Tag Archives: PLE

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.

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.

Examining the Craft of Connection & Global Projects

Reading the chapter Connection, from the forthcoming Flat Classroom Book, took a little adjusting to the format. Since it is being prepped for publication, it is filled with   page layout mark-up, which threw the sequence off a bit. Still, it is ambitious and covers a lot of ground.

With the early focus on the tools and technology to build the foundation of personalized professional development that will get any educator connected, I did not find a lot of new material. Then again, this is information that is more targeted for the newbie. I did find a few interesting wrinkles and some new terminology however.

Having long been onto RSS, I am someone who reads a lot. In fact, I harvest enough websites that I regularly stare at the bold All Items (1000+) unread posts in my Google Reader. This fact made me pause a little bit longer on the Mark Hurst quote from Bit Literacy about the need to “say ‘no’ – early and often and to say ‘yes’ rarely.” Regardless, I think starting off with RSS is particularly shrewd. I too advocate that if there is one technology tool that any educator should understand it is RSS. It simply opens up the world, bringing it right to the desktop or portable device.

Some new terms to me were Classroom Monitoring Panel (CMP) and Brand Monitoring Platform (BMP). Ironically, I have been employing these strategies for some time but never really thought there was a name for them. I have more readily used Pageflakes to build a CMP each time I led a class through a Flat Classroom Project. My forays into brand monitoring are a bit less formal, but the way they are presented in the chapter makes me rethink investing a bit more time into the practice, as well as discussing it in more depth with some of the administrators at my school and district.

I wrote a whole lot more about Personal Learning Networks and Personal Learning Environments recently as part of the massively open online course (MOOC) PLENK10, in which I have been following and participating concurrently.

Additionally, I liked the way the text both breaks down a lot of the jargon and provides a lot of definitions, which would be enough to make any newbies head spin. More than anything, I like the general kind of call to action that is present with the challenges and steps that would enable any reader to get themselves connected and build a network with themselves squarely at the center. I also liked the testimonials and knowing that I wrote some material for their potential use a while back, I am wondering if it might make an appearance in any of the chapters. Beyond that, reading the reflections of T. Salim al Busaidi and Anne Mirtschin, a teacher I worked with on one of the past projects, inspired me to write my own testimonial.

Yet, without question, I think the most valuable information in the chapter is the section on Taxonomy of Global Connection. Presented as five levels, it is an easy to understand and very applicable framework for designing an interconnected project with hopes of international connections. This is the kind of information that can and likely will get cited by others as foundational knowledge.

Finally, I was glad that the references were included as endnotes for the chapter. While I was familiar with some of the resources I am interested in taking a longer look at some of the others. The work by Sadoski and Paivio, Rizzolatti and Hurst were all new to me and piqued my interest. I was also glad to see how prominently the work of Henry Jenkins in Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture featured, which for me is a keystone text for anyone trying to get a handle on all of this.