Tuesday, November 30, 2010

It's About the Connection

I love serendipity and happy coincidences.  They happen to me often.  It seems that when I am working on a particular idea or preparing for a presentation (or class), I find exactly what I need in order to make the next step in the creative process.  The popularity of James Redfield's 1993 book, The Celestine Prophecy might be seen as proof that many people also enjoy this relationship with serendipity.

Since October, I have been thinking about connectedness.  That's a BIG word, I know.  (Actually, I've been thinking about connectedness since my teenage years.)  In education, the 'new' concepts that embrace the idea of connectedness are words like "personal learning networks" and "personal learning communities".  Learning happens best when students are connected - to one another, to meaningful experiences that will leverage their learning, to a real community of learners and especially to sources of information and knowledge.  These networks of information and learning are everywhere - just open your eyes and look and connections in a different way.

As I quickly glanced at my favorite bloggers this morning, I found this helpful site - wylio.com - for quickly locating creative common images, especially tailored for bloggers.  (All images come with an embed code.)  I fooled around a bit and entered some 'random' words (my students LOVE that word even though they misuse it all the time) into the query.  I found this picture:

The Power of Social Networksphoto © 2010 Steve Jurvetson | more info (via: Wylio)

I was intrigued by the background above the speaker's head and because of the TED logo, I decided to navigate away to the site. What a serendipitous find! That turned out to be a picture of Nicholas Christakis speaking about the "Hidden Influence of Social Networks" and exactly what I needed to hear today. Christakis speaks of networks as "super organisms" that cannot be fully understood by understanding the individual. He discovered that three degrees of separation (and not 6) exist between the individual and his/her group. His studies showed that if your friends were obese, your chance of being obese rose to 57%, but if your friend's friend suffered from obesity, your chances declined but were still elevated. The influence of the social network only declined significantly when you achieve 3 degrees of separation from whatever group is being studied. This was equally true for many issues Christakis examined such as happiness. Networks matter. Networks are powerful. Teachers need to leverage networks!

Christakis taught me about the architecture of the network and the location of the individual in her network. To be at the center or off to the side might be "good" or "bad" depending on the event or purpose of the network. As a teacher, I want to be smack dab in the center and I want my students there too! "Plug me in and connect me up" I say and open up the networks of learning.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

To Blog is to Exercise Your Freedom

Several weeks ago, I 'stumbled' upon Generation Y, a blog maintained at great cost by the prize winning Cuban blogger, Yoani Sanchez.  The first post I read hooked me immediately.  Her style is simple and heartbreakingly transparent.  She writes about life in Cuban with immediacy and intimacy.  I know something of the island, the people and the real picture of necessity that most people don't ever see.

I am sharing this with the readers not only because her writing is excellent, (she won Time's best blog in 2009 and many other prizes) but also because she reminds us all that to blog is to exercise our fundamental freedom of expression.  Yoani does not have easy access to the web; only the elite few have this.  Everyone else must use the wifi in the hotels and this can cost up to one third of a monthly salary for one hour of access.  This is simply impossible for most people.  Yoani has a network of friends to whom she texts parts of her blog posts.  These friends translate her blog in 20 different languages and publish it for her.  This is simply a stupendous collaborative effort that is inspirational to me.

Yoani does not write about her problems but about friends, family and even strangers who all share in the increasingly difficult situation of Cuban necessity.  Her writing and their plight touches me.  Yoani tells her readers that to help, we should link to her blog and that way, the Cuban government will see that Cuban bloggers are being read by the rest of the world.  If you are so inclined, stop by her blog, read a few posts and then share it with your friends on Facebook, tweet it out to your network and certainly, if you blog, link to her collective effort.

Thank you Yoani for reminding us of our fundamental freedom of expression.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Changing Times

Today I overheard a conversation between a student and a teacher that brought a smile to my lips.  It went something like this:

Student:  But why are you printing that?
Teacher:  Because I want you to have a copy.  It's important for you to have this.
Student: Give me a digital copy.  That'll be good.
Teacher: But I want you to have it with you.
Student: You don't need to print it.
Teacher: I want to give a  hard copy.
Student: And I want a digital copy. 

Why is it that the students are evolving faster than the teachers?  Why is it that the teachers can't (or won't) learn from their students?  Does this explain the resistance of technology in the classroom and the snail pace at which we, (and here I speak mostly of the teachers) leave the industrial model of teaching behind and move into the 21st century?  Teachers simply have to do better at changing their practices and pedagogy.  If we listen to the students' voices, insights and needs, how much more might we learn?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Cuban Blogging

Today was one of those days; tension was high (report cards loom near), trouble with the firewall and internet exacerbated that tension and frustration hung over teachers like a dark cloud. I ran smack into negative attitudes about integrating technology into classroom and fumed about the contradiction inherent in this resistance. (Those who resist the pull towards the digital are the first to complain when the net goes down.)

So, after a frustrating day, (and late night correcting), I finally take some time for myself and read one of my newest blog acquisition; Yoani Sanchez, a young Cuban blogger who, with the help of friends in Spain and elsewhere, manages to post regularly about her frustrations. Yoani Sanchez is worth reading and a few minutes of your time. Her writing is good and her insights are stunning. After a week of reading educational blogger types, she is a refreshing change. She writes about Cuba, about life in Havana, about not having basics, about deprivation, family, love, yearnings and everything else that makes us interesting. Today she wrote barely one paragraph about an off-handed comment of a stranger who said, (I paraphrase here), "I only want my little piece." Her blog reminds us of the glaring disparity between the "us" and "them". In a day when my biggest problem is antiquated attitudes, it`s good to be reminded that real people, intelligent and loving people, not far away, survive on precious little. They ask for what we have in abundance.

Thanks Yoani Sanchez. Keep writing and reminding us that you matter.