Dilemmas and Tensions


Unplug’d 2011: Unplugging to Connect

by Andrew Forgrave and Kim Crawford

Central to Unplug’d was the notion of leaving the Internet behind. Various thoughts on connecting, unplugging, and focusing attention have started to emerge.

What did it feel like to unplug?

Close to The Edge

Close to The Edge by aforgrave, on Flickr (CC)

Kim: I didn’t have far to go from ‘plugged’ to ‘unplugged’. I scaled back my online presence a year ago.  Since then it has been sporadic; I lurked, but rarely participated.  For me, unplugging was only difficult in that I couldn’t text with my teenage children or search for information online (which I do a lot).

Andy: If I have the time, I tend to be online, keeping tabs on conversations that occur at all parts of the day. So while I was fully prepared to unplug, I found myself wrestling with how to choose the right time. In part, I was observing others to see how they would handle the transition to disconnect. With other folks posting to Twitter on the train north to The Edge, there was an interest in participating in the recording/telling of “the departure story.” However, upon arrival at South River, there was a great flurry of activity, and a while thereafter, about halfway through the 22 km bike ride to The Edge, I simply realized I would turn off my phone to conserve its charge. I was unplugged.

How did being unplugged shape your experience and interactions with people?

Collaboration by Kim Crawford on Flickr (CC)

Kim: I was present and focused on the moment, so I fully embraced and engaged in the experience.  At The Edge, I think we were able to practice mindfulness, without the distractions of news, people and information from outside of our Unplug’d circle.  Throughout our formal and informal conversations, we listened to what people’s eyes conveyed. We listened to gestures and body language.  We listened to the emotion in a wavering or cracking voice that we wouldn’t hear, couldn’t hear, in a tweet, and we were there to place a comforting hand on a shoulder.  We couldn’t hide behind online personas, so we exposed ourselves for who we are.  We accepted each other for who we are. And, with the focus on connection, we couldn’t help but ask “what is my connection? What can I offer?”  We formed deeper relationships by removing the barriers of time, space and pretense.

Andy: Without devices buzzing in my pocket, supported by the hyper-natural setting of The Edge, and with real-live friends front and centre, awareness of the Internet melted away. Maybe I shifted into a former at-camp mode (years ago, working at summer camp for weeks at a time, the only news came in the form of a newspaper — which I ignored).  At Unplug’d, without phones or Internet, we worked with primitives: paper & pens, even markers, paints, rocks and stone. And canoes. Without distractions of plugged-in life, conversations went deep. Really deep. These are experiences that just can’t happen online. Internet? We didn’t need no stinkin’ Internet.

How did you react to the ability to plug back in?

WiFi on the Bus, by tomfullerton, on Instagram

Kim: After sending some texts to my children, it was all about the pictures and the conversation.  We were still together on the bus when we could plug back in, so it was a group share out to those who weren’t at The Edge.  I wanted to tell a part of the story, so I used my pictures. I started editing them and planning captions.  I uploaded everything on the train from Toronto to London.

Andy: As with “the departure” from Toronto, I was interested in observing our collective response to “the return,” and the opportunity to plug-in. It came as a shock to me to discover that there would be WiFi on the return bus. I somehow felt as if nature was testing us, to see if we had learned a lesson — or not. I avoided the immediate temptation to check what was being shared on Twitter. In my head I was hearing, “I have four more hours to connect with these people face-to-face.” And I’m glad I did.
The next day back, however, after some time spent sleeping, presented the opportunity to continue conversations with Unplug’d delegates as they travelled home. And that meant being online. And online I was. Looking to carry on the discussions that we hadn’t had time to finish. Looking to make plans for future projects. Caring for new friends who were now getting further and further away. And not wanting Unplug’d to end.

How did being (at) unplug’d inspire you?

Tilting the keel

Tilting the keel by Tom Fullerton, on Flickr (CC)

Kim: I will make more of an effort to be connected both online and off.  In order to do this, I’ve generated these reminders for myself:

  • Listen first
  • Stay open to people
  • Don’t be afraid to speak your truth, but share it with kindness
  • Participate online
  • Keep moving forward even if you don’t know what the path or destination look like
  • Join forces

Andy: Unplug’d was an inspiration in many ways. With regards to the connected/disconnected tension, Unplug’d was a wonderful reminder of the benefits of stepping away from day-to-day routines to renew connections with things we overlook in our busy lives. So I’m going commit to continue to unplug; to break the habit of continual online connectedness. I do know that there’s an issue of balance in here. Too little connection and the conversation gets lost. But the other conversation is important, too. The Unplug’d experience made that very clear.

We’d like to hear from you.

What does it feel like to unplug?  How does being unplugged shape your experiences and interactions with people?  How have you reacted to the ability to plug back in?  How has being (at) unplug’d inspire you?


The Bricked-In School Box 4

Schoolhouse

Image: 'Schoolkeeper.' http://www.flickr.com/photos/23565432@N05/2986035445

Outside,
like a knowing parent, patient and amused,
the Experience of Life
glides around the bricked-in school-box.

Inside,
sequestered,
we struggle to learn,
isolated from Truth,
in our compartments,
with our Rules.
Walls of brick and mind dividing us from It.

“This IS the real world.”

They say.

In a long-faded comic book,
the bare-footed Kung Fu, accosted by a booted security guard,
replies,
“Does not the pavement distance your feet from Earth enough already?”


The Future is Already Here 7

DougPeteTweetDeckThe Future is Already Here … it’s just not very evenly distributed.
William Gibson
Attribution

Listen to the NPR Interview Nov 30, 1999

Ontario educator Doug Peterson (@dougpete on Twitter) sent out a tweet yesterday morning which immediately caught my attention, “Just blogged: Great opportunity for Ontario Teachers. Yesterday, the Ministry of Education announced …”

A short link through to Doug’s Off the Record blog had me reading about the immediate availability of a new piece of OSAPAC-licensed software for use in Ontario publicly-funded schools, Bitstrips for Schools.  The Ontario Ministry of Education, supported by the direction of OSAPAC, had finalized licensing arrangements to procure a modified-for-education version of the existing Bitstrips, and was announcing that the augmented site was ready-for-access by Ontario teachers and students. Not only would the modified version provide an “education-friendly” environment, but it would also include an easy-to-use management framework.

Here’s my first attempt with the software (with a small measure of editorializing thrown in for spice):

TheFutureHasArrived

So, as referenced in piece above, shortly after reading Doug’s post, I was on the Bitstrips For Schools site. Within mere moments, I had activated my account, created a class grouping, and set up my student accounts. (The registration page included a drop down selector for school district, and then school — it then validated against my district email account. Easy Peasy.)

And it is in this ease-of-access that I find a profound potential.

The ease with which Ontario teachers can access this new software application, with all of its attendant student-collaboration potential, is unheard of in my experience  for an OSAPAC release. (Certainly the local implementation of Gizmos, for example (another OSAPAC-licensed web-app) — and the attendant user codes — have yet to make their way out into our schools from the district office. Not sure what’s up with that.) Granted, some teachers may require some support and/or training to make use of this software. Finding an appropriate curriculum context will also be important for others. But there’s no doubt in my mind that students will take to this with ease. The fact that it requires NO installation or subsequent technical support on the part of district IT departments, however, really strikes my fancy. And the ability for students to access the web-app from home, bodes well for where we need to be going. As an initial case-study, I see this as a wonderful indication of what is potentially to come. If the easy registration of teacher accounts and subordinate student accounts (as established via OSAPAC/EDU) works in this application, then it paves the way for OSAPAC and the Ministry of Education to employ the same strategy in rolling out other web/cloud-based applications. The sooner, the better. A provincially-licensed blogging or writing process tool, anyone?

Granted, this may run the risk of being potentially perceived by some as a bit of a challenge to local district edicts/policies — if they’re not already onboard — but I hope not. After all, the times, they are a’ changing. With eLearning providing education directly to some students in their homes already, we all need to be looking forward and embracing the aspects of educational technology that can truly work to empower learners and educators alike.

As for the Gibson quote, there’s no doubt that the uneven distribution of the future remains a significant issue for us all to wrestle with.

But I,  for one, applaud OSAPAC and the Ministry for their vision in taking this step forward. This act clearly demonstrates the potential for a more even distribution of the future moving forward …  🙂

What are your thoughts?  Is this a good way for OSAPAC and the Ministry to keep moving?


I Need My Teachers to Learn 1

Kevin Honeycutt‘s recent video I Need My Teachers to Learn came through my Twitterstream this evening.*

* courtesy of @mguhlin, who in turn was forwarding a link to Richard Byrne’s site Free Technology for Teachers, who himself references Wesley Fryer’s Moving at the Speed of Creativity blog. Wes heard of it from Rae Niles. I haven’t chased the thread further back, but this is the nature of the web. 🙂

(I’m mentioning this trace of the propagation of this video because it so nicely illustrates the power of social media connections between educators — it speaks volumes of the incredible potential for said technologies to revolutionize learning, for educators and learners alike.)

At any rate, the video’s title and catchy tune, coupled with the very important message, prompted me to post it here to edVisioned.ca. While I know many educators who continue to work in education for the very fact that they enjoy learning (as well as educating), the rapid pace of technological advance is creating the potential for a considerable gap between the currency of teaching methods and the use of technologies in schools. Not only do teachers need to continue to learn, teachers and administrators (along with IT departments) need to recognize the technologies accessed by students outside of schools are part of their “thinking” and “doing,” and we need to not only learn/understand these things, but advocate for their inclusion within out educational institutions.  Hats off to Kevin and his team for producing this:

I particularly connect with the third verse, which references netbooks, Skype, and district firewalls. Despite having toted a notebook for over a decade now (13 years? 14 years?) as a professional working in education, I grapple on a daily basis with a policy that denies me permission to connect to the network in my school. Imagine not being allowed to use a pencil! Or notepaper. Or a television. Or a DVD player. Or a phone.

But we will get there.

It will just take some time. And some advocacy.

And learning. Continual learning.

Both I and my students Need Me to Learn.