Tag Archives: social networking

Networked Learning Class Reflection 1: Basketball without Borders Project

That Networked Learning elective “English Seminar” class I taught last semester ended two weeks ago. (Sift through the archives for related posts.)

For new readers or simply people not tuned in here during the last six months, here’s a recap: Ten students of mixed grades (9-12, ages 15-18), each with a MacBook laptop (the school is 1:1), were given the most open, autonomous, swim-or-drown class experience they’d probably ever had, and are likely to ever have again.

The idea was simple:

This is a language arts course: writing, speaking, communicating.  If you spend this semester communicating about topics that “teacher” assigns, you will not be real writers. You will just be doing homework.  Writers write of their own interests and ideas.  That means you will have to find your own topics, in order to experience being a writer, speaker, film-maker, etc.

So you will develop a web-based project based on your interests; use whatever modes of communication you desire – writing, podcasting, screencasting, movie-making, etc; launch and grow your project over six months, and apply the principals of quality – in whatever “language art” mode you’ve chosen – from the mini-lessons and sitting together conferences we had; do your project singly or in teams; extra credit for using Twitter, Skype, Facebook, YouTube, and the rest to network, go global, and “imagine big.”

If you “try big” and fail, you can still receive an A, if you articulate and apply the lessons your failures taught you.

A six month project in absolute freedom will bring you to brick walls, slumps, quagmires, that may last for weeks.  As long as you push through them, and come out the other side, you don’t need to fear for your grade. I want you to experience the difficulty of not being able to quit in the face of adversity, the difficulty of freedom and responsibility, of keeping an idea alive.

If you’re lazy, unproductive, unimaginative, unconcerned about quality – you won’t do well.

You will be given almost the entirety of each 77-minute class to independently work on your project. I will occasionally give whole-class mini-lessons on authentically good writing, audio- and video-production, and will also check in with each of you by simply pulling up a chair next to you and talking about your progress, challenges, and thoughts. But the rest of the time will be yours to work. So you have no excuse for not getting that work done.

You will grade yourselves, by the way, based on your monthly production and reflection on lessons learned. You’ll have to justify your grades with evidence of your work.

Since it was the most “radical” (per Dean) “releasing of the hounds” (if I have Chris Harbeck‘s gist right) and “edupunk” (if Lindsea is right, since I didn’t jump on that meme) thing I’ve done in my teaching career, and since I wrote about it regularly throughout the semester, I want to honor my contract with a final report to whatever readers out there wonder, “How did that ever turn out, anyway?”

The problem is, I’m overloaded right now. I just got back from Hong Kong yesterday, still have immigration issues to deal with, a career transition to navigate, and a new apartment to move into in ten days.

So I’m going to share with you excerpts from the final reflections some of the students wrote during the final exam, in a series. I’ll preface each student with my own summary of his/her project, and anecdotal impressions of his/her journey. A caveat, first: I wasn’t on top of my game in setting up these reflections. In the past, I’ve always created an anonymous user account on Moodle, and had students evaluate the course using that account in order to ensure maximum honesty via that anonymity. I didn’t do that this time. You’ll have to decide how much weight to give the following lines.

1. Younsuk and Jaeho: Basketball without Borders:

Younsuk, a sophomore, has been featured a lot on these pages over the last six months. He teamed with senior Jaeho to launch the Basketball without Borders project, which evolved into a beautifully networked series of podcasted Skype interviews with Asian college and professional basketball stars in the US and elsewhere. This project was the dark horse of the whole class, and it exploded in about month three to win the race by several lengths.  These guys astonished me with their ability to use their own personal and family networks to arrange interviews with players in Japan, Korea, and the US.  Nothing comes close, in my teaching experience, to seeing them enter the classroom so many times to say, “Mr. Burell, we have a Skype interview scheduled with [this or that player] for this class. Can we go to a quiet room?”  And then to see, at the end of the class, these successful audio producers come back in with grins wrapped so infectiously around their heads. (I videotaped them for Youtube in one such moment on this post.)

I had Younsuk as a freshman in English 9 the prior year – the first class I ever did classroom blogging with. I can tell you that his writing has gained impressively in ideas, in voice, in rhetoric, in style.

The irony? At the beginning of the class, Younsuk insisted, in no uncertain terms, that he had no interest in podcasting. Click here for all the posts on this blog with Younsuk and/or Jaeho.

Here are some excerpts from his reflection:

  • This revolutionary course that I took this semester, revolutionized me as a person. I certainly became a better writer that cares. Through my project, I had real audience. In order to succeed, I had to have a good writing that catches people. I’ve learned to make the title catching, and I’ve learned to make sure the audience wanted to read. To do that, I had to think about the sentence styles, order of what I write about, and maybe throwing some nice metaphors. I’m starting to care about what I write a lot. And one can observe my improvement in writing if one reads my own blog. [note: this is not his PLN basketball blog, but his personal blog for his English class, now in its second year]
  • As a thinker, I’ve learned to think. After doing a project about something I’m interested in, I’ve learned to think in my own way, that things  I like can turn into something like this [note: this is his basketball project blog]. After realizing this, I’ve learned to write about things that I like. And to me, writing is just like thinking. When I write about something I like, then I feel good. I’ve learned that ultimately, I would want to please the audience, but it all starts from pleasing myself with my own thoughts.
  • I’ve learned that I’m a producer now.  I produce things. I’ve produced my website, I’ve produced the interviews, and I’ve produced the productivity. I never turned in anything. Everything I did in this class, was what I produced. I’ve learned that by producing, I can learn more.
  • As a networker, I’m not a big user of twitter. But using our connection, we’ve reached three big-time interviewees. One of the tools that helped us was facebook. There are many “non-educational’ ways to use facebook, but it still keeps people in touch. It’s easy to contact people, and it’s easy to expand my network by becoming friends with my friends’ friends. This method led us to interview three big basketball figures in Asia. Connection is important, because with one, you can have a million.
  • Again, I thank Mr. Burell for this revolutionary class. It was the only real experience I had at school.

Re: that last bullet: Man, if only students realized how much teachers need to hear that from their students. My morale would have been so much higher this semester if I’d only known he was getting what I was trying to deliver. Hear this, students: your teachers need positive feedback more than you realize. Give it to them, if you want them to stay in the classroom.

*    *    *

Jaeho was a senior, and Younsuk’s partner. As I said in a comment to Jaeho’s final reflection before graduating, “Thanks for making this vision worthwhile. It’s been amazing to know you as a student in this class, and as a different student in AP Lit. I much prefer this class.”

Because my wife just got home, and writing is a completely different endeavor as a married man (and this is light-years from a complaint, as I’m very, very happy), I’m going to simply paste Jaeho’s entire final post here (being on the school server, the entire pln blog will probably be deleted soon, so call this an archive):

Signing Off

Photo by: Jarrellish

“It is a small world after all”. The past five months truly taught me what this quote meant.

As with most other cases, the start was not so great. I did not want to make this into a academic, insignificant project. Deliberating desperately to figure out a way to make this work, I came up with a risky idea of focusing on the stereotypes about basketball. Due to the relatively long time that took us to decide on what we are going to do, the group went on a slow start.

Connecting to the world.. It was not so far away from us after all. After I chose the focus, things started to work out for us rather quickly. Luckily for us, the Columbia University basketball star Keijuro Matsui accepted our interview request. “Maybe this could actually work“, I thought to myself. Then Ko Yada, then Kelvin Kim. In approximately 4 weeks, we had interviewed 3 basketball sensations. The empty parking lot started to fill when visitors started coming to see the show and naturally the show began to flourish..

Writing… This was an inevitable part of the class. The primary problem was not knowing my weaknesses. It wasn’t too long before Mr. Burell pointed out that my sentence structures are always the same. (Subject verb object). Clearly, I had to change this style to make people want to read me. As time went, luckily for me, my writing improved to a level where Mr. Burell said “That was good!” I have not completely grasped the art of organic writing yet, but started to notice where to pause, where to put in the funny stuff. Looking back, my lack of confidence about writing was preventing me from trying out different things in my writing.

At this point, I can honestly say that the English Seminar Class has taught me two valuable experiences that I did not experience anywhere else. It has taught me the power of technology, and the techniques of creative writing.

For the ending, I want to thank Mr. Burell for having faith in us when we were lost in the Sahara Desert and helping us find something that can be extended into the world.  Thanks.

Stay tuned for a few more student reports.

Beyond Global Collaborative “Units,” on to Real PLN’s: Podcast with Chris Craft

(right-click and “save as” to download the enhanced podcast here)

Life as science fiction continues.

Here in Korea on a Friday night, close to midnight, I hop onto Twitter, see Chris Craft is there in South Carolina, USA, and tweet him an invitation to talk on Skype. He kindly obliges (and it’s just a free international computer phone call now, so that ain’t hard).

I record it, edit it, and an hour later, self-publish it for anybody in the world who is interested in lessons learned from two humble pioneers of global classroom collaboration.

Our topic? We take up the question of how to refine our approach to global collaborative projects so that they are less prone to fail, or to wear out all parties involved (teachers and students) when they succeed.

I’m most excited by the last 5 minutes or so. Chris and I fell into a spontaneous “pedagogical jam session” in which we riffed on the idea that the best projects are – not projects at all*. Instead, they are authentic uses – and modelings – of Personal Learning Networks (PLN’s) via Twitter, Skype, Facebook, etc: “quick in and quick out.”

Good background reading from the edublogs:

It’s only 15 minutes. It’s enhanced, if you download to iTunes, with chapter markers for quick navigation. And notice, if you play it from this post, you can still see links to URL’s we discuss along the way in the embedded player.

Enjoy! And better still – extend or challenge in comments :)

*I owe a debt to Chris Harbeck‘s K-12 Online Conference 2007 presentation “Release the Hounds, Part 4” for planting this seed a couple of months ago. It’s sprouting some healthy shoots now.

Calling Out the College Board and ETS: An Educators’ Campaign for 2008?

In my last post, I made a couple sins of omission when giving thanks and measuring the success of Students 2.0.

Sin 1: Thanks to Stephen Downes for supporting the launch by featuring it in his (very influential, and rightfully so) OLDaily.

Sin 2: I didn’t mention what is, to me, the most valuable aspect of the Students 2.0 blog: the comments. Without them, we’d have a handful of students writing to the void. With them, we have the type of peer-to-peer, “student” to “adult” conversation on equal footing, that I dreamed would happen if this thing was done right. One more comparative stat:

  • Number of posts:comments ratio: Students 2.0: 13 posts: 310 comments = 1:23 ratio. Beyond School: 424 posts: 995 comments = 1:2.3 ratio.

(–it’s enough to make me simultaneously weep with joy and gnash my envious teeth. It says so much for the educators who are leaving their own soapboxes to converse in the s2oh comment salons. Gives me hope, really.)

A delicious postscript / tempting call to action

I’m learning so much simply browsing my RSS feed for s2oh comments.

I’m also gaining occasional inspiration. To wit: Bill Fitzgerald‘s idea about taking on the College Board for its hijacking of education and perverting it into a competition for points on SATs, AP Exams, and so forth. Here’s Bill’s comment, in response to Lindsea’s “One Sweet Dream” post:

The test prep companies drive a lot of the hype behind college pressure, as their profits depend on your parents getting worried enough to shell out mucho greenbacks so you can sit through classes designed to get you extra points on the SATs/APs.

(As an aside, I would love to see an entire high school class, nationwide, boycott the SATs/APs. The Educational Testing Service would suffer an enormous loss of revenue, as they would not take in the testing fees from a few million students (aka, the captive audience, aka, you). If enough students boycotted the exam to affect the statistical significance of the test, colleges would need to find a different way to evaluate students — and colleges would find a way to evaluate and admit students, because, while they also don’t want you to know this, colleges need you — and your tuition dollars — to continue to exist.)

Whether the specific tactic Bill envisions is the most effective is secondary to the idea of simply putting pressure on the College Board and the educational system to change. We’ve seen what an educators’ Twitter – del.icio.us marketing blitz could do with s2oh. Why stop there? Why not “man the tweets” again?

Anybody want to play with this idea? It could be powerful, seems to me.

A Belated Reflection on the Students 2.0 Experience

If you haven’t read Ryan Bretag‘s and Steve Hargadon‘s posts on TechLearning about Students 2.0, they’re worth a read. And Steve’s podcast interview with Kevin, Sean, and Lindsey shows them at their wonderful best, in terms of both intelligence and personality.

I haven’t really written any reflections here since launching Students 2.0 back on December 8 – those of you in my Twitterverse may have noticed I’m feeling a bit burned out right now – so I want to do that now.

I’ll start with saying thank you to the educators out there who helped it happen: Scott Schwister and Scott McLeod for simple moral and conceptual support back when I was blogging about the idea in June; Diane Cordell, Chris Watson, Carolyn Foote, Sylvia Martinez, and Elizabeth Helfant for answering my twitter request for good student bloggers out there; Christian Long and Steve Hargadon for blogging about Sean “The Bassplayer” and Arthus Erea (that’s how I learned about these two s2oh contributors); and Mr. Winton for turning Sean on to learning 2.0 in his Scotland classroom.

Then there’s everybody who helped with the marketing. Thanks to Arthus for the idea (and creation) of the splash page, and for creating the countdown badge with his coding skills; thanks to Sean the Bassplayer and the entire s2oh team for creating the promotional YouTube video and original soundtrack; thanks to readers of this blog for playing along with the request to push the launch onto the del.icio.us hotlist, for blogging about the project and embedding the badge, and for the concerted Twitter-burst of del.icio.us bookmarks that pushed s2oh onto the hotlist in less than three hours.

Re: that Twitter marketing campaign, I said it then and I’ll say it again: it was fairly spontaneous, it unapologetically manipulated del.icio.us for a good cause, and it worked. It showed the power of a network of educators who can bother to take a couple of minutes of action to create a fairly impressive marketing sensation. For the skeptics and naysayers about this move, the question I ask is: Without this audience and this buzz, how excited and motivated would the s20h writers be to deliver a quality product and make this project a success?

Let me illustrate how effective this collaborative effort of everyone above was by comparing some basic stats about Students 2.0 – after only three weeks – with my own blog’s stats after one year:

  • Del.icio.us bookmarks: Students 2.0: 450; Beyond School, 65 (for the main page only; I don’t know how to get a total that includes permalink pages);
  • Technorati ranking (links from individual blogs): Students 2.0 150; Beyond School, 85 (new site, since Oct. 20) + 70 (old site, Jan. 1 – Oct. 20) = 155;
  • RSS Subscribers: Students 2.0: 405; Beyond School: 401;
  • Unique Visits for December: Students 2.0: over 12,500 unique visits (since December 8); Beyond School: 5,069.

Kevin Walter playfully accuses me of being a “stats whore” when I talk about readership, and I always reply that self-publishing is still publishing, and to publishers, readership matters.

So what am I trying to say here? I’ll quote from a comment I left on Steve Hargadon’s post on TechLearning:

[It all points to] the need to create more authentic publication spaces, with more authentic audiences for students that, like Students 2.0, require quality to reach that audience.

There are obviously other possibilities for such spaces, besides a student edublog, that might motivate students to “embrace the revolution” in their own education.

Music, film, photography, and writings on a broader range of subjects than education are a case in point.

In my own senior classroom, I’ve been pursuing an “authentic blogging pedagogy” that throws out prescribed curriculum altogether, and requires only that my students identify a passion-based path of inquiry and/or production, and pursue that through connective reading-and-writing, and through showcasing their own creative pursuits on their blogs.

After a few frustrating months of watching them flounder, I’m finally seeing signs that give me hope. One student had a “mission moment” in which he identified that his blog would henceforth be the space in which he published and discussed his own musical compositions, with the aim of producing a full CD by the end of the senior year.

Others have similarly chosen photography and design as their missions, and are advancing down their own paths in those directions.

I started Students 2.0 out of frustration with all the excuses we read for not pushing authentic learning with web 2.0 forward in education. Sean’s old English teacher in Scotland, “Mr. Winton,” put his finger on my ultimate hope for this enterprise when he wrote,

“This attempt to give students a genuine forum where they can give an end-users view of Education2.0 is, I hope, the thin end of the wedge.”

The “thin end of the wedge” indeed. We can, all of us, create more spaces that students want to earn their way into. The less “schooly” and egalitarian, the better – because maybe those unmotivated students Diane mentions are not motivated precisely because the types of publication they are offered online, in the end, still feel as inauthentic as the hallway displays of yore.

Thanks for taking these young people seriously, and not just giving them a pat on the head. I know I’ve been snarky on a couple occasions in comments on other posts about s2oh, but it’s precisely because those posts seemed to both miss the weight of the moment, and to coopt the revolution by taming it into a lower level of status in the edublogging caste system. It’s nice to see you and Ryan Bretag (he wrote about s2oh on TL first, as far as I know) avoiding that tone.

It’s early days for s2oh, and they have a learning curve ahead of them, but trust me: for engagement and motivation, and care for their work, they get an A+ for their work so far.

Or would, if this had anything at all to do with grades. The amazing thing, of course, is that it doesn’t.

To sum up, a few propositions:

1. We can create more spaces like this, with similar visibility to motivate quality, through similar means. You come up with the idea, and I’ll certainly return the favor you’ve given s2oh by blogging about it, helping you push it to del.ico.us’ hotlist, etc.

2. It doesn’t take a lot of work to make things happen. It does take doing, though.

3. We shouldn’t forget what this whole enterprise taught about the power of network marketing for education.

Thanks again to everyone. I’m pooped, so I’m signing off.