Friday, July 17, 2015

Why I Teach a CL Course, or, Any Course

 To reflect is to think, ponder, or meditate. Some people write blog reflections in double-quick time. I can't. Thinking takes time; and in my world, blog reflections consume time, which I don't have a lot of now, particularly when an online connected learning course is going on. My students' blog posts take priority. Reading everyone of them and writing quality comments take precedence over sleep, my own blogging, or any projects right now. My students are my priority. 

If I think about it, my obsession seems ludicrous. And I'm not blogging about it to make myself seem virtuous. Virginia State (my employer) does not pay me extra -- besides being an instructional designer -- to teach a 3-credit undergraduate course. I am still on the mend from the complications of last Summer. I should be sleeping more. Why then do I/we (my other Connected Learning/CL colleagues this summer) stay up late reading blog post after blog post? 

Because our students matter. They are our future.

I taught for 12 years in K12-13 schools and 3 more in the post-secondary polytechnic in Singapore. When I arrived in the USA, I thought I'd never teach again, and that I'd try something new. I couldn't. I moved from a cushy corporate job back into graduate school and slogged through a doctoral program to find myself back in education.

At the heart of me is the teacher wanting to make the most impact in my limited life for students/learners -- whether it be in instructional design or teaching.

Yes, designing and teaching a connected learning course for the first time without any TA, or co-instructor, is exhausting. It is an arduous task, trying to cajole my students to make paradigm shifts and unlearn from systemic institutional ways they have cultivated to "learn" and be "educated." I experienced first-hand for myself what it was like to dive into the sea of CL when I returned from leave in October 2014. I nearly drowned.

It took me many months to learn how to tweet and build up a learning network. In a compressed course of 7.5 weeks, I will not let my students drown in the CL sea. Initially, my course was less structured and explicitly written. But as the course unfolded, I saw and learned how much my students had to unlearn and relearn, and all these due to no fault of theirs. We may want our students to learn CL but they have never been given much or any opportunity to question, problem-find, to connect, to have freedom, and to have a voice. Do we remember or know what it is like to find our voice in the angsty years of adolescence? How long did it take you to find your voice? Are you still looking?

So I had to spend time preparing my students for CL and helping them to make the shift. This included designing more structure, more explicitness and more direct teaching of new concepts. Other factors complicated the learning. Everyone of them was working full-time (at least 40 hours). They could only connect after work or during a break. Some have partners or children to take care of. One is taking multiple courses at the same time. They were not as connected as I/we wish they were. One had no internet access at home and eventually dropped out. The small enrollment size of my course means the critical mass required to make CL work its magic was missing. Connecting them to #CLMOOC through #F5F turned flat due to many reasons, some still to be analyzed.

All these (and more to blog about) didn't detract from my desire to make this course as meaningful as it could be. Although my students couldn't be as connected as I desired, they were still learning, they were still trying. I still want them to be successful. My role as a teacher, leader, facilitator and coach is to help them overcome the odds life has stacked against them to achieve great things. I know what it means for my parents to put me through school. I was the first one to go to college in my family and a first-generation scholar. I want my students to go as far as they can, in formal or informal learning.

And I will gladly sleep less for 1.5 weeks more so that we can make the most of this time to learn together.

I'm not some fabulous award-winning teacher, but I know that what I value influences how I teach. As Parker Palmer wrote:

“Good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher... Then teaching can come from the depths of my own truth -- and the truth that is within my students has a chance to respond in kind."  

Not everyone is called to be a teacher. For those who are, thank you for the courage to teach and for the courage to stand up for our students.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Digital Abstract

I've been creating representational art with pastels since I started learning to express myself with the medium, for a rather functional purpose -- to de-stress while writing my dissertation. I love pastel painting but I feel it sometimes cramps my style; I want to be more loose, imaginative, expressive and create from within me.

So at times, I play with PicMonkey to turn my imagination into reality.

I took this photo with my Samsung mobile phone:

Kreher, YW, Belle Isle, 12/25/14

I like the look created by the interweaving of the branches, but the image still looked pretty bland to me. I fiddled with the colors. It looked somewhat better but did not exactly capture what my creative muse wanted me to unleash. How do I describe this force? The urge to express is powerful. If I don't find an outlet for it, I feel all bottled up and oppressed like a coil of spring.

Without a digital tablet to brush or swirl colors around the way I do with ink, I played around with layers to change the winter mood to something free-er and more expressive of how I felt at that moment, intuitively, spontaneously.

Here's what it looks like then, when I turn something authentic into abstract art. Just let your imagination lead you, from within. 

P.S. There's no formula for it.  Just play

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.