Sunday, August 23, 2009

FLNW - thinking about change

Peter Grimmett, one of my top 10 most memorable professors, said to a group of graduate students in 1996:
YOU can make a difference, just maybe not in your life time.
The course was Developing Educational Programs and Practices for Diverse Educational Settings and we were talking about educational reform. After spending some time sharing stories about our own experiences in school, we were feeling that change was quite urgent. I remember scanning my grade 1 report card and watching the looks of horror when everyone saw the talks too much comment made by my teacher. They were also amused that the need for improvement was consistently checked for most of the school year. Unfortunately, I finally did "improve" by the 4th quarter. The report card didn't seem quite as alarming as I went on to share stories about Anthony, the unhappy, large, black boy who only occasionally showed up for school, getting hit over the head with a yard stick for not answering the teacher's question about what he ate for breakfast. I had my wrists tapped with that same yardstick for not singing the national anthem. I didn't know the words to the U.S. national anthem. My family moved to Kentucky from Quebec. Why would I know the national anthem?

Peter Grimmitt's statement was both motivating and depressing. My first questions for this group of mostly practicing teachers were about the opportunities for educators to talk about their experiences, their curriculum, their questions and dilemmas. It seemed that most "professional development" days were filled with workshops and other events that could be described as “contrived collegiality” (Hargreaves, 1994). Creating more opportunities for educators to connect online was an obvious solution. I can trace my interest in online communities to those conversations facilitated by Peter. As a final project for the course I developed an action research proposal called Supporting Communities of Teachers: Networked Technology as a Catalyst for Change. It was a start!

I thought about Peter's statement a lot during the past week as I travelled with a group of people on the Future of Learning in a Networked World pacific northwest tour. You see, these people don't seem very interested in waiting for somebody else's lifetime. The conversations were occasionally about current educational dilemmas, but more often we were leaping ahead, imagining a very different world -- earning a PhD without an institutional affiliation, doing away with copyright altogether, a day when schools no longer exist. It's useful and refreshing to think about extremes and design new possibilities without grinding through the issues we have with the current system.

I imagine the FLNW group -- Nancy White, Leigh Blackall, Derek Chirnside, Sunshine Connelly, and Michael Coghlan -- will get a chuckle out of this grade 1 report card. Sylvia talks too much?? Mostly on this trip I did some good listening, and the experience left me with a lot to think about. I'm now wondering how to engage others in these conversations about the future of education. We need more events like University of Manitoba's Future of Education online conference, but involve more practicing educators from a variety of disciplines. We need more opportunities for educators to find out for themselves that there are better ways.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Digital Habitats

I just ordered my copy of the long awaited book Digital Habitats. I have various draft versions of chapters on my hard drive which were made available for participants in the CPSquare Connected Futures workshop. It was exciting to be involved in conversations back in April, 2008 about the content and ideas in this book, and trying them out first hand during the workshop. Just another fabulous CPSquare experience! I was also fortunate to have a preview of the book and the opportunity to snap this photo this past week while traveling with Nancy White on the FLNW tour.

I know I'll be pulling Digital Habitats off my shelf often, and I won't be able to part with it long enough to lend it out. So get your own copy! :-) It's available from the Technology for Communities blog now, and will be in bookstores soon.

Etienne Wenger, Nancy White, and John D. Smith, Digital Habitats: stewarding technology for communities (Portland, OR: CPsquare, 2009). ISBN: 9780982503607.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Jane's E-Learning Pick of the Day: Top 100 Tools for Learning 2009 - August Update

Jane Hart's Top 10 Tools August 2009 list is now available. Here is the snapshot. This website is not only an excellent way to quickly find tools that meet the needs of your task at hand, but the process for compiling and ranking the top tools is also interesting. What are your Top 10 tools for 2009? We'll be watching for your name on the list of learning professionals who have shared their lists. :-)

Monday, August 3, 2009

Remembering Helen

Helen's Knowplace avatar
Last week my friend and colleague, Frances Long, delivered the sad news that our dear 'knowmate', Helen Kershaw, had lost her battle with cancer. I've spent a good part of my days since then trying to process this news.

I have many amazing memories of Helen, from the first time I met her at the BC Computer Curriculum Consortium in Kelowna almost ten years ago, to the many encounters online over the years through various online communities and social networking sites. I have a Helen History on my hard drive -- inspiring, sensible, witty, intelligent, warm, logical, and innovative, correspondence that I plan to keep forever.

In fact, reading back I realize that she had the answers to many burning questions, but work life was so fast and furious I didn't let it all sink in during the moment. I came across this post in SCoPE. We were trying to decide the best tags to use for posting resources to delicious during SCoPE seminars:

may I suggest that you use an underscore with the specific title 'scope_' followed by the particular discussion or topic 'informal'

if each type of tag begins with scope, then all tags no matter the discussion will be presented

thus scope_informal and scope_community would bring different results but scope itself would bring both

We've revisited this tagging question numerous times in SCoPE. Today, reading back on Helen's posts I discover that she had the solution back in 2006. I just didn't let it sink in at the moment. Now those moments are altogether gone.

In 2002 Helen, Frances, and I did a presentation called "Tools to Support Community", again at a BC Computer Curriculum Consortium conference. I wasn't able to attend in person, so we decided to beam me in using my webcam. During the test run just minutes before conference delegates started to arrive at the session, we had such a giggling fit that I had to go get a wet washcloth to get my face back to normal before displaying it on a big screen. I have no idea what set us off; it was just another very special experience with Helen.

Helen's twitter bio captures her passion about work:
I am a life-long learner who enjoys helping others discover how technology can enhance their lives.
I keep reading this simple sentence, thinking how her life-long learning was cut so short, how her entire life was devoted to thinking about others, and how her concern was for how technology can enhance lives when it couldn't even assist in allowing her to live.

Helen the Knowplace Tools Potluck person. Helen the life-long learner. Helen the incredible mom and grandma. We'll miss her so much.

From the Quesnel Cariboo Observer:
Kershaw, Helen Marie
Friday, 24 Jul 2009
Helen Marie Kershaw passed away on July 24, 2009 after a lengthy illness.
Helen was born on April 27, 1948 in Rossland, B.C.
She is survived by her husband of 40 years, Alan, children Alana (Bob) Kuehn, Lori (Ken) Wawryk, Steven (Michelle) Kershaw, sister, Kim and brothers Allan, Rick and Doug, grandsons, Trevor, Matthew, Leon and Zachary and granddaughters Katie and Sarah.
Helen was predeceased by her parents Joe and Effie Rausch.
In lieu of flowers donations may be made to the Terry Fox Foundation ( or CIBC Run for the Cure ( in Helen’s memory.
Special thank you to the doctors and nurses of Royal Columbian Hospital.
Helen was a dedicated instructor at Continuing and Adult Education at the Helen Dixon Center. The true joy of her life was spending time with her grandchildren. She will be forever loved and missed by her family.
There is no funeral at her request. A memorial tea will be held at the Senior’s Center on Wednesday, August 5, 3 pm to 5 pm.