Lasagna Rolls: Thinking Outside the Lines

Never thought that I would bake lasagna in a round pan.  But, why not?

Tradition would dictate that we layer the noodles and cheese filling and sauce in a rectangular pan and then slice it up when the alchemy has achieved perfection.  But that delicious cheesy filling can slip right out and onto someone else’s serving.

Why not maximize the potential for every serving to be perfectly formed and intact?

That’s what thinking outside the lines or box is all about — daring to imagine an alternative possibility.

In this case, to think roll-up rather than layer.  Assemble the lasagna rolls by spreading the cheesy filling on each cooked noodle and roll up like a jelly roll.  Then cover with sauce and more cheese (can’t have too much cheese) and you’ll have individual servings.

Form meets function and tastes delicious!

I can’t determine the creative cook who first dared to break tradition; there are many lasagna roll recipes on the Web.  But, I can recommend Amanda’s “Something Savory” version with spinach and sundried tomatoes.  Perfect for gluten-free, vegetarian-types minus the meat and using DeBoles Rice Lasagna Noodles.   Cook the no-bake noodles first so you can roll them up, but you would have figured that out.

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Hands Off My Blog: Affirming the Right to Blog

“He’s (Mark Twain) surprisingly relevant right now . . . when you look at how much he wrote and the breadth of the subjects he wrote about, you know that if he were alive today, he would totally be a blogger” — Rebecca Fitting, Greenlight Bookstore (cited in Mark Twain Autobiography Is Flying Off the Shelves

A blogger for three months and 14 posts now, I’m ready to argue for the right to blog.  It does not begin when you’re 21 or when you finish graduate school.  It is an inalienable right, or at least, I’m sure the founding fathers would have included it by name if they’d known about it.  Jefferson would have been a great blogger, I think.  Franklin, more a tweep with his short, clever, pithy sayings.

But what if old Ben wanted to create his blog from his economical quotes.  Would his blog be graded down because it wasn’t obviously of deep, reflective, critical thinking?

Doug Peterson recently blogged about a enterprising teacher, Kim Cofino’s effort to create a blogging scope and sequence.  Inspired by Will Richardson’s description of what blogging is, this teacher is working with her colleagues to ensure that students become successful bloggers.  In the same vein, Nicole Lakusta has offered a continuum for what is blogging and what is not. As I reported in my last post on formal/informal learning, both Doug and Stephen Downes had some doubts about how blogging was being defined, pigeon-holed, and standardized.

As Ben and Moby inform us in BrainPop’s engaging video about blogging designed to introduce blogging to children, the shortest definition is that blogging is “a website written in journalistic style” and that’s there is pretty much a blog for practically anything you can think of.  And probably on topics beyond the imagination when you realize it’s been estimated that there are 112,000,000 blogs (Wikipedia).

On the evolving Blogging Scope and Sequence that Kim kindly shared, I was struck by this quote:  “Blogging is more than writing. Blogging is reading, reflecting, questioning, researching, synthesizing, linking, conversing, teaching, sharing and expressing ideas. Blogging is about writing, but blogging begins with reading”  (from K12 Learning 2.0 Wiki)


I think writing just got demoted if it’s not about “reading, reflecting, questioning, researching, synthesizing, linking, conversing, teaching, sharing and expressing ideas.” My professor in my reading methods course used to say, “We don’t read reading; we read about something.”  Well, we don’t write writing.  We write about what we experience or think about or dream of, or, yes, what we read about that sets us off to thinking and dreaming.

As you’ve probably sensed by now, I feel quite strongly about writing and its role in our learning.  I see writing as a way to be more present in the world, more successful at navigating it, and more fulfilled in being a reflexive, thoughtful person who can have a positive impact.

My dissertation was titled, “Writing Life.”  Honest.  That’s it.  Perhaps one of the shortest titles in history.  I interviewed “lifelong writers” — individuals who found that writing was more than a tool but an essential part of their existence.  These individuals varied from professional writers (novelists, journalists, researchers, screenwriters) to published poets and a diarist for over 40 years.  If I were to pursue the same study now, I would broaden my definition of writing and include those who “write” or compose in other media.  And I would, of course, interview a blogger.

Most blogging is journalistic, of the nonfiction genre.  Donald Graves in Investigate Nonfiction writes of the symbiotic nature of reading and writing and suggests a scope and sequence for learning to write nonfiction.  The beginning writer first writes what she’s thinking to herself in a diary/journal-like style.  Then the writer’s audience expands with letter writing to write to one other person.  Eventually, the audience grows as the writer is ready to write an essay and share information and/or express an opinion.  So the writer first learns to reflect and to then to expand her thinking to include an audience.

It’s interesting that one teacher tentatively suggested on Cofino’s collaborative scope and sequence that perhaps blogging really is writing:

“This might be just semantics but I wonder if this shouldn’t be a ‘Writing” scope and sequence and not a blogging one? Bloggers don’t make blogs (like artists create artwork), bloggers are writers… so maybe blogging should be part of a writing scope and sequence that includes what kids also do outside of this digital space?
(Sorry, just thinking out loud:-)”
– datruss

While another responded that blogging is a genre to itself:

“Good point but I do believe that bloggin is a genre and few know anything about so a thins a S&S is needed at this time.”  JU

I would agree with datruss and JU that blogging is a new genre of writing and that if we teach our students to write competently and confidently for a diversity of purposes and audiences that we will have prepared them well to blog.  Lest we forget that the Web is a highly visual medium, we should also realize how integral design and the visual presentation of the blog is to the message and success of the blog.  Blogs are evolving and many blogging tools are more visual now as Tumblr and Glogster or even vlogging (see John and Hank Green of the Vlog Brothers fame).  So along with writing, design is vital for preparing students to be successful communicators on the Web.

The National Council of the Teachers of English (NCTE) has recognized this evolution in progress and suggests that

“Teachers need to understand at least the following in order to be excellent at teaching composition as involving multiple media:

  • A range of new genres that have emerged with the increase in electronic communication. Because these genres are continually evolving, this knowledge must be continually updated . . . ” (NCTE’s Beliefs About the Teaching of Writing)

Cofino and others have also created blog rubrics and I responded to these in a comment on Doug’s blog:

“I’ve checked out the blog rubrics and scope and sequence and these are thoughtfully designed. I just wonder if 40 years from now that kids who are learn to blog through this model are still blogging? I interviewed a lawyer/non-profit admin [for my dissertation] who began a journal in 6th grade as a simple class assignment (no rubric – just do it) and has continued for the rest of his life. He made it a lifelong part of his being because he found value in the doing.”

And I also noted Sarah Perez’s research that found that young people today are actually blogging less.  I couldn’t help hypothesizing that “blogging’s move into the classroom as another contrived reading/writing activity could be partly to blame.”  I  worry that as we’re making blogging too school-like that we’re failing to create the conditions for students to experience the gratification that comes from thinking and sharing one’s thoughts in an electronic medium.  And I worry that a blogging scope and sequence will decrease rather than increase lifelong bloggers.

So let us as teachers create the conditions for our young bloggers to explore blogging as a way to learn and share what they are learning.  And let them do this exploration always with the freedom to experiment and discover what role blogging can play in their lives. Let blogs become sandboxes for thinking and creating.   As teachers we can serve as models of active bloggers and support our students by being “critical friends” who challenge and encourage us (much as Doug credits Stephen in his OLDaily).

I would hope that many of us teachers would balk if Dean Shareski’s recommendation for “How to Make a Better Teacher” were mandated and we were required to blog in Dean’s own image as a “reflective practitioner.”

Perhaps as we become more aware of blogging’s role in our own learning and the diversity of roles it serves for others, we’ll understand that we need not reinvent writing every time the technology changes but can teach students the essence of communicating their thoughts and how to learn to “write” (compose with text and imagery) in new spaces for new purposes for new audiences.  As “ourman” writes in this thoughtful comment to a blog exploring blogging as a genre:  “And at the end of the day the people who don’t follow the rules and find new ways to use blogs – they may well be the blog stars of tomorrow. Who is going to tell them that what they do is not really blogging.”

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If a Tree Falls . . . Hope Is Not a Strategy for Success

In a world of high tech and intelligent tools, sometimes it’s refreshing to see men depend simply on strong backs, power tools, and a little luck.  And sometimes it’s not.

I watched unbelievably as the whole neighborhood turned out to see a tree-cutting drama that threatened to take out either my beautiful oak, a neighborhood’s home, and/or numerous cars and trucks.  In a cramped neighborhood with houses barely 30 to 50 feet apart like tiny mushrooms at the foot of giant 80- to 100-foot trees, two weekend warriors tied a rope to one of the tallest trees (less than a foot from a house), attached the rope from the tree to a relatively small Catepillar loader/skidsteer, cut through the tree, and hoped for the best.

I have lived with that beautiful oak for 24 years.  Hugged it to save it from the original construction; paid big bucks for a new water line rather than cut its roots when they fractured the old; and now watched helplessly as two hopeful humans tried to use it to deflect the fall of the offending tree.  Each time the Caterpillar reared on its hind wheels under the stress of the tree’s resistance, I felt my tree groan and I imagined with all of my being that the rope would snap.  And it did.  Four times the rope snapped.

The hopeful humans repositioned the Caterpillar in hopes the offending tree would slide along the two long branches of the oak that was stubbornly supporting it.  After a couple of snaps of the rope, the tree did slide — only to be caught by a tall, thin, toothpick of a tree that refused to give it up.  That’s what you see in this pix — the offending tree in the middle with its branches wrapped tenuously around the giant toothpick.

One of the now not-so- hopeful humans was heard to say “there’s no hope” as he appraised the situation.  But hope springs eternal, so a plan was hatched to drop the giant toothpick so the offending tree would fall.  At this point, these guys had a “let’s just get it down” mentality and they proceeded as if the laws of physics never existed.

You’ll see in the video of the fiasco, that the giant toothpick did come down and freed the offending tree so it slammed to the cul-de-sac, too.

My beautiful oak still stands though there are two sizeable branches that are now known as “widowmakers” that dangle over my neighbor’s driveway.  I don’t know what else to do but hope those don’t fall earthward.

It was mega-director James Cameron who cautioned that “hope is not a strategy for success.”  I don’t know how he would have directed this scene, but I can’t help thinking that he would have planned it as thoroughly as a land and sea invasion.  He would have left nothing to chance.

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The Transparent Toaster: The Formal/Informal Learning Dilemma Heats Up

You take something that is creative and open-ended – quests, videos, blog posts, play – and because it needs to be measured, participants are given common and clearly defined ‘objectives’ to aim for. And steadily and surely the fun and creativity are squeezed out of it.   — Evaluating My Blog thread, Stephen Downes, Nov. 2010

What I’m wrestling with is the goal of blogging which I think could be very enjoyable and yet when the rules of academia are applied, it could become a chore which goes against this. — Evaluating My Blog thread, Doug Peterson, Nov. 2010

Aaaarrrrrgggghhhh! The formal/informal learning dilemma is driving me crazy, Doug. — Evaluating My Blog thread, Cris Crissman, Nov. 2010

Doug Peterson and I had what for me was an interesting tête-à-tête last week about evaluating blogging.  He shared a list of what blogging is and isn’t (from Will Richardson’s book)  that an enterprising teacher is using to develop a scope and sequence for blogging. Doug quoted Stephen Downes who had scoffed at the list and wrote:  “For the record, the things she says are not blogging, are blogging.”

Doug goes on to describe his own blogging and self-assesses as to how often he rates lower and higher on the blog scale.  He concludes by asking:  “If the goal of blogging is to start or continue the discussion, shouldn’t the level of engagement that results be the ultimate assessment tool?”

I love it when a good question brings us back around to previously-asked good question.  It’s reminiscent of the T. S. Eliot quote:   “We shall not cease from exploration.  And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started.”  We had quite an interesting discussion in PLENK2010 during Week 3, I think,  about goals/outcomes (Stephen’s OLDaily)  Both Sean and I reasoned with Stephen that the outcomes were important but they should be the students’.

But is that possible in a university course with a course curricula approved by the NCATE (National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education)?

How can an instructor reconcile the need to satisfy university requirements with the higher calling of creating the conditions for graduate students to learn the value of becoming autonomous, adaptive, and creative learners?  If we can’t break the authoritarian hold that institutions have on formal learning then how can we ever hope to stop the vicious cycle of top-down, teacher-directed, one-size-strangles-all education?  We need a new virtuous cycle of teachers experiencing network learning in all of its glory of autonomy, adaptability, creativity, and collaboration so that they can pass along that model to their students.

This is where the transparent toaster comes in.  If you check out the description of the transparent toaster, you’ll see that it’s an innovation complete but for the simple complication that “at this time, it isn’t fully functional, but they’re working on it.”  That’s how I feel about the formal course design that captures the attributes of informal learning.  You know, the OOCC (open online) credit course.  Or is that an oxymoron?

PLENK 2010 guest speaker, Maria Andersen, proposed a fascinating alternative education system called Socrait with an expanding series of questions to guide learning and accreditation for that learning.   Rather than questions, I’d like to see ePortfolios or an better term, dossiers, that are developed according to the learner’s specs.  Individuals would grow up with formal learning’s responsibility to ensure that they have a successful PLE that they are continually evolving.  In some ways, assessing someone’s success at using her PLE to learn and create would be more effective than standardized testing of content knowledge.  When a learner wants to learn something, they propose a course of study under the mentorship of a learning professional.  The learner adds the resources, tools, communities, networks (Scott Wilson’s definition of PLE) necessary to be successful and blogs throughout the process so further mentoring and input from her PLE is possible.  Then the learning project culminates with the production of an artifact.  The learner self-assesses her learning according to her outcomes and the fortuitous unanticipated learning along the journey.  Then the artifact is shared with the network and becomes a permanent part of the dossier.

In our PLENK 2010 session with Sebastian Fiedler, Stephen asked for a definition of autonomy and several of us agreed that the PhD should be the model of the autonomous learner.  My transparent toaster or formal/informal learning plan  sounds a lot like Lisa Chamberlain’s open PhD or one considered by Leigh Blackall.  I learned of Blackall’s concept when Dave Cormier (Nov. 5, 2010) tweeted: “Seriously considering hopping on the @leighblackall open PhD bus. might provide much needed focus to my work.”

Just read scandalously enlightening “The Shadow Scholar” and how an obviously talented young writer was turned away by his university when he suggested an independent study to help him edit and publish a novel he had written.  Count him as one would-be autonomous learner squashed by the system.  He may have gone on to become a successful novelist rather than an “academic mercenary” paid to help students cheat.

The transparent toaster also works as a metaphor for how teachers can’t seem to trust that students are learning if we can’t watch the process.  There’s much to be said for formative assessment and the wise teacher would build in opportunities for student reflection and mentoring but we shouldn’t feel that we must always direct the learning process and keep close reigns on it.  We are talking about creating autonomous learners and we may not see evidence of their success until they’ve worked through the process to share artifacts of their learning.  Mentoring is the most exciting aspect of my teaching and learning to be a patient, nurturing mentor a lifelong quest.

I’m grappling with evolving my online/inworld course in learning through literature with young adults for the spring semester. The most recent designed courses at our university utilize Moodle only as a home base, a launching pad (as Steve suggests), from which a variety of Web 2.0/social media tools are used. It’s true that these are instructor-chosen tools though (JG Chesney raised this interesting question in the Week 9 PLENK discussion) — selected because they best enable the course design elements to succeed as the instructor imagines. We’ve actually shared this model in a presentation archived online — The Zen Garden Approach to Course Design: Creating Balance Through Social Media and the accompanying wiki (Presentation was made in Second Life which afforded some cool set design and costuming).

PLENK 2010 is helping me see possibilities for creating the conditions for my students to more fully develop their PLEs within the context of learning about young adult literature. It will be a real balancing act, but I hope to provide a basic structure with only the Moodle required for one-time check-in and a simple wiki as a home base. All of the other tools, except for an occasional communal VoiceThread and our YouTube bookcast channel will be personal choice. I hope to pull students into Twitter (and avoid Glen’s “creepy treehouse effect”) but will attempt to accomplish it much as I was pulled in through PLENK 2010. Now I have “Twitty-fits” on a regular basis and just got retweeted by the BBC (huge fan so big rush) so I’m hooked.

We also discussed in the Week 10 PLENK Elluminate session with Sebastian Fiedler that both students and teachers who push the boundaries of the institution’s limits on autonomy may feel some “shocks.”  Learning and teaching at their best have always been subversive activities and it may well be that the real change comes in the aftershocks once the original big rumble is heard and felt.

Next post:  More on the right to blog . . .

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My “Tool of Everything” — the E8

“. . . our universe is a growing E8 coral with particles interacting at every location in all possible ways according to a beautiful pattern.”  Garrett Lisi, TED 2008

E8 Polytope (Wikipedia)

My Personal Knowledge Environment is evolving faster than my Personal Knowledge Management system.

PLENK 2010 gave me a network of learners with whom I could try out new tools and test my wings.  What I learned about a Personal Learning Environment is that I need tools and resources to help me function successfully online in what Wilson (2008) describes in these five ways:

1.      connect with other professionals – tools/resources/ ideas

2.     communicate/collaborate

3.     create/express

4.     manage

5.     curate

I would also suggest that a sixth, to synthesize.  I have not experienced such a constant and turgid flow of information since my dissertation research and writing and it seems to me that strategies for synthesizing through reflection are vital.

When I asked for the “tool of everything” to help me synthesize in a PLENK 2010 session (Facilitator Session, October 29, 2010, Session Six archived), Stephen described an uber-tool and George later described in a forum that he and colleagues are working on a tool that would help learners filter and prune massive amounts of information coming from numerous sources.  George later wrote in the discussion form: “Currently, if you want to track PLENK, you need to use numerous different tools: twitter search, Google alerts, blog search, the daily, grsshopper, etc. And, once you’re using the tools, they don’t “learn from you”. That’s not right. Software systems should learn from our interactions, rather than only aggregate and send information.”  It is a very exciting time to think of what new tool is on the horizon to support our learning within massive, complex networks.

Years ago I remember seeing a scientist with a camera attached to his forehead so he could record all that he sees and hears.  This could be the ultimate memory tool for you’ve have no trouble “remembering” all that you experienced – or would you?  Wouldn’t you need to also be recording your internal responses as you experienced everything?  And, what kind of curating would you need to do to ever find the connections that you wanted to review and reflect upon?

The Wikipedia definition for cyborg – “the term is also used to address human-technology mixtures in the abstract. This includes artifacts that may not popularly be considered technology; for example, pen and paper, and speech and language. Augmented with these technologies, and connected in communication with people in other times and places, a person becomes capable of much more than they were before.”

I think I’m asking for the next evolution of cyborg that takes my internal thoughts that I record using computer technology and stores them with those of others that I’ve selected to give me a quantum leap in making those “with particles at any location interacting in every possible way” to explain that “all possibilities are expanding and developing at once (Lisi at TED 2008).

I have come up with some specs for this tool of everything:

E1 — Inclusive online-offline repository
“enables me to be online/offline, in my head in my screen” (My comment recorded in Stephen’s notes of October 29th Facilitators’ Session).

I had seen MindMeister around the MOOC but had not really taken it seriously until Glen (Convivality Corners, September 23, 2010, ) shared one in a Second Life session and spoke of how he had even used it in presentations.  I remember commenting that it seemed like a simple Prezi, a snazzy tool that I would never be coordinated enough to use.  But place a MindMeister map on an iPad and then use the magic fingers routine to float, enlarge, reveal, and vanish and the results could be described my fave Arthur C. Clarke quote:  “Technology sufficiently advanced to be useful is indistinguishable from magic.”

Besides the showmanship, the other purely magical part of MindMeister is the ease that you can synch your desktop and iPad versions with the Web and vice versa.  Why can’t Google Docs do this?  Is there a text-based program that does this as well as MindMeister?  I could foresee a new era of productivity for me if I could synch whatever I write on my desktop to the Web so not only would everything be backed up remotely but I could access it from everywhere.  Wasn’t that Tim Berners Lee’s motivation for inventing the Web?

E2 — Searching all at once
“the pedagogy of propinquity” (Convivality Corners, October , 2010)

Glen wrote a classic piece defining the pedagogy of propinquity as “the study of learning that happens along the way to learning other things” (Gatin, 2010, October 15) When I review my Diigo, Zotero, RSS feeds, Evernote, Google Docs weekly notes for PLENK 2010, desktop notes, handwritten notes on readings, everyday handwritten log, and my “to think” list (thank you, Dalit) to search for the idea that I need to make the perfect connection, it’s hit or miss and most often miss.  I have plenty of opportunities to learn other things but may never succeed in making the connections that I’d hoped to. I have a photographic mind to a point and can recreate a mental image of where the text, diagram appeared (upper left corner of page, etc.) and that use to work great for books but isn’t so useful for the Web.

A value of being able to sync everything I write to the Web and have all of my links saved within one tool would be that I could easily search everything at once to find what I need.

E3 — Mind mapping
“In quantum physics, everything that can happen does. All possibilities are realized” – Garrett Lisi, TED 2008

My uber-tool would help me see more possibilities rather than those I can hold in my mind because I have limited short-term memory or poor strategies for keeping related resources in my mind and close enough to retrieve to add to the mix. – (My Ocober 31 response to Stephen’s Notes from the PLENK 2010 Oct. 29 Elluminate session)

And if I could search everything at once, wouldn’t it be amazing to be able to create a mind map as I go that helps me “see” my connections and begin to move them around to create a logical flow for my argument?  Or another argument that arises from being able to see these ideas in proximity or propinquity.

E4 — Teaching my tool
“And, once you’re using the tools, they don’t “learn from you”. That’s not right.” George in the infamous “What are your questions” discussion in PLENK 2010 Week 8

The tool of everything would be intelligent enough, as George describes, to “learn from me” and auto-tag the resources not only with key words but with categories that it’s learned from me.

E5 — My Memes
“ . . . power of metaphors and analogies to affect one’s view on the world, ability to make predictions, generate expectancy, and solve problems (Klein, 1998, Chaper 12).

I’d like for this tool to give me not only the obvious tags but let me preload tags that it would use to create categories of related resources.  For example, “metaphor” would be an important tag for me as I am fascinated by how we use story and metaphor to learn.  So even though Klein’s book might not surface in a search for “stories and metaphors,” if this tool had my pre-selected tags then it could search and connect Klein’s book to this category.

E6 — “Read and synch later” function
“Is it [synchronicity] only, as skeptics suggest, selective perception and the law of averages playing itself out?  Or is it, as Carl Jung believed, a glimpse into the underlying order of the universe?  He coined the term synchronicity to describe what he called the “acausal connecting principle” that links mind and matter (Lundstrom, 1966).

There are way too many instances of synchronicity or “glimpses of the order of the universe” on the Web and there’s no time to pursue them.  So, of course, I need a “read later” function.  Then I can file a new source that I’ve no time to read and see that it’s auto-tagged and ready to study for connections.

E7 — Web writing
“Chance favors the connected mind” — Steven Johnson, TED, 2020, July

Imagine the time I would save if I could trust composing online and creating my links as I sprinted or trudged through the piece.  Having lost way too many online comments, I now compose in Word and continuously return to the Web to copy urls to duefully paste in my Word document.  If I could compose on the Web then I could simply make the links, hopefully, in a simple one-step process, and avoid the linking process when I take the completed piece online.  But I of little faith will not dare to compose on the Web unless I can synch to my desktop.

E8 — Sharing my collection
Meme – “a self-replicating unit of transmission – in the case of biological evolution, the gene” (Wikipedia definition of meme)

Finally, I’d like, but, of course, to be able to share my lifelong collection of ideas and resources with whom I choose.  A mind meld, perhaps?

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Reaching into the Future

“I have expectations when I write.”  — Melina Marchetta, author

I’ve grappled with the question of goals and outcomes that came up a few weeks ago.  It seems a logical progression to begin with outcomes, decide how those outcomes will be measured, then what activities/experiences will be provided, and finally, actually follow-through with the assessments.  But it seems too logical, too tidy for an open course or at least a graduate course that I hope to open up.  How can such tidiness come from a purposefully ambiguous learning experience?

Stephen’s city tour in response to my grappling out loud during Friday’s Elluminate session was a breakthrough because I think that now I can devise a way to open up my outcomes so they leave the space for students to move in and make them their own.

I’ve always admired Mary Catherine Bateson’s lovely metaphor of “composing a life” and I think in the act of composing that we both plan and improvise.  That’s how my course actually is and I want to make that clear upfront to students.

So inspired by Bateson’s composing metaphor, I’ll borrow author Marchetta’s term “expectations” to describe what I hope the course will enable students to learn with enough space that they can improvise to learn what’s really vital to them.

In a way having expectations gives us the ability to see or reach into the future.  In a startling study (thanks CJ for the tweet), Bem (2010) has found that people can both reflect on the past while anticipating the future.  Called the psi phenomena, the idea is that you can prime subjects to predict future events.   The experiments are simple with images and words presented in sequences that demonstrate that people can pick up on patterns and use those to subconsciously make predictions.

I particularly appreciated this finding – “ . . .people high in stimulus seeking – an aspect of extraversion where people respond more favorably to novel stimuli – showed effect sizes nearly twice the size of the average person. This suggests that some people are more sensitive to psi effects than others” (Bem, 2010).

I’d like to think that people who thrive in an open course are those who are “high in stimulus seeking” and that I can model that and provide the space and time for students to take a purposeful tour  begun with expectations but with an itinerary that invites exploration.

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Creating Theory

“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things [read “theories”] before breakfast” — Lewis Carroll, 1872, Through the Looking Glass

Simply defined, “a theory is a conceptual model of how the world works . . .” (Hunter-Gatherer Wiki, Anthropology Dept. Ohio State).

Granted for a theory to have legs and move beyond personal to universal that it must meet the criteria that George identified in the Oct. 8th Elluminate session, Week 4 Theories — “descriptive, predictive, and generalizable.”

In education, we have a plethora of universal learning theories – over sixty listed in TIP (Theories into Practice).

Some like Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow (btw which needs to be added to TIP) or Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences have been embraced by generations of educators.  But if you prick the skin of both, you’ll see that these theories bleed Constructivist/Connectivism (I’m opting for both-and) for it is the learner who is in charge of her learning when she is totally engrossed in a Flow experience or learning in a mode that seems most successful for her.

Constructivism and Connectivism are theories of how the world learns.  I’d call them among the “theories of everything,” theories that represent a world view and undergird or support other more specialized or focused theories like Flow and MI.

Other “theories of everything” include those that seem to be fading in relevance, behavioralism and cognitivism.  I agree with John who mentioned in a comment on Jenny’s blog that as we learn more about how the brain works and as our brains are evolving in this digital age (we shape our technology and it in turn shapes us) that research is casting more light on how we really learn. Pink’s book Drive shares research on motivation and rewards that brings much of Behaviorism into question.

My theory of learning is that we each espouse a “theory of everything” to which we connect or link additional theories that relate to various areas/types of learning including disciplinary learning.  So we all have a personal theory of learning that guides our own learning and our teaching. It becomes a lens through which we view and choose to embrace or reject new theories.

I think that we often mash-up theories to create hybrids that reflect our Personal Learning Theories (PLTs).  That’s where part of the creativity and innovation of teaching comes from.  A good example is Alberta high school English teacher Derek Keenan’s response to Vygotsky’s ZPD Zone of Proximal Development theory.  I admire the way that Derek used a tantalizing (and potentially maddening) variation on the age-old “Paper, Scissors, Rock” game now “Paper, Scissors, Rock, Lizard, Spock” to help his classmates experience the theory.

Developing PLTs is vital in teacher education.  I like to guide my students in creating their own PLTs and potentially their own theories that can be generalizable and contribute to the larger good.  One tech-mediated successful way is through a collaborative critical inquiry on learning, literacy, and literature theories.  This is our first collaborative critical inquiry and it takes place right after our week of orientation and getting acquainted.  Everyone by this time has written a brief reflection on their literacy journey and shared any particularly relevant theories that lit their way.  I simply request that each one shares a two-minute podcast on their theory in Wave 1 of the VoiceThread, listens and makes connections to the other theories in Wave 2, and pulls it all together in a beginning PLT in Wave 3.

(Sorry, embed won’t work in WordPress but here’s the link . . .).

Theories include: Creativity; Critical Literacy., Constructivism; Dual Coding; Engagement; Feminism; Information Literacy; Multiple Intelligences; Participatory Learning; Reader Response; Schema; Social Constructivism

Payoff for me is when I see young pre- or inservice teachers begin to create theory because they have been given permission and encouragement to play with theories.  An interesting phenomenon is that those students who create theory in their action learning projects are also those that earn A+.  And it makes sense because those are the ones who are truly thinking creatively and critically in response to the literature and research they are reading.  The ones who are engaging in conversation with others (be they “dead white men” or another teacher on the west coast of Canada) and making connections to create something new and different inspired by their specific context.

Examples include Lara’s exploration of Reader Response theory and her evolving theory that readers need not have a positive response to literature to be prompted to think critically and creatively about it or Michael’s theory that middle school students will find engaging with the career potential of fictional characters from young adult literature will somehow free them up to more possibilities for their own.  And Angela’s theory that the synergy generated by a class of high school students’ responses to Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak can result in a school-wide effort to spotlight teen depression and ways to help.

I agree with Jenny that we shouldn’t “throw the baby out with the bathwater” when it comes to using theories to guide our learning and teaching but I do think that we need to use our PLEs to inform our PLTs so that we are constantly updating our understanding of how the world learns.

Can the concept of Personal Learning Theory (Dalit was first to bring this term up in the Theories conversation) serve a useful purpose?

In the Elluminate discussion on PLTs, two comments are light-emitting for me:

Glen: @cris2bWhen you examine a number of PLTs you should be able to detect larger patterns and generate a more generalizable theory.

Moderator (Stephen Downes): We all create theories – the creation of social knowledge is the conversion [later corrected to convergence] of those theories

Just in these three action learning projects and the theories behind the projects I can generalize that Lara, Michael, and Angela see literature as a way to connect with self and with others to start a conversation that maybe changes a life and possibly the world.  I do see their personal learning theories converging and can connect it to well-known English teachers who have used literature to encourage their students to change the world – Eliot Wigginton of Foxfire fame and Erin Gruwell of The Freedom Writers fame.

Finally, we all do create theories and when there is a convergence of PLTs then Stephen says there must be a strange attractor.  If an attractor can be described as “strange” because the dynamics on it are chaotic” then I can see why PLENK 2010 may be encouraging a convergence of PLTs.

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