Reflections on how we learn through networks, with particular infotention to the multiliteracy of new media

I've been following a SCoPE seminar out of the corner of my eye, giving it whatever infotention I feel it deserves.?? You can see it here: (you might have to register with SCoPE, recommended).

In one post, Cindy asked Hariette "In your view, is it possible that our open networks can contribute to learning?"

Rather than simply say "yes" I offer this example. For some time (in my copious spare time, ha ha) I have been teaching a course on Multiliteraces, currently via Due to this I have my antennae tuned to people's thoughts on new literacies, and my antennae are beginning to vibrate as messages from this seminar flow through my gmail. "Networking, the new literacy," as with any concept of literacy, cuts right to the heart of learning.

The concept of networking as a literacy touches on what George Siemens and Stephen Downes have been exploring for some time under the umbrella of Connectivism & Connective Knowledge:

At the most recent TESOL conference in Denver I addressed the 25th anniversary of the formation of the CALL interest section, of which I was a founding member, and suggested that the acronym CALL (computer assisted language learning) might be becoming anachronistic. I suggested instead that people think SMALL (for social media assisted language learning – I prefer 'enhanced' to 'assisted' but chose the latter for obvious reasons wink.

Meanwhile just last night I picked up a retweet from one of my occasional glances at Twitter that pointed me to Howard Rheingold's mini-course on 'network and social network literacy': Based in a Posterous blog, the course is set in a "sprout" which has a play button and some tabs. When you hit the play button, you hear Howard say "I've become convinced that understanding how networks work is one of the most important literacies of the 21st century," and he takes it from there.

I left a comment here of course, to which Howard promptly replied. He pointed me in turn to which is where he built his elegantly constructed course (I learned something there) and also to an article where he elaborates on the connection of networks to literacies: Here he elaborates on his concept of "Infotention"

"Honing the mental ability to deploy the form of attention appropriate for each moment is an essential internal skill for people who want to find, direct, and manage streams of relevant information by using online media knowledgeably." Reading on, we find that our set of filters includes a "crap detector" etc. My, this does resonate.

If you are still reading (certain filters not having yet kicked in wink we come back to how this relates to learning, and how we can hang what is emerging about new literacies onto cognitive pegs we already have (e.g. the concepts of literacy and media).

As I write this I am watching the news on TV. I'm learning stuff I don't need to know right now about the Kercher murder trial, but earlier as I was writing this message I was picking up some interesting details about the UAE financial situation from an Al Jazira documentary (relevant to me as I live in Abu Dhabi). When I send this I'll turn the news off and give no further thought about what programs and facts I might miss as I go about the other things that occupy my day. Most of us have developed literacy skills to accustom us to dealing with this kind of always-on media.

I mentioned earlier that I glanced at Twitter, and this was a crucial insight because it suggests that I am starting to treat Twitter like any other media. It scrolls across my radar, I follow a link here, and connect this link to a SCoPE seminar that is scrolling in another part of my radar, and voila, the two converge resulting in this posting addressing the question of how people learn in networks, and how new literacies are invoked as a mechanism for this learning. As I write this perhaps 20 or 30 messages have scrolled through my Twitter account which I'll never see because there will be a couple hundred more by the time I go there again. I'll glance at the top few, learn something new and insightful, and move on.

It actually occurred to me as I started writing this that the tweet that sent me to Rheingold's course and his insights on infotention could have originated with this very SCoPEseminar, and these links I am pointing to might be discussed in some other forum here I haven't seen yet. For example, there was a tweet at about the same time referring to Will Richardson's idea that the literacy of networks is being driven by children, which I came across when I visited here afterwards. But here again, this is how this literacy works. Who won the world series? You don't have to tune in to the game or to a particular news broadcast right on the hour, or even run out on the lawn on a freezing morning to retrieve your newspaper as we did in the past, you can sit back and your media will pass you the information somehow. Your new literacy skills will percolate the information you need in such a way that it will come to you as easily as does your morning coffee.

That's how we learn these days and I think that's what this seminar is about, and I hope this answers the question (anyone remember what it was? wink

I might add that we not only learn in this manner but that our teachers or mentors are among the brightest on the planet, if these are the kinds of people you cultivate in your network. It's remarkable that simply by nurturing appropriate networks, anyone can set up a personal learning environment that will result in enhanced knowledge in whatever our individual passions are. What is surprising (to me) is that not everyone does this!


Webheads weekly chats at Tapped In each Sunday noon GMT, 11 years and going strong

Michael Coghlan posted to Webheads, “I know I haven’t been there for ages but I just went to Tapped In for the regular weekly chat and for the first time in about 10 years NO ONE WAS THERE!!! I’m not complaining, but I’m just amazed that this is possible! I nearly fell off my chair. Has the world ended? Maybe everyone’s meeting somewhere else…..”

As can be seen from the threaded posts linked from the above URL, this prompted responses from others who had dropped in and left because no one was there at the moment.  One person pointed out that I had been on vacation at the time, so while the cat herder was away the mice played elsewhere 🙂 and still others sent in their interesting excuses (one webhead was playing scrabble with her landlady – you know who you are ;-))

I replied as follows:

Webheads have been meeting at noon GMT each Sunday since 1998, over 11 years now.  It’s good to hear that people dropped by this last Sunday, even if they didn’t hook up, at least we have a record that they were there, and there’s likelihood there will be people on hand this Sunday, and the one after, etc.

Dennis Newson [one of those who sent excuses] does pop by now and then, as does Michael [Coghlan, who started the thread], plus a few regulars whom I hesitate to mention for fear of omission.  We also get a lot of drop-ins, some return and others don’t, but I think the charm of the event is when people we haven’t seen in a long while pop by just to say hello.

It could be that there are better times to meet for some, but of course there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to scheduling worldwide events. Of course anyone is welcome to organize other times, but there are so many factors.  One is the venue itself. Tapped In is not the most robust meeting point these days, but we often migrate elsewhere as circumstances dictate, second life, wiziq, elluminate, wherever people are in the mood to go.

Some such gatherings seek to stage an event at each meeting, and we do that sometimes, possibly not often enough. Of course, anyone is welcome to stage an event, and we’ve recently had Speed Geeking, and Speed Lifing events: You might notice that gatherings where there is obligation to produce a set-piece week after week have short shelf-life, useful when they happen, but difficult to sustain.

The weekly TI event is a simple proof of concept.  It’s patterned on the pub or country club model.  It’s not a business meeting or professional gathering where you are challenged to be at your best each week. You can drop in if you feel like it and it’s unusual that you’ll find no one there. There’s no obligation to attend but you’re welcome when you walk in.  What goes on at these gathererings?  We’ve often been asked and are as often at a loss to answer.  I guess in a word: LEARNING.  Other words come to mind: networking, small-talk, bonding, sharing, demonstrating.

I’ve often said that anything that requires the presence of any individual in order for it function is probably not worth doing in the long run.  The true test of an endeavor is if it endures when a given individual withdraws for whatever reason.  I personally find Webheads too stimulating to want to withdraw any time soon, but I’d like to think that the group would carry on if any one person left, because it’s an integral part of other people’s lives, independent of any one person.

So hope to see you this coming Sunday, noon GMT, in the usual place, if you’re awake, free, so inclined.  And if not this Sunday or even this year, then some time soon.

Catching the Wave

This letter to Webheads asks for tips on Wave. The question comes at the right time, now that a lot of us have caught the wave.?? A lot of us are finding it could be fun, but there have been many wipe-outs.

I was listening to EdTech Weekly episode 142 last night (I was listening last night, the show was Nov 9 Dave Cormier was talking about his success with Wave collaborating on household chores with his wife, prompting Jennifer Maddrell, who often famously intones, "It's so hard to collaborate alone!" to add to her mantra, "It's so hard to collaborate when you've got nothing to collaborate about."

So, whereas it's useful and necessary to find others on Wave in order to help you explore its features, these are just for playing in the surf.?? Like any other network, Twitter for example, it works well when it's manageable but once it gets overwhelming and distracting it's not a place the casual visitor is prone to return to frequently (this is where you learn to archive your waves :-).

So for success with Wave it's emerging that: (1) by all means start doing it, messily, whatever, but then (2) keep it small (manageable) and on task. Finally (3) Dave pointed out that because Wave is open source it's starting to attract a host of application 'gadgets' to help people wax down their boards as it were, and once you find a few of those to help you smooth out
the rough edges of the original basic product, you notice more its affordances, and your rides are likely to be more sustained and productive (Dave likes IM chat for wave, for example, to get you past the clunky chat interface).

Vance Stevens

Teacher professional development: Free, online, incessant!

Someone asked on the ilearn2 Google Group: Is there any body out there who knows of interesting online PD resources for teachers at all levels?
My answer:
One of the most professionally mounted PD events available for free to TESOL members and non-members alike is the Electronic Village Online sessions that take place in January and February each year.?? Visit for details.
You can see last year's session links here:
These sessions are a full 6 weeks and offer interaction with peers and experts for all that time on a range of topics. You can see that whereas technology was the focus of many of these sessions, there are many where the focus is not on tech, such as Teaching English through drama, what's in the library for ESL/EFL students, Images for education, Interactive activities for young learners, Planning Video Projects …
Speaking of planning video projects, I was at a K12 online preplanning session the other evening (at ) and Mathew Needleman, Apple Distinguished Educator, was presenting on video production in the classroom.?? It was like a film director, only it was a bright young teacher, explaining how to shoot camera angles, lighting, composition, etc. etc. illustrated with video material in a synchronous online environment.?? When you visit that site, the event I was referring to is the first event at the LAN party (doesn't look like these were recorded, unless they're up at the EdtechTalk site).?? That's just a smattering of what is coming up and comes up each year at the conference. Check out the past (archived) and
upcoming conferences for vast PD possibilities.
Speaking of, another excellent base for online professional development.?? In synchronous mode you can participate in conversations that are going on at the rate of several a day (Skype in). Asynchronously you can subscribe to the podcast feeds.?? This is my preferred mode.?? You can subscribe to the megafeed of many more such podcasts at
Many people see me wandering around the halls with an mp3 player in my ear and they assume I'm listening to music perhaps, but in fact I'm just tuning in to some of these podcasts.?? It's like learning a language, if you want to pick one up you need to be running raw data through your head as much as possible.?? Listening to podcasts is like that.?? There is so much time, while driving or exercising, doing housework (marking some kinds of papers) where you can be listening to something worthwhile, and at these times you can just absorb what the conversations are about.
Speaking of absorbing, try Twitter.?? This blog post tells you how to identify experts on Twitter and use Twitter Mosaic to follow their followers.?? This will feed a steady stream of information your way.?? You might say, but I don't want a steady stream of information coming my way, I have enough coming my way as it is.?? Twitter is different, try it if you haven't already.?? This would work with experts
in any subject, not just technology related ones.
If you want to FIND experts in your subjects, try , a good resource for locating the best
edubloggers in many academic subjects.
Hope this helps (someone)

Blogs and Social Networks, always works in progress

I'm perusing Hala Fawsi's workshop wiki at I've just written an introduction to social networking for our students and my teaching colleagues here at Petroleum Institute and I'm amazed yet not all that surprised actually??at how our teaching points intersect.?? I am planning to put my materials online shortly.?? But I'm still struggling with that one last lesson, as I explain here:
Interestingly I published this post on Aug 27. Then on Sept 1 Russell Stanard wrote in Times Higher Education exactly what I was getting at in that last lesson.?? Who was it that said that Blogs are always works in progress since you can go back and edit them any time??? I think it's so cool that I can write something on the 27th and come across something published on the 1st and improve your original "publication" based on emerging information.
These technologies are so exciting yet so difficult to get across not only to students but especially to one's colleagues.?? That's the real choke point, but when approached correctly, not condescendingly but in a spirit of assistance, and when they are ready, colleagues might just come around.?? How do we improve our world? One person at a time.
It's a real challenge to write materials that are approachable to both these cohorts, teachers and students (where is my mind today???Who just completed a survey asking 10,000 teens why they were turned off to Twitter?).??
I've turned a corner on my own personal work situation just by having been given the opportunity to articulate some of these concepts in curriculum.?? Initial feedback from colleagues is positive, one told me he learned a lot from my materials.?? With that attitude he's in an excellent position to convey his new enthusiasm to students.?? However, my materials have students and colleague examine social networking as observers, a step short of doing it.?? Will it take?? Recidivism is a big problem with weekend converts to new technologies.?? It will be interesting to see if Hala's workshops actually bring about a change in people's teaching in Sudan.
Meanwhile, I'll be referring my colleagues to Hala's workshop for additional information since our topics intertwine so well:
Good work Hala! And I can't wait to share my materials with everyone

How to start a CALL lab

This was sent in response to someone who wrote for advice on starting up a CALL lab.?? Responses ranged from 'hire consultants' to read the very good IALLT Lab Design Manual and the IALLT Digital Language Lab Solutions Manual – both available (not free) at .

My response:

Read up and hire consultants if you can, but don't neglect the??free resources inherent in??communities of practice and distributed learning networks.?? Particularly if your vision for your lab is real communication between collaborating students participating in constructivist??/ connectivist activities, then it is important in realizing that vision that you engage others who can help with expertise informally.?? Learning in this way gives all involved experience in the kind of learning you might want taking place in your lab (depending, again, on your vision for it).

Messages to this list are a start in connecting with personal learning environments.?? One that I find particularly good for learning what other people are doing in technology enriched environments is Worldbridges.?? A good entry point for them is This is a community of home-grown webcasters who train each other and then get online and discuss and podcast.?? You can tune in and talk to them live if you wish, via Skype, but subscribe to their podcast feed and listen while commuting or jogging and you'll soon be tuned in to the latest issues and technologies and ideas for what you're trying to do.
You're probably aware that Twitter is another way to extend your PLE / CoP / DLN.?? It's not as directed as you might like it to be but it's another modality for learning, and very effective for as long as you might like to use it.?? I find it's like radio or TV.?? I don't listen or watch everything in the media, I just tune in for a few minutes at a time, and if I have a good channel, I learn something while there.?? As with media, the things worth knowing get repeated to the point where they emerge from your random samples.?? Also, you can search Twitter.??
Many people complain about information overload with Twitter and PLE / CoP / DLN's, but this I think is because these are new media and people haven't learned how to relegate them to the background as they do with other media taken for granted.
The point is, as with good books and consultants and journal articles, use the new media as well, especially with regard to technology, because only in this media will you find the most up-to-date and most pertinent information from the mouths and minds of current practitioners.

What educators who ‘get it’ are asking one another

Every now and then I get an request like the one below. Now that I
have this Posterous blog it’s pretty easy when replying to create a
blog post and preserve nuggets of wisdom that might otherwise vanish
into my Sent messages folder.

 Also one of my Twitter friends tweeted today that she was wondering
how Pageflakes could be used for language teaching, and I can kill two
birds with this one nugget by pointing her to this post. From that
aspect, this is meant to suggest that students can work on platforms
that generate RSS feeds which can then be run through an aggregator
that creates an attractive display for the harvested content, like
Pageflakes (or Netvibes, or Protopage, or YahooPipes … or for
working on the fly, Addictomatic)

 Here’s the question (somewhat distilled)

 It’s from someone setting up an “after-school English institute for
elementary kids [and wants advice on] an online language learning
system solution for our language institute. Recently, I have come to
see that supplemental online coursework has the potential to deliver
the highly focused learning environment that our kids need … but
what I have seen so far doesn’t do what I want, tends toward adult
learning, and lacks flexibility. I have looked at Blackboard and
Moodle so far in the States. Maybe I am missing something, but I need
something more like the MaxAuthor out of the University of Arizona (I
think) but that one is only for nonprofit.

 Here’s what he wants it to do: “I think kids need even more input and
practice than adults; understanding doesn’t cut it for them … I wish
to upload text that they can read/listen to, provide cloze passages,
pronunciation practice (where students can listen and record as many
times as they want), some dialogs that they record, and so on. Pretty
basic, I guess, unless it got fancy with voice recognition – ideal,
but not required. Of course, student management would be needed. Kids
will do the work at their home computer, not in the institute. They
all have high speed Internet access. I would like to be able to have
a little fun with it. For example, after kids record dialogs, I could
play them back in class, selecting one student’s “A” responses and
another student’s “B” responses. In other words, something that can be
customized, at least in some ways, sometimes.

 Any ideas?”

 My reply:

 I’m thinking a fun thing for your kids would be something like Second
Life, but of course that’s for adults only. Then there is the ‘Teen
Grid’ which excludes adults. Graham Stanley has produced
presentations with details which you can find online (Googling for it,
I came across this article about learning through social networks,
which contextualizes Graham’s work, as noted in the article:….
 If your kids are not yet teens then you might consider Quest
Atlantis, an adaptation for education of Active Worlds. Bronwyn
Stuckey is the authority on that:

 As a platform you might consider a wiki or an aggregator like
Protopage or Pageflakes (or both together mashed up with something
else; Moodle is a bit dry). How about getting them into podcasting
for oral practice. Hook them up with elementary school kids overseas.
 There are a lot of folks podcasting through
e.g. You would get lots of ideas tuning into
a few of those shows (or plug them into your ear via mp3 while out
jogging). The K-12 Online conference is coming up starting November
30 this year,, where there are sure to
be a number of wired and connected elementary school educators making
presentations about their passion for ed-tech, not to mention the
recorded archives of past K-12 conferences. Check out what Kim Cofino and Jeff Utecht are doing at the International School
of Bangkok. It seems they are always working with 4th and 5th
graders. We’re talking blogs here, and Google Earth, and a spectrum
of web 2.0 tools brought into play, many of which produce RSS feeds.
These are what you’d use to populate your Pageflakes or Protopage (or

 I presume you’ve joined ?

 If you tap into the communities of educators alluded to above then
we’ll probably hear more from / about you, and you’ll in effect be
connecting to a network of virtual consultants. Let me know how you
get on.

 Meanwhile I realize I probably didn’t answer all the questions
directly about kids doing cloze exercises (sounds like a job for Text
Manipulation, using student work as input perhaps) and recording their
voices, etc.

 Maybe if you have happened on this post and have suggestions you could
leave a comment.