Saturday, July 25, 2009

Reflection: 2 weeks left in Wilkes EDIM 502 (Web 2.0)

I am the sort of person who tends to react first and then think about things later -- especially when it comes to trying frustrating Web 2.0 applications for which I see no immediate personal need or use. Last week's assignment was to try image editing with a free online application called Picnik. I'm not a photography person. In fact I've been on my first vacation away from home in 20 years in eastern Canada's most beautiful areas -- Cape Breton and the Gaspe -- and neither my point-&-shoot nor my video cam have been used.

Last week's Wilkes assignment was to edit 10 images in preparation for creating an online presentation. I was rushed and the free version of Picnik strips out a lot of the more interesting functions such as cloning and layering, so I tried a few effects, wrote the week's reflection paper, and put the rest off. However, this week, feeling that I missed an opportunity to learn more about processes and applications some of my kids would probably enjoy using, I decided to start over. I switched topics so I could select new photos that would lend themselves better to editing.

Here then are the text of this weeks' reflection paper and my online presentation. [Each of the photos has been edited using Picnik. On the last slide are the links to the original images so you can do before and after comparisons and judge whether you think the hours I put into this were well spent. Most of the images are licensed under Flickr's Creative Commons Share and Share Alike License, so in that spirit I've opened my presentation to downloading for non-commercial purposes. The only requirement is that if you use it in your classroom you wave a Canadian flag (lol!)]:

This week I resolved to approach the ‘problem’ of using this software in the same way one of my best student mentors would. I am thinking particularly of a fellow named Tom. Since I’ve introduced the use of Web 2.0 tools at our school, he has created some of the most stunning work I’ve ever seen. Tom’s approach to trying new software is first playful and then thoughtful. He begins by just exploring. Because he’s just playing, during this part of the process he’s completely open-minded and in short order discovers what is new and interesting in the program. As he plays, a vision of what’s possible for the project that I will have invited him to work on begins to coalesce. At some point he’ll transition from apparently directionless fooling around and experimentation to planning and producing his final product.

I have learned from watching Tom and other students work that I have to provide time for this unstructured discovery. It’s necessary if they are going to step outside their comfort zone when they take on the task of doing an assignment or project. Playing without the pressure of deadlines and grades allows students to just goof around and get to know the software and each other (if they’re going to work as a team). If I surround them with the normal structures of instructions and expectations too soon, they tend to stick with what they already know and never get to that new place of creativity and self-learning that can turn project creation into a journey of personal growth.

When I knew that the fossil topic could not be reasonably handled with 10 images, I recalled an old ‘script’ I had previously partially developed for a piece on ethical uses of online resources but had never finished. For this topic I knew that less would lead to more. The message had to be presented in a way that was stark and memorable to my students. I could have listed all the do’s and don’ts, but I’ve tried this before and it doesn’t stick with my kids. They think that because they see everyone else treating the internet like a free store, they can download and use anything they like.

Unfortunately, my students often have to learn the hard way that this is not acceptable. One of these instances occurred when several of them developed slides for PowerPoint for Peace. When I asked those who’d used internet images to show me their sources and bibliographies, they had to admit they hadn’t followed the guidelines. In fact they felt that people who post work on the net are asking to have it stolen if they don’t make it available to everyone to use. Needless to say these wonderful pieces of work were not submitted to the website because they did not meet the project requirements, and there were several very disappointed students who felt I was being completely unreasonable.

Those 3 experiences -- feeling I’d ducked out on last week’s assignment, reflecting on Tom’s creative process as he works, and having to disappoint the kids who wanted to see their work online -- were the impetus for this piece.

This week’s work has given me a greater appreciation for the creativity involved in building on the work of others -- i.e. using it to create something new that people will respond to in a positive way. It’s also beginning to please me to think that other people may want to use it not only as is but also as a starting place for building something new of their own. I know in September my students will look at me with different eyes when they learn that I was the one who created this presentation. Doing this kind of work gives me a footing in their tech-savvy world and an opportunity to share creative moments with them. That makes offering them these kinds of activities very special to me.

I am in the fortunate position of working in an alternative, individualized education program so ways can usually be found to give our students course credits for completing Web 2.0 projects. Now that I am gaining a feeling for project-based work as well, I can build more of these experiences into my courses. Having tried them myself, I’ll be able to talk ‘artist to artist’ when I set and enforce the standards and limits within which the students must work. There is no better way to gain this kind of credibility in their eyes than to be a fellow struggler and to be able to speak from my own experiences about the power of discovering that inside the constraints lie the challenges that make success even sweeter. That’s what Tom can knows and what I am learning.

(Note: the presentation is best viewed full screen.)

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