Tag Archives: flatclassbook

Connections Between Flat Classroom Certification & PLENK2010

As I scramble to catch up with the readings and modules for the Flat Classroom Certification, which I seem to be doing in out of order, hackneyed style, I am kind of fascinated at how many convergences there are with the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) Personal Learning Environments Networks and Knowledge (PLENK2010). While participating in both can be grueling at certain points, particularly PLENK2010 with its widely distributed format and curriculum that acts more as a field of research and exploration, the international flavor dovetails nicely with the Flat Classroom material.

Vicki Davis and Julie Lyndsay, like captains voyaging from the Old World to the New, have charted a very reliable route for safe passage and reliable trade. In contrast, George Siemens, Stephen Downes, Dave Cormier, and Rita Kop have each boarded separate vessels and, like four separate Magellans, are bent on circumnavigating the globe to prove that it is both round and see what all kinds of interests may be found along the way. Each course relishes the international appeal and implications. One provides a proven map for teachers that want a specific experience, while the other invites you to launch on a loosely guided exploration where serendipitous indulgences are both encouraged and even add to the charter.

One of the greatest assets of students participating in a Flat Classroom Project is that they begin to acquire some of the skills and understanding to begin building a PLE. This is a boon for any serious student, especially at the secondary level. Few high school instructors have neither a solid grasp of what a PLE actually is nor how to begin building one. This somewhat complicates the prospects of teaching students how to begin creating the ecology of tools and content that comprises one.  By all indications,  Flat Classroom book will guide educators through the fundamental concepts and primary tools that can easily be assimilated, providing a sold foundation for later development.

PLENK2010 also provides a lot of extraordinary resources and investigation of PLEs from theory to practice. Yet a MOOC, particularly this one, is even more overwhelming and complex than a Flat Classroom Project. The scale alone is enough to scare all but the most ardent. PLENK2010 has easily eclipsed 1000 participants at some point during its run so far. Moreover, the distributed nature and loosely defined structure lacks prescriptive guides. Each participant is on their own, relatively informal investigative journey. Any formal elements of the course are submitted of each participant’s own volition.

Neither is school as usual, however, which may be the coolest aspect of their similarities. Both are highly demanding, requiring great patience, self-discipline, and perseverance. Both are fraught with obstacles and challenges that provide extraordinary opportunities for learning. Both offer insightful glimpses into a more multidisciplinary, engaged, connected, and collaborative culture of participation that learning can be, even in a school setting.

Communicating is Human & Flat Classroom Pedagogy

Chapter three of the forthcoming Flat Classroom book is entitle Communication. However, it quickly escalates to wider territory, in many ways offering the blueprint of planning a project using what might well be called the Flat Classroom pedagogy. It also draws a clear connection between the tools for communication and the humanity that enlivens them.

Sure there is the initial emphasis on the specific kinds of communication skills that are at play for any project participant, even to the point of detailing the differences between synchronous and asynchronous methods with explanations of specific tools for each. Yet the broader aim addresses the various challenges all of the tools can place on the humanity of interactions, as well as the offline implications. The reality presented in all of these projects is that they are being done by real people and happening in real time, presenting challenges that are uniquely global and human. AT&T had a great slogan almost fifteen years ago, “In a world of technology, people make the difference.” The chapter on communication reveals the truth of that slogan, deepening it and keeping it real.

This is an ambitious chapter, to say the least. While it consistently highlights the means for maintaining open and free-flowing lines of communication, using an array of tools, it also presents all of the fundamental considerations a teacher must take into account as they prepare to participate or design a global, collaborative project in the manner of the Flat Classroom. Based on considerable experience with small and large projects, it is loaded with tips that are not readily at the forefront of a teacher’s mind when they are filled with the thrill and exhilaration of their students working with classrooms from foreign time zones and cultures.

The overall infrastructure of the Flat Classroom Projects are laid bare and explained in detail. Each element that has make the projects successful and continue to evolve are outlined. Plus, much of the content from the Communication chapter is applied in practical terms and tasks that need to be practiced in varying degrees by both teachers and students. From start to finish, this chapter is the architectural plan for the project pedagogically.

Perhaps most compelling of all, however, is what will likely be a callout or sidebar narrative of Johnathan C. a student and Assistant Project Manager from that last Horizon Project, which would soon morph into the NetGeneEd Project, the most sophisticated flavor of the Flat Classroom Projects. In what can honestly be called a lament, a blogpost by Johnathan is included with subsequent supportive comments . What this correspondence offers is a concrete example of the challenges that are presented in a project of this kind of complexity and ambition.

In the post, Johnathan expresses some desperate exasperation about the volume and quality of work that has been accomplished but more about the lack of communication amongst his team members. He does this in a fairly balanced and even manner. It does not read as whining, but definitely highlights his frustrations. What is more amazing is the number of comments in an outpour of support and recognition. His problems looked all too familiar to me, as I have heard similar laments by my own students during their participation in projects. Yet, these kinds of problems always exist, and are genuine opportunities for learning, growth, and maturation. They are precisely the kinds of human frailties we all must address routinely whether we are face-to-face or on the other side of the world. The exchange demonstrates the uniquely human combination of both feelings and thoughts through reading and writing. People make the difference, always. Johnathan’s experience is a powerful example of the understanding offered by these kinds of projects.

A Flat Classroom Testimonial

After leading two freshmen English honors sections through a Flat Classroom Project experience each of the last two years, the prospect of joining the pilot certification program was an opportunity I couldn’t pass. Teaming up with Vicki Davis and Julie Lyndsay has been a fascinating and instructive journey. Thus, the opportunity to do so again in an even more formal setting was a pretty exciting prospect.

As part of the program, participants get a preview of the forthcoming Flat Classroom Project book. Any advanced preview is always a bit of a treat, fostering a feeling of specialness. In reading a draft of the second chapter, the testimonials made me think back on my experiences in the inaugural NetGenEd Project and subsequent original Flat Classroom Project. In retrospect, both experiences were highly successful but in very different ways.

Participating in the first NetGenEd Project was eyeopening for me, the students, key members of my school and district, to say the least. Having read about the first project on the ladies’ blogs, I envied them, feeling the ties of curriculum and wishing that I had the kind of freedom to engage in such an endeavor. So, I was quite surprised when the Technology Director and Integration Specialist approached me in early 2009 and asked if I would be interested in applying to participate in this new Flat Classroom-like project. To be honest, I am not sure that they believed I would be accepted, but I jumped at the chance. Three days later I was in and had to dive right in with a class of twenty-five freshmen. In a previous post, I wrote more extensively as I was preparing to jump in for another go.

Looking back on that first time, I remain amazed at how we got all twenty-five multimedia projects completed by the deadline. The Technology Integration Specialist attended every class during the project and was an amazing ally and advocate. I really couldn’t have pulled things off on my own. She rallied a lot of the resources we needed and had the administrative rights to deal with all of the technical obstacles that we would encounter, and there were a whole lot. I am quite fortunate that my school had a fair amount of available resources, a fact that has only gotten better and more sophisticated in the past couple of years. Yet, as my students and I embarked on that first project, we were really pushing the boundaries of what we were capable of accomplishing.

While we had more than enough PC laptops, they were at best a hodgepodge of missing drivers, limited battery life, and substandard multimedia software. We quickly found out just how poor a product Windows Movie Maker is, even though I was pretty sure we were headed for trouble. We broke any notion that our computers were really only used for basic Office software and surfing the Net. Consequently we were pressing the machines to perform in ways that they had not really been set-up to do.

In the final two day push to wrap the multimedia pieces, I had the twenty-five students frantically working and running into all kinds of unanticipated stoppages.  In addition to the regular presence of the Technology Integration Specialist, we had our Tech Support Specialist, Network Manager, video production teacher with two elite senior production student aids, and myself all assisting students to complete their videos. Also, the principal stopped into observe at one point. It was a pretty wild couple of class periods to say the least. Had I not possessed the technical skills and knowledge that I had, along with a fair amount of sheer determination and refusal to fail, we would have been in serious trouble. Still, the results were fantastic.

I spent about a week in post-project surveys and reflection on the project with the kids, who were fairly ambivalent about the whole affair. As I inquired and highlighted all of the things that they could explicitly say that they learned, their ambivalence lessened and they began to feel a certain amount of pride in how much they had achieved. Nothing they had ever done in school had been quite this ambitious, calling on so many different skills, and incorporating so many tools. All of the confusion started to dissipate.

Sure some students were still a little unsure about things, but that is always the case with any long project. More importantly, other people in the building had taken note. As a school, we had a much clearer idea of what it really took to fully engage in sophisticated, highly technology-driven efforts. Decision makers realized that most teachers, faced with the kind of technical obstacles we had overcome, could not be expected to be successful.

The next year as I prepared a group of nineteen freshmen for the Flat Classroom Project, I was supremely more confident and informed about how to shepherd a class through the experience. Plus, our school had switched to Macintosh computers and all of the technical problems that were experienced the previous year all but vanished. This time, I needed no additional technical support and led the group through the project solo. We had more and better audio/visual gear and computers that were much better suited for developing multimedia.

However, the timing of our involvement rendered the most serious challenge. Diving into the project so early in the year, meant that a lot of the students struggled more than the previous lot. The NetGenEd participants started the project over half way through the year and already had clear understanding of the class expectations, workload, and the privilege of being involved. The second time around we were barely a month into the new year. Most of the students were still dazed from the mere transition from the middle school. From a maturity and conceptual standpoint they simply were less ready for the fast and frenzied pace, let alone the initial confusion that is a normal part of Flat Classroom-like experience.

Ultimately, the second class had a more positive experience too, but the results were not quite as strong for the group. The one exception to that was the young woman in my class that ended up taking the grand prize and winning the multimedia competition. This was an enormous victory for a girl who was fighting back tears when we discovered an unanticipated technical problem involving screencasting, Flash, and iMovie that very nearly prevented her from submitting her work before the deadline.

Fortunately, the deadline was extended and, after a weekend of troubleshooting, I was able to convert all of her problematic footage into a form that she could then quickly assemble in a final cut. it proved to be neither easy or much fun and pushed my new MacBook to its capacity. I must have crashed the thing a dozen times while salvaging the footage. As good as her work was and deserving of mention, I can only wonder how much better it would have looked had she not encountered such tricky technical issues.

So, I guess this is my testimonial of sorts about my experience working on these projects. It has been fun reliving some of the trials and tribulations, especially when remembering how significant the challenges were and the quality of the outcomes. I absolutely believe that the students learn so much more than is quantifiable engaging in these projects.

The students may not always completely comprehend the connections to English class, but they all leave knowing that they got to do something completely different from what they have encountered in their education.  It is something intellectually challenging, conceptually deep, exceedingly current, and forces them to develop or hone a host of skills that schools typically don’t demand. That’s why even for those that still struggle with why we participated, I say, “When are you likely going to get another experience like this in school?” Their silence speaks resonantly.