Thursday, June 18, 2015

Modalities, Me, Kevin, Anna and More

Our conversation is enlarging in scale and ideas.

First, I asked Kevin an innocent question about which modality was his favorite one for expression of thoughts. He responded with a blog post, embedding within his post my initial question. Some time before this dialogue with Kevin, I got to know Anna Smith, scholar-educator, who writes about literacies and writing, and more! I myself had been creating my Seeing Your Thoughts course from the ground up, looking for resources to make it a worthwhile learning experience. I sought out Nick Sousanis' Unflattening book which extended the learning themes I wanted to expose my students to -- he who I had come across while studying in Syracuse University which hosted Imagining America, of which he was a PAGE fellow. Anna alerted my tweet about his book to Nick via Twitter. Then, Nick and I had an email exchange after a brief tweet conversation. He generously shared his web resources with me, for consideration in my course. Then, I responded to Kevin's blog post and he replied with a mention of Anna and their work in NWP. In short, my conversation with Kevin isn't just a conversation with Kevin anymore. In his words,

We’re zigzagging here in an interesting way … You are invited to join the conversation, or just peep in … We’re having a public conversation in a very connected way.

This is all very fascinating, and getting somewhat complicated, but I'm enjoying the learning that these connections are bringing. Our conversation has crossed platforms, from Twitter to blogs, been extended to emails, and drawing in more voices ...

 As we discussed modalities and making our thinking visible, I feel we are living out our discussions. Here's to extending more of some of those thoughts.

Kevin, I use different modes and media to articulate my thoughts. My work requires that I use digital tools and social media regularly. So much so that I turn to non-digital forms of expression to satisfy my urge to craft something that doesn't come too "easily" for me. I don't mean to sound like a brag or nag. I'm no Michelangelo. The craftsmanship and artistry that earlier artists used to hone through years of practice -- to produce an oil painting, for example -- is simply different from say, the way we take an image and edit it into an oil painting via Photoshop. Sure, that takes skill too, but electronic art and non-digital art appeal to me in different ways. Let me get back to my point: I switch from medium to medium, platform to platform. And non-digital modes are appealing to me more and more, maybe because I just want to disconnect. I feel that I have more control over a brush, a pen or a pastel chalk.

I take photos with my cellphone mostly, nothing fancy there. Photography to me, like pastel drawing or ink drawing, is about the eye, and how I use it to send thoughts to my brain -- I make quick decisions about how to frame a moment in time. I sense intuitively that there is something that I need to capture to retain that moment in time. It's hard to explain. It's like painting and how I mix colors to achieve the right values and tones. Like styling myself -- yes, my body is my canvas. I put apparel on to achieve a certain style or look. I think we need to trust our intuition a bit more, at least I do.

You talk about hearing voices, I don't even know how to describe mine. It's a hunch, a mood, an emotion that triggers my urge to be creative.

So I switch from working with PicMonkey to create digital notes, to painting with pastels or drawing with ink, or taking a few photos sometimes. I like writing a lot though; I love words and languages; I cannot tolerate poor writing by so-called best-selling authors, but writing seems rather incomplete by itself. My life is so saturated with texts these days, I wonder if I'm not turning to non-text just to disconnect. Maybe mixed modalities is my preferred mode. My thoughts are dissonant as my understanding evolves.

The term "transmedia" storytelling is used these days to describe what we are discussing here. More and more, this is what we are doing. Surely, that is how our ideas are getting clearer and more richly expressed through such transmediated literacies.

What do you think, Kevin? Anna? Others?

Twitter, Online Voice and Safe Learning Spaces

I commented on Mr. Robert Paris' blog a few days' ago. It was in response to his concerns about Twitter and how to provide a safe space for students to fail and not be subject to ridicule. My comment was so long that I think it's worth reproducing on my own blog for others to comment on.

Hi, I’m an ALT Labber who is currently teaching an online course (I do not use the term online class as I see an association of a “class” with a physical space). I use Twitter judiciously, as part of my online teaching kit. I sort of feel that gives me some credibility to jump into this conversation with all of you.
I’m a passionate advocate of inclusive teaching, which means creating safe spaces for my students is a priority for me. I encourage my students to use Twitter for immediate direct communication with me. In this way, I know they are present just as they know I’m present — creating online teaching and social presence is an online teacher’s attempt to humanize online learning. With the asynchronous nature of most online teaching, I appreciate Twitter technology and the immediacy it provides in letting me know I can indicate my presence and availability to my students.
That being said, I try to balance both — supporting inclusive safe spaces with open pedagogy. I don’t tweet everything nor expect my students to blabber without discernment. They know that there are some things they could Direct Message (DM) me about. If I know an issue would embarrass them, I DM them. Of course, there is that whole “dignity of risk” argument too. I quote this from my blog post:
“Supposedly, this phrase was coined in the 1970s regarding the subject of care for people with disabilities. I could see this applied in educational contexts. Allow students the liberty to try things for themselves, first. Don’t try to coddle them. Of course, we don’t like to see them get hurt and that’s where the discernment of the teacher is welcomed. I see this as an area of struggle for teachers as we move towards open pedagogy. We are fearful. We are anxious. We worry that they might get bullied, hurt, write or say the wrong things that backfire and brand them for life; leaving digital footprints that ruin their future prospects. Remember, we are the guide on the side, and we are there for them, consistently.” (
I offer my students the opportunity to try something new because it’s a thinking disposition that supports productive thinking. Exploring the web with Twitter and blogs is quite an imperative I’d say in nurturing digital literacy. Helping students find their online voice is just as important as giving them the opportunity to have an audible voice in the classroom. Vicki Davis, an educator from whom I’ve learned much via Twitter, taught me that “a student without a blog is a student without a voice.” Here’s a funny but true meme:
I want my students to find their voice, using the best available technology out there. Having an online voice is not something teachers can ignore in the 21st C and letting them write for the world in 140 characters is one way to help them. Not the only way, of course.
I understand your hesitancy because using Twitter or a private web video chat session is a decision I sometimes struggle to make, regularly, as long as my course is on. Safe space, open space, both, or more? There is not a perfect ANSWER. There are questions I try to deal with a case at a time, a day at a time. My course is located at if you would like to check it out.
Welcome to online teaching! Thanks for the space to articulate some of my thoughts.
 Quite a blog comment. It was written at the spur of the moment. Writing is without a word my favorite way to articulate my thinking. Now, moving on to a response to something about multimodality. 

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Designing a Course Worth Learning 3: Course Video Make

Thinking and talking about the course has turned into action. Yes, UNIV 291 has begun. I did not create a navigation or orientation video because I had provided a lot of instructions on the website. The students didn't seem to be lost. They knew where to start. I had a Get Started button, to be sure.

Most of their questions centered around Learning Activity terms we use in Connected Learning. Were they doing things "right" and questions about social media. Why aren't my tweets showing up? There was anxiety and excitement at blasting off, but I wanted them to feel they belonged to a community right away. So I launched the site, let them navigate the course site a bit and then posted a video to let them know I'm present and available; always listening and responding. I also wanted to emphasize the affordances of the open web, knowing most of them were new to Twitter and were not familiar with Connected Learning.

The video took me considerable time to produce. The following are the tools I used and the production process:

  1. PRE-PROD: I thought of what I wanted to say and wrote it out using MS Word. It would come in handy for close-captioning in YouTube later. 
  2. I didn't read off the script. It was a guide so that I wouldn't have too many "Ums and Ahs." 
  3. PROD: I created the raw videos in Quicktime Player on my iMac. There is an option for Movie recording. I saved both as MOV files. I had gone much longer than I intended to be - about 7 minutes. I split the first file and created another ending movie.  
  4. I imported them into WeVideo for editing. [Note: I tried using iMovie but it didn't have the editing timeline I prefer to use but this option is available in WeVideo.] I have a paid account that allows me to have more storage space and editing features in WeVideo. The app didn't work too well with my older Windows machine. It worked better (without crashing) on my newer XP touchscreen laptop. (Just something to note.) In WeVideo, I clipped the videos and merged them with transitions, title and ending slides, audio and annotations.
  5. I then published the final movie in WeVideo and YouTube (so that I could close caption it). 
  6. POST-PROD: Close captioning was completed rather efficiently with a script in YouTube. 
I was reasonably pleased with the final outcome and what I could do in WeVideo. The whole video took longer than I intended to spend time on because I had not estimated how long my initial script would take. Mostly, it's also in the little details -- what font to use, what music, what transitions, etc. Let me know if you have any questions about creating your own course videos. It's highly doable these days with the available web technologies.

With more time, I would have captured the process with a software, but I'm short of time at the moment. Something to revisit later.

Response to Kevin's "Which Modality"

Wisdom begins in wonder. - Socrates
Wisdom begin in wonder. - Socrates. 
Curiosity got the better of me. I posed the billion-dollar question and Kevin Hodgson responded in a reflective post. Just as he couldn't use Twitter to express his thoughts in 140 characters, nor could I.

To provide a bit of background, I think a lot about the different ways people articulate their thoughts (After all, I'm teaching a course on Seeing Your Thoughts!) -- and primarily, people use text. I often come across Kevin's tweets and they were either presented as cartoon strips, images, sound files or some combo of these. And a must-not-miss, he is a music teacher to impressionable young minds. I had wondered how he picked from his range of creative and communication abilities to express his thoughts? Was there a dominant mode he used for thinking?

Kevin, I could tell that song-writing affects you deeply, in a transformative way. It's where you find your voice. Or which best affords you the opportunity to articulate your deepest thoughts and emotions. Words alone flatten each of us (Sousanis, 2015). If each modality is alleged to afford different ways of meaning-making of this world, I wonder if the combination of music with text produces a powerful alchemy of meaning. I'm not saying this very well. It seems that songwriting is this force, this something that is bigger than yourself, it ensnares you and pulls you in to create something almost incredulously magical to you. You note that:

I revise more with songs than I do with other writing. I admit it: I am a terrible reviser. But with songwriting, every word is a rhythm, and every beat is important.
Alone, without music, writing does not seem to move you to be as meticulous with writing as you do with writing with music. Is it the music then that moves you? Does this point somehow to an educational implication? Should we teach more often with music? With multiple modalities? Have you tried this with your students? Do they write better?

You also mention, Kevin, that you let yourself go, and I'm almost envious and confused by this. Because maybe I don't know how to let go to create in the way you do? Sometimes it happens, and sometimes, it doesn't. Is that the same for you? Powerful emotions move me a lot to write some (crappy) poetry sometimes, mostly prose. I used to want to write a play and stage it. I like singing too, but haven't sung in a choir since I arrived in America. Theatre moves me powerfully. I paint sometimes, not enough. I doodle, not enough. I take photos, and sometimes, I can say I feel that the image is almost incredibly perfect at conveying a mood.

Have you come across Twyla Tharp's book on The Creative Habit and Steve Pressfield's Do the Work? I almost feel like I'm not doing the work. If I want to be powerfully creative or creatively powerful, I have to just act, not think so much.

So, I appreciate your reflective post to my question. One question you didn't answer is a related one. In daily life, you aren't and can't be composing songs to sort out ideas, right? So do you think often in words without music in everyday life? Or words often appear somehow with music? Or does a tune often go on in your head?

Thanks so much for this conversation. I am rambling but what I got away from this reflection is the reminder that we are multifaceted people (I often call myself a boundary/border crosser; a hybridized person). Bringing two dimensionalities together produces something sublime for you. Yet, higher ed is just beginning to see the significance of interdisciplinary work. Ah, let me not ruin the mood.

Looking forward to more creations from you!

Saturday, May 30, 2015

In Faculty Words: From Desire to Educated Ability to Promote Inclusivity

Simulation of Visual Challenges
Simulation of Visual Challenges
Faculty Development. A phrase I've long considered rather odd and incongruous. Maybe it's because I've been emotionally damaged by the words of one of my ID professors in grad school. He told me that faculty (in his world) hate the term "faculty development" because they are already developed. They don't need to develop anymore. They are possibly open to training, but not development. Another reputable ed psych and edtech professor who upon learning that I was going to tread the path of a practitioner (and not join the hallowed halls of academia) after finishing doctoral studies, wished me good luck in convincing faculty that someone could teach "better" than they did. So you see, I'm somewhat scarred. (Note: I still have faith in working with faculty, just that on some days I feel these words haunt me.)

But faith in the desire of faculty to want to improve their teaching surged when I read the following goals of some of our participants in the Institute on Inclusive Teaching 2015:

"I want to advance from the desire for inclusivity toward the educated ability to promote it, in any setting."

"I find that my own process of “de-colonizing” my mind and examining my various privileged identities has a direct bearing on my working relationship with students and faculty, through my increasing openness to and understanding of perspectives radically different from my own." 

Ultimately, I want to explore and expand upon my existing conceptualizations of diversity within my discipline so as to develop a more cohesive framework for integrating inclusivity across my instructional approaches, course content, and pedagogical content.

I witness failures from students who are struggling because they do not have the time to study. They have to work to pay tuition and they are too tired when they arrive in class to learn, let alone do their homework. In other words, those who succeed are those who have both the means and the will to study. Students also come from diverse school districts with more or less well developed language programs. Their ability to perform in my class depends also on their previous high school experience. Those who graduated from a demanding high school program passed my class with flying colors. I sympathize with my weaker students who have many odds stacked against them.

In my opinion, the diverse classroom should be accessible to everyone and anyone, but this is not the case. The greatest challenge in the XYZ courses has been 1) how to make our online content meaningfully accessible to visually impaired students, whether it is in the web-based workbook or the grammar exercises in our LMS, and 2) how to develop other types of comparable course content for them. Two out of the three visually impaired students I have taught have been unsuccessful in our courses due to these structural and curricular shortcomings.

As a public institution, it’s vital for VCU to maintain connections to its surrounding communities, especially disadvantaged ones. I think this starts with recruiting and supporting economically disadvantaged and historically underrepresented students. I don’t know how to do this on my own, but I want to do what I can to make it happen, and for me this begins in the classroom.

Amazing. Dedicated. Caring. Teachers who want to do better. Teachers who spent 5 days from 9 to 4 to learn how to improve their teaching. Not one or two. But 15 of them. Thank you for these unassuming courageous warriors in the educational arena.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Institute on Inclusive Teaching: Quick Notes

[Related blogposts: 2014 Reflections on the Institute on Inclusive Teaching;
There's a Place for Us; EdContexts full version]

Major Ideas from Institute that Resonated with Me.
Major Ideas from Institute that Resonated with Me.

Last year, it took me a couple of weeks to distill my thoughts into a blogpost. This image captures some of the ideas I'm mulling over.

Structural Poverty.

We meet again
Through veiled window glass frosted by body heat
Rain pelted outside and within
Wetting my white linen and polka-dotted leggings
My guilt and helplessness remained
What is going through Jolene's mind
Rain, like a windscreen-wiper, will it flick away the torrent of injustice 

The Richmond Hill experience remained a memorable experience for participants. Structural poverty brought about by policies or the lack of them, stares at one in the eye, in significant pockets of Richmond, Virginia (RVA).

I stumbled upon this tweet on President Rao's twitter stream which helps illustrate this concept of structural poverty in RVA:

"One's experience of traumatizing awareness should not paralyze us into inaction."

True. But what can we do?

"Change what you can change."

And so we push on, for the third year now, to raise awareness and reach out to faculty about various issues of inclusivity in VCU. Our definition of inclusivity is:

Moving towards inclusivity includes an intention of reflecting on ideas and assumptions, and becoming aware of differences in order to gain insight and transform our practices.

We hope that participants will begin the journey of transforming their teaching practices with the ideas they have gathered from this week's learning.

Inclusive teaching can thus be viewed as encompassing issues of access to educational opportunities; student involvement in academic work as well as personal and professional growth; student retention and success; and classroom and institutional climate.

Punitive Justice vs. Unitive Justice (Restorative Justice). 

Fodder for most lawyers. Not for Sylvia Clute, who calls herself a "recovering attorney." Why? In her own words:

Being able to distinguish between punitive and unitive justice clears up a lot of the confusion. When we understand this distinction, our world of greed, violence and war in the midst of breathtaking acts of love, kindness and generosity makes perfect sense.  When we analyze the two systems, we discover that punitive justice reflects a dualistic way of thinking that makes the "us versus them" dichotomy seem reasonable. Unitive justice recognizes the interconnectedness of all that is - that what we do to others, we do to ourselves.  
Sylvia Clute works with schools and organizations in Richmond to facilitate restorative circles and teach conflict mediation classes. She has published a few books, one of which is Beyond vengeance, beyond duality: A call for a compassionate revolution. Ready for a paradigm shift? It's time.

Dignity of Risk.

One of the most beautiful phrases I've heard the entire week. Supposedly, this phrase was coined in the 1970s regarding the subject of care for people with disabilities. I could see this applied in educational contexts. Allow students the liberty to try things for themselves, first. Don't try to coddle them. Of course, we don't like to see them get hurt and that's where the discernment of the teacher is welcomed. I see this as an area of struggle for teachers as we move towards open pedagogy. We are fearful. We are anxious. We worry that they might get bullied, hurt, write or say the wrong things that backfire and brand them for life; leaving digital footprints that might ruin their future prospects. Remember, we are the guide on the side, and we are there for them, consistently.

Food Shock. 

It has been some 15 years for me since I first set foot in America. I don't recall if I had any food shock. It was more of a loss to not be able to taste our delicate and fine Singapore cuisine again. After all, we are a Food Paradise. The portion sizes, American Chinese food and different smells and tastes made me crave Singapore food intensely. After 15 years, I still miss the fine dining outlets in Singapore and the ability to meet friends and dine late into the night with them.  The international students who visited us at the Institute shared many significant vignettes from their perspectives. I could identify with most of them. Many participants were struck by a point raised by an international graduate student. That we should not confuse "competence" with "confidence." Boldness (maybe loudness?) in speaking up should not be confused with greater competence. It seemed revelatory to many of the non-international participants. This is good. Let the shift begin.

Monday, May 11, 2015

This is How I Tweet and Chirp

I use Twitter as part of my work and for professional development. I created an account in 2007 but wasn't actively participating in the web until ALT Lab came along. I have ways to go but there are several things I've learned from using Twitter actively since October 2014. I've summarized and illustrated them as 7 big ideas thus far.

But the biggest takeaway for me is that Twitter is all about participation. The more you participate in activities and connect with others, the more you will get out of it and the more you want to be in a position to give back to others for being so giving to you. So participate, connect, share and give back. Be authentic and courageous. Loosen up a bit and have fun!

1. I get the latest information from my Tweeps/Twends? (Twitter People/Twitter Friends)

For example, I'm interested in Reggio-inspired Visible Thinking and what Project Zero (at Harvard) is up to. I want to know the latest professional development opportunities and conferences they offer.

I didn't think I'd see this show up on Twitter but it did - Thinking Routines!

Slowly as more thought leaders sign up on Twitter, I am able to get the latest information about their recent presentations and writings via Twitter. As a boundary crosser, my interests span education, instructional design, visible thinking, inclusive learning design, arts, French, leadership and creativity. Having been a teacher for many years of my life, at heart, I still see myself very much as a teacher. I participate in Twitter chats like the #satchatwc, #UDLchat, and any that I sometimes stumble across that interests me.

Our very own ALT Lab #TJC15 (Twitter Journal Club, run by @googleguacamole) chat is one I very much enjoy. Although I don't do research as much as I used to, I miss reading about the latest research in education. Twitter chats meet my need for shared community and online engagement beyond the posting of solitary tweets.

I even got the chance to contribute to a radio play and read a few lines. Talk about fun!

There are opportunities to write articles. I was honored to be invited to write a blogpost by a Twitter friend, Maha Bali who runs EdConteXts with a group of colleagues.

Tweets that show me being invited to blog for an webzine.
Tweets that show me being invited to blog for an webzine. 

Sometimes, professional development ideas for and with faculty arise out of unplanned spontaneous tweets. I recall posting a tweet about my training at Sabot and included the hashtag for my summer course. Suddenly, a conversation developed about crafting a faculty version of the course. 

Tweets that show a conversation developing around an idea for professional development
Tweets that show a conversation developing around an idea for professional development

2. My Twends tutor me when I need some help. 

I struggle to learn French at my grand old age, but I have a couple of Twends (Nadia, and Tania Sheko) who will jump in to help me. (I do curate a vast amount of resources but nothing beats a live tutor.)

Tweets that show a Twitter friend helping me with my French
Tweets that show a Twitter friend helping me with my French

There are too many people to mention who have taught me and tutored me (see blogpost on which was introduced to me by Greg McVerry). Pardon me if I fail to mention all of you in this blogpost. All my Twends from #rhizo15, #et4online, #satchatwc, #udlchat, folks from #a11y where I've been lurking... Thank you from the depths of my heart!

3. I reflect and wonder out loud on Twitter. 

Sometimes, someone will pick up my idea, join me in an extended conversation and provide fresh perspectives and resources on the idea.

Even when I couldn't present at a conference, I received some feedback about my presentation via Twitter.

Tweets that show feedback for a presentation I was unable to be present in person
Tweets that show feedback for a presentation I was unable to be present in person

4. Let's not forget the social aspect. Many of my Twends are warm and helpful. 

After all, Twitter is part of social media.

Tweets that show casual conversations with Twitter friends
Tweets that show casual conversations with Twitter friends

You get to connect with new and old friends.

Tweets that show I met a fellow alumnus from Syracuse University
Tweets that show I met a fellow alumnus from Syracuse University

5. It's not all serious stuff for me. Twitter brightens up a dull day with its jokes and funny tweets....

6. And clever ideas abound. 

7. I don't just wonder out loud. I reflect and share my written thoughts on Twitter. 

I blog and share reflections of my work on Twitter. This doesn't get me much feedback but I see that sometimes, some tweeted blogposts get more hits than blogposts that I don't disseminate via Twitter.

I can ramble on. This is my first draft and I'll likely revise it a bit. It's amazing how much I have learned from Twitter and am learning to give back to my Twends. Merci all!