Tag Archives: flatclassbook

Wrapping Up Flat Classroom Certification

I remember the first experience I had with Vicki Davis and Julie Lyndsay. It was the first NetGenEd Project, a couple of years ago. I have even written about it a few times. It all started when a couple of administrators had asked me if I would be interested in participating in a Flat Classroom Project. To be honest, I am not sure that they thought my application would be accepted. I am glad to say that it was the beginning of a valuable professional relationship with two of the busiest women I know.

Still, in the school where I work, I was the teacher that would most likely have the desire to do something as progressive and outside-the-box in my classroom. Also, with a background in edtech, I also have the strength of will to persevere through the inevitable obstacles that would lay along the path of participating in a globally collaborative project that leveraged so many Web 2.0 tools. They were right, I am glad to say, and I was accepted. Better still, it began a valuable professional relationship with two of the busiest women I know.

Since then I have done another project, that time the original Flat Classroom variety, and now intend on it being an annual part of my practice. Yet, one one of Vicki’s statements has stuck with me from the very first teacher orientation meeting, “The thing about working on the bleeding edge is sometimes you bleed.” That sentiment was all that I needed to get hooked, because that is where I wanted to be, asking my students to take big risks, solve complex and messy problems, and sort out more of the meaning and value after some immersive wayfinding that provided no tidy, easily found answers. I want them to do some scholarly pioneering. Thus, being a member of the first Flat Classroom Certification course has mirrored that desire, as well as being a valuable peek behind the curtain of how the wild ride is built from the ground up.

Participating in a globally collaborative project that has been designed by someone else, with a set of criteria, expectations, and assessment strategies, is an entirely different experience than building one. This course peeled back the finish of all the Flat Classroom flavors and showed the how they were built and why. Then we participants were asked to begin building our own.

The process of designing a globally collaborative project is no small task. Defining a problem or topic that is accessible around the world requires a kind of depth and breadth of vision and awareness that not as altogether common. It crosses disciplinary, as well as geographic, boundaries. Teachers designing and operating in this new unbound educational space need to be both generalists and specialists. More than anything though, they need to be expert learners, modeling an openness, curiosity, and cultural sensitivity, not to mention a facility with the technology tools that have flattened our world.

As onerous as designing a project modeled on the Flat Classroom approach can seem, the course provides a scaffold for meeting the challenge. More importantly, the course was a constant reminder to me that building, and even managing projects of this nature, is a recursive, iterative process. It is truly rooted in a design ethos. Prototyping ideas, testing them, assessing, revising, collaborating, expanding the network of connections, revising more are all aspects of “flattening” and expanding a classroom through designing a project.

Picking up on the notion of collaboration, this course allowed the participants to instantly become part of a Personal Learning Environment and Network. In so doing, all of the teachers involved are actively modeling precisely the kind of learning and practices that global collaborative projects like the Flat Classroom Project demand. Just being a participant offered a platform for collaboration, and collaboration by its nature is a recursive and iterative process, sharing and building on the sum of the course’s parts.

Coinciding with the drafting of their forthcoming book, Vicki and Julie continued their vivid efforts to make their groundbreaking work even more transparent then they are already wont to do. They share because their vision is broad and deep, and their evangelism holds a sincere recognition that they cannot be agents of change alone. Connecting classrooms around the globe and promoting collaborative efforts of inter-cultural synthesis requires an ever-growing network of like-minded educators. This course provides the seedbed for that network to take root and grow. While this course is only one of many efforts, the community of educators that has begun developing has fostered relationships that will remain long after completing the course. I encourage anyone that has the opportunity to take it to do so.

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Reviewing the Flat Classroom Pedagogy & Structure

In reviewing the Flat Classroom Project wikis, I was struck by how much has changed even since I first participated with a class. The projects keep evolving and improving, but they also seem to be getting increasingly complicated. I raise this point because there is an inherent complexity to the nature of the Flat Classroom Project, no question about that. However, complexity should never be confused with complicated. Complexity is desirable, challenging and invigorating for students. Complicated is undesirable, labyrinthine and confusing for students. As the scale of these projects continue to grow, there needs to be safeguards to limit how complicated the project gets while preserving its complexity. Of course this is easily said than done, but seems well worth pursuing. Nevertheless, the benefits continue to far outweigh any drawbacks.

Since first participating, I have thought that the central pedagogy of the Flat Classroom Project, a collaborative group wiki and a primarily individually student produced video, was a genius pairing of tasks. Still do. In fact, I have convinced my own team of ninth grade teachers of its merits, and we are developing a stripped down localized riff on the same premise, collaborative video and individual video.

As an English teacher these projects offer a lot of different kinds of composition opportunities, text, multimedia, individual, and collaborative. Very few, if any, projects provide the volume of opportunities in the a single project. Add to that the exposure to the number of tools, students are asked to think deeply about a range of issues related to producing multiple demonstrations of their understanding about a topic. The must engage in a substantial amount of reading, writing, and viewing as they conduct research. There is a fundamental inquiry disposition. In turn, there are significant demands to synthesizing the information gathered. Ultimately, creating two separate but related products.

The wiki component, which is primarily text based, requires understanding the rhetorics of hyperlinking, citation and referencing sources, as well as rich media content integration. These requirements, while rooted in traditional text-based composition practice, call for more than traditional research paper assignments and even eclipse many multi-genre research assignments. Combine this with the collaborative nature of the product development and there are multiple opportunities for deep and varied skill development as well as differentiation.

One of the other less obvious strengths of the collaborative wiki is that involves writing, but it is writing that is situated in such a way that it demands conversation among participants and involves a significant degree of explicit and implicit negotiation. It also provides a challenge to certain traditional notions of authorship, which present a variety of choices to each individual writer participant. All are supremely authentic writing experiences. Moreover, without a single individual being responsible for all creation, each individual can contribute their strengths and continue to develop areas of weakness. This outcome can be strengthened through direct observation and interventions as well as the design of the assessments.

The video component, which is primarily visually based, requires understanding of basic design principles, grammar of motion pictures, as well as a host of audio and visual production techniques. These requirements, rooted in media composition practice that is both old and new, call for far more than levels of communication than a typical written assignments and inherently furnish interdisciplinary connections. Creating a multimedia artifact is primarily an individual task, with the exception of an outsourced clip, extends opportunities for varied and differentiated levels of production experience.

The less obvious strength of the video is also related to writing. However, this is the digital writing, for lack of a better phrase. Many, if not all, elements of authorial skill and craft are at play in the development of a multimedia artifact. It provides technical challenges that also present a number of choices to the creator. Plus, the task begs for the employment of documentary techniques, which mirror development of traditional text-based essay but renders a richer, more expressive product. It is the more independent task of the two and allows for greater individuality of expression and assessment.

Together these core aspects of the project are a rare combination of products to accompany the completion of a project. For one, most projects render a single product. Additionally, most projects lead to a product that is either an individual achievement or the result of a group effort.  The Flat Classroom Project affords a lot of economy of instruction, where multiple wide-ranging demands, result in deep engagement with higher order thinking skills and involve two separate demonstrations of understanding.

One area that does warrant systematic and frequent review is the number of tools that are necessary for full participation in the project. This is where the projects can grow more complicated than complex. Of course part of what drives the various versions of The Flat Classroom Project is a commitment to Web 2.0 tools. Additionally, the projects encourage participants to develop their own personal learning environments. As a result, an ecology of Web 2.0 tools can play apart in both the administration and participation of the project.

Within this ecology there are both critical features and unnecessary redundancies. Add to this the individual preferences of each teacher and class full of participants and suddenly the list of potential tools used grows pretty long. This can at times hinder more than enhance productivity and can lead to a certain degree of fatigue, especially regarding inter-project communication. It also tends to be at the main intersection of confusion for students.

Considering there is only so much that can be accomplished within the given time frame of the projects, it is critical that each potential new tool must be examined closely and pass a high critical threshold before being folded into the project. It is particularly important for organizers to demonstrate a circumspect restraint. Choices about additional tools that individual classes or students self-select is and should remain free and open. It is primarily in the list of tools needed for teachers to administrate and students to fully participate that needs to stay as lean as possible.

I do think that the forthcoming Flat Classroom book may well provide enough prerequisite understandings for any teachers contemplating participation. Yet the pace of change in Web 2.0 tools will always necessitate some vigilance in this aspect of the projects.

Still, one of the greatest virtue of The Flat Classroom Project is the pedagogical framework. it is flexible and can easily be modified to suit many purposes and has a certain degree of overall content neutrality, while promoting progressive methods of technology integration and skill development.

Reviewing the Notion of Digital Citizenship

Chapter five of the forthcoming Flat Classroom book is squarely focused on what Vicki Davis and Julie Lyndsay call Digital Citizenship. I know it is not exactly a new term but I must admit I struggle with it. It seems inadequate in its characterization of the nature of  citizenship, which is tied to our conception of the state. Also, I feel that we may have exhausted the word digital as much as we have the letters “i” or “e” extraneously prefixed onto words with their own utility. The only reason, I even include this point is that labels matter, words matter, and in the last decade or so we have not completely risen to the challenge of freshly minting new vocabulary to meet the evolutionary needs of our dawning experiences in the virtual realm.

Regardless of these semantics, this chapter is an impressive synthesis of sources into a cogent pedagogical framework for developing what might be thought of as a kind of meta-citzenship, although I am not entirely are that terms is any better. It’s just that I have been doing everything I can to resist dropping the ineffectually feeble phrase “21st century skills” into the mix.

In the interest of confidentiality about the forthcoming book, I feel compelled to be more general in my comments. Nevertheless, by parsing Five Areas of Awareness that underpin behaviors and decisions related to life online a defining foundation is established. What I like most about the areas is that they are expansive and holistic, taking into consideration the broader, international reality the Internet fosters. Moreover, they are combined with Four Competency Areas inspired by some of the work in Don Tapscott’s Grown Up Digital.

Together these areas of awareness and competencies are used to comprise tables which serve to problematize the aspects of what they have defined as digital citizenship. This combination is, in fact, one of the deft strokes on the part of the authors. By presenting the tables with questions at the intersections of the elements, clear problems or challenges are established that demand thoughtful answers. Again, this is the kind of quality guidance that this text will support for an educator looking to develop internationally collaborative projects using the Web . Of course, there may be some elements, either in awareness or competency, that might be added, but, as I eluded, the list included is quite ambitious and covers lot of ground. Having worked with both of Davis and Lyndsay on a couple of projects, I must admit that I found the table presentation charmingly familiar, considering a substantial matrix is one of the key organizational tools for managing any of the Flat Classroom Projects.

One of the competencies included involves legal compliance and copyright. I will say that this is a topic that is critically important to me, if for no other reason than the sheer volumes of misinformation and ignorance that it encompasses. I spent years slowly investigating the Gordian Knot that is American copyright. It was inexperience that was fraught with a lot of fallacious and inaccurate information, as well as a substantial amount of propaganda from mammoth media conglomerates.

Due to the subtlety and flexibility of the law, it is a topic that really demands its own separate and in-depth inquiry. So, while I understand why it is included with the rest of the list, its complexity and consequence simply demand deeper understanding on the part of educators and students. For starters, I would encourage anyone to begin with Renee Hobbs, founder of Temple University’s Media Education Lab. The resources available there provide a blade to cutting the knot and gaining some understanding.

All in all, this chapter may well be the most original and interesting work in the book. It certainly has been the most intriguing and new for me yet.