Footprints in the Snow

One of Northern College’s greatest features is that it lives in a big house at the top of a hill. One of its most challenging features when it snows is that steep hill…no prizes for guessing it’s a snow day today.

What to do? The digital age has already made it possible for us to make a stress-free snowplan with students due in today; a group text and message on Yammer was all that it took to stop anyone having a chilly, wasted journey.  And given that one of this week’s topics was “Digital Footprint’, that got us thinking that we could do a little more, so…

…welcome to #NCrhizoPopUP, Northern College’s first ever pop-up course!  In fact, could it be the world’s first ever pop-up course? 🙂

The Topic:  Digital Footprint

The Pedagogy:  Rhizomatic Learning

a snowy landcape
Snow Day

Regular readers will remember the geeky eagerness with which we explored #rhizo14 last year and had our own experiment with #TDReflex14.  I’ve long been wanting to develop that thinking into a rhizomatic digital literacy programme…well here’s a lovely opportunity to make a start.

Rhizomatic learning is tagged “Community as Curriculum” and #rhizo14 founder Dave Cormier gives the best description of it here. As I’m learning on my EdD, rhizomatic learning, like all postmodern approaches, celebrates messy, disruptive, uncertain.  It’s not for everyone, but it makes my heart dance #geek.

#NCrhizoPopUp will work like this.  During the day (at 9am, 10am, 11am, 12pm and 1pm) I’ll post five stimuli relating to the concept of ‘Digital Footprints’ here and link to them from three social media platforms:  Twitter, Facebook (Community of Praxis:  TeachDifferent group, which has been opened up for the day) and our TeachNorthern closed Yammer space.  Each time, there will be a question to ponder on.  At the end of the day, we’ll try a virtual thinking round, with a final question to all.

Willing to give it a go?  Check back here at 9am 🙂

9am Wednesday 21st January 2015

Your digital footprint is the trail you leave every time you use the internet – your computer, tablet, phone, even TV these days. Increasingly, people are taking to the internet to check other people out.  Imagine giving a prospective employer this snapshot of your life!  This rhizomatic ‘pop up’ course gives you the opportunity to put your best side forward online.

5b3d007c-559a-42d9-822a-92be1888b53dHave a look at this short video:  http://vimeo.com/6709512

And this one, which has a positive spin sometimes lacking from discussions around social media presence in particular (an area of fear for many people): https://www.commonsensemedia.org/videos/abbass-story-pride-in-your-digital-footprint#

Now take the opportunity to indulge in a guilty pleasure:  google yourself.  And look yourself up on www.pipl.com (scary).  Remember to put UK in ‘location’ or it won’t find you.  If you’re feeling cheeky, google and pipl some other people you know.

Question 1:  What have your learned from this exercise, and what do you think?

There are four places you can answer this question and you’ll meet different combinations of people in each place.  Some places will be busier than others – some might not take off at all.  This is the reality of ‘community is curriculum’ – whoever’s there are the right people 🙂 You can choose to answer:

  • in comments, below
  • in the Community of Praxis: TeachDifferent Facebook group (opened up for today)
  • in the closed TeachNorthern Yammer network (email l.mycroft@northern.ac.uk to join)
  • on Twitter @teachnorthern – or, of course, on all or some of these!

10am Wednesday 21st January 2015

Question 1 looked at the stuff YOU have some control over, but what of all the info out there that’s collected about you which you don’t know about?  This video gave me pause for thought: ›https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=79IYZVYIVLA

image of a human face made up of bar codes
Digital Dossier

The video refers to each of us having a ‘Digital Dossier’ from birth and there’s a lot of debate around at the moment about “Big Data” and how this is collected on us by social media companies (and others) and used.  (NB did you notice that the video was produced under a Creative Commons license? We’ll come back to that later.)  Here’s an interesting way of following a live debate – on Twitter!  http://www.interhacktives.com/2013/11/27/big-data-debate-controversial-questions/ (Read from the bottom up and take note of who is sponsoring the debate).

Question 2:  What thoughts and feelings do you have? 

There are four places you can answer this question and you’ll meet different combinations of people in each place.  Some places will be busier than others – some might not take off at all.  This is the reality of ‘community is curriculum’ – whoever’s there are the right people 🙂 You can choose to answer:

  • in comments, below
  • in the Community of Praxis: TeachDifferent Facebook group (opened up for today)
  • in the closed TeachNorthern Yammer network (email l.mycroft@northern.ac.uk to join)
  • on Twitter @teachnorthern – or, of course, on all or some of these!

If you’ve not finished Question 1 yet, that’s fine, the idea of the rhizome is that you can be working on what you want, where and when you want (even after today).  Remember – the community is the curriculum!

11am Wednesday 21st January 2015

So what about free speech?  The murders in Paris and elsewhere mean this is an issue very much in the news recently, with three main camps:  free speech always, free speech not hate speech, and mock us and we’ll kill you.  Lots has been written about the virtual merits of pens vs swords, which are presumably of no comfort to the bereaved.

Question 2 explored the manipulation of social media in the name of Big Data, but the fact remains that,

satirical cartoon showing a barrage of huge sharp pens attacking a gunman
je suis charlie

despite guidelines, no-one ‘controls’ social media in most countries.  Free speech has led to massacre in Paris; it also causes minor anxiety on a daily basis when friends on Facebook, for example, post politically-motivated links (wittingly or not).  How do we deal with this as 21st citizens?  When should we challenge/block/hide people we might have known all our lives?  And what do our political statements say about us?  Might that lead to people being prejudiced about us in some way?  Does that matter?

Spiked Online are running a passionately engaging free speech campaign.  I follow them on Twitter precisely because I disagree with them quite often (and agree more than I anticipated).  I want my thinking to be disrupted.  Have a look at this very persuasive piece of journalism and move onto Question 3:  http://www.spiked-online.com/freespeechnow

Question 3:  What is your freshest thinking about free speech?

There are four places you can answer this question and you’ll meet different combinations of people in each place.  Some places will be busier than others – some might not take off at all.  This is the reality of ‘community is curriculum’ – whoever’s there are the right people 🙂 You can choose to answer:

  • in comments, below
  • in the Community of Praxis: TeachDifferent Facebook group (opened up for today)
  • in the closed TeachNorthern Yammer network (email l.mycroft@northern.ac.uk to join)
  • on Twitter @teachnorthern – or, of course, on all or some of these!

Some great discussion on the various platforms – Yammer is on fire!  Interestingly, ‘the community’ had already turned ‘the curriculum’ in the direction of Question 3…

12noon Wednesday 21st January 2015

Change of pace and intensity now…how about your digital literacy, as a student?  Elsewhere, some of us have been exploring what 21st century academic skills might look like – very different from the old note-taking, index-mining approaches of old.  In the final question, we’ll be exploring whether students are ahead of teachers in terms of finding new ways to develop their 21st Century Academic Skills

academic resilience. For now, have a look at the slide (right) and compare it with your own skills set.  How do you operate in learning situations, in meetings, while you’re studying and researching?

More broadly, the same notion of developing ‘literacies’ (rather than just ‘literacy’) translates into ‘Lifeskills’, which have got to mean more than just CV writing, right?  What do you think about this videoscribe: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qwJIhZcAd0I (incidentally, they are free and pretty easy to make).

So Question 4 is pretty simple:  Be honest.  How do you shape up?

There are four places you can answer this question and you’ll meet different combinations of people in each place.  Some places will be busier than others – some might not take off at all.  This is the reality of ‘community is curriculum’ – whoever’s there are the right people 🙂 You can choose to answer:

  • in comments, below
  • in the Community of Praxis: TeachDifferent Facebook group (opened up for today)
  • in the closed TeachNorthern Yammer network (email l.mycroft@northern.ac.uk to join)
  • on Twitter @teachnorthern – or, of course, on all or some of these!

In a moment of lovely synchronicity, colleagues in Oldham are discussing this very question as I write! 🙂 

1pm Wednesday 21st January 2015

Final question for today, then an afternoon of reflection and deepening thinking (whatever we are doing) before attempting a virtual Thinking Round at 4pm.  Pretty sure the conversations will run and run, as people continue to think, come home from work and join in etc.  This has been a great #snowday!

The final question is around YOU (and me) as teachers.  What do we need to do, to ensure that our students get to learn all this stuff too?  And not just our students but our children, our friends – even our parents #silversurfers.  Do we have the skills that we need to teach digital literacy?  The Education and Training Foundation are pretty sure that it should form part of our skills

The EFT Professional Standards Pie Chartset as professionals – see here.  And the FELTAG Report would agree. Yet it’s equally true that the profession as a whole breathed a sigh of relief when it was announced that adult learning funding would not be dependent on an online component, as was originally thought.

So what skills do you need?  And, crucially, how are you going to get them?  UFI Charitable Trust (the bit of learndirect that was sold off to Lloyds Bank) is planning a VOOC (vocational open online course) to upskill teachers like us who may well have areas of unconfidence arounds.  What is it that we need to tell them?

Question 5:  How do feel about the responsibility to teach digital literacy, and to teach online?  What are you assuming that causes you to feel that way?

There are four places you can answer this question and you’ll meet different combinations of people in each place.  Some places will be busier than others – some might not take off at all.  This is the reality of ‘community is curriculum’ – whoever’s there are the right people 🙂 You can choose to answer:

  • in comments, below
  • in the Community of Praxis: TeachDifferent Facebook group (opened up for today)
  • in the closed TeachNorthern Yammer network (email l.mycroft@northern.ac.uk to join)
  • on Twitter @teachnorthern – or, of course, on all or some of these!

That’s the end of this rhizomatic ‘uncourse’ – except that it isn’t.  Anyone who has ever lost the fight with bindweed will know that the rhizome is never over, it just keeps trundling away underground until it’s strong enough to come up elsewhere.  As a metaphor for social purpose education, you could do a lot worse.

At 4pm, we’ll attempt a virtual ‘closing round’, or #thunderclap, using the Thinking Environment question, ‘What’s live in you?’  In the meantime, lunch, reflection and ignoring the ironing for me…

Reflexions on #NCrhizoPopUp

At 7am yesterday morning, with snow coming down in fat flakes and Northern College closed, me typing in pyjamas on my day off, I had the bright idea of a pop-up one-day rhizomatic ‘uncourse’, an accelerated version of #Rhizo14 with five activity/question combos at hourly intervals to inspire thinking across a range of platforms.  The intention was that, 12 hours later, I’d reflex on the experience here, but the thoughts didn’t come.

Sleeping on it, that’s the thing.  Euphoria passes and criticality begins to creep in.  It becomes possible not just to reflex, but to evaluate.  These are my thoughts, and I invite my colleague Paul Gibson in, to contribute his.

Was it effective?  For a given value of effective, yes.  The intention was to engage those students who were unable to attend our session on ‘Digital Footprints’ because of the Snow Day.  Of 11 students, 8 chose to engage online, with two of those people meeting up offline to discuss the topic face-to-face.  One would not have attended the day school in any case; I assumed that two chose to use their time differently; in fact, they were lurking so shame on me – lurkers are welcome in the Community of Praxis!  The topic was extra-curricular:  it would have been difficult to find adequate time to revisit it in class, and the College closure was non-negotiable.  Eight is better than none – and also it wasn’t eight.  Across the platforms, during the 12 hour period 17 people engaged in total.

I had hoped for more, and more reach.  12 people favourited or retweeted one of my tweets about the day; only one joined in from this source.  There was relatively limited discussion in the Facebook group (opened as a public group for the day) and none on Twitter.  Yammer was where it happened.  Yammer was on fire.

So reach – not great.  Depth – quite amazing.  The five questions, arrayed above, were accompanied by stimuli, which seemed to work well as such (proper evaluation to follow).  Those who got involved did so deeply.  Throughout the day, conversation ebbed and flowed, covering everything from personal digital footprints, through cultural saturation and symbolism, to the politics of open learning.  I won’t do it a disservice by summarising it here.  I loved that people came and went, getting on with other stuff (as did I), still cogitating, coming back to agree, disagree, inspire one another.  I cannot wait to meet those very people today and ask them what their freshest thinking is about the process.

Was it teaching? Ha, yes!  And some of the most exciting and challenging I’ve done.  Although I’d prepared the session to be delivered in class, this was something quite different.  I was thinking on my feet, posting each question and the stimuli in response to where the conversations were going, then trying to contribute, facilitate (not that I needed to), research the next question, stimuli…much harder work than being in the classroom once the planning is done.  I would say that I was (absolutely) ‘in flow’ for seven hours, from 7am when I started thinking about how to structure it, to 2pm when I realised my brain was frazzled, remembered it was my day off and turned my attentions to my son.

Seven teaching hours will go down on my workplan.  Even if I’d planned some of it out beforehand, I think I would have still been ‘live’ for all of that time – adjusting the content to the flow of discussion.  That has significant resonance for how ‘teaching’ is defined in the digital age.  Where did teaching start and ‘prep’ stop?  What about assessment?  It’s time to deconstruct those terms and reconstruct new ones which are fit-for-purpose.  Until then, resourcing such teaching can only ever be a guesstimate (and one which is unlikely to go in favour of the teacher, financially speaking).

Was it rhizomatic? My definition of a rhizomatic ‘uncourse’ comes from Rhizo14, a much bigger venture.  It wasn’t Rhizo14.  It was a small-scale, impulsive, ‘Pop-Up’ course, designed with 11 people in mind, attracting 17.  One platform trumped all others – and the least public platform at that.  So far.  A true rhizome will keep on growing, so let’s see.  I wonder what the measure of a rhizomatic course really is?  If it’s ‘the community is the curriculum’ then yes, I think we can claim this one.

Would we do it again? I’m going to ask that question of all involved.  I’d want to do it for the adrenaline buzz alone (I know that’s not a good reason).  I found it thrilling and I don’t think I’m alone.  It stimulated thinking that is still happening and I hope that this reflexion will grow and grow.  So yes, I’d like to do it again.  What do you think?

Reflexions from my co-tutor Paul Gibson, who committed whole-heartedly and without consultation.  If he had a nano-second’s regret at not building snowmen that day, he never let it show…

I’m far from being a ‘digital native’, but the will and perseverance is always there. Our Rhizome day could easily be categorised simply as ‘online’ work, blended learning that only an IT literate student and tutor would enjoy. However, that undervalues the whole event. This wasn’t simply a few tasks that had been uploaded onto a VLE to ensure GLH were being hit or outcomes that could be assessed: it was much deeper and more involved. The students had to research, think, challenge themselves (and each other) to give honest opinions rather than just regurgitate facts they had found. As one student recalled during reflection ‘I was thrilled at how much I actually learned’. That, I believe, is because the whole day was interactive with a ‘community of praxis’. Pushing each other to think, challenge and reevaluate recent events that had happened in the wider world.

Given that the students found it so fullfilling, the obvious question occurs. If a similar event happened and a ‘pop up’ day was rolled out how many of the same students would take part? Well, after listening to feedback during our ‘regular’ day in class and then sharing the experience with a staff meeting I think the question needs to be ‘how many students and non-students (colleagues, tutors, peers, yammer lurkers etc) would take part now? More than 15! Like a snob, I believe I will be able to say in years to come ‘a pop up day? Ohh yes, I was involved in the very first one you know’.

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Author: Alison Longden

Hard working educator with passionate interest in Teaching for a Social Purpose. Everything I've learned is through observing colleagues and students, all of whom are committed to changing the world. And reading interesting stuff. I work at The Northern College in Barnsley and its mission (and thirty-eight year history) of social transformation makes it an ideal base to face the challenges of teaching adults in 21st century England.

5 thoughts on “Footprints in the Snow”

  1. The Grinch and stealing resilience. I found this very interesting because it relates to the work I do at the women centre i.e. teaching emotional resilience to some of the most vulnerable women in Halifax. In the main , they are the less well off. However, they see education as the way to move forward and change their lives ; working through difficulties that some powerful groups could never do.

    They are brave women who I have no doubt , through becoming more educated ( education=power) , will fly.

  2. Freedom of speech, should I speak?
    This is interesting, not only because of the incident in Paris but because we are all ( well, nearly all) more aware of what or how we say something. I am aware of what I say to a person and how I say it not in fear of causing offence, more to do with respect.
    We should embrace each others differences, not be scared of them. This can be said of the freedomof speech: not to offend but more a case of informing/transferring our thoughts. I can think of an easy example : I might say that a colour does not suit someone, they could be offended if not taken as a positive observation, I could say nothing and let them look drained wearing that colour; what have I got to lose? If that person knows I am saying it because I genuinely want them to look their best, how can they be offended? Some people just are.
    It all seems to be getting out of hand. Most people do not mean to cause offence to others. I believe it is being aware of what you say, how you say it and to who .
    I am not explaining myself very well, sorry.

  3. I’m far from being a ‘digital native’, but the will and perseverance is always there. Our Rhizome day could easily be categorised simply as ‘online’ work, blended learning that only an IT literate student and tutor would enjoy. However, that undervalues the whole event. This wasn’t simply a few tasks that had been uploaded onto a VLE to ensure GLH were being hit or outcomes that could be assessed it was much deeper and more involved. The students had to research, think, challenge themselves (and each other) to give honest opinions rather than just regurgitate facts they had found. As one student recalled during reflection ‘I was thrilled at how much I actually learned’. That, I believe, is because the whole day was interactive with a ‘community of praxis’. Pushing each other to think, challenge and reevaluate recent events that had happened in the wider world.

    Given that the students found it so full filling, the obvious question occurs. If a similar event happened and a ‘pop up’ day was rolled out how many of the same students would take part? Well, after listening to feedback during our ‘regular’ day in class and then sharing the experience with a staff meeting I think the question needs to be ‘how many students and non-students (colleagues, tutors, peers, yammer lurkers etc) would take part now’? More than 15! Like a snob, I believe I will be able to say in years to come ‘a pop up day? Ohh yes, I was involved in the very first one you know’.

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