Friday, July 25, 2008

Thinking Out Loud

Some of my best writing is in response to other people's blogs. I must get in the habit of turning my comments on other people's blogs into articles of my own. Here is an attempt at doing so...

A recent Will Richardson blog hipped me to a teacher named Dan Meyer who videoblogs.

Does this guy have a crew? I can't find the time or bandwidth to point a tripod at my keynotes. If I do, I can't find the time to edit the video and put it online. People ask me if every one of my sessions will be uStreamed. I use my computer for presentations and unless I want to publish a surveillance video, I can't control the camera while I'm presenting either.

Keeping my content current, amusing and maintaining a sense of narrative is difficult enough. I'm not Al Franken reporting for Weekend Update from his One Man Mobile Uplink.

I marvel at the output of people like Meyer, but am not sure that I find the content particularly compelling. Questions such as the following pop into mind:

• Who is HIS audience?
• Why should we care about his day?
• Is the content interesting or the production values enviable? etc...

I'm grappling with another problem that may be related, but is causing me mental paralysis. I have too much I want to say, write and blog. This leaves me obsessing about what to do first and I don't get around to doing any of it.

I also face the questions of:

• Who is MY audience?

• Why should people care what I think?

• Shouldn't I spend my time writing my book or magazine articles?
Isn't writing a book a lousy return on investment?

• Why won't magazine editors leave my jokes and personal "voice" in my articles?

• Will I be "the mean guy" because I don't follow the herd?

• Why don't people understand that just because I debunk the shoulder-deep BS in edtech that I am an unapologetic advocate for its (largely unrealized) potential and that I get up every day to make the world a better place for kids?

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  • Okay, I'll bite.

    The question about audience and content is almost a moot point. You write as someone who has for a long time written for a sizeable audience. When Dan Meyer and folks like myself began creating content we had basically an audience of zero. We didn't begin thinking about necessarily finding a large audience. That's the essence of today's publishing platforms. We really don't have to care if we have an audience. The fact that you may not find his work compelling is totally irrelevant. If one person thinks his work has merit, it's successful. He makes no money from the hours he spends creating very high quality work. It's about a love to create and the opportunity to share. Each time I watch one of his videos, I usually grab a nugget of design which I'll consider in terms of my own content. The content itself, I think is reflective of his experience as a relatively new teacher exploring what it means to teach and be effective. I think there is a huge audience there. But again, that's not really the point.

    The other piece that's important here is the idea of publish then filter. You're used to hammering away at writings in order to get it to pass the standards of a publishing group. No one had to tell Dan whether or not his work was good enough or whether he could include his personal voice or jokes. I know you've spoke out against posting material and calling it quality. Even if it isn't any good, let the viewer decide, not the publishing company.

    As far as being the mean guy, here's my 2 cents:

    I value your opinion and that's why I read your blog and have read many of your articles. But while you've done an outstanding job calling out the BS, I haven't seen you do as much in pointing to examples of good work with the same passion. In your vast travels, surely you are seeing teachers and schools doing the work you think is important. Why not showcase some of that? I'd love to read about it.

    By Anonymous Dean Shareski, At July 25, 2008 9:28 PM  

  • Hi Dean,

    Greetings from LAX!

    I guess someone reads my blog - cool!

    While I don't think that size defines audience for a piece of work, I think any good writing teacher will tell you that you should have SOME audience in mind.

    I didn't critique Dan Meyer's videos. I marveled at their production values and the time it takes to create them. I wouldn't be surprised if Mr. Meyer left the classroom and hit the circuit. I need to watch more of his videos to get a sense of what he does as a teacher. The videos I saw were more about his life.

    In any event, I get your point about publishing positive stories of wondrous classrooms. I do a fair share of that, but I'm only one person who would rather spend his time in classrooms (which I still regularly do), then report on the work of others.

    Criticism is legitimate, even if may educators believe their field should be immune from it. I'm most vocal of my fellow big shots who ought to be able to justify their incomes by being able to support an argument with evidence. I may ask educators Socratic questions, but I reserve my ammo for well-known pundits, politicians and robber barons.

    Most magazines won't let me write much about this, but billionaire "philanthropist" Eli Broad will be responsible for more educational malpractice over the next generation than NCLB could have ever dreamed of. Nearly all the crackpot movements impacting public education have his fingerprints on them. At times I feel like I'm yelling down a well. "The robber barons are coming. The robber barons are coming!"

    The creation of The Constructivist Consortium, the panels I assemble for conferences and my Constructing Modern Knowledge institute this week all feature great educators who more of you should know. We tend to have a very short memory in public education.

    If you were to see my presentations, especially the keynote, "Ten Things to Do with a Laptop: Learning & Powerful Ideas," you would get lots of ideas for positive action. There are also refereed papers freely distributed on my site at that offer lessons for constructionist education - including work with at-risk kids and making online learning more learner-centered.

    After NECC I published a collection of resources related to the closing keynote speaker. Many of my friends in the blogosphere have been turned on to new and old authors worthy of their attention. These are surely positive acts.

    I continue to work with some of the most at-risk learners in our society, here and overseas. I spent much of this spring teaching for free in an urban school started by a former student of mine. I'm now doing PD and trying to raise funds for laptops for his students.

    My own grad students also appreciate the wealth of knowledge, guidance, resources and experience I share with them. I never turn down anyone who asks something of me.

    We all need to raise our game, me included. We don't sell linoleum. We educate kids or teachers of kids and that is an awesome responsibility I take seriously.

    Thanks for helping me think out-loud. We just loaded our 8 pieces of luggage onto the plane and are off to

    Bon Voyage!

    By Anonymous Gary, At July 25, 2008 10:23 PM  

  • ps: I meant to type SHOULDER-DEEP but I can't scroll down to edit on my iPhone.

    By Anonymous Gary, At July 25, 2008 10:54 PM  

  • Someone even reads comments.

    You asked about Dan's work with video in the classroom, here is an example. I wrote about how I used it here.

    I've read the articles to which you linked (thank you). I sent an email with some follow up questions to the email address posted on your blog [feedback2 (at)stager (dot) org].

    I've also been reading Papert (at your recommendation) and have questions. So many questions. How do we change the perception of what math is and how it is learned? How do I apply these ideas when I work in a school where the focus (of the admin) is AP and ACT test scores?

    Keep thinking out loud Gary, you push my thinking and for this I thank you.

    By Anonymous Jackie Ballarini, At July 26, 2008 8:02 AM  

  • Hello, Gary,

    I hear a lot of talk about blogging being the act of finding an audience. While this is important, we often tend to overlook/ignore another important aspect of blogging (and this, IMO, has some implications for how we approach blogging in the classroom): blogging is also about finding a voice.

    WRT the videos Dan Meyer produces, if you read some of the comment threads on his videos, many of your questions are answered.

    The thing that I like about Dan's work (and this extends beyond his videos) is that he gives practical advice on how working teachers can simplify their workflow. He tends to be more practical, and his vision is always measured against how something might work in the real setting of the class. If other bloggers exerted similar control, the blogosphere could be a richer place.

    RE being the mean guy, really, I wouldn't worry about it. Your passion for these ideas is clear; as I have read your posts, it's more frustration with sloppy/misdirected execution that undercuts the potential of technology than spite/meanness.

    RE the Eli Broad work, any links you can send out that connect the dots?



    By Anonymous Bill Fitzgerald, At July 26, 2008 9:59 AM  

  • Dan's diligence in producing his videos pales by comparison to the efforts he's put into some of lessons. I've enjoyed watching that process as well as reading his posts about design. He always makes me think.

    I usually smile when I read your blog, I agree with much of what you have to say and actually have tried to voice my opinions about technology in the classroom with the same "enthusiasm". I retire in a year or two so I won't care what sillinesses are going on in the edtech world, I'll just continue to do marvelous things in my classroom with or without tech.

    By Anonymous nbosch, At July 26, 2008 11:03 AM  

  • I think one relevant point is that people like to read blogs by smart people who are just a few steps further along the curve than they are. That is, watching Dan work through things in real time has a narrative drive that reading a book doesn't.

    For the person who has already walked the same path, gotten to (sort of) the end (or a promising waystation?) and written a book about it, this is exasperating (I gather).

    By Anonymous Tom Hoffman, At July 29, 2008 9:14 AM  

  • Hi Gary, just came along after a honeymoon, and thought I'd point out that this video act I'm putting on has got to end and soon. I intended a ten-episode run and, with three episodes left, I'm running on empty. Not for nothing, these videos take me well over twice the time of a blog entry for well under half the views. So don't feel any obligation anytime soon to pick up a camera.

    I originally picked up a camera because — and maybe you'll identify with this and maybe you won't — certain posts never made it out of the draft phase for lack of appropriate video support. Some theses flourish in a video media where they wouldn't in text. For those ten, and only for those ten, I have elected video.

    Thanks for your cheerfully contrarian perspective on the edtech conversation. And, like Jackie, I got a lot of mileage out of the Papert articles you collated.

    By Anonymous Dan Meyer, At July 30, 2008 9:54 AM  

  • Hey Dan,

    Thanks for your comments.

    I marvel at your creativity and stamina! People I respect and trust really dig your work. I look forward to spending more time learning from you!


    By Anonymous Gary, At July 30, 2008 10:17 AM  

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