A while back I was asked to write a blog post for the TLITE blog about my experiences leading a class of grade 9 students through a Global Collaborative Project called the Digiteen Project. This post has been bouncing around in my head for a while and in the process has taken a slightly different trajectory than I had originally intended. The reason is that while this project was definitely worthwhile for my students I think that the process of facilitating the project was even more worthwhile for me. In particular it exposed me to new web 2.0 tools in safe and supported environment and it jump started my Personal Learning Network to an entirely new level.
Being involved in the Digiteen project gave me insight into what classroom 2.0 looks like. I could not have gotten this insight without being involved in the nitty gritty of this project and finding solutions to the frustrations and stresses that emerged. The Digiteen project forced me to stop being a passive consumer of content and to start participating in the conversation and that has been a powerful shift not only in what I am learning but in how I am learning. As David Warlick recently wrote:
Retooling our classrooms into rich and dynamic learning environments will not be something that you can learn how to do in a workshop. It’s something that will happen through continued creativity, conversations, sharing, experimenting, reporting, and more conversations.
In my opinion taking the plunge and participating in a Global Collaborative Project is one of the best ways I can think of to truly understand the way that web 2.0 tools are transforming the learning opportunities available to us and our students. In this post my goal is to give ‘legs’ to this assertion by describing the different opportunities and transformative moments that occured for me during the Digiteen project.
My participation in this project started when I registered with the Flat Classroom Ning. I had recently read Thomas Friedman’s book and was interested in seeing what this project was all about. Almost immediately I received a message from Julie Lindsay asking if I was interested in the Digiteen project. I couldn’t believe it. I was getting a message from someone that was profiled in The World is Flat! Of course I jumped at the chance. I didn’t hear from Julie for a little while about the project and one day I was playing around with Twitter (which I really didn’t understand) and I noticed that I could direct message Vicki Davis, the co-founder of the Digiteen project, so I did. And she answered almost immediately wondering whether I was interested in helping to edit their Code of Conduct Google Doc. I use Google Docs in my classroom but this was the first time I actually had a chance to use it as a collaboration tool with people from all over the world.
This was my first introduction to the amazing community of educators that are exploring the possibilities of teaching with web 2.0 tools. I realised that all I needed in order to get involved was enthusiasm for this kind of learning and a willingness to try new things.
Trying to get all my students registered on the Ning and Wiki
I felt like I had this all under control. After all I already belonged to a few Nings and had even started my own Ning (with me as the only member). I had also been using Wikispaces for a while so felt comfortable with the way it worked. What I hadn’t counted on were the countless difficulties inherent in trying to register an entire class of students for these services. Not only did I have to figure out how to make linked gmail addresses for all my students so that I could register them, but then I had to figure out how to keep track of all the invites arriving in my mailbox and then I had to get each student to register their unique name and password. Then I had to try and hold it together when they would come to me the next day to tell me they had forgotten their password. This took a while and it was messy but by the time the dust settled I certainly understood these applications on a whole different level.
Throughout this process all the teachers involved in this project communicated almost exclusively through our Google Group. I was really impressed with this simple tool that allowed many threaded conversations to take place in an asynchronous way. I wasn’t the only teacher struggling to get everyone online and we all tried to help each other through this Group.
First Elluminate Meeting
I was quite concerned about this one. The first challenge was to figure out what time it was in BC so that I could be online for a meeting that happened at EST (which I hoped was eastern standard time). I eventually became quite adept at using timezoneconverter.com to quickly figure out if I could make the meeting. I did my due diligence and tested out Elluminate before the meeting. In fact I couldn’t make the first meeting so listened to a recording instead (a great feature of Elluminate). When the time came for my first real synchronous online meeting I logged in and sure enough there were other people there, but when I was asked to speak no one could hear me! Turns out I had to configure my mic and the other teachers guided me through this procedure using the chat feature built into Elluminate. Once everything was working I had to figure out this thing called a ‘back channel chat’, that has become a staple of the web 2.0 world. Trying to listen to the conversation going on, follow the chat and click on the links being offered ALL AT THE SAME TIME was mind boggling, but it got easier with practice.
I had known of Elluminate for a while. I had even visited their table at a conference and collected their materials a few years back, but I had never actually used it. Being introduced to it by teachers that use it every day and with a reason and purpose was much more educational and meaningful than if I had just been playing around with it.
First attempt at reasoning in a Chat Room and starting a Discussion Thread
I have already blogged about this experience so for the full version of these events read my Digi Teen Stories post. The short version is that shortly after getting my students on this Ning I came across some inappropriate chat in the chat room. My first reaction was to delete the chat but then the teacher in me decided I had stumbled across a teachable moment, so I joined the chat. Trying to convey complex reasoning and arguments in a chat room environment was incredibly frustrating and really illustrated for me the limitations of this particular form of communication. I eventually resorted to starting a discussion thread on the topic of Digital Etiquette and was amazed at the quality and quantity of thoughtful replies I recieved. It was really my first ever meaningful online discussion.
I could go on and on and on about the different experiences both I and my students had on the Ning. I think the point is that by really engaging in a Social Network with my students I started to understand both the power and pitfalls of these spaces and how they could be used in education. Some of the thinking inspired by these experiences can be found in my blog posts on: Obama, Social Networking, and Digiteen and Digiteen Experiences in the Nearly Now.
First Blog Post commented on by people from around the world
Finally, by taking the plunge and committing to this project I was having experiences that I felt like writing about. I had started a blog a few months before but hadn’t felt very motivated to write anything. After all the blogosphere was already full of people writing about everything I was interested in. When Vicki Davis asked me to write a blog post about my Digiteen experiences I realised that I actually did have something to contribute. The really neat part was that by being a part of a Global Collaborative Project I already had a small network of colleagues that read my post and wrote thoughtful comments on it, which motivated me to keep on writing.
I think that the lesson here is that if you can build up a small network of peers interested in the same stuff before you blog then you start with a small audience already, and if you know that a few people are actually reading what you write you are much more motivated to continue.
I plan on staying involved with the Digiteen project for the long haul. I think it has really great potential as a model for how we can really teach our students about Digital Citizenship. There will be a new project starting in April, feel free to contact me through this blog if you are interested in participating.