Saturday, 3 May 2014

The Year of Learning Dangerously


Australian journalist Guy Hamilton (played by Mel Gibson) came to Jakarta to report on the political unrest surrounding President Sukarno and his Communist Party of Indonesia.  The times were tumultuous. Indonesians were facing stark conditions.  Army generals were gaining strength as they grew suspect of Sukarno and his Chinese connections.  Hamilton began on his own, facing unacceptance from the foreign correspondent community.  And though he met some that were willing to enfold him, he found himself alone, injured and caught in the middle of a military coup at the climax of the Indonesian crisis.

This historical fiction movie, "The Year of Living Dangerously", is near and dear to my heart as I lived in Indonesia under the rule of President Suharto, Sukarno's successor.  In fact, I was in Indonesia during Suharto's last days as president.  I remember the trucks full of supporters driving through the streets with flags waving the colours of Megawati's democratic red or the Development party's green or Suharto's gold.  In fact, every day was an adventure during my years in Indonesia.  I experienced discrimination, language barriers, culture shock.  And a lifetime's worth of tremendous life changing experiences.

I mention this as I reflect on my past year of being a connected educator: The Year of Learning Dangerously.  It was about this time last year that I asked my students to take their phones out of their pockets and lockers and begin to use them for their learning.  I felt like I was alone in this (though I was trailblazing a well trodden path).  There was a community out there doing much the same.  But I wasn't connected with them.  I took steps to join in the community.  I began to take risks, blogging, tweeting and learning from the collective.  Slowly my connection grew with other educators.



Prologue
It began with my quest for students to use their devices in class, something I learned later to be called BYOT--bring your own technology (your device, apps, tech knowledge, online connections).  I knew it was right; I just didn't know anyone else was doing it.  I used my expanding connectivity to pursue apps and a learning management system.  But as I was learning I was intrigued not by the tech but by the teaching.  Soon a desire for skype chats, class tweeting, and student blogging lead to a pursuit of project-based learning and inquiry.  I rearranged all the British Columbia learning outcomes into projects and shared about it in Throwing the idea of subjects out the window.  I began "share-learning" (or is it learn-sharing) on project-based learning, sharing my first #pbl post: Project-based Learning for Dummies. Looking back, my connections were leading me well beyond what I was looking for.

Rising Action
All through this year, though, there was a tension: a pull back to the familiar.  I began my year with an attempt to flip my class.  I put math videos on Edmodo and had students complete IXL homework--a completely paperless response to a Math program.  I also began with a project-based learning Math challenge to measure the dimensions of my peculiarly shaped class and make suggestions for classroom re-creation.  Both activities started strong but weren't fully realized.  Regarding flipping, some parents wanted a textbook, others found it too foreign to embrace.  And for my PBL assignment, I was so inundated with slurpy machines and theme park suggestions for my classroom that very little changed other than the table placement.  Invoking lasting change wouldn't be easy and wouldn't come without challenges.

Character Relationships
Whether it was the connections I made at ISTE13 or through twitter, my growing PLN (Personal/Professional Learning Network) helped me develop.  Guy Hamilton would have gotten nowhere, if it wasn't for Billy Kwan (Linda Hunt) his local photographer.  He saw in Hamilton what others didn't and arranged interviews with key people.  Soon Hamilton was not only able to see what was really going on, he found himself in the midst.  That can be a dangerous place.  I am still learning how to leverage the PLN without getting engulfed in the vastness of the connections.  Can connections increase without becoming unwieldly?



The Climax
This was the year of looking for genuine activities and drawing students to pursue truly ungooglable questions.  In the midst of seeking a better pedagogy, I began to question the structure of the whole thing.  I was led to write a more controversial blog post in No Grades: coming to a school near you.  This was by far my connected climax as I had educators on both sides of the issue chime in.  Pedagogically, I had a never-go-back break through with a project I called: Addressing an Issue.  Students were asked to address a local or global issue that they felt strongly about.  I asked them to truly do something about it.  And they did.  I share what happened in The Problem with Project-based Learning. It was messy learning; it was great learning.

The Denouement
I guess this post has been like one of those sitcom episodes where most of the cast gets a night off and two of the characters reminisce through a series of flashbacks, a way to stretch out the content for one more episode.  But reflection is good.

It is a time of great possibilities.  There is an unrest with the status quo: a Connectivity Revolution if you will.  Those reading this will all have their own stories around first steps to connection.  And when faced with what one sees and hears during the revolution, a moral obligation ensues.  Now that I see what the possibilities are, I am morally obligated to pursue them.  Like Plato's cave allegory, once you see the sun, can you ever be happy returning to the cave and its shadows? Each educator participates in a story.

The Year of Living Dangerously is actually a love story.  Amidst the revolution, Guy Hamilton realizes what is important and what he needs to do.  His connections, particularly with Jill Bryant (Sigourney Weaver), beat out his need for a breakthrough story.  It's the people that make the difference.  And it is knowing how to connect that leads us to realize: we are not alone anymore.