Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Revolution of PD, Avatars, & MOOCs

Collage of pages from CLMOOC
Avatar.  The entry of that term into my lexicon remains hazy, but it probably traces back ~15 years to a dystopian maze of overheard snippets between two teenagers about videogames and RPGs.  Even when given admission to the cyberworld, I didn’t get it.  The computer screen filled with violent action and multiple lives while the human's eyes transfixed, his body contorted, inert except for thumbs jabbing a little black box with red and yellow buttons, maybe a white one.  The controller might have been jammed into my hands briefly just as some alien form zapped up the “avatar?”  All this orchestrated with electronic screaming.  It was like an underwater nightmare with me, avatarish, almost imploding, starved for air.

My inarticulate prayer then must have been: Please transport me to a real-life riding arena with a close-contact saddle on a spirited warmblood, where two interconnected one-lives depend on concentrated subtle communion, even with sensuous embodiment down to the earthy horseshit on boots and hooves.


So when the #CLMOOC featured avatar-making in its opening week, I felt immediately banished to the sidelines, or perhaps more like peeping through the knothole into a game that’s called football but uses a round object instead of the more familiar spiraled oval.  Still more so like watching a 3-D version of snitches whizzing around in cyberspace, not knowing the rules, and not caring much.


I probably would have abandoned the CLMOOC blog site except that I was instructor of record for a class titled “The Profession of Teaching”

and having been thoroughly impressed with a 1-1 iPad elementary school, especially the ~100% engagement in high-quality work of learners, I’d launched our course into The Revolution of Professional Development.  The CLMOOC appeared as a godsend, maybe.  
Just a year earlier I’d taught this course without the aid of a single app, with little awareness of iPads, and minimal felt need to be developing PLNs as a part of the capstone for sending new teachers into the profession.  But my year with the 1-1 iPad collaboration and with personally trying HOMAGO (mostly involving my blog and digital media production) had convinced me that vitality in professional development in teaching must be tied to PLN development that is integrated with social media, instructional technology, and learning management systems; in short, the domain that the Connected Learning Massive Open On-line Course was exploring.

Just a year earlier I’d taught this course without the aid of a single app, with little awareness of iPads, and minimal felt need to be developing PLNs as a part of the capstone for sending new teachers into the profession.  But my year with the 1-1 iPad collaboration and with personally trying HOMAGO (mostly involving my blog and digital media production) had convinced me that vitality in professional development in teaching must be tied to PLN development that is integrated with social media, instructional technology, and learning management systems; in short, the domain that the Connected Learning Massive Open On-line Course was exploring.

But what if these young teachers had already got it?  In preparation for the Spring 2013 course, I’d considered that this cohort of 18 interns, looking to be in the app-generation, ages about 25-35, had already acquired sufficient techno-capacity either from their year’s internship, related courses, or from living on the net.  To find out, I sent them to SurveyMonkey and found that none claimed to have a PLN, only 1 blogged, none had used the popular iPad app EduCreation, about half used Twitter, and only about 22% had been on Google+ hangout.  All used laptops and half claimed familiarity with either MovieMaker or iMovie.  

I’d already learned that my college students were much more consumers of YouTube than producers. 
 Directing our University of Maryland Writing Project had shown me that professional use of social media among teachers could not be assumed and that experience with PD seldom featured interactive technology.  Teachers were somehow expected to get learners to be makers without being makers themselves—and PD was in collusion: let’s hire a somebody to tell us how to do it.

The year I'd just spent collaborating with the 1-1 iPad school convinced me that the infusion of technology works, that it offers the best answer to the dominant concern for classroom management as well as for differentiation, and that effective implementation demands a revolution in professional development for teachers. 
 In order for teachers to flow in the current of ever-changing apps, teachers must experience engagement with them; in other words, “making” must take dominance over reading about and hearing lectures on STEM, TED talks, and other guru-guided formulas.  The PD must also be distinguished by active participation in a community of professionals who are makers.  Teachers have to transform into risk-takers, re-mixers, and collaborators.

That much was and is very clear.  Then along comes Avatar.  Why should that throw me?

First of all, while I wasn’t drawn to making myself a superhero or a figure out of South Park or Mad Men (having watched neither of the shows), my students jumped in.  I was thrilled to see their avatars popping into the CLMOOC (see collage at the top); our Twitter hashtag spashed with clever images.  If nothing else, the device of making avatars propelled the new professionals into public space; and more slowly, but still surely, I began to see them taking the risk of publishing their thoughtful blogs.  By the end of our 5 week course, one-third of them had gone public (on edublog, blogspot, & wordpress).  And most of the others were making blogs in word or google docs that included photos and other graphics, and thus promised entry into the profession as participatory PLN-ers.  Also, all had completed a PD-worthy digital media production connected to best practice that they observed at the 1-1 iPad school.

Having submitted grades for the course, I’m now returning to the conundrum around Avatar.  While I share some of the skepticism over Wikipedia, I felt it might be just the source for my exploration.  My alienation from Avatar was initially confirmed because I recognized none of the 50 avatar illustrations from films, TV, games, books & print media, music, and other uses (including an American racehorse).  While these “disambiguations” failed to clarify meaning, superpower help came in Wikipedia’s discussion of avatar’s origin:
In Hinduism, an avatar /ˈævətɑr/ (Hindustani: ʋt̪aːr], from Sanskrit अवतार avatāra "descent") is a deliberate descent of a deity to Earth, or a descent of the Supreme Being 
(i.e., Vishnu for Vaishnavites), and is mostly translated into English as "incarnation", but more accurately as "appearance" or "manifestation."
http://www.blogger.com/blogger.g?blogID=9129551066165115330

That helps because it links me back to my initial resistance to what I experienced as gratuitous violence connected with a human body that’s reduced to thumb-jabbing and whatever mindgames go on in videogames & RPGs.  For reasons not to be elaborated here, I have strong convictions that incarnation connects with whole body and with nonviolence.  This avatar issue also connects with a concern that implementation of technology risks contributing to classrooms stuck in flash-boom.  In stark contrast, education worth having develops mind-body-spirit, empowering agency and collaboration that advance peace and justice.  I know that’s a big statement that wants elaborating, but I’m eager to go get on my horse.  For now, I’ll just add one teaser: I’m finally reading Gaiman’s American Gods and wondering at the confluence of ideas there and ones presented in this blog.  Stay tuned.