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."

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.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Take the Chance: Go Quantum!

1. Today’s world is Quantum.
2. Persons do not automatically adapt to Quantum.
3. Failure to adapt leads to loss of vitality.
4. Persons do not necessarily know they’ve lost vitality.
5. The drive to adapt depends on contact with vitality.

1. Today’s world is Quantum.
I don’t claim special knowledge about “quantum.”  About six months ago, I was drawn into a Conference on Quantum Storytelling, developed a paper for the conference, and continued to develop it as the proceedings are becoming a book.  Getting background included reading closely Karen Barad’s
Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning.  My involvement in these projects helped me make sense of many experiences that were just off-tilt in the dominant paradigm; helpful concepts include indeterminacy (instead of uncertainty), diffraction (instead of reflection), agential cut, and timespacematter/ing. See Barad and my previous blogs for elaboration.
2. Persons do not automatically adapt to Quantum. 
Living with indeterminacy is not comfortable.  Neither is holding multiple perspectives and accepting that more than one is simultaneously true.  To live within, and even more so, to lead from a quantum orientation requires letting go of the pretense of advance organization as if authentic outcomes can be engineered outside the lived moment.  That’s hard and feels vulnerable. Even when persons suspect that the dominant paradigm isn’t working, dulling out is easy and losing power hard.
3. Failure to adapt leads to loss of vitality. 
The costs of persisting in a dead paradigm are increasingly evident.  In education, persons becoming teachers have too little authentic experience with the joy of learning.  Having been stunted in 16 years of dull curriculum, driven by external assessments, they lack the feel needed to inspire.  A recent critique of the latest big assessment for teachers nailed the problem: “These conditions negate the importance of relationships in the development of teaching, preferring the pretense of objectivity over trust, authenticity, and cultural responsiveness.”  The pretense of objectivity points directly at the old paradigm; trust, authenticity, and cultural responsiveness distinguish the quantum paradigm.
4. Persons do not necessarily know they’ve lost vitality.
Everything is “great” (like Tony-the-Tiger’s cereal that’s full of scary-bad corn) and there’s nothing better (even if the hero is fake & “education” has never been joyful).  Persons do not automatically know what they’re good at, capable of, or what really turns them on.  If Micky D is the norm and it’s considered great, where’s the taste to drive the dedicated training needed to become a master chef?
5. The drive to adapt depends on contact with vitality.
While persons come into the world pretty charged up, the battery runs down without dedicated engagement with the life force.  The search for passion comes from a person’s inner core; no one else can name it but some can tell when it’s burning or burnt out; finding it takes risks and sacrifice.

We can go quantum.  We’ll have to risk leaving perceived comfort and security, but that train’s going over the cliff.  Time to take a chance.

Quantum Shift in Professional Development

The paradigm shift into quantum timespacematter/ing drives authentic professional development.  This shift requires:
  • Willingness to risk, to fail, & to push past comfortable formulas,
  • Tolerance for indeterminacy; deliberate acceptance of multiples,
  • Determination to move (quantum’s wave) and to build (quantum’s particle) simultaneously, even in the experience of multiplicity, and
  • Revolution against reliance on high-stakes testing, similar accountability models, & concurrent curricula because they are premised on objective reality, the old and dead paradigm.

When we ask for and teach from the formulaic models and the knowledge base of that dominant paradigm, we deny the calling of our profession and perpetuate the endangered condition of our children, civilization, and the environment.

I realize that this opening paragraph risks making me appear to be radical, if not crazed; but I’m really just restating scientific insight that’s about a hundred years old.  Google “quantum physics.”  Also in philosophy, psychology, and theology, similar notions can be traced much further back.  Check out the heritage of phenomenology and gnosis.  The tone even comes through a 2013 commencement speech:
So here’s the thing about changing the world. It turns out that’s not even the question, because you don’t have a choice. You are going to change the world, because that is actually what the world is. You do not pass through this life; it passes through you. Joss Whedon at Wesleyan

While I’m not yet a hundred years old, for almost that long an inarticulate knowing within me has been reaching for the quantum paradigm.  As a committed professional, I could seldom stomach what was presented as “professional” development.  After a decade or so of participating in star-on-the-stage “professional” conferences, the failure of integrity became too great.  I had to run for my life because:
Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a pass that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love.  Dostoyevsky in Brothers Karamazov

Most of us wish for an ordered universe with clear preformulated objectives, neatly scaffolded mastery learning, and the safety of possessing bound knowledge.  For example, look at the appeal of 8 Steps to Great Digital Storytelling.  In my judgment, this resource offers much of value, and it also represents the old dominant paradigm in key features:  the “great” destination, step-by-step mapping, and “readily-available source materials.”  While I hope to utilize this resource, I’ll engage it in a quantum manner rather than from the formulaic, linear, and presumptive mode.

For example, consider the assertion in Step 1: “All stories begin with an idea.” 
From twenty-plus years of experience in storytelling, I know many stories come from experience, perhaps in some transaction with words, but to isolate and prioritize the cognitive denies the opportunities in quantum.   Generative stories plumb dialectically across image and word; they don’t come from script first.  I also believe that digital stories with strongest voice are not made with “readily available source materials” but are crafted artistically and organically with more adherence to situated learning than to Google’s warehouse.  The formulaic elements evident both in the assertion and in the lock-step process sound like head dominance and hand subordination.  Quantum PD features, instead, a dynamic process-product allowing for pathways and adaptations not known in advance.

At least since Dewey, educators know to condemn the funnel-in design; and yet most curricula, testing, and PD live and die in that paradigm more than any other.  When we fail to see that, we are lying to ourselves and risk ceasing to love.

Adaptive life doesn’t deny formula but it won’t be contained by it.  William Sennett’s study of The Craftsman shows how even disciplines distinguished by apprenticeship know that “fertility incorporated incompleteness and ambiguity” (p. 204).  Sennett illustrates with Christopher Wren’s proposal for rebuilding London after the great fire.  Wren imagined rather than redid what was.  The craftsman’s imagination honors the link between hand and head.

Quantum Professional Development (QPD) shifts our attitude on making mistakes opening the way to taking risks, living in multiplicity, and not feeling so bad about it.
The philosopher Daniel Dennett offers supportive guidance:
We philosophers specialize in all the ways there are of getting things so mixed up, so deeply wrong, that nobody is even sure what the right questions are, let alone the answers. . . Try to acquire the weird practice of savoring your mistakes, delighting in uncovering the strange quirks that led you astray. Then, once you have sucked out all the goodness to be gained from having made them, you can cheerfully set them behind you, and go on to the next big opportunity. But that is not enough: you should actively seek out opportunities to make grand mistakes, just so you can then recover from them.

Sennett also elaborates the necessity and value of making mistakes and embracing them for their difficult gold: “Put simply, it is by fixing things that we often get to understand how they work” (page 199).  On the next page, he continues, “we can tolerate the frustration because we are now also curious; the possibility of making a dynamic repair will stimulate, and the multipurpose tool will serve as curiosity’s instrument.”

While QPD brings excitement, it’s also alien and scary.  In trying to do collaborative PD in the quantum paradigm, I get troubled about not being able to say just what we’re going to do.  While I know we have to get into it in order to feel the way, the old voices say “poor leadership.”  Sennett tells how craftsmen build understanding out of working with the matter, and we haven’t had our hands on quantum PD long enough to articulate the key principles. 

The cognitive-dominant paradigm provides the comfort of making a map, and it hushes the whispers saying the world’s no longer flat like that.  Instead, QPD provides an experience for dwelling in error long enough to reach understanding. 
Sennett says, “In making music we certainly prepare yet cannot recoil when our hand does not then fit its aim or purpose; to correct, we have to be willing—more, to desire—to dwell in error a bit longer in order to understand fully what was wrong about the initial preparation,” (p. 161).

Another characteristic of QPD extends from the term timespacemattering. For example, I think Maker Faire and Connected Learning are on the right track in terms of providing a focus on matter; that’s vital to QPD.   At the same time, I feel it very important to carry consciousness related to the quality of time and the inseparable overlapping with the other complements in timespacemattering.  Consider the contested claim that achieving a “great” level takes 10,000 hours.  I wonder if a day’s dabbling in a Maker event could lead someone to think that’s all there is, mistaking false gold for the real thing.  QPD deals with the challenge of composing not answers, but “tasters” that tantalize a person enough to drive the investment that strives for and eventually develops feel for the sublime.

I’m focusing on developing these tasters and want to know:
How do we engage the capacity of timespacemattering so that a “taste” of joy and quality (traditionally associated with 10K hours) resonates within a 1-5 min video production?

Another pressing question for me concerns the dynamic locus of authority.  How do we contain the tension around the source of authority?  How do we learn to allow for a dynamic flow?  Situated, local knowing affirms personal authority; building expertise in complex multiplicity depends on submitting to being coached, to accepting external authority.  I’m encouraged with the nature of PLN that perhaps allows us to carry a dynamic of respectful tension and without star worship/envy, but I think we need a ballast to hold the balance. 

Pursuing that question deserves a separate space.  I want to explore how commitment to a physical discipline hones the feel of dynamic knowing.  Riding dressage gives me the rebalancing for living in multiples, including the multiple sources of authority.

Quantum PD sounds overwhelming, but it’s better than living in a lie.  A bit of comfort comes from Rilke’s challenge about one who wrestles with the angel(ic):
          “This is how he grows: by being defeated, decisively,/
           by constantly greater beings.”

                  (Robert Bly’s Selected Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke)