Interview with John Vaillant

I had such a treat this week to interview author John Vaillant about the book that we are currently reading in TVO’s TeachOntario. The questions were developed in conjunction with the book club’s participants.

Usually when I have interviewed people in the past, I have simply used Google Hangouts on Air and hit record.  This time I needed to adapt to the new Livestream option inside YouTube (which is just like Google Hangouts on Air but hidden) and I had the marvelous Matthew O’Mara to school me on a few production tips.  I hope you’ll enjoy the interview and to be encouraged to pick up this timely and treacherous adventure.  For my review of this book, please go to The Jaguar’s Children by John Vaillant

Best BITs: Are you underwhelmed in online spaces?

In reading Participatory Culture in a Networked Era, I’m reflecting on how not much has really changed since the invention of forums in the 70s … not that I was lurking there, but really it goes like this: post discussion thread, reply to discussion thread, repeat. …Right?

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Why am I underwhelmed in my online spaces

Henry Jenkins says:”… It is abundantly clear that not all forms of participation are equally meaningful or empowering.”  Can you recall a time when you felt underwhelmed by a participatory experience?  What were the circumstances and what went wrong?

Looking forward to your comments.

Making face time

Just before I presented at my staff meeting this week, a colleague turned to me and said “Don’t you ever get nervous?”  Well, of course I do but I have just coached myself to move past those nerves as fast as possible and to take those creative risks. The nerves are still there but I’ve developed….coping mechanisms.

One of my all-time favourite movies is Baz Luhrman’s first movie “Strictly Ballroom”.  Here’s a clip from it:

The moral of the story becomes “A life lived in fear is a life half-lived.”

This month I’ve been learning with/from Brenda Sherry and Peter Skillen‘s online course inside TVO’s TeachOntario called Mindful Facilitation: Leading in Online Spaces and once again I am in awe of how deep an impact my online learning has on me.  I really liked the module about Appreciative Inquiry & Coaching.  Peter coached us to help participants in online spaces to dig deeper through questions that clarified or asked for detail or showed that we were listening.  I’m trying very hard to let the participants in my eLearning English course and in the #BIT16Reads book club to take the direction where they want it to go.  Sometimes there may be uncomfortable silences but this is my perception of discomfort.  I’m also trying to be much more present and human in my interactions. My Dad, who embarrassed me and enjoyed it at every turn, used to tell me to just imagine my audience naked.  It never worked but I did learn to have a good laugh at myself when needed.  Whenever I feel nervous now about taking a creative risk, I try to imagine what the other people are feeling … suspicious, timid, awkward, and then I just try to take the next step in lessening those feelings…often with a laugh. Here’s a little video of what being vulnerable and authentic mean to my teaching:

#BIT16Reads: Multiple entry points

I attended TEDxKitchener last weekend and the first speaker of the day, Dina Pestonji, reminded me that learning has multiple entry points.  Likewise, our online book club #BIT16Reads has multiple entry points.  Here are some of the planned places where you can jump in:

June 1, 2016: Begin discussing Participatory Culture in a Networked Era

July 1, 2016: Begin discussing The Innovator’s Mindset 

August 1, 2016: Begin discussing Creating Thinking Classrooms

September 1, 2016: Begin discussing How We Learn

October 1, 2016: Begin discussing Building School 2.0

November 9 – 11, 2016: #BIT16Reads meet up at the Bring IT Together conference, Niagara Falls, Ontario

After #BIT15Reads last year, one of the most common comments I heard was “I’m so sorry! I joined the book club but I didn’t keep up and then I felt embarrassed that that I couldn’t keep up and so I just stopped participating…”

is completely contrary to The Point of BIT16Reads

The point of #BIT16Reads is

  • to develop a community of learning educators
  • to support each other beyond our annual face-to-face meet ups
  • and above all to enjoy it (there will be no public floggings).

The book club is an idea experiment in itself wherein we have a common text to move our discussion forward.  So if you read our first book Participatory Culture in a Networked Era and throw it across the room after 35 pages, that is your democratic right!  All I ask is that you tell us about it somehow, somewhere and tag it #BIT16Reads so we can see it.

If you want to find us, we’ll be on multiple social media platforms but I encourage you to REGISTER so we can find you!

TVO’s TeachOntario: https://www.teachontario.ca/docs/DOC-3594 

and outside Ontario in Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/170190-bit16reads

Presenting the #BIT16Reads Book Club

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Why an online book club and why now?

  • I like to read things that inform my professional trajectory
  • I like to find people who like to read and engage in rich discussions about what we read
  • I want to build a tighter community of educators that cross subjects and grades

Last year we used the Goodreads platform to collate our ideas and we attracted 94 educators world wide from 5 countries…however we weren’t very social inside Goodreads. So with the help of TVO’s TeachOntario platform I aim to improve that this year! Of course, you can still use any kind of medium you like to communicate…I use Twitter, Google Hangouts and Goodreads but I’m open to the possibilities.  Please use #BIT16Reads so we can find each other! Bring IT Together, TeachOntario and of course, the Ontario School Library Association are all partners in bringing this book club together.

We’re going to read 5 books by November 2016:

Why these books?

  • They’re all recently published
  • They’re all related to education leadership
  • They’re all related to building school cultures that support the integration of technology

Here’s the reading schedule:

June 2016: Participatory Culture in a Networked Era

July 2016: The Innovator’s Mindset

August 2016: Creating Thinking Classrooms

September 2016: How We Learn

October 2016: Building School 2.0

Interested?

Please join us in any of the following ways:

  1. Register at TeachOntario: https://www.teachontario.ca/community/explore/BookClub
  2. Invite yourself to the Goodreads book club: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/170190-bit16reads
  3. Use social media with this hashtag: #BIT16Reads

I can’t wait to hear what you have to say!

Why the internet isn’t a cultural remedy after all

The first time I had an internet experience that crossed cultural boundaries was when I was using a first gen music sharing site like Napster to find J-Pop.  I just happened to notice that this particular pirate/curator liked a lot of the same music that I did from my first stint teaching ESL in Japan in 1994 so I reached out.  I used my rudimentary Japanese to say “Hello!  Nice music!” and they used their rudimentary Japanese to say “Thanks!” back.  One thing led to another and we found out that neither of us was actually living in Japan and instead we were communicating from Canada to Brazil.  I had a whole new cultural appreciation for the Japanese-Brazilian population and my hope for a better world swelled in my heart.

In re-reading danah boyd’s It’s Complicated in TVO’s TeachOntario book club, I’m reminded of those early hopes for the internet’s impact on cultural sharing.  As boyd points out in her notes for Chapter 6, the world became more hopeful that social remedy would truly cross racism off the list in 2011, when Twitter became the chosen network for the Arab Spring movement.  Why aren’t more internet interactions like this one?  Why didn’t the internet become the remedy for inequality?  Christian Rudder’s book Dataclysm is a fantastic read on the topic of the in herent racism that is demonstrated by online behaviour.  I’m not sure what the answer is but I think it has more to do with human nature’s desire to post ridiculous pictures of cat memes.  I’m disappointed that the internet has just amplified our microcosms rather than solving our macro social issues.

 

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What would Jian do?

I posted this blog entry this week in response to Chapter 2 of danah boyd’s book It’s Complicated: the social lives of networked teens I’m really enjoying my role as facilitator in the TVO TeachOntario book club collaboration with the Ontario School Library Association.  Our discussions are so rich.  It’s never too late to join.  Just register at www.teachontario.ca and click on the Share tab to find us.  I look forward to your response.

About the year 2012, I had the privilege to see CBC’s Jian Ghomeshi speak.  I mean the man was one of my idols…we are roughly the same age, I went to a lot of his concerts when he was fronting the band Moxy Fruvous and I got a bit giddy each time I was able to listen to his radio show “Q”.  

At the time, I had a chance to ask Ghomeshi a hard question about the nature of privacy and how as a librarian, I relished things like the national census that allowed us to collect demographics etc.  I asked him what his stance was on privacy, and he said “Privacy?  Well I think privacy is essentially dead…I mean isn’t it?  Can it really get any worse?”  Just before the news broke about being fired from the CBC, a former student of mine, now a TV journalist in Toronto, said aloud on Facebook “Where is Ghomeshi?”  And I defended him (not knowing anything, of course) saying, “Hey man, his Dad just died.  Let’s give him a break.”  I wonder how he would feel about that statement now….as his privacy (and I’m not condoning his behaviour at all) was ripped apart over not just an incident, but his entire career as a journalist, musician, even as a university student.

 

In 2016, I don’t think it’s ok for us to not take responsibility for our behaviour and then get mad about the fact that someone had a camera.  Yet I also understand the need for it.  boyd’s chapter on privacy is well-placed as I think we’ve all firmly established that adult online identities are groomed and polished.  If that’s true, then I will continue to fiercely protect the parts of me that I don’t want to share.  boyd says  “in practice, both privacy and publicity are blurred…Privacy doesn’t just depend on agency; being able to achieve privacy is an expression of agency” (p. 76). I like being public in many circumstances, but without the ability to retreat completely, I would sacrifice my publicity for privacy any day.  

#BIT15Reads: Building a Participatory Learning Community of Professional Readers

Today I submitted this paper as a part of Treasure Mountain Canada 2016.  If you don’t know this is an event that involves the best minds in Canadian School Libraries.  To see all the papers, go to: https://sites.google.com/site/treasuremountaincanada4/home

Be sure to follow the live events on the blog: http://tmcanada.blogspot.ca/

Be sure to follow the hashtag this week:  #tmcanada2016

Foreword

The minute I finished my M.Ed. in teacher-librarianship I went into mourning as I struggled to rebuild my own professional learning without the structure of tuition, professors and deadlines.  I made a promise to not rush into anything and to breathe but still the longing to share with a learning community was ever present.

I attended the Educational Computing Organization of Ontario (ECOO) annual conference in 2014 (#BIT14) and reconnected with my tribe of people who are highly engaged with technology’s role in education, and to my surprise and delight they were offering a session on danah boyd’s book “It’s Complicated” (2014).  The session ran as a discussion panel of teachers who responded to some prepared questions. Everyone in the audience was encouraged to ask their own questions and the ideas exchanged were free-flowing.

After the session and a spirited discussion, #BIT15Reads was born.  The aim of any book club was to build a community of readers but what if those readers, who were all involved in education and technology, could only meet once per year?  Thus began a social experiment to build an online book club of professionals involved in technology’s role in education.   The goal of this book club is to build and sustain a community of readers interested in technology’s role in education.

As with so many other opportunities in my life, #BIT15Reads was not planned but grew organically out of my meagre six years of teacher-librarianship; running book clubs for students; a lifelong love of reading; my social media habits; and informal research in participatory culture.  I have also witnessed firsthand the difficulty of creating online dynamics as I teach grade 12 English each year in an eLearning format.  This participatory culture is key to the learning commons model of Leading Learning (CLA Voices for School Libraries Network, & CLA School Libraries Advisory Committee 2014) and involves a significant shift in philosophy, design and facilitation to achieve.

The risk of starting this new venture with a large group of exceptionally talented educators was not to be taken lightly.  To have the opportunity to practice a professional participatory culture continues to be enticing despite the risks.  I want the experience to be not only valuable but compelling for all participants. Part of the design of participatory culture is to empower the participants. This is done through inclusion and choice, multiple feedback loops and the encouragement of a democratic philosophy of flexible response to this feedback.

Reaching out for support

My first step was to try to develop a comprehensive list of books that would appeal to a wide variety of interests in the field.  I thought I would try to model the CBC Canada Reads project, where we would whittle down a large list into a smaller one as books were reviewed.  I also wanted to make sure that these books were as relevant and well-researched as danah boyd’s example.  I scoured reviews and solicited recommendations from the ECOO community.  Then I began approaching publishers for review copies.  By August 2015, I had contacted 23 publishers successfully soliciting 39 copies of books for our review.  You’d be surprised what people will give you when you are willing to take the time to read and review their work.

 

Book choices screenshotOne of the reasons that publishers were so forthcoming, I’m sure, is because of the promise of our online professional community to openly review these books.

 

Online opportunities and challenges

The old adage “If you build it, they will come” is not necessarily true, as anyone who has ever built an online presence can attest to.  Yet even with my first tweet to announce the existence of #BIT15Reads, I had a positive response:

First tweet (1)In this tweet activity, you can see that 261 people saw this particular tweet.  I tweeted this same message to any person who had been involved in the 2014 ECOO conference the previous year, using the information found on the popular conference site Lanyrd.  By September 12, in just 2 weeks, we had 63 members from Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia and beyond in Jordan and New Zealand.

The response was astounding and I became convinced that I was going to miss an important tweet or mention.  I reached again into my digital toolbox and found Flipboard, an aggregator that lets you read by your search term.  So I searched #BIT15Reads and turned the results into a Flipboard magazine with a unique URL: https://flipboard.com/@banana29/%23bit15reads-book-club-d7dcu7v0y

#BIT15Reads Flipboard

I ambitiously believed that participants would read a book per month and then review them in a visible way.  Soliciting these reviews was more difficult than I thought so I moved to micro-blogging as a way to engage participants.  Jenkins et al. (2013) remark that “Working with social networking tools altered the community dynamics–including leading to a shift in who spoke, and about what, and why” (p.37) when speaking about using social media tools to create a participatory culture in a classroom.  The same is true in moving our annual face-to-face conference to an online forum in that different personas developed online.  Being a reluctant leader myself, I wanted to create a completely democratic feeling where each participant has a stake in the books chosen, when discussions happen, etc. Yet I felt the traditional imperative from my drama teaching days telling me to keep the momentum going, create content by myself and to force dynamics.  The results of this imperative though are quite like when you accept a student’s assignment and know that the parents helped too much with its completion.  It feels forced, artificial and too polished.  Embracing the messiness of the participatory process continues to be my challenge.  Nina Simon (2010), too, talks about this moving from a traditional structure to a participatory culture using this diagram:

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When teaching reading to my students, I encourage them to notice the connections they’re making to other texts. In one of these natural moments of emerging participatory culture, book club participants Stepan Pruchnicky and Martha Jez connected to each other through music:

Stepan Radiohead connection (1).jpg

This beautiful example of connection is exactly what I was hoping for and to highlight it I devoted an entire blog post to it.

Twitter is great for finding community through hashtags, and for real-time reactions, but I wanted additional resources to create a place with some longevity and depth. Twitter became the signpost to point book club members to our private spaces for discussion.

I chose Goodreads as it is the best tool I have found so far to connect with other book readers, and it keeps track of your reading while allowing you to see what your friends are reading.  As a club organizer, this platform allows for an unlimited number of group members, including authors, and an organized method to have multiple discussion streams, and links out to other media.  What it doesn’t do well is bring people into the space and overall, I’m not sure that I will make the choice to have a private group in a closed network again.  Perhaps the key is to connect members within another social networking platform that they’re already using like Facebook.

If members engaged with our Goodreads private club then they were notified of our weekly online video conferences using Google Hangouts on Air.  The software allows you to both livestream your Hangout (which I embedded into the WordPress blog) and also to record the Hangout which is then stored on YouTube.  Here is our very first and very informal hangout which had 8 people join in from Ontario and BC: https://youtu.be/a9PHONZzbPo. My analytics in YouTube tell me that 31 people have watched the playback.

I continued to try to adapt to these challenges without overwhelming the participants so I also involved tools like my own WordPress blog which I could easily push to other social media networks.  I experimented with ways to use multiple media types to begin discussion and engage the participants.  Book club participant Jennifer-Casa Todd captured her e-reader and used it to highlight a quote, saying in her tweet “I like this book already!”:

In the end, my WordPress blog seemed to be the best way to reach the participants. It uses metatags for curation that are then searchable and I can totally control the page structure and it’s organization.  I’ve set it up almost like a book so that the current activity is on the front page and the appendices of curated lists are on subsequent pages. It’s also very shareable on social media and these tools are built in everywhere.  You can see in the graph below that over the course of our launch to the conference that the WordPress blog received a significant boost in traffic.

BIT15Reads WordPress traffic.jpg

Participants had the opportunity to participate in 5 Google hangouts in the 10 weeks of the book club.  Based purely on Goodreads activity, I was able to get our booklist down to our top 12 by early October.

Author engagement

Having reached out to each author using social media and gauging their willingness to engage with our book club, I realized that their involvement would have a huge impact on the involvement of book club participants.  The participants and I were thrilled to have authors respond directly to us:

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Clive Veroni Twitter.jpg

Just before the conference I scheduled Google Hangouts on Air with 4 authors and it was such a thrill.  I used Twitter to invite them, and email to arrange the schedule and to send my questions ahead of time.  Using Google Hangouts with participants taught me that it was too overwhelming to keep the discussion flowing at the same time as managing the technology with multiple speakers, so I chose to just have the author speak with me and to embed the livestream again in the WordPress blog.  I spent an average of 45 minutes on air with each author and my YouTube analytics tell me that author Will Richardson’s interview has been viewed the most at 43 times.

Our face-to-face meeting

Nothing brings people together like food so when ECOO organizer Leslie Boerkamp inquired how best to arrange the #BIT15Reads meet-up, I suggested that it should feel like a wine and cheese party….but without corporate sponsorship and with limited timeslots for social events at the conference, I ended up choosing a casual meeting in the main lobby of the convention centre at breakfast time.

We set up a table full of books right next to the coffee station.

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I gave away 23 books in an hour with a promise from each person that they would visibly show their reading process and tweet with our hashtag. I took pictures of each one of them and published immediately to Twitter with the conference hashtag.  People just couldn’t believe that I was giving away free, good books and these were the review copies that I had solicited ahead of time.  Afterwards I created a blog post about the experience.

#BIT15Reads branches out

In 2016, #BIT16Reads will ride again and appear in new formats under new names.  Ontario educator, Jennifer Casa-Todd, Literacy & Lead Learner for 21C initiative at York Catholic District School Board, has started an online book club about education leadership, using George Couros’ book The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity (2015) using the OSSEMOOC platform.  Additionally TVO has joined with the Ontario School Library Council to offer two book clubs inside its online platform called TeachOntario.  These book clubs will be run by teacher-librarian Melissa Jensen and myself.   At this moment we are celebrating an enthusiastic response from our participants’ first week yet we are beginning with the traditional model where a facilitator leads with discussion talking points and stimuli for interaction.

Coming from a museum background, Nina Simon (2010) describes the ultimate design of a participatory model as a way that invites participants to create, remix and redistribute their own content beyond the original intent of the project (p. 3). What keeps me going is to challenge myself to be the change that I want to see i the world of professional learning communities.  In other words, by continuing to model my own reading and connections with other texts in online and face-to-face places; and in creating spaces for participation with multiple media types, a participatory culture will eventually happen.  I’m taking the creation of these new online book clubs as a good sign that it’s starting to happen.

Going forward

Each year both organizations, ECOO and Ontario Library Association (OLA) hold well-attended conferences, yet both groups seem largely unaware of each other, which is a missed opportunity.  I ask myself why each not-for-profit group wants to keep reinventing the same format of professional development over and over again.  It’s not that these conferences aren’t valuable, but to really make a difference in professional development, these conference formats both lack the same things: longevity, continuity and community. We need to build a participatory culture into our professional development in order to see this trickle down into our schools.  If students, like conference attendees, were allowed to attend which sessions they wanted and to engage openly with social media and, how would school change? If conference attendees were encouraged to model their learning process all year long, as students do, wouldn’t we grow more from each other’s processes? Our entire system of professional thought needs a participatory culture overhaul.  There is so much possibility of online professional development that could enhance our rare face-to-face meetings.

During the entirety of #BIT15Reads, I had only one complaint which was couldn’t I please schedule a Google Hangout on BC time?  The truth is that I couldn’t find a way to fit that into my life’s schedule.  Time is always the greatest hurdle to online networks, it seems.  The asynchronous nature just makes it impossible to reach everyone at the same time.  Jenkins (2013) says:

The participation gap is perhaps the most significant barrier and enduring barrier to artistic expression and civic engagement; it is the perception, and often the reality, that even in an increasingly participatory culture not all community members must or even can contribute” (p. 14). 

That’s my biggest takeaway from the experience: even though there are more lurkers than speakers, the data shows that participants were at least actively listening and that makes the experience worth repeating.

 

References

boyd, D. (2014). It’s complicated: The social lives of networked teens. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

CLA Voices for School Libraries Network, & CLA School Libraries Advisory Committee. (2014). Leading learning: Standards of practice for school library learning commons in Canada 2014. Retrieved from http://clatoolbox.ca/casl/slic/llsop.pdf

Jenkins, H., & Kelley, W. (Eds.). (2013). Reading in a participatory culture: Remixing Moby-Dick in the English classroom. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Simon, N. (2010). The participatory museum. Santa Cruz, CA: Museum 2.0.

#BIT16Reads: Branching out