Saturday, August 1, 2015

A Community of Practice

A Final Reflection on INTE 5340


I am in my first year as a graduate student, and Learning With Digital Stories was the fourth course I've taken. It has been very interesting being a graduate student - it is unlike any other formal 'student' experience I have had. Here is what I have noticed, a model let's say:
  • I'm expected to learn much of the technical aspects of media production myself.
  • The professor isn't going to tell me how I'm doing. He or she is more likely to help me see what I am doing, and what I could do further.
  • The production of work isn't as important as the critical stance I take in producing the work.
  • I am expected to critique or comment on the work of my peers. The professor will model this activity for us in various ways.
  • I am expected to collaborate with my peers; respond to their critiques and comments on my work, provide encouragement and feedback, and honor my commitments to a group.
  • In these ways I become a model and inspiration for my peers, and they for me.
This course is perhaps more strongly in line with this model than any of the others I've taken. To disconnect from Canvas and use our blogs and Twitter was intimidating but very cool. The only part of Canvas I missed was the threaded discussions (which is hard to do in Twitter), though they did become unwieldy past a certain point. Most importantly, thanks to Lankshear and Knobel's New Literacies, I now understand and can analyze the model above. I see that the model is not ad hoc or accidental, but is a designed approach, a platform, for having us, as graduate students, practice taking on identities as professional academics and technicians. Reading about the graduate class in Chapter 8 made me laugh, because it sounded very much like my experience with my UCDenver SEHD courses.

I learn very quickly, I'm very efficient at it. I've found that the best approach is to fling myself at the work and see what happens. I also employ what I call The Committee of Sleep (which I made a video about for my last course). As an older student who is also an experienced teacher, I have come to appreciate the role I can play as a leader among my peers. I'm not voluble in that role, but the right gesture at the right time can mean the world. So I pick up on the modeling that the professors do, and then keep in mind that my communication with peers is modeling too. (A quick example: when deciding whose work to respond to, I will sometimes look for the student who seems to not be getting a lot of attention and give him or her some comment love.)

My main contribution to this course was in the work product. Like the disc jockey on the radio who has no idea whether anyone is listening, I created my media projects and posted them on my blog and made announcements on Twitter. Anyone who clicked the link and took a look would be rewarded with a multi-faceted project that tried to address the assignment at many levels simultaneously. This is my favorite kind of work, and in this class consisted of taking 'storytelling' seriously and creating traditional and not-so-traditional stories-within-stories, or self-referential stories, or interwoven narratives, or even just a title that was a tiny story. Even my contention that physics is 'story' is heterodox (or eccentric - you decide).

As much as I really enjoyed the media assignments and Twitter camaraderie, my greatest accomplishment in this course was understanding New Literacies. I have copied below a paragraph from each of several weekly Reflections in this course. I think these paragraphs demonstrate a progression in my understanding, and also demonstrate a consistency in what occupies my mind, and how I hope to apply my graduate work in my life.
  • As the school year winds down, my thoughts turn to next year. I want to pursue this idea I have of using story to teach physics - specifically, having the students express physics in their own stories. By reading Lankshear & Knobel on literacy, I think that I may gain a broader perspective on physics-as-story, something along the lines of a physics literacy. (Week 2)
  • Thinking more about next year, I am beginning to understand that teaching my students to use story to understand physics is going to be a multiple-literacies experience. When I imagine what I would like them to do, I see primarily the technical practices: using equations, graphs, diagrams, and charts as parts of a certain way of explaining; using online sites for finding and accessing texts, images, audio and video files, simulations, and models; and using other digital tools for creating presentation material, software like Photoshop and hardware like Smart Boards. In other words, I imagine what it is that I already do, the ways in which I am literate, and how I can model these technical practices for my students. (Week 3)
  • I'm thinking again about the next school year, and about all the instructional materials I'm constantly designing and tinkering with. Of course, this is remix as well. I steal shamelessly from the Internet and from my fellow teachers. I watch how students respond, and re-remix accordingly. The concept of remix allows me to see more clearly how my students, using remix techniques, could improve their ability to "speak" or "write" physics , and I'm eager to try some ideas. I'll be remixing, of course, from materials that already work for me. (Week 4)
  • Here's a question - a lot is written about learning and learners and communities of learners, and almost nothing is written about teaching. In these communities of learners, whether digital and online or not, who are the teachers? And more importantly, who qualifies as an engaging and effective teacher? Exploring this question has been part of my focal theme, not just this semester but for decades throughout my teaching career. In my work this semester, I am acutely aware of being both a learner and a teacher. The learning is in mastering a technique or tool to achieve an end product. The end product, for me, is always an attempt to teach, either overtly or covertly. L&K left a hint in Chapter 7 where they mention mentoring (p. 221), and I hope they enlarge upon this in Chapter 8. (Week 6)
  • It was exciting to read Lankshear & Knobel's final chapter. It left me with a lot to think about, not just concerning different approaches to literacy and learning, but also concerning L&K's language and concepts as tools for analyzing a learning environment. In other words, I'm beginning to shift my focus from the social phenomenon itself to how a social phenomenon can be analyzed. As I pointed out in Week 1, I've never studied sociology, so this has been my first exposure to a sociological study of any social practice. I'm only just now getting a feel for how sociologists see and study the world, and how I, in my small way, could do the same. (Week 7)
By the way, I'd like to point out that L&K did NOT enlarge upon the role of teaching in an overt way in Chapter 8 as I had hoped. They did use an important word in briefly describing the role of the professors in the graduate course (p. 236): elicitive. I liked that - it's a good start.