Hello from AltFest

Last year the school where I work explored options for a new schedule for lower, middle and upper schools.  A consultant came in (as they do) to evaluate the current schedule, the culture, the ins and outs of the lives of students.  There was a long meeting where a few drafts of schedules were reviewed; the pros and cons were weighed.  I don’t remember many of the details or the conversations (it was, after all, over a year ago, which is practically an eternity ago).  I do remember talk of rallying points.  These are points in the school year that give students, staff, and faculty a break from normal routine.  The rallying points are something to anticipate.  Convocation.  Homecoming.  Fall break.  Snow days.  The spring fair.

I’m at the AltFest at VCU, which is very much a rallying point for me.  Even though we’re close to the end of the school year, it’s good to get away and explore topics of open and connected learning, technology, #learningheroes.  It’s nice to see some friendly faces that I haven’t seen in a while and meet some new folks.

AltFest kicked off Tuesday with #ALTCamp or a couple of media-related workshops led by Molly Ransone (who has the most awesome blog header ever).  Those attending the “Lights, Camera, Teach!” session were invited to pick from a host of props (a model of an anemone, a butterfly net, a DNA helix, etc.) and a script.  We then entered the Jazzmosphere to film the bit, which would be used in a later workshop on editing video and making amazing things from green screen footage.

Wednesday’s dose of ALTFest started off with Mimi Ito, who unleashed some interesting research about affinity spaces, the lack of access to extracurricular activities for kids in homes with limited resources, engagement (or lack thereof) in formal educational settings, successful mentoring, how to be the “Aquarium Shop Guy*” or connect kids with their Aquarium Shop Guy/Girl.

The keynote resonated as I’ve been thinking about access to extracurricular activities through schools, public libraries, and other community organizations as well as the fierce competition for students’ time.  With the new schedule, the clubs period was reduced to 40 minutes once a week.  Students in clubs, which are (in theory) created and directed by students, met during this block of time assuming there were no class meetings scheduled.

* Mimi Ito started with a story about her son, who found and scooped up tadpoles on a hike.  He went to an aquarium shop to find the necessary accessories for keeping these tadpoles alive, and ended up finding someone (the guy who worked at and/or owned the aquarium shop) passionate about aquariums, aquatic life, amphibians, etc.

The Wikipedia Edit-a-thon

Alice Campbell, Digital Initiatives Librarian at VCU, hosted a Wikipedia edit-a-thon where participants added or edited Wikipedia articles.  This tweet from Melissa (who writes things here) sums up the feelings:

There’s a lot of pressure when it comes to adding or editing a Wikipedia page.  I was going to create a page about Nara Sushi, a sushi restaurant that once existed at 1309 West Main Street here in Richmond (it’s now home to a hotdog shop or something).  One could eat sushi by day, but by night it was home to some AMAZING punk and metal shows.

Apparently people slept in the back.

Apparently people slept in the back.

I opted not to add the page, because what could I offer other than the physical address?  Could I use oral histories from people who went to the shows?  Could I use information from people who once worked there?  Does that stuff count as reliable resources to Wikipedia, or is that stuff considered original research?  Would some Wikipedia editor curse my name, because Nara Sushi isn’t notable enough to warrant its own page?

So many questions!  It was the questions that made me think how great a Wikipedia edit-a-thon would be for students who struggle with citations or who are bored with a traditional research paper.  When creating a new page or editing a page that currently exists, (if one is a decent human being) one must be informed on the topic.  Therefore some prior reading and synthesizing is necessary.  I’ve seen plenty of students pull a quote out of a source and slap it in a paper with the justification, “Well, I need to cite five sources, so….”

I imagine giving students the opportunity to become an expert in an area of interest to her/him and contribute to Wikipedia, something she/he is familiar with, would bring about some compelling results.

Students struggle with citations and sources.  What’s credible?  When is something considered authoritative?  What’s the difference between a journal and a magazine?  What does peer-reviewed mean?  The Wikipedia edit-a-thon really allows for the unpacking of a source, especially if there’s the chance that another editor might call one out (in a nice way, of course) on a questionable source or edit.

Co-Creating a DML Distributed, Open, Collaborative Course

Lindy Johnson and Anna Keune talked about their work co-creating open, connected courses through DML Commons.  After discussing the planning process and the elements of the two courses currently in progress, we broke into small groups to plan our own DOOC.  What would the subject be?  Which elements would we include?  The group I was in decided that we’d want ALL the things:  a course hub (and this, and this), the integration of Twitter, blogs, etc., webinars and accompanying etherpads for conversations/questions, the opportunity for students to help and teach each other, etc.

As for the subject, we didn’t get to that, but I have a few ideas circling.  What would a distributed, open, collaborative course about Richmond neighborhoods and their histories look like?  Can public libraries leverage DOOCs for entrepreneurs, inventors, and makers in the community?  Based on an email from a friend in a local public library, I wondered if public libraries can leverage the DOOC model to address the learning needs of the community.  How does one solve for the digital divide that still exists in many areas?  There’s a tech committee at school, and we’re talking about digital literacies and how to teach those.  Would a DOOC work?  Is it even necessary?  What about a 23 Things-like thing for staff and faculty?  Is that even necessary or wanted?

And there is the question.  What do people want?  What do learners want to learn?

Lindy and Anna asked us to share a time when we asked students what they wanted to learn and came out of that.  I didn’t share (because, introvert), but I did think back to a info literacy session I did last year when I asked students to write down their thoughts or questions about research on a post-it note.  The post-its were given to me, and we went through them.  Questions ranged from “Is it ok to use Wikipedia?” to “What is NoodleToosl?”  It was an awesome conversation.  Often the question on the post-it lead to other questions and concerns.

STEAM is Not a Big Enough Tent

I didn’t actually go to this session hosted by Josh Weisgrau and Colin Angevine.  The description for the session reads as:

Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math have coalesced under a larger interdisciplinary tent known as STEM.  Recently educators in the field found that there was a missing creative element, and STEM became STEAM.  The story we will tell is about how STEAM is still not a big enough tent.

I’ve talked a lot about STEM and STEAM and project-based learning and social entrepreneurship with staff, faculty, and students this semester.  I didn’t think I had the cognitive surplus for one more STEAM-related conversation.  After watching some curious tweets roll though, I regretted not going.

If you don’t have time for the Youtube video, you can read Colin’s “Outgrowing the Acronym.”

So that’s the quick run down from day 1 and 2.

Creative Commons licensed Flickr photo by  Robert Bejil

Mic drop.  Creative Commons licensed Flickr photo by
Robert Bejil

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