Vicki Davis's name might be as ubiquitous in the "blogosphere" as Kathy Schrock (remember her listing of "100 Great Internet Sites?" back in the days of Netscape 3?) I had been reading her Cool Cat Teacher Blog (http://coolcatteacher.blogspot.com/)for many years, and had admired-from-afar her work in the Flat Classroom Project (http://flatclassroomproject2008.wikispaces.com/), which spawned the Horizon Project (http://horizonproject.wikispaces.com/), which led into a student run Digiteen Project on Internet citizenship (http://digiteen.wikispaces.com/). As a matter of fact, in the wiki workshops that I've facilitated with districts, the Flat Classroom was the one that I held up as possessing the highest standards of "wiki-ness": student involvement, deep thinking, multiple student learning artifacts, and collaborating across time zones, cultures and continents.
It dawned on me after meeting her this morning face to face, how much you can REALLY get to know someone (or at least, professionally) through their work: their digital footprint. I think Vicki leaves more than just a digital footprint, though; more like a digital legacy.
Folks just making their way through this maze of "tools" will probably be intimidated by her presence: she appears "superhuman" in terms of what she's able to do with students, with teachers, for her headmaster, and with her partner classrooms overseas. I almost didn't think she existed at one time as a real person - just a made up "avatar" that embodies 21st Century ideals. And if you look closely at everything she has done, how she has inspired students to true greatness as evidenced by helping them to shift some previously held predjudices and preconceived notions, how she's known as an IT director who brings things in rather than keeps things out, you'll see that her genius is quite ordinary, reachable, and understandable.
Because back in 2005, she couldn't tell a blog from a wiki from a Twitter feed, but the thing she apparently knew how to do was surround herself with people that she could constantly grow with. A stable, trusted "personal learning network" that can withstand the onslaught of web 2.0 this and web 3.0 that.
So, to make a very refreshing morning with her short, let me try and capture some of the ordinary, accessible, and effective strategies for managing change, which is what we're all trying to grapple with as we are influences in our own particular institutions. Here's a few things that you might be surprised to know:
Did you know that the FlatClassroom wiki mega-project was born out of one simple blog post and a response? It was not conceived of in a planning document or a committee meeting; it was not agonized over as part of a curriculum map or a rigorous lesson plan. It was not the outgrowth of a massive initiative or a professional development conference. It was simply one person reaching out to another with a simple and good idea to have classrooms collaborate using "The World is Flat" as a framework. It grew, because it could not help but to grow, not because it was mandated to grow. Here are a few other quick "aha" moments and learning nuggets that I had to write down this morning:
1-Research now shows that learning happens quite effectively through "vicarious experiences" - when people see others succeed, it's not just viral, it's influential.
2- That FlatClassroom project was put together with what we would call today "pixie sticks" technology - free tools and 5 year old clunker workstations. You can't imagine what can be done with MS Paint when you put your mind to it.
3 - When you get involved, things happen quickly. Amen.
4 - Outcomes are not behaviors, and when we identify what she called "vital behaviors", it becomes apparent that we already have the answers to a lot of what irks us and our systems. (So what are these "vital behaviors"? I don't want to steal her thunder; she will make her slides available from her blog.)
5 - "Backchannels" can be a powerful assessment and collaboration tool in the classroom and for professional development, faculty meetings, and any other venue where the voice of the people can be represented and honored.
6 - "Empower the engaged", and contrary to opinion, this might be the best strategy for ensuring quality experiences for all, whether it's professional development or learning in the classroom.
7 - DID I MENTION THAT THE FLAT CLASSROOM PROJECT WAS COMPLETED ON OLD OUTDATED CRAPPY HARDWARE? FOR VIRTUALLY NEXT TO NO COST???
8 - Look for positive people to "network" with, in person and online. This is the power of Twitter, Ning, and other social networking sites - the power of who you know, not what you know. You can't really explain something like Twitter to someone and expect their jaw to drop. You can, however, demonstrate the value of having constant, consistent, and increasing access to virtually some of the best minds on the planet - including your own.
9 - She learned what she knows in small bytes of time - 15 minutes, 2-3 times a week - dedicated time to sort through her RSS feeds, identify the "noise" and learn what to pay attention to. Again, because she learned to connect herself early on, she benefited from the filters of all her online colleagues, who help discern what's worth paying attention to.
And finally, 10 - no one can be connected for you. You and I are either "the network", or outside of it, and no amount of classes, CEUs, and YouTube tutorials will ever make those connections for us. Perhaps the simple, most cost and time effective lesson to learn when it comes to increasing need for real professional development with short purse strings: it does not have to be expensive, it does not have to be complicated, and it does not have to be a burden.
So thanks Vicki for being a "real" person behind your digital footprint and for inspiring us to remain positive and upbeat when news seems to get worse and worse and worse. We should all remain optimistic that maybe the most powerful "tool" we have is our connection to each other.