Learning to Fly with Media 21: No One Said It Would Be Easy

Image used under CC license from http://www.flickr.com/photos/cmefish/1251055754/sizes/m/in/photostream/
Image used under CC license from http://www.flickr.com/photos/cmefish/1251055754/sizes/m/in/photostream/

I have been remiss in not posting more reflections on my Media 21 Capstone project this fall.  None of the reasons for not posting more frequently really matter except to say that carving out a committed time during the day at least once a week (not just when I’m at home) can no longer be a luxury but something that is an essential part of my professional work as a high school librarian.

In reflecting on the joys and frustrations of this project, I have experienced a gamut of emotions:  moments of ebulllience when I’ve seen students have the “aha!” moment, times of kicking myself and feeling as though I have not done enough or fumbled the design of the learning activities, but ultimately, determination to not give up on the students or the fundamental beliefs about learning that underpin what we do.

While I have seen growth in many of the students, I’m troubled that others have seemed to stagnate.  Although this project “officially” ends December 17, Ms. Lester and I will continue our ongoing collaboration to figure out what we can do differently during the second semester to continue the work we have started and to continue to help our students learn through inquiry and collaboration and to help them continue adding to resources to their personal learning network.

Jim Burke reminds us in “Failure Is Not an Option—It’s a Prerequisite” that we cannot expect to hit every note perfectly the first time around.   Instead of viewing failure as a negative precept, we should view it as an opportunity for learning and reflection so that we can try again through a more informed lens of experience:

We grow afraid to fail. To struggle. To fumble. We want to get it right the first time, to experience ourselves as perfect, brilliant, efficient–and thus effective.

Sorry. It doesn’t work that way. One must fail on their way to success. It’s what has led to everything we have done as a country, a civilization. Beckett: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better…. Go on failing. Go on. Only next time, try to fail better.” Edison: “We didn’t fail but discovered another way that doesn’t work.

Teachers must be allowed to fumble forward, guided by the light of their own professional intelligence, as every class, every year brings its own new conditions that require a flexibility, a nimbleness, an experimenter’s mind to solve the problems each student, each class, each year, each text or task presents.

With these pearls of wisdom in mind, here are some observations about this semester, and in particular, the last eight weeks, I’d like to share with you as I think it is important to share the positive along with the messy.  Your input and feedback are welcomed as Ms. Lester and I strive to learn through reflection and through the insights of you who are part of my personal learning network.

Celebrations

  • Many students stated feeling more confident using NoodleTools and feeling more positively about how to use it effectively.  Many had a teacher who did not gave me very little time to provide instruction or help with the use of this tool and who did not place value on its use as a research tool, so I feel happy that these students have had this chance to have a better learning experience with NoodleTools this year.
  • Many students indicated both verbally and in their learning reflections that they were producing work (with the actual research paper product) they never dreamed they were capable of creating.   While students indicated worry and stress about the written component, many also felt that this paper represented their best work to date; several indicated this was the first challenging research task of their school lives.
  • Research reflections and self-assessments indicate that students feel more comfortable using databases, particularly GALE Global Issues in Context and SIRS Researcher.  Others learned the power of adjusting keywords and search terms.   Some students also shared that Google Alerts and Google News were powerful tools in their information resources toolkit.
  • Students were extremely positive about the multigenre element of the project; many showed great care and creativity in creating these learning artifacts.
  • Many students indicated pride in creating their own website with the learning portfolios (the master list is still in progress)
  • Most students have seemed incredibly engaged in the process of creating presentation zen style PowerPoints to facilitate a six minute “talk” they are going to give in another week about their learning experiences.  Students worked on their presentations for the entire period Tuesday–Friday in class, and from what I observed through casual observation and in conversations I had in helping individual students, they are really into the concepts of presentation zen design—I am both anxious and excited to see the final products that we will post to class Slideshare groups for each class period!  Students are also showing more awareness of digital citizenship as we are emphasizing the use of Creative Commons licensed photos from Flickr and image attribution.  Originally, we had planned to do group presentations of a persuasive nature to school and community members, but at this point and time, Ms. Lester and I agreed that individual presentations within our class are the best step forward as many students have little or no prior experience in giving a presentation; others have had negative experiences and shared tremendous apprehension about speaking in front of others.  We hope to work up to the community based presentation next semester by scaffolding them with smaller “talk” style presentations for the next few months.
  • The collaborative relationship I have with Ms. Lester is professionally and personally rewarding.  I love co-teaching with her, and this project represents a depth of collaboration I have never achieved with any other teacher.   The rapport and professional respect we have for each other is inspiring and invigorating—I am grateful she is my partner on this journey of learning and so incredibly fortunate to work with her every day (and I do mean literally that we work/teach/collaborate together daily!).

Concerns

  • The disparity at times between students stated feelings about a particular idea or tool on their learning blogs and the opinions indicated in anonymous polls is troubling to me.  We have tried to foster a climate of honesty and constructive criticism in our classroom, but I worry some students are saying what they think we as the teachers want to hear in their blogs and self-assessment reflections.   I’m thinking that a conversation about how much we value their honest opinion is needed again, and we will invite students to share their ideas and thoughts on how we can make everyone feel “safer” in stating their true opinions.
  • Very few students used social media as an information source in this project.  I think that I definitely need to do a better and more explicit  job of scaffolding their knowledge of how to effectively search for and evaluate social media resources, such as blogs, people to follow on Twitter, videos, strategic RSS feeds, and podcasts.   However, the fact that students do not have access to iTunes or YouTube are major barriers that are yet to be overcome.
  • How to engage those who are resisting or just not engaging:  more on these thoughts in this blog post from November 18.
  • Students who did find videos and podcasts either on their own or within the databases indicated they had difficulty in remembering the information without a transcript.  I need to help them develop strategies and tools for comprehending these new media “texts.”
  • I need to incorporate more explicit instruction about evaluation of authority (this pathfinder was designed for parapros in our school district, but I will create and use something similar with my students).
  • Helping  students better connect the dots of their personal learning networks is another priority—while there has been progress in this area, I know we have room to grow.

Challenges

  • Network troubles and problems with the Internet Explorer browser (inherent in the product) created  great frustration for students as we experienced difficulty saving work at times, accessing our work in the clouds, and using some of our web-based tools.  In particular, students became frustrated when it took forever for Explorer to load Google Sites or Google Docs; I know that the browser was the problem because I could load the same resources quickly using Firefox, a browser my students do not have access to on the network.  In addition, the conflict between the latest version of Diigo and Internet Explorer (Explorer would crash like mad) was problematic; we also had difficulty in getting responses from tech support from Diigo for individual student account issues.  Sadly, while some students loved Diigo, many indicated in a poll I administered on December 4 that they thought the tool was valuable but were reluctant to use it at school because of all the problems we encountered in using it in our environment.  I will be sharing these challenges with our network administrators and district technology personnel to see if we can find solutions to these challenges.
  • While I am very lucky to be in a district with a fairly liberal filtering policy, I would like my students to have access to YouTube and iTunes.
  • In addition, I feel student access to alternate browsers such as Firefox and Chrome, would reduce student technology stress and give them access to extensions for better productivity.  My students recognize and complain that Explorer does not provide a built in spellchecker!
  • Restrictions on student network rights sometime cause bookmarklets and extensions within Explorer to not function happily.  We experienced some hiccups with Diigo—some were on their end, but others were definitely caused by IE.  I also wish my students had rights to install extensions and toolbars at will.

What I Would Do and Will Do Differently:  20/20 Hindsight

  • I wish that I had introduced RSS, Google Reader, iGoogle, and social bookmarking during the first month.  We began with an immersion into exploring the uses of social media, but now I think it would have been more beneficial to have focused on teaching students how to use these resources as the foundation of their PLN.  I plan to make the instruction of these tools a priority in January before we jump into our first literature based inquiry unit of 2010.
  • We did not  incorporate the use of outside experts through interview and/or Skype into the project this semester as I had hoped to do.  Several factors, such as my busy travel schedule, the fact that it took twice as long as originally planned to completed planned lesson and activities with students, and sensing our students were somewhat overwhelmed with all the new tools and multitasking of learning activities, influenced the absence of these critical learning experiences.    We also did not get to complete a service project related to our unit of study. I am determined that we will fold these kinds of learning experiences into our upcoming inquiry units of study.
  • For peer editing, Ms. Lester and I are going to explore the use of writing circles.  Assessment Live and Writing Circles on our to read and discuss list!
  • While I think our work reflects the concept of inquiry circles to some extent, I’d like to make adjustments that will be a truer reflection of the inquiry model of learning.  I am hopeful that my interaction with the upcoming Inquiry Circles Book Club will help inform my thinking process on this front!
  • Figuring out how to scaffold student writing for more formal pieces of writing without overly structuring their writing and working within some of the school or district mandated requirements is a major challenge.  I would like for students to have a little more latitude and decision making in the organization of their next essay, and I feel it is incredibly important for them to generate their own research questions.  For this first project, Ms. Lester and I debated the pros and cons of student generated research questions vs. teacher generated questions; ultimately, we went with the scaffolded model of teacher generated research questions, but I wonder if this stifled the quality of the research for some students.  I am hopeful that we will be able to shift ownership of research questions through more collaborative decision making in which the students contribute to and ultimately create the research questions we will explore—I think this is where the inquiry circles model will be particularly informative and helpful.

This reflection will continue to be an ongoing work in progress, especially as we enter the second semester.    While I know we have challenges to overcome, I am excited about the possibilities and looking forward to seeing where we and the students go next on our journey of learning.    Students like Nicole and the work she has created this semester reflect the potential of the learning paradigm we have fostered.  In the introduction to her learning portfolio, Nicole says this about her learning experiences in our class this semester; the emphasis on text you see is Nicole’s own.

My research has made a very big difference to me. I can actually say that I have changed for the better. I have never had such a life changing research topic and this definitely has changed my life. I couldn’t believe how much this research project affected me. It definitely forced me to look at myself and made me ask myself what I could do better in my life to help impact other people. I feel that this research that I have done will make a huge difference to others because they too will see what they can do to help others. I hope that by reading my essay, others will decide to devote their time and life to helping those that are in need.

Nicole shares these thoughts in her final research reflection in her learning blog:

Life changing, these two words give a perfect summary of what this project has been for me. Every time I write a new blog entry, I feel so inspired by the information that I have learned. I cannot stress how much this project has truly changed me. I am really sad that this is officially my last blog entry for this research project. I have finally completed all of my multi-genre projects and I am extremely proud of them. I hope that others will find them very interesting too. I especially love the movie that I made. I feel that it captures the essence of Sub-Saharan Africa. I know that through my movie, I represented the people who have HIV/AIDS with dignity and respect. I portrayed for the public a story that needed to have a happy ending once and for all. I hope that everything that I have done will resonate in people’s hearts and hopefully they will to realize that they need to act now for a better tomorrow. I am excited to now start the presentation part of this project. I must say that I am quite scared right now because I have a really big fear of public speaking. I hope that I can learn to not be afraid and instead speak the truth. I trust that Mrs. Hamilton and Mrs. Lester will get me ready for presenting and I know that by then I will be confident and eager to present my project to the rest of the class.

When I see the work Nicole has created and read how these learning experiences have impacted her in such a profound way and I see the faith she has in us as her teachers, I feel incredibly honored and humbled to work with students.  Her work also makes me even more motivated to somehow help other students experience learning in such an authentic manner that may lead to some kind of epiphany. I think Nicole’s experience represents what can be for students; I hope that through patient, purposeful, and passionate action and reflection, I can somehow play a meaningful role in helping other students experience what Nicole has not just once, but on a regular basis so that learning becomes not just something students do out of force and habit, but something that is an experience.

I want to give a special shout out to the incredible Wendy Drexler, an educator whose work has influenced my instructional tremendously in the last year and an inspiration for the Media 21 Capstone project.  Her encouragement via email helps me know I am not alone, and her willingness to Skype with me in the upcoming week will help me look at these challenges with fresh eyes.  I am most fortunate to have her and so many other wise souls in my personal learning network!  Ms. Lester and I invite you to share any feedback or suggestions you may have for us to help us think through our challenges as we prepare for next semester.

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6 thoughts on “Learning to Fly with Media 21: No One Said It Would Be Easy

  1. Buffy,

    You’ve give us a lot to consider, with your thoughtful, thorough analysis.

    One thing that caught my eye, since I’m an occasional blogger myself, was your comment regarding your student, Nicole’s, online work.

    Do you feel it would be appropriate for you to help Nicole continue her blogging in a public forum? I subscribe to a few student bloggers in my Google Reader because I believe it’s important to have their voices represented in the education forum.

    Despite the barriers and roadblocks, you and your colleague have done an amazing job, in your Media 21 class, of integrating technology in a meaningful way.

    Your students are lucky to have had this experience!

  2. Buffy,
    Thank you for providing information about this well planned research project. One question: did/do your students use a variety of notetaking formats when working online? You mentioned that you felt that students and teachers weren’t using Noodletools as much as you wished. Do you have a preferred format or method for notetaking?

    I’m brainstorming revisions to plans for a 12th grade research paper which will kick off in February.

    Thanks again,
    Debbie Wheeler

    1. Hi Debbie!

      You are most welcome! Actually, they used Noodletools no problem (see first section, first bullet, I think)—it was Diigo they did not use as much as I had hoped. Many actually indicated they had developed a great appreciation and understanding of Noodletools rather than Diigo. Some students indicated they liked the notetaking format in NT, but others preferred Diigo—I would like to be able to give them options so that they find the right fit for themselves.🙂

      I really appreciate your feedback and encouragement—please email me or even better, let’s Skype sometime, if you want to talk a little more! We are looking forward to moving forward with the project next semester, and if all goes well, expanding the concept in other ways in our schools. 🙂

      Thank you again for reading my blog!

      Best,
      Buffy

  3. Great post. It takes me a while to catch up with my feed reader now and then, but I’m glad I kept this around until I had time. This definitely will help me plan some things when I get into the field. Thanks so much.

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