Response: Social learning, push/pull, and collaborative learning platforms

In Chapter 7 of the New Literacies Sampler book Lankshear and Knobel introduce us to the concept of social learning which is a collaborative form of learning.  It also includes a discussion of the “Push” and “Pull” learning environments where the push environment is based on pushing out the learning materials to the students (as in traditional classes) vs the pull environment where students pull the learning material that they need in a given situation.  There is also a discussion at the end of the chapter about collaborative learning environments that promote social learning.

Ssocial-learningocial learning, according to Brown and Adler, is based on our understanding of concepts and processes that have developed through conversations with others working on the same problems or actions.  It is more a matter of how we learn, not what we learn. Knowledge is not just a matter of learning about a subject.  It also means learning how to participate in a given field of knowledge.  The authors contend that social learning will lead to a deeper learning.

“Deep Learning” is learning subjects well enough to apply the knowledge in multiple and varied contexts, instead of the sometimes superficial learning that is only relevant to narrow situations. Or as Gee points out, “…it is necessary to move beyond ‘learning about’ and, instead, focus on ‘learning to be.”

To me, one of the questions that needs to be explored is how do instructors incorporate this social learning into their courses and yet still provide a broad spectrum of learning that we would identify as a general education.  It is easier to focus on one area of the curriculum at the expense of other areas, but it is more difficult to engage the deeper learning environment when attempting to cover many topics at once.  For example, creating a social learning environment that is focused on a particular science (say Chemistry) is easier to establish than a social learning environment that is based on all of the topics likely found in a general education  (like Chemistry, English, Algebra, History, etc.)

It might be a matter of “grit” that enables students to traverse this diverse landscape of topics, and to find new ways to tie these topics together.  Gee and Hayes talk about “grit”, or the combination of passion and persistence for experiencing success in different situations.  Mastery of a particular topic or skill allows us to recognize opportunities for innovation and creativity.

Brown and Adler also talk about moving from a “push” learning environment where knowledge and skills are pushed out to the learner independent of their immediate need for that knowledge to a “pull” learning environment where the learner pulls the knowledge that they need for the current learning situation, thus creating a “learning to be” situation.  From Hagel and Brown, “Pull models treat people as networked creators … who are uniquely positioned to transform uncertainty from a problem into an opportunity.”
Ultimately, in order for the student to successfully achieve the deep learning, it is up to the instructor to create a successful collaborative learning platform.   As Gee and Hays say, “platforms can be seen as combinations of components and resources that help us to access, attract, and achieve: to connect with others, optimize the likelihood of serendipity, and persist with our passions”
Platforms of learning are the spaces we create to enable social learning for those with the passion to delve deeper into a particular topic.  These spaces include the ability to quickly access the resources needed (usually people) to create and innovate using the knowledge they have acquired.  Students participate in authentic activities that give them access to experts, other students, or any combination of resources that they might need for the activity.

Beautiful Photos Capture the Unseen Lives of Street Dogs

For my digital story critique this week I wanted to try something a little different.  The adage that a single picture can tell a thousand words can be expanded to multiple pictures can tell ten thousand words.  And so I selected a digital photo story about dogs living on the streets titled Beautiful Photos Capture the Unseen Lives of Street Dogs by photographer Traer Scott.

In the introduction to the photo story Scott talks about how he traveled to Puerto Rico and Mexico with a group of animal rescuers to document just a few of the millions of stray dogs that wander the streets and remain mainly hidden from people.  It’s a tragic story about the overwhelming numbers of street dogs, but it’s also a story of resilience  by the dogs who have found a way to survive with dignity.

The dogs have adapted in ways that show how their lives are more than just the fight to survive.  In the photo titled “Running Mates” two dogs are obviously enjoying each other’s company while they run down the road.  In “New Arrival at Dead Dog Beach” we see a heart rendering picture of a dog that looks lost and lonely, but in the background we see another dog sitting and watching as if he is just waiting to make friends with the lonely dog.


We also see the dogs caring for each other in the photo “Surrogate Mother” where an older dog was clearly treating a young puppy as one of her own.  It gives us a sense of the beauty that can be found in the streets where life can be harsh. And “Nursing Mother” shows how the nurturing of life can take place anywhere, even on the streets.

Some of my favorite pictures are of the individual dogs who have so much personality even though they are lost to the humanity around them.  There is “Gumdrop” who seems to have a sense of dignity about her.  And then there is “Daryl” who has the look in his eye of an experienced survivor.  “Senior” looks as if she is old and tired, but still with enough spirit to not give up.  Scott has given us a view of a world that most people walk by without noticing.

Assessment Traits:

  • Story – The story is told about the complex, beautiful world of street dogs through touching and interesting photos.  Although there is an introduction by the photographer that tells us about the problem of so many street dogs, it’s the photos that give us a such a strong story of survival, caring, and companionship.
  • Economy – The words in this story are minimal, but the message is clear and effective.  With just a few pictures Scott has given us a glimpse of a world that exists around us.  The photographs are poignant and effective at sharing the story of these dogs.
  • Media application – This story is as much about the dogs as it is about the power of these photographs to share their story.  No amount of words could describe the beauty, the spirit to survive, and the pain seen in these pictures.

Response – 8 Steps to Great Digital Storytelling

Samantha Morra shares with us a practical guide on how we can bring digital storytelling into our classrooms in 8 Steps to Great Digital Storytelling at the site.  Her article not only provides the step-by-step process for how to have your students create digital stories, but she also provides a number of resources for each of the steps so that anyone using this method can explore each step in greater detail.  She also shares a list of elements that make a great digital story.

The following diagram illustrates the 8 steps in the process:


With these simple steps, students have a road-map of how to create their own digital stories.  Some of the most important steps are writing the script which is where the students actually put their ideas down on paper, forcing them to think through all of the elements of the story.  It also gives them the material to move on to the next step, Storyboard/Plan where they can further refine the flow of the story.  Once they’ve completed these steps it should be much easier for them to move through the creation of the content and putting it all together to create their own stories.

Two important parts of the process are step seven and eight where they share their story with a larger community, or as Morra says, “Knowing that other people might see their work often raises student motivation to make it the best possible work that they can do.”  And the reflection and feedback are also key steps to give your students  a sense of accomplishment, and hopefully create a sense of wanting to do more digital stories.

I liked the list of elements to a great digital story that Morra provided, which included that they :

  • Are personal
  • Begin with the story/script
  • Are concise
  • Use readily-available source materials
  • Include universal story elements
  • Involve collaboration at a variety of levels

These elements describe some of the characteristics of good digital stories that can be used as a guide by your students during their journey through digital storytelling.


The beautiful game – We are all Daniel Cui


Daniel Cui was a freshman goalkeeper at a high school in Hillsborough, California.  He suffered through a very difficult season where his team lost every game.  And as the goalkeeper for the team, he was often blamed for the loses.  After the final loss of the season, someone posted a bunch of pictures of Daniel failing to make the saves, which was a crushing blow to him.  But in order to show their support for Daniel, some of his teammates posted a picture of him making a save as their profile picture on Facebook.  By the next day many more of the students at the high school were making the same picture their profile picture until there were over 100 students who had either made it their own profile picture, or were tagging it, or were liking the teammate’s page.

Daniel was feeling very depressed about the cruel postings and didn’t want to go to school to be embarrassed in front of his friends.  But when he saw what his teammates and fellow students had done, he, “came to school the next day like he was 10 feet tall.”  And the next season, still feeling the confidence from knowing what his classmates had done, he started winning games and making great saves, until he was known as, “Daniel Cui – the beast goalkeeper.”

We are all Daniel Cui is one of the Facebook Stories that, “celebrates the connections people make on Facebook.”  This story is especially relevant to me because my son Michael was a goalkeeper at his high school, and although he didn’t have the same experiences as Daniel, he did have to endure many of the same hardships that goalkeepers face on a regular basis. This story gives us a good sense of the importance of social media to today’s high schoolers and how people can come together on social media to support their friends who are dealing with personal struggles.

Assessment Traits:

  • Presentation and Performance – This video story was a very well done and it was clearly made by professionals.  It gave us a lot of information in a little over 3 minutes and it also had some excellent images of Daniel playing soccer.  The shots of Daniel playing in goal were clearly reenactments of the actual games but they gave a good sense of him struggling in the games and then eventually becoming a much better player who was making some fantastic saves.
  • Story – The story is one of the strengths of this short video.  It is designed to make us feel good about the use of social media (especially Facebook) as a tool for supporting our friends.  And the video accomplishes this very effectively.  We not only get the voice of Daniel’s teammate telling us how they started the Facebook postings, but we also hear from Daniel about how he felt once he saw all of the postings.  It is a feel good story that uses social media to create a sense of community that we can all share.
  • Sense of Audience – This story is very much targeted at the users (or potential users) of Facebook in order to give them a good idea of how social media can create a sense of community.  And the video is very effective at not only telling the story, but it also effectively uses a montage of images from Facebook to show how the student’s activity was spreading, or how this community came together to protect one of their own.


Response – Music remix and DIY Podcasting


Sound is all around us, and it may be the format that is the most accessible to us as teachers, designers, and students.  With the technologies available to us today we have opportunities to create and use sound in our lives that we could barely imagine years ago.  The two chapters that we read this week  ( Music Remix in the Classroom and DIY Podcasting in Education, Digital Literacies: Concepts, Policies and Practices, Lankshear and Knobel, 2008) introdic remix can be used as an expression of creativity and inventiveness that does not require the person to be a musician.  With a basic computer and any one of a variety ouce us to two areas of sound creation that we can use in our instructional work.  Musf software packages, the imagination becomes the only limitation to creating a remix that can be shared with others. And podcasts are another medium where we can share audio with the world (although some do have video components).  Podcasts can be used for any number of purposes, from theatrical presentations, to music mixes, to informational shows, or to a variety of other collections.

The Music Remix chapter is divided into three sections.  The first section is a brief history of remixing, and in many ways gives us a view into the inspiration behind music remixes.  There are a number of examples presented in this section that give a good sample of remixes.  I encourage you to seek out and listen to some of these samples in order to get a sense of what music remix is all about.  The second section is more specific about some of the tools that are available for remixing, and how to use them.  The author walks us through a sample remix using Audacity (a free software application) with suggestions on how to create a remix.  This information is very useful to beginners who are not used to remixing.  The third and final section introduces us to the some of the benefits of remixing in the classroom.  Not only does it introduce students to modern skills that are important to those navigating their way in society, but it also gives them an outlet for creative expression that they might not have otherwise.  And it also gives them the opportunity to actually create something of their own, instead of just writing about it in a sterile environment.

The DIY Podcasting chapter is also divided into three sections, with the first section giving us insight into the author’s early use and engagement with podcasting. Like him, I am fascinated by the use of sound to create worlds that we would not normally be able to visit.  Many years ago I participated in a radio theater group, and now I find the opportunities of the new technologies available with podcasting intriguing.  It no longer requires a full fledged studio to regularly produce a podcast when tools such as audacity are available for free.  This chapter also contains a section on how to create a podcast using Audacity, but it also includes two components that are very important for podcasting.  One is the procedure for making your podcast subscribeable (which is the definition of a podcast), and the other important discussion is about copyright laws and how to avoid complications when using other people’s material.   The chapter finishes with a discussion of how to use podcasts in an education environment.  As the author states, “Podcasting offers an inexpensive way to create and share compelling media that correlates to authentic activities outside of classrooms.”

As mentioned at the beginning of this post, sound is all around us.  And these readings give us two new ways to use sound in our everyday teaching experiences.  These skills should be a part of the wider collection of skills that our students should possess in today’s world, such as blogging, image manipulation, and many more.


The beautiful game -The Truth and Myth of the Christmas Truce 1914

During the winter of 1914 British and German troops were facing each other for the first time in the trenches of Europe.  Not yet shocked by the horrors of the First World War, the men in the trenches found that they sometimes had more in common than their leaders were willing to admit.  Along stretches of the front spontaneous games of football (soccer) were breaking out between the two sides during the Christmas truce.  Sometimes they had a ball, while other times they just kicked a can.


The Truth and Myth of the Christmas Truce 1914 is an audio story produced by the BBC in 2014.  It is an intriguing look at the unofficial truce between the warring nations, and how the human condition was still present even during the most horrible conditions. There is sadness in knowing that these men were probably living in one of the last “gentlemanly” times of war where they could still put down their guns and enjoy each others company.  War was about to change into a technology driven mass killing event with the introduction of chemical weapons, flame throwers, armored vehicles, massive bombs, and more.  Not that any war is good, but as the producers of this story point out, there is no-telling what may have been if the truce between these men could have lasted.

One of the strengths of this production is the use of period songs to express the feelings of those at home and on the battlefield.  The songs are spread throughout the production, and they are sung in the voice of the people of the time.  The songs are used as a powerful emphasis to the story that is being told.  In addition, background sounds are used quite effectively to provide a better sense of being in the story, whether it’s the sounds of guns in the background, or men laughing and drinking together, it enhances the emotions of the story.  At a little over 6:30 minutes long, this is a story that, although sad, is also a testament to the spirit of the men and women of that age.

Assessment traits:

  • Originality, voice, creativity – As mentioned earlier, one of the strengths of this story is the voice that it uses.  The songs from the era are perhaps the strongest part of the story and leave a lasting impression of what many of the people probably felt.  And the story is told as that of an impartial observer which adds to the sense that it wasn’t about the Germans or the Brits.  It was about people who are very much the same no matter where they might meet.  Football is used as a device to emphasize that these people had much in common.
  • Presentation and performance-  As an audio story, the piece uses a variety of means to get our attention.  Whether it was the singing, or the sounds of war, or the men laughing together, the production provided a rich environment that was easy to follow.  Even the voice of the narrator was that of a knowledgeable person who seemed optimistic that better things could have come from the truce.  It was an evenly paced story that provided quite a bit of information in a short time-frame.
  • Media application – This story was well suited for the audio format.  The multiple components of the audio, and the production quality of the story, provided for an interesting experience.  There was one picture that accompanied the story (see above), and although it was an interesting and relevant image, I would have liked to have seen more images of the men in the trenches coming together.

Response to Digital Storytelling in the Language Arts Classroom

Although a bit dated (2004), I found that Digital Storytelling in the Language Arts Classroom (Bull and Kadjar) still had a lot of valuable information in regards to the importance of the story in digital storytelling.  As emphasized in the article, “…the story should be in the foreground and the technology in the background. The focus in the language arts classroom should be on the writing and communication process rather than technical effects.”

As the authors describe it, “A digital story consists of a series of still images combined with a narrated soundtrack to tell a story.”  The stories may also include short video clips., but the main emphasis in this article is on the seven elements of digital storytelling.


Joe Lambert and Dana Atchley at the Center for Digital Storytelling at U.C. Berkley were some of the first to identify the seven elements of digital storytelling.  The elements are:

Point of View: In contrast to the objectivity of many scholarly works, the goal of digital storytelling is to emphasize a personal point of view.  The most powerful is often the point of view of the author.

Dramatic Question: A well constructed digital story will include a dramatic question that is resolved in the end.  It is the resolution of the question that engages the viewer and keeps their interest to the end.

Emotional Content: Digital stories should make us laugh, cry, feel anger, or pleasure.  And more importantly, they should attempt, “…to pursue, discover, and communicate new understanding that is rooted in who we are as humans.”

Economy: When digital stories are limited to a few minutes, students learn the importance of deciding on what is essential, and not spending valuable story time on technical effects that don’t enhance the story.

Pacing: A monotonous voice (both in audio and storyline) can drive people away from the story.  A varied tone, inflection, and pace can add to the quality of the experience.

The Gift of Your Voice: Students who are often never heard from in the classroom are given a medium for telling their stories.  “There is no substitute for using your own voice to tell your story.”

Soundtrack: Music can add complexity and depth to the story, and it again gives the students an opportunity to express their voice through the choice of their music.

The article goes on to discuss their strategy for creating stories in the classroom.  Planning can significantly improve the classroom experience of students creating digital stories as part of their learning experience.

These seven elements can provide a framework for successfully implementing digital storytelling in our courses.  The elements that make up a good story are independent of the technology used, and it is important that we recognize these elements as instructional designers.


Digital Story Critique – Hearing the Beautiful Game: Soccer without sight

A story from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil about a man named Andre de Souza Carlos who is blind and yet still plays soccer.  The story can be found at TheScene.


Andre had impaired vision from birth, but an accident later in life caused him to be completely blind.  He describes how after his blindness, “It was a big and deep fall for me.  I hit rock bottom…and [was] thinking about giving up and taking my life.”

But after he started playing soccer he started to have hope again and felt like he wanted to be around people.  He felt like his mind was working again, with expectations, dreams, and goals.   And he was accomplishing those goals.  All because of soccer.

The soccer is played on an indoor field with a ball that rattles so that the players can locate it.  There are 4 field players per team (all blind) and one goalie.  The field players wear eye covers in order to ensure someone with partial vision doesn’t have an advantage.

Watching this story should be an inspiration to those who love soccer, and even for those who don’t.  There is speed and intensity in the game as witnessed in the video.  These players didn’t let the lack of sight keep them from doing something they obviously love.

Traits used to evaluate this story –

Media application: This video was clearly produced by a professional.  Although it’s a short story (only 2:36), it tells a lot about Andre, Rio de Janeiro, and soccer.  It starts with images of a soccer match with upbeat music in the background.  There is a real sense of being present at the match.  It then moves to the story of Andre with a number of location shots around Rio where we see Andre walking the streets.  We then get shots of Andre with his fellow players that develops a real sense of their camaraderie during their game.  Using video to present this story gave me a sense of being at the location which no other media could have done so effectively.  To be able to see how the players navigated the game left me in awe of their courage and skill.  And the music added to the interest level of the story.

Flow, organization, and pacing: This was an area of strength for this video.  The story is very short, but it gives us a lot of information because of the flow, organization, and pacing.  As viewers, we not only get an introduction to soccer without sight, but we also get introduced to street life in Rio, and most importantly, a real sense of Andre and his personality.  The one part I found a bit confusing was at the very end of the video Andre sits down with a woman and two girls.  I wasn’t sure if they were his family or not.  It would have helped to have some type of indication.

Economy: Again, I felt that the economy of the story was very good.  They gave me a lot of information in just a short amount of time.  I didn’t feel that there was any time where they got off topic.  I was actually wanting to see more of the actual soccer game because I was fascinated by how the players moved, shot, and scored.  And the music was used effectively to convey a sense of mood with the different components.

Overall, I found this to be a very human story with production values that were well done.  Brief yet succinct – it tells a story of amazing individuals using the beautiful game to become players.