DIY… with a network

CC licensed photo shared by Flickr user greeno777

CC licensed photo shared by Flickr user greeno777

We’ve spent the past couple of weeks transitioning from the first home we’ve ever owned to what we imagine could be the last one we ever reside in. It’s not a dream home like the ones you see on TV, yet it’s our own little piece of royalty. The move has gone as well as anyone can expect, but I wanted to mention something spicy and educationally pertinent here. A house is almost too ripe for metaphor exploitation, so I’ll try to keep it at a minimum.

We are discovering that the previous owners of our house, a dour and fiery couple of empty nesters, were fairly infamous for their cartoonish grumpiness. Our new neighbours looked relieved to see a new, naive looking young family move in. We weren’t surprised at the former owners’ reputation as we encountered it first hand on our visits to the house before moving in (they almost beat up our home inspector). Basically, it seems you could call them a lot of things, but lacking in pride was not one of them.

The man of the house was so proud of his DIY ability. He installed the garage door opener, new hardwood flooring, and even an old school intercom system, among other things.

“See? Much better, cheaper than contractor,” he asserted with his thick European accent, his chest literally and figuratively puffed out.

Indeed, much of his handiwork was acceptable if not impressive. Except for a few things. Well, one in particular.

We discovered that Mr. I Don’t Need Nobody just happened to have an electrician’s license. And, by ‘license’, I mean the kind my daughter makes using Crayolas and paper. One hack job in particular nearly floored the legitimate electrician we brought in. ‘Fire hazard’ doesn’t cover it.

So it got me thinking about myself and other educators I know. Although I would classify myself as a fool when it comes to home DIY, I simultaneously define my educator self as DIY to the max.

When I first entered the profession, I was constantly befuddled by some colleagues who asserted to me things like: I can’t do x because ‘they’ didn’t provide me with the y; or it’s not possible to do blank because of this, that, and the other.

Why not? I would and still always wonder. There’s always a way to get the resources, tools, or permission needed to do great things in our schools. If no one’s going to help or provide the necessary ingredients, then I’ll just do it myself! Someone’s gotta blaze that trail, right?

In actuality, I believe the majority of teachers and administrators are of this mindset, and it’s a bloody good thing indeed. Most of our schools and classrooms accomplish extraordinary things (often off the radar) solely because of innovative DIY dispositions.

Nevertheless, when I saw that clump of wires in the basement ceiling of our new home, I had a stark reminder that there is a point where a Do It Yourself mentality jumps the shark. At some point, you cross over the line which separates problem solving to prideful arrogance. You can’t always do it yourself, and if you do, you’re going to end up clumping a bunch of electrical circuits together in a manner which is terrifying, if not fire starting (and I don’t mean the good flame).

Some time ago I asked the question of whether tweeting and blogging was for everyone, and I still believe that we need to think critically and contextually about evangelizing ed spaces like Twitter. Still, seeing some of the handy work by Mr. Just Me And My Toolbox On A Deserted Island, I’m ever more firm in my feeling that I can’t do this teaching thing without my face-to-face and avatar-to-avatar crew of education ninjas.

Keep Doing It Yourself… with a network of Do It Yourselfers.

Writing in Snippets ~ How I Blog

CC Licensed photo shared by Flickr user MarkyBon

CC Licensed photo shared by Flickr user MarkyBon

Blogging is one of my main creative outlets. For the past 3-4 years, I’ve considered it as integral a part of my life as going for walks with the dog or cooking delicious and healthy family meals; seemingly mundane, but a must for my balanced lifestyle. The thing is, it’s not as though I have any more time than your average family man or professional. In fact, I would venture a guess that I have far less time than most individuals. But time is not a barrier to my blogging. If and when I stop or have breaks from posting, it will likely be more from a loss of commitment than a lack of minutes and hours.

Although I have touched upon this in past posts, I again want to share with you the process I go through to blog because I’m hoping it helps a reader or two. You could almost call my method Writing in Snippets.

Like a lot of people, I have thoughts. These range from lucid to muddled, and serious to ridiculous. These thoughts occur to me at any time in the day: while talking to a student in my classroom, over a bowl of ramen, while watching one of my kids at swimming class, as a result of listening to a podcast, reading a book, or singing along to my iPod.

And like a lot of people, I am rarely without a mobile device in hand or pocket. My phone is an essential blogging tool for me because, on it, I have my blog apps and, most importantly, Evernote. Let me break down for you how I wrote this very post.

On Sunday I had a friend message me a common refrain: “I don’t get how you find the time to blog!” Immediately, I said to myself, I should write a blogpost about this (an obnoxious response, I know). So as not to lose the thought, I pulled out my phone, opened up my Evernote app, and started a note called ‘How I Blog’. Inside my Evernote, I have a folder entitled ‘Blog’, which is where I put all of my blog drafts and ideas. At any given moment, I may have as little as zero notes in that folder, and as much as five or six.

On Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, I kept remembering the processes I go through from inspiration to ‘publish now’. These ideas came to me during my son’s piano lesson, while walking the dog, and even while buying a box of kimchi cabbage for my mother in the supermarket. Each time, I quickly jotted notes down in my Evernote. Some of these were sentences, and others were simple point form notes. Essentially, my entire outline for this post came about while walking around from this place to that, multitasking the entire time.

On Thursday, I had time in the evening to sit down at my laptop and look over my notes. I deleted some sentences, added others, and did my customary search on Flickr’s CC licensed photos for an image to accompany this post (my idea of fun). I always try to find a photo which is provocative and beautiful.

On Friday, while on the train home from a presentation, I spent 10 minutes scanning my post for spelling, punctuation, and grammar.

On Saturday morning, I hit publish.

I’m really curious – how do you blog?

Why I don’t think BYOD is a socio-economic issue, Why one size never fits all, and other ramblings…

It’s been great for me to reflect on one of my latest blog posts. In particular, the feedback and comments I’ve received in regards to it. In the post, I argue that BYOD (students being able to Bring Your Own Device to school for learning) is not for everyone and that certain conditions or foundational pieces should be put into place before even considering it.

I also clearly state my misgivings with the notion that BYOD is a socio-economic issue. As someone who grew up in a low-income, immigrant family myself, and as person who travels in social circles where I regularly encounter social welfare and marginalization, I question the claim that technology (especially of the mobile variety) is an exclusivity reserved for the middle class and up (whether they have dental care, job stability, life insurance, savings for retirement etc. is another question altogether). As @mbteach says in her recent article “A New Understanding of the Digital Divide”:

As studies suggest, the problem isn’t access, it’s the kind of access [her italics].

In a near-decade of teaching, I’ve been at the front of the class with a wide spectrum of socio-economic groups. Currently I teach in an upwardly mobile, middle-class demographic. In our large school, I have yet to encounter a family without computers and mobile technology at home, yet only about 20% of the 250 students I have taught in the past three years of inviting BYOD actually accept the proposition.

Also, I feel that some of my critics have actively avoided reading my post, because I clearly state that you should not invite BYOD if:

You do not have enough school devices to supplement students who do not own their own.

Should the income level of your school community not be an issue when contemplating BYOD? Of course not. Should it be the variable that determines a yes or a no response to BYOD? I don’t think so.

The comments on the post really got me thinking hard, perhaps more so than any post I’d written before. I had to delete a few trolls because they were starting to attack me personally and were doing so anonymously. One of them suggested I was undemocratic and was not interested in engaging in dialogue. If this were true, I’m not quite sure why I would a) be blogging publicly and openly about it; b) inviting unmoderated comments on the post; or c) ending my post by asking people what they thought about my opinions.

I have no problem admitting that there was a certain tone to my post. I know I could have called it ’10 Things Schools Should Consider Before Doing BYOD’ or something like that, but I was intentionally trying to be a bit more provocative. I feel comfortable enough as a blogger now (and feel I have gained the trust of my readership enough) to do this. I will also admit that it comes from a personal place of exasperation for me. As a proud leader of literacy and technology in my district, people often ask me implicitly for quick fixes or templates that can be applied in their schools or classrooms. There is no quick fix. I have no magic bullet. I can tell you of my experience, give you feedback on yours, and support you along the way. And then everything I said I was doing yesterday could be different tomorrow.

I wish we could all get more comfortable with the idea that something can work with huge success in one place and be a monumental failure in another. Or that something which works a certain way in this location needs to be modified slightly or heavily in that one. We talk a good game when it comes to appreciating context, but we still run like wolves to One Size Fits All. BYOD works in my class. It doesn’t work in another classroom down the hall. And it might not work next year for me either, or in another school I may teach in down the line.

I was in a great webinar session recently with some stupendous minds led by @willrich45 and @snbeach. We were tossing around our thoughts on the meaning of ’21st Century Learning’. Sure, maybe we are reifying or overly aggrandizing the concept a bit, but it’s still worth contemplating and engaging in dialogue about. I wish I’d remembered to say one thing.

Perhaps I am grossly wrong about this, but I feel that our current time in education is one that demands more of an appreciation of paradox and contextual difference than ever. We may live in a globalized, even standardized, world, but customization is simultaneously the rule of the day, as is the skill of navigating a multitude of contexts on an almost a daily basis. Cognitive dissonance rears its beautiful/ugly head every day in our time.

Developing common language and nonnegotiables are often a great tool for local collaboration and leadership, but it can be very problematic, or even destructive, when used in a more global sense.

I’m really hoping we can get to the stage where we can read a blogpost, listen to a keynote, or attend a workshop where someone tells the story of success, and not feel that the person is simultaneously calling for a new template to be applied as an all-encompassing panacea.

As some of my favourite hip-hop MCs would say, can you feel me?

Blogging Incognito


CC licensed photo shared by Flickr user Raïssa B

We’re trying something different this year. Our class of 11-going-on-12-year-olds is lucky enough to be piloting Google Apps for Ed. for our board/district, but, unlike last year, I’m going to have my students blog anonymously*.

Students are going to create ‘alter egos’ of themselves, whether it be a superhero, animal, wizard, pilot, or professional skateboarder, and write in role for the year. They won’t necessarily post from that perspective all the time, but they will represent themselves as somewhat of an alternative identity. As the teacher, I made this executive decision for three main reasons.

First, I wanted to respect the awesome community I teach in. I know some families aren’t comfortable (yet) with the idea of self-publication and intentional digital footprinting. I don’t see why I should be making that decision for them.

Second, I wanted to incorporate art and design into the learning with social media. I very much am borrowing an idea from my love of teaching drama when I talk about writing in role. Moreover, I’d like to see my students taking considerable control over their graphic design literacy.

And third, I want to test the notion of whether you really have to be yourself to learn how to be yourself. Adolescence, of which my students are walking through the doors of, is a time for experimentation and natural identity play. Will their grasp of digital citizenship and autonomy be weaker or stronger for having played Superman before revealing they are Clark Kent?

I’ll let you know how it goes. I’d love to hear your feedback on this idea.

*Students will not be anonymous to myself or each other, but they will be to the public.

Should students post online if their teacher doesn’t?


CC licensed photo shared by Flickr clipmage

I take great glee in working on a regular basis with educators excited and serious about employing social media, blogging, and other web 2.0 tools in their classes. In fact, it seems to me that certain widely known tools are almost becoming part of the mainstream. The ongoing and meaningful leveraging of web technologies (at least in my parts) fills me with a certain degree of optimism.

I also know that our general mantra in #edtech discourse is to encourage teachers to try using the technology in spite of their own lack of comfort or familiarity. We often talk about the students leading the way, “let them teach us”, and so on.

I wonder if we’re being a little disingenuous when we sing that song for certain types of tech. I used to belt that tune all the time but now I’m pressing shuffle on my iPod. I think it’s one thing to say that not knowing GarageBand shouldn’t stop you from letting students use it in the classroom, but it may be another when you’re talking about digital footprinting. So, I’m wondering if it is a good idea for Kamal and Kerry to be blogging away when their teacher can’t recognize an embed code. Thus, I’m about to say something that may or may not be controversial.

If you’re going to be getting your students to post online, it behooves you to do the same.

I think this is something that seems obvious but is often overlooked; something of an elephant in some tech PD rooms. By no means am I positing that expertise in the area or, say, a high klout score preclude the use of it in your class. Rather, I’m putting forward the idea that co-learning involves us as the adults, well, co-learning, not co-watching.

I’m wondering if, since the online world as we know it now changes so fast and is overly nuanced, it is alright for us to be giving kids the keys to the SM and web 2.0 car without experience driving ourselves. It’s not that I think we always need to be two steps ahead of the students or that I suddenly share the view that online equals danger. Rather, I’m starting to think that it is only when you begin understanding how these tools fit into your own personal and/or professional life curriculum that you should even begin to integrate it into your class curriculum.

I would love your thoughts on this.

The 3 Ps of Online Privacy

As my year teaching 107 12-year-olds English begins, the most important question I have made a concerted effort to answer for administration, colleagues, parents, students, and myself has been:

Why use an open environment (as opposed to a closed one such as Moodle) for social networking and blogging?

There is a long answer to this question that involves both pedagogical and logistical reasons, but my shortest answer to this question is always this perceived oxymoron:

Students need to learn how to be private online.

In my various forms of diagnostic assessment of adolescent and pre-adolescent students, it never fails to terrify me when I discover how little they have learned about digital literacy, online citizenship, and critical thinking on the web. It is doubly confusing to me since, in my experience, most young people find this topic supremely scintillating at the worst of times. They have a hunger to learn how to be literate online citizens. Why are we so afraid to teach it?

In a survey of my 107 grade 7 students, I discovered:

100% had chatted online many times.

95% had at least one email account.

60% had more than two email accounts.

30% had a Twitter account.

74% are active on Facebook.

Of the 26% that weren’t on Facebook, 80% said they would be if not for home computer restrictions.

In class discussions, it becomes apparent that students are relying mostly on one another to learn about their digital footprint. Adult facilitation seems to be limited to a very negative (and hypocritical) depiction of the internet, a demonization that one can’t help but fear becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Not unlike the kinds of myths that might develop in a grade 8 boys locker room about sex, some of the beliefs students have about social media are downright shocking.

I love Pernille Ripp’s mall analogy for online privacy (funny how malls often serve as great metaphors for many things). Call it just another case of our PLNs collective consciousness, because it was just after asking my own students the following questions that I read her post.

You’re able to walk through a mall in public and not:

  • Reveal your name to strangers
  • Have conflicts with people
  • Have temper tantrums
  • Swear out loud
  • Leave photos and video in the food court for people to take
  • Embarrass yourself by picking your nose


That really got their heads nodding with knowing grins.

So above you see our class slogan for online posting behavior. Remix, reuse, recycle. I find acronyms or ‘mantras’ very useful for paradigm reminders in the classroom.
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3Ps of Online Privacy by Royan Lee is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
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