Author: kjaxon

Connected Learning: Creating the School Year We Want to Live In

Recently, I was fortunate enough to be asked to host the September 2015 Connected series: “Back to School: Creating the School Year We Want to Live In.” Below are the webinar archives, which bring together educators from 1st grade to college who discuss how they design classrooms that nurture kindness, support inquiry, develop student expertise, and how they nurture their own professional growth throughout the busy school year. #connectedlearning

The Rumpus: It Starts Again

I just finished course design for the fall 2015 semester. If you were to shine a flashlight into this world every August, you would find me on a couch in the living room, hair disheveled, clothes unchanged for days, various food products tossed to the floor, and surrounded by books ranging from Vygotsky’s Mind in Society to Scieszka and Barnett’s Battle Bunny. I love this time of year. And once I get started on prep, it is almost impossible to stop. For me, imagining a learning environment, curating the texts, and designing for community and participation is like playing a great platform video game. Each course becomes a puzzle to solve as I imagine students inhabiting this world I’m trying to build. And I know–and hope–that they’ll take the world as it’s designed and mess it up. They’ll mess it up in all the best possible ways.

prepImagining the course without students is actually easy…and tidy. The class is so clear in my head: what we’ll read, how we’ll talk about it, what students will make. And then other humans come in the room, and in most semesters, students do things and make things that I could not have imagined. And I learn. And we learn. What I learn mostly is that I have to be willing to let go of my favorite things I’ve designed for the course. I have to let students remix, mashup, and throw out our plans: their questions must drive the course even if we meander at times. I appreciate the struggle that comes from designing a course where it is safe to fail. Where failure is valued, not because “anything goes,” but because we are thinking through such complicated ideas we could not possibly solve them.

Course prep means I’ve probably opened 1000 links in the last few days and I’ve read or re-read 15 books in the last two weeks. And this devouring of material may be why course prep is so engaging: prep is so much more than putting due dates on the calendar. The reading and re-reading reminds me what matters in my field and points out the holes in my thinking. I finish this prep every time with a list of ideas to focus on for the upcoming school year. Here’s how it looks so far:

Multimodal-ing. I want to get clear(er) about multimodal composing: the whys, what assignments do, how to assess, how to give feedback, etc. I’ve been re-reading Gunther Kress and diving deep into Shipka’s recent work. Reading list is in process and a plan to gather a group of colleagues to read together.

Coding. I want to learn more. As I argue for an open web, I feel limited in my understanding of the structures of the web. My plan: time with Code Academy.

Writing. Leslie Atkins, Irene Salter, and myself signed a book contract with Teachers College Press. Our book–Composing Science: A Facilitator’s Guide to Writing in the Inquiry Classroom–aims to provide research and support for teaching writing in the science classroom, particularly in higher education. We would like students to experience writing practices that mirror the practices of scientists (so, no lab reports). We are super excited to be working with all we’ve learned from our NSF grant and the last couple of years we’ve spent teaching and researching together. My plan: level up in my writing with more precise arguments. We have beautiful student data to work with and I’d like to do it justice.

Opening. I started a commitment last fall, after the DML work, to open up my class and make connections outside our space. I want to connect students to communities of practice they hope to join. I started by connecting with an amazing teacher, Wendy Fairon, and asking my future teachers to blog with Wendy’s 7th graders. The two populations of students blew us away with the connections they made to each other and to young adult novels. I’m hoping to continue this work with Wendy and with a teacher from Redding. I’ll also pair students–as peer response buddies (like a pen pal)–across sections. I’ve found that this outside audience is great for our blogs. I’m constantly in search of ways to connect my students to other authors, students, and fellow faculty.

Love the fresh start in fall. Let’s do this.



Trust, KoolAid, and 1000 Papercuts

This has been a provocative and challenging week for the hopes and dreams of an open and meaningful web. And while the provocations raised are by no means new, there is something in the air that feels more urgent, more in need of our attention. How timely that our Connected Courses work is focused on trust and network fluency in light of the very real, powerful, and material stories that have emerged in the past several weeks. The stories of Kathy Sierra, Anita Sarkeesian, and Julie Pagano have collided and created an opportunity to ask ourselves: what kind of world (virtual or analog) do we want to live in? And how do we protect these worlds and the people in them?

In case you have not been following these stories, all of the women have been harassed, threatened, and ridiculed. Sometimes they are not believed. Sometimes they have actual death threats levied against them. The powerful (and upsetting) stories from Kathy, Julie, and Anita (among countless others) in tech raise a hundred questions for me: How do we protect an open web and protect people who are vulnerable in an open web? Are the very “fixes” we might imagine for solving the human element of the open web antithetical to an open web? How do we move from this adolescent stage of the web to a grown up and healthy version of this space and of ourselves? And how will we ever get better at creating environments of trust and respect if the comment sections of our blogs and twitter accounts and other virtual spaces are the most vulnerable to attack? How do we honor dialogue when it has the potential to do such harm?

I have always been an advocate for open: open teaching, open web, open open open. I share resources, freely, ask my students to blog and tweet without fear, and ultimately gain even more from the generous sharing from colleagues. I’ve also carefully followed SOPA, PIPA, Net Neutrality debates, Aaron Swartz’ story, and tried to do my part to support causes dear to the open web movement. These things matter. Most of us truly believe that you must change structures and systems (institutional, platform or otherwise) if you want to effect real change. As Rafi Santo has argued, ideologies are built in to systems and we must hack them for the better.

But how do we make systems safer while still valuing an open web? How have we ever been able to account for the worst of human nature? How do we help people grow up with the web?

These issues have resonated with me even more than usual for a variety of reasons, both personally and professionally. Professionally, as I open up my classrooms to more vulnerable populations–like the amazing 8th graders my students and I are blogging with–I am hyper aware of the need to protect our students and colleagues and still create a space where their ideas matter and can be heard. I am carefully reading through the resources Mimi Ito recently shared in her blog post and considering the stories and ideas being shared by others in our Connected Course; recent posts by Kevin Hodgson and Jenny Mackness are incredibly insightful. And I am grateful to Kira and Jonathan for raising such important ideas in our work together.

I hope to take all these powerful cases and use them to imagine a world where trust and openness thrive on the web. As Sarkeesian asks at the end of her talk, when we tell our stories “trust and believe.”

Let’s discuss. And act. And be better humans.


 Anita Sarkeesian’s talk from the recent XOXO Festival

Overview of the Gamer Gate controversy here

Kathy Sierra’s powerful post from Tuesday: Trouble at the Koolaid Point

Julie Pagano’s original post: Death by 1000 Paper Cuts (she has since updated here with a series of posts about the Life and Times of a Tech Feminist Killjoy)

And Kevin Hodgson’s post from last week and all the great comments that follow: “When Trust Gets Breached…”


Connected Courses: ALL THE WHY’S! o/

I am realizing how brilliant a thing it is to start with “why” in this Connected Courses kick off week. And many thanks to Mike Wesch, Mimi Ito, and Helen Keegan for getting us started. In a way, starting with “why” means we must start with reflection, something we typically reserve until the end of a project or a course. What a fabulous way to “bring the end forward” as my (now happily retired) colleague Judith Rodby was known to say. “Bringing the end forward” is actually quite challenging in a course (or in life for that matter): you must imagine an end goal while still allowing for emerging ideas and digressions. Knowing the why can support us as we participate in challenging ideas and projects, but too often in school, the why is simply because I need to finish school.

I spent the last couple of weeks thinking a lot about my whys in education. Why do I teach? I certainly started my own higher ed journey with both a less sophisticated (“I just need to finish school”) but also a high stakes why: I had a hope that a college degree would help me out of a terrible marriage and allow me to support myself and two toddlers. “I just need to finish school” can actually turn out to be a profound why. Almost twenty years ago now, my journey started as a sad tale: I was sitting on the floor in the tiny house in Gridley, CA sobbing because my then spouse had not been home in three days, the phone was turned off, I had no gas money—felt completely closed off from the rest of the world. I had these two sleeping toddlers in the other room, content underneath their 101 Dalmatians comforters. I went to my bedroom and pulled out a box of old school stuff, dug through until I found my transcripts and my outdated Chico State catalog, and sat down on the floor. Through tears I flipped through the pages, matching disciplines with coursework I had already completed years before. When I was done, I decided that I could get a degree in English the fastest and believed that somehow with that college degree I’d have a better chance to support myself and these sleeping babies; I never wanted to feel this stuck ever again in my life. The next week, I found a place in Chico we could afford and moved back so I could be closer to my family and their support. When my daughter, Ashley, started Kindergarten that fall, I started Chico State–fall of 1995–and never looked back. A BA, an MA, a PhD, a tenure-track job in my hometown, a new marriage, and happily grown children twenty years later, affords me the gift of time…to think about new “whys.” This gift of time–time to think, time to reflect–is such a privilege.

So, why do I teach? I teach because day after day I get to see the generous work students do for us. They take our (often) confusing assignments and our attempts to create a space for learning, and they generously try them on–write, talk, play, and even forgive us for our failed efforts at this thing we call higher education. And in the moments when they stop doing the work of higher ed for me and do the work for their own goals for learning, they always blow me away. I get to learn from these amazing humans every day and I am so grateful that students are willing to produce and share their creations with us. How could you NOT want to teach, when you get to witness work like this:

Amanda Haydon’s vlog synthesis after a couple of weeks reading about open access:

Sheila’s blog post, wrestling with the “why” of Connected Courses and digital platforms.

My freshman, Matt Mulholland, has an amazing blog this week about gaming.

The films freshmen have created about digital culture:

Stormie’s film looks at the “production” of our persona/identity.

This film from Larly Lee and his team asks how you will use this powerful platform known as the web:

Anthony Miranda’s film gives us a hopeful view of education and some fabulous educators:

Why do I teach? See examples above. ^  Students. They rule.


Resource Starter Kit


Hi everyone,

I took the plans you shared last night and created a first stab at a resource list HERE.

I think we should form some reading groups. I know one group will be working with the Jenkin’s book (reading and participatory culture). Perhaps others of you want to jump into some game theory and read a similar text together? Maybe start with James Gee or Jane McGonigal? Maybe another group start in digital humanities or open web?

Let’s use this Google Doc as a way to sign up to read together: you could put your name next to texts or areas you want to read in over the next two weeks and find partners/groups to read with you.