Tag Archives: innovation

Considering the Power of Pull and Other Ideas

Before too many weeks pass (if only there were 48 hours in every day!) in the MIT #MediaLabCourse I wanted to write up a few scattered reflections on the topic of Interest-Based Learning.

I really enjoyed one of the recommended resources for this topic, Joi Ito’s Keynote to Open Educational Resources and many of the ideas he shared prompted me to think more deeply about education today.

He spoke about the “power of pull” (written about in this book), which I found intriguing. The idea is that people should avoid stocking up on resources and power and instead wait to “pull” on those things until you need them. This seems fairly contrary to much of American schooling, where students are told to “stock up” on a wide variety of knowledge, some of which they won’t use or apply for years to come (if they ever use it at all). Papert describes it nicely when he says “Many react badly to school because its emphasis on memorizing facts and acquiring skills that cannot be put to use is like a prison for a mind that wants to fly.” For example, why do we have students memorize states or countries if they’re not going to be traveling or needing that knowledge sometime soon? Before I travel to a new place, I tend to acquire and pick up a huge amount of information because I want/need to know it. I also feel like I retain more of the information when I learn it in that context because the knowledge holds more value and relevance and can be connected to my experiences.

At the same time, having attended a liberal arts institute for my undergraduate education, I can see the value of learning things that are broader than a specific unit of study or career track. Maybe part of the distinction between what’s meaningful and relevant comes with choice. When I have the ability to choose which courses I would like to join based on what intrigues or interests me, the learning inherently feels more relevant and exciting. When children are told what to stock up on and study, we create students like “Michael” who are labeled as needing special education and not successful in school even though Papert discovered he was primed to engage in mathematical thinking and engineering when he could direct his own learning and discovery.

And then there’s the idea of distributed innovation and the ability to create something amazing and powerful (e.g., the Internet) by bringing together little pieces of knowledge, skill, and talent from many different people around the world. Does that require a diversity of knowledge within each person, or just a diversity of knowledge among many? As Joi explains, the Internet has also been produced and continues to thrive due to a unique spirit where people work together, share and build new tools and sites for the sake of creation. They are motivated by the momentum created by sharing and the incentive of getting to create something. Via the Internet and technology, we are able to pull together amazing teams of people who together have more expertise than could have been assembled in any other way because the people are brought together not by money or a single organization/recruiter but by an intrinsic desire to collaborate, learn, and make something meaningful.

How can we create a similar momentum in schools? Is something missing from our current equation and if so, what is it? To me, it seems the learning-by-building or doing piece is a huge component that schools continue to avoid. Students are often not allowed to express their creative abilities and feel intrinsically motivated to collaborate and make something meaningful because we hold them back from open-ended creation. We don’t  want to “waste” too much time in the act of making or engaging in student-inspired projects that are not in the curriculum and we’re busy trying to meet set standards, which (at times) can mean every child has to do the same thing.

What if, instead, we could allow for the “rough consensus” that Joi speaks about? What if schools created a rough model of their curriculum and then constantly built upon it each year, continuing to change and develop it as an iterative guide for teachers and students but one that is responsive to individual classes’ interests and passions. Instead of trying to plan every lesson before teachers meet their students or having teacher feel unprepared because the week is not planned out minute by minute, classes could become more resilient by being able (and encouraged) to shift and adapt to changing needs and goals.


cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Krissy.Venosdale

Sometimes I like to imagine a classroom where everyone celebrates diversity and interdisciplinary work, a place where students are “aggressively creative” as Joi describes the MIT Media Lab and students are pushed to think for themselves and even question authority. Instead of learning that school is a place to focus and ignore the periphery – those new ideas just starting to take shape on the boundaries of a new unit or or those collaborations between home/school/community that have tentatively taken shape – students and teachers are asked to embrace them. One of the challenges of cMOOCs seems to be that people can feel overwhelmed and even shut down when faced with such an open model of learning where they decide their own goals, pace, and instruction. If our classrooms where more allowing of community learning, each student named as a teacher as well as a learner, and there was constant serendipitous creation of new ideas and projects, would cMOOCs be such a difficult learning environment?

I’m left wondering and imagining and most recently, thinking about constructing powerful ideas. Are there any in the mix in this post? Are there ideas that I have begun to ignore as those ideas have become disempowered in schools and education?

Bringing Stories to Life – Digitally!

ds tools

Last week, I spent the majority of my #etmooc time trying new digital storytelling tools (GIFs, Flip Books, Visual Poetry5 Card Flickr) and posting about my explorations and learnings. This week, I wanted to hold off testing more tools (PopcornMaker, Inklewriter & Stop Motion are high on my list!) so I could take time to reflect on the concept of digital storytelling and consider the value of it in the classroom.

Over the past few years, as I’ve learned of new tools and experimented with ways to engage children and adult learners in digital storytelling, I have been impressed with the depth of expression I have seen. Digital storytelling seems to break down barriers (e.g., fears, time concerns, language) that often prevent people from engaging in tech use. Once people see how easy a tool like Voicethread or Storybird can be to use, they are excited to tell their own stories and to collaborate with others in creating.

I think our motivation for connectedness and the inherently personal nature of stories is why I find digital storytelling so powerful. Everyone has a story to tell and I love providing my students and teachers with tools to bring those stories to life.

Last week, when I was experimenting with different tools, I was caught up in the excitement and natural engagement that comes from active learning and discovery and the knowledge that I had the power to create and share something with the world. It’s empowering to have that “I can do this” moment and to be able to add a new tool to your toolbox, one that is fun to use and allows you to convey a story in just the right way (whether that’s through visuals, audio, text, or some combination).  I want all of my students to have those moments and realize that there is a large array of tools they can use to share their stories and they don’t all have to choose the same one.

As I thought about my explorations last week, I realized that another important factor motivating me to create and share was the knowledge that I was part of a community that was listening. I had an authentic audience that was waiting for stories just like mine and I was able to visit that community at any point to ask questions, find support, and learn from the stories everyone else was telling. I want to reflect more on the how valuable it is for our students to know they have an online community who is listening to them and willing to read their work and hear their stories. How can we cultivate that community for and with them? Certainly sites like Edmodo and hashtags like #Comments4Kids help but how can we ensure that our students aren’t sending meaningful projects and stories out into a silent and empty online space?

The benefits of incorporating digital storytelling in the classroom seem clear to me:

  • Learn how to communicate/tell stories through different media (e.g., video, dictation, writing, pictures)
  • Examine the value of different types of stories and storytelling methods (e.g., poetry, short stories, six word stories, picture stories)
  • Build an understanding of technology as a tool to create and tell stories
  • Provide opportunities for students to collaborate on stories
  • Explore the ability to tell the same story in a variety of ways
  • Identify ways that culture and context can affect a story and ways of telling a story
  • Practice creating stories to teach an idea or new concept to others
  • Gain comfort using, mixing, and re-mixing content and digital tools to create stories

I’m sure there are more but these seem like some of the core skills and understandings that can be acquired by incorporating digital storytelling in the classroom. They connect with the 21st Century Skills of communication and collaboration, creativity and innovation, and critical thinking. These are also skills that will be valuable as students grow older and need to tell stories on college applications or to their employers. When you pitch a new product or propose a new scientific investigation, aren’t you telling a story? The more I think about it, the more invaluable (digital) storytelling seems to become given how much of our lives we spend telling stories, in one form or another.

With that in mind, I want to re-examine my own curriculum and consider how digital stories are already being incorporated and if there are more/better ways to integrate them into our classrooms. We have already created a number of digital stories this year but I want to keep pushing myself and my students’ to continue discovering, experimenting with, creating, and sharing digital stories. How are you using digital storytelling in education? 

Elmo Loves You - A Valentine Digital Story

A Digital Valentine Story

Image Credit: Sesame Street