Post-Modern Me

I keep running into the term post-modernism and I think it applies to us all.  Life as a 21st century educator (building a PLN, participating in Web 2.0, and constantly striving toward best practices of learning in global participatory digital culture) is a fascinating, yet paradoxical adventure. We now live in an era of metaliteracy, metadata, and perhaps “metalife”.   We no longer plant, harvest, and cook our food, like The Little Red Hen, because we enjoy our modern conveniences.  Yet, we are busier than ever “growing” our networks and “creating/curating” our content.

 

What powerful tools we have to connect on a global scale!  I have colleagues in Greece, Australia, Great Britain and all over the globe.  Some have actual met me physically and some have not.  Does it matter?  In a long ago era (think prior to the Internet), it mattered.  To meet someone meant to look into their eyes, to see the lines of age and experience or the wide-eyed innocence of youth.  That meeting was the opportunity to get a sense of one’s physical presence.  But today, perhaps the digital presence supercedes the physical one.  As digital devices have become top priority for communication, our metaselves have become “us”.  I don’t mean to sound like a dark futurist or a stuffy academic philosopher.  Maybe I am just a rambling librarian who wants to hang onto something physical like a book (and you can read tons of articles about why you would want to!  Ebooks are never really owned- only licensed temporarily).

 

What is interesting is how we pick and choose our personal/professional learning networks (or our online communities for those outside of education) as though we are critically evaluating people as data.  A century ago, the number of people we encountered, whether brilliant, annoying, or comical, was limited.  Today, we have a flood of information and a flood participants in our incoming stream of networked applications. Today, we can not only curate and critically evaluate information topics, we can curate the people who share the content.

 

I do think we need to remember one thing.  People are more important than data.  Behind these words, your words, your online curation, your tweets, and behind every keyboard- is a person.  A living person is more than algorithms of interests, more than big data.  Maybe, if I take a break and breathe deeply, I will allow serendipity to occur and life to be simply lived.  To be alive is miraculous and the funny thing is… just when I think I am grasping the concept of post-modernism- I learn that post-modernism is over.  We are entering post– post-modernism.  That doesn’t scare me.  I am getting used to not understanding life.
scoopit
 

 

 

In Praise of Gatekeepers

 

Now that we live in 21st century “participatory” digital culture, daily life begins (for most of us) with logging in to our digital devices.  I float amongst phone, tablet, laptop, and desktop throughout the day whether at home, on the go, or in the library where I work. We live with a constant stream of incoming information, a blur of personal and professional content flooding the many accounts we juggle (emails, social media, content curation, and apps galore).

A decade ago, I ran into Michael Wesch’s Information R/evolution at the exact time I was personally experiencing my role as a librarian turned upside down due to the toppling of the information hierarchy. During that year or so, I began devouring new media formats and began my exploration of virtual worlds as a mode of communication and education for the future.  As a school librarian, I could imagine the floor of my library shaking under my feet because I knew nothing would ever be the same: ebooks, apps, and user-generated content were about to explode.  And they did. 

For over a decade, I have spent my life exploring and examining the evolution of information literacy. Today, I revisited Wesch’s video because I remembered his closing line stating, “the responsibility is on us. Are we ready?”  I don’t really believe many people were/are ready.  In fact, I am starting to think perhaps the role of gatekeepers was not all bad.  So, I googled “Michael Wesch” and “gatekeepers” which led me to his digital ethnography class and his presentation to the Library of Congress on the topic of researching Youtube. The ability to share our lives across the globe has created a networked culture and a personal responsibility for consumption and production of media.

This exemplifies my point because in the days before the toppled hierarchy, one could have a critical inquiry and set a course toward a satisfactory resolution- either an answer, an expert,or a realization that the question has been contemplated and unresolved for centuries.  Today, without gatekeepers, there is no resolution to our questions as the path never ends.  There is simply a constant hyperlinked unending quest with flashing neon lights compelling us to take a turn.  The default setting of our minds is the state of distraction.

Perhaps we still need gatekeepers (librarians, publishers, experts, journalists, academic peer review, etc), to help us navigate through the sea of disposable media. Wesch is right– it is up to us now.  There is no perceived metaphorical card catalog full of answers.  The idea of a shared body of literature which the “cultured” young mind should embrace is out-of-date because current viral videos, remixed in hopes of creating a spotlighted meme has become more valued than the slow road to research, refined art or edification. When popularity (followers, friends, and a perceived online image) is regarded as the achievement of success, the journey toward wisdom is out-dated. 

The Internet, as seen in Wesch’s video, is created by us all- without gatekeepers. At this point in history, I think we still need them.  Anyone today can upload content, be a photographer, a journalist, or a content curator.  But, only some of us are trained (or gifted) to do it well. Let’s give a tip of the hat to the gatekeepers, the lifeguards in the sea of chaos.

Virtual Visits with Authors & Illustrators in the School Library

Digital participatory culture provides us with opportunities to collaborate and communicate across the globe. For the past four years, I have been Skyping authors in my school library with 4th grade students. I am amazed at the willingness of authors to share their time and talent with my students.

This year, I asked both the author and illustrator of Giants Beware to virtually visit with my students. The author, Jorge Aguirre, and the illustrator, Rafael Rosado, were willing to share the process of collaborating on their graphic novel which has been nominated for the Texas Bluebonnet Award (a state award for books chosen by students).

Students asked interesting questions while Rosado created a live graphic picture on his iPad , signed and dated it, then emailed it to me immediately after the session. We decided to use Google Hangouts this year because we wanted all three of us to share live video (which is free and easy on Google Hangouts). My school library is in Texas, Aguirre lives in New Jersey, and Rosado lives in Ohio.  A LIVE virtual visit across the U.S. was exciting for the students and a great example of global participatory digital culture.

 

Prep for a Twitter Chat on Digital Literacy

When asked to host a live twitter chat for the Texas Educators Chat @txeduchat on Dec. 1, 2013 from 8-9pm Central Time, I immediately thought of “Information Literacy in Participatory Digital Culture with a Focus on Youth and 21st Century Learning”. Of course, that topic was way too long for a tweet, so it was shortened to digital literacy (hashtag #digilit). Condensing our thoughts and words may appear easy (140 characters can be read fast) but it actually can be challenging. One of the most powerful online tools I have found for developing a professional learning network is twitter- once you get the hang of it.

The word most difficult to cut from my initial long topic phrase was “participatory”. Social media, live online interaction, user-generated content, and content curation tools have revolutionized our information intake. Students are now expected to be both consumers and producers of information (prosumers- a term coined by Alvin Toffler). In order to participate actively in the construction of learning in digital culture, students are required to develop digital literacy skills which are strongly focused on technology tools.

Condensing terms to hold the most meaning in the smallest space (think poetry) is not the only challenge of tweeting. We also have to consider nomenclature. Academics are sometimes criticized for using jargon that is difficult for people to understand. Natural language, tagging, and folksonomies have risen in popularity over formal classification subject headings in digital culture. Understandably, it is important to agree on correct terms that best describe broad categories and specific things.

Information Literacy
In the days before the close of the Gutenberg Parenthesis (when the book was king of the information hierarchy), literacy meant reading and writing. Information Literacy, a term coined by Paul Zurkowski, is recognized by numerous experts in the fields of information science and education, such as Mike Eisenberg, as the umbrella under which other literacies are categorized. As much of life is spent online, digital literacy has risen to the top of the list of multiple literacies which have numerous related terms.

Useful Resources for Digital Literacy

Critical Evaluation of Websites (Kathy Schrock)
AASL Standards for the 21st Century Learner
Common Sense Media on Digital Literacy

Not a Gadget- Nor a Crystal Ball of Data

People are more important than data.

I just finished Who Owns the Future by Jaron Lanier and although economics is in no way my area of expertise- he makes interesting points about the future of economics and society in the Information Age. His previous book You Are Not a Gadget provided insight into digital culture and this new book is a warning about the increasing risk of losing the backbone of modern civilization- the middle class. The following notes come from Lanier’s perspective and are worth contemplating.

who_owns_the_future

We have this crazy illusion that data is sort of magic – that “data came from the heavens instead of from people.” Inanimate data holds no promises for the future — only people hold promise. Our fascination with technological gadgetry (also a theme in his prior writing) puts emphasis on the data instead of the people who create it.

A highlight of Who Owns the Future was an excellent analogy about current TOS (terms of service) contracts and how we completely ignore them in the numerous apps and sites we download and take part in daily. Most are written in complex jargon that would take hours to analyze. Lanier presents the terms of service of a lemonade stand (page 80) in a child’s front yard! In the lengthy legalese statements to the parents of the lemonade stand entrepreneurs, he include such items as:

“A percentage of up to 30% of revenues will be kept by StreetBook.

Limited free access to StreetBook’s curb in front of your house is available in exchange for advertising on your body and property. The signage of your lemonade stand, the paper cups, and the clothing worn by your children must include advertising chosen soley by StreetBook.

If you choose to seek limited free access to use of the curb in front of your house, you must make available to StreetBook a current inventory of items in your house, and allow StreetBook to monitor movement and communications of individuals within your house.”

That is a small fraction of the contents of the terms of service for the lemonade stand. His point is that we simply cannot keep up with the fine print on these TOS agreements, so must of us simply click “agree” and get on with it.

Lanier calls Google, Facebook, and other online giant information providers “siren servers”. Lanier believes the biggest threat to our economic future is big data networks (siren servers) getting all online profits rather than individuals who create or program digital content. “One giant siren server (Facebook) should not own an individual’s online identity (p. 250).” He proposes a revolutionary payment system on the Internet, which includes possibly linking monetary payment for creative skills and service into the data transfer.

His digital “golden rule” could be stated– Pay others the way you would like to be paid.

Today, it is easy to access and copy information for use in multiple formats. Why not copy when it is convenient? “If you copy a file, you don’t know where it came from, if it’s been altered, or what other information might be needed for it to make sense (p.221).” Meaning depends on context and the copy/paste/share mentally of digital participatory culture erodes context.

With the vast information landscape we navigate daily, Lanier proposes another idea called “decision reduction services” (p. 270). That reminds me of librarianship! The acquisition of high quality resources that have been evaluated for specific criteria sounds rather familiar. I suppose I am a “decision reduction service provider” for my patron community. (Lanier highly values libraries and librarians. I heard him praise them at the American Library Association convention last summer in Chicago).

For the past decade, I have been hearing the notion that information should be free. Lanier says that the “lure of free” beckons (e.g. MOOCs- massive open online courses) and the future of education could be grim if seduced by siren servers. As I currently research information literacy needs in MOOCs, his perspective illustrates some of the problems higher education is facing. He answered a question at the ALA convention with a humorous exclamation that “MOOCs are moronic!”

Online “creepiness” due to being spied on or having personal data collected is nothing new but Lanier illustrates the idea that we may not share the same “augmented reality” in the near future. Each of us will live in a personalized world and that loss of shared experience might be “creepy” and isolating (p. 315).

His prediction of The Future of the Book. (p. 356) was certainly full of insightful points. I can agree with Lanier’s hypothesis that books will merge with apps, video games, virtual worlds. He says, “Many readers will read what is put in front of their eyes by crowdsourcing algorithms, and often will not be aware of the identity of the author or the boundary between one book and another. This is similar to Barlow and Leston’s warning about the Internet becoming a book of sand.

Lanier points out that “There will be much more information available in some semblance of book form than ever before, but overall a lower quality of standard”. I heard Roy Tennant make that same prediction back in 2008 at the Texas Library Association Conference when he said that today “convenience trumps quality”.

My personal take away from Who Owns the Future is that embedding intellectual property identification and a small monetary token of appreciation into data could solve both information literacy issues and help strengthen a shaky economic future for civilization. Information is actually never free (even though many want it to be)- just as life is never free. Open access to information and projects that promote free information and books benefit society but certainly have costs involved somewhere. Acquisition and organization of high quality resources takes time and effort, which are as valuable as dollars and cents. Respect for people in both the physical and digital world is the bottom line. You really are not a gadget and you are not made of code.

Lanier, J. (2013). Who Owns the Future?. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Summer of Connected Learning & I am Building a Little Digital Lifeboat

During the #clmooc this summer, I connected with educators to explore the potential for Google Plus, tweet-ups, Google Hangouts, and a variety of digital writing tools.  Although I am no stranger to the importance of embracing change and diving into new innovative technology, this group of moocers made me realize the impossibility of conquering digital media and EVER feeling as though I am “done”.  So, as I reflect, I contemplate how to cope with this feeling of never reaching the end.

As a National Writing Project trainer and mentor, I used to teach summer writing institutes with a philosophical foundation about process being more important than product.  Writing is a process which is recursive- meaning a writer continuously gathers ideas and revisits them.

Digital media, however,  has dramatically changed this process, by providing a constant stream of new tools. Imagine giving the writer different paper, pens, typewriters, or other writing materials every hour or so and expecting a revised, high quality essay of a sizeable length. Without time to master the tool, can one create something of value with the tool? I have written about “disposable media” in the past.  We now witness a flood of disposal media from all age groups: status updates, tweets, Vine videos, memes, and blog posts.  Some of this triviality is simply clutter and very little is meant to be of high literary quality.  Because I simultaneously taught a childrens’ and young adult literature class this summer (while moocing) high quality literature is foremost in my mind.  Literature, I daresay, is still important!  How can we teach writers to carefully hone revision skills in an age of disposable media?  I raise the question, because the process has become so rapid and chaotic, the actual products (countless digital Web 2.0 productions) are tossed into the cyber sea.

One goal I propose for myself, is to gather these new digital tools into a personal electronic portfolio (eportfolio)- not only to help myself find them later in the numerous online spaces (think accounts/passwords/urls) but to share them as examples to students and educators.  This eportfolio might also be a personal archive, similar to a physical scrapbook. I might view this as a lifeboat for the bits and pieces I tryout in my digital writing process rather than allowing them to float away.

The #clmooc challenged me to consider some new digital writing forms, such as poetry written in code (thanks @chadsangsing) and countless others at the Making Learning Connected blog.  I plan to try thimble and computer code poetry!  I repeat, I feel like I will never be done!  The tools are flying past me at tweet speed.  Perhaps, this concept is not really new.  Life is never “done” but somehow a sense of closure, a sense of accomplishment may have given humans comfort in times past.  Was that just an illusion?

Building a professional learning network has been a rewarding, yet challenging feat.  I highly respect my colleagues in online communities (some newly met in the #clmooc).  I wonder if any of you sometimes feel a sense of uneasiness due to our constant digital media intake and production?

Where shall I build my “little digital lifeboat”?  I think my starting place for an eportfolio will be  livebinder.  Who knows, that tool may also change and I will have to jump over to another boat.  Being a positive person, I know that some of my friendly colleagues will help rescue me.

lifeboat

A MOOC Credo

As I juggle teaching a summer college course, presenting at the American Library Association Convention, and continued learning at the speed of “MOOC-light”, I have been challenged to write a personal belief statement or CREDO.  Here goes:

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This I Believe

Both life and learning have changed dramatically in the past decade and will never be the same due to the information revolution.  My learning journey has focused on information literacy (as a career librarian) and the journey has been turned completely upside down.  I believe the human spirit can excel and will not succumb to the threats of “the machine” or the “cyberworld”.  Technology is but a tool and I have faith that love and compassionate wisdom will triumph.  I believe that people are more important than code or profit.

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One of my ALA presentations was on the topic of MOOCs and education, so my participation in the #clmooc was timely.  This is my 4th MOOC, so I feel I am beginning to understand how to fully participate as well as how to learn simply by lurking.

This exploration of the MOOC, alongside my exploration of virtual worlds and emerging technology trends, contributed to my CREDO about new modes of learning and living.  All of us must now balance our virtual (digital) lives with our physical lives.  I found it ironic (since I was in the middle of taking a MOOC and speaking on the topic) to hear the last question asked of Jaron Lanier during his ALA speech.  When asked what he thought of MOOCs, Lanier said, “MOOCs are moronic!”  I understand and agree with Lanier’s sentiments about the future.  However, I know he realizes there is no going back to the old information hierarchy which has toppled.  Most likely, many of the innovative technology tools, trends, and websites we are currently using will come and go.   Alvin Toffler was absolutely right when he said, “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”

Jaron-Lanier-007

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next on my list to read is  Jaron Lanier’s new book, Who Owns the Future?  Maybe we need to unlearn and relearn our concept of the Internet.  One thing is for certain— no single person can do that.  It is up to all of us and I am counting on my fellow man to uphold my CREDO and revise it into something better one day.

 

Powerful PROs of Connected Learning

#Clmooc reflection

I write my reflection between conference sessions at the American Library Association Convention 2013 in Chicago. Traveling yesterday was grueling due to traffic jams, flight delays, crowded elevators, and confusing bus shuttles. I finally made it to my hotel, extremely hungry and exhausted. As I turned on my digital device to check the #clmooc, I realized how easy it is to learn through online virtual connectivity. Although I enjoy attending and presenting at conferences where I can network with colleagues face-to-face, the rising costs of travel make it difficult and I spend hours and hours to get to a session where I listen to a colleague thinking I should get the name so we can connect online.

I started thinking of the inevitability of virtual connected learning due to the

Powerful Pros

1. Cost effectiveness

2. Time saving

3. Personal intense learning

4. Global connections

5. Efficient (No sore feet from walking miles and miles through a convention center. I say that as someone who loves hiking.)

So now, in a beautiful ballroom at the convention, I sit anxiously awaiting a speaker who is “the father of virtual reality”- Jaron Lanier. I will revisit this post after his speech. Lanier wrote “You are Not a Gadget” which is on my list of cyborgs-beware reading (along with Nicholas Carr, Sherry Turkle and others). While I embrace a positive attitude toward the future, I have uneasy feelings about our rush to plunge into digital culture without the skills needed to survive.

Perhaps a metaphor I could use as an information literacy librarian would be my role as “deep sea diving trainer”. Surviving the sea of chaos requires some life-saving skills.

#clmooc and my summer learning begins

A colleague from online virtual communities encouraged me to participate in #clmooc. Learning at the speed of light! That’s been my mantra for the past few years and I realize that we have to make choices in where and how we learn because the options are increasing exponentially.  Our students will have an incredible number of learning opportunities to choose from in participatory digital culture.  So I begin my summer of learning by asking a few questions of myself.

Who will I learn from?
It can be serendipitous when we collide in online spaces. I often run into the same individuals in networked spaces (Youtube, Vimeo, twitter, virtual worlds, or others) because of shared interests. An example: I ran into Mal Burns, who lives in the UK, several times in virtual spaces, realized he followed me on youtube, and learned how to use scoop-it through his example.  We don’t live on the same continent but kept bumping into each other!  I believe that is an example of connected learning, as I have never met Mal Burns in the physical world. Identifying our personal interests is a good starting point.

How will I connect and collaborate?
Zoe (the colleague I mentioned earlier) suggested I meet with others in the virtual world of Second Life at the Community Virtual Library. As a digital archivist and museum curator in Hawaii, Zoe (Monika Talaroc) specializes in physical librarianship but also in virtual librarianship. Her goal for the #clmooc is to create a virtual archive of the Berlin Project (a role play simulation). I met another colleague today, Cynthia Davidson, who teaches writing at a university and shares similar goals for creating immersive learning environments through collaboration this summer.  Finding others and choosing collaborative tools is critical to learning in our networked global world.

Meeting colleagues virtually

Meeting colleagues virtually

 

 

Discussing the #clmooc

Discussing the #clmooc

 

What will I learn?

 

I really want to learn more about augmented reality. Perhaps I can use #clmooc to find a network that can teach me best educational uses.  I also want to share my knowledge and skills of virtual world learning with others.

 

 

 

What will I make?

 

As I brainstorm what I might make this summer, I want to branch out beyond my comfort zone. My initial ideas are: creating virtual books at the UW Island of Seasons (a metaphor of learning through the life cycle), working with Zoe to create a virtual exhibit, and collaborating with fellow #clmoocers as I peruse spaces I may not yet have encountered.

 

Summer time and the learning is easy!

5th Grade Game Designers in the Library

A group of 5th graders joined me in the library learning loft after school this past semester to work on a gamification project. Because Project Based Learning has been emphasized in academia as a way to promote real world learning in the 21st century, the goal of our tech club was to conquer a real need that students have in today’s digital culture: understanding the responsibilities of digital citizenship and cyber safety. My role was to provide the space, the technology tools, and to facilitate the learning experience, but the project would be totally developed and designed by 5th graders.

The Project Began

Since I have a background in virtual worlds and machinima, I was comfortable with building in 3D and shooting video inside a game world. However, I had never played Minecraft and wanted to be sure the students understood the educational purpose of our club. Parental permission and school district approval were first and foremost before the students could begin work.

Initial problems

Because this was the first project in a virtual online game at my school (or that I am aware of in my school district), I needed to get support from administration. I was given the okay to use MinecraftEDU rather than the regular Minecraft game most likely because the “edu” clearly focuses on a collaboration of educators. After receiving approval from my principal and district administration, I was given a purchase order for a classroom set of Minecraftedu game licenses to use with up to 25 students.

I was already aware that Minecraft is currently a very popular game with children because the icon on my desktop caused a constant chatter in the library for weeks before the club began. “Hey, look- she plays Minecraft!” was heard in almost every class- even kindergarten. I decided to hide the icon rather than tell the students that only a small group would be able to take part in the Minecraft project.
Although I consider myself a tech savvy librarian, am comfortable in a variety of virtual worlds, and have embraced Web 2.0 and multi-media tools, I had a difficult time getting the server up. A private server would assure that students would not run into strangers. During the busy school day, I tried several times to host the server but never could get in and began to worry that we would not be able to get into the game on the first day of the Minecraft Club. My first student entered the library after school that day and together we had it running in less than five minutes, which led to a blog post on the concept of digital natives.

Critical Thinking Skills

Watching the students work in Minecraft validated my research in virtual worlds. This next generation of young adults will be quite ready to utilize 3D immersive learning and will not find it as complex as the generation ahead of them. It was amazing to see how quickly the students built homes and buildings and it confirmed the idea that there is something innate in humans that makes us want to create.
Although the students were immediately engaged in creativity, I found my role as teacher imperative to this project. The students needed guidance in identifying an educational topic that would clearly focus on an essential driving question. After the first few club meetings, the students agreed on the need to help younger children learn digital citizenship and cyber safety. The challenge for the project was to design a game that would help students understand those concepts in a fun and immersive way. Once this driving question became the challenge, the students took off building a maze inside the “Budder Library of Digital Citizenship”. Game design came naturally to them as they built levers to open doors when questions were answered correctly.

Students as Project Leaders

Since I had very little experience in the game, the students were empowered as leaders and felt they were teaching me. They had no idea that I could film inside the game (using machinima capture software) but one boy showed me that he has a Youtube channel and films inside the game himself using Bandicam. I thought I was a pioneer in 3D learning and was humbled to see a ten year old boy film machinima easily.
Another boy asked, “Do you know what a griefer is?” These students understood griefing and other gaming terms and taught me the user-interface (how to teleport, text, etc) with excellent explanation of shortcuts. I overheard them joking with each other about trolling which led to discussion about being good digital citizens in practice not only theory.

Our project took place over just a few months but I am proud of the accomplishments of my 5th graders in that short time.

The Students Graduate to Middle School

Whether or not this project continues to grow, I know that I learned as much from this experience as my students did. As they leave for middle school, I know they are hard workers and they understand taking personal responsibility for digital citizenship. In an ever-changing world of digital media, the future is in good hands.