|—||Martin Luther King, Jr. , 7th January, 1968|
Anissa Weinraub of the Teacher Action Group (@TAGPhilly) was the keynote at this year’s Philadelphia Writing Project’s Celebration of Writing and Literacy. In this keynote she described the need for Teacher Collective Action to both “defend and transform” public education.
— Seecantrill (@Seecantrill)
Given Anissa’s experience as both a teacher and an activist, it is no surprise that her description of collection action is so well informed and thoughtful. She describes three spheres of work were teachers specifically need to organize:
- Curriculum, Teaching and Learning
- School Structures
- Movement Building/Political Work
This keynote was addressed to educators who had gathered at PhilWP’s Celebration and was followed up by a discussion session about change and organizing. And what was powerful about this for me was that most of these educators who were there are themselves networked in communities with other educators, such as the Philadelphia Writing Project (@PhilWP86), Teachers Lead Philly, and TAG (TAG and PhilWP I know to be networked with larger nationally and internationally communities of educators too.)
So as I stood there listening and thinking about the spheres of action that Anissa described, what was so striking to me was the collective interconnected and networked power in that room that I believe really can, if working together, build and take essential collective action.
Anissa has written and spoken widely about the need to organize and for teachers themselves to understand their role as that of leader and organizer. We are at a tipping point, she writes in this article from the Penn Urban Ed Journal, and describes what has been learned over time from TAG’s organizing work to inform how best to move forward.
This semester then I’ve decided that better than tracking surveillance as I previously wrote about, I’m rather going to shift my attention back to a topic I know and love the best — teacher networking and organizing. I am interested in learning more about the teacher networks in Philadelphia both to shine more light on this essential work that they are doing while also seeing if I can help to extend and support that work in growing. I am also interested in learning more about networks that reach beyond school-based teachers and to support thinking about learning across formal and informal spaces. Therefore I am interested in educator networking, writ large … and I’m curious what is happening already and also how to further support and expand that work too.
This is because I believe that only in expanding beyond the walls of the traditional formal classroom can we start to really understand learning itself and imagine the possibilities in a radically changing and shifting social and technology landscape. I also think it’s strategic, ie. the need to defend and transform those things that are public goes well beyond education. So I see this kind of networking as both a strategic way to expand education’s resource base while also expanding the conversation about the role of public to democracy today.
(correction: wrong date for SXSW and school closings was mentioned earlier. I meant March not May.)
While just a week earlier, an article in the New York Times on Deciding Who Sees Students’ Data reminds us that recent changes to the to the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) actually “permit schools to share student data, without notifying parents, with companies to which they have outsourced core functions like scheduling or data management.”
And then later this same month, Helen Gym raises the alarm about PhillyschoolApp — a centralized student placement service being developed by private entity being engaged by the Philadelphia School Partnership.
I remember very clearly the day that the leading student data systems offered by InBloom Technologies was announced. It happened at SXSW this past year. And it just so happened that was the very same day decisions were being made on whether or not to close 27 public schools in Philadelphia. I watched both these events unfolded over twitter — following #phillyeducation on the one hand and #sxsw on the other.
This day stays with me because the dissonance I felt between the two feeds was very disturbing.
This semester is an opportunity to dig into this dissonance, prompted by Helen’s writing and the continued activity happening as InBloom pilots unfold throughout the country. As I’ve written about before, I have serious concerns about technologies such as InBloom and find their focus on “personalization” very troubling. I’ve done little real research on the matter, however, beyond just following Audrey Watters of Hack Education who pays close attention to the activities of these ed tech companies.
“While “personalized learning” may be the stated goal of inBloom, it’s easy to see that this sort of data infrastructure can (and will) also be used to enable surveillance — monitoring and assessing students and in turn teachers and in turn schools.” Audrey writes.
Focusing back on Philadelphia, I’d like to track more closely what is happening here and how it fits into patterns we see nationally. I am also interested in the questions of “for whom” and “for what” these systems and technologies are being developed and problems they are suggesting they will solve. For example, Helen Gym quotes Susan Gobreski, executive director of Education Voters PA who said her organization had supported a common enrollment process, which could deal with inequalities. Which, on it’s face makes sense. However Gobreski acknowledges the way that this PhillySchoolApp is unfolding is not what they were advocating. Instead, she said
“School placement for public education must be the function of a public entity and changes to our current process need to be thoroughly examined in a public manner with an opportunity to raise questions.”
In the wake of the massive and seemingly unquestioned data mining a la NSA, attention to this area of data collection, rights and privacy has become even more pronounced. My interest then in the context of considering the role of public in public education, is to unpack the range of issues these data systems are raising in educational institutions and networks, what problems they are believe to be solving and whose interests are in the mix, as well as what efforts are being lead by privacy advocates, public and open data communities, and parents/educators/students in response and/or being developed as alternatives.
Would love to hear from anyone with insights or resources to share on these matters.
I just returned from my second Mozilla Festival this past week — I was invited there with several colleagues to work on Mozilla’s #teachtheweb strand as a part of the National Writing Project’s partnership with Mozilla through our Educator Innovator work. And although also still slightly recovering from it, I was able to dive right back into #teachtheweb this side of the pond at this weekend’s Celebration of Writing and Literacy hosted by the Philadelphia Writing Project on Saturday.
At this event, Meenoo Rami and I organized a two hour connected learning hack-jam that we called “Remixing our Stories.” The immediate inspiration for this comes from a similar workshop that I did with Amy Stornaiuolo for the Philadelphia Writing Project’s Lighting Up the Common Core workshop series a few weeks back. But all this work really stems from some initial hack-jams organized at EduCon over the last couple of years by Meenoo and our colleague Chad Sansing.
You can read Amy’s reflections on her work at Our Hackjam: Hacking our Stories.
And the inspiration from Chad at Methods behind our #educon madness.
What I have found is the energy of these things is inspiring, and I think, essential. One teacher in our session who is a leading Teachers Action Group organizer and activist herself, said how “empowered she felt” after the session. I think the reason is that we are taking things that, as Chad suggests in his post, have common value and also “rules” that we then change/break/remake together, allowing ourselves to tap back into our own sense of individual as well as collective agency.
So what happened this weekend?
Well, inspired by my own recent experience with Amy’s storybook version of a hack, Meenoo and I asked the group of educators who came to our session what brought them to the session and also what they already knew about “remix”. Then we asked everyone to remix a set of picture books we had brought with the other materials they found in the room. We didn’t provide examples, we didn’t try to fix or change or add to their definitions of remix — we just wanted to get all the current knowledge out into the room. The only additional encouragement we offered was to think about remix in relation to form as well as content.
They dove right in!
From this analogue beginning where folks made their remixes and then shared them with the group (we asked them to highlight their process and any new insights they had into the idea of remixing), we then moved into a conversation about digital remix.
To kick off this segment, we first watching a Popcorn-made multimedia video created by the Radio Rookies called Stop and Frisk. We picked this piece again this time because a) it is, and it’s source material is, created entirely by youth, b) the content is so relevant and of interest to so many of the youth that urban teachers work with and c) it itself is a powerful remix of an original podcast that Radio Rookies produced for WNYC radio broadcast.
Drawing from the inspiration of this mentor text then, which inevitably ends up drawing lots of ideas about how to work with these tools and/or this topic in classrooms, we rolled a laptop cart into our workshop room and everyone logged into Webmaker.org to take a look at the webmaker tools.
We encouraged folks to start where ever they wanted to start, but also highlighted XRay Goggles as a good starter point for those who were totally unfamiliar with code. We did a quick group X-Ray activity here and then pointed folks to a couple activities they could try if they wanted, including the hot-off-the-press draft of Critical Web Literacy created by our writing project colleague Stephanie West-Puckett.
Although time was against us on most of this, everyone had a chance to at least do one successful digital remix/hack. The teacher who said she felt empowered is the one who made this:
So how does this connect to #Mozfest and to the larger work of #teachtheweb?
First, I am struck over and over again by the power of the hack-jam methods that Chad has outlined as a way to support opening up a range of conversations and new work. The piece that feel so important to me within this are the opportunity to do some analogue play before venturing into something new and digital, the opportunity to play itself!, and the encouragement to break the “rules” to make something new and something fresh.
This breaking the rules piece is what I describe as the “punk rock” nature of this work (I’m giving away my age here in this comment). To me it’s so important though because it helps us tap into a certain aspect of our own agency within an analogue and familiar context that we then transfer into the less familiar digital zone. Over the last year I’ve seen this unfold a few times all with the same power — during a toy hack that Stephanie led as part of #clmooc, a childhood game hack activity Meenoo and I led during a short session with youth media specialists, during a Tech-to-Go Hack Jam at last year’s NCTE that Chad and our colleague Andrea Zellner ran, etc.
Second, I continue to think about the modular pieces that are so important in the development of #teachtheweb materials. The elements that I notice can be powerful to pull together in my own work with adult educators include:
Examples of remixes by youth that can be used as mentor texts — these should come in the range of formats, done by a range of ages, and include a range of content.
Fun, playful starter makes across all the tools that engage a range of interests and levels of experience with webmaking.
Remixable activities (not necessarily “kits” but more like activities and sets as curations) that educators have developed that pull these together around some shared activities and/or content goals.
And then third, I love the remixable nature of all this work and the potential for remixable curriculum as a result — or at least remixable curricular elements. Chad talks about this in his own post-Mozfest reflection …
I’m even more interested in Thimble as a storehouse for web native curriculum – especially for product- and tool-making around participatory learning and inquiry.
… and I love the way that he takes this on and really does make his work available to others here too.
What I keep wondering then, is how to pull these things together … not necessarily as teaching kits which is kind of hard-coded manual process (as lovely and remixable as they might be), but as related elements that I might use together at any one time. A little mini-curation or gallery of items that I could remix and reuse among each other in different ways. Hmmmm. …
Finally, as I wrap up this post I am also reading what my colleagues wrote in their reflections (Peter Kittle here/Chad here) and I am struck by all the moments where we lifted our heads and connected with those around us and what it is that we found. #teachtheweb is certainly about creating curriculum and modularized content, I believe, and I also think there is a role of #researchtheweb and #learntheweb that those teaching the web need to engage with constantly and at events like these.
For example, the other floors of #Mozfest provide such rich landscapes of opportunities and possibilities for teaching and learning — from Open Science and Open News, to the physical web, games, web privacy and data etc. — as well as the others working on activities around us on kits to support disaster relief, etc. Take a look at just a cross-section and sampling of some of what was made there. Wow!
From what I have come to know about educators is that they can make important and relevant curriculum for youth out of all of it given their own chance to engage with the original work and content … and I also believe that educators, with their lens on learning, can provide essential insights into other work beyond specifically education-focused resources. So that also leaves me wondering how best to support that kind of cross-fertilization and imagination space down the line.
So much and so exciting! And so thankful for the space and opportunity to ask these questions and explore alongside my colleagues as well as the larger open web community. My commitment #teachtheweb in these punk rock ways couldn’t be stronger.
|—||Chris Lehmann on Personalization|
|—||Bell Hooks (via idealogics)|