From information … to knowledge creation!

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Big Rocks – or in this case, lemons

When thinking about my “big learning” from my explorations in the past few weeks, an image of a jar full of large round objects keeps coming to mind.  These are the “Big Rocks” – the significant take-away pieces from my explorations of “Integrating Educational Technology” into teaching practice.  Because of limited size, a jar can only hold so many of these large objects before the lid will no longer close.  However, in order for the jar to be really full, you can also fit in objects of a smaller size – the pebbles and sand.  Then, just when you think not a single other thing will fit, in goes the water…until every space is full.  To me, that is what learning is like.  We stumble across large rocks that we want to keep and frame our work around and then add in all the smaller bits that make up the finer points.

In recent weeks, the largest rock that I have stumbled upon has been…

1. The Big Rock – Farewell, Narcissism!

My huge take-away is a paradigm shift in how I see my practice.  It is a shift from teacher-centric thinking to student-centric, especially as it relates to technology integration.  It really is NOT all about me!

In this context, the change means that my stress around mastering technology ahead of my students and keeping on top of each great new app and tool is not the point.  MY learning of a new technology is not what is vital here. It really is not the point.  With the help of explorations into TPACK, relevant readings and online discussions with my peers, I have come to see that the key point is to ensure that I root the use and integration of technology in solid knowledge of content and pedagogy.  The piece of technology as the “tool” is not the end goal.  My expertise in modeling it is not the vital piece.  My facility with all new gadgets is not what is at stake.  I need to be the guide on the side and empower students with skills with which to explore these tools and help them successfully navigate their appropriate use.  I need to let them take the lead and help facilitate discussion and discernment in the selection of what would work best for each different context of learning and individual student need.  My job is to ensure the digital citizenship, information literacy and transliteracy skills of students are honed and razor sharp and ready to put into action…in fact, I can think of myself as a bit of a boot camp leader helping my students get “fit” to face a challenging world!   I need to enable them to skillfully engage as part of a participatory culture (Jenkins, 2006).

 2.  Pebbles and Sand (what can we make with them?)

Creativity is a skill that is vital to cultivate.  It may be unfair or inaccurate to say that it can be “taught”, but I believe that it can be modelled, nurtured, and encouraged.  A huge a-ha moment came for me when reading Seth Godin’s (2012) manifesto Stop Stealing Dreams (What Is School For?).  Item 51 (How They Saved Lego) states:

...The secret to LEGO’s success was the switch from all-purpose LEGO sets, with blocks of different sizes and colors, to predefined kits, models that must be assembled precisely one way, or they’re wrong. Why would these sell so many more copies? Because they match what parents expect and what kids have been trained to do. There’s a right answer! The mom and the kid can both take pride in the kit, assembled. It’s done. Instructions were followed and results were attained.LEGO isn’t the problem, but it is a symptom of something seriously amiss. We’re entering a revolution of ideas while producing a generation that wants instructions instead. 

That was a light bulb moment for me – how do I work with students to cultivate a desire to play, explore, innovate and create instead of only looking for the “right” or “approved” way?  This is out of my comfort zone, as I tend to like to follow the instructions, too. I have made it a personal challenge for the future to model, encourage, and enable creativity.

3. The Water that holds it all together

The water, or the “glue that holds it all together” is teacher self-efficacy.  This is not in contrast or contradictory to the “big rocks” statement about losing the narcissism!  This is about how we feel about ourselves as teachers and the confidence we bring about our abilities to our classes and interactions with everyone within the educational setting.  The ripple effects are huge – the more confidently we approach our teaching, the more (calculated and insightful) risks we are willing to take and the greater the impact on our students, colleagues, the whole school culutre,  and by extension parents.  Our self-efficacy impacts all aspects of our teaching.

It is amazing how much you can pack into one small jar!


Godin, S. Stop Stealing Dreams (What Is School For?). (Free Online Publication, 2012). Available in various formats through Seth Godin’s blog at: http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2012/02/wwwstopstealingdreamscom-my-new-manifesto-is-now-live.html

Harris, J., Mishra, P., & Koehler, M. (2009). Teachers’ technological pedagogical content knowledge and learning activity types: Curriculum-based technology integration reframed. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 41(4), 393-416. Retrieved from: http://mkoehler.educ.msu.edu/OtherPages/Koehler_Pubs/TECH_BY_DESIGN/AERA_2007/A

Jenkins, H. (2006). Confronting the challenges of participatory culture: Media education for the 21st century. John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Retrieved from http://digitallearning.macfound.org/atf/cf/%7B7E45C7E0-A3E0-4B89-AC9C-E807E1B0AE4E%7D/JENKINS_WHITE_PAPER.PDF


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Under Pressure…

“Pressure pushing down on me

Pressing down on you

no man ask for

Under pressure”

Lyrics to “Under Pressure” (Mercury, Taylor, Deacon, May, Bowie)

Help! Make it STOP!

This is the sentiment of many of my colleagues, and, I must admit, my own feeling from time to time. The quick rate of change and rapid introduction of new apps, software and other technologies to the field is enough to make anyone feel like they are sinking under a tidal wave of new things to learn, master, and keep ahead of. How does one even begin to keep up? According to Mishra, Koehler, and Kereluik (2009):

Highly acclaimed educational technologies emerge at an ever-increasing pace… If technology is always changing and jumping from one “revolutionary” invention to the next, then, in the time it takes to learn how to use that technology, it has already become obsolete. This rapid rate of change means that there is increasing pressure on teachers to learn new ways to integrate technology with their teaching. A few decades ago, teachers could expect that the technologies they used for teaching (e.g., blackboards, TV, video, overhead projectors) would remain reasonably stable through their careers. That expectation is clearly unrealistic for today’s teachers and for generations of teachers to come. (pp.49-50)

Catching a break

Used with permission – http://tpack.org/

Luckily, there is a lifeboat on the horizon. There is another way! As educators, we don’t have to feel swamped and pulled in new directions by every new technology to hit the market. The key comes from examining the integration of technology using the lens of TPACK. “The TPCK framework describes how teachers’ understandings of technology, pedagogy, and content can interact with one another to produce effective discipline-based teaching with educational technologies” (Harris, Mishra, & Koehler, 2009, p.4).

I had previously read about TPACK and discussed it with teaching colleagues, but it wasn’t until I really began to explore the concepts of the equal importance of content knowledge and pedagogy to the use of technology that the light bulbs really began to go off for me. Mishra, Koehler and Kereluik (2009) pose the question:

How does the TPACK framework offer a new way of thinking about educational technology? First, by stressing how technology interacts with pedagogy and content, innovations are not necessarily relevant for teaching. Instead, emphasis is put on evaluating the entire teaching performance, not just one aspect of it (e.g., technology). Second, using the TPACK framework helps educators reason about which technologies are worth learning; not to learn every technology and then figure out how to apply it. Instead, educators should be able to quickly evaluate new technologies in terms of how they will present content or facilitate pedagogy. (p.51)

So What?

How does considering TPACK help us? Can it relieve some of the pressure? Can it really be that simple? Well – the answer is yes…and no. There is no magic involved, and passivity isn’t an option. There will be no running and hiding our head in the sand like ostriches… We need to actively and intentionally stay involved in discussion – locally within our schools and in a broader way through our Personal Learning Network (PLN). We need to read and ask questions and experiment and be creative and be willing to try and fail and try again. We need to succeed and tell others about our journey. We need to be proactive and thoughtful. According to Mishra, Koehler and Kereluik (2009):

This new approach calls for creativity and ingenuity on the part of teachers and teacher educators, as well as a way of looking at educational technology that goes beyond continuously “chasing” the latest and greatest innovation. It is only by paying attention to deeper ideas and more enduring ideas of teaching (while being open to new possibilities being brought about by new tools), and by developing strategies and approaches that are flexible and context sensitive, that we can best serve our students. pp. 50-51)

Does understanding the importance of TPACK make you feel any less overwhelmed? Does it make you feel better to know you don’t have to stand alone and block the tidal wave, but rather, learn to skillfully surf?


Harris, J., Mishra, P., & Koehler, M. (2009). Teachers’ technological pedagogical content knowledge and learning activity types: Curriculum-based technology integration reframed. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 41(4), 393-416. Retrieved from: http://mkoehler.educ.msu.edu/OtherPages/Koehler_Pubs/TECH_BY_DESIGN/AERA_2007/AERA2007_HarrisMishraKoehler.pdf

Mishra, P., Koehler, M.J., & Kereluik, K. (2009). The song remains the same: Looking back to the future of educational technology. Retrieved from: http://punya.educ.msu.edu/publications/Mishra-Koehler-Kereluik-techtrends09.pdf

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Transmedia Explorations

The Spark…

At the recent Kaleidoscope 10 Children’s Literature Conference, I listened to Calgary author Jeff Buick present on literature and transmedia, and he described his recent transmedia novel One Child. (See here for a description of what transmedia means in the context of this novel).  Henry Jenkins (2011) describes transmedia thusly:

 Transmedia storytelling represents a process where integral elements of a fiction get dispersed systematically across multiple delivery channels for the purpose of creating a unified and coordinated entertainment experience. Ideally, each medium makes it own unique contribution to the unfolding of the story.

One Child, a novel for teens, is about Halima, a small girl in Kandahar, Afghanistan, who dreams that she changes the world. The story plays out across several types of media, including Facebook, Twitter, webpages, video, etc.  It is available in three formats: as a print book, online, as well as an e-book.  The online and iPad version at the time of the release of the novel allowed readers to actively participate as if they were part of the action by having bits/chapters released day by day and readers followed along with the social media links “as the action happened” over several days.  It sounded like a thrilling experience that would engage a reader on many levels.

At the end of the description of his novel and the process that went in to its creation as a transmedia experience, Jeff discussed what a powerful activity the creation of a transmedia piece of literature could be for a group of students.  He explored the utilization of the five senses along with multiple ways of representation, and the obvious connections to many subject areas and disciplines (art, music, ELA, social studies, math, graphic design, computer technology, etc.).  As I scanned the audience, I noticed how excited many of the educator-based audience members seemed as they nodded their heads along with each point Jeff was making.  I know that for myself, it started many synapses firing as I made connections to some recent reading I have been doing around TPACK and transliteracy.

Good Teaching

Greatly distilled, TPACK basically suggests that good teaching requires an understanding of how technology relates to the pedagogy and content.  According to Harris, Mishra and Koehler 2009), “the TPCK framework describes how teachers’ understandings of technology, pedagogy, and content can interact with one another to produce effective discipline-based teaching with educational technologies” (p. 4).  Collaboratively planning an activity such as the creation of a transmedia literature experience brought to mind the TPACK-inspired Secondary English Language Arts Learning Activity Types document by Young, Hofer, and Harris (2011) that presents a number of TPACK-inspired activities that attempt to provide scaffolding for teachers as they consider how to best structure learning activities, and how to best support those activities with educational technologies.  Many of the activities on the document list would be apt when planning a transmedia project of this scope.

Necessary Skills 

In order for students to be successful in the creation of a transmedia project, facility with certain skills would be necessary.  Many of these skills could/would fall under the umbrella of transliteracy. Thomas, et al (2007) describe transliteracy as the ability to read, write and interact across a range of platforms, tools and media from signing and orality through handwriting, print, TV, radio and film, to digital social networks. Ipiri (2010) further eloaborates on this definition by pointing out that:

 transliteracy is concerned with what it means to be literate in the 21st century. It analyzes the relationship between people and technology, most specifically social networking, but is fluid enough to not be tied to any particular technology. It focuses more on the social uses of technology, whatever that technology may be. (p. 532)

Much thought would need to be given to digital citizenship when creating fictitious characters/websites/postings on social networks.  Perhaps students could use an environment such as Edmodo or set up a private Ning, etc.  What a perfect opportunity to discuss the social implications of fact versus fiction on the web.  Author Jeff Buick, when asked if any problems had arisen over the realistic nature of the fictitious posts related a story about a mother of a veteran who had made a heart-felt post on the Facebook page of the fictitious war correspondent thanking him for the important and dangerous work that he was doing on behalf of citizens.  It was an awkward situation for the author and his team to be placed in and caused them to think more deeply about repercussions of this realistic ruse.  What a powerful discussion for students, and one that needs to happen before the projects are created.  How will students be intentional in letting viewers know that their creations are a work of fiction?

**See here for a great Scoop.it post on Transmedia Storytelling


Harris, J., Mishra, P., & Koehler, M. (2009). Teachers’ technological pedagogical content knowledge and learning activity types: Curriculum-based technology integration reframed. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 41(4), 393-416. Retrieved from: http://mkoehler.educ.msu.edu/OtherPages/Koehler_Pubs/TECH_BY_DESIGN/AERA_2007/AERA2007_HarrisMishraKoehler.pdf

Ipri, T. (2010). Introducing transliteracy. College & Research Libraries News, 71(10), 532-567 Retrieved from http://ezproxy.lib.ucalgary.ca:2048/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.a spx?direct=true&db=afh&AN=55321486&site=ehost-live

Jenkins, H. (2011, Aug. 1). “Transmedia 202: Further Reflections”. Confessions of an AcaFan. Retrieved from http://henryjenkins.org/2011/08/defining_transmedia_further_re.html

Thomas, S., Joseph, C., Laccetti, J., Mason, B., Mills, S., Perril, S., & Pullinger, K. (2007). Transliteracy: Crossing Divides. First Monday, Vol.12 (12). Retrieved from http://www.uic.edu/htbin/cgiwrap/bin/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/2060/1908

Young, C. A., Hofer, M, & Harris, J.. (2011, February). Secondary English language arts learning activity types. Retrieved from College of William and Mary, School of Education, Learning Activity Types Wiki: http://activitytypes.wmwikis.net/file/view/SecEngLangArtsLearningATs-Feb2011.pdf