Find Hidden Opportunity in 3Rs: Reflect, Rethink, Reinvigorate

My mental calendar year always refreshes in August.  I plan my life around the highs and lows of an academic calendar.   So it is at this time of year I make my professional resolutions,  and from what I’ve read on the Twitter, #edchat and #edtech lists, I am in good company.

This year I am thinking specifically about impact: The impact my graduate students have on their k-12 students and  the impact our eLearning group has on both our faculty and students. Most specifically, I am thinking about the impact of modeling great practices, especially in the use of digital media and eLearning environments that are truly viable and replicable in a school environment.

To get my thoughts flowing, I’ve been using the following process for the past three years to reinvigorate my teaching, scholarship, and the way I lead and manage.

First, I reflect on any issues that need to be solved or addressed. Usually upon reflection (including consultation with peers), I almost always find hidden opportunities and untapped potentials. I consider these opportunities and then determine what kind of change, or rethinking, that needs to occur personally, curricularly and/or organizationally to foster these new ideas. At this point I am feeling pretty refreshed and invigorated. Ideas are flowing, especially on trying to carve out solutions to old problems. From here I craft a couple of tangible resolutions or goals for the year to focus on.

The trick is to keep things manageable and scalable.  This is the hardest part.  When crafting a goal or resolution that is bigger than just your own personal work, make sure you list the tangible aspects of what you hope to personally achieve. Remember this is about reinvigorating yourself for the upcoming year so picking something like “Get all my colleagues to use Moodle” is something that might be absolutely the right thing to do, but may not be something that you can achieve 100% on your own, without enlisting the support of other stakeholders.  If you don’t have stakeholder support yet,  perhaps a more tangible reframing of the goal might be “Help my colleagues understand the benefit of using a tool like Moodle” is a stronger, more focused start. (And this will help build stakeholders and support).

I find there is an important distinction between reinventing and reinvigorating. In the spirit of resolutions, to invigorate is to generate energy, excitement and focus. I don’t think we want to enter a new academic year saying we are reinventing with our students and colleagues. We do want to begin the year with reinvigorated spirits so we can create fertile ground for student and faculty potential to flourish. This year is my resolution is to make instructional impact one student, one course, one faculty,  and one department at a time.

What hidden opportunities are waiting for you to discover? Comment and let us know!

Use Revisit to Visualize Twitter Conversations & Backchannels

I seem to be on a data visualization kick this week. Yesterday I highlighted the coolness of Many Eyes for text analysis. On the same day one of my favorite tweeps, @ToughLoveforX, shared Revisit, a project by Moritz Stefaner who is a freelance “information visualizer.” As soon as I clicked on Revisit, I was smitten from both my visual data geek tendencies and as an educator.

Stefaner’s Revisit allows you to “see” the connections happening across various Twitter streams and hashtags.  As a professional development provider and educator, Twitter is one of those tools that can take a while for someone to get the gist of (See earlier post on DABEL model for Social Media PD). One of the common complaints I hear from my students and colleagues is that Twitter is so hard to follow. Often I will introduce TweetDeck or Twitterfall (etc), as helpful tools to follow the progression of conversations. Some of my students and workshop attendees will then “get it” a bit more, but there is always a group of visual learners that are really trying to conceptualize the relationships of the tweets; particularly retweets and how people are truly connected. This is where Revisit is particularly powerful.

I did a sample infographic of the #edchat hashtag from 8/7/2010 at 11:30am EST. Click here to interact with this example (give it about 3 seconds to load). Also note, to the right of the Revisit screen, you can also type in your own search terms.

Stefaner comments this as a great way to create a Twitter wall for conferences, offices, and I would propose classrooms as well. Imagine visualizing your backchannel conversations in this way and seeing the connections come to life, as well as visualizing the major influencers  and branches in the dialogue.

Individuals and organizations can download the source code for their own stand alone implementations. Stefaner does note that due to current API limitations the only the tweets from the last 8 days are captured and retweets via the Twitter website are not captured. However, as an immediate infographic and quick analysis tool, it’s very effective. I invite you all to Revisit, and see your Twitter experiences in a new way.

Use Many Eyes for Text and Data Visualization

I am attending the Personalized Learning Symposium (#perLearn on Twitter) in Boston, MA this week. Today’s first group breakout session asked us to describe the qualities and characteristics that make a personalized learning environment.  At the completion of the conversation, one thing remained clear -we have a lot of ideas but no clear consensus. The lexicon for personalized learning is still developing.

I asked Molly McCloskey, Manager of Whole Child Programs at ASCD, and convener in the Bartlett Room breakout session, to email me the collected table notes to see if I could create visualizations from our words. My goal is straightforward:  can we see immediate  patterns and connections from our combined words?  I usually use Wordle for some instant feedback. The result was okay, but didn’t make this diffuse topic any clearer.  So I turned to IBM’s Many Eyes site which allows multiple visualization types (including Wordle).  Here are the results:

Classic Wordle:

The next three are a series of branching diagrams showing the connection of one word, to many thoughts & phrases. As you view these diagrams click on some of the words and see what happens.

Branching Diagrams: Students
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Branching Diagrams: Learning
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Branching Diagram: Teachers
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The Classic Tag Cloud
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Many Eyes is also capable of creating data driven visuals using specific word counts to create a variety of relationship diagrams.  I pulled the master word count list out of Worlde to generate an example of one of these options. For this to truly work, I need to go in a clean up all the “is, a, the, of , ands”…well you get the point.

Bubble Plot Example:
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For me the clear winner was the branching diagrams for this exercise. What is really great is that you can type different words into the textbox to see if they can be mapped.  Many Eyes is a free service and works simply by cutting and pasting your text into a basic text box. From there you can create interesting visuals for your data analysis. Do I dare say its a tad bit personalized?  Enjoy!

Try the DABEL Model When Offering PD on Social Media

Social Media can be a fun topic to teach educators and colleagues about.  It  is often an overwhelming concept for new users of social media tools to grasp. I think I described this on #edchat the other day as “Social Media is like breathing water to new people.” I’d like to revise that comment to that it probably feels more like a being a fish trying to swim without fins!

I recently gave a lecture/workshop to 32 Ph.D candidates at Lesley University. They were taking a special topics course in new media in scholarship, and I was asked to help them think about using tools like Twitter,  Mendeley,  and social bookmarking sites to assist with their scholarly networking. While at least 3/4 of the class were active Facebookers, people were a bit miffed, and some a tad petrified, about using Twitter.  To get us going, I used my DABEL model which stands for: Deepen Apply Brainstorm Engage and Learn.  In the context of social media and research, I presented the following goals for the afternoon:

  • Deepen our knowledge and understanding of social media
  • Apply social media ideas and concepts to the practice of research and inquiry
  • Brainstorm opportunities for using social media and other digital media tools to strengthen research goals and projects
  • Engage in inquisitive “play” with featured tools (Twitter, Wallwisher, MindMeister, Wordle)
  • Learn new pathways for collaboration and analysis

I find a lot of adult learners are so worried about “screwing up” the computer or looking dumb they are unable to hear about the purpose and potential of technology. Intrinsically, many adults assume they must master a tool before they can use it, as this is how many of us were taught in school (back in ye old dark ages). Setting the tone with DABEL is a great way to  give permission for inquiry, exploration, and play. This also provides a balance on applying known theory and practice, to new media and tools.

After giving the class a couple of videos that presented some thought-provoking stats and commentary, the conversation immediately started rocking. One of the faculty in the room said it felt like driving down the autobahn in a convertible. (I believe this was a compliment.)

I scaffolded our exploration with “easy” tools that I had set up for them in their Blackboard course site. One was a link to wallwiser, where they could post their research questions and topics. This was easy, fun and slightly addictive to a few students. By the time we arrived at Twitter the skepticism was there, but there was openness to consider and try it since they had successfully dabbled in a few previous tools and we engaged in dialogue and brainstorming on how to use them professionally and for school.

Below is the full presentation. I haven’t seen DABEL used before, so  I am claiming it as my own little acronym. Contact me if you’ve seen it. And if you want to use it, great; let me know how it worked and it’s extra nice if you cite this post as your source!

Link to Google Presentation with embedded videos.

Social Scholarship Slide Photo
Image of slide show

The Power of Visualizing Information: Reflections on ed reform

This post talks about how wordle can be used to rethinking and visualize the main ideas of reading. Examples from “A Nation at Risk” and “A Blueprint for Ed Reform” are used.

The amount of blogging time I have is pretty much 0-2% these days.  After work, I devote my idle hours to doctoral studies and family (and sadly in that order some days).

One thing about graduate work is the volume of print reading has not changed since I was in my Master’s program in 98-99. Darn. Synthesizing lots and lots of text quickly is a challenge for anyone.  As a teacher educator,  I am always demonstrating the use of certain tools to help organize and visualize text and data for k12 students.  So wouldn’t it be a novel idea to actually use some myself? I imagine anyone reading this might be saying –well golly yes– you just realized that?

I’ve been using Wordle a bit more to validate (or invalidate) perceptions of readings, especially articles that I have read before and already have formed strong value statements about. In my summer Historical Perspectives on Education course, we were assigned the classic A Nation At Risk report from 1983. I was feeling a bit more sour than usual about ed reform.  Chatter in the online discussion of my course turned to a bit of griping that not much has changed in our reform rhetoric since 1983. After completing a Worlde for #edchat this morning, I began to wonder if perhaps Wordle could help me see and perceive our impressions of a Nation at Risk differently, especially in comparison to a current policy document? If our class believed nothing had changed, we should see more similarities than differences between the two. In my mini-experiment I selected the recommendations section from  A Nation At Risk, and compared it to the recommendations of the recent  Blue Print for Reform for the reauthorization of the ESEA. Here is what happened:

Wordle Recommendations Section from a Nation At Risk (1983)
Wordle: Recommendation section from a Nation at Risk

Worlde Recommendations from a Blue Print for Reform (2009)
Wordle: A Blue Print for Reform --Priorities Summary of ESEA Reauthorization

I haven’t had chance to do a comprehensive analysis of each Worlde. Here are just some quick reactions:

  • That students were the most commonly used word in both reports. While we may not agree with the rhetoric in one or both of the documents, students are clearly at  the center.
  • Support is a huge theme in our current ed reform rhetoric and it was not even on the map in At Risk.
  • A Nation At Risk is  focused on k-12, with emphasis on teachers and students and preparing teachers.
  • Blueprint expands our thinking and focus; administrators and districts are mentioned frequently. Mentions of parents and community also appear.
  • Teachers are integral to both reports. But, the focus on teacher preparation through universities in the At-Risk report is not the core focus of the Blue Print recommendations.
  • Hmmm where did learning go in the Blue Print?
  • In the Blue Print, schooling is focused on preparing us for college, not just successful graduation from high school.
  • At Risk focused on the “Basics” that students need to master.  Standards appear to be our new basics.
  • Content based knowledge mentioned throughout the at risk. New reform rhetoric focused more on accountability and performance.
  • Heavy focus on nationalism in At-risk and national status.

I am glad I did this little exercise. We are inundated with so much information online, I know I am scanning my content more and forming assumptions and opinions quickly. While I didn’t walk away thinking “Wow, we’ve really changed! Reform now is soooo much better,”  it helped me clarify my thinking and even rethink how I approach discussing this with my classmates.  Even though I had read At Risk many times,  there is something intangibly powerful about visualizing the main themes of the text in a new way.  And, because I am not getting any more free time to read,  I did as I tell my teachers to do with their students: I stepped back, utilized a tool designed to assist and enhance  my understanding.

For any readers out there; do you ever Wordle, or use another tool, to help you with our own personal work and learning? This little exercise got me wondering about how often as educators we use the same tools we give our students for our own personal learning and reflection?