Developing Expert Voices ... Words into Actions

2/18/2007 11:31:00 pm

This is going to be long ...

An Open Conversation
I received an email from Terry Freedman shortly after my first post about this project. Here is the reply I sent him (published with Terry's permission) ...

Hi, Darren

I'm interested in this, but what are the logistics, or are they not known yet:

1. Who manages the teaming up of individual students?

Teachers do. They leverage their network of connections with other blogging teachers to find appropriate matches. I just built a wiki to help facilitate this:

2. What safeguards are there against being teamed up with a perv (am thinking of your example of a younger child being paired up with an older one)

FOAF [Friend Of A Friend]. If "Joe Soap" from Over There contacts me to connect our kids it's not going fly unless I "know" him. What I mean by that is I would have to be familiar with his work as a blogging teacher or someone in my immediate network of connections would have to have this familiarity with him.

This project really amounts to exploring the responsiveness and flexibility of the network. Will it respond to the invitation? Will it explore the potential hazards associated with doing something like this? (Your email is the first response of the network in this regard. How will others reply to these questions? What further questions do these concerns raise?) Can we collaborate together effectively? Can we build a workable rubric together? Can we figure out the pedagogy together? Can we work beyond the normal boundaries imposed on teachers, students and classrooms? Can we pass the benefits of this kind of collaboration on to our students?

3. What is the overhead in terms of time and access?

Not sure what you mean by this. Do you mean how long will it last and how will students connect and then aggregate their final products? I figure from start to finish, once students are paired up, two weeks should be sufficient to put their presentations together. These pairings should roll out sporadically as the semester unfolds and students continue to learn new content. They can build their own wikis to collaborate. Chris Harbeck and I have put together a wiki which is just a links list of different web 2.0 tools kids can use to build their projects:

Aggregating the final products will be done on either a wiki or a blog. If the number of participating teachers is small perhaps a blog, if large maybe a wiki. Then again, the nature of the collaboration is more suggestive of a wiki rather than a blog. If I end up doing this with just my students their work will be aggregated on a blog.

It sounds very exciting.

I think so too. My students will all be required to do these presentations this semester. The question is will I be able to work the network to connect them globally and get them to collaborate with other students elsewhere? ;-)

Terry, I think the questions you've raised here should be more broadly discussed. Can I publish your email and my reply on my blog? Feel free to do the same on yours if you wish.


Terry and I continued the conversation and he asked me to write something about it to include in the latest edition of his newsletter Computers in the Classroom. You'll find Terry's further thoughts about this there.

A Further Clarification
I've received other email from people about Developing Expert Voices and a few requests to join the wiki (which are granted asap). Julie Lindsay also chimed in with this post on her blog. The tenor of most replies seems to be along the lines of: "Neat idea Darren. Count me in when you're ready to go ahead with this." No one has actually said that; that's just the sense I get from reading them. So, I feel this need to clear things up a bit. I've hesitated because it's hard to convey this in text using the same tone of voice I would in real life. In text, it's liable to come across rather harsh. Please understand, that's not the way it's intended. Here goes ...

I am not volunteering to organize teachers and classes who are interested in doing the sort of collaborative work Julie and Vicki did.

I am interested in working with individual teachers who share an interest in pursuing this sort of work. Either by matching our classes up or by matching individual students up on a case-by-case basis.

I have no idea if this will work, but I'm willing to give it a go. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

What's Happening
Ryan Maksymchuk and I are teaching the same course this semester. He teaches in a rural school about a five hour drive North West of Winnipeg. We're fortunate in that we are teaching the same curriculum and covering the same content at more or less the same pace. My Applied Math class blog has a feed window into his Applied Math class' blog and vice versa. We've talked and decided to pursue the idea with our classes.

When I first brought the idea up with my class they seemed scared. The class discussion centered around three concerns:
(1) What if my partner in the other class doesn't carry their weight?
(2) What if my partner makes a mistake and, when I point it out to them, they get angry with me?
(3) I just learned how to blog! Now you want me to "publish" a project online! I don't know how to do that ... I don't even know what that means.

I reflected back to them that the first two concerns would be no different in a face-to-face class but the third was a different matter. So, I've started collating a set of various online presentations for my students to have a look at and perhaps give them some ideas about how to put together an online presentation.

Also, Ryan and I have thrown it back to our classes and written posts on our class blogs asking for the student's input via the comments. So far five students have replied; 2 in Ryan's class and 3 in mine. All the comments submitted are positive ones. Ryan and I will talk more this week and we'll see how it plays out. We've already figured out that we'll need a wiki as a central clearing house for organizing all the logistics in doing this. Like Vicki and Julie did we've started talking about doing some sort of podcast or audio introductions for the kids to "meet."

I must admit, I'm feeling very anxious about doing this. There is a great sense of ... trepidation(?) about it. Not sure I can put my finger on it, but there it is.

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  1. Darren, These ideas sound very interesting. I'm not a classroom teacher but I send out a daily email newsletter that reaches more than 10,000 school folks. I'd be happy to work with you in some way, even if it just means pointing to the products that your students and their partners develop.

    Andrew Pass

  2. Anonymous19/2/07 08:37

    Thanks Andrew, that would be great! I'll let you know when they're published ... I'll blog about it here. ;-)


  3. Darren, I am most interested to read your 'words into action' comments. You know there just is not a 'one size fits all' approach to collaboration and social learning and I appreciate your statements about wanting to share but not wanting to organise others. Your student feedback reflects the same sort of uncertainty faced with a f2f project in the classroom however for some reason these fears are articulated more due to the uncertain nature of the collaboration. Yes, there will be students who don't pull their weight but in a way this is a true reflection of the real world. The student left with an inactive partner must take decisions as to what course of action is necessary for his own survival as well.
    I want to draw your attention to the work of Vinnie Vrotny and his global connections workshop where he discusses passive and active collaboration amongst other things.
    Cheers, Julie

  4. Darren,
    I don't have a class right now, as I'm in a supporting (coaching) role, but would be willing to act as a mentor for several of your student groups. I would be willing to help check the math, be a sounding board, and help in any way. I think the idea is a great model and wish I had a class right now so I could get them involved but alas, part of trying new roles... Let me know if I can help.