I’ve challenged some of my colleagues to take the 23 Things challenge to become more invested in online learning this summer. This website includes a 10-week game plan for learning some online learning and presenting methods that are useful for teachers, and that are appropriate activities for the age group we teach. There are other 23 Things lists out there, I know, but this is the one that we’ve chosen to work with, and that I’ve decided to complete. (I also found the blog of Helene Blowers, who first developed the 23Things list, and who wrote about a year ago to celebrate six years of this program.

The previous entries in this series are here:

  1. Getting Started
  2. Discovery
  3. Setting Up a Blog
  4. Starting with Flickr
  5. Find some Flickr Toys and Tools
  6. Blog about the role of tech in your classroom
  7. Initial experiment with RSS Readers
  8. RSS Readers continued
  9. Cloud Computing
  10. Web 2.0 Activty
  11. YouTube & Video
  12. Podcasts
  13. eBooks
  14. Wikis (a disaster story)
  15. Wiki Sandbox
  16. Tagging Links: Delicious
  17. Tagging Links: Technorati
  18. Twitter
  19. Twitter in Education
  20. Image Generators
  21. Book Review Sharers
  22. Custom Search Engines (really??)

AND…

Activity 23: Final Reflection

I can’t help but feel that in the last few weeks of this challenge that I’ve turned into a bit of a curmudgeon.  I started finding a lot of problems, both with teaching philosophy and liability with all the digital tools from Activity 14 (Wikis) onward through Delicious and Technorati and Twitter to the problems of image generators and sharing book reviews.

I just can’t see how teachers are going to use some of these tools in schools. For one thing, their very “Freeness” is a shibboleth — the corporations are after the data, it seems, and the user base, rather than the privilege of hosting some 16-year-old kid’s blog.

BUT.

But.  Here’s what I can see.

This Blog is entering its fifth year on WordPress, and the archives here go back before that, into 2002, when I transferred my LiveJournal blog here.  Dear God! I’ve been blogging for a decade (and more, since I was writing on diaryland.com before LiveJournal, but I couldn’t transfer those archives here — Call it 1998… and FIFTEEN YEARS.)

It’s gotten me not quite 80,000 readers.  An audience.  A not very reliable or back-talky audience, but an audience nonetheless.  And I have a Flickr account, which has gotten me 250,000+ views.   Not a global reach, by any means, but some reach.  A community of sorts has seen my work.  And a YouTube account.  And a Tumblr account.

OK, I’ve got some reach.  Sure, it’s probably a lot of the same people, but it’s not completely the same people.  I don’t have a media empire, but I have a medi-o-polis.  A Media City-State.  I reach an audience, and there’s an audience that responds to my stuff.

And isn’t that what I want for my students:

  • The creativity to make stuff (digital or otherwise)
  • The desire to share it with others
  • The media channels to share it through
  • The audience to respond to it.
  • the self-discipline to keep sharing and working
  • The savvy to get paid for it.

Ok… the last one I’ve not achieved to any great effect.  I wish I had.  FIFTEEN years of content, and I mostly haven’t made a dime off of any of it (though I have gotten some speaking gigs).  Underlying all these various activities I’ve done this summer is one core set of assumptions — that people need a way to share the text that they write; a way to include audio, image and video alongside that text (or so that the text becomes a supplement to the A/V content!); that they need a way to pull an audience to themselves and accept interaction with that audience; that they need enough critique to get better and enough encouragement to keep going; and a way to support themselves doing it.

I’ve built a way to do all of that using just four websites: WordPress for the text, Flickr for the images, YouTube for the video, and Twitter for the advertising (… and Facebook, to some degree… I gotta give them props for letting at least some of my friends see the links back to this website or to Flickr).

But it took ten years of effort to build an audience.  And along the way, I think I’ve completely lost one audience, and gained a completely different one — TWICE.  The people that read now are not the people from 10 years ago. Heck, most of them aren’t the people from five years ago.  Some of you haven’t been reading more than a year; and some of you are likely to drop out of sight in the next six months (assuming I ever knew you were a reader: if you’ve never commented, you’re still an unknown).

So I guess that’s my takeaway from this summer of reflection:  that I need a text-management system (WordPress); a photo repository (Flickr), a video collection (YouTube), and a way to advertise my content (Twitter).  And that I can teach the basics of this system to my students, and they can choose whichever sites they want as the core of their system — be it DeviantArt and LibraryThing and Facebook, or YouTube and WordPress and ShutterStock.  They have a lot of options.

But we come back to the core issue of Web 2.0 (and I’d argue that we are, or we should be, moving into web 3.0 pretty soon, especially if half the websites from Web 2.0 are dead or dying), which was at the heart of this 23 Things exercise.  One of the key goals which we should be helping students to be working towards is the willingness to create, and the capacity to develop an audience, no matter how small, for their work.  Sure, some of our students may make it big, and build the Web 3.0 killer app (whatever that is), and retire with bajillions of dollars to their name at 34 years of age.  But the vast majority of them are not going to build the killer app…

They are, however, going to want to lead lives of something other than quiet desperation.  They’re going to want to be creators and performers and imaginers and inventors. They’re going to want to have vacations to cool places, and to be able to tell cool stories about what they’ve done and seen and been.  And they’re going to want to have audiences for that.

And I think it’s incumbent upon us as their teachers to help them learn how to be successful creators — yes.  Always that.  And I think it’s incumbent upon us as teachers to show them how to be successful communicators — yes.  But how to build an audience?  That’s not something that we’re good at doing.  We’re used to teaching kids to work for an audience of one: the person giving the grade.  Us.  Me.

But this isn’t the world we’re living in any more.  Many of our students will have a boss they want to impress, sure; but many more will be their own bosses in the current and future economy, and they have to impress multiple people as clients and business partners and suppliers or vendors.  And so I think that my big takeaway, my big-big insight, is that we’re going to have to teach kids much more about how to market themselves successful, and build brands for themselves, and teach them how to find an audience.

Which means of course, that this is something I’m going to have to do myself, so that my teaching can be credible.