘ship.’ I think maybe the image reveal could have been done a little better and though I considered making it visible on every frame, thought it might detract from the story and the reader’s need to conjure their own image as they absorbed the words – doing that whilst pondering the imagery would have been too much I felt. One final thing, boy isn’t finding a piece of appropriate CC music for the backing track time consuming?! Wasn’t entirely satisfied with the final choice, but the days are only so long.

Progressively revealing an image is a useful technique on large screen displays, perhaps using IWBs to tease out the storytelling in our younger students. Rather than show a whole image at once, use the IWB spotlight or eraser tools to reveal just a small section and ask students to first describe what they see, then as different scenes are shown, how or if they might be related. It’s surely the process of filling in the background for oneself that stimulates imaginative thinking?

Rhizomatic Learning – too cool for school? February 10, 2013

Posted by IaninSheffield in Musings, research.
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It doesn’t usually take me this long to get down to writing a post, but reflecting on the Rhizomatic Learning (RL) session with Dave Cormier has had me stumped … as indeed it did Dave. It’s not that it’s a particularly difficult idea, making as it does a metaphorical link with the way certain plants propagate as part of their growth process.

reed rhizomes

cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo by Science and Plants for Schools: http://flickr.com/photos/71183136@N08/7095841451/

The main aspects include how easily and rapidly rhizomes spread, how haphazard growth can be via multiple paths (responding as they do to local environment) and the degree of resilience they exhibit (when rhizomes are severed, the parent plant continues to grow and the severed sections can form new plants). These factors are also found in certain learning situations, MOOCs in particular, but community-centred situations in general, which means RL can provide a model for describing learning under these circumstances. I can also see how learning rhizomatically helps deal with complex situations and help prepare learners for uncertain futures. Having telegraphed its arrival I’m going to jump in with the ‘BUT’ (and this is I guess why it’s taken me so long to write this post), there are aspects of RL with which I feel less comfortable. These fall into three camps: the first being how far the rhizome metaphor holds up in describing learning ecosystems, the second in how applicable it is to my continued experience in pre-higher education and the third is that RL might just be a bit of a cop out.

Rhizomatic individuality

When rhizomes grow, though they do respond to their environment, the degree to which they interact with it is questionable I’d suggest. There’s no interlinking, no connecting, no collaboration, co-operation or symbiosis as there might be in a learning community. Indeed this can be taken even further and rhizomatic growth (or learning) can have destructive effects as Kaska discussed here. I also wonder too about the true resilience of rhizomes; clearly they are incredibly persistent within their own niche, but what is their fate if transplanted to a completely new environment? And I guess that takes me to my second point …

Too cool for school?

Primary and secondary education (K-12) is dominated by formal learning and whilst a little non-formal might sneak in the back door, there is neither room for, nor acceptance of informal learning. Organisational structures, timetables, schedules and calendars, externally mandated curricula, school buildings, cultural inertia, educational dogma all serve to exclude informal learning. I’d argue its an environment entirely hostile to rhizomatic learning. Or to flip it around, the needs of the learners might not be best served by applying the principles of RL; they are after all dealing with neither complex nor chaotic circumstances, their curriculum is not ‘the community’ and though we might wish to ‘make them responsible for their own learning,’ whilst teachers and schools exist to take the fall, that’s going to be an incredibly hard sell to society. In all fairness, Dave C is not claiming that RL applies in all circumstances and maybe I simply have to accept that unlike behaviourism , cognitivism or constructivism, I’ll struggle to find a place for RL in school. Yet perhaps this is the source of the discomfort and disconnect I feel; the tension that I know exists where the immediate future of our learners is pre-ordained and clearly laid out, yet the future beyond their school is far from certain and their learning needs might be better served by a more rhizomatic approach.

Copping out?

Having an ‘open syllabus’ where the ‘curriculum is the community’ and where learners determine their learning paths and success criteria, are all highly laudable aims, but I wonder to what extent they shift the responsibility away from the ‘course’ leader, thereby making their job a whole lot easier. No syllabus, no learning outcomes, no testing. It sure makes it a whole lot harder to be called to account by your line manager/employer if the learning experiences of your learners are less tangible. Or maybe it’s actiually the opposite and proponents of RL have a much tougher job justifying their existence when the evidence of their learners’ progress doesn’t conform to conventional structures (strictures?)?

Perhaps then I’m looking in the wrong place for instances and applications of RL? I simply need to content myself with the fact that my own learning is often rhizomatic. It’s often chaotic, dealing as it does with complex issues in preparation for unclear futures. I determine my learning pathways, explore a plethora of different avenues and decide for myself when journeys are complete. My curriculum is indeed my community and maybe that’s enough … for now.

Reflections on Topic 1 … Newton’s First Law. January 27, 2013

Posted by IaninSheffield in CPD.
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my ple

cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo by ianguest: http://flickr.com/photos/ianinsheffield/4096836848/

Some of the questions posed during this #etmooc topic are ones I’ve explored before. Given the affordances which today’s communications technologies provide, it would be remiss (negligent?) not to reflect on how we might leverage the potential they might offer. So my explorations of the issues raised by “What does my PLE/PLN look like? How can I share it?” began a while ago. Here I settled on the term Personal Learning Ecosystem to describe the network I had assembled from which I could learn and to which I might contribute. I explored that two-way flow further in this post, then began to consider some possibilities of how that might extend into our schooland begin to answer “How important is connected learning? Why?”.

What I haven’t yet got to grips with is “Is it possible for our classrooms and institutions to support this kind of learning? If so, how?” In the strictest sense, of course it’s physically possible to support this kind of learning; none of the elements in the above diagram are inaccessible in school … depending on your filtering policies! However when I’ve tried to introduce colleagues to the potential that social networking might offer, I think it would be fair to say I’ve not enjoyed unequivocal success. I often wonder why that is. For some, the barrier might be the technology, though given the familiarity all have with email (excessive, many claim!), is it such a big step to a slightly different communication tool? Others do in fact use social networking tools … but for social communication, rather than learning, and perhaps resent the intrusion into their personal lives? Others may have concerns about their ability to manage the online safety issues, though that’s surely a matter of personal development? However I suspect all of these, whilst valid, are peripheral concerns; the actual reason why our ‘classrooms and institutions’ largely haven’t supported this kind of learning is because they are just that – classrooms and institutions. Associated with those terms are specific practices and expectations which bring with them historical baggage and introduce a degree of inertia. Learning in this way was simply not how classrooms and institutions ‘do’ learning … at least not until recently. Increasingly we are seeing individuals and schools pushing back the boundaries through initiatives like The Flat Classroom, Quadblogging, the Digital Leaders Network and through the connections made by individuals between schools and across international boundaries. There isn’t a day passes when I don’t see several posts on Twitter from educators looking to link their classes with others across the globe, or casting for comments on blog posts their students have made. I admit that setting out on learning this way might indeed be rather intimidating. I guess it’s like asking for date – you just need the confidence to give it a go, be prepared for the occasional knock-back and to develop the resilience to stick with it.

Earlier I used the word ‘inertia’ which to a physicist has a particular meaning I’m going to distil down as ‘resistance to change.’ Objects with a large mass have more inertia. Classrooms and schools are ‘massive’ objects with quite some inertia, but that doesn’t mean they can’t change; inertia can be overcome. It’s just a matter of applying a force, albeit it small in the great scheme of things, but keep applying it and change will come. The longer the force is applied, the more noticeable the change will be.

No laws of Physics have been violated in the making of this post!

#etmooc: In the beginning … January 19, 2013

Posted by IaninSheffield in CPD.
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Intrigued by the potential and keen to explore a cMOOC, I signed up for #etmooc quite early. I undertook the preparatory steps in advance of the first week, ensuring my blog could be hooked in to the network, joining the etmooc Google community, posting a brief into., linking to the shared calendar … then at this point it became clear that the first week wasn’t going to go too smoothly. I couldn’t join the first scheduled orientation webinar since I was in school that evening, nor indeed the second – a meeting after work meant that I would be on the journey home at the time. Even the ‘repeats’ weren’t really practical on this occasion, since a midnight (for us) until 1.00 am session might have an adverse effect on an already demanding week. Darn it!

Nevertheless since the first two sessions were to explore how Twitter and blogging could be central to one’s involvement in #etmooc, and given that I’m familiar with both, I hope the impact on the remainder of the ‘course’ won’t be too harmful. What it did mean however is that I missed the opportunity for forging some of the initial links that are so important in establishing the necessary relationships vital when learning with others who may be far apart and with whom you might never had contact before. I find I get a much faster(?) (better?) impression of what someone thinks when they’re reacting in the backchannels to the stimuli during the webinar, rather than reading a bio … and with over a thousand (?) participants, even a sampling process will take some time. So I’m looking forward to next week’s sessions with renewed enthusiasm, though in the meantime will be playing catchup to some extent – reading & commenting on the etmooc Google Community streams, checking some of the intros posted, perhaps catching the archived Blackboard Collaborate sessions.

Although a little late in the week, here’s my offering for the Orientation week activity (and a link should it fail to display):

I settled on Empressr as the tool of choice – it offered the functionality I wanted to deploy and as always, I chose a tool with which I’m not familiar so that I could learn more about it whilst undertaking an authentic exercise. It has that familiar feel of other slide show-style presentation tools but being online, allows for easy retrieval of other online resources like videos and imagery from common online libraries. Since the product of your labours is online, it also means that distributing it is easy too. Allowing the upload of audio which can either play across the whole presentation (which I mistakenly chose!) or recording directly over each slide means standalone presentations can be much more informative and richer.

Wonder what I’ll be using next week …?